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DMB 4.6

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Playlist: Incubus – Promises, Promises | Tegan and Sara – I Won't be Left | Harvey Danger – Flagpole Sitta

Tuesday July 12th, 2005 | 7:46am | St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Not many persons gifted with magic would choose to take the stairs over the lifts throughout St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Hermione felt the methodical repetition of walking up the flights of stairs to the fourth level to be her own form of meditation. It helped that it brought back fond memories of her time at Hogwarts and she often caught herself almost missing the thrill of the staircase beginning to move beneath her; the adrenaline rush as she would quicken her pace and just make it to her next class. Her last experience with the moving staircases had been four years ago, long before she started her monthly visits to the Spell Damage ward.

"Good morning, Miss Granger!" called Healer Lisa Turpin behind the main desk on the fourth floor. "You're here early this month."

"Hello, Lisa. My regular appointment was interfering with Healer Horner's plans for her wedding vows so I felt it best to accommodate her."

Lisa laughed quietly and glanced around to make sure she was not in earshot of her coworker. "She's been a right nightmare, hasn't she?"

A sly smile quirked at the corner of Hermione's lips, "I would expect nothing short of perfection from the wedding between Percy Weasley and Audrey Horner. Pureblooded traditions are incredibly demanding when done to the letter. The Undersecretary of the Minister for Magic and the Assistant to the Head Healer in Spell Damage both have certain…obligations to uphold, wouldn't you say?"

"If this is your way of justifying why I will be forced into those hideous dress robes instead of a halfway pleasant dress, you're lousy at commiserating!" Lisa laughed again to herself and handed a large folder to Hermione along with a self-inking quill. "At least she was smart in choosing 'Ministry Blue' instead of the god awful maroon she thought of going with."

Hermione took the folder with murmured gratitude. As she started to complete the form she wandered over to the desk to sit with the mediwitch. "Your coloring would go well with either set of robes, Lisa. Are you sure your house loyalties aren't speaking for you?"

Lisa tucked her dark blonde fringe away from her eyes where it had escaped her standard Healer's bun knotted at the base of her neck. "Do you honestly believe me to be that petty, Hermione?" The feigned aloofness in her voice made Hermione snort in humor over her comment, which made Lisa smile and continue. "Honestly, at this point I wouldn't care if I were forced to wear Slytherin green to get the ceremony over with. Hannah of course has been much calmer about the whole situation but I feel as though I wouldn't survive through another robe fitting before Saturday."

Hermione signed her name on the bottom of the admittance form and tapped it with her wand asserting finality; she handed the documents over to Lisa for further inspection. Lisa glanced to make sure all the necessary portions were complete before she sealed the document with a wave of her own wand. The light-hearted wedding conversation was all but forgotten as she took Hermione's right arm in her hands and conjured her hospital marker destined to remain on her wrist for the remainder of her stay.

"Is this the new band from Derwent Designs?" Hermione asked absentmindedly as it magically adjusted itself to the size of her wrist. A soft blue glow emitted from the band immediately as it started to show the runes for her pulse, temperature and magical signature. It wasn't quite as wide as three of her fingers but was much smaller and more lightweight than the first cuff she had been presented with seven months ago.

"The latest," said a new voice as the Assistant to the Head Healer blazed around the corner towards the mediwitch desk. She stuck out her right hand which Hermione took and shook with a friendly smile. "Thank you for your appointment accommodation, Miss Granger. I feared that we would miss the window for the next procedure if we delayed it much past this Saturday."

Hermione waved a dismissive hand as she bade Lisa a good morning and followed Healer Horner down the hall. "It was hardly an accommodation, Healer Horner. My supervisors were more than understanding that I would need a few days off during the week and can certainly handle my absence."

"How are the University classes going?" Healer Horner paused in her determined march down the corridor to hold the door open for Hermione into their scheduled room for this session.

She walked into the room in front of the Healer unbuttoned the flannel she wore. "Well, all things considered. The remedial classes were somewhat insulting but I understand that the Muggles have no record of my O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. scores so they needed to be sure of my academic level. Thankfully my graduation date is planned for the end of next month."

Bringing out a silver tray from the cupboard in the corner, Healer Horner chuckled. "Congratulations, but I can't say I understand why you feel as though you have to put yourself through the paces like that anyway. I daresay you know more medical theory than many Healers in this hospital, as well as practical application."

Another dismissive hand wave from the curly haired witch, her flannel now hung on the rack near the door. She settled herself into the chair like bed that reminded her distinctly of the chairs her parent's had in their dental practice but the restraining straps were a marked difference. "I find it helpful to learn about the Muggle way of doing things. Magic is a powerful thing but it hasn't solved everything has it?"

A heavy silence followed her comment as the Healer continued to pull out items from the cupboards above her and inspected the labels for the potions inside. A small sigh escaped her lips as she turned to her patient, making a mental note that at least this time she didn't seem as bitter as the last time they had had this conversation. She would make a point to look at her admission chart once she was under to see where she was with her other appointments.

"Nothing new today, Miss Granger," Healer Horner said as she brought the floating tray of bottles and shining instruments next to Hermione. She started to secure the restraining belts around her legs as Hermione finished braiding her hair to the right side of her head. "The trial team wishes me to remind you that this is the sixth of seven administrations of this treatment of DMB 4.6. Have you eaten in the last 12 hours or had any other potions during that time?"

"No food, but I did take a Headache Draught when I woke around six thirty."

Marking the form floating by her shoulder, the Healer made no verbal comment, simply waiting. Her patience was rewarded with a sigh from the half-restrained witch. "I also took half a dose of CNF 3.5. It worked much more efficiently than the other script for Sobrius Serum. And before you ask, I brewed it myself, thank you very much."

Audrey ignored the defensive tone and the implications behind it, for now. She presented the tray again to her patient that had three very different sized potions. "Then you may begin with the smallest bottle, the one with the green label. Then in 2 minutes drink the yellow bottle. I will administer the potion in the black bottle in three hours' time."

After the tiny green bottle's contents had been drained completely, Healer Horner filled the next two minutes with casting a few diagnostic spells and watching as a parchment on the wall filled with runes that were being supplied by the cuff on Hermione's wrist that was still emitting a cheerful sky blue. Right as the hand on the clock passed the two minute mark Hermione unstopped the yellow vial and downed it all in one gulp. She grimaced as it burned down her throat like Firewhiskey. It tasted more like the bile she would choke up the mornings after she had indulged in too much Ogden's.

Her limbs started to shake not a second after she felt the potion hit her stomach. Her Healer quickly finished the job of strapping her down to the cushioned bench with her forearms facing up. The last belt to be done went around her forehead. Her jaw was clenched tight against the chattering that her teeth had started but she relaxed slightly when the cool fingers of her Healer gripped her jaw and put the mouth guard between her teeth to avoid cracking them, like she had done in the past. Her eyes had been closed ever since she had taken the stopper out of the yellow vial; she knew that with this treatment if she were to open her eyes it would make the burn that had started low in her belly mutate into an inferno.

What started as tremors became restrained thrashing beneath the magically enforced cords. Healer Horner watched as the sky blue band started to flash yellow and red runes and the scripting appearing on the nearby wall doubled in rapidity. A few quick waves of her wand and she said, "Alright Hermione, let go."

Silencing charms protected the other members of the Spell Damage floor from the earsplitting wail that came from Lab 7C.

Tuesday July 12th, 2005 | 4:25pm | St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

"…since the fifth session of DMB 1.8, that was nearly two years ago. I don't know why Callista doesn't insist."

"According to the notes, she does but since the treatments are time sensitive we can't exactly demand another's presence when she's here for the next dose. Callista and Audrey had a spectacular row about it a few months ago, but if she doesn't want anyone here we can't force her."

"It's just…she's the only one that comes in here alone. And she's the youngest besides that other boy."

A rustling sound to Hermione's left brought her closer to the surface of reality. She sensed more than felt a clean wrapping of gauze going around her forearm from wrist to elbow. It felt like a numb dead weight next to her. Instead of acknowledging the smell of the healing salve, or the light from the window beside her bed, she opted to fall back farther behind her Occluding walls.

She was not allowed to bring them up before or during her treatment, but it had been determined that after she reawakened her Occlusion would not interfere with the effects of DMB 4.6. It hadn't been possible all the way up through 2.8, which had meant several nights spent in the hospital while she fought the pain and the nightmares that were normally kept at bay.

Behind her walls it was calm, dark, and warm. There was no treatment, there were no lingering screams or coppery smells and there were no irritating comments from nosy healing assistants who should mind their own fucking business.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005 | 1:17am | St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Her muscles protested loudly and her joints cracked as she stood unassisted for the first time in almost seventeen hours. There were still bruises on her calves and hips from where the restraining belts from the first room cut into her body; each spot was covered by gauze and Bruise Paste. She huffed out a breath as she stood tall, stretching her arms high above her head then bringing her hands down to her feet as her spine popped and adjusted, breathing in deeply. Adjusting the standard issue cotton shorts and camisole she had on, she took her few first shaky steps towards the light coming from the loo.

After inspection in the mirror, she saw her braid had remained miraculously intact on the right side of her head. All of her teeth had remained in one piece as well and there was no evidence of chips she may have accidentally swallowed. The clothes she had arrived in were folded neatly waiting for her on a shelf near her head. Slipping out of her cotton shorts and tank top she shuddered as the cool air hit her, muttering a wandless Warming Charm. Scowling, she stood clad in only her bra and small briefs and counted how many patches of gauze were around her torso, legs, and arms. Thirteen this time. Better. She decided to work up rather than down.

Sitting on the shower bench facing the mirror, Hermione picked at the adhesive gauze on her left calf where the yellow and green of an almost healed bruise met her inspection. The same went for the other three sections on her lower legs, as well as the five on her thighs and hips. There was only one strip on her stomach above her belly button. This was the injection site of the black vial that Healer Horner had administered while she was under the effects of the DMB 4.6. That particular spot would not heal for several more days from past experience so she would make sure not to wear anything to irritate it. That gauze stayed on.

Her arms were always the worst. They were the last to be restrained and where the worst of the thrashing happened. She had never seen personally the extent of her tremors as her eyes remained figuratively glued shut during the actual process but had asked ages ago to see a Pensieve of one of her sessions with Healer Horner. She would always ask to see one after the first round of a new treatment, but never after. It was difficult enough to experience it from her end each time.

Two of the final three gauze pads showed that the bruises beneath were still angry and purple, but were only a few centimeters in length. The last one on her left arm spanned the length from wrist to elbow and would require more than just her fingernails to remove. Another muttered charm had the cast like wrapping that weighed heavily on her arm falling away piece by piece where more than just the minty smell of Burn Paste met her nostrils. Shoving more of herself behind her Occluding barriers, she held her breath as she watched the scar appear again before her.

The word was angry, the skin red and puffy around each letter while the letters themselves seemed to ooze a black liquid from their corners. If she were to Scourgify she would most likely faint from the pain, so she resorted to the Muggle way by using a new cotton strip to carefully wipe away the black pus-like substance currently oozing from her body. Determinedly breathing through her mouth to avoid the worst of the smell, she wiped the last of the pus away and threw that soiled rag on top of the others on the ground in front of her already. A wave of her hand saw the pile Vanished.

She knew it was dangerous to continue using wandless magic after the procedure so she reached for her vine-wood wand out of her flannel pocket to cast a cooling charm on another gauze pad and to sanitize her hands before applying more Bruise Paste to her inflamed arm. Another wave of her wand had fresh wrappings applying themselves to her arm, secured tightly from wrist to elbow once more.

The loose-fitting jeans were less problematic to put back on than her shirt, but she managed as she had before. Besides, there were only twelve spots to avoid touching in order to dress herself without wincing or hissing in pain.

Satisfied, she left the adjoining loo to slip on her own socks and soft soled shoes. Taking down her flannel from the hook by the door, she threw it over her shoulders. She felt decidedly shaky as she looped the buttons through their holes. Mentally counting the hours since the treatment was administered it was easy to choose to visit the overnight tea shop for a cuppa just outside the hospital before Apparating home. Without a glance back, Hermione waved her wand at the room she was boarded in on the south end of the hall and made her way back to the staircases.

Another benefit of taking the stairs at St. Mungo's: no one noticed your departure.

Wednesday July 13th, 2005 | 12:35am | St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

"…thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two…"

"You could cast a Tempus you know."

The acidic tone did nothing to distract the methodical stirring of the cauldron in front of Draco Malfoy. He had long learned to ignore that particular timbre of annoyance. Once forty clockwise stirs had been reached he gently pulled the solid gold stirring rod out of the potion and reduced the heat, covering the cauldron. Only after this did he turn to speak to his brewing neighbor.

"But then you would complain of the visual distraction." He started to carry the soiled instruments over to the large gold basin in the corner of the room to wash the stirring rod and other implements. "If it were so bad you could request separate brewing quarters, Severus."

Draco felt it telling of the current level of exhaustion of his godfather that the only response he received was a mildly irritated grunt. The older Potions Master had never indicated he enjoyed working in close quarters with his godson but had never actively pursued the semi-regular verbal threats of requesting alternative brewing accommodations. Draco was pleased that he did not since even with the frequent disparaging comments, Severus Snape was a fantastic brewing companion. He had taught Draco everything he knew about brewing and had even privately tutored him when he requested when he had started his studies to become a Potions Master himself. With no small amount of humility, he could openly attest that without the continuous support of his former Potions professor, Draco would not have been able to reach the Mastery as quickly as he had.

Snape decanted the last of his brew and labeled it before setting the vials into the Stasis charmed potions closet at the end of the lab. The closet had been a suggestion of Draco's since each shelf, when the appropriate potion or salve was placed there, was charmed to be under Stasis and ready for summoning by any mediwitch desk in the hospital. The minutes it saved from the previous organizational system had earned him numerous and prestigious recognitions by Healers in dire need of this Burn Potion or that Seizure Tincture but it was especially useful in the fledgling days of the Dark Magic Banisher.

The potion itself was not administered in emergency but the brewing took more than one set of hands and therefore made it less likely that one of the Masters or Apprentices would be available to send up a potion or salve without completely ruining the batch. DMB was the best-kept secret the hospital had going for it so anything that kept it a secret and kept the brew intact was lauded.

All of the instruments that had been out on the wooden counter in front of them had now been cleansed and returned to their appropriate cabinets while Snape had been inside of the closet marking down what potions would need to be brewed the following day. Draco had already removed his dragonhide apron and gloves and was using a sink in the adjoining loo to wash away the residual hair grease that kept strands from falling into their brews and completely destroying their work. Snape followed just behind him to do the same in the sink next to him before they both walked to the coat rack near the exit door and started stalking in mutual silence out of the lab.

"Will you be joining me at the Potter's at the end of the month?" Draco didn't watch for his godfather's reaction as they entered the lift at the end of the hall. "Potter mentioned that it has been some weeks since he invited you but has not received a response."

Snape scowled at his godson as he watched him adjust the tie he wore in the reflective wall of the lift. He kept his hands stuffed into the pockets of his black trousers. His fashion taste had not changed drastically since leaving Hogwarts and he did not condone Draco wearing expensive shirts and ties under his work robes. "That weekend is the one Minerva chose to refresh the castle's security, and since they do not have an appropriate representative from Slytherin House to attend, the task has fallen to me."

"And you thought the two events were mutually exclusive?" Draco let a peal of laughter slip from his lips. "Who did you think they had chosen to represent Gryffindor?"

"Surely Minerva…"

"Will be the one facilitating. Really, Severus, there is no need to scowl like that. I will be there for Slytherin House as well, though I don't negate your magical strength, since Minerva disclosed the particulars of the proceedings to me as well and more than one wand is needed for each measure of security to be recast." Finally satisfied with the state of his black tie over his pressed cobalt shirt, he let his hands drop and turned to his former Head of House with an earnest look on his face. "The Potters invited us back to their home for refreshments following. You will need to attend one of these sooner or later."

"I'd rather it be later," grumbled Snape. He pulled a cigarette out of his long coat pocket. Even in the middle of summer, he insisted on wearing the long cloak-like trench coat that had collars high enough to hide half of his face if it pleased him. It often pleased him.

Draco held out an expectant hand which Snape automatically filled with another cigarette. They had reached the bottom of the lift and Draco waved a friendly goodbye to the older wizard tending the admittance desk at this late hour. There were very few people sitting in the waiting room beyond to be escorted to one of the upper floors, a stark contrast to years previous before the fall of the Dark Lord.

As the doors behind them shut and the Glamour fell into place obscuring St Mungo's from wandering Muggle eyes, the two Slytherins let their feet automatically take them towards the south end of the hospital. Discreet Incendios lit the end of both cigarettes.

"At least let me know your decision before this Friday evening," said Draco between drags on the first light he had had since the night before.

"I will hasten to respond to your harping." It did nothing to erase Snape's scowl when Draco simply released a huff of laughter at his tone.

"Of that I have no doubt. I will be returning to the lab by ten this morning; I have business at the Ministry to finalize the last portion of the patent for DMB 5.0."

Snape pretended to not already know this for the sake of companionship. They had long ago thought it wise to keep Draco's name at the top of these patents for the current strains of their potion in order to further ameliorate the Malfoy name to the Wizarding public.

"I'm sure I can manage without you, like I have done for years, boy."

Wednesday July 13th, 2005 | 2:14 am | Surrey

In two years she hadn't learned that Apparition after treatment was really not the best idea, especially within the first hour after waking. Hermione remembered this fact vividly as she gripped a streetlamp for support while retching behind a park bench.

So much for supper, then, she mused coldly, wiping the back of her hand across her sweaty forehead. A quick Aguamenti into her mouth cleared the taste of bile. Tea and scones tasted much better on the way down.

The neighborhood that she had chosen was thankfully deserted at this hour in the quiet suburb of Surrey. Her home hadn't been chosen in spite of Harry's family living here but because of it. There were almost all Muggle families living in the homes surrounding her modest two bedroom house and every resident remotely magical besides she were Squibs like Arabella Figg. The peace she found here was blissful compared to the nearly daily visits from "old school friends" or even worse…fans that just happened to be walking by her flat in Diagon Alley and fancied a chat to reminisce about the war. No bloody thank you. Hermione had moved to Surrey after the second round of treatment of DMB to take advantage of the quiet and still be close enough to Apparate to Wizarding London.

Hermione bent double again after taking a few more steps away from the park bench and breathed deeply in through her nose and out of her mouth, willing the nausea to abate. She couldn't take any more potions until Friday evening or else be faced with Healer Horner's wrath as they may interfere with her treatment. Once she felt she could stand upright again and would not have to crawl the final quarter kilometer to her front door Hermione began her walk again. A Muggle deadbolt as well as wards charmed to her magical signature granted her access to her sitting room where she promptly made use of her thick blue shag rug, collapsing to the floor and falling dead asleep.

Chapter Text

Wednesday July 13th, 2005 | 1:06 pm | Surrey, 19 Aster Way House

Beads of sweat trickled down her back as Hermione pulled another weed from within her flowerbed. It was a hellishly hot summer in London and the screams of neighborhood children playing in sprinklers and pools filled the air almost as thoroughly as the humidity. Hermione's muscles rolled beneath her shoulders as she methodically plucked the stubborn weeds beneath the asters and rosebushes.

As she grasped a bloom from her white rosebush with her dragon hide gloves, a shadow passed over her. Not even pausing with her shears she deftly severed the bloom from the bush and placed it in her basket, beginning the game of silence she was determined to win today. The acrid smell of a Muggle cigarette filled the air above her.

"You shouldn't brew yet, Granger."

Hermione continued to ignore him, snipping another bloom and a third before closing the lid on the basket next to her. Standing, she felt her bones and joints protest audibly.

"If you need more Capitis Nausea Fulgarix I can bring you some I brewed last night."

Pushing up the brim of her hat, Hermione brought her gaze to meet the condescending frown of Draco Malfoy as he took another drag of his cigarette. She could tell he was physically stopping himself from letting his eyes wander over her face and body, a clinical review that she was very much not in the mood for.

"You're not my Healer," she sneered, plucking her gloves off her hands and brushing the dirt from her bare knees.

With a scoff, Draco snuffed out his cigarette and made a show of flicking it towards the driveway, but it vanished before reaching the ground. "No. But when has that stopped me? We were in the same courses, Granger, you know I'm right."

Hermione merely picked up her supplies and basket. A small brown shed housing her gardening tools for her less volatile plants leaned against the back of the little used garage. Draco followed behind her and she wondered how he hadn't sweat through his button up and slacks in this heat. Her hair was a near literal halo around her head with corkscrew curls going every which way; she could feel the smears of dirt on her arms and legs where her shorts and shirt left her skin exposed. After locking the shed and heading into her kitchen through the back sliding door she left it open long enough to allow Draco entrance while she made her way to her bathroom for a much needed shower.

A full afternoon tea spread was waiting for her as she walked back into her kitchen with clean clothes and a towel wrapped snugly around her head. She hated using a drying charm on her hair because it never failed to make it stand straight up from her scalp like she had stuck a fork into one of her electrical sockets.

Reaching for an orange biscuit, she broke it in half and set it on the plate next to the cup of tea Draco had already poured for her.

"I have the book I borrowed," he stated as he brought out a miniature version of her collection of Hans Christian Anderson short stories. Bringing it back to full size with a flick of his wrist, he slid it across the island counter so Hermione could banish it back upstairs to its correct shelf. "I think something more theoretical this time would be preferable."

Ignoring his comment Hermione said, "I see you have taken my suggestion of using white roses instead of yellow in your Capitis Nausea Fulgarix. Did the Arithmancy tests hold true then?"

"Don't be petulant. You know I had to let those cads in Theory run those tests before tampering with any precious Derwent Designs brews. It would be a lot easier if you just-"

A glare silenced him as thoroughly as a charm. Draco just sipped his tea, the only thing betraying his deep set annoyance the lines around his eyes as he stared out the window above the sink. Hermione unwound the towel from her head and sent it to the hamper at the end of the hall, letting her still slightly damp hair cool the heat the sun had kissed into her shoulders.

"The boiling level for the white roses worked as a better fusion point with the diced ginger root and powdered root of Puffapod."

Still quiet, Hermione finished her cup of tea and the solitary orange biscuit. She had become quite adept at the game of silence that Malfoy had started years ago while studying their Healer's courses.

"Theory had the hardest time verifying the use of an amethyst purified by the dark of the new moon being worn by the brewer and you know it, Granger." Draco delicately put his now empty cup on the counter near hers as she poured another cup for each of them. Leaning towards her over the tray he hissed, "Alchemy isn't always welcome at those round tables."

"They are pig headed fools in Theory and I would appreciate less prodding in that general direction, Malfoy. Removing Alchemy study from Potions theory would be like removing the cauldron from the lab and if they wish to view it otherwise then I will have no part of that! It's much more entertaining for me to let you run interference with the absolute crock of a department that St Mungo's is sponsoring."

"Reducing me to running interference may be entertaining for you, Granger, but I assure you that I have much more… pleasurable ways to spend my time."

"If you tell me one more time about that lovely thing that Astoria does with her teeth I may scream."

Thursday July 13th, 2005 | 8:45pm | Surrey, 19 Aster Way House

There really was nothing wrong with a spot of tea before bed; she had even thought to ask Healer Horner that question while reviewing her lengthy and sordid dietary restrictions. Further logic dictated that if she could have a spot of tea before bed then it would stand to reason that including a finger or two of Ogden's wouldn't matter that much.

That was how two owls found her on her back porch as the sun was setting. She had formidably warned those that frequently contacted her that an owl should only be sent to her during daylight hours in dire emergency, and really it was better just to Apparate into her garage with that sort of news.

With the Dursleys living just a short distance away it stood to reason that owls during the day would attract too much attention. Besides, she really did not want to speak to Harry's foul aunt and uncle about it again. Her mere presence had caused them to row several times and short of threatening magical violence there was not much she could do; she had looked too hard for a home like this and refused to move away on their account. Letters from the association on the presence of unauthorized pet owls carried fines and stern words and it was not a great leap of the imagination who had reported such sightings in their neighborhood. The last man from the board who shown up at her doorstep had been soundly Confunded and that kind of action repeated brought the attention of the Ministry. Once in the name of secrecy was one thing, but hexing everyone just because she wouldn't pay the fines would not be swept under the rug.

Standing up slowly from her reclined lawn chair and placing her teacup down on the table beside her, Hermione held out her hand for the two letters. A low-energy Summon put them right into her palm; she doubted in her current state she could be trusted to grab them otherwise. The two owls took a drink from the perch she had hidden behind several layers of vines at the end of her porch. Cages caught attention, but vine covered lean-tos were normal around here.

Both owls stayed perched beneath the cover. Hermione glared at the dark corner where they both had roosted, swaying a bit as she grabbed up her teacup, then drained its contents with an unsteady sway to her hips. "I suppose that means they want an answer tonight, is that it?"

Terminus hooted at Hermione at her tone and began to clean his already pristine feathers. Harry and Ginny's eagle owl could hardly be blamed for her lack of enthusiasm at needing to read the missives now. The Hogwarts owl that had flown in with him was pecking lightly at the food in the dish next to the water, oblivious to the exchange between human and bird.

Deciding that it would be easier to deal with the one with the Potter crest in white wax first to get the worst out of the way, she broke the seal and tapped the parchment to read the letter to her. Her eyes were too blurred to be trusted at this point.

Dear Hermione,

I was glad to receive your note that you would be joining us on the 30 th . Harry doesn't know yet but I really haven't forgotten it's his birthday the next day and we all plan on celebrating with him. James will be helping me decorate the house while you all are at Hogwarts. Ron said he would be sending Lavender over with Jasper and June so I expect you to pray for infinite patience. You have heard she is pregnant again, right? They both swore that they had been blessed enough with those twins, but I'm sure it's less of a shock to the rest of us as it is to them.

Harry wanted me to tell you that he is looking forward to seeing you since he missed you at the Ministry this week. Stop it, James; the wall is not a canvas! Sorry, Hermione. James has been a right terror so I've been using a Quick Quotes Quill the past few weeks for all my letters. James and I send our love and I'm sure Harry does, too. Let me know when you are getting your robe fitting done for the ceremony and I'll meet you at Madam Malkin's.


Knowing Ginny she would take advantage of the afternoon away from her son and drag Hermione across Diagon Alley after the fitting. Maybe she could convince Ginny that Muggle stores would be a better option. Hermione wouldn't be able to trust herself if a reporter tried to speak to her within the next two days let alone the next two months. If it meant that she wouldn't be cajoled into another afternoon trip like this until after graduation then going now would be worth it. Besides, she would get to see her godson.

Penning a quick reply to Ginny, Hermione confirmed that meeting at the Leaky Cauldron mid morning on this Saturday would work well for her and watched as Terminus flew off into the nearly dark sky. The Hogwarts owl followed his lead, not waiting for a reply from its sender which made Hermione more relieved than she would admit. Dousing the lamp on her porch with a flick of her wand and grasping her teacup firmly she walked back into her house through the kitchen door. The kitchen still smelled like cut ginger and lukewarm tea from her brewing that evening, which had the same effect on her as her grandmother's holiday cooking when she was a little girl. That was before she knew that magic was more than something that happened Christmas morning. Hermione breathed in deeply as she poured the rest of the tea into her cup and set the dishes to washing themselves.

She made sure she was comfortably tucked into the couch before popping the seal to the second letter.

Dear Hermione,

Thank you for getting back with me so quickly on this matter. With Ginevra out of commission for the ceremony and now Lavender as well, we should still be able to move forward with you and Harry on the west end of things. I have already ordered the robes at Madam Malkin's for you; all that's left is the fitting. I won't insult you by requesting that you confirm you have read the book I provided to Ginevra and Harry on what to expect come the end of the month. However, I will request that should you have any questions or, more likely, suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

It has been too long, my dear girl. I have not seen you since just after you received your certification for Healing and I do wonder how your Muggle University classes are coming along. You are often in my thoughts and I have always enjoyed your messages. I have accepted the Potter's invitation for the post-ceremony meal and look forward to speaking with you.



The doctored tea had long since been drained from her cup by the time Hermione had finished reading the letter from the Headmistress. The book in question sat on the cabinet next to her arm and she judged it again for being so inadequately sized for the amount of information she was sure it should actually hold. This would all be too simple, recasting the security wards. It was all pomp and circumstance and she would bet her Order of Merlin, First Class that there would be some hack of a reporter from the Prophet there to gush about "renewing ties", "establishing new order", and all that other tripe. Mrs. Weasley was surely put out that neither of her children would be able to perform this charade. If it hadn't been so damned important to Harry that he be there for this century's proceedings she would have turned him down and let two other Gryffindors take up the mantle.

Every hundred years there were certain House specific security wards that necessitated a semi-formal ceremony to strengthen them. It was not spelled out in the thin…she would not think of it as a book, it was hardly a pamphlet…on which wards were being recast. Hermione knew there was something Minerva was not telling them but until she was able to see her face to face it was difficult to determine what that was.

The one thing that was clear was that two formally connected members of each House were required to assist. Typically the strongest bonds were those between husband and wife or through close family members like father and daughter. Hermione didn't know a lot about bonds in the wizarding world but she knew that the natural or voluntary ones were more powerful. She knew that Luna and her father would be the ones to cast for Ravenclaw just as surely as she knew Ernie MacMillan and his Hufflepuff bride would be at the East end of the castle.

Stumbling towards her bathroom she pondered on the strength of the connection she and Harry shared through her godparent status for his firstborn son and heir. A small voice behind the fog of Firewhiskey insisted that she had run the Arithmancy equations forty ways to Sunday before agreeing. Once her teeth had been properly brushed and flossed, a habit so ingrained that not even her drunkenness could subdue it, Hermione landed atop her covers and began to burrow beneath them. She fought the exhaustion as the voice began insisting that there was another House at Hogwarts that needed two people but couldn't for the life of her think of the name before passing out beneath a cocoon of quilts and afghans that effectively blocked out the light of the waxing moon outside her window.

Chapter Text

Playlist: Hometown Glory – Adele

Saturday July 16th, 2005 | 10:45 am | Diagon Alley

"James hasn't started to show any extreme cases of adolescent magic, thank Merlin. I don't know how I'd handle him if he were! A small toddler and a drastically overgrown uterus do not mix." Ginny adjusted her bag again as it slid to the side of her pregnant stomach. "At least this go around is a lot easier, I didn't have to deal with morning sickness the way I did with James."

Hermione kept pace next to her on the way to Madam Malkin's; Diagon Alley wasn't quite filled to bursting but as it was a Saturday the crowds were more difficult to navigate than on the weekdays. Ginny parted them like the red sea, using a combination of the son growing inside of her and an imposing glare that she inherited from her mother. Normally Hermione hated to come to Diagon Alley any day of the week but Ginny was making it almost enjoyable as no one dared approach the Potter matriarch. At least, they hadn't since just after James was born and a reporter had tried to snap a quick shot of her firstborn. He had not been able to leave St Mungo's for three days to avoid strangulation by his own bat-shaped bogies.

Ginny took her hand as they passed by Flourish & Blotts to hurry her along, insisting they needed to be on time. The robe shop showed closed except by appointment only and Hermione praised Merlin for it. Ginny tossed her long plait over her shoulder and knocked on the door. With a warm smile and several inane niceties they were taken off the street before anyone noticed they had arrived.

Hermione saw it as less of a fitting and more of an attack by flying pins, clips, needles and thread. The crimson robes were fashioned much like a Professor's robes with a nearly starched stiff undershirt with long sleeves and a hem that ended just past her knees and a silkier outer layer with separate cloth pieces so long they very nearly touched the ground. Suspicion grew in her mind, as these were hardly practical robes for anything more than ceremony. If she were to attempt to brew with these she would be aflame before the first ingredient had come to temperature.

When Madam Malkin had gone to the back of the shop to grab another bolt of fabric, Hermione turned baleful eyes to Ginny who had to stifle a laugh rather ungracefully. "You look like James when I try to get him to eat peas!"

Hermione eyes morphed into an all out scowl. "It's a good thing these robes are already red since I feel as though the pinpricks would dye it otherwise."

"Oh, the melodrama," snickered Ginny. Madam Malkin returned with a shimmering gold fabric that drew her gaze away from her friend, who was currently standing like a scarecrow atop a fitting stool with small needles and threads flying around her body. With a small gasp, she reached out to touch the nearly luminescent fabric as it passed by her. "That's beautiful, Madam Malkin. What is it made of?"

"It's actually Muggle-made," gushed the seamstress. "Instead of magic-woven silk this was hand woven. The time they put into their work is meticulous; the things one can do without magic amazes me."

Ginny ran her hand over the delicate cloth one more time before Madam Malkin used her wand to unravel a few sections. The delicate strips ran along the inside of the outer robe and a few details at the hems of the sleeves and the hood. After nearly another hour of flurries of sharp objects and thread flying about her, Hermione was declared finished.

"I still need to do some rune work on the sleeves. You don't need to stand here for that part, Miss Granger. The Headmistress left me a very specific list of runes to include and I will have them ready for you by next Saturday."

"Then I will be back in one week," Hermione said as she was released from her cotton and silk prison. Hogwarts had already paid for the entire fitting so Ginny and Hermione left as soon as Ginny was able to extricate herself from the plush armchair she had relaxed into.

Diagon Alley's traffic had increased while they were in the private fitting; it had gotten nearly to the point where if you wanted to Apparate away you may take someone Side-Along by accident. She wrapped her arm protectively behind Ginny's back as they stepped off the stoop in front of the robe shop. Ginny didn't even protest as she was guided down the street and back into the Leaky Cauldron then out into Muggle London. Hermione pulled her arm away only when they had left the sight of the swinging black cauldron and released the breath she didn't realized she had been holding.

"What does Albus want for lunch today?" Hermione asked as she rolled down her sleeves to cover her wand sheath on her right arm.

Ginny pointed to a small Italian restaurant with outdoor seating down the road from where they stood. "Harry and I have been there before, they have excellent gnocchi."

Saturday July 16th, 2005 | 1:06 pm | Diagon Alley

Hermione didn't order a glass of pinot noir on Ginny's behalf because the pregnant witch had started muttering profanities under her breath when she saw their excellent wine list. She gently pulled the folder from her friend's grip and rested her arm on top of it for good measure. "Just another month, Gin, then you can have all the wine and seafood your hedonistic heart desires."

"Then you'll have to come over after Albus is born to enjoy those with me." The waiter came by and took their orders and the offending wine list away from the table. "We haven't had a proper night with too much wine and no boys or children in ages. I think this is the first time you and I have seen each other since…at least since the beginning of summer."

Lowering her water glass slowly, Hermione felt her smile slowly frost over as alarms went off inside her head. She was very aware that the last time she had seen Ginny face to face had been the seventh anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts in May. Fighting to keep her tone friendly and not clipped, she said, "No, we haven't. I've been tied up at work with my research, I'm afraid."

Ginny narrowed her eyes at her but just took a sip of water and a bite of gnocchi so Hermione did the same. She was right, it was excellent. "Do you still have University classes, then?"

"Yes, but I just need to sit the finals and I'll be graduating at the end of next month; it won't be anything formal, so don't you start planning one of your 'little get togethers', Ginny. No robes, just picking up my degree papers from the main office and heading right over to get them framed."

The redhead had a glint in her eyes that reminded Hermione of her twin brothers' so she continued the stare down, imposing any will she could muster into it to discourage her friend from the plans surely forming in her head. Ginny broke first with a small laugh. "You'd think I was making you go through another robe fitting instead of celebrating your accomplishment, Hermione."

"Same difference," the older witch muttered, stabbing at her own gnocchi with more force than strictly necessary.

"If you don't want to celebrate your graduation from Muggle University, at least tell me more about the research you're doing."

With safer waters before her, Hermione relaxed just enough to clear the visible tension from her shoulders and began to talk about her work on evaluating a potion for vertigo. Ginny had always been one of the best of her friends at Charms and was curious about Alchemy. They always found some common ground for conversation between the two disciplines whereas Ron and Harry really never asked about her work. It had come in useful before when she wanted a moment of peace; there was nothing like an Arithmancy equation to clear out her two oldest friends. Likewise, Ginny was her bridge to them when it came to Quidditch. International star or not, Ginny understood that not everyone was Quidditch-mad.

Saturday July 16th, 2005 | 3:15 pm | Number 12, Grimmauld Place

"Auntie!" screeched a blur of black hair as she caught herself from falling out of the Floo. With practiced grace, Hermione reached out her arms for her godson James, scooped him up and spun him around while stepping away from the Floo for Ginny to follow her. The joy of seeing her godson nearly cleared the annoyance that had bloomed in her chest as soon as Ginny had insisted she go through first, as if she were planning on ditching out on their plans. It wasn't the first time they had made that assumption and really, it had only been the one time after DMB 3.2. That batch had been the worst.

"Jamie, dearest, why are your hands all green?" Hermione hugged him again before placing James back on the carpet of the Potter's sitting room. A proud grin lit up his face as he proudly stuck out his palms for inspection.

The whooshing sound of the Floo announced Ginny's arrival. While dusting off the soot from her robes, she called, "Harry, your son got into the drawing room again!"

"He's always my son when he gets into places he shouldn't," chuckled Harry as he walked into the sitting room from the main hall. A smirk played at the edges of his mouth as he walked up to his wife and gave her a quick kiss. His nose wrinkled, "Ugh, soot! I'll never get used to the Floo. Hello, Hermione!"

She grinned up from where she knelt on the floor, listening keenly to James telling her all about the paint he had found, how he wanted to help put it on the walls as well, but they weren't drawing any dragons on them. Agreeing that was indeed sinful that they weren't adding dragons, and how good of him to think of the decorating so seriously, Hermione stood to greet her oldest friend. No sooner had she straightened up was she enveloped into a firm hug.

"Jamie was born with a natural talent," Hermione said while smiling up at him. Harry hadn't grown much past that summer while camping but he did stand taller than her now. Bringing one palm to his face she swept at a bit of dust near his ear with her thumb. "We'll see if he follows in your footsteps a little further in a few years, then, to see if flying and troublemaking truly do run in the Potter family."

"Spare me!" called Ginny as she made her way up to her room to change and deposit her small amount of shopping that she had predictably drawn Hermione into.

James continued to tell his de facto aunt all about the Swedish Short Snout he was working on in the upstairs drawing room. Continuing to listen with genuine interest, Hermione kept hold of his hand and let him lead her to view the artwork. For being two years old, James wasn't half bad at getting the general shape of a dragon, and it warmed her heart to see he had brought out a reference book to add in a few more defining traits of the breed that had obviously caught his eye. She made sure to state this praise aloud and James preened under the attention.

"I'm just glad it's not Horntails anymore," Harry said from his place by the door. James had lost himself again in painting the green dragon onto the wall. "It's one thing to encourage him and completely another to allow that breed of dragon on my drawing room walls. That's quite a herd you have there, James."

James rolled his eyes and Hermione had to fight down a fit of giggles. "It's called a clan, dad; a clan of dragons."

Still fighting the giggles, Hermione patted the space next to her so Harry walked into the room and sat on the floor cross legged like she was. It was peaceful sitting in mutual silence and enjoying the spectacle James created as he unknowingly chased away small bits of darkness from the room with his tiny colorful drawings. The old house still had some lingering darkness that the team of them had not been able to banish, but they chalked it up to generations spent miserably here. Another generation full of happiness would be the best magic to begin clearing the air and the halls of gloom.

There were still many rooms in the house where the doors stayed locked and no one entered them except when attempting to curse-break them. They had been the best form of relief that she, Harry, and Ron had had the first few years after the defeat of Voldemort since it was very difficult to turn off the instincts they had honed over half of their lifetimes: find evil, research it, fight it, and then move on to the next bit. Ron had been able to move on the swiftest as he began to help Fred and George with the joke shop. The war had spurred the wizarding world into wanting more laughter in their lives to move on, so the twins needed the help and Ron needed to be needed. No doubt that was why he and Lavender had found their way back to each other so quickly as well.

By unspoken agreement the three of them seldom spoke of the first few years after the war had officially ended that they spent in Grimmauld Place. Most days were spent away from the house while Harry began his Auror training with Ron and Hermione went back to Hogwarts to help rebuild and St. Mungo's to heal the veterans. The routine had almost been too much for Harry and Hermione after so many months on the run and Ron had made his opinion known before the following Christmas. He'd had enough of Dark wizards and their, as he put it, "fucking shenanigans ruining his life" and had moved out by Boxing Day.

The joke shop and managing his sister's Quidditch career had suited him well, much more thoroughly than a life as an Auror would have. It had been hell watching him leave them again, this time of completely his own volition without a Horcrux to blame, but after the initial sting had worn away and they saw how happy he was near his family, forgiveness had come swiftly.

"He makes it worth it."

Hermione turned to look at her friend. Harry had a huge grin plastered to his face, but his eyes were decidedly teary. He pulled off his glasses and ran his hands over his face and hair to make it stand up even more wildly than before. After clearing his throat he put the frames back over his eyes and turned to his friend beside him. Taking Harry's right hand in her left one, Hermione offered him a watery smile of her own before leaning over to rest her head on his shoulder.

Chapter Text

Playlist: U2 – The Unforgettable Fire | Radical Face – Ghost Towns | Vitamin String Quartet – Jack and Sally Montage | John Williams – Quidditch, Third Year

Sunday, July 17th, 2005 | 11:13 am | Number 12, Grimmauld Place

Hermione Apparated directly to the front step of Harry and Ginny's home. Despite the war being over for nearly a decade all the original Order of the Phoenix enchantments, with the exception of the Fidelius Charm, were still in place on the Ancient and most Noble House of Black. A family like the Potters only had hope of a quiet home life in something that was Unplottable and still had a few nasty charms left on the front gate for those who had not been welcomed inside by a family member previously. The Ministry also made them pay a large fee every year for continuing to block their Floo to any unknown visitors and owls were rerouted three times before being delivered.

She wore the same jeans she had yesterday, now covered in green and gold paint that only Molly Weasley could hope to clean out, with a faded Led Zeppelin shirt that had once belonged to her father. She tapped the door with her wand to send a silent message to Ginny that she was there without risking waking James with a doorbell or knock. He had the tendency to fall asleep in the sitting room.

Ginny arrived moments later and gave her a friendly once over before huffing air noisily out of her nose.

"C'mon, time to go to work," she said, before she bodily brought her into the front hallway.

The two witches quietly made their way up the stairs towards the first floor of bedrooms. Ginny confirmed Hermione's suspicions about James when she held a hand to her lips as they passed the master suite's doors. Through a crack in the door she saw the outlines of Harry and his son curled up for a post lunch nap as Harry read Tales of Beadle the Bard aloud. There wouldn't be enough time for James to sleep at his normal nap time before Percy and Audrey's wedding so he was being coaxed into it now.

After a few silencing charms were cast in the guest suite across the hall, Ginny turned to the two sealed bags on the bed.

"The left bag is yours, Hermione. It finally came by owl last night."

Trying to not make it obvious she was holding her breath, Hermione reached for the left bag and started to unzip. Ginny had ordered the robes for the two of them from the same company Hermione had ordered her dress robes for the Yule Ball in fourth year. As soon as she had finished unzipping the bag she levitated them out to float gently by the bed. A Pureblood wedding with very Pureblood traditions meant well-tailored robes, and these actually made her take a small intake of breath when they were completely revealed.

They reminded her in a pleasant way of her Healer's robes, the ones she had earned alongside Draco three summers ago after their graduation from L'Institut de Guérison Magiquein Montpellier. Those were an unbecoming shade of lime green but fit beautifully with long sleeves just past her wrists and a fitted bodice that did not restrict her movement. The robes for the ceremony were closer to teal than green but also were long sleeved and fitted around the middle with a flowing overlay reminiscent of sixteenth century gowns.

"Those are lovely!" said Ginny as she levitated her own robes out of their travel bags. Ginny's were a very dark shade of amber and cut to flow generously around her pregnant belly, also appearing to be a variant on Tudor styles.

"So are yours, Ginny," Hermione said. "However, for all the trouble we went through to order these for one wedding ceremony and a reception I am so happy that you and Harry didn't go the more traditional route."

Ginny wrinkled her nose. "Percy loves Audrey, and she loves him, but they're doing this for their careers more than anything. Even though he's closer now to Fred and George than he ever was before the war he's still a stickler to doing things by the book and Audrey is only too happy to oblige." She left her robes floating near the dresser as she began to rifle through her chest of drawers for jewelry to match. "Everyone is so…quiet about blood status that it's getting harder and harder to follow the old traditions but he wouldn't have it any other way. I swear he had his wedding planned out before Audrey even had a chance to make a suggestion."

Hermione could feel a headache begin prickling behind her eyes as she watched Ginny hold a pair of earrings up against the fabric of her amber robes before shaking her head and putting them back.

"There are a lot of…traditions I would rather see out of wizarding culture and old laws that should be struck from the books," Hermione said. "Blood magic is still outlawed but there are a lot of disturbing loopholes where Muggle blood is concerned."

Ginny's face was stony as she nodded her head at a pair of small stud earrings with emeralds set in gold, then began to look for something to go with Hermione's robes. The redhead turned to her oldest friend. There was no mistaking the lines of tension that crossed Hermione's brow as she sat on the edge of the guest bed with her arms folded.

"Those laws were made during very dark times in wizarding culture, they predate the Ministry. It will still be years, the way Percy and Dad talk, before they even scrape the surface of the litigations and edicts Voldemort and his damned puppets left behind after both wars. Not to mention that fuckface Fudge and his slimy sidekick Umbridge."

Muttering about politicians who had less spine than a flobberworm, Hermione stood to help her friend choose something from the heirlooms that would be least likely to jinx her hair into another color or make one eye list off to the right. She knew that Fred and George had been around recently with all the wedding preparations and did not put it past them to have broken into this chest during their last visit. Marriage and children had not tampered their joking in the slightest.

Harry had found the jinx placed on the tea set before she left yesterday and had spent the better part of an hour unable to say anything but the version of the Hogwarts school song the twins loved the most: sung in a slow funeral dirge. Really, he should have known better as an Auror to have felt that charm before setting it off, so Hermione hadn't felt bad for him one whit as she saved that memory in a Pensieve to be lived again later.

The slight stinging in the back of her eyes slowly grew to a steady ache as Ginny brushed out her hair and began to braid. Hermione closed her eyes and just listened to Ginny's steady chatter as she picked up where she had left off the day before on updating her on the goings-on of the expanding Weasley family.

"Fleur and Bill finally listened to reason and applied for the Undetectable Extension Charm permit for another bedroom on Shell Cottage. Victoire is almost five now, with Dominique right on her heels and they will absolutely need more than the two bedrooms if they plan on more. Charlie will be staying at Fred and Alicia's this week and I'm hoping to convince him to stay for Harry's birthday as well. He doesn't visit very often and we probably won't see him again until the hols. Mum wanted me to ask you something, but I don't remember if it was about work or the wedding…I'll ask you when I think of it…"

Hermione didn't mind the commentary. Both of her parents had been only children so she didn't have dozens of cousins, nieces and nephews, or siblings to keep track of. Harry absolutely relished this abundance of family after growing up with a piss-poor excuse for one.

It was nearly one in the afternoon when Ginny was finally able to braid, coif and charm every inch of Hermione's hair. Looking satisfied with herself, she cancelled the silencing charms on the room to step out and check on Harry and James. As soon as she opened the door, two redheaded children streaked by shrieking at the top of their lungs followed by James with a dragon kite charmed to breathe fire and roar as it flew behind him.

"June, Jasper and James, stop running in the house!" Ginny said as soon as she got over the shock of the trio running past her. Jasper slowed as he rounded a corner, looking a little sheepish as he continued after his twin sister and his cousin.

Harry stepped around the corner where the children had run from with the same look Jasper had on his face, his hair looking slightly singed as a tendril of smoke rose from his head.

"Ron and Lavender are here," he said unnecessarily. "They're both downstairs with Charlie."

"So that's where the dragon kite came from," Ginny said with a good-humored growl to her voice. She gently put out the small fire on his head and turned to Hermione. "I know I can't indulge, but would you like to come downstairs for a glass of wine, take a break from my torture?"

Hermione smirked. "Pinot noir is just the thing to get me through this."

Sunday, July 17th, 2005 | 3:24 pm | Number 12, Grimmauld Place

"Have you seen his sock? Where is his other sock?"

"He just had it on! I'll just transfigure this one to match."

"Fine, that works for me." Harry gently tackled his son as he continued to run circles around his parents who were desperate to dress him and get out the door on time. "Did they need help with the twins?"

Ginny shook her head slightly as she stuck the last pin in her updo and cast a sticking charm over the whole thing. "June and Jasper are all ready to go, they're in the sitting room waiting for Side-Along with Ron and Hermione. I'm so happy she agreed to come to the wedding, it will be nice to have more adults than children around to help control the chaos."

"She looks great, Gin. I haven't seen her look so happy in months." Harry finally got the two socks to match and was putting on James' shoes when he saw Lavender dart into the bathroom down the hall from their bedroom. He winced. "I don't envy Ron over the next few months."

Ginny visibly shuddered, recollecting the time Lavender was pregnant with the twins. The poor witch had been absolutely downtrodden with morning sickness throughout most of the pregnancy and it looked like history was repeating itself. She absentmindedly rubbed at her stomach and thought silently to her growing son how thankful she was that he was not wreaking the same havoc on her body.

Downstairs in the sitting room Ron and Hermione each held a small twin on their laps and chatted amicably about Ron's part time job managing the Weasley Wizard Wheezes shop while Ginny was on maternity leave. He was also assisting the head manager for her team, the Holyhead Harpies, but without his main player on the field he had free time to spare for his children and helping Fred and George with their store.

Hermione was smirking to herself as Ron bemoaned all the paperwork that went with managing a shop over a Quidditch player and felt a good rush of pride when Ron started talking about how he was making do and didn't once insinuate asking for her help. A significant factor in their break up six years previously had been his unyielding demands for her help just like when they had been Hogwarts students. In the years since, it had turned into something more amicable when Ron asked for her advice instead of assistance. Their friendship was less strained when he wasn't pining after her for homework help.

Charlie Weasley stood by the fireplace, soaking up the heat like a cat, and interjected comments into their conversation between sips from his glass of Firewhiskey. It had been a year or two since Hermione had seen him last, but he hadn't changed much from the dragon tamer of her memory. Still tanned, still scarred, and still built like Viktor Krum. He was fit. She pocketed that information; Hermione had sworn off Weasleys after Ron because there was no redemption for sleeping with more than one brother.

"Where are you working, these days, Hermione? The last time I visited you were still at the Ministry," Charlie said, his voice warmed by laughter.

"I left the Ministry not long after you went back to Romania. I started in the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures but once they lifted the bans on werewolf legislation I started to get back into my Arithmancy and Theory. I work for a research firm now."

"That sounds perfect for you. They're lucky to have you, no doubt." Charlie made a small toast motion to her with his glass, which she returned, before draining the rest of his Firewhiskey.

"Hermione's always been the cleverest of us," said Ron. "Don't you still check into the Ministry every once in awhile? Dad says he sees you once or twice a month."

Hermione nodded. "Yes. I bring documents into the Ministry that we don't trust to go by owl to several different Departments."

When Harry and Ginny came downstairs with Lavender and James, Charlie set his empty glass down on the mantle and went over to grab his nephew. James still held onto his kite that was shaped like a Norwegian Ridgeback and started animatedly retelling Charlie how much he loved it and how much it looked like the models in his books. Hermione stood after her lap ornament June leapt off of her to join her cousin and went to pour herself another glass of wine at the bookcase bar at the end of the room.

As she took the Stasis charm off the top of the bottle and made the move to pour another glass, she felt her ears pop as if she had just dropped several meters underwater. Her hand abruptly stopped moving before any wine left the bottle into her glass. Her ears still had an abnormal amount of pressure on them; her scalp had shocks of static electricity running through it.

Woodenly she put the Stasis charm back on the bottle of wine and reached for the bottle of Firewhiskey Charlie had opened earlier. Turning mechanically, her dress robes floating around her as she did, she walked closer to the fireplace to face the middle of the sitting room.

Occlumens training gave the user more than just the ability to hide certain thoughts away behind a barrier. Those proficient at it, like Hermione after the last decade of near constant use of it, gained several strengths including suppression of nightmares, lowered anxiety, and being able to spot a lie. Hermione wondered why she had gotten herself into this mess despite all those Occlusion benefits.

She was counting her breaths in and out as she stood with her back to the hearth in the main sitting room of Grimmauld Place. It wasn't as haunting as it had been when it was Headquarters but it still needed a fire or two lit during the summer to keep out the grim and chill. She could feel the slight sunburn from the last two days in the garden begin to heat uncomfortably but she refused to move an inch. Her smile had slipped steadily from polite, to frozen, to something that would easily sink the Titanic.

"You did think to place a Silencing Charm on the room before cornering me in here, correct?" The only hint of emotion in her voice was a shadow of impatience. She picked up the glass from the mantle beside her and took another sip.

The handful of witches and wizards shuffled uncomfortably around the room. Ron and Lavender sat together on the couch shoved far away from the heat of the hearth and Ginny was nearby in her armchair. Lavender looked barely recovered from her rush to the loo; her cheeks were still tinged an unpleasant shade of green. Harry was leaning, in what could be misconstrued as a casually way, against the door and only exit to this room. Hermione cocked her head to the side at him and subtly waved her wand-hand around a bit. She felt like her hand had brushed an invisible spider web of energy…a cocktail of Disapparition wards, silencing charms and a final charm that made her recoil as soon as her fingers began to feel the small tendrils of magic around her.

There was no point hiding the anger from her face now; at least releasing one emotion from behind the barrier made room to control the others fighting to surface.

"How…how dare you, Harry Potter! A Compulsion charm? What am I, a toddler being kept out of a potions closet?"

Harry stared hard at her. "Hermione, you won't talk to us without it."

She turned and smashed her glass into the hearth. The fire swelled with the added fuel of Firewhiskey.

"What the hell do I have to say to people who feel the need to curse me to get me to talk to them?"

"For starters you could tell us why you've been calling off work so much lately," said Ron. His voice was steady but the slight twitch of his fingers locked with Lavender's betrayed him.

The rage she had released towards Harry blurred red around the edges of her vision. She could feel the sparks of energy racing along the lines of the braids in her hair. The strength of the Compulsion made her grind her teeth. Hermione turned her flushed face to where Ginny sat, hands folded on top of her pregnant belly.

"You haven't just been missing work, Hermione," Ginny said in her soothing "mother" voice. "You've been avoiding all of us for months."

Hermione wished she was holding something else she could throw, so she threw her arms wide. "What the fuck do you think this is? I'm here, aren't I?"

Ron shuffled his feet a bit. "You don't answer our owls."

Distracted by anger, the charm got the better of her and she bit out, "I don't need to respond daily to your harping."

Ron's cheeks started to get ruddy, but he didn't say anything else to that. Hermione's fingers began twitching spasmodically. The headache that had started earlier was about to mutate into a full on migraine but she didn't care. She had felt worse under the effects of several batches of DMB. Who were they to do this, to create an intervention just because she hadn't felt very social recently?

Ginny started talking more about how she was never around, never sent anyone messages, never had coffee, and kept going on. Hermione had stopped listening and began moving her fingers into more intricate motions. Once her lips started moving, Harry finally started paying attention to her fidgeting.

"Hermione, don't!" he shouted as he lunged towards her, propelling himself off the door.

Before his outstretched fingers could reach her she had broken through the Disapparition wards, summoned her canvas bag, and left with a bang loud enough to break through the last of Harry's Silencing charms. Once she made it into 19 Aster Way the combination of physical, magical and emotional exhaustion forced the walls of her Occlumency down and she began to cry a steady stream of tears.

She was able to strengthen her wards right before she collapsed from the strain on her magical core, already battered from the treatment then pushed to their limit from dismantling Harry's wards. Even so, they would keep even a veteran curse breaker busy for a day or so.

Sunday, July 17th, 2005 | 7:59 pm | 19 Aster Way, Surrey

There was no concept of how long she had been out, lying on the floor of her garage. Once she was awake, she stumbled into her house proper. Her beautiful robes were off in a matter of minutes and shoved into the back of her spare room closet.

Muggle. What she needed right now was to be Muggle. Grabbing the jean shorts she had worn gardening and her father's Led Zeppelin t-shirt, she cast a forceful Finite on the charms in her hair so she was left with just the waterfall braid around her head like a crown.

She would have to apologize for missing Audrey's wedding when she saw her for the seventh and final session of DMB 4.6. Tonight she was getting drunk in Muggle London.

Chapter Text

Wednesday July 20th, 2005 | 12:26 pm | St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Severus snapped open the Daily Prophet he had nicked from a sleeping wizard while walking through the lobby of St. Mungo's. Leaning against the west wall of the hospital, he sipped from the thermos of tea he nearly always kept on his person. His brews were always better than purchased swill and that certainly extended to a mug of Assam smoked oolong.

He wished he could allow his gaze to skim over the drivel in this rag but years eking out every clue he could for the defeat of the Dark Lord had made that a near impossible task. Subjected to another article about the newest book being released in the ridiculous series of memoirs written by Rita Skeeter, Severus folded the Prophetup neatly with a sneer on his face. After shoving it into his coat pocket he drained his mug of oolong to free up his hand to light a cigarette. Just as he was raising his hand to light it with an incendio, he heard the tread of hard-soled dress shoes sauntering down the alleyway towards him. He smoothly held out his left hand where the cigarette dangled from his delicately shaped middle and pointer fingers to offer it to Draco as he joined him in leaning against the brick wall of the hospital.

"The patent is finally filed," Draco said, taking the proffered smoke and lighting it swiftly. He took a deep drag then blew the smoke out through his nose a few times, a habit that made him appear like his namesake, before continuing. "They didn't like the addendum, but we expected that. We were right to not manipulate the compensation figures. That buttered them up enough to allow the cost of this new batch."

"There's no point in increasing the royalty percentage if the overall payout will increase from the base income."

"Exactly. We're closer to releasing this internationally as well, now that that nonsense is completed. Did you come across anything that needs our immediate attention in those equations?"

Severus shook his head and tucked his hair behind his ears. Looking above him he squinted into the summer sky, a frustrated frown on his face. "Nothing we did not anticipate, Draco."

Standing in silence, they finished their first cigarette and wordlessly decided on a second. Both men had barely left the laboratory in the last two days. The most recent success with DMB 5.0, which spurred the need to patent that strain, had shown significant holes in their research. The issues in working through a question you've been chasing are the other questions that are borne of the answers. There was still so much work to be done, so many factors to work into the potion. Severus forcefully Vanished the butt left behind by his cigarette and reached for the pack in his breast pocket. Draco's hand on his arm stilled him and he forced himself not to pull away from his touch immediately, fixing him with a withering look.

"Let's get something to eat, yeah? We can't cure anyone if we expire from hunger."

He was really starting to wonder when his poisonous glares had stopped working on his godson.

"I know you won't like my suggesting this," Draco began after they had placed their order. The tea shop on the west end of the hospital was Muggle but it had the best croissants and vegetable soup and was open all day and night. "We can't expect the equations to turn out more than expected answers if we don't input any new information, and it's not that we have a lack of that at our fingertips."

Severus's frustrated frown, if possible, turned down even further. "Your observations are astute as ever," he said sourly. "I'd rather not open that bag of pixies; those hacks in Theory have done enough damage as it is to the work. How they ever let Finnegan into that division is beyond me."

With an expression of distaste which had nothing to do with his green tea Draco countered, "I value our work, Severus, I'd rather not see it all torched in an afternoon. My ulcer just healed, for Merlin's sake! I was suggesting hiring a freelancer."

"And allow someone to sweep in and steal our credibility? No."

Draco huffed indignantly and made to retort but at that moment their lunch arrived. With a smile that was deceptively cheerful he thanked the waitress and requested another pot of green tea for the table. Draco made no move to tuck in as Severus began to rip his baguette into pieces to dip into his soup, forming a steeple with his fingers above his own bowl and fixing his dark haired companion with a sharp glare.

"Severus Snape you will listen to me. This is not a matter of pride that you can peacock over. We are stuck on how to cure these last few patients that have not responded fully to any strain we have been able to concoct. It's preposterous to refuse help, though I know you've had enough practice with that, especially when you have not even allowed me to suggest who I had in mind for this."

The only indication that Severus had indeed been listening to every word was that he continued to rip the baguette piece in his hand until it was nothing more than crumbs on the plate next to his bowl. He looked up to match Draco's unflinching glare and let his godson feel the chill of Occlumency within his eyes and vacant expression. Hitting a nerve in public was a tactic that he had taught Draco during his formative Slytherin years and later perfected within the Death Eater ranks and Severus was exceedingly annoyed that it was being used against him. At least, he would be annoyed if he weren't forcing every negative emotion down with the weight of granite Occlumency walls. If Draco felt it was the appropriate approach to verbally accost him in a Muggle setting, then he would make Draco squirm and not give him the satisfaction of asking him who he had deigned suitable to assist them. It had been many years since he was under the thumb of Dumbledore and the Dark Lord and he would be damned to go back to that posturing way of life. If someone wanted something of him, they would need to employ more direct tactics.

"There aren't many independent research firms anymore," Draco continued. He let his hands fall to the table on either side of his bowl and Severus saw his wand hand twitch on the edge of his peripheral vision but Draco did not arm himself. So, his glares still held some weight with his godson after all. "Most of them are on the continent or in the Americas, and neither of those would fit our needs. I began looking for someone after the disaster 3.2 left us, and I will insist that she be allowed to begin working with us immediately."

"It's Granger, isn't it?" Severus let the weight of his stare leave Draco's, even if he had to miss the blustering expression on his face at stealing his thunder.

Not quite recovered from having the wind taken out of his sails, Draco nodded and only then began to tuck into his food. "She works for Orphus & Gamble, one of the select firms whose research goes to Derwent Designs."

"I've heard of Orphus, but who was Gamble?"

"Gamble was the last heir of his family of purebloods in Ireland but they left the country for the shame of having a squib for a son. Brilliant man, it's a shame, really. If he had been a full wizard there's no telling what he would have accomplished."

Severus shot him a sharp look. Draco was treading dangerous waters despite the fact that they were in Muggle London. Anyone could overhear their conversation. "You forget yourself, Draco."

With a distracted wave of his hand and a huff of laughter, Draco said, "You misunderstand me, Severus. Gamble's work was unprecedented; he nearly singlehandedly reshaped both the Muggle and wizarding world's knowledge on chemicals and was the cause for many of the laws you and I need to jump through every day when it comes to treating the Muggles that come through St. Mungo's. Orphus was as much a wizard as anyone could be but the only reason his name is first was to gain the trust of our world."

"His heritage should not be…referenced…in open conversation." Severus's tone was one of boredom but Draco caught the warning easily.

"So you'll agree to her then?"

Wiping his mouth with the paper napkin that had wrapped his silverware when they had first sat down, Severus merely nodded. "I have no reason to object."

Draco narrowed his eyes. "You're making this too easy for me. What aren't you telling me?"

After muttering something that Draco thought sounded astoundingly like 'some Slytherin you are' Severus reached into one of his never-ending jacket pockets to pull out a sheaf of parchment bound in a plastic Muggle binder. The blue binding and embossed silver emblem were very familiar to Draco: it was the caduceus manipulated so the snakes formed an intricate 'O' and 'G' near the staff.

"I've already hired her."

Wednesday July 20th, 2005 | 4:37 am | Surrey, 19 Aster Way House

The minutes that passed between the night and the dawn were peaceful. It wasn't late enough where the insects began to hum like so much white noise in the background and early risers were still inside sipping their coffee before beginning their day. No cars were running, no doors were slamming, no dogs were barking, no children were playing outside, and the light of the waxing moon gave a faint ethereal glow to the gardens in Surrey. Just a few birds sang in the distance where the neighborhood park was, about three blocks from 19 Aster Way.

It was absolutely unnerving.

Hermione stood in her back yard in her pajamas and bare feet with her eyes glued shut and her whole body trembling. She rhythmically clenched and unclenched her toes, eventually digging down beneath the dewy grass into fresh topsoil. Her hands moved in time with her toes. Though the night was comfortably warm, it promised that once the sun came up to burn away the last of the fog that another day of stifling humidity would begin. Despite this she had beads of a cold sweat rolling down her temples and her lower back. Hermione sucked in air through her nose, like she had just broken the surface of a lake after holding her breath too long, and let the breath out through her mouth with shaking lips.

Her arm was burning like a hot brand was pressed to her skin. It was as bad as the night she had gotten it. This was the third day since it had started hurting but what was previously a dull and distracting ache was now an inferno. The only thing keeping her from performing a swift Diffindo on her own forearm was the fact that that action would not dull the pain, only spread it to the rest of her body. She had read the report of what Marcus Flint had done after cutting off his own left arm once he was not able to stand it any longer; his mother had wept over a closed casket.

Anyone standing close enough to her could hear between great gulping breaths of night air a chant of, "Don't fight it, breathe in, don't fight it, breathe out, don't fight it, breathe in…"

Wednesday July 20th, 2005 | 6:57 am | Surrey, 19 Aster Way House

The comfort of her bed beneath her and the weight of her blanket wrapped snugly around her were incredibly disorienting. She had to force her eyes that were crusty from sleep to open as she took in her surroundings. In the back of her mind she cataloged that she was still dressed in the pajamas she had gone to bed in, though her cold sweat had been dried from them, and the familiar weight of heavy gauze wrappings was around her left forearm.

A quiet tinkle of china from her kitchen put her on instant high alert. After a second or two struggling out of her sheets she grabbed her wand out from the holster she wore constantly on her right arm and landed soundlessly onto her carpeted bedroom floor. Scanning her room quickly she saw nothing was out of place except her bed was neatly made, apart from where she had crawled out of it. She never made her bed and it was done too perfectly to have been done without magic.

The sound of the refrigerator door opening and closing pulled her further out of the room and down the hallway. She silently held out her palm and waited for the hair elastic she had summoned to land there. Deftly piling her sleep-mussed curls in a top knot, Hermione held her breath and took the last few steps where hard wood met linoleum.



The force of the magic and the energy it took for her to perform it knocked Hermione to her knees. She had tried to catch herself with her right hand and bit her lip to stifle a cry of pain when one of the small bones of her pinkie took the brunt of her weight and cracked. With her eyes blurred by tears that were forced from the pain and the effort she was making to subdue it, she didn't immediately recognize the tall figure standing over her in her own kitchen with a wand trained on her. After he stepped closer to her and lowered his wand, she finally placed the voice to the face and a name.

"Snape? What is the meaning of this?" she hissed, cradling her injured hand.

Without a word, Snape slowly reached his hand out to her and took her right wrist into his palm. His fingers very gently probed at the blossoming bruise around her palm and the back of her hand where she had smashed it into the counter and then caught her weight with it.

"What have you taken in the last twelve hours?" he asked. His voice did not lack the cynical bite she was used to and hadn't heard in several years but he seemed on autopilot as he helped her stand up, still gingerly holding her right hand.

"Tea, CNF, Pain Reliever, and Jacob Hastings' terrible excuse for cucumber sandwiches," Hermione responded.

She hissed in pain again as his touch became firmer around her injured finger but his wand was in his other hand and he was chanting a low level healing spell over it, so she didn't pull away. The bruising appeared to be siphoned away by the tip of his wand and slowly the pain faded. Snape's hand dropped to his side and she tested his work, offering him a very small smile once it was apparent her hand held no traces of their brief duel.

"The Pain Reliever would explain the excessive bruising then," mumbled Snape. He turned and went back to what had woken her in the first place; he was putting together a light tea tray and had been about to select the leaves for Earl Grey when she had cast at him.

"I don't know about you but I don't take milk or sugar in my Earl Grey," said Hermione as she slowly made her way to one of the stools at her island counter.

Snape shook his head. "Neither do I. Toast?" Hermione paled and shook her head in the negative which made him narrow his eyes slightly. It appeared as though he was holding his counsel against his better judgment but simply said, "Then just tea."

Hermione watched him turn away and place the kettle on her gas stove. After fiddling with the dial to make the pilot light start the fire beneath it, he waited for it to warm with his back turned to her. She watched in fascination since she had never seen another wizard make tea the way she did, the way her Muggle parents had taught her, except for Harry. Harry had also been raised by Muggles so it stood to reason that he would still perform some tasks the way he did for the first decade of his life.

Only once a warm mug of Earl Grey was pressed between her interlocked fingertips did either speak again.

"It's getting worse, isn't it?"

The question hung in the air like the shroud covering the Veil Sirius Black had passed through a decade ago. Hermione finished half of her tea before meeting her former Potions professor's eyes. A chill that was not her home's Cooling charm passed through the air as the two Occlumens met each others' blank faces.

"Do you remember what happened to Marcus Flint?" she asked him, her voice the epitome of neutrality behind the sand dunes she used to create her Occlumency walls.

Snape nodded solemnly, finishing his cup of tea. Once their gaze was no longer on each other the cold of Occlumency was lifted from the room. "Vividly. Lucius nearly met the same fate."

The rays of the sun had slowly moved from behind her garden wall to peeking over the hedge. The warm glow was the exact opposite of the pale moonlight she had been bathed in only hours before. Had it really only been hours? She unconsciously tensed her left hand where she gripped the edge of her marble counter top.

"How often is this happening, Hermione?"

The softness and genuine concern in his tone startled her out of her reverie. The rays of the morning sun shone through the window fully now and blinded her as she tried to look at her guest.

"You're not my healer," she snapped back automatically. Even she was taken aback at how sharp her tone was but she felt no remorse over it. The rage from that botched intervention was like a muted ember in the pit of her stomach.

Unlike Draco a week ago, Snape did not hold back from scanning her face and what he could see of her body with a clinician's eye, an ominous frown pulling down the edges of his mouth in disapproval. "I helped to invent and brew the potion you're treated with, insolent girl. Now answer the question."

Hermione felt her temper fraying. The pain of the last few days mixed with the strain of work and recovering from DMB 4.6 left little room for patience. "Or what, you'll take away house points?"

"Damn it, Granger!" Snape smashed his empty teacup down to the shiny linoleum floor where it shattered beyond Reparo. His breathing was steady but she could hear the deep breaths as he sucked them in through his large nose. She had not outwardly reacted to his outburst other than her white knuckled grip on her countertop getting stronger.

"I came here this morning to proposition you for a work opportunity at half past six. Draco told me that you normally reported into the Ministry with reports before seven in the morning on Mondays and Wednesdays so I wanted to catch you before you left. However, when I arrived, I found you face down in your back garden wearing sweat soaked pajamas and nail marks down your left forearm over your mark. You were completely unresponsive despite my Ennervate but diagnostic spells only displayed extreme magical and physical fatigue, apart from the runes we routinely ignore. It is getting worse, Granger, but if you won't let me help you then I will take my leave."

His dragon hide boots pulverized a few pieces of the teacup beneath them as he stood to loom over her. A flash of memory transposed itself over this image of the same man peering ominously down at her potion in class. The hair was too short and the clothes weren't right and there was definitely a distinct difference to the state of his neck but it was still the same man that had instilled fear into most of the students he taught that demanded order and compliance. It was the first time she had noticed he was not wearing robes but a dark grey sweater over a button up top and dark trousers; it was all definitely Muggle-made.

"What do you want from me?" she asked in a small voice. The deep purple smudges below her eyes betrayed her exhaustion but her spine was still straight and stiff as she faced Snape.

"I want you to work with me to cure you."

She raised an eyebrow, not mockingly but with genuine curiosity. "I'm not allowed to freelance without prior permission from my supervisor."

A dismissive wave. "Taken care of already. I have the binder here if you wish to begin today. You have been granted three months leave during your term with me, given that I compensate the company fifteen percent of what you earn while doing so."

"They conceded for fifteen percent? Freelancers never give up less than forty for potential disbursement of intellectual property."

Snape almost smiled; it was a wicked grin that teased the corners of his mouth. Hermione poured herself another cup of tea after summoning another one from the cupboard for Snape. "They will receive fifteen percent and appreciate it so much they would be happy to allow you another month's leave without compensation back to the company if it meant they could get you back at all."

"Tall promises," said Hermione over her mug. "And what would you have me do?"

"Alchemy. Arithmancy. Brewing. And your name on our academic proposal once this goes international." Snape paused to take another drink of his tea. He glanced at her apologetically as he vanished the mess he made on her floor. "But the real goal is to heal the subjects who have not responded to any strain of the Dark Magic Banisher yet, but we can't let this go internationally until we find out why. Are you in?"

Hermione considered it for a moment, holding her hand up to her eyes so she could look at his face without the sun shining into them. Cocking her head to the side she met his intense gaze ounce for ounce. Slowly, she began nodding her head. The first real smile she had had in days turned up the corners of her mouth.

"I'm in."

Chapter Text

Friday July 22nd, 2005 | 4:25 pm | 19 Aster Way, Surrey

Hermione sat in the center of a hurricane of paperwork in her living room. Her hair had been tied back into a French braid hours ago, hours before her legs had gone numb the first time and she had to stand to stomp the feeling back into them. A loose curl behind her left ear kept tickling her every time she moved her head but that feeling was barely registered as she combed through the equations that had been owled to her that morning.

She had been expecting an owl from work days before it had arrived but the sheaf of parchment and the zip drive she had sent before going in for DMB 4.6 had most likely kept them busy the last week. Most of the return data was frustrating at best but the quantity of analysis was promising, even if the quality was lacking.

The argument she had made over the introduction of some alchemy components had been very tricky to put into terms that would pass the Statue of Secrecy and into the Muggle portion of their market. It helped that she had sent proof that internationally, Muggles were becoming more receptive and were seeking "natural" remedies or holistic medicine. That made alchemic introduction that much easier. Reviewing the components returned by the scientists was tedious at best but she took heart in the fact that her Arithmancy equations had eliminated the idea of animal testing with their products. That was unfortunately easier to sell to the Muggles on staff than the witches and wizards.

Once the final report was signed and her annotations included, Hermione finally glanced at the time and heard her stomach protest. Single-minded was an understatement while she worked. There were plenty of half full and empty tea cups and saucers around her living room and kitchen but she doubted she had eaten more than half of a sandwich and perhaps some eggs that morning.

Instead of waiting to submit the reports by owl she decided to head into work to use their industrial size parchment conversion machine. It was only a charmed copier but it handled the thick parchment she preferred like a dream and converted it all into data saved on her account on the secure server. A wave of her wand had all of the papers and binders arranging themselves neatly once again and another flick guided them into her messenger bag. The canvas barely bulged, the Undetectable Extension Charm doing its job.

It was quick work to set her dishes to washing themselves while she quickly showered away the grime of spending the early morning in her gardens and the whole day sprawled on the floors. The office of Orphus & Gamble was in a part of London about a twenty minute walk from the Leaky Cauldron, and she knew many of her coworkers who actually used their offices would be headed there for a pint at the end of the workday before their weekends started. As if she needed an excuse to avoid heading towards Diagon Alley.

Heading into her garage, where the only area on her property available for Apparition was located, she attempted to straighten her braid one last time before turning on the spot and disappearing with a soft pop.

Friday July 22nd, 2005 | 5:15 pm | Orphus & Gamble International Offices, London

Just past five on a Friday was the best time to head into her office since the Floos, the lifts and the Apparition points were fairly deserted. Hermione headed out of the back conference room, where the Apparition point was hidden from the Muggle employees, towards the front lobby and the glass lifts waiting for her to insert her employee badge. There were only so many things they could pass by the Ministry for secrecy purposes but it was worth it for the talent they were able to hire in from the non-magical world.

The badges were more for show than anything since she could speak a password once inside the lift but that was one of the casualties of working for a blended business with Muggles on premises. She and some of her colleagues fought an annual legal battle with the Ministry over small breaches of the Statute of Secrecy and where they needed to draw the line or induct the employees into the fold. Hermione was all for exclusive access for the employees working for the company, just like the exceptions given to non-magical brides and grooms or parents of Muggleborn children, but so far her efforts had been met with a brick wall.

It wasn't helped that the Legislation against Status Discrimination was still logged beneath a slog of bureaucratic nonsense because no one could agree on the information on the document. Even Hermione had needed every ounce of her mental prowess to read the first draft and she did not envy those assigned to work on that project on a daily basis. The portion that had caught her eye when she first read it was in regards to medical records, but it had been so dense and discombobulated that it could have been interpreted any which way.

Reaching her floor, Hermione stepped off the lift and nearly ran into someone walking just past it. Losing her balance as she tried to spin away from running into them, she felt their hands grab onto her shoulders to steady her. A warm smile on her lips, Hermione turned to look up at Dudley Dursley and thanked him for catching her.

"I'm used to it by now, Hermione," he said with a friendly smile on his face as well.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Are you headed in or out?"

"My work is finished, but I could walk with you." Dudley pushed the button to send the lift back down to the ground floor.

"Perfect. I'm going to my office to drop off paperwork so it's not tempting me at home all weekend."

"Don't kid yourself," Dudley scoffed. "You'll work through the weekend with or without those files. Aren't you assigned to the Vertigo project?"

Conspiratorially, Hermione glanced over her shoulder to him with a glint in her eye. "Not anymore. I'll be freelancing outside of the company for a while. Miraculously, Wolpert agreed to it so I'll even be able to keep my normal take-home salary."

"That's great, Hermione!" he said as he held open her office door for her to step through. Hermione rarely visited her office so it was in pristine condition; the house elves even organized the quills and inkwells by color and size. "Clarissa and I are eating dinner together tonight, but I'm sure she'd be happy to have you along. You need to celebrate."

Dudley settled into one of the guest chairs across from her and crossed his legs at the ankles, the image of relaxation with his hands folded across his chest. Dudley had grown an extra few inches since the end of the Wizarding war and leaving the safe house the Order had constructed for him and his parents. As she had met his parents, on multiple occasions ranging from bland to volcanic, she saw the similarities he had to both of them. It helped she had a Healer and doctor's trained eye when it came to body structure. Dudley's maternal side brought him height where his paternal side gave him breadth. He looked like a rugby player that was a bit too tall, or a basketball player that was a bit too wide, but he used his size to his advantage when pitching marketing plans to potential clients.

Setting her canvas bag down on her nearly empty desk, Hermione plopped ungracefully into her leather office chair and laughed. "It's not that big of a deal, Dudley. I'll be spending more time at St. Mungo's to be honest."

Dudley's smile faded a bit. "Does that mean you'll be stuck in that world for awhile?"

Hermione looked up from the paperwork she was pulling from her charmed bag and paused when she saw the concern on his face. He had leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk.

"Yes," she said bluntly. "I'll be almost completely immersed in wizarding culture for a few months, so you'd better be ready for a phone call for a movie or something to ease my sanity."

"Anytime, love." Dudley visibly relaxed again, checking his phone for messages while she continued to organize her work. "Did you want me to tell Clarissa you'll be joining us? She's making chicken parmesan from scratch. Something she learned in class this week."

"If it's not a bother, I'll tag along," Hermione said absently as she stood in front of her charmed copier and began inputting the sheaves of parchment to be converted to digital files. Dudley began clicking away on his cell to send his fiancée a text. "How much longer does she have in her program?"

"Only a few more months, thank goodness. If she keeps bringing home experimental desserts from culinary school I'll end up just like my dad."

She made a face. "Don't worry, Clarissa and I will stop that long before it happens. Speaking of Vernon, did Grunnings try to contact you again?"

It was Dudley's turn to make a face, which was all the answer Hermione needed and she chuckled as he said, "I swear they will never get over the fact that I don't want to work there anymore."

Dudley had worked for the same company as his father for almost a year after getting his business degree and Grunnings had hired him at the insistence of his father. Dudley had hated every minute of working for the boring company and his equally boring father. The year away from the world in hiding while she and the boys had been on the run had had very much tampered his opinion of Vernon, especially seeing how kind their wizarding protectors were and how awful Vernon was to them. One of the first evenings Hermione spent in her new home in Surrey had been a major turning point in his life.

The summer of 2003 was markedly chilly, nothing like the humidity of the current summer. She remembered this because the first time she met Dudley Dursley he was wearing a long sleeved cable knit sweater over a button up shirt with slacks as he knocked on her front door; an outfit not dissimilar to what Snape had worn when he had broken into her home and invaded her privacy to offer her a job a few days prior.

The first thing she noticed that evening was he did not flinch when she held her wand up to his chin aggressively after he said his name, merely taking his hands out of his pockets to stand in a non-threatening way.

"You'll want to put that away," he had said about her wand. "There are still people from your Ministry that watch this neighborhood."

That had startled her enough to invite him in off of her front step, but had not shaken her foundations enough to offer him tea. He was still the hated cousin of Harry Potter she hadn't heard many good things about.

"I'm here to warn you about my mum and dad," he had started after navigating around a few boxes to the sofa. She hadn't had a chance to fully unpack yet. "Harry said you were looking at houses here, God knows why, and hadn't been able to make you see reason."

"Harry asked you to talk to me?" Hermione said skeptically.

Dudley had nodded. "Watch out with the magic around here, you know? Your Ministry has tags on us in this neighborhood, as we're Harry's family and all so any bit of magic cast around us sends them a message of what was cast. They said it's for our "protection" or something like that. It drives my parents round the bend, it does. It's bloody awful enough working with my dad without him screeching about wizards over Sunday dinner."

Bristling at the fact that the Ministry was essentially spying on this Muggle community just because Harry's blood relatives lived there, Hermione said, "That's horrendous. The Ministry needs to keep their noses out of everyone's fucking business. They were so eager to leave us alone when there was a war but now that there's peace they start to monitor people? They're asking for trouble."

Dudley nodded again to that. "I'm glad you understand. Just…be careful of what spells you cast around here."

Dudley had quickly become his parent's spokesperson over that summer as they adjusted to having a witch in the neighborhood. Compared to other wizarding folk, Hermione lived very simply with moderate amounts of magic outside of her research for her new job at Orphus & Gamble Industries. Whenever there was a disturbance they blamed on her, they'd call Dudley at his apartment in the city with his live-in girlfriend and demand that he go over and tell her to leave. The few times that Vernon and Petunia had tried to do that themselves they had nearly pissed themselves from sheer terror of the witch, and she hadn't even cast a single spell around them per Dudley's warnings.

He was not afraid of magic or magical people like his parents were. That, and his admittedly matured people skills, had caused Hermione to prompt him to apply at her company instead of staying miserable at Grunnings. Over two years later and Dudley had been able to mostly detangle himself from his parents and had a job he could excel in. Hermione was a great liaison to explain to Muggles in the company how the wizarding world worked and vice versa but she was rarely in the office due to her random bouts of illness or treatment or even just outside research. Dudley acted as one of the company's top correspondence team members in the United Kingdom when it came to making new business deals. In the years since the defeat of Voldemort, he had shed off the rest of the prejudice he had grown up with and was fully capable of stepping in when Hermione was not available to explain cultural differences in the company.

In the early days she wondered if Dudley moved companies and stayed simply to spite his parents but he had excelled in his job. Talking business and making deals was something he was good at, even if he did have a dedicated scribe to take the notes and run the numbers for him.

"Have you talked to Harry recently?"

His question brought her reminiscent train of thought to a grinding halt. She had to breathe to remind herself that he didn't know; it was just an innocuous question.

"Not since Sunday." She pretended to be distracted by converting the last few files.

"He sent me an owl, Hermione." That made her stop and whip around to look at him. He held his hands up and shook his head innocently. "Bloody ruddy beast wouldn't leave me alone until I'd read it and responded. He was asking me if I'd talked to you lately and he hasn't asked me about you since-"

"Since he stopped going with me for treatment," Hermione interjected.

"Right, I knew that, so I just told him I'd seen you around the office but hadn't spoken to you yet."

"I really don't want to talk about Harry right now, Dudley. I'm sorry but I honestly will be a poor dinner guest if we continue this conversation. My patience has been wearing thin lately."

"My cousin and I may be on better terms now than we ever have been, but just know that I'm likely to take your side in any shite he wants to start with you," Dudley said with a vehement tone. He softened a bit. "Any change on treatment, by the way?"

Hermione grimaced. "You're dead set on bringing up something to ruin the evening, aren't you?"

"Someone who cares needs to ask you about that once in awhile. Someone who isn't your doctor, or Healer or whatever you all call them."

The last of the parchment went through the copy machine and her laptop on the desk made a soft ping to indicate it was saved to the company's intranet and a copy was ready for her on the zip drive. Dudley stood to help her gather up the sheaves of parchment and put them back into her canvas bag for safekeeping until she got the chance to properly store it.

"That's the project I'm freelancing for, actually," she said as she grabbed her faded jean jacket from the back of her desk chair where she had left it. "There are several patients who are not responding to the treatment so they're hiring me in to, well, be me all over their work."

"Let's hope some of the original work survives your scrutiny. C'mon, let's go eat dinner. I promise not to bring up Harry, or owls, or treatment or any of that once we leave the lift."

"Want to take the stairs instead?" Hermione asked. "I worked right through the morning and there was no way in Merlin that I was going to run in the afternoon heat."

Dudley held the door open for her again as they left the office. She tapped her wand against the handle to lock it and followed him to the stairwell to walk down the six flights of stairs to the ground level.

"Are you going to be a guinea pig for them?" he asked after they reached the fourth floor landing.

"Not exactly. I've technically been one for the last two years."

"I still can't see where you've found the time to go through all that, work overtime every week and still get through the accelerated course at the University."

"Being a witch has its benefits. And thankfully most of my University training tied right into the research I've been doing for the firm since I've been studying diseases and ailments that affect both wizards and Muggles. No more Time-Turners, I promise!"

Dudley smiled. Over the years, Hermione had slowly filled him in on hers, Harry's and Ron's adventures at Hogwarts. Some things would never be shared, but one night while drinking together at her home after a particularly bad treatment day, she had told him about their third year. She blamed it on the full moon that night and the residual effects of DMB. When she saw Dudley in the office the following Monday, she had hoped he would forget her mentioning a device that manipulated time. With no such luck on her side, he hounded her the whole morning until she had yelled at him through her migraine that it was a device that meant she was a year older than what her birth certificate said and they didn't exist anymore because she had inadvertently assisted in destroying them all.

Reaching the ground floor, Dudley stayed true to his promise and started asking her about how her rosebushes and gardens were doing. Hermione asked him as they walked out of the lobby if he had driven to work that day.

"No, I walked into the office this morning," he said. "If you're planning on Apparating us let me call Clare to warn her first."

The pair walked back to the barricaded office she had entered from and after asking Clarissa where it was best for the two of them to show up they vanished away with a soft pop to a homemade dinner.

Chapter Text

Saturday July 30th, 2005 | 5:45 am | Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

It was a strong black coffee type of morning. The kind of coffee that blurs the line between dark roast and pure espresso. Even early risers like Draco and Severus felt it sacrilegious to need to be present for what was sure to be a media circus an hour after sunrise. It also didn't help it was a place where they could not just Apparate right where they needed to be. No, they had to arrive at the front gates, await admittance by the Headmistress herself, and then walk up the path to the Entrance Hall.

Headmistress Minerva McGonagall had greeted the two of them affectionately, gripping them each in a brief but warm embrace.

"It's so good to see the two of you," she said as she led them up the path. "The house elves have prepared a light breakfast for the group of us."

"Which translates to a full English if memory serves," mumbled Severus as he strode purposefully beside her.

A knowing smirk lit up her features. She hadn't aged a day since the Battle of Hogwarts, Draco noted. He supposed it was a trifle easier to run Hogwarts without the distraction of a war against a Dark Lord, and she was still within what some wizards would call middle aged at nearly eighty.

The sound of a dozen or so voices reached them as they moved closer to the Great Hall. The doors were thrown wide open and the first thing Draco noticed was the House tables were all in their respective places but were noticeably smaller. Instead of seating hundreds they were closer to the size of a dozen places each. Every table, even Slytherin, held several people already sitting and talking quietly amongst themselves. A few cameras and notepads littered the tables in front of the people Draco most vehemently wanted to avoid.

It was easy to spot Potter in the mess of faces, since his was surrounded by fresh faced reporters vying for his attention. Usually Hermione fended off the press at these events for him, and Draco noted how without his nearly feral sidekick he looked a tad overwhelmed. Hermione sat a couple spots down from him and was talking to Hagrid over a couple mugs of tea. The half-giant's was more of a bucket, if he was being honest. A small child could bathe in it.

He and Severus were dropped off at the Slytherin table with Slughorn and a few others from years below him he recognized but could not place names to until he had more caffeine in his system. The last week at St. Mungo's had been fraught with preparations for Hermione to join them in the adjacent office and finishing the negotiation paperwork between her current contract with O&G and the one she would be working under as a freelancer.

It had all been ridiculous drivel, just like the patenting process, and just like that paperwork nightmare Severus had somehow slithered his way out of it again. Git. He would have to rope him into the drudgery one of these days. Draco took a deep gulp of Italian roast and tried to join the land of the living more fully.


Saturday July 30th, 2005 | 4:30 am | Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Hermione arrived well before everyone else for the warding ceremony, already dressed completely for it in the maroon robes she had collected from Madame Malkin's a week prior. The gold embroidery really was resplendent and detailed on the cuffs and at the hem. She had spent the entire afternoon after picking them up cross referencing each mark and rune between books she owned and the small booklet McGonagall had first provided to her.

Some of the unsaid meaning came to light for her as she continued her reading with books borrowed from the Ministry Archives. The week she had between taking a leave of absence from O&G and immersing herself into the work on the Dark Magic Banisher was spent mostly in the Archives as she prepared for the warding and her new position. There was a repeated pattern of runes that held meaning in regards to the traits of each house, at least in the most general term. Hermione personally thought that each house could be marked for its bravery but that was one of the runes specific to hers and Harry's robes. As such, loyalty was also a cross house trait but only the Hufflepuff robes had those woven in.

Overall, the ceremony really was just that. A ceremony. Something meant to attempt to reestablish House unity as well as continuing to refresh the protective wards around the castle. It was done once every century or so, but they would be strengthening the enchantments that had taken hundreds of wizards the entire summer of 1998 to replenish. The Battle had shaken the very foundations of Hogwarts, so going ahead with the every century schedule seemed appropriate even though they had just been cast. It wouldn't be nearly as taxing so ten would be more than sufficient: eight House representatives with one initiator and one closer.

Every House needed two individuals that were connected closely, somehow. As the pamphlet had said, it was easier if they were related by blood or bonded as if in marriage or between a godparent and godchild. It was also preferred to have one male and one female but that was more for appearances than any true affect it had on the warding.

Hermione still did not like the fact that she and Harry would be using her connection through James as their bond since it was not as strong as it should be. Yes, she was James' godmother and they were formally bonded as such but that did not tie her to Harry specifically. It was that fact that had alerted her to the façade of the entire day. The Headmistress was not one to do things in half-measures so she was on high alert for anything that seemed amiss. She could have used Molly and Arthur Weasley, for example, as they both had proven themselves powerful magic wielders in both wars but certainly they did not have the star power that two from the Golden Trio did.

Hermione had found a few short clippings from 1905 in regards to the most recent ceremony. There hadn't been nearly as much unrest in the wizarding world then, unlike the rocky decades to come. Voldemort had not even been born yet and that had taken her a few hours to process. It was extremely hard to imagine a world where he had not yet existed even if there had been terrible dark wizards before him in history. Hermione was fairly certain he had been the only one fanatical enough to split his soul seven times.

With her hair pulled back in a delicate looking chignon on the side of her head, Hermione tapped her wand gently against the front gates of Hogwarts. She felt the wards ping to her presence, as she had previously asked McGonagall to temporarily key her to them. Slowly they opened just enough for her to slip through and begin heading up the walkway. Instinctively she tugged at the sleeve of her left arm to make sure her scar was covered. It had been an angry red color when she had rolled out of bed and gone to shower. Glamours and make up did nothing to conceal it, unlike the dark circles under her eyes that were completely covered.

She took her time walking to the doors to the entrance hall, meandering briefly by the lake that had tendrils of fog rising off of it at this time of day. Passing by the south side of the castle where the dungeons met the lake, she saw the station that Snape and Draco would be taking later that day.

It was ridiculous how Slytherin they had made their basin. Rather than looking like an official object, the warding equipment would not look out of place in her grandmother's tacky garden she remembered from her childhood. Rough hewn stone, engravings of snakes, green vine detail, and nearness to the dungeons…the designers could not have been more obvious if they tried. Hermione cringed as she thought about what the birdbath looking monstrosity would be decorated with for her and Harry.

Shaking her head, Hermione moved to the front doors where a few others were headed as well. Thankfully they weren't reporters but Professor Sprout, Ernie Macmillan and his wife whose name Hermione did not know but knew that she had been sorted into Hufflepuff a few years ahead of them.

Professor Sprout greeted her with a smile and hug as Hermione joined them up to the Great Hall where they went their separate ways for the breakfast spread the house elves had prepared. She gulped at the smell of food wafting up to her as the brand on her arm began to burn again. It was not quite as bad as when she had collapsed and Snape had come to her home but it felt as though it was a warning. Attempting to ignore it, she sat near Hagrid and reached for a bowl of cut fruit and a small stack of toast and tried to eat a light but filling breakfast.

Hermione knew the instant that Harry walked into the Great Hall. The few reporters that had arrived on the scene that she had fended off with icy smiles and threatening wand movements flocked to him like moths to a flame. She turned to look at him and gave him a polite wave to acknowledge him but made no move to assist him like she would normally. A few moments later she saw Snape and Draco arrive out of the corner of her eye, and they made the last pair to arrive acting as House representatives. Luna and Xenophilius had actually camped on the Hogwarts grounds the night before and were already stationed at their own tacky birdbath.

"You and Harry ready for today?" Hagrid asked her as she finished another cup of tea and slice of toast.

Hermione nodded as she swallowed. "Yes, I made sure he read that book weeks ago."

Hagrid just laughed at that, standing up from the table as he did to go over and disentangle Harry from the throng of people, lifting him like a rag doll from the crowd to plop him down on the bench near Hermione. Suddenly needing to do something with her hand that wasn't gripping the table viciously to reign in her temper, she made another slice of toast with orange marmalade.

"G'morning, Hermione," he mumbled.

The sound of the knife scraping on her toast got faster and louder. Harry cringed and fussed with his matching set of crimson robes.

"I'm sorry about last week," he said just as softly. The reporters were still hovering around. "We're worried about you, you'll visit but it's like you're not really there."

"Bang up job asking me about it."

"We know you've been busy with work and the treatment at St Mungo's, you just never talk about it."

Hermione gripped the knife handle tight enough to make her hand shake. Gently, she put it down on the table though what she really wanted to do was slam it. "You and Ron have always been shit at apologies, you know that? You both also made it clear you didn't feelcomfortable with me talking about my symptoms so I'd rather not inflict them upon you."

Harry cringed again, but took a sip of his tea nonchalantly to cover it. It wouldn't do to draw the attention of all those hovering Quick Quotes Quills. If they were to raise their voices even a decibel more it would ensure their conversation would be on the front page of every wizarding publication. He straightened his back a bit and turned to look at her fully for the first time since he had been plopped down ungracefully next to her.

"We're idiots. I'm sorry."

"Bully for you, I accept your apology but I'm still fucking pissed about the situation. Can we just get through this farce and talk about it later?"

Harry stood then, holding out his hand to her to help her stand, too. He wordlessly nodded in assent to her comment as they made their way to McGonagall.


Saturday July 30th, 2005 | 7:01 am | Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

The sun had fully risen an hour previously, but the light was still muted behind the trees of the Forbidden Forest. It didn't help that the Gryffindor station was on the west side of the castle opposite of the sunrise. Hermione had forgotten how chilly Scotland could be, even in the midst of summer, as she stood in the castle's shadow.

More for Harry's benefit than her own, she began reciting the instructions. Checking her watch, she said, "It will start in eight minutes, exactly an hour after sunrise. Each of us stationed around the castle will light our…basin…and cast the first warding charm to the ground around us. The fire is meant to focus our energy and the first set of wards begins to open our magic to the existing enchantments on the castle and the grounds. Make sure to focus on the defensive wards, Harry, that's what Minerva assigned to us."

Harry nodded even as he yawned. He knew for all of Hermione's claims that this was a farce, it was still going to be a taxing display of magic and he did not mind her preliminary run through.

"She mentioned that Luna and Xeno have the grounds and the charms on the Forest, what were the other four assigned?" he asked curiously.

"We don't have enough time for that before the ceremony, if you don't remember what she said about Hufflepuff and Slytherin I'll have to tell you after this." Hermione tried to keep the waspish tone from her voice with that statement but it was a chore. "Just focus on the enchantments for protection, like the ones we saw them use before the Battle to lock the gates and such. They won't be difficult to find since that's what we worked on most fastidiously after the Battle so they are newest."

"Alright, then after we cast that we wait for Minerva's signal from the Astronomy tower to cast the mid-wards to give them more power and to also include Gryffindor tower in the mix?"

"Correct," Hermione said as she took her wand from its sheath on her right forearm. She hid a wince from Harry as she felt a blister on her left arm threaten to pop beneath her sleeve. "We just need to give a little more energy to the tower to perpetuate the charms that help to keep members of other Houses from breaking into it without welcome. It's a small part of this, actually; they're just playing it up for the reporters."

Behind where they stood were a two of those reporters, a wizard from the Prophet and a witch representing Witch Weekly of all things. She would rather have been assigned the quiet but stone faced witch from Transfiguration Quarterly than these two young and eager writers, clearly star struck and charmed at their apparent luck of being assigned to the most famous pair of the bunch.

Harry had cast one of the charms he learned in his initial Auror training right after the four had made the necessary introductions and pleasantries and comments on their good luck with the weather. It handily replaced everything they were actually speaking about with a pre-made conversation regarding wind direction and debating the color of Albus' nursery that the Witch Weekly woman was sure to spin into some elaborate new trend. It all depended if the recorded conversation ended when they agreed on yellow or cream, which surely Harry would never care about in reality.

"I know you don't want to do this," Harry said. "But it seemed important to Minerva, you know."

"It's not that I don't want to do this, I just wish it wasn't so…contrived."

Harry shrugged, checking his own watch. "Three minutes, by the way. It's definitely that but hasn't everything been since we defeated Voldemort? The parties, the ceremonies, the balls?" Here, he snorted inelegantly. "I don't regret it, stopping Voldemort I mean, but I'd rather not have to subject my family and friends to that rubbish. I admit that its lovely taking Ginny out to those parties but it would be better if we didn't have to play court the whole time." He stopped again, letting out a sigh before the brooding look on his face was forcefully cleared back to neutrality. "And what was the last thing, after strengthening the wards and the tower enchantments?"

"Then we move the power source from ourselves to the Hogwarts grounds, so we need to wait for Minerva's signal on that. Luna and Xeno are on the North side and will be the first to let go so we can all anchor our spells to the magic naturally found in the castle and campus itself but if we do it too early we could seriously injure them. Imagine it like the first cast is us threading the needle, the second is pulling it through the cloth or in our case the existing enchantments, and the third step is tying off the loose ends."

Harry nodded and looked much more comfortable after that analogy. The first sparks of warning shot from the Astronomy tower. One minute, then.

"Would you do the honors of dumping the basin after that? The potion inside will seal the bond of our charm to the ground physically. I'd rather not touch that horror of golden plated griffins." She shuddered. If Slytherin's station had been tacky, Gryffindor's was vulgar.

"It would make a great front page shot, wouldn't it?" Harry mused coldly.

He cancelled the charm on their conversation after that. Despite their disagreements, becoming more frequent as of late, they still agreed that it was downright disgusting the way their thoughts had been shaped to manipulate the press in the same way they were trying to manipulate them.

Hermione distinctly heard the witch reporter muttering about cream curtains as soon as the charm was lifted.


Saturday July 30th, 2005 | 6:59 am | Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

"Did you pack the dried bit of Devil's Snare, father?"

"Most certainly, my dear. We will go down to the lake after the ceremony is complete, I'm sure mermaids will be much more obliging to searching for dabberblimps with a bit of Devil's Snare to placate them. Mermen love to braid it into betrothal bands."

"Just watch out for the giant squid, father. She's equally fond of it. Look, there's the Headmistress' signal."

"Just so. Remember that if you're barefoot that it will be much easier to communicate with the grounds. I'll have to make sure to ask them while we're connected if they've had any Crumple-Horned Snorkacks cross through recently."


Saturday July 30th, 2005 | 7:24 am | Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Draco knew the shit had hit the fan once he and Severus had simultaneously poured the still burning contents of their basin onto the ground in front of them to release the wards. The snap and bursts of energy to their left knocked them to their knees.

"Always fucking Potter," Severus sneered as he held a hand to his neck.

The scars there were angry and purple, testament to the hastily healed wounds from a night that Draco knew he would never forget. Narcissa had done what she could but a qualified Healer she was not. Looking to the west where they knew the Gryffindors were stationed the two men struggled to stand, brushing off their emerald green robes with silver stitching as they did. Another invisible blast knocked them to the ground.

"What the devil are they doing, they should have dispersed the power by now," Draco growled from clenched teeth. Each blast had felt as though a bludger was attempting to knock him off his broom and subsequently knocking out his breath.

Severus shook his head, still holding his obviously painful neck. Draco knew from previous potions incidents that his neck muscles and skin were extremely sensitive where Nagini had attacked him so if the blasts were knocking Draco's breath out then his companion would be close to Crucio level pain. He was attempting to rally as the third blast came through, this one just a bit less powerful but Draco was still glad he remained on the ground. He reached out to Severus to offer him a Pain Relief potion that he nearly always kept on his body. When one worked with patients wracked with near constant blinding pain the least one could do was have a form of relief at hand. Pulling the stopper from the vial for him, Draco managed to pour some into his godfather's lips that were shaking from the strength of his jaw as it clenched.

"Not. Potter."

"What?" gasped Draco as he managed to find his breath again.

"Granger. The treatment. Too soon."

Draco paled. "What level, Severus?"

Severus shook his head and turned away to vomit in the grass away from both Draco and the potion they had poured. Gasping like a fish out of water, he responded, "3.2. Like 3.2."

The exchange, made smooth by years of forged familiarity, completely confused the two reporters who had managed to lift themselves from the ground behind them. One made a small cry of displeasure as he noticed his flashbulb camera was cracked in several places, effectively exposing the film inside and ruining some of the negatives he had managed to snap earlier.

If they had known what the exchange had truly meant for their safety they would have rightfully fled away from the Hogwarts grounds. As it was, Draco struggled to stand and pulled Severus up with him and began sprinting up to where he knew Hermione was stationed with a plea on his lips that another blast would not knock them over again. He didn't think that Severus could stay conscious for another one. Ceremony be damned. It would be better for the headlines the next day to read that the ceremony was an utter failure and would need to be redone rather than an obituary for a war heroine.

Chapter Text

Saturday July 30th, 2005 | 2:57 pm | St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

The first thing she was aware of was that she hurt. She would not be surprised to open her eyes and see a hippogriff sitting there on her chest, but opening her eyes felt like more trouble than it was worth at the moment. Mercifully, her left arm was numb completely.

The second thing she noticed was the sharp smell of wizard-made antiseptic. St Mungo's, then.

Finally, she could hear a rather heated argument going on just outside of her range of hearing. Everything was a bit muffled and fuzzy. When she ran her tongue over her teeth it reminded her of the feeling of Novocain. The only time it had been used on her was when her mother had had to extract a baby tooth that was resolutely lodged in her jaw though the adult molar was more than ready to come in. This screamed of Draco's interference. She typically refused this particular sedative potion due to the uncomfortable side effects of light-headedness and the propensity to not be able to perform the simplest of charms from lack of focus.

As she slowly came to, the voices came in much clearer and it was unmistakable that whoever was fighting were inches from throwing hexes. It sounded as though they were getting closer to her room and the bed she could not seem to even sit up in.

"…shouldn't even have been there, Minerva should have just asked another pair of Weasleys, Merlin knows there are enough of them!" That was Draco, certainly.

"Yes! We know that now! But where were you and Snape to tell us that the ceremony would react poorly to her treatment of that curse?" Harry.

"As she has reminded me on several occasions, I am not her Healer. You think I wanted this to happen? That we planned to nearly run her core dry from the effort? It was a thrice-damned warding ceremony with the power of nine other witches and wizards; we had no reason to have her Healer stop her."

"That doesn't matter; you're supposed to know about the reactions…"

And the voices faded away. Hermione had managed to turn her head to the left to look out the frosted glass as the two of them stalked past her room. The images were blurred but unquestionably them. Slowly, her water-logged skull twisted back to center and then to the right so she could further observe her room. A small cry of distress left her lips as her eyes fell upon the slouching form of her former Potions professor.

At the sound of her cry his eyes left their resolute stare at the closed door of her hospital room to stare at her instead. His elbows were resting upon his knees, and his shoulders were tense. Hermione had a hard time holding his gaze as his face swam a bit in her drugged vision, but did her best.

"I asked you if it was getting worse." His voice was quiet and slow but laced with vitriol.

"I didn't lie," she rasped out.

It was hard to form words when her lips were so numb. His tone didn't bother her as much as she supposed it should. Even Harry and Draco's spat barely registered on the cloud she was riding on.

"But you didn't tell the truth, either," he hissed.

Hermione didn't have anything to say to that. She really hadn't answered him about that at all, but he had been the one to find her unconscious on the ground in her yard. That hadn't happened to her very often. Come to think of it, it seemed to be happening more often lately. Thoughts were coming slowly to her at the moment.

"There are very few people I've told the truth to," she mumbled and waved her right hand to where her left arm lay heavily bandaged. What felt like enthusiastic waving to Hermione looked more like a halfhearted twitch in that general direction to Severus.

Severus sat as still as a gargoyle in the chair by her bed. If he had learned anything in his years as Head of Slytherin House was if you gave them enough time, people would reveal what was truly on their mind. This had also served him well as he observed Death Eater meetings and their aftermath. All souls wanted to share their darkness. He was rewarded in short order with only a twinge of guilt that he was benefiting from the sedative potion's side effects.

"At first they wanted to hear ev'ry detail. 'Specially Harry. He didn't understand, n-not really. S'not a dark wizard to chase after and that's what he's best at. Ron didn't know why it didn't just go away after that first night. Ron. So loyal, but he can't see past the nose on his face some days."

Hermione paused, trying to collect her bearings. Her tongue felt very heavy. She turned to look over at Severus again instead of the wall across from her and squinted. Just like the other day when he had loomed over her in her kitchen his clothing caught her attention. Before he had looked the effigy of a Muggle professor, like the one she had for one of her first few anatomy classes at University, all sweaters and trousers with neatly cuffed sleeves. Now he was the exact opposite in bold green robes with shimmering silver stitching. As her eyes swam out of focus again, the runes stitched into his sleeves started to writhe like a nest of vipers.

She blinked. "You're wearing green."

Severus snorted. "Well spotted."

He didn't seem to get that she had only ever seen him in black, or more recently black and grey. It annoyed her for a moment before it became too bothersome to hold onto the emotion.

"You've been coming alone to the treatments."

It wasn't a question, but she answered anyway. "Since May two years ago, the fifth year anniversary."

Severus remembered that celebration quite clearly; the first real milestone since the defeat of Lord Voldemort and the subsequent beginning of the entire overturning of the Ministry of Magic. He had avoided all previous celebrations and all for very good reasons. The first year he was still bedridden most of the day undergoing treatment for his wounds and living at Malfoy Manor. He was also diligently working with Draco to lower his father's sentence to house arrest. The following years had been much of the same with the sudden explosion of incidents of unexplained symptoms.

At first no one had really cared about those who were having frequent seizures where there were no records of them happening previously, or bleeding from their ears or eyes, or even the ones that ran screaming through the streets cutting off their own limbs. No one cared because they had all been known Death Eaters who had taken the Mark. He and Draco had both catalogued these symptoms, noting the variable instantly, right before they began having them themselves. It was easy to spot in so small a circle of former comrades.

Severus had been the first of them in Malfoy Manor to note odd symptoms and behavior. It had helped that Draco and Narcissa had constantly been monitoring his healing from Nagini's attack, as well as a designated Healer from St. Mungo's. Gaining the respect of the boy who had just vanquished the Dark Lord had its perks even if a downside was airing his dirty laundry to the boy. As his vitals were taken six times a day to watch the progress of the antivenin and other healing potions, when his first seizure came they were prepared for it. Neurological functions were always high on the mark when it came to Healing a poisonous injury in the wizarding world since they were a more accurate way to chart how the subject's magical core was affected.

The Cruciatus had nothing on those spasms from the curse.

The very first potion he had brewed to alleviate his symptoms had been fashioned after the golden one he had brewed for Dumbledore when he had been cursed by the Gaunt ring Horcrux. Both had been brewed in extreme haste. Eidetic memories certainly had their uses past recalling incredibly uncomfortable memories. Tampering with the recipe slightly had slowed the symptoms and eventually he only had to take a dose annually. At the time it seemed that as soon as he had perfected the potion for himself that Lucius had begun feeling the effects as well, which was putting it mildly.

The batch that Severus had made for himself had not alleviated Lucius's spasms, fainting spells, or hallucinations. It had dulled them, certainly, but it was obvious it was not working in the same way for him. A few more Arithmancy equations and the assistance of Draco who had nearly completed the paperwork and potion submissions for his Mastery, and the Dark Magic Banisher was born.

In order to separate the two potions, the version that had assisted Severus more fully was officially titled as Dark Magic Banisher on the patent forms. In the underground of Knockturn Alley at the time it was called the Dark Mark Banisher and the abbreviation of DMB began. The potion was born of necessity in what were still very dark days for the losing side of the war where men and women were afraid to go to St. Mungo's for any sort of treatment, no matter how many Hippocratic Oaths the Healers had taken to do no harm. What was one additional dead Death Eater but one less trial the Ministry was obligated to perform?

Draco was treated with the same version as his father, which earned that particular recipe the title of 2.0. As more witches and wizards came to Malfoy Manor for healing and observation, the pair of Potions Masters determined that this was absolutely linked to each patient's Dark Mark but it was harder to pin why they needed to manipulate the recipe so often to accommodate each trial patient. It was extremely rare for a witch or wizard to be allergic to something. Sensitive, yes, but not allergic. Their magical cores served to block many of those health issues. At one point there were so many men and women undergoing treatment that one wing of the Manor was converted into a pseudo hospital.

"Is Healer Horner here?"

The soft request brought him out of his trip down memory lane and made him realize he had been watching her intently as she stared blankly out of the frosted window. The crisp lighting charmed from above her bed was muted but did nothing to hide the translucent quality to her skin after the trial her body had just endured.

"Yes. She came in while you were still unconscious."

Hermione was still looking out the window as her head nodded slightly. "I imagine she was pleased to return from her honeymoon so swiftly."

Severus did not answer and stayed with her until her eyes drooped closed again, only then standing from his chair. Unconsciously he paused at her bedside before departing.

She looked so small beneath the sheets with the tension in her body finally relaxing into a natural sleep. The carefully smoothed chignon of the morning had given way to a halo of corkscrew curls in a collection varying from a deep chestnut to streaks of butterscotch blonde. The skin that was tanned from hours in the summer sun had the tint of a bruise on her right shoulder and was bleached to a much lighter tone from the glare of the hospital lamps. Each freckle around that blossoming bruise stood out starkly.

His hand reached out to that exposed shoulder of its own accord but stopped before making contact. Instead, he brought the sheet up around her chin to block the chill in the sterile room.

A sneer curled his lip as he darted away in the direction that Potter had gone with Draco. He needed to see a Pensieve of what happened up on that westward hill.


Saturday July 30th, 2005 | 10:30 pm | St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Draco rubbed at his temples furiously. He did not dare look at the clock to know how long it had been since he was snugly in bed with his witch that morning…or what they had been doing before falling asleep spent after enthusiastically reminding each other how tantalizing they found the other.

"Again," rasped Severus as he secured his long hair back into a tail behind his head.

They had been brewing necessary potions for the ward between viewings of Potter's memory of early that morning so, when Draco ran his hands through his hair and down his face, he let out a growl of displeasure. He had a smear of hair grease down his face that ran over his eye like a shimmering scar. Moving to the bathroom to watch it away, lest his fair sensitive skin erupt into small volcanoes, he scrubbed carefully at his face and then rinsed his hair.

He brought back a glass of water from the bathroom and handed it dictatorially over to his godfather who still leaned heavily over the Pensieve.

"How's your neck feeling?" Distracting him in this state would be as difficult as his Healing finals, but he had to try.

"I'll need another dose of pain relief soon but not yet, we need to look again."

Still holding out the glass, Draco took Severus's hand off the basin to place the tumbler into it. Severus's dark eyes looked disappointed that it was water and not something stronger but polished it off quickly.

"Don't be a reckless Gryffindor; we've been in and out of that memory constantly for the last few hours. I'll need a good hot soak in the bath after being in his mind for so long today," Draco said, draining his own glass of water. "If you won't rest, you stubborn fool, even after being knocked soundly on your ass by the tantrums of a diminutive witch then humor me and stay out of that Pensieve for at least ten minutes at a time. What we need is to review what we've seen again outside of the memory itself and delineate the facts before going back in. The warding ceremony preparations were pristine and Minerva has already told us the four stations weren't tampered with and there weren't any anomalies that could have been strong enough to cause her reaction."

"Why is she the variable? She assisted with the original warding after the battle." Severus had returned to staring into the swirling Pensieve and gripping the sides both for balance and in frustration.

"I almost wish it were Potter, we could just blame it on his damned scar."

Severus almost knocked the basin over in his haste to stand and turn towards Draco. The potions lab that had already been quiet due to the late hour on a weekend night instantly silenced unnaturally. Draco felt his ears pop and the tips of his ears and nose chill as Severus's gaze met his. He rarely looked right into his eyes when they were researching or working since his work partner and mentor Occluded during these times to ensure acuity. Without the distraction of emotion it was easier to react to a potentially dangerous situation or see the logic in an alternative method.

Draco set his glass down gently, still meeting his godfather's gaze. "Severus. Severus you need to speak to me, what is it?"

"It is always Potter, isn't it?" His voice held none of the vehemence that normally came when he spoke of Harry this way. It was filled with what one would call wonder in another human voice, but in Severus it was incredulous. He began to pace. The lack of swinging robes did nothing to diminish his sweeping around the room. The pair of them had stripped out of the ceremonial robes down to their trousers and long sleeved Henley's.

Draco filled the silence as his ears threatened to pop again from the pressure of it, trying to follow the train of thought of his counterpart. More often than not he was forced to speak while Severus paced as his mentor was still getting accustomed to working with a trusted partner. Years of working for a ruthless emotional tyrant and an equally deranged physically abusive master caused him to hedge his thoughts on instinct rather than share them.

"Granger is the variable, we know that. We just don't know why. She was not the only woman, and she was neither youngest nor oldest. She was the last to join the ceremony members but I would bet one hundred Galleons that she knew more about this procedure than almost anyone. It can't be the treatment because even though hers is the only one ongoing, you and I both still take annual doses. We did not even have a tenth of the reaction she did."

"But she has been reacting poorly to this version," said Severus. He pulled a ledger from one of the shelves in the lab as he passed it. "It's not quite as bad as 3.2 but that comparison is fractional at this point."

"None of Horner's notes indicate that."

Severus scoffed. "Idiot boy, you have not been reading close enough. She has been missing sessions with Callista in Mind Healing for months now and has lost another stone since the beginning of the year albeit gradually. Her BMI was 21 when she was school age, perfectly normal for her height, but it has dropped down to around 19 which is creeping to underweight. She is not telling Horner everything."

He kept his comment to himself, but the decline began after the announcement of the Healer's and the Weasley boy's engagement. He pocketed that information for later.

"Damn her and she's also a certified Healer in our world and nearly one in the Muggle world so she knows how to keep herself going, if not thriving," Draco said as he absently ran his hand through his hair again, still a bit damp from the wash in the sink. Severus nodded to indicate he was catching on. "So then it could be the treatment, but why weren't we affected as she was? My most recent dose of 2.0 was a few weeks ago, one month past my birthday."

Silence again filled the room before Severus absentmindedly reached into his coat pocket to grab his pack of cigarettes and headed for the door. Draco was hot on his heels. Once they had reached their west wall position the muffled sound of cars driving by in London was deafening compared to the lab.

Severus began to pace again and was mumbling under his breath. He suddenly stopped with his hand halfway to his mouth with the fag dangling precariously from his two fingers.

"There is a variable we have not considered," he began, his voice slow and measured. Draco waited, taking another drag of his cigarette, as Severus collected his thoughts. Bringing up his wand, he cast a quick Muffliato.

"It is something we've purposefully not included in both the warding and our research as it is not a statistic readily available to us any longer."

Draco snuffed his expired light beneath his heel and cursed, understanding exactly what Severus was indicating. One glaring statistic had been stricken from official records only years previously where it had previously been a staple on any hospital intake chart.

"She was the only Muggleborn."

Chapter Text

Sunday July 31st, 2005| 6:25 am | St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

"Did you bring the Prophet for me?"

Draco scoffed. Barely twenty four hours since she had collapsed and almost brought the whole of Hogwarts along with her and she was ordering him around.

"I'm glad to see you too, you ungrateful bint," he bit back, but tossed the morning Prophet to her.

Bringing it had been against the better judgment of Potter, which had only spurred him more surely to bring her a copy. Even without the added benefit of vexing Potter on his twenty-fifth birthday he would have brought it to her. He was of the mind that no matter when it was delivered, time would not completely soften the blow of an exposed secret.

Unstable Warding Ceremony Proceedings, War Heroine Hermione Granger Collapses!

Headmistress's Judgment Called into Question

Pursing her lips, Hermione refolded the paper and delicately set it on the table next to her. "After coffee then."

"They let you have coffee?" Draco asked skeptically as he primly sat down into the visitor's chair next to her bed, reaching to grab her chart. She raised her hand and silently summoned it out of his grip.

"Knocked on my ass and I can still Summon things from your grip." Her little grin had a shadow of wickedness, reminiscent of their days tormenting each other in medical school.

What had started as an echo of their bitter feelings towards each other at Hogwarts had devolved into something with less animosity. Between the exhaustion of Healing courses and the lack of a Dark Lord or Draco's father's constant influence, hesitant friendship was forged as they constantly attempted to best the other in their studies. They had also been the only two accepted from Britain, since very few students from Hogwarts had been able to complete their N.E.W.T.S with all the Outstandings necessary to begin the courses, and even fewer qualified to study in the revered L'Institut de Guérison Magique.

Draco couldn't help but smile to see her mischievous smirk. Before leaving for home the previous night he had stopped by her room to check on her. She had been sleeping soundly and the glamours and charms on her hair and skin had been completely cancelled, displaying a collection of bruises over the exposed skin of her arms and part of her shoulders. Her cheekbones had looked sharper than he remembered. This morning she had a bit more color in her cheeks.

"About that," he began, ignoring her triumph of keeping her records from him, "Severus and I have had the dubious honor of watching Potter's memory of the warding ceremony but we need to talk to you before we even begin to decide what cocktail of potions to put you on."

She folded her arms around her chest, her cheeks getting ruddier but he couldn't tell if it was from embarrassment or anger. "You're…"

"…not your Healer, I know! Merlin, you stubborn witch, would you just let me help you? I'll even throw in a reward for you and vote in favor of your next Muggle loving venture with Orphus & Gamble."

Her face softened a bit but her arms were still folded. "You were going to vote for it anyways, you manipulative tosser. But I'll bite."

"We were hoping to see your side of what happened at Hogwarts," Draco said. He brought his wand out from its concealed sheath on his left forearm, holding it casually in his right. Hermione understood immediately; he could tell by her expression. Instead of the expected anger her face held hesitation and concentration.

"You know I don't like this," she said slowly after a couple of minutes simply staring at his wand hand, "but it's the best way. Did you bring the Pensieve, too?"

Draco shook his head. "No, Severus will be reviewing that downstairs in the lab. I'm not positive that he left the ward last night, to be honest. I'll be sending him your memory through the cabinetry system, a reverse of how we send potions up to these levels."

Her curls were lighter around her face this morning than when he had seen them the night before, hanging lankly around her cheekbones and shoulders. When he had visited her after her round of treatment, it had been secured back with a braid or in the towel after her shower, so he wasn't able to appreciate how long it had gotten. As she thought about what he was asking of her she hid behind the curtain of her hair that hung down well past her shoulders. Draco mused over the image she made, an image that looked distinctly like Severus whenever Draco caught him brooding over a tumbler of Firewhiskey in his study.

"Which would you rather do first?" he asked her soothingly, standing from the chair and leaving his outer robe draping over the back of it.

Hermione's eyes trailed him as he rolled up his shirt sleeves and sat down on the bed next to her. At this proximity, he could feel her trembling and he brought up a hand to her cheek. His action forced her to turn her face towards him, and she took her bottom lip between her teeth to stop it from quivering.

"Hermione. This is not the only way to do this."

"But it's the best way." Her voice was very small as she repeated the phrase.

"We can just do the Pensieve for now, and if we need more information then I can come back. It will give you a chance to do your own reverse Occlusion."

Hermione shook her head, moving her face slightly away from his hand and let her hair fall over her face again. Before he brought his hand back down he felt a small tear brush his thumb. "I'm pants at reverse Occlusion. I've blocked too much."

Draco sighed. That was another matter entirely, and was only able to be reversed if she consented to go back to her regular mind-healing schedule with Healer Callista Rainer or meditation. He knew this a Healer, but as a friend he knew that now was not the time to drudge up sensory memories of Bellatrix Lestrange.

Reverse Occlusion was a tricky process; it was much like waking dreams where a studious witch or wizard could view their own memories including all sensory recollection even if they weren't necessarily conscious at the time. . Occlusion itself was simple enough once the initial hurdle was passed of what imagery or technique suited the witch or wizard. Personally, Draco liked using wind. It was versatile enough that he could kick up a furious storm to block anyone wishing to push past into his mind, forcing them to get lost along the way, or it could be gentle and relaxing when he was trying to fall asleep. He knew Severus used stone for most of his protective walls of Occlusion but had never asked the details as it was exceedingly impolite, even gauche, to inquire on something so personal.

When one person who had either Occlumency or Legilimency training met the gaze of someone who was Occluding there was always a sense of what was being used. During his most recent disagreement with Potter, he realized Hermione must have taught him some of the techniques because there was an undeniable spark of fire behind his gaze that had not been there in the years prior, where Draco had felt nothing but the simple weight of Potter's ire.

"It's not that I don't trust you," Hermione choked out. She began running the palm of her right hand firmly over the wrapping on her left arm that smelled strongly of the minty burn paste the apprentices downstairs made daily.

He grabbed her hand to stop it from irritating her scar more than it already was. The last he had seen it before he and Potter had cast a simultaneous Finite at her to stop the course of magic from the warding to her body it had been fiery red and blistered almost beyond recognition. The ice cold fingers were still trembling in his hand until he brought his other one up to envelope it completely.

"It's not a question of trust," Draco began. "No. That's not right, it absolutely is, but we can try just the Pensieve first."

"The Pensieve will not show what my core was doing, Draco. I…I don't remember anything past Harry lighting the basin so my memories won't fill in many gaps, they'll just create more. Legilimency would be much more…efficient."

She was using her Healer's voice on herself.

At that moment as he sat next to her on her bed with her right hand held firmly between both of his own, the door to her room opened to admit a Healing apprentice bringing her morning potions and breakfast. Draco scowled but did not let go of her hand; she hadn't even looked up at the sound of the heels the apprentice wore as she toddled into the room.

"Oh," the girl said breathlessly, a hesitant smile on her face. "Mr. Malfoy!"

Draco plastered on an expressionless mask in favor of the sneer that was itching at his lips. "It's Master Malfoy, actually. I'm afraid I haven't had the pleasure?"

"Apprentice Pickering." The girl's voice cracked on the last syllable.

"I will give you to the count of three before I snap your Quick Quotes Quill and confiscate your wand to the Auror on duty, Miss Pickering. One…"

Draco did not even make it to the first plosive sound of two before the tray the girl had been carrying was dropped with a raucous clatter and she fled from the room. In her haste, the apprentice robes she no doubt stole from an unsuspecting fool that submitted to her charm, whether magical or physical, flapped gracelessly around her ankles. Beneath were not the standard issue uniform slacks but fashionable designer business robes that would not last a day in St. Mungo's.

"Bloody buggering press," he seethed, only then releasing her hand. He stood and swung his outer robe around his shoulders. "I need to have a word with that imbecile Potter, or whatever lackey he put in charge of your security."

As he picked invisible lint from his arm off of the robe, he turned to Hermione again. His jaw softened a bit and he forced himself to smile for her.

"You'll think about what I said? You have a choice."

Hermione nodded silently and moved to begin twisting her hair behind her head in a single French braid. Draco lingered for a moment longer before sweeping out of the room with his full Malfoy scowl firmly in place. That look had not cowed her in years, but the trademark glare was sure to wither any unsuspecting victim in the aristocrat's path.

As she finished tying off the end of her braid, she wondered if the westward stairwell was as deserted as usual.

Sunday July 31st, 2005| 6:49 am | St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Severus fought the unwavering urge to clutch at his throat or to scratch at the irritated skin that had not ceased throbbing since the morning prior. Cigarettes hadn't helped but he didn't know what else to do while he lay in wait. Before the boy had left for the night, at his insistence that he would be completely useless to him without a few hours' rest, Draco had forced him to wrap his neck in gauze. Although it had alleviated the surface pain and the tension, Severus couldn't seem to wash away the feeling of adhesive behind his ears where the bindings had been secured.

He had managed to catch a few hours of fitful sleep in the anteroom of the lab where they kept several comfortable armchairs that were easy to transfigure into cots. They had learned that lesson the hard way in the first few weeks of their employment with St. Mungo's after the official reports of Lautiores Maleficus. The name the hospital had given the so called disease still made his hackles rise. It only encompassed a fraction of the symptoms the sufferers reported. Emaciated wizard, indeed.

Those weeks in the beginning had made his first term as a professor of Hogwarts seem as easy as brewing the Cure for Boils. After nearly two years of crippling seizures, thousands of hours spent brewing, and no recognition of the condition, attention was finally garnered for their cause. Not that they had gone campaigning in the streets for the equal treatment of Death Eaters in medical care. It wouldn't have done them any good. The catalyst had been when war heroine, Granger, had been admitted to the Spell Damage Ward two Christmases ago.

Draco had just earned his Potions Mastery the summer prior to her attack and was working to take over his father's vacated seat in the Wizengamot. He was immediately called into St. Mungo's by Potter, who had been aware of exactly what was going on in Malfoy Manor and recognized similar symptoms to what Severus and Draco had been treating.

Severus had been with Draco when Potter's Patronus had burst in on their Christmas night caps. Two Sober-Ups and a handful of Floo powder later they both were commandeering the Potions lab at St. Mungo's and the apprentices on staff to subdue the worst of Granger's symptoms.

The story, as he had been told by Potter as he paced from one end of the room to the other as they brewed, was that Hermione had been acting distant and irritable throughout the Christmas holidays but especially on Christmas day. She had mentioned not feeling well so Harry had offered to Apparate her home instead of sending her through the Floo. Harry's firstborn had arrived just days before so he admitted to being distracted up until the moment he made to leave and Granger had had her first seizure in the kitchen of her Diagon Alley flat.

Excessive irritability, loss of consciousness, seizures, insomnia, muscle spasms, loss of appetite…she had had all the first signs of Lautiores Maleficus. All that she was missing was the Dark Mark. In its place was the scar given by Bellatrix. It had taken 1,734 days for the curse to completely manifest itself, for it certainly was connected to the same curse that had lodged itself into the scar on both his and Draco's arms.

As another cigarette rested between his lips he traced the scar of the Dark Mark on his left forearm, attempting to pull the wool from his thoughts on the entire situation. It was steadily coming up on three years since he had first seen her lying in a hospital bed completely unresponsive and thrown by the effects of the curse. He was past the point of irritation. There were dozens that had perhaps not been cured but were able to carry on with their lives with only an annual inconvenience. Severus pressed more firmly into his arm.

If only he had been able to find the blasted knife that bitch had used on her he could devise a counter-curse. He did not dare without finding it first. That was how they had lost Tracey Davis, her body reduced to ash moments after he had begun to chant.

Tracey had not taken the Mark fully but had begun the ceremonial preparations in order to spare her brother one year her junior. She had had a milder condition to the others and had volunteered for the procedure. Severus could still hear her screams and smell the burnt flesh and hair when he contemplated using charms work again.

The only runes he had been able to decipher after months of analyzing each patient's Mark as well as his own was a variation of the phrase perditus infideles. Destroy the unfaithful. The meaning there was abundantly clear. As Voldemort had been left to rot, his hand had risen from its grave to latch onto those who had bound themselves to him and punish them.

"I don't understand these fucking people!"

Draco's roar from the other end of the alley caused the knee-jerk reaction of him pulling his sleeve down back over his Mark.

"Potter is off at Hogwarts apparently assisting with damage control while he lets his most incompetent fucks stay behind here to guard her. I've already headed off three reporters, one made it all the way to her rooms in Apprentice robes."

Severus scowled fiercely, tossing his spent cigarette aside. He was starting to feel the tar coat his lungs; it was time for another dose of the antidote. Without a word as his throat was still extremely tender he spun away from Draco to follow the direction he had just come from.

As the pair of them stormed back to the front entrance to disperse the rabble and to have a stern word and possible hexing with the assigned security, neither noticed as someone slipped out the westward stairwell exit.

Chapter Text

Sunday July 31st, 2005| 7:24 am | St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

"What do you mean she isn't in her room, Master Malfoy?"

"Just what I said, you imbecile, she's not there and you're the one supposedly standing guard."

"But sir, I only just got assigned-"

"I am exceedingly disinterested in your excuses, fuckwit. Stop wasting time and go find her!"

Draco fingered his wand threateningly as he watched the Auror assigned to guard Hermione's rooms scurry away towards the nearest Healer's desk to begin his search, waving his wand with tracking spells as he went. With a snarl at his futile attempts, Draco went into the ward Hermione had recently vacated. The sheets were made neatly and the tray was exactly parallel to the bed. For all intents and purposes the room looked unused and not as if a heavily monitored and sedated witch had spent the night.

The only item that did not belong to the perfect image was a small vial with a swirling memory waiting for him. A note was on a bit of clean gauze next to it in Hermione's neat printed script.

July 30 th – Warding - Patronus

"Fuck!" he bellowed in the quiet of the room. Snatching the vial from the counter he swept out of the room towards the stairwell at the east end of the corridor. The lifts had been teeming with press and curious citizens along with those who were here as actual patients so avoiding them was the best course of action.

Hermione had made it very clear with her note she was not going to be easy to find if the only method of contacting her was through Patronus. Draco's had not worked correctly since taking the Mark. He wondered if Severus had the same issue since there was no way in Merlin he was going to ask Scarhead to send one to her so he could run off and bollocks everything up. He had already done such a wonderful job assigning security to her while he sucked off the press at Hogwarts for McGonagall.

Storming into the lab where Severus was glaring stonily at one of the newer apprentices on staff, Draco slipped the vial into his vest pocket for safekeeping. Severus's eyes briefly met Draco's and in that two second window Draco dropped just enough of his Occluding storm to show Snape Hermione's empty hospital bed.

"Mr. Stonewall, I assume you can be trusted to brew the basic potions necessary for the ward?" Severus was in full Professor Snape mode as he returned to looming over Richard Stonewall. Two fists were behind Stonewall's back as he tried to stop his hands from trembling.

"Yes, sir!" he squeaked, his eyes unblinking.

"See to it I still have a lab to return to. I am not to be disturbed for some minor inconvenience such as a melted cauldron or the bidding of Harry Potter. Is this understood?" As he emphasized the word Potter, the apprentice flinched.

"Yes, sir!" Stonewall repeated before busying himself with cleaning the soiled cauldrons. Draco noted impassively that his healing robes were haphazardly draped over his shoulders and he had missed a button when doing up his sleeves. If not for the telling look that Severus had already done so, Draco would have flayed him for jeopardizing hospital security. He was certain that no more hospital apprentices would make the same mistake Stonewall had made that ought to cost him his job.

Without a word Severus left the lab and took Draco with him to the locked anteroom with their armchairs. The Pensieve floated innocuously in the center. The basin in which the potion for memories was held had been left to Severus in the Headmaster's will, which he had felt entitled to since he was the one who had brewed the tenth level potion for Dumbledore in the first place.

"Are you still able to produce a Patronus?"

Severus halted in his tracks just before he reached the basin. He did not turn towards Draco as he replied, "I have not had the need to produce a Patronus since the winter of 1998."

"One of the symptoms of this Merlin damned curse is the reduced ability to produce a Patronus and you haven't even tried to use yours since this all started?" Draco's voice increased in volume and shrillness as he went on.

"Do not take that tone with me, insolent boy! Why the non-sequitur?"

"She left a note letting me know this is her memory from yesterday morning and that she will only allow contact by Patronus. The format is how she and I coordinated study times in France, sans the Patronus portion but otherwise it follows form. I sent the Auror at her door on her trail but I doubt they will find anything." Draco glowered darkly, shoving his hands into his pockets and hunching his shoulders. "She did not have enough energy to Apparate from the grounds and I doubt she Floo'ed anywhere in her condition, she wouldn't end up in the right fireplace."

"Granger is an accomplished Healer, and she's survived thus far with this blasted curse. I trust that she left the memory for us to review before attempting to reach out to her for good reason. On the matter of the Patronus, everyone in the Order was trained on how to use their Patronus as a communication device but me. It was assumed I could not cast one, no other Death Eaters could."

With his scowl deepening, Draco spat, "I won't make the mistake of stating I am displeased with the overall result of the war but how in the fuck did the Order win? The more I learn about the members and their methods during the war it's astounding they weren't knocked arse over teakettle within months of his return."

Severus tipped the bottle of Hermione's memories into the basin without preamble after Draco handed it to him from his vest pocket.

"The Dark Lord was insane, Draco. If he had used an alternate method of immortality than splitting his very soul multiple times then the Order surely would have been destroyed."

As one, they entered the Pensieve.

Sunday July 31st, 2005| 8:29 am | Dursley Flat, London

Dudley sat at the table in his kitchenette, watching his fiancée move with practiced ease as she neatly diced and sliced vegetables. An unconscious smile ghosted on his lips as his eyes trailed her. The soft summer sun shone through their flat's windows lighting the side of her face and sending bright red streaks of light through her dark thick hair.

"Should I make extra treacle for your parents, love? I imagine they won't be joining us tonight."

"Of course they won't. We're going into the wizarding world for this dinner so they don't even know that we're going, just that we've rescheduled Sunday dinner. Don't over think this, Clare," replied Dudley. He stood from his seat at the table to begin washing the soiled dishes. "It's Harry's birthday, but the others will make enough fuss over it."

Clarissa made a vague humming sound and began to slice a bit faster. Dudley dried his hands and carefully grasped her hand to slow and eventually stop its frantically paced movement. Standing behind her he could easily rest his head atop hers as she allowed herself to relax into his back.

"We might even see your uncle," Dudley said as he rubbed soothing hands up and down her arms. "Dedalus mentioned in his last letter he had been invited to something for Harry's birthday."

Clarissa turned in his arms and placed both of her palms on his cheeks to plant a gentle kiss on his lips. "You know Dedalus isn't really my uncle, Dudley. Just my brother's godfather and that has a lot more weight in the wizarding world."

He gave her an indulgent smile. "I won't pretend to be all that bright, especially when it comes to magic, but I figured that out for myself. I think I have more to worry about than you do, you know. Being a Muggle. The last time I visited that house I made a wrong turn to the loo and walked into a room that tried to pull every single hair on my body out by the roots. Hermione was furious."

With a giggle that ended with a sigh, Clarissa continued, "The Blacks weren't known for their love of non-magical people. But that's not why I'm worried. I keep thinking about Hermione's visit last Friday night and I'm coming back to what she wasn't telling us. Is work pushing her too hard?"

Dudley sighed and tried to nuzzle his nose into her messy top knot but she placed her hands on his chest to keep his gaze on hers. Her dark brown eyes were narrowed a bit and her jaw set sternly.

"No, it's not work," he started as he searched for the right words.

Their dinner with Hermione had been enjoyable, just like dozens they had had in this flat before, but he could hide little from Clare. After the third time Hermione had tripped while rounding the armrest of the couch or had leaned against the wall in a forced casual way he couldn't help but pull her aside to ask if she was feeling well. She was certainly not a prima ballerina but she didn't normally trip over her own two feet quite that often. There also had not been enough wine emptied from the bottle at dinner to affect any one of them that significantly.

Dudley hated holding anything back from Clare but Hermione had made him swear not to tell anyone else about her symptoms. He wouldn't even know where to begin to describe it since his brief exposure to it had reminded him of films where a character was possessed or had terminal cancer. Best not to entertain that train of thought.

There were still worry lines on her forehead that he tried to smooth away with butterfly kisses and the tension had left her shoulders with Dudley's soothing.

"She's been…drained lately is all, but she knows her limits." Clare simply nodded and sighed at that.

Dudley continued to make soothing motions with his hands over the sleeves of her dressing gown, moving his lips from her temple back to her mouth, moving languidly. It only took one step to push her body between his hips and the counter behind her. There was no urgency between them as neither of them had any obligations for hours to come. Clare had only been prepping the food out of nervousness and now the carrots lay abandoned.

As his hands slid from her arms to her lower back Clare arched into him a bit and nearly purred. His movement caused the shoulder of her second best dressing gown to bare one ebony collarbone.

Right before he had the chance to pay that collarbone and what followed below the attention it deserved, there was a thunderous banging on the front door of his flat.

Sunday July 31st, 2005| 11:36 am | Dursley Flat, London

Dudley had left Clare in the spare room to make sure Hermione had everything she needed after her shower to sleep in the guest bed. As he backed away from the room, he let the small panic attack he had been suppressing for the last few hours finally take control of his heartbeat and breathing.

These small attacks had been very frequent following the attack the summer of his fifteenth birthday by Dementors. In recent years they had abated between his improved diet and exercise and through his relationship with Clare. Harry had explained once that something, or someone, in his life to make him happy would diminish their lingering affect. Clarissa Thomas certainly fit the bill of making Dudley a very happy man.

Hermione had interrupted their calm morning by coming to their flat appearing for all purposes like a cat that had been dragged backwards through a hedge. As he peered through the peephole and swiftly undid the lock and chain after recognizing her, he didn't ask her what was wrong, merely acted.

"Clare, could you draw a warm bath for me please?" he called to his fiancée. His voice sounded hollow to him as it echoed oddly in his ears but it did not betray the rising horror constricting his chest. Years of exposure had honed his skill of recognizing when a panic attack was imminent. Clare nodded, a hand held over her mouth at the sight Hermione presented as she leaned precariously against their doorjamb.

He didn't hesitate before lifting the slight witch into his arms to get her off of her feet. Her bleary eyes gave him her thanks before she rested her head on his shoulder. Even though she was dead weight in his arms Dudley felt she was still too light.

"Don't tell Harry," she whispered to him.

Dudley set his jaw and nodded to her once before leaving her in Clare's capable hands to assist her into the bath to wash off the grime on her exposed legs and arms. The scar on her arm looked lividly red. He had seen the foul word on more than one occasion as she had no qualms about hiding it when she was around him; it had been the spark of many a conversation between them on the merits and detriments of the wizarding and Muggle world.

It had taken being placed in protective custody from a deranged serial killer, but Dudley had grown up when it came to his opinion of wizards and witches. It was no longer a blind opinion based on his father's fear and his mother's bitterness but a mature cautiousness in general. He knew and respected many wizards, not the least of which Dedalus Diggle who along with Hestia Jones had protected his family for almost a year while his cousin fought said madman and his stooges, for lack of a better term. For that alone he would be eternally grateful. But he was more grateful to him for bringing along his godson Ishmael and de facto niece Clarissa Thomas.

Near the end of their quarantine in the secret house he later learned was owned by Harry's old schoolmaster Dumbledore, Dedalus had added to their little safe house. Hestia had initially bristled at the potential safety risk of bringing more into their fold.

"Death Eaters attacked their home, Hestia. Ishmael was due to start Hogwarts this year but his parents held him back," explained Dedalus. "Clarissa is of age, but is a Squib with no way of defending the both of them."

Hestia had bent her opinion after that.

During a panic attack the first week of the Thomas's stay, Dudley had been comforted by Clarissa. Where his mother and father had no pity or understanding of his condition as it was a direct consequence of a magical creature, the condition had been ignored as contrived. A hand to hold while he got his breathing under control was all it took from Clarissa to calm him. She may have been a Squib, a non-magical child born to magical parents as Dedalus later explained, but she had healing magic of her own in his eyes.

He retreated away from the sound of Clare whispering soothing words to Hermione to get her to sleep. The filth she had accumulated on her walk from St. Mungo's to their flat was washed down the drain of the bathtub but it was clear there was still a pall in the air around the witch. When Clarissa had asked her gently why she hadn't Apparated to their hall instead of walking halfway across the city in the heat Hermione had shaken her head.

"I thought you both still subscribed to the Prophet through Harry's name. I didn't have enough magical strength to do it safely."

At that Clare had shot him a look that meant distinctly he should check the post immediately as she finished combing out Hermione's hair. The paper, both the Sunday Times and Prophet, were waiting innocently near their front door.

The headline of the Prophet had empurpled his cheeks; Hermione's condition was spelled out in black and white for all to see. No wonder she had left the wizarding hospital, she would not have any peace there to recover. Ever since he had known her she had been very tight-lipped about her illness; ashamed wasn't the right word but she was absolutely concealing it from prying eyes. Most of the reasons he could understand: privacy for one and pity for the other. From what he knew of Hermione she preferred to work alone and was relatively introverted. Exposing her private life like this would usually send her into a blazing temper, especially after she had spent the last few years living a relatively normal life, but she was too exhausted to show it. After this exposure it would mean the beginning of the pity. Pity from coworkers. Pity from strangers. Pity from everyone that read the Prophet and fancied Hermione their war heroine. Those reasons, along with his respect for her as his friend, had kept Dudley from telling anyone what he knew about Hermione's true condition. Not even Clarissa knew everything he did about the real reasons she worked from home most days.

Admittedly Dudley did not understand all the reporter had written about what Hermione had been doing the prior morning at the school but he understood it had involved a lot of potentially dangerous magic and that Harry had been with her. Another pair of names in the article had caught his eye and he circled them with a ball point pen to ask Clare about later. Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape.

"She's asleep, love," called Clare softly as she walked down the hall to the sitting room that doubled as a dining room. She had changed after assisting Hermione with bathing as her dressing gown had been soaked with bathwater. He would never get over the vision of her wearing one of his old rugby practice shirts from college, the white cotton making her dark skin look even richer.

As she got closer to where he sat on the couch staring at the Prophet's moving photographs she placed a calming hand on his lower back. Dudley handed her the paper to read the front page for herself. Clarissa's lips tightened and eyes narrowed as she read.

"Did she tell you anything else?" he asked after a few minutes of silence. With her gentle hand at his back the attack that had been triggered by Hermione's haggard and sudden appearance was all but gone. "About what happened, why she came here?"

"She mentioned the article again and that a ceremony drained her almost completely. When I pressed her what the ceremony was for she explained it was to help Hogwarts, something about safety measures. I can't blame her for running away from the hospital, really, I doubt she would have been shielded very well from more reporters and she has been trying to hide from them for years." She paused, hesitating. "Hermione has Lautiores Maleficus, doesn't she?"

"As I understand it," confirmed Dudley. "These two wizards, Snape and Malfoy, don't they treat that? I've heard her talking about them before when the two of us work on the Derwent Designs account for Orphus and Gamble."

"They are both Potions Masters, from what I know. It makes sense that they would have a hand in that cure if they really are the ones who invented it. Master Snape used to teach Potions at Hogwarts up until the end of the war and Master Malfoy went to school with Hermione. The both of them have ties to former Death Eaters, and those are the ones who get sick most often. They're both considered war heroes, but not like Hermione, Ron and Harry. Ishmael told me in a letter once there is a long list of names of war heroes posted in the library at Hogwarts and that their names are on it."

Dudley hummed noncommittally. "What I don't get is what happened to her to drain her like this. She asked me not to tell Harry she's here but I think I need to send him a letter confirming our dinner tonight."

"I wish he would just get a cell phone or a computer like Hermione did. It's so much easier sending an email or ringing him rather than the trouble of sending a letter through that Floo connection."

Sunday July 31st, 2005| 1:14 pm | St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Draco and Severus sat limply in their armchairs, each of them with a tumbler of Firewhiskey in a clenched fist.

"I'll grab seizure tincture from the lab," whispered Draco. "Don't go back in without me."

The memory had a visual cacophony of flashing lights and dizzying landscapes as soon as it hit the moment Granger collapsed. As their Lautiores Maleficus was only in remission, as shown by a blood test and magical core scan taken every month, they both were still susceptible to seizures. At the rate they were entering and leaving the memory for data it was only a matter of time before one of them had to hold the other's tongue; it was a textbook trigger for the attacks that were part of the litany of symptoms that suffers shared.

A drop on each of their tongues would act as a barrier between the brain cells that were inclined to misfire and mimic the effects of the Crutiatus curse. Many of the symptoms that the Death Eaters had experienced in their initial patient group imitated the Post-Prolonged Cruciatus Condition. The similarities began with the seizures, overall body ache and fatigue, as well as difficulty performing some Light spells. Comparisons ended when the catalogue continued into the occasional bout of vomiting up blood or the individual impaling themselves repeatedly on a poker from their fireplace during a particularly vivid hallucination. After extended exposure to a Dark spell like the Torture Curse it was common for a victim to be damaged in a way they would need Light magic therapy to recover. The therapy included meditation, reverse Occlusion and medical chocolate.

In retrospect it seemed absurd for the hospital to have used those methods to treat the first few witches and wizards affected by the curse. No Healer could be blamed for responding to typical symptoms in a typical way but no one had ever accused Severus of a lack of attention to detail. Without formal Healing training he responded as he always did to an anomaly in his health and acuity: assess the symptoms and brew an antidote. Witches and wizards Marked by the Dark Lord were increasingly wary of the treatment provided by St. Mungo's and therefore found their treatment elsewhere. Namely with Severus and Draco at Malfoy Manor.

This fear had been sparked by the notorious case of Marcus Flint. His mother, still grieving the Azkaban death of her husband, had nowhere to turn when she found her son and only heir in their study with his left arm almost completely severed at the elbow and convulsing in a pool of his own bodily fluids. What began as subdued chanting, muttering, and crooning to his partially severed arm abruptly changed to sobbing as his mother entered the room. Marcus was the last heir of a house of the Sacred Twenty-Eight so it was with no small amount of haste that his mother used the assistance of a house-elf to bring the sobbing man to the Healers.

Speculation on what had actually happened that night was heavy and varied, but the number of hours between his arrival and the pronouncement of his death could be counted on one hand. His wand was found on him even though he had been secured into a bed in a ward to keep him from thrashing and re-opening his newly knit arm. Standard procedure dictated the removal of the individual's wand from their person but kept within the room within an Anti-Summon shield. Marcus had been able to reach his wand despite his bindings to finish what he had started in the Flint Manor study.

From the report on the parchment record in his room, the one fed by the monitoring wristlet that all patients wore, he had voluntarily dismembered his left arm completely from his own body minutes after the last Healer was in the room. At that point the pain register flat lined at the highest reading it could accommodate. Mere seconds passed on the chart before Flint flat lined as well. Healers had arrived back into his rooms as soon as the monitoring wristlet sent out a warning to find that what remained of their patient could easily fit within the confines of a standard size 2 cauldron. Years later Severus and Draco would read all the reports and records of previous individuals affected by the curse, and Marcus's was the shortest and most ominous of the bunch. A bottle of Ogden's was polished off the night they had read it and realized that it could have been one of them, or Lucius, or Theo Nott, or anyone else just as easily as it had been Marcus.

Severus and Draco had been present at his funeral where his mother had to be restrained before clawing out the eyes of the Ministry official from St. Mungo's who had arrived to pay respects. Before she had succumbed to grief a few months later Madame Flint told anyone who would listen that the Healers had consciously left her son alone and unmonitored despite his schizophrenic condition, but there had been no substantiation. No one cared enough to look into the suicide of a known Death Eater.

Only in the last few years had other patients like Hermione Granger, Dennis Creevey, and Tracey Davis cropped up with matching symptoms and rune triggers. None of them carried the Mark and Severus was frankly sick of inputting more innocuous data into Arithmancy equations with no results to assist in his brewing besides that fact. His and Draco's recent revelation that Granger was the only Muggleborn participating in the warding ceremony had jogged his thoughts further in that direction but it would not do to let the girl succumb to her recent attack while he mulled over these new findings. Once she was found, stabilized as well as physically and magically healed, he would have her contracted mind in his lab to puzzle out the next steps to take towards a cure.

Four years had passed since the Wizengamot, in all their dubious intelligence, had chosen to strike certain data from records in the wizarding world. The rationale stood that if blood status had essentially started two wars in less than three decades then it was time to do something about that. Apparently doing something about it meant eradicating the information from medical and legal records and only using the knowledge of a child's parentage when they were entering the wizarding world for the first time. Discussing blood status since the implementation of the legislation, even in the most clinical sense, was just cause for interrogation by a Ministry official for disturbing the peace. Only now, as he sat clutching his tumbler of Firewhiskey, did it begin to match up that the cure was likely hidden within the paperwork nightmare that barred many recently taboo medical topics. There had been too many people to cure, too many variables, for him to have even noticed before this point. He cursed his shortsightedness regardless.

The whisper of Draco's dress robes against the carpeted floor and the scent of bay leaves alerted Severus to his presence just before the warm fingers of the Malfoy heir touched his chin. His eyes had remained shuttered since leaving the Pensieve after the most recent perusal. Even in the dimly lit antechamber a migraine pricked at the corners of his consciousness. In a rare show of trust he opened his mouth with eyes still closed for Draco to administer the single drop of the tincture. It was bitter, like dandelion stems.

"We've narrowed the memory down to just after Minerva signaled the warding, so we won't need to manipulate it as much this time," whispered Draco. Severus heard him sit down beside him.

Severus made a vague humming sound to indicate he had heard him, working to clear his mind of the flashing images from the memory. In the moments they waited for the tincture to completely coat their tongues, and just before they could stand the bitterness any longer, a small chime announced the house-elves sending an afternoon tea tray as requested. A single triangle of sandwich each and several mugs of tea later they both could open their eyes in the dim room and prepare themselves to enter the memory once again.

Saturday July 30th, 2005 | 6:42 am | Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Draco was thankful that the exertion he should have felt for walking up the west hill of Hogwarts from the entrance hall was nonexistent within a memory. It had been difficult enough to gather all the desired details from Scarhead's memory and he did not have the attention to detail that Hermione did. If he didn't know any better he would say hers was eidetic just like Severus's. Of course. Lucky swots.

The morning sun was rising on the opposite side of the campus but where they were headed was still shaded behind the imposing walls of the castle. By the timer he had set on his pocket watch, they had twenty-seven minutes until the Lovegoods started on the north side of Hogwarts and one hour until everything went to hell.

"Hermione must have gotten into a row with Potter," Draco said to his companion as they kept pace with the memory Hermione and Potter just a few steps ahead. It was disconcerting to run through a memory person, similar to walking through a ghost, so it was an experience they aimed to avoid. He saw the forms of himself and Severus near the lake and the dungeons in the distance, sharing their last moment of solitude with a cigarette. It made him want one now but there was no time.

Severus cocked his head to the side and considered the pair of blood-red clad Gryffindors walking before them. "Indeed. She is typically in a snit so I hadn't noticed the incremental increase in the degree of her attitude but she is steadfastly ignoring Potter's obvious guilt over something."

"Potter and Weasley have the particular talent to keep her in a constant state of irritation. If your only exposure to Hermione was through those blithering idiots it's no wonder." Draco paused in his insults. "Are we certain that Potter is not a variable in this?"

With what could only be described as a frustrated growl Severus answered, "Unfortunately no. Nothing that Potter did or said triggered any of the fallout."

The unspoken sentiment hung between them that they'd rather be able to blame the Boy Who Lived to Annoy the Hell out of Them.

At this point they had arrived at the utterly tasteless basin that had been erected for the Gryffindor quarter. Of course the basin was made of solid gold instead of plated with it. With the amount of gold within that basin the Hogwarts tuition for all the new incoming first years that fall could be covered all through their tenure at the school. Draco, for all that he was raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, knew the value of things. The value of friends and modesty and humbleness. There was no sign of the latter on this hill; politics be damned.

Even he with his clouded past knew the pressure of perfection in the public eye and recognized when opulence was being used as distraction. It was something he endured to shroud those he cared for, including his family and friends and those who he worked to cure. All of those glittering smiles and large donations had gone to shit the moment Hermione had collapsed and her condition was made obvious to all of those in the wizarding world. Irrefutably, he could blame that fallout on Potter's reaction as soon as she had fainted.

Now that they had all reached the summit and all four persons had exchanged frivolous sentimentalities and introductions he and Severus moved closer to the two reluctant celebrities. The first viewing of the memory had them caught outside the charm Potter discreetly cast around them to disguise their conversation. He had never wanted to know so much about the decoration choices for his brat's nursery. Their conversation reflected the Slytherin sentiment on the whole charade as well.

Severus paced around them and studied their body language for the third time that day. Draco kept close to Hermione and counted again how many shines of Glamour he could spot under her eyes, on her hair, and just over her entire appearance. Living within a stone's throw of her in France during their days at the Healing Academy and further hours spent working around each other had made him an unforeseen expert on her well-being, and the same went for him under her regard. Mutually hiding in France, for it had been hiding no matter how else they had painted it as simply attending the best Healing school in the world, had forged a bond that would never have existed had they stayed in Britain. Fending off press was a much easier task in another country that had not felt the extent of the Dark Lord's reach.

At the conclusion of their studies and while still in their lime green graduation Healer's robes, they argued for hours over their choices of Masteries after school. She had been dead-set on Arithmancy and wanted to drag him along. He had wanted nothing to do with it, wanting to focus more on Potions for the now obvious reasons. Severus was right; she was usually in a snit over something.

Draco's eyebrows knit together but he kept his lips from pursing. His mother had schooled many of those feature-detracting habits out of him. Hermione's steadfastness had nearly convinced him to join her for Arithmancy training in Russia, but his responsibilities to his parents who were on house arrest and also fighting a yet unknown curse tipped the scales.

Who was he kidding; the curse was still an overall enigma to them.

"Beneath the Glamours, of which I count seven, she shows signs of fatigue and dehydration. Hermione was eating and sleeping just enough to function before this warding."

Severus nodded his assent as he joined Draco on her side of the basin. With a wave of his hand, he managed to slow the memory down by half. "Her posture is impeccable and she is not moving abnormally, no sign of recent convulsions or Cruciatus like symptoms. However, she is being very careful with her left arm and at this proximity it is apparent she has extra bindings below the sleeves as her left arm appears marginally larger. These are typical symptoms and reactions, so the answer is not here."

"There's no chance of diagnostics?" Draco knew the answer but wanted to hear Severus confirm it.

"If you attempt to cast any spell while within this Pensieve I will truss you up by your bollocks and make you brew a new one while dangling," Severus said in a light tone that did not match the bile of his words. "Use your fucking eyes and that lauded Healer designation, insolent boy. You should know better than to rely on your magic for everything."

For how stoic and focused his godfather had been over the last few weeks as more and more of their tests failed, it was almost pleasant to hear this fuming side of his mentor. He had been steadily reverting into what could only be described as sullenness.

"Minverva has sent the first signal. I'll monitor her charms work again."

Severus didn't say anything to that but stopped his pacing and began to stare at the pair of Gryffindors in earnest. With another wave of his hand the Pensieve went back to normal speed. Just as it had the previous visits, Hermione and Potter performed the incantation to allow their basin to begin gently feeding on their magic and the top floated away from the stand. It looked very similar to a Pensieve. By the time they had finished chanting the mindless drivel they all had been charged with, Potter had lit the basin. Draco braced himself for what happened next.

Since it was Hermione's memory they were visiting, the world around them started to blink in and out of existence as her physical body began to tremble. Her eyes rolled back into her head briefly as she had a standing seizure. As quickly as the seizure began, her eyes rolled back to their normal position but all traces of brown had left them as the pupils dilated to their extreme. For a brief moment she seemed to cave in on herself with hunched shoulders and her hands clutching at the front of her robes. The next instant, her arms were thrown wide and an invisible burst of magical energy threw itself from her, flattening the grass near her as well as the people.

The images seemed so jerky since they were thrown into total blackness in a staccato pattern as she repeated the symptoms of a standing seizure, to ripping at her robes to letting off thunderous bursts of energy. The world also seemed to spin around them.

"Enough!" Severus bellowed as he paused the memory at a part where she was collapsed into herself.

Draco held his head gingerly as he leaned down to look at her face where it was frozen in an expressionless mask, drawn gauntly around her features. "The first blast acted as a Finite. All the Glamours are cancelled."

He looked more intently into her eyes as Severus examined the three others who were nearest to her, dazed and obviously half-knocked out from their proximity to the shockwaves. At this distance, and from their other vantage point of viewing the memories without the flashes of light and darkness and the cacophony of colors via Potter's memory, it was easier to see the tendrils of visible magic in the air around them. Each position in the warding had their own charm trails around them since they had exposed a part of their magical core, a bit of their soul, essentially. In his own memory, he and Severus had been surrounded by grays and silvers. The color around each person could only be seen when viewed the exact right way, just like a prism through a crystal goblet. Draco finally was able to get close enough to the Gryffindors to see theirs.

Potter was predictably surrounded by a residual gold, nearly amber, color. Fucking Gryffindor.

Hermione's made his brow furrow despite his mother's extensive training against it. Hers was a deep gray around her body, but it seemed to be avoiding her left arm like oil to water…


His mentor stopped his examination of the reporters and kneeled down to match Draco's view of Hermione's face. With the Pensieve paused it did not take long for him to see what distressed Draco. He reached his long pale fingers out to that empty space near her cursed scar.

"She's rejecting it, Severus. Why is her core eating itself alive to stop the warding if the magic she is weaving is benign?" He hated the one side theory conversations he usually had but today he was rewarded with an answer.

A sharp intake of breath preceded, "Fucking hell…the benign nature of the magic we wove yesterday is exactly the problem. The curse is feeding off of her core to backlash against the protective spells."

Since it was almost impossible for him to pale, Draco's features tinged green instead. He voiced the obvious question of, "Why didn't it do the same to us?"

"The answer to that could mean the cure for Miss Granger."

Chapter Text

Sunday July 31st, 2005 | 5:17 pm | Dursley Flat, London

Sunlight into the guest room was muted by the curtains drawn tightly over the windows. It was just as well as Hermione still couldn't shake the migraine she had woken up with after the warding. The sheets were crisp and clean around her, the texture thankfully not abrasive as she could feel they were not brand new. It was odd how strong the scent around her seemed just because it was a different brand of detergent or fabric softener than what she used on her own clothes and bed sheets. Then again, she had started to brew her own cleaners once the symptoms had started in full force and her skin became more sensitive.

In order to further block out the light of the evening sun she had her face firmly planted into a pillow and rested on her stomach. With an arm on either side of her head propping it up, the pillow also worked as a barrier to the sounds coming from the kitchenette down the hall. All around her prostrate form her hair weaved in and out of bed sheets, pillows and especially itself to create a massive vine-like arrangement of keratin. Absently, her right hand, the one that was not preoccupied with grasping her wand beneath the pillow, twisted a lock of hair around her index finger.

There were many things that Hermione had heard her hair compared to.

Primary school started the years of short-cropped hair for the simple reason it was easier for her and her mother to manage. Practicality was always Helen Granger's strong suit. When it had been that short, the sun was able to reach more angles of each strand, brightening it to a caramel rather than coffee tone. Alice bands were a common accessory to keep the curls away from her face as she read and studied but they fueled the taunts of the other children as the bands pushed the hair even higher around her face.

As she got older and her peers began to notice more superficial traits, the occasional blunt or cruel comment on her appearance escalated. It was common for her to come home with a pencil stuck here or a bit of gum there. Children could be cruel but thankfully the bullies in Year 3 weren't all that creative. "Bin-head" was not the best epithet but as they continued to stick trash inside of her mop of tight curls the name stuck like the gum that was often ensnared within her hair. The mop steadily was shorn down to what could only be described as a pixie-cut. Bin-head was not the best, but it was the first nickname her hair had garnered.

After the third time in a week she came home with a knot of rubbish in her hair at an angle she would not have noticed alone, her father took her aside to tenderly brush out the bits of plastic and discarded half-eaten candy. Her seven year old mind couldn't apply the same logic to this problem that she did everything else in her life. The behavior didn't make sense. With her father's hands gently working out the knots and snarls, so similar to his own hair in length and texture, his soft voice explained it to her. It was also the only time she had cried over it all.

"My darling, you are so brave and so clever. I never want you to hide that no matter what others say. The other children don't understand why someone gets to be beautiful, smart, brave, and happy."

With a sniff, her younger self had said, "But none of them like me, they just like shoving things into my hair and calling me a bin-head."

Richard Granger grasped the last bit of rubbish from behind his daughter's ear. Hermione could hear him suppress a sigh. "What others think of you is not nearly as important as what you think of yourself, my little lioness. Bullies do what they do to feel better about themselves because they do not like something about their life that has nothing to do with you. Do you like yourself?"

"I don't know." The poignant and reflective question made her wrinkle her nose and knit her brows together in thought.

"Don't think about it. Feel it. Do you like yourself?"

Some of the tension left her face and shoulders as Hermione closed her eyes. Leaning closer she wrapped both of her arms around the one of her father's that still held the wide-toothed comb. Reflexively he stroked her short and fluffy curls as she used the silence of the room to quiet her thoughts. That rhythmic action soothed her for a few moments before she leapt away from his arm as quickly as if a bolt of lightning struck her. A bright and very toothy grin lit her face as she faced her father and began bouncing on the bed next to him excitedly.

"Yes, Papa!" she beamed up at him. "Yes. I do rather like myself. I am smart, and I am clever and…I like that about me."

With an indulgent smile, Richard wiped the last remnants of her tears from her cheeks and kissed her forehead. "Exactly, your mum and I love you dearly and want you to love yourself just as fiercely."

The short hair continued on throughout the next year of primary but after that conversation with her father she never went home with rubbish in her hair again. Children attempted to, but continuously failed. One incident had her parents called in to speak to the schoolmistress about an accusation that Hermione had made one boy get stuck in a tree in the yard behind the school. Richard had taken a second glance at the name of the boy that was accusing his daughter but did not voice his comment that the boy had been reported by Hermione repeatedly as a bully. He knew for a fact that the Baines boy hadn't seen the inside of this office yet.

The schoolmaster straightened the papers on her desk again unnecessarily. "Do either of you have any questions before we begin?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Helen as she cleared her throat. "How is your daughter these days? I haven't seen Victoria at the practice recently."

Richard stifled a cough before it could turn into a laughing fit.

"I'd heard she had married. Could you remind me of her new last name so I might look up her address to send my congratulations? I'm sure I heard it was Baines."

By this point the Headmistress's cheeks were aflame and the carefully stacked papers were reshuffled into disarray. After a few more moments of muttering from the schoolmistress, and a handful of diplomatic words from Helen Granger, Hermione was officially removed from the school she had been bullied at for several years. Conflict of interest was a funny thing.

Hermione did not mind in the slightest the change of schools in the middle of the fall term. The new school, that the increase in business at the practice afforded them, matched her precociousness. Over dinner the night before her first day the family had a similar conversation to the one Hermione and her father had about not being afraid to be what and who you are. Her parents loved her dearly and did not want her to feel as isolated as she had for her first few years.

As he tucked his daughter into bed, Richard gave her a quick peck on the forehead, ruffled her now finger length curls as he whispered, "Goodnight, my lioness."

The next morning, the short mop of curls had sprouted into a length that rioted down her back and made her mother nearly drop her morning teacup in shock. Hermione had walked down the stairs and into the kitchen to give her mother the customary hug from behind before hugging her father around his shoulders as he sat at the kitchen table.

Barely containing his alarm, her father lowered his newspaper and asked the question her mother could not as she gaped openly at her daughter, "Hermione, have you done something…different with your hair?"

"Yes, Papa," she said straightforwardly. After a few sips of orange juice she began to perk up past single syllable answers. Both parents were glad for the moment to adjust as well. "I thought I might like to try having long hair. I decided when I was brushing my hair I'd like to try it right away for my first day."

The incident was chalked up by her parents as one more thing that was explained after McGonagall paid them an unexpected visit on a Saturday afternoon two summers later. By the time Hermione had been informed she was a witch and that she was welcome to attend a boarding school in Scotland with other children just like her, it was as if the times she had been called Frizzhead or Hairmione were long behind her. Gone were the days of Suck-Up Snaggletooth and just plain Know-It-All. She would be going to a school with children just like her.

Hermione released the lock of hair from her restless grip and pulled herself from her musings before she lost herself in thoughts of the past; thoughts about those years in primary school and the moments not understanding why she made things happen when she got upset. Though she could not see it she could feel it spring back into place. Her instincts at eight had been correct on the length of her hair. Keeping it well past her shoulders created enough weight to create a mass that resembled something closer to a wall of vines than an unmanaged hedge.

A silent Tempus told her that she had another fifteen minutes until the angle of the sunlight through the north facing window would not shine directly on her face in a way that would cause her more discomfort. There were naproxen capsules in Dudley's cabinet with her name written all over them. Typically she would simply summon them from her place on the bed but even theTempus charm was a risky move to make before she had a chance to truly assess her well-being.

Before that quarter hour estimate had elapsed and just as she was about to doze back off into sleep, a loud thud from the next room startled her enough for her head to shoot up and her wand arm to swing towards the noise. Just as her eyes focused in the dark room she was nearly blinded by the silver form of a raven bursting through the closed door and landing on the headboard above her.

"Bloody hell, what is that?"

Dudley looked more than a bit ruffled by the small apparition that had obviously flown through his living room before making a beeline for Hermione.

"It's a Patronus, Dudley," Hermione said very quietly. She needed those naproxen capsules.

"I've got Aleve for you…" he started, the unsaid but I don't want to come nearer to that thing was plain in his uncertain tone.

"It won't hurt you, but I might if you don't bring me that glass and those pills immediately."

The curiosity of whose Patronus this was ate away at her patience while she waited for the medication to kick in. There were a few pain relieving potions within her bag but the Healing trained portion of her brain told her sternly to not take anything else yet. She had taken her medical records with her, tearing the parchment from the wall before leaving St. Mungo's, but had not had a chance to read them over yet to check what she had already consumed. Naproxen had no known negative interaction with the ingredients of common pain potions so she had no qualms about taking the two blue capsules Dudley placed in her palm.

When he didn't move to leave from her bedside, his eyes still glued to the raven apparition that had started cleaning its smoky feathers, she cleared her throat.

"Promise, Dudley. The raven is not going to hurt me; it probably has a message for my ears only."

"I remember Harry's Patronus from that summer when…when the Dementors attacked us. I didn't know they took other shapes besides deer."

"A stag, actually," Hermione automatically corrected. Allowing him a few more moments of observation before shooing him away she made a note to show him her Patronus in case she ever had to send him a missive this way. Then again, it would be breaking at least a dozen secrecy laws if she cast it in front of him and she really didn't want to go through the trouble of another Ministry hearing over magic performed in front of Muggles. If they would just pass the law allowing Muggles who had already been inducted into the fold partially like Dudley Dursley more leniency her personal and professional life would become much simpler.

Her bitter thoughts against the Ministry and their pigheadedness and overall meddling were interrupted by the door shutting behind Dudley as he left the room.

Gingerly she sat up further in the bed and watched as the raven moved from its perch above her to land gracefully on her upraised knees. Even though her skin was covered by a thick layer of sheets and duvet then the pajama pants beneath, she could still feel the warm and calm feeling emanating from her contact with the Patronus. The level of comfort she felt told her whose waif-like familiar this was before the beak opened to deliver its message.

"We've viewed your memory of the warding, Hermione. It's using you to fuel itself. I want to see if the rune has changed. Let me know where I can meet you, I don't think I can cast this again today. Iuramentum docebit."

Draco. If the use of her given name hadn't given it away, despite the way he had disguised his voice, the mention of their Hippocratic Oath would have. Neither of them signed their names on the letters they sent as they both sat their Masteries, he in Wiltshire and she in Moscow, just in case the owls were intercepted. The Latin phrase of 'the oath will guide' was his signature while hers were always signed with Iuramentum deducet or 'the oath will lead'. Old habits from the war still lingered.

She could still recite the entire oath in its many forms, even the original that invoked the powers and guidance of the Grecian gods Apollo, Aesculapius, Hygeia, and Pancea. Healers in the wizarding world had a very similar version to the one that doctors implemented.

Silently she thanked Circe that she had already completed all of her final coursework before the warding ceremony and only needed to submit more records of her professional experience towards her diploma. Compared to the wizarding process of becoming a Healer, training to earn her doctorate was swamped in paperwork and timetables.

The weight that was not truly a weight had long disappeared from her knees. Without the light of the Patronus in the room it seemed a great deal darker than it had before Draco's message had arrived.

Gingerly, she slid her legs out from between the sheets to place her feet on the carpeted floor of Dudley's guest room. There were still a few irregular tremors in her muscles as she placed her weight on her legs but it was no longer an ache thanks to the naproxen. Her stomach grumbled loudly even as a wave of nausea rolled from her stomach up through her throat, making her gag. Hermione used the walls of the hallway to keep her balance as she walked over to use the loo then join the future Mrs. Dursley in her kitchenette.

"At least you don't look like utter shite anymore. How are you feeling?" Clare didn't even pause in her preparation of what looked like chocolate dipped strawberries. The box on the counter next to her held a collection of white, milk, and dark chocolate covered fruit. The label on the lid near Hermione read Happy Birthday Harry in Clare's neat print.

"I've felt better, but that bath and some rest definitely helped. Thank you for that."

Clare waved the hand that was not filled with fruit at Hermione distractedly. "It's the least I could do. Fucking Prophet reporters need to leave well enough alone. Your life is not for everyone else's entertainment."

"If only everyone in the wizarding world thought the way you do," said Hermione as she began preparing a pot of tea for her hosts. The action was calming, just like brewing was. "I have the utmost sympathy for Elizabeth and her family after dealing with the publicity since the war."

"Her Majesty surely has never known any different. You at least get some normalcy now and again. You can get that here anytime."

The last of the fruit was cooling on wax paper on the counter and the water was not yet boiling. In the silence that remained Hermione could feel the walls of her Occlumency begin to shift; and as soon as she recognized that it was happening, she realized the walls had been eroding since she had woken in St. Mungo's that morning. Her breathing quickened slightly as heat rose in her cheeks from the effort she was making to piece them back together.

The walls of the dam were falling; she was trying to use sand to patch the holes.

All of it…all of the last few weeks was about to pull the rug out from under her and she wouldn't be able to stand or breathe and make it stop make it stop MAKE IT STOP!

"Hermione! Hermione, listen to me, breathe! Deep breaths in through your nose! That's it. Now out slowly through your mouth. Again."

The blood rushing in her ears made everything sound as if she were underwater, unfocused, but the shrill whistle of the teakettle on the stove cut through the fog like a knife. Her palms were held firmly over her ears and her hands were shaking. Around her face her hair created a curtain where it had escaped her top knot.

Somehow, she had gone from leaning casually against the kitchen counter to lying on her side on the floor. From the way her throat hurt, she must have been screaming.

Warm hands were gently holding her wrists and coaxing her to relax them enough to relieve the pressure from her ears. Her vision was strangely focused even as her other senses were dulled. Clare stayed in her eyesight as Dudley maneuvered around them to take the kettle off the boil.

She could see the shine of the steel teakettle, the red-checkered dishcloth hanging from the oven door, Clare's brown eyes watching her intently, Dudley's trainers set neatly by the front door, and the clock above the stove that read twenty minutes to six. Five things she could see.

Clare's warm hands were still on her face though not as firmly, the linoleum beneath her was smooth and cool, the scratch of the tag on the back of the sweater was between her shoulder blades, and there was a slight breeze from the floor vent of the flat ruffling her hair. Four things she could feel.

The teakettle wasn't whistling nearly as loudly anymore, Clare's heartbeat from her wrists was in Hermione's ear, and the evening traffic was beginning to pick up outside several stories below. Three things she could hear.

Chocolate still permeated the air from the cooling confectionaries above her and Dudley had opened a jar of tea leaves. Something a bit minty? Two things she could smell.

"Here," said Clare as she brought a piece of chocolate to her lips. Hermione slowly sat up and opened her mouth. "It's medicinal chocolate, Harry left some for us a few months ago."

One thing she could taste.

"Can you stand by yourself?" Dudley asked from above. He held a single mug in his hands that was steaming and letting off a sharp minty aroma.

"I...yes. I can stand."

As she did, Dudley stepped back and Clare held a hand close to her arm but not quite touching. The mint tea soothed her still lingering nausea and the last remnants of her headache. The silence was deafening as the Dursleys watched her carefully.

"Who was the Patronus from?" asked Clare, breaking the white noise building in Hermione's ear.

"Draco," whispered Hermione. Her eyes were firmly on her cup of tea.

"Malfoy? Is he the one from the Derwent Designs accounts?" Dudley asked.

Hermione nodded. "He started that company while we were in France at the Institute. For months he was stuck at home with nothing to do but heal Professor Snape and...and he invented a few things."

Clare's eyes narrowed. "No one knows Malfoy owns it, do they?"

Hermione shook her head. She was used to Clare's uncanny perceptiveness by this point. "It's privately owned but no documentation available to British wizards will show his name. He doesn't even act as a CEO or owner, it's mostly handled by a few trusted employees on the continent, he got some of his friends from Hogwarts out years ago. Zabini. Nott. Parkinson, I think. Investors mostly but with their estates seized...Draco has done what he can with his Ministry pardon."

"Any reason why he hasn't been invited to dinner?" Clare teased gently. She reached into the freezer to hand Hermione a cold pack for her shoulder since she had spent the last few minutes massaging it gently.

"Ugh," blurted Hermione at the thought. "Oh, Merlin, no. Draco is perfectly wrapped up with his girlfriend Astoria and to be honest I see him the same way I see Harry or Ron."

She openly chuckled at the idea of Draco's face if he ever heard her say that.

Dudley shuffled his feet a bit. He hadn't had any of the cup of tea he poured for himself. His squirming got worse when Hermione brought her gaze to his and he set down his mug to keep from fidgeting with it.

" know I don't want to pry but earlier...that's not normal." Dudley slowly moved closer to Clare. "You're one of the strongest people I know, not to mention the smartest, and I'm honestly not sure how to say this but I'm worried about you. Have you ever truly stopped for a vacation or a rest since this thing, this Lawtus Mallyfickus started?"

"Lautiores Maleficus. And I've taken vacations," mumbled Hermione. "What do you think Prague was?"

Dudley barked out a sharp and nervous laugh. "That doesn't count, you went there for a conference! And don't tell me the extra day you stayed was spent sightseeing or relaxing."

"The point is," Clare said as she placed a quieting hand on Dudley's chest, "we're worried you're pushing yourself too hard. You're wearing yourself out."

It was Hermione's turn to shuffle nervously. This was uncomfortably reminiscent of the cornering Harry and the others had attempted but was also blessedly different.

"I promise," she said, looking up at them with as much calm as she could muster. "I'm fine. Once I get into the lab with Draco and Snape I'll be right in St. Mungo's if anything happens."

"That's not the point," Dudley said with a frown.

"Dudley!" snapped Hermione, regretting her tone instantly. Taking a deep breath she let it out, drained her cup of tea, and met Clare and Dudley's gazes.

"I have to do this. These...these symptoms won't just stop if I spend all day in my bed doing nothing so I...I have to do something, do you understand? I know it's getting worse. Draco knew it was getting worse. There's no real explanation for it and now because of the warding ceremony yesterday who knows what could be happening to me. I really appreciate your concern and all that you've done for me, truly, but you can't stop me on this."

Clare remained silent but held out her arm to Hermione to pull her into a fierce hug between her and Dudley's bodies. The ebony-skinned woman's slight height advantage allowed her to easily bend over to kiss Hermione's exposed and tear-streaked cheek lightly.

"We'll be here when you need a moment to slow down, love," Clare said.

Sunday July 31st, 2005 | 9:42 pm | Malfoy Lodge, Loch Lomond

Mist slowly rose from the lake below the balcony of the secluded mountain lodge overlooking the banks of Loch Lomond. Draco lounged on one of the couches in the fading light of the summer evening. With the entire day spent within a rather volatile Pensieve and forcing himself to cast a spell that had nearly made him faint from the effort, he knew he deserved the moment of respite.

He and Severus had Apparated to his home to meet Astoria for a quick dinner before she left to visit her sister for the next week. Promises were whispered before she went through the Floo to explain exactly what was happening to cause his godfather to tear through their kitchen like a hurricane while making tea. It was a wonderful respite from previous years of distrust to have his girlfriend trust him without question or badgering.

It was a very calm evening compared to the last few weeks of absolute hell between meeting with the fucking pompous tossers in the Archives and the sub-level members of the Wizengamot. Every single act and motion had to be scrutinized to a truly ridiculous level in order to be implemented and moved forward. Draco had the sense to not try and grease palms in order to speed the process. His father's tactics would not be viewed kindly within the Ministry and though he loved Lucius dearly, and looked up to him even now, his father would agree trying to bribe would be social suicide.

"How do we know if she got the message?" Draco mumbled around the blanket he had cocooned himself into.

"The Patronus would have returned to us," Severus grumbled from near his feet. His long legs were stretched out in front of him as he ungracefully leaned into the armchair that matched the couch Draco was currently resting on. "How are you feeling?"

Very few people had ever heard the curmudgeonly man speak with true concern for their wellbeing. Draco recognized this but had never known different from his godfather.

"Honestly I still feel as though I'm back in third year with that bloody hippogriff's talons freshly cutting into me." Severus scoffed at his petulant tone. "I still stand by what I said before and that was a terrible first class for thirteen and fourteen year old children. Hogwarts is better off without the half-giant teaching those classes to the younger years."

"With the level of attendance increasing at such a rapid rate each year I would not be surprised to see some of the old traditions returning with split levels of classes. What I would not have given to relinquish the first through fourth years to someone with more forbearance to dunderheads."

It was Draco's turn to scoff. "You didn't like teaching at all, Severus, it didn't matter what year we were."

"That's incorrect, boy," was the returned sneer. A moment's pause followed as Severus finished his tea. "I loathed teaching incompetent and petulant brats. There is a reason I only took students with Outstandings on their O.W.L.s into the higher classes. Theory is not something I can even begin to breach in a class that contains ninnies that don't know the difference between rat and porcupine spleens on sight."

Draco mumbled his agreement, a small smirk on his lips. He was desperately trying to stay awake as long as possible to await Hermione's reply and the balmy air of Scotland was certainly helping keep his wits sharp but the pull of sleep was constantly itching at his eyes and consciousness.

"Draco, wake up," called Severus as he stood from the chair.

"Mmm...Hermione?" murmured Draco from within the blankets. It seemed as though his exhaustion was more powerful than his will. How annoying.

"Yes, now get up. She might have charmed it only to speak to you and I do not have the patience to wait for you to listen to it at your leisure."

Dragging the blanket more securely around his shoulders Draco sat up and watched as a faint silvery glow descended from the sky over the lodge's roof. He made a mental note that it had come from the southeast.

A small otter landed playfully on the armchair that Severus just vacated, almost as if it could truly feel the warmth his body heat had no doubt left behind. As expected it's small eyes turned to look directly at Draco as it spoke with Hermione's slightly disguised voice.

"A raven? I wouldn't have guessed. I am safe for now but reporters are already trying to contact me by my old Diagon Alley address. Meet me in the Derwent room tomorrow after five in the evening. I will not be able to cast this again in the near future. Iuramentum deducet."

As the otter faded away Severus turned to Draco for the deciphering her message required. Whatever he was hoping for it didn't come as Draco simply nodded and slumped down to sleep. With a sneer of irritation etched into his face Severus cast a lightening charm on his godson and carried him to his bed within the lodge. There was no doubt in his mind the witch was safe where she was until five the next day if Draco was able to sleep so soundly.

He knew he would not sleep nearly as soundly and resigned himself to retiring to the study at the end of the hallway to continue sipping at the Malfoy heir's stock of fine tea and whiskey as the night wore on, settling in to read and accept his insomnia over worrying about a wild haired witch.

Chapter Text

Monday, August 1st, 2005 | 5:03 pm | Derwent Room, Orphus & Gamble Industries, London

No sooner had Dudley locked the door behind him to the ornate meeting room two men appeared with a soft crack announcing their arrival. Even though he had seen it done dozens of times and had even travelled by Apparition himself once or twice, it still startled him and left him feeling disoriented just to witness it.

Without hesitation the man with light blond hair, that he had met previously and knew to be Draco Malfoy, let go of the arm of the second man and rushed towards Hermione. Since she still stood at his side he felt the brush of the man's hand against his skin as he grabbed both of her hands into his own. Draco's skin was ice cold and it was all Dudley could do not to recoil away from him. Compared to the feverish heat of Hermione's fingers gripping his arm it made shivers run up his spine. They had walked together from the elevator to this office with her concealed beneath some charm that made her almost invisible so he had insisted she keep a grip on him so he would not lose her.

"I'm so sorry about what happened at St. Mungo's," Draco whispered earnestly. His hands with long, elegant, and scarred fingers moved from her hands to her wrist and her cheek. Dudley knew the pulse he was checking would be elevated from the magical effort she had made in getting here unnoticed from his flat. She had rested all day while he pretended not to know anything of her whereabouts. The Aurors he had expected hadn't shown, but Hermione warned it was only a matter of time before Harry tried to find her at work. Once the work day concluded, he sent her a quick text and met her in the Apparition room on the first floor.

"You did brilliantly," Hermione replied, moving her hands to his forearms to halt his attempts to take all of her vitals. "I wouldn't have been able to get out without you distracting that hideous reporter."

"I assure you that wasn't my intention. I wanted you moved down to the labs as soon as possible." A shadow crossed the man's features and he glanced back to his companion that had not moved from his original spot. Looking back to her he asked, "Will you be able to move forward with the research after all of this?"

"Of course," Hermione scoffed. She softened her expression and placed a hand against Draco's cheek. "I have all the more reason to now. Pardon me, Draco. You've met Dudley, of course. Professor Snape? This is one of my business partners, Dudley Dursley."

Hermione moved to pull Dudley closer to the dark and imposing man that stood in the far corner as if he were trying to meld into the shadows. As she addressed him directly he stepped towards them but hesitated after the mention of the younger man's name.

"Petunia's boy?" was the soft reply. Despite his initial hesitation, he still held out his hand. Dudley noticed that it was just as pale and thin but even more scarred than Draco's.

"Yeah," Dudley replied, pushing his nerves down. The man's hand was just as icy as Draco's, as well. "How do you know her?"

It was obvious that this Professor Snape character was forcibly not snorting in disdain. "Your mother and I met many years ago and I doubt I left the best impression."

Dudley's eyes widened as the dots connected. "Oh, you're the one that fancied Harry's mum."

Even Dudley was abashed at his own lack of tact. He was rewarded with a full sneer; no attempt was made to hide the contempt this time. Damn his nerves. They were never this bad in meetings with clients.

"Yes." The single syllable uttered coldly from Professor Snape's clenched teeth made Dudley flinch as though physically struck.

"Bloody hell. I'm really sorry, sir." Dudley immediately held out his hand again. "I apologize for that, it was out of line and none of my business. Can I make it up to you and try this again?"

Professor Snape considered his outstretched hand for the longest ten seconds of Dudley's life before reaching up to grip it again. He was silent as he grasped it briefly before snapping his hand back. With an elegant turn he swirled away from Dudley to sit at the opposite end of the meeting table. For now that might be all the forgiveness he deserved, Clare had warned him after all.

Why was he such a fucking idiot?

Monday, August 1st, 2005 | 7:15 am | Dudley's Flat, London

"We're meeting the blokes from the Prophet?" Dudley asked around a mouthful of toothpaste.

"Yes, love," replied Clare as she walked past the open bathroom door back to their bedroom to finish getting dressed, steaming mug of coffee in hand. "They're both Potions Masters and if all the stories are to be believed very powerful wizards so don't do anything stupid."

"C'mon, Clare, cut me some slack," he called down the hall. "Name the last time I did something as stupid as provoking a wizard?"

Her face peered around the corner and just stared at him blankly for a few moments. "Dudley, I love you, but you are much better at interacting with Muggles than with wizards. I blame your parents, but that's neither here nor there. You really do not want to provoke these two."

Dudley shrugged, attempting to mask the anxiety Clare's warning was building within him. "I trust any friend of Hermione's. I'll just keep my mouth shut, yeah?"

Clare's lips twitched into a small smile, patting him on the cheek fondly. "You try that, love."

Monday, August 1st, 2005 | 5:30 pm | Derwent Room, Orphus & Gamble Industries, London

Despite the terrible way the meeting began, Draco thought it ended well. He had met Dudley Dursley on many occasions before realizing that he was related to the Boy Wonder and that had been purely by chance and he had never been this ill at ease. With the way Severus was acting, however, Draco wasn't entirely surprised.

Orphus & Gamble worked extensively with Derwent Designs and was the only purchasing company in the United Kingdom for their products. The firm modified them for the Muggle world which meant preparing the necessary documentation to cover up their wizarding origin and filing the patents. The only reason Draco did any of the face to face work for these accounts was the benefit of working directly with Hermione who was sure to keep his secret from the rest of their world. It wasn't time to reveal the true owners of the massively respected medical supply company just yet. Dudley was his number one contact at Orphus & Gamble for any preliminaries with Hermione often present as a consultant.

With the assistance of everyone he was able to get out in the years after the war, the Malfoy family's company was thriving on the continent. When Britain started to show interest in the devices and medicines it manufactured Draco was understandably cautious with his business dealings.

Hermione was passed out one Sunday afternoon on his couch when the perfect business opportunity presented itself to solve the potential publicity dilemma. His birthday was the previous Thursday and she had taken him out to get thoroughly pissed in a Muggle town outside of Paris whose name he did not remember. If not for Astoria collecting them they would have splinched on the way home.

"How are you always up, dressed, and making breakfast before me?" Hermione whined into the cushions.

"Good breeding," Draco called over his shoulder. That earned him a pillow to the face.

"Fucking ferret," grumbled Hermione as she all but crawled off of the couch to the floor. The pillow was swiftly returned at the jibe, making her snort with laughter.

Over their breakfast of toast and eggs, one of the only things Draco could honestly make well by himself, the topic of work inevitably came about. All they did was work. Hermione was complaining about the lack of quality diagnostic tools available to her in the office which was a not so subtle hint that she wanted all the toys he had taken from her given back. To Draco, it was too risky for her to use the tools outside of the country they were fully patented in. Even with the proper anti-theft and copy-resistant charms protecting the devices, Draco was too paranoid to let her keep the research equipment when she left France and Russia to return to Britain.

"You've only been there a few months, how do you know that you can trust these people?" whined Draco into his coffee mug.

"I've been working with Orphus & Gamble for almost a year now, since you earned your Potions Mastery last July. I couldn't come work for the company officially until I returned from Russia."

"I'm still not convinced it's the right time to return to England. Mum still...she hasn't left the house for a few months again."

Hermione rested her hand on Draco's briefly. Pulling away, she rummaged through her ever-present canvas bag with the Undetectable Extension Charm.

"It's the best time, Draco. The fifth anniversary of the Final Battle was a month ago. I still want to know how Astoria let you leave that media trap early." She was still shaking her head with jealousy when she brought out a folder that was stamped with St. Mungo's official seal.

"Now, I understand that St. Mungo's has an open contract for a direct supplier of, let's see," she began to thumb through the pages of parchment leisurely. "Monitoring wristbands, gurneys, and oh, look! They need something called a Derwent Dynamoscope. I wonder where they could possibly find one of those?"

"You're a right annoying bitch when you're facetious, did you know?"

Hermione ignored him and continued with a spark in her eyes framed by a riot of curls in desperate need of a brush or a charm in his brutally honest opinion. It was a wonder how small mammals and birds didn't lose their way into her hair. "This inquiry found its way to the marketing team that usually works with my department and one of them remembered that I went to school in France for Healing which just happens to be the same place Derwent Designs began a few years ago."

"Has anyone reminded you that you're a know-it-all recently?"

"The hospital is so desperate to get their hands on a Dynamoscope that they would consider buying the next best thing, a Muggle X-Ray machine." She paused, giving him a significant look. "They're trying to bribe L'Institut de Guérison Magique to loan the one they have for a few years for their research department and thought O&G might have an easier time convincing the university. They'd even be willing to pay - "

"I see the numbers!" Draco groaned in defeat, his forehead falling to the table. "Stubborn fucking witch."

She merely chuckled at his grumbling. Just like that the rest of his post-birthday weekend was spent preparing a proposal that she presented to her supervisors after she returned by international Portkey. After the initial meetings occurring weekly for a few months with Draco under a Glamour and speaking only in French the contracts were finalized. Hermione was the chief contact since it was her actions brought the notoriously reclusive company forward.

Hermione preferred solitary research to the face to face marketing experience, but it was tempered by the fact that she did not need to pretend to schmooze Draco. As her health declined steadily following her Christmas Day collapse, she had to work even harder to keep up her energy for their deliberations. Eventually she brought in a man from the marketing team to assist her with the matters that needed to be handled more personably between company and client so she could wash her hands of that nonsense. The imposing stature of Dudley Dursley initially caught Draco off guard. The genuinely friendly smile that went along with it was even more distracting.

"Wonderful to see you again, sir," Dudley said as he gripped one of Draco's hands in both of his own.

It was the first meeting with the man when Hermione was not present. "Où est Hermione?"

The French translator worked to keep the lines of communication going as Draco was still under Glamour as Monsieur Jacques Marchand. Hermione had snorted inelegantly after hearing his chosen moniker, essentially titling himself John Doe.

Dudley's rudimentary, and obligatory, French from his school days finally was showing its worth. "Avec ses amis." With a poorly concealed wince he returned to English. "She has vacation this week, she's with some friends for an anniversary retreat of some kind."

Draco seated himself gracefully at the table between them, removing the necessary forms for this meeting from his satchel. "Quel dommage. Rappelez-moi la date d'aujourd'hui , s'il vous plaît?"

"It's Halloween, Monsieur Marchand. Friday the thirty first of October. She's with my cousin and his family, they went to school together in Scotland and Halloween is a tradition of some sort."

"Excuse...excusez-moi?" choked Draco, barely catching his blunder and switching back to French. "Quel est le nom de votre cousin?"

"Harry Potter," Dudley responded casually. Too casually, it seemed, as his body language shifted into a more guarded posture.

Containing his composure and laughing at fate through the rest of the meeting, Draco made a point to author a letter to send by owl inviting Hermione to tea following the end of her vacation to discuss keeping him in the dark on such an important detail. Predictably, her response was to shrug and ask him if he had any orange biscuits left in the tin since she swore she saw a few left the last time she visited.

By the next meeting, Draco dropped his Glamours and revealed who he really was to Dudley Dursley. It made the meetings go by so much faster without the aid of a superfluous translator. The frequency of their meetings reduced to quarterly after initial production numbers were solidified and as DMB 3.2 began to wreak havoc on all the test subjects, Hermione included. Draco's attention was required elsewhere, and the deal was too new and too sensitive to pass off yet. It was the first company Derwent would work with that had ties to the Muggle and magical world.

DMB 3.2 was the first Derwent Designs item to be distributed officially in the United Kingdom. Previous versions of the potion were secretly administered at Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire before the lot of them temporarily relocated to their Paris homes, Severus included. 3.2 was also the worst thus far, failing to alleviate a single subject's symptoms, worsening them in most cases. Hermione was on her way to proving DMB 4.6 as a rival recipe in negative reactions. A large part of Draco could not help but feel guilty over all the health bullshit she was enduring. After all, she was cursed during her brief but bloody incarceration at Malfoy Manor. Guilt was a feeling he was uncomfortably familiar with and was absolutely a feeling that was coloring the tone of their secretive gathering in the uppermost floor of Orphus & Gamble Industries.

In the slight lull of conversation after Hermione explained how she snuck out of the hospital and walked through London to Dudley's flat, Draco caught himself staring. The slur on her bare forearm drew his gaze like the lantern of a hinkypunk.

The previous day the scar was swollen, gangrenous, and completely covered by bandages. It wasn't the horrid appearance of the wound, even in its improved state, that caused Draco discomfort. The memory of his inaction to her torture shamed him to this day. Swallowing down bile that threatened to spill over in his throat, he forced himself to look at her face instead. Draco sighed in relief silently when her attention was on Dudley next to her and not on his traitorous gaze.

"Thankfully all of the work agreements have been settled," continued Draco, drawing the room's attention back to him. "The only thing that's left is deciding where we're going to begin."

Hermione leaned over the table closer to Draco with obvious zeal. The sight was encouraging as they all over the last few days witnessed her laid out as if minutes from the Veil. "I haven't had a chance to read all of your notes yet, not with all the other shite happening, but from what I understand you're stuck on just a few more patients, right?"

"Correct," nodded Draco. He wondered how she could be so flippant over her near death experience.

Dudley reached to pour more tea for everyone present. "How many are there besides Hermione?"

"Twelve," said Severus who had not moved from his chair furthest from their end of the table.

"Twelve?" repeated Hermione incredulously, her voice slightly hoarse from overuse.

"Did I stutter?"

Draco opened his mouth to admonish Severus for his rudeness that had been a theme since Dudley's blunder but before he even got past the first syllable of his name he saw a biscuit fly past his face towards Severus's. The instant before it landed square in the middle of his forehead he caught it in his fist. Instead of pulverizing it in his palm like those seated at the table expected him to, he snapped it in half and placed one piece in his mouth. Hermione looked mutinous but merely sat back down to glare at the tray of biscuits like it had betrayed her.

"Now that that ridiculous display of infantile behavior is over," snapped Severus after swallowing the first half of the thrown treat, "I suggest we retire to either the labs at St Mungo's or to the Lodge. We need to establish a safe place for Granger to recover and those are the best places for continued observation outside of an actual room in the hospital, which is out of the question. Are your notes still at your home in Surrey?"

The last question was asked into his teacup but when Hermione didn't answer he looked up. Hermione was already looking at him defiantly when his gaze rose to meet hers. "Yes," she said through clenched teeth.

Draco didn't understand where this level of animosity was coming from and just prayed to Merlin it was only because of lack of sleep on both their parts.

"Dudley," Severus said, speaking to the man for the first time since the indelicate introductions. "Can you retrieve the documents and bring them here for one of us to collect?"

Before responding Dudley glanced significantly at Hermione who nodded, giving him permission to answer. "Yes, sir."

"Are you keyed to Granger's wards?"

Dudley fidgeted a bit with his teacup before nodding again. Draco couldn't help but think that Dudley would have been best sorted into Hufflepuff with the way he cowered beneath Severus's gaze.

"Good. Go."

Monday, August 1st, 2005 | 7:23 pm | Derwent Room, Orphus & Gamble Industries, London

Before Dudley had bolted from the room to do as Snape ordered, Hermione grasped his hand tenderly and said it would be easiest if he used her Floo to send everything over to the Lodge. She assured him that even if he didn't get it right the first time that the flame-retardant crates the documents and books were stored in would protect the precious material.

"I'm sure Harry had someone check my house already," she said to him quietly. Hermione's brows furrowed, worried about the actions of whomever Harry had assigned to watch her house as he surely had. "The documents are hidden in the shape of a waste basket nearest to the fireplace, just shove the whole thing in when the flames are green. And Dudley, I'm going to send Harry a Patronus. I'll tell him I'm safe but not to call off the Auror until after you've left the house. I want you left alone but I also want you safe."

Dudley nodded. He had witnessed firsthand while visiting his cousin to what lengths the magical version of paparazzi would go. Few he met were completely morally stable. With one last sincere hug and a promise that he would see her soon, Dudley left the room. Just before the door shut behind him the occupants of the room could hear him on the phone with his fiancée to assure her of his whereabouts.

"Can you cast another Patronus?" Draco asked in a deceptively neutral voice as he collected the documents spread out on the table before them. Severus was moving out of the corner of his eye with purposeful rummaging through his trench coat.

"I'll have to," Hermione responded, slouching down slightly in her chair. "Harry won't trust yours. It has to be mine."

She stood and pulled her wand from its sheath. A few exacting wand movements and a clear recitation of Expecto Patronum brought the little otter to life.

"Harry. I am safe. Do not attempt to contact me. Do not attempt to trace this Patronus. I will contact you by Ginny's birthday. I'm sorry."

The apology sounded like a last minute decision due to the small wince on her lips. Another wave of her wand and the apparition fled out the window.

Monday, August 1st, 2005 | 7:54 pm | Malfoy Lodge, Loch Lomond

"There are few things in the world that I want more than a dose of CNF right now," groaned Hermione.

The Side-Along Apparition with Draco had jostled the small amount of control she had been able to take over her body since before the warding ceremony. As soon as they arrived in the Lodge's sitting room she bent double and vomited all over the expensive rug.

"Thank goodness for Scourgify ," was all Draco said as he effectively cleaned and vanished the vomit before it could stain.

Severus moved to take her shaking form into the guest bedroom down the hallway but Hermione had batted his hands away, preferring to lean on the walls or counter-tops within her reach for support. Draco had sighed in resignation at the look on his godfather's face.

"She's almost as stubborn as you are, you know," he said.

Draco filled a glass of water from the sink and followed Hermione to the bedroom, just far enough behind that he wasn't completely hovering but also close enough to catch her if she started to fall. Once Hermione settled herself onto the mattress and kicked off her shoes, Draco went up to her to force her to drink the entire glass in his hand.

"You can't have any other potions until the morning, Hermione," Draco explained, reading over the intake charts from her bag. "Mungo's had you on some strictly controlled substances when you arrived. The Capitus Nausea Fulgarix was carefully balanced with the Blood-Replenishing Potion. Then there's the seizure tincture that had to be administered between muscle relaxers. Thank Merlin they didn't put you in an induced coma, Uthquart's recent additions to the Draught of Living Death react poorly with everything."

"Draco, love, I've read the chart. Do shut up and let me sleep?"

Folding up the parchment, Draco stood from his perch on the bed next to her. He cast a cooling charm on a cloth next to her bed so she could place it on her forehead when she awoke again. Refilling the water glass and placing it by her on the nightstand, Draco left the room without another sound.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005 | 6:45 am | The Lodge, Loch Lomond

Severus quietly waited for the teakettle on the stove to come to a rolling boil, glaring at the stove fiercely enough that his gaze may have helped to heat the water. The sound of the birds praising another day floated in gently from the open window that faced the Loch. Just before the kettle could scream he plucked it swiftly from the stovetop and poured it into the waiting teapot. Outside on the balcony a few rooms away Draco and Hermione were wrapped in wool jumpers and arguing amicably over who ate the last orange biscuit.

"You are obsessive and preposterous. It's a biscuit," Draco said, the bark certainly missing from his bite.

"They're the only biscuits worth having."

Draco shuddered, "I wouldn't have eaten it as I find citrus cookies disgusting."

Hermione smirked. She was well aware of his aversion to citrus but it had been too long since she last goaded him and it was one of her favorite pastimes. Burrowing further into the cowl of the sweater she was borrowing of Draco's she was able to hide the little smile. Thankfully his slight build made it easy for her to steal his clothes without the necessity of transfiguration even if she was several inches shorter.

"I haven't been to the Lodge since you earned your Potions Mastery," Hermione mused over her mug of tea, her gaze drawn to the loch below the balcony and the mountains surrounding it. "Are you living here full time with Astoria now?"

"Yes. Mother and father still have the cottage at the Manor."

Severus walked out the open doors to bring the second pot of tea for the three of them at the breakfast table, his presence a cloud over the conversation eclipsing what was previously comfortable.

Hermione and her former Potions Master had had limited contact since the final battle. Apart from the occasional glimpse of each other on the Malfoy properties or St. Mungo's and at commemorative events for Voldemort's defeat here and there, they hadn't communicated for more than a few words. Their extended contact the past weeks hadn't fared well. Hermione wouldn't voice it aloud but she was still sore over the fact that he breached her wards those weeks ago when she was incapacitated in her backyard. Chalking it up to distraction, she felt a reluctant twinge of interest at his curse breaking skills. That only served to annoy her further. When it came to Snape, Hermione felt as though everything she did incited his ire.

"Thank you, Severus," Draco said, breaking the silence.

Severus hummed quietly in acknowledgement, bringing the Daily Prophet up in front of his face, effectively blocking the two of them out. Draco rolled his eyes.

"Before we head to the lab or even think about beginning research," said Draco as he sat up from his reclining position in his plush dining chair, "do you want me to cast the diagnostic charms or can I trust you to be honest with me?"

The blank stare on Hermione's face as she read the back of Severus's Prophet morphed into a scowl; her upper lip curled. Her eyes didn't leave the paper as she hissed, "Watch it, Malfoy."

"So it'll be me then."

It was Hermione's turn to roll her eyes. "Do whatever you need to do to get me into that damn lab."

"Hold still," he admonished gently, moving around the table to kneel next to her. Draco rubbed his hands together quickly to warm them up enough to not shock Hermione when he placed his left thumb in the middle of her forehead. The rest of the fingers on his non-dominant hand splayed over her skull evenly. His right thumb pressed gently into the inside of her left wrist.

The interaction was silent. A few small movements of Draco's fingers were the only disturbances to the odd tableau they created. Severus finished the paper all the way to the finance section before Draco stood from his kneeling position. Joints cracked audibly in his back and knees as Draco stretched his arms and shook the tension that had built up in his legs before a charlie horse could form.

He started speaking as he opened a fresh notebook page. "Much better than I expected. You still show signs of extreme magical depletion and physical exhaustion but compared to other cases you're healing about four times faster. I suspect that the DMB dose you took most recently is helping with the regenerative properties."

"Echinachea was included with the most recent recipe, right?"

Draco nodded to Hermione's question. "Correct. The plant is powerful enough for even Muggles to be able to harness it in their non-magical potions -"


"-so unlocking its magical potential was one of the biggest changes in DMB 4.6. I still don't want you in the lab until the end of the week. There are other things that are not going to be so easy to correct with potions since it will react poorly with what you've already taken. And don't tell me that you know that already."

The last part was said sharply even as Hermione opened her mouth to protest her own Arithmancy equations. She did her best to hide the motion by taking a bite out of a grilled tomato.

"You're a fucking phenomenal Arithmancer who is even better at ignoring her equations when they apply to her than creating them in the first place."

"And you're pants at bedside manner, as I've said before."

"Draco stop flirting with Granger and get to the fucking point."

The two in question glared solidly at the obscured face of their former professor, but at a motion from Draco, Hermione abstained from reacting. But only just. Hermione grabbed another bite of tomato to cover the gnashing of her teeth.

"You'll be ready to help brew by the weekend, at that point we will be able to judge if your disappearance has thrown the reporters into a frothing frenzy or if there's been something else to distract them enough."

Snape finally set the Prophet down to the table next to him. His drawling voice reminded Hermione uncomfortably of her first potions lesson when he had chastised Harry vehemently. "It is unlikely they will forget their golden girl publicly collapsing and it being indelicately revealed that she has a so far incurable disease. Not even Potter can keep something like that away from speculation for long, they'll be waxing eloquent on her for some time."

"Then what do you suggest, Severus?" Draco retorted, meeting his godfather's gaze squarely for the first time that morning.

Silence was his response. If Hermione hadn't known Draco as well as she did, she would have missed the miniscule muscle twitch in his eye, perhaps mistaking it for a blink. As it was she tensed, waiting for Draco's imminent explosion.

"No," Draco said through clenched teeth.

More silence from the wool clad Potions Master at the end of the balcony.

He slammed his self-inking quill down. "Abso-fucking-lutely not!"

Hermione's impatience got the better of her. "Could you pretend there is another person here, please?"

It took another full minute for Draco to look at her instead of his godfather. She suspected it was the exact amount of time that it had taken him to compose himself back behind layers of Occlumency. The set of his mouth was deceptively emotionless, his eyes matching.

"He wants us to use the labs at the Manor."

Hermione, whose back had been turned towards Snape the entire time, turned in her chair sharply without a word. Standing slowly, one fist shaking slightly at her side, she walked deliberately closer to the dark haired man with his long legs crossed in a 4-figure before him.

Hermione studied him silently, arms crossed over her chest. He knew her history with the Manor. He knew Draco's history with the Manor. He knew that the Malfoy patriarch and matriarch had left the main house years previously and the reason they had. With her head cocked slightly to the side, resembling the form she had inadvertently taken in her second year, she regarded him with a harshness in her gaze meant to strip away each layer of a person's composure until they were left with naught but the marrow in their bones.

Expectedly, Snape did not cower before her but steepled his fingers before his lips and matched her stare without blinking. Hermione lowered the most superficial layer of her Occlumency shields. Without it, the softest whisper of her tension, suspicion and exhaustion were available to him, coloring her voice.

"Have the blasted Muggleborn wards been taken down yet?"

The edges of his eyes tensed in the ghost of a smile. She'd never seen a person smile with just his eyes as effectively.

"I'm sure it could be arranged."

"Bloody hell." Draco knew when he'd been outvoted, and gracelessly swept from the balcony to make the necessary Floo calls.

Chapter Text

Thursday, August 4th, 2005 | 3:12 pm | The Lodge, Loch Lomond

The summer air in Scotland was not nearly as oppressive as it was in London. Instead of streams of sweat coursing down her shoulder blades, Hermione sat comfortably on the balcony of the Malfoy Lodge with longer sleeves as the nest of paperwork continued to build around her. Absentmindedly, she reached for another of her empty teacups to rest as a paperweight to her left, reading a report in her right hand fastidiously.

Arithmancic equations bobbed in the air around her: glowing runes showing connections and threads between names and images of ingredients, charts and graphs and long timelines with dozens of tick marks denoting dates starting after the Easter holidays of 1998.

"Sevření," intoned a quiet voice behind her.

If not for the brush of a spell against her skin Hermione would not have realized the caster was there at all. As it was, she became acutely aware of her now shared space with Snape as he took a seat gracefully at the other end of the balcony.

The silence stretched as Snape opened a Potions Quarterly journal that she recognized as originally published in Portuguese.

"Was that Russian?" she asked. Her empty left hand rested lightly on the parchment he had charmed, the wind no longer rustling the documents and disturbing her visually disastrous organizational system.

"No," Snape replied flatly. He almost seemed to hesitate before he looked up at her and added: "It was Czech."

Hermione nodded in silent thanks as their eyes met briefly. Neither spoke again, each engrossed entirely in their afternoon projects, until the pop of Apparition could be heard in the foyer inside. The sound was for courtesy's sake as each person within the house knew how to Apparate silently.

"I'm surprised Rix is letting you laze about in this filth," quipped Draco as he walked out to meet them.

"If your elf could even look at me for more than a few seconds I'm sure he would be trembling at the sight." Hermione looked up as Draco sat down cross-legged in front of her, inches away from a copy of Grey's Anatomy opened to a section with a diagram of the left atrium of the heart. Sensing her unease, Draco pushed himself a little further away from her paperwork. "Did Kingsley give you a hard time today?"

"Blessedly I did not encounter the Minister, I was able to book the Portkey without interacting with anyone...superfluous."

Hermione raised an eyebrow in question. Draco's face was a cool mask but the effect was diminished when one of her floating equations listing the properties of salamander entrails within various potions ghosted by. Instead of looking at her directly he watched the constellation of numbers winking around her head as if on floating chalkboards.

"Potter wasn't around," he stated plainly, "before you ask. Probably doing damage control still, your name is still all over the blasted Prophet. Should keep him out of our hair when we go to the labs to bring down the enchantments. And no, 'we' does not include you."

"I know that!" snapped Hermione before she could reign in the retort. A huff of breath later, "Grab that parchment by your right the other one, the one with blue ink...yes. No, I don't need it, I want you to read it. Those are the equations I started last night after dinner about the Muggleborn wards."

"She's attempting to convince you to bring her tomorrow, Draco," drawled Snape behind his journal. The shimmer of the translation spell cast on it glinted in the summer sun.

With his eyebrows knit together in a slight scowl, or as knit as the two perfectly manicured lines could be, Draco frowned. "I can see that. Hermione, we don't need Muggleborn blood to take them down. And if we did I couldn't use yours for reasons you are perfectly aware of."

"My blood was the last to strengthen them."

"But you're not well enough, your core -"

"It doesn't matter if my core isn't ready to cast the spells to take the wards down. It will not hurt me if you use a bit of my blood to help dismantle them so I can work in the Manor."

"Blood magic isn't something to tamper with!"

"You sound like the fucking Ministry," mumbled Snape. "Blood magic is about intention. Stop your hedging, Draco. Granger does not need to be present, but her blood was the last Muggleborn's to be spilled in that house. We would be remiss to not bring a vial with us."

"And the fresher the better," Hermione chimed in with a false brightness, which made Snape scowl down his nose at her.

Draco was starting to see an infuriating pattern with the two of them sharing opinions that were the direct opposite of his own. "Then we will take a vial right before Severus and I leave for the Manor, but you are not coming with us! Please, don't be needlessly Gryffindor. I've had enough of that recently. You need to stay here and not be around the magical interference."

Pouting was the only accurate description for what Hermione did as she stood from the center of her cocoon of parchment. She very nearly stamped her foot. A practiced wave of her wand and all the documents neatly stacked themselves the exact way she had brought them out of the transfigured waste bin that Dudley had sent by Floo.

Snape and Draco would lock her up in her room if they had their way, and there was no chance she would be drinking or eating anything she had not prepared herself until the next morning lest they slip her a sleeping draught. Though, if they did, she would have full license to completely eviscerate them. Dismantling the Muggleborn wards on the Manor would be difficult without blood to unlock them and the equations proved her point. All she would need to do would be prick her finger and touch the place where the wards were sealed in the first place centuries ago by much more prejudiced Malfoys. From there unlocking them would be simple and the fresher the "sample" the more effective it would be.

Arguing wasn't getting her anywhere but she made it clear in her body language as she stormed into the house proper that it wasn't an argument she was conceding yet.

Thursday, August 4th, 2005 | 8:57 pm | The Lodge, Loch Lomond


"What is it?"

"Should we bring her?"

That made him look up sharply from the cauldron he was currently stirring counterclockwise. "Draco-"

"Wait, let me explain. She's going to try to follow us, and she will not be fooled by some sleeping draught in her tea. That's why she's been locked up in her room all night, though I doubt if we tried to actually lock her up in her room that it would work."

Draco stepped into the small makeshift lab that had once been a half-bath off of Severus's quarters in the basement of the lodge. The last rays of the setting sun shone through the French doors on the far wall, igniting his platinum blonde hair to a shining gold. Leaning against the doorjamb he exuded calm and the constant undercurrent of self assuredness every pureblood carried. At least, every pureblood that wasn't a Weasley.

"I don't want to bring her as much as you do, it's too dangerous and she is too erratic magically since her collapse. Instead, I sent Potter an owl today like you asked."

With one last stir, Severus put a stasis charm on the cauldron and placed the lid on tightly. "Is she amenable?"

"Entirely. She doesn't trust local apothecaries and with Hermione not speaking to them the last few weeks she hasn't had the potions she wants. Instead of owling she sent a Patronus back practically begging us to send her this. Is it ready to be owled?"

"After another thirty minutes of stasis, and she will need to add her own fresh mint to help with the taste as I do not have any left in my stores and it's the thing that will not interfere with the potion negatively as well as mask the flavor."


Chapter Text

Friday, August 5th, 2005 | 3:01am | The Lodge, Loch Lomond

The stag Patronus erupted in front of Hermione in the hours of the morning that were barely past the dark of night. Harry's frantic shouting about labor and how St. Mungo's wasn't safe and pleas for her to come help woke Draco from across the hall.

"What the fuck is wrong now?" Draco shouted as he opened the door with a bang. Wisps of Patronus dissipated around him in an ethereal halo of magic. Astoria had come home that night and was deftly wrapping a dressing gown around her nightdress behind him.

Hermione was up out of bed and yanking on a pair of the Muggle jeans she'd packed. The shirt she'd worn to bed was heavily rumpled, and possibly inside out, but she was making no move to change it. "Ginny's in labor and Harry asked me to come. I'm going to Grimmauld Place."

Astoria silently lay a hand on Draco's arm, the one clenched onto the door handle, and he relaxed slightly at the gesture.

"Is she early?" he asked exponentially more calmly than before. His Healing instincts were undoubtedly taking over to assist in his calmer demeanor.

"No," replied Hermione as she was doing up the fly of her jeans. "But James' labor was and she'd been taking potions to help Albus come to term. I was brewing them, but she's past thirty seven weeks so I'd stopped to let her pregnancy run its course. She didn't trust St. Mungo's to make them after the ones she was given for James were ineffective, so I did."

Draco nodded absently as he discreetly rubbed a bit of sleep from his eyes. A thought hit him sharply and he turned to look at Hermione with a questioning look with an undertone of indignance.

"How old is James again?"

Hermione smiled despite herself at his obviously affronted tone. It was strange how that tone, so similar to the one he used when speaking to her pre-War, could amuse her now. Looking up at Draco from where she was securing her wand sheath to her arm she said, "He'll be three in December, it was well before you and Snape worked in the Potions lab so don't get your feathers ruffled."

Placated, Draco took Astoria's hand from his arm into his own. He kissed her knuckles and gently implored her to go back to bed which she did after affectionately stroking his cheek.

The dark form of Snape appeared in Astoria's wake, standing just behind his godson who remained in the doorway. He took in Hermione's flurry of activity with a swift sweep of his eyes.

"Don't Apparate," Draco said, taking his first step into the room. "Use the Floo connection, it will be safer."

"I shouldn't think they've changed their Floo password," Hermione mumbled to herself as she tied her shoelaces. The soft tinkling of glass bottles above her focused her attention upward. Snape was scrutinizing the contents of her medicinal bag with long fingers, extracting a bottle here and there to examine the contents.

"You'll need more basic vitamin and nourishment elixirs for Mrs. Potter. And ones specifically for the infant," Snape said critically. His smooth baritone was scratchy with sleep, creating a deep sound that for a moment made the small hairs on Hermione's arms prickle the same way goosebumps did from a sudden chill.

"I've some of those at home," she replied, barely suppressing a yawn. "And coffee."

"You'll need better than coffee," grumbled Snape, "if you plan to use the magic stores you've been building the last week on this then you'll need something stronger. Come."

Draco moved lithely out of the way of his godfather as he swept out of the room with her supply bag. Otherwise prepared to depart, Hermione stood to follow him and paused to smile at Draco.

"Thanks for not being a shite about this," she murmured. "I promise to call if I need you. Honest."

"You'd better," he said while fighting a yawn. Quickly, he hugged the shorter witch to him before she walked away. "And I mean that. Floo call me. Or Severus."

Hermione didn't even try to restrain a snort. "I doubt Snape will want to be present for all of this domestically blissful activity."

"You'd be surprised. He's one of the reasons I'm here, you know," confessed Draco. "Ginny has you, and my mother had Severus."

Before Hermione had a chance to react sentimentally, or at all, over his admission, Draco released her and lightly shoved her down the hall.

Friday, August 5th, 2005 | 3:15am | The Lodge, Loch Lomond

Severus grumbled to himself as he measured out potions meticulously from larger containers into travel-friendly vials and bottles. The draught he'd sent to Mrs. Potter by owl the night before had worked incredibly effectively.

As if he expected differently.

The gentle labor expedient was commonly used when the mother was under duress or strain, or had gone well over term, and had simple enough ingredients. It hadn't been any sort of bother for him to brew it and send it by return owl within an hour's time of Draco's suggestion. Once the bird could no longer be seen on the horizon, he set to work preparing the tonics needed for a healthy childbirth.

"You've certainly prepared a lot of Blood-Replenisher and Vitamin K booster," commented the witch behind him.

"I work in a hospital, Granger, where the possibility of bleeding out is not uncommon. I would be remiss to not have a general coagulant and blood-replenisher readily on hand."

He swore he could feel the heat of her blush against his back. Although, from anger or chastisement he couldn't tell lest he turned around. The temptation to do so just to see the warmth in her cheeks itched at him until he couldn't help but scratch at it.

A mere week ago her skin was pale with exhaustion and bruises mottled her exposed arms and shoulders. Now with the right nourishment potions, rest, and Draco forcing her to eat to replenish her strength, she looked closer to the schoolgirl he taught almost a decade ago.

No. Severus never lied to himself. He'd needed to lie, or at least bend the truth, to so many others he decided years ago to never lie to himself. Schoolgirl was an unsuitable descriptive. Not much remained of that school girl in her outward appearances and he partially blamed himself for that. Mostly Albus Dumbledore and his meddling, but he still shouldered some of the blame for her rapid ascension into maturity. The Granger girl was framed by the light of the fire in the library behind her, highlighting every errant strand and curl of her hair in stark relief. Her face was in slight shadow but rekindled vitality had returned to her eyes along with her renewed strength. As she watched his movements shrewdly her hands moved from her hips to cross in front of her very-much-not-an-adolescent chest.

There were the beginnings of an imbalance within him and he scrabbled for purchase against the seamless wall establishing itself. The easy choice was to let Occlumency slip like silk over his consciousness to hide his moment of distraction.

"There's more than enough in that satchel for Mrs. Potter and her newborn. If you should find they are not enough that is the time to call Draco through the wards. Do not wait for Potter's permission, use your status as their first born's godmother to circumvent their paranoia."

The blush had entirely left her cheeks, he noted, as she moved closer to the workbench where he placed her now fully stocked Healer's kit. As her index finger found the corked top of the largest bottle he shifted his weight from one leg to the other to lean a bit closer to her. At this distance he could easily count the freckles from the sun on her cheekbones. The color difference was faint, drawing his line of sight acutely down the path they created from the inside corner of her eye all the way to…

"Pepper-up," he grumbled in explanation, sitting heavily onto the stool behind him.

With the straps of the kit firmly over her shoulders like a Muggle backpack she was prepared to Floo to Grimmauld Place but she seemed to hesitate. Her gaze did not move from the shelves behind his workbench and the lines of her shoulders were tensed. The tableau before her was not the same as his office while at Hogwarts; the shelves were still lined with ingredients but the light was warmly ambient instead of eremitical shuttered torchlight. He also chose to keep the whole pickled salamanders and jars of sheep's eyes out of sight unless needed.

"Thank you, Snape," she said rigidly.

Without waiting for a reply, and with the haste his plan was counting on, she swept from the room with a fan of curls behind her. She practically tripped over herself to get to the upstairs Floo.

After the familiar whoosh of Floo departure met his ears he listened for footfalls on the stairs. Draco did not disappoint as he appeared with a mug of coffee for his godfather in one hand and for himself in the other moments later.

"Everything's ready for us to leave, Severus," he said between sips of his cuppa. "Astoria will be here in order to 'call' me if she truly does need my help."

Severus stood from his workbench to grasp the proffered coffee and drank half of it before answering. "Your mother and father received my owl last evening warning them of our imminent meddling with the wards." The last half of the coffee was drained in one gulp and the soiled dish banished to the upstairs kitchen to be handled by the house elf.

"Thank Merlin these wards don't require some vacuous ceremony with hideous robes," Draco sneered. "I've had enough pomp and circumstance to last me the decade, not that anyone cares."

"Don't let Astoria overhear you saying that," countered Severus, "I'm sure she's expecting a wedding that will be in the papers for weeks."

"I'm sure our decision to elope will cause more media frenzy than another pureblood wedding."

Severus laughed more heartily than he had in weeks as he imagined Lucius's reaction to his son's pithy response.

Chapter Text

Friday, August 5th, 2005 | 5:37am | Malfoy Manor

The albino peacocks were permanently relocated from the front lawns of the Manor. Instead, they graced the smaller gardens of the mother-in-law suites to bring a sense of normalcy to Lucius and Narcissa. Of course, the suites were an entire second residence on the property rather than a set of rooms or even a wing of the main house. Druella Black née Rosier was not the most pleasant mother-in-law so distance was priceless.

Severus hadn't visited the Manor at any great length since the disastrous administration of DMB 3.2 which caused the haunting death of Tracey Davis. Gritty human ashes beneath his fingernails and choking fumes still fueled his insomnia and woke him from a dead sleep. Of all the nightmares that could plague him this was the freshest and weighed heavily on his conscience. He should have known from the equations that it was too dangerous, too soon to experiment. Several tumblers since that trial were drained to in an attempt to drown away the sight of another soul lost at his hand. His first death, first murder, since the end of the war.

"We'll go through the main doors," said Draco over his shoulder. Instead of focusing on his own demons, he chose to concentrate on the tension in Draco's stride.

Sunlight warmed them enough so both men unclasped their travelling cloaks. The humidity that was a cool mist at the loch was muggy and oppressive in Wiltshire.

"The stasis charms should've held since we last visited the lab," Draco continued. Severus suspected he was speaking aloud for his own benefit, a sound to break the silence on the grounds. "I'm sure the elves have kept the house in pristine condition. Do you recall if we lifted their ban from the lab before we left?"

"No," Severus said as he continued to palm his wand. The grounds were completely empty which was incredibly unsettling to the part of his brain conditioned to subconsciously monitor for threats to his person. "I doubt we did, but your elves know precisely what is in that basement so it's unlikely they would have entered it, regardless of a magical or verbal ban."

Draco nodded in agreement, bringing out his own hawthorn wand from his sleeve. There was an unspoken tension in the air, starting from the moment they Apparated outside of the gates. Lucius and Narcissa did not greet them upon their arrival but there was a sort of acknowledgement through the wards and an answering call from their own magic back to the ancient wards. Dozens of the wards were as ancient as the property itself, dating back centuries before even Hogwarts was established. Most of wards were young in comparison and therefore more... responsive. Older wards spoke slowly; new wards acted more aggressively, like guard dogs struggling against their leashes for first blood. The task ahead of them was daunting as several of the wards needed to be fully disassembled before Hermione could safely join them on the grounds.

Left unmonitored, a protective or offensive ward could evolve in unexpected ways. Sometimes they would fade away or be forced to reintegrate by the sheer force of nature continuing the cycle of life. Others, like the wards that would cripple a Muggle or Muggleborn or strengthen a Marked Death Eater, ran amok and vibrated with the tension of a coiled spring.

Abraxas Malfoy, with help from a teenage Lucius, placed hundreds of traps and spells along the rim of Malfoy Manor, both on the house proper and the gated borders. Nearly all of the spells were cast after Abraxas was Marked and residual energy from the Dark Lord was uncomfortably evident as soon as the two Marked men crossed the ward's invisible thresholds. Severus felt with a renewed awareness the cold thread of magic through his veins that singled out his father's blood, belonging to a lowly Muggle, mixing with his mother's near royal Prince blood. Before, during the first and second rises of the Dark Lord, the intrusive cold was as if the hand of a ghost was passing through his heart. Now with the Mark on his arm faded to a bruise, instead of a stark and writhing tattoo, the cold trapped his blood in an arctic ice flow. The comparison between his internal temperature and the burning sun on his skin made sweat trickle from the nape of his neck and all down his spine, pasting his cotton undershirt to his skin uncomfortably.

Draco was not similarly affected; his blood was as magically pure as Severus' mother's, but he was bearing the brunt of the wards' attention as the Master of the property as if they were dozens of invisible but powerful Rottweilers clamoring for attention. Within the last two years Lucius relinquished most of his control over the property to his son. The combined repercussions of his brief time in Azkaban, Voldemort's occupancy of his home, and the symptoms of Lautiores Maleficus left Lucius unable to bear the weight of the property alone. Only the oldest wards fully responded to him alone anymore.

The Manor house was built of precisely placed stones and bricks; the newer wings indiscernible from the original building through the use of superb builders and expensive stone imported from quarries around the country and continent. High, imposing windows framed the main doors at the top of a small staircase. Flanking the tops of the staircase were intricately carved marble statues in the shape of various intertwined dragon tails. Hollows and divots in the marble suggested that centuries before there were scales set into the stone, likely of gemstones matching the color of each particular breed. They reminded Severus of the hog's heads outside of the Hogwart's gates, but much more tasteful.

" Diffindo ," muttered Draco as he wandlessly cut the thumb of his wand hand. Grasping the solid gold handle set in the heavy oak doors, he rested his thumb where a Muggle craftsman would place a keyhole. The twenty foot high door swung forward effortlessly before the two men.

" Läka . After you, Severus."

Severus glared at Draco out of habit but did not protest any further. Walking past his godson, welcomed officially into the ancestral home, Severus was finally relieved of the cold hands gripping him at a visceral level.

The prediction that the Manor would be in pristine condition was proven accurate as they stepped over the threshold. Shining tile reflecting the soles of their shoes made the already expansive foyer appear even larger. Vibrant tapestries hung over bare stone walls with nary a thread out of place. Sconces lined the walls at precise intervals, casting light in such a way that no shadows would be cast regardless of where one stood.

"Shall we?"

The set of Draco's jaw was stony, his grey eyes flinty and narrowed. The tone of the invitation was nonetheless cordial. Severus lead the way for Draco, not needing a guide to wander the halls of a home in which he had spent more time than his own, bypassing the main hallways to take the first passageway behind a framed painting of the current Malfoy family. The oil versions of Lucius, Narcissa, and a fourteen year old Draco nodded solemnly to them as they disappeared behind them.

Bare stone walls continued within the passage but the torch brackets within were simpler than those in the grand foyer. A small pop occurred behind Draco as they strolled purposefully down the carpeted passage.

"Master Draco and Master Snape," squeaked the carrying voice of a young house-elf named Brax. "Welcome home. May I be taking your coats?"

"Thank you. Please let Alphie know we will be joining my parents for brunch once we've gained control of the lab."

"Yes, sir. Just be calling Brax when you is needing him."

Without breaking their original stride it was still several more minutes before the pair reached the double doors to what was once the Master's entrance to the dungeons. The quarters the Dark Lord utilized for Ollivander, Lovegood, and Griphook were completely gutted at the other end of the Manor and currently housed facilities for the Malfoy elf-made wine his mother controlled. The Master's suite of the dungeons beneath the home were more lavishly equipped before their own gutting. Various ancient torture devices including a rack and thumb shackles on the ceiling were removed to make way for marble-topped tables, cauldrons the size of a bathtub, and dozens of shelves for potions ingredients and implements.

Their aprons rested as they left them, thrown haphazardly over the drying rack near the entrance, the dragon hide sparkling in the gloom. Rustling made Severus cringe as he grasped his long black apron. The hairs on his arms stood straight from goosebumps like a cat that was rubbed the wrong way. Both aprons would need to be soaked in Romanian mountain oil before they'd regain their luster and protective qualities. Nothing was more dangerous in a potions lab than mistreated equipment.

"It's not as bad as I expected," Draco mused aloud, brushing his hands over his own brown apron. "The ward journals are here, I'll start with my father's if you'd…"

"Of course. He wasn't as sloppy with the new Marks as he was with mine and the rest of us, I should be able to find that foul bastard's trace. Did Lucius move the core?"

Draco shook his head. "The elves destroyed the scrying gems that he tainted but they used the core room to do it. Just through here."

A quick slice of his thumb later and Draco opened the locked cabinet above the lowest room of the Manor. The room housing the core of the Manor's protections was severely understated compared to the grand rooms it protected above. Bare stone walls were coarse to the touch and not a stitch of cloth or decoration adorned it. Dropping down into the cramped space, Severus landed heavily on his feet just behind his godson who was already bringing up the stone table from the floor. It fit seamlessly into the floor when not in use but when called by the Master it floated freely up to waist height.

Pressing his hands into the closest corner to him, Draco chanted under his breath for a few minutes, Severus watching intently from the other side of the room. His mind wandered a touch as he saw lines Draco's Glamours fall away from his arms and neck. The shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows exposed his forearms in a way he never did outside of the company of a handful of people. The sheer energy it required to connect his magical core to the wards drained any excess energy used to fuel those charms. Glamours were second nature and powered by the various cuff links or watch chains Draco wore on a daily basis. Knife marks from his bloody Marking initiation cut horizontally down his right arm, ones that matched Severus's. Though he did not cover his own marks, Severus did not judge Draco for working to conceal his own. Each survivor of the war had their own penance.

Just like the glittering Arithmancy equations that followed Hermione around like a misshapen flock of birds, the threads of the Manor's wards sparked to life. As if he were adjusting the channel on the wireless Draco drew some runes into the table corner to anchor the map.

"Shall we?" Severus said, gaze concentrated on Draco's lightly sweating face.

A nod later both men drew their wands and pulled at strands before them, the lines as fine as gossamer and as strong as Acromantula silk.

Chapter Text

Friday, August 5th, 2005 | 4:21pm | Grimmauld Place

"He's beautiful, Ginny," murmured Harry.

Albus Gideon Potter declared his arrival to the world by screaming loud enough to nearly break the Silencing charms around the bedroom. Hermione had Floo'd in with only a few minutes between Ginny's contractions.

The birth of her second son was smoother and quicker than her first. With a much calmer Ginny, Hermione was able to focus completely on delivering Albus. Trusting Hermione completely and listening to her when it was time to bear down allowed Ginny to reiterate to Harry how completely terrible his idea for a middle name was and how she would personally see to his physical dismemberment if she named their son Albus Severus .

Harry was ready to say anything if it meant that his wife would stop crushing his hand and focus instead on her labor.

Hermione held onto Ginny's arm as she moved further up on the bed. Once her patient was settled, Hermione silently offered a vial of Healing Draught and several other post-partum treatments. Each vial was placed back into Snape's elaborate leather potions satchel once emptied, creating a small chorus of tinkling glass. After hours of shouted instructions, screamed obscenities, and moments of soothing reassurances, the room was deafeningly quiet. It only served to amplify the cooing noises from the baby swaddled in his father's arms.

"I'll leave you three days' worth of potions in the nursery," she said, securing the lid on the bag as she stood from the bedside, "and I want you to send me a Patronus if there is anything else you need, but Padma is someone you can trust at St. Mungo's if I'm otherwise occupied."

"Otherwise occupied?" Harry said, looking up from his son. He blinked a few times to moisten his eyes from staring at Albus so fixedly.

"Honestly, Harry," Ginny muttered under her breath in an indulgent tone. She smiled at her friend with genuine affection and gratitude. "Thank you, Hermione. Really. You're welcome to stay and rest, and I'm sure Kreacher will make you anything you'd like."

Hermione leaned down to kiss Ginny's forehead, a small smile pulling at her features. "I'm just going down to see James and going back, Gin. You'll be fine; you did wonderfully. When I went down for tea a few hours ago Kreacher said there's a letter from Angelina. She'll be up here tomorrow with Molly to check on you all and give you some sleep if you need it."

With a look that implied she wanted to protest further, but didn't have quite enough energy to, Ginny reached out her arms to hug Hermione before she left.


Friday, August 5th, 2005 | 4:48pm | Loch Lomond

"Master Draco and Master Severus will come to dinner now," demanded the voice of a small elf above them. "Master Lucius and Mistress Narcissa will host in the cottage. Now."

"Fuck off," grumbled Severus.

The wards on the table hovering in front of him lay in orderly lines, some a dull grey or brown, after hours of curse breaking attempts. They blurred together into a mass of light and static.

Draco slumped heavily against the wall behind him. A stool summoned from the lab above kept him upright and his arm trembled from the effort of holding his wand aloft. Wiping sweat from his brow with his sleeve, Draco asked the elf to let his parents know they would be along soon.

"We need to stop for now, Severus," Draco said in an undertone. "I don't care what you do, at this point, but I need to stop and eat or I might black out from losing my magical strength."

Severus noted the tremors in his godson's wrist and shoulder as he worked to keep the ward key table aloft. With a curt nod, he brought up his wand to assist in packing away the wards they were unable to dismantle and lower the key back to its seamless hiding place. Using a small burst of magic in the form of a levitation charm, Severus lifted himself out of the underground room. Draco abandoned pretenses and requested assistance up and out, which Severus provided readily.

The trudge from the storeroom, locked securely behind them, felt much longer than the original trip. Cleansing charms wouldn't be enough to clean the sweaty grime away and make them presentable for dinner. Draco notified the elf who harassed them that they would be along as soon as they both had a shower.

One of the luxuries of Severus' tenure at the Manor were the guest suites and waterfall showers constructed after the War ended. Not even the giant stone bath during his year as Headmaster could compare to the rhythmic pounding soothing away exhaustion from his muscles.

Meddlesome elves removed his clothes from the room, presumably to wash them, and replaced them with items deemed appropriate for dinner with their master. He reacted typically with muttered curses and promises to accost the next elf in his path but it barely registered as a mild annoyance. It would not do to waste focus and exhaustion on something so trivial.

He still favored neutrals, black constructing a large portion of his wardrobe, but the only true robes he'd worn in recent months were at the Hogwarts ceremony. The fine cotton and wool blend draped over the four poster as dark as a shadow. Buttoning layer after layer over his arms and torso felt completely unnatural, like donning a shroud. As he left the suite to meet Draco, the realization slowly dawned that these robes were his own, left behind and forgotten in some closet, and not worn or seen since the defeat of Voldemort.

Vaguely unsettled, Severus met the exhausted Draco in the entrance hall, and they strode out onto the lawns towards the mother-in-law suites.

Chapter Text

Friday, August 5th, 2005 | 7:21 pm | Loch Lomond

"Albus? They named him Albus ?"

Draco loosened the tie his mother insisted on for family dinners, tossing it towards his dresser, the length of silk folding itself automatically and landing neatly next to the others. Astoria's charm work was brilliant, as always. He knew if she returned from her sister's with a room covered in ties, it would not bode well for him, as the house elves were tasked with leaving that particular mess alone. Sitting heavily on the end of the bed, he began untying his shoes with a mild sense of urgency.

"Harry tried to name him Albus Severus. He made Ginny compromise." Hermione filled her toothbrush and began to scrub in precise and gentle motions. "I'm going to have a difficult time calling him by his first name. And the smug look on that bastard's portrait's face when he hears about this?"

Draco scoffed inelegantly. "I don't envy McGonagall in the slightest."

A towel in her hands, crushing the water from her curls, Hermione walked past his bedroom door towards hers. The dive he made towards his closet, and out of her line of sight, would make any Seeker trainer proud.

Severus was holed up in the basement lab making volatile potions to vent his frustrations over the completely infuriating dinner. His clothes were already changed, or rather, covered by protective gear. Draco, however, needed to change out of his three piece suit before Hermione saw it and put two and two together.

"Are you two going to the manor tomorrow, then? Did the Aurors schedule with you yet?"

The strong scent of fresh lavender floated into the room with Hermione as she walked in and plopped onto the bed, still drying her hair. Draco wandered towards his chest of drawers nonchalantly to pick a pair of sleep pants and shirt. He'd made it out of the jacket, waistcoat, and button down.

"The Auror Department should be along Monday, yes."

"Is Harry joining the crew?" Hermione cast a drying charm on the towel then wrapped it around her head again.

"Naturally. Did you know that makes you look like a gigantic ice cream cone?"

Draco was so pleased she hadn't sniffed them out, that when the damp towel was thrown in his face, he only laughed.


Friday, August 5th, 2005 |11:36 pm | Loch Lomond

Shattering glass joined the cacophony of noises seeping under the door to the potions lab in the lower level. Hermione sat on the stairs facing the door where flickering firelight cast long fingers along the hardwood floors, lazily stretching towards her. The moonlight through the French doors withered the flaming lights before the tips could brush the last stair beneath her feet.

The parlor, an open basement facing the small yard and dock behind the lodge, felt cold after her day spent in muggy London. Even colder, still, compared to the heat of anger radiating from the lab.

Hermione closed her eyes and tipped her head back, pleading for patience from whatever gods or goddesses would listen. Tiredness weighed down her movements as she stood up from the stairs and shuffled purposefully towards the door.

Two solid knocks. One right after the other. Nothing cute or rhythmical or secretive; the same knock she'd employed for years when reaching out to her professors during their office hours, Hogwarts and elsewhere. One, two.

Silence, too sudden to be natural, pushed at her eardrums after the random symphony of shouted curses and breaking objects.

A click, soft as a scratching quill, before the handle turned.

Snape's hair was plastered to his skull from the hair grease used for potions, displaying his entire face to her. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd seen the reaches of his cheekbones, where they sloped towards his ears in two symmetrical lines. Snape did not cower behind a slightly opened door, but stood in the doorway to stare down at her with a glare he'd likely dusted off from his years as a professor. Or, simply the presence of a student he found to be an insufferable know-it-all brought the storm clouds to his eyes.

Hermione felt her own gaze narrow as her feet shuffled to a more offensive stance. "You broke your Silencing Charm twenty minutes ago."

The man could pass for a statue cut from granite for all the reaction he afforded her.

"Dammit, do you ever sleep?" she asked after several heartbeats, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning her shoulder against the wingback chair near the doorway. "Or, are you losing your touch on casting courtesy charms?"

Snape curled his lip, the insult cracking into his steadfast resolve. He opened his mouth to retort, to say something she was certain could curdle milk, but Hermione cut him off before he could get it out.

"Don't even start . I know exactly where the two of you were today. I can practically smell the residue of that fucking Manor basement. And - no, be quiet - and whenever Draco visits his parents he hardly speaks afterwards. He fought that tonight, but still went to bed just after dinner. If he held that ward passage open for you today, for as long as I suspect, then he needs to rest." Hermione reached out a hand to poke him solidly in the chest, holding her finger there for emphasis. "And you do, too. So get your shit together, clean your mess up, and sleep on whatever's bugging you."

Before he had a chance to slap her hand away, she pulled it back, whipped around, and made her way back across the parlor and up the stairs. She wished she could jog it, but she was just as exhausted as Draco. Instead, she allowed the hems of her borrowed sleep pants to drag as she slid across the hardwood floor.

The cool kiss of her pillowcase felt heavenly against her flushed cheeks. Flushed? Bringing a hand up to her face, she felt the slight burn against her palm, and cast a temperature charm. Not a fever then. Without the immediate threat of illness her brain flipped the switch from annoyed wakefulness, to nodding off as surely as a newborn kitten, and she burrowed beneath her pile of quilts.

Chapter Text

Saturday, August 6th, 2005 | 1:14 am | Loch Lomond

Insufferable was a generous description of that girl, that woman, who insisted on vexing him constantly, when he could not in good conscience remove himself from her vicinity.

The cauldron explosion must have broken the silencing charms. He did not lack...touch, as she put it. Amateur, he could admit begrudgingly, allowing a cauldron to explode. When was the last time he had...of course. The day after Tracy Davis's charm test. Draco tried to insist he not brew so soon afterwards, and there were blue scars on his right shoulder blade to attest to his bullheadedness.

Insufferable witch.

Severus moved around the potions lab, inadvertently at half the volume as before. The cauldron pieces vanished to nothingness, since the melted parts were beyond reparo . Constant work on the Dark Magic Banisher the last several years left his other potions and projects dusty and neglected. The work, though devastatingly important, wore on him, but these short forays into the other portions of research did nothing but frustrate him, since they always brought him back to the original issues.

What curse had Bellatrix used on Hermione, through that knife? There was no doubt in his mind the bastard Tom Riddle could claim ownership of its creation. The similarities between the wounds of the others to his and Draco's Dark Mark's were more than uncanny: they were obvious. Embedded runes twisted within the magical cores of each victim, fueling itself like a parasite off a host.

Why, then, he wondered, was Hermione not responding to any form of treatment, if her curse wound was the same as his and Draco's? They'd ruled out the voluntary aspect. Severus would never deny he'd chosen the Mark, but Draco was forced physically, mentally, and emotionally to submission to receive his own.

He resisted throwing another set of beakers against the wall, crushing them beneath his fingers instead to relish the distraction of blood, pain, to remove himself from the cyclical thoughts plaguing him. Copper salted the back of his tongue as a line ran from his palm down towards the crook of his arm. Drying into trails painted criss-crossed across his Mark, Severus sneered at his own youthful folly.

But, the blood caught his attention again, the way it covered the skull and snake...rather, how most of it avoided the black magical ink. Two ends of a magnet, the Mark and his blood, resisted each other except for the thinnest sheen, drying to a second brittle skin.

Could it truly boil down to one simple oversight, a common trait shared by those dozen remaining patients without a cure in sight?

Saturday, August 6th, 2005 | 5:43 am | Loch Lomond

Draco stirred like a cat, eyes open immediately but his body reacting in a slow, sinuous ripple.

"Good," said a voice near the end of his bed. "You're awake."

"Bloody hell," Draco shouted, throwing the covers off and arming himself with the nearest weapons: a wand and his feather pillow. "How long have you been standing there?"

His godfather ignored his accusation, speaking over his shoulder as he stalked out of the bedroom. "Get dressed for brewing. I've made tea."

His feet, bare against the carpeted floor, made small shuffling noises as he flopped back onto the mattress. "Crup fucker, it's not even six in the morning..."

"It's early as hell," agreed Hermione from the hallway, "but he woke me up an hour ago."

With his arm thrown over his face in protest, he didn't see her move to the bed, but he did feel her sit next to him and her chilled hand rest on his chest over his shirt. She didn't say a word, and the two friends sat in mutual silence, only the quiet sounds of tea cups and the kettle in the other room interrupting the peace.

"He's found something, hasn't he?" mumbled Draco. The exhaustion from the day's work before ate at his bones and dragged at his eyelids.

He imagined she nodded, before he heard a shaky inhalation. Her hand on his chest remained steady, warming from his body heat. "Yes. We need you to open the copy of the Pure-Blood Directory ."

That made Draco sit up.

Hermione's hair piled on top of her head in one of her favored top knots, curls spilling everywhere, telling him she hadn't fixed it since waking. Her face, so gaunt after the Hogwarts ceremony, was filling out again after he and Severus quietly fed her as she studied. The pace of the curse attacking her body until she wasn't much more than a waif, and ebbing back to allow her more normalcy made their heads spin. If Severus had found something, anything, that could slow or stop this...he wouldn't complain at the early wake up call.

"It's downstairs," he mentioned as he stood to get dressed. The warning to cover for brewing wasn't lost on him. "Have you both eaten yet?"

"When I wasn't trying to throw more biscuits at him?" Hermione joked. She rubbed sleep from her eyes, the upbeat tone draining from her voice the next instant. "He's insufferable, tenacious, won't let an idea die -"

"Remind you of anyone?"

"Shut up, prat. But I've run a few numbers-"

"Of course," Draco teased, pushing her shoulder lightly as he walked past her on the way out his bedroom door.

Hermione pushed back, a little more force behind her shove than his, and hissed, "Stop interrupting! You're insufferable, too! As I was saying I ran an arithmantic equation and I won't be able to unlock it without that book."

"You flatter me," Draco continued to tease her, the same warm feeling in his chest as the night before with her spirited responses. This was the Hermione he'd befriended in university, a Hermione that fought back and didn't crouch in corners, a Hermione with fire in her blood. "I strive for insufferability, yours and Potter's reactions are too priceless not to barb you."

"The more you focus on Harry, the more I'm going to believe you've had a crush on him this whole time."

When the two of them, both holding Masters and degrees in several subjects, reached the kitchen, Severus observed as the two adults deteriorated to children in a slap fight. Rosy cheeks and grins belied the true intentions behind the bickering, and made him roll his eyes.

"If you've quite finished," he grumbled, drinking deeply from his mug of oolong.

Draco's grin relaxed but didn't fade completely as he sat at the island table next to Severus. The trio ate in silence while Draco woke up fully with the aid of strong tea, and a small bottle pushed pointedly in his direction from Severus. Nutrient replenishing potion, stronger than a vitamin supplement, would assist his recovery from holding the Wards.

"So," Draco said after the final slice of toast was buttered on Hermione's plate, preceded by sliced tomatoes and a hard boiled egg, "the Directory ."

Severus nodded, wiping the crumbs from his face caught in the morning stubble he hadn't cared to remove yet. "I've explained to Hermione what we'd neglected to inform her on before."

Draco sipped his tea, carefully choosing his words in order to ask Severus for further clarification. There were, unfortunately, many possibilities of what details she wasn't aware of. He didn't have to wait long, but it was Hermione who piped in.

"My memories are still at St. Mungo's," she began, "so I cannot see them for myself. I don't want to, anyway, and don't start with me on reverse Occlusion, Draco. Snape explained what you both saw with my core, how it fought against the curse."

She paused to take a breath, and finish the last bite of food on her plate. Looking to Draco, she continued, "He also told me the names of the remaining twelve patients, including me."

Draco's lip twinged, his Healer training rebelling against the satisfaction of a researcher. Confidential information was imperative to finding a cure to this mess, but he still didn't like that she knew their names.

"He had to tell me their names," she explained, "because of that damnable law. I'd known the contents of the records for weeks now. Ever since he came to my house to recruit me. But...we continued to meet at the same crossroads. The answers were in the omittance.

"Removing blood status information from a medical record is fucking ridiculous," she said venomously. "Omitting that is as bad as omitting the age or sex of the individual. Everyone gets so tetchy about that sort of thing on paper, and it's just as bad in the Muggle community, really. The problem is the idea all doctors, Healers, discriminate based on the information provided."

"They did discriminate, all the time, Hermione," Draco said.

Hermione placed her hand on Draco's nearest arm. "I know. And it's still not fully eradicated in the Wizarding World, and frankly I don't think I'll see it happen in this lifetime. The fact remains that someone's blood status is vital. Different issues plaguing different people, you see. And, really, I feel like a fool for not realizing it had a deeper impact sooner. Simply considering who created this damn curse in the first place, it should have been obvious."

Severus stood to take away the breakfast dishes with a wave of his wand. As he walked the few feet to the sink, he kept his eyes trained on the two of them as each dish flew to be washed by a waiting scrub brush and drying cloth.

"We need to change our approach," he said over the clinking of silverware, "and the Directory will give us information we could not obtain through medical records."

"The only option we have after this is the Hogwarts student log, but that's a last resort. If we get anywhere near to that book all media hell will break loose."

Draco nodded sagely even as Severus snorted inelegantly, intoning in a bored voice, " Former Death Eaters work to exclude incoming Muggleborns !"

"Well, we can hardly have that," replied Hermione in the same bored tone. "And breaking into the Ministry Archives is a joke. It would be too easy to get into those scrolls written before the Protection Law but the organization of information is abominable."

Standing from the table, Draco watched as Hermione cast a quick spell to open the cupboards and place the dishes back into the cupboards after the towel was done with them. Though the two before him resolutely ignored each other's presence, they moved delicately around each other. With the rosy color returning to his friend's cheeks, he watched happily as the symptoms of the potion receded from her frame.

He slipped out of the kitchen without a word. The Directory was locked in a bookcase in the lower levels of the lodge and required one of the Malfoy bloodline to open it. Each family had their own curses placed on their books, as each copy held family secrets that wouldn't automatically appear in another book, like illegitimate children or prior betrothals. As a descendant of the Blacks, Narcissa held details within the pages of her family tree that could close cold cases and explain the rise of several Ministers for Magic. Draco didn't care enough to expose his ancestor's debauchery, turning instead to the back of the first page, where his name glittered in metallic ink.

Rubbing the last bits of sleep from his eyes, Draco brought a sheet of parchment and quill closer to him, and began to write down the names of the twelve left to show positive results of the treatment, starting with the three worst affected.

Hermione Granger, Dennis Creevey, Mary Cattermole…

The next line were the names of those who'd perished after receiving treatment.

Tracy Davis and Penelope Clearwater .

The daunting task of reviewing each line of the book and how they were interconnected loomed over him, but the notion there could be a solution hidden with the pages spurred him towards what could save his friend.

Chapter Text

Saturday, August 6th, 2005 | 10:32 am | Loch Lomond

Severus couldn't get into a comfortable position on the couch with notes spread before him. Each time he adjusted his posture or how his leg was crossed over the other, the feeling worsened.

Draco glanced at him a few times from the wingback armchair when he moved. As Draco was the only one who could touch the Directory , he held the most comfortable seat in the room, poring over each page to trace the threads between the wizards and witches of his family tree. He didn't mind, for the first time in his life, that the wizarding world leaned a bit too closely to inbreeding, as there were hundreds of names he could review in the last few generations.

After several more attempts to find an agreeable position, Severus stood to stretch instead. His long body unfolded from the couch, fingertips nearly touching the ceiling as he popped the tension out of his spine. As he brought his arms up, he realized why he was uncomfortable from the start. He hadn't changed out of the robes from dinner with the Malfoys, robes he hadn't worn in years. Excusing himself, Severus moved upstairs to find the pack of cigarettes in the pocket of his jeans from several days ago.

Hermione waited for Severus to ascend the stairs, her arms full of a tray holding three full tea mugs. She glanced down pointedly as he walked past her, and he grasped the largest of the three, only pausing to nod his thanks.

He could hear her ask Draco a question on the way down the stairs, but it was too muffled to make out. Setting the very hot mug onto the stone tabletop near his bed, he rummaged for several minutes before locating the nicotine he craved.

Holding the pack in his hand felt surreal, the gossamer of memory falling over his vision as he looked at his arm, covered to the wrist in buttoned, black robes, and a pack of cigarettes dwarfed in his palm. The last day he'd held a cigarette between his fingers while wearing full robes, he'd nearly died under the fangs of a demented Horcrux.

Severus used a spell instead of unbuttoning each individual clasp to remove the shell from his skin, suddenly plagued by a crawling feeling, making the fine hairs on his arms and legs stand on end. The armor he wore for so long as a professor felt too similar to the Death Eater robes, sliding like eel skin over his body, itching at his soul. Jeans over wing tipped Derby's, and trimly cut button downs, all in dark neutrals, replaced the armor. He scowled at himself in the mirror before leaving the room.

The porch off the main sitting room, where they did their work when it wasn't too windy, was damp and slippery beneath his shoes. He drew one cigarette from the pack and lit it wandlessly as he strode to the far corner.

"Could I bum one?"

Severus didn't startle, but his gaze betrayed his surprise at his porch companion. Astoria dropped by sparingly over the last few weeks. Daphne, he knew, was due with her first child and she spent as much time as possible with her sister.

"Of course," he said, offering to light it once it rested between her lips.

Astoria took a long drag before thanking him.

"Draco doesn't know I'm here," she said after a few minutes of companionable silence. "For the best, really. I glanced downstairs and the two of them are in of Arithmancy."

Severus almost chuckled at the way her hand fluttered around her head, an imitation of the multitude of runes likely filling the air around the two downstairs. He'd grown a level of emotion past tolerant, but would not admit it if pressed, of the slight Slytherin since her engagement to his godson. Sobering, he extinguished the last of his cigarette before lighting another. "How's Daphne?"

"Don't you really mean 'How's London? Has the panic ceased?'" Astoria grinned at her former professor, teeth perfectly straight and a shade of white almost too bright. The cigarette between her fingers was far from extinguished, her pulls far fewer and less desperate than Severus's as he dragged through the end of a second at the same time she finished her first. "Skeeter cooked up another scandal already. I think the Ministry had a hand in providing the fodder, to cover up theirs and Hogwarts' apparent dangerous activity. There will be an open seat on the Wizengamot soon if the people have their way."

The third yellow butt of the morning vanished before it fell into the lake below them. "I do wish Mister Nott would consider it."

"Oh, he's done more than that. Theo and Daphne kicked me out for a few hours while they make public appearances to leave 'no comment' with every reporter."

"Good," muttered Severus.

Astoria tilted her head, and leaned against the railing. Only magic could keep the satin of her shirt protected from the receding damp of morning dew. She didn't reach for another cigarette and he was glad for it. On his last count he only had a few packs left before purchasing more, and he had no desire to go to the village yet.

"It is going better, isn't it?"

Her genuine concern gave him pause, the lit cigarette still between his lips. For the first time that morning he turned to face her. "Yes, and no. Draco and Granger are working on a theory."

Astoria sighed, but didn't press him. The man could be so prickly. "I'm going back to Nott Manor, but connect with me if anything changes."


Saturday, August 6th, 2005 | 7:32 pm | Loch Lomond

"It can't be that easy," sighed Draco. "Why didn't we notice it?"

Hermione stared at her friend, his head in his hands from frustration, hair fisted in hands covered in paper cuts. Severus sat to her right at his potion's bench, meticulously reading over her notes and making several of his own, the quill scratching feverishly against the parchment. The sound made the inside of her ears itch.

" Because it's so obvious," she sighed. Her throat felt constricted and dry, so she stood to pour drinks for all of them.

A person stood behind her as she extended an arm towards the Malfoy liquor cabinet. Their arm reached over her shoulder to hold the door to the cabinet shut, as she pulled to open it. Turning her head, she glared at Snape. His face was impassive as he shook his head no. Embarrassment flooded Hermione's cheeks as she recalled that morning someone had cleaned the empty glass bottles from her stash in the library.

"Alcohol won't help this," he said quietly.

"Rich, coming from you," she spat, the thirst pricking in her throat moving towards her head in the promise of a migraine.

Imperious and imposing, Snape twisted the handle of the cabinet door, with her hand underneath his, to lock it once more. The skin of his palm was warm and dry, the opposite of the cold and clammy feeling she expected just to look at him.

Hermione hated the blade of shame slicing into her gut. Hiding her desire for the amber liquid sparkling in the dying summer light, she pulled one of the books off the shelf built into the sides of the ornate liquor cabinet. Sitting down next to Draco this time, whose head was still in his hands, she let the book fall open to whatever page it wanted to, then thrust it in front of her still-burning cheeks. Slight tremors affected her grip on the leather.

Draco looked up and mouthed blood status over and over again, fear of the taboo stopping any noise passing his lips. Severus caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, but he watched Hermione openly.

Her feet were tucked up under her, the tufts of curls framing her face showing around the edge of the book up in front of her face. She was doing her best to shrink from his vision and he begrudgingly admitted she would need more than one moment of embarrassment to halt her dance towards alcoholism.

"As we all know the heavy fines associated with this taboo," Snape began, "We will not verbalize the elephant in the room. However, the problem at hand fits every puzzle piece edge of our previous failures. The only ones left in the trials share a certain ancestry trait and those who were more violently affected by strain 3.2 were the middle ground; men and women, girls and boys at the midline between yourselves."

Hermione lowered the book halfway between Snape's statement. A glance at Draco confirmed he'd removed his fingers from his hair.

"We need to review all the tests we've already done, applying this new variable. There is not a quick or sane way to acquire the information we would prefer, but this will suffice. Using a few glyphs, the equations will run themselves."

Hermione wished to interject, meanly, she understood all of this and did he remember she held a Mastery in Arithmancy ? But the look on his face, lost in concentration, stopped her. He was reciting his next actions for all of their benefit, to give an anchor in the emotional turmoil started by the revelation Bellatrix and Voldemort used blood status as a factor in the curse. She doubted she would stop kicking herself over not thinking of it sooner, and Snape's posture implied he felt the same.

Hours passed, and even Hermione didn't object when one of the house elves from the Manor brought them food. Years of data, and applying the key glyph to the equations, demanded all of her attention. Though Draco had fought vehemently to assist her with the paperwork, she shoved him into the lab with Snape in order to assist his mentor in brewing another batch of DMB, starting from the very first version of the brew, with important changes to the base. A few times, she shouted a question into the lab and one of the men would answer, but, except for the sound of brewing utensils, the evening passed in quiet.

"It needs a few hours to stew," Snape said to Hermione, drying his hands on a towel in the doorway between rooms. His full potions gear glittered in the lamplight, black dragon scales refracting light into miniature prisms on the wall, and his hair was slicked back against his head like the other night.

Hermione swallowed and tried to look around him. "Where's Draco?"

Snape stepped aside to reveal a dozing Draco, curled up on a transfigured cot in the lab. Hermione cast a cushioning charm on the cot before Snape closed the door behind him.

The tea on the arm of the couch next to her was long cold and she grimaced when she sipped at it distractedly. Raising her wand, she reheated it with a spell, but the sound of a throat clearing called her attention to the stairs.

Snape stood in the gloom, the potions gear removed and hanging next to the lab entrance, and she wondered why she never noticed his eyes glittered the same way dragon scales did. The sleeves of his grey button down were rolled up past his elbows, a feat only someone with his slight build could manage. He said nothing, but looked pointedly at her reheated mug, his mouth a flat line on his face.

Hermione wasn't sure if he was offering a silent invitation to join him for fresh tea, but she took the chance and followed him up.

"Depending on how the batch responds to an iron cauldron, rather than one of gold, we should have another batch to test. It should respond more actively to changing levels of blood purity. When are you due for the last administration of 4.6?"

Listening to his commentary, likely for her own Arithmantic benefit, Hermione scowled when he said 'blood purity'. Her voice was clipped when she replied, "Next week."

Continuing to select tea leaves from the tins on the counter, sniffing each to determine what would fit his current mood best, Snape caught himself watching the rising bloom of an angry blush on her neck. Staying silent he waited until she voiced what was bothering her, as he had waited in the hospital room after the disastrous warding ceremony.

"Do you believe in it?" Her soft question was directed towards the teakettle. When he didn't respond, she turned to look at him, as he leaned casually against the counter top. "Blood purity?"

Snape regarded her openly, his expression unchanged. His jaw worked as if he were chewing his words carefully before speaking. "Yes."

Bristling mightily, Hermione opened her mouth to combat the answer, one syllable that cut straight through her gut, when the teakettle screamed behind her. She moved quickly to remove it from the stovetop and haphazardly poured water into their mugs for tea. Snape stepped in and finished the act of making tea as she all but slammed the kettle back on the stove. Each pore from her neck to her forehead was flushed with anger when she whirled to face him.

"How dare you!" she accused, hands balled into fists next to her. "How dare you stand there with that Mark on your arm, and your endless accounts of remorse and redemption and say you believe in that utter rot ! How many children did you teach at that school over the years? Hundreds, maybe thousands? You protected each of us when the time came no matter who our parents were. Was that a lie? Did you really believe it when you called Lily a Mudblood?"

Snape stilled, a jerky motion she wouldn't normally associate with the fluid man. The teaspoon in his hand rattled against the mug from his shaking fingers.

"Potter never could keep his mouth shut."

Hermione seethed further at his seeming non-reply. "Don't change the subject!"

"Hardly!" Snape stood at full height to tower over her, placing his hands on the island and the countertop next to him to box her in by the stove, still cooling after she'd switched off the heat. "You reply with your emotions without listening, you fool woman! For such a brilliant and lauded mind you don't fucking use it enough. Yes! I believe that blood purity matters. It matters in the same blasted way you two believe ethnicity, or age, or gender, or previous medical experience affects someone's life. Ignoring that fact is utter stupidity. What you did not ask me is if I believed in the Dark Lord's cause.

"So ask it. Ask if I relished what I did before and after I took this fucking brand, no better than cattle for slaughter. Ask how many times he told me to torture, break, kill someone who was not a Pureblood, all the while following the rulings of a halfblood and standing as one myself. Ask me what you really want to know, Granger. Ask. Me."

As he lambasted her, Hermione quailed against the countertop behind her. His chest, leaning over as he was, forced her to lean back, with his face inches from hers. She could smell the sharp tang of sweat from hours of brewing, the grease that still slicked his hair back against his head, and the scent of copper on his breath, as if he'd bitten his tongue.

She swallowed once. Twice. "Do you believe I'm less because I'm muggleborn?"

The heat of anger didn't leave his eyes, but his voice grew softer, a rustling along dry leaves. "Of course not."

Remnants of her anger evaporated away. Shame heated her cheeks at her assumptions, but she couldn't help the barb she threw his way. "I've always believed you thought that. All the years in school and then each time I've seen you since."

"Because I didn't immediately fawn over your massive intellect, your heroine status, or your impressive academic achievements?"

Hermione scoffed in spite of herself, crossing her arms over her chest. "Ridiculous, I-"

"Ridiculous? I beg to differ. You have hundreds of doting fans and dozens of friends with an endless supply of approval and adoration. I'm surprised you've not suffocated from the sycophants and their platitudes. You are a singularly gifted witch and deserve more than positive comments from simpletons who can barely grasp your capabilities."

The silence was so great in her ears, Hermione could swear she could hear the tea steeping. Snape's face relaxed, no longer a moue of frustration, and he stepped away from her, gripping his mug and heading out to the porch to smoke.

Hermione watched him walk away, her mouth parted slightly in surprise. She grounded herself by taking a sip of her tea and immediately cursed when she burnt her tongue, but not even the painful distraction could detract from the notion she'd just received the best compliment of her adult life, and possibly her entire life, from Severus Snape.

Chapter Text

Saturday, August 13th, 2005 | 8:13 am | St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

"I could have told you he'd twist a compliment into an insult," Draco said with a sigh. His hair was still damp from swimming in the lake that morning, and as he flitted quickly around his workbench, small droplets of water dotted the back of his lab coat.

Hermione perched on the solitary hospital bed in the laboratory, in the eerily quiet basement of the hospital. She absently swung her legs in a syncopated rhythm. She'd not ventured down to the bowels of the building often, choosing instead to spend as little additional time as possible in the hospital, but it was the only place she and Draco could be sure of privacy while he administered her seventh and final dose of Dark Magic Banisher version 4.6. Privacy and all the equipment they needed, though Hermione knew a small part of her desire to take the treatment here was to avoid the imposing man at the Loch.

"He acted like I already knew how he felt," she said, continuing to swing her legs, though they picked up speed into a steadier pattern. "'You're a singularly gifted witch'. Remus said much of the same when he was our professor."

Draco snorted. "You would do well not to mention any comparison between Severus and Remus Lupin. I knew more about magical creatures from encyclopedias as a toddler than what I learned in his class."

"Don't be a prat," Hermione chided. "But I don't disagree. The stunt with the boggart was a bit daft, making children face their greatest fear without any preparation."

"I'm glad we didn't all face that thing, since I'm sure some of us had worse fears than clowns and spiders." Draco spoke absently his concentration on the beakers in his hands: the potion in his left turning counterclockwise while the one on his right spun clockwise. Both potions were difficult to observe; the bright green mixture moved merrily against the tide he attempted to create, while the chalky yellow made Hermione feel seasick.

"What would yours have been?"

Draco remained focused on his task, ignoring Hermione's question. "As it is, he wasn't the worst professor, and was one of the few that wasn't a former Death Eater or utter tosspot."

Nose wrinkling, Hermione shook her head in disgust, recalling Barty Crouch's contentious teaching methods and Umbridge's blood quills. "If Dumbledore weren't dead, I'd have given him a piece of my mind a long time ago. It's not nearly as satisfying to scream at a portrait because he can run off to any other frame he wants, like a coward. Hogwarts was a death trap, and I'm almost certain he had some dementia before his hand was cursed, allowing the hogwash to happen on his watch."

None of her observations surprised Draco. Years spent cloistered in France and then in their separate Masters' apprenticeships allowed for long nights, and longer letters, discussing their individual Hogwarts experiences. He finished drawing the correct amount of potion for her weight and set the vials on a floating tray.

"It's astonishing Potter was able to defeat the Dark Lord," observed Draco, "simply going off our lackluster education on the subject."

Hermione prattled as Draco secured her to the hospital bed for the session. "I've thought about that, and it only shows how proficient Harry was at Defense, even as an eleven year old. But I do not excuse the methods used to hone those skills. Continuing to allow a hostile learning environment was likely an unintentional...I hope it was unintentional, at least...method of learning where the structured education failed. Hundreds or thousands of teenagers with magic wands and the knowledge of even the simplest slicing hex, meant for fruit or cutting hair, are armed with enough information to cause havoc. Add in a Scottish winter, and no one can come or go, and you can kiss order goodbye."

Smirking softly, Draco tightened the restraints to a level where she'd still be comfortable. He offered her the green vial and checked his watch for the two minute time frame. The blue monitor band on Hermione's wrist transmitted multitudes of numbers onto the observation scroll beside the bed.

"I always thought Severus was proficient at establishing order, as was McGonagall," Draco admitted, though he sounded as if he'd rather swallow sour milk than say the last part again.

Hermione breathed in and out a few times, but nodded to indicate she heard him, and agreed, then opened her mouth for the yellow potion, and the mouthguard swiftly behind it. Her shaking intensified, and Draco wished he could do more to ease her pain than hold her hand before she blacked out.

Saturday, August 13th, 2005 | 4:18pm | St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

The monitoring equipment hummed soothingly, the only sound breaking the silence of the laboratories, except for the turn of a page or the scratch of a quill. Draco sat comfortably at his desk a few feet from Hermione as she slept. Several hours earlier, he'd cleaned a spot on her abdomen to inject the black potion, and prayed to Merlin and Apollo that she wouldn't need this treatment again.

Piles of notes from Healer Audrey Weasley, nee Horner, filled one side of the desk, while Hermione's own self-evaluation covered the other two thirds. Draco rarely allowed himself to fully scowl or knit his brows - wrinkles - but her records and level of detail, detached and clinical, worried him. He resorted to beginning flow charts of her behavior on another sheet of parchment. A thin black line of ink trailed between dates and events, creating a spiderweb across the paper.

Hermione was obviously not attending regular, or perhaps any, scheduled mind-healing sessions. Limited records existed of Reverse Occlusion to assist with breaking down some of the barriers created between difficult memories and her active psyche, and the notes only existed in Healer Weasley's records with no corresponding items in Hermione's meticulous text.

"Damn you," he whispered to her sleeping form. Draco checked her vitals again, knowing she was due to wake up any moment.

Angry as he was - and he was very angry with her for intentionally harming herself by omitting important information on her progress - she was also harming others. These notes were the same ones he and Severus pored over before going back to the drawing board to improve the potion, and her omission impeded their progress and potentially extended her own suffering.

When the door opened to the lab behind him, Draco startled out of his chair. He blocked as much of Hermione as he could and drew his wand before the interloper could take two steps inside.

Severus stood still until Draco breathed in and out twice, then moved forward to lean over the table of notes.

"The hospital is rather quiet on Saturdays," Severus noted. His hand hovered over a few of the sheets of parchment, selecting two to compare side by side.

"Down here at least," Draco said, resting his hands on Hermione's bare wrist and forehead, safe in the knowledge Severus would defend them if anyone decided to burst in. His nerves were still coming down from Severus's arrival. "She's been asleep for almost eight hours now."

"Typical for that dose," Severus replied, flipping through the paperwork without sitting down.

Draco observed his godfather's posture, his tense shoulders, and how resolutely the other wizard avoided looking in his direction, and decided he'd had enough of the dancing around.

"What's going on with you and Hermione?"

If Severus was stiff before, he was ice now, the room temperature itself dropping a degree from the force of his Occlumency. Draco didn't bother hiding his frustration, but attempted to drill into the back of his mentor's head with his gaze, as the taller man finally finished the flow chart Draco had started with a flurry of hands over Hermione's charts.

"I don't know what you're-"

"Pull the other one, Severus."

"I assure you-"

"That you actually care? You've never been this involved with a case, with a patient. At least not since Tracey Davis."

"Don't speak of her!" roared Severus, his body uncoiling, and snapping at Draco; a cobra instigated with a flaming hot poker.

Draco stood, breathing heavily from restraining his temper as much as possible, but he deflated once he saw the look on his godfather's face. Hard lines melted to smooth planes of understanding, silver searching the guarded depths of black. The realization slid over his skin, a cold fog of knowledge he could scarcely believe. He knew Severus would never admit it aloud, and it went against his basic nature to be so frank, but the words stumbled from suddenly numb lips before he could pull them back in.

"You're afraid she'll die, too. Aren't you?"

Severus paled - no small feat - and his reaction was the only response Draco needed, before drawing another chair below himself and sitting down heavily. Fumbling into his pocket, he withdrew a long stick of mint of chewing gum, unable to light a fag like he really wanted to do. Hermione still wasn't awake, and though he was anxious to further examine her, he thanked the stars she couldn't hear their exchange. His voice was muffled behind lips that didn't want to work correctly.

"Tracey had more muggle and half-blood descendants than what her family let on. She died because of the combination of charms work speeding up the deterioration process of her internal organs and bodily functions, and our lack of knowledge on her ancestry." Draco looked up to stare at Severus, his Occlumency and Severus's hitting each other with a gong of power that made them both flinch. Recovering, Draco continued, "But we have different data for Hermione, and we didn't know any of those details until I read the Directory."

Turning away from his godson to draw diagrams on a clean sheet of parchment, Severus's hair fell around his face to hide it completely. Draco leaned forward to hear him as he spoke, the baritone of his voice soft and restrained. "Her progression of...deterioration is remarkably swift."

Unable to disagree, Draco conceded, "Yes, since she hasn't been taking as good care of herself as she should."

"The alcoholism." Severus clenched the fist that wasn't gliding over paper. "That, combined with what you see here, and the amount of potion she's already taken...the curse is building a resistance to our methods. Similar to an antibiotic with Muggle infections.

"She's developed diabetes – type two, mercifully – several allergies, and lactose intolerance. The curse is wearing down her magical core's natural resistance to those small afflictions, and if it continues...," Severus hesitated over the chart Draco started and he'd finished, his grip pressing fingerprints and creases into the previously crisp sheet. Monitoring beeps and hums suspended the silence as Severus added more notes then brought the document to Draco.

Grasping it with sure fingers, the hunched man's eyes scanned it once, twice, before he put his hand over his mouth in dread. "Merlin. Either way, our next batch will be her last."

Chapter Text

Monday, August 15th, 2005 | 1:45 pm | Office of Dudley Dursley, Orphus & Gamble Industries, London

"It's not that I don't trust you, but I want to make sure she's safe."

Dudley rubbed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and restrained himself before saying something he would regret. He chewed on the words in his mouth for several moments before replying, softly, "I don't know where she is, Harry. She works in the field a lot so we don't always cross paths."

There was a sigh on the other end of the phone connection, static cutting them off briefly since Harry was not far from the Ministry for Magic and its severe magical interference. "You wouldn't tell me if you did know, would you?"

Dudley bristled, the flush of his neck floating somewhere between red and his father's personal brand of maroon. "Last I was informed, I'm a Muggle and don't understand this stuff anyway."

The night he and Clare visited Grimmauld Place, keeping up appearances as much as possible for Harry's birthday, Ron was bristling for a fight. Ron had taken the longest to forgive Dudley, the same way he took the longest to be civil to Draco, and was afraid. He lashed out towards Dudley as soon as he'd entered Harry's home, his screams of frustration over her disappearance after the warding ceremony, and fear for Hermione's safety, carried up to the top floor of the house where James was sleeping. It didn't help, or count, that the two hadn't known anything about what happened at Hogwarts until after Hermione appeared at their doorstep the following day. A resounding slap by Clare, more heated words, then Dudley and Clare went home without another word exchanged between Harry and Dudley for two weeks. Not even when Albus was born, except a small note through the Floo from Hermione had informed them of his birth.

"Ron was out of line," Harry replied immediately, breaking Dudley from the haze of memory, the gravel in his voice making it apparent to Dudley he was upset and holding his hand over the speaker to block anyone from hearing him.

"Damn right," Dudley muttered, moving the large plastic phone receiver to his other shoulder, mashing it up to his ear for support. "If I hear anything that concerns you, I'll call you, yeah?"

He counted to five before Harry's voice responded. He wasn't holding his hand over the speaker anymore; Dudley could hear a taxi horn on the other end. "Make sure Malfoy keeps her safe. People at work are pulling up the old copies of the Prophet, from when this whole Lautiores Maleficus shit started a few years ago, and there will be mass hysteria if they don't make some statement. Soon. The public will go nuts, because she's not a Death Eater, but got infected anyway."

"So glad you're thinking of Hermione's safety first, Harry," Dudley growled, putting as genuine a smile as he could on his face as he waved to an executive walking by his office.

"This was a bad idea. I've got to go, give my love to Clare."

Harry didn't give Dudley a chance to reply before the line went dead.

Monday, August 15th, 2005 | 2:13 pm | The Lodge, Loch Lomond

Hermione lifted one of her feet out of the bathwater, wiggling her toes a bit. The scalding hot water had cooled to near tepid, and she wasn't sure if she wanted to cast another warming charm on it, or get out and find other means of pain relief. Her hair sat unwashed atop her head, and her arms were not up to the task of combing it out before or after a conditioning treatment.

She pressed her palms onto the smooth lip of the tub and scooted as far back as she could, so instead of lifting herself out and sloshing water all over the floor and risking a fall, she slid up and out of the curved lip. Sitting on the edge of the gigantic bath on the ridged, flat edge where soaps and shampoos typically rested, Hermione brought one foot out, then the other, working to be as quiet as possible.

With her robe barely cinched at her waist, the door to the bathroom opened just an inch, and Astoria's voice carried through the crack to ask if Hermione was dressed.

"Come in, Astoria," Hermione said, her voice soft and echoing in the tiled room as she finished tying the robe around her.

Little natural light shone into this room, and the false magical lighting colored Astoria's normally flaxen hair a color closer to bronze. Gesturing to the dials on the wall nearest her, Astoria asked, "Mind if I turn up the lights a bit?"

Hermione shrugged, slipping her feet into her ratty flip-flops near the bathtub.

"Want me to do your hair?" Astoria asked, pulling the chair out from the vanity on the other side of the room. The alcove held a stone table hewn from the bedrock, where the entire room was hidden. Hermione shuffled over and sat gingerly onto the chair.

Astoria set to work at once, extracting two palms full of elixir from a large black jar nearby. One of the most lucrative products of the overseas Malfoy Industries, the dark green mixture shared both the texture and consistency of lotion and was a more forgiving version of the Sleakeazy's potion. Instead of taming her hair, it only cleaned and moisturized, so she could retain her volume and natural curls rather than adopt a slick look. With Astoria's fingers gently massaging it over her scalp behind her, Hermione closed her eyes and tried to let the sensation push the looming migraine further into the distance.

Music wafted down through the open door from the parlor above. Draco plucked at the piano keys fitfully, playing a stumbling mixture of Mozart and Bach, as if he couldn't make up his mind which he wanted to play.

"He's a disaster," Astoria said bluntly, pausing her task to charm away the stray hairs that were stuck to her lotion-slick fingers. "I don't think he slept last night. I've half a mind to drag him down to the lake after dinner."

"Drag him under," Hermione said. "Bubblehead charms. The merpeople have a celebration to bring in the harvest season and it might start tonight."

Astoria laughed, then bit her lip as she took one more dollop of elixir for the ends of Hermione's hair. "I don't think he wants to go anywhere near merpeople, Hermione. He'll probably just swim laps until he's dead on his feet, which is exactly what he needs."

"How are you two ever going to have children when he's still a child himself?" Hermione teased, reaching behind her to playfully poke at Astoria's thigh, exposed beneath a pair of burgundy shorts.

This time Astoria wasn't able to keep from laughing by just biting her lip, and decided to neither agree nor disagree. The piano playing paused as her laughter crested up the stairs, but continued again after a beat, this time much brighter, unmistakably a popular Muggle song.

"For the love of Merlin, he needs to stop playing that fucking song," Astoria grumbled. Unable to help herself, she began to hum along as she finished massaging the rest of the product into Hermione's hair. "There is more to play than Move Along."

Charming the remaining film from her hands, Astoria sprinted up the stone stairs just outside the door to the cellar washroom, screaming in frustration as she made it to the parlor landing. Hermione smiled at the ceiling as she heard the sounds of Astoria tackling her fiancé onto the carpeted floor. Draco laughed and continued to scream the song, extremely off-key, until he was likely overcome by Astoria's legendary tickling skills.

Hermione stood carfully, feeling immensely better after the soak and Astoria's attention. The lightheadedness that accompanied the beginning of some of her migraines forced her to slowly move from the bath, flicking her wand sharply to dry the room before shutting the door, and make her way to the stairs. She could hear Draco and Astoria's giggles dying down and the low hum of conversation grew clearer the further up she went. Draco was pinned beneath Astoria, her hands on his shoulders and his hands grasping her biceps, and both looked at her as she appeared. The door behind her shut and disappeared back into the woodwork beneath the stairs that led to the floor with the kitchen and bedrooms.

"Feeling better?" Draco asked, his voice breathless from mirth but a bit tainted by concern.

"Much, thanks," Hermione said. "I might be able to sleep now, actually. Has anyone reached out about Albus? Ginny or Harry?"

"I sent a Patronus while you were in the bath," Draco replied. He gently pushed on Astoria so the two could stand. "Ginny could be sleeping, but if we don't hear before another hour's up, I'll send a message to Dudley. Get some rest, Hermione."

Nodding listlessly, Hermione continued walking up the stairs towards the kitchen for a cup of tea before sleeping for as long as her body would allow her to without the aid of potions. She could hear the couple speaking in low voices downstairs and their steps as they moved to the couch before she reached the first floor landing and all soft sounds from the downstairs parlor were blocked.

She puttered in the kitchen, taking her time making tea the muggle way. There was no way in three salt circles any amount of caffeine would disrupt the drooping of her eyelids, so she choose by taste rather than strength. The sliding door to the porch opened and closed while she pointed her wand at one of the tea bins on a high shelf.

"You shouldn't use magic yet," Snape said as he strode up next to her. Before the incantation could leave her mouth he'd reached up to pull the desired tea down for her. "You still look weak."

"Do you compliment everyone this well?" she returned irritably, turning away to finish her task. She missed the flare of his nostrils when her hair moved and released a wave of scent from the elixir.

"What good is a compliment if it isn't true?"

Hermione was too tired to snipe back at him, and poured herself a mug of tea before marching away to let Snape pour his own if he wanted it. As she curled up onto the end of one of the couches, the one facing the windows to the loch beyond, she heard the gurgling pour of another mug. Her feet tucked under her legs to keep her toes warm, and the fluffy robe up to her ears, she was certain she looked like an overgrown couch pillow. Heavy footsteps moved towards her before Snape settled himself on the couch opposite, framing himself with the tableau of the misty loch and rolling hills outside, effectively blocking her view.

"What do you want?" Hermione asked, trying to look past the dark eyes regarding her with inscrutable emotion.

"You've read my notes," Snape began, holding up a hand automatically to forestall her insistence that she hadn't. "You've read both Draco's and my notes from the last administration. We have limited time, Granger."

"You mean that I have limited time."

If she were more accustomed to his subtle facial expressions, she might have thought he'd winced at her comment.

Not one for mollycoddling, Snape continued in a low monotone. "Precisely. Your cells' degeneration is only accelerating, rather than slowing down as it should. Your diabetes is managed but would not be present if your core were strong enough to assist your pancreas, and your recovery after administration is-"

"Please stop talking," Hermione snapped, her breathing shallow and rapid as she stared down the man reading a laundry list of her symptoms as if he'd memorized her medical charts. He likely had, the bastard. "You're not providing solutions, you're only stating the problem."

"Problems you don't act like you give half a damn about."

"Don't fucking lecture me on addressing my problems, Snape."

"You're acting like a child-"

"A child? Who is the one throwing a goddamned temper tantrum?"

"At least act like you care that you're dying!"

A cloud of silence smothered them until there was no air left in the room. At some point during the hushed exchange turned argument, Snape stood with his hands balled into fists at his sides. Part of Hermione's brain was acutely aware of the silence in the room below as Draco and Astoria waited like rabbits hiding in the bushes to see whether they should stay or run.

Shaky legs below her, covered to the knees by the dark bathrobe, Hermione stood and set down her half empty mug of tea more carefully than she thought she could. Her lips did not quiver, her face did not blanch. She stood tall with static running through her hair to lift it from her shoulders in an electric cloud.

"Yes, Snape. I am dying. Quite rapidly, actually. I thought I would die when I was sixteen in the Department of Mysteries, but I lived through efforts I assume you assisted, after Dolohov opened this darling purple cut across my chest. I was certain I would die fighting Death Eaters storming the castle at seventeen the night Dumbledore passed. Don't wince at that, it's unbecoming." Hermione set her jaw and gave Snape a chance to retort, and when he didn't, she continued. "At eighteen I was barely living on wild mushrooms in forests with Harry and Ron searching for pieces of a madman's soul, fighting frostbite on top of everything else. Bellatrix nearly killed me in the Malfoy's parlor that year, only weeks before I robbed Gringotts and fought at Hogwarts. I'm accustomed to the idea of death, especially my own."

By the end of the speech she hadn't known she was holding inside of her, Hermione's hands shook within the pockets of her robe and her eyes burned red from suppressing tears. Snape held her gaze with that inscrutable expression plastered back over his features.

"Dwelling on the fact I am dying will not solve the fact that I am," she continued, much more softly now, as she picked up the remnants of her tea to return the mug back to the kitchen. "It's something I hope you'll respect in the future."

Hermione dragged herself back to her bedroom, leaning on the wall when she was certain no one would observe her doing so. The arguing, the treatment; she was barely able to keep her eyes open before burrowing under her covers. She was so tired, she didn't realize her door was still open as her eyes slipped closed. Arithmantic equations formed a barrier of tangled Occlumency around her brain as she pushed the desire to cry well below the surface.

Chapter Text

Thursday, August 18th, 2005 | 6:33 am | 19 Aster Way, Surrey

Hermione wished she had a better excuse for how terrible she felt as she rolled into wakefulness: excessive drinking, staying up well into the morning hours, cage-fighting, or maybe all three. Bright sunlight creeped between the stitches of the quilt over her head. She warred with the desire for fresh, cold air in her lungs and the pull of warmth and solitude. Her lungs protested enough that she pulled the lip of the covers down below her nose, eyes screwed tightly shut in defiance.

This was easily the most she'd slept in ages, judging by the color of the sunlight streaming through the skylight, though she didn't feel rested at all. All the other possibilities of her distress aside, she felt a familiar, gnawing feeling scratching at her insides.


She hated feeling guilty. Hermione tried to do exactly what felt right every moment of her life, and though that didn't save her from tripping and falling flat on her face, she rarely felt such unrelenting guilt over her choices. That was the benefit of working with numbers and potions instead of people with her Healing designation; people had so many variables that couldn't been contained. Cold logic worked so much better, and made more sense.

Why couldn't she apply it to the only other person who was likely as logical as she was? Snape's love of logic was as apparent as the nose on his face. Nothing she tried could get the man and his acidic words out of her mind. Three days since their...was it a fight? A confrontation? She wasn't sure, but she could barely stand the raw feeling it left behind. And they'd disagreed, vehemently in fact, many times before so what made this argument any different?

Isolation had worked well for her the years following the diagnosis of Lautiores Maleficus. At least for the first few years. There were minimal symptoms that she couldn't handle without a bit of help from a potion or a homemade pot of chicken soup, courtesy of Molly Weasley or Harry, before his job made it nearly impossible to meet for dinner every other Sunday at that flat of hers in Ireland. Now, though she rebelled against the idea, Snape's suggestion that she needed more help was proving to be true. A dark taste grew on her tongue when she started to fold to agreeing with him and swore she would never admit it out loud.

The mattress dipped on her right, but she didn't open her eyes, waiting for the intruder upon her thoughts and in her home to speak. Her wards must have acted as the alarm bells waking her out of a deep sleep when he came through them, one of two people allowed to without invitation. She didn't need to wait long. Draco never was known for patience with people; and in many ways, that mutual lack of patience was what brought them together as friends at the University.

"You're a bitch, did you know?"

Hermione's eyes shot open as fast as her mouth. "Good fucking morning to you, too, Draco. How's the weather? Would you like me to make a rasher of bacon? Or would you prefer a swift kick in your-"

"But he overstepped," Draco cut in, staying at the end of the bed furthest from her balled up fists. He looked like a shadow against the muted neutral colors of her room, dressed head to toe in black robes that looked too fancy for brewing but not quite nice enough to wear to a formal dinner. The only conclusion she could make was that he had a meeting in the city, and she couldn't stop herself from wondering what it was about. "He overstepped and approached the subject in what was possibly the worst way. But you pushed him."

"What the hell are you-"

"I am not finished," he said through clenched teeth, standing and slowly pacing back and forth around her sparse bedroom furniture. "You are blatantly avoiding your own good advice and every effort both he and I have extended to keep you safe and healthy. We don't want to confine you, Hermione, especially not now that the press is focused on the bouncing Potter child and not the incident at Hogwarts. The fickle public has all but forgotten that, since you've done well at secluding yourself enough from the world that very few people care what happens to you anymore."

Hermione pulled her quilt over her head to trap all the warmth she could, and she had a considerable amount in her bright red cheeks, but if it was burning from anger or embarrassment, she didn't know.

"I want you to live closer to a normal life, like I have been, and my parents. They aren't the best example, scratch that entirely. But do you see where I'm going with this? You can't keep acting as though the slightest bit of positive human interaction outside of me, or Astoria, or that Dudley Dursley and his fiancee is going to make things worse. You used to have friends, Merlin so many friends that it only made me envy you more at school, you made it look so easy.

"You need to remember why the fuck you're trying to live in the first place. Something. I don't know if it's the treatment or the disease doing this. The treatment has already proven insufficient and detrimental to you, and the disease keeps deteriorating the connection between your body and your magical core, and since we don't understand yet if the curse blocks the connection or severs it entirely, we need to focus on figuring this out. Together."

Draco paused his pacing and monologuing to look at her for the first time since getting up off of her bed. She could feel him staring at her from above the quilt still tucked securely over her head. In a muffled voice, she grumbled, "Am I allowed to speak now?"

Draco ground his teeth for a moment before speaking in a forcibly calm voice, "Yes."

Hermione slipped out of the covers and walked over to look Draco in the eye, even if she were several inches shorter than he was, especially when he wore dress shoes. She folded her arms over her sleep shirt, the one with the holes on her right shoulder after so many washings, and planted her bare feet into the carpet for balance. Static electricity from covering her head crackled in her ears as it traveled through her hair and she hoped it added to the overall effect she was trying to give.

"You assume many things, Draco Malfoy. Presuming what I need to do, or say, or think, is...the wrong side of intolerable. I am not your girlfriend, your mother, or your sister, and even if I were I am a person with my own autonomy and am perfectly capable of making my own choices -"

"I wasn't suggesting-"

"Ah!" Hermione said, pulling one hand from her power stance to hold up in front of his face. "No interrupting, it's my turn."

"But you never ask for help! Don't you get that?" Draco dragged his hands down his face and ground his teeth again.

"Because I don't need it! Especially not from people who think they know the best for me." Hermione's lip quivered a bit but she stood resolutely and let the first words that came to her mind to fall out of her mouth. "You're just like Ronald, Draco Malfoy. You think you're taking care of me when you worry over me or give me the charity of your company-"

Draco blanched and she could tell she hit a nerve when he interrupted again. "Stop."

"-or did you feel guilty over the war all those years ago? Befriending me because it meant that what you'd done wasn't really all that bad? That my friendship would help boost your status in society?"

By now she'd taken two steps towards him, and Draco matched them with two steps backwards towards her bedroom door. His lips were thinner than McGonagall's on a bad day, and she'd never seen him resemble his father more than at this instant with his cold expression and solid stance. But still, she couldn't stop now that she'd started. A bubbling anger she didn't remember harboring was boiling to the surface like a powerful burst of steam from a locomotive.

"I will not stand to be your example, the reason you've changed to parade to the press and prove to yourself you're not as bad as everyone says you are. Well, that tattoo on your arm proves otherwise, doesn't it? We all make mistakes but you sure as fuck made a doozy, didn't you, Malfoy?" Her voice cracked on his name and she realized she was crying. She cried when she was angry and she hated that about herself.

The room was spinning. When did the room start spinning?

"The room isn't moving, Hermione."

Draco sounded very far away, but when she turned her head he was right there. Strange, that. Wasn't she yelling about something? He sounded concerned, but she was yelling at him and trying to make him go away, so the tones didn't match up in her head. It didn't make sense.

"And...furthermore," she said, her voice hard at the edges as her hands reached to grab onto her dresser. "You've a nasty habit of sneaking around my property and I will not have that…"

She fumbled for her wand to erase him from her wards, but before she could cast the first charm, she blacked out.

Thursday, August 18th, 2005 | 8:20 am | 19 Aster Way, Surrey

"Utterly dramatic," drawled a voice above her head. "How many times does her own body have to knock her out before she listens to it."

Hermione was awake, but she didn't remember falling asleep. She was in her own bed but her wards were being quite insistent that more people were on the property than normal. Opening her eyes still seemed too much a hassle to bother with, so she didn't.

A warm and familiar hand rested on her forehead. Weight on the mattress next to her made her hip slide to lean into someone else, presumably attached to the hand on her face.

"You both bollocksed it up so wretchedly I'm surprised she's not out for good."

Clare was here. Hermione tried to open her eyes, then, but even with effort found it was futile. If she were able to move her hands, she would have slammed them against the bed in frustration. Clare's hand moved away but the warm feeling lingered. "We're lucky this time she passed out of hypoglycemia but her magic knew enough to regulate that while she was unconscious. I'll make something. Don't give her anything until I come back."

"I rather thought I was the Healer in charge here."

Clare laughed and the sound filled Hermione's head pleasantly, a familiar feeling of warm sand growing in her mind. "I'm glad you think so highly of yourself, Snape."

Hermione focused on her breathing and riding the soft roll of sand beneath her. The Occlusion tactic to rock herself into quiescence was effective, and she felt her muscles relax slowly. She'd always enjoyed the beach, and memories from a trip to remote parts of the Sahara as part of their Healing training stuck with her so much the sand dunes around them became her Occlusion tactic.

Clare had unlocked something within her, she could feel that. As much as she was considered a Squib by the general society of wizarding Britain, Clare had a magic all her own. Something deeper and more potent than the kind that a person harnessed with a wand or incantation; something powerful and healing.

"Foolish witch," Snape muttered to her right. "Foolish, stubborn woman. You're blinded by your own intelligence."

She could do nothing of her own volition, but she could still feel the way he checked her arms and shoulders for any broken bones. If she'd fainted again, perhaps she'd fallen. His hands were gentler and much warmer than she'd imagined.

Her thoughts made a full stop so violently that she felt like she'd fallen again. When had she ever imagined his hands and the relative temperature of them? The soft movements stopped and were replaced by the smell of waking salts. As much as her consciousness was able to take in with this dream like state, there was no mistaking the wretched intrusion of those awful scents. A few hacking coughs scratched her already rough throat as she came to, arms trembling with the force of trying to stifle them.

"I'm going to help you sit up," Snape said, moving an arm behind her.

Once she was upright the coughing slowed and stopped. His arm rested beneath her shoulders to prop her up, and she realized she was resting most of her weight on him and couldn't do much about it just then.

"Are you able to breathe?"

Her throat screamed in pain when she tried to speak, dry and rough from yelling and coughing, so instead she nodded once.

What she wanted to do was ask a thousand questions, starting with why she was having such a hard time focusing her thoughts into more than fleeting ideas. The nausea and disorientation she'd felt before blacking out (again, she really had to stop doing that) were almost completely gone but the aftertaste of a potion meant to alleviate those symptoms told her why.

"You've got almost nothing for me to work with, Hermione," Clare said as she came back to the room. "I'm going to pop out for a second to get something to eat from the shop I saw driving in. Are you two going to be alright for a few while I do that?"

"It would be much faster if I Apparated somewhere for food, perhaps Malfoy Manor for something prepared by the elves."

Even as he spoke, Snape gently lowered Hermione back to the bed where the pillows were propped and waiting. His movements were slow until he'd completely settled her and he swept from the room before Clare could protest. The sliding door to the back porch whooshed open and shut and they didn't hear him Disapparate.

"Knight in shining armor off to get you something to eat," Clare said.

Hermione raised her eyebrows at her friend as she pulled a chair close to the bedside. Leaning forward so she could whisper, unable to keep her mouth shut after that comment, Hermione said, "Snape? A knight in shining armor?"

"Well, he isn't Lancelot or anything! But did you see the way he popped right up to go get you something to eat? The only man I've seen do that for anyone is Dudley rushing to get me my medication when I get a migraine."

"What are you implying-" Hermione started coughing before she could finish.

Clare lifted a glass of temperate water to her lips and helped Hermione sip it slowly. "I'm going to deliberately change the subject because as little as you understand about that situation, you're avoiding something. You can't talk much right now so I'm going to take advantage of my clear upper hand.

"I've known you for a few years now, Hermione. You've never, ever shied away from a challenge." Clare paused as she took the half empty glass and put it on the bedside table, scootching a bit closer to Hermione in the process, sitting next to her on the bed with her legs crossed. "Right now, though, you're picking the wrong challenges."

Instead of rushing over her with long explanations, or admonishments, Clare spoke softly and paused frequently when she spoke to give Hermione a chance to think and breathe. As Hermione fiddled with the hem of her shirt, Clare took her hands in hers.

"It's alright to be scared, you know, my beautiful Gryffindor."

The connection of their hands started that soothing warmth again and Hermione sunk further and further towards it, her magic following the vein of power. Hermione was so tired, so very tired of fighting everyone and everything around her. Clare was right; she was scared.

Another few sips of water down her throat with Clare's help and Hermione felt almost like she could speak again, so she tried to very quietly. "I don't know what to do anymore."

Clare tucked herself up to Hermione when the hands she held started to shake.

"I feel like I've tried everything and I still get worse. I want to help anyone else affected by this curse, this thrice-damned curse, but every step I take in any direction spins me around to land flat on my back at the start." The more she spoke, sipping water every few words, her voice grew stronger, and the words flowed freely.

"You've got Snape and Draco working with you, now. They said they've made progress?" Clare wrapped one of her arms behind Hermione's shoulders to hold her close.

"They've...they've done what they can for me, but I know what's happening. I can feel the way it's eating at my core, my magical core, I mean. Something is draining me away from the inside and the treatments only slow part of it down." Hermione paused to drink more water and kept her face turned away from Clare's. "I lose myself, sometimes. Like I've changed without my own consent."

Clare stayed quiet for a moment to let Hermione think, but said after a few minutes of silence, "Have you told them about any of this?"

Hermione shook her head. "I don't think I properly noticed until I started seeing more of Draco again. And now that I left the lake house? I couldn't put my finger on it until now. It's not the same as when we were at school, when we became friends, it's like he's a stranger but I'm starting to think that I'm the stranger."

Clare's thumb moved slowly back and forth over the back of Hermione's hand. A jumble of thoughts clouded Hermione's head that she couldn't arrange into a neat line, something she could manage much easier than the gnats they were imitating now. Now that she had a moment to think over the events of the past few weeks and how different she felt than even a month before that, she could see the little holes in her timeline. Hours she was missing here and there between sparse visits to Ginny and Harry to check on Albus's development, or her brief weekly visits to work to provide copies of her documentation and research, glared at her across the years since her diagnosis of Lautiores Malificus.

The disease was affecting her more than she'd ever wanted to admit to herself but she didn't know how to fix it. Not knowing the answer or even where to start looking for it, and with such high stakes in place, it all made her dizzy and simultaneously not want to leave her bed and rush to a lab as quick as she could.

The sliding door to Hermione's back porch whooshed open and shut followed quickly by the smell of cooked food. Clare kissed her on the forehead gently before leaving the room to help Snape arrange a breakfast for the small group in Little Whinging.