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Always Something

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One

Pollux Timothy Granger Malfoy came coughing and fuming out of the Floo in The Malfoy Institute for Magical Memory Intervention. His sister came crashing behind him, her face green with firelight and then grey with soot, like Paul knew his own must be.

He beat his dusty clothes with his hands. “Dammit Castora, give me a second to clear the hearth before you knock me over coming through yourself.”

His mother heard his coarse language, but instead of scolding him, she turned on his father. “Do you hear yourself, Malfoy? Do you hear your own filthy mouth talking through that sweet boy?”

Paul was sixteen years old, home from Hogwarts for Easter break, and far more than old enough to bristle at being called a sweet boy. He and Castora were hearing their mother’s voice from beyond the ceiling-high bookcase that divided the library section from the laboratory section of the institute’s large main room, but they couldn’t see her. They couldn’t see their father either but knew he must be there for their mother to scold, though she had already left off doing that and was now giggling, nearly squealing, still hidden behind the bookcase-- her laugh doubtless more of the work of their father’s filthy mouth.

Paul faked a loud retch. “For the love of Salazar. We are leaving.”

“No, you’re not,” Draco Malfoy called, coming into view around the end of the bookcase. “Come through.”

“Dad!” Castora chirped, hopping forward to meet him.

Draco caught her, smoothing the frizzy hair on the crown of her head with his palm. “Cassie-cat has come along too, has she?”

Paul sneered. “Yes, always. Still a complete baby about being left home alone, even at her age.”

“Enough,” Hermione said. “Let’s have your worksheet, Paulie.”

He held the paper over her head. “Alright, but you’re not supposed to just fill it out for me, Mum.”

“I won’t,” she said, grabbing at her son’s homework all the same. The Ministry of Magic couldn’t be swollen with any more employees so Hogwarts had added mandatory career development and counseling to its program to try to diversify the dream jobs of their graduates. In Paul’s year, it meant job-shadowing an adult established in their field. In order to do that, he had to interact with adults who weren’t teachers. His Malfoy grandparents didn’t have jobs and the dentist Grangers -- well, that was no good. It meant he was forced to come here, to the strange but prestigious laboratory his parents founded just before he was born to research the effects of magic on memory -- something inspired by a mishap with his Muggle grandparents during the war, and his parents’ tabloid love story, and who cares…

It’s true that they did indeed do important work for wizarding society, the flashiest bit of which was when they restored Guilderoy Lockhart’s memory. Unfortunately, it got him writing again. "Manglings of Memories" did, of course, go on at length about Paul’s parents’ work. Paul himself even makes an appearance in the book, on page 94, as a pudgy baby in a play-yard in a corner of his parents’ first, much smaller laboratory. Everyone’s read it. Everyone has Lockhart's phrase “cherubic cheeks” come into their minds, and sometimes, out of their mouths when they meet Pollux Malfoy.

His mother was about to accio his worksheet anyway so he gave up tussling with her, relinquishing his homework, groaning and turning his back to all of them. “This is so embarrassing.”

Hermione felt her neck. Had Draco left a mark just now?

It wasn’t what Paul meant. “No one else from school is reporting on their parents’ careers for this assignment. They’ve all got other adults they can use, so they don’t look quite so pathetic tagging along with mummie and daddy.”

“Oi,” Draco said. “Your mother is a war hero -- golden trio, Gryffindor princess, brightest witch of -- “

“Ages ago,” Paul finished.

Hermione held a hand against Draco’s chest to stop him as he exaggerated preparing to take a step forward.

“Enough, I said,” she interjected. “Honestly, Paul, mind your father. Obviously, since we’re both our parents’ only children we couldn’t get you any cool aunts or uncles, but that’s hardly anyone’s fault.”

“What about friends?” Paul pressed. “Mum, you’re always talking about friends from old times. And we go to those huge parties full of Dad’s people every Christmas at the Manor. But where are your actual friends right now? Harry Potter this, Harry Potter that, but does he ever come ‘round?”

Hermione and Draco’s eyes met, and they looked almost sad enough to make Paul feel almost sorry. Hermione spoke. “Married life is busy, and complicated. Friends drift out of each other’s daily lives. Their lives fill up with their own families. Even under the very best of circumstances, they lose touch over time and over,” she looked away from her husband, “over choices. But,” she brightened, “your father is from a very old family. Every wizard you know must be related to your father somehow.”

“No, they’re not,” Paul and Draco said, in unison.

Cassie and Hermione laughed. Draco was smirking too, knowing nothing subdued Paul like these moments where he could not deny he was, in many ways, very much like the father he worked to distance himself from at every turn. He took Paul’s worksheet from Hermione, skimming the instructions.

“Look it doesn’t have to be me or your mother. Everyone else is gone for the day but if you come back tomorrow, early, we can pair you up with someone who works here who isn’t us and you can tail them. How’s that?”

“They wouldn’t mind?”

“Doesn’t matter. If I ask them to show you around for the morning, they’ll do it. Will that do for you, Master Pollux? Can that be the end of your complaining for today?”

Paul accepted the compromise but he rejected his parents’ offer to side-along apparate him home, the entire family joining hands like cut-out paper dolls. Instead, he left through the door, into the hallway of the building, the door transfigured to look like nothing more than a locked utility closet behind him. He stepped into the street, weaving through crowds of people making their way home from work in the cool misty evening. His hair soaked up the tiny water droplets suspended in the air, making it heavier and darker than usual, clinging to the sides of his pale, angular face -- the cherubic cheeks long gone. The water etched black lines through the remaining Floo soot dusted over his nose and cheeks. He raised a hand to wipe it out of his eyes.

It’s not unusual for a boy Paul’s age to believe his family is a monstrosity, but he was convinced that there was something truly odd about their household. People talked to him about his mother as if she was special, but then when she finally appeared, aside from some staring, no one seemed to treat her like she was special.

And Cassie was certainly nothing special. She was fine as a sister but as a witch she was a skittish wreck. Sure being almost fourteen is hard for everyone but… He had his suspicions. He reckoned they all did -- suspicions that the girl might be a squib. Imagine it. A Malfoy, a Black, and Hermione Granger’s daughter on top of everything -- a squib. She was invited to Hogwarts at age eleven but Paul had to wonder if maybe that was just out of respect for her name and family ties. Whenever she could, Cassie left her wand at home, or in her dorm. That way she could pass herself off as forgetful, scatterbrained instead of risking being exposed as -- something worse. That’s how it seemed to him.

As for his father, everything he’d ever read about his father was scandalous: Death Eater, acquitted but tried as a war criminal, mental patient, homewrecker. Up close, none of it seemed right, not even to Paul. He’d never talked about it with his parents themselves, but he had access to all sorts of records now that he was in school and he’d read everything he could find about his family’s recent history. It made him feel like he was crazy, like a stranger in his own life. His family was like a puzzle that he knew from experience as a complete picture-- a rather beautiful picture, if he allowed himself to be honest. But every time he examined its pieces disassembled, the picture he knew no longer seemed possible.

Paul believed there were far more than enough reasons for anyone to dislike his father, but the ones alleged in old newspapers and books weren’t among them. If anyone asked, he’d say his father wasn’t a dangerous latent evil genius but a sappy prat who needed to give the brightest witch of her advancing age more space. Not that Paul had ever heard her complain but -- seriously. The way they carried on was a disgrace.

It was as if the two of them lived on a tiny island, all by themselves and were happy to stay that way, engaging with their fame as they chose, sending out their research, performing their miraculous healings in St. Mungo’s Janus Thickey Ward, undoing what had been dismissed as permanent memory damage before withdrawing into their small world to go back to work. Maybe they never really got over what happened to them in the war, what put them in the same psychiatric ward where they took up together in the first place, the place where no one could touch either of them except each other. And maybe they didn’t realize how it was for Cassie and Paul to be trapped on that island with them, or maybe they just didn’t care.

At least, Paul thought as he turned into their Kensington flat, the old man still paid for everything.

____________________________________________

“It’s not fair,” Draco said as he pulled a sleeping t-shirt down over his head. The “old man” was actually in his late-thirties, old enough to control his temper most of the time, but still young enough to want to rant about what wasn’t fair. “I have never done anything but try my hardest to spoil him. But the way that kid speaks to me, it will be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life if he grows up without me ever raising a wand to him.”

Hermione stood at the mirror, twisting her hair into a braid she could sleep on. She sighed. “Yes, it is awful the way he goes at you. But my dad says anger and aggression are fairly normal responses to all the testosterone Paul is full of right now. It’s no excuse and we have to keep correcting him, but it helps us be understanding. We had the war as an outlet for anger in our generation. But since Paul has no Harry Potter to chase around the bathroom flinging curses at until one of them nearly bleeds to death, he has to take it out on his perfectly lovely father instead.”

She didn’t tell Draco that her father had laughed it off when she mentioned the new tension at home, saying it would be good for both Paul and Draco in the long run. What she did tell him was, “It won’t last forever. And when it’s over, and he’s all grown up, our Paul will still be there, beneath it all. We just need to hold onto him until then.”

“Normal?” Draco raved, one hand rubbing at the scar on his chest through his shirt. “Do you remember me at Paul’s age? I can still hear myself. ‘Yes, father. Yes, father.’”

“My darling, that was not normal.”

“No, it was positively sinister. But at least it was civil.”

She was getting into bed, beckoning him to join her. He fell hard onto the mattress, onto his stomach, turning his head to face her. “Our sweet baby boy,” he moaned. “The one made with so much love all the magic I could muster couldn’t stop him from coming to life.”

That was one way to describe a faulty contraception charm. She laughed softly, lying beside him, laying one hand against his cheek. “He’ll be back. I promise. And wouldn’t it be worse if he felt nothing for you?”

“Would it?”

“Sure. That’s the one thing we can say for our history that no one can argue with: we’ve always felt something for each other.”

The idea seemed to make him feel worse. He groaned, rolled onto his side, hooked an arm around her waist, and pulled her close, his face in her neck again. She strained and laughed but he went on working his mouth against her skin, from her shoulder to her ear, knowing that in a few seconds, as long as she didn’t ask him to stop, something would burn through the tickling sensation and she would press into it, open up to it, letting him as close to her as he needed to be, as he always, always wanted to be. No one tells young people that being with someone gets better with time, that nervous systems adapt to what touches them, perfecting and maximizing connections and reactions, until nothing is easier or better than what has been decades in the making. Seventeen years into marriage, the Granger-Malfoys knew it.

Later, as Hermione slept, Draco lay awake open-eyed in the darkness. The boy was right. Their family’s world was small. It had everything Draco himself wanted in it, but he did worry about the rest of them sometimes, holding this worry in tension with his powerful, natural greediness to keep all of them all to himself.

_________________________________________

Markham Tavishston would have rather stayed home. He woke up feeling off, tired and a bit sick. But he'd already responded to the owl Malfoy had sent the night before, agreeing to spend the morning with that son who gave them so much trouble, tinkering with the broken-down equipment, seeing if any of it could be salvaged. It was a rare moment to step up and shine for the old, harmless technologist whose name was listed as a co-author on every paper the institute had ever published, though no one who worked with him would be able to name a single, stellar contribution he’d made. He was a rather lacklustre exemplar as a researcher, but his safety record was immaculate and he was a model of team effort and getting along, Mr. esprit de corps -- exactly what Paul needed. On any other day, Tavishton would have been happy with the honor. Today it was a burden he would bear as graciously as he could.

The boy didn’t seem at all keen to be at the institute today either. He asked few questions and seemed more intent on getting all the blanks filled on a long sheet of parchment the school had sent him with than on actually learning anything about the junk equipment stashed at the back of his parents’ lab.

“So what kind of job would you like to have someday?” Tavishton asked Paul. “I take it you’re not interested in continuing the family’s line of work.”

Paul scoffed. “Working here? No, of course not.”

“What then?”

“Dunno. My friend Gris is set to inherit an owl feed company. They raise them too. Owls everywhere. It’s a mess but cool in its way.”

“Owls are good for people who like to keep late hours,” Tavishton observed.

“Yeah, there’s that. Or there’s being a healer. Taking the nonsense Mum and Dad come up with and actually DOING something with it.”

“In a hospital?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Not interested in being an Auror, are you? Most kids go through an Auror phase, especially boys.”

Paul laughed. “You know Malfoys better than that by now, don’t you Mr. Tavishton? Not really the law and order types.”

Tavishton laughed heartily. “Spoken like your father’s son, to be sure.”

For once, Paul was not enraged at the comparison.

Tavishton’s laugh had broken apart into a cough, hacking louder, until he bent over, one hand on a tabletop to steady himself.

Paul took him by the arm. “Are you alright, Mr. Tavishton?”

He was nodding, no longer coughing, but he seemed unable to catch his breath. His back straightened as his postured snapped abruptly upright, his complexion deepening from pink to purple.

“Mum!” Paul called out. “Come quickly, he’s not well.”

Hermione had been hovering nearby and quickly appeared at Paul’s side. “Markham?” she said. “Are you quite all right?”

Markham Tavishton pulled his hand out of Paul’s hold and grabbed at his own shoulder, as if trying to protect himself from a great weight pressing down on his chest.

“Draco!” Hermione called. “Draco, I’m taking Markham to St. Mungo’s. I think he’s having a heart attack.”

Paul gasped. “What? He was fine just a second ago.”

“Paulie, help me get him over to the Floo. He can’t apparate when his body is unstable like this. Hang on, Markham. Breathe.”

The rest of the staff were gathering as Paul reached for Markham Tavishton’s arm to help lead him toward the Floo. His timing was bad. He took Tavishton’s arm just as a new paroxysm seized him, and in shock and pain, he thrashed in Paul’s direction, as if the boy’s touch had been the source of crushing agony. Paul was thrown against the worktable, scrabbling to hold himself up, his own arms thrashing against the apparatus they had been working on before Tavishton’s attack. He jarred the machine strongly enough to connect one of its circuits, and for an instant it sparked to life. Red and green beams of light pulsed from its lenses, blazing to a blinding crescendo before going dark again.

For a moment, everyone’s eyes were too dazzled to see. As their sight came back, Paul looked about the workshop to see all of the institute staff standing in the entrance. Tavishton was quiet, lying on the floor labouring to breathe. And beside him lay Paul’s mother. Draco was pushing through their employees, calling her name.

He dropped to his knees beside her, pulling her to sit against him as the employees explained what they’d seen. The ones who weren’t explaining were hauling Tavishton toward the Floo.

“Which machine was it?” Draco was interrupting. “Paul, which machine?”

He pointed to the hunk of metal and crystal still hot and smoking on the worktable. Never able to keep his emotions off his face, Draco’s expression was one of panic. “No,” he said. He gathered Hermione’s face in his hands. Her skin was warm but her eyes were closed, the muscles of her neck loose, her head lolling against him. “No, Hermione, no. Please...”

“Is she okay? Dad! Is she okay?”

He remembered his son. “She’s not hurt. She is unconscious and -- it won’t last too long -- probably.”

Paul heard what his father hadn’t said. “But is she okay?”

Draco pressed her face against his shoulder. “I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and -- I’m sorry, Paul, I don’t know.”

He was talking to the staff again, ordering them to close the workshop to everyone. It was vital that no one touch anything. “Paul, I’m taking your mother to the hospital. Go home and take care of Cassie.”

Draco was standing up, lifting Hermione off the floor as he rose.

Paul stepped close enough to bear some of the weight of his mother’s body. “Bring me. You might need me,” he said. “I saw the whole thing happen -- “

“I do need you, Pollux. I need you at home.”

“She’s not just yours -- “

Draco took a step backward, into a space clear enough for disapparation, his voice even but his eyes frantic with terror. “Go home.”

Chapter Text

Two

On the portico of St. Mungo’s Hospital, Draco Malfoy appeared with the noisy, crackling racket of an urgent apparation. He shouldered through the main doors, calling to the stoic triage nurses watching motionless from behind a desk.

It took hours before Hermione was finally admitted to a bed on the critical injury ward where she remained in a sleep-like stupor. Dr. Berlant had come down from the psychiatric unit to consult. “Yes, it’s a pity that the witch best able to treat an injury like this one is the witch afflicted with it. Would you call that irony, Mr. Malfoy? I schooled at that glorified trade-school Hogwarts so my literary education is lacking, I’m afraid.”

The comment was a gift from his former psychiatrist, an invitation for him to show his gifts, to show that she had not come to assert power over him, a former patient of hers that she had not liked in the least. It was a sign that she had come simply to help, to help Hermione, a former patient she had liked very much.

“Irony is exactly what I’d call it,” he said. “So you agree it’s a memory injury?”

“Well, I don’t know much about the particular apparatus that turned on her. You’d be the expert there, after the patient herself.”

He scrubbed his face with his hands. “Yes, but I don’t trust myself to make clear judgments about this right now. She’s — I need to hear it from someone else and she’s…”

Berlant nodded. “Well, I have read all your institute’s papers and her symptoms seem consistent with the memory injures we treat here. Whatever happened, I’m confident the best course at this moment is rest and quiet. I’ve given her a sleeping draught to keep her in a state of deep, healing silence until,” she glanced at the timepiece hung around her neck, “until some time very early in the morning. When she’s awake we’ll see whether there’s anything to all this commotion. It’s possible she could wake up with no ill effects at all. Or, she could have some short-term memory loss — missing all or part of the past few weeks, that sort of thing. Or, well, it’s not impossible that, that…”

“That she has long-term losses, and she may come round with no memory of me or the children at all.”

“That’s a remote possibility, Mr. Malfoy. But it is one we should be equipped to address. I suggest collecting some documentation of the past few years, so you’ve pictures and papers, something concrete to show her in case there are any -- gaps. She’ll put it together from there. She’s a reasonable, logical person, above all.”

Malfoy sneered. She was not reasonable above all. She was loving above all. But Berlant was right about the rest. He would have Paul bring some things from home in the morning. He flipped open his end of the Weasley Communication Compact he shared with Paul and Cassie and spoke an update into the mirror. Mum was asleep and they could see her in the morning, come what may. Bring her passport and both of their birth certificates.

Dr. Berlant took her leave, turning down the lights in the hospital room, and leaving Draco alone for a long vigil at his wife’s bedside. He considered contacting Hermione’s parents using the Muggle mobile phone device he didn’t like to admit he still relied on quite a bit. No, not yet, not until they knew where everything stood. It would just be cruel to pull anyone else into the awful holding pattern in which he and the children were caught. The children — at least they were together, in their own beds. Their father sat frowning and fidgeting in a chair pushed to the edge of Hermione’s bed, gripping her hand.

In her sleep, she looked perfect, always perfect. If she woke up unable to remember him, this might be the last time he watched her like this for a long time — possibly forever. It was too horrible. His whole life with her, every minute of it, was something he’d never believed himself worthy of. Everyone thought so, most of all Draco himself. But he’d always been selfish enough to stay with her in spite of all of that. It was too good to be true, and maybe that kind of luck was about to run out for Draco Malfoy. He pressed his lips against the hand he held in his, bowing over it like a prayer.

As the night went on, he nodded in and out of sleep. Just for a few minutes, he told himself, he’d just lie in bed next to her for a few minutes rest. There were still hours left in the sleeping draught. He didn’t want to startle her awake with a man she might not remember in her bed, but there would be no harm in sleeping with her in his arms for just a few minutes before then. He lay on his side, teetering on the edge of the mattress, one arm pillowing her head, the other draped across her middle, his chin propped on the top of her head, the scent of her hair filling his senses, his heart thudding with adoration and with the fear that’s inseparable from it. Just a few minutes…

____________________________

Her eyes stung as she opened them, as if a hundred flash bulbs had flared in a hundred cameras all at once. She was in a small room where the air smelled strange, like the whiff that came with every scourgify spell, only it never faded. Once the stinging in her retinas passed, the light was dim and yellow. And all along her left side was something warm, moving faintly with its own breath, much too large to be Crookshanks. What’s more, something pointy was pressing down on the crown of her head, too gently to hurt, too firmly to ignore. She lifted her free arm to grab it, to investigate it, gasping when her fingers touched warm flesh, covered in the stubble of a day’s growth of a man’s beard.

She sprang out of the bed, pushing hard against the man still lying there. He was waking up in what she could recognize now as a hospital bed. He was groaning and swearing quietly at himself, obscuring his face from her view as he rubbed his eyes. She stood on the cold stone floor, panting in shock, watching as he revealed his face.

“Mr. Malfoy?” she hissed. “What are you doing — there?”

He was trying to stand up quickly, tangled in the flannel hospital blankets, barely catching himself as he nearly fell backward onto the floor. “Now, Hermione,” he said in low, soft tones, stepping toward her with his arms extended, the palms of his hands open, as if she was a dangerous animal he was trying to placate. “Stay calm, but there’s been an accident. We’re in the hospital — “

“We?”

“Yes, we.”

“We? Me and Lucius Malfoy?”

He flinched as if he’d just been hit in the centre of his stomach. “No, just — just let me get Dr. Berlant. It’s best that you hear about it from her.” He inched sideways toward the call button on the wall, careful not to turn his back to her.

She was patting her hospital pajamas, feeling for her wand. It was gone. Did Mr. Malfoy have his?

“Yeah, I messed up,” he was saying to someone through the speaker. “Accidentally took her by surprise. Hurry.”

“Who’s coming?” she demanded. “Is it more snatchers? Or that creep son of yours? What have you done to me?”

He laughed, mirthlessly. “Everything. And I am not Lucius Malfoy.”

“Obviously, you are,” she insisted. “You can change your clothes and hair but I can see who you are. Where’s Ron? Where’s Harry? Are you holding them here too? Let us go...”

“Hermione,” he called over her. “How old are you?”

She looked around the room like someone who’d napped through dinner and wasn’t sure if it was a new day or not. “I’m,” she began, “I’m eighteen. And the war is over so you should be…”

“No,” he said when her voice trailed off. “No, it’s not right and you know it. Listen. There’s been an accident, with your memory. You’re not eighteen anymore. None of us is. I’m not Lucius Malfoy. I’m Draco. And — the doctor is coming to help me tell you the rest.”

She was shaking her head. “No. No doctor. You’re lying.”

“I’m not. Look, check the date. There’s a newspaper on the table there.”

“How hard is it to conjure a fake newspaper?” she scoffed, reaching for it anyway, raising it in front of her face. The date was indeed close to twenty years later than she thought it ought to be, but what truly gave her pause was the state of her hands. They were not a girl’s hands, but a woman’s — not wizened old hands but weathered by years of work and washing. And on her left hand was a platinum ring with an emerald sunk into its band.

She spun around to face the mirror over the sink, leaning close to see the faint lines at the corners of her eyes, and between her brows. What she saw made her frown, deepening the effect. “My skin…”

“It’s fine,” he said. “We’re not old yet. But we’re not kids anymore either. In fact — “

“Where is Ronald Weasley?” she blurted.

Malfoy swallowed, about to break her heart, about to break his own. “He’s perfectly safe. He moved to Australia, ages ago. He lives there with his wife and children.”

In the mirror, he saw her face blanch before she turned away from it, laid the newspaper on the table, nodding, her eyes focused on her feet, shoulders heaving. “I see.”

“It’s alright,” he said. “You left him. It was alright.”

She scoffed, fighting against the awful crush of losing her first love again. “And Harry?”

This was easier. “He’s in London, with Ginny and their kids. He’s fine too. An Auror, like he always wanted.”

She was nodding again, twisting the ring on her finger, clenching her eyes shut. “And who,” she began, though it was all starting to come together, “who gave me this ring? Was it my husband?”

Dammit, what was taking Berlant so long?

Draco let out a noisy breath. “Yes. Your husband’s mother gave it to him to give to you. You’ve been wearing it for seventeen years.”

Her nodding was turning to head shaking. “Is he someone I know from school?”

Draco took a careful step toward her. “Yes.”

From across the room, he heard her inhale as she prepared for what she had to ask next. “That husband — is he…” she couldn’t bring herself to finish.

“Yes,” he said. “He’s me. I’m not sorry. He’s me.”

She sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. “No. It’s not possible. I hate you. You hate me.”

“I certainly do not,” he said. “Though it’s true, we have always felt something for each other. You said you liked that.” He took the Muggle-wand from his pocket, slowly so she wouldn’t panic. He scrolled through the roll of photos he transferred and saved every time he upgraded the phone, and stepped close enough to hand it to her. “Look.”

The screen showed the two of them standing arm-in-arm in a parking lot of a government registry office in Canada, barely in their twenties, newly married.

She squinted at it. “That’s us? For real?”

“Yes. Your father took it.”

“My parents are back? And they know about this?”

“About your husband? Yes, of course. We went and found them after the war and uncharmed their memories.”

“Oh,” she said. “Just like that?”

“No, actually. It was difficult and terrifying, but you were brilliant and you did it in the end.”

She blinked. "Well, that's -- wonderful."

"Yes, that's our life."

She peered more closely at the wedding photo. “We look weird.”

He smirked. “We were weird. We probably still are. But it’s been real from the beginning.”

She set the phone down on the bed and nudged it toward him. “It still doesn’t make sense. Explain it in twenty-five words or less. Fill in the details afterwards.”

“St. Mungo’s mental patients, traveling companions, convenient marriage, you said you liked me, I kissed you, you seduced me, and then -- kids.”

“Kids?!”

“Two, a boy and a girl, ages sixteen and fourteen.” He picked up the phone and flicked to photos of two perfectly lovely babies.

She blinked at them. “Those are yours?”

“They’re ours, Hermione. Look at them. They’re you and me. Look at their brown eyes.”

She snapped her head away from the screen, refusing to look. “Oh, so you’re saying we’re together for the sake of some kids.”

“No,” he said, his voice rising. “We’re together for our own sakes. You and I — we’re — I — “ He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t tell her he loved her while she was like this. He couldn’t have her refuse to look at him, the way she’d done with the photos of the children. He would wait, and while he did, his unmaskable expression would remain full of feelings she wasn’t prepared to decode.

She spun around to face the mirror again. “Ridiculous. All ridiculous. Me, a mental patient, seducing Draco Malfoy. Utter nonsense. Some twisted fantasy of yours. Shame on you, Mr. Malfoy. And those baby pictures are too perfect. It’s not real.”

He lifted both of his hands and let them fall to his sides. “Yet here we are.”

“What happened? Did the ministry invoke some Draconian marriage law? Force us all into peacemaking or baby-making marriages after the war? Is Ron down in Australia married to Pansy Parkinson?”

“No, he’s back with Lavender. Yes, Hermione, that Lavender. There was never any marriage law. And you never use the word Draconian that way.”

“Don’t I?”

“No. Draconian is your term for the way I take my coffee.”

“Fine. No marriage law. So what was it then? Are you some magical creature doomed to die without some arbitrarily designated mate that just happens to be me?”

“What?”

“No, that’s not it. That’s a smutty fantasy romance plot.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. Veela romances. If you’d roomed with Lavender, yes, that Lavender, you’d know they’re a thing. And with your hair colour and everything — well, it was worth asking. But that’s not us?”

He actually laughed. “No. No mad magical chicken lust here.”

She laughed too, each of them a little surprised at the sound. It was natural, almost normal, and it emboldened him. He stepped closer. “Hermione,” he said. “Let me touch you. I won’t do anything but touch you, just to see if your — if there’s anything in your sense memory to tell you anything about me — us.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, turning away, but he kept advancing. She knew she couldn’t protest that she wasn’t into older men — he might be right about her memory being damaged, about their ages being the same, and, she thought, if he wasn’t a Malfoy he was pretty enough that he might be someone she could learn to be into. It wasn’t his age or appearance that repelled her, it was the idea of being married to Draco Malfoy himself. It had to be a fraud, more Death Eater deception, especially if enough time had passed for them to regroup after their jail terms.

But if she let him come closer, she’d be able to reach all around him. She’d be able to search his clothes, where he must be keeping his wand hidden, and maybe hers too. One of his hands had closed around her upper arm. The fingers of his other hand were doing the same. He’d taken hold of her and was bending his arms, so slowly, pulling her toward himself. She let him take her in, turning her head as he pressed her cheek into his chest, her hands poised to feel along his waistband for the end of a wand.

He had slept in his clothes and they were drenched in his scent. It filled her nose as her face made contact with his shirt, and she breathed against him, her heart beating out a strong, unexpected thud. The pulse in her neck quickened, and she turned her face into him instead of away, inhaling deeply. Stay focused, Granger, she told herself.

His arms continued to enfold her, circling her body. He murmured his relief as she let him hold her, as her hands settled against the back of his waist, coming to rest on the end of a wooden handle.

“Ha!” She ducked out of his hold, facing him with his own wand drawn and pointed at his throat.

“Hermione…”

“No, I’m not going to stand here listening to this anymore,” she said, pushing her hair out her face with her free hand, and with it, the traces of his scent.

“Hermione, listen…”

“I said, no. I’ll be leaving now. You’ll understand if there’s some research I’d like to do, clear-headed, without anyone pawing me and feeding me crazy, confusing stories.”

“Fine, you’re not a prisoner here. Try the door, it’s been unlocked all along. There’s no need — “

“Stay there,” she warned him as he stepped toward her again. “Tell me where to find my own wand and I’ll leave this one outside on the green as I go.”

Behind her, the door banged open on its own, knocking her forward, a curse jolting out of the end of Draco’s wand, sending him ducking behind the bed, the wand clattering onto the floor. The curse was sparking out its last in the basin of the sink as a voice boomed from the doorway.

“Right,” said Dr. Berlant. “Looks like everything’s going as well as can be expected.”

____________________________________

 

Paul climbed the stairs to the fourth floor of St. Mungo’s, Cassie fighting to keep up. He slowed down as a message came in on his Remote Note, more questions from his best friend, Gris, freshly scrawled on the charmed notepad in her psychotic handwriting.

GrisG: Are you there yet? Have you seen her?

PuX: Nah, heading up now.

GrisG: OMG, good luck. Thinking of you.

He flipped the notebook closed. “This is it, Cass.”

The nurse at the entrance of the unit took their names and led them into a small room — four upholstered chairs arranged around a low coffee table, one giant, oddly dark mirror hung on the wall.

On the other side of the glass, Dr. Berlant was leading Hermione and Draco into an adjoining room. She had stepped between the volatile Malfoys and taken over briefing Hermione on her life up to now, and all that anyone knew about the injury she’d sustained. The memory loss had been long-term, returning her to the time just after the war, a time when she had been out of school, working in some kind of deadly dull political internship at the ministry, settling into a serious relationship with Ron Weasley, and struggling to move past grieving the loss of her parents to her own memory charm.

The doctor had attempted to smooth over and round out more of the story of Hermione’s life after stepping away from the ministry and the Weasleys, but Hermione was still denying and denouncing most of it, especially Malfoy’s role as the centrepiece of it all. But it was now time to face the willful, independent children who couldn’t be put off any longer, a process which would begin here, in a tiny room with no chairs and just one large window covered in blinds.

“When I open the blinds,” Berlant explained. “You will be able to see them. It make be a shock, or you may feel nothing. Either of those reactions could be extremely hurtful to the children so have it out while you’re still behind the glass. They won’t be able to see or hear us so feel free to respond naturally.”

Hermione nodded.

“You will need to meet them today, however. Especially the boy. He played an unfortunate and inadvertent role in the accident and needs assurances that you’re unharmed. You don’t need to force yourself to gush with love for them if the feeling doesn’t come naturally. But you do need to greet them with calm and kindness. Do not steal their wands and run away.”

“Right. My teenaged children. Calm and kindness.”

Berlant flicked her wand and the blinds tilted to reveal the children. The girl with frizzy blond hair was sitting in a chair, biting at her cuticles, her face almost completely hidden. The boy, however, was standing inches from the glass staring through it as if he could see them, dark-haired with brown eyes set between the same brows and cheekbones of Draco Malfoy’s.

“You know they’re watching us through this mirror,” he said to his sister, never looking away from the glass.

Hermione staggered backward, one hand raised to her throat. “That’s him?”

Draco smirked. “Obviously. That is Pollux — Paul. And the girl is Castora — Cassie.”

She turned to look at Draco’s face as he spoke, then back to Paul. “We have children together,” she admitted.

“Yes,” he said. “I asked them to bring their birth certificates in case there was any doubt. Our names are registered as parents on both of them.”

“So you and me — we — “

“Yeah. Lots.”

“Oh my stars.” There was nowhere to sit so she slid down the wall, slumping onto the floor. “What am I supposed to do now?”

Draco crouched beside her. “Take a moment. Be patient with yourself. Maybe concentrate on trying to remember.”

She covered her eyes with her hands, held her breath. “I can’t,” she said, exhaling. “I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“Not yet,” Dr. Berlant said. “But maybe soon. Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll take you in to see them. You don’t need to be dishonest with them, just kind.”

Hermione looked up toward the window over her head. “Is he still standing there?”

Draco laughed. “Oh, yeah. He’ll stand there as long as it takes. The boy is tenacity itself.” He smiled as he talked about Paul. She saw that he loved the boy, and she felt herself growing happier at seeing it — a feeling that both cheered and frightened her.

Draco stood up. “Ready?” he asked, extending his hand to help her rise to standing. She took it, tugging hard, maybe to test him, as he leaned back to pull her off the floor.

“After you, doctor.”

The door of the children’s anteroom opened. Cassie bounced to her feet. “Mum!”

“Hey,” Hermione said, lifting her arms to return Cassie’s hug. “Nice to see you,” she added.

Paul approached more carefully. “How are you, Hermione?” he asked.

Draco cut in. “Paul, don’t call your mother by her first name.”

“Look, I’m completely unhurt,” Hermione managed to say.

Paul stepped closer, standing near enough for her to sense that he was taller than her. “So what were my first words, Mum? You remember, yeah?”

“Please, Paul,” Dr. Berlant interjected. “Don’t quiz your mother yet. She’s still recovering, and pressure isn’t helpful.”

He narrowed his eyes. “How much did you lose?” he asked.

“I,” she began, “I’m not sure yet.”

He stooped to bring his eyes to her level. “Do you know me at all?”

She raised one hand to touch his face, the sandy texture of a boy not yet old enough to shave every day. “Yes.”

__________________________________

Gris was messaging again as Paul and Cassie descended the stairs.

GrisG: SOOOO????

PuX: It’s messed up.

GrisG: Tell me.

PuX: She looks ok, but she’s faking.

GrisG: wtf?

PuX: We can talk at school.

GrisG: That won’t be for two more days.

PuX: right

GrisG: What door are you coming out?

PuX: Don’t know. Don’t care.

He was scrawling a good-bye as he and Cassie approached the Floo in St. Mungo’s lobby. He glanced up at the floors above their heads, branching off the grand staircase beneath the domed atrium. Mr. Tavishton was up there somewhere. He’d forgotten to ask about him, but he hoped he was alright.

Paul had taken a handful of powder from the dispenser and was about to step over the hearth when the squeak of rubber-soled trainers sounded against the buffed stone floor. A short, boyish girl — or girlish boy, people would just as easily guess one as the other -- came skidding to a stop in front of them, breathless.

“Gris?” Paul called out. “What are you doing here.”

“It's no problem. Apparation license,” she said. “Don’t act like you forgot.”

He shoved her by the shoulder. Gris had a birthday early in the year and had already turned seventeen. “Show off,” Paul said.

“Come on, put that muck down,” she said, shaking the Floo powder out of Paul’s hand, coughing in the cloud. “Let me side-along you lot home. If we step outside, I can have us there in a heartbeat.”

Gris — the person who had first been introduced to them when they were toddlers as Griselda Goyle, the only child of their dad’s old friend Gregory Goyle — was like an older sibling to Cassie, and she took her hand as they trotted out of the hospital. Paul followed, not taking Gris by the wrist until it was time for the three of them to vanish.

“She seemed smart enough and everything,” Paul told Gris as they cooked a pot of pasta for lunch. “But she seemed — I don’t know — almost scared of me. Like I was a baby dragon that might torch her.”

Gris didn’t say anything, just made that face of hers, the one with all Paul’s pain in it, bearing it herself, as if it helped.

He tried to lighten it. “The best part was how furious she looked at him.”

“At your dad?”

“Yeah. Seemed like she was barely holding back scratching his eyes out the whole time. It was hilarious.”

Gris knew it wasn’t funny at all. Paul saw that in her face too. “Are you coming back to school on time, even though she’s injured. I mean, maybe they’ll want you around for, you know, therapeutic reasons.”

Paul scoffed. “Nah. Their reaction to any trouble has always been to go off somewhere to hide by themselves.”

"Even if she thinks she hates him right now?"

Paul huffed. "Maybe especially because she thinks she hates him. Old creeper probably thinks it's hot."

“Well, it is kind of sweet, him wanting to have her to himself all the time," Gris said. “My parents don’t do anything together. Like, anything. I swear I was conceived in a cauldron in a potions lab. There’s no way those two ever — “

“Stop,” Paul shuddered. “Consider yourself lucky.”

“You’re an idiot, Pux.”

“Sure, Gris.”

Chapter Text

Three

With the children reintroduced, and Hermione thoroughly examined by St. Mungo's medical staff and deemed healthy in every way but her memory, Dr. Berlant suggested she return home, and wait.

"Being in your usual surroundings may help, and consider working your way through this list of cognitive and affective stimuli."

The list contained nothing she and Draco wouldn't have been able to think of for themselves, but it focused their energies, helping her alleviate the nagging sense that a malicious Death Eater conspiracy was driving the whole thing. Draco would go through the motions of the list with her, but he believed the memory loss would persist until he found out exactly what went wrong in the accident, and reversed the process with a combination of mechanics and magic. The bitterest irony remained the fact that the best answer was probably in her mind somewhere, currently beyond their reach.

The first item on the list was to go home. As they discharged her, Nurse Whalen returned Hermione’s wand to her, 10 ¾ inches of vine wood.

“There. Now there, finally, is something that looks just as it should,” Hermione said.

Beside her, Draco cringed.

Since she didn’t remember anything about the flat where they lived, she agreed to let him side-along apparate her there from the lawn of St. Mungo’s. She seemed pleased enough with the neighbourhood when they arrived, following him up a small flight of stairs to a glossy black door with a brass knob in its centre. The door opened at his touch, typical Malfoy family magic. He stood back and let her cross the threshold ahead of him.

The children were in the kitchen, along with a friend, a young boy — or girl — the same height as Cassie but carrying herself more like she was the same age as Paul. The three of them looked like they’d been caught at something and started to withdraw toward the stairs at the sight of the adults.

“Wait,” Draco called after them. “Hermione, you remember Goyle, right?”

She brightened. “Yes. I helped haul him out of fiendfyre.”

“That’s right,” Draco cheered. “Well, look at the result of your good deed. This is his daughter, Griselda. She’s been Paul’s best mate forever.”

Gris blushed, nodding, unsure of how to behave when being introduced to someone she’d known her whole life.

Hermione nodded in return. “Nice to see you again, Griselda.”

Paul grabbed a handful of his friend’s sleeve, tugging her out of the kitchen. “Let’s go, Gris.”

“Where are you going?” Draco called after him.

“To my room.”

“Bring Cassie.”

“No.”

“Pollux, I said bring Cassie.”

His bedroom door slammed, but then it opened and closed again, quietly, as Gris brought Cassie inside.

“Aren’t you a mean dad,” Hermione said.

Draco scoffed. “Maybe you really did revert to the mind of an eighteen-year-old girl — one with no idea about teenaged boys.”

“Are we talking about that teenaged boy and that Miss Goyle? From the looks of them, I’ll bet they're not each other's type.”

He shook his head. “It’s not that simple, Hermione. You watch her watching him, when she thinks no one’s paying any attention. I know that look. So no matter how she cuts her hair, I don’t want Miss Goyle lounging around alone with Paul, locked away in his bedroom. Not at their age.”

Hermione crossed her arms. “The most important relationships of my life were with teenaged boys when I was their age. And I survived months and months of traveling alone with them unscathed.”

Draco crossed his arms. It was an old conversation he knew well, his response almost automatic. “Did you? I thought you survived it practically engaged to one of them, and not even the good one.”

“Shut up, Malfoy.”

It was too soon for the automatic response. Her eyes burned red, like she might cry. He was ashamed of himself, about to apologize when she managed to go on. “All I’m saying,” she said, “is that maybe not all teenaged boys are like you.”

He laughed, not unkindly. “Well, maybe my son is.”

It was then that she lunged across the kitchen, grabbing his left arm, turning her back to him as she flicked his cufflink clear of his shirt with a smooth, practiced movement from her muscle memory. It clinked against the floor as she dragged his sleeve upward, toward his elbow, inspecting the milky white skin on the underside of his forearm. He watched from over her shoulder, knowing she would find the skin marked with blue veins and nothing else. She ran her fingers over the exposed flesh, warm and smooth, no sign of a scar.

“It disappeared,” he explained. “Started fading the instant he died. It’s been gone since before you and me got together.”

She smoothed his sleeve back into place, unhanding his unmarked arm.

He stooped to recover his cufflink. “I had barely turned sixteen the summer they made me take it. Under-aged, exploited. That’s how I ended up in St. Mungo’s, serving a psychiatric sentence instead of a criminal one in a prison. You remember any of that? Sixteen — the same age our Paul is right now.”

He snatched her hand as she moved away from him. “Hermione, you are not in the clutches of the Death Eaters here, just a bad father who doesn’t know how to manage his son.”

Her hand twisted in his grip and he let it go.

He stepped up a short flight of stairs washed in sunlight. “Come look around the rest of the house. We don’t exactly have a library,” he said as he led her upward. “The whole place is a library, really, but the salon more so than anywhere.”

She stepped into a room where books covered the walls from floor to ceiling. Tables stood between the sofa and armchairs, each one piled with books bristling with bookmarks and flags — busy, working books. She reached for the closest wall, dragging her fingers over the spines of the books shelved there. “I’ve read all of these?”

He nodded. “You’ve written a few of them too. Non-fiction, scholarly books, lots of graphs and figures.”

“Show me.”

He plucked two thick volumes from a high self. “They weren’t bestsellers or anything. Nothing like a Veela romance. But they’ve advanced the study of memory charms and injuries, and we’re proud of them.”

She opened "Full Spectrum Mnemonic Refraction: A Quantitative Analysis" by H.J. Granger-Malfoy and D.L. Malfoy. A smile broke across her face. “Huh!”

“They shelf them in the Hogwarts library, if that makes you feel better.”

“Yeah, that feels fine.”

“As for the rest,” he went on. “There are some that I’ve read that you haven’t got around to yet, and vice versa. But yes, they’re not here for decorative effect. These are our books, for real.”

She walked further into the room, past the science section and into classic English literature. “I’ve read the complete works of Shakespeare?” she said.

“Yes. Every word. Hamlet was your first. Troilus and Cressida was your last.”

The smile quavered, a small sob escaping her. “But I don’t remember them. I don’t remember anything about what I read, or what I wrote. I had them, I must have. But now they’re gone.” So far, true grief -- something more profound than frustration and fear -- had hit her at two points: at the loss of Ron Weasley, and now at the loss of what she’d worked to add to her mind and then lost. She didn’t know how to mourn the loss of the memory of a husband or children. She could remember nothing about ever possessing any of that. But she knew what it was to have books, to grow and blossom from them, and it meant her grief at losing them had a sense of reality to it she couldn't yet muster for the rest of what she was told she had lost. And if the loss of books was real, maybe all the other losses were real too.

She stood with her hand on the bookcase and felt an emptiness bigger than the library — vast enough that there might be space in it for the children, and maybe even for a father. For a passing moment, she sensed something of the magnitude, the tragedy of this accident.

Beside her, Draco hung his head. She wasn’t ready for him to comfort her. She needed to hurt on her own. It was part of her recovery, progress, but it was horrible all the same.

“We’ll get it back,” he promised her. “We’ll figure out how to find everything you’ve forgotten. Maybe tomorrow we can go to our lab, where the accident happened. And we can start to work it out. We did it once before, we can do it again.”

She nodded without a word, cleared her throat, and resumed reading book titles through a haze of unshed tears. She pulled a volume down from the shelf, conspicuously bound in purple velvet. It was a collection of poems by Emily Dickinson, its flyleaf marked with her own handwriting, an inscription that read:

“To My Darling Malfoy, on our second anniversary. Always, HJGM.”

She was thumbing toward the page marked with a ribbon. “Don’t get embarrassed,” he warned. “It’s marked at ‘Wild Nights’ which might seem like a bit much but — we are what we are.”

She smirked through her sniffles as she silently read the poem. “What we are -- what is that?” she asked. “You say we’ve spent years making graphs in academic books together, but at the same time, everything that happens between us — it’s never more than a step or two away from something lascivious. What kind of marriage is this?”

He sighed, sitting down hard on the sofa, laying his head on the arm. “The best kind.”

He said it quietly but forcefully. If this was a Death Eater plot it was an impressively executed one. The Draco Malfoy she remembered from school could never convincingly play act anything. Even when he’d pretended there was Dementor sneaking out of the Forbidden Forest, coming after Harry during third year, the gag was hammy and clunky. The same person could not have faked the stifled devastation emanating from adult Malfoy in this sunny, book-lined room.

He propped his chin on the arm of the sofa, and waved toward the doorway. “The bedroom is at the very top of the stairs, the entire upper floor. Go ahead and look around. I’ll wait here. I’ve got a few owls to send anyway. Stuff for the list.”

She followed the stairs past Paul’s closed bedroom door, his low voice rumbling as Griselda Goyle laughed along its bassline. Maybe Malfoy was right to send Castora with them. The shadow of other people's restrained desire deepened as she moved higher, into the loft bedroom Malfoy claimed they shared. She recognized the smell in the room as the same one she’d inhaled from the front of his shirt that morning. She raised her wrist, sniffing at her own sleeve. Was it him, or was it both of them?

The room was cluttered with books and parchments and quills. The bed was unmade and a lady’s dressing gown lay in a ring on the rug, as if the person wearing it was in a tremendous rush and had dashed out of the bath preoccupied and careless about the mess she left. It must have been her — the person she had been before the accident, at any rate. With no memory of what might have preoccupied her, Hermione had all the time in the world to lift the dressing gown from the floor, tidying up. There was more clothing beneath it, tangled with it: a plain white T-shirt. She raised it to her nose. His.

There was a knock at the door jamb behind her. It was Malfoy, standing just outside the threshold. “Don’t worry about the mess,” he said. “I’ll see to it once you’ve finished in here. And I’ll sleep in the salon until the kids go back to school. It’s just two more nights, and if I’m careful, they won’t even notice. Once they’re gone, I can sleep in Paul’s room until, um — for as long as you want, forever, as long as it takes, just — just don’t leave, Hermione. Please.”

What had he called the boy in the hospital this morning? Tenacity itself? She tossed his t-shirt toward the hamper, nodding. “I’ll try.”

_________________________

No one at the Aurors’ office recognized the owl. It was long-eared and grey, plump with treats, and carrying a message addressed to Potter. Everything went into high alert when something out of the ordinary arrived for Potter, even after all these years. Wand drawn, he unlaced the message. The owl settled over its feet, waiting to courier back an immediate response, blinking at him as he read the message. For the first time since little Castora’s arrival was announced, he was reading an owl from Draco Malfoy. When he finished, he whistled, pulled at his hair, and hastily penned his response.

Of course he would come.

The Malfoy owl was dispatched back to its masters and Potter was rooting through his desk for a Weasley Communication Compact, the one he shared with Weasley himself.

“Ron,” he called into the mirror. “You made it?”

“Yeah, we’re here,” Ron answered. “Poor Rosie’s a little sick for all the portkeys, but she’ll be alright in time for school on Monday.”

“Tell her the kids can hardly wait to have her at Hogwarts for the term. She’ll take the place by storm.”

“Yeah,” Ron drawled. “Sure hope not. So Mum wants to know when we can expect you.”

“Well, that’s just it,” Harry said. “Before we make it out to the Burrow, we need you to come into London. Something’s gone wrong, with Hermione…”

He read Malfoy’s owl to Ron though the compact.

“No,” Ron exclaimed. “No, she’s gone back to when we were eighteen? That was when — back when we — . I don’t know, Harry. Maybe I’d do more harm than good turning up when she’s like that. Not that Malfoy doesn’t have it coming…”

“Come on, Ron, Hermione never had a thing for almost-forty-year-old you. That’s part of the reason for all this: to show her everything’s moved well beyond those days. Bring Rose along so she can see just how much.”

"So all they need from me, is to show up and not be eighteen anymore?"

"How should I know? They're the memory experts. You want to discuss it with Draco yourself? I can get you in touch -- "

"No, no, it's fine," he hurried. "Right. Owl me the address and we’ll be there.”

Chapter Text

Four

Draco looked awful. He had spent the night on the too-short sofa in the salon, tense and full of excuses to offer the children if either of them found him there, all the while unable to stop his mind from going through decades of research and experimentation, his own hard-won expertise in memory sciences, desperate to find something to fix his wife. Even in the moments he’d slept, he dreamed his way through impossible problems, mad calculations barely connected to anything that could help in reality. He got up in the morning exhausted.

Before Hermione had gone to bed, he had tidied and scourgified their room, stripping the mattress of its bed linens, giving it something more like the feel of a generic hotel suite rather than a marriage bed. She had only hummed vaguely when he asked her how she’d slept, and if she'd noticed the deepening of the heavy shadows around his eyes after two difficult nights, she hadn't mentioned it. She might have just assumed that this was how people in their late thirties were supposed to look.

The entire family was at the institute now, in the quiet of a Sunday afternoon. Hermione had walked through everything, touching all of it, opening and closing notebooks that read to her now like ancient hieroglyphics. She sat at a desk she was told belonged to her, reading the first of the books she and Draco had written, working at a near frenzied pace to reload her mind.

Draco and Paul were in the workshop, re-enacting the accident.

“So Tavishton is flailing around and he shoves me,” Paul said, “and I’m not expecting it, so I’m knocked off balance, and I go tripping this way, and my arm smashes down on the thing — “

“Where? Where did you hit it, and with which arm? Is there a bruise? Show me exactly…”

They went over it and over it, marking the room with flags and pins, taking measurements and jotting notes. There was no solution in sight, but the first step in any kind of critical examination is to properly define the problem. It kept them busy, at any rate.

“When are they coming?” Cassie asked from where she was folded into an armchair in her mother’s office. Whoever had written the book she had chosen on famous wizard amnesiacs was a resounding success at making an interesting topic dead boring.

“Soon. Excited, are you?” Hermione asked her. “Meeting Harry Potter, that’s pretty cool.”

She shrugged. “I already met him. When I was a baby. That’s what you say every time I ask.”

Hermione’s face flushed. “Yes, that’s right. But this time you’ll be able to talk to him.”

“Why are they coming here? The institute is boring and no one’s allowed to touch anything.”

“It was Mal- your father’s idea. He likes his privacy, I reckon, so no house guests today.”

“Yeah,” Cassie said, uncoiling in her chair. “He does like his privacy. Which is why I found it so odd that he was sleeping out in the open in the salon last night.”

Isn’t she Daddy’s Little Malfoy, Hermione thought to herself. Look at her lisping away like an infant for days and then coming up with a cutting observation like that, as if out of nowhere. But all she said out loud was, “Did you not sleep well last night, Cassie darling?”

Cassie blinked. “It was fine. I just got up for the toilet, like I often do, when I thought I heard something downstairs. So I went to check and it was Dad, twisted up like a knot of the sofa.”

Hermione answered with a curt nod. “Yes, well, I was still feeling poorly yesterday. And he very kindly went where he wouldn’t disturb me while I got some badly needed rest, just like he would have if I was still in the hospital.”

Cassie gave a particularly slow and deep blink as she asked, “Where is he going to sleep tonight?”

“He’s a grown man,” Hermione nearly snapped. “I’m sure he’ll sleep wherever he likes. No need to worry, Castora.”

Minutes later, a buzzer sounded and Malfoy was opening the door of the institute to a small crowd of people. Hermione heard their tones of tepid civility from her office. She bolted to her feet. Cassie startled, her eyes huge and childlike again, as if she could sense something of how badly Hermione would have liked to tear through the room, grab Ron and Harry by the hands, and run away from all of this with them. She and the girl stared at each other as Hermione stifled her impulses, calmed her breath, and moved to walk nonchalantly out of her office to greet her childhood friends.

Harry stood at the front of the group, shaking hands with Paul after Malfoy had tossed him out like a human shield between the two of them. Harry responded in kind, bringing forward a boy slightly younger than Paul. He and Paul were already known to each other from school. This was James Potter, from the year below Paul, and he looked quite put out about being at the institute on the last afternoon of Easter break. He also looked more like Harry than Harry did — at least to Hermione. As for Harry himself, he had looked old for his age as a teenager but his thirties suited him better. He looked pleased to see her, but grave, stepping forward to peck her cheek.

Thus far, everything about thirty-something Harry Potter was believable, but she tested him anyway. “Harry, how many times did I repair your glasses before you learned the spell yourself?”

He stammered, looked about the room for help, before coughing out, “Twice. It was twice.”

If he’d answered with easy confidence, that would have been more suspicious than his clumsy, natural Harry response. She took a breath, nodded, and pushed on toward the next question.

“Where is Ronald?”

“Hey-a,” came a voice from behind Harry. Ron stepped into view from where he’d been lingering outside the threshold. “Good to see you all.”

Hermione’s mouth fell slightly open at the sight of him. It was all wrong. He didn’t just look aged, but transformed. Even his voice was different, opened up, almost twanging. The white skin Hermione remembered was now a tawny, ruddy colour, marked with freckles across Ron’s nose and more lines around his eyes than Harry or any of them had. His hair was sun-bleached with gold, cut short on the sides and back and left long on the top. It was a teenager’s haircut, but nothing like how Ron had kept his own hair when he was that age. He looked at Hermione but sideways, hugged her, but again only sideways, and was quick to push his daughter between them, a girl born late in the same year as Paul, a red-head he called Rose.

“Got to be on your best behaviour around this girl,” Ron was saying. “Her mother survived a werewolf attack before she was born, and that is magic that changes things right down to the DNA.”

Rose laughed uneasily. “Shut it, Dad.” Her accent was fully Australian. They could hear it in the “a” in “Dad.”

The more he spoke, the more familiar he became. But Hermione wanted to test him too, as she had Harry, but also very differently. “May I ask you something as well, Ronald?”

“Yeah, go on then. Memory’s always been rubbish, but go ahead and try me.”

Malfoy pivoted away from them, unable to watch as she stood on tiptoe to whisper something in Ron’s ear. Ron’s ruddy complexion burned positively scarlett as he listened, and then choked out, “On the left side.”

Malfoy sighed so hard it was nearly a groan, dropping his face into his hands.

“That’s the side of the bed she prefers to sleep on,” Ron hurried to say. “That’s all.”

It wasn’t true and Malfoy knew it. Without hearing, he could tell she had asked Ron which side of her rear end her birthmark was on. And he had answered correctly.

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with our memories,” Harry rushed to change the subject. “But what can we do to help with yours, Hermione? Have you got any plans?”

“Nothing yet,” Malfoy answered. “But you’re not here to work, just to talk. Hermione needs people she trusts to fill her in on what’s happened in the world at large and in each of our lives since we were eighteen.”

He sent Paul and the other young people to find Cassie in Hermione’s office and took the golden trio into his own. Ron and Harry confirmed everything Malfoy had already told Hermione about the intervening years. The Death Eater movement had been put down. Her parents were back and uncharmed. And seventeen years earlier, she had stayed at St. Mungo’s, broken off her engagement to Ron, and came back to Britain married to Malfoy. It was a messy break, and a storied love affair, one she could confirm, more or less, in gossip from back issues of the Daily Prophet if she wanted.

“My leaving — how did I explain it to you?” she asked Ron.

He didn’t know how to start. “It was complicated, and it doesn’t really matter anymore. All turned out for the best.”

“Did I ever say I was sorry?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“So you don’t have to say it now,” Harry finished, glancing at Malfoy sitting behind his desk, looking on, saying nothing, breathing deeply. It seemed like all his strength was labouring to hold himself calmly in his chair, even when Hermione’s eyes lingered on the new aging surfer version of Ron for too long.

“And,” Harry went on, “you’ve had a smashing good career as a researcher here. Have you seen your books?”

“Yes, I’ve seen them. Have you read them?”

Harry laughed. “No, way over my head. But we keep them on the shelf at home, and they make us proud. You’ve got a good life, Hermione. I was worried sick about it at first but, it looks like it’s been working fine.”

She looked at Ron, waiting to see if he’d agree. “Don’t ask me, I’ve been in Australia. But you did come to my wedding, way back when, all pregnant and everything. Looked alright to me.”

In Hermione’s office, Rose Weasley was quizzing the young people about Hogwarts.

“Relax, Rosie,” James was saying. “It’s not like you’ll be there on your own, with no family.”

“None in my year,” she moaned.

“Well, you know me now,” Paul said. “I’m not a stellar social contact but I am somebody.”

“Which one of those — what are they? — those houses did they put you in?” Rose asked him.

“Ravenclaw this year, but I’ve been in everything but Hufflepuff so far. What are you in Potter? Do they put you in Gryffindor every time just because of your parents?”

James smirked. “I could ask the same of you, couldn’t I?”

Paul smirked so forcefully it was almost audible. “No, actually, not at all.”

House rivalry at Hogwarts abated, at long last, after the war when the board voted to re-sort students into new houses at the beginning of each Fall term. Instead of belonging to one house for the entire course of their education, students belonged to several. The hope was that the more houses they identified with, the more stable and peaceful, the less prejudiced all of Britain’s wizarding society would become. There had been an uproar at first but the rising generation accepted the change as the way things are and moved forward.

“I’ve been Gryffindor more than anything,” James admitted. “But I’m in Slytherin right now. The dorms are the worst.”

“Scary,” Cassie piped up.

James seemed to just be noticing her. “Oh hey, you’re in Slytherin right now too, aren’t you? Hello, comrade.”

Rosie sighed. “I don’t want to go where I’ll be scared. I don’t want to sit around in the gloom all covered in robes getting pasty white in the castle where my mother was almost mauled to death and my uncle did end up getting killed. Stupid parents just can’t get over their schooldays at Hogwarts. Honestly, I was doing just fine at home.”

“Cheer up, Rosie. We’ll get you through it,” James said.

Paul watched her talking, complaining, and knew he was was quite keen to help her through it. The part-werewolf girl from far away, confident enough to talk to him as easily as if she already knew him, who kept gathering her long red hair into a ponytail, baring her neck, and then letting it fall down, over and over again — this was a girl like no other girl he knew. There was also her connection to a family sure to set Paul’s father’s teeth on edge. All of it made this — this Rose flaming Weasley, the girl for him. He wanted to announce it, to tell someone. What would Gris have to say about it? Probably something negative. Not yet.

In Draco’s office, Ron and Harry were taking their leave. Hermione was sadder but steadier, and thanked them for their time and care with a formality fitting good friends who hadn’t been part of each other’s daily lives for a very long time.

“I’ll check in with you in a few days,” Harry promised as he stepped out of her hug. Her manners were appropriate but he could see the fear and frustration in her. And he could see that he needed to take Ron away.

After their visitors had gone, Malfoy sent the children home through the Floo and followed Hermione back into her office to collect her books. “Look,” he began, “I don’t know if you noticed, but Weasley made a point of mentioning his werewolf wife to you just now. I’m sure you know, but let me remind you that it is completely inappropriate for you to sit here and openly pine for a married man, a father.”

She huffed. “As if you care about Ron Weasley’s marriage, Malfoy. From what I just heard, you never did before. You’re simply jealous.”

“Yes!” he said. “Insanely jealous. So jealous I could have pulled the roof down on all of us.”

“I’d like to see you try it, with Harry Potter sat right there.”

“Hermione!” he said. “Were you listening to any of what they told you? You left them and chose me.”

“Why?” she shouted back at him. “Why in the world would I do that? This is what no one has explained to me yet, though it may be exactly what I need to know more than anything. Forget Mr. Werewolf Husband Weasley. I’m asking about you, Malfoy. Why am I with you after all that happened between us at school, and in the war? Why do you — feel the way you say you feel about me?”

“Why do I love you? Why is every last thing in my life built around you — ordered so I never have to leave you, all day, every day?”

“Yes! Tell me!”

“I can’t!” he said. “You and me just happened. And if it turns out we can’t fix your memory, I need you and me to happen again. So I’ve been protecting it. There are things you learned about me — about yourself — the first time around that came to you at just the right times, in the right ways for them to get you to fall in love with me. It was like blast after blast of powerful, accidental magic and I don’t know how to get it right a second time. I have no idea. But I do know that naming off all those moments in a bullet list is not the right thing to do. I can’t let myself risk messing this up. I can’t.”

He sat down, nearly collapsing in her office armchair, falling hard on Cassie’s book about famous amnesiacs. He pulled it out from under himself and tossed it onto the floor. Hermione crouched beside him, picking up the book to set it on a table, laying a hand on his knee.

“I am sorry about today,” she said. “It was a deluge of information and emotion, too much to elegantly process all at once, and I ended up embarrassing everyone. I know that. I hate that.”

He closed his eyes, not daring to shift under her touch.

“I do accept that I, by my own choice, married you, Draco. This isn’t an evil conspiracy, it’s my life. I’m told it’s a good life and I will try to honour it as best I can for as long as I can. I am starting there. I am trying. But this is so confusing and so hard.”

“It is,” he agreed. He squeezed the hand she’d set on his knee, just once, as he stood up. “Can we go home? Let’s go. I’m exhausted. Maybe I can nap in the bedroom until the kids want dinner. Is that alright?"

She stood up quickly, nervously. “About that,” she began. “Cassie caught you sleeping in the salon last night. It affected her quite a lot. So for tonight, until the kids leave tomorrow, you’ll need to sleep upstairs, with me.”

Chapter Text

Five

Making no show of a gentlemanly protest, Draco moved back into the bedroom for the night. He sprawled on the left side of the bed — his side — and sighed into the pillows.

“Poor tired Malfoy,” Hermione snickered as she stepped out of the cupboard where she’d gone for privacy to change her clothes. “Look at you lazing and stretching there like an old white cat.”

“A what?” he said, far too brightly. “Did you call me a white cat?”

He’d spooked her and she was nervously backing toward the bedroom door.

“Because it’s fine if you did,” he said, sitting up on the bed. “It’s brilliant, actually. My loving wife used to call me that.”

She wasn’t ready to hear it. “You rest,” was what she said. “I’ll go downstairs and get the kids’ tea on. It’ll be their last meal at home for a while.”

“Make them help in the kitchen,” he called after her before falling back on the pillow.

He woke up after the sun had set, when Cassie came into the room with a tray of food, Hermione’s competent but often lacklustre cooking. She set it on the table beside his bed and tugged at the cord on lamp. “Mum said to bring this up.”

He sat up, rubbing his eyes, muttering thanks. He had eaten hardly anything since the accident. In a few more missed meals, his old St. Mungo's gauntness would have started to return.

“Nice to have Mum cooking again, isn’t it?” Cassie said. “And nice to be sleeping in here again too, yeah?”

He froze with his fork poised over his mashed potatoes. The girl was not much for wand work but he sometimes suspected her of being a formidable natural legilimens. Either that or she just paid proper attention to people. He was careful as he answered, "Yeah, it is."

Cassie blinked rather languidly as she turned to leave. “You’re welcome, Dad.”

He finished eating and lay back again. It was probably good for Hermione to manage around the house by herself. It was normal. The whole process of remembering might feel less like overbearing mind control to her if he wasn’t constantly within arm’s reach. And now that she had seen for herself that there was no point in escaping and running off to Potter and Weasley, he had no more reason to worry and watch her all the time.

No more reason except that Weasley looked better than Draco had ever known him to, frankly. As his peer group got paler and paunchier, Weasley was glowing and fit. Potter looked like any Ministry drone approaching middle age but Weasley looked like he couldn’t go back to Australia fast enough, as far as Draco was concerned.

“Have we ever taken them there?” Hermione had asked once they’d arrived back at the flat, before he’d gone up to bed. “To Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes?”

“No, of course not,” he’d answered. “One of our kids hates magic tricks and the other is deadly serious. Not the Wheezes crowd at all.”

He needed to stop going over the Weasley angles over and over in his head. Whatever confusion Hermione might be dealing with, Ron Weasley seemed like a one-werewolf kind of man. Loyalty -- that was supposed to be his hallmark. Wasn’t that what it said on the bloody trading cards?

Maybe if he waited here in the bedroom for long enough, Hermione might come to him for something. It wasn’t impossible. But the children needed a parent with a whole memory to check their trunks before leaving for school in the morning. He rose and trudged out into the stairwell in pyjamas and slippers to see to it.

Paul was already rolling his eyes as his father opened his bedroom door. “No, Dad, you cannot check my trunk,” he said. “I’m in my last term of sixth year, for the love of Boggarts. Not to mention it’s an invasion of privacy.”

“Fine, but tell me who you’re talking to in here, in my ostensibly un-apparatable house. For our security, I need to know. I could hear your voice through the door.”

Paul waved his arms about the room. “Does it look like there’s anyone else here.”

“That’s not an answer, Pollux.”

“It was just Gris, alright? All you heard was me dictating into my Remote Note. We were having an argument. Honestly, I owe you one for breaking it up.”

Draco couldn’t help but smirk. “Well what happened? Is she alright?”

“Of course she’s alright. It wasn’t even about her. She’s just being a right nosy cow.”

“Paul, that is no way to talk about your best mate.”

“Look, don’t you come lecturing me about healthy relationships, okay? Not after that mess at the institute today.”

“Well, how about I tell you I can see your Remote Note from here and it looks like you’ve still got it set to dictate. It’s been transcribing us and sending Griselda everything. How’s that for relationship advice?”

Paul swore and lunged to slam his Remote Note shut. “Dammit, Gris.” He opened it as quickly as he’d closed it, read something scrawled on it from her end in red ink, swore again, much more colourfully this time. “No, no, no. Gris, of course I didn’t mean…”

Draco backed out of the room, closing the door, shaking his head.

An inspection of Cassie’s trunk revealed that it was completely packed except for one small thing. “Castora,” he called, “where is your wand?”

_____________________________________

The household had settled for the night. Draco was lying on the bed, perhaps a little territorially, facedown, toiling over the measurements and figures he’d taken in the workshop that afternoon. Hermione opened the door, a pencil stuck behind her ear, her arms full of books.

“I admit it. I need help, Malfoy,” she said, crossing the room, dumping the books on the bed and falling onto her stomach beside him. He shifted sideways, making more room for her but she closed the distance as soon as it opened, rocking her shoulder into his. “Don’t slither away. I need you to go through this with me, line by line. It’s our book. I think I’ve got most of it sorted but some of the figures are tricky and I’ve got questions.”

Propped on their elbows, they opened the book to the page she’d marked as problematic.

“Ah yes, this bit,” he said. “Well-spotted. This is the part that the reviewers questioned very most too. It’s the part that shouldn’t work on paper but does in real life.”

“That’s most of magic, isn’t it? Why does anyone care?”

He shrugged, but said, “We’re not exactly hawking Rememberalls here. We’re pioneering tricky neurological magical medical interventions. The stakes are tremendously high so the level of scrutiny we fall under is enormous and relentless, as if should be. Look what can happen if even the smallest thing goes wrong, if one boy stumbles into one hunk of busted machinery.” He turned to look at her, raised his hand toward her face, and plucked the pencil from behind her ear.

“Don’t write in it,” she said as he began to mark and underline the page.

“It’s fine, we’ve got loads more of these out in the shed. Now,” he began, “as a terrifyingly intelligent and imaginative teenaged girl about to charm your own parents’ memories, you began to develop a model for memory based on the refraction of light through a prism…”

She nodded as he explained her theories to her. Yes, it was all correct, familiar, obvious to her. “So effectively, I blacked out a part of the memory spectrum for my parents, the part with me in it.”

“Yes, and you also reinforced the spectrum they were left with so they’d have false memories for their new Wendell and Monika Wilkins identities.” He turned to look her directly in the face again. “It wasn't without glitches but it was astounding that it worked as well as it did.”

She smiled at him. “It was, wasn’t it. And I couldn’t tell anyone about it at the time, only Harry and — “ she paused, “and Ron.”

Draco watched her face as she remembered how Ron had pushed her on to erase herself from her parents’ memories without questioning her or the trauma she was inviting, and without offering to make any similar sacrifices within his family. She shook her head, cleared her throat. “So about these figures.”

“Yes,” he said, turning to the flyleaf, sketching diagrams of overlapping circles. “Spectral mis-refraction like your parents’ accounts for all sorts of memory charms and accidents, but not all. Unfortunately, the kind you have right now is something like the memory damage Muggles are most likely to sustain. It means no one in magical medicine has done much work on this area."

"Well then take me to a Muggle doctor, if they're better at it. Always so bloody proud."

Draco frowned. "It's not that. No one knows for sure how magic is connected to our bodies. It's not in the blood. That's just elitist nonsense. But it might be in the brain. And if the Muggle doctors use their tools to go rampaging over your brain -- well, we just don't know what might happen. It's a huge risk and one only you can accept. And it's the reason I still haven't mentioned all this to your parents. They'd wheel you straight to a Muggle urgent care department if they knew you couldn't remember the grandkids."

She unbent her elbows, letting her face fall into the mattress. "So I have to choose between my magic and a family I don't remember. Could this be any more horrible?"

"It's not as simple as that," he said, moving her hair away from her face with the end of the pencil. "Muggle medicine isn't that good at treating memory loss either. And there are anecdotal stories of this kind of memory loss magically fixing itself but not enough for us to plot it in figures and tables, so it remains something more miraculous than magical. That’s all these figures show, and nobody likes it, least of all me.”

“I need a miracle,” she groaned into the bed.

Draco laid his head down too, looking at her eye to eye. “Have you come 'round to wanting a miracle?”

She flipped her face away from him. “I have to, don’t I? I heard you with those kids tonight. You need help.”

It was neither the best nor the worst answer he could have hoped for, but he would leave it at that for tonight. He snapped the book closed and sat up. "Try reading the chapter again with my annotations. Check the numbers I’ve added too. You might think of something."

She was still looking at him as he glided across the top of the bed linens, drew them down and slid underneath them in a smooth, fluid motion. He had been an athlete in school, before the Death Eaters had taken him, at any rate. Bloody quidditch. She didn’t care much for the sport but she did have a solid history with quidditch players, and watching Malfoy get into her bed with all the grace of Viktor Krum in his prime catching a snitch -- it affected her, in her blood, in her skin.

Noticing her puzzled stare, Draco raised his eyebrows. “What?”

“I was wondering,” she covered. “Does Paul play quidditch?”

Malfoy smirked. “No. He avoids it. On principle.”

“Because his father…?”

“Yes, naturally.”

“Good thing it doesn’t matter,” she said, moving to sit against the headboard, on the pillow beside him but on top of the blankets, re-opening the book. “I thought you might play it with them, since you seem to still be in pretty good -- shape.”

Draco tossed onto his side, hiding his face from her. “Goodnight, Hermione.”

“What did I say?”

“Nothing much yet, but if you think I can lie here discussing my -- fitness -- and then be satisfied with just nodding off to sleep beside you, well, you’re wrong. So goodnight.”

He flicked out the light on his side of the bed. With his back turned to her, his head of white hair was still visible in the dimness, as if it shone, a light in a future she didn’t understand. It made no sense, but she could see it nonetheless.

She read until her eyes went dry and sore before turning out the light. Even in the darkness she could still perceive the spot of faint light that was the back of his head -- the back of her husband’s head. His breath was smooth and rhythmic, deep. Now, for the first time since the accident, he was somewhere safe from her, where she could test her connection to him without the risk of him reacting, hurting himself.

Drawing back the bed linens, she slid beneath them, waiting a moment to be sure he wasn’t disturbed before edging across the sheet toward his back. She was close enough to sense him on the air she breathed, the scent of laundry scourgifier giving way to the smell of him. She inched closer, her nose and mouth nearly touching his shoulder blade, her breath warm against the fabric of his shirt.

And she waited, motionless, listening to her feelings, her body, ready to receive some sign of recognition, of history, of fate. She knew she was attracted to him, but once he started treating her well, that was easy. She’d been attracted to Ron that morning too, embarrassing as it was. Attraction was something but not everything, not nearly enough. In the darkness, she raised her hand, reaching toward the ends of his hair cut short at the nape of his long, pale neck.

She had barely touched him when he turned in his sleep, his arms closing around her, pulling her tightly against him, his mouth held shut but pressed to her forehead, sighing. She gasped, eyes wide, wondering if he was truly still asleep. His breath quieted into its deep, slow rhythm again.

“Malfoy,” she said, “what are you doing?”

He jumped, pulling his face away from hers, murmuring his confusion as he woke up. “Er, oh. Pardon me,” he said, which is not the same as "I'm sorry."

Chapter Text

Six

Suddenly flipping to the role of being a parent sending kids off on the Hogwarts Express was surreal. At King’s Cross, Hermione kept quiet and small, letting Malfoy do most of the work -- what Paul would let him do, anyway. He wouldn’t let his father touch him or his trunk but he did hold back from telling him off when Draco asked where Giselda was that morning. They always boarded the train together but today, she was missing.

“She’s here somewhere, avoiding me. Can you believe she’s still on about the nosy cow thing?” he said. “Honestly, I call her worse to her face all the time and she never cares but because I said it behind her back she won’t let up.” He let out a long breath. “What am I supposed to do?”

It was a rhetorical question but Draco shrugged and said, “Give her some time? A bit of space?”

Paul smirked. “Like that’s what you would do.”

Draco smirked back at him. “Never. But Griselda, unless I’m much mistaken, is not currently the mother of your children.”

“No,” Paul answered, distantly now, craning his neck to see something further down the platform. “No, she is not.”

Draco looked too, and managed not to scowl at the sight of all the red hair. Ron Weasley had come to see Rose was safely away, of course. He was glancing in the Malfoy family’s direction. Had Hermione noticed? She was nervously fussing with Cassie’s hair as Paul drifted slowly in the Weasleys’ direction. But Rose wasn’t lingering on the platform. She was stepping up into the train with her Potter cousins.

Paul’s attention snapped back to his father. “Right. So I’m off then,” he said. “Bye, Mum. Dad.”

“Wait, help Cassie.”

“She is not a baby, honestly. Here, give her trunk here. Happy?”

Through the coach windows, they saw him walk down the train toward the Potters’ compartment.

______________________________

The seats at the head of the train, closest to the teachers and railmen, were reliably empty of students. That’s why Griselda had chosen to ride there today. Besides, her absence might help Pollux Malfoy to stop taking her company so much for granted. Whatever else was going on in her life, Gris was nearly finished writing chapter six of her latest story, the one her followers had been clamouring for, and if everyone left her alone, she could send it off, posting it before they even stopped at Hogwarts. Some of her followers might read it on this very train, unaware that the author was one of their classmates.

Griselda snickered, rubbing at the hair buzzed short at the back of her skull. No one would believe her if they knew. This was the part of her life that unfolded with the strictest secrecy. She’d never told anyone, especially not Paul, that her secret identity was that of darkfeatherlightness, a note-fic writer with hundreds of adoring fans. Note-fic, as we all know, is fiction written by amateurs, published anonymously, and delivered directly to the Remote Notes of subscribers. Griselda’s note-fic author persona, darkfeatherlightness, specialized in Veela fiction, strangely un-smutty Veela fiction, written that way for a good many reasons, not the least of which was that Griselda herself was, in fact, a seventeen-year-old who had never dated. It wasn’t that she hadn’t experimented with writing more adult stories, but they felt hollow, not up to darkfeatherlightness’s standard of excellence, so they stayed unpublished, hidden in her private notes.

Maybe later.

Her most popular character was poor, tortured Torrence. He was part wizard, part Veela, the heir of an ancient family who, even though he didn’t inherit his Veela father’s silver hair and eyes, had everything else he needed to be a twisted, frustrated magical demi-creature. In each of his stories, Torrence searched for his true mate, suffered, snogged, and parted with his lovers leaving them feeling sad but special, glad they had known him, even if it was for just a little while. With every story, she moved him on, still looking for the true match that ever eluded him.

As Gris was proofreading her latest chapter, where Torrence does some particularly wet and salty snogging with a mermaid, Paul was walking past the window of the Potter-Weasley compartment slowly enough for Rose to recognize him and call out.

“Hey, I know you,” she said. “You’re Paul, from yesterday, at that laboratory with Dad’s crazy ex.”

Behind her, Rose’s cousins were laughing and groaning. “Rosie, have a care.”

“Right,” Paul answered, unfazed, “and you’re the Australia girl with the werewolf Mum.”

“Right, right,” she drawled. “Are you heading somewhere? There’s room in here if you haven’t found a seat yet.”

“Cheers,” Paul said.

What was he doing, imposing here on the holy order of Potters and Weasleys?

“Shame about your Mum’s accident,” Rose said as he slid the door closed behind himself. “I’m sure she’ll figure it out. Unstoppable golden trio girl and all that, right fam?” She gave a sarcastic little cheer and dance.

The cousins muttered and groaned some more. They were more like Paul than he had given them credit for -- bored and disenchanted with their parents’ glory days, tired of being expected to answer for them. Maybe the Potters and Weasleys didn’t show it all the time, in front of just anyone. But Paul was not just anyone. When it came to descendants of the Golden Trio, their status was all the same. He was one of them.

And as he watched Rose chattering and gesturing over him and the other boys in the compartment, he realized that she had assumed he and the Potters had known this all along -- that they’d been raised together, tumbling into friendship through some natural process of inheritance. Neither he nor the Potters said anything to disappoint her.

“Eep!” she squealed in the middle of a sentence about something else. “Darkfeatherlightness just posted a new chapter.” She was flipping frantically through her Remote Note.

James Potter laughed at her. “What are you on about now?”

“Oh, you know. Darkfeatherlightness, only the best note-fic writer there is. Yes, this chapter is from her latest Torrence the Veela story. Yes, thank you!"

“She?” Paul smirked. “If it’s note-fic, how do you know there’s a she writing it?”

“You just do,” Rose argued. “Oh my stars, Torrence is going to pash the mermaid.”

James made a retching sound. “Have you ever seen a mermaid?”

Rose scoffed. “Oh course I have. And they’re not all like the species you have here in Britain, any more than one of your starlings is like one of our emus.”

Albus blinked. “I just got the weirdest picture in my head.”

James leaned in to see the snogging page in her Remote Note. “Does Uncle Ron know you read this stuff? It’s pornographic, isn’t it?”

Rose laughed. “Not nearly pornographic enough.”

The compartment erupted with more groans.

“Joking! I’m only joking,” Rose laughed. “No, darkfeatherlightness doesn’t need to resort to that. Torrence gives us everything we need without us having to read all about what’s in his trousers.”

“Honestly, Rose…”

“Oh, go on. What have I said?”

Yes sir, Paul thought, this was his girl.

_______________________________

 

In the Kensington flat, Draco and Hermione had spent their first afternoon after the children had left reading and working through their measurements and math. It was quiet but busy, not completely fruitless, easy enough to ignore the fact that, until the summer started, they needed to settle into the patterns and habits of a household of only two.

Draco was melancholy, remembering a tradition he would not mention to her where they’d take the entire day off work on the days the children returned to school so they could come back from the station to -- spend some quality time alone together. Over dinner, he did broach the topic of the bedroom. “I don’t suppose,” he began, “I don’t suppose you’ve changed your mind about me sleeping upstairs, have you?”

Her face flushed red.

“I mean, I can always sleep in Paul’s room,” he hurried, “But I thought things went pretty well last night -- uneventfully, at any rate. So maybe I could stay?”

She gulped her last mouthful of curry. “Uneventful?”

He sat up straighter, alarmed. “Yeah. Nothing happened, right?”

She dropped her fork, smoothed her hair with both her hands.

“Right?” he insisted.

She scoffed. “You don’t even remember.”

“Hermione, what happened?”

“You rolled over and grabbed me, mauled me like a bear. I had to call your name and wake you up. Uneventful...”

He set his own fork down with a clatter. “No,” he said. “Not likely. We have been sleeping together for seventeen years and I never grab you in the night unless you come to me first.”

“How can you possibly know that if you’re too sound asleep to remember?”

“Hermione -- you hate being disturbed with pushy cuddling when you’re already asleep. I’ve been shoved off enough times to be very well trained. I only reach for you if you’re there already.”

She was blushing again.

“What did you do?” he said.

“Nothing.”

“Hermione Jean Granger…”

“Barely anything. I breathed on you, alright? And I might have touched the ends of your hair.”

He sat back, so very smug. “Of course.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

He shrugged. “Just that it’s nice that some things never change.”

She stood up, carrying her plate to the sink. “You know what, Malfoy? I think I could use a little time on my own this evening.”

“Where will you go? You won’t owl up Weasley, will you?”

“Don’t be daft.”

“That wasn’t a ‘no.’”

“No, Malfoy. No, of course I won’t. Honestly, how can we ever go back to being a proper family if you don’t trust me? If you won’t let me out of your sight?”

He ran his hands through his hair. “It’s not a question of trust. I’m just -- scared. The situation still feels unstable.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll stay here, safe and all by myself, and you go out. I just want to be alone for a while, and either you go, or I go. Owl up someone to meet you for a drink. What about Goyle? He’s Griselda’s dad. Might be good to get a read on that situation from their perspective.”

“Yes, Goyle, the attentive, perceptive father.”

“Malfoy, just go. I’ll be here when you get back -- probably.”

He called an accio spell up the stairs to the lounge, raised his hand and caught two very plain beaded bracelets that came flying his way. “When we left St. Mungo’s,” he said, sliding the one marked “Malfoy” over his wrist, “you charmed our hospital ID bracelets so we could use them to signal each other if we needed help while we were separated. Their range doesn’t cover a very long distance but it will work between the local and here while I’m gone.”

He took her hand and rolled the “Granger” beads onto her wrist. “Just humour me, alright?” he said.

Before long, the washing up was done and he was in the neighbourhood wizards’ pub, waiting for Goyle. He turned up already slightly drunk, pounding Draco on the back. Draco didn’t intend to talk to Goyle about the crisis in his marriage. Their relationship had never been based on earnest sharing. Instead, he settled in to listen to Goyle talk about the owl-feed business. He asked a few questions about Griselda, but apart for Goyle’s plans for her to join in managing the business in a few years, he didn’t have much to say. The girl was clever, not flighty or fancy, and her father loved her for that well enough.

The night went on, Goyle showing off buying expensive alcohol, Draco listless and distraught enough to keep drinking it. He was slumped on a tabletop, red-faced and reeking when Goyle stammered something about having a ship to board in the morning and staggered off into the Floo, pressing hard on his designated destination token to make sure he made it home in spite of his alcohol slurred speech. It was late enough by then that the bracelet on Draco's wrist was vibrating silently against his skin. She was calling for him, but he was too far gone to notice.

All heads in the pub turned when Harry Potter walked through the door. Some of the patrons rubbed at their eyes and reckoned they should call it a night. Harry’s expression was tired and cross as he marched directly toward a head of white hair. The crowd braced to witness a dangerous arrest but Harry merely sat down beside the bloke, shaking him awake by the arm.

“Hey, Draco. Malfoy. Wake up.”

He answered loudly but without words, pushing back at Harry’s hand.

“Come on, Malfoy. You can’t sleep here. We need to get you home.”

All at once Draco was sitting up, squinting. “Potter? What the hell, Potter? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. You’ve just had too much to drink and you’re not replying to Hermione’s calls.”

“What? I would never.”

Harry stood up, pulling Draco to standing with him. “Well, you did.”

“How do you know?”

“Quiet, you. Because she owl-ed me in the middle of the night to go find you, that’s how.”

“Why you? Huh, Potter? Why?”

“Because she’s desperate to find you and she’s stuck acting like it’s twenty years ago, that’s why. Now come along. Let’s get you back.”

“Back to what?” Draco tore his arm out of Harry’s grip. “Back to the injured woman I’m holding captive? Telling her she has to take care of my brat kids? That she has to figure out how to love me, work a miracle not once but twice? Is that what there is to go back to?”

Harry took Draco by the collar, pulling his face down to his level. “This is not a good place for you to have an outburst, especially not with me. Think of your family’s privacy, and shut it, you great drunk git.”

Still holding Draco’s collar, Harry marched him into the street, nearly sending him sprawling on the pavement as he un-handed him. Draco staggered into the pub’s outer wall, holding himself up against it. “Nicely done, Potter.”

“Yeah, smooth as always. Just like old times.”

“No need to walk me,” Draco said, pushing himself off the wall, stumbling up the road.

Harry followed him anyway, and was in arms reach the next time he staggered, ready to catch him. Draco’s arm was thrown over Harry’s shoulders, their faces just inches apart, streetlights glaring off Harry’s glasses. “Watch it, Potter. I’m a lonely, lonely man these days.”

“Yeah, just try it Malfoy.”

With a wave of alcohol vapor, Draco laughed in his face. “Sure, come here, Potter. I mean, why not? She doesn’t love me. She did once, so much. Not anymore.”

“That’s enough,” Harry said. “If she didn’t care for you, she would have let them throw you out to sleep in the gutter at the end of the night.” He paused on the sidewalk to catch his breath, redistributing Draco’s weight across his shoulders. “And you just might have deserved it.”

They stumbled and fought up the stairs to the flat, the door springing open as Draco swiped his hand across it. Hermione was there, arms out, letting Draco fall out of Harry’s arms and into hers.

“Harry, I am so sorry. Thank you.”

“He’s thoroughly sloshed. You need a hand getting him to bed?”

She looked at Draco, his head lolling against hers. “No, he’s my responsibility. Look at him -- Malfoy, you idiot. Do you know if he vomits when he drinks?”

“No idea what his drunk habits are. Sorry. Though he was joking a little about snogging me so -- there’s that.”

“Right. Thanks, Harry.”

He was gone and she was left in the hall, bent and stooped under Draco’s nearly dead weight. “Malfoy,” she said. “Come upstairs. Come on, you wanted so badly to sleep upstairs earlier. Let’s go.”

His free arm had been dangling at his side but he suddenly flung it around her neck, holding her tightly. “Hermione,” he moaned into her ear.

“Yes, you’re through cuddling Harry for tonight. It’s only me.”

He hummed against her neck. “You sent Potter to find me.”

“Yes.”

“You wanted me back.”

“If you like, Malfoy. Now up, up the steps. Carefully now.”

They made it to their bedroom, where she let him fall onto the bed, oriented sideways, sprawled across both of their spots. She tugged his shoes off, then his socks as he murmured and chuckled. She pulled at the lapels of his coat. “Sit up, Malfoy, you can’t sleep in your overcoat.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” he said, twisting and fighting to remove his coat while still lying on it.

“Hold still. Let me help.” She had pulled him to sitting, standing between his legs at the edge of the bed, pushing his sleeves down his arms. He groaned and tipped his head against hers.

“What on earth were you drinking?” she asked. “You’ve ruined your smell with it.”

He groaned louder. “No,” he said. “Draw me a bath.”

“I will not. You’ll be drowned.”

“Yes, and then you won’t have to worry.”

“Hush, Malfoy. Just sleep it off. You can bathe in the morning.”

He was yanking at his tie, his collar askew. She covered his hands in hers. “Stop it, Draco. Calm down or you’ll be strangled.”

His hands dropped, letting her untie his tie before unfastening the buttons on his shirt. As she worked, his arms closed around her waist, his head pressed against her shoulder, and in the quiet he began to shake, to sob against her.

“Shh, Malfoy. Draco, what is it?”

He didn’t answer, just cried and cried. She sighed, folded her arms around his neck, and searched her repertoire of mom-ish truisms for some empty verbal sign she could offer to comfort him. Should she tell him, “It’s okay” or “It’s not that bad”? She wasn’t at all sure any of those things were true. So she said nothing, but combed her fingers into his hair, soothing him without words as he wept.

He sobbed harder as she touched him. His broken heart was revealing itself. It was tremendous, and awful, and finally, it reached her. She broke and said, “It’s fine. I don’t know how, but everything is going to be fine.”

He choked another round of sobs against her collar bone.

“Enough,” she whispered to him. “You need to sleep. Lie back. It’s okay, I’ll come too.”

With surprising strength and coordination, he swept her off the floor and onto the mattress. In an instant, their heads were on a pillow at the head of the bed, his arms still around her, gathering her closer. She drew her head back to see him, his eyes closed, wiping his wet face on her shirt like a three-year-old child. He was quieting, but holding her tightly.

She sighed loudly, surrendering as he nestled his face against her shoulder. She could have reached for her wand and stupefied him into sleep, or petrified him long enough to get him ready for bed without having to tussle with him. Funny, she thought now, that she hadn’t. Instead, she relaxed against him, let her hand sink into his hair, against his warm scalp, and waited for him to fall to sleep.

Chapter Text

Seven

The night was restless. Hermione stayed awake long after Draco fell asleep, intending to extricate herself from his hold and leave to sleep somewhere else, even if it was just on her own pillow. But whenever she moved, he stirred, and she’d wait a little longer, until she fell asleep herself.

When the morning dawned, she began to awaken, confused at the state of herself. Though she had fallen asleep in control of her sleeping situation, on her back with her arms around Draco’s neck and his around her waist as he slept on his side, she was now rolled onto her side to face him, his arms closed around her shoulders and back, and her arms tucked between them, in a sheltered, protected position, their legs threaded together near his knees. More mystifying, he had got out of his t-shirt somehow and his chest was bare against her face and hands.

Draco Malfoy -- beautiful, sad, reeking, drunken mess. The options for her future were still unsettled, still caught up in so many things. If she never recovered her memories, the extremes of her options were to leave him and raise the children together but apart, like all separated parents do. Or maybe she could stay and learn to love him. Since some things only come with practice, she closed her eyes and pressed her cheek against his chest, imagining being in love with him. His heart beat slow and strong. Hers was faster. In the quiet early morning, she untangled their legs, and he rolled onto his stomach as she slid out of bed and quit the room.

In the kitchen, she brewed a hangover remedy potion. New recipes developed during the past twenty years had made these kinds of medicines more palatable, but memory-injured Hermione didn’t know those recipes, and the one she made for Draco was pungent. She brought a steaming mug of it up to the bedroom, opening the curtains and humming to wake him.

He groaned into the mattress, clenching his eyes shut against the daylight.

“Here, you need to drink this while it’s hot,” she said.

He fought to sit up, cradling his head. “Goyle,” he said. “Bloody Goyle. I never drink like that.”

She smirked. “Clearly.”

He rubbed his temples. “How’d I get back? All I get when I try to remember is a crazy dream, complete with Potter himself.”

She sat on the edge of the bed, holding the hangover potion at the ready. “Did you dream that you offered to snog him?”

Draco responded with a spectacular cringe. “Maybe.”

She was laughing at him.

“Did he really -- was he here last night?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. I didn’t know who else to call when you didn’t come home.”

“Hermione…”

“It’s alright. You didn’t kiss him and you did make it home. Now drink this. Go on.”

He drank it, shuddering all the way down. “Don’t tell me the smell in here is me.”

“Well, it’s not me.”

He swore. “Right. I’ll go wash.”

She was nodding, opening the window before turning to leave him alone in the bedroom.

“Hermione,” he called as she was pulling the door closed. “I’m quite sure I remember everything. And last night, if I said it, if I did it, I meant it.”

________________________

“Something’s off with darkfeatherlightness,” Rose said, flicking through the pages of her Remote Note over breakfast.

“What?” James obliged her.

“For days, Torrence the Veela has been trying to leave the mermaid, all dignified and bittersweet as usual, but she’s having none of it. She’s got him chained to a rock and the tide is coming in,” she explained.

James grinned. “Good for the mermaid.”

“You don’t think it seems a bit harsh? She’s not the right one, not his true mate. It isn’t his fault,” Rose argued.

“Well then, maybe he should save the snogging for the right one.” It didn’t seem that complicated to James.

“That is not how Veelas work, Jimmy-boy. They need to use all of their senses to find their mates. Anyways, he’s just sent out a distress call to the hinkypunk he was romancing a few stories ago. Hope that goes well.” She flipped her Remote Note shut and craned her neck to see around the room again. “Where is Paul this morning?”

James shrugged. “Last I saw him he was arguing in a stairwell with Goyle. Had her in a headlock and everything.”

Rose was still trying to learn everyone’s name. “No way. Goyle -- as in the Goyle girl in Gryffindor house with me?”

“Must be. Unless there’s a new Goyle at school.”

Rose hummed. “I didn’t know she and Paul knew each other. And they’re on grappling terms?”

James shrugged again. “Looks like it.” He used his chin to gesture over the top of his Daily Prophet. “There she is. Call her over.”

Rose was waving but Griselda would never have imagined it was at her. Eyes forward, she stomped past the Weasley-Potter table, her face red, her hair sticking up over one ear, scowling, crossing the length of the great hall, heading to the table nearest the teachers, where she could sit alone and eat in peace. Rose trotted after her, tugging her by the arm and leading her back to James and Albus. “Don’t go sitting by yourself,” she was saying as they came back into earshot.

“It’s quite alright, quite alright,” Gris was saying. “I’ve got loads of work to do. There’s no need -- ”

“Buh-limey,” James blurted into the newspaper as Rose forced Gris onto the bench.

Albus leaned in. “What is it? Dad? Is it Dad?”

“Well, naturally,” James said.

“Is he okay?” Rose shrilled.

“Yeah, it’s nothing dangerous. It’s only Page Four. But still...”

Rose looked lost.

“The gossip page,” Gris explained.

“No way!”

“Yeah, and look at this,” James said, folding the paper so the girls could see. “Look who he’s in a scandal with.”

Rose squinted at the photo. Griselda gasped. There on Page Four of the Daily Prophet was a photo of Harry Potter dragging Paul’s dad out of a pub by his collar. “Troubled Trio?” the headline read.

James was reading aloud:

“Informants at the Shrike and Spanner public house report that the ever helpful Harry Potter made a late night visit to the establishment yesterday evening to see an inebriated patron safely home. The Prophet has identified said patron as Draco Malfoy, of the Wiltshire Malfoys, husband to Hermione Granger, Potter’s fellow alumnus of the so-called golden trio. Malfoy was heard referring to Granger as “injured” and “captive” before Potter succeeded in conveying him out of the establishment. Could there be trouble in paradise for the old Gralfoy Affair? And what has any of it got to do with the old Boy Who Lived?”

Rose whistled. “Wow. The British press is something else.”

Gris was on her feet, scanning the room.

“Do you reckon Pollux has seen this?” James was asking.

Of course he hadn’t seen it. Unlike James, Paul was not a fan of his own parents, and unlike Harry Potter, the Granger-Malfoys managed to stay out of the spotlight most of the time. But Paul wasn’t going to be able to ignore this. Gris stammered a goodbye and left the Potters and Weasleys at their table, dashing back to the stairwell where she’d socked Paul in the stomach and wriggled out of his headlock.

She didn’t find him. Instead of meeting Griselda, he came into the great hall shortly after she left, and read the news from James’s paper himself.

“Extremely odd. That’s not at all like him,” he said. “They don’t go out much, especially not to drink. And I can’t imagine why it would be your dad taking him home.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Rose asked.

“They’re not friends,” Albus confessed.

“Never have been,” James added. “Ask Uncle Ron about it.”

“He doesn’t talk about the Malfoys,” Rose remembered. “I always thought it was just because Dad and Paul’s Mum -- you know.”

“No, it’s also personal,” James said. “I mean, Dad and Mr. Malfoy wouldn’t stand idly by and let each other die, but that’s as close as they’ve ever been.”

“Wouldn’t let them die on purpose, anyways. You should see my father’s scar,” Paul said, making a slashing motion across his chest.

James flinched. "Or the bump in Dad's nose."

“If it weren’t for both of them being connected to Mum,” Paul went on, “they wouldn’t have spoken since the Battle of Hogwarts.”

Rose was nodding. “That’s why you lot are like strangers to each other on so many points.”

Paul smirked. “Until you came ‘round, Rose, that’s just what we were.”

“Well what’s all this then?” James asked, shaking his newspaper. “Why are the two of them practically hugging in this picture?”

Albus squinted. “Looks more like fighting to me.”

“It’s got to be Mum,” Paul said. “She’s driving them all crazy. They still haven’t fixed her memory and they’re all just trying to keep her happy and calm so she can get better, but...” He was fumbling in his robes for his Remote Note. It was signalling that a new message was etching itself on the top page. Just as he was about to read it, it slipped onto the floor, between Rose’s feet.

“I got it,” she said, ducking beneath the table. She was handing it back to him when she stopped, fingers clamped on it so he couldn’t pry it away without exerting a force he was not prepared to use against her.

“Hey Paul,” she said, “this message -- I couldn’t help seeing the sender’s name. I can’t believe you never told me you knew her. You know I love her.”

“Love her? Know who? What are you on about?”

She turned the Remote Note back to him. There was nothing unusual about it. The handwriting on the top page was Gris’s. It was a little more frantic than usual, flaring red in places as she rushed to warn him about today’s Page Four. He looked more closely, up to the line of automatic type that identified the sender.

“darkfeatherlightness”

_______________________________

Draco was still in the bath when Hermione left the flat that morning. She had pinned a note to the bedroom door telling him she’d gone out for milk and pastries and would be back before his hair dried. Being out on the sidewalk in the sunshine, all by herself, felt so delightfully normal, so healthy that she was smiling as she went -- slightly lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, but smiling. She looked into people’s faces as she passed, wondering if she knew any of them and didn’t remember them anymore. But this was inner Muggle London, anonymous, and in that way, safe.

She was nearly back at the flat, or at least, she thought she was. The building across the street looked like the one housing the glossy black door with the brass knob that they’d been coming and going from for days. But this door had a small group of people with large cameras like only wizards were still using ambling around the bottom of its stairs. Eighteen-year-old Hermione Granger had known what paparazzi looked like, and this group certainly had that air about it.

But they couldn’t be stalking her or Draco. She had forgotten the “Gralfoy Affair” days, but it was true enough that they’d been left alone for years, dismissed by the gossip pages as a couple of boring academics. And no one knew about her injury apart from themselves and Ron and Harry, the St. Mungo’s medical staff, their staff at the memory institute, the children -- bother, everyone must know. All at once, the bracelet on her wrist buzzed against her skin. It was Draco. He was calling for her.

She sighed, unable to remember the password to get her past the flat’s stupid anti-apparation security. There was nothing to be done but barge through the photographers, up the stairs, and back inside. They could holler questions and snap photos all they liked but they wouldn’t keep her held hostage out here.

She was just stepping out to cross the street when a hand grabbed her wrist, pulling her into a small dark lane. She was about to call out a curse when another hand covered her mouth, pushing her back against a wall.

“Quiet, Hermione. It’s only me.”

In front of her stood Ron. He dropped his brown hand from her mouth, let go of her wrist, and looked away from her, nodding at the photographers. “They’ve been waiting for you.”

She leaned into the wall, stupidly breathless. “Of course, they want to see what’s left of me. Hoping to find me tragic and catatonic, no doubt. One of my employees must have leaked the story of my injury. Or maybe someone at the hospital -- “

“No, it’s much worse than that,” Ron said, reaching into his jacket for a newspaper, handing it to her, folded to Page Four. “It was your two best mates.”

She had to laugh at the photo of Draco and Harry tussling in a pub, at the overblown speculations written below it. There was nothing else to be done.

“I wouldn’t have turned up if I’d known there were going to be cameras at your place,” Ron said. “But Harry’s unreachable, on assignment for the next few days, and I felt responsible -- like I should find out what happened, help out if I can, since I’m still in the country.” He paused. “Who am I kidding, I came to yell at Malfoy. How could he make a show of himself like that -- “ He cut his own words short, looking at her now. “Sorry. I’ve made everything worse, haven’t I.”

“Probably. I’d invite you inside but -- yeah.”

“Well, we can’t just keep hiding here, like we’re up to something -- “

“Because we’re not -- ”

“No, not at all. But if they can make Harry and Malfoy look like they’re about to fall into each other’s arms in a newspaper photo, imagine what they could do to us.”

“Too right,” she laughed.

“There used to be a shop connected to the Floo network near here. We could get you home that way, if the cameras don’t clear off soon.” He turned to watch them, asking over his shoulder, “So -- what really happened in the pub?”

“Nothing much. I made Draco go out with Goyle, they drank too much, and he didn’t come home so I panicked and the only person I knew to call to find him was Harry. So he brought him back.”

“You wanted him back?”

It was the same question Draco had asked her last night, at the bottom of the stairs. She had answered flippantly then.

Ron didn’t wait for her to answer now. He looked away from her face, back to the mental image of the script he had prepared before he apparated into the neighbourhood this morning. “Because you have to have him back,” he said. “You loved him enough to give up what we had, even though it was...“

“I remember what it was, Ron.” Her voice was small and sad.

He swallowed as if it hurt him. “Of course. So don’t waste that sacrifice, yeah? Trust what you must have been feeling when you finished with us, even though you can't remember right now. And -- and I wanted to tell you something else. Lavender -- she has these spells, all related to the werewolf attack. We have to watch the lunar cycles closely, especially at the equinoxes. At those times, she’s wild and pained, like she hardly knows me, hardly knows herself or that she’s human. It’s awful, so awful sometimes I wonder if I can live through it, or sit and watch her live through it one more time. But we always weather it, Hermione. And I’m always so glad.”

He hung his head, like he might be fighting back tears. She raised a hand and squeezed his shoulder. “Thank you, Ronald.”

She hadn’t quite dropped her hand from his shoulder when a flash bulb flared, lighting the shadows of the lane, capturing tomorrow’s Page Four.

Chapter Text

Eight

The front door of the flat slammed hard enough for Draco to feel it through the soles of his bare feet on the bathroom tiles. It was a frantic, desperate sound that sent him bolting into the corridor in his dressing gown.

“Hermione?” he was calling as he spun around the bannister, stopping dead at the top of the stairs, overlooking the front door. “Weasley?”

“Hey-a.”

“Malfoy.” Hermione was rushing up the stairs to meet him. “We’ve got a problem. Get dressed.”

Before she could go down the stairs, back to Weasley’s level, Draco had taken her by the wrist and was leading her upwards, toward the bedroom. “Won’t be a moment, Weasley,” he shouted with pretended lightness over his shoulder. “Go on through to the kitchen.”

“Will you stop?” she was hissing at him in bedroom.

He disappeared behind the bathroom door to dress. “He can wait by himself.”

“Malfoy, you are going to have to grow up about this right now. And I will tell you why.”

He was walking into her sight again, buttoning his cuffs. “Do tell.”

She took a huge breath. “There’s paparazzi outside.”

He startled. “Why?”

She opened the bedroom door. “That’s what Ron’s come to show us. Come see.”

On their kitchen table, Ron opened the Daily Prophet to Page Four with its photo of Harry grabbing Draco by the collar and holding their faces close enough to whisper. Draco spun away from the gossip page, swearing. “Of course. Hermione, I am so sorry. I was out of my mind. It’s no excuse, and now Potter’s been dragged into it.”

She glanced between him and Ron and her feet. “Well…”

“Will my mother have seen this? It’s one thing for everyone to find out about your accident. It’s quite another for them to come demanding an explanation after finding out we’re in the middle of something this way.”

“Malfoy listen,” she said, taking him by both of his arms to stop his pacing. “It gets worse.”

He remembered Weasley, looked from Hermione’s face to his. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Ron echoed.

“What have the two of you done?”

Hermione was talking at full speed. “Ron didn’t expect there to be cameras here this morning. I had no idea about it either but they were already here when we met in the street outside the flat. So we ducked into a lane, out of sight, to see if we could wait them out, but while we were distracted, one of them spotted us and sneaked up and took a picture.”

“Distracted? How were you distracted?”

“It was me,” Ron broke in. “I was getting all teary telling her a sob story about the joys of sticking with a spouse through hard times, and that’s when they snapped a photo, just as she was giving me a friendly pat on the shoulder.”

Draco’s jaw fell open. “They got that on film?”

“Yeah. Sorry, mate.”

“You’ve got no mate here.”

Ron had played penitent long enough. “Look, I came to warn you about the scandal with Harry, and to tell your wife to fight for you.”

Draco scoffed. “Well, thanks so much. Brilliantly done. Now all four of us can have our marriages scrutinized in the press.”

“Malfoy, we need to calm down,” Hermione said, one hand on his jaw, tilting his face to get him looking at her rather than glaring at Ron. “We’ve done a little damage management already. Instead of running away from the cameras outside just now, we held our heads high and walked calmly into the flat together as the innocent friends we are.”

“Calmly? I heard the door slam.”

She clenched her hands into fists. “I’m trying, Malfoy! I’m trying my best. But I’ve never defused a public scandal before.”

At this point, both of the men broke into loud, bitter laughter.

“What?” she wailed.

Draco was shaking his head. “Well, here we all are. Have you had anything to eat yet, Weasley? Looks like you’re going to need to make a show of staying long enough to enjoy a proper, normal visit before you can leave.”

They unpacked the box of pastries Hermione had bought. Ron ate like he was famished, like he was still sixteen years old.

“Watch it, Weasley,” Draco smirked. “You’ll start spreading into middle age, like everyone else.”

“Nah, I volunteer coach Australian rules quidditch at Rose’s old school. Have to keep in top shape for it. Need to eat to keep my energy up.”

Draco hummed. “The second coming of Madam Hooch.”

Relieved that they were making an effort to talk about something boring and normal, Hermione prodded them along in spite of the topic. “What are the Australian rules?”

Ron gulped down a bready mouthful. “Offside calls, mostly. But there’s also three bludgers instead of two, no nancy protective gear but gloves for the keeper, all done while standing balanced on a surfboard instead of sat on a broom.”

Draco snorted. “Well then, go on and eat up, Weasley. Sounds like you won’t live to see middle age.”

“Could be worse,” Ron argued. “Canadian quidditch is played riding on hockey sticks suspended over ice.”

“You mean the Australians don’t play over shark infested water?”

Ron blinked. “Only on national holidays.”

“He’s joking,” Hermione said, for both of them at once.

Ron drained his tea. “Right, I’ve been thinking this whole time and I reckon I’ve got an idea for how to throw a bit of cold water on all this scandal nonsense. You’ll like this, Malfoy. How about the two of you go out in public, casually, as if you don’t know anyone’s watching, and love each other up a bit. Hold hands in a shop, canoodle in a cafe -- nothing racy and out of character or they’ll know it’s a show. Just play up some believable long-married affection. Let them see for themselves that you’re not with Harry, and Hermione’s not back with me. Whaddya say?”

Hermione shifted in her seat, turning her teacup between her hands, the ceramic warming her palms. When she had leaned against Draco in his sleep this morning, his heartbeat sounding in her ear, and tried to imagine being in love with him, something in her had reached toward it. Maybe displays of affection would still be acts of imagination, but they were acts she would now be capable of. She said, “Yes, Ronald, we probably should. It’s easy enough, and I think we owe it to Harry -- Ginny too. What do you reckon, Malfoy?”

His spoon clattered in the bottom of his teacup. “Absolutely not. Forget it, Weasley. I’m sorry but you’ll have to find another way to explain tomorrow’s Page Four to your wife.”

“Aw come on, mate.”

“I said no.”

“Honestly, Malfoy, it was you that started all of this by making a scene at the pub,” Hermione said, following him to the doorway as he moved to leave the kitchen. “It’s the least you could do to put some of it right.”

“Look, I’m still sick from last night,” he was saying. “Sorry, but I’m going up to rest.” He nodded at Ron, taking his leave. “Pleasure as always, Weasley.”

________________________________

In the charms classroom, Rose Weasley threw herself into the empty chair beside Gris Goyle. “You,” Rose said. “I know you.”

“Sure…”

“No. I KNOW you.” She leaned into Griselda, whispering, “darkfeatherlightness.”

Griselda’s eyes widened, her face flushing red from collar to forehead. “What?”

“You were still signed in under that name when I passed Paul his Remote Note at breakfast this morning.”

“Well -- that doesn’t -- ergh.” Gris buried her face in her hands.

Rose grabbed her arm, shaking her back and forth, laughing. “It’s so great! I am so happy to finally meet you! I love you. I love Torrence. Please don’t drown him.”

Gris sat up, raising her hands to hover over Rose’s mouth as close as she could without actually touching her. “Will you please be quiet?”

“I’m sorry,” Rose was still laughing. “It’s just so cool. I can’t help it. Look at you -- YOU -- sitting right here in front of me.”

“You didn’t tell Pollux, did you?”

“Well, not exactly. He was mostly just confused. Not a note-fic reader, I take it. But it was him that put it together for me that the handwriting under the username belonged to you. I nearly died.”

Griselda groaned into the desktop.

“Oh, it’s not that bad,” Rose cheered, patting her shoulder. “I won’t let anyone else know if you don’t want me to. But honestly, if I was darkfeatherlightness I’d want everyone to know.”

“Know what?” Paul had arrived, and he wasn’t at all put out at finding Rose in his seat. Instead, he moved to sit in his usual stool as if it was made for two, causing her to scoot sideways to make room for him, both of them balancing to stay seated. She was an Australian rules quidditch player with good balance and without any fear of getting in the way of large, aggressive things like Pollux Malfoy. She shoved back in his direction and kept her seat, their shoulders mashed together.

Gris looked positively sick.

“You giving Gris a hard time about the feather-weight story business, or whatever it was?” he asked Rose.

“Mind your manners, Paul,” she said. “Have some respect for the artiste in our midst.”

“Stop it. Both of you. Please,” Gris was saying, gathering up her books, preparing to move to another table.

“Mr. Malfoy,” came Professor Limpet’s voice from the head of the classroom. “Please find a less cozy seating arrangement for yourself so we may begin.”

But it was Rose who stood up, going back to her usual spot with another Gryffindor girl to leave Paul and Gris together at their desk.

“You done being mad yet?” he asked Gris after the professor had set the class to work on their exercises. It was something new, the Repetra charm, but that was all Paul had managed to glean from the professor’s introduction. His mind was distracted between two poles: the warm phantom impression Rose Weasley’s shoulder against his and the chill of Gris Goyle’s anger beside him now.

“I am not mad, Pollux.”

He whistled. “Full ‘Pollux’ treatment. You are mad.”

She said nothing, reading through her charms text, tracking the lines with the end of her wand.

“So what is this feather thing Rose is on about anyways?”

“It has nothing to do with Rose Weasley. It’s ‘darkfeatherlightness’ and it is all me.”

“Look, if you’d quit ignoring me you could hang out with them too. It’s not so bad. Rose is, like, pathologically friendly. And she’s crazy about this feather thing you do. Get over yourself and play nice with her.”

“Oh, so we’re nice now, are we?” Gris said, the tip of her wand denting the pages of the book.

“Of course we’re not. But people like us need nice people around them the very most. I mean, look at my parents.”

“Mr. Malfoy,” Profession Limpet said, “would you and Miss Goyle please come to the front of the class and demonstrate this lesson’s Repetra charm. You both seem very animated by our exercises today.”

Paul coughed. “My apologies, sir. I’m actually struggling with the lesson. I’d rather --”

“No, no. Just come up and do your best. It’s something of a memory charm. You may have an affinity for it.”

“Really, sir, I’d -- “

“Come, Mr. Malfoy. Miss Goyle and I will support you, I’m sure.”

“Gris help me, what does it even do?” he whispered as they stood up.

“You should have read it yourself. Just stand there and don’t block me.”

Limpet looked hopefully at Paul, the baby who once toddled around the Malfoy Memory Institute. But it was the daughter of the owl-feed empire who was doing the talking at the head of the classroom.

“The Reptra charm,” Gris began, “replays the last things of any import said to the person receiving the charm. It’s helpful as a memory aid and as a law enforcement tool when interviewing witnesses of criminal acts. It is not as potent as veritaserum but has the benefit of always being available to a competent practitioner when veritaserum is not.”

“Yes, excellent. Proceed.”

She turned to face Paul, her wand leveled at him. She knew he was about to regurgitate the most recent important things he’d heard said. These would be the instructions given to them by Professor Limpet. It wouldn’t be spectacular but she was confident she could do it and eager to blast something -- anything -- out of her wand at his smug, pretty face. Their eyes met, Griselda’s narrowed, Paul’s wide. He was shaking his head almost imperceptibly, whispering without moving his lips, “Gris, no.”

“Reptra!”

The charm hit him square on the jaw, rocking his head back.

Professor Limpet was on his feet. “Don’t aim for the face, Miss Goyle. Mr. Malfoy, are you quite alright?”

Paul shook his head, as if to clear the spell away. But it had already begun working on his voice and memory. “Don’t block me,” he said, in something like Gris’s voice.

A titter of laughter sounded throughout the class.

“Hush!” Limpet called over it. “This is an excellent result. Shame about your aim but well done, Miss Goyle. You’ve hit the repetition element, right down to preserving the original tone and voice of the quotation. Well done indeed.”

“We’re nice now?” Paul went on in his Gris voice.

“Two repetitions, excellent!”

“It’s ‘darkfeatherlightness’ and it’s all me.”

“Three repetitions! Outstanding, Miss Goyle.”

She didn’t stay to receive the compliment graciously, but stormed down the centre aisle, back to her seat. Limpet pounded Paul on the shoulder, dismissing him. “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. After class, you may want to ice your jaw. Now who’s next?”

As he chose another pair to demonstrate the spell, Gris set up her book on her desk and hid her face behind it. Paul didn’t know what she was so embarrassed about. It could have been worse and he was the one who had to stand there getting his block rocked by her magic in front of everyone. She wouldn’t look at him so he glanced around the room, and to his surprise, many of the girls had turned to look in Gris’s direction. They were staring, whispering.

“Ladies, up here, please,” Limpet called to them.

The class ended, the last one of the day. The room emptied quickly, but the first to go was Gris, swishing past Paul and out the door. She couldn’t have gone much faster if she’d apparated. He was left not knowing how to behave, what to do next. But he’d been raised by scientists, researchers who approached every unsolved problem by finding out as much about it as they could. He sat alone in the empty charms classroom, opened his Remote Note and searched through any and all references to darkfeatherlightness.

___________________________

As soon as Ron Weasley had left the flat, Hermione bounded up the stairs, flung open the door to her bedroom and shouted at her husband.

“Draco Malfoy, how can you be so petty?”

He rolled over in bed, piling pillows over his head.

“It seems I gave myself far too much credit,” she went on, “but ever since I woke up in the hospital, you’ve been making it sound like you once enjoyed kissing me, even in public, and I’m surprised and, yes, a little offended that the suggestion of it is completely undesirable to you now.”

He sat up, pillows tumbling around him. “Undesirable?” he said, reciprocating her yelling tone. “Forgive me if I don’t want the first kiss you remember having with me to be some insincere fake theatrical opportunistic kiss orchestrated by and for the benefit of an ex-fiance you may well be plenty confused about right now.”

“Malfoy, it would benefit all of us, including you.”

“I don’t care. When it comes to us, I have never cared much for what anyone else thinks. Not Lavender Weasley, not Ginny Potter, not even my mother. On the other hand, our reality -- yours and mine -- means everything to me.”

“Just tell me then,” Hermione said, sitting beside him on the bed. “Make our reality real for me. If you have to be noble and tragic about it, just tell me what our first kiss was like. Tell me and I’ll make your memory mine. Treat me like a penseive.”

He jumped a little, recognizing something he’d once said to her. He took a deep breath. “Alright then. Our first kiss,” he began, “was right here.” He pointed to a spot on his right cheek. “It was in the security line at Gatwick Airport on our way to Canada and you surprised me with it to chase away my miserable facial expression you were afraid was going to get me flagged for questioning.”

She hummed, underwhelmed. “Did it work?”

“It might have, if I wasn’t already on a no-fly list. I got detained anyway. But you talked our way out of it and they let me go.”

This pleased her. “Okay, then what about the second kiss?”

He laughed to himself. “That was at our wedding, in a drab office in Halifax, with your memory-charmed parents looking on extremely skeptically, and my mother pulling off choking curses from across the sea.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“Well,” she prodded. “How was the kiss?”

“It was here.” He pressed a finger to the far corner of her mouth. “Dry, tight, and terrified.”

She sighed, laughing, exasperated. “Malfoy, have we ever had a good kiss?”

He swallowed, his mouth gone dry. “Yes. The next one, our third, was -- it was perfect, so right I’m not going to try to explain it to you. It would ruin it. You’ll just have to remember it yourself. Consider it motivation to get well.”

“At least, tell me where it was.”

He placed his finger in the centre of his lips. “It was here, mostly.”

“No, I mean, where were we?”

“All I’ll say is we were outside, in the woods, in the dark, casting spells.”

“Stop playing. Just tell me about it properly.”

“No.”

She leaned forward quickly and pecked a kiss against his cheek. “One,” she said. “See, it’s not such a big deal -- “

“Two,” he said, bumping his mouth against the corner of hers. It hadn’t been as dry and tight as their true second kiss, and the warm imprint of it lingered on her skin. At that moment, she knew that if she were to speak, she’d be able to taste it.

He sat back, his pulse banging in his throat, knowing her cheeks were as flushed as his must be. He had meant for the kiss to be playful and trite, but such a thing wasn’t possible right now, not for either of them.

In the silence between them, she sensed the weight of kiss number three -- the unremembered one from the distant past and the one she now knew was looming over so many of their possible futures. She felt something of the intensity with which he longed for it, wanting it so badly he wouldn’t dare touch it out of time. And feeling it through his heart, on his mouth nudging so fleetingly at the edge of hers, the third kiss became sacred to her too.

Not yet.

She stood up. “Thank you,” she said. “For explaining it to me.”

“Hermione,” he said, catching her hand as she turned to leave. “The setting doesn’t matter. The only magic I’m waiting for is for you to want it too, and for the same reasons I do.”

She nodded toward the floor. “Understood.”

Chapter Text

Nine

James Sirius Potter took the door of the Slytherin dormitory right in the face. Unfortunately, the resistance only made Castora Malfoy push against it harder from the other side. He had staggered clear of it, his wand and newspaper dropped to the floor at his feet, both of his hands covering his nose, eyes stinging when she finally pushed through, the stone wall closing over the door behind her.

At the sight of him, she gasped. "Oh no! Sorry, sorry, sorry!"

James blinked through his watering eyes to see who had maimed him. Of course -- always the Malfoys busting the Potters’ noses.

The small group of girls around him were cooing and fawning, entreating him to lower his hands so they could have a look, insisting on escorting him to the hospital wing for treatment. The loudest one of them, Maybell Vandersee, was a girl Cassie knew as his girlfriend.

"You need to have it seen to," she was saying. "This is your FACE."

He answered from behind his cupped hands, muffled and nasal. “Comrade Malfoy has to take responsibility. Come along, Malfoy.”

Cassie stood gaping at him.

“Malfoy,” he called, still covering his nose. “Let’s go.”

She scrambled to pick up his wand and newspaper and followed him down the corridor. The only person addressed as Malfoy at school was Paul. Sometimes at home her mother used the name for her father but it was just to tease him -- at least, it used to be. “Right,” she said trotting behind James toward the hospital wing.

“Is it bleeding very much?" she found the nerve to ask as they turned a corner, clear of Maybell and her friends.

"No," he said, dropping both of his hands, laughing.

Cassie let out a huge sigh, too relieved to be mad. "Thank goodness."

"You did hit me," James assured her. "And it did hurt like crazy. But it's not in need of medical repair. At least, I don't think so. Whaddya reckon, Malfoy?" He stooped to her height and ran his forefinger down the straight bridge of his nose. "See? No harm done."

Cassie's head was spinning. Her dad always tried to tell her she was a natural legilimens but she had no idea what was going on in James Potter's mind at this moment, as he stood in an empty corridor laughing at his nearly broken nose. She looked over her shoulder, waiting for Maybell, or someone else to appear. James got all sorts of attention from all sorts of girls. He wasn't the best looking boy in fifth year, but he might have been the most charismatic. Being the son of both the “chosen one” and a professional quidditch player seemed to do a lot for a boy’s swagger.

She blinked at him. "Yeah, it seems fine."

"Hey, don't run off," he said. "I've actually been meaning to have a word with you. Unless Paul has already…"

She could only shake her head, more confused. Definitely not a legilimens, just a daddy's girl.

"Here's the thing," he began, taking back his wand and newspaper, unfolding it to the Page Four photo of their fathers. "Just so you know, word is out that there's something wrong with your Mum right now. And so you'll know what people are driving at if they act like my dad's involved in it, take a look at this."

"But he's not involved," she said, leaning over his arm to read the article.

"I know. But in case anyone gives you a hard time about it, I thought I'd provide some context for you."

She nodded at the photo. It was awful to see her dad that way, looking stupid and angry and sad all at once. She pushed the paper back at James. "That's very kind. But no one gives me a hard time." No one, she thought, gives me any time.

He stood in the corridor, refolding the paper, considering her. Just like Paul, she was affected by her parents' fame completely differently than he and his siblings and cousins were affected by their parents’.

He looked up and down the corridor, not ready to let her go yet, not sure what to say to keep her there, and not sure why it mattered. "Well, thanks for the excuse to get away from Maybell, anyways. She's okay, don't get me wrong. She's just -- not my girl, and it's awkward when she acts like she is. Anyways, for all that, I owe you a favour.”

“I hit you in the face."

"Yeah, but still. Ask me for something some day, would you Malfoy?"

More confused all the time, she shrugged and told him simply, "Sure."

He offered the Daily Prophet to her. "You want to keep this, treasure it for the memories?"

She laughed. "No."

He tossed it into the air, over their heads, and burnt it to embers without even lifting his wand. She watched the brown, curling scraps of paper floating out of the air, disappearing just before hitting the stone floor, unable to stop herself from saying, “Wow.”

He smirked, extremely pleased. "Just something I've been working on at home, over the break." He tapped the end of her nose as he moved past her, now ready to leave. "I mean it, Malfoy. Remember to call on me if you need anything."

___________________

The morning the Daily Prophet published a photo of Hermione Granger-Malfoy with her hand from Ronald Weasley’s shoulder, looking tenderly up at his face beneath the caption “Reunited?”, Draco Malfoy woke up early to survey the damage. He was already standing in the back garden in his slippers and dressing gown, waiting, when an owl dropped the paper at his feet. The photo looked just as bad as he feared it would. In profile, both of their faces were visible, their expressions earnest, pained, perhaps not longing to love each other again, but for the togetherness they once had, as fellow soldiers, friends, whatever it was. The photo looped as their faces pivoted sharply toward the camera lens.

He scratched his scalp through his hair with both his hands, sat back in his lawn chair on their tiny patio, and sipped his tea. From inside the kitchen he heard the crack of a careless, ballistic apparation. Since the children were still underaged and Hermione was already inside, it could only be one person. Frankly, he’d been expecting her.

“In the garden, Mother,” he called into the house.

Narcissa Malfoy came to stand beside him on the patio. “Draco!”

“Hush, mother. Don’t wake her.”

She snatched the newspaper from the tabletop. “What is this? What’s happened?”

He pulled a chair out for her, and as she sat, he told her about the accident in the lab, and the steps he’d taken to handle it -- and to mishandle it.

Her frown deepened as she listened. “She remembers nothing past the age of eighteen. So she doesn’t remember the children at all, and as for me, in her mind -- “

“You are Madam Malfoy whose sister tortured her in your drawing room.”

“And the chandelier -- “

“Was dropped by a house elf.”

“Draco, no.”

“Yes.”

“You have to tell her it was you.”

“I can’t do that, Mother. There’s nothing you or I can do to make a claim like that sound sincere to her right now. She has to begin coming ‘round to it herself, the way she did the first time. And she may never do that again.”

Narcissa hung her head. “Leave it with me, darling. I’ll come up with something.”

“Don’t take responsibility, Mother. And don’t interfere. It’s too delicate. Anyway, I am supposed to be an expert on magical memory injuries. It’s down to me.”

She rose from her seat, stood behind his chair, and circled her arms around his neck. “You are not alone in this.”

He tipped his head against hers. “Thank you, Mother.” He patted her hand. “You’d better go before she wakes up and finds you here. I’d like us to have one day without something shocking happening to her for a change.”

She straighten up. “I will think of something. In the meantime, do stay out of the newspaper, would you?”

He promised her nothing.

___________________________

Paul did not see the Daily Prophet or the Potters or Rose that morning. He barely had time to dash into the great hall to grab a slice of toast before breakfast was cleared away and classes began. Ever since charms class ended the day before, he had done little else but read the complete works of darkfeatherlightness.

There had to be some mistake. The author could not possibly be Griselda Goyle. He’d known her forever, but not like this. Her Torrence the wizard-Veela creature was a complete tosser. He snogged everything and then gave the corniest excuses for why he had to move on and snog something else. Looking for his true mate? That was his excuse? Pathetic.

And Rose Weasley loved this stuff? Plain talking, good-hearted Rose? Did he understand girls at all? Did Cassie read this stuff too? Mum read everything -- did that include all of this? It might explain quite a lot, actually.

How was he ever going to look at Gris the same again. Where did she learn so much about what men’s bodies smell and feel like, not to mention all the mechanics of kissing and groping? As far as he knew, the only guy she ever hung out with was him. And he certainly never kissed her, not even on her cheek or her birthday, or whatever. He did wrestle with her a bit and it’s not like he didn’t enjoy it. Wait -- why did he enjoy it? He thought of her neck in the crook of his arm yesterday, in the stairwell. Was that a Torrence move, mashing her face against his chest, giving her nothing to breath but air that must have smelled like him?

“Yeah, but through three layers of clothing,” he murmured aloud to himself over his ancient runes translation.

“Mr. Malfoy? Do you have a question?” asked Professor Venuti from the head of the classroom.

“No. No, sorry sir.”

And why was Torrence’s full-Veela father described as looking just like Dad? Did Gris fancy the old man? No, she couldn’t possibly. Paul shuddered forcefully enough to drop his quill on the floor, smashing the back of his head on the underside of the desk as he picked it up.

“Mr. Malfoy are you quite alright?”

He rubbed the lump rising on his scalp. “Yes, sir.”

“Go to the hospital wing and ice that lump. Heaven knows you’re not getting much translation done.”

“Yes sir.”

Ice -- he definitely needed to cool off. He packed his books and stepped out of the classroom. Alone in the corridor, he took a deep breath. Gris was a girl -- a full-on girl. He watched for her all morning, not sure if he wanted to find her or if he wanted to make sure he didn’t find her yet.

She wasn’t in the great hall at noon when he slumped onto a bench beside Rose.

“You all right, mate?” she asked.

He shivered. “Up late reading.”

“Torrence?”

“Mmhm.”

“Paul, you didn’t.”

“I did.”

“Are you up for reading a bit more?” James asked. “It’s your mum who’s in the paper today.”

Rose snatched the newspaper away as James moved to pass it to Paul. “I told you to get rid of this thing.”

“Let’s have it,” said Paul.

Rose stuffed it into her bag. “No way.”

“Your mum’s in a photo on Page Four with Rose’s dad,” James explained.

“Shut up, James.”

Paul groaned and rolled his head against the tabletop. “Sorry, Rose. Someone please curse me and my whole family into oblivion.”

“It’s nothing. I talked to Dad last night and he warned me it was coming,” Rose hurried. “Just stupid gossip. He’s on his way back to Australia already. It’s all over. How’s your dad, Paul?”

He rolled his head again. “I dunno. Skulking around somewhere all ‘Tall and thin, with ageless storm-grey eyes and hair like flashing lightning.’”

James barked a laugh across the table. “What are you on about, Pollux?”

Paul sat up, rubbing his forehead. “Nothing. Just something I read in a note-fic.”

“Which one did you read?” Rose said, pouncing on the change in subject.

“All of them. And I hope Torrence drowns this week. If Gris doesn’t make him drown, I’m going to hold her down until she does.” It was the kind of thing he always said about Gris, but now the sound of it made him blush.

“Eat something,” Albus said, pushing a sandwich from his plate to Paul’s.

“Cheers, mate,” he said, but after hours of reading about Torrence the Veela’s search for his true, biologically dictated love, even this turn of phrase had a strange, provocative edge to it.

“Are you going to talk to Castora about today’s newspaper?” James pressed.

Paul lifted the top slice of bread from the rest of the sandwich. “No. Castora lives in a tiny little world for one and she likes it that way. No point in disturbing her. And like Rose says, it’s nothing.”

Just then a group of fourth year girls came walking behind Rose and Paul’s bench, whistling and letting their book bags brush against the backs of their robes. Rose sighed into her hands.

“Just ignore it,” Paul said.

“Is that what your mother would do?” Rose demanded. “I thought she was more the type to capture the reporter and keep her imprisoned in a bottle.”

Paul scowled. “What are you on about now?”

She blinked. “Your parents really don’t tell you anything?”

“Like I said yesterday, they’re extremely private, especially about the days back when they didn’t get on.”

Without a warning, without a wand, James accio-ed his newspaper out of Rose’s bag.

“James!”

“It’s alright. I’ll burn it up as soon as I’m finished reading it. But I haven’t had a look at the quidditch scores yet. I won’t show it around. I promise.”

Rose stood up, pointedly ignoring James. “See ya, Albus. And I’ll meet you in potions class, Paul.”

As soon as she left the great hall, James was on his feet. He didn’t bother to scan the crowd to look for Cassie, but reached into his bag for his grandfather’s enchanted map. It had some other name but it was too goofy to use. There was Cassie, marked by a set of footprints outdoors in a garden by herself -- the perfect spot to have another talk about embarrassing parental antics.

He found her tucked between two rose hedges not quite in full bloom, her wand drawn and pointed at a heavy book set on top of a stone bench, as she showered it with sparks. James couldn’t see her face, but he could tell her shoulders were heaving, as if she was exhausted, or upset, or both.

“Malfoy,” he called. “What are you up to? If you set that book on fire, you’ll be banned from the library.”

She jumped, throwing her wand into the grass, her face red.

He accio-ed her wand. It was light, like a hollow reed. “Sorry to interrupt,” he said. “If you want to burn a library book on school grounds, I won’t stop you. It’s probably got some kind of protection enchantment though.”

“I wasn’t trying to burn it.”

“What then?”

She swiped her hand across her eyes. “I just wanted to lift it. My wand-work,” she said, pausing to control her shaky breath, “it’s terrible.”

James looked at the flimsy wand in his hand. “It might be your equipment. I’ve never held a wand this light before.” He flicked its end toward the book which skipped off the bench to hover obligingly in the air.

She snatched her wand away from him and the book fell with a slap against the stone. “It’s not the wand. It’s me." She stomped to the bench and sat on top of the book. "Who else in fourth year can’t levitate a book?” she fumed. “I have a private practical testing session with Professor Limpet tomorrow morning. But it’s hopeless. How many times, and in how many ways can I fail at this before they expel me?”

James sat down beside her. “No one’s going to expel Hermione Granger’s daughter from Hogwarts.”

She closed her eyes and leaned her head back as far as she could without falling over. “I’m sure that’s been exactly what they’ve been thinking for the past four years. I get top marks on all my written exams but mercy passes on everything practical. It won’t be enough next year, when it’s the Examination Authority doing our OWL testing. Professor Longbottom won’t be able to just send me through out of admiration for my mother anymore.”

James had never heard her speak so long uninterrupted. Maybe she never had. It was more like a confession than a conversation.

“My time is running out,” she went on. “You know what I am, Potter? I’m a squib.”

He shushed her.

“What? It’s not a dirty word,” she protested. “It’s just what some people are.”

“But it is the wrong word for you,” he said. “Your wand responds to you. I saw the sparks myself just now. You just need to learn better control.”

She faked a sob. “I have a feeling squibs aren’t all or nothing when it comes to magic. They just don’t have enough magic to make it into anything useful. And that’s me. I can see it, I can feel it, but I can’t do it. You know why I bashed your face with the door yesterday? Because I was stuck on the other side for ten minutes before it would open for me, pushing as hard as I could.”

He rubbed his nose. “Well, maybe you can’t do your magic on your own,” he said. “But how about if I help you?”

“You think no one’s ever tried to help me before? You think my parents haven’t lost their minds trying to practice with me?”

“Parents are different,” he said. He was toying with his own wand, using it to levitate the book Cassie was sitting on, raising both it and her from the bench.

“ Potter...”

“Sorry.“ He set her down. “But let me help. I owe you a favour anyway.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Sure I do. And what’s a better reason to avoid Maybell and the rest of them than being somewhere else, working on something else, something important. And if we can’t get your wand to work, we’ll just have to master wand-less magic. It might actually be easier for you since you don’t have the same bad habits to break. No overdependence on a magic stick to get things done.”

He was such a ridiculous showoff. She laughed at him. “From squib to wandless witch: James Potter’s ultimate achievement.”

“That’s the spirit.” he said. “Meet me here after you eat lunch tomorrow and we’ll start your tutoring.”

“Thanks, but that’ll be too late. Limpet’s test is tomorrow morning at nine.”

James grinned. “Leave that to me too. Just relax and do your best. Oh, and -- ” he was about to unfold the newspaper under his arm, the one with her mother in it. But he stopped, not because he believed Pollux Malfoy knew anything about how to treat a sister, but because maybe he had been right about not bothering Cassie with the latest Page Four, not today. James had a new project: to make Cassie’s “tiny little world for one” large enough for other people, beginning with himself. “And nothing,” he finished. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Ten

The Malfoy Memory Institute was still mostly empty, early in the morning, when Draco opened the front door to a truly symphonic knock. As he flung the door open, he might have been looking forward to telling off a reporter, but that was not who he found calling.

“Mr. Malfoy!” a voice trumpeted into his face. “Lovely, just lovely!”

“Mr. Lockhart,” Draco said, extending his hand to Gilderoy Lockhart who, thanks to some expensive, finely crafted preservation spells, was looking much the same as he had when he came to teach at Hogwarts, decades before. “What an unexpected -- spectacle.”

“Yes, well I simply could not stay away. Your delightful mother sent me an albatross, way off in Taiwan, requesting I come back at once to see to your wife. So tragic, what’s happened. I say so from a position of experience, and from a position of indebtedness, after all you have done to help me regain my own powers of recollection.”

At the mention of Hermione’s accident, Draco had taken Gilderoy Lockhart by the arm and pulled him inside. Lockhart -- honestly, what had his mother been thinking?

“Do allow me to introduce my illustrious associate from Taiwan,” Lockhart remembered, motioning to the stranger following behind him. “Yes, I’m quite a sensation in Taiwan. "Magical Me" has only just been translated into Chinese. Can you believe that? They have honored me with my very own Chinese name. Isn’t that something? What is it again?”

“Gao Fu Shuai,“ the man behind him said.

“Yes, Gou Fu Shuai!” he said.

They both laughed.

Draco extended his own hand to the stranger. “Draco Malfoy.”

Lockhart jumped. “Oh yes, this is Dr. Huang Haonan.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Dr. Huang.

“That’s about all the English he knows, unfortunately,” said Lockhart. “You’ll have to use my Chinglish generator for the rest. It’s not pretty but it gets the job done. Allow me to summarize what I can before you begin. Dr. Huang is a leading neuro-magical researcher.”

“Yes,” said Draco. “Dr. Huang, I’ve read your papers on magical brain wave patterns. Fascinating.”

Lockhart slapped the doctor on the back. “That’s our Huang. He’s pioneered the conversion of Muggle medical technology for mapping the brainwaves of witches and wizards. Simply ingenious, and the very first person I thought of when your mother contacted me.”

Lockhart was digging in his bag for his Chinglish generator -- a crude but serviceable gadget that would render Draco’s articulate English and Dr. Huang’s articulate Chinese as a mutual mess that would be somewhat intelligible to both of them.

Dr. Huang spoke perfect Chinese into the generator’s mouthpiece, but it came out sounding like, “Hear said, your witch-wife not can remember.”

Draco nodded. “Right.”

“Witch-wife’s memory crushed like not-wizard person’s memory, so not so?”

It was thick, but eventually Draco nodded. “So.”

The generator churned on, stammering something about checking witch-wife brain.

Draco sat back from the machine. “Lockhart, this machine is awful. I don’t think I’m getting it.”

“I am.” It was Hermione, standing in the doorway. She nodded at Gilderoy. “Please, Mr. Lockhart, don’t get up. What I think he’s saying is that, since I have memory damage like the kind they see in Muggles, if they scan my brain with his device and compare it to the scans of Muggles with the same memory loss, it can tell us something useful.”

“Right, right, right,” Dr. Huang said without the translator. He understood more English than Lockhart knew.

Hermione took hold of the mouthpiece anyway. “Huang Doctor, quick check my brain,” it said for her.

“Right. Compare. Take your brain add power, for to fix,” the generator answered back.

Dr Huang was opening his case, unrolling a long ribbon of paper on Draco’s desk. It was the scan of healthy Muggle brainwaves, the output of an EEG device specially adapted by Dr. Huang himself.

He spread out a second swath of paper, the brainwave of a wizard with a healthy memory. The wizard waves were higher, closer together, steeper peaks and valleys. In examining both, it was clear to see that the Muggles had all the same waves as wizards, but flatter.

The doctor unraveled yet another roll of paper, that of a Muggle with a damaged memory. In this scan, the waves were flattest of all. The doctor’s hypothesis, it was becoming clear to Hermione, was that her damaged memory would also be flatter than that of other wizards, something more like a Muggle shaped wave, and it could possibly be improved by restoring the height of the peaks.

Doctor Huang explained the rest through the generator. It croaked out, “Take your brain add power to it, give it strength. At last, memory comes back.”

“What power?” Draco asked. “Where does this power come from? Is it standard Muggle electricity, like they keep in their walls?” Hermione thrust the mouthpiece at him. “From where come power?” the generator said.

At this, Dr. Huang’s look grew grave. He shook his fist at the generator but spoke into it anyway. It said, “Power flows from one brain to other brain. Like battery boost. So, power must come from other person, other wizard person.”

Draco stood up. “You need another wizard to donate power to fix her memory? Me. Use me.”

“Wait a bit,” Dr. Huang said in English, raising his hand. He spoke back into the generator. “Listen well. Other person’s power could become too low. Might lose a bit of magic. Might never come back.”

Draco was rolling up his sleeves. “I have more than I need, it’s fine.”

“Malfoy, stop,” Hermione was saying. “We need to stop and think about this. It’s untested. He hasn’t even given us a guarantee that it will work.”

“Can or cannot guarantee?” Draco was getting the hang of the generator's syntax.

“Cannot,” the doctor answered.

The Malfoys stared at each other over the top of the Chinglish generator. Draco nodded. “It’s worth the risk.”

“Malfoy. Draco -- no. It might be dangerous.” She took the mouthpiece, addressing Dr. Huang. “Doctor, we very grateful to you. Husband especially excited. But we need to discuss. Can wait, yes or no?”

“Of course,” he said in English as he stood up, re-rolling his papers.

“We’re leaving?” Lockhart said, rising to his feet. “Without a show? Without a bang?”

“We will wait,” said Dr. Huang. “This is a very important decision. We will wait.”

_____________________________

While his parents argued about magical medical ethics, all the while scrambling to teach themselves every bit of Chinese they could, Pollux Malfoy decided he’d had enough and went searching the Hogwarts grounds for Griselda Goyle. She had ignored all of his Remote Note messages for days now, and the comments section of her note-fic page was beginning to fill up with complaints about how long she expected poor Torrence to tread water before she’d post a new chapter.

“Let me help,” Rose said, when she found him roaming the quidditch pitch by himself. “I feel a bit like it’s my fault, for exposing her as darkfeatherlightness. You guys were fine before you knew.”

Only they hadn’t been. Before then, they’d been fighting about whether he was a shallow prat for announcing to Gris that he was going to make Rose his girlfriend. He’d had other girlfriends before and she never complained much about it, but this time she was not at all supportive.

Of course, Rose didn’t know anything about it, and there was no way Paul would tell her, especially since it didn’t ring true anymore, somehow. Rose was still a laugh, still brilliant in her way, still had a slender, gorgeous neck under all that red hair, but Paul couldn’t seem to ramp his feelings up to the pitch he needed to consider himself -- well -- in love with her. That first night, in his parents’ lab, this crush had seemed forceful enough. Now things were different, and he wasn’t sure how or why.

Paul convinced Rose not to help him look for Gris, but she promised to send him a message if she saw her. “Good luck, Paul,” she said. “You need to fix her. Cheer her up so she can be happy and write more. Poor Torrence is still chained up on the beach.”

Paul growled as he waved goodbye.

He and Rose had moved almost the entire length of the quidditch pitch apart when she turned and called his name. “Paul!” she hollered. “I got it!”

“What?” He could hardly hear her.

She shouted a reply just as an incoming owl screeched overhead. It sounded like she said, “Blitzer.”

“What?!”

Rose was trotting away, laughing without answering.

Paul was getting closer to where Gris was hiding out, but he didn’t know it yet. In the visiting side’s quidditch dugout, she was sitting on the bench, scuffing the dirt floor with her feet, writing and rewriting scenes of Torrence begging his magical creature exes for his life on her Remote Note. She had arrived alone but since then a few of the grubbier sixth year boys had appeared with a contraband bottle of whiskey. They were loud and smelly but not unfriendly. Gris had been partnered with one of them in arithmancy and she’d saved his grade. His name was Loder, and he had invited her to share a drink with them. She declined the first five times, but by the sixth, she had spotted Paul Malfoy trudging toward them, calling her name.

She thrust her hand at her arithmancy partner. “Hey Loder, give me the bottle.”

“Yeah, go Goyle,” he said, nodding.

She took the whiskey into her mouth, sloshed it around for as long as she could bear it, the alcohol scalding her cheeks from the inside, marking herself with its smell and taste, before she spit it onto the dirt.

Loder and the boys laughed at her, smacking her hard on the back. “Good try, Goyle. Good try.”

“Do me a favour guys, would you? Can you get out of here so I can deal with this?”

Loder laughed so hard he nearly drooled. “It’s Prince Malfoy. Wow, Goyle. Good luck.”

“Thanks. Just go,” she said.

Paul approached the dugout more slowly when Loder and the boys passed him on their way out, hooting and slurring. It was nearly too dark to see inside it when he finally hopped down onto the dirt floor, peering around the low, dusty space.

“Pollux Timothy Granger Malfoy,” she called to him.

He jumped but still came striding toward the bench. “Gris! I’ve been looking everywhere for you, all day, for days. What are you playing at?”

She stood to meet him, coming forward, not stopping until she was much too far into his personal space, even for her.

“You’ve got nothing to hide. I’ve read all your Torrence stuff,” he was saying. “And frankly, I’m shocked.”

She nodded, stepping even closer. “Good.”

“I need an explanation, Gris,” he said, swallowing hard. “I need you to confess -- ”

“Right.”

“And tell me,” he clenched his eyes shut. “Do you fancy my dad?”

Gris screamed out a laugh. “What?”

“You heard me, Griselda. Do you fancy my dad?”

She pushed against his chest with both of her hands. “You have got to be kidding me. You read all of my note-fics -- all of them -- and the burning question you’re left with in the end is whether I fancy your dad?”

He stepped back into her space. “You still haven’t answered the question. You haven’t denied it.”

“Pollux Malfoy, you are the stupidest, stupidest boy I know. The only person I know who is stupider than you is me.” She took hold of the front of his shirt, pulling him close enough for the smell of alcohol on her breath to waft into his face.

“Gris, are you drunk?”

“Maybe,” she lied.

“Do you — need help, or something?”

She tugged at him again, pulling him to stoop to her eye level, their noses almost touching. “Push me away, Pux. Pry your shirt out of my hands and get away from me right now, before I do it.”

“Gris — do what?”

“You know what,” she hissed, her breath on his lips. “You read my stories. You know what I’m really like, what I’m capable of. Now get away from me, quickly, or I swear to god, Pux, I will do it.”

She waited, eyes wide, as he raised his hands and covered hers. She closed her fists more tightly on the fabric of his clothes, ready to fight to cling to him, to force him to wrench himself away.

“You won’t do it,” was all he said. “Those stories aren’t you. Not even with all the whiskey in the world. You’re no Torrence. I’d dare you, but there’s no point -- “

Heart pounding, possessed by the spirit of darkfeatherlightness herself, Griselda Goyle boosted herself onto her tiptoes and pressed her mouth against Pollux Malfoy’s, six years of intense teenaged longing tumbling out of her in a hot rush. Even after the warning, he voiced his surprise into her mouth, opening as he did so, making way for her top lip between both of his. She rose into the kiss, pulling him closer as his hands cupped the back of her head, the short square ends of her hair rasping against his palms, like an itch scratched. He tilted her face to better fit with his, as she let her hands trail from his collar to his waist, clamping her arms behind his back.

His breaths were coming fast, filling his head with the smell and taste of whiskey as her hands pulled at his waist, drawing him dangerously close. It was her first kiss, but not his. An alarm tripped inside him, a few short relationships worth of experience compounded by generations of Malfoy chivalry. In the state he was in, in the state she was in, he couldn’t let this go on unchecked.

“Gris,” he said, twisting away from her. “You’ve been drinking.”

“No,” she was saying, both of her hands in his hair now. “I just wanted you to think I was, so I’d have an excuse for my behaviour, in case you rejected me and I had to explain it away.”

He gave a low laugh, dragging his wet lower lip across her girl-smooth cheek. “You have definitely been drinking.”

“I haven’t.”

“Gris, you’ve got so much alcohol left in your mouth it’s giving me a buzz.”

He ducked his head, returning to the kiss to confirm it, almost connecting with her again when she shoved against his shoulders, stepping out of his reach. “Fine! If you want me to be drunk and out of my mind, I can pretend I am. Tomorrow, I can pretend I don’t even remember this happening. I’ll come down to breakfast faking a hangover and we can go back to being the way we’ve always been. Me tagging along, your trusty henchman, maybe even happily cheering as you chase girls like Rose Weasley.”

“Gris, give me a minute to catch up. What in the flaming hell are you on about?”

“How can you be in love with Rose Weasley when you can kiss me like that?”

“It was you that kissed me.”

“Sure, I started it but — dammit Pux, I told you to push me away.”

He smirked. “Gris, you are not as much of a master of male snogging instincts as your Torrence makes you think you are. Not up this close. No guy could have turned you down, standing there with your little face and your big eyes, and your hands in my clothes, and all warm and mean and — “

“Oh, there’s some kind of gender nonsense going on here, is there? It all comes down to how much or how little like a guy I am, does it?” she said, straightening her posture, squaring off. She jabbed at his shoulder with her left fist. “How’s that?”

“Gris, you don’t want to do this.”

She hit him again, in the same spot but harder. “Why the hell not, Malfoy? Goyles are all bruisers, yeah? And frankly, you’ve had this coming for a long time.”

Paul straightened to his full height, sauntering forward, working to tower over her. Gris talked big, and her arm span was decent, but her height made her pathetic in a real fight. “Look,” he said as he advanced. “Stand down, Goyle. I am not about to bare-knuckle box my best friend, especially not when I can still taste her tongue in my mouth.”

She snarled as she sprang at him, fist cocked. He managed to catch her arm before it landed its punch, but the force of it unbalanced both of them. Paul was flat on his back in the dirt, Gris fallen facedown, her head and torso on top of him. She was pushing against him, fighting to get back on her feet, but he held her close, shushing her. She struggled a moment more before collapsing, her head resting against his shoulder, shaking as she tried not to cry.

“Gotta say, that was a solid kiss, mate,” he said, palming the back of her head. “Like something you wrote in a note-fic. Too bad you won’t remember it.”

She batted one hand weakly against his chest. “Will you shut up. And I don’t fancy your dad, you idiot.”

“Fine. But where is this coming from, Gris?” he asked, almost gently. “Is it Weasley? Why would you want me to stay away from Weasley so bad — bad enough that you’d liquor yourself up and throw your pure virgin body between us? And it’s all pointless anyway since I don’t even -- ”

“This is not about Weasley,” she yelled over his voice, pushing herself upright, away from him, sitting beside him in the dirt. “I don’t give a damn about her. But I am in love with you.”

There was a pause, a silence broken by the worst sound Griselda could imagine: the sound of Paul laughing.

It was too much. She was scrambling to her feet.

“No, wait,” he was saying. “No, Gris, don’t be — “

She clenched her fist, bashed it against his pretty jaw.

He howled in shock and pain.

“Oi,” Mr. Rendelmayne, the quidditch coach called from the doorway, “you boys can’t be fighting in here.”

Gris was already ducking past him, darting up the steps as Paul rubbed at his jaw, swearing.

In the darkness of the empty field, she was gone.

Chapter Text

Eleven

Gilderoy Lockhart and Dr. Huang packed up their papers and machines and left, and the afternoon in the institute passed quietly. Draco ordered a massive Chinese-English dictionary and then set to work disassembling the machine that had injured Hermione, arranging each component of it on a sheet of white gauze. He didn’t invite her to join him, but left her undisturbed in her office, rereading books she had once known by heart. The last component of the machine had been taken apart and Draco was laying it on the gauze, pinched between the pincers of a set of tweezers, as Hermione tapped at the workshop door. He startled at the sight of her, the first time he’d seen her in this room since he carried her out of it unconscious.

She said. “你好吗?”

He answered. “还不错.”

Not bad for their first day. She smiled at him, bowed her head, and crossed the floor, closing her arms around his waist, her head on his chest.

Still holding the tweezers, he didn’t answer with his arms but pressed his cheek against the top of her head. “Hey, what’s this?” he said. “Are you alright? Did something happen?”

“Yes, something happened. And I wanted to thank you,” she said. “For what you offered to risk in order to fix me.”

With the tool still in his hands, he hugged her with his elbows. “Good. So I’ll contact Lockhart and set up the procedure for tomorrow.”

“No, I didn’t say I’d let you risk it,” she protested, stepping away from him. “I just said that I thank you. The Draco Malfoy I remember from school was selfish and evil about his own status as magical. You -- you are not that Draco Malfoy. You kept telling me that but I’d never seen you act it out quite so decidedly in the present tense.” She leaned against the doorframe, folding her arms over herself. “But I still can’t let you do it.”

He smirked. “Then I’ll stupefy you and do it without permission. You know Lockhart won’t stop me.”

“There, that’s the Malfoy I remember.”

He laid his tools on the table and walked toward her, coming close enough that she moved to retreat but was stopped by the doorframe at her back. “Some of my wife is here,” he began, “but much of her is still hidden, in there,” he tapped her forehead. “She’s in there with your motherhood, and every book you’ve read in the past twenty years, and the only years outside my early childhood when I was ever truly happy. There isn’t much I wouldn’t give to get the rest of her back.”

She raised her chin, challenging him. “Not much you wouldn’t give? Like what?”

He didn’t hesitate. “Two things only: Castora and Pollux. I wouldn’t give them. The rest of it can go.”

“You don’t mean it.”

“You don’t believe I mean it. That’s not the same thing.”

She lowered her chin. “Alright then. Let’s start with you giving something small, something for Harry, and for Ron.” She led him to the window. “That man out there is a photographer for the Daily Prophet. He’s been sat across the street waiting since three o’clock. Walk home with me, Malfoy, right past that photographer. Walk home holding my hand.”

He sighed. “Go on then.”

Hand in hand, they stepped into the street. The afternoon had cooled into a fine evening where nothing could have been more natural to find in the street than a cozily married couple strolling home together.

Hermione smiled stiffly at him, speaking through her teeth. “Does he see us?”

Malfoy returned the same, plastic grin. “Yes.”

“Good.” She hopped up to kiss his cheek, falling back laughing.

“Hermione,” he scolded, but the hard, fake edge was gone from his face. “That still just counts as number one.”

___________________

 

Both James Potter and Paul Malfoy were in detention. Paul didn’t deserve his and was old enough to find the whole pretense of detention ridiculous, but he was there all the same. Mr. Rendelmayne had found him alone, sitting in a quidditch dugout that reeked of the whiskey that had left a dark, wet stain on the dirt floor. Though he swore that he hadn’t drunk anything, when Paul refused to explain how it was that Rendelmayne smelled it on him anyway, accepting detention became the only alternative. The teachers had asked him to identify the other boy seen running away, but he acted as if he’d seen no one, his red, swollen jaw notwithstanding. This afternoon, he sat in detention as a noble, chivalrous hero.

So did James. He, however, deserved his detention. That morning, when Castora Malfoy reported to Professor Limpet for her private practical charms exam, James had followed her. It hadn’t been easy. His father’s invisibility cloak was much more useful in the Aurors’ office than it was in school so James had to get by with sneaking and disillusionment charms, like everyone else. The charms could be effective but they demanded quite a lot of work to maintain. He had placed too much faith in one that morning in Limpet’s classroom, and Limpet had gone from congratulating Cassie Malfoy on the best levitation spell he’d ever seen her execute to hollering at Potter for intruding on a closed examination. Potter accepted the chastisement and the punishment as humbly as he could while grinning at Castora during the entire tirade, even winking at her as he was sent away.

Losing his grip on the disillusionment charm had been surprising and disappointing, but even more so had been Cassie’s complete lack of gratitude. She had chased him back to the Slytherin dorms after Limpet dismissed her.

“Hey Potter, what are you playing at?”

He smiled and spread his arms, as if acknowledging a cheering crowd. “It’s like I told you, Malfoy. I said I’d take care of your test, and I did.”

She folded her arms over her chest. “By hiding in the back of the room and levitating everything for me? I’m sorry, but I don’t see how that helps me.”

He dropped his arms, taking a giant step toward her, lowering his voice close to a whisper. “You passed the exam, didn’t you?”

She blinked at his confusion. “Limpet was fooled, if that’s what you mean.”

He hushed her further, pushing her into an alcove behind a suit of armour. “Intruding on a closed exam is one thing, but cheat -- unauthorized helping is something else entirely. Quiet, or you’ll get us in more trouble.”

Cassie cocked her head to one side. “I’M going to get us in trouble?”

“Will you please be quiet, Malfoy? Look, we practiced for nearly an hour yesterday and your levitation was nowhere near ready for something as heavy as a book and we both knew it. How could I let you go in there unprepared like that? I’m a responsible teacher, so I took responsibility.”

She blinked deeply as she explained. “It is not as simple as that, Potter. I appreciate you helping me practice but I don’t think you understand what it is I’m trying to do. I’m teaching you and all -- “

“Ack, here’s Maybell,” he interrupted, nudging Cassie in front of himself, quickly seeing that she was too small to hide behind, turning around to face the wall instead.

“If she likes you so well, she’ll be sure to recognize you just as well from behind as from the front.”

“Shh…”

“With magic like yours, you can just wind yourself up in another disillusionment. Quick.”

“Cassie…”

“But I’m no help with that. I’ll leave you to it,” she said, stepping out of the alcove.

“No, wait. I want to understand what you’re trying to do -- what you think you’re teaching me, you daft thing.” Maybell was closing in on James now, walking faster, smiling harder. “Malfoy -- I’ll find you later. Same spot as yesterday.”

In the detention room, James leaned toward Paul, whispering. “What happened?”

Paul sneered. “Girls.”

“No, to your jaw.”

“Girls.”

“Wow.” James rubbed his own face.

“You?” Paul asked.

“Same.”

“Figures.”

Neither of them asked which girls they meant. James did not want Paul to hear him blaming his baby sister, and Paul -- he still could not have formed a coherent explanation of what happened at the quidditch pitch yesterday, even if James had asked.

James may not have asked, but Rose did. She was waiting outside the detention room when they were liberated. James went running off straightaway, leaving Paul to be interrogated.

“Oh my stars, what happened to your face?”

“I found Gris last night.”

“Oh no. You didn’t get hit for taking my advice, did you?”

“Your advice to ‘blitzer’?”

“That’s not what I said. I told you to kiss her.”

All of Paul’s face turned the colour of his bruise.

“Paul? Did you?”

“Not exactly.”

“What does that -- “

“She came at me first. And it was,” he coughed. “It was fine, but she’d been drinking, and she was talking crazy. And when I went for her in return, she shoved me off, and then we were fighting.”

Rose’s eyes widened. “That is so beautiful. I am going to die. I am going to pass away.”

Paul made a sound that was part laugh, part groan, turning to leave.

“So,” Rose scurried after him, “are you two ‘together’ now?”

He stopped. “No, not at all. I wasn’t ready to listen to what she had to say, and I’m still not sure it wasn’t all a drunk prank, and I was nervous and dumb and I laughed. I laughed at her and she ran out madder than I’ve ever seen her. And I’m pretty sure she thinks I like -- someone else.”

“But you don’t -- I mean, do you?”

Paul looked at Rose, testing himself one final time to see if he felt anything like that first blush of infatuation when he looked at her now. “No,” Paul said. “But Gris is -- she’s not like the sort of girl I usually date. Let’s just say, that was the first kiss I ever had that wasn’t all sticky with lip gloss. I mean, Gris -- she’s not much like a girl at all really.”

“It’s just her haircut, Pollux.”

“No, it’s not. I’ve known her my whole life and she’s only been a girl to me for about a week. How can that be possible? It’s flipped the whole world for me. And I might never have noticed if it hadn’t been for that -- for that Torrence...”

Rose gasped. “Paul,” she said. “Look at me.” She peered closely at his face, taking his chin between her fingers and tipping his head up and then down, sideways to see his profile. She walked in a full circle around him, took one of his hands in hers and examined it, flipping it over. She hummed and ran her fingers through his hair, held her face close to his shoulder, inhaling deeply.

He staggered away from her. “Whoa.”

“Paul,” Rose said, bracing his head between both of her hands, looking into his eyes. “I don’t know how I hadn’t seen it. The description of the dad alone should have given it away.”

“What?”

“Paul,” she said again. “You are Torrence. Torrence is you.”

This is how they were standing, nose to nose, Rose’s face upturned, her hands on Paul’s head explaining his true identity to him when Gris stepped into the corridor. They did not see her, but she saw them before she spun around and sprinted in the opposite direction.

Paul broke away a moment too late. “No, I hate Torrence.”

Rose shrugged. “Sorry.”

“What do I do, Rose? I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, according to the story Gris has mapped out, you need to settle on a mate, Torrence. It’s what we’re all dying for.”

He pulled at his own hair, groaning again.

She clapped him on the back. “You’re thinking way too hard. It’s not your fault. Your life right now is a train wreck of complicated intellectual adults with a messy past and ridiculous problems in their present. My mum and dad, on the other hand, are simple people. And they’ve always told me, when I have a problem, to break it down to the simplest question I can, and answer that first.”

Paul frowned. “That seems dangerous.”

She clapped him again. “Just try it. Don’t let the question be something grand or scary about Griselda’s expression of her gender or your long history together or your possible future together or anything like that. Don’t worry about motivations or consequences yet, just answer this: do you want to kiss Griselda again?”

Paul swayed slightly on his feet, swallowed strongly enough for Rose to see it in his throat, before he answered, “Yes.”

She uttered a gleeful little laugh. “Good. And you are actually a very lucky man. You have what every bloke claims to want from a girl: an instruction manual. Read darkfeatherlightness again, from the top as Torrence. Read what she’s been fantasizing you’d do, and then do it.”

Chapter Text

Twelve

The Daily Prophet did not publish pictures of Draco and Hermione Malfoy laughing together in the street on a fine summer day. That was not the scene the Page Four editor had sent the not-so-intrepid photographer to capture. The goal had been to document any strange new comings and goings by the golden trio, or to find one member of the couple leaving alone and follow them somewhere scandalous. The Page Four team would have welcomed anything out of the ordinary, even Gilderoy Lockhart’s visit, which they happened to miss. Anything would have been better than sweet photos of a handsome married couple getting along.

“They could tell you were faking,” Draco scolded Hermione as she thrashed through the newspaper, looking for some sign of their performance.

“No, if I’d been visibly faking, then that would have BEEN the story,” she argued.

He pushed the newspaper away from her face. “So you weren’t faking?”

“That is not what I said.”

“I think it might have been,” he smirked. “You were in earnest.”

“YOU were in earnest.”

“Of course I was. And to an extent, so were you.”

“Malfoy -- “

Hermione was cut short by the arrival of an owl -- a Hogwarts owl. She hopped up from the kitchen table to read the message from a Professor Stuve, the head of Ravenclaw House. “That’ll be Pollux,” she said as she untied the parchment.

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Don’t need an owl to tell us that.”

“Oh dear,” she began. “He’s been caught drinking on school grounds. And they suspect him of fighting too. It appears that someone punched him in the face, but he refuses to discuss it.” She passed the parchment to Draco. “Poor little lamb, after what he’s been through since the accident, who can blame him for needing a drink?”

Draco smirked. “So says his mother who thinks she’s eighteen herself.”

“I don’t like that he’s been hit,” she went on. “Has that ever happened before?”

Draco shook his head. “Not since primary school. And why are these kids hitting each other, hand to hand? We always fought with our wands.”

“Because we were trying to kill each other.”

He dropped the parchment. “No, we were not trying to kill each other. That’s a very important point and the reason why things turned out the way they did for everyone, especially you and me. We were desperate to find our ways through it all without killing each other.”

He was leaning over the table, staring into her eyes as if he was looking for something in particular. She didn’t know what it could be. She searched his face, from his dark eyebrows, to his pointed chin. Her eyes fixed on a faint white scar on his cheek. It was left by a cut that had been opened twice. The first time, she remembered, was in Malfoy Manor, when the chandelier fell from the ceiling, a shard of its crystal flying off to cut his face. The second time, she did not remember, was when he was cut by the jagged edge of a seashell in a sandstorm on a beach on the east coast of Canada, hours before she slipped and told Draco she liked him.

Her hands itched to touch the scar, to read it with the pads of her fingers. Of all the things mislaid from her memory, something important was hidden there. She knew it, somehow. And maybe she would have touched Draco’s faint white scar if the Hogwarts owl hadn’t screeched to be sent back.

“The boy,” she remembered, reaching for a quill. Professor Stuve had requested a meeting with them, and of course, they would come.

________________________________

Ever since the quidditch dugout incident, Gris had been refusing to sit in her usual seat next to Paul in charms class. This afternoon, Rose sat beside her instead, keeping her afloat on a current of chatter about anything but darkfeatherlightness. Just as Professor Limpet came into the room, calling for order and quiet, Rose slipped out of her seat and Paul filled it.

Gris slid off her stool, looking for somewhere else to go, but there was nowhere, and Limpet had already begun to lecture. She sat down, opened her notebook, and began to transcribe every word Limpet said. Paul lowered his head to the desktop, his face pillowed in his open notebook, his eyes turned toward Gris as she pretended not to notice him. With all of Torrence’s moves studied, Paul was ready to bring his note-fic alter-ego as much to life as he could bear.

Step One: Torrence was a great one for eyeing up girls he liked -- staring, gazing. Paul was giving it a go though Gris seemed to be hating it. She didn’t have enough hair to hide behind, her face pink and exposed to his staring. It occurred to Paul that this wasn’t something Torrence did for girls to enjoy, but for his own enjoyment. It bothered him, but this was how Gris had written her fics so he stuck to it anyway, ignoring her feelings and concentrating on her skin, remembering how her cheek felt against his lip, smooth and soft. She didn’t wear makeup so her complexion didn’t have the same matte, monochrome texture some girls had but -- it looked like her, clear enough, and the fact that he knew it was silky to touch excused anything else.

He’d always thought her eyebrows were a bit weak, but that was because he’d been thinking of them in terms of a masculine face. On a girl’s face, the fact that they weren’t quite so wide or squared was fine -- good. Her nose was unremarkable but only because, for Paul’s taste, there was nothing wrong with it. In that way, it was a perfect nose.

Her mouth -- he stalled there, watching her mouth, held closed and vaguely angry over her quill. No one had ever kissed her mouth but him. She’d given that to him. He hadn’t even asked -- hadn’t dared or dreamed to ask. How could life be so amazing? And how could it be so awful now that she’d taken it back -- pink and sweet and not speaking to him?

He had a sense that her eyes were brown, like his, like Cassie’s, his mum’s, most everyone’s, but he wasn’t sure. Her eyes had seemed large and dark, looking up at him in the dim light of the dugout. It had been beguiling then, but had any of that been real? Here in charms class, she still wouldn’t look at him.

“Gris," he said, now that Limpet had assigned the class an exercise to which he hadn’t paid any attention. “Griselda. Hey. Goyle.”

“What is it?” She turned on him, hissing.

Definitely brown.

“You’re pretty.”

It wasn’t one of Torrence’s elaborate speeches, not the fancy compliment about her beauty that Rose had told him to pay her. This was step two, but dressing it up in flowery language would have been all wrong in real life, between Pollux Malfoy and Griselda Goyle. Instead of anything fancy, he spoke only those two words, so quietly no one outside their desk, no one not listening for them would have heard.

Gris’s face had flamed from pink to red. “Shut it,” was all she said.

The door at the back of the classroom had opened and Professor Stuve had entered, looking for Paul.

“Yes, you may go, Mr. Malfoy. Miss Goyle, please catch him up after class.”

“Yes, sir.”

In the corridor, Paul met not only the head of Ravenclaw House but also his parents.

“Hello, darling,” Hermione tried.

Paul smirked. “Hi.”

Professor Stuve left them alone in her office.

“So you were drinking on school grounds,” Draco began.

“No, I had alcohol on my breath. It’s not the same thing.”

“No?”

“No. I’d just been kissed by someone who’d been drinking so I smelled of it. Doesn’t mean I had any myself.”

Hermione raised both of her eyebrows. “The other boys they were talking about? You kissed one of them? Malfoy, you never told me our boy was -- “

“He’s not,” Draco said. “The other boy was Griselda.”

Paul smirked. “Figured that one out, yeah?”

Draco smirked back. “Saw it coming months ago, when I started making Cassie chaperone the two of you in your bedroom.”

Paul laughed. “Thought that was just you being a creeper.”

Draco shrugged. “Creepers can have valuable insight. What can I say? I have a keen sense of -- romantic tension.”

“Wait, then why did she hit you?” Hermione asked.

Draco took her hand, curling her fingers into a fist, bouncing it lightly off his own cheekbone. “Probably something he said.”

“Exactly,” Paul finished. “Don’t worry, Mum. I’m not an alcoholic, I’m not violent. I’m just on the verge of losing my best friend, and I have a mother who doesn’t remember a thing about me. Otherwise, everything is completely fine.”

Something in her body reacted, beneath her heart, deeper. She was on her feet, her arms around his tall, thin body lost in his robes. She shushed him as if he was crying.

“Mum -- what?” he stammered.

“I’m trying, Paul,” she whispered against the side of his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, love. I’m trying.”

“She is,” Draco said, stepping forward. “We’ve got a lead on a new treatment, from a Taiwanese doctor. We met with him earlier this week and it looks promising. Not risk free, no guarantees yet, but we’re still fighting to fix it.”

Paul looked flushed and scared, as if he wished he hadn’t said anything to trigger this. But at the same time, it was all so very badly needed.

Hermione leaned out of their embrace to look at his face. “Even if we never find anything to bring back my memory,” she said, “I don’t believe I have to remember you or your sister in order to love you for the rest of my life.”

He wanted to believe her, though this could be nothing more than the pity anyone could bring themselves to feel for children who’d lost their mother. Paul pushed harder toward something more real to this version of Hermione who didn’t yet remember motherhood as something more than an abstract idea. To test her, he nodded at his father. “What about him. Do you have to remember in order to love him?”

“That’s not the same,” she said.

“Sure it is.”

Draco was stepping in again. “Paul, we’re doing our best,” he said. “I’m sorry, son. Look, if you need to come home for a bit, take a break from school, we can arrange that. We don’t want you suffering here.”

“No, you two need to be alone.”

“We don’t -- “

“You do. You always have. And it means you raised me to think that a -- a mate solves everything. So let me stay where I am, close to Gris.” He picked up his bookbag. “I’m going back to class. Don’t worry. Thanks for coming.”

His eyes were stinging as he strode through the door of Stuve’s office and down the corridor, heading not to the charms classroom but to the Ravenclaw dorms, where he would fall onto his bed, draw the curtains, and have a long overdue cry.

________________________________

It was a quiet, miserable walk from the school to the edge of the grounds where they could apparate back to London. “We need to do something,” Hermione said. “They’re hurting. It needs to stop.”

“Right,” Draco pounced. “So bring in Lockhart and the doctor and let me boost your brainwaves.”

“Not that. At least, not yet.”

Draco sighed. “Alright. Well, there is one more thing we haven’t tried.”

She waited.

“We haven’t tried,” he drawled, “a visit to Malfoy Manor.”

“Why in the world -- ?”

“The place has always had a strange effect on you. It tends to -- catalyse reactions in you, move things forward. I know your memories of the time you were there as a teenager couldn’t be worse, but -- just trust me. We’ve been together seventeen years and you’ve been safe in that house far more times than you’ve been harmed in it,” he said.

It was an odd way to phrase a reassurance but she went on, asking, “Will your parents be there?”

“They’re always there,” he nodded. “Keep in mind, they’re not as you remember them. They’ve both served time in prison. Mother suffered enough she needed to be treated in St. Mungo’s by the end of her sentence. ‘Rehabilitation’ certainly changed them. I wouldn’t say they’re reclusive but they don’t venture far from home. Mother comes to our flat from time to time but that’s the extent of their travels.”

“My post-traumatic stress disordered former captors turned in-laws: you think it will be helpful for me to pay them a visit in their haunted house?”

He sighed again. “I don’t know. That’s why I’ve left it so long. But, like you said, we have to do something. The house is like a big, unruly family pet and it sees you as its rightful future mistress, or something. It’s a place of old and powerful magic with a deep connection to our family, including our children. It works to help you. Can we try?”

She let out her breath as she took his hand. “Malfoy Manor.”

Chapter Text

Thirteen

The room of Malfoy Manor Hermione remembered best was, of course, the drawing room. That’s where she brought herself and Draco when they left their son grieving at Hogwarts to go in search of anything at all that could restore him to the kind of angsty normal the boy preferred.

At first, the room was unrecognizable, great heavy drapes drawn over the windows. There was no daylight except for a long, thin beam of light where the swaths of fabric didn’t quite meet over the window.

“Are we here?” Hermione whispered into the darkness.

Draco took a deep breath. “Yes. Smells like stone-ground dust, books, narcissus flowers, and wine. Home.”

“The house let me apparate right inside of it,” she said.

“Yes. It’s like I told you: for years, it’s regarded you as one of its masters.”

“So the pure-blood talk -- “

“Was never true -- just a way to guard unfair status and wealth. But you knew that all along.”

He let go of her hand and walked toward the covered window, taking the edges of the curtains and throwing them apart, letting sunlight into the room. It lit the motes of dust hanging in the air. Hermione covered her eyes for a moment and when she lowered her arm, tiny, broken rainbows marked the walls, floor, ceiling -- light refracted through the crystals of the chandelier.

“You should have let me take us here,” Draco said. “I could have brought us into a different room.”

She blinked in the sunlight, standing in the beam, looking to the chandelier re-suspended overhead. “It’s up,” she said.

“Yes. Are you alright?” he asked. “Can you -- breathe?”

“I can breathe,” she said. “But there’s more to being alright than that.” Hermione pulled her eyebrows together. “Malfoy, if the house is like an unruly pet that only obeys its masters, how in the world -- “

They jumped as the door to the room was thrust open and an elegant grey lady dressed in a long, brocade dress despite the summer warmth outside sailed toward them. “Draco!” she said, taking his face between both of her hands. “And Hermione, my darlings, I’m so glad you’ve come. How are you, Hermione? We haven’t met since the accident. You’re looking well, but how are you, truly?”

“Er -- oh, the same,” she stammered.

“Is that so? Did Lockhart not bring help?”

“He did, Mother,” Draco hurried to say. “Thank you. We’re giving his suggestions our most careful consideration. Hermione is concerned about some risks.”

“Well, you musn’t let Dr. Huang return to Taiwan without treating you, Hermione. No one in Britain is his equal when it comes to the wizard brain.”

Hermione fought to listen, to be polite and daughterly, but she couldn’t help recoiling as Narcissa Malfoy clutched at her, reaching for her hands.

Deflecting the awkwardness, Draco greeted his father, standing in the drawing room’s open doorway.

“Father.”

“Draco,” Lucius returned. “Let’s come on out of this beastly, empty room. What do you say, Hermione? Shall we visit in the library? Chairs, sofas, tea, books...”

She tried to honor his hospitality with a smile and her thanks. Draco sighed and took her hand, walking slowly, not following too closely as his parents led them past the manor’s grand stairway, past the door sealed shut over the old dining room, past Lucius’s study, and into Narcissa’s library. By the time they arrived, Hermione was no longer holding Draco’s hand but clinging to his arm. As they were about to step over the threshold, he spoke into her ear. “It’s alright. You’re safe now.”

“I can’t do it, Malfoy, I can’t.”

“Alright. We don’t have to stay. I’ll tell them you’re sick, which you are.”

She considered it. Draco had been too right about the house having a powerful effect on her. But that was precisely what they’d come for. Paul was why they had come. For the sake of her family, she needed to run into the effect, not away from it. She clenched her jaw and nodded. “No, I promised Paul I was trying. I’ll stay.”

Draco covered her hand on his arm with his own and led her into the library for an audience with his parents.

“Mother,” he said as he guided Hermione onto the sofa. “Hermione’s not feeling well. Can you bring her some refreshment?”

Narcissa smiled. “Certainly. Lucius, dear, on the cart, if you please.”

“Of course, my dear.”

Draco frowned. His parents’ manner was odd, even for them. “On second thought,” he rushed to say, “we’ll have something later, thank you all the same.”

“Not at all,” Lucius sang. “We’ve got a lovely punch here -- so invigorating it’s almost a tonic, perfect for the nerves, brewed by hand by doting parents, now shared with their favourite daughter by marriage. Here you are Hermione. To your health.”

As she took the cup Lucius offered, Draco raised his hand to cover the top of it. “After you, father. Surely you’ll drink too.”

A low laugh rumbled in Lucius’s throat. “Of course, Draco.” He poured himself a cup of hot, tawny liquid, and sipped it rather loudly. “There we are, my loving but trust-issues-plagued son. Who can blame you? Your father still has so much to answer for, to be sure.”

“I apologize, father,” Draco said, with a slight bow. “Hermione’s health being what it is, I’m extremely particular about what she takes into her body. Even a well-meant health potion could be disastrous for us so -- pardon me, Father.”

“Of course, Draco.” Lucius set his glass tumbler on the cart and crossed the floor to stand behind Narcissa’s chair, placing a hand on each of her shoulders. “Now let your dear wife drink.”

Hermione hadn’t wanted anything to drink, but after the Malfoys had made such a fuss over it, she felt she had to accept what was offered. Nothing was simple in this house. That much was clear already. Her first sip was conciliatory, her second was polite, her third, curious, and her fourth and final one, ravenous.

Lucius chuckled, his hands working at Narcissa’s shoulders.

“It’s not much like tea, is it?” Hermione mused. “More like -- a warm gin.”

Draco lifted the empty cup, sniffing at it.

“Would you like some, Draco?” Narcissa asked, now that Lucius did not seem interested in serving anymore. With long, white fingers, he was brushing Narcissa’s hair away from her neck and ear, eyeing it like a peckish vampire.

On Draco’s arm, Hermione had ceased her stiff clinging and was softening, settling into him, her head against his shoulder, nestling her cheek against his arm. He pulled his head back to look at her. “Hermione? Are you sleepy?”

She hummed a reply, a sound almost like a purr, a sound he hadn’t heard in weeks. He blushed at it.

Lucius saw it, laughing.

“It wasn’t a calming draught, was it?” Draco asked.

“Nothing so potent,” Lucius drawled.

Narcissa looked over her shoulder at him, her eyes wide. “Bring me the bottle, Lucius.”

He groaned a protest, pressing his face into her neck.

“Lucius!”

“There’s been a mistake, Draco,” Lucius said after he’d crossed the floor and lifted the bottle from the tea cart. “I didn't want to alarm anyone by mentioning it, but I’m afraid the drink I gave Hermione was our own special blend, mine and your mother’s.”

Narcissa laughed. “Lucius, you didn’t.”

Hermione bent one leg over Draco’s knee, snaking an arm inside his jacket, against his stomach.

“Special blend?” Draco roared.

“Yes, reserved for loving, married couples.”

“A love potion?”

Narcissa laughed. “Heavens, no. Why would your father need that?”

Both of Draco’s parents, a pair of sixty-year-olds, were laughing now as Lucius climbed into Narcissa’s armchair, displacing her and sitting her on his lap as she tried to maintain a bit her prim dignity.

“This is an assault,” Draco said, pulling Hermione’s hand out of his jacket as she murmured a complaint. “A breach of trust.”

“An honest mistake,” Lucius argued. “All the bottles on that cart are nearly identical. It’s a sound aesthetic choice, but a risky one when it comes to food safety. And it’s not a love potion, Draco. Stand down. It’s merely a disinhibitor, a loosener of pre-existing affections. Hermione won’t do anything she isn’t naturally inclined toward.”

“Like disapparating from here to find the first portkey to Australia?”

“Draco, don’t be foolish,” Narcissa said. “Take her somewhere safe and wait it out. The effect won’t last more than an hour, or so. And it might do you both some good.”

He looked at Hermione’s face, pressed against his chest, eyes closed, smiling. “I am so sorry,” he told her. “This was not the effect I had in mind when we came here.”

“Mm, it’s alright,” she cooed, turning her face to openly breath in his scent. “Rather nice,” she sighed.

Narcissa cocked her head, “Lucius, look at them. So lovely.”

“She doesn’t mean it,” Draco spat. But his parents were ignoring him now as Lucius set about tracing the angles of Narcissa’s face with his fingers. It was time for them to leave the library.

“Of course I mean it,” Hermione said as Draco hoisted her off the sofa and onto her feet. She draped her arms around his neck. “Carry me away, Draco. I don’t remember a thing about our honeymoon. Carry me.”

With a snap, he disapparated them from the library, reappearing in his bedroom upstairs. Still holding his neck, she looked about the room, laughing. “It’s Draco Malfoy’s childhood bedroom. Have I snogged Draco Malfoy in his childhood bedroom?”

“Yes, it’s old news,” he said, disentangling her arms, stepping to the bed to pull down the covers. “You have snogged Draco Malfoy just about everywhere. Now,” he said, “lie down and go to sleep until you’re -- feeling better.”

“I’m not tired,” she said, swaying on her feet.

“Maybe not, but you are enchanted. So sleep.”

“Lie down with me, Malfoy.”

“Bad idea.”

“Please -- ”

“Hermione -- ”

“I trust you,” she said, staggering slightly as she moved toward him, sliding both of her arms around his torso inside his jacket now. “I do. You said you’re extremely particular about what I take into my body -- “

“Hermione!”

She was laughing at him, her face against his collar, her breath on the skin of his neck. Without words, he voiced his frustration, groaning as he pulled her hands free of himself, folding them against her sternum, lowering her onto the bed, tucking the blankets tightly around her, pinning her arms and hands against her body as he knelt on the rug. His jacket appeared to be a problem so he took it off, loosened his tie and collar, and accio-ed an ottoman to sit on as he watched over her.

“Right,” he said, sitting. “You want me to tell you how we spent our honeymoon?”

“Mm-hm,” she purred.

“Sleeping separately,” he answered. “No carrying.”

She frowned. “What? Why?”

He pushed a curl clear of her forehead. “Because it wasn’t the right time. The way it’s not the right time now.” He leaned over her, kissing her forehead. “I can’t take advantage of you while you’re enchanted. I wouldn’t do that to anyone, especially not someone I love."

She blinked and the lovesick glaze over her eyes vanished. Beneath the blankets, she twisted herself free and sat up, suddenly completely lucid. “The drink was exactly what I said it was,” she said, the purr gone from her voice. “Warm, spiced gin. Strange choice in the summertime but -- what isn’t strange at Malfoy Manor? Don’t misunderstand: gin paired with your father’s powers of suggestion is not something to be taken lightly. But I’m not enchanted.”

“Oh, thank the stars,” said Draco.

“Well, thank you, anyways,” she said. “Thanks for truly being someone I can trust.” Paul hadn’t asked if she could trust his father. He had asked if she could love his father. She still didn’t know how to answer. Draco was sitting beside her, his colour high from all the groping, but his face marked more with concern than desire. With it, always, there was something sad in his expression -- something hurt. And yet, trying to protect her, he had stood up to his parents, exposing himself to even more hurt. He was hurt but strong, at least when it came to her -- to them.

She kissed his high, pale forehead in return. “Draco?” she said. He looked up and she kissed him again, once, fleetingly, tenderly on the mouth. “What would your parents say if they knew you’ve offered to risk your magic for me?”

“It’s got nothing to do with them. They’ve got Paul to carry on the wizarding Malfoy name, or whatever.”

“It still affects them. Think of it. What if the worst thing possible happens, and after Dr. Huang’s treatment you’re left a squib? Imagine yourself able to see and feel magic, but not being able to do it; relying on the rest of the family to side-along apparate you, opening doors for you, your wand becoming a sad artefact of what you once were. Would the manor even let you pass in and out of it without a magical escort?”

“Listen to yourself,” he said. “You just described all the ways we could cope with the worst possible outcome. And I’ll still have my mind -- everything and everyone I ever knew. I could still work with you, live with you, raise the children. None of these problems is insurmountable.”

“Well, maybe -- maybe even without treatment, the biggest problem with my memory injury isn’t insurmountable either.”

He was waiting for her to finish. She knew it but she said nothing more as she sat in his bed, her face serious, the movement in her shoulders revealing the quickness of her breath.

“Which problem is that, Hermione?”

She swallowed. “The one Paul mentioned.”

“Paul mentioned a lot of things. Which problem?”

She brought her fists down on either side of where she sat on the bed. “The problem of whether I can love without my memory. The problem of whether I can love you.”

He gasped, but didn’t move, didn’t speak.

“Don’t make me say it, Malfoy -- “

He didn’t. He sprung from his seat on the ottoman to sit beside her, one arm around her shoulders, one hand held to her cheek, guiding her mouth to his in the third kiss, for the second time. She moved against him exactly as she was supposed to -- her jaw, lips, neck, shoulders, hands, arms -- nothing forgotten when it came to the memory of her nerves, muscles, and flesh. Even in this treacherous, nightmare house, she was home, joined to his body like this. The force and certainty of it alarmed her and she clung to him all the more tightly, opening her mouth to him, not prepared for the next wave of staggering familiarity as she tasted him.

Her voice sounded in her throat and he pulled back. “Are you alright?”

She was, not hesitating to close the distance between them. Would the rest of him be like this -- astonishing and perfect, as if he was made not just for her, but by her? He was kissing her neck now, her spine stiffening, then melting, collapsing toward the mattress, pulling him down with her, all of it inevitable, as if borne in her blood.

With her head on the pillow, she opened her eyes to see his head bent over her, his silky white hair beneath her chin. She watched her hands, their fingers splayed against the white of his shirt. sliding toward the edge of his loosened collar, her right hand delving beneath it, reaching the warm skin of his back and shoulder. If she wanted any more of him, she would have to do something about the clothing between them. Even with the momentum they’d gathered, it seemed like a massive leap forward.

Maybe he knew it too, and maybe it was what moved him to turn his mouth away from her skin. He threaded his arms into the space between the mattress and the small of her back, pulling her tightly against him as he said, “We can’t do this here. Not right now.” He paused to catch his breath. “If we let my parents take satisfaction in the idea that we've succumbed to their love potion -- “

“Tonic -- “

“What have you. If we do, then they’ll take it as a blessing to drug everyone who comes to see them forevermore.”

She laughed and smoothed his hair. “They wouldn’t even know.”

Draco propped himself up on his palms, glancing around at the room’s four walls. “Oh yes, they would.” He smiled down at her, his expression changed, the hurt abated. “We’ll take our leave of them and go home -- as soon as your face loses its flush.”

 

_________________________

While her brother cried it out in his dorm room, and her parents drank with her grandparents, Castora Malfoy finished her last class of the day, and waited for James Potter to find her sitting in the sunlight outside the castle, perched on the plinth of a statue of a rearing horse and rider. There was some magic she didn’t understand at play in the way he always knew where she was, but she was able to enjoy it without wondering at it, accustomed as she was to functioning alongside magic she didn’t understand.

He arrived breathless, stuffing a parchment into the inner pocket of his robe. “Why can’t you ever meet where I ask you to be?” he puffed.

“I like the way it doesn’t matter,” she said. “You find me anyway. You have the best magic of anyone I know, and I like to see it at work.”

James Potter blushed. Girls said stuff like this to him all the time but with Cassie -- there was something open and raw and real about the way she said things, the way she saw things.

“Right,” he said. “Let’s leave levitation for awhile. It takes sustained effort and control, which is actually a bit tricky. Let’s do something that calls for more of a burst. I think it’ll suit you better, from what I’ve seen from that sparky wand of yours.”

She stayed seated at the base of the statue, watching as he set up a crumpled piece of parchment on the stone bench opposite her.

“Now,” he said. “All you need to do is set the parchment on fire.”

“With magic?”

“Of course, with magic.”

She crossed her arms and leaned against the statue. “Show me.”

“It’s a basic Incendio. You’ve seen loads of wizards do this before.”

“But not you.”

He scoffed. "That’s not even true, Malfoy. You saw me burn a newspaper in the corridor.”

“Yes, but not today.”

“Castora,” he said, affecting a teacher’s tone. “This is not about me.”

She hopped to her feet. “Isn’t it?”

“No.”

She said nothing, standing in front of him now, blinking her slow, cat-like blink.

James waved a hand and the parchment flamed and curled. “There, you happy?”

“Yes,” she said as he set up another practice sheet.

“Good,” he said. “Wand out.”

She shrugged. “I haven’t brought my wand.”

“Honestly, Malfoy.”

“You’re not using yours either -- “

“Yes, but -- “ He sighed, exasperated. “Using it or not, I always have it. Here, go on and take mine.”

She took it in both of her hands. It was heavier than her wand, but so was everyone’s. She was stalling. “What’s it made of?”

“Phoenix feather and elder wood,” he said. “And no, not THAT elder wood.”

She flicked it toward the hedge. “I don’t think it likes me,” she said, turning it over in her hands, bouncing it off her palm.

“Careful. It likes you fine,” James insisted. “Here.” He stepped behind her, his hand grasping the wand over her hand, his arm extended parallel to hers.

She glanced over her shoulder. “Watch it. Someone might think you’re hugging me if you stand like that.”

He didn’t move. “Get over yourself, Malfoy. Now, Incendio. Concentrate.”

“I am.”

“Try saying it out loud.”

“I have.”

“Now, I mean. Let me hear you.”

“Incendio.”

“Like you really mean it.”

“Incendio.”

“Like you’re mad at it.”

“Incendio.”

“Like you hate it.”

“Incendio.”

“Come on, Malfoy. Not even any of your sparks? Nothing?”

“No. Nothing. Never.”

“What are you waiting for?” he said, leaning forward to set his chin on her shoulder, speaking into her ear. “Do you want me to make you angry? Insult your family? Call you names? Call you a -- “ he held his face close enough to her ear for his mouth to almost touch her as he said, “a squib?”

“Yes, Potter!” she yelled, letting go of his wand and stepping out from beneath his arm. “Call me what I am!”

He pocketed his wand. “You are not -- one of those.”

“So what if I am?” she demanded. “Would it make me a bad person? Would it make me less than a person?”

“No, of course not. But -- “

“Then stop,” she said. “I do need something from you, Potter. And it’s not magic lessons. You seem to want to help me. You're willing to see me at all, which is rare and strange for me and I need you for it. Can you please help me, not with what you need, but with what I need?”

James stood stunned under the stone hoofs of the rearing statue. “What do you need me to do?”

Cassie came to stand as close as she could to him without touching him, so she could speak quietly, in case anyone else was near enough to hear.

“You want a Muffliato spell?” he asked.

She waved the offer away. “This will do.” She looked up at his face. “With the OWLs coming next year, I don't have much time to figure out how to get an ancient and heroic wizarding family to understand and accept me as what I am. Can you help me, Potter? Can you give me strength by proving someone can keep liking me and living alongside me even if they’re a wizard and I’m not? Can you help me work out how to tell my family I’m a squib?”

Chapter Text

Fourteen

By the morning, Draco and Hermione were still guests at Malfoy Manor, having been prevailed upon to stay the night by Lucius and Narcissa, who simply could not let them leave on the sour note of having carelessly drugged Hermione. No one contacted them to raise an alarm when Pollux was absent from his classes that same morning. But Rose Weasley noticed his empty seat in advanced potions immediately. Her keen sense for trouble had been inflamed, and she’d been watching for him ever since Professor Stuve had excused him early from charms class the previous afternoon.

By lunchtime, no one she asked had seen him, not even strange little Castora, whom James had brought to sit with them at their usual table.

“If anyone would know where to find him,” Cassie told Rose, “it would be Griselda Goyle.”

“Yes, but where is she?” Rose asked, standing up to survey the Great Hall again.

“She sits by the teachers when she wants to be left alone,” Cassie explained.

“Oh! You’re right,” Rose cheered. “There she is. It’s good to have a legilimens at the lunch table.”

James looked sideways at Cassie. “Something like that,” he said. He tapped his wand against the outside of Cassie’s dish. “You’re not eating, Malfoy. Do you need your soup warmed a bit?”

“No, thank you. It’s fine.”

At this, Albus raised his eyebrows, looking across the table, trying to catch Rose’s eye. But she was already scrambling over the bench, moving toward Griselda’s seat just under the dais where the teachers were sopping up their soup with thick slices of buttered bread. On the table in front of Gris was her Remote Note, open to a blank page. She slammed it closed as Rose took a seat beside her.

“No updates,” Gris said, a flurry of hands and parchments as she gathered her things.

“No worries,” Rose said, laying a hand on Gris’s arm. “I’m actually here to ask you about Paul.”

“Haven’t seen him.”

“No, nobody has,” Rose said. “I’m beginning to wonder if he’s alright. He wasn’t in potions this morning. I’m sure you noticed.”

The suggestion felt too knowing -- implying an enraging intimacy, something the girls shared that they had no business sharing. Gris felt her face growing hot. “If he’s feeling poorly, he’d do well to stay out of class and in bed. That’s probably where you’ll find him.”

She stood up to jam her books, parchments, quills, her wand itself into her bag.

“Look,” Rose said, standing beside her, “it’s not my place to intrude into Paul’s private quarters. But -- ”

Gris slung her bag over one shoulder, turned sharply enough that she might have apparated if she wasn’t inside the castle, and marched toward the hall’s exit. Rose trotted alongside her. “Griselda, wait,” she said. “I’m a bit dense sometimes but even I can tell Paul is the inspiration for your Torrence. Once I saw it, it’s all I can see when I look at him now -- “

“Will you please leave me alone?” Gris said. She had meant it to sound like a snarl but it sounded more like desperation, begging.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that. It's against my nature. I'll make myself mad,” Rose said. “Paul is Torrence the Veela -- not literally, I know, of course, but still, Griselda. And you, of all people, you must know that what he needs if he’s suffering right now is his mate.”

Gris stopped and threw her bag on the ground between them. “Then go. Leave me out of it. Just go.”

Rose frowned. “Why would I go?”

Gris picked up her bag and turned away again.

“Griselda, you’re his person. If you think there’s anyone else, I can tell you you’re wrong.” She caught Gris’s arm and held it, traces of her werewolf nature alive in her grip, forcing Griselda to wait. “Paul told me what happened between the two of you the other night, and that he hates himself for being so stupid about it. Please,” Rose said, “go and free Torrence from that seaside rock before the tide comes in.”

Paul had told Gris the answer to the riddle posed by the eagle knocker on the door to the Ravenclaw tower at the beginning of the school year. She’d never used it herself, but she’d never forgotten it either. Lunchtime was over and afternoon classes had started, leaving the common room empty as she entered and crossed the room to the tower’s staircase. She climbed to the upper floors where the sixth and seventh year students slept, and cracking a door open with careful slowness, she peered into what she hoped was Paul’s room. Inside were four beds, one of them enclosed by its curtains.

In a tremulous voice, she called his name. “Pollux?”

There was no answer, but in the quiet the curtain’s rings moved sideways, scraping along the wooden rod.

“Gris?”

She stepped into the room. “What are you doing up here in the middle of the day? Are you ill?”

“Gris, you came.”

His voice was weak, and when he drew the curtain far enough to reveal his face his complexion was paler than Griselda had ever seen it, the veins blue and visible in his forehead, his skin slick with sweat. She approached the bed, feeling his cheeks and head for his temperature.

“You’ve got a fever. How long have you been like this?”

His fingers found her hand and he pulled himself to a sitting position, hand over hand along her arm. “You came,” he repeated, clinging to her in a claw-like hug to keep from falling back onto the pillow.

“You need some water,” she said.

“No, don’t go.”

“Pux, I can’t help you if I you won’t even let me get my wand from my bag.”

“Don’t let go. Just stay,” he said, his head against her shoulder. “It’s only better when you’re right here.” He tightened his arms around her, an unhealthy heat radiating through his clothes. He needed water and a cooling, healing potion from the hospital wing, but a delay of a few more moments wouldn’t damage him any further. Gris unlocked her elbows and bent her arms around Paul’s torso, returning his embrace.

He sighed in relief. And then he spoke. “Please, Gris. Stay stupid. Stay in love with me.”

He barely heard her laugh. She bent to press her lips to his damp, matted hair. “Of course..”

______________________

At dinner, Nana Narcissa overheard Draco’s conversation with Cassie where she contacted him by Communication Compact to say that Paul was in the hospital wing being treated for an unpleasant but not a dangerous fever. On hearing it, Narcissa would not tolerate the boy being left to recover at school “like some urchin” and insisted he be brought to the manor instead. Paul may have been her favourite grandson even if she had more than one -- the tiny baby she had wept over in St. Mungo’s hospital, the hope for a future after years of war, trial, and incarceration. For himself, he had always loved the manor, always complained to his parents about their expensive but deceptively modest London flat having none of the manor’s flair and flash. And in truth, he might just recover faster and more completely at the manor. The Malfoy family’s invigorating tonics and potions were generally better than what was mass-produced and sold to hospitals anyway.

Draco allowed himself to be persuaded to let his Mother nurse Paul through his illness even though he was quite impatient to leave the well-meant but stifling surveillance of the manor and take Hermione back to London on kissing terms with him.

“He’s not a prince, Mother. He’ll be fine in a few days no matter where he is,” he argued.

But then Hermione had insisted, arguing that the time had come to tell the children about the risks of Dr. Huang’s procedure to see how they felt about the situation. Making Paul’s convalescent visit into a family conference meant Cassie would be brought to the manor too.

Paul forbade his parents to come fetch them at school, arguing instead that Griselda could side-along apparate both he and Cassie to the manor without inconveniencing anyone. Everyone accepted this but Cassie, who stunned her parents by proposing to make the trip by train.

“But the Hogwarts Express doesn’t run on normal school days, darling,” Hermione argued.

“The Muggle trains never stop though,” Cassie countered. “Did you forget that, Mum? You’ve ridden them yourself, with Gran and Grandad.” Gran and Grandad Granger -- if Paul was the Malfoy grandparents’ pet, Cassie was the Grangers’.

“Well, yes. And I remember it’s a long trip. It takes the better part of a day to get to London from Hogwarts and then an hour more to Swindon and you still wouldn’t be at the manor. And you’d have to change trains at Paddington or somewhere else just as mad. No, it’s too much for a young witch all alone on the train for the first time.”

“I wouldn’t go alone, Mum.”

“Now Cassie, Paul is still too sick for a trip like that.”

“Not Paul, Mum. I’d bring a friend, someone who’s interested in exploring Muggle things with me. You know him. He’s James, your Harry Potter’s son.”

Hermione would not let Cassie to ride the train anyway, insisting that she come with Paul and Gris instead. But Cassie and her friend, James Potter, stayed on Hermione’s mind. James Potter -- Harry’s son, Ron’s nephew, some kind of mix of the both of them. When she was a teenager, such a creature would have been the perfect boy to her, even if he didn’t read or look or kiss like Draco. And now Cassie was talking about crossing the country by train with him. At least she was asking permission. How old was she again? Just finishing fourth year, about to turn fifteen? That was already older than Hermione had been when Viktor Krum had come along.

The thought of Cassie alone and at large with a person who might be the perfect teenaged boy tumbled through Hermione’s brain throughout the rest of the evening. Paul intensified it when he arrived outside the manor between the high dark hedges, leaning quite theatrically across poor little Griselda’s shoulders, complaining that they would have come sooner if Castora hadn’t taken so long with Potter before meeting at the apparation point just outside the Hogwarts grounds.

Hermione was fussing over it more than ever after Gris had returned to school and the children had gone to bed, safe and sound inside the manor. It was still with her even as she was saying goodnight to Draco on the threshold of the guest bedroom her in-laws had given her to sleep in. Draco had successfully set aside his concerns for the children, not discounting them, but delaying them until the time they’d appointed for the family meeting arrived in the morning. It meant that for him, the rest of the night could be devoted to rehabilitating his marriage in the best way he could imagine.

To that end, he stood in a bedroom doorway, his arms around Hermione’s waist, stooped to press his forehead against hers, just about to declare that his parents must have learned their lesson about responsible potion and tonic handling by now. Enough time had passed between the tonic incident and this moment for his parents to no longer feel responsible for it, and he was prepared to invite his wife to stay with him in his room for the rest of the night.

But before he could speak of any of it, she sighed and said, “Is James Potter the one who’s older or younger than Cassie?”

Draco straightened his posture. “Who?”

“One of Harry and Ginny’s sons, the one called James. I can’t remember which one he is. Cassie mentioned him today as a particular friend.”

Draco kissed her forehead. “Your suspicion of teenaged boys is returning. That’s a good sign.”

“Be serious, Malfoy.”

“I thought you were the cool Mum who didn’t mind the children having close friends of their preferred dating gender.”

“When did I say that?” She turned her back to him, letting him pull her back into his chest, speaking into her ear over her shoulder.

“Well, if you’re going to worry about the children dating, maybe start with Pollux. Did you hear him call Griselda his ‘mate’ back in the professor’s office? I’m not sure what he meant by it but it sounded far more than friendly. And if she’s anything like her father, she might be a bit too easily led.”

Hermione scoffed. “This is the girl who’s already punched our boy in the face this week.”

Draco nestled his face into her hair. “Right, the very best kind of girl.”

“Malfoy, go to bed…”

The door across the hall opened. It was Paul, still pale but looking less haggard than he had hours ago, standing in his doorway with an empty water glass. Away from school and still sixteen for a few more weeks, he was unable to fill it up magically.

“Pollux,” Draco said, letting go of Hermione’s waist. “You need water? What’s wrong? You’re in the manor. Just think of what you want and the house will do its best to provide it.”

“I did,” he said. “And it wouldn’t help, forced me to come out here, at this moment.”

Hermione took the glass from him. “Let me get it, darling.”

“So the pair of you are back at it?”

“Paul -- “

“When were you going to tell us? Is that why you brought us here?”

“There’s a lot to discuss,” Draco said, “Tomorrow -- “

“Tomorrow?” Paul took the empty glass back from his mother. “You didn’t think it might be urgent to tell kids gutted by our Mum suddenly forgetting everything and hating you like an enemy that you were all handsy and snoggy again and we didn’t have to worry about that anymore? You didn’t think that information might do something to help us sleep at night, to stop making ourselves sick?”

A little further down the hallway, Cassie’s door clicked open.

Hermione nodded. “Right. Come into my room, all of you. Let’s talk.”

Chapter Text

Fifteen

The Malfoy family sat together on the large bed in the guestroom Hermione had been using while at Malfoy Manor. It was late at night but they were all wide awake and ready to upset each other. It was also chilly enough that the house had set a fire in the hearth, and Cassie had crawled underneath the covers of the bed, making herself as cozy as she could against the still slightly awkward frame of her mother reclining beside her.

The family meeting began with a speech shared by the parents about Dr. Huang and his risky proposal to boost Hermione’s brainwaves to a level that might repair her damaged memory by diverting magical energy from Draco which might or might not leave his magic permanently depleted. They explained the judgment they would have to make, the decision of whether they could live without Draco’s magic, if it came to that, or whether it would be better to accept what had already been lost, and let Hermione’s memory of the past seventeen years slip away.

“That would mean your mother would never remember being pregnant with either of you, or your births, your baby days, and childhoods, every first you ever had -- “

“Every nasty thing we ever said,” Paul added. “Every time we were sick or hurt.”

“Yes, it would all be gone,” Draco finished.

“So,” Paul continued, “she’d stay this awkward fake ironic step-mother-like person forever -- which would be whatever if she really was our step-parent, but she’s not. She’s the only mother we have. And at least a step-mother would have actually chosen this in order to be with you, Dad. But she’s basically a prisoner here, as far as she knows.” He waved his arms, gesturing to the manor itself. “She truly WAS a prisoner here at one point, wasn’t she?”

“Paul, I’m sitting right here.”

He glared across the bed at her. “Then what about your marriage, Mum? What did I see in the hallway just now? Did he bring in the help of Nana and Grandfather and finally get you to crack?”

“I am not a prisoner, Paul. I like him,” she confessed. “He’s good to me and he loves you both. What I don’t remember from my past life with him may be unrecoverable, but we’ve agreed it’s not insurmountable. I want to stay. I will. But…”

“But it’s not the same as it was,” Draco said. “We can rebuild something, something good, but it won’t be the family we once had, not without Dr. Huang’s procedure.”

“Right. So without this doctor, the old Mum, the one who raised us and knows us better than anyone -- she’s just gone forever,” Paul said, getting to his feet, pacing in front of the fire. “We may as well put up a monument for her, with the rest of the old Malfoys out there in the garden.”

Draco winced, and Cassie, rising to her knees, out of the blankets, clambered across the bed to console him with a hug. “It’s so wonderful that you’d give up magic for all of us, Daddy.”

He patted her head. “Yes well, magic isn’t everything. We’ve all heard that. I don’t think I fully understand what it means to say it, but we can only hope it's true. Magic is not everything.”

Hermione crossed her arms. “No. We’re not doing it. I can't let you. If we do it, we could very well end up putting up a monument to the old Dad -- ”

“It is not up to the two of you alone to decide,” Paul said.

“Yes, it is,” Draco answered. “We’ve asked for your thoughts and feelings, and we will certainly consider them, but in the end, whether we go through with Dr. Huang’s procedure will be up to us as a couple.”

“Alright, enough,” Paul hissed. “I need to know something. Gris has this theory -- a joke, mostly, a plot device for her crazy stories -- but I have to ask, just once, to be sure. Is our family descended from Veelas? “

“Pollux -- “

“I know, and most of the time I can laugh it off as completely ridiculous too, until I actually look around this family, until I look at the two of you. And Nana and Grandfather, I mean, those people are in their sixties, and look at them with each other. Then there’s me -- the way I -- just, tell me, what is our history?”

Hermione raised both her hands, throwing this crisis completely over to Draco.

“We are not Veelas,” he said. “I can promise you that. Our family tree is one of the best documented in wizarding Britain, and there are no magical creatures in it.”

Paul scoffed. “Yeah, it’s also one of the best known families for disowning members it considers disgraces -- like maybe a few magical creatures.”

Draco couldn’t stop shaking his head. “Pollux, you have inherited nothing but a relationship pattern you learned from watching other family members who, in turn, learned it from their elders. It’s not just my mother and father who dote excessively on their partners. Your Great Aunt Andromeda Black, one of the disowned, she left the family to marry a Muggle man. And then there were the truly ghastly, cruel lengths your Great Aunt Bellatrix went to for -- “

“Draco, enough,” Hermione interrupted.

“All I’m saying,” he continued, “is that this is how we’ve taught each other to treat our loved ones in this family. There’s no magical interbreeding necessary. It’s a learned social behaviour, nothing biological. And it’s not just the Malfoys and Blacks. You can see it in your mother’s non-magical family too. Look at how your mother’s parents work together all day long in that bloody dental surgery. You think that doesn’t require superhuman commitment to couplehood?”

“Yeah, you don’t need magic to love.” It was Cassie who’d said this, in a loud, clear voice -- a grown up voice, one that made her sound like that of a stranger to her family. Draco patted her head anyway.

“Well, how about you, Paul?” Hermione asked. “How are things with Griselda?”

He sat down on the bed. “Dramatic. Clingy and sappy.”

Draco smirked. “In other words, exactly as you like them?”

Paul hung his head even lower. “Yes.”

“Look,” Draco went on, “I won’t say it’s the best way to run a family -- two people obsessed with one another, inadvertently closed off from the rest of the family, the way your mother and I used to be -- “

“The way you are -- “

“Fine, Paul. Just know that I come by it honestly too. I certainly felt it from my parents, more keenly even than you feel it, perhaps, since I had no siblings. It may have been part of why I was such a brat as a child. It was a way to intrude on their world. I’m sorry.”

There was a pause before Paul returned to the fray. “Well, when are you going to decide about this Dr. Huang?” he asked. “I don’t want to find out after it’s over and done when Dad suddenly becomes some pathetic squib. I want to hear your decision and have one last chance to speak my mind before you act.”

“Go on and speak your mind now.”

“I can’t. I don’t know my mind yet.”

“I do,” Cassie said. “I know my mind. Mum,” she said, “take whatever magic people are willing to give you, and just be happy.”

“It’s not that simple, Cassie. It’s taking too much.”

“From Dad, maybe it would be too much,” she answered. “But from someone else, the magic you need might be nothing at all.”

Paul was talking over her. “Promise me, both of you. Promise you won’t do anything without telling us first. Can you not even give us that?”

Draco sighed. “Yes, alright. We will all talk again before anything changes. I’ll send for you again soon. We’ll tell the school we’re taking you out for my birthday.”

“Settled,” Hermione said. “Now please, Malfoys, off to bed.”

______________________________

James Potter sat at breakfast in the Great Hall, his grandfather’s enchanted map open on his lap.

Albus swatted his arm. “Eat up, before it’s cleared away.”

“What?”

“Breakfast, James. Honestly.” He smeared jam on a slice of toast and shoved it at his brother.

“It’s so boring here without Paul Malfoy winding himself up for us,” Rose said over her porridge. “And now James is boring too. You’re not even reading quidditch scores, are you? No, it’s just a bleeding map again.”

“You shouldn’t have that,” Albus said, glancing at it anyway. “Who are you watching for? Is Maybell coming on?”

James squinted down the length of the table to where Maybell sat with her girl-friends. “No, I convinced her there was no chance this time.”

“You don't say,” Rose said, finally leaning into the conversation. “What‘d you do? Make up a story about liking someone else?"

James shrugged. "Something like that."“

Albus was trying to catch Rose’s eye again as he asked, “Where’s Castora this morning?”

“Castora?” Rose frowned. “Oh, Paul’s sister. She’s gone too? Complete Malfoy obliteration? Better not last too long.”

“They’re at their grandparents’ house. May or may not be back today, depends on how Pollux is feeling. He took ill,” James answered, still watching the map, a precious magical Potter family heirloom littered with toast crumbs.

From across the table, Rose batted his arm. “How would you know all that?”

He looked up. “I saw them leave the other night. Castora wanted to go to Wiltshire by Muggle train but couldn’t convince her parents, so Gris Goyle apparated them away.”

“Griselda?” Rose beamed. “Brilliant! Torrence is freed!”

Rose checked for updates on her note-fic subscription, Albus rolled his eyes, and James tapped the map with his wand again. Rows of tiny black footprints reordered themselves, three sets of new ones appearing on the upper margin, barely readable at the edge of the page.

He stood up. "Right. I'm off."

James darted through the crowd, making his way outside, running over stones and grass to where Griselda Goyle and the Malfoy siblings were walking toward the castle. At the sight of them, he slowed his pace.

"Steady, Potter," he told himself.

It was no good. Castora had already seen him, no steadiness about her at all. "Potter!" she called. She ran at him, catching him by the sleeve of his robe. "I've got so much to tell you."

James had watched her running toward him, her features resolving into focus in her pale, open face, her erratic mass of blond hair suffused with the late May sun -- that kind of thing making him feel silly, a bit nervous, but not unhappy. Still, he couldn’t ignore the storm cloud behind her: Pollux Malfoy, puzzled and scowling. Paul had seen Cassie speaking with James before leaving for the manor, and now here he was, meeting them like a faithful pet that hadn’t budged from the spot where he’d last seen them, waiting. But Cassie was the one running breathless toward him, taking James almost by the hand and blinking up into his face like a reunion in a bad note-fic.

Paul and James’s recent exchange in the detention room replayed in both of their minds as they regarded each other over the top of Cassie’s head.

“What happened?”

“Girls...”

“Same.”

These were the girls. Paul said nothing to James, just snatched Griselda’s hand and held it as he marched past.

“Pux, wait,” Griselda said, fighting to keep up with him. “Wait!”

He stopped.

She swung their hands between them. “Are we really going to suddenly appear in school hand-in-hand, like it’s normal?”

Paul looked at their entwined fingers. “How can it ever be normal unless we do just that?”

Gris was blushing. “But no one knows about us yet.”

Paul let go of her hand and braced her head instead, tilting her face to look up at him. “Everyone knows. Rose, my parents, Cassie, not to mention all your note-fic readers here at school.”

She groaned through a laugh. “It’s just so weird.”

“It’s not.”

“Malfoy! Oi! Prince Malfoy!” someone was calling from a window overhead. It was Griselda’s arithmancy partner and whiskey dealer, Loder. “Hey, we always knew you were gay for Goyle.”

The window was crowded with faces, Loder’s mates, all of them laughing and cheering. “Yeah, Goyle! Nicely done!”

She waved at them, still blushing. “Thank you, thank you.”

As the cheering died, she asked Paul, “So what happens now? Do you send me off to Rose Weasley to get made over as a full-on feminine girl?”

Paul smirked. “I should hope it’s obvious that conventional femininity is not something I’m bothered about.”

Gris glanced up at Loder’s window. “If I keep this look, there’re going to be a lot more of those kinds of comments. And they won’t all be as good humored as that.”

“In the words of our friends in the window, whatever you are, Gris, that’s what I’m gay for.”

She shushed him. “You cannot use that word that way. Loder shouldn’t have either. You’re all horrible.”

“Sorry. I’m sorry.” He stopped walking, moving to stand in front of her, pulling her close, rubbing his palm against the nape of her neck, up over her short hair. “All I mean is, do yourself up however you like. I’ll be happy to have it. Ecstatic.”

“Pux, don’t you dare kiss me in view of all these windows.”

“Fine then. We’ll give them something they’re used to.” He bent his arm around her neck, pulling her head into the crook of his elbow, against his chest, the old headlock move. Shouting and pushing, they made their entrance.

_______________________

James and Cassie were alone under the hoofs of the rearing horse statue. Inside the castle, the first classes of the morning had started, but somehow it felt like that had nothing to do with them. James’s heart was beating just as fast as it had been when he ran out of the dining hall to meet her, but now it was pounding out of fear -- and not heady, invigorating fear like he’d felt when he’d taken the step of telling her, just moments before, that he’d missed her while she was away. No, this was dread -- a feeling James did not know well, and did not like.

“Castora, you can’t be serious,” he said.

She lifted her chin. “Why not? It makes perfect sense. In fact, it’s the only solution that makes any sense.”

“But it doesn’t. Unless,” he pressed his fingers to his temples, “unless it’s me who doesn’t understand. What you’re saying is that your mother needs a magic donor to fix her memory, and that donor shouldn’t be your father, it should be you. And you’re saying this because you believe you have so little magic that it won’t be as devastating for you if your magic never comes back after the transfusion. Is that it?”

“Yes, James. I knew you had it.”

“Cassie, it’s completely insane. Your father is an experienced, powerful wizard. He’s got loads of magic and even if he didn’t make it through with all the magic he started with he’d still be able to function in the wizarding world better than many people. But you…” He nudged her to sit down on the stone bench, sitting beside her, not yet able to bring himself to take her hand. “You’re still learning, and you need all the magic you can get. You’re the last person in your family who should be talking about being your mum’s donor.”

She sighed. “You know, you were right about me not being a squib. I have slightly too much magic for that --”

“Yes,” James rushed to agree. “You’re like Professor Longbottom was when he was your age, only fifteen. He didn’t come into his own as a wizard until he was much older than most people. And when he finally did there was no one -- well, hardly anyone -- braver and stronger than he was.”

They’d both heard Professor Longbottom’s inspirational account of his magical education at every welcoming ceremony since they came to school. Cassie nodded along vigorously but said, “That’s what I mean, James. My mother’s injury is my horcrux snake to kill. It’s the monster I can rise up against. I can use what little gifts I have to put something right.”

He pulled at his hair. “But this transfusion thing doesn’t sound like it could possibly strengthen your powers. It takes them away. That’s what it’s for.”

“And so what if I lose the tiny bit of magic I have?” she demanded, her voice rising. “What if losing it, becoming a proper squib, is what I need to stop being the worst witch of my age? If I went all the way to being a squib, I would have to leave here and go somewhere I could be normal instead of terrible.”

He hushed her, taking both of her hands in his now. “Cassie, listen to me. What if you don’t stop at squib? What if in the end, you give up so much you become just like a Muggle?”

“Then I’ll be like my Granger grandparents. I’m not afraid of that.”

James shook his head. “Your grandparents have never seen this world so they can’t miss it. Muggles can’t see what we see. If you become a Muggle, you won’t just stop participating in magical life. Much of it would disappear altogether. Cassie,” he paused, swallowing hard, “I might disappear.”

Her face flushed red.

He went on. “Didn’t you hear me just now, when I told you I missed you? You were gone from school for two days and I hated everything in that time. It sounds stupid but it was real. Don’t let yourself be made into someone who can’t see me.”

“But you always find me -- “

“Let me show you how,” he said, rooting through his robes for a folded sheet of parchment, old and grubby at its edges. “It’s not me, it’s this. My grandfather and his friends made this map to track the whereabouts of everyone in the school. See, there you are, next to me. The map tracks squibs but I don’t know about Muggles. Cassie, if you’re not on the map, I can’t find you, and not just at school, anywhere.”

Cassie took the map, folding it all wrong, shoving it inside his robes. She was reaching for his hands again, trying to get him to look at her. He wouldn’t lift his head to see her, just stared at their joined hands. Cassie tipped forward until her forehead touched his before she spoke the rest. “In almost every way, I’m already off the map, James. Not to you, not yet, but to most everyone else I’m just a shadow. Even with my Malfoy grandparents. All they see is Pollux, and I don’t blame them for that.”

“No.”

“And I’m sorry, but I truly need my mum back. Paul and Dad need to have her back too. And I need Dad to stay the way he is. We can’t have him ruined. I’ve already lost a parent and I know how awful it is. So it has to be me. Of my whole family, the one with least of all to lose is me. I am sorry, though, that part of what I might have to lose is you. I will miss you, but I can’t stop thinking that -- James Sirius Potter, you always find me. You don’t need anything. You always find me.”

She said it so perfectly -- everything, always. That was what he had liked about her first and most throughout the times they’d been together this term. She’d spoken his full name, like a spell too powerful to argue. And when the desire to argue left him, he wanted to tell her she was the bravest, noblest, strongest girl he knew. But every way he could think of to say it would have to be strung together with clumsy words that either diminished his feelings or made them overblown, ridiculous and callow.

There was another way. He’d wasted it on other girls before, but this, he now knew, was precisely the kind of situation for which it was made. Cassie was so close to him already, face to face, her eyes closed, trembling, it didn’t take much more than a slight movement in his neck and chin for James to be kissing her. He knew to part his lips only slightly, enough that he could hold onto hers, sealing himself to her long enough for her to feel a little of what he felt. In true Cassie fashion, she jumped when his mouth touched hers, but he stayed with her as she squeezed his fingers and moved to accept him. When he began his slow lean away from her, she followed him, keeping the connection. The sweetness of it tore at his heart -- elated and devastated all at the same time. He had to end it while it was still sweet, and he turned his face away, letting go of her hands to drape an arm around her back, pulling her next to him, side by side on the bench, her head on his shoulder.

“Cassie,” he breathed into her hair. “Castora Granger Malfoy, I will always find you.”

Chapter Text

Sixteen

Hogwarts librarian, Madam Eggles, had to say something when she found them: two boys sharing one large chair, one much taller than the other, sat with his legs spread wide enough for the smaller boy to sit between them. The smaller boy was writing away on a Remote Note, his elbows propped on the tabletop in front of them, while the taller boy slumped forward, sound asleep with his head on the small boy’s shoulder, and his arms linked around his waist.

“Boys, there are plenty of chairs,” she whispered loudly as she approached them. “And this kind of public display is completely inappropriate here, in front of the first years and -- anyone at all.”

Griselda Goyle looked up from her Remote Note.

Madam Eggles startled. “Miss Goyle? And,” she bent to see, “Mr. Malfoy?” She straightened her posture. “Well, I’m terribly sorry to have mis-gendered you Miss Goyle, but it does not change the fact that the two of you cannot be sitting like this.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Gris said, jostling Paul’s head against her shoulder. “Sorry, it’s just that Pollux has been sick and I wanted to keep an eye on him.”

“Well, he’s had the benefit of a great deal more than your eye.”

“Yes, we’re sorry. Pux, come on. Wake up.”

Paul moaned in his sleep, turning his face into Griselda’s neck. “Headache,” he muttered, holding her more tightly around the waist as she tried to stand.

“No, no. Wake up, really -- “

“Mr. Malfoy,” Madam Eggles said in a practiced librarian tone, severe but soft. “You are not fit for the library in this condition. Report either to the hospital wing for treatment or to your dormitory for some proper rest.”

“Right. Sorry,” he said, rubbing his eyes as Gris rose to gather her things.

Satisfied that they’d separated, Madam Eggles nodded and returned to her rounds.

“Is this how it’s going to be?” Gris smirked at him. “Veela-boy making a show of us everywhere we go?”

He rubbed at his aching head. “You know, I asked my dad about that. Just blurted it out, demanding an answer. ‘Are we Veelas?’ And he swears we’re completely human.”

Gris scoffed, less convinced than ever that the Malfoys weren’t Veelas. “I’m sure he does.”

“What about your Torrence?” Paul said, standing up, stretching. “He’s always making a spectacle of himself with his girls. That’s how you wrote him.”

“I didn’t write him for me. He’s a fantasy, as in, made for fans,” she explained, still whispering as they approached the library doors.

“You’re not Torrence’s fan?” Paul sounded hurt.

“Not really. I am his fake biographer. His counselor. His critic. His creator.”

“His invisible goddess, directing his life.” Paul hugged her from behind as they moved out of Madam Eggles’s library, into the corridor. “If it’s really so bad, I can let you alone a bit more, especially in public.”

She turned her head to speak against his cheek. “I never said that.”

“Good. I do have a terrible headache right now, and I only feel alright when I’m touching you.”

“That is not how pain relief works.”

“Sure it is. Ask my brain researcher definitely-not-Veela parents.”

“No thank you.”

Gris was still draped in him like a cloak when Albus and Rose rounded the corner on their way to the library.

“Oh,” Albus said at the sight of them. “Oh, hey.”

Rose only grinned at the display of affection. Her true enthusiasm was for the Remote Note she saw in Griselda’s hand. “Did you update?” she squealed.

Gris smirked. “Not quite yet. I need this one to go back to sleep so I can get some work done.”

Rose swatted Paul’s arm. “What are you doing out of bed. You still look sick.”

“Torrence always gets sick when he needs attention,” he said.

Rose frowned. “He’s right.”

Gris stepped out from under Paul’s arms and began shoving him down the corridor, toward the Ravenclaw tower.

“Well, there they go,” Rose sighed. “Back to boring, right Albus?”

“That’s what the library’s all about.”

“Is this where James will be hiding?” Rose asked, tugging hard on the door. “Hasn’t he got those -- oh, what do you call them, those big exams that settle your future when you’re still children, the ones you all panic about?”

“OWLs? Yeah, all the fifth years have to sit them.”

Rose shuddered. “Barbaric.”

James was in the library, but not where they expected to find him. He was in the Muggle studies section with Castora Malfoy making notes from a massive Oxford dictionary.

She was saying, “Dad calls it a ‘Muggle wand’ but of course that’s not what they call it. My Gran and Grandad have one each. They can tell you anything there is to know about the Muggle world -- or at least the trains. But I don’t know how to get one.”

James with nodding. “George -- my Uncle George will know. I’ll ask him.”

“Brilliant,” Cassie said.

“What’s all this?’ Albus said as he approached them. “There’s no Muggle Studies OWL, is there?”

James and Cassie both startled and blushed as if they’d been caught at something. “What’re you doing, sneaking around the library?” James said, smacking his poor brother on the head with the parchment full of their notes.

“Who’s sneaking? Get off me.”

“James, stop,” Rose added, stepping between her cousins. “What is wrong with you? You’re looking just as flushed and tired as Pollux.” She felt his forehead. “You might be getting the same sickness as him. Go to bed. You’ve probably contracted Malfoy germs somehow.”

James was blushing again.

“Right. Sorry, Al,” he said. “Goodnight, Rose. Are you coming Cassie? If we head back to the common room together, I can get the door for you.”

“Oh. Right,” she said, closing the dictionary carefully, so it wouldn’t slam under its own weight.

“Get the door?” Rose repeated as Cassie followed James out of the library.

“Is he studying at all,” Albus said, “or just hoping to get by on talent in the practical sections?”

Rose snorted. “Do all the exams wandless and blindfolded just to show off? Sounds about right. Thing is, he’d probably do just fine.”

_________________

A puff of displaced air snapped through the Kensington flat as Draco and Hermione arrived from Malfoy Manor after a visit that was several days longer than they had intended. “We need to talk to Dr. Huang again,” Hermione said almost before Draco was present to hear her.

He shook his head. “That’s easier said than done.”

“说起来容易,做起来难.” She repeated his sentence in its Chinese form.

He raised his eyebrows. “Well, that’s certainly coming along.”

“Isn’t it?” she beamed.

Hermione shrugged out of her cardigan and stretched. Somehow, the low ceiling and the walls crowded with books felt infinitely more spacious to her than the vaulted halls of the manor.

“Do you know,” she began, opening the window overlooking the street, “this is the first time in my memory that coming back here felt like coming home.” She turned as she gave Draco this bit of good news and found him standing much closer than she expected -- close enough for her to be able to sense his scent on the breeze blowing through the window.

He cleared his throat, stepping into the kitchen to put on the kettle. “Why do you want the doctor? Have you thought of something new?”

She sat at the table. “Maybe. You know, I was willing to let the lost years go, but the children -- ”

“Yes, those years are the only ones they have,” Draco finished. “I’ll admit they’re the best of my life too. Sorry there’s nothing to eat here. We need to shop after being away so long.”

She hummed. “I want to ask Huang why the magic needs to be transferred directly from person to person. In Muggle hospitals, they transfuse living blood but it isn’t done vein to vein. It’s collected and tested for cleanliness and then put into the recipient under controlled conditions. Most of the time, the recipient doesn’t even know who the donor is. So I don’t see why it can’t be the same when transferring living magic.”

Draco handed her a cup of tea. “Must have something to do with blood being matter, and magic being energy. The dynamics are different.”

“Of course, but maybe we could make something like a magical battery, and power it up slowly and safely, so no one risks over-depletion.”

“I’m sure Huang has thought of that. The man is brilliant.”

“Exactly. So we need to hear what he says about it. Let’s send an owl to Lockhart, plan a meeting, tomorrow -- ” She stood up quickly, too quickly, spilling her tea over the brim of her cup and onto her hand.

Draco gasped and whisked her to sink, dousing her pink flesh in cold water.

“It’s not that bad,” she said. “Really, you are sweet to worry, but it’s fine.”

They stood over the sink, her hand in his, cold tap-water splashing over their wrists, wetting his sleeves. He couldn’t tell what she was feeling, but the closeness, the pang of fear, the wet clothing was bringing back a memory, one rooted deeply in his senses, his emotions. It was of arriving at their flat in Canada, coming back from admitting her spell-injured father to the hospital, after dark, after flying through rain, warming and caring for each other. It had been the beginning of their first night.

He shut off the water and reached for a tea towel.

“Your shirt got wet,” she said, her fingers unbuttoning his cuff.

“It’s fine,” he said, pulling away.

“Don’t be so prim, Malfoy. It’s easier to undo a cuff with two hands than with one. Let me -- ”

With one arm, he swept the back of her knees, lifting her upward, and with the other arm he caught her shoulders, cradling her against himself. He held her like she’d asked him to carry her, under the influence of warm gin and powerful suggestion, in his mother’s library.

For a moment, there was silence. “I won’t pressure you,” he said. “I have adored you in every way I can for seventeen years and you must know at least a little of that by now. But I won’t touch you any further until you ask me to. Tell me ‘no’ and I’ll set you down and go out to the shop and make you dinner and sleep in Paul’s room for the night. Tell me ‘yes’ and I’ll carry you upstairs.”

The cold, wetness of his soaked sleeve was seeping through the fabric at the back of her shirt, chilling her skin. She didn’t understand how, but the wet cold was making her lonely for him even as he held her in his arms. Still unsure of what she felt, she touched his face, traced his lips with the tip of her finger.

It was then that she felt it, like a pair of small, weak fists banging on a pane of glass inside her mind. She could remember nothing of the past seventeen years, but for the first time, she sensed the part of her that did, but couldn’t communicate with her seeing, speaking, thinking mind. Though silent, it was real, it was there all the same -- hurting and longing. It existed in her feelings, and if the kiss she’d shared with Draco in his bed in Malfoy Manor was any indication, it might exist in her body as well. If thinking gave way to feeling, maybe it could break through the glass.

This other self was one reason to reach out with her body. Another reason was Draco himself -- beautiful, loving, waiting. If she was two selves, then both of them wanted him.

“Upstairs.”

It was not what she expected. The memory she had left was that of a very young woman with only a few months of sexual experience, all of it with an eighteen-year-old partner with a lot left to learn. What happened upstairs with her husband was different. It was skilled and intense, powerful and complete, shocking.

She knew him, not from the months of living with him since the injury, but from long ago. There was truth in everything he’d told her about their past together. He belonged to her, and even as she returned her body to him, she felt his grief, his frustration that the rest of her could still be lost. This was the beautiful, ecstatic sadness in which they came together.

Afterward, she lay with her head on his still heaving chest. “It’s not always like that, is it?” she asked. “I felt it down to the soles of my feet.”

He growled a laugh, kissed her forehead. “The occasion makes it particularly special, of course. But the results were -- fairly, wonderfully typical.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“Fine. Wait a bit, and I’ll prove it.”

She laughed and nestled closer to him. “Draco,” she said.

He curled his hand over the curve of her shoulder. “Yes?”

“It’s not just for the children. I can feel the loss now. I want those years back for myself as well.” She propped herself up on her elbow, searching his face in the dimness of the evening. “It's me. I want you back.”

_______________________

Instead of being stranded in the hallway, pleading the password at the wall, begging the magic guarding the Slytherin common room to let her in, James spoke the word and led Cassie effortlessly inside. Even escorted by James Potter, no one seemed to notice her. The two of them sat on a short sofa, the parchment of library notes between them, discussing her plans. Other students called out to James, interrupting them as if they’d called his attention away from a book he’d been reading rather than another person.

“Anyways, so until we get a Muggle wand from George, we’re stuck,” James said. “But once we have it, we’ll be able to find out everything we need to organize the rest of it.” He turned his head to cough into his sleeve.

“You’re not really sick, are you?” Cassie asked, her hand on his forehead. “You feel a little warm.”

He cupped her face in his hands, palms against her cheeks. “Yeah? So do you.”

“Well, that’s just because you’re so…”

Her voice trailed off as she realized the room had fallen quiet. With James’s hands on her face, Cassie was finally visible. She blinked out at all the eyes in the room.

James dropped his hands, grinning. “I’m not sick. But I think I had better get out of here anyway. ‘Night, Cassie. Wait for me in the morning.”

Chapter Text

Seventeen

The morning post was winging into Hogwarts’s Great Hall. Pollux Malfoy received a box of strength restoring sweets from his grandmother at the manor, which he was trying to feed to Gris as she protested, insisting instead that he share it with Cassie, who was not at all interested.

How could she be when a parcel from London had just dropped for James Potter? It was tiny but heavy and wrapped in a note written on Weasleys Wizard Wheezes stationery which read simply, “Don’t tell me what it’s for, and I can’t rat you out. Your Loving Uncle, GW. xoxo.”

It was the Muggle wand, the mobile phone James had asked for, lying sleek and dark in its box. He pulled out a length of white electrical wire, frowning.

“Never mind all that,” Cassie said. “Dad just touches it with his wand to light it up.”

James held the mobile toward her. “Does he? Show me.”

She nudged his arm with her shoulder. “You do it.”

“Doesn’t have to be me. All it wants is sparks, yeah?”

“James -- not here.”

Albus craned his neck to see what James was unpacking. “You shouldn’t have that,” he said.

“You don’t even know what it is.”

“Of course I do.”

“Ah, new mobile,” Rose nodded. “Broadening your horizons, James? Stepping away from the isolationist British wizard mindset? Good on ya.”

“He didn’t get that thing to improve his education,” Albus said. “He’s getting fixed up to do some sneaking around.”

James glared. “You know, you’re right, Castora,” he said. “Let’s not do this here.”

Paul’s head snapped up. “Whoa, whoa, wait. Sneaking around is all well and good, Potter, but you’ll leave my sister here ‘til you’re finished.”

“Look, everyone calm down,” James said. “It’s only a Muggle mobile telephone. It’s just for research -- for information, not sneaking. A harmless gift from my uncle.”

Rose yelled out a laugh. “Which uncle? That should tell us a lot.”

“Doesn’t matter,” James muttered.

Gris and Cassie had no opinions on Weasley uncles and were staring, still dumbfounded, at Paul. “Pollux, that was such a brotherly thing for you to say,” Griselda finally said, feeling his forehead. “So protective of Cassie. Has your fever come back?”

Rose shook her head. “Not to worry, ladies. Paul is just doing what Potters and Malfoys do, naturally driven to get in each other’s way -- eternal sworn enemies.”

“No, they are not,” James said, stuffing the mobile into his bag. “Now, If there are no more objections, we’ll be off. What’d you reckon, Cassie? We’ve got an appointment with the headmaster.”

As James stormed out of the hall, Cassie following, walking close enough, her sleeve long enough that their hands may or may not have been joined, the rest of them looked to the dais at the front of the hall where Professor Longbottom was seated, in no hurry to finish his breakfast.

Albus scoffed. “Where do they think they’re -- “

“Ah, let them go,” said Rose.

“There’s no ‘them’,” Paul countered.

“Obviously, there is,” Gris said.

“No, it wouldn’t make any sense,” he argued. “Potter’s way too old for Cassie.”

“No, he’s not even a full year older.”

“Well then, he’s way -- he’s way too James Potter for her.”

Gris was standing up, prying Paul’s hands off her. “Cassie is brilliant, in her own way. And even if she wasn’t, you of all people, Pollux Malfoy, you ought to know that sometimes pairings can appear wildly mismatched and still deserve to exist.”

Gris was stomping away, shouldering through the crowd in the aisle between the dining tables.

Paul swore. “Griselda -- Gris, will you wait? I didn’t mean mismatched, I meant the eternal sworn enemies thing. Oi, Goyle...” Paul was chasing after her, their drama on full display for the entire school.

Rose sighed, reaching into her bag for a tiny vial of potion. “Full moon. Everyone acts like it’s only a serious problem for us,” she threw her head back, drinking the potion down, “but you’re all proper mad right now, you know that? Full moon.”

Albus shrugged and went back to the newspaper.
_____________________

 

Draco and Hermione were back at the institute, at work, trying for the sake of professional decorum not to act like they were on a second honeymoon. The truth was, there was no time for holiday hours. The deadline they’d given the children, June 5, Draco’s birthday, would arrive in a few short days. Before it came, decisions had to be made about whether or not they would work with Dr. Huang to boost Hermione’s neural activity, or say nothing as he left for home in Taiwan.

Today, they were meeting to discuss Hermione’s questions about completing the transfer of magic from a donor without exposing the donor himself to the unpredictable danger of the procedure. She looked up enough Chinese vocabulary to have a conversation, using the doctor’s bad English and her and Draco’s worse Chinese, about the possibility of building a magical battery. Dr. Huang seemed to understand, but waved it all away. His explanation was lost on them but they understood the last part.

“不行,不行.”

Won’t work.

However, he didn’t dismiss them altogether. Instead, the doctor went racing down another track, rushing to explain a theory of his own, in vocabulary the Malfoys were completely unprepared to comprehend.

“Hu fa,” Draco repeated. “What does he mean by ‘hu fa’? It seems to be a key to the rest.”

Hermione frowned. “Hu might be protection, like 护.”

The doctor was nodding. Yes, protection.

“And fa,” Draco drawled, “as in to send? Like 发? Send protection?”

“Or like 法. Protection method,” she tried.

The doctor was nodding again. They had it, a literal translation of words to the effect of “protection method.” But what exactly did it mean?

“Doctor, do you want us to cast a Protego spell on the donor before we proceed with the transfusion? 保护供体的咒,好不好?” Draco tried.

Huang was waving his arms again, telling them no. Finally, he began to clear a space in the largest area in the centre of the institute, herding the staff against the walls. He was through with fumbling through explanations, ready to show them what he wanted to try. The Malfoys moved out of his way and waited, Draco’s arm clasped around Hermione’s shoulders.

Dr. Huang produced his wand, closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and shouted. “疾疾护法现身!”

The room blazed with blue-white light and a familiar hum resonated through their ears, heads, and chests. Dr. Huang had conjured his patronus, a tall, plumed rooster with spurred ankles, scratching fiercely at the air.

“I see!” Draco called. “Instead of using an actual wizard’s body, a corporeal patronus may be substantial enough to harness for the transfusion. Hermione, you were right. This might work without anyone having to risk themselves.”

Dr. Huang turned toward Draco’s ranting. “明白了吗?”

“Yes, yes, I think we understand,” Hermione said. “明白.”

“太好了,” the doctor said, exhausted, relieved.

More difficult conversations consumed the rest of the afternoon. The doctor explained that he’d need a few more days to test his mechanisms for containing and connecting to patronuses. The most difficult factor, he seemed to be saying, would be timing. Patronuses are powerful, but brief and a gap in the transfusion of magical energy could render it useless.

“Maybe,” Hermione said, “maybe we could gather a number of people and coordinate their spells so we had at least two patronuses active during the entire process. And since Draco can’t produce -- “

“For the love of Boggarts, Hermione, why must you always assume I can’t produce a corporeal patronus? Of course I can. You’ve seen it yourself, you just don’t remember.”

“I have? What form does it take?”

He rolled his shoulders. “You’ll know it when you see it again. You’re quite fond of it. But let’s not waste the doctor’s time. What were you telling him?”

“Just that we can contact some friends and family to help. That will take a few days but it will be better than just you and the doctor -- “

“And Lockhart?” Draco asked. Gilderoy was at the front of the institute, romancing the reception witch and didn’t hear Dr. Huang laugh out loud.

_____________________

Without much time to spare before morning classes began, Professor Longbottom was finally well-fed and in his office. He admitted James and Cassie with what he hoped was the same impartial goodwill he extended to all students, but there was something about the sight of them together -- that tangle of bushy hair, and that freckled version of a face so much like Harry’s in the mornings, in the dormitory, before he’d put on his glasses for the day -- something about this pair left Neville unconcerned about them being late for class.

They sat in front of his desk and Neville turned to Cassie, expecting her to do the talking, the way Hermione had always done. She blinked back at him, and James rushed in to fill the silence.

“What we want to know, Professor,” James began, “is why squibs aren’t schooled at Hogwarts. I mean, they do exist, and it doesn’t seem right to exclude them, does it? And also, can you tell us what would happen if -- what if a wizard -- “

“Or a witch,” Cassie added.

“Yeah, what if someone were to lose their magic somehow, like, in the middle of their education. Would they be sent away from Hogwarts? Interrupted and expelled? Sent away from everything and everyone they knew?”

“Not everyone,” Cassie added.

“It’s just,” James resumed. “I just hope that’s not what would actually happen. But I don’t know. So we’re asking, sir.”

Neville closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “I hear you,” he said. “This is a discussion I’ve had with the school’s board on more than one occasion. I’ve been very open about my background and my personal struggles, and it won’t surprise either of you that my position is that all ‘squibs,’ as they’re called, should have a home in Hogwarts if they want one, whether they can be fully trained in magic or not. A magical family forms a young person’s entire culture, whether that person is magical themself or not. Magical culture is far more than just a toolbox of tricks.”

He paused, marshaling his feelings, taking long enough for James to begin to squirm. Cassie patted his arm.

“So,” Professor Longbottom began again, “the long and short of it is that the board hasn’t acted to pass any resolutions about squibs because a situation where a wizarding family wants a non-magical child to school here has never gone beyond being a hypothetical situation. Simply, we don’t know because no one has ever asked. Or at least, it has yet to happen during my time as headmaster. We’ve never been tested in this way. Sad as it is, squib children are more likely to fade into the Muggle world than to integrate into ours. And until a family stands up and insists on the inclusion of their squib children, we won’t know how the board will react. Until then, I can promise nothing about how the situation might be handled.”

Neville leaned across his desk. “James, do your parents have reason to believe that little Lily…”

“No, no,” James answered, perhaps a little too vehemently. “No, she’s fine. Lily’s fine.”

Neville sat back. “As for the other situation you describe, where a wizard -- or a witch -- loses their magic later in their youth, I’ve never heard of that happening before either. That would be a catastrophic injury -- a tragedy.”

James bowed his head. “Yes, that’s what I thought.”

“Does anyone ever quit?” Cassie said, “Quit Hogwarts, I mean?”

Neville grinned knowingly at James, happy to raise the sombre mood of the meeting. “A few have managed alright without finishing formal schooling, isn’t that right Mr. Potter? But in those cases, it was the talented, not the untalented who left school early. Think of what that must say about me -- I’ve never left at all.”

They weren’t sure whether it would be alright to laugh along at the headmaster’s joke on himself. The best they could do was to smile and get to their feet as he dismissed them.

“I’m late for potions in the dungeons,” Cassie said in the corridor, “So I’ll run off -- “

The rest of her words were muffled against James’s front as he pulled her into a rougher hug than he intended. He didn’t say anything, not even sorry, but held onto her, his eyes clenched shut. Most of the time, it felt to him like she was taking the possibility of the end of her magic too lightly, and the only thing that seemed to reach her with the tragedy of it all was when he made it intensely personal, when he made it about just the two of them. He held her tightly, tipping her onto her toes.

“No matter what happens, your parents would fight for you to finish school, wouldn’t they Cassie?” he asked.

She laid her hands on his back. “Yes, and that’s all the more reason for me to go ahead with the transfusion,” she said. “There will be other people like me, but they might not have parents clever enough or willing to boss a school board around. I can go first and make it easier for them.”

He lifted her feet off the ground, so nothing was touching her but him. He wanted to plead with her to keep still and stay like this, together in the wizarding world, without having to fight for it, content to let him run ahead to open all the doors for her, waiting for a breakthrough like Professor Longbottom’s, when all Cassie’s awkward magic might fall into place somehow. But he was Harry Potter’s son, and he hadn’t been raised to make the world nice for himself alone.

“Alright,” he said. “Alright, Cassie. How about tomorrow, we take the train?”

Chapter Text

Eighteen

James sat down in the grass, after school, dressed like himself, no robes. He tugged Cassie’s hand so she’d sit next to him at the foot of the rose bushes to discuss their plans to travel to London to offer Cassie herself as the donor of the magic energy needed to fix her mother’s memory. Cassie had already decided it would help her parents to accept her offering if they were able to see her living well without much magic.

That’s why she and James would be traveling by Muggle trains, and staying in a Muggle home in London, her Granger grandparents’ house in Heathgate. They had already agreed to pick Cassie up at King’s Cross in the morning, before the surgery opened, unaware that her parents wouldn’t be expecting her in London for another day. James arriving with her would be a surprise for everyone, but Cassie was confident not even her Gran would be stern enough to send him away. Especially if no one told her James had a home of his own in town.

Before leaving, there was more to arrange. James produced a blank parchment and a quill, writing a message to send by owl. “Unless we want to be picked off the train by an annoyed and disappointed famous Auror before we even make it out of Scotland, we’ll need to let my dad know we’re going,” he explained.

Cassie hummed. “What in the world are you going to say to him?”

James snorted. “I dunno. Probably not, Hey, Harry Potter, remember Draco Malfoy? I’m missing a few days of school right before my OWLs to head off uninvited to his birthday with his cute daughter by Muggle train so we can transform her into a squib...”

“...But she’s rubbish at magic so it’s no great loss,” Cassie finished, lying back on the grass.

James set the parchment aside and lay on his side next to her. “Yes, it is -- a terrible loss.”

She turned to look at him, blinking. “Don’t come with me if it’s going to make trouble for you. I mean it. You can stay here and study. I’m better suited to survive in the Muggle world than you might think. I’ll be fine. If I’m not, then you can come find me.”

He smiled, but sadly. “No, my parents aren’t all that worried about marks. And I hate it here alone.”

“When have you ever been alone?”

“What I mean is, the best way to find Castora Malfoy wherever she goes is to not lose sight of her in the first place.” He leaned across the turf between them and kissed her cheek.

“I like when you do that,” she said, smiling up at the sky. “That’s all I know about kissing: just what I like. But I have questions about it, you know, and no one I can ask.”

“What about Griselda? She writes those long snogging stories about Veelas. She must have some, er, expertise when it comes to...”

Cassie exaggerated a shudder. “No. I had to cancel my subscription to her note-fics after she started snogging Pollux in real life.”

James twitched. “Right. Rose then? Wait -- no. Definitely don’t ask Rose. She’ll blab everything to my mum.”

“See? It’s hopeless.”

“Just ask me,” James volunteered. “I’ve -- had more practice, sorry to say.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Alright then,” she said, scooting closer to him, “if I put my mouth on your face, like this, but I don’t make the kissing sound, have I actually kissed you? If I just keep talking against your cheek, my lips touch you over and over again but does it count?”

James turned to catch her chattering mouth with his. She was quiet for a moment as he kissed her before she was talking again, still pressed against his mouth. “That counts, obviously. Though…”

Speaking the “th” sound thrust her tongue against his lips and James sat up quickly, blowing out his breath.

“What? What is it? I’m sorry,” she said, sitting up herself.

“No, it’s fine. It’s -- way too fine,” he said. “Cassie, I’m trying to figure out how to convince my dad and your brother and eventually your parents and grandparents that I’m a trustworthy traveling companion for you -- “

“Oh, no one cares about that.”

“They do, you daft thing,” he said. "I’m trying to prove I can be a complete gentleman. But you’re so -- it’s just that if anyone thinks they’ve spotted us rolling around snogging in the grass -- “

“We’re not.”

“Right,” he smirked. “Anyways, we’ve got to be careful. So try not to lick me, or no one’s going to trust me. And they’d be right not to, frankly.”

“I did not lick you.”

He hushed her. “You might have. Unintentionally. But still...”

“See, these are the kinds of questions I need answered,” she said.

He pressed his right cheek against her left one and spoke into her ear. “I’ll tell you everything I know when we get back from London.”

“What does that even mean?’

He leaned closer to her ear, as if he was about to whisper something more to her, but then he flicked the tip of his tongue against her earlobe instead. Cassie yelped and sat back, laughing and pushing at him, telling him to finish writing to his father.

It was a difficult letter to write, only ever half true. Harry already knew about Hermione’s injury and clearly wanted to help however he could. James knew that and made it the basis of his appeal to support Cassie. If she was happy, it was more likely that Hermione would be happy as well. From there, the truth got complicated.

James was sure to mention that Paul was going back to London for the same family gathering, but he did not add that Paul would be apparating there with Griselda rather than making the long trip by train with his sister. James mentioned staying with the Grangers so it would sound like everything had been legitimately organized with the adults of the family, but he didn’t say that no one in Cassie’s family expected him to be coming along.

Finally, he added a cryptic note at the end, remarking on how well his wandless charms were coming along. He didn’t mean it boastfully, but reassuringly. Underaged wizards with the trace on them, like himself and Cassie, would only trip an alarm for using magic out of school if they used a wand to do it. This had been why Harry had started training his own children in wandless magic so young, and it was why he could trust that James could travel without having to choose between either making himself magically helpless or risking punishment.

“I don’t think it’s persuasive enough that he would have given us permission,” James said as he rolled the parchment in the owlery. “But it might be a good enough explanation for him to tolerate me leaving once I’ve already gone and done it. At least he knows there’s no emergency, everyone’s safe, at any rate. That’s the best we can hope for.”

He tossed his owl out the tower window and watched it glide and swoop into the sunset, toward home. Cassie closed her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest, looking out over the grounds of the school.

He jostled her, disturbing her view. “It’s not the last time you’ll see it like this,” he said. “We will be back."

__________________________

The rest of the evening was spent watching the third floor corridor on James’s grandfather’s map, waiting for the area around the statue of Gunhilda of Gorsemoor to clear out so they could open the passageway from there to Hogsmeade. If they didn’t make it out of Hogwarts by eight o’clock that night, they would miss the last train from Hogsmeade station to Newcastle and the Muggle world.

James had known about the One-eyed Witch passageway for some time but had never used it. Even in the summertime, it was cold and gloomy, earthy and wet. Already he was cross with himself for bringing Cassie somewhere like this. She held his hand in both of hers as she followed him for close to an hour through the dark tunnel.

On their way, James tried to think of something inspirational to say. “I reckon our parents came through here, during the war. It was the path they took when they came out of hiding to face the dark lord. Of course, my mum was already inside the castle, waiting to get started.”

“Not my dad,” Cassie said.

James had forgotten and silently scolded himself.

Cassie went on. “Dad apparated into the castle during the battle, once everything was weakened and chaotic.”

“It was weakened, yes, but still -- how exactly did he do that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it had something to do with anti-apparation charms being practiced in our family for so long, though that never does me any good. I’m not sure. Paul read about it, in the library. Dad never talks about those times himself.”

James squeezed her hand, mostly to make sure she was still there, still real. She truly was a Malfoy. It wasn't just a name, a label. At times, their fathers had the power to let each other die, but each time, they had resisted it, rejected it. James hoped that was the real connection between their families: not enmity for each other but defiance of higher powers that had it all wrong.

"I'm glad we both made it here," Cassie said, as if she could hear him thinking.

"Me too."

At last, they were coming out the cellar door of a shop in Hogsmeade, into the fresh air of a summer night. James stretched, only then realizing he’d been walking with his shoulders tense, pulled up toward his ears. Cassie’s light hair was still visible in the moonlight. They’d been side-by-side the entire length of the tunnel, but it was good to see her again.

The attendant at the train station was hesitant to sell them any tickets. The Daily Prophet was in the midst of publishing a series on the debauchery of today’s young people, including a piece on the perils of truancy. But Cassie was able to produce a note from Hermione, addressed to Professor Longbottom, giving her permission to make a trip home this week, and the attendant released the tickets.

It would take about two hours for the train to get from Hogsmeade to Newcastle. From there, they would spend the rest of the night on a Muggle train to London. Once the wheels lurched them forward, James opened his book bag and made as if to study for his potions OWL.

Cassie laughed at him.

“What? I have to be boring so you’ll fall asleep,” he said. “You need rest. It’s going to be a long night.”

“I’m not sleepy. I’m lit up, like the mobile -- all electrified.”

“Magical?” he tried.

“No, non-magical, and powerful anyway. Look out there,” she waved a hand at the window. “There’s nothing out there. And we brought ourselves to it. We got away from everything.” She held his arm and perched her chin on his shoulder, speaking up into his face. “Don’t study. Don’t sleep. Be here with me.”

For the second time that day, James kissed her. She didn’t talk through it this time, but the kiss deepened on its own as dark hills and lakes passed unseen outside the window. He didn’t dare touch her with his hands, leaving them clenched around his potions book in his lap. Cassie touched his face, his neck, his coarse, dark hair. It grew in tufts and ridges, “Like mine,” she said, breaking away. “Your hair between my fingers feels like mine.”

James let the back of his head fall against the headrest of the train seat. “Please go to sleep, Cassie. For the love of Operation Trustworthy Traveling Companion, go to sleep.”

She slid her fingers out of his hair. “Go on then, let’s read your potions book together.”

Soon, she did fall asleep. He stopped reading and watched her though he knew it was sappy, maybe creepy. He smiled down at her, sleeping against his shoulder, and pushed her hair out of her face. What was he doing? This family crisis of hers had nothing to do with him and still he was risking all kinds of trouble to be here, with her. Did she make him feel heroic? Was he as much like his dad as everyone said and only truly happy when he had someone to save? Or maybe -- no, it was too soon. She was only fifteen, for stars’ sake. But he couldn’t help wondering what love felt like, and he pressed his closed lips to her forehead just as a light flashed on, and then off in the carriage.

Chapter Text

Nineteen

“Malfoy, what am I reading?” Hermione said.

He was still mostly asleep, rolling over in bed, tossing an arm across her lap where she sat on the mattress beside him. “I’m sure I don’t know, love.”

“Come have a look. I still don’t trust my memory when it comes to identifying people. But I’m fairly sure this is a photo of our Castora.”

He hummed, eyes not yet opened, nestling his face into the side of her hip. “There are photos of Cassie all over the house. You’re probably right.”

“No, not here in the house. Here in the newspaper.”

All at once, Draco was sitting upright, blinking over the awful, cheap yellow parchment of the morning's Daily Prophet. This time, the newspaper was open not to the gossipy fourth page but to the third page, the one running the series on the pitfalls of today’s youth. In the night, in response to yesterday’s item on the dim possibility of the Muggle problem of truancy coming to Hogwarts, someone had contributed a photo of a pair of teenagers they’d spotted on the train out of Hogsmeade, heading toward the Muggle station in Newcastle in the middle of the school week. The girl’s face wasn’t visible, her portion of the frame filled by what was either a very small freshly thatched roof or a head of bushy blond hair.

“It looks like her,” he agreed, rubbing his eyes. “But it can’t be. She’s not coming back until tomorrow, and Griselda is bringing them. They wouldn’t come early, on a train. There's no reason, no way.”

“Look at the boy. That is not our Pollux,” Hermione said, "though it may be someone else we know. I can’t quite tell but...”

The boy’s face was fully visible. He was the true subject of the photo, gazing at the girl leaning against his arm. She was so still she must have been asleep, and the photo was looping, over and over, as the boy pushed a tendril of hair out of her unseen face. His expression was that of unguarded, utter infatuation. Far from being the vindication of the newspaper’s claims about the bad character of the rising generation, the photo made for a touching, sympathetic tribute to what is beautiful and inspiring about being young, even when caught up in something foolish like running away from school.

That the photographer had captured this sentiment so perfectly would have made the photo remarkable all on its own. But there was more to it, and Draco and Hermione had noticed it right away, even if most of the reading public wouldn’t. With a pair of glasses and a little less of his mother’s good looks, the boy in the photo would have been a near perfect lookalike for one of the most famous living wizards in Britain when he was sixteen. Draco sneered, with a ferocity Hermione hadn’t seen in him since they were in school, as he named him.

“Potter.”

“Yes. Then it’s definitely Cassie,” Hermione said, pushing her way out from under the bed linens, summoning her clothes. “If that’s James Potter, then his girl is our Cassie. She mentioned him as a friend and asked if she could bring him along to meet us at the manor by train last time we saw her. I told her no, but she doesn’t seem to have taken that for an answer this time 'round.”

Furious, Draco was getting dressed himself. “James Potter? How old is he?”

“I’m not sure.”

Draco swore. “How did he get her out of Hogwarts without anyone stopping them?”

“He’s Harry’s son. He’ll have his ways.” She said it in a voice like an apology.

“Cozied up with our girl under a crusty old invisibility cloak, dating under one of the deathly hallows. I should have taken it off him when I had the chance.” He swore again. “And where is Potter, anyways? What’s the point of being an Auror if you can’t control your own kids?”

Hermione scoffed, her voice rising. “You mean, the way we have control of ours?”

“I don’t know,” he answered, just as loudly. “Sorry, it's just I'm -- scared. We’ve got to find her. Newcastle -- they could be anywhere by now. The Trace is useless in finding Cassie. She wouldn’t try any magic. She probably hasn’t even got her wand. Hermione -- SHE HASN’T GOT HER WAND.”

She grabbed him by both of his wrists. “You’re right, of course. We do need to find her. But first we need to calm down and contact Harry. Even if he was a stranger, he’d be in a better position than anyone we know to find them and bring them back.”

________________

Castora Malfoy was happy, looking out the dusty window as the high concrete walls mostly overgrown with vines and weeds passed on either side of the train tracks approaching inner London. The sun had risen but James Potter, who had failed in his noble goal to sit up watching over her all through the night, was still asleep, his head on a jacket folded in her lap, her fingers laced through his hair.

They had made if out of school, Hogsmeade, the Newcastle station, all without any magic. It hadn’t even been difficult. Now, London was rolling by outside the window, as they approached one of the conventional, Muggle platforms of Kings Cross. This life without magic was a viable life, maybe even a good life.

James must have sensed the slowing of the train and sat up, rubbing his face, lines from the folds in her jacket pressed into his cheek. He checked his reflection in the window, grinning at her. “Almost there. You did it.”

“Yeah.”

“Now you’ve nothing more to prove. Turn around and come back with me.”

“No, James. But if you want to go -- ”

“No, I’m coming with you.”

The streets outside the train station were a mess of taxis, buses, humans, and parking restrictions. Cassie's Gran knew it would be like this, and she knew that, with her head so muddled from all those years of wizarding nonsense, Cassie would not be able to find her way to where they were waiting for her in the car. It meant that dear Grandad came into King’s Cross to meet her. Tim Granger arrived expecting to find his granddaughter frazzled and frightened, but she looked well-rested and content, rushing to hug him, filling his field of vision so quickly, thoroughly, and noisily that he hardly noticed the boy following behind her until they were nearly at the car.

“Gran, Grandad, this is James,” Cassie said as they slid into the backseat.

“James?” Gran said, peering at him in the rearview mirror. “I didn’t know people had names like James at your school, Castora darling. Is it short for something -- Jampurvious, Jambitwick?”

James produced the diplomatic smile he’d mastered for teachers and parents. “No, sadly. But my brother is named Albus Severus, if that helps,” he offered.

The Grangers laughed, accepting his answer, pleased to find him less awkward than he might have been.

“Oh, Gran. He’s just James,” Cassie said. “He’s the son of mum’s old friend, Harry Potter.”

“Ah yes, the dreamy red-head’s best mate,” Grandad said, relieved to hear this boy connected to someone never romantically involved with Hermione, as if that sort of lack of chemistry was transmitted through generations, down to Cassie and James. Even if it was, he hadn’t reckoned on the intense feelings that had always existed between the Potters and Cassie’s father, flipped here by the reversal of ideology and gender preference.

As for James, it was the first time he’d heard his father introduced in reference to his Uncle Ron, and he had certainly never heard Uncle Ron described as dreamy. Strange place, Muggle society.

“It’s okay if James stays with us too, isn’t it?” Cassie asked, now that they had pulled into traffic. “If it’s too much trouble, we can just leave him here at the station.”

“No, no,” Gran said, not at all enthusiastically. “We’ll take you in, James.” She did not ask to know why they weren’t staying at home with Cassie’s parents. Cassie never needed an excuse, nor any academic interest in Muggle life, to explain spending time with the Grangers. And James’s interest in coming along -- well, it was obvious. What Gran did ask was, “You’re not old enough for them to let you do magic out of school yet, are you James?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good. That’s how we prefer our house guests. Isn’t it, Tim? And,” she said, pushing on in true Ann Granger form, “you don’t happen to be dating our Cassie, do you?”

James blushed at her in her car’s mirrors. “I suppose I am,” he said.

She laughed at him, but not unkindly. “As I thought…”

“Truthful! Gallant, but still rather unfortunate," Grandad said. “Nice to have you all the same, James.”

From the backseat, Cassie threw her arms around her Grandad’s neck, hugging him. “Thank you. You both are the absolute best.”

James’s blush faded as he watched Cassie with her grandparents, fascinated. It was the first time he could remember seeing her interacting with anyone but himself in a natural, easy way. He was happy for her, but also a little lonely. Don't blame him. He was only sixteen.

----—--------

Albus was not the first newspaper subscriber to notice James Potter’s photo on the third page of the morning’s Daily Prophet. By the time he, Rose, Paul, and Griselda had come down to breakfast in the Great Hall, the article was being passed from table to table, everyone chattering about Potter’s “elopement” with the faceless girl, and who she might be.

Paul swore. “No, no, no, don’t tell me. Sneaky git -- I told him...”

Rose snatched the paper out of Albus’s hands. “Yes, that’s definitely James. And,” she squinted at the head of hair. “I’d wager that’s Castora, alright. Will you look at the eyes he’s making at her. My stars...”

Gris tore it out of her hands to see for herself, letting out an involuntary shout which she suppressed with one hand. “It’s her. No question.”

Paul swore again.

“You want to see it, Pollux?”

“No, I do not want to see it.”

“Their names aren’t printed anywhere in the article,” Albus said, scanning the copy. “Maybe no one will ever put it together.”

“Yeah, keep quiet, Paul, and they might not guess,” Rose said.

“That’s right,” Gris said. “Cassie had a way of staying out of sight at school. Almost like magic.”

They sat for a moment in silence, trying to get a sense of the bits of gossip they could hear all around them. There were teachers on the dais at the head of the hall, keeping order, though Professor Longbottom and the head of Slytherin House were both absent.

Albus began dishing porridge into bowls and handing them around, trying not to seem nonplussed, as if his brother was not currently the most notorious lovesick truant in all of Britain.

The bench next to Rose creaked and flexed as a bulky blond-haired girl sat down heavily beside her. “Hey,” she said, “Maybell sent me to say, if you don’t know who the girl in the paper with James is, she can tell you.”

“Thank you!” Paul was yelling across the table, “Thank you oh so very much!”

“We’re just trying to help,” the girl said, standing up. At the far end of the table, Maybell was standing too.

“Well, I’m sure you are,” Paul was standing up as well, Griselda and Rose pulling on his robes to get him back into his seat. “So kind and noble. So informative! But you needn’t bother!”

There was a hush over the hall, everyone gaping at Paul before the whispering resumed again. What was Paul Malfoy so cross about? Was he in love with James Potter himself? No, he was Gris Goyle’s Veela. She’s sitting right there with her hands in his robe. What could any of this mean to him? Wait, wasn’t there another Malfoy at school…

Professor Longbottom was striding onto the dais, approaching the podium. “Attention, please,” he said. “I’m sure some of you were alarmed to see that, for several hours, a pair of your classmates went missing from the school during the night. While we do not wish to add fuel to any rumors, we have deemed it in the best interest of student welfare to announce that they are no longer missing, but are in the care of their families at home, for the time being. So no worries, children. Back to breakfast.”

Paul let his forehead fall to the tabletop. Under the table, he could see the feet of Rose and Albus, no James. This new social group was just one more thing that had come into his life this spring with his mother’s accident. How had she let them get entangled with these people -- the children of the same ones who had made her school years so chaotic, war hero or not? A hand squeezed his shoulder -- Gris. If it hadn’t been for the interference of Rose Weasley, things might never have changed between him and Gris. There was that. He raised his hand to take hers from his shoulder, sitting up to look into her face.

“Can we go somewhere?” he asked her.

She smoothed his hair, nodding.

Rose shook her head. “Such a Veela, it’s ridiculous.”

“Eat something,” Albus called after them as they stood to leave.

Paul led Griselda to a stairwell not known to move and sat down on a lower step, holding her close, his face against her neck. “When will all this be over, Gris? I just want it to be over.”

“What? Cassie doing a runner? Sounds like it is over. Professor Longbottom said --”

“No -- yes. I mean, what she’s running from. She and Potter didn’t leave for the romance of it. That’s a side effect. They’re up to something -- something involving our mum, and dad, and that Taiwanese doctor with the risky procedure. Something -- I just can’t think what.”

Gris raised his chin to look at her. As always, his feelings were plain from his face -- worry and fear. She kissed him long enough for him to exhale the tense breath he’d been holding. “Why do you think that?” she asked when he was calmer.

Paul inhaled. “Something she said at the manor, about taking magic from Dad being too much to ask, but that taking magic from someone else might be nothing at all. She was talking about herself -- about sacrificing herself, her own magic. I ignored it at the time, though that’s got to be it. But...”

The fear in his face was mounting. Gris kissed him again, gently and slowly, until she felt him let out another breath against her cheek.

“What did my parents think would happen?” he said when she pulled away. “They named us Castor and Pollux, after mythical siblings who redistribute supernatural power between their family members, for the love of Boggarts.”

Griselda smiled and combed his hair with her fingers. It was the colour of his mother’s but the texture of his father’s, silky and difficult to leave untouched. “They won’t let her do it,” she said. “No matter what she and James try to pull, your parents won’t let Castora throw herself into the mix.”

“That’s another thing. Why is Potter helping her?” he went on.

Gris shrugged. “Maybe she went and Veela-ed him.”

“Will you stop with that,” Paul said, a faint trace of a smile about him now, grabbing Griselda by the waist in a way that reliably tickled her. “What have I told you about the Malfoys and Veelas? What have I told you -- ”

“Mr. Malfoy,” a voice called from the end of the corridor, interrupting Griselda’s laughter. It was poor beleaguered Professor Stuve, the head of Paul’s house for the rest of the term. “The headmaster and I would have a word with you.”

_________________________

Hermione was waiting just inside her own front door when Harry knocked, already assailing him with questions as he stepped inside.

“They’re fine, they’re fine,” he was saying. “Your parents picked them up at Kings Cross this morning. Last I heard, they were all doing a big shop at Tesco’s on their way back to Heathgate together.”

Draco was so relieved he collapsed to sitting in a kitchen chair. Harry handed him the note James had sent him the night before. “Your sixteen year old son does wandless magic?”

Harry nodded. “It’s less complicated for underaged wizards that way. Untraceable. Wish someone had taken the trouble to train me in it at that age.”

Draco shuddered. “I need to get my daughter back from this person. Now.”

Hermione pressed her hand against his shoulder, holding him in his chair. “Wait. Before we go all frantic parents on them, we should stop and think. What are they doing and why?”

Draco took a huge breath. “I suppose you’re right, darling. If they were just trying to be together, they would have stayed at school, not risked causing a ruckus and being forbidden to ever see one another again -- though that option is still a live one.”

“If you don’t mind me saying, a common thread running through all of this,” Harry said, “is the Muggle world. They seem to be out to prove they can get around the country without magic.”

Hermione scoffed. “The irony being that your James can do magic without a wand anyway. Though we don’t know if Cassie’s aware of that.”

Harry scoffed as well. “Oh, she would know. James, as you may have guessed from the newspaper, is not a subtle boy.” As he said it, he looked a little too proud of the irrepressibility of James’s talent. Draco saw it, his colour rising to it. “But,” Harry was quick to say, “he has always been a decent boy -- a gentleman.”

Draco was having none of it. “Why would they want to spend a day at large with no magic? Why would they, or anyone else care? It’s my magic at stake in Dr. Huang’s procedure. Are they trying to inspire me to crack on? Or is she…” He looked up from James’s note, to Hermione. He stood up, reaching for her hand. “Oh my god, Hermione. She’s coming to try to take my place. This escapade is her making a case for it. She’s gone to all this trouble to prove she can live without her own magic so we’ll let her lay it down for us.”

“No,” Hermione said. “No, that is not how this ends.”

“Of course not. Come along, Potter. Let’s go get them.”

“But,” Hermione said, “Cassie is trying to show us something. Frankly, I’ve had a difficult time communicating with her. She’s not much of a talker -- not with us, at any rate. So I’d like to let her lead me along, showing me instead of telling me whatever there is for me to know, for a little longer.”

“If you don’t mind me saying something more, there’s no way James is coming along to simply deliver her up to be de-magicked,” Harry added. “I agree with Hermione that there’s something else here worth watching.”

“Fine,” Draco blurted. “The two of them can have the day to do what they must but then we bring us all together tonight, at the institute. We’ll need Pollux, the doctor, and everyone else too. This will be settled tonight, one way or another.”

Chapter Text

In a feat of non-magical strength, James wouldn’t let anyone else carry any of the grocery bags into the house from the car. Inside the house, Ann bossed Cassie about where to put everything, and ordered Tim to get their things sorted for a day at work. Every Friday the Granger Dental Surgery opened late in the morning, a luxury neutralized by her insistence that they arrive an hour early.

Even after the restoration of her memory, Ann had kept her strong convictions about young people’s chastity, and it meant that Cassie and her slightly too polite boyfriend would not be allowed to spend the workday alone, unchaperoned in Ann’s house. A Muggle-free day didn’t suit Cassie’s plans either, and she made no objections to the both of them being brought along to the surgery instead.

It was a familiar spot for her. Twice a year, her grandparents sat her in what her dad called their Azkaban Armchairs and cleaned her teeth with picks and water and a potion that was supposed to taste like raspberries but absolutely did not. During the ritual, her grandparents never said anything about how remarkably clean and healthy the children’s teeth already were.

At the clinic, Cassie had a familiar list of tasks to do -- cleaning glass surfaces with a spray bottle, using a noisy machine to suck dust out of the carpets beneath the waiting room chairs. The Grangers had a different list for James. To begin with, they dressed him in something they were calling PPE -- a full length paper gown over his own clothes, purple rubber gloves, a mask hooked over his ears, covering his mouth and nose, and a pair of clear plastic goggles. If the Grangers had meant this getup to keep him from cuddling their granddaughter, it was working.

“What is this place again?” he asked, muffled behind his mask when Cassie found him in a janitorial room at the back of the clinic. He was lugging away a cardboard box lined with alarming red plastic, stamped with a symbol for biohazardous material which he did not recognize, but could have guessed at by now. “I know it’s about teeth, but -- I’m not even sure what I just saw out there.”

Cassie lowered a pair of goggles over her own face, blinking at him from behind them.

“There was this tray full of metal hooks,” he began. “Dozens of them, all different and tiny, but fierce looking. And there’s wires and hoses, and water splashing everywhere, people laid out under bright lights with their mouths propped open, rubber clamped onto everything, and your grandad just sitting there, poking away, chatting about football.”

“Yes, well he doesn’t really care so much about football. It’s just to help them relax.”

“And the potions, Cassie -- great spiky vials full of potions. I saw your Gran drive one right into the inside of someone’s cheek.”

“And they didn’t complain at all, did they?”

James blinked himself. “No, actually.”

“Yeah, she’s brilliant.”

“Look,” he said, tearing his mask away so he could lower his voice. “What is this all about? It looks like some kind of gory blood magic. I know that can’t be right, but since we’ve been here, I have seen quite a bit of blood. And, I do believe, at least one disembodied human tooth.”

Cassie tucked his mask back over his ears. “It’s not magic, it’s healthcare. They’re helping people care for their teeth, so they don’t fall out, and they can keep eating and smiling their entire lives. It’s lovely.”

James was unconvinced.

“Maybe you’d feel better if you had a cleaning yourself,” Cassie said. “I’ve had loads. So have Pollux and mum. And what about your dad? Everyone says he was raised by Muggles. He must have been to the dentist himself.”

“Dad? No, he would never.”

“I don’t see how he could have avoided it. It’s a childhood rite of passage.”

“Rite? So it is…?”

“James, please,” Gran Granger said, leaning through the doorway. “We’re in a hurry to replace the suction traps. There’s a sleeve of replacements on the shelf, just there. Bring them out, would you?”

“Cassie, help,” he said, rifling through the shelves. “Help me. Have you heard what the suction traps are? What they do?”

“Of course. They strain all the spit that comes out of the patients’ mouths, so nothing chunky gets into the lines to ruin the machines.”

“Yeah, they’re slimy, and foul, and smell like the bad breath of a hundred strangers.”

Cassie folded her arms, smirking like the Malfoy he kept forgetting she was. “The talented James Potter, have you been bested by some Muggle dental equipment?”

“It’s so gross, Cassie. Someone needs to come through and scourgify the whole place.”

She took a step closer to him. “That’s not how this world works.”

He retreated. “Don’t touch me, I’m probably coated in a fine mist of dried human saliva.”

She kept advancing. “This will be my world soon. The trains weren’t that bad, the grocery store wasn’t that bad. Driving in the car is rather nice sometimes. But there’s also all of this.”

James was shaking his head. “There is no reason you can’t keep cleaning your teeth the proper, magical way no matter what happens to you. I’ll do it for you myself, every morning, every night, whenever you want.”

She was standing close to him, her face turned up, baiting him to do what he had to in order to kiss her through his Personal Protective Equipment.

“Suction traps!” Gran’s voice came calling.

“Right away!”

_____________________

Harry Potter was extremely amused, wrapped in his invisibility cloak, stood in a corner of Granger Dental Surgery watching his typically over-confident teenaged son being cowed by Hermione’s mother’s list of chores. It may have been the first time Harry had been in a clinic like this without being scared of getting a needle in the mouth. The smells and sounds sent his memory back to the desolation of his childhood, the longsuffering ward of the Dursleys, bearing with the luxury of having his teeth cleaned.

He’d promised Draco Malfoy that even though he wouldn’t gather up their children just yet, he would take the rest of the morning off to surveille them. If he wasn’t so cross with James for getting involved in all of this without taking more care to not get caught by the press, he might have found the pair of them endearing.

The girl was a mix of the strangest physical features of both Hermione and Draco, and what was perhaps an even more surprising combination of their personality traits, complete with much more in her that Harry didn’t recognize from either of her parents -- and much less.

What could be wrong with her magic? He had heard it spoken of as if it were under-developed, faulty. How could that be true of Hermione’s daughter or, for that matter, Malfoy’s? Harry had known Malfoy’s magic to be lazy or reluctant at times, but he had also known it to do astounding, dangerous things. What had gone wrong with their daughter? Most troubling of all, what he’d heard young Miss Malfoy say to James about the Muggle world becoming her world confirmed her parents’ suspicions that she meant to sacrifice whatever magic she did have to restore Hermione’s memory.

Harry understood, perhaps better than anyone, the compulsion to risk oneself to save people, especially loved ones -- especially a lost mother. He understood it in Castora and in James as well. At first sight, he had wondered what James liked about this girl -- what could drive him to risk so much to follow her here. Maybe it was rooted in this need to rescue. In his way, James had that need himself and no proper object to direct it toward. James wanted to fulfil someone’s need, to be what someone else needed, or at least, to love and be loved by someone who might need him.

Still beneath his cloak, Harry disapparted from the surgery. James recognized the sound, spinning away from the disabled suction pump he was servicing to look around the room, nearly yanking the hose out of the machine as he did so.

“Right,” said Gran, barely catching the end of the hose. “Cassie, take him to wash up and get him some lunch.”

_________________

They sat in the park down the road from the surgery. Exhausted, James let himself fall down, spread out in a star-shape on the grass.

“Dad was there,” he said, “at the surgery. He was cloaked and invisible, but he was there. He was careless and I heard him leave.”

Cassie lay on her stomach in the short, dingy grass beside him. “Did he want you to know?”

James shaded his eyes with one arm. “Maybe.” It was hitting him hard, all of a sudden, the too-few hours of sleep he’d had on the train.

Cassie’s smoothed his eyebrow, her fingertips moving downward, over his eyelids, easing them closed. “Go on and sleep,” she said.

“You’ll watch over me?” he smiled from behind his closed eyes.

“I’ll look at you, anyways. It’ll be nice.”

Her sweetness struck him and he opened his eyes to brush her hair out of her face. And just as he was dropping his hand away, something came hurtling toward them, hitting him in the chest. They sat up instantly, James looking around to see who’d tossed it at them, finding no one. It was today’s edition of the Daily Prophet.

“There must’ve been a wizard here, just now,” Cassie said. “Is it your dad again?”

James couldn’t tell. “Maybe we should get out of the open.”

They went to a cafe across the square, spending the Muggle money Grandad had been giving her to buy sandwiches and fizzy water. James opened the newspaper, flipping to the back for quidditch scores while Cassie yawned. He turned page three over without looking at it.

“Wait,” Cassie said. “It’s you.”

“What?”

“There in the photo, it’s you.”

James winced. The paparazzi had an interest in him when he was a baby, the firstborn of the chosen one and all that, but they hadn’t come for him in years. They still hadn’t. The name Potter was nowhere in the article on the non-problem of Hogwarts truancy.

He still said, “I think this is bad, Cassie.”

Her hand closed over his wrist. “No, James,” she said. “It couldn’t be more perfect.”

___________________________

Professor Longbottom had not only given Pollux Malfoy leave to go home early from school that day, he’d called him into his office and suggested it himself. The school was still in an uproar about what the students were calling James Potter’s elopement and they were beginning to connect it to a student Neville felt particularly motivated to protect: Castora Malfoy. It was a rumor that was not going to blow over with Paul still fuming around the school.

In two weeks, he’d be old enough to take his apparation test, but until then, he had an excellent excuse for Griselda to leave early along with him. Hand in hand, they apparated into the back garden of the Malfoy’s London flat. The backdoor opened at his touch and they were in the kitchen, faced with his parents sitting in the same chair, his mother in his father’s lap, their foreheads pressed together, held in place by his mother's hand in the hair on the back of his father's head, his father’s eyes closed as his mother murmured to him in a low, sweet voice. They looked, Paul thought, almost exactly as he and Gris must have when Professor Stuve found her comforting him in a Hogwarts stairwell, earlier that morning.

“Veela,” Gris whispered beside him.

But it had never been more plain to Paul that making this kind of contact was something learned, and this was where he had learned it. Aside from the quick embrace in Malfoy Manor, he hadn’t seen the two of them like this in months. And for the first time, it made him feel something other than repulsion. He wasn't the little boy clambering over them, forcing himself into the middle. The sight of them made him happy -- grateful as well, for teaching him to love like this. Maybe it wouldn’t always be the best way to deal with every problem, but it worked for now. He loved them for it, but he wouldn’t let them know.

“Hey,” he said.

Hermione twitched, moving to stand, but Draco held her.

“You’re back,” Draco said. ‘Good.”

“Where’s Cassie?” Paul demanded.

“With Gran,” Hermione said, loosing herself and standing to greet Griselda.

“With Gran and James Potter?”

She nodded. “You’ve seen it.”

“Everyone’s seen it.”

“Griselda,” Hermione redirected, not ready for another foray into the news of the day so soon after getting Draco calmed down, “are you staying with us for the evening?”

“The headmaster wants her back,” Paul said.

Gris waved her hand. “I’d rather stay, Madam Malfoy. Thank you." she said in the odd manners of the old families.

"Sure, what’s the good of being the daughter of an old thug if she can’t tell the headmaster to kiss off every once in awhile," Paul finished.

Draco smirked. “Griselda, your dad was forced into those baby Death Eater dark arts classes with us when we were kids. Do you know if he ever perfected a patronus?”

She nodded. “Yes, I think that’s what his ghost-toad magic is supposed to be."

Draco nodded sharply. “Excellent. Let’s bring him in.”

Chapter Text

The time had come for Cassie’s father to bring her home. Out of respect for his in-laws and Ann’s distaste for apparation, Draco arrived in their back garden, walked to the front like a typical visitor, and knocked on the door just after tea. As usual, the Grangers had not been told about the magical mishap with Hermione’s memory. If Dr. Huang’s procedure failed and they could think of nothing else to try to fix her, Draco would tell them then. For now, he had come alone, posing as someone not in crisis, to meet his own daughter. The most difficult part was to not glare murderously at James Potter as he went about it. Apologies and thanks were made to Ann and Tim before Draco, forgetting about his mother-in-law’s equal distaste for disapparation, took each of the young people by the wrist and returned to the flat.

They arrived in the kitchen at home, where Paul couldn’t help but laugh as Draco didn’t quite manage not to fling James Potter’s wrist back at him as he let go.

Hermione rose to her feet, her arms outstretched. “Cassie, darling, what are you thinking, leaving school early? Why couldn’t you come with Paul?”

Cassie stepped into her mother’s embrace. Everything came out in a great rush. “I wanted you to see me living without magic. It’s fine. You see? You need to use me, Mum. Don’t use Dad. I’m the donor to fix your memory. I don’t have much magic, hardly any, and what I do have is rubbish. I get stuck outside doors. I can hardly levitate a sheet of parchment. It’s all useless. I don’t even want it. Take it away, Mum. Use up all of mine and be better again.”

Hermione settled her face into Cassie’s hair. “My lovely girl. Draco, it’s as we thought -- as we feared. And of course, the answer is no. We will not use you, darling.”

Draco laid a hand on Cassie’s back as she hid her face in her mother’s shoulder. “Castora, when this began, I told your mother there were only two things in this world I would not give to make her well: one was Pollux and the other was you.”

She didn’t let go of Hermione as she told him, “You won’t give me up, Daddy. You’ll just let me stop. I’m not magic, not really. It’s exhausting to pretend. I hate it.”

“Cassie, we’ve seen your magic -- your sparks, the way you can make yourself unseen even when everyone’s looking at you, your natural legilimency -- “

“I’m not a legilimens, Daddy,” she said, intentionally interrupting her father for the first time in her life. “I’m sorry. Without magic, I have to pay close attention to people -- how they look and feel, imagining what they’re thinking -- and so I do. That’s all. It’s nothing.”

“It is something,” Hermione said. “Magic development takes its own pace. Don’t fret about what everyone else in your year can do. Remember Professor Longbottom’s story? He’s not exaggerating. I was in all his classes. He was awfully unskilled, right up until he was everything we needed.“

Cassie was sniffing, fighting not to cry. “I’ve spoken with Professor Longbottom. I haven’t asked him yet, but I think I can help him make something good from all of this. We can change Hogwarts to keep magical families together no matter how people’s abilities are different. We can make a place there for me and all the other kids who turn out to be squibs.”

The entire room cringed at the word. When she wasn’t around, Paul had used it to describe Cassie himself. Hearing her say it now made him want to punch himself in the face.

“Cassie,” Draco was first to say, “you are not a squib.”

“Who cares if I am?” she challenged. “What we call it won’t change me. But I can change something. I have Professor Longbottom to help me and -- “ she looked across the room, at the boy standing quietly, uncomfortably, averting his eyes from the Malfoy family like they were a star approaching supernova. She went on. “Everyone who saw the newspaper today saw how James Potter looks at me. What would they say if they knew that he knows better than anyone how bad my magic is, and even so, he can still see me -- the way he does? People will understand that look. They’ll remember it. And it might help them to accept their own squibs and be happy.”

She turned her attention back to her mother. “But all of that can wait. Right now, all I really want is to fix Mum.”

Hermione took Cassie by the chin, looking into her eyes. “Listen to me, Castora. The procedure has changed since we last talked. That’s what your father and I were bringing you back to tell you this weekend. Right now, Dr. Huang is at the institute setting up a big charmed crystal box. It’s a magical apparatus for collecting and concentrating our energies. We’ve contacted friends and family who can conjure patronuses and we’re going to capture and use their energy as a donor instead of any one wizard or witch themself. It’s never been tried before. It might fail. And if it does -- we might have to try something else.”

She paused to kiss Cassie’s forehead. “At this moment, I am not looking for a donor. Your father is safe. We do not accept your sacrifice. But you are the most beautiful, brave girl I know. And after this is over, no matter how it ends, we will meet with Professor Longbottom and whomever else we need to talk to about the changes you’d like to see at Hogwarts. They are wise and humane and I adore you all the more for them.”

Cassie crushed her mother in a hug. They were about the same size now, but Cassie squeezed her with all the abandon of a little child.

_____________________

Dr. Huang’s crystal magical energy containment box took up most of the open floor space in the Malfoy Memory Institute. Its walls were thick and clear, unfaceted, reaching almost to the ceiling. It was closed on all sides but one, where patronuses would be delivered, left to reverberate off the other five walls long enough to transfer their energy outside the box. Next to it was a large chair, something like the ones Muggles use to extract blood for donors. One of its arms was long and stiff, and to it, Hermione’s wand arm would be connected. The process would be demanding for her, requiring her to use her wand to maintain an unbroken magical link to the box until all of the patronuses had been spent and her brain waves had returned to being like those of a healthy witch.

Since they were young, and had grown up during peacetime, never having to produce a patronus, Paul and Cassie were assigned to remain at their mother’s side, sustaining her and keeping her lucid and focused during the process. The adults gathered at the institute would conjure and contribute patronuses, one after the other, for Hermione to draw strength from. It was impossible to calibrate the procedure. Hermione sat in the chair with Dr. Huang’s electrodes and his Muggle-inspired encephalogram machine connected to her head, but this was to measure and monitor effects, not to control them. There was no way to know how much magical energy would be needed to raise the peaks of Hermione’s brain waves, and so Dr. Huang’s strategy was simply to generate all he could.

The crowd assembled at the open end of the crystal box had already gone through their reunions and thanks. It was time to begin.

Dr. Huang raised his wand. “准备!”

Hermione took Paul’s hand, and with her other hand, she cast a thin, burning link of magic from her wand to the box. The first patronus cast was Dr. Huang’s rooster. It went thrashing into the box, ricocheting angrily between the walls, the force of it sent a jolt through Hermione’s arm, and the needle on the readout of the encephalogram machine spiked.

Griselda saw it first. “Yes!”

Dr. Huang nodded. “继续!”

Harry Potter cast his next, a stag, huge compared to the rooster, almost too blinding to look at. Ginny’s horse followed it. Then Seamus, who’d come all the way to London just to help, added his fox. Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy conjured in their peacock and peahen pair. George Weasley sent in one half of a magpie pair. Angelina provided the other half. Luna Lovegood sent a rabbit hopping into the mix, followed closely by Gregory Goyle’s toad, a favourite trick for his daughter.

Griselda didn’t see it this time. She was bent over the readout. Dr. Huang had traced a line on the paper, showing the level it would need to reach before they could expect a change in Hermione’s memory. It was nearly high enough, and there was just one more patronus to add.

The magic crackled and roared, like an electrical storm caught inside the crystal box. Hermione fought to stay connected to it as the energy rocked through her wand. Paul steadied her arm. “Come on, Mum. Hold on. There’s more.”

Draco stepped forward. Over the flashes of white light, the noise, he looked to his family, clustered around Hermione’s chair. If he cast his patronus and it wasn’t enough, there was one more thing he would try. Without any further negotiation, he would step into the box himself. He was sure he’d survive it -- nearly sure -- and whatever magic the procedure lacked, it could draw directly from him, come what may. His eyes still fixed on his family, he called the incantation and loosed his ferret into the box.

Paul held his mother’s arm and Griselda bent over the machine. The peaks had spiked higher, but it wasn’t quite enough. They didn’t know what to say, but when they looked up from the readout, back at the adults streaming patronuses from their wands, it was clear that this had come very close, but failed.

Draco took a step, and all at once, everyone knew what would happen next. With his freehand, Harry grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt, holding him back. It was a reflexive, protective gesture, and as the force of Draco’s resistance grew, he would let him go. For now, he called, “Draco, wait. Let it work.”

Griselda watched the needles on the machine, tears forming in her eyes. Come on, Madam Malfoy...

Paul couldn’t look away from his mother, his heart sinking. “Castora,” he said. “Cassie, don’t…”

What Paul could tell without seeing was that Castora was sprinting past her father. She had almost tumbled into the box herself when James caught her around the waist, keeping her back, pressing his forehead against her temple to plead into her ear, “Please, love, not yet.”

James Potter had been trained in patronus charms. Of course he had. His, however, was not an ordinary one. The first time he had produced it, his father had sunk to his knees, weeping. It was a phoenix. His father promised him it portended something momentous in his future, and asked him not to cast it where anyone could see unless a life was on the line. This event was a tragedy for the Malfoys but none of them was facing death. James kept his promise to his father, and slid Castora Malfoy’s nearly weightless wand from his sleeve.

“I can do it with you, Cassie,” he said. “You and me together, let’s add the last one.”

She choked out a sob. Draco stopped struggling against Harry’s hold. Paul looked away from his mother.

James kissed Cassie’s face. He pressed the wand into her palm, covering her hand with his own, pointing it toward the opening of the box. “You have to say it with me, Cassie,” he said. “On the count of three…”

There was a shower of loose, chaotic sparks spilling into a vortex and becoming a beam of white light. Just when it looked like it might dissipate into darkness again, out of the light flew two tiny wrens, diving into the heart of the crystal crucible.

It was enough.

Gris cheered as she read the instrument and Hermione, exhausted, dropped her wand to the floor. Paul gathered her up, looking into her eyes. With barely enough strength left to move, she touched his face with both of her hands. “Baby,” she said. “When you were first born, your eyes were grey, like your father’s.”

And with that, she fell to sleep.

___________________

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry launched its inaugural “S” Class for non-magical children of magical families at the beginning of Castora Malfoy’s final year. The class was small and not without stigma, but under Headmaster Longbottom’s leadership and through a public campaign headed by the Malfoy and Potter families, it had come into being after years of prejudice and ostracization toward people historically known as squibs.

At Cassie’s graduation ceremony, as she crossed the stage to shake the headmaster’s hand, and accept the first ever Arabella Figg Memorial Scholarship, the entire S Class rose to their feet, cheering. Her parents were in the audience, Hermione cradling her tiny grandson, the newest little master of Malfoy Manor, Lucius Granger Huang Malfoy. His mother, Griselda, was fighting to stay awake through the ceremonies after a long night with Baby Luc. Paul rubbed her neck and shoulders with one hand, his fingers roving underneath her hair, to where she kept it shorn close to her head at its innermost layer.

“He didn’t make it?” Hermione asked as they greeted Cassie after the ceremony.

She just shrugged -- the ideal partner for an Auror, the kind who could let them go. But Draco had a hand on Hermione’s arm, nodding over her shoulder, steering her away. Cassie looked to where her father had been nodding in time to see James as he scooped her up, arms around her thighs, lifting her over everyone else in the crowd.

“Potter!”

He turned her around in a circle and let her slide through his arms, back to standing on her feet but pressed close to him. Through her graduation robes, his frame felt lean and hard, like he’d been suffering through his training. He was grinning anyway. “It’s been months,” he said. “Are you still mine?”

“For the love of Boggarts,” she dismissed his question, kissing him on each cheek before finishing on his mouth.

He hummed. “Love those sparks. Finest magic ever.”

“Come see the baby,” she said.

“Can he do anything yet?”

“Nothing at all. That’s the beauty of him.”

Gris was nodding and yawning enough that Hermione insisted they return to the Manor where she and Paul lived so she could sleep while the rest of them fawned over the baby. But as luck would have it, the baby went to sleep with his mother for once, and the Malfoys, true to their natures, as magical creatures or otherwise, dissolved into pairs, isolated throughout the vastness of the haunted manor. Lucius Senior and Narcissa settled into the armchair in the library, Paul and Griselda were asleep in their room, James and Cassie, who hadn’t seen each other in weeks -- well, you can imagine -- , and finally, Draco and Hermione found themselves laid out on the bare wood floor beneath the chandelier in the drawing room.

“Brilliant idea, darling,” Draco said. “Nice hard surface: great for the spine.”

She laughed at him. “Sorry. Bear with me. After all this time, after I forgot all about it once, I wanted you to show me how you did it.”

“What?”

“The chandelier trick, from that day you couldn’t let them kill me, during the war. How did you bring it down as if it was an accident, so we could get away?”

He sighed. “I just wanted it. I wanted you safe so badly, it was like I couldn’t stop it. The house gives me what I want. That’s what it wants.”

“Show me.”

“I have to want it.”

She rolled toward him, breathing against his throat, opening her mouth to kiss his neck. “Please, Malfoy. Save me. Let me live long enough to fall in love with you.” She worked her lips down his neck. “And then long enough to fall in love with you again.” She kissed back up his neck, along his jawline, to his mouth. “Please…”

Above them, the plaster began to crack.