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Of Flames and Flight

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Will you lay yourself down and dig your grave
Or will you rail against your dying day?

-Sleep on the Floor, The Lumineers

 

Hermione stumbled downstairs, her sock clad foot slipping on the thick carpet covering the stairs to the upper floor of her parent’s house. The brief feeling of falling sent an unpleasant jolt through her chest, making her heart gallop, and her need for caffeine decrease significantly.

“Hermione dear, are you finally awake?” her Mum’s smiling face poked around the corner from the kitchen, a smear of what looked like melted chocolate along her chin. Hermione’s stomach made a small pitiful noise of want at the idea of her Mum’s chocolate chip pancakes.

“Yes, Mum,” she grumbled through a deep yawn, weaving her way to the ground floor. Her Dad was settled comfortably in the front room, his eyes glued to the football game on their small telly.

“Well, I don’t know what they’ve got you doing at that school of yours dear, but these late nights aren’t good for you,” her Mum chided as she set a plate of pancakes on the table, along with a cup of tea, prepared just the way Hermione liked.

Hermione gave her Mum a small smile, “I told you, Mum, I was writing. You know I like to keep ahead while I’m not at school. It’s the only time I have time to work on what I want to learn outside of the offered classes.”

Her Mum huffed, but couldn’t keep the indulgent smile from her face. She busied herself cleaning up the splatters of batter and lines of melted chocolate that somehow migrated to new portions of the kitchen anytime her Mum cooked with it.

“So… are you going to tell me who he is?” her Mum asked, her voice painfully casual.

Hermione spluttered around the mouthful of tea she’d taken, falling into a coughing fit as she tried to speak and breath all in one go.

“Mum..” She glared through watering eyes as she finally cleared her throat, her Mum standing by the sink and smirking in an annoyingly knowing sort of way. Merlin, she hoped she didn’t look that smug when she’d figured something out.

“Is it Harry? Or Ron? Ron always seemed so awkward around you, I always thought he might fancy you a bit,” her Mum continued blithely, completely ignoring her daughter's increasing look of horror.

“No! Mum, stop,” Hermione put her tea down carefully, sobering abruptly. She’d been home for almost a week, and every day she remained there with her parents sitting under only the warding that she had managed, she got more and more agitated.

She had finally finished preparations for getting them to safety, closing her notebook on her and Draco’s plans just after dawn.

She had broken down a few weeks prior, telling Draco in a moment of stress what she hadn’t even dared to voice to Harry or Ron, that she had been studying powerful memory charms, the kind that would erase whole sections of a life. Or whole people.

She’d felt backed into a corner, the reports she had read during their prep to get Narcissa to safety, about how the Death Eaters had targeted families of muggleborns, had left her with nightmares.

She knew Harry would try to hide them if she asked. Of course he would, and so would Ron. Hell, Ron would probably just stuff them into the Burrow and hope for the best, but that would be the first place they would look. At least the Weasley’s had a chance, and so did Narcissa if anyone managed to trace Harry’s properties. Wizards could flee, could defend themselves. With how much the Weasley’s were having to move around between Grimmauld place and the ministry, Hermione was too scared to leave her parents somewhere that obvious that didn’t have both excessive wards and a magic user guaranteed to be present, just in case.

She’d told Draco late one night, weeks before he’d had to flee. He’d made her come to meet him in the back of the library and try to find a solution that didn’t result in her parents possibly never remembering that they had a daughter.

He’d offered up a somewhat ridiculous amount of money to buy them a home somewhere out of country. Still, they couldn’t figure an entirely untraceable way, and if it was discovered he had bought a house and hidden the family of one of the most well known muggleborns, he was as good as dead. They had the same problem with Harry using his money to do so, though with less terrible murder for Harry.

Draco had finally kissed her goodnight, mumbling something about writing her as soon as he had a better idea but that she wasn’t to ‘go bollockings up her parent's heads, Merlin Granger, you’re terrifying.’

They’d spoken about it sporadically, and he had never once disagreed that something needed to be done to keep them safe. He had finally unearthed paperwork for an old country house in the south of France. It was something that his Mother had inherited but hadn’t ever visited since they had a Chateau that had been in the Malfoy family for generations where they stayed when they were in country. It had the advantage of being forgotten and an old wizarding property with a fair number of wards, even if they weren’t as up to date as the cottage.

Draco had gained control of the property upon his Mother’s ‘death,’ along with a rather sickening amount of other homes.

All in all, they had decided it was their best bet. She didn’t like that there wasn’t anyone there to protect them until they could get to a portkey if someone did find them, and she’d argued that it was just as bad for him if they were discovered, but he’d insisted it was safer since he hadn’t even known he owned the place. He had halted her arguments when he pointed out that the last place anyone would look for her family was in a Malfoy owned house. He had finally threatened to tell Harry and Ron if she kept arguing, who would both undoubtedly do something at least mildly idiotic, like try and keep her parents at the Order Headquarters.

The records showed that there were no house elves in residence, and no one had lived there since the Black cousin that owned it had died several generations prior. Hermione had reluctantly agreed several days before, and they had finalized their plans the previous night. She just needed to tell her parents.

Hermione looked up in time to see lines of worry bracket her Mum’s mouth. She sighed heavily and motioned her Mum toward the front room.

“I need to talk to both you and Dad,” she said, pushing the rest of her breakfast away. She refreshed her tea and ambled over to the couch, her soft sleep pants covered in tiny roaring dragons making her smile.

“Richard, turn off the telly, Hermione needs to tell us something,” her Mum said as she followed her daughter into the room. Some note in her Mum’s voice made her Dad grab the remote and turn the game off without a second look.

“What is it, Pumpkin?” her Dad asked, worry in his dark eyes. He had nearly forbidden her from going back to Hogwarts the previous year after Dolohov’s curse. Ever since, he had been on edge, writing to her considerably more often, as if he needed weekly reassurance that she hadn’t been horribly killed.

Her Mum sat down on the arm of the chair, her face scrunched with worry.

“First off, I’m fine,” she said, watching tension seep out of both her parents.

“You both know that there’s been some, unrest, in the wizarding world,” she started, hating that she had to tell them how bad it was. They weren’t going to want to let her go, but they couldn’t stop her either.

Her parents both nodded. “That man, the one you said tried to hurt Harry, he’s stirring all that fuss up, isn’t he?” her Dad asked, trying to keep up.

“Yes, but I may have, possibly, left out a few things,” she said, staring down into the milky depths of her tea.

“Hermione,” her Mum said, warning clear.

“He didn’t just hurt Harry. He’s been trying to murder him since he was a baby. He’s also known as the most dangerous dark wizard of our time. Of any of our times really,” she said in a rush. “There was a lot that happened that I won’t go into, but he’s been gaining power for a few years now, and it’s getting bad. Really bad.” She whispered the last, her mind falling into a flash of cold flagstones and verdant green light, and Draco choking out the awful words that would save them and damn him.

“Hermione, are you in danger?” her Dad asked, his voice shaking. She looked up and met his eyes, her heart wrenching at the helpless fear she found there. She knew he would do anything to protect her. He would stand in front of any of the Death Eaters, not even able to physically defend himself because he was a dentist, a Merlin damned dentist, and he would die, with barely a flick of a wand.

“Yes,” she said, her back straightening. “But you’re in a lot more than I am,” she finished, feeling suddenly so much older. “It’s not a fuss, Dad, it’s a war,” her tone was soft but held a thread of steel, something she had earned the hard way, through pain and loss and fear.

“They’re trying to kill us, the Death Eaters that is. It’s a war about blood purity,” she held a hand up to forestall the questions she could see in her Mum’s face.

“Muggleborns and half-bloods are the primary targets, but you must understand, I am not an easy target. But I am one of the highest profile ones.” She took a deep breath, her hand absently smoothing over a tiny silver dragon, dancing over the green background of the pants that Draco had thought it hilarious to give her.

“My family is one of the most likely targets,” she finally got out. Her Mum drew in a sharp breath, her hand coming up to cover her mouth.

“But why would you be a target? You’re just a girl,” her Dad asked, bewildered.

“Because I’m one of the most well known fighters in the Order,” she said very softly. “Harry, Ron, and I have defeated Voldemort and his followers more than a few times.”

Her parents just sat and stared, both looking like she had started speaking dwarvish.

“But, sweetheart, you’re only eighteen, why would you be fighting anyone?” her Dad asked.

Suddenly, his face hardened “That scar, that curse scar; you told us that you got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.” His eyes narrowed with suspicion.

Hermione felt her face flush, and she cleared her throat uncomfortably. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I had been a few centimeters to the left, I’d never have been hit,” she answered firmly.

“You lied to us?” her Mum asked, the first threads of anger coming into her voice.

Hermione closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. She had known that this would be hard, and a tiny guilty part of her wondered if maybe that was why she had so quickly decided to pursue memory charms. She wondered if Draco had guessed.

“Yes. I lied about a lot of things, or left them out,” she finally answered. “There is nothing you could have done to keep me safe, and it was better you not know.”

“We damn well could have kept you out of that school!” her Dad said, standing jerkily.

“No, Dad, you couldn’t have. You can’t keep me away from the world I belong in, and as much as I love you, you aren’t a part of it.” Her Dad stopped, sending her a stricken look.

“It’s not because I want to exclude you, you just simply can’t be. And I need to fight for my world; I need to do everything I can to stop these people before they come into  this  world and start killing people that  can’t  stop them.”

“And you can do that?” her Mum asked a strange note in her voice.

“Yes,” Hermione answered, her tone sounding for an instant just like Draco’s that night when he’d stood in front of Harry, shirtless and trembling, waiting for the first cut of the knife and his voice had never wavered. Thinking back, she might have fallen a little in love with him at that moment.

“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” her Mum asked. She had always known her so well. Better than anyone really, so it wasn’t a surprise she could read the intent in her daughter.

“We are. I’m taking you somewhere safe, and then I’m going back to join the Order. The people fighting for the light,” she explained.

“Now hold on a minute. We can’t just pick up and leave, Hermione. We have a practice, and a .. a mortgage, and a life,” her Dad protested.

“None of which you’ll have if Death Eaters show up and torture you to death for the mistake of being my parents!” she yelled, fear cresting and overwhelming her before she could get a better hold on it.

Her Mum suddenly stood, her eyes hard and locking on her daughters. “No matter what happens, it will never be a mistake that you are our child,” she said fiercely before she turned to her husband. “Richard, go start packing. Only things we truly need and want to see again. Don’t forget the picture albums.”

“But Mary…” he said weakly before nodding slowly at the looks both of the women in his life were giving him.

“Where are we going?” her Mum asked once her Dad had slowly climbed the stairs.

“France. There’s a house there that no one knows about. You should be safe there, and I’ll stay for a week or so to set wards and help clean the place. No one has lived there for a couple of hundred years or so, so some of the household spells might need updating. It’s a wizarding house, so it’ll be a bit of an adjustment.”

“Whose house is it?” her Mum had a knowing look in her eye.

She cleared her throat again, inexplicably shy for an instant “Draco’s,” she said quietly.

“Isn’t that the name of that awful boy that you hit?” her Mum just looked confused now.

“Yes, it is,” Hermione looked down at her pants again, tracing the flapping wings. “He’s perhaps less awful than I thought.”

“Oh, well, we all grow up at some point. I’m glad he’s turned over a new leaf,” her Mum said bracingly.

“Is he who you’ve been talking to so much?” she asked, much more quietly.

Hermione nodded, her cheeks pinking slightly. “We’re perhaps a bit more than friends,” she admitted.

“And he’s good to you? None of that name calling he used to do?” her Mum asked sternly.

“Yes, Mum, he’s good. He’s trying so hard,” to her dismay, she could feel her throat closing painfully, and she tried to swallow the lump down. She’d been pretending, ignoring to the best of her abilities that he was in so much danger. She had a horrible suspicion that he had volunteered so quickly because he was trying to protect her.

“Oh sweetheart, I’m sure he’s lovely,” her Mum said quickly, not understanding her distress. The gentle reassurance made it so much worse, and before she knew it, tears that had been trying to get out since she had watched him run up the tower were streaming down her face.

“Oh no, oh, I didn’t mean to upset you,” soft hands patted her hair back as her Mum joined her on the couch, wrapping her arms around her.

Hermione snapped open her cuff and wordlessly summoned a tissue, wiping viciously at her face. “You didn’t, Mum. He’s in a really dangerous place right now, and I’m scared that I’m not going to see him again, that I won’t be able to save him if something goes wrong.”

“Oh. Couldn’t he stay with us? It is his house after all,” she asked tentatively.

Hermione gave her a watery smile, “No, Mum, he can’t.”

Hermione wanted her parents to know the kind of man that their daughter was with, wanted them to know how brave he was, how much he was risking to keep them safe, but she couldn’t risk giving them any more information. She would do what she could to make sure that they didn’t know more than they needed or could be gleaned from the situation they were in.

“Well, I’m sure he’s a wonderful man. I’m looking forward to meeting him,” her Mum said as if it were settled, and there was simply a matter of scheduling a time to visit after the war was over.

Hermione wiped her face once more before she banished the tissue, and resolutely pulled her wand out.

“Right. We need to get going.” She pushed her hair back and quickly began waving her wand, shrinking and sending everything on the ground floor into the expandable pouch she had made last year. She’d emptied it for this exact moment, moving everything over to her bracelet.

Her Mum made a small, startled sound behind her as all the furniture shrunk down small enough to fit in her palm before swirling neatly into the small bag sitting on the floor.

“Go upstairs and pack a small overnight bag, anything you need for a day or so before I have a chance to unpack everything, alright?” Hermione asked, her Mum quickly nodding and hurrying up the stairs.

 

It took a few hours to finish packing and to make the calls they needed to make to shut down their practice indefinitely. They pulled their savings and paid as many bills as they could and shut off what they needed to. Hermione's Dad didn’t have time to cash out anything, so they were left with just their savings and what was in their accounts, which was less than they liked after they sent a decent severance package and a meaningful apology to their small staff.

Making a quick decision, Hermione told them not to worry about it, that she would make sure they had everything they needed and that they still had a home to come back to after all of this. She hated to ask Harry for money, but he had offered so many times, and she could pay him back. She didn’t want them to lose any more than they had to.

Finally, they were ready. They got back to the house, and Hermione summoned the portkey she had laboriously made after Draco had given her the coordinates and the keywords to get through the wards.

She pulled a small, broken, horse figurine out of her cuff, her Mum smiling at it.

“Here, put one finger on it. It’ll take us where we need to go, but it isn’t the most fun way to travel, and I’ve heard it’s worse for people without magic,” she said apologetically.

Her Dad waved her off and reached forward, her Mum just after him.

“France,” she said quietly, triggering the portkey. The yank behind her navel was as unpleasant as ever, but she tried to keep her attention around her, knowing she would need to brace both her parents when they landed.

A moment later, her trainers sank into soft, muddy loam, and she flung out her hands, her magic wrapping around her parents and stopping them from tumbling face down onto the soggy ground.

Her Dad looked at her for a few seconds, his eyes oddly distant before he spun abruptly and emptied his stomach. Her Mum swallowed a few times heavily but managed to keep everything down.

“Right then,” she said after her Dad had straightened back up and given her a weak thumbs up.

They walked toward the old house, impressed by the size. Of course, Draco’s version of a small country house was three times the size of the house she had grown up in. It was weathered grey stone and had an impressively wild front garden. She could see several wizarding plants and made a mental note to clear out the dangerous ones before she left.

A creeping fern had tangled its way onto the porch steps and waved small fronds at them as they stepped carefully over it, her parents giving it wary looks. The massive door opened smoothly at her muttered password, swinging in silently to reveal polished floors, blessedly free of dust.

At least some of the housekeeping spells seemed to still be working.

Her Mum was looking around, pleased at the large entry hall and the ornate carvings all along the walls. She jumped with a startled squeak when a carving of a vast tree swayed in the wind, it’s leaves rustling softly.

Hermione grinned at her, “Wizarding house Mum, it’ll be a bit different.”

Her Dad had wandered off to the left, exploring what looked to be a dining room.

“Hermione, I thought you said no one would be here? Did your friend decide to come?” his voice drifted from the other room, freezing the breath in her lungs.

Her wand was in her hand, and she was running before she had fully processed what he’d said. She rounded the corner, and the world seemed to slow, information coming in flashes.

A full plate of food on the table, a goblet of pumpkin juice in front of it. A man in loose robes rounding the corner. A wand in his hand, rising. Rising toward her Dad.

Hermione flung her wand out, not bothering to utter a spell, panic making her throw unformed magic between her father and the stranger.

A wave of magic burst from her wand, slamming into the curse that was already on its way to her Dad’s chest. The curse flew to the side, blackening the stone of the wall, her magic barreling on and hitting the man.

He flew back out of sight, the sound of crashing and breaking wood coming from the other room.

Hermione reached forward and yanked her Dad back, pushing him behind her as she stalked forward, wand held ready.

A small pained groan came from what looked to be the kitchen where the man had fallen against a sturdy table in the center of the room, a stool broken around him. His wand lay off to the side, and Hermione summoned it quickly before she threw an incarcerous at the man who was blinking confused, dark eyes at her.

He shifted his head, making his long hair fall back, and she gasped as recognition flashed through her.

“Karkaroff?” she asked, horribly confused. What was the former Durmstrang Headmaster doing here of all places? He was supposed to be dead. Remus had told them he was killed, almost a full year ago.

“You’re that girl, the one from Hogwarts. Potter’s friend,” he muttered in his thick accent, still a bit dazed.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked, completely confused. Draco would have told her if he had known there was someone here, especially a death eater, on the run or no.

“Is there anyone with you?” she asked suddenly, spinning just far enough to cast a shield over her parents, who had quietly followed her in.

“No, no one knows I am here,” he said, clarity coming back to his face. “What are you doing here, girl? You must have the passwords to get in...” he trailed off, an awful look coming across his face.

“The boy is a traitor then,” he whispered, his eyes flicking to her huddled parents, clearly wandless. A terrible glee was coming over him, pulling his lips into the rictus of a smile. He was looking at her, at her parents, like they were salvation.

Fear, horrible and crushing, crashed over her. She knew memory charms could be worked around, knew that Riddle wouldn’t care if he ripped apart someone’s mind to get what he needed. She knew that there was no way she would be able to keep him from selling his information to the highest bidder.

She couldn’t keep him; there was too high a risk of him escaping. There was only one way to make sure Draco was safe, but her stomach turned at the thought.

Karkaroff watched her face, watched her flip through her options at light speed, and watched her come to the same conclusion that was wiping the smile off of his face and replacing it with terror.

“No, you cannot. I will tell no one. No one,” he begged, suddenly desperate.

“Hermione?” her Mum’s voice broke her concentration, but she didn’t look away from the Death Eater on the floor.

“It’s alright, he’s the only one here. I need you both to go outside, alright?” she said softly, her hands already shaking.

“Sweetheart..” her Dad’s voice started before he cut off, and she heard their footsteps slowly moving away.

She didn’t count on Karkaroff, though.

“NO!” he screamed, thrashing as much as his bonds would allow. “You cannot leave me to die. You cannot let her kill me!”

“Don’t be stupid, my daughter wouldn’t kill anyone.” Her Dad’s voice came from further away but still too close.

“She will, she..” his voice cut off as she slashed her wand, gagging him.

“Mione, honey, you’re just going to...to use one of those memory charms, right?” her Dad sounded so hopeful, a small trickle of guilt in his voice for even asking.

She opened her mouth to reassure him and choked.

“Memory charms can be broken. Please leave,” she whispered.

“Hermione,” her Mum sounded outraged, horrified.

“Mum, this is war. People die. And some people are worth a hell of a lot more than him,” she got out, her voice only wavering once, trying desperately to convince herself that she could do this, she could do what had to be done.

“No. I won’t let you,” her Dad said, his voice stern like it had been when he’d caught her lying about the flooded bathroom when she was nine.

Karkaroff shifted so hard he sent the broken pieces of the stool scattering. She raised her hand, wand trembling… and a warm hand wrapped around it.

“Hermione, no,” her Dad said.

“You don’t understand,” she cried, spinning on him.

“Then explain it to me,” he responded, voice careful, so careful.

“If he lives, Draco dies. He knows that someone let us in. The only person that could have is Draco. There is no way to completely erase that from his mind, not to the extent that it would stop Riddle from tearing him apart and finding it. The only way to guarantee that Draco is safe, that he can do what he has to win the war, is if Karkaroff dies.” Hermione could hear her voice edging toward hysterics, and wished, wished so much that they would just leave, so she could do what was needed before she lost her nerve and then it wouldn’t be her fault, hers that he died, that he wasn’t there on the other side of the war.

“If it was between a mass murderer dying and Mum, who would you pick?” she asked, forcing calm, her eyes meeting their mirror in his.

Quiet descended, the labored breathing from the man on the floor the only noise, something she couldn’t understand in her father’s eyes.

“Alright. Alright, Pumpkin,” he said gently, making the Death Eater on the floor thrash. “But I’m going to need you to go outside, ok?”

She stared, dumbfounded, at her father. He stood there, so determined in his worn brown cardigan and loafers, the worst scar on him from a six year old biting his hand. He wasn’t tall and was a little soft around the middle, and he spent his weekends working in the yard and watching the telly, and he was going to try and get up the courage to murder a man, so his child didn’t have to.

Stupify,” she muttered, knocking the death eater out.

Her Dad went pasty and swayed.

“He’s fine, he’ll be out for a bit is all,” and she watched him heave with relief.

Hermione tilted her head back, trying to breathe, trying to decide what to do next.

A frown traced over her brow as a half remembered conversation floated back to her. She’d been in the hospital wing, just after Nott had attacked her. Harry and Severus were there, murmuring, and Harry asked something, something about a memory potion?

She snapped her head back down, her eyes coming open to meeting the scared faces of her parents.

“I need Harry,” she said, mostly to herself. Her Mum nodded a bit frantically, walking over to lace her arm through her Dad’s.

Expecto Patronum, ” she said, flipping her wand.

A tiny, wispy shield fell out and drifted to the floor, no dementors to guard against.

It took her less than a second to realise what must have happened sometime in the last several months since she cast it last.

“REALLY?” she shouted at nothing.

She would very much rather have come to some kind of personal realization that she was in love with the pasty git instead of being bludgeoned with it by her damn Patronus.

Neither of her parents commented, both still looking more than a little alarmed.

Hermione paused again, pulling in slow, deep breaths. She reached down, forcing her mind to calm, and pulled up her memories of Draco instead of the soft love she had for her parents, the bright flashes of being held up in the zoo to watch the otters, her Dad’s arms strong and safe as he giggled with her.

She looked for him, and there, in the depths of her mind, she found him. Warmth and challenge, laughter, and weirdly fond irritation. Quiet nights sharing thoughts and watching the icy cold of his stars wheel past. His fear and his bravery. His mask and the small moments he lets her see past it.

Expecto Patronum,” she tried again, letting the painful, complicated happiness of him fill her.

A large shape pulled itself from her wand, long tail lashing as it surveyed the room before spinning to look at her curiously. Four feet sank glowing claws into the floor, enormous translucent wings filling the space above her head.

A huge scaled muzzle dropped to her eye level, and she couldn’t help but smile a tiny bit at the eyes that were just a shade more silver than white.

“Honey, did a dragon just come out of your wand?” her Mum asked, voice shaking.

“It’s fine Mum, it’s just a spell,” she reassured absently.

“I need you to go find Harry and Severus, given them my location and tell Harry I need him here as soon as he can make it. The password to get through the wards is ‘Toujours Pur.’ Don’t deliver the message until he and Severus are alone,” She reached out to press her hand to the head of the massive creature, earning herself a fizzling bump of horns before it spun and took off through the wall.

“Wizarding phones?” her Dad asked, a bit breathless.

“Something like that,” she said as she opened her cuff and summoned out the notebook. Regardless of what happened when Harry got there, Draco needed to know that the house was compromised and that she would need to take her parents back to their home for the time being.

She only had to wait a few minutes for his reply, finally having caught a small bit of luck.

 

What do you mean, Karkaroff is there? He’s dead. Are you ok? Did he hurt you? I’m coming over there

  Don’t, it’s dangerous. We can manage. I called Harry and Severus, they should be here soon  

Good, Sev has a potion that should take care of everything, but I’m still coming. One good thing, no one is watching me anymore. You were right, I’m above being questioned

  Draco, I don’t like the idea of you risking yourself for this, it’s stupid  

  Draco?  

  Draco?  

  Bloody fucking hell Malfoy  

 

She slammed the notebook shut just as the sharp crack of apparation echoed through the open front door.

“Mione? You ok?”

Harry’s voice trailed in, followed shortly by the man himself. He was dressed in worn jeans and an old t-shirt with the Firebolt emblem starting to wear and crack. His dark hair was lighter than usual, liberally coated in dust, and his hand clutched his wand deceptively loosely.

Hermione walked over and stopped in front of him before letting her forehead fall to his chest. Solid arms wrapped around her shoulders, and he gently patted her hair, his wand snapping back into the forearm holster once he saw she wasn’t in immediate danger.

“That bad, uh?” he asked. She could hear Severus stalking in the door behind him. No doubt he had made a round of the yard to make sure it was safe.

“This has been a truly dreadful day,” she muttered into his shirt, noticing that he smelled a bit like a musty attic.

“Like troll in the dungeon or stuck in the shrieking shack with werewolf bad?” he asked, hands still slowly stroking her hair.

“I forgot about an assignment. One of Snape’s assignments,” she added, thinking of the appropriate level of crappy things. A small snort of amusement came from off to the side, the man himself having rejoined them after looking over the stunned death eater.

 

“Forgot an assignment, um? Today is obviously much worse than you led me to believe,” the cool drawling voice came from behind Harry and made her jerk her head back.

Harry smiled a bit and shifted sideways to stand shoulder to shoulder with Severus, clearing the path for the tall blond behind him.

Hermione darted across the entrance hall and wrapped herself around Draco, grumbling about him being an idiot all the while.

He curled around her, his taller frame closing off the world in a way that Harry’s didn’t. She relaxed, letting her cheek rest against the cool silk of his robes.

“You alright, love?” he asked quietly, his voice tight with suppressed emotion.

She nodded, suddenly exhausted. She didn’t want to do this again, spend weeks trying to figure out what to do, where to send them. She needed to be with Harry, working on Horcrux hunting,  ending this.

“I take it this is the result of attempting to hide Ms. Granger’s parents?” Severus’ voice broke in, making Hermione pull back and face the rest of the room, her small moment of comfort doing wonders for her nerves.

“We decided that they would be safest in the last place anyone would look. I’d no idea anyone knew this place existed, and no one should have had the password,” Draco said, looking more than a little troubled.

“I assume your mother gave it to him at some point in the past,” Severus continued. “We will need to do something about him and decide where your parents should go.”

“I guess, for now, we should just go back to the house,” Hermione said, not having a better idea.

Harry shook his head. “There’s been reports of werewolves attacking muggleborns and their families. I was going to tell you when you got to the Grimmauld, and since you said you were hiding your parents, I didn’t want to risk a message.”

Hermione swallowed heavily and shuddered at the memory of Greyback tearing down the halls at Hogwarts, his nails curved into wicked claws.

“Alright, so, we need a better option,” she muttered.

“Let us deal with Karkaroff first,” Severus said, already turning toward the kitchen. Her Dad made a small noise of unhappiness but moved out of the way.

“Ennervate,” Snape’s deep voice brought Karkaroff around. The Death Eater looked confused for a moment, finding himself surrounded by people. It took him a few seconds to process who he was looking at, but when he did, his face bleached of colour.

“Severus, what… What are you doing here?” he whispered.

The potions master ignored him in favor of drawing out a bottle of ice blue potion from his cuff, followed by dragon hide gloves and a thin silver knife. The Death Eater on the floor jerked at the sight of the blade.

“Do be still, Igor. I’ve no intention of stabbing you,” Severus looked down at him, one eyebrow arched condescendingly.

“How much can you erase with that?” Harry asked suddenly, looking curiously at the vial.

“Absolutely? A few days. Theoretically, several years, but that may require ingestion, and there’s been no way to test it properly,” he answered as he pulled on his gloves.

“And there’s no way to break it?” Draco asked, having come up behind Hermione and let his hand curl protectively over her shoulder.

“No. It is not a memory charm, which sections off and blocks the memories. This destroys them,” he answered, making Karkaroff’s eyes widen, and shoulders slump in relief. The Death Eater was smart enough to understand his options and not at all confident in his ability to talk his way out of a nasty end with Severus there.

“Before I do this, I suggest you tell us where you got the password and how long you’ve been hiding here,” Snape said, looking down at the bound man. “I needn’t remind you that if I believe you are lying to me, things will become… unpleasant for you.”

Karkaroff nodded slowly and struggled a bit to get himself into a somewhat more comfortable position.

“Narcissa told me about this place years ago. She and Lucius had invited me and a few others to the Chateau for New Years, and Lucius mentioned that they owned an old Black property here. I don’t remember what brought it up, but we had all had a bit to drink, and Lucius was set on looking to see if it was anything worthwhile.” Karkaroff managed to lean himself against the table and angle his neck to a better position.

“We apparated over, and I remember Narcissa saying the password. Yaxley asked how she knew since she’d never visited, and she said, ‘All Black properties have the same default password, our family motto’ ” he replied.

“Bloody hell,” Draco whispered.

“The password is the Black family motto? Always Pure?” Harry asked a look of disgust on his face. “Oh, I am changing that. Severus help me decide on something less terrible.”

Severus ignored the demand in favor of motioning Karkaroff on.

“I’ve been here for almost six months. I ran and hid in the middle east for a short while, after faking my death, but the Dark Lords reach is far, and I’ve fewer people who owe me favors outside of Europe.”

“You’ve had no contact with other Death Eaters then?” Severus asked.

Karkaroff gave him a withering look, “Of course not. I would not be alive if that were the case.”

“Very well,” Severus said, moving forward to kneel next to the other man. Harry shifted with him, reaching out to grip onto the Bulgarians face and hold him still.

“Wait, wait. What will you do after?” he asked, trying to pull away from the painfully tight grip Harry had on him.

“You’ll be left here,” Severus said, making Karkaroff slump with relief. “For Draco to choose how to deal with you,” he finished, watching the man tense again.

“Potter, can you drop an anonymous tip that there are Death Eaters hiding here? I’ll change the wards after he gets picked up,” Draco asked.

“No, no. Malfoy, they’ll kill me,” Karkaroff begged, dark eyes frantic.

“That’s not my problem,” Draco answered, his voice cold.

“And what? You think your father deserves the same treatment? He did the same as me, Malfoy,” Karkaroff yelled, making Draco stiffen.

“My father deserves every single moment he spends locked away,” Draco hissed. “You forget Karkaroff, I’ve the same mark you do. I know what you did. I know the kinds of things that the Dark Lord demanded of you. My father chose to stay to follow him. He’s as much of a monster as any of you are.”

He was shaking as he backed a step, sending a quick nod to his godfather before he turned and left on rapid feet, Hermione a few steps behind him.

The warm, early summer air brought the sounds of crickets as they stepped into the dimming light. The murmur of voices fell away as they walked further toward the low rise of bushes that lined the property, and Draco finally came to rest at a cracked, dry fountain that Hermione hadn’t seen on the way in.

She didn’t say anything, just walked to his side and laced their fingers together. There wasn’t anything she could say. She couldn’t imagine what he was going through, and all she could hope was that somewhere after all of this was done, he would be able to find himself again.

“I’m not like them,” he said suddenly, tight with anger.

“No, you’re not,” Hermione responded quietly.

“Even if I let him die,” his voice carried just the faintest hint of a question, the barest need to be reassured.

“I tried to kill him. My Dad stopped me,” she admitted flatly.

Draco turned to look down at her with wide eyes.

“I didn’t know about the potion. It was him or you,” she explained.

“Oh,” he said softly, his fingers tightening on hers.

She could feel the lump in her chest, the guilt of that moment wrapped up all around the horror of knowing she would have done it. That she would still do it.

“You really are completely terrifying Granger,” he said as he slid an arm around her shoulders. It startled a laugh out of her, and she let herself lean on him, grateful for his dismissal of her confession.

They stood still, watching the last golden rays sink, and the first hint of stars start glittering, both of them silent.

Eventually, the slow tromp of trainers over the soggy ground came, accompanied by Harry muttering something about no lights and holes as he made it to the fountain.

“Sorry to interrupt, but he’s had an idea, and I need you to tell Severus that he’s lost his bloody mind,” Harry said.

“Oh? And what exactly is it that makes you think that he will listen to anyone if he’s ignoring you?” Draco asked archly.

Even in the dim light, Hermione could see the way Harry flushed, but he didn’t deny it. “I need back up,” he said instead.

“Very well, Potter. What’s he done now?” the blond asked as he turned them back toward the house.

“He’s decided that the best place to put Hermione’s parents is with your mum,” Harry said, sounding bewildered.

Draco paused at that, his face lit by the light from the front window. “Actually, for lack of a better option, that’s not perhaps the worst idea.”

Harry eyed him like he’d perhaps slipped and injured his head during their walk. “Malfoy, I know you’re all reformed and whatnot, and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad,” he hastened to add at Hermione’s sharp look. “It’s just that your Mum isn’t so much..” he trailed off as he ducked back inside.

Everyone had moved to the front room and were settled into chairs and couches, though Karkaroff was notably absent. A low, heatless fire crackled in the grate, casting light but keeping the room from becoming unpleasantly warm. The decor was several centuries out of date, but everything looked to be in good repair, even if it was all rather overly ornate.

“Stunned and dosed with a sleeping potion,” Harry answered her unasked question, watching as she cast about for the Death Eater.

“Well, I think it sounds like a lovely idea,” her Mum was saying with a note of forced cheerfulness.

Harry slumped down onto the couch next to Severus, absently leaning heavily onto the other man and ignoring the odd looks he got from her parents.

Severus gave him a look of tolerant amusement that seemed reserved for Harry alone before he shifted to allow the younger man to settle more comfortably.

Hermione let herself sit down on the smaller couch next to Draco, curling her hand around his when he took it. In the better light, she noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the slight looseness of his robes across his chest. He looked so tired, his typically proud frame slumping almost as much as Harry.

Her first reaction to the idea of putting her parents in a small cottage for an indefinite amount of time with Narcissa Malfoy was to laugh and ask what the real plan was. But Draco seemed to think it might be reasonable, and he knew his mother better than anyone here did.

“For how short our notice is, I believe the best option is the cottage. It has already had a significant amount of work done to ensure the safety of the occupants. If somehow they are found, Narcissa is not a witch to be trifled with,” Severus explained, his tone indicating he was repeating himself.

“And what good is it hiding them from Death Eaters and then sending them to her?” Harry said sharply, sitting up with a glare. “Sorry, Malfoy, but your mum isn’t exactly known for her love of muggles, and she’s been awful enough to Hermione.”

“I’ll speak with her,” Draco said quietly. “She may not like it, but she’ll learn to deal with it.” His voice was surprisingly hard.

“I’m sorry dear, I don’t believe we’ve been introduced, I’m Hermione’s mum,” she said suddenly, standing and offering a hand to Draco.

Draco flushed a dark red and stood in a scramble. “My apologies Mrs. Granger, Mr. Granger,” he uttered quickly, obviously embarrassed at his lapse. “Draco Malfoy,” he said, dropping the slew of titles that even six months ago he would have tacked onto his name. He gave them both a rather wain smile before retaking his seat.

“And you are?” her Mum asked, her tone a bit chillier as she faced Severus. Severus didn’t scramble, instead standing gracefully and talking her hand, his tall frame and night black eyes making a hint of wariness cross both her parents' faces.

“Severus Snape,” he answered, one brow raised expectantly.

“Richard,” her Dad said, sitting back down when her former professor turned his piercing gaze on him.

“Mary,” her Mum said absently. “Hermione, don’t you have a Professor Snape?” she asked, sharp disapproval in her tone when she looked between him and Harry.

“Former Professor,” Severus said just as sharply, sitting back down next to Harry, his spine rigid.

Her Mum looked at him with narrowed eyes for a moment longer before she turned to Harry. “Harry dear, it’s lovely to see you again. Why don’t you come sit with me, and we can catch up a bit,” she said, patting the chair beside her.

If possible, Severus stiffened further, a faint flush coming to his cheeks as he shifted slightly away from Harry.

Harry sent her Mum a sweet smile and promptly closed the distance between himself and Severus, reaching out to tangle their hands together. “Thanks, Mrs. Granger, but I’m good here,” he responded, his eyes chips of emerald ice. Severus flushed a darker pink but didn’t protest, lacing his fingers through Harry’s.

Hermione smiled a bit at them, glad that her and Draco’s talked seemed to have helped.

“I believe that if we are to avoid further possible entanglements, we should leave soon,” Severus said after a moment.

Draco stood stiffly, rocking his head side to side to loosen his neck. “I’ll go ahead. Have you got a portkey?” he asked Hermione.

She nodded and tilted her head up to accept a quick kiss. “Give me twenty minutes, alright?”

She nodded again and watched him stride out of the house, his posture once again perfect, every inch the pureblood wizard.

A throat cleared off to the side “So, you’ve a boyfriend then?” her Dad asked pleasantly.

Hermione just shook her head at Harry’s muffled snort of laughter.


When they arrived, landing hard just inside the small gate, it was raining. It wasn’t a pleasantly warm summer rain, but an icy wash of water that carried more than a hint of the sea.

Harry stumbled, caught himself, and stumbled again after trying to keep Mr. Granger upright. A small put upon sigh hit his ear just as a long arm wrapped around his waist and stopped him from tumbling over. Harry grinned, leaning back into Severus after he had let go of Hermione’s dad.

They all hurried to the door and ducked through as it opened for them, an angry and somewhat ruffled Slytherin on the other side. He hit Hermione with warming and drying charms before she’d gotten two steps inside, her shivering tapering off quickly. Harry gave Severus a rather woeful look and got a huff of disbelieving laughter for his trouble.

He grumbled and pulled out his wand, drying them both, though he did send an extra fluff of warm air through Severus' hair, making the long black strands float around the thin, scowling face.

“You’re a menace,” Severus said as he stalked off.

Harry grinned at Hermione and Draco, far too amused.

“I’ll never understand why he loves you,” Draco declared, shaking his head.

“Because I’m charming, Malfoy. Something you clearly don’t grasp,” Harry taunted, refusing to admit that a small part of him missed their rivalry, though having no actual hatred under the insults did make it a bit more fun.

Draco shot Hermione a betrayed look when she held up her hands in surrender and followed Severus into the kitchen.

Harry made his way toward the front room and had just rounded the corner when a stinging hex caught him across his ankle. He yelped and hopped on one foot, his eyes watering as Draco sauntered past with a decidedly smug look on his face.

Severus walked past him with a tray of tea, smirking at his slight wince when he poked his ankle.

Harry made it over just as everyone else was seated and fell down beside Severus, raising one hand to Malfoy in a silent request for a truce. He hadn’t noticed until then that the chair near the dark window was occupied, a tall blond woman he hadn’t seen in almost half a year watching them quietly.

Harry’s narrowed his eyes at her, all humor falling from his face as he was starkly reminded that this woman could very well have killed Severus. He had tried to understand, had tried to grasp what he would do in her position, but he never could end up where she had.

Long fingers wrapped around his, bringing his attention back. Severus raised one eyebrow with a pointed look. Harry pulled a face at him but turned back and grabbed the cup of tea Severus had made for him.

“So, my son tells me you are planning on having.. others.. stay here as well?” her voice was cold, a thread of distaste evident.

Harry glanced up when he realised she was asking him and, for just an instant, let loose his overwhelming desire to be petty.

“Well, they’re Hermione’s parents, and it’s her house, so it makes sense they would stay here if they needed to,” he said, far too innocently.

Draco choked on his tea, making Hermione lean over and thump him soundly on the back.

Narcissa looked startled, her eyes darting around the room “I’m afraid I was under the impression that the home was yours, Mr. Potter.”

He nodded agreeably, “Sure, sure, it’s still in my family name since we don’t want to draw attention to a property transfer, but that’s just a formality. It’s Hermione’s house. It was a Christmas present,” he tacked on, just to watch her eyes bug out a little.

“I see,” she said faintly, her face closing down.

“Harry for Merlin’s sake, be nice,” Hermione finally muttered, setting her tea down. “I’m not going to ask you to leave Mrs. Malfoy if that’s what you’re worried about.”

A tiny bit of the tension in the slender woman dropped away, making Harry feel just a little bad for scaring her.

“The safehouse we were trying to set up for my parents fell through, and their home is no longer safe. This is the only place we have that’s already set up to hide someone, and honestly, we simply don’t have time or the opportunity to set up something similar for them right now,” she explained.

“You hardly owe me an explanation, Ms. Granger. It is, as Mr. Potter pointed out, your home.” Her mouth twisted in unhappiness, but she didn’t complain.

“On a note about the safehouse, exactly how many Black properties do the death eaters know about?” Draco broke in, still obviously upset at the Karkaroff incident.

“You should assume all of them. I’ve no idea who your father told about our holdings,” Narcissa answered.

An awkward silence descended on the room, the soft clink of mugs and the crackle of the fire keeping complete silence at bay.

Hermione’s Mum slowly set her mug down and stood. She walked carefully up to Narcissa and resolutely held out a hand.

“Mary Granger,” she announced.

Harry could see where Hermione got her courage from, and he imagined if this woman had been born a witch, she would have worn red and gold as well.

A moment of hesitation passed before Narcissa stretched out a hand in return, “Narcissa Malfoy, Lady of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Malfoy.”

“Merlin Mother,” Draco muttered, hanging his head.

Hermione’s Mum visibly started and looked like she was confused about whether she should curtsy.

“Oh. I didn’t realise you were part of the nobility,” Mrs. Granger said with a small smile as she retreated.

Narcissa’s mouth pinched. “You would have had my son shown his manners and properly introduced himself,” she said, disapproval radiating from her.

“Oh, he did,” she rushed to reassure the witch “he just left off the noble and most ancient part is all.”

“Did he?” Narcissa turned to her son, seemingly disquieted to find him staring back at her pointedly.

“Yes, Mother, I’ve found that parading about a title to those who were not raised in our world comes off a bit pompous.”

Harry couldn’t help it, he snickered. Eyes shot to him as he coloured slightly. “What? He’s not wrong. Can you imagine if I went around introducing myself by my titles? Everyone would think I was a wanker,” he said defensively.

“Yes, Potter, but that’s because you are a wanker, regardless of your lordships,” Malfoy shot back.

Harry raised his tea mug in acknowledgment of the hit, having set himself up nicely for it.

“Is anyone here  not  part of the magical nobility?” Mr. Granger asked softly.

Severus raised a hand in a lazy wave, not bothering to mention that he was on his mother's side.

“Right,” Mr. Granger said faintly.

Draco set his mug down and stood slowly, “I need to get back to the Manor. There’s only so long I can be missing before people start thinking they can question me.”

He walked over and accepted a hug from his mother, who whispered something to him that made him nod before he pulled back.

Severus inclined his head in lieu of goodbye. Harry sent a small wave to him from his spot on the couch.

To Draco’s clear surprise, Mrs. Granger stood and enclosed him in a quick hug. “You be careful, alright? I don’t know what all you’re doing, but Hermione says it’s dangerous.” She patted his cheek before sitting back down next to her husband, who smiled a little weakly at him.

Draco just nodded, still looking a bit shocked.

Harry felt a knot in his chest relax when Draco reached down for Hermione’s hand and pulled her to him tightly. A relieved smile took over her face when he didn’t hesitate to let his Mother see that she was important to him, that they were something more.

She followed him out of the room so they could say their goodbyes in the relative privacy of the entryway. A few moments later, the door closed, and a sharp crack of apparation came from the front yard.

Narcissa got up as Hermione came back in, her face paler than even her complexion could account for. “I believe I’ll retire for the night,” she said quietly before taking the stairs on hurried feet.

The room relaxed as she left, and Harry let himself lean back on the couch. His back hurt from spending the last few days cleaning Grimmauld place and trying to make it a place that might be safe to live in. He missed their rooms at Hogwarts, and he wanted Severus to be happy with where they were living, even if it was temporary.

“I believe it is time we were going home,” Severus said quietly, making Harry’s chest give a tiny flutter at the word ‘home’.

Harry nodded and groaned his way upright. They’d left in a hurry when the huge dragon had come bursting through the floor and spoken in Hermione’s hurried voice. Remus and Tonks were at headquarters and would want to know what had happened. Those two had apparently been busy dancing around each other, much to Harry’s surprise, but they seemed to have settled happily enough.

“Mione, you staying?” Harry asked. She thought for a few moments, then shook her head.

“Just long enough to unpack a few things and get them settled. I’ll head to Grimmauld tonight,” she answered.

Harry nodded, and they bid their goodbyes to Mr. and Mrs. Granger, and if Harry’s goodbye to Hermione’s Mum was a bit colder than it would have been, she had earned it when she’d made Severus uncomfortable.

They landed in the small courtyard of Grimmauld and traipsed through the open french doors into the kitchen. It was already warm in London, and with how much dust Harry had been stirring up, Severus had finally opened every door and window and set some kind of air circulating spell. For the first time in who knew how long the house didn’t smell like musty mildew.

A few order members were in the kitchen, and they paused long enough for everyone to join them before they relayed the events of the day, getting a promise from Tonks that she would alert the French Auror force to Karkaroff’s location.

Everyone was starting to drift off, mugs of coffee or tea held in most hands when the floo flared, and a veritable sea of redheads poured out. Harry found himself with an armful of Ron and Fred, and before he knew what was happening, he was being danced around the kitchen in a strange stumbling circle of too many limbs.

Harry pulled away, laughing and ducked behind Molly, where she had bustled out of the fire, a basket slung over her arm.

“What’s all this then?” he asked, still smiling at the antics of his pseudo brothers.

“I’m getting married!” a voice crowed from behind him. Harry turned to find Bill climbing from the fire, pausing to hold a hand out to Fleur as she stepped through after him.

“Congratulations, mate!” Harry yelled, hugging Bill and Fleur in turn. She was so happy she swooped down and kissed both his cheeks, just like that day years ago at the edge of an icy black lake.

A small impromptu party was staged, Order members being pulled from all over the house to join them. Hermione showed up a few hours in and gave her congratulations, accepting her invite happily, along with a glass of wine that Severus handed her on his way to hide behind Harry.

It was long hours until the house settled down again, and they found themselves crawling into bed with gritty eyes.

“I am too old to be socializing this much,” Severus complained as he burrowed under the heavy comforter, one of Harry’s oversized shirts dipping at the neck and showing sharply defined collarbones.

Harry just smiled and climbed in to join him, worming his way over to Severus’ side of the bed. He got a small grumble for his trouble, but Severus raised his head and slid his mouth over Harry’s in a slow goodnight kiss.

Severus shifted until he could tuck Harry against him, his chest tight to the younger man’s back, and Harry let himself fall asleep, tangled up in him.