The heat of the day was unusual. Fortesque's was full of people enjoying various frozen treats. Pansy cast a cooling charm on herself and glared down at the cobblestones under her feet. They'd all but destroyed her lovely shoes, but it would be worth it. Being at the event of the year was important. She couldn't afford to be left on the outside looking in, but she'd been unable to obtain an invitation to Millicent's wedding. Even contacting Greg hadn't helped.
She'd been lingering outside the shops on Diagonal Alley hoping against hope to catch Millicent on a last minute errand. Surely, there was something the bride to be couldn't do without. Pansy checked her reflection in a store window. It wasn't easy to spend the day looking as if she hadn't a care in the world. She watched as people passed her by and hated them. She'd been the one in the center of her world, but somehow the world had shifted.
"Little Flower, what are you doing out here?" Marcus Flint smiled down at her. She looked up at him in a panic. She'd totally missed him walking towards her. "Shouldn't you be bustling about, preparing for this wedding I'm being forced to attend?"
"Millicent has left her old friends behind." Pansy rolled her eyes dramatically. "I suppose she's enough of a nonentity that her new friends don't find her threatening. I'm sure the wedding will be a tasteless disaster."
"Well, save me a dance, Parkinson." Marcus glanced down her body appreciatively. "We can mock the fools with impunity."
"I won't be mocking." Pansy shrugged one shoulder. "The owl must have gotten lost."
"Then attend with me." Marcus smiled wide and genuine. His teeth had finally been fixed. "I have been informed there will be Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors aplenty to threaten my sanity."
Relief flooded through her. She would not be excluded. She examined Marcus carefully. Strong, tall, and commanding. There were worse things.
"It should be quite the spectacle." She rested her hand on his forearm and accompanied him on his quest for the perfect gift.
Draco heard Hermione bellowing for him and started down the stairs. She had been stuck in wedding commando mode for the last few days. It was beyond frustrating. He was tired of dealing with other people's wedding issues. It was enough to drive any wizard quite mad.
"Hurry up, Draco." Hermione stood at the bottom of the stairs with power crackling in a nimbus around her. "We need to go."
"Where do we need to go?" Draco frowned as she tossed her hands in the air. The sheer intensity of her magic set him on edge. Her power was usually calming. He was used to her serenity. Hell, he craved it.
"I wanted to get something special for Susan." She bit her lower lip, and he knew he wasn't going to love this answer. "She's been missing her family, or maybe the idea of her family since she only remembers her aunt."
Draco watched Hermione pace at the foot of the stairs. Her magic was now trailing behind her in visible swirls of multicolored light. When her power flared so brightly, it called to him. He clenched his fists against his legs. Resisting the urge to drag her to bed and push their boundaries was getting more difficult with every passing day. There was something immediate and demanding in her magic. He took a deep breath and forced his mind to focus.
"So, I reworked the spell to summon the athames." She spun on the balls of her feet and met his gaze with wide eyed panic. "I accounted for the changes and the solo working, but I must have missed something. Whatever I've connected to is strong. I need to go, but I promised you I wouldn't go haring off on my own."
"So, we need to go." Draco summoned their jackets with a quick wave of his hand. He recognized the panic in her eyes. A sudden wish of air against his cheek drew his eyes. Grá circled around him once, flew over to his mistress, and coiled around her wand arm. He seemed to suck in some of the excess power, allowing his mistress to breathe easier.
Draco held her jacket out for her. She turned around and slipped her arms into the sleeves. The tension in her body was visible in each movement. Everything about her was on edge, prepared for a fight. It set his nerves on edge. He let his magic slide along hers, assuring them both that this was doable.
"I wish you wouldn't rush into these situations so recklessly. I know you are capable of amazing things, but the risks you take scare me." He pressed a kiss to her temple and smiled down at the enchanted dragon. It shoved its silver head out of her sleeve, hugged out a sound Draco interpreted as agreement, and settled its snout on the back of her hand.
"I should have realized something like this would happen. My intent was too specific. I wasn't looking for something simple. I wanted it to mean something." Hermione leaned into his touch as he freed her hair from her outerwear. "I got caught up in the possibility of giving her a piece of her past without thinking about whether the time was right to do it. I mean back to back weddings are enough. What was I thinking?"
Draco considered a whole host of answers. Most of them would have resulted in a hexing, but he knew better than to let his acerbic tongue run free now.
"You were thinking about Susan." He stroked a finger along her cheek. "You were thinking about love and friendship and family. They're important to us all."
He glanced toward the coats of arms hanging above the fireplace and felt his confidence rise. Hermione made her choice. They were building a life together. It was messy, and it came with an oddly infuriating familiar, but he reveled in every bloody moment.
He looked at his witch with her power frazzled hair, and he smiled. There would be hundreds of adventures in their future, hundreds of moments just like this. She was a creative, powerful, and intelligent individual. All that came with her nearly compulsive urges to rush brazenly forward into whatever life presented to her.
"You want your friends to have what we have." Draco took a deep breath. "And, so do I."
She smiled at him, wide and bright and lovely. He felt her magic swirl around him, and, suddenly, his arms were full of his beloved witch. He kissed her, reveling in the sheer joy of it.
Hermione pulled back from him with a wide grin and apparated them to Diagon Alley.
The magic she'd worked pulled her from him as soon as their feet hit the ground. There was a demand in it. It felt like his wife was being summoned. He frowned and followed after her. He didn't like following along with no concept of their destination. The crowds parted around them, but he scanned them, looking for threats. Everything about this felt ominous. He managed to catch up to her and take his place at her side.
She moved with purpose, but she didn't smile or spin or dance. Her usual ebullience was missing. He didn't much care for it. Grabbing her hand and pulling her off course, he considered his options. The spell work was obviously affecting her. He needed to get her talking again.
"This adventure would be more palatable if I had any idea what was going on." Draco pretended to examine the brooms in the shop window.
"You're not going to like this." She laced their fingers together. "I'm pretty sure we're headed to Knockturn Alley. I'm sorry. I should have brought Neville."
"Neville's better equipped to handle a foray on the dark side?" Draco quirked an eyebrow up.
"No. He doesn't have so many bad memories to overcome though." She rubbed her thumb against his wrist.
"Lead on." Draco shook his head. The sunny day gave way to the darkness of the alley as she hurried them on their way. he managed not to groan when she paused outside the doors of their destination.
Borgin and Burke's hadn't changed. It was overcrowded with cursed objects and dark ephemera. He looked at the shelves and frowned.
"What Bones family artifact would be in a place like this?" He felt the chill of the place settle over him and was inordinately thankful that Hermione was holding on to him. "I can't imagine Susan would want anything that did."
Stepping closer to her, he eyed the man behind the counter. It was one of the nephews. He couldn't think of the bloke's name. They all looked more or less the same, tall, thin, and avaricious. Draco frowned at the man, but he was focused on Hermione.
"What can I do for you?" His eyes never left Hermione's body.
"You can hand over any items that belong to the House of Bones." Hermione tilted her head slightly. "And I'd love to see the provenance on each piece."
"We have nothing like that." The idiot tried to brush her off.
Hermione held out her hand. It seemed to be enveloped in a cloud of gold dust and light. She waved it and the dust flew away from her in every direction.
"That spell won't work for you, Mudblood." The bloody fool chortled. "You're no Bones."
Draco moved forward, but Hermione pressed her hand to his chest to stop him.
"Don't waste your energy on this buffoon." She tossed her hair. "It's rewarding enough to know he is so spared the ravages of intelligence. He recognized the spell, but he doesn't truly understand it."
A box floated out from the back room. It caught the light and sparkled with embedded gold dust. Hermione grinned as it floated before her.
"I thought you didn't have anything like this." Hermione smiled at the wasn't a nice smile.
"My stupid cousin bought the lot. It can't be used and it can't be melted down. You summoned it, you take it." The dim witted wizard snarled and Grá flung himself at the man with claws extended.
The man's skin ripped easily. He screamed as the tiny protector snarled and blew fire at his face. The man dropped to the floor in a boneless pile.
"Come, Grá." Hermione waved her hand and the blood and grisly bits were gone. She glanced at Draco. "Someone will be along soon enough to renervate the man. We need to find his sale logs."
"I had to spend a fair amount of time here during the war." Draco smirked and stepped around the counter. He yanked out two sets of books. "It was considered an extreme punishment. I never knew why."
"Riddle had good reason to hate the place." Hermione smirked. "He worked here after graduating Hogwarts."
"That explains it." Draco chuckled as he pulled out his wand. "I'll copy both books. We can figure out where this stuff came from later."
"They won't have used their real name." Hermione sighed. "But we still need those books. Leave the copies here."
"Come out, my lovely." Draco watched as Hermione dragged a wicked looking knife from her bag. She stroked the blade lightly. "It's a charmed blade. It belonged to Sirius. He gave it to me. The charm work is tight, so Harry's dad or Remus helped him. I never wanted to know what he planned to do with it. Things were starting to get bad, so I accepted it."
Draco nodded. There were some questions he didn't need to ask.
"After the war, i broke down the charm work. The knife itself is harmless. It's charmed to provide a ready excuse for any damage done. It doesn't carry a magical signature. I made each of the girl's one. Millie was somewhat horrified, but better safe than sorry. If we need to explain a bit of magic excess used to protect ourselves..." She shrugged. "I don't want anyone to know what Grá can do. I have to keep him safe."
Draco watched as she dressed the scene and obliviated their visit from the bastard's mind. She was coldly efficient. He knew enough about her wartime exploits to know this wasn't a new situation for her, but there was something practiced in this.
"It wasn't just the war, was it?" Draco asked quietly as they stepped out into the light. "You've run into trouble. More than once."
"Of course we have, Draco." Hermione pushed her hair back and looked carefully forward as they headed toward Diagon Alley. "There's a reason we all live in each other's pockets. There's safety in numbers for powerful witches. There are quite a few wizards that underestimated us. Luna was cornered and her shirt was ripped. She stopped it, but the aurors wouldn't arrest him. Hannah was beaten by a patient in a room that dampened magical ability. Susan had a run in or four with various curse breakers. We have learned to be practical."
"What happened to you?" Draco bumped her hand with his and felt relief flood him as she laced her fingers through his again. "I know Millie was well protected, but you left yourself off that list."
"After the war, I did something for Remus and Tonks." Hermione took a deep breath and turned to him. "Greyback escaped the final battle. As he turned Remus, he might have tried for Teddy. Harry didn't take my concerns seriously. He told me to leave it to the professionals. The Ministry still lists him as wanted, but they won't find him. Ever."
Draco swallowed down the questions slamming into his brain. He looked at his beloved wife and the stark truth of her on display if only for a moment. Purpose, strength, and indomitable will forged through war and sacrifice had coalesced within her as an iron core. It didn't make her less kind or less good. The thought of Fenrir Greyback slavering over her bloodied body at the Manor made him ill. She'd gone after the beast alone. He examined his wife closely before deciding there were some things he didn't need to know right away, and some things he never wanted to know. He raised her hand gently to his lips and kissed it.
"Our fathers are organizing to protect you." He looked up from her hand and met her eyes. "Let them."
"It really is rather sweet." Hermione laughed, loud and bright in the afternoon sunshine, pulled him close, and swirled them back to their home.
"My mother in law may be a dark witch." Alice panted as she flopped down onto the conjured green velvet settee beside Narcissa. How the witch managed to look so perfectly put together after their duel was beyond her. "She obviously enjoys torturing me."
"She is a fierce and determined witch. She would be a rather intimidating foe." Narcissa tucked her hair back into its place and smoothed her skirt, prim and proper. "She isn't a Black though, so I imagine she was actually trying to aide you. In the House of Black, you always had to look for hidden agendas. Uncle Orion tried to kill my father at least twice a month. It was fun for them both. Sirius wasn't playing at being crazy. We were raised to battle for our lives. It broke some of us in interesting ways."
"I was an auror." Alice protested. "I was trained to do this."
"You're good, but you're still thinking and assessing. It's probably the remnants of your training. When you forget to think, you will be terrifying." Narcissa chuckled.
"Forget to think?" Alice frowned.
"When it's automatic and instinctual. Battle magic needs to flow naturally. It needs to sing through your blood. When your only goal is survival, things get very interesting." Narcissa took a sip of her tea and sighed. "Aurors are trained to investigate and detain. The two notions don't always work together."
"I never considered my training a hinderance." Alice frowned. "But, now, everything feels more difficult than I remember it being."
"You've been locked up in your magic for years. It's probably hard to think of it as something you command. It will be again, just as it will always be something more." Narcissa frowned. "My father started teaching us wandless shields at three. At five years old, he crucioed us if we failed to erect them fast enough. One tends to learn quickly in such an environment. I was spared the worst of it because they decided I was weak. They wanted me to fail."
"How could he?" Alice blinked. She tried to imagine the horror of that.
"We needed to be strong." Narcissa rolled her eyes. "He thought it was for the best."
"I'm sorry." Alice grabbed Narcissa's hand. "You were children."
"We were." Narcissa nodded, her eyes drifted to a particularly lush bit of garden, but Alice was sure she was looking beyond it all somehow.
"How do you deal with memories like that?" Alice frowned.
"Most of the time I ignore them, but that might prove difficult tonight." She took a deep breath. "I was hoping to avoid this conversation for a bit longer, but life does not always comply with our wishes. Does it?"
"It almost never does, in my experience." Alice frowned.
"I imagine we will be invited to participate in some rituals tonight. It is an unusual and gratifying experience, but there are a few minor detractors. After I worked magic with them, I could feel them within me. It's as if I carry them with me always. I have flashes of things at the edge of my vision. I think they might be memories or some form of magical connection. I wanted you to know that though I loved the sister that pushed me aside when my father hit me with a crucio, I hated the broken thing she became. Arcturus should have culled her. It would have been a mercy. If we work magic together, I didn't want you to sense it and be hurt."
Alice sat stunned next to this witch that was family now. She felt something deep move within herself. Primal and fierce, she wanted to protect Narcissa. The Malfoy matriarch didn't need her help, but the desire was there all the same.
She wondered how Hermione had felt when her coven was forming. Had she stumbled into it? Had it been something to amuse Luna? Or had it rolled over her and left her breathless?
Alice dragged a breath in. Narcissa was trying in her own very Slytherin way to care for her. She blinked and focused on the woman as she sipped her tea. None of this would be easy for her.
"Luna is inviting Andromeda as well." Alice squeezed Narcissa's hand as she blurted out information. Moody would rise from the dead and skin her if he could. "I imagine that won't be easy either."
"Your daughter saved my son. She saved my family." Narcissa smiled. "She gave my sister back to me. If a cloud or two floats through the sky, one can not blame the sun."
Andromeda watched as Kingsley tickled Teddy and then rolled around in the grass with her grandson. He was a good man and a strong wizard. He never left her in any doubt about his feelings.
He loved her.
He made it seem so simple. He accepted that she would always love her dead husband. He accepted that a life with her meant a life with her ghosts and her grandson. He accepted her reticence and her fears.
She licked her lips and glanced towards a picture of her Teddy. It broke her heart that he wasn't here with her watching their daughter and her husband raise their son. She glanced back to see her grandson running about with bright blue hair.
"Your husband was a good man." Phineas Nigellus spoke from behind her. "Hermione told me about him."
"Hermione?" Andromeda turned to look her ancestor square in the painted eyes.
"She did drag me over the whole of England." He huffed. "It tends to breed familiarity."
"I would imagine." She rolled her eyes. "If you were a few hundred years younger and alive, Draco would be quite threatened."
"One can enjoy many a fanciful supposition when existing in a pigment rich environment." The old waisted stroked his beard. "You are not yet amongst those of us that are only brushstrokes and memories."
"You've become very tolerant in the last few years." Andromeda examined the former patriarch of her House. "Did she revarnish you?"
"Ah, the biting tongue of familial affection." The portrait chuckled. "It's taken quite a while, but I believe I have learned a thing or two. I know your former husband would want you to live and love. He would want you to remember that magic comes in many forms. He would tell you that loving someone new does not negate his presence in your heart."
"How can I let myself love again?" Andromeda felt the tears force their way past her defenses. They were hot on her skin. She dragged in a deep stuttering breath.
"You already do." Phineas sighed and pressed the flat of one hand against his chest. "I envy you. You have a chance to fully love. You have a chance to be with your family. You have proven us all wrong. You lived for love. Don't falter now."
"I think I love you, too." Andromeda blinked up at his bleary image and sighed. "You've grown on me. I'm going to go spend some time with my men before I have to go to the Bones'."
She touched his frame with her tear dampened fingers. As she moved into the afternoon sunlight, the frame began to glow. It widened and stretched. A vase of flowers in full bloom sat on the painted table. The dark background was pushed aside by a narrow window that warmed the stone and gave color to the velvet window seat cushion. Phineas spread his arms and chuckled as he looked around him.
Susan fussed with her flowers. Neville had come through with a wild assortment of golden flowers that made her feel practically royal. He'd set the crown upon her head and whispered a spell to anchor it with tiny vines that bloomed as they settled into her wavy hair.
Her gown of pale gold silk was gathered around her artfully. It was simple with no extra decorations. It managed to evoke something medieval while being thoroughly modern. The elves were miracle workers.
The small grove they were gathered in had been used by every Bride in her family for generations. Thoughts of her mother and her grandmother and all the others that would not be there to witness this moment in her life kept creeping in, but she wasn't sad. They wouldn't have wanted that.
She curled her bare toes into the thick grass and sighed. A traditional Bones wedding was a simple thing. She didn't have to spend months on fittings and flowers and cake. The elves that were wandering about had sen to it all. There new livery was marked with golden foxes, and a small village was being formed by the eastern wall. She knew better than to interfere.
"The cake wills remain in the house until it's time you cuts it." Bertie finished off the list that Susan had been ignoring with a deep bow and disappeared in a bright orange swirl. Hannah was paying attention. It would have to be enough.
"Luna and Hermione will be here." Millie smirked at her. "They were both so busy today."
"Two weddings will do that." Hannah snickered. "I mean Hermione's probably checking everything for the fiftieth time, and Luna is looking for a rare vegetable to hang around your neck."
"I was not." Luna threw a tickling hex at Hannah. "I was on a far grander quest."
"I don't want to know." Susan held up her hand. "I'm nervous enough."
"I understand." Millie looked up at the purpling sky and sighed. "I know Greg is the right wizard. I know I love him and he loves me. That's the easy part. What happens when we fight or he gets autocratic? What if bad things happen to us? It's too bloody much."
"When bad things crop up, you will deal with them." Alice strode into the small circle of trees where the girls were preparing beside her daughter. She put a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "There will be good times, too. Great joys and silly moments. Marriage has all of those."
"What took you so long?" Susan looked between the two women.
"I had to make sure something was perfect before I restored it to its rightful place." Hermione lifted a golden belt made of interwoven chains and squares of worked gold. It all clasped in a collection of what appeared to be muggle charms and keys. "It was your mother's."
Susan felt the rush of heat and the thickness welling in her throat even as she shook her head.
"They took it." Susan blinked back tears. "When they killed her, they took it. It's lost."
"It's found." Hermione held it up and showed it to her. "There are other pieces, but I didn't have time to check and clean them all."
Susan reached out to touch it, but Alice lifted it away from her hands.
"It has to be put on you by an elder." Alice sighed. "I wish your mother could be here. She was kind. I knew her brother Benjy very well. If you don't want me to put it on you, there are a number of other witches that would gladly stand in for her."
"You do it." Susan blinked and looked up at the darkening sky, fighting back the urge to cry.
"Daughter of the House of Bones, do you stand ready to ascend?" Alice's voice was quiet and soothing.
"Yes." Susan pushed the word out. She felt the weight of it settle over her. Small lights rose from the ground all around them.
"Mother to daughter it passes." Her friends voices rose into the air with the sparkling lights.
"Daughter to Matriarch." Alice's soft voice thrummed with power. "Guard well your House. Keep it strong."
Susan felt the belt settle on her waist and trail over her hips. She heard the click as Alice closed the clasp. Her magic felt stronger as it whipped through her body. The stars sparkled just a bit brighter, and she knew she was on the right path with absolute certainty. She took a deep breath and dropped her gaze to the women around her. They were lovely inside and out. Her sisters and her surrogate family.
"Some light show. Huh?" She watched the lights swirl around them and settle again into the ground.
"There's a reason for your family's traditions." Alice grinned up at her. "There's a reason each family has slightly different ways of doing the same things. You looked to the stars to guide you just now for a reason. Some things are instinctual."
"Vulpecula catch your eye?" Luna giggled. "I did notice your elves' livery."
"I like foxes." Susan grinned. "I did pick Blaise after all."
Her coven sisters all burst into laughter while Alice rolled her eyes.
"It might be best not to keep him waiting." Alice sighed. "Men do tend to work themselves up for no real reason."
Ginny glared at the border line she'd managed to trace as she paced around Hermione's house. Harry hadn't been home in days. She licked her lips and glared at the mist shrouded structure in the distance.
"I just want to see my husband." She touched the wards and glared as dragons composed of magic and light roared and flew at her. The visual reminder that Hermione was powerful seemed over the top to her. "Such a braggart."
"Our Lady don't be inviting yous here." An elf in a blue uniform with a silver dragon emblazoned on it stared at her through the swirling dragons. "Yous goes home. Stops waking us up."
"I want my husband." Ginny pressed her hands to the wards, ignoring the dragons roaring at her.
"Yous not bonded." The elf dropped its ears and shook its head. "Yous be confused. Husbands and wives be bonded. There's no husband for you here."
The elf disappeared with a snap of its fingers.
Ginny took a step back and sat on the damp ground. Getting married quickly had seemed like such a good idea. A muggle wedding was good enough for starters, but they never got around to a proper bonding.
She wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her head on her knees. Her jealousy had led her to this point. She'd been so afraid that he'd choose Hermione.
Perfect, powerful Hermione.
Lovely, ladylike Hermione.
It was always Hermione.
She was loyal. She was intelligent. She was kind.
The list never seemed to end.
Using spells and magic to get her away from Harry had seemed like such a good idea, but it hadn't worked. Nothing ever had. Hermione and Harry were linked. Ginny took a deep breath.
"I'm always going to be on the outside looking in." She tossed a small pebble at the wards to annoy the elves and apparated away with a crack.
I know I kept you waiting for this one, but sometimes it's worth the wait. I hope it was in this case.
Thank you for all the reviews and encouragement. They really do help.
I have a lot of stories that need updating, but I will try to get back to this one soon.