Draco held the small, squirming, wriggling thing as though he expected it to explode. He was certain he was being tortured in some cunning way. Any moment, the creature would detonate and he would be left covered in disgusting ejecta. Last time it was tapioca.
"I don't see why I have to mind your spawn. You have house elves." He complained to Theo, who was similarly burdened with a fractious infant. Draco removed his tie from his godson's grasp before drool happened. For such a small creature, there seemed an endless supply of slobber.
"Harry and Ron are due any moment." Theo, more accustomed to holding his sons, shifted Thierry a little higher against his bicep. The not-quite six month old had been fed, burped, changed and dressed in a Muggle romper. He was momentarily content with the world though he did seem to want to chew on his own fingers. Thierry found hands fascinating.
"I see." Draco had seen Potter and Weasley's increasing interest in their friend's babies. He had noted repeated attempts to ingratiate themselves into the child-minding and providing roles. Potter had an excuse as he was Thierry's godfather but being a dutiful role-model was not his primary motive, in Draco's opinion.
It was subtle, he could give them that. The Gryffindors had been on their least irritating behaviour for months. Being seen to be there for Hermione. Ensuring she knew she had their support and care. Making certain the witch would feel secure coming to them for help the moment she realised she had been trapped and exploited by Theodore Nott.
"Andromeda mentioned how good Ronald was with the boys." Theo remarked, tickling the underside of his son's bare foot. Thierry was provided with socks and booties and dapper little shoes. He invariably kicked them off. Hermione had charmed all his footwear to return to his 'go' bag else they would've strewn England.
"What did your wife say?" It surprised Draco how easily he had adapted from Granger to Hermione. It galled him that while he still found her insufferable, he also enjoyed her company. He had rationalised it as his being starved for social contact. Better to be pathetically bored than a thundering hypocrite.
"She shrugged it off as being the product of a large family." Theo had broached the subject extremely tactfully with his witch, not wanting to help Potter and Weasley achieve their goal of driving a wedge between him and Hermione. He had been so diffident he wasn't sure himself if his wife understood the extent of his concerns. "I don't think she's given anything but her NEWTs much thought."
"Before my Astronomy practical, I dreamed I was juggling star charts. They turned into tea cups then flew away." Draco grimaced, an expression Hugo copied then started to cry. "No, no." He rocked the sobbing baby. "Happy Hugo. Happy little firebird." He cuddled his godson to reassure him, getting an earful of drool for his trouble. "Little wretch, you planned that."
"He always aims for the eyes when he's being changed." Hermione breezed into the room, adding another sticking charm to her hair. She'd fussed over it as she wanted to look reasonably formal. With her babies at the grabby stage, she couldn't wear jewelry and she wasn't going to mire herself in heels in the grass. "Do we have everything?"
Theo blinked. He had seen Hermione in dress robes before. She had looked lovely at the Yule Ball and ravishing in red. This gown was floor length, either mauve or lavender or lilac or whatever the pale purple colour was called and sleeveless. It floated around her, gathered just under her bust. Which certainly drew the eye. Abundantly.
"No baggy jumpers for the occasion?" Draco asked, snide because one did not ogle the wife of one's only friend. Not even if said friend was drooling like his sons.
"I own no tops without spit up stains." Hermione complained. She'd spent most of the last six months in leggings and t-shirts, with the aforementioned comfy jumpers as a back-up. "I was going to wear a suit but none of my blouses fit any more." She could've charmed one but she'd decided to dress up a little. "I need to invent a better Tergeo."
"You look lovely." Theo found his voice and rose to kiss his wife. "Not in Gryffindor colours?" He bit back delighted laugh when she covertly twitched the neckline of her dress to flash a bit of red and gold lace. "Alas, I wish you were in Slytherin green."
"Wait until you see my knickers." Hermione murmured, straightening his tie. Theo grinned briefly then his face fell into a more neutral expression as the Floo chimed. His witch turned and greeted her friends warmly, hugging them. Both Slytherins noted Potter's eyes didn't drop to Hermione's bountiful cleavage but Weasley's certainly did.
The Graduation Ceremony for the combined classes of 1998 and 1999 was sober and respectful. Headmistress McGonagall has asked each of the Golden Trio to give a speech. Ron had outright refused. Harry had spoken very briefly to congratulate everyone who had returned to Hogwarts. Hermione had poured all her experiences, triumphs and travails into a lengthy oration then had shown the hefty scroll to the audience with a smile. Some had groaned, most had laughed.
"I used a Time-Turner in my Third Year to take all the subjects I could. I wanted to learn everything." She smiled at her earnest younger self as she spoke off the cuff. "I didn't." Hermione looked over the ranked students, staff and families. "The most important lessons my years at Hogwarts taught me were there was always someone there for me, there was always something I didn't know and no matter how bad it seems, it will get better."
After the awards, the crowd dispersed to the buffet spread expansively across the lawn. Hermione joined her husband in a cluster of Slytherins, current and former, including Severus Snape newly released from a long convalescence in St Mungo's. She received courteous responses when she greeted them but remarkably more comment was made when she liberated Draco from his godson.
"Feeling clucky, Granger?" Daphne Greengrass inquired. She had returned to Hogwarts to finish her education and to fly the Slytherin flag. Her family had been neutral, not that it had mattered much to the other students. A green tie meant fair game for opprobrium.
"Somewhat." Hermione agreed, cuddling Hugo. "I'm going to show him off. I've already been asked three times why I did my NEWTs by correspondence." She kissed Theo on the cheek and ambled away, statement made. A fair portion of the crowd had seen the brief exchange. That ought to cut down the need to explain to anyone who had missed the lone article in the Prophet eight months ago.
The response to the interview had been so vituperative Theo and Hermione hadn't given another. Fortunately the reinstated Quidditch World Cup had driven the vitriol over their relationship out of the editorial column. Since then, Regulus Black had used his shares in the Daily Prophet to keep his cousin and her husband off the front page.
"Nott!" Daphne exclaimed sotto voce, watching the Gryffindor witch walk away with one of Theo's heirs. He hadn't introduced his wife to any of them, saying airily that she was about. Draco's possession of the second twin had prompted Miss Greengrass to speculate whether her classmates were a couple and merely using Granger as a beard. Malfoy certainly looked quite comfortable with the baby. And dating Parkinson was enough to put any bloke off witches.
"She is." Theo said blandly. Greengrass had sent a frosty reply to his attempt to reestablish communication. Her willingness to be seen in public with him now was more a mark of her family's social isolation. "Though Hermione insisted on graduating as a Granger. Her Muggle parents couldn't be here for the ceremony and she wished to honour them."
"Merlin's balls." Millicent Bulstrode remarked, craning her neck to watch the Gryffindor join a knot of her fellow Lions. They all seemed happy to see her. "Did your father try to chew his way out of Azkaban when he found out?" She felt the tension rise in the defensive group and shook her head, briefly baring the curse scar at the base of her neck got during the Carrows' reign over Hogwarts. "Oh, get over it. We can say the name of the damn place."
"Indeed, Miss Bulstrode." Severus directed an inquisitorial stare at Nott, who he knew had avoided Granger wherever possible during their schooling. Possibly the reasons had been more hormonal than political. He had not inquired, content to allow the boy to be quietly no trouble unlike Malfoy. "A marvelous reconciliation."
"Fortuitous, certainly." Theo replied as though he was unaware of his Head of House's dual allegiance during the war. Snape would have known far more of the personal relationships of the Phoenixes, assuming he had spare interest for anything except his own survival and revenge. "Hermione and I have grown quite fond of each other."
His statement was unadorned truth, which was possibly why most of his peers regarded him with skepticism. Draco's smirk did not aid the credulity. He could have shared his cousin's new status as Regulus's heir but he didn't feel any of them deserved to know. Since she had learned of their kinship, Granger, in spite of everything, in spite of spite, had treated him like family. Malfoys treasured family.
"Who is this babby?" Seamus, drunk on life and slightly tipsy on punch, grinned at Hermione then at her babe in arms. The sun was shining, he had graduated, he had a long life ahead of him that didn't involve exams and he hadn't seen any ghosts today. Any day where he wasn't reminded of the dead was a good day.
"His name is Hugo." Hermione introduced, waving her son's hand at her friend. Seamus waved back. As did Neville and Dean. Ritchie, Jimmy, and Demelza smiled conventionally. Romilda asked the question foremost on her mind as an aspiring journalist.
"So what's it like being Lady Nott?" She was agog to know all the details. There had been a morass of rumours, especially when Hermione's maiden name was on the assignment rosters. She'd asked Ginny but the redhead had glared at her and told her to mind her own business.
"Surprisingly dull." She had assumed the mantle of Lady of Manor when Tristan Nott acknowledged his grandsons. Theo still hadn't been able to visit his father, though he was at least on a waiting list for access. Hermione had been again, once in March, and had given her father-in-law a photograph of her family. Which had pointedly included her Muggle parents.
"Any trouble with people?" Romilda was avid. She had not been invited to study with the exclusive little group, though she knew many of the other Gryffindors had. They'd not told her anything other than Hermione had been hugely pregnant or that she and Nott were taking a phenomenal number of NEWTs.
"A few called me variations on 'traitor' or 'Death Eater whore' but that stopped once I challenged them to duels." Hermione smiled, viperine. Theo had been incandescent with fury but being on Probation was unable to do much to shield her from the insults. They hadn't gone out after she reached her third trimester so that had kept them from the public eye. Sensible, though it felt like they were hiding. "I named Harry as my champion. That shut people up very quickly."
"Anything for the witch who flew a dragon out of Gringotts." Harry had caught the tail end of the conversation as he approached followed by a floating tray laden with champagne flutes. As usual, he had been keeping an ear out for what Hermione was saying. He'd spent months carefully observing her. "Elf wine, anyone? I filched a supply so we can avoid the crush at the cocktail bar."
Evading crowds was a near compulsion for Harry. He didn't like feeling penned in and so many people wanted to congratulate him, thank him, lament with him or blame him that he couldn't think straight when they came at him all at once. Ginny was good at fending them off but hiding behind his fiancée wasn't how he wanted to live his life.
"Thank you, yes, I will." Hermione took a glass as the tray fluttered around the group. Harry and Neville raised one eyebrow each. The witch had eschewed all alcohol at the first anniversary celebrations. "I'm weaning the twins. I can have a drink or two in the afternoon." She explained as she sipped. The vintage tasted like a lazy summer in a vineyard. "This is very good."
"Ministry bought. Only the best plonk for them." Neville muttered. "Kingsley's here, which is fine, but so are half the Department Heads." Everyone wanted to have a war hero under their purview. "I've had owls offering me sinecure in six different Departments. I took the Auror offer from the DMLE just to keep the others off my back."
Hermione nodded sympathetically. She hadn't received nearly as many offers, but she didn't say so. Romilda liked to run her mouth. Airing her suspicions that she was being marginalised for being a mother, particularly a mother to a Death Eater's children, was something Hermione intended to do in private. Witches with children rarely worked outside the home.
"Let's sneak away before the politicking starts." Seamus suggested, downing his wine. He had gritted his way through the year but now he was done, he wanted to be shot of the place. "Hannah's put on a spread at the Three Broomsticks. She 'prenticed in the kitchen. We can skive off there."
The lure of Hufflepuff food and Hogsmeade nostalgia easily trumped self-consciously awkward conversation surrounded by too many memories. Hermione found Theo, still nested with the other Snakes, and made the invitation general. Draco was punctiliously expressionless, until she handed him Hugo as a means of saving face when Hermione belatedly recalled he would not be welcome by Rosmerta.
Theo was more than willing to use the babies as an excuse to avoid the other Gryffindors. He suffered watching his wife bustle off with the Weasleys, who had gone out of their way to include her in everything they did from jam making to French poetry readings. They had been polite, painfully, to him but he had got the message. Hermione was welcome. He was not.
Having showed her face at a public event, answered more personal questions than she liked and eaten more of Hannah's hand-made chocolates than she probably should, Hermione returned home. The elf wine, just two glasses, had left her pleasantly buzzed. She would be fine to give the twins their early morning feed. Theo had put Hugo and Thierry to bed after dinner so she and her husband had a convivial night.
Hermione woke with the alarm at three am feeling disgustingly ill, with aching breasts and a head both light and throbbing. She didn't think she had drunk nearly enough to be hungover. In between puking, she cast diagnostic charms on herself. They showed nothing, which was worrying as she had been on a regimen of nutrient potions. They should have shown up on the charms.
Theo brought her a mild pepper-up potion safe for nursing mothers, which came immediately back up after she drank it. Hermione tried some peppermint tea. When that returned too, she let Theo take her to St Mungo's, where she was told her body had been purged of all magical effects but was otherwise unharmed. Rest and fluids were advised.
They went home. Theo bottle fed the twins while Hermione dragged herself back to bed. The sudden and unexpected cleansing left her feeling drained but she had the vigour to write down everything she could recall from yesterday. Breakfast of fruit and yogurt. Elf made sandwiches for lunch. One glass of Ministerial wine, assorted canapés at the party along with another glass for toasting.
Who had given her the second champagne flute? She looked over her notes. Ron had. Molly had got everyone together to raise their glasses to the graduates, of whom she was so proud. Hermione frowned. While it was possible she had forgotten she had eaten or drunk something, she didn't think it likely. Everything she'd had was either off a communal plate or she'd fetched herself. She wasn't so foolish as to take food or drink from a stranger.
When Harry, Ron and Nympadora arrived spontaneously at seven o'clock, Hermione had an inkling they'd done something. Theo tried to send them away but they barged past him into the bedroom, drawing their wands. A rapid cascade of nullification and liberation charms later and the tired witch glowed softly white.
"Bugger." Nymphadora stuffed her wand into the holster on her belt. "Well, that's awkward." She had been damn sure either Nott or Malfoy had been keeping Hermione quiescent. Too damn chummy with the Ferret and too damn cosy with the weedy bookworm. The Auror didn't trust either of them further than she could spit. "Hermione, if you're afraid for the babies, we can take you somewhere safe. Whatever it is, you'll be alright."
"You thought I was being magically controlled?" Hermione asked slowly. The trio shifted uncomfortably.
"Remus thought you smelled off." The Metamorphmagus spoke quickly. "He couldn't really tell when you were pregnant and you kept to yourself, which was fair enough given how big you were, but when you had the twins, he still smelled something not quite right."
"And he didn't mention this to me why?" She asked, sitting up and waiting for all the data before she kicked them out of her house.
"The Notts have been Dark Wizards since Slytherin's time. We couldn't trust him not to be the cause. Malfoy's been hanging around like a bad smell too." Nymphadora was prepared to acknowledge with her cousin solely because Regulus had reinstated her mother. "We've been dropping hints for months but you never reacted."
"I am quite happy here." Hermione snapped. "I finally have some peace and quiet." Relatively speaking, when Thierry and Hugo were asleep. But a year of study uninterrupted by murder or mayhem had been blissful.
"This isn't you." Ron protested. "You wanted to do things. Get into the Ministry. Maybe some Muggle study. All sorts of stuff. You were always arguing with Sirius about him laying about." He wound down a little. "I don't know, 'Mione. You're just different and it bothers us."
"You don't know her." Theo intruded at this point, having tamped down his response until he would look sensible. Lashing out at the encroaching bastards who had tried to steal his witch away would make him look unstable. "My Hermione isn't your Hermione. Subconsciously, you feel the difference. I've noticed things being askew. The time travel dissonance has lingered."
"That's a very convenient excuse." Harry had tried to confirm what Hermione had told him about her trip. He hadn't found much. Regulus Black wasn't sharing, his relationship with Snape was still awkward, the Varinens hadn't returned any of his letters, and time magic research was so Restricted even he couldn't get permission.
"It isn't an excuse." Hermione defended her husband from the tacit accusation. "We've tried to track the resonances and it's amazingly complicated. We did our final year project for Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Ancient Studies and Charms on it. And we had to submit all our documentation to the Unspeakables for clearance before we could have anything assessed."
"We don't want you chained to a Death Eater." Nymphadora saw the boys dancing around the issue and jumped in boots first. "That's the long, short and ugly of it. There's something squiffy about him, you're not bound until death and you won't be alone if you leave."
"And if I stay?" She asked, telling herself her friends were acting this way because they were genuinely worried for her. Not because they were meddlesome idiots who didn't trust her to make her own choices.
"This isn't a 'him or us' choice." Harry hastened to say, before Nott stuck his oar in and made them look worse. "Of course we'll respect your decision. We just wanted you to be able to make it without undue influence. The nullifying potion would've rid you of any alchemical or pharmaceutical substance and the charms would've broken any Imperius or coercive curse."
"Theo and I are under a geas." Hermione explained slowly. "We made a promise to the Horned God who sent us through time. That could be why we smell off. Or it could be a temporal effect." She shook her head. "Why didn't you do something after I had the twins? It's been almost six months."
"You were nursing. Anything you drank would go into the babies. The nullifying potion has quite a kick." Nymphadora had chugged a few in her time after missions. She wasn't surprised to see Hermione in bed. "You told Harry you were weaning so we thought we could risk it. The longer you were under the effect of whatever it was, the more difficult it would be to break."
"And now what do you intend to do without my knowledge or consent?" She demanded acidly. "I'll tell you." Hermione interrupted when Ron began to start a conciliatory grin. "You are going to apologise to Theo for essentially calling him a rapist and then you will all leave. Because while I appreciate your concern, I am pissed off with you." Taking a breath, she reined in her glare. "I'll be at the Burrow for Sunday brunch. So will my husband."
Later in the quiet, Theo kissed Hermione slowly and hotly, showing her all his relief and jealousy and smug satisfaction that she had defend him. They had a quickie, which wasn't romantic but the babies were due for another feed and protested loudly if they missed breakfast. It was another serve of formula as Hermione didn't want to risk breastfeeding with the potion still in her system. Weaning was happening a bit faster than she'd planned.
Which was just as well as she discovered she was pregnant two weeks later.
Hermione's eyes narrowed at the Mediwitch she had been seeing regularly for post-natal check-ups. Not usually one for making jokes, the matron didn't seem to be kidding now. Noticing her patient's lack of reaction, the witch cast a more complicated diagnostic charm to check Hermione's blood chemistry.
The results looked like a disk of mother of pearl, with shimmering colours the intensity of which conveyed to the trained eye levels of iron, calcium and other elements. There was a bright pink ring around the edge of the circle, which indicated the presence of the various pregnancy hormones.
"I haven't had my period yet." Hermione had expected her cycle would be irregular while she was weaning, that was normal, but she had planned to resume contraception as soon as the Mediwitch had given her clearance to do so.
"The first ovulation after birth can take woman by surprise. So much is going on in your body it's often difficult to anticipate." The matron told her what she had told many surprised witches over the years. "I must say that it's very early days yet and it's quite possible nothing will come of it." Years of being tactful to pure-blood witches had given her a stock of anodyne phrases. "Might be best to keep this to yourself for a few weeks. No sense getting everyone's hopes up."
Hermione shared the news with Theo because they were partners. He agreed with the Mediwitch, as 'disappointments' were frequent. She started taking the mild contraceptive potion meant to lead into the regular, stronger preventative. If the pregnancy wasn't just a hormonal blip, the transition potion wouldn't do any harm and if it was a false alarm, the potion would stop any further surprises.
Theo accompanied his wife to her subsequent appointment a fortnight later. Hermione had spent the gap catching up on things she had let fall by the wayside during final prep for exams. He had spent the fourteen days alternately wondering whether the nullification potion had caused this, whether it had been blind chance or if Nyyrikki had interfered somehow.
They had a symbolic dinner of venison to celebrate the news Hermione was carrying twin boys. Again. Then they had a very serious discussion about their options and plans for the future. Given the realities of high miscarriage rates among pure-bloods, even among healthy young witches, they decided to keep silent until Hermione was out of the first trimester. By which time her pregnancy would be obvious.
The first people they told were the Grangers, who were simultaneously delighted and disappointed. They were partially mollified by the news Hermione would be starting an Ancient Runes Mastership with a noted scholar at the Euro-Glyph School of Extraordinary Languages.
The second announcement was done at the Burrow to the assembled Weasleys and
proxy Weasleys. Reactions were more enthusiastic, which Arthur going so far as to shake Theo's hand. Molly immediately started planning a baby shower. Harry and Ron offered their congratulations after an exchange of pensive looks that Hermione noticed. They argued off and on throughout most of the pregnancy, reconciling when Ginny brokered a truce so Hermione could be her bridesmaid for her wedding to Harry.
Rhys Alastor and Gwillem Filius Nott arrived suddenly on Imbolc, early but healthy, helped into the world by Neville and Luna Longbottom in the kitchen of the Longhouse. Theo returned home with the croissants his wife had been craving to the news of the safe advent of his sons and immediately asked the impromptu midwives to be godparents to the newborns.