They met by the lily lake in Borisova gradina. The Portkey had dropped the trio from Andorra in a sycamore grove near one of the side paths, allowing them to amble out to join the Muggles strolling through the park. Summer in Sofia was too beautiful for trouble and no one looked askance at the small group of tourists.
Andromeda had disguised the lead box on Narcissa's arm as a plaster cast and had insisted her sister not wear a robe. Seeing her son in cargo pants and a print shirt flanked by Theo in similar Muggle attire stilled any protest from Madam Malfoy. She was not going to cause a scene while they hopefully escaped the crowds before anyone started laughing at their garb.
That none of the Muggles did more than smile in passing struck Narcissa as odd. Miss Granger was in a scandalously short dress that showed her knees! They walked out of the public gardens without any mockery heading towards the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy. Cousin Leonid had a Visitor's parking pass, which had saved them having to circle the cultural precinct looking for a place to leave the SUV.
They climbed into the diesel behemoth Hermione had rented from a company that specialised in mountain tours and trekking. She had tried for a minivan but with the holiday season in full swing choice was limited. Teddy bounced in his seat between his grandmother and great-aunt, making car noises as they pulled out into traffic.
The two hour drive from Sofia to Plovdiv was occupied in conspiracy, entertaining a four year old, and weathering the psychic glare of an irate half-kneazle. Andromeda had disguised Crookshanks's carrier as a briefcase. However that did not alter the fact the tabby was In when he wanted to be Out. He yowled whenever the car took a corner but otherwise concentrated on mentally projecting his complete, utter, and total disapproval of being in a box in a moving vehicle.
Crookshanks did not forgive his witch for having him carted about like baggage until he was on a cushion in the solarium eating pilchards. He did condescend to allow her to pet him as she explained the process of unbinding to Narcissa. Viktor had borrowed a book detailing the zadushavam rite from his tutor and gave it over now for perusal.
"I spoke very private with Professor Hristova. She taught for many years at Durmstrang. She said the rite has only one way to undo it. A very precise way." Viktor emphasised. The elderly witch had not been pleased to hear someone had tinkered with the ritual. "Madam Professor did not like the zadushavam because it must be so precise. She said it worked well but in discipline it is easy to be rushed, to be made cross."
"Would the Professor be able to consult on my case?" Narcissa inquired. She did not want to go into the mine. She had visited too many dark places. The idea of it made her sick to her soul. If it were a choice between her magic and her peace... "I do not wish to rush. I will be content if we can foil the Trace."
Project Obfuscation began in earnest. Miroslava Krum gave her guests unfettered access to the family library, taking a personal interest in their sanctuary application. While she had only tangential sympathy for the Malfoys, she was a traditionalist. She took pride in being a witch. Having a government take away that gift because they couldn't pay their bills was deeply offensive to the Bulgarian matron.
Theo steadily worked his way through the volumes on binding and infusion spells, rationalising that the act of putting something into something was similar enough to putting a lid on something they might find a useful clue on reversal. Draco assigned himself to tracking charms, diverging into hunting rituals and the vagaries of sympathetic magic.
When Sophia and Astrophel, Andromeda's owl, arrived from Andorra, Narcissa began a charm offensive on the Bulgarian Ministry, particularly the Head of the Magical Migration Department. Decorously flirtatious letters fluttered back and forth, the necessary secrecy adding a frisson of excitement to the slow process of persuading the bureaucrat to sponsor their cause.
Two of Viktor's older brothers had children Teddy's age so Andromeda took her share of child-minding so her grandson could spend time with other kids. She would have signed him up for daycare in Plovdiv but until he learned how to control his Metamorphmagus abilities, the little boy couldn't play with Muggles. Teddy didn't seem to mind and quickly picked up enough Bulgarian to argue with Viktor's nephews over who got to play with the toy Snitch.
When she wasn't chasing after boisterous miniature wizards, Andromeda kept everyone on an even keel. Losing her husband, daughter, and son-in-law had taught Mrs Tonks the value of family. She made certain no matter how important the next book, the next letter that the fugitives took time to relax and recharge. Narcissa complied because she hadn't yet recovered her health. Theo and Draco complied because they needed to reacquaint themselves with magic. Hermione complied because if she didn't, Andromeda would Full Body-Bind her and prop her up in the garden.
Hermione and Gringotts had been extremely busy. When the scandal of the true financial situation of the British Ministry had become public, the goblins had called in all outstanding loans for every Department. Then they had demanded the Wizengamot give safe passage to Hermione so she could present the debt recovery proposal without being arrested. What she was actually charged with changed day to day. Currently it was extortion, embezzlement, violation of custody, and abetting Death Eaters.
The Wizengamot agreed, they didn't have much choice in the face of bankruptcy, but twisted the knife in their choice of Auror escort. Harry, Ron, Neville and Dean met Hermione at Gringotts and stone-faced took her to the Ministry. She didn't try to talk to them. She stared resolutely ahead making eye-contact with no one. This wasn't how she wanted to help fix the country. However, if she was going to be cast as the Evil Queen of Numbers then she'd play the role.
Marchbanks wasn't there. The Chief Warlock informed her tersely that the Minister had been stood down pending an investigation into the mismanagement of Ministry funds. Hermione kept her face carefully neutral. She knew exactly what Kenelm Marchbanks had done and why he had reacted so badly to her offer. He had ordered his house elves to Gemino the Galleons he withdrew from his personal vaults then had exchanged the debased coinage for Muggle bullion, which he had used to stave off creditors.
House elf magic was sufficiently similar to goblin magic that the counterfeiting charms hadn't been triggered. Marchbanks hadn't used the cursed gold in the magical world so he hadn't alerted Gringotts. The real gold he had imported back into the magical world had been used to buy the Ministry time to pay its debts. No crime there either. The Minister probably wouldn't have faced anything worse than an ethics censure, if Hermione hadn't found out.
She had no clue what Marchbanks had been doing. If she had, she would never have approached him with a plan so similar to his own he must have assumed she'd been doing the same thing. It was only when a Muggle financial planner who had been helping her set up a currency exchange in Zurich had mentioned a series of frauds in the gold market that Hermione had become suspicious. When she had looked into it, she had realised what had been going on.
Her decision to immediately tell Ulrik had probably saved magical Britain from penury. The goblins would have let the country starve to get their revenge on the Minister. Not for defrauding Muggles but for besmirching the artisans who had made the Galleons. Goblins took their manufacturing very serious. Their craftsmanship was a point of pride. Having their work used like leprechaun gold would not be forgiven.
Hermione couldn't shake the feeling she had thrown Kenelm Marchbanks to the wolves. He had been trying to save the Ministry. She couldn't fault him for his motivation. That he was happy to steal from Muggles offended her but it wasn't an attitude that surprised her. Even after two wars, many perfectly reasonable people thought of Muggles as aliens. They were no more considerate of them than Hermione was of Marvin the Martian.
She'd made notes for a speech she didn't actually get to speak. The Chief Warlock barked a series of questions at her while flourishing the dossier she had given the Minister. Hermione confirmed the projections contained within were as sound as current financial markets could make them. She tried to add some reassurances that this sort of restructuring was fairly routine; paying off the highest interest loans first, negotiating with creditors, auditing and postponing capital works, and so forth. Her attempt at reasonable was cut off by a shouting match between incumbents and Shafiq supporters in the gallery.
A loud cadence from the gavel eventually quieted the dispute. There was some more brusque questioning, quite a bit of snide remarks on the goblins, more shouting then finally the resolution to accept her proposal passed by a narrow margin. Hermione was marched out of the chamber by the Aurors. Marched right out of the Ministry all the way back to Gringotts. Ron kept his temper in check until they were a pace inside the door before exploding.
"What the bloody Hell do you think you're doing, Hermione?" He demanded, his face as red as his hair. "Have you gone completely barmy?"
"I'm trying to free slaves and undo decades of fiscal lunacy. Which bit do you think is mad?" The witch asked tartly, feeling bruised from the whole experience.
"You ran off with sodding Malfoy! And his mother! And bleeding Nott!" Only Harry's steadying hand on his shoulder kept Ron from grabbing their friend to shake some sense into her. "You've chucked in any chance you had of working at the Ministry. You'll be lucky if you're let back in the country again."
"I thought that might be a possibility." Hermione tried for a conciliatory tone. "Someone had to do something."
"Oh, you've done it alright." Ron didn't repeat what his mother had said when they'd read in the Prophet that Hermione had fled France. He'd been genuinely worried Hermione had killed the ferrety git. When the story broke that she'd legged it with the two Death Eaters, Skeeter had crowed all over the front page and most of the editorial too.
"They're criminals, Hermione." Dean said passionlessly, wanting to understand why she had absconded. "Whatever they've promised you or however much you think they've reformed, Nott and Malfoy are still criminals."
"Draco and Theo and Narcissa and the hundreds of other parolees are people." Hermione spoke as sedately as her former Housemate, hopeful he could comprehend her stance. "The magical world doesn't have a Declaration of Human Rights. So we have fucking offensive laws like the IMP. Dress it up however you like. People are being bought and sold."
"They did worse!" Ron shouted, trying to get through to her. If he didn't know the Malfoys and Nott were suppressed, he'd be worried one of the bastards had cast the Imperius Curse on her.
"Who are 'they', Ronald?" She arched an eyebrow. "They did a lot of things during the war. They passed the Muggle-Born Registration Act. They sent children to Azkaban." Hermione shook her head. "I've seen the court transcripts. I know exactly what Narcissa, Draco, and Theo did. I also know that at least six Aurors suspected of using the Killing Curse against Muggles were never charged. Don't forget that the DMLE towed the line when Voldemort held the Ministry."
"Kingsley got rid of the bad apples." Her preachy tone got right up his nose like it always did. Ron refused to back down. "Just because you're shagging those bastards doesn't make them goodies."
The silence that allegation spawned spread like ripples in a pond. There weren't many people in Gringotts as after the run on the bank, the goblins had closed the doors to the general public. There were the usual security guards as well as several heavily armoured goblins who looked like they had absolutely no sense of humour. At Ron's slur, long-fingered hands dropped to swords.
"As it happens, I'm not shagging either Draco or Theo or indeed Draco and Theo." Hermione said, pleasantly liberated from the need to be polite. She wasn't going to tear Ron a new one for that personal jibe but it did mean she didn't have to respect his feelings. "I might later, I'm not sure. I haven't given my private life much thought in between exsanguinating myself and spelunking."
"Ron, that was uncalled for." Neville was honestly more shocked that Ron would slander Hermione than by the suggestion itself. Triads were not uncommon among traditional families, particularly when sole heirs were disinclined to marry more conventionally. Magic called to magic, like energy to like. While he was surprised Hermione was compatible with the Slytherins, if it were so he would never believe she would be swayed from a righteous cause by their forked tongues.
"She's not thinking right!" Ron looked to his fellow Lions for support. He saw disapproval from Neville, discomfort from Dean, and dismay from Harry. All directed at him. "They're Death Eaters! For Merlin's sake, she could go to Azkaban for this!"
"I'd say Hermione knows she could go to jail. That's why the goblins insisted on safe passage. They're not going to contest your charges, are they?" Harry had heard all the arguments flying like hexes through the Ministry. You'd have to be deaf and Confounded not to know things were bad. No one was arguing about anything else. Crime was at an all time low as everyone held their breath to see if the ship of state was sinking.
"Not for a while, no." Hermione conceded. "There's too much to do to fix all of the financial problems. Sorting out the scope of the debt will take months. My proposal is based off what's owed to the goblins. If anyone in authority has been idiotic enough to borrow from some other source, like foreign businesses or private estates, the situation could be even worse." She'd had to choose between saving herself or saving hundreds of people in indentured servitude. "The IMP will go on hiatus. Anyone currently suppressed will be transferred to alternate accommodations. Anyone still in Azkaban will finish their sentences as normal."
"And you'll be a wanted criminal." Auror Potter pushed.
"Been there, done that." The witch shrugged.
An hour later in Bulgaria, she repeated much of the conversation she'd had with her friends. The response from the Slytherins was more restrained than the Gryffindors. Miroslava and Viktor, both of whom were becoming convinced magical Britain had collectively run mad, poured themselves another round of boza and shook their heads.
"What alternate accommodations?" Narcissa waded into the mess, concerned that Andromeda would be shunted off to some holding cell. They hadn't been caught yet but it was only a matter of time. Her sister might plead she was only involved in Miss Granger's schemes to protect her kin. Family loyalty wouldn't buy clemency, though.
"I rented a cruise ship." Hermione explained placidly.
"A ship?" She looked to the Krums, imagining the Muggle witch borrowing Durmstrang's enchanted vessel.
"An ocean liner, one of the tourist ones." Pulling out her beaded bag, Hermione fished a pamphlet from the depths and handed it to Narcissa. "Cruises are quite big business but the turnover in the ships means there are always less fashionable ones available for lease. This one has more than enough room for all the parolees and can be warded as a residence so the custodians don't have to stay there too."
"Are we going there?" Draco looked at the shiny brochure over his mother's shoulder. The ship was sleek and white. Beyond that, he could not imagine the size or the accommodations. Muggles built that? "Where is it sailing?"
"I thought it could do laps around the British Isles. I hired an American tour company to run the ship. Apparently, the million magical people in the US rather like cruises." She had been surprised by the lifestyle difference between the UK and the States. The North American wizarding population had boomed after Grindelwald's war while Britain had continued to steadily decline. "I hired a security company too. The DMLE budget is already in the red from overtime."
"Are we going there?" Draco repeated, prodding what was evidently a sensitive spot.
"No. There are warrants out for our arrest. I won't have enough sway to do anything about that for quite a while. We'll have to wait until the Ministry is running properly again." Hermione had brazened it out with her friends, bold slogans again, but she had to be honest with everyone in the hole with her. "Hopefully the Bulgarian Ministry will give us sanctuary. Otherwise, we'll go on the run."
"As simple as that?" Theo asked gently. "You save them, again, and you suffer for it?"
"Our society is like a battered spouse. They don't want to remember how frightened they were. It'll take years before anyone is willing to risk anything. Having a loud-mouth stirring up trouble, someone who doesn't know her place?" Hermione shrugged. "I don't expect to be thanked, and honestly, I don't expect to belong. So I'll keep on doing right and eventually enough people will agree with me that I'll be let back in the club."
"You could make concessions and hand us in." Theo said it because Draco couldn't. The wizards shared the same thought but the words froze in the blond. He couldn't even suggest it.
"I don't think I could, honestly." Her mouth curled into a smile of its own accord. "I quite like having the two of you around." Hermione met Draco's questing grey eyes and Theo's speculative blue. "I remember our conversation in the attic." Her cheeks went a little pink. Oh yes, she remembered. "The bond is mutual."