Chapter 57

Narcissa watched with her heart in her throat as her son took possession of the most infamous wand in the world, and after that, her daughter was given the means to call spirits back from the dead. As they did so, the last vestiges of their childhoods fell away and all the hope Narcisssa had felt for them that fateful day in the bookshop; that fragile, beautiful thing which she'd guarded so assiduously, shattered beyond all recognition.

She understood now why the only thing Lily Potter had said to her, Lucius, and the Grangers before the arrival of their children had been to offer them an apology. Because Lily must have understood, nobody could have understood better than she did, how her fellow parents would feel about the reason for her and James' visit. That apology had been directed at Sirius too; it was clear that the Potters considered him to be Harry's third parent, but he had been too busy firing questions at them to pay it any mind.

And then, after a heartstopping conversation with Draco, Hermione, and Harry, almost as if they'd never been there at all, the Potters had disappeared again. Except for the feeling of devastation and the teenage warriors they'd left in their wake, both of which made it impossible to dismiss the entire thing as a figment of Narcissa's imagination.

The teenagers in question stood there: Harry in front, Draco and Hermione slightly behind, Draco's arm wrapped around Hermione, each had a hand on Harry, quite literally holding him upright. It took only a moment after Harry's parents had departed, however, for him to come back to himself and readjust his stance so that he was standing on his own. Yet the three didn't move apart from each other. And what a sight they were.

Still so young, still the children that she knew and loved, but then again, not. There was a strength to them now, power that had nothing to do with the hallows which were- unbelievably- their's to wield. It was just the core of what they had been all along, but now it was clearly on display.

In the midst of her fear, Narcissa had forgotten that she'd also seen this potential for extraordinariness in them from the beginning. At first between Draco and Hermione that day in the bookshop, and then when the three of them gathered for the first time at the Manor and Harry had been added to the equation.

"We need to talk," said Harry, he raised his eyes and looked at Narcissa and the other adults in the room. "Stay here." It was not a request. Narcissa did not attempt to argue and she didn't have to look around to know that none of the others would either.

Then, utilizing that eerie coordination they'd been exhibiting since the night that Lucius had been injured, Harry, Hermione, and Draco walked out of the room towards the bedrooms of the house. At their departure, magic swept off of her and Narcissa realized she had been released from whatever force had been holding them in place in the Potters' presence. But she knew that she would respect Harry's command and not try to follow them. The shift in the power dynamic simply could not be denied.

"What the fuck just happened?" Sirius demanded, his question was harsh and unyielding but he nearly choked on the words.

Narcissa wished that she could muster up her usual irritation at her cousin's insistence on being dramatic, but she only wished that he was actually being overly dramatic. That would have been much easier to deal with. She knew that he wasn't, and simply felt as heartbroken for him as she did for herself. She took a deep breath, gathering her strength for what she had to say next, but more importantly, the actions that would have to follow.

"I believe the Potters have once again made a great sacrifice in order to rid our world of the Dark Lord. It is our job to ensure that none of it was in vain."

That answer obviously caught Sirius off-guard. "Cissy?" He frowned in confusion.

She tilted her head at him, part pity, part annoyance that she had to spell it out for him. "Do you not think I recognize and honor the sacrifice they made in 1981?"

His eyes went wide with surprise. "Honestly, no, I didn't."

She bit back an angry retort, because from his perspective, that was a reasonable opinion; they rarely spoke of the past unless it was absolutely necessary for formulating their future plans.

"Well I do. I also recognize that the one they just made must have been even more difficult. I don't care what they said, it must have been exquisitely painful for them to come here," she brought a hand to her own chest and with her other, she reached for her husband. "The love that they feel not only for their son, but for mine, and for Hermione saturated this room. I know you felt it too, so whether or not it physically hurt, it must have been emotionally devastating."

She watched Sirius' eyes fall shut with the force of the emotion she knew that he also felt, then shook her head, attempting to clear her thoughts. "But they came here to arm and send them to war anyway, they chose the difficult path. They're stronger than I am, this is the very thing I've been fighting against for nearly five years."

Sirius let out a long breath.

She looked at each of the people in the room. Every single one of their presences had been requested by the Potters after they'd appeared to Dumbledore when he'd- apparently- foolishly tried to use the Resurrection Stone.

First was Severus, who Dumbledore had called for, before anybody else, via patronus message. At the moment he looked absolutely most of their House, Severus did not wear a veneer of impassivity, but rather one of very thinly veiled disdain. So instead of leaving the impression that he felt no emotion, it was widely believed that he was capable of only that one.

Before tonight Narcissa had certainly never seen such an unguarded expression on his face- for even his disdain was closely controlled- not even on the night of Lucius' injury when he'd learned most of their secrets and had every reason to be surprised. She didn't think that learning Hermione's true identity was the thing that had put that particular expression on his face tonight either. It was his discussion with Lily Potter that had clearly shaken him to the core.

She was not worried that she and Lucius would have to make good on the Potters threat to alter his memories. She didn't think that she would ever fully understand his motivations, but she was certain he could be trusted to help them defeat the Dark Lord, and that was all she needed to know.

Albus looked resigned and a little angry. However, Narcissa imagined that's what having two of Death's hallows literally plucked from one's hands by a couple of spirits could do to a person. Or maybe it was his injury. She didn't know the extent of it, Severus had apparently been working on him for a while before she and Lucius arrived after a summons from Severus' own patronus. But she knew a wasting curse when she saw one. He may very well have killed himself tonight in his arrogance and his single minded determination to seek out an object he knew to not only be a horcrux but an infamous relic, despite his word that he would call on them first before attempting to retrieve a horcrux.

Sirius, who she had sent an elf to fetch, also looked resigned, but she imagined it was not in the same way that Albus was, but more like how she was feeling: that despite their best efforts, this situation was now out of their hands, and she felt for him. She was just thankful that it didn't appear she would have to fight him to convince him of the inevitable. There would be no more shielding their children, this was beyond them now.

Finally there were the Grangers- who had also arrived with the help of a Malfoy elf- for there was no reason for Narciss to look at Lucius, their magic buzzed between them, she knew exactly how he felt and if she looked at him, she would lose all the composure she had left.

Richard looked sad and angry, and more than a little flabbergasted as he held Helen's hand in a white knuckled grip. Helen looked terrified and proud, but somehow unsurprised. But then Helen had always seemed to see and understand far more than her lack of magic suggested she should have. Narcissa had learned over the years that what she lacked in magic, she made up for in other ways. Like her daughter she felt deeply, but she was better than Hermione was at trusting those feelings.

Narcissa wondered if Helen had been noticing things about Hermione as long as Narcissa had been noticing things about Draco. For Narcissa remembered that Halloween night in 1981 clearly, and the memory stuck out with a particular distinctiveness tonight.

She remembered Draco's restlessness on that evening, which she had attributed to Lucius' absence and the changing of the seasons. She had told herself that he was sensitive to the magic of Samhain and brought him to bed with her. But now she wondered if another kind of magic entirely had been at work in him that night. Because that was the night the journey for these three children had begun.

It was true that they could have made different choices, just as the Potters said. Not only Draco, Hermione, and Harry, but all of them. For her part, Narcissa could have ignored what she saw in Flourish and Blotts the first time she'd ever met Hermione. She could have decided not to fight her husband about the inclusion of a muggleborn in their lives. She could have chosen the Dark Lord over Hermione. She could have continued to lead Draco down his proper and expected life path.

However, no matter the choices, the possibilities were always there. For these three children and their seven parents who had each played their parts now- she was not ignorant to the numbers, nor did she believe they were a coincidence. And she knew with absolute certainty that she wouldn't take any of it back.

She wouldn't rob Draco and Hermione of what they had together, or of the family they'd found in Harry, and he in them. Wouldn't erase the love that enveloped their lives, love which tonight had been so beautifully supplemented by the Potters. It would be monstrous to even consider it.

Such immense love, it was staggeringly powerful. She almost felt sorry for the Dark Lord as such things were simply beyond the comprehension of one who had so ruthlessly cleaved away his own humanity.

That thought filled her with a kind of grim determination: this was how it was meant to be. Now she just had to accept her new place guarding Draco, Hermione, and Harry's backs, and ensuring that they came out on the other side of it all. She had confidence that they would. Because while hope was a fragile thing, love was not.

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Draco was making a concerted effort not to overwhelm Hermione with his emotions. It was all that he could do for her, really, other than hold her. He had known for almost the entirety of their friendship that Hermione felt things strongly, but what he'd learned in the 43 days since her birthday (and yes, he had been counting) was that he hadn't even understood the definition of the word 'strong' before then.

It would have been easier to become accustomed to being regularly trampled by a herd of centaurs than it had been to learn to live with the force of his betrothed's emotions. So, right now, when she was nearly physically bowled over, he wasn't going to add to that burden or risk that their emotions would crash over each other and bring them both down. He would be the anchor while she weathered the storm.

Harry was trembling beneath the hand Draco had placed on his shoulder, but only a few seconds passed after Lily and James disappeared before he took a deep breath, stood up straight, and turned to Draco and Hermione. "We need to talk."

It was an almost ridiculously inane statement to make in that moment, but he said it with such authority that nobody could deny its importance. He then looked over to the adults in the room. "Stay put." And for some reason Draco was certain that he would be obeyed. Then, by silent agreement the three of them left the room.

Harry led them into the first bedroom they came across, Draco assumed he'd automatically chosen a bedroom out of a desire for privacy, though none of the rooms in this house belonged to anybody. It was a mere training facility and safe haven should one be needed, but as far as he knew, nobody had actually slept in the house since they'd acquired it.

It was not a large room and it was dominated by the bed sitting at its center. As a meeting place it was less than ideal, because when Harry began to pace there was really no room for anybody else to keep standing. However, Harry didn't even seem to notice, so Draco simply pulled Hermione over to the bed. They settled on the edge of it and pulled their feet free of Harry's path.

Draco watched his friend for a while, assuming he would want to be the one to break the silence, and Hermione seemed to have come to the same conclusion. She was busy trying to sort her riotous emotions anyway.

While he waited, Draco pulled the foreign wand- the godsforsaken Deathstick- from his pocket and examined it. He felt absolutely no connection to it. There had been no rush of magic like he'd experienced when he first held his own wand when Lily had handed it to him, and he felt nothing still. Though he did not doubt that he could use it. However, it was just a tool, just as Lily and James had said, and that thought calmed him considerably.

He looked up again, first at Hermione and then at Harry. He smirked and broke the silence without really thinking about it. "Do you think your Mum just marched up to Dumbledore and took this thing from him, because I'm a big fan of that visual."

Hermione gasped and Harry just stared at him for a long time, frozen in place, until he finally cracked a smile. "I bet he didn't even try to fight her. She seems like a badarse doesn't she?"

Harry's use of the present tense did not escape Draco, but it did not make him pity Harry, the way he would have only hours ago, thinking he was clinging to memories of his parents like they were still here. Now it made sense. Lily and James might have been gone, but they would never be just the past to him again.

"She really does," he agreed, then added with a smirk, "hot too. I think I have a little crush."

Harry made a face. "Watch it, that's my mum! And you're betrothed!"

"And I still have eyes, Potter," he said in a sing-song tone, almost unable to believe his own light mood.

Harry narrowed his eyes, though the expression was mostly playful, and turned to Hermione. "Hermione?"

Draco could feel amusement bubbling up in her, almost against her will. He glanced at her to see her peeking at him from beneath her lashes.

"He's not wrong, she's very pretty," she shrugged, "and anyway I'm not worried. Your Dad is pretty handsome too. Though, before you ask, no I don't have a crush. He looks a lot less like you than everybody seems determined to make you believe, but it's still enough that it would just be weird if I did," she wrinkled her nose in distaste.

There was a moment of silence as they all looked at each other, and then burst out laughing.

"Are we actually laughing right now?" Hermione squeaked out between cackles.

Draco bit his lip. "I think this might be one of these times that it's either laugh or cry," he provided.

"Or completely freak out. And since Malfoy's just gotten some kind of all-powerful wand, freaking out seems like a bad option right now, he might blow us all sky high or something," Harry added.

"Thanks for that vote of confidence, Potter," Draco drawled, but he couldn't keep a straight face.

They all laughed again and Harry came over and sat next to Hermione. Draco decided that it was probably best that he be able to look at them both without leaning over Hermione whenever they did start talking, so he scooted back across the mattress until he was sitting on the other side of the bed, cross legged. The other two followed suit, situating themselves so that the three of them were in a circle, knees almost touching.

"I know this is a stupid question," Hermione began in a small voice, "but are you okay, Harry?"

He nodded. "I am, actually. I mean it sucks that they're gone, and I'll probably be a wreck later, but that's more than I ever expected to get of them. It was nice to actually hear that they're proud of me, and they have confidence in us. And they're pretty great, aren't they?"

Draco didn't need to be able to feel Harry's emotions to know that he was desperate for their agreement, for their approval of his parents. It was easy to do. "They really are, mate."

Hermione nodded eagerly. "Draco was right, I'm very put out that I didn't get to know them, but I guess I'll get to one day, though hopefully not too soon," she added immediately but the sentiment, while sweet, reminded them all of the matter at hand.

"So, it's up to us then," Harry sighed.

"Well, it's not really new information is it?" Hermione shrugged, her nonchalance was mostly an act, but Draco let her get away with it. "We already knew about the prophecy and that it was about you. We already guessed that Draco and I were the 'power the Dark Lord knows not' and either way, we weren't just going to leave you to deal with him by yourself. It's been the three of us for a while now, hasn't it?" She asked, eyes wide and guileless- and that, at least, was the absolute truth of how she felt.

"It's just more official now," Draco added.

"Also, apparently Claire's building us a small army on the Continent. Which, if I know that witch at all, isn't actually all that small, and is more than a little fierce. Malfoy women are awesome," Hermione grinned, sitting up a little straighter and swelling with so much pride that Draco actually thought he might burst with it.

"Knew about that, did you?" Draco asked, allowing his annoyance at being kept in the dark on this issue to seep into his tone.

Hermione let out a little snort. "About the army, no. About this thing- whatever it is exactly- with Harry, I had my suspicions. Very strong suspicions mind you, but only suspicions. And so would you if you weren't so attached to your denial."

He huffed, annoyed, but this time it was at himself. Because she wasn't wrong. The only thing surprising about Lily's little revelation about Harry and Claire was that it hadn't been surprising at all, and it was just embarrassing that he'd been ignoring something that had been right in front of him.

"So- uh we're talking about that?" Harry asked hesitantly.

"I am surprised you're bringing that up now, Hermione," Draco said by way of agreement- because of all the things they needed to discuss, that seemed like the least important.

"Yes, because if the two of you have some ridiculous male posturing to do, I'd prefer for you to get it over with now. We need to be on the same page when we face that," she gestured to the door. "So, go ahead," she crossed her arms over her chest, "actually, Harry, would you like to explain. I'd say it's none of our business, but I don't think it can be avoided now."

"No, it's okay," he cleared his throat and then looked at them both, eyes pleading. "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you, but technically there's nothing to tell. We aren't actually together, we just decided, I don't know, to acknowledge that there's something there, I guess. And we've been talking," he scratched his nose. "But you knew that."

"That's it?" Draco asked incredulously. "That's all that's going on?" He wasn't sure what he'd expected the other wizard to say, but certainly something more significant.

Hermione slapped his arm. "Don't be like that! I remember our relationship as more than just friends started out with you saying something very eloquent to me along the lines of: 'oh um, do you think, maybe we could go on a date?'" She began, her voice lowered, her nose in the air. "'You know, if we could. But since we can't, we won't. But would you want to?'"

He glared at her and she hit him again, but it was no use trying to look upset, because he couldn't hide his emotions from her, and he was actually starting to feel very amused. "I didn't mean it like that," he clarified, looking at Harry, "I only meant that I hadn't thought about it at all, but if I had I would have thought that what you just said was already pretty obvious."

Harry shrugged. "It was a pretty big deal for us," he said, sounding defeated.

Draco sighed, he was starting to feel like a prat. "I didn't mean it like that either," he looked at his betrothed, "can I get some actual help here?"

"I think what Draco means is that you and Claire just make sense as a couple, so we're not surprised, and we're very happy for you. We also know that you live a long way away from each other, and we're in the middle of a war so it's understandable that you haven't made it official," she gave Harry a reassuring smile, then glanced at Draco, "isn't that right?"

With a roll of his eyes Draco nodded.

Harry stared at him. "You're not mad?" He eventually asked.

Reflexively, Draco sneered. "I'm not that big of a hypocrite. You gave me a chance when you found out Hermione and I were together, and you and I are actually friends now, so I can do the same for you," he defended.

The truth was, Draco didn't care if it made him a hypocrite, he never would have been as gracious as Harry had been to him if their places had been switched. If he truly thought Harry was a danger to Claire, he'd do everything in his power to make his life miserable and to keep them apart. But he knew Harry, and he didn't believe that at all. Actually, he thought that if anybody was in danger of getting hurt here, given the difference in their ages and upbringings, it was more likely to be Harry.

However, he was not going to say something sappy to the other wizard like 'if it has to be somebody, I'm happy it's you.' Though he might slip a similar sentiment into a conversation with Hermione in the near future and let her pass it on. He could be that gracious.

"But you're on your own with my father," he added quickly.

"No you're not," Hermione contradicted immediately, "I'll have your back with Lucius, and you know he'll listen to me."

Draco made a concerted effort not to huff or roll his eyes.

Harry's cheeks went pink and he looked down at his lap. "Thanks."

Hermione looked back and forth between them, obviously gaging their moods, trying to determine if they needed to be mediated any further. "That was very mature, boys," she eventually said in that bossy tone of hers, and clapped her hands together once, as if to punctuate the end of the subject.

Draco allowed himself to roll his eyes in Harry's direction this time. "Isn't she generous?" He snarked.

Harry laughed but then he shifted uneasily, his eyes darting to Hermione. "Snape knows about her now."

"I know."

"It's fine," Hermione responded, voice clipped.

Draco, so painfully aware of his emotions these days, felt his annoyance spike.

Hermione released a long breath and looked between Draco and Harry. "I know that it comforted you both that he didn't know the whole truth about me, that you felt that it brought me some measure of protection."

"It was all we had left," Draco shot back, he could feel her reaching for understanding but failing to connect to the sheer desperation he still felt to cling to the meagre protection they'd been able to build for her over the years, the false protection his family had scrambled to provide as recompense for what they couldn't rightfully give her, because they didn't live in a fair society- and the Malfoys were compliant in that unfairness.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, and the truth of that statement resonated. "I'm sorry that you don't have that anymore, whether I think it mattered or not, it mattered to you both, but," her lips quirked with amusement, however, Draco felt a conflict in her emotions, "I think that this is an opportunity."

"For what?" Harry asked suspiciously.

"Snape is an excellent tool inside of Hogwarts that we haven't had before, and unless I completely mistook him before, he all but pledged himself to us. He can give us a different perspective and," she glanced at Draco, "a lot of help with the Slytherins. Luna can only do so much. And she likes Theo, but even she thinks he's uncertain. We need somebody with more experience reading people, specifically the type of people sorted into Slytherin."

"You think he'd help?" Harry snorted, "he's a terrible teacher."

Hermione shrugged. "No argument from me there, though we've had worse, at least he knows what he's doing. Regardless, though, he's a decent head of house from what I've seen, not exactly touchy feely, but neither is Professor McGonagall, so we can hardly judge him for that."

"True." Harry made a slight face, as if he didn't want to agree.

"So it's good to have another resource," she continued, as practical as ever, though Draco knew, and he was sure that Harry did too, that this was her way of coping. But then her face fell. "I don't think that we can just let the adults handle things anymore. Those things they've been keeping secret…we have to ask them to tell us about it all."

Draco noticed Harry reach up and brush his fingers against his scar, but realized too late that he had moved towards them both in an almost a protective gesture, too late to stop himself, though Draco could tell that he immediately regretted drawing attention to himself.

Draco intentionally ignored it and let out his own long breath. "I suppose, whatever they are, it's really too much to hope that they're no big deal," he tried to joke.

Hermione caught his eyes and gave him a tight smile, then extended one arm into the space between the three of them.

"I know that we sort of decided this a long time ago. Or at least it feels like it was a long time ago. But, despite it all, it actually makes me feel better to know that it's really we three. Your parents were right," she looked at Harry. "We chose to be there for each other, we can do this."

"We three," Draco and Harry spoke simultaneously, their hands effortlessly sliding on top of hers.

She covered the pile with her free hand, squeezing them together. "We three."

Author's Note: If you're interested, chapters 3, 9, and 12 of "Beyond An Unexpected Malfoy," provide a lot of background for events mentioned in this chapter. Thanks for reading!