Chapter 14: Like Fire on Water.

Disclaimer: The copyright to Harry Potter characters belong to J. K. Rowling. Any other characters are purely work of fiction and any resemblance is co-incidental. No money or profit is being earned from this writing.

Chapter 14: Like Fire on Water.

Alexis Delacour, Junior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic of the French Republic, was more a man of letter than the actual number of words he spoke. Apolline and Gustave Delacour’s eldest son and a quarter Veela by birth, Alexis wasn’t the stereotypical guy that swam into one’s view when they imagined a man-Veela. Most people were accustomed to think male-Veelas as flirtish handsome blokes who would be tall, very fair, with silvery blonde hair and sleeping with every available lady that they could cast their charms upon; in other words they could be found more in their beds than their writing desks.

It, however, came to them as a surprise that Alexis spent most of times at his office, working behind his desk and not shagging someone underneath it, when the quarter-Veela joined the Ministry after finishing his Beauxbatons course. His single female colleagues kept waiting for him to try his charm on them, some even picturized hot and steamy moments with the handsome new Junior Undersecretary. But to their extreme disappointment, the man of their erotic dreams continued working without sparing half a glance at the ladies. Eventually the age old notion regarding man-Veelas broke and gossiping sprouted like wild weed, giving birth to numerous speculations about his sexual orientation. Now Alexis’s man-colleagues shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

Of Apolline’s three children, Alexis only hasn’t inherited his mother’s looks. He was a tall and lean version of Monsieur Gustave Delacour with black hair and black eyes which were calm and ever-pensive. Like his father, his voice was very deep but it lacked the joviality and friendliness. He was very reserved with the new ladies he met and also wasn’t much interested in Quidditch, a trait considered almost as a criminal offense by those around him. The quiet quarter-Veela instead liked chess and his colleagues, men and women alike, often shook their heads in empathy and wondered which unfortunate person on earth was going to end up in his bed and life.

But they didn’t know that Alexis Delacour, a serious man who was feared by his junior, ridiculed by his same age and advised regularly by his elder colleagues, could have an interest in someone, someone who was just as serious as he was, was ridiculed in her school life and was strangely lonely as he was.

It was Hermione Jean Granger, the woman who lived with his family with her son, Adrian Thomas Granger.

From the inception of his special feelings for Hermione from the moment she set her foot on Paris, Alexis has been very careful to not show it to her in anyway. The lady in question wasn’t just any woman that he could kneel down and propose with a red rose, a diamond ring and promises of a beautiful future. She was a deeply distrustful person who had been through an extremely violent incident, was alone in a foreign country and was bearing a forsaken fruit in her womb at the tender age of eighteen, when she should be enjoying her life and their victory over the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Over the course of six years she had been through numerous hardships, both to have Adrian and reach where she was today and it has hardened her heart, Alexis realized it too well. Hermione’s cold attitude towards most men also made it clear that she still hasn’t gotten over her last encounter with a man and was not ready to be involved in a serious relationship.

Alexis, being the diplomatic and cool-headed person he was, therefore, thought it would be unwise and selfish to confess his true feelings to Hermione. For one, she might think that he was taking advantage of their cordial relationship; for another, she might misjudge his feelings and think that he was asking for sex in return of all the love and affection the Delacours had poured on her and Adrian. In short his feelings would be mislabeled as lust. But Alexis didn’t blame Hermione for it. This world was selfish and life, unfair. On what grounds should one believe the opposite?

Alexis sighed. It was Saturday night and he was sitting on a garden seat with a good view of Hermione’s suite. The windows of the Eastern wing were closed and the rooms beyond it, dark, darkened like his heart and empty like his soul felt. It’s been only a week since Hermione and Adrian had left for Brussels with Gabrielle, Eva and Edmound and already it was feeling like seven years have passed. Without Adrian’s childish squeals, running to and fro and jumping into grandma or grandpa’s arms or little drawings, the house was starting to feel strangely dead, something that Apolline wasn’t missing an opportunity to point to her husband and son. Hermione had invited Alexis to join them; he too would have accepted it had Edmound not accompanied the gang of ladies. Edmound? Edmound! Alexis’s heart constricted painfully. Was what he thinking, the real reason behind his not going to Brussels, true?

Even at night, Alexis could clearly see the windowsill that Hermione or Adrian usually sat when they were there. He knew that Hermione quite liked that nook; she used to sit and read books there, when she was pregnant and Alexis, unbeknownst to the attentive reader above, would steal a few glances and sigh from the same garden chair below, wondering if he would ever be able to tell her the truth that he buried in his heart. Almost seven years have passed and the situation was still the same: stealing glances and sighing when no one was looking. Would he ever be able to tell her what he felt for her? That not every man was like Draco Malfoy and they knew how to treat women with respect? That he loved her and it wasn’t lust? That he had honourable intentions for her? Would that moment ever arrive? Alexis wondered.

Hermione and company had sent them letters with a few drawings that Adrian had made. It was clear that they were enjoying their tour. They would be there for another week and judging their happiness, Alexis wished that they could stay a little longer. But in last seven days, he has realized how very difficult it would be for him to live if Hermione ever left the Delacour Residence with Adrian. Who could have thought that just a week’s separation was going to pain him so much? Wasn’t his heart already aching to see them again? This wasn’t normal, Alexis knew it; his sister, Fleur, lived in England with her husband and daughter. He loved his sisters but as a brother he has never missed them this acutely. Then why was his heart always asking for Hermione and Adrian? Would he ever be able to live without them, even if it was under the pretence of being a large family and not Hermione’s husband and Adrian’s father?

Sighing one last time, Alexis started rereading Hermione’s letters from Brussels. They were mostly on the famous Belgian landmarks: the Manneken Pis, the Royal Palace of Belgium and a drawing competition for helping the orphans that was being arranged at the hotel they were staying and Adrian was going to participate; it was no wonder of course, that Hermione Granger would send her son to a Drawing Competition that was for charity purposes. That competition was scheduled this morning and Alexis sincerely hoped that Adrian had enjoyed it.

Except the account of Belgian landmarks, Hermione sounded cheerful and carefree in her letters, much better than she was after she almost ran into Draco Malfoy at Gringotts and had a meltdown. Alexis tried to read between the lines. Was there anything that Hermione was hiding from them? Was she deliberately being too cheerful to hide her insecurity and fears?

Around Alexis summer breeze blew gently and brought with it memories of the summers Hermione has spent with the Delacours. He smiled, sighed and continued reading the letters oblivious of the fact that a pair of blue eyes kept watching him from one of the upstairs windows that belonged to the master bedroom.

•••••

“I wonder when your son will muster the courage to actually go and ask for her hand.” Gustave was standing behind his wife, Apolline, who was watching Alexis read Hermione’s letters in the garden and occasionally look up at the darkened Eastern Wing. “It seems like he keeps forgetting that he is man and not a shy virgin. Nostradamus’s sake! He’s a Veela’s son!” He cried, exasperated and slightly annoyed.

“He is your son too, Gustave.” Apolline reminded her husband, raising a sharp eyebrow and glancing back sternly. “I still remember the day you asked papa for my hand. You looked close to wetting your trousers.”

Gustave snorted loudly and leaving his wife alone by the window went and sat on their bed. “It’s not my fault that I was scared to death that day, dear wife.” He defended, “You were Adrian, the Great Auror’s sister! Before his mighty shadow, I was nothing but a Niffler before a dragon. I was only twenty three and had nothing but the family apothecary business. You, on the other hand, had too many good suitors. They were better looking than I ever was, taller and most importantly, more established. It’s a wonder that I went against my family, mustered the courage to stand before your father and asked for your hand.” He smiled smugly, “But that’s not the case with Jean. She doesn’t have an endless list of suitors starting from the Duke of Marseilles to the Prince of Baghdad. She considers us as her parents. She lives with us; we love them both and want them to be a part of our family. The only obstacle in the happy plan is your son. He just wouldn’t go and ask for her hand!”

“Do you think it is easy for my son?” Apolline turned fully now and faced her husband, her blue eyes flashing, “You saw what happened when Jean saw that bastard that day! She was petrified, close to having a fit! For a moment, I thought she has lost her mind, that she was hallucinating that Malfoy has returned. It turned out that she was telling the truth. But that’s beside the point.” She crossed her arms, “Don’t you see Gustave? Jean still isn’t over that bastard rapist! She still suffers, suffers inside.” She placed a hand over her heart, “I know her. Jean hates to be taken as a weak woman. She curse-broke that bastard’s vault and didn’t breathe a word. I can’t imagine what she went through when she did it! Jean is like that, Gustave! She never tells anyone that she is scared, that she suffers. So it’s our duty to heal her, to have her faith restored. Until that, even if Alexis goes and lays down his heart at her feet, Jean will not believe his claim. She’ll think that his interests are elsewhere, that he is asking for her body in return of all these years that she and Adrian lived with us.”

“Why should she think so?” Gustave demanded, scratching his pointed black beard, “We have never done anything to break her trust, Apolline. Besides, it’s a marriage proposal. It’s not like Alexis will ask her for a date or a couple’s night out.”

“No, he won’t.” Apolline admitted calmly, her anger ebbing away and being replaced by thoughtfulness, “But I am a woman, Gustave and I know how we think; I know what a woman like Jean will think when someone suddenly asks for her hand in marriage. She is not Fleur or Gabrielle, Gustave. Jean is deeply distrustful towards men folk. Except you, Bill, Alexis, and Edmound, she is not very comfortable with them. You are like her father, Bill is like an elder brother and Edmound is a good friend. I don’t know what she takes Alexis as but chances are that she takes him as a family and nothing more. In that case, we have to be very careful to handle her, handle them to be more precise.” She said patiently, “Don’t forget Adrian. He might be a kid but he is very protective of his mother. He might not like the idea that his dear Mama will have a man in her life other than him. Kids can be very difficult in these situations.”

Gustave nodded and sighed, finally giving into his wife. “Do you think I should talk to Jean?” He asked pensively, “I mean, that way, she won’t get any wrong impressions.”

Apolline shook her head and closing the curtain with a last glance at her son’s direction, walked to her husband and sat beside him. “Be patient, dear husband.” She smiled at him and took his hands on hers, “I know you want to see Jean and Adrian as our real family, you want to have Delacour grandkids from our son and have a nice and big, happy family. I too dream that day.” She assured him with a dreamy look, “But for that we have to be patient. First, let them return home safely. I’ll see if Jean is still brooding over that bastard. Meanwhile, I need to find out why that Malfoy suddenly decided to visit his long forgotten aunt’s family. Maybe, he’s here to ask share of his uncle’s property. If that’s the case, he’s in the wrong place.” She gave a vengeful smirk, “Audré Chombrun Malfoy is René Chombrun’s daughter. With that brain of hers, that one lady is enough to burn down the entire Malfoy clan to ashes.”

Gustave shook his head in evident disapproval. At fifty, his wife was very pretty but vindictive like most Veelas. “I don’t understand one thing about you Veelas; how you can be complete opposites at the same time: protective and caring and extremely vindictive?”

“Women? We are a mystery that even angels were incapable to solve.” Apolline’s smile broadened and it brought forth a jovial smile on Gustave’s lips too. “Who the hell do you think you are, my Monsieur Mortal?”

•••••

Hermione was standing in a beautiful enchanted forest and gazing at the sky. It was a sunny day; the sunlight filtered through the canopy of green foliages overhead and casting a green aura, kissed her skin. Known and unknown wild flowers bloomed; ivy and other evergreen creepers climbed and wrapped themselves around the thick trunks of trees. Birds chirped happy songs while at her feet a little white rabbit played on the leaf – strewn forest grounds.

“Come to Mama, Adrian!” Hermione crouched down, opened her arms and invited the little bunny affectionately. It hopped and jumped, just as Adrian had jumped into her arms from Gabrielle’s bed. She smiled, cuddled the cute animal and kissed it fondly. Life was beautiful with her son in it. The beautiful forest, the flowers, the songs, the sunny day and her son; Hermione wished that it remained that way, forever and ever and ever.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, the sky grew dark and obscured the sun behind large grey clouds. Gusts blew, almost throwing Hermione backwards. She looked around frantically, alarmed. All around her the flowers were dying and falling off; scared, the birds left their cheerful singing and fled, making raucous calls. Against the strong wind, Hermione hugged her rabbit protectively. What happened? The weather was fine even a second ago! How could it change so suddenly? She looked up at the sky. The sun was now permanently gone. In its place, grey clouds were swirling like the eye of a hurricane. It seemed as if a storm was about to come.

Hermione didn’t have the time to ascertain why the beautiful weather suddenly took a downcast mood. Right now, her priority was to find a shelter. The little white rabbit in her arms was quivering. Maybe it was cold. Hermione shoved it under her lilac dress robe, the one she was wearing at the Prize Giving Ceremony. It struck her odd. Why was she on that robe?

“Don’t be afraid, Adrian. Mama is here. She’ll save you from harm.” She told the pitiful little creature and proceeded for a tree with a relatively large shade. She and her rabbit would be safe under it.

“What the…” Hermione stopped on her tracks. Her eyes were on the trees that looked enchantingly beautiful even a few seconds ago. Now, by some miraculous and satanic means, they looked haunting – their branches whipping menacingly and their trunks, dark and gnarled. What more! The green ivies were turning into green snakes now, wrapping their powerful tight coils around the tree trunks, their fangs dripping white poison, were ready to strike at Hermione and her little rabbit and devour them whole.

Under her lilac robe, she felt the rabbit starting to quiver harder. Could it sense her intense fear too? “It’s okkk….kay, lit…tle rab…bit! Mama… will sa…ve you!” Hermione was chattering, shaking from head to toe but tried to fight her extreme fear for snakes. Snakes meant Slytherin! Snakes meant Nagini! But most importantly, snakes meant a certain Malfoy. Draco Malfoy!

Not thinking anything particular, Hermione tried to run. She needed to leave this place as soon as she could! But long tentacles, like that of Devil’s Snare, like the hand Jacob Jordeans had offered to her, sprouted from the grounds and wrapped themselves around her feet, rooting her to the spot. Hermione tried to whip out her wand and light a fire but in vain. Her wand wasn’t with her. What the hell! Where was her wand? She never left it lying by.

“Where is my wand?” Hermione cradled her rabbit under one arm and using the other, rummaged her robe for the wand. Did it fell off somewhere? She needed to free her legs, if she wanted to live. The snakes were getting bigger now, some even sprouting multiple heads. Hermione tried to avoid looking at them. Fear, intense and extreme fear that had no parallel, was slowly paralyzing her. She felt like someone was watching her, watching them to be precise, fight in vain and enjoying the sight. Who was it? Who was it?

Then he saw him. Jacob Jordeans. The painter with cold blue eyes that had sent a shiver down her spine, came out of thin air, a green, malicious snake wrapped around his shoulders and stood before Hermione, giving her the same soul-searching stare he had given at the Prize Giving Ceremony. Hermione’s insides froze but she faced him boldly, as bravely as a Gryffindor could. She knew why he was here. He was here to take away her son, her Adrian and she wasn’t going to let that happen until one breath was inside her body.

“Mama will save you…mama will save you…mama will save you…” She kept chanting to herself and her son, though she had no idea how she was going to do that. She was trapped in a dark forest, her wand was gone, and a man with a snake that hissed malevolently was going to take her son away.

“Jean! Jean! Wake up!”

“Mama! Wake up!”

Jacob reached for Hermione, his long fingered hand like the pointed legs of a spider, aiming at her little rabbit. But she shook her head. Like Harry’s mother she would die but would protect her son with her life!

“You can’t win! I’ll not let you win, Malfoy!” Hermione screamed defiantly, not knowing why she was addressing Jacob Jordeans as Draco Malfoy. “He’s my son! ADRIAN IS MY SON!” The little rabbit under her robes was shaking violently now, as if it too had sensed that a snake was after it.

“He’s mine…he’s mine… he’s mine…” came a cold, spine-chilling and very familiar drawl. Jacob was talking in Draco Malfoy’s voice. How that was possible, Hermione neither knew nor cared. Her only concern was his vile, tentacle like hands which reached her bosom. He was now trying to extricate the little rabbit she was hugging protectively. “Give him to me…he’s mine…I need him…he’s mine…” His horrible rasping whisper reverberated in the air and like a Dementor’s cold breath it froze Hermione’s very soul. She felt like she was never going to be happy again.

“NOOOO! ADRIANNNNNN!” Hermione screamed and sat bolt upright, panting heavily. A scream followed hers.

“MAMAAAAA!”

Hermione felt a little body trembling against hers and opening her eyes, she saw Adrian, still in his red pajamas, hugging his mother tightly. The boy looked downright terrified. “Mama, wake up!” He tried to shake her to wakefulness. “Mama, I am here!” He said to her bosom.

“Adrian! Little rabbit!” Hermione exhaled in relief and wrapped her arms around him. She neither knew nor cared whether she was in that forest, it was storming and Jacob Jordeans was trying to take her son away. Adrian was with her, safe in her arms and it was all that mattered. Day, night, sun, moon, time, tide, Gringotts, France, Belgium – everything else could wait.

They sat on their bed for a while, silent, with Hermione feeling her son and Adrian assuring his mother that he was with her. Then someone spoke.

“Here, Jean, take some water.” Eva’s voice brought Hermione back to reality and focusing her eyes on her friend, she realized that all of them were in her bedroom, standing around her bed, looking alarmed. Edmound was a blue pajama with magenta dragon prints on it. Gabrielle and Eva were on their respective night dresses. Beyond the plush curtains of The Palace Hotel, it was still dark outside. Her eyes next searched the clock and she found it on the mantelpiece beside Adrian’s gold trophy. It was five o’ clock in the morning. So it was dream, a terribly bad dream, a horrific dream and she must have screamed and scared her poor little son and others.

“Merci.” Hermione accepted the goblet with a weak smile and feeling relaxed, slumped on her pillow. She was feeling like a fool now. Why didn’t she take Dreamless Sleep before going to bed? The Delacour’s family Healer had prescribed it and asked her to take it whenever she felt tense or apprehensive. Hermione finished the water in one go and placing the empty goblet on the nightstand, embraced her son who was hugging his mother as if his life depended on it. Now she needed to mend the damages she had made: assuring her poor, frightened son that she was fine.

“Adrian, Mama’s love, it is okay.” She stroked his messy curls and cooed into his ear, “Mama is alright now. She just had a bad dream.”

“I know it’s a bad dream! I know! You were dreaming that evil witch!” Adrian squealed and his embrace tightened around her neck. He wasn’t convinced by her words at all.

Hermione felt like slapping herself for foolishness. Why did she ever tell him that story about Bellatrix? Kids were more prone to get affected by such stories of torture; didn’t she know that? Besides, it was her past, her fears. Why was she infecting her son with her extreme inner fears? Her son needed to grow up strong and independent.

“Evil witch?” Eva asked, confused and she exchanged glances with Gabrielle who shrugged.

“Yes, evil witch!” Adrian affirmed, “The evil witch who cursed Mama. She gave her a lot of pain! Then Mama sent my real grandma and grandpa to Austra…lia.”

Hermione was feeling like crying now. Why didn’t she take the Dreamless Sleep? Adrian was almost six now and she should have separated his bed long ago. But the extreme fear and loneliness that she struggles and suffers from inside, had somehow prevented it. Who would believe that the Brain of the Golden Trio, the Gryffindor who fought Death Eaters twice or thrice her age, the first female Chief Curse Breaker in the history of Gringotts was actually a broken woman inside, that she was scared to sleep alone and wake up in the dark, alone? That she still had nightmares of that day, when she was brutally violated. That she still felt that pain of a hard phallus forced into her soft and unprepared core, of it pounding inside her, tearing her, breaking her, poisoning her and filling her with a fluid that meant that it was done: her rape was over. Who would believe that some wounds were beyond healing, some fears beyond any conquering? She could fight enemies who were visible but she had no hand on enemies and fears that were invisible and rooted deep inside.

“Oh that!” Eva looked troubled but she tried to smile and lighten the heavy air. “But didn’t Jean tell you that the evil witch is dead?”

“I did.” Hermione cleared her throat and replied, trying hard to not break into tears. The imprint of that horrific dream was still fresh on her mind but they could wait until she was alone in the bathroom. “Adrian, Mama’s dear little rabbit, the evil witch is dead. I told you.” Hermione said slowly and deliberately, trying to make him believe her. “A good witch, her name is Molly, killed the evil witch even before you were born. Mama wasn’t dreaming the evil witch.”

“Who were you dreaming then?” Adrian asked, not slackening his death grip on his mother an inch, “You were talking in your dream. You said ‘you’ll save me’!” He quoted his mother.

Hermione never lied to her son; it was a golden rule she followed at all costs. But she also couldn’t tell him that she was dreaming one of the judges of the Drawing Competition who sounded like Draco Malfoy. Her companions might think that she has finally lost it, her mind.

“I dreamt that we were stuck in a terrible storm. It was almost blowing us away.” Hermione replied truthfully, leaving out the rest of the dream. “I was scared that my dear son might get hurt and said that I’ll save him.”

“A storm?” Adrian looked up at his mother this time, his innocent grey eyes round. They were the exact shape and colour as Hermione’s rapist’s eyes were except that they were concerned and slightly astonished. For the first time since her waking up, Hermione realized that how very different the two people with the same eyes were: Draco Malfoy was her destroyer, tormentor, torturer; someone whose thought still scared her, gave her nightmares; and Adrian was her son, her blood, her soul, her solace, someone without whom she couldn’t go to sleep. Besides, one had no hand on his or her looks, just as one had no hand on his parentage. Hermione wasn’t going to begrudge her son for what happened to her. That kid was innocent and almost as unfortunate as his mother. He had no one but her.

“Yes, Adrian. A big storm.” Hermione smiled and nodded, kissing her son on the forehead. “Remember the storm that destroyed grandpa’s flower beds last summer? It was bigger than that.” She spread her arms wide, showing him how big the storm was.

“I’ll fight the storm.” Adrian declared boldly, his grey eyes filled with innocent rage. “No one can hurt my Mama!” He proclaimed.

“That’s like my man!” Edmound came forward and stroked Adrian’s curls. Hermione noticed that he exchanged an eye contact with his sister, Eva, who nodded vigorously in agreement.

“Yeah, Adrian will fight the storm.” She said and Gabrielle too joined the group. Soon the conversation moved to storm, God of storm – Zeus, and his messenger, the eagle. Edmound was always enthusiastic about animals and Adrian loved animals. Together, they started talking about eagles and how they hunted. Preferring not to talk, lest it should reveal her inner fears and the real contents of the dream, Hermione remained silent and listened to Edmound and Adrian’s chattering. The kid looked happy and relieved now.

At seven o’ clock, the Palace Hotel, on Eva’s request served them with bed tea and breakfast. It was clear that no one felt like returning to bed. Soon the owl posts started arriving, delivering the day’s newspapers to Hermione. Everyone, on their nightclothes, sat down and ate as Gabrielle read out the main stories to everyone. Listening to her, Hermione felt proud of her son and watching him pour over his photos, accepting the prize and riding on the shoulders of venerable judges, felt sad at the same time. She missed her parents, family and friends more than ever now. They would have been so proud! But as always Draco Malfoy, with his invisible inflictions over their lives, has destroyed the happiness she and her son both deserved. Hermione hated him for doing this. She just hated him!

It was strange how human mind jumped from one topic to another, no matter how unrelated they might be. From Draco Malfoy, the man Hermione hated with every fiber of her being, her thoughts jumped straight to Ron Weasley, the man she still loved and missed. If he were Adrian’s father, the scenario would have been totally different.

She must have sighed too deeply because Eva placed her soft hand on Hermione’s, “Jean? Is everything alright?” She asked cautiously.

“Yeah!” Hermione gave her a charming smile over her cup of tea, “I am fine.”

Eva looked doubtful to accept her smile and statement. But in the end, she nodded and went back to her coffee. Hermione looked at Gabrielle; she was giving her a pensive gaze. She wondered whether she would write to Apolline about today’s incident. She had seen what had happened that evening, in the bathroom. What if she made the connections? Hermione needed to talk to Gabrielle later, when Adrian wasn’t around and convince her that she was alright, that she was not losing her sanity.

“Adrian, don’t you want to tell grandma and grandpa about the prize?” Hermione was suddenly struck with a nice idea. The good breakfast was slowly knocking some sense into her and she was feeling loads better. Besides, thinking of Apolline and Gustave always made her happy. They were like shades over her roofless head.

“I do.” Adrian looked up from his almond-milk. It was for the first time that he was drinking milk with such eagerness and caution so that a drop didn’t spill. Hermione was having a feeling that the fight over his half-empty glass of milk was finally over; winning the prize has done its other benefits on her son. “I’ll talk to them in the Floo.” He piped happily.

“No, not the Floo!” Hermione shook her head, “I think we should write them a letter.” She proposed, sitting cross legged and purposeful as her audiences stared at her, “How about we take a long piece of parchment, cut the news clippings,” she showed them all the eight newspapers strewn on their unmade bed, “glue it to the paper and send it to them? I have already written mother about the competition. When they’ll see that Adrian is on the news, they’ll understand what happened. It’ll be a good surprise!” She smiled brightly.

“I think it’s a good idea.” Gabrielle approved right away. The others nodded and after a ‘I like it’ squeal from Adrian, they all got to work. Eva and Edmound chewed toasts and cut out the news clips, Gabrielle trimmed their sides and Hermione, with her son, glued them on the parchment that would soon be a one a kind letter to Apolline, Gustave, and Alexis. They chatted happily, occasionally arranging and rearranging the news cuttings and Hermione was happy to see that no one seemed to remember her nightmare anymore. When the letter was finally done, after an hour, the five feet long parchment had at least thirty clippings of variable sizes and shapes, all arranged on it like a paper quilt.

“I don’t think maman ever received anything like that.” Gabrielle seemed satisfied with their handiwork, her blue eyes twinkling in interest. She folded the letter, slipped it into an envelope and handed it to the man beside her. “Edmound, have it posted.”

Hermione was astonished at the authority the seventeen year old was exercising over her friend. But it was nothing new to her. Be it Apolline, Fleur and now Gabrielle, they all knew how to control their men and at the same time be their sweet hearts. A deep sigh escaped her heart when she remembered her man, Ron. She too liked to boss over him and be caressed, protected and loved by him. The feel of his lips was still on hers, when they had kissed for first and last time during the Battle of Hogwarts. It felt so close and yet so far away.

“Jean, I was wondering if we could spend the day by the pool?” Edmound, following his ‘her majesty the Veela’s’ order was about to leave the bed to post the letter and offered Hermione. “It’s a nice sunny day outside.” He drew Hermione’s attention to the weather, “We could swim and enjoy the sun.”

“Yeah, fine.” Hermione smiled and Edmound left, still in his dragon print blue pajamas. The man surely needed to learn some basic dress codes now that he was dating Gabrielle. The breakfast now over Adrian went to wash his hands and Gabrielle went to retrieve her swim suits. Only Eva stayed behind. Hermione wondered whether she was going to probe her about the dream.

“You know, Jean, I never liked Veelas much.” She confessed instead, watching Gabrielle’s retreating form, “They are so bossy that it’s really hard to put up with them. But after watching Gabrielle and Edmound, I think she’s the right person for my brother; would put him straight.”

“I hope so.” Hermione replied, internally relieved that the dream topic was over. She left the bed and Eva left for her suite too. But somehow, over the course of the day, Jacob Jordean’s face came popping inside her head. Why was she dreaming him? Did it mean a bad omen?

Hermione, being the logical person she was, didn’t believe in nonsense as omens. She never did the one on The Grim; these were all superstitions cooked up by ignorant minds as Trelawney’s who loved to sell their ideas. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t shake off the ominous feeling.

It felt as if a storm was really about to come, a storm that would blow her and Adrian away from the tree, and the shelter they were under: the Delacours.

•••••

According to Prince Hamlet, frailty! Thy name was woman! A Muggle playwright, William Shakespeare, once wrote that famous line. In his lifetime, he never had the misfortune to be introduced to the Malfoys of Wiltshire. Otherwise, the line would have been rewritten as ‘Curiosity, thy name was Malfoy’.

Draco was six when he first visited the local Muggle funfair with his mother. Lucius’s detest for Muggles was no big secret and it was therefore, an unspoken rule in the Malfoy Manor to not visit any such gathering where those scum were prominent. Narcissa, although she was from the Noble and Ancient House of Blacks, wasn’t that severe on the Muggles. Besides, she always put her son’s happiness before her husband’s strict orders. So when one day Draco, from the windows of his grand suite saw the multi-coloured streamers in distance and heard that a funfair was underway, he expressed desire to visit it, to his mother. He knew his father would never grant his wish.

“Narcissa, I don’t want my son to mix with those vermin.” Lucius adjusted his bow-tie and told his wife. He was off to an important meeting with the Minister of Magic, on the Dark Lord’s behest. “Don’t forget we are Malfoys.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Lucius!” Narcissa cried softly. She helped her husband into his coat and stood before him, her blue eyes fixed on his grey pairs, “He is not going alone. I’ll be with him.” She said with a charming smile that she knew would surely persuade her husband. “He’s just a boy! Don’t spoil his fun.”

Lucius gazed at his wife for a long moment and sighed at last, defeated. Narcissa did know how to handle her husband, he thought. She smiled and reading his thoughts correctly, kissed softly on his lips. “I love you.” She whispered into his ears.

Curiosity thy name was Malfoy and Draco, curious to see what happened when his mother asked his father to take him to the Muggle funfair, witnessed the entire interaction from his hideout in their wardrobe. He was always curious to things or people that drew his attention. For seven years, Harry Potter had topped that list.

That day, after her husband left for London, Narcissa took her son to the Muggle funfair. It was Draco’s first time in such a place. There were numerous stalls with games he never knew existed: the hoopla, Ball-in-the-basket, Hit-the-bell, popping the balloons and so on. His hand under Narcissa’s firm grasp, he watched everything and everyone with a sense of awe admixed with superiority. He was a Malfoy and these Muggle games were way below him. But soon he lost interest and asked his mother to take him back to the Manor. That was then that he saw it: a house of Mirrors.

Curiosity thy name was Malfoy and feeling curious, Draco sneaked into the place. It was a maze full of mirrors of various sizes. Walking and watching his normal and sometimes distorted reflection in them, he soon got lost. Every time he thought he spotted a door out and rushed to it, it was actually a mirror. He collided with them and after three quarter of an hour he finally came out, finding his way out of the giant labyrinth of mirrors. Narcissa took firm vow that day: she was never going to take her precious son to a Muggle funfair.

Strangely, almost eighteen years after that incident, Draco found himself in a House of Mirrors once again. It was very bright, the light reflecting on thousands of mirrors and almost blinding him. As soon as his eyes adjusted, Draco spotted a thousand other Dracos around him. They were all looking at him, turning as he turned, shrugging as he shrugged and walking as he walked. Draco started to have a feeling that he was trapped here, with no one but himself.

He stood still for a while, trying to make a map of the maze inside his head. Haste was going to ruin his plan and delay his escape. The always impatient Malfoys knew when to be patient. Slow, Draco, slow – he told himself. With a cool head, he needed to find a way out.

After ten minutes, he started walking carefully. Finding an actual door was tricky in a mirror maze and he needed to be cautious in the maneuver. He kept walking for what seemed like ages, taking right and left turns and was almost near what looked like a real door when he saw him in a mirror: a boy just like he was when he was six. He was standing at Draco’s right side. Except for the platinum blonde curls he looked like a miniature Draco in red pajamas.

“Adrian!” Draco gasped. What the hell was his son doing inside this perilous maze?

“Adrian, how did you…” Draco turned to his right and blinked. There was no boy in red pajamas standing beside him!

“Adrian?” Confused, he looked back at the mirror. The boy could be seen there, standing beside Draco, looking innocent and scared.

What was happening? The boy wasn’t beside him but he was in the mirror! Draco walked to it and touched his son’s reflection. Cold and smooth glass came under his palm. Was Adrian trapped inside the mirror? Or was it his reflection? Why couldn’t he reach him?

“Adrian?” Draco whispered, a deep furrow between his brows. “Son, are you trapped inside?” he asked the boy.

No one replied. Perplexed, Draco looked at the other mirrors. Adrian could be seen in all of them, standing beside Draco, looking timid like the little rabbit he had been when he was awarded his gold trophy. There were a thousand Adrian beside a thousand Draco.

An intense fear gripped Draco’s heart. Did it mean that he was hallucinating? That he has finally lost his mind in pursuit of a son he so desired? No! He needed to prove that he was sane! That he was not mad! It was all true!

“Adrian!” Draco pounded frantically on the mirrors, determined to smash them, free his son, and reach him at all costs. Adrian was his son, his blood, his soul and he wasn’t going to leave him until one breath was left in his body.

“Adrian! Adrian! Adrian!” Draco’s fists hurt from constant hitting of the smooth and hard mirrors but they wouldn’t break. He felt trapped. “You are mine! You are mine! I need you! I’ll die without you! Come to father! Come to me!” he tried to pursue the boy to come to him.

“Draco! Draco, wake up!”

Adrian’s reflection or Adrian himself, whatever it was, was slowing leaving Draco. For the first time since finding himself in the House of Mirrors, he panicked.

“Adrian! No! Don’t go! Father will die!” Draco pleaded, his fists now bloodied from constant pounding. It left a red irregular smear over the mirrors. He searched for his wand but in vain. It wasn’t with him. Desperate, Draco looked for something, anything that he could use to smash the mirrors and take his son out, prevent him from leaving. But there was nothing. He was alone and before his eyes, Adrian was leaving, leaving him alone, all alone!

“NOOOOOO!” Draco screamed and sat bolt upright, colliding with someone. His eyes flew open and Audré came into view. He was sitting on his bed, fully dressed, and his hands were made into fists and outstretched, as if it reaching for an invisible Adrian.

“Relax, nephew!” Audré said gently, trying to assure Draco. “It was only a dream.”

“Ye…ah.” Draco stammered and gulped, wiping sweat off his face. He was completely drenched. It was only a dream, a dream that felt strangely vivid and lifelike.

“Here, take some water.” Audré handed him a goblet and feeling too thirsty Draco finished it in one go. It never occurred to him to ask what she was doing in his bed chamber. His mind was on a whirlwind. Did that dream mean something? Was that Mudblood taking his son and leaving? Has she found out that he has broken into her suite last night? Has she spotted that Adrian’s white shirt, that he has brought with him as a relic, was missing from her closet?

Draco couldn’t rest until he found out the meaning of that damned dream. He needed to know what was happening.

In one spring and two long strides he was on his broom and without paying further notice to his aunt, was off through the open window, not forgetting to cast a Disillusionment Charm to hide his presence.

Hermione’s Granger’s suite on the thirteenth floor was empty when he flew in. Draco’s heart missed two beats. Leaving all pretence of the previous night, when he had carefully walked and inspected, he rushed into Adrian’s bedroom.

His first impression was that they have left. Everything was neat and clean: the bed made, no crumpled sock or yellow T-shirt or colouring pencils in the vicinity. Draco stood there for a while, his breath coming at irregular bursts and observed his surroundings. Then he went to the closet and threw open the door roughly.

He exhaled in relief.

The Mudblood’s clothes were still in the upper two shelves and Adrian’s, in the lower two. That meant they haven’t left, they were still in Brussels. Feeling relaxed, Draco duplicated the white shirt he had taken earlier and replaced it. There was no trusting that bloody Gryffindor. What if she spotted that a shirt was missing and probed the matter? Draco couldn’t afford to lose Adrian; he was too precious for him.

With one last sweep of the bedroom and feeling slightly annoyed that he couldn’t meet his son on a sunny Sunday morning, Draco left Hermione’s suite. When he returned to his suite on the west side of the Palace Hotel, Audré was nowhere to be seen.

Draco decided to take a bath, get dressed and pursue after his aunt. After that he needed to find out where that Mudblood has taken his son.

Curiosity thy name was Malfoy and when Draco Malfoy wanted something or someone from his heart, it had never happened that he didn’t get it.

It wasn’t going to be an exception this time, either.

•••••

My dear Mrs. Malfoy,

I know you were called that most of your life and still are. I, on the other hand, was called Madame Malfoy or simply ‘Audré’ by those who are close to me. I knew they meant no offense but somehow it sounded like I was the ‘other’ Malfoy, the ‘unwanted’ Malfoy. I never knew how was it like to be called ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ or more accurately, Mrs. Audré Malfoy.

Am I getting carried away? Maybe I am. Otherwise, why should a French woman suddenly express the desire to be addressed the English way? But it so happens that my dear nephew wants me to accompany him to England after our Brussels tour is over. So, I was wondering whether that small dream of mine, to be called Mrs. Audré Malfoy, would come true this time.

Draco is doing well; eating and sleeping more regularly than he did in the Château. While his body is doing that, his thoughts are occupied by Adrian. He found him, of course, and his mother too. He is a Malfoy and I have hardly seen them fail on their missions. How he found the boy and his mother, I think it would be better if you ask your son when you meet him next time. It’s a long story and certainly not one to be written in a letter.

Lillian wrote to me yesterday. It seems that in my absence, she is finally learning how to manage a household. When I compare her with Julian, I realize that girls grow up faster than boys, at least their mentality does.

With regards,

The ‘other’ Mrs. Malfoy, Audré.

Audré finished writing her letter to Narcissa and sealed it before delivering it to the Palace Hotel’s special postal service. They had been on regular correspondence since she came to Brussels almost a week ago; Narcissa was relying on her sister-in-law to take care of her only son. She certainly couldn’t disappoint her guest.

Audré sighed. The mystery regarding Adrian and his mother was intensifying with each passing day. First she had thought that Adrian was Lucius’s son by some secret mistress. That Malfoys would have a mistress or two wasn’t something very unusual. Most traditional pureblood families had a few sideline heirs, to be handy. In fact it was a wonder that Draco had none, that he was faithful to Astoria. Audré was privately surprised but had preferred not to show it before him and Narcissa.

But in the end it turned out that she was wrong about that kid; Adrian was Draco’s son by a woman he had never expected. He knew her, of course, that much was clear from his horrified expressions. But how they ended up having a son that he didn’t know of until bumping into him at the Tuileries was the ultimate mystery.

The boy, Audré had shaken hands with him during the Prize Giving Ceremony and had noticed, was a miniature Draco. It was no wonder that her nephew was playing the odds to have him. In fact, who wouldn’t? The kid was talented, good looking and well brought up and Draco was a father who had lost all his sons. Like a thirsty man in search of water, he was walking on a desert and suddenly came by an oasis that he never knew existed. Who would leave that son? If she knew Draco, which she did, he would turn the world upside down to have that boy.

Audré let out a contemplative sigh. Speaking of Draco’s son reminded her something: by virtue of the relationship they shared, Adrian was her grandson. Her grandson! Her grandson? The word sounded so close to her heart! Wasn’t it one of her dreams to have a little grandchild of her own? One she could hug, cuddle, play and read stories to? One who would bring her back to life? But Julian wasn’t remotely interested in marriage. Every time Audré asked him to look for a partner and settle down to make his own family, he’d somehow avoid the topic. Now with emergence of Draco’s son, it seemed that that dream of hers, however indirectly, was fulfilled. Somewhere in this world, Audré, too had a grandson.

Audré leaned against her divan. It was early morning and the sunlight was slowly illuminating her darkened seating room. Until last night she was set to act as a mere spectator. She had a feeling that her time to play parts in this game would arrive very soon and like a good player, it was her duty to get to know the other players: Draco, Jean, Adrian, and Narcissa.

But another new addition to this puzzle has been made; she was a woman named Fleur Delacour. Draco had said that she was married to an Englishman and by the looks of it, she lived in England.

Delacour? Delacour? Delacour? Audré frowned. Where has she heard that name? Was it in the newspapers? Audré had hardly read them after Morpheus passed away almost a decade ago. There was nothing interesting except for cheap gossips or Ministry news in French newspapers. Delacour? Audré rubbed her eyes. She was feeling tired now.

Audré was insomniac. Except for an hour in the dawn, she hardly ever slept at night. She mostly spent it by reading books or playing chess alone. But after last night, when Draco asked her to accompany him to England to look for some answers regarding Adrian, she hadn’t been able to blink a sleep. She had spent the entire night sitting on a divan by the empty fireplace and losing herself in the past, the horrific past that she had witnessed inside someone’s memories.

Malfoy Manor! All those memories! That woman! That dungeon! The torture!

Audré had closed her eyes and those scenes kept replaying before her mind. Horrified, she had tried to blink as minimum as possible. She could try and block the scenes but how was she going to block their screams that kept ringing in her head? Desperate Audré had covered her ears. The mere thought of visiting her husband’s old home was sending a shiver down her spine. She was confused now. Should she accompany Draco or excuse herself?

With that on mind, Audré had left her suite and knocked on Draco’s door. His suite was just across to hers, on the seventh floor. She had knocked at least five times and when no one answered, Audré decided to check it.

It was nine o’ clock and Draco was still sleeping. He hadn’t taken the trouble to change into night clothes and was sleeping, fully dressed. The curtains also weren’t drawn and bedroom was as sunny as the day outside. Around her, the room was messy, Audré had noticed immediately. Unwashed robes, shirts, trousers and socks were strewn across the table, bed and floor. Draco was too untidy for his own good. Audré shook her head, collected the clothes and put them on the laundry basket in the bathroom. She was about to leave when Draco made a gurgling sound.

Audré had stopped on her track and turned. Draco was slowly writhing in his bed and making the gurgling sound, as if something was obstructing his airway and he was unable breathe properly.

Alarmed, Audré had rushed to her nephew. “Draco? Draco?” She had lifted his head up, trying to see whether it was phlegm that had accumulated and blocked his breathing passage or a tongue fall-back. “Draco! Draco, wake up!”

“Adrian! No! Don’t go! Father will die!” Her nephew, instead of waking, started throwing his limbs wildly, pleading to his invisible son. His hands were fisted and he was pounding on something, relentlessly, as if trying to break it and release the boy.

“Draco!” When in peril, Audré knew to keep her head cool. “Wake up! It’s a dream! Wake up, nephew!” She had shaken the man who was pretty heavy for her and was about to employ her special skills in calming him when he suddenly sat bolt upright with a loud scream.

“NOOOOOO!”

Draco had collided with Audré, who was almost thrown off the bed from the force. She had balanced herself immediately and paid attention to her nephew who was staring vacantly at someone, his hand stretched before him.

“Here, take some water.” Audré had handed Draco a goblet. The transfixed man had finished it in one go, jumped out of his bed, ridden on a broom and flew out of his bedroom, without paying further notice to her or explaining what he had dreamed.

The mystery behind how he was entering Adrian’s suite now solved, Audré had returned to her suite and sat down to write to Narcissa. It was settled now. She was going to England with Draco. Her curiosity has won over her fear for the Malfoy Manor.

Not even twenty minutes passed after Audré finished her letter to Narcissa and was sitting alone, immersed in her thoughts about Fleur Delacour when Draco knocked and entered her suite. He looked better now, bathed and in a new set of black attire.

“Sorry about that.” He took the seat across Audré and smiled apologetically, “I just had to check something urgently.”

“You thought Adrian has left.” Audré said idly. That much was clear even to a troll and she was Audré Chombrun Malfoy.

Draco nodded. “He is still in Brussels but they are not in their suite. Maybe that mu…” he tsk’ed and made a bitter face, “…his mother took him out.”

Audré didn’t miss how Draco promptly corrected himself. What was he meaning? Why was he so angry with Jean Granger? Audré decided to not probe. Her experiences said that patience was a virtue and she was just a spectator now, watching the players move across the board.

“This woman you told me about last night,” Audré went straight to the other point that troubled her mildly, “Fleur Delacour. Who is she?”

“She was the Beauxbatons Champion for Triwizard tournament on 1994.” Draco replied flatly, “Apparently Adrian and his mother lives with her family in France. I want you to help me find out how they ended up there.”

Audré noted how Draco was referring to Jean Granger either as ‘Adrian’s mother’ or as ‘her’ and never by her given name. “Why me?” She asked him, deciding to suppress the actual question ‘why they ended up there’.

“Because you are a French woman and she is a French too.” Draco replied, his expression calm and truthful, “I trust in your lawyer skills, aunt. It was you who gave me that idea about the sketch; it was you who told mother that I was not hallucinating Adrian. So, if anyone can coerce her to divulge the secrets about my son, it’s you.”

“Was that a complement or a criticism?” Audré rested her chin on her palm and asked.

“I would certainly not criticize the person who is helping me on my pursuits.” Draco replied solemnly.

“Well then do you know where Delacour lives?” Audré resumed her earlier questioning.

“No. But I’ll find out.” Draco replied, a glint of superiority in his eyes, “She is married to man named Bill Weasley. The Death Eaters gate-crashed their wedding party. My dearest aunt, Bellatrix, was there when it happened and I heard it from her. She loved the Weasleys a lot; used to say that Blood-traitors were on her list after Mudbloods.”

“Were you ever an active Death Eater, Draco, like your father?” Audré asked, feeling like clarifying the point whether he was one of those who gate-crashed the wedding.

“No.” Draco shook his head firmly, scratching absent-mindedly over his left forearm, “Even father wasn’t active in the end. The Dark Lord took away his wand and he was barred from leaving the Manor. The only Malfoy allowed out was me; I had to attend Hogwarts. The Dark Lord said it was compulsory.”

“I see.” Audré commented and decided to change the topic, “So with Adrian out with his mother, we are free today? Right?” She said pleasantly, subtly reminding him that they haven’t taken a tour of the beautiful city they were visiting.

“Yeah.” Draco pinched his lower lip thoughtfully, “I was wondering how to spend the time until he returned.”

“Draco, I don’t usually give advices for free.” Audré said, deciding to address the unhealthy obsession her nephew was displaying for Adrian lately, “But it’s always good to have a reasonable amount of emotion in everything we do. Extreme love, extreme hatred, extreme eagerness – any extreme emotion does us more harm than good.”

“I know.” Draco said thoughtfully, “I know what you mean, aunt. It’s that dream. You are thinking that I am obsessed with Adrian.”

“No, nephew, you are obsessed with losing him.” Audré corrected the statement, “You have lost your sons and it haunts you to think that you might lose Adrian too.”

Draco didn’t reply. He averted looking at Audré and after a few silent moments, made a strange offer.

“It’s a sunny day.” He said, drawing her attention to the weather, “We could go and sit by the swimming pool, for a change you know.”

Audré nodded. She understood that Draco was reluctant to leave the perimeter of the Palace Hotel lest he should miss Adrian coming. They took their breakfasts in her suite and Audré, after changing into a simple and more airy dress appropriate for sunbath in the modesty of his age and widowhood, followed her nephew out. Draco, she noted, didn’t take any swimming costumes with him.

Like everything in Palace Hotel from their rooms, corridors and suites to their Ball room and Dining Hall, their swimming pool, too, was a gigantic one. Fifty meters on length and twenty-five meters on breadth, the Olympic-sized ‘S’-shaped swimming pool was placed on the south side of the palace building with a good view of the east and west entrances. For Draco, whose eyes were constantly fixed on the entrances, it was a good strategic point to hide and keep watch, waiting silently for Adrian to return.

Around the pool was a grassy area dotted with deciduous trees and colourful stand umbrellas. Audré took a chaise lounge under the shade of an oversized blue umbrella and reclined her body comfortably. She felt tired and could do with a short nap by the pool. Cacophony of voices and splashes alike greeted her ears. It seemed that every guest at Palace Hotel was out to enjoy the sun by the pool and swim.

“Adrian likes playing with water.” She heard Draco comment. Sitting on a chaise lounge beside her, he was gazing unblinkingly at the East side entrance, as if expecting the boy to sprout from the ground.

“And his father?” Audré asked, mildly curious.

Draco’s lips twitched into a proud smile. He seemed to like being called Adrian’s ‘father’, as if it gave him a sense of immense accomplishment. “He too likes it. Adrian has gone after his father in every matter. Looks, drawing, playing with wate…” He turned his gaze to the swimming pool and stopped abruptly, “Adrian!” He gasped suddenly.

“Adrian?” Audré, confused, followed Draco’s gaze and couldn’t help but thank her lady luck. On the other side of the fifty meter long pool, she could see the little boy who was the real reason for them to visit Brussels: Adrian. There were other kids around him. But his silvery blonde curls were too prominent to escape one’s eyes. He was on a pair of blue boxers, wearing a ring buoy and swimming or better say playing with water with a man whom Audré had seen entering the Ball Room carrying Adrian on his strong shoulders.

“Adrian!” Draco’s voice caressed the name delicately and like a man on trance, he left the lounge seat.

“Draco?” Audré sat straight but he ignored her call. With a foreboding feeling she saw him edge the swimming pool and slip into it, fully dressed and suddenly vanished.

“Draco!” Audré gasped.

•••••

Living in the dungeons of a thousand years old castle wasn’t an easy task. One felt trapped and imprisoned, spending most of their days without sunlight and fresh air. Hogwarts was built centuries ago and its dungeons were the ones that were built on the primary stage. Centuries have passed since then, leaving its imprints on the stone castle but unable to change the deep bowels of dungeons.

The Slytherin House Dormitory was under the Black Lake. The atmosphere was colder there, even in the sweltering hot summers. Draco was brought up to believe that every Malfoy must be in a Slytherin. Otherwise, he would have hated the place immensely. He detested being cold.

The only upside of his cold and damp dormitory was the vast swimming pool it housed. It was directly connected with the Black Lake and the water, therefore, was wonderfully fresh and green. Stone gargoyles and serpents regurgitated water into the pool. Girls and boys alike swam in it.

Draco loved swimming, especially underwater. Unlike most Slytherins he was lean but strong and with good lung capacity, an essential feature for underwater swimmers. Water was like his second home and playing pranks, his second nature. There had been numerous occasions when he had swum under unsuspecting swimmers and pulled them by their legs, making them almost drown. Aside from cursing Longbottom it was one of his most favourite pranks. And no one had to the courage to actually complain about him, a Malfoy, to their Head of the House, Snape. Montague, Flint, Warrington even Millicent Bulstrode would first check the water to ensure it was Draco-free before stepping into the pool. Crabbe and Goyle, to Draco’s dismay, were too fat to actually float. He just loved kicking their fat butts and feel superior.

Draco reluctantly accompanied his aunt to the swimming pool. He wasn’t feeling like swimming at all. Inside he was burning that the Mudblood was having fun with his son while he was forced to spend the morning alone and idle. His sole concern was Adrian and there was not a better way to see if he returned than hiding by the swimming pool and watching the entrances. Besides, his aunt looked tired and ill. The sun and air would do her good. At least that was the initial plan.

But as soon as Draco saw Adrian, playing on the other side of the pool, his concerns about his aunt evaporated like camphor. Like a man on trance he went to the water and slipped in. He was going to watch his son from up close.

Draco was fully dressed these days; he even went to sleep in black attire. But not being on a swimming costume didn’t impede his swimming skills to the least. In fact, he felt wonderfully free and fresh. The water was pleasantly cool.

Swimming like a tadpole underwater, he approached the boy. To help in the maneuver, he casted Disillusionment and Bubblehead Charms on himself. Now he could relax and swim, as long as he liked, without having to go up for air.

Adrian, Draco saw and his guts constricted in anger, was swimming with that damned muscular guy who had carried him on his shoulders: Edmound. He was showing Adrian how to float, both on his front and back and for a moment, Draco felt that his right as a father to teach his son swimming was being robbed away from him, illegally. He fisted his hands and grinded his teeth. Edmound! How dare he! How dare he tries to take Adrian’s father’s place!

With most of his head under water, Draco checked for any trace of Hermione Granger using his eyes only, like a submersed alligator did to find his prey on land. He found her sitting on a chaise lounge beside that blasted Eva. Like Draco’s aunt, she too was wearing a modest white dress. She was chatting animatedly with Eva, her eyes fixed on her son who was in the water with Edmound. Draco wondered if she was envisioning a happy family with the brown muscular guy as her husband and Adrian’s step father. He remembered the dream he had and clenched his teeth. He would kill that Mudblood and her lover if she dared to do so. Adrian was his son and his son only! No one could take him away from him.

“Put your head back and look up at the sky.” Edmound was instructing Adrian loudly enough for Draco to hear. He was teaching the boy to back float without a ring buoy, “You see the clouds?”

“I do.” Adrian piped happily, “It’s shaped like a butterfly.” He was wearing a pair of orange goggles and bright green flippers and looked very cute.

Following his words, Draco looked up at the sky. A thin film of cloud was slowly moving across the blue backdrop. Indeed, it looked like a butterfly, its wings spread.

“Now rest your head on my shoulder.” Edmound told the boy and Adrian obeyed, making Draco’s insides churn. He hated it when that guy talked to his son like that, as if Adrian was his son and not Draco’s.

“Put your belly button up in the sky.” Edmound instructed and Adrian erected his spine, spreading his arms wide on his sides. They kept talking with Edmound adjusting Adrian’s body weight on the water and teaching him to slowly float without a support. Draco watched him, half resentful, half jealous.

It was not until an hour later that he finally got the chance to take revenge. With basic skills of floating lessons done, Adrian used a ring buoy to swim to Gabrielle and return to Edmound. He did it for half an hour and when his blasted Mudblood mother said that it was enough for a day, he left the water and went to the changing room. Gabrielle, too followed Hermione and Adrian and with no one but Eva by the pool, Edmound started swimming freely.

Like a shark after blood trail, Draco followed him from underneath, stealthily. Edmound was a good swimmer but not as good as Draco, he noted with sadistic pleasure. He was doing a backstroke when he decided to strike.

•••••

Edmound was enjoying his swimming with his thoughts on a pair of interesting cats he had seen in a pet shop in Laan Grote Markt. They were Siamese twins. The shopkeeper had asked fifty galleons for the pair, a price too high for them and Edmound had left in annoyance. After he completed the backstroke, he would visit the shop again and see if he could lower the price.

Edmound loved animals and the rarer and dangerous they were the better. He was imagining the cats when he suddenly felt a tentacle – like something wrapping itself around his right ankle. When he came to his senses, it was already too late. The tentacle was pulling him down.

Edmound was a good swimmer but he couldn’t swim underwater. That was one of his weak points because his muscular body was too heavy for it. He didn’t get time to catch a breath or think more. With a firm jerk that threw him off guard, the tentacle started to pull him under water.

“Help!” Edmound yelled and started kicking the tentacle with his free leg. The water was deepest here, almost twenty feet and it was almost impossible to see what was pulling him down. He fought to keep his head above the water and regain balance. Numerous possibilities popped up in his head. Was it a Chameleon Squid? Those notorious creatures were known to blend themselves with their surroundings and prey on unsuspecting merpeople. But how could a squid come in a hotel swimming pool? Was it a stray rope then? But how could it pull him down like a vile squid or octopus?

“HELP!” Edmound called desperately when the tentacle kept tugged his ankle insistently. It was a bad idea for the scream cost him all his remaining few breaths. He was completely under water now and it pushed down on him from all sides.

Like a blind mad man, Edmound threw his limbs wildly, clawing at anything that he could use as support. But the more he struggled the more disorientated he got. Faces swum into view: his mother, Eva, Gabrielle, Hermione and Adrian, the Siamese cats he thought he would buy but nothing made sense anymore.  He pushed with his arms and legs but he could find no leverage.
His lungs burned for air and even though he knew he would get none, his body still took a breath. Cold water filled his lungs and blood pounded behind his eyes. Death was near. Maybe this was how it looked like: merciless and fast.

Then just as suddenly it had happened, he felt the tentacle free his ankle. A strong thrust pushed him up and he knew no more. Darkness engulfed him completely.

•••••

Apolline Delacour’s scrapbook could easily find its way to the Louvre Museum. The thirty-five years old vintage memorabilia contained numerous photographs: of her parents who were no more; of her elder brother, Adrian, the celebrated Auror; of her wedding and of her children: Alexis, Fleur and Gabrielle when they were young. Interspersed between the photographs she had pasted her old letters, even the ones that Gustave had written to her before their marriage. Other materials were artworks of little Adrian, and newspaper cuttings. They were mostly on his brother, of how he fought and captured dark wizards and was considered one of the bravest and most successful Aurors France has ever produced. A few were on Fleur when she became the Beauxbatons Champion for Triwizard Tournament. Her daughter, Apolline was proud to say, has gone after her uncle Adrian when it came to courage.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and Apolline was sitting in her kitchen, reading the letter from Brussels for the tenth time after showing it to the entire neighbourhood. It was a very creative letter, with no words but newspaper cuttings from top to bottom. There were altogether thirty of them, Apolline had counted and they were all on Adrian, her dearest little grandson who has won a Drawing Competition last night.

From the moment Adrian was born, Apolline had felt a strange attachment for the little being. He was a child of violence, a baby no one but his mother had wanted to have. Apolline had always admired Hermione’s courage. Even she wouldn’t have kept a baby conceived from a brutal assault and she was a midwife, someone who was supposed to value life and not its inception. But Hermione Jean Granger had kept the baby and Apolline certainly couldn’t be more impressed. Not every woman could show such humanity, as Hermione had.

In last six and a half years, somehow Hermione and her son Adrian, whom she had named after Apolline’s brother, has become an integral part of the Delacour family. Apolline had, many a times, considered asking her hand for her son, Alexis. Hermione was just the woman she had dreamt to have as her daughter-in-law: kind, compassionate, brave, protective, intelligent, argumentative, logical and caring at the same time. She also had close ties with the French. Could someone ask for more? Maybe she was assaulted but that was not her fault. Why should the survivor be forced to bear the stigma while the assaulter fooled around? Apolline was vehemently against this sick social norm. Hermione was one of finest woman she has ever come across and Apolline secretly hoped that one day, the mother and son truly became a part of their family.

“I have always wondered who will inherit that scrapbook one day.” Alexis’s thoughtful question brought Apolline back to reality. He was standing next to her, his black eyes fixed at the letter Hermione had sent this morning. Apolline noted in them a strange longing and sadness, as if he too wanted to be there, with that kid when he was presented his award.

“I’ll give it to your wife.” Apolline replied calmly. Time has come that she addressed the issue seriously. “I hope to have her in our family,” She said pointedly, “soon.” She added.

Alexis looked away, avoiding meeting his mother’s blue eyes. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, maman.” He said with a lost smile, “Why don’t you give it my sisters? Fleur, perhaps?”

“Fleur will receive my mother’s jewelries.” Apolline replied firmly, “I couldn’t give her much on her wedding except for that pearl set maman gave me on my wedding. And Gabrielle? She will receive the emerald necklace your uncle Adrian gave me when I turned seventeen. And your wife, Alexis, and my daughter-in-law, will receive all the Delacour family heirlooms and my scrapbook, when I die.”

Alexis sighed, trying not to sound sad and walked to the kitchen counter, pouring them two cups of coffee. “You speak as if you know her, maman.” He said, his back turned to her.

“I don’t?” Apolline arched an eyebrow.

Alexis didn’t reply.

“Listen.” Apolline left her seat and went to her son. He was staring at the kitchen tiles, his expression vacant. “I can talk to her, if you want.” she said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“No!” Alexis faced his mother, his features pained and somewhat horrorstruck, “She’ll think I am using you, using you to get to her! She’ll misunderstand me and leave us, with Adrian. I can’t let that happen.” He shook his head, “It’s my problem, maman. Please let me handle it.”

“What if it becomes too late?” Apolline asked, feeling there was more to what her son was letting out. Hermione and Alexis! They were both so secretive about their feelings!

Alexis exhaled deeply, as if making up his mind. “It’s late already.” He said, gulping once, “I think she has chosen someone as her partner.”

“Jean?” Apolline gasped, her eyes round, “How do you know?”

“When she said she was taking him with them, to Brussels.” Alexis looked up at the ceiling, pained and bitter.

“Who?” Apolline blinked, confused. What was her son talking about? She has never felt that Hermione was in a serious relationship. She has always been such a dedicated mother and wouldn’t marry someone without her son’s approval.

Alexis sighed heavily. “Eva’s brother.” He said with a sad smile, “Edmound Bellamy. He’s the one Jean has chosen. And he’s perfect, I think. They are friends, he knows about her and most importantly, Adrian loves him. As Jean’s mother, maman, would you object to this union?”

Apolline stood still long after her son left the kitchen, not caring to drink the coffee. She had been meaning to paste all the newspaper cuttings on Adrian to her scrapbook. Now suddenly, everything felt pointless, meaningless. The dream of her happy family was broken.

It felt as if a storm was about to come and take her precious Adrian away, far away, where she wouldn’t reach him.

•••••

Hermione hadn’t been this white for a very long time; the reflection on the windowpane showed her as almost bloodless. They were all standing outside the hospital cabin where Edmound was being treated by mediwizards. Her friend had nearly drowned in the same pool he was teaching her son to swim. Eva and Gabrielle were weeping silently and Adrian was watching the ladies with sad awe.

How Edmound almost drowned was still a mystery. Hermione was in the changing room, helping Adrian into dry clothes when she heard a scream. It was Eva and she was screeching like an owl. Panicked, she came out and saw her friend swimming to her brother who was floating in the pool like a dead leaf. Gabrielle had followed Eva, with Hermione taking care of Adrian while her heart beat in her throat. The two ladies rescued the unconscious man, brought him up and a mediwizard resuscitated him. The Palace Hotel authority immediately closed the pool and sent Edmound to the nearest Wizarding Hospital. They apologized profusely; Monsieur Leopold was almost on the verge of tears. The man who looked happy this morning while delivering Adrian his ten thousand galleons now looked utterly terrified. What would become of his hotel’s reputation? No one has ever drowned in their pool! Not even kids.

Waiting outside the cabin, Hermione suddenly felt like her nightmare about the green snake and Jacob Jordeans has come true. Like that dream, it was sunny and they were enjoying themselves by the pool. Hermione wasn’t in a mood to swim but watching her little rabbit play, for a moment, she had forgotten the unpleasant feelings. Then like it had been in her dream, the atmosphere changed; Edmound almost drowned and they were now in the hospital, anxiously waiting outside the cabin. The happy morning seemed a lifetime ago.

The cabin door opened and a man in a white coat came out. Eva and Gabrielle rushed to him. Hermione stood like a statue.

“He’s okay.” The Healer assured them solemnly, holding up his hands in the air, “We have checked his vitals and he’s fine.”

“How did it happen Healer?” Eva asked anxiously. Who would believe the same woman was maliciously happy that Gabrielle was going to make her animal-lover brother straight the same morning?

“We found no external signs of injury on his body.” The Healer, a middle aged man with kind features, replied. “He said that he was swimming when he felt a tentacle around his ankle. I don’t think the Palace Hotel farms squids or octopuses in their pool.” He shook his head, looking amused, “So it could be a cramp. It’s summer season and he was in the water for quite a long time. Maybe he developed Electrolyte Imbalance. It’s a condition when the equilibrium of out body’s essential ions like sodium, potassium is lost.”

“Merci, Healer.” Eva nodded and the doctor left. “Tentacle?” She gave Hermione and Gabrielle a puzzled look, “Tentacle in the swimming pool?”

Hermione was suddenly reminded of the dream she had. In it, tentacles had sprouted from forest ground and trapped her. Was it just a co-incidence?

“Uncle told me about a giant squid.” Adrian finally spoke up, breaking Hermione’s musings. The kid was sensible enough to remain silent when his companions were worried to death. “He said it’s called Hafgufa. It has long tentacles.” He spread his arms wide, showing them how long the tentacles were, “And it eats mermaids.”

“Hafgufa? Tentacles? Mermaid?” With every word Eva was raging like an angry bull, breathing fire, “So that’s what keeps playing in his head? Hafgufa and mermaid!” She nodded frantically, “I knew this was going to happen! I knew it! His obsession for animals is going to have him killed one day! Today he had a cramp, nearly died and thought it was a squid! Tomorrow he’ll have a heart attack and will say that it was a…” she faltered, trying to find an appropriate candidate “…soul eating Boggart or something! Enough is enough! I am not having…” she stopped when the mediwizards came out from the cabin, looking alarmed.

“Eva! Cool down!” Hermione tried to calm her angry friend, though inside she agreed with her. She knew that Edmound was obsessed when it came to collecting rare animals and would spend days and nights after it if opportunity provided. “We can talk about this.”

“Eva!” Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and smiled kindly, “I know what you feel. When I eight, I was used in a Triwizard task. Fleur was supposed to rescue me. But she failed and thought I had drowned. You should have seen her! She was ready to jump into that deep lake, without any aids and save me at all costs. So, you see, I understand you, dear.” she said kindly and Eva, leaving her anger, burst into tears. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of him.”

“Yes, Eva.” Hermione took sides with Gabrielle. The quarter-Veela indeed has grown up into a fine and sensible lady. “We’ll take care of Edmound. Now, let’s go inside.” She placed her hand on the doorknob but didn’t turn it, “Please don’t scream at him.”

Tearful and red eyed, Eva nodded and when Hermione opened the cabin door, she rushed in. Gabrielle and Adrian followed her and when Hermione went in, thirty seconds later, she saw Eva crying like a child, hugging her brother tightly, her head on his broad chest.

“Eva…” Edmound was on hospital gowns and his voice was hoarse. Hermione’s heart filled with a strange sense of fear when he saw her smoothing his sister’s hair. “I am okay.” He assured her and tried to sit up.

But his words, however sincere, had no effect on her. Eva only cried harder.

“You…fool…” she cried and pounded feebly on his chest, “…you…could have…” she couldn’t finish and broke into fresh tears.

“Uncle!” Adrian climbed on the hospital bed and hugged Edmound, “What happened? Was it the Hafgufa?”

“Hafgufa?” Edmound looked puzzled.

“That big squid!” Adrian replied, “You always forget. You told me about it. Last night. Remember?” Beside him, to Hermione’s immense relief, Eva didn’t lash out on Edmound.

“Oh, yeah.” Edmound gave a bemused smile, “I always forget.” He admitted and kissed on Eva’s and Adrian’s foreheads. “Eva! Dear sister! Please don’t cry! It’s nothing. I am alright.” He tried to assure her but in vain. Eva just wouldn’t stop crying.

The scene went on for another fifteen minutes and then the nurse came in, asking everyone to leave the patient alone.

“We hope to discharge Monsieur Bellamy tomorrow.” She informed them, “The Healers want to keep him tonight, check his electrolyte status and correct it. Now he needs rest.”

Hermione nodded silently and after biding Edmound goodbye left the cabin, feeling skeptic. First that dream and now this near-drowning incident? Was it just an accident? Or was if an omen? Or part of a greater evil, an evil that looked like Jacob Jordeans?

•••••

It was almost ten o’ clock and Audré was in her suite at the Palace Hotel. Her fingers were interlocked and her small chin resting on it; her eyes were fixed to the letter on the table. It was from Narcissa. She has replied to Audré’s letter rather promptly.

Someone knocked and entered her suite but Audré didn’t look up. She knew it was Draco.

“Good evening, aunt.” Surely came his drawl and he took his usual seat across her. Audré didn’t respond. She didn’t even look up at him.

“Um…” Draco seemed to sense his aunt’s cold attitude, “…um…er…” he cleared his throat, “What’s that?” He reached for the letter. He tried to sound casual, as if nothing has happened.

“Don’t!” Audré’s voice whipped in the air, “It’s my letter.”

“So…rry!” Draco’s fingers were inches from the envelope when he withdrew it, as if he has received an electric shock. “Um…” he looked around and back to her, “Letter from mother?” he said after a while, recognizing the writing on the envelope.

Audré didn’t reply. As a gifted witch and manipulator, she knew how to slowly build a climax.

“You didn’t tell…mother…about…that?” Draco, it seemed was thinking just as Audré wanted him to think, “It was just a prank, aunt. I was not going to kill that Edmound. Seriously!”

“Why? What’s wrong if you killed him?” Audré asked airily, not looking up from her pensive gaze, “I would completely understand if you do so, Draco. After all, you were a Death Eater; you are a Death Eater’s son. Killing should be your second nature.”

“Aunt, I am not a murderer.” Audré’s jibe hit home because Draco became serious immediately, “And I am not a Death Eater. I was given the Dark Mark when I was underage. I had no choice. I never tortured anyone on purpose.”

“Until this morning.” Audré finally looked up and smirked, “Until you made that man almost drown.”

“He was playing father to my son!” Draco’s grey eyes flashed but before Audré’s blue pairs, they lowered themselves, “Okay! Fine! I shouldn’t have done that! But I was angry! I just can’t take it when someone touches my things!”

“Things?” Audré repeated, her smirk still prevailing. The climax was slowly building up. “Adrian is a ‘thing’ for you? Your only living son is a ‘thing’?”

“No!” Draco regretted his choice of words, “He is not a thing. He’s my son, my only living son and I love him.”

“I wonder what will happen when your only living son comes to know that his dear father once tried to kill his uncle Edmound.” Audré crossed her legs. She was a lawyer’s daughter and a lawyer herself. Luring someone into a self-made trap was like playing chess to her. She enjoyed it.

Draco paled and bit his lips. “You are not going to tell him that, aunt. I trust you.” He said, looking visibly disturbed.

So Draco was starting to start trust his forsaken aunt? Interesting! “Then don’t make me do something that’ll break your trust, Draco.” Audré said firmly, “Don’t forget, dear nephew, this is not England. This is Belgium. You can’t exercise your Malfoy influences here. You can’t go around, playing deadly pranks on someone just because he was being friendly to your son. No. You’ll land in prison and be charged with of attempt of murder.”

“Fine! Fine!” Draco held up his hands in surrender, “I’ll take care next time.”

“Draco.” Audré leaned forward, “I told you that day before the competition and I am telling you again. You can’t buy a child no matter how much you spend. You have to earn them, earn their trust and love. Killing Adrian’s mother’s friend surely isn’t going to earn you his respect.”

Her words had the desired effect on him because the man became thoughtful. “Respect?” He repeated after a while, “I had never had that choice.” He snorted, “I had to respect my father regardless of what I felt about him.”

“I thought you loved him.” Audré supplied casually, pleasantly amazed that the conversation was turning out to be quite fruitful.

“I did, I still do. He’s my father.” Draco replied and sighed, “But I never liked him much. He was always…” he paused, “…so full of himself that it was hard to please him. Only mother could control him, with her love, dedication and tenderness. When the Dark Lord asked for father’s wand, he wouldn’t give it to him. But mother acted promptly and took his hand. Father surrendered his wand without another word.”

“Narcissa is a great woman.” Audré commented honestly, “It’s not an easy job to be Lucius Malfoy’s wife, I know it.”

“Mother,” Draco smiled, “always understood me more than father ever did. She loves me, truly. But father? For him, I was just a son who should be a topper in everything: studies, Quidditch and bring glory to the name of Malfoys. I tried my best. I gave it my all. But sometimes, I just couldn’t and he, father, wouldn’t tolerate it. He stopped caning me when I grew up. But he’d shake me by my scruffs.” He rubbed his neck absentmindedly, “I hate being treated like a cat. I hate cats.” He said bitterly.

Audré sighed. If her husband’s account was true, it was nothing abnormal for Lucius Malfoy to bully his son. The boy never had a cordial relationship with his father, just as Julian had with his. He had no siblings and was brought up conditioned to believe his parents beliefs on pureblood supremacy. Now he was a lonely widower to whom Adrian meant the world. But that couldn’t be his ground to behave rashly.

“As a sufferer yourself, nephew, you must realize that it’s not an easy job to be a good father.” She said gently. Draco, she understood, was completely under her control now, hanging onto her every word, just as she had wanted. “I am not saying that your father didn’t love you or was a bad father. But if you want to be a better father than he was, Draco, then you need to listen to your child. Listen to what he says, what he feels and learn from him. He might be a kid but he is a human. He sees, feels, and understands. Learn from him, nephew, learn from him.”

Draco nodded, smiling. Somewhere in that smile, Audré saw a little Adrian that got lost in the labyrinths of the mighty Malfoys.

She wondered whether Jean had brought up her son away from the Malfoys for the same reason: to not have him become another Draco.