Friday afternoon found Hermione Granger deep in the bowels of Gringotts, giving last minute touches to the Malfoy Vault. She had to curse-break at least five hundred and sixty different objects of immense value during the course of eight days that she spend here. Right now she was making a Check Out Inventory for the Malfoys, an official document which listed all the possessions of a vault once they were curse free and before they were handed over to their owners.
Hermione had been looking forward to finish her assignment in the Malfoy vault since the day she started it. She could hardly concentrate on anything else except for that vault when she was at Gringotts and later when she returned home, she dreaded having to go there again the next morning. She could have dropped it and asked Geccemp to assign someone else in her stead. She was sure Geccemp would have understood her situation. But with four years worth of working experience with the Goblins she knew better to keep her personal and professional lives separate. Besides, Geccemp was relying on her skills and even boasted about her to Gobtok, the British goblin. Backing away was not an option then, not only because she liked Geccemp but also because she was a Gryffindor and retreat was a word not found in their dictionary.
Even in unused state, the Malfoy vault was one of the most heavily guarded vaults in Gringotts. The French authority employed not only Dragons but also Chimaeras for its security. Hermione was escorted by two top quality professional Goblins to get past the creatures with Clankers before she entered the vault.
Hermione was never claustrophobic. It was one of the reasons behind her promotion as the Chief Curse Breaker. But every time she entered the Malfoy vault, she felt suffocated. It was like going back six years ago, when she had broken into the Lestrange vault in Gringotts Britain with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Though large and spacious, the vault had a dark aura about it which made Hermione’s skin crawl. Every single object that she Curse Broke brought a feeling of extreme repulsion instead of usual joy. She was reminded of Draco Malfoy, the last person on earth to deserve her efforts and the one who would be using them.
Thinking of Draco Malfoy brought out even darker memories in her mind, the pain, the humiliation and the hard choices that he had left her to deal with, alone. Although the vault was reopening after almost eighty years and she was positive that Draco Malfoy had never been in there, she still could feel his ominous presence in the darkness and in the stale air of that vault. He seemed to reach out for her from unknown corners, trying to assault and scare her. It was with immense courage, will power and determination that she carried out her work.
Hermione checked the inventory one last time and sweeped her eyes over the valuable contents of the vault. They were all in their proper places. She sighed in relief. Finally her work was done and she could go home with the peace of never having to return here again. She left the vault and signaled the Goblins to seal it, not giving it a single backward glance.
Draco Malfoy was lying on one of the stylish garden benches adorning the plush gardens of Château de la Grange-Bléneau and looking at the sky absentmindedly. It was Friday afternoon and his second day of visit at his Uncle Morpheus’s family home. He was in no mood to make idle chit chat with his half French cousins and thus preferred to spend his time alone in the garden.
It was a beautiful garden, almost as beautiful as the ones they had in Malfoy Manor. Lucius Malfoy’s famous white peacocks, however, were absent here. But the fountain here was twice the size of their one with a small island designed in the middle. Carefully planted exotic plants were bearing beautiful summer flowers with exquisite smell but Draco did not care. He looked at the Apparition Point on the further corner of the garden and wished he could apparate back to his home in Wiltshire.
Draco had never dreamt that his life could take such tumultuous turns within a span of just six years. He was a Malfoy and Malfoys always lived happily ever after. But when the war ended with the famous Harry Potter finally finishing off the Dark Lord, their family had to go through numerous probations imposed by Ministry to ensure that the remaining Death eaters did not re-group to finish Lord Voldemort’s unfinished job. They lost considerable sum of their valuable gold to keep Lucius Malfoy out of Azkaban and with the help of their old influences, he was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.
Narcissa on the other hand was adamant to have Draco complete his education. But they did not have enough money to pursue his education in foreign school such as Beauxbatons or Durmstrang, he was sent to Hogwarts again under the watchful eyes of the Ministry. Narcissa had other plans for him too and soon he came to know that his mother was looking for a suitable bride for him – someone who was from a non Death Eater Pureblood family. It was then that Astoria Greengrass was introduced to him, a sixth year Ravenclaw, two years younger than he.
Draco had no wish to get betrothed so early in his life but his parents insisted that the union would bring back some of their old influences back. Astoria’s father, Ebenezer Greengrass being the new Head of the Magical Law Enforcement at the ministry and her mother being an old friend of Narcissa and believer of pureblood supremacy, it was just the family they should be tied to, at this point. Draco had no choice but to give his outward consent and he married Astoria against his wish on December 1998, just a week after Astoria came of age.
Draco soon found out that he did not regret their marriage, for he had never come across any woman like Astoria in his life. She was reasonably pretty, introvert and preferred reading over nonsense girly gossips. She even knitted him a Green muffler, something even his mother never did for him, and gave it as his wedding gift. Slowly she became Draco’s friend and partner in his post-war quiet life in Hogwarts and together they studied in the library, ate in the Great Hall and spent their free time riding on their broomsticks in the Quidditch pitch. Draco did not even realize when he had fallen deeply in love with his young but intelligent wife.
In the summer following Astoria’s sixth year and Draco’s graduation from Hogwarts they went to Italy for their honeymoon. There their first child was conceived. Astoria was extremely shy about it, something that made Draco even happier when he heard the news. Lucius and Narcissa were beside themselves on the prospect of having a new heir in the family and advised Astoria to leave Hogwarts and remain at the Manor during her pregnancy. But Draco who knew very how much Astoria’s education meant for her, protested and personally made sure she received home schooling for her upcoming N.E.W.Ts.
The day their son was born was the happiest day of Draco’s life. He named him Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy. Astoria upon completing her N.E.W.Ts successfully gave her full attention to their small family. Life was as good as it could be for another year until the fate chose to strike Draco again. Lucius, like his father, died from Dragon Pox at the age of forty four and Scorpius followed him ten monthes later. It kind of took away the light of their lives.
Life after Lucius and Scorpius’s untimely demises was never the same for Draco and his remaining family. Astoria tried to conceive again but never reached her term as the babies died at the sixth month of pregnancy. Her last attempt claimed her own life leaving Draco a lone widower.
Draco had never thought he could mourn over someone’s death so deeply until he was faced with it. Life without Astoria and Scorpius held no meaning for him and he soon started spending most of his day by their graves in their family graveyard. Narcissa, observing her son’s obsession for their graves and constantly deteriorating health, decided to take matters into her hands and contacted their long forgotten relative, the family of Morpheus Malfoy in France. She wrote them a letter, asking if she could visit them over the summer. Audré Chombrun Malfoy, Morpheus Malfoy’s widower, responded positively. Narcissa then arranged for their visit and sent a reluctant Draco to Gringotts to reopen the Malfoy vault in its French branch. Thus within a week of his mother’s decision to visit their relatives in France, Draco was lying on the Château’s garden bench, twisting his wedding band and looking at the sky absentmindedly.
Hermione dusted her robes as she came out from her special Floo fireplace and cast a Freshening Charm before she made for the kitchens. Fridays were baking days at Delacour’s and she loved to spend the time with Apolline and Gabrielle, helping them to bake cakes and cookies for the coming week. Besides Adrian was sure to there, he loved practicing his drawing skills on Apolline’s freshly baked cookies.
In the downstairs kitchen, Apolline and Gabrielle were preparing to bake a large Pound cake. Hermione stood by the threshold. There he was, Adrian, sitting on the kitchen counter and his hands dirty with chocolate glaze which he licked more than he spread on top of the cookies.
Hermione smiled. She knew just the thing to annoy him. In fact she loved annoying someone who could look so adorable.
Apolline looked up from beating the eggs and Hermione placed a firm finger before her lips, silently asking her to not make a sound. Adrian was still oblivious that his mother has returned. Biting her lips, Hermione tiptoed to her son and looked over his shoulder. The little boy’s grey eyes were focused on the large stack of cookies that laid before him. He took a cookie, dipped his small spoon in the glaze and brushed some glaze on it. Then using a blue icing Apolline had prepared earlier, he piped a big flower on it. Hermione was confused now. Who looked more tempting? Her son, his pale cheeks smeared with some chocolate sauce or the cookie with a shining chocolate glaze and big blue flower on it? She decided for the latter.
Hermione, like an excellent bird of prey, snatched the cookie from Adrian’s grasp.
“Mama!” Adrian squealed and turned to her. “What are you doing?” He demanded, looking exactly like her mother did when a good book was snatched from her.
“I am eating a cookie.” Hermione shrugged airily, “Any problems?”
“They are mine!” Adrian protested, shifting his body before the large pile he had glazed, “I glazed them!”
“Really?” Hermione ogled and effortlessly seized another fistful, which she started to shove in her mouth, “I thought they are my son Adrian’s.”
“I am Adrian!” the little boy looked positively alarmed by his mother’s odd behaviour. “Mama what happened to you?”
“What happened to me?” Hermione asked herself sadly, “Mama doesn’t know. Maybe she overworked today. Can she have a kiss from her son? It might help her.”
The helpless little boy looked at his grandma and aunt for support but Apolline and Gabrielle were enjoying the little drama in their kitchen.
“I think you should give Mama a kiss and see what happens.” Apolline was on Hermione’s side. “Maybe she is tired and lost her memories.” Gabrielle nodded in support.
“No!” Adrian, positively shocked now, flung his arms around Hermione’s neck and planted a kiss her on her cheek. He smeared some chocolate there. Hermione closed her eyes and feigned recovering her memories like Sleeping Beauty did.
“Oh my Merlin! Look who is here?” She exclaimed dramatically and brushed her cheek over his little nose, smearing some chocolate glaze on it. “My little rabbitty babbity boo!”
Adrian squealed “Mama!” again, realizing that he had been tricked by the ladies.
The evening passed well. Hermione, Apolline, Gabrielle and the small gentleman spent it baking cakes and laughing at each other’s jokes. Gabrielle mocked some of her funny customers for them and by the time they finally finished their baking, Hermione felt effects of the Malfoy vault washing away from her tired body.
Later, she drew Adrian a bath and scented it with lavender bubbles. Adrian, unlike most boys of his age, liked water and he almost jumped into the foams, splashing Hermione with soap water. He started blowing bubbles and prodding them. Meanwhile Hermione scrubbed her son.
“Mama!” He squealed as she tickled him in his stomach.
“What is it, little rabbit?” Hermione asked innocently.
“Stop tickling me!” He demanded.
“Okay.” She said and tickled him again.
“Mama, please!” Adrian pleaded now, grabbing her hands underwater, “Stop it! I need to ask you something.” he said urgently.
“Very well. Ask Mama.” Hermione bade him.
“Mama, what’s a marriage…anni…versary?” He stammered, trying to remember the new and difficult word.
Hermione stopped scrubbing her son. “Where did you hear that?” she asked instead, sharply.
“You know Pierre, Mama?” Adrian asked, his eyes were round and Hermione nodded. Pierre was a boy a few years older than her son and he lived with his family in a big mansion in their neighbourhood. “He said it’s his parents’ marriage anni…versary tomorrow. But I didn’t understand what he said. So I asked you.”
Hermione could not bring herself to snap at her innocent son.
“A marriage anniversary is a day when a couple celebrates their marriage.” She replied, trying to be as simple as it was possible. “Like the day Grandpa Gustave and Grandma Apolline throws a big party and invites everyone, remember that?” She asked and Adrian nodded in response. “That’s a marriage anniversary.”
“Oh that!” Adrian nodded knowingly, “It’s a happy day.” He said cheerfully.
“Yes, it’s a happy day.” Hermione felt relieved that the topic was safely dealt with.
“When is your marriage anniversary, Mama?” Adrian asked suddenly and Hermione froze in the middle of pouring water on his head.
She bit her lips. Should she lie? Tell him that she was married to Adrian’s so called father? No. Adrian deserved to know the truth about his mother as much as it was possible.
“Mama does not have a marriage anniversary, Adrian.” She replied, smiling kindly.
“Why not?” Adrian asked, scowling.
“Well because your father got married to pureblood witch. I told you. Remember?” Hermione said and poured some water over his head. “He does not like Muggleborns or half-bloods.”
Adrian however didn’t look unhappy that his alleged father left his mother and married a pureblood witch. “Oh. I understand now.” He said, “He likes the purebloods. It’s alright. We are happy without him. I love you and you love me.” He stated simply.
“Yes.” Hermione sighed in relief, “I love you and you love me. We have each other. We don’t need purebloods like him.” She Summoned a towel. “Now get out of water and let me dry you.”
The rest of the evening, to Hermione’s immense relief, passed without further mention of the topic of Adrian’s father. They dined with the Delacours and afterwards she settled down with Adrian in their bed, clutching a story book. He soon drifted to a peaceful sleep and Hermione was left watching his sleeping form, contemplating for the first time in her life, what that detested man might be doing now.
It was one o’ clock in the morning and Draco Malfoy was sitting on a chair in his balcony. He was holding a green muffler in his pale elegant hands and feeling it in between his fingers.
“Astoria! Scorpius!” He sighed sadly and looked up at the night sky. They were there somewhere, among the stars, watching him.
Someone knocked on his door and Draco looked at it, irritated. Couldn’t his mother just leave him alone for a while? He was no kid.
Draco was seriously considering slamming the door on his mother’s face should she ask him to go to bed. He was not going to bed. Not this nor any other night. He didn’t tell her anything when she forcibly brought him to visit his French cousins. But he wasn’t taking this nonsense anymore. He opened the door fully expecting to see Narcissa, her hands on her hips, only to find that his aunt Audré was standing there. She was on her nightclothes.
“Aunt?” Draco was distracted. What was she doing here at this hour of night?
Audré gave him a gentle smile. “Sorry to disturb you, nephew, but do you have a Headache Potion or something?” She rubbed on her forehead, “I am having a terrible headache.”
Draco wanted to tell Audré to go and ask her own children and not to disturb him in the middle of a night for something as trivial as a Headache Potion.
“Mine just finished.” Audré it seemed somehow understood his unuttered words, “My children don’t use it. So I thought I could ask you to see if you have any.”
Great idea! Draco thought sarcastically. He did have a Headache Potion. He carried his own potion kit wherever he went but was not in a mood of sharing its contents. But Audré was his host and it was rude to say no to her especially when she was treating them so nicely.
“Yeah. Sure. Please come in.” He said, motioning her to come inside.
“I hope I did not disturb your sleep.” Audré said as she entered his suite.
“Not at all.” Draco said as he went to fetch his Potions Kit. The earlier this woman took her potion and left, the better. Meanwhile Audré settled herself in an armchair by the fireplace, clutching her head.
Draco opened his Potions Kit and took out the vial of Headache Potion. He poured an ample amount in a goblet and brought it to Audré.
“Here.” He handed it to his aunt who downed it in one go and placed the empty goblet on the table. She showed no signs of leaving so early.
Not knowing whether to ask her to leave, Draco took the other seat across his aunt and fixed his eyes on the floor.
They remained silent for some time. Then Audré spoke suddenly.
“Why are you fully dressed, Draco?” She seemed to notice Draco’s attire which he hasn’t bothered to change. “Didn’t you go to bed?
Draco looked up at his aunt. Audré was looking expectedly at him. Somehow, he couldn’t snap at her.
“I can’t sleep alone.” He replied, fidgeting with the handle of his armchair.
“Oh!” Was Audré’s curt response, “By the way, this Headache Potion is quite good. I am feeling better now. Did you buy it or brew it yourself?”
“I don’t usually use store bought Potions.” Draco replied, “They have less shelf life. I prefer to brew mine.”
“Really?” Audré looked impressed, “It’s so nice. Can you do me a favour and brew a batch for me too?”
“Ah? Yes. Why not?” Draco didn’t know how to avoid that request. “It’s nothing very hard, really and… ah… it will be a privilege.” He added.
“Thank you” Audré said, smiling as she stood up, “Well now that I am feeling good, I guess I should go to bed.”
Draco stood up too. He was relieved. “Well, if you are sure.” He said.
Audré gave him a curious look and nodded, “Well, nephew, there is another thing I would like to ask too, if you don’t mind, of course.” She said carefully.
Draco gritted his teeth but tried to appear polite. Why wasn’t this woman leaving? “Of course, Aunt Audré.” He said.
Audré gave Draco a charming smile. “I hope my British nephew will not mind if his French aunt touches him.”
Draco considered the request and found no way to reject it. “Not at all.” he said and extended his right hand to her.
Audré smiled widely and came closer. “No dear, not there.” She said. Draco was transfixed. What did Audré mean by not there?
The answer came minutes later when Audré moved behind Draco, placed her hands on his shoulders and gestured him to sit. Draco complied not knowing what was happening and suddenly found her hands in his hair.
“Here.” She said and started rubbing his scalp gently. Draco felt his body go numb. His eyes closed themselves on their own accord and as Audré massaged his head in silence, without even realizing it, Draco slumped against his sofa.
“Your hair reminds me of Morpheus’s one. They were straight and fine, just like yours.” He heard her saying, “Do you know your uncle went to see you when you were born? It’s a tradition among Malfoys to gift their firstborn rare objects. He took Essence of Pearlflower for you. Drinking it with mother’s milk makes the baby strong as it grows up.”
“I did not know that.” Draco managed to respond. “Father never mentioned it.” He was feeling drowsy now.
Audré must have felt that too because she went silent.
The last thing Draco remembered hearing before he finally fell asleep, was his aunt’s voice saying gently into his hair:
“Sleep, Precious baby, sweetly sleep… I’ll rock you… I’ll rock you… I’ll rock you…”