Chapter Seven

When Hermione woke, several hours later, she was wrapped in a cocoon of warmth. Burrowing deeper into the embrace, it only gradually occurred to her that instead of being safely ensconced in her delightful four-poster bed, she was, in actuality, most inelegantly draped over her employer as they shared the chair in which they'd fallen asleep.


A flush spread over her body at the husky quality of his voice.

"Jamie?" she whispered back, emboldened by his use of her given name. Realizing that he had to be uncomfortable (how long must she have been sleeping on him!), she tried to sit up, but the band of his arms around her only tightened.

"Stay," he said, and she found herself being tucked back into position with her lower body fitted neatly between his legs, and her cheek on his chest. His hand tracked slowly up and down her spine, and she had to fight the urge to purr in contentment. Merlin, this felt good! As his hand slowed and began to linger in certain locales, she felt a heat sweep over her that had nothing to do with the blazing fireplace.

"Hermione," he whispered again, but this time she knew exactly what he was saying. She levered herself slightly, and then his lips brushed hers, and she thought of nothing else for quite some time.

"We're supposed to be researching," Hermione murmured, even as she smiled at the sensation of lips tracing a path up and down her neck. Hovering in certain spots. Delving in the most delicious—

"By all means," Mr Peters replied. "We can certainly read instead." But now his hands were at work, and she hadn't realized that the inside of her elbow was an erogenous zone, or that she could both burn and shiver at the same time.

She felt him smile against her neck, and knew that he was thoroughly enjoying her lapse in self-control. Since she'd comforted him after the discussion about wards, he'd been treating her to kisses and touches that she'd assumed only existed in tawdry romance novels. And, to her amazement, he hadn't pressed for more than she was willing to give. With a sensitivity she hadn't thought him capable of, he'd seemed to know exactly when to gentle his approach, giving them both time to recover.

Perhaps his plan wasn't entirely altruistic, she thought as his hand skirted up her thigh. Because although she'd only known him for a few short weeks, and they'd only started, well, snogging for lack of a better term, two days ago, she was coming perilously close to dragging him to her room and demanding that he make good on his advances.

A small gasp escaped her as he ventured to graze the back of his fingers over the front of her knickers. Merlin! How was she supposed to keep a clear head when—

"Marry me."

She blinked, her body buzzing from the new sensation of Mr Peters tracing the elastic edge of her knickers.

"What?" she asked breathlessly, biting her lip as she resisted the urge to rub herself against those magical fingers still teasing her.

"You heard me," he said, his hand stilling. With his mouth only inches from hers, he asked again. "Marry me. Stay here. Be my research partner for the rest of our lives. Please."

It was unexpected. Or, at least, it should have been. Mostly, though, what it felt like was right.

"You can't be serious," she said, fighting the urge to throw her arms around him and tell him that yes, of course she would marry him. Wards be damned; she'd never been happier than she had been since arriving at this Circe-forsaken mansion.

"You'll find that I'm quite serious," he said, though his eyes were sparkling. He knew she'd say yes, she thought with a mixture of affection and frustration. Or perhaps he was just looking forward to convincing her...

Well. Perhaps she was looking forward to that, as well.

"We can research anything your heart desires," he whispered in her ear.

She whimpered and threaded her fingers into his dark, tousled hair. The promise of research freedom shouldn't be turning her on, she thought, but Merlin. The idea of sharing her life with someone who felt the same quest for knowledge, who admired her for her quest for knowledge... She tugged on his hair, bringing him closer.

"Yes," she breathed, his hand continuing the task it had started.

He smiled against her neck, and she didn't even mind.

She was feeling rather smug, herself. Filled nearly to bursting with happiness, she felt the sudden need to share her joy with her closest friend.

"Come with me," she said, twisting away from him. Before he could protest, she'd grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet. Practically skipping up the steps, she led him to her bedroom. Close on her heels, he smirked.

"Don't get too excited," she teased him. "We're Floo calling Harry."

Grabbing a pinch of Floo powder, she held her fiancé's hand tightly. For a moment it almost seemed as if he were trying to edge away from her, and she had to laugh to herself. Was he perhaps nervous about announcing his intentions to her best friend?

"Hermione!" Harry exclaimed, popping into view almost immediately. "Is everything alright? You're not having to brew up Drought of Living Nightmares, are you?"

"Of course not, Harry," she scolded, too happy to work up irritation at his protective nature. "I have good news!"

She glanced back at Mr Peters, or rather, at Jamie, and drew him forward. "We're engaged!"

Harry's eyes boggled, even behind his glasses. "What?" he spluttered.

Any further questions were cut off by the pop of Apparation. "Master Peters!" Mona squeaked, wringing her hands. "You can't be doing this!"

"Mona," Mr Peters warned, but the house elf only shook her head.

"No! Mona said nothing when you had nasty dirty Floo calls with Miss Bentworth." The name was said with such disdain that Hermione would have dropped Jamie's hand if he hadn't been holding on to her so tightly.

"What's going on? What's happening?" Harry demanded from the Floo, but Hermione's attention was focused on the livid house elf.

"Mona understood that you was being lonely, and needed someone to talk to, and to—" Mona broke off after taking in what Hermione realized must be her very pale face.

"But you is a married man, Mr Peters! You can't be marrying Miss Granger, no matter how happy you'd be!"

A married man? Hermione took a step backwards, eyes wide with shock. Expecting to see anger and righteous denial, when she looked at her fiancé she saw only guilt and despair.

"No." She took another step backward. "It can't be true."

Mr Peters looked away, and she knew that it was true.

"But how?" she asked, taking yet another step further away from him and bumping into her own bed. She sank down on the puffy comforter, eyes fixed on no one in particular.

"Hermione?" Harry sounded angry, she noted in a detached sort of way. She should say something, she knew. Talk to him. Tell him what was going on. But she didn't know what was going on.

Suddenly angry, she focused on Mona. "Show me," she demanded.

Mona wrung her hands.

"I know you can show me," Hermione said, her eyes narrow with both anger and determination.

Mona nodded shakily.

Mr Peters sank into a chair and cradled his head in his hands.

Harry swore.

"I'll be back," Hermione told her best friend. "This won't take long, will it, Mona?" The house elf nodded, no doubt correctly interpreting Hermione's statement as an order.

"Wait!" Harry called, but she was already out the door, with Mr Peters following reluctantly.

As they approached the fourth floor, Mona began to wring her knobby hands again. "Are you sure?" she whispered. "Are you sure you be needing to see?"

Hermione nodded, lips pursed. She could feel Mr Peters walking behind her, could feel his frustration, could feel his despair. But she couldn't worry about that just now. If she was wrong, she'd ask his forgiveness later. But the look on the house elf's face, and Mr Peters' own demeanour told her that she wouldn't be the one apologizing any time soon.

Mona tapped softly on the door, and then pushed it open. "You has visitors, Mrs Peters," she called, her voice high and shaky.

And then she heard it. The same voice that had haunted her dreams. The same voice that had sung haunting lullabies. The same voice that had sobbed, wailed, and railed. She found herself reaching for Mr Peters' hand before she could stop herself, but managed to snatch it back before she made contact with him.

"Come see!" A figure rose from a rocking chair situated by the window and beckoned them further into the room. "You've come to see little Harry, haven't you?"

The woman was tall and slender, long red hair flowing down to cover nearly half of her ethereal white nightgown. Mona moved obediently to the cradle, and cooed over the contents.

"He's such a very good baby," the woman said, and Hermione felt her heart drop. How could she possibly come between a child and his father? Not that she had proof yet that Mr Peters was the father. She glanced at the man in question, only to find that he was staring blankly ahead, not focusing on either the woman or the baby.

"Won't you come see him?" the woman entreated Hermione, and she reluctantly joined Mona at the cradle.

Only to discover that the cradle was empty.

"Master Harry is beautiful," Mona said, still wringing her hands. The house elf gave Hermione a quelling look. "Isn't he?"

Hermione nodded jerkily. "Beautiful," she agreed, and looked desperately for Mr Peters. Obviously, there was more going on here than met the eye.

Mr Peters met her gaze, and Hermione was struck with the absolute heartbreak she saw reflected. Whatever secrets he might have kept from her, Mr Peters was obviously in his own personal hell.

"Lily, Harry needs his rest," Mr Peters said. With movements so gentle that they almost brought tears to Hermione's eyes, he led the woman back to her rocking chair and made sure she was comfortable, wrapping a comforter around her.

"But, James," she protested, waving a hand shakily toward Hermione and Mona, "we have guests!"

James? Lily? Harry? Hermione turned wide eyes to her employer. Oh, gods. The pieces fell suddenly into place, and Hermione felt herself sway on her feet.

"Mona," Mr Peters said, his voice underlaid with steel. "Take Miss Granger back to her room immediately."

Mona wound her hand through Hermione's and with a soft pop, Apparated them to her bedroom.

"Miss must sit down," Mona scolded, looking worried. "Miss has had a terrible shock, I know," she continued, wringing her hands once again. "I should not have shown you like that. But you was needing to know!" Mona's wide eyes were full of pain and shame, and Hermione forced herself from her shocked stupor long enough to pat the house elf's hand.

"You were quite right to show me," Hermione said absently.


She heard Harry's voice and cringed. The poor boy had been waiting at the other end of the Floo call while she had been off having an extremely uncomfortable moment with his—

Oh, gods!

"Harry," she said, her voice cracking. "Oh, Harry!"

"Hermione, you're scaring me! Hermione?"

But she couldn't seem to find the words to tell him. What could she say? Your mother and father are alive, but your father is a philandering liar and your mother is insane?

"I'm coming through," he said grimly.

"Harry! No!" she exclaimed, brought abruptly out of her stupor by the threat of her best friend attempting to breach the horrific wards. He could be badly hurt, or redirected to Merlin knew where, or even killed!

But he wasn't. He stepped through the Floo and into her room as if he'd done it dozens of times before.

"Oh, Harry!" she exclaimed, and threw herself at him. His arms tightened around her reflexively, and he patted her back in his dear, clumsy, familiar way. She clung to him, dreading the moment that she would have to tell him who her mystery employer was. For as much as he'd always wanted to have his parents back, she highly doubted that discovering they'd been alive his entire life and not contacted him was the solution he would have chosen.

It turned out she didn't have to say a word.

She felt the tension in his body immediately.

"Harry?" Mr Peters said, sounding even more broken than he had while watching his wife croon over an empty cradle. "Is that really you?"


And then she was the one crying as the two men stared at each other. Two men with unruly dark hair. Two men with glasses. Two men with identical expressions of dazed wonder, as if their every dream had come true, but they weren't certain it was going to last.

And then they were embracing, and Hermione wasn't the only one crying.

"I thought you were dead," Harry said, moving out of his father's embrace far enough to study his face. "Everyone said that Voldemort—"

James cringed at the name. "He tried. He attacked us, and, oh, Harry, we thought you were dead! Dumbledore…"

"Dumbledore told you I died?" Harry asked, his voice gone unnaturally quiet and what Hermione recognized as very dangerous.

"Your mother…" James' voice cracked. "She hasn't been the same since."

"She's still alive, too?" Harry's green eyes wide behind his glasses.

James shifted uneasily. "Yes, but—"

"I want to see her."

"Harry," Hermione started, wanting to prepare him.

Harry whipped to face her, determination stamped across his features. "Hermione," he said. "My mother's alive!"

"Yes, Harry, but—"

"Mona." Hermione's heart broke as Harry turned away from her and addressed the house elf. "It is Mona, isn't it?"

Mona nodded.

"You'll take me to see my mother, won't you?" he pleaded.

Mona's eyes flickered to James', and then she nodded in resignation.

"We'll all go," James said firmly. "Harry, there's something you ought to know…"

The voices trailed away as Mona, Harry, and James left the room. Hermione knew that she was intended to follow them, that they all thought she was directly behind them. But she couldn't do it. Couldn't look in Lily Potter's mad eyes again. Couldn't walk past the empty cradle.

Couldn't watch the reunion of a family she had almost become a part of, however unwittingly.

Her limbs heavy with fatigue, she stared at the fireplace for a long moment before screwing up the wherewithal to fling a handful of Floo powder in and call out the destination of her apartment. Wards or not, she couldn't stay in that house for a second longer.

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Author's Notes

Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling. They are used without permission and not for profit.

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