"So is she or isn't she?" Hermione had decided to stay at Hogwarts over the Christmas holiday, and already she was regretting it. Ron and Harry had been nagging her for the last week as to Elina's true identity. They'd been taking turns asking at least three times a day. This time it was Ron. Finally, with a frustrated groan, Hermione turned to him and let it out.
"She is, all right? Elina is my daughter, exactly what I told you when Malfoy and I showed up in the Great Hall during the Sorting."
Ron frowned. "But then, why did you tell us later that she was just some girl you met?" Hermione collapsed into a chair looking frustrated. "Malfoy was a bit concerned because at that point we thought Pansy and Blaise were on to us, and were going to tell everyone about Elina. Dumbledore told us to lay low and not tell a soul." Suddenly, she sat up. "You two, come with me."
"Where are we going?" Harry asked curiously. Hermione shook her head and said nothing, but the other two realized soon enough that she was leading them to Dumbledore's office. She knocked once, and when Dumbledore opened the door, she said quickly "Professor, may I speak to you a moment?" he looked at her, then at Ron and Harry over her shoulder. "Miss Granger, I suspected I'd be seeing you eventually. Come in."
The three of them walked into the office and took seats opposite him. "Now," he said once they were settled. "What is it that you wish to see me about?"
"I've told Ron and Harry the real truth about Elina even though you told Draco and me not to tell another soul," Hermione answered quietly. Dumbledore put his hands in front of him on the desk and gazed at her. "Why did you do this?" he asked curiously.
"We've never kept anything from each other," she replied reasonably. "When you were giving Harry insights into the Dark Lord's past, you let him tell us what he found out as long as he didn't tell anyone else. What makes this any different?" Dumbledore smiled at her. "Miss Granger, I knew from the moment that I told you to keep Elina a secret that you'd end up telling these two. And I want you to know that it's all right that you told them. The restriction was more for Mr. Malfoy then yourself. I knew that you wouldn't tell anyone anything that would put Elina in jeopardy."
Hermione sat back in the chair and took a deep breath, color slowly returning to her face. "Thank you so much, sir." Dumbledore nodded. "By the way," he asked, "how is Elina?"
Hermione stood up from her chair and pushed it forward.
"She's fine, I think. Better adjusted then before." She paused for a moment. "I haven't seen her for a week, though. Do you think she stayed here for Christmas? She must have. She doesn't have anywhere else to go."
At that moment, there was a knock on the door. Then Galen Crewe entered the room looking panic-stricken. "If you're looking for Elina, she's gone to the Manor," he told them all. Hermione's eyes widened. "Why did she do that? I told her she wasn't allowed to."
Ron cracked a smile. "First and most obvious rule of parenting, Hermione: just because you tell your kids to do something doesn't mean they're going to do it." Hermione glared at him. "I'm going to get her back, and you're coming with me."
"What? Go to Malfoy's house? Have you gone completely mental, Hermione?" Ron's eyes were wide and he was shaking his head rapidly. Hermione pursed her lips, her expression stony. "No, I'm not kidding. Something bad could happen to her there."
"If I may interrupt for a moment, there is a matter of urgency as far as Elina is concerned," Dumbledore broke in. "The spell that brought her here only lasts for so long, and if you may recall, she wasn't here for social purposes."
"I know that," Hermione said quickly. "You brought her here so that Draco and I would see her and fall in love with each other." Ignoring Harry and Ron's grimaces, she continued. "But I'm afraid that hasn't happened yet. We're capable of behaving like her parents and cooperating for her sake, but there's been nothing beyond that."
Dumbledore locked eyes with her. "I'm sorry to hear that, but the spell that brought Elina to you is due to expire in three days. After that, you and Draco are on your own if you want her to be born at all. And one more thing: if she isn't, then a major change of history will occur, and I know how you feel about that, Miss Granger."
After a long, stunned silence, Hermione spoke. "What can I do so that her coming won't be in vain?" Dumbledore gave her a small smile. "I think you know what you have to do, don't you?" Hermione nodded, bid him, Harry, Ron and Galen goodbye and prepared herself to go and invade Malfoy Manor.
Elina was wandering around the hallways of the Manor. Draco had been keeping to himself ever since they'd arrived here. She'd been given a very grand bedroom, surprisingly feminine in its décor and thankfully nothing like the horror bedroom of her nightmare. She looked out a lone window and saw that it was beginning to get dark, but even so, she kept on exploring. After a few more moments, she came upon a locked door, which was quite solid, despite the lock's ancient appearance. She tried and tried to open it, and just when she was about to give up, a gust of wind suddenly blew through the hall and the door opened of its own accord.
Curious, she stepped inside the room. It was completely dark, but she made her way to the bed. She could just barely tell that the sheets were green, and that the bed itself was a large canopy. She kicked up dust with every step she took, and the room smelled quite musty, as if it hadn't been used for years. She looked up, and for a reason she couldn't explain, a picture on the wall came into focus. It was an old photograph that had been enlarged. The man and woman in the picture looked a lot like Draco and Hermione, but the photograph was in black and white and seemed to have been taken several years before her parents were born. Under the photograph were two names: Valerian and Ariella.
Elina tried to look away from the photograph, but it held her still. Then she heard the whispering: "Elina. Elina, let us out. We can help you." That was it. She screamed and ran out of the room, coughing as dust flew up under her frantic steps and got into her eyes.
Once she was clear of the room, the first person she ran into was Draco. "What the hell is the matter with you?" he asked. "Have you gone completely insane?" Elina shook her head. "I was exploring, and I went into this one room that had a photograph in it. Then the photograph started talking to me! It was terrifying!"
Draco was holding her at arms' length. "Where is this room?" he asked. "Could you show me the photo?" Just as Elina was about to lead Draco to the picture however, they heard the knock on the door. They went to answer it together, and were both surprised and displeased to see Hermione on the other side.
"Have you come to drag me back to Hogwarts?" Elina asked icily, followed by Draco's "how did you even get to the front door?" Hermione ignored these less then friendly greetings and let herself in.
"I have to admit," she said finally as she leisurely settled herself on a green stuffed couch, "my original intention was to bring you back to Hogwarts, but then Dumbledore explained something to me that drastically changed my thinking."
"And what was that?" Elina asked suspiciously. Hermione sighed. "Dumbledore told me that the spell that brought you here will only last for a few more days. If Draco and I aren't together by then, you disappear, and then your entire existence is up to Draco and me alone."
"What!" both Draco and Elina cried out at the same time. "Are you saying that if the two of you don't fall in love in three days, I'm going to disappear, and may or may not be born depending on your own personal whims? That is completely ridiculous!" the latter continued alone. Then, her eyes suddenly lit up. "The photograph told me that if I let out the subjects, they would help me. Do you think that they were talking about this?"
"What photograph?" Hermione asked.
"The one she was going to show me before you showed up," Draco said curtly. "She says it talked to her." Hermione tried hard not to look too enthusiastic. "If this is about me, then maybe I should come too."
"Do whatever you want, but stay away from me, and keep in mind that there's probably only about an hour until my parents get back from that concert they went to. I'd hate to see what would happen if they caught you around here." Draco told her curtly.
"I bet you would," Hermione muttered. But she followed Elina and Draco to the room, which Draco lit up with his wand. When she saw what the room looked like in light, Elina did her best not to shriek in terror. It was unquestionably the room of her nightmare.
Hermione and Draco spotted the photo immediately, and when they saw the subjects, they immediately began to groan. "Yes, the whispering was definitely about improving our present relations," Hermione told Elina. "Valerian and Ariella did it once, and I bet they think they can do it again."
At that moment, a gust of wind blew through the room, and the three of them watched as the photo began to change, and the two subjects were erased from it, and brought into the room as columns of magic that quickly formed into the two people. The two people looked from Draco to Hermione then over at Elina before the woman said "That's right, Hermione. And since we only have three days, we're going to have to hurry."
A/n- if you need a recap about Ariella and Valerian, go back and read chapters 40-43 of "A Strange Engagement."