A Stranger Life

One Step Forward

Despite her optimism, Elina prepared herself for silence once she and the others gathered at the kitchen table for discussion. Her parents had both confessed things, she knew that, but would they be willing to put their pride aside and say to each other what really mattered?

Elina sat herself at the head of the table with Draco and Hermione on either side and Ariella and Valerian sitting next to them. "Now," Ariella began, "who would like to start? Hermione?" All eyes shifted to her, and waited expectantly.

Hermione looked around to see if there was any way out of being the first to speak, but when it became clear that no one else would say anything until she'd spoke her piece, she relented. "I talked about what effect having Elina around had on Draco and me," she admitted. "It was an experience to say the least, having something in common with him. And then there was the fact that Elina was so far from home and that she felt so far out of place that Draco and I had to work together to keep her happy or calm, or whatever emotion is appropriate for how we wanted her to be.

"Whenever an episode would come up, Draco and I would deal with it. We'd get together and we'd talk, or yell at one another until whatever it was that needed fixing got fixed. I wouldn't say it was nice, because the feelings we felt during these episodes weren't for each other, but for Elina. In fact, I probably couldn't find any word that could properly describe how being with Draco in these situations made me feel."

At that point, she'd reached the end of her confession. She looked around the room and took a deep breath as she saw both Ariella and Valerian look at her with approval. Then Draco took his turn.

"I admit that this time around, I didn't confess as much. I didn't admit that there was a part of me that enjoyed all the time I had to spend with Hermione because of Elina, or that now I am so in love with her that I am ready to happily give up calling her 'mudblood' for all the rest of time. However, I did admit that in watching Elina, I found some traits in her personality that I admired, one being the foresight she used when she put a spell on my parents to make them think she was the daughter of a family friend. She wouldn't have been able to get into the house just by being herself, because as Hermione and I have pointed out to her many times, we didn't introduce her to my parents because of Hermione's heritage, and the affect that knowledge would have on my parents.

"The plan itself is foolhardy and she had a lot of nerve to put a spell on people much more experienced then herself. And the spell itself is extremely complex. It probably took every smart that she inherited from Hermione to help her figure it out. So I will admit that even if I find brains annoying in Hermione, I'm grateful that she had them to pass on to our daughter."

At that, Hermione looked at him in surprise and Elina grinned. "Thanks, Draco. That means a lot." She then looked at her two parents fondly for a moment. It had taken them a lot to admit these things out loud, and she was grateful for it. Ariella and Valerian had another take though.

"That's a good start," Ariella put in, "but need I remind you that if you don't get beyond the surface stuff and be able to confess to one another your deeper feelings, your daughter is going to disappear in three days, and you're probably never going to see her again?"

Elina started. She'd almost forgotten about that.

The same reminder made Draco and Hermione look up at Elina guiltily. "Sorry we couldn't bring out more for you," Hermione told her.

Elina nodded. "It's all right for now. I appreciate the two of you not killing each other or yelling this time."

At that moment, the five of them heard a door open somewhere, along with sounds of indistinct conversation. "Sounds like my parents are back from their show," Draco said quietly. "What do you want me to do?"

"You and Elina go meet them," Ariella said. "Valerian and I will go back to the photograph and see you again tomorrow, all right?"

Elina nodded, then looked at Hermione. "What are you going to do?" she asked. "I could come home with you if you want."

Hermione shook her head. "No, you stay here. You're safe here with Narcissa and Lucius. They'll be confused if you're suddenly gone. I'm going to stay with Ron and Harry at the Burrow."

She turned to leave, and to everyone's surprise, Draco put his hand on her arm. "No, you can stay here if you want. Mother and Father never go in the room where Ariella and Valerian's photograph is. You can sleep there and not have to worry about them finding you."

Hermione managed a small smile, realizing that he was trying to be friendly. "Thank you, that would be nice."

Elina cleared her throat. "Before Hermione stays in there, it might benefit from some cleaning. The dust on the floor is about two inches thick."

Draco nodded. "I'll get one of the house elves on that, and you go greet my parents. They're probably wondering what's happened to us both."

Narcissa gave Elina a look of concern as she approached the place where they stood waiting.

"Are you all right, dear? Where's Draco?"

Elina took a deep breath. "Sorry I was late getting here," she replied. "I was in one of the back rooms you know, and I got a little lost on my way here. Also, Draco said for me to tell you that he'll be here in a bit. He had to change clothes for dinner."

Narcissa nodded, but still kept her eyes on Elina all through their late dinner. Elina, meanwhile, kept her eyes on her plate so she wouldn't end up sending Draco any sign that would give the plan away.

After the dishes were cleared, Narcissa and Lucius went straight to bed, but Draco and Elina lingered. "Do you suppose I should go check on Hermione and see how she's settling in?" she asked.

Draco shrugged. "If you want to," he told her, his gaze on the floor looking for something invisible so that he wouldn't have to meet her eyes.

"Listen," Elina got out before she left, "thanks for giving Hermione the room. I know that took a lot out of you, and I really am grateful for your cooperation."

Draco looked up. "You're welcome. But don't go thinking that I gave her the room out of love because I can't bear for the two of us to be apart. I did it for your sake, and the sake of this whole unusual operation."

Elina turned her back on him. "Don't worry, I wouldn't dream of thinking such a thing. I know better then to think one dash of civility would suddenly plunge you two into the depths of passion. It will take something more then that."

When Elina got to Hermione's room, she found her sound asleep. She grabbed a piece of parchment out of her room and an owl, writing a note to Ron and Harry about Hermione's whereabouts before sending it off.

She reached her own room just before midnight and found Ariella waiting expectantly in an empty frame on the wall next to her bed. "Hey!" she exclaimed, "what are you doing here?"

"You only have two more days, Elina. Before you fall asleep tonight, think of ways to get your parents together."

Elina looked at the portrait. "Wouldn't it be funny if what brought them together had something to do with Christmas, like enchanted egg nog or magic mistletoe or something?"

Ariella grinned. "Sounds amusing. I can't wait to see what you come up with."

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