Hermione Granger was seventy-five pages into her revision of the Werewolf Rights Act when a butterfly shaped memo flitted into her office and landed on her paperweight.
I have a matter I would like to discuss with you. I know you are quite busy, but if you have any time this afternoon please drop by. My assistant will let you in to see me immediately.
Secretary of Magical Bonds
Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures
Hermione blinked at the note. Emeliory and she worked in different sectors of the magical creatures department and, in the past three years, had never crossed paths apart from an occasional greeting in the lift. Hermione's speciality was in legal, fighting for the rights of underrepresented magical beings such as werewolves, house elves, and centaurs; while Emeliory was in an older and more established branch, specializing in negotiating terms between magical beings and wizarding folk in the event of a magical bonding.
Hermione pursed her lips and wondered what Emeliory could possibly want to meet about. Probably, she realized, about how the Werewolf Rights Act might coincide with the magical bonds division. Werewolf bonds were rare, but there were records of them in wizarding history.
She nibbled on the tip of her quill. In the event of a werewolf bonding the legal ramifications could be difficult. She hadn't studied the legal system of the Magical Being Bonds, the area wasn't her speciality and didn't feature in the current draft of the Werewolf Rights Act. But, she realized, if the bill passed, it would set precedent that could be used to push for a Bonding Rights Amendment in the future.
With a small groan she slung her arm of her eyes and cringed inwardly at the thought of all the new revisions of the WRA that consideration for magical bonds would likely necessitate. She would have to go over the entire thing again, word by word. How could she have overlooked something with such large potential ramifications? A headache started creeping up on her, the tension radiating from her neck.
"Sleeping on the job again, eh Granger?"
Hermione's eyes popped open and she sat up to find Draco Malfoy looming over her desk. Since graduation when he'd begun being groomed to take over the Malfoy estate he had become more and more Lucius Malfoy-esque. He wore wizarding robes and cloaks, even now in the peak of summer, and swept through the Ministry and into offices as if he owned them. He tended to sweep into Hermione's office especially often, feigning support for her causes, but she didn't doubt, caring only to ensure she wasn't passing anything that might impeded the Malfoys from accruing an even more absurdly large fortune.
Hermione only put up with him because Narcissa Malfoy had funded Hermione's werewolf fosterage program to care for orphaned or disowned children who had been bitten during the War. Hermione had started her campaign for the program almost immediately following the war, but in the midst of the rebuilding efforts her fundraising had made little progress. She had been ready to despair when Narcissa Malfoy appeared with a Gringotts vault key and handed it to her, no conditions or questions asked. Hermione knew she was being bought but she hadn't been in a position to refuse; she would endure Malfoy's looming in exchange for giving a hundred and twenty-six werewolf children a chance to grow up safely and securely.
"I wasn't sleeping, Malfoy," she said primly, blushing faintly. Malfoy had once walked into her office and found her sleeping under the desk. She had yet to live it down. "I just realized I need to do another full revision of the WRA, and since it's supposed to be ready for the Wizengamot assembly by Tuesday that means I will probably be living off pepper-up potion for the next five days."
"Again? I thought you said it would be completed today." Malfoy's eyebrows arched.
"I thought it would too, until I received a memo from Emeliory Bogfeld asking for a meeting." She held up the note to show Malfoy. "Our sectors in the department have never crossed before so I can only imagine that she has concerns about the legal precedent of the WRA in regard to magical bonding."
"What?" Malfoy plucked the note from her fingers and read it himself. "I spoke to her assistant last week regarding the WRA, she didn't mention the Bonding Department having any concerns regarding precedent. Unless...." His eyes narrowed and his voice trailed off before he threw the note back down onto the desk abruptly.
"I'll take care of this," he said, sweeping from the room.
"Malfoy!" Hermione called, jumping up from her desk. "Malfoy, wait!"
She chased him, past her assistant and down the hallway before finally catching up. His legs were considerably longer than hers and she had to trot to keep up with him.
"Malfoy, honestly, I don't mind. I want to make sure that everything is perfect with the WRA before I submit it. We don't want to run any risks that the Wizengamot will vote against it and force us to wait until next year to resubmit. Werewolf rights need reform now. Besides, it's my fault, I should have consulted with the bonding department while drafting the WRA in the first place. Emeliory's note seemed very nice, I'm sure she only has a few concerns, doing another full revision is my prerogative."
Malfoy's pace didn't slacken at all and in frustration she grabbed his wrist to slow him. The second her hand touched him he turned and wrenched himself away from her as if burned.
"Don't touch me, Granger," he hissed, his expression suddenly vicious.
Hermione felt as if she'd been slapped. She and Malfoy were—not exactly friends, but the ire in his expression seemed excessive given the years they'd worked together now. It surprised her how hurt she felt by it.
She stumbled slightly and caught herself. She found herself searching his face, half expecting him to offer an excuse or explanation. She and Malfoy were different now, they were colleagues; they didn't agree about everything, but after all those years, they'd moved past—that.
But if Malfoy noticed the expression of hurt on her face he made no indication and continued as if nothing had happened.
"I'll take care of this," he said again. "Don't bother with Bogfeld."
He strode down the hall once more and Hermione didn't try to stop him
Returning to her office she sank into her chair and eyed the revisions she'd been painstakingly making for what had felt like the thousandth time. If she was going to have to revise it again anyway there was no point in finishing... which meant her schedule for the rest of the day was clear.
To hell with Malfoy, she huffed, standing up. She was going to go meet with Emeliory.
The Magical Bonding branch was tucked away in the Magical Creatures Department near the visitor's entrance. Hermione had never been down the hallway, which she realized was rather absurd, given that she had been working there three years. As soon as the assistant, Astoria Greengrass, saw Hermione she tapped a small glowing bauble and said,
"Hermione Granger is here to see you."
"Send her in," Emeliory's tinkling voice immediately replied.
Astoria gestured towards the door and Hermione went in.
Emeliory's office rather reminded Hermione of a muggle psychologist's, and, unlike the typically either drab or absurdly ostentatious Ministry offices, seemed intended to set the visitors at ease. There were paintings on the walls and flowering plants sitting on shelves. There was even a full set of beautiful english chinaware for tea and a basket of fairy cakes. Emeliory's desk, rather than facing the door, was tucked into a corner and there was several large wingback chairs and a couch in the center of the room.
"Miss Granger," Emeliory said, rising from her desk and coming toward her. "I'm so flattered that you could make time in your schedule to meet with me today. I know you're a terribly busy person."
Emeliory Bogfeld reminded Hermione of her mother. They had the same eyes and melodic, birdlike voice. And, although comfortably middle-aged, Emeliory was chicly attired while seeming matronly at the same time.
"Of course, Miss Bogfeld, I cleared my schedule as soon as I got your note. I am so sorry that I didn't consult with you sooner. I realized my error the moment I read the memo. Do you think there is any chance that we'll be able to make the necessary revisions in time for the Wizengamot vote on Tuesday or do you think I should submit a request for an extension?"
Emeliory blinked at her. "Revisions?"
"Yes," Hermione said hurriedly. "Regarding the WRA. I have to admit it hadn't even occurred to me that the WRA might have an effect on the precedent set in the event of a werewolf bonding. It was thoughtless of me, I know. I really don't know how I overlooked it. But of course we need to be very careful in the WRA phrasing in order to make sure that we don't have a clause somewhere that would make the Wizengamot concerned and vote against passing the WRA. I haven't really studied bonding law, so of course I'll defer to whatever you think would be advisable."
"Oh." Emeliory tilted her head back and laughed.
Hermione suddenly realized she had no idea why Emeliory had called her in. Clearly it had nothing to do with the WRA.
"I don't have any concerns about the WRA. I looked over the draft you sent to the sectors last week and I'm quite impressed with the job you've done. Werewolf rights have been overlooked far too long and I'm so pleased to see that they have an advocate like you to represent them. And, as far as the legal implications in the regard to the bonding department, you don't need to worry a bit. The laws regarding bonding are as old as the hills and written to include all magical being bonds, I'm already legally empowered to represent werewolves in the event of magical bonding."
"Oh," said Hermione, realizing that she really didn't know anything about the legal structure of magical being bonding.
"Now, why don't you make yourself comfortable and I'll pour us tea and I'll tell you why I asked you to meet with me."
Hermione perched herself on the edge of a wingback chair and accepted tea and a fairy cake.
"Now," Emeliory said, settling herself onto the couch with a cup of tea of her own. "Miss Granger, I know you've worked in the Magical Creature department for three years now, but what do you know about magical bonding specifically? I realize it is something that isn't covered in Hogwarts curriculum, but I've also heard tales about your passionate curiosity."
"Not much," Hermione admitted, a sudden dread creeping over her is it dawned on her why she was there. "I know that magical bonds have varying levels of occurrence depending on the magical beings. It's considered rare among werewolves, centaurs, and vampires, but among Veela, house elves, and those with traces of fae blood, it's intrinsic to their magic and lifecycle."
Emeliory nodded. "Yes, and because it's intrinsic to their magic it's my job to negotiate what that means between the two parties. It's occasionally a very difficult situation. The Ministry is, of course, opposed to coercing wizarding folk, however when you have another individual's life at stake, it is very important that the wizarding individual understands the severity of their choice. Do you know about the different types of bonds that can occur?"
"There's physical bonding, which happens when blood gets mixed and causes a sort of phantom connection between the being and the wizard. Then there's magical dependency bonding, like what's seen in English house elves, where their will to live can be dependent of serving a certain bloodline. And then there's—" Hermione choked and turned slightly pink, "—mate bonding, where the magical being singles out a wizarding individual to become bonded with for the purpose of marriage and reproduction."
Emeliory clucked. "This is your idea of not knowing much about magical bonding? You know more about it than most purebloods do. Although, I must tweak your understanding of how mate bonding works. It generally happens much more organically than most people think. A magical being doesn't just suddenly single out a wizarding individual; they are drawn to them and fall in love with them much in the same way that anyone falls in love. A certain level of closeness is necessitated in order for the bond to begin forming. It can't just be someone you pass in the hall or a celebrity you have a crush on. And the magical being has a sharp inner sense of what is compatible; emotionally, mentally, and magically; they're much stricter about those things than most wizarding folk are." Emeliory smiled slightly before continuing.
"But, once a magical being reaches the point of wanting to bond, they can't fall out of love. Their life becomes staked upon convincing the wizarding individual to reciprocate. Once the bond is sealed it becomes co-dependant. Luckily, most of the time, the two individuals have a mutual relationship and entering into the bond is just the next step...but occasionally it is more complicated than that, and that's when I come in."
Emeliory paused and looked steadily at Hermione.
"As I'm sure you've already guessed, Miss Granger, the reason I asked you to come here is because I've been asked to represent a magical being who has chosen you as his mate."
Hermione blinked, almost expecting the entire situation to be a hallucination brought on by sleep deprivation.
"Are you sure?"
"I am. The reason I have been brought in as a mediator is because the magical being in question is convinced that you cannot and will not reciprocate his feelings. He doesn't even want you to know because he's afraid you would consent to bonding as of a matter of conscience. So he has resigned himself to die rather than put you in a situation in which you might feel coerced. His family came to me, and they have begged that I present the situation to you for your consideration."
"And you're allowed to do that?"
"He's in love, and people in love make irrational choices sometimes. Especially when they have formed an attachment to the extent that magical beings do. I have to admit though, this is the first occasion in which I'm in an advocacy position rather than a mediation position."
"And it's someone that I'm reasonably close to?" Hermione was wracking her brain trying to guess who it could possibly be. Families with magical being blood were extremely secretive, especially when it came to magical mate bonding. Given the individual's certainty that she'd reject him, that implied Slytherin.
"How much time do I have to decide? What's happening to this person in the meantime?"
Emeliory took a sip a tea with a deliberateness that could only be a bid for time.
"I wasn't going to tell you, because it's the sort of information that can feel coercive. Are you sure you want to know?"
"I've always liked to be fully informed about decisions I have to make," Hermione said in a steady voice, "If you won't tell me, I'll find the information another way."
"Generally," Emeliory said slowly, "once the bond begins to manifest itself the magical being has a year or two before needing to act on the urge. When that window passes then the symptoms begin to emerge. The bond is meant to be shared, so without the other party their magic levels exceed what a body can physically handle. The magic eats them up from the inside, the senses begin to fade, and the drive to bond increases, they are feverish and it can cause them to hallucinate. There are masking potions for those symptoms but they require a constantly increased dosage and eventually stop working. Often-times a libido tamping potion is taken at the same time as a precaution, since the urge to bond can become overwhelming. Once the potions stop working completely, everything progresses quickly. The senses are lost entirely and the individual becomes delirious. The fever spikes until eventually their organs shut down and they die."
"And where in that progression is this person right now?"
"According to his family he didn't tell them a bond had begun manifesting. They only realized what was happening because the potions have begun to lose their efficacy," Emeliory said, her expression gentle.
Hermione felt as if her entire world had managed to fall apart over the course of one cup of tea.
"Then I really don't have any time to think about it," she said, more calmly than she felt. "Is there any way to meet with this person and see if there's any chance that this could work? Is there even any way to coordinate that, considering how opposed he is to even revealing himself?"
Emeliory opened her mouth to reply when suddenly a commotion was heard outside the office. Suddenly there was an explosion and the door burst into flames and flew open as Draco Malfoy stormed in.
"Bogfeld! I don't care what my mother promised you, if you so much as whisper a word to Granger about me I am going to burn your office—"
His voice cut of with a choking sound at the sight of Hermione.
"Why, Mr. Malfoy, what a pleasant surprise," Emeliory said, sipping her tea calmly, as if her office door hadn't just been demolished by a fireball. "Miss Granger and I were just talking about you."
Hermione and Malfoy gaped at each other for several seconds as realization dawned on each of them. Malfoy recovered himself first and suddenly looked very sick.
"Damn it, Granger," he said, his strained, "you couldn't listen to me just once in your life."
He turned on his heel and vanished through the burning door.
Astoria was babbling an explanation but Hermione was too dazed to hear it.
Malfoy had formed an attachment to her. Malfoy. She wasn't sure if she were more flabbergasted that she had never noticed he was part magical being, apparently in love with her, or that he was dying.
Without another word to Emeliory she jumped up and chased after Malfoy for the second time that day.
"Malfoy!” she called after him. He sped up. Bolting down the hall after him, dignity be damned, she called again, "Malfoy!"
He was getting close to the lift and there was no way she'd catch him.
Finally in frustration she pulled out her wand and, steeling herself for the number of regulations she was about to violate,
Frozen in the middle of the hallway she finally caught up to him and rounding to face him put her hands on her hips to confront him.
"Draco Malfoy, I cannot believe you. You are without a doubt the most troublesome and cowardly person I have ever encountered in my entire life."
Although his expression was frozen she could see his eyes flash with hurt, but she pressed on.
"I'm not even sure what I find more ridiculous right now, that you blew up Emeliory Bogfeld's door, or that you would rather die than admit you like me. Now, I'm going to un-petrify you, but you are going to stay and talk to me about this or I will go to your house and talk to your mother—" her voice quavered slightly at the thought of ever revisiting Malfoy Manor, "—and I would really rather not."
Holding him in place to keep him from falling, she released the spell.
"Are you going to stay?" she asked.
He still looked as sick as he had when he'd left Emeliory's office but he nodded.
"Please stop touching me, Granger," he said, his voice rasping.
"Oh." She let go of his arm as understanding over his reaction that morning dawned on her. "Oh!"
In the split second that the realization struck her Malfoy managed to regain his composure.
"Do you want to talk here? Or did you have somewhere specific in mind?" he asked in a flat voice, his expression cold.
"Would my office be alright?"
He nodded curtly and, without waiting for her to lead, strode down the hall toward her office.
He was already sprawled in a chair by the time she caught up with him. He had apparently collected himself along the way and his cool indolent mask was back in place as she seated herself on the other side of the desk.
"Granger," he said, her name drawn out in a long, careless drawl, "before you barrage me with the, I'm certain, infinite number of questions you have, I would like to make sure one thing is very clear: I am not going to bond with you. I don't give a damn about how you feel about it, I would rather die."
Hermione felt as if she were experiencing emotional whiplash. She didn't particularly like Malfoy, he was one of the most persistently unpleasant individuals in her life; and she didn't have any interested in getting married much less 'bonded' currently, but all the same, it was very hard not to feel hurt when someone said they would rather die than marry you and actually meant to follow through with it.
"I see," she said stiffly, glancing away from him briefly. "Is that because I'm muggleborn?"
Something flickered across Malfoy's face for a moment before he rolled his eyes up to the ceiling as if bored by her predictability. "Yes."
"And not because you're in love with me and you're afraid that I'll consent because I feel coerced by the idea of being responsible for your death?"
Malfoy dragged his eyes from the ceiling and stared at her. His face was horribly pale and his grey eyes were feverishly bright. Hermione couldn't believe she hadn't noticed before.
"Is that what Bogfeld told you?" He gave a barking laugh. "Merlin, Granger, could you be more gullible? Bogfeld is paid, by the Ministry and I'm sure quite generously now by my mother, to make magical bonding sound romantic enough that idiots like you will consent to it. It's not romantic and I'm not in love with you, I just happen to have a creature inside me that finds you ideal for procreating with. Unfortunately for both of you, I would rather die than engage in something so vile."
He sneered at her.
Hermione felt uncertain. She didn't trust Malfoy's claims; he was a Slytherin, after all, and she'd dealt with his manipulation in her department for years. But, she also couldn't deny his argument against Emeliory. The woman was a representative for magical beings; it was her job to get wizarding folk to consent to bonding without coercion...and once the bond was in place her means to an end were moot, everyone probably thought they were happy.
However, Malfoy's claim made less sense. Slytherins were ambitious and, in her experience, generally unethical; dying a martyr to avoid having to "mate" made very little sense. If Malfoy really hated her so much, then he wouldn't care about whether she was guilted or forced into the bond, he'd be alive and able to go on his merry way.
"I don't have any illusions about any of this being romantic, Malfoy. I simply find it hard to believe that you find dying preferable. I have always found you to be more self-interested than that."
The same indecipherable expression flickered across Malfoy's face again.
"Don't delude yourself with thinking this is anything noble, Granger." His voice was cold and flat. "Perhaps you haven't noticed throughout all these years, but I loathe you. The fact that some part of me finds you attractive at all is the most vile thing that has ever happened to me. And, while I won't deny the attraction exists, that doesn't mean I'll accept it to the point of ever having to touch you."
He stood abruptly.
"I think that's all the questions I'll be taking for today. If you want to know anything else you can owl me."
Then he was gone.
Hermione stayed seated at her desk for a long time after he left, her mind whirling as she processed the conflicting information she had been inundated with that afternoon.
Finally she stood and gathered up the partially revised WRA.
"Parvati," she said to her assistant, setting the revised half of the WRA on the front desk, "I'm going to be out of my office for the rest of the day. Please get this section of the Werewolf Rights Act down to printing to be updated, I'll bring in the rest tomorrow morning."
Then Hermione Granger went to the library.