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Love and Other Misfortunes

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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.

Miss Granger,

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.

Emeliory Bogfeld

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,

"Petrificus Totalus!"

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.

Chapter Text

Draco Malfoy felt as if he were going to freeze to death as he floo’d home. He’d re-doubled his dosage of his potions before departing that morning but their efficacy had vanished the moment Granger decided to touch him. He’d always been very careful to keep her out of arm’s reach.

 After months of slow agony the sensation of her hands on him had suddenly set everything right. She was warm and gentle and her touch brought colour back into the world. Snapping at her to scare her away had felt so much like dying he might as well have ripped his heart out of his chest and handed it to her. Every fiber of him screamed to pull her close, bury his face in her absurd hair, and let everything stop hurting, just for a moment.

 It seemed terribly dim in the Manor as he stepped out of the fireplace but when a Lumos Maximus failed to make the room seem any brighter he realized with a sinking feeling that he could barely see at all.

 “Miffy.” He called, and the house elf popped into the room. At least, he assumed the elf had popped, she suddenly appeared but the accompanying sound had not. “Fetch my potion, doubled again from my current dose.”

 His stomach was roiling at the thought of consuming another drop of the vile stuff. He had been downing almost a pint every six hours. Miffy reappeared, wringing her hands,

 “Miffy is sorry, there is not being enough potion to double the dose. Miffy is only bringing enough for one and a half doses.”

 “Fine," he said, snatching the large beaker from her hands. “Go to Jenkins and let him know I’ll need another batch within the next six hours, and tell him that I’m needing to increase the dosage again.”

 Miffy popped away again and Draco let himself sag against the mantlepiece for a moment before forcing the beaker to his lips.

 It felt like drinking maggots. The potion crawled and bubbled as it slunk across his tongue and down his throat. The closest thing he could approximate it to was that it smelled like a mixture of blood, dirt, and a public urinal, and tasted like someone had puréed lemon peels and sardines together. He forced himself not to retch the contents onto the aubusson rug; he knew from experience it was even worse coming back up.

 Once it was settled in his stomach he closed his eyes and felt the potion begin to take effect. He stopped shivering and the room was more warmly lit when he opened his eyes again.

 “Draco?” He turned and found his mother staring at him. Her expression was tense and pained; looking down he realized she was staring at the large beaker in his hand. He slipped it behind his back immediately.

 “You’re home early. Are you alright?” Her voice was trembling. It always seemed to tremble when she spoke to him. Ever since he had stumbled blindly into the parlor calling for Miffy to bring his potion. After taking it he found that he had been standing in front of his parents, staring at him in silent horror and understanding. His mother had cried in her room for days.

 He ignored her question.

 “I had an interesting run in with Granger today, mother," he said, furious with her betrayal. “In Emeliory Bogfeld’s office.”

 “Oh,” said Narcissa lightly. “Well, they both work in same department, I suppose it’s not unusual for them to run into each other. What were you doing in the Department of Magical Creatures? I thought you were going to take it easy today, seeing it’s the first time in days that the potions have worked.”

 She sent him a pointed look.

 “Well, since everything is now out in the open—you know perfectly well why I was there.”

 His mother’s expression remained innocent as if she had no idea what he was talking about.

 “You know it’s Granger. I don’t know how you know, but I know you do, and now, thanks to you, she knows. And I was there to see her, because…” his voice trailed off.

 He didn’t want to tell his mother about how irresistibly he was drawn, or how it felt as though he were having an unending panic attack when he hadn’t seen Granger for too many days.

 “She knows now? What did she say? Will she help you?” Narcissa came toward him hopefully.

 “No,” Draco said icily. “She won’t. I made sure of that. And if you try to meddle again, mother, I swear I will go somewhere unplottable to die and you will have to bury an empty casket.”

 He stormed away. He didn’t need to stay to know that he’d made Narcissa Malfoy cry again.

 When he got to his room he locked the door and sank to the floor.

“Rough day then?” A smooth voice came from the shadows.

 Draco tilted his head back and found Blaise Zabini in front of him.

 “What do you want, Zabini?”

 “Me? Nothing,” Blaise said smoothly, “I came because I heard the most interesting story today and I thought you’d want to know. Apparently some non-Ministry VIP conjured up a fireball with his bare hands and used it to break down Emeliory Bogfeld’s door. I don’t suppose you know any details, I heard you were at the Department of Magical Creatures earlier.”

 Draco stared coldly at Zabini.

 “Also, I stopped by Hermione Granger’s office late this afternoon, to assure her of my continued support for the WRA, of course. To my surprise she had left the office just after lunch and didn’t return for the rest of the day. I had no idea she even could leave that office, I thought she lived there.”

 “Shut up,” Draco snapped.

 “I suppose you know where she lives, don’t you, Drake?”

 “Shut up, Zabini!”

 “Must be handy, always being able to find her. You can feel her right? When she’s awake or asleep. If she’s happy... I heard she was in Emeliory’s office when the hinges blew off. Was she scared? Did you feel it?”

 “I said shut it!” Draco roared, jumping up and storming toward his friend, pulling his fist back to pummel Zabini’s smug face, he swung and his hand passed through empty air. Zabini was gone. Or rather, he hadn’t been there in the first place.

 Another hallucination.

 Draco dropped onto his bed. At least this time it hadn’t been Granger. Normally it was Granger; last night it had been. It was always the same conversation. She would stand at the foot of his bed staring at him with revulsion twisting up her features, reciting every nasty thing he’d ever done to her; telling him how he made her skin crawl; pulling up the sleeve of her shirt and showing him the word carved into her arm, reminding him that he’d been there, that he’d stood and watched; and then asking if he was really going rob her of any chance of happiness by forcing her to bond with him. Then she’d cry and beg him to leave her alone. And then she’d vanish.

 It devastated him so much he’d dragged himself from bed and gone to Ministry; he had to see her with his own eyes. See if he could help her with the WRA one last time; to watch her smile in assurance and satisfaction at what they were about to accomplish.

 Then everything had gone to hell.

 And now she knew.

 It felt as if all the remaining scraps of control he had were slipping away. When she had stared at him, chewing her lower lip with worry, he knew she’d feel obligated to save him; like she tried to save house-elves and werewolves and centaurs, and it made him sick to think that he’d just be another item on the list of things she felt morally compelled to sacrifice herself life and wellbeing for.

 So he threw every mean thing he could think of at her. Every shred of vulnerability that he’d ever found, he shoved in her face. And he’d felt it when they hit their mark.

 He lay in bed and wished he would hurry up and die. He didn’t want to give Granger to time to decide to get over her hurt and throw herself at him fueled with her righteous intention of saving him from himself. He wasn’t sure how much more strength he had to push her away.

 Pulling out his wand he cast every barricade and ward spell he knew at the door.

 The cold was creeping over him again. He rolled over and prayed to sleep.


 

Narcissa Malfoy had been sitting in the rain on the steps leading up to Hermione Granger’s flat for an hour before the brunette witch arrived home.

 The poor girl was so startled she nearly dropped the stack of books she was levitating behind her.

 “Mrs. Malfoy?”

 “Miss Granger.” Narcissa tried to look dignified as she cast a drying charm on herself. “I’m sure you know why I’m here. I need to speak with you about my son.”

 “Of course.” Hermione said, unlocking her front door and inviting her in. “I was just at the library trying to get a better grasp of things.”

 “Yes. Of course.” Narcissa nodded as she followed Hermione into the living room.

 She and Miss Granger had met many times over the years through their joint sponsorship of the Werewolf Fosterage Program and over time their relationship had lost the strain of past offenses and become cordial. However, past familiarity was insufficient to overcome the level of unease Narcissa felt over having apparated to Hermione’s home with the express purpose of begging her to save her son.

 “I hope you aren’t offended that I asked Emeliory Bogfeld to approach you in my place," she found herself babbling as she stood awkwardly by the fireplace. “I thought—that given Draco and your history that it might be better to involve a third party, at least to explain the- difficulty of everything.”

 “Of course. Miss Bogfeld was an ideal person to have approach me. She has a great deal of experience explaining magical bonding. I probably would have been more caught off guard if you had tried to explain the situation yourself.”

 Narcissa nodded, relieved.

 “Well, that’s good to hear. I heard you ran into Draco afterward…” she pressed cautiously.

 Hermione’s expression tightened.

 “Yes,” Hermione admitted. “He seemed—upset that I learned about everything.”

 “He was rather put off when he returned home,” Narcissa noted.

 She paused for several moments gathering her nerve.

 “Miss Granger, as I’m sure you know, my son means that world to me. You know the risks I’m willing to take to protect him and this situation is no exception. He is certain you could never return his feelings and so he’s decided to die instead of even trying to convince you. I wish I could respect my son’s wishes, but before I step back and watch, I must ask if there is any chance of saving him.”

 Hermione looked conflicted.

 “I had no idea that Malfoy had any sort of interest in me," she admitted, plucking a book off the top the pile and nervously turning it over in her hands. “When we spoke today he said he loathed me and that having a creature inside him that’s attracted to me was the most vile thing that has ever happened to him. I realize that he was mostly lying, based on what I gathered from my research. But, at the same time, it’s an idea that is difficult to reconcile with the Draco Malfoy I have always known.”

 Narcissa felt a choked laugh rip painfully from her.

 “He said that he loathes you?” She sank into one of Hermione’s chairs without invitation, feeling like she might faint if she didn’t. “Draco has been in love with you for years, probably longer than he knows. He used to talk about you constantly. All of school break, and my letters from him were filled with stories about you. It was Granger this and Granger that, and how he was going to beat your marks and the expression on your face when he answered a question in potions. I was with him when the Death Eaters attacked the Quidditch World Cup your fourth year, he turned white as a sheet when he realized they were targeting muggleborns.” Narcissa realized she was rambling and caught herself.

 “I am not asking you to disregard the hurt he has caused you over the years. However, I hope you’ll realize he’s kept you at arms length because he cared about you.”

 Hermione nibbled her lower lip and ran her hands nervously over the cover of the book on her lap.

 “I was doing some research today. I realized based on Emeliory’s comments that he’s part Veela; it’s unusual for Veela traits to manifest in later generations isn’t it? How much Veela does he have in him?”

 “Yes,” Narcissa nodded. “The Veela comes from my side of the family, the Blacks had an arranged marriage and chose not to perform a bonding ceremony in their vows…so that they would be at liberty to pursue—other interests. Because of that, it allowed my mother to form a bond with a Veela, and I was born. It wasn’t exactly proper, but…”

 “Oh,” said Hermione, looking slightly pink at the turn the conversation had taken. “That’s why you look so different from your sisters.” She gestured up toward Narcissa's hair.

 “Yes.” Narcissa nodded, blushing slightly herself. She had never confided these details to anyone she didn’t know intimately. “Anyway, Draco is a quarter-Veela, like Mrs Delacour-Weasley, but the traits have manifested more strongly in him than they usually do. I met with a healer who specializes in part Veela manifestations; he thinks that the war was likely the catalyst. Draco was just reaching adulthood then and the difficulty of—everything, it may have caused him to subconsciously tap into whatever help his Veela blood could provide.”

 Hermione nodded thoughtfully.

 “That makes sense. I stopped by the Ministry archive on my way home. It seems from the records that there has been a spike in magical bondings since the war.”

 The conversation lapsed for several minutes as each woman waited for the other to speak. Finally Hermione spoke again.

 “Mrs Malfoy—” she stammered slightly, “I’d like to be able to help Draco, but—I’d be lying if I said I had any feelings for him beyond my respect for his post-war efforts. I know that isn’t what you hoped to hear.”

 Narcissa hadn’t expected a different answer but hearing it still felt like being struck by a bludger. She could feel the blood drain from her face and she tried to look away as she blinked away the tears that welled up in her eyes.

 “Of course.” She stood up, fighting to keep her voice even. “You understand that I had to ask.”

 “Wait.’ Hermione grasped her hand and kept her from turning toward the door.

 Narcissa looked at her warily, trying to tamp down on sense of hope that she was afraid to indulge in.

 “I don’t have any feelings for him," she reiterated, looking flustered. “I’m honestly still trying to wrap my mind around the idea he sees me as anything but a political tool. And it seems Draco doesn’t want me to bond with him just to save him—even if I am willing to. But—this is his life that’s at stake, so I’d like to see if there’s...” her voice trailed off.

 Narcissa burst into tears and sank back onto the couch, feeling hysterical with relief.

 “Really? You’ll try to help?” She sobbed.

 “This isn’t a promise that anything will come of it,” Hermione reminded her.

 Narcissa nodded.

“Of course. Of course I understand that. I’m just so glad you’re willing to consider.” Her mind was already racing with ideas of how to assure success. “We just need to find a way to get around his defenses; you’re used to seeing him at his most guarded, it’s important that we catch him off guard…”

 


 

Draco jerked awake. His teeth were chattering and it seemed that no number of layers or warming charms could ease the cold he felt. He reached blindly for his wand but couldn’t find it under his pillow.

“Miffy” He called, dragging himself up in bed. The elf didn’t appear, at least he didn’t think she had. He looked around the room slowly trying to see if he’d missed it. Then he saw her.

 Granger.

 She was sitting quietly on a couch across the room, his wand in her hands.

 His breath caught and his heart immediately tripled its pace. He stared at her and she stared back. He wanted to look away—he knew she wasn’t really there—but the sight of her made his blood thrum with magic and he felt pulled to her, even though he knew she’d vanish the moment he tried to touch her.

 Finally he dragged his eyes away from her.

 “Please go away, Granger.”

 She didn’t say anything, passing his wand nervously from one hand to the other.

 “This is usually the part where you tell me how much you hate me,” he said dully, wondering where the hallucination was going. He supposed it might be different, now that she really knew.

 “Why do you think I hate you, Malfoy?” She asked.

 He stared helplessly at her.

 “I can feel you,” he gripped the fabric over his heart. “every time you see me, you feel suspicious. When you ran into me at the Ministry the other night, you were scared. I know what you feel when you’re with anyone else, whether it’s Potter, or coworkers you hardly know. Everything about you is warm, but you turn cold at the sight of me. So, it isn’t hard to draw conclusions from there.”

 “You can feel me? That’s- that’s not a common symptom in bonding.”

 “Good to know you’re doing your research,” he said dryly. “Yes. Just flickers of things, it’s not constant.”

 “And that’s why you think I hate you?” she pressed.

 “Yes,” he bit out.

 “I don’t hate very many people, Malfoy.” she said quietly.

 “I know," he said bitterly.

 Hermione stood up and started walking slowly toward his bed.

 “I don’t hate you. I don’t even dislike you, honestly. I admit I tend to be suspicious of your motives, but you’re a Slytherin and a lobbyist, being sneaky is your job description; I’d be an irresponsible Ministry employee if I weren’t suspicious of you.”

 Oh god, Draco realized with horror. She was really there.

 “Please stay away from me, Granger,” he begged as she got closer to him. He could smell her and feel her warmth, his head was spinning. She’d left his wand across the room. He couldn’t cast a barrier spell against her.

 “Malfoy,” she said when she reached his bed. “Why didn’t you ever try being nice to me?”

 “Because—because—” he pushed himself across the bed to get away from her, feeling like the words were being dragged out of him, “I know you don’t trust me. I was afraid you’d think I was doing it to manipulate you and you wouldn’t let us work together anymore.”

 “I see,” she said, and then to his utter disbelief she climbed onto his bed. “But you also think that I’m such a paragon of virtue that I’d still sacrifice myself to save you. Despite hating you?”

 “That’s what you’re doing now.” He pointed out as he dragged himself off his bed and collapsed against the wall, shivering violently. He needed another dose of potion, it had only been a few hours and it had worn off.

 “Miffy” he yelled. Granger crawled across his bed and knelt in front of him. If he hadn’t felt like he was dying of hypothermia he would probably would have become instantly hard at the sight.

 “Draco,” she said softly, and he realized she was running a diagnostic spell on him. “How long has it been since you took the potion and how high was the dose?”

 “I don’t know," he said groggily, he could feel her body radiating warmth and the compulsion to drag her against him and absorb her heat while exploring every inch of her skin made it very hard to form complete thoughts. “Three hours? I took maybe 1000ml?”

 She was saying something but he couldn’t hear it, his ears were roaring and he just wanted—wanted to reach out and touch her, just once.

 “Malfoy?” He heard her calling him.

 “Please—” he groaned, pushing himself away from her, “Granger, please stay away. I can’t—I don’t want to hurt you.”

 She just kept moving toward him.

 “Malfoy, you don’t have very much time left,” she said gently.

 “I know,” he ground out. “That’s why you need to get away from me. I’m not your cause, Granger.”

 “I know," she reassured him.

 And then she kissed him.

 It was like she was the sun. The whole world exploded with light as her lips touched his; like touching pure magic.

 Any shred of remaining thought fled as she placed one hand on his cheek and the other on his neck to tilt his head back and angled their lips better. His hands came up and tangled in her hair.

 He had wanted her for so long and now she was there in his arms, kissing him.

 He pulled her tightly against him and slid his hands down her back, memorizing every inch. Pulling away from her mouth he peppered hot, open-mouthed kisses along the column of her neck, tasting her skin. His fingers were skimming along the hem of her shirt, ghosting over her stomach and he started sliding his hands under her clothes and up her body toward her breasts.

 She gave a small breathy moan and it vibrated through him, turning his blood into fire. She was his. She had come to him. She was his. He could take her…

 Then she put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him away.

 He stared at her, breathing raggedly. Without thinking he reached out, to pull her back—but she stepped further away and he felt like he’d been kicked in the stomach as he watched her awkwardly smooth her hair and straighten her clothes.

 “Why—?" he helplessly demanded. The urge to drag her back and take what she had denied him felt like a monster clawing its way out of his chest. His fingers were curling compulsively into into claws that he couldn’t corporealize.

 And then he felt it, her fear. He was scaring her. She thought he would force himself on her.

 He felt sick. He wouldn’t—He would never—never hurt her. But, she thought he would, still.

 He looked away from her, fighting to reign in the thrum of want that pulsed through him. Everything was a million times worse now. He’d been resigned to his fate; but now after tasting the forbidden—

 He wanted to live.

 He also wanted to die. Right then. So that he wouldn’t have to endure another second of whatever vengeance Granger seemed determined to wreak upon him.

 He hadn’t realized she could be cruel. In the scenarios he’d imagined, she’d merely declined and left him to die. This was worse, and it confused him. It was contradictory to everything he thought he knew about her. That she hated him had been one thing to accept, but whatever this was, it exceed what he had prepared himself for.

 Granger was staring at him concernedly and her face filled with remorse.

 “I’m sorry, Malfoy, it was the only thing I could do to bring you back.”

 She hovered over him worriedly, maintaining a careful distance, and cast another diagnostic spell.

 “Can you see now?”

 “What?” Draco said confusedly, before realizing that the room was flooded with light and warm enough to suffocate him. He stared at Granger with rising horror.

 “What did you do?" he demanded.

 “I—” Hermione blushed, “Well, it was the only way to bring you back. I read about it in a book on magical bonds. It’s temporary, to relieve you of your—symptoms. It fades after a few days, but it gives us some time.”

 “Time for what?" he asked although he was pretty damn sure he knew exactly where she was going. Everything made sense again, Granger was a martyr, all was once again predictable in the world.

 “For us to talk. To figure out what to do. Whether we can work something out together.”

 Draco drew himself up and brushed nonexistent lint from his shoulders.

 “There’s nothing for us to talk about, Granger. This doesn’t change anything. I told you already that I find you vile and loathsome. Taking advantage of me in a weakened state in order to fulfill your hero complex doesn’t change anything. Get out of my house,” he snarled.

 Hermione crumpled slightly and Draco stepped toward her without thinking. She was hurting, he could feel it, not at his rejection but from something else.

 She held her hand up to ward him off and he froze, struggling to mask his concern.

 She straightened.

 “Well. That’s more intense than I’d expected.”

She took a deep, steadying breath.

 “What is?” He asked suspiciously.

 “Our emotional bond. Feeling you. I hadn’t realized—”

 “Our what?” Draco choked.

 “Yes.” Hermione said brightly, a sly smile playing on her lips. “The temporary bond works by sharing the magic that’s wreaking havoc in you by siphoning some of it into me. That means that things go both ways now. So I can feel you the way you’ve been able to feel me.”

 She cocked her head to the side and looked at him thoughtfully.

 “I would almost believe that you find me vile and loathsome if you hadn’t felt like dying as you said it.” Her expression softened into one tinged with sadness, “Does thinking about me always hurt this much?”




Chapter Text

The number of emotions running through Malfoy as he stood gaping at her were enough to make Hermione’s head spin.

It was difficult to think straight with them rushing upon her like an incoming tide. It was also hard to separate her own feelings from his; they tended to bleed into each other and resonate into a feedback loop that grew and grew.

It made her dizzy. She had no idea how Malfoy had hidden the experience for years while working with her.

It hadn’t been her first choice to create a temporary bond, more like Plan E in her collated list of backup plans. She’d hoped they’d just be able to talk, but he was too far gone. She’d needed to shout in order for him to hear her, and she could tell by the way his eyes lost track of her that he could barely see.

She hadn’t expected the experience to be quite so—overwhelming, both physically and emotionally.

It had felt like a supernova in her brain when their lips had touched and the sensation spread through her body like fiendfyre. And then, before the shock had worn off, Draco’s emotions had hit her like a ton of bricks. She could feel the desire roaring through him, a simply shocking level of affection and, even in the midst of their kiss, his endless worry that he might hurt her.

And when he had started kissing along her neck and letting his hands roam up her body, Hermione was barely coherent enough to realized that if she did not stop them they would mate , right there on the floor.

Pulling away from someone had never felt painful before. It felt like a part of herself were ripping as she pushed Draco away.

His eyes were black with desire as he’d stared at her, his chest heaving as he shuddered to breathe. Feeling the way he was burning with want made her worry that he’d drag her back into his arms. But almost as quickly as the thought occurred it was snuffed out as she felt Draco sense it, and she felt how it devastated him.

He wanted to die. It was a wave of depression and resignation magnified by his torment over their kiss. She felt like she was being swallowed by it. Fighting to think clearly was felt like wading through a bog.

She—she needed to redirect his focus—before they were both completely consumed by his emotions.

“I’m sorry, Malfoy, it was the only thing I could do to bring you back," she tried to explain.

 She funneled her focus onto herself, trying to untangle her thoughts and feelings from his.

She needed to see which symptoms the temporary bond had relieved. The mental fog slowly cleared as she focused on the agenda she had made before entering his room earlier that evening.

She cast a diagnostic spell and was pleased to see his fever was gone. That was a great relief as he’d been burning at a temperature that most wizards couldn’t survive. His hearing and senses seemed entirely restored. He was still looking dazed and she wondered if he’d even realized that he was physically feeling better.

“Can you see now?” She pressed, trying to draw his attention away the absolute maelstrom of emotions she would never have imagined him possessing.

“What?" he asked, startled. Before glancing around the room wildly and then turning back to her with an expression of horror.

“What did you do?" he growled.

“Well…” She could feel him throwing up defensive walls around himself as she explained.

As he stood up she could feel how he braced himself to push her away.

“There’s nothing for us to talk about, Granger. This doesn’t change anything. I told you already that I find you vile and loathsome. Taking advantage of me in a weakened state in order to fulfill your hero complex doesn’t change anything. Now get out of my house.”

Hermione would have rolled her eyes at the emptiness of his words if his own feelings hadn’t nearly bowled her over. It was like her heart was being ripped from her chest.

She couldn’t help herself, she crumpled slightly from the intensity. She could feel his concern well up as he moved toward her.

She held her hand out to ward him off.

It would be a very bad thing if they touched. She could still feel their blood thrumming, and she doubted she had the ability to push him away again if he were to kiss her.

She took a deep breath and straightened herself.

“Well. That’s more intense than I’d expected," she observed.

“What is?" he asked suspiciously.

“Our emotional bond. Feeling you. I hadn’t realized—”

“Our what?” he choked.

“Yes. The temporary bond makes things go both ways. I can feel you the way you’ve been able to feel me.” She gave him a look. “I would almost believe that you find me vile and loathsome if you hadn’t felt like your heart was being ripped out of your chest as you said it. Does thinking about me always hurt you this much?”

He looked as shocked and horrified as if she’d suddenly transformed into Snape dancing about in a tea towel. Then he bolted for the door.

It was locked. Hermione had warded it with every obscure spell she could think of after she’d entered.

He threw himself at the door several times before slamming his forehead against it and slumping slightly in defeat.

“Please take your damn wards down, Granger,” he asked softly.

‘Not until we’ve talked about this more,” Hermione replied evenly, walking back over to the couch where she had started her evening, seating herself.

“There isn’t anything left to talk about. This doesn’t change anything. I’m still not going to bond with you," he said, but he walked over to the sitting area and seated himself tensely on the arm of a wingback chair.

“Maybe not,” Hermione agreed. “But I would like to have at least one honest conversation with you before we decide that. The playing field is evened now, there’s no point in lying to me about how you feel. So let’s see if we can talk without insulting each other.”

Hermione could feel Draco’s irritation with her and couldn’t stop her lips from twitching slightly in amusement.

Check, Malfoy, she thought rather smugly.

“Do you think this is funny, Granger?” Draco demanded. “I’m not some challenge or cause for you to overcome. Do you know what would happen if we bonded without reciprocating emotionally? We’d be soul-bound, but only physically. You wouldn’t be able to refuse me even if you wanted to. But you could still fall for someone else, just without being able to act on it. And I’d feel it. Every second of your dissatisfaction and regret until we died. And I’d rather die now than live through that.”

“Draco.” Hermione said softly. “Does it feel like I’m here because I feel guilty?”

He stared at her for a minute before closing his eyes.

“No,” he admitted. “I don’t know why you’re here.”

“I’m here because we have a little under a week to see if there’s a chance that I might be able to have feelings for you.”

“You don’t.” Draco said flatly. “I would know, if you did.”

"Maybe. But considering that you also believe I hate you, I don’t think your ability to read my feelings is as accurate as you think," she pointed out.

“Really Granger, you’re going to try to convince me that you’ve harbored some secret crush on me all these years?” Malfoy asked, opening his eyes just to roll them at her.

“N-no.” Hermione stuttered. “But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t ever noticed you. It just wasn’t something I considered plausible enough to actually entertain.”

Malfoy’s eyes popped open and he stared at her in astonishment.

“What do you mean?" he demanded.

“Well...” Hermione felt her cheeks blushing deep scarlet as she admitted something she had never imagined owning up to anyone, much less him.

“You- you’re not exactly bad looking," she stuttered.

 “I’m not exactly bad looking?” Malfoy repeated, looking as smug as a kneazle who caught a gnome.

 “You know…” Hermione didn’t think she had ever felt so embarrassed in her entire life, it didn’t help that she could feel how absurdly pleased Malfoy was. “You’re-”

She gestured toward him futilely, finding her vocabulary failing her for the first time in her life.

“I’m—?” Malfoy prompted with a drawl.

“I’m not having this conversation,” Hermione declared, drawing herself up.

“Now, now, Granger,” Malfoy chided. “Considering you entered my warded bedroom, forced me to admit my interest in you, and kissed me without permission, it’s only fair that you tell me this. Being an honorable Gryffindor and all that.”

 “I didn’t notice you minding that kiss,” Hermione pointed out hotly.

I didn’t notice you minding it either,” Draco shot back.

Hermione shot him a dirty look before resigning herself.

“Fine," she huffed. “I think you can be rather attractive. When you’re not sneering at me, you have rather nice, classical features. I’ve always had a thing for blonds, I don’t know why. And your quidditch uniform—looked very nice on you when you used to play.”

She plowed ahead trying to get it over with as quickly as possible and determined not to look at Malfoy until she was done. “And you’re very smart. I don’t like that you’re so manipulative, but I respect how intelligent you are, and I—I did appreciate how you could maneuver yourself politically in ways that I can’t in order to help my work in passing bills like the WRA. I know there are parts to Ministry politics that I’m inept at and I appreciated your ability to make up for my shortcomings. I—I have enjoyed working with you, Malfoy.”

Whatever Malfoy might be feeling at her confession he had tamped down hard enough that she could barely read him. But his gaze felt hot enough to melt steel, even without seeing it.

“The hardest part,” she continued, determined to get it all out in one go, “honestly, was feeling that you never actually cared about any of the things you were helping me with. That you were just doing it to control how my legislation might affect or benefit Malfoy Holdings and save up favours to call in at some point in the future.” She paused for a breath and then finished, “B-because, I think we could have become friends and maybe—maybe I could have started to like you, if I hadn’t always just felt you were using me.”

She fell silent and looked at him.

“I see," he said finally.

“But as it turns out, you’re more complicated and honourable than I imagined.”

“Honourable?” Malfoy laughed bitterly. “Really?”

“I’ve been researching magical bonds all day, Malfoy. I know there are any number of ways you could successfully bind us without needing me to reciprocate at all. The fact that you didn’t, and that fact that you tried to protect me from even knowing—regardless of whether or not I find that somewhat unfair and misguided—shows me how honourable you were. It’s not like you’re facing a quick death, you’ve been fighting toward this for a long time now; and that’s meaningful to me.”

“Whatever.” He shrugged, feigning indifference despite the fact Hermione could feel his gratification. “I’m not a monster, Granger, I don’t know what sort of low view you have of most wizards.”

“A pretty reasonable one, actually.“ Hermione said primly. “The Ministry did an investigation into coerced magical bonds a few years before the war. Obviously it’s a hard thing to draw firm evidence from after the fact, but they concluded that coercion probably accounts for most of the bonds formed that didn’t have any previous romantic relationship recorded. Considering that there aren’t records of a single magical being dying from not bonding in the last hundred years, the study estimates that between a hundred and thirty-six to two hundred wizarding folk may have been coerced into bonding since then. If I hadn’t kissed you, Malfoy, by tomorrow evening you would have been the first one.”

“Maybe they’ll build me a monument for good behavior,” Malfoy quipped. “They could stick it next to one of Scar-head’s. Draco Malfoy, Quarter Veela with the best fucking self-control.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“The point is, Malfoy, the amount of self control you’ve exercised literally defies bonding magic. It’s not supposed to be resistible. It’s a failsafe to keep you alive. That’s why I took your wand away before I woke you up...but you didn’t even try anything. Quite the opposite actually. And when I kissed you and then pulled away, you stopped. I should have had to stun you.”

“Well, I can tell you that it was fucking difficult.”

There was a long silence after that, as they sat contemplating the other. Hermione tried another topic.

“Did you know, the reason your mother gave me that grant for orphaned werewolves five years ago was because she was already certain I was going to be her daughter-in-law?”

Draco couldn’t hide his irritation and confusion. “That must be wrong. I didn’t even know then.”

“Perhaps your mother knows you better than you do.,” Hermione teased. “She says you liked me since fourth year at least.”

“That’s an utter lie,” Draco growled, but he blushed positively crimson.

“Well, it does answer a question I’ve been pondering for years. I spent ages trying to guess what it was that she wanted when she agreed to fund the fosterage program with me. It was a properly slytherin way to position me. This would be a lot more shocking if we hadn’t already been working together for so many years.”

She said it lightly, because she could admire Narcissa’s cleverness and foresight in a complicated and fraught situation. But deep down the realization hurt. Was it all feigned? Like me, accept my money so you’ll save my son when I need you to.

Hermione dismissed the train of thought. Narcissa would do whatever it took to protect and save Draco, the whole world knew that. Hermione could hardly imagine having children of her own, but mightn't she do something similar of it meant keeping them alive? She’d done things to protect Harry and Ron that had been only a few shades shy of dark magic. And made choices because someone had to make them, and it might as well be her carrying the burden.

 “I’m sorry, Granger,” Malfoy said suddenly.

 “What?”

“For my mother. If I’d known what she was doing I would have stopped her. What she did makes things difficult for you without changing anything.”

“What do you mean?”

Malfoy sighed.

“I’m not going to change my mind. There isn’t any choice for you to make, whether you decide you want to save me or not. I won’t agree to it.”

“And just why do you get to decide that by yourself?” Hermione demanded hotly.

“Because I created this situation, so it’s my prerogative.”

“But I’m part of it too! It’s unfair of you to make the decision without even consulting me.”

“Really?” Malfoy snarled. “Do you think it would be more fair for me to say decision is up to you? That I’ll just go along with living or dying based on what you want?”

“I—“ Hermione faltered, at loss.

“Just accept that I don’t want your help, Granger.”

“Why is my help such a bad thing?”

“Has it never occurred to you that not everyone wants to be one of your charity cases? I’m not a bloody house elf or a werewolf orphan or Harry Potter.”

“Has it ever occurred to you, Malfoy, that I don’t do these things out of charity? I do them because I care,” Hermione snapped.

“Not for me. It wouldn’t be that way for me,” Malfoy said coldly. “If you made that choice you’d do it because you felt like you had to, because no one else can save me but you.”

 Hermione was silent.

“But if you die, Malfoy, I’ll feel responsible for it for the rest of my life,” she said quietly.

“But you’ll have your life,” he seethed. “Someday maybe you’ll realize that it isn’t your responsibility to save everyone. That you don’t always have to help just because you can. Have you seen yourself, Granger? There’s barely anything left that you haven’t sacrificed. Your research opportunities. Your graduation. Even your parents! You always give something up rather than realize that it doesn’t always have to be you. When was the last time you did something just because you wanted to and not because you also felt you had to?”

 Hermione stared at him.

“And why shouldn’t I? Should I just ignore the werewolves because research would be more fun? Or have abandoned Harry because I’d miss my parents? Maybe it shouldn’t always be me but I don’t see anyone else stepping up. And in this case, there’s no one else. It is just me. And if I’m willing to save you I don’t see why you won’t let me.”

 “Because I don’t want to be saved by you just because you feel like you have to.” He was properly furious now. “I’m in love with you.”

 Hermione stared at him. She knew, but somehow hearing him say it made the air shimmer with magic.

 “I’m in love with you,” he said again, despairingly. “And that means I want you to be as happy as you possibly can. And you won’t be, not with me.”

 Hermione opened her mouth to try to argue but he pressed on.

 “There is nothing for you to do. There is no decision for you to make. Unless you’re planning on ignoring my wishes and essentially raping me,” he sneered as he said it, “there is nothing you can do to save me.”

 Hermione sat staring at him at loss.

 “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do," she breathed, looking down at her hands. “But I can’t just ignore this. Now that I know. You can’t just tell me not to try to help.”

 “I know.” Malfoy said sadly. There was something about his tone…

 Hermione head shot up. His wand was back in his hand, somehow he’d recovered it when she wasn’t looking. She snatched up her own but he’d already hissed,

 Obliviate.”

Chapter Text

Seven months earlier.

Hermione Granger was sitting in the warm sunshine on the grass outside Hogwarts. The heat of the unseasonably warm spring day was seeping into her skin and no one was disrupting her steady progress through the pile of books she had just checked out of the library.

Her neck was growing slightly tense from looking down onto the page and she tried to lift her head to twist and relieve it.

Her head was stuck.

She tried again.

She seemed to be, lodged against something.

She tried turning and couldn’t do that either. There was, she realized, a sharp corner digging into her back. She tried reaching back to find it and found... a wall of some sort.

“You know, Granger, the fact that everyone says you live in this office doesn’t mean you have to prove them right.”

Draco Malfoy’s drawling voice invaded her thoughts like an unexpected bucket of ice water.

Her eyes popped open and she found herself curled up under her Ministry desk. Draco Malfoy was casually seated in her chair, with his feet on her desk, folding origami and smirking down at her.

She scrambled out with as much dignity as she could manage.

“I hope you aren’t planning to bill the Ministry for that nap.“ He noted, as his eyes skimmed from her head to her toes, as though he were cataloging every wrinkle and rumple of her clothing, the dreadful state of her hair, her ragged nails, and general appearance of dishevelment.

Hermione tried to straighten and decided not to correct him by admitting she had actually been there all night.

Her neck was in agony. She rolled it and it made such a loud crack that Malfoy actually flinched.

“When did you get here, Malfoy?” she inquired groggily.

“A few minutes ago, I believe we had a meeting. Although, how is it that no one mentioned the Ministry was instituting casual Mondays?”

Hermione froze. She was in muggle clothes in her office.

“Oh, bollo—“ she started to curse and then clapped her hands over her mouth when she realized Malfoy looked about ready to burst out laughing at her. He really didn’t need any new material with which to taunt her.

“I fell asleep here last night when I got back from Scotland,” she admitted.

“And how are the lochs this fine February?”

She shivered. A wizarding water park company had been endeavoring to forcibly evict a huge colony on selkies residing in one of the Scottish lochs. It was completely illegal but everyone in the Ministry had been turning a blind eye to it until it reached Hermione’s desk in the legal branch of the Department of Magical Creatures.

She’d had to drop everything and go there in order to go stop it and had spent the entire weekend, chest deep in freezing water, acting simultaneously as a legal defense and translator (since no one on the eviction crew considered merfolk worthy of communicating with.)

It had been brutal and Hermione wasn’t sure if she would ever stop feeling cold. There were severe limitations to what warming charms could do.

“I got it resolved,” she said shortly.

“You better have,” Malfoy grumbled. “After the way you derailed my weekend. If I’d wanted to be a Ministry hack I wouldn’t have bothered being born the handsome and eligible heir of a wealthy estate.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“I’m sure wizarding world will find it within itself to forgive you for skipping this weekend’s play or concert or whatever it was in order to plaster your face across the society pages again next week.”

“Been looking, have you?” He quirked an aristocratic eyebrow at her.

Hermione snorted.

“Hardly. But it seems to be the only thing Parvati does at times.”

She reached back and rubbed the nape of her neck. The tension that radiated from there never seemed to subside and falling asleep under her desk had not improved things.

She’d lost an entire weekend because it seemed that no one else in the Ministry was interested in enforcing the law when it came to the rights of Magical Beings. She couldn’t understand the indifference. Why was wizarding society so eager to always shove individuals into categories of otherness that made them undeserving of basic rights and protections?

The amount of work already on her desk was enough to make her feel ill but she forced herself to ask “Did you want me to take over the rest of the transformation zone appraisals?”

Draco had happened to stop in at her office on Friday and found her in an absolute state. She’d just found out about the selkies and was trying to wrap up all her work before heading out. She’d managed everything but appraising potential werewolf transformation zones. She had been planning to do it over the weekend.

Albert Runcorn, as Wizengamot oversight head of the Department of Magical Creatures, had abruptly called another committee hearing regarding Hermione’s primary reason for working at the Ministry: the Werewolf Rights Act. He’d accused her of under-estimating the cost of creating werewolf transformation zones. Hermione was required to show that there were at least ten sites well below her budget proposal. Runcorn had demanded specific numbers and that she include a proposed contract with the prospective sellers and a price estimate on warding the designated areas; which meant that she would need to survey the entire property line of each one in order to calculate the exact type of wards needed.

She’d been given six days to complete it without any extensions on the rest of her workload. She’d thought she could manage it, assuming sleep was unnecessary, until the crisis in the Scottish loch had landed on her desk.

She’d been near tears.

The transformation zones were a key leg of the WRA legislation, failing at the hearing would have endangered the entire WRA. But according to the last census there were over a thousand selkies residing in that loch. The merfolk were extremely territorial and rooted to their body of water. They couldn’t be simply moved. Even if it didn’t result in a full-on battle, the trauma would have killed hundreds of them, especially the merbabies, who were highly susceptible to shock when introduced to new water. The eviction would have been genocide.

Then Malfoy waltzed in. He lobbied at the Ministry on behalf of Malfoy Holdings.  Apparently in the most recent draft she’d misspelled ‘werewolf’ as ‘werewoof’ once. He had found it so amusing that he came all the way to the Ministry just to taunt her about it.

After throwing a fit that she was going to Scotland at all he’d demanded she hand over the transformation zone appraisals to him. She’d been skeptical but there wasn’t anything else to do. She tried to make sure he understood exactly what it would entail and he’d just glared at her, snatched the scroll of parchment out of her hands, and stormed away.

She was sure he couldn’t have finished it all in two days but she hoped he’d taken it seriously enough to have done at least a few.

“You doubt me still.” He sighed with a flick of his wand. A pile of thick scrolls of parchment suddenly appeared on her desk.

Hermione gaped. There were at least fifteen.

“You finished it?” She squeaked.

“I told you, your selkie rights campaign derailed my weekend,” he grumped. “Nineteen of them better be enough to satisfy both you and Runcorn.”

Hermione felt ready to cry with relief. This—was beyond all her expectations. She’d hoped to have at least twelve options to present. She would have hugged Malfoy if she weren’t sure it would horrify him and result in getting hexed.

She unfurled a parchment to look over the numbers.

“How on earth did you manage this?” she marveled.

“Because, unlike you, I am familiar with the concept of delegation,” he snarked.

“How many people did you make work over the weekend?” she inquired.

“Only a handful. Land surveys are actually not a speciality of Malfoy Holdings. I had to do most of it myself,” he whined.

“I hope you paid them well,” she said severely, unfurling another scroll to inspect the numbers written out in Malfoy’s unfairly perfect penmanship.

“Of course. Merlin forbid that anyone perform unpaid overtime unless they happen to be named Granger.” He rolled his eyes. “After the WRA passes I am going to demand my father give me at least a month on a beach with women who actually know to comb their hair. You look a fright. I‘m going go need therapy to recover from finding you under that desk. I thought you were a vagrant.”

Hermione felt her cheeks grow hot. It wasn’t as if she cared very much about her appearance, but having Malfoy constantly informing her of how excessively unattractive he found her was enough to wound even her shreds of vanity.

“Yes. Well, standing chest-deep in a loch for two days while it’s snowing and having to dive under to speak mermish every few minutes is not exactly conducive to good hair or one’s general health. It’s not as though anyone there wanted me, so they went out of their way to make it as difficult as possible," she said stiffly. “I’m sorry I offended your delicate sensibilities when you came, uninvited I might add, into my office.”

He stared at her silently for a minute while she continued review his work.

“Go home, Granger," he said at length.

“I can’t," she ground out. “I have twelve cases from the DMLE to review.”

But—she felt so tired and cold. Although she’d scourgified her hair upon emerging from the loch she still felt as though there was algae in it. She’d dragged herself back to the Ministry rather than going home last night because she’d been worried about what other things might be happening that no one would care about except her.

“None of those case reviews are due until Wednesday. If you stay here today and work you’re going to risk failing at the committee hearing tomorrow and jeopardize the entire WRA. Go home, Granger. The Ministry can survive a day without you pulling a twelve hour shift.”

“It’s not the Ministry’s survival I’m worried about," she retorted, inspecting another scroll.

Malfoy hissed. She could feel his growing irritation with her.

“No. But you should care about the WRA’s.”

She ground her jaw. Trust Malfoy to always go for the throat.

“I do," she snapped. “But unlike you and your exclusively monetary interest, I don’t have the luxury of only caring about werewolves.”

“Then have Parvati owl you if something comes up. I mean it, Granger. Go home or I will stun and levitate you there myself.” His tone was clipped. “I’ll finish up the appraisals for tomorrow and get the business grant brief completed. But I will not let you destroy our work out of obstinance. And, when you’re no longer exhausted to a point of near incoherence, I’ll expect you to thank me for it. Now, go home.”

Hermione’s fingers itched to slap him.

He was such a rude, arrogant, controlling git. If she didn’t know deep down that he was right about tomorrow she’d hate him. But he was right, she couldn’t afford any mistakes at the committee hearing.

It was just—so hard to rely on anyone.

Every time she handed off even a little of her workload to someone else it seemed like Runcorn got them reassigned to a new branch in the Department. Malfoy was the only one who hadn’t disappeared—and he was only there to make money off her.

“Fine," she agreed, putting his scroll back onto the desk.

The angry expression of his face eased and his eyes became mocking again.

“Now. Was that really so hard?" he drawled.

She glared at him, gathering up her things. She hated letting him win.

“You know, it’s really too bad you never care about anything but money, Malfoy. You could actually be a fairly decent person.”

 “Would that I could. I wonder, what would you think of me then?” He said with a smirk as he vanished the scrolls into his pocket with a flick of his wand.

She blinked at the question. She wasn’t sure.

“As it happens,” he continued, “there are other things I care about. They just happen to be things you are utterly incapable of appreciating.” His voice was unsettlingly suggestive.

“And I’m sure I never will,” she said, shooting him a pinched expression as she turned to leave her office.

 When she pulled the office door open and walked out accompanied by Malfoy, Parvati looked astonished.

“When did you get here, Malfoy?” she gasped. Hermione habitually arrived before Parvati did.

“I let myself in when you were distracted practicing that new beauty charm of yours.” he informed her snidely. “You should look into a bigger mirror. I could have smuggled in a quidditch team without your noticing.”

Parvati flushed and busied herself with filing.

Hermione studied her unreliable assistant for a moment.

“I’m going to go home for the day, Parvati," she finally forced herself to say. “I need you to owl me immediately if anything comes up. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” Parvati shrugged.

“Then I’ll be going.” Hermione sighed and turned to look up at Malfoy.

“You’ll really take care of everything?” she asked cautiously.

“Have I ever let you down when it comes to the WRA?" he inquired coolly.

“No.” She wasn’t sure why it felt like such a hard thing to admit.

 “Then I won’t tomorrow either. Lay down the weight of the world for a minute. We’ve all survived quite well without you.”

She eyed him with uncertainty for a moment and then turned away, heading for the atrium.

She’d never wanted a bath so much.


 

Draco watched Hermione’s slowly retreating figure.

He’d known his weekend would end up being hell the moment he noticed her panicking through the bond. Using an eraser charm to put a spelling error in her WRA draft had been a sufficiently petty excuse to come to the Ministry and find out why.

He wished Runcorn and the selkie eviction team slow deaths.

He sighed and headed home. He had flown his broom along the properly lines of forty different locations before he’d found enough that would suit. And then he’d added some extras to ensure Granger wouldn’t find it necessary to go survey any more when she returned.

When he’d gotten back, at some ungodly hour the previous night, he’d realized she was back from Scotland and unconscious within the Ministry.

That had worried him.

Then again, everything in Granger’s life had a habit of worrying him, even before he’d gone and unintentionally bonded himself to her. Utilizing the Veela magic meant to coerce him into mating with her simply made it easier to know when the situation was serious.

He’d found her in her office, passed out with exhaustion under her desk, shivering violently. After dropping his cloak on her and casting several warming charms she’d finally stilled, and—he’d stayed.

He couldn’t seem to drag himself away, even though he was sure it was extremely creepy of him to be sitting there, watching her sleep. He’d already made himself irredeemably creepy for having spent the last two years doing what could only be described as stalking her emotions. Getting to be near her for once without needing to verbally spar with her—he hadn’t realized how desperately he craved that.

So he’d sat, through the night, renewing the warming charms when they wore off, and trying and failing miserably at not staring at her the whole time. Wondering if he was going to survive long enough for them to pass the WRA together.

The unbound Veela magic was steadily killing him.

He was running out of time.

He only wanted to last until the WRA passed in the hopes that, by some miracle, he could convince her to quit the Ministry afterward. He was sure she’d work herself into an early grave otherwise.

Her obsessive work tendencies kept her so stressed she never managed to notice how he seemed to conveniently appear at every crises; and while he couldn’t deny that he’d gladly seize almost any opportunity to insert himself into her life—it worried him.

What would she do to herself, when he wasn’t there to help her anymore? He couldn’t understand why no one else seemed to worry about how overworked she was.

Standing in his room he mused over the problem as he downed one potion after another. A libido tamper. A warming potion. A fever reducer. A vile tasting general purpose bonding relief draught.

As they settled in his stomach he noticed that their effects seemed—faint. If they were losing their efficacy it meant he’d need to double them all again. Although—eventually, regardless of quantity, they wouldn’t work at all, and that would be the end of him.

He turned away with a sigh. There was a twisted irony in helping Hermione Granger save magical creatures while dying from being a magical creature.

He only hoped she would never come to appreciate it.

Chapter Text

Present

 

Hermione slipped into her flat that night feeling as though she had been trampled by a herd of hippogriffs.

Her day at the Ministry had been more wearing than she’d expected. Probably due to how nervous she felt reaching the final stretch of passing the WRA.

This was it. The culmination of all her efforts.

It would pass. They had an excess of votes. After three years of work, it was practically a certainty.

The WRA was like a child to her. She had joined the Ministry specifically to pass this legislation. There had been a tempting research position, but she couldn’t look the werewolf orphans in the face without grieving over the kind of future they would find upon reaching adulthood with werewolf rights unaddressed. So she’d turned down the offer of her own lab, put her other projects on a back burner, and joined the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

It had been hard.

Contrary to the beliefs of many of her friends, Hermione hated being what could only be described most days as a glorified paper pusher. The tediousness of red tape and precedent were bad enough, but the politics were what ate at her most. She knew the Ministry was full of corruption and backroom deals but had hoped that it would have improved following all the postwar reform efforts. It had not. She was not a naturally compromising person, she hadn’t come to the Ministry to for a werewolf rights compromise.

And the pettiness had been almost more than she could bear. Politicians were obsessively tit for tat. Even when they were being asked to do something at no cost to themselves, they always wanted to know what she would do for them. Doing what was right was never a good enough reason to do anything.

She had floundered.

She wasn’t stupid. She knew she needed to play politics to get what she wanted, but actually doing so was like trying brew a potion with her feet; possible, but always worse than everyone else.

Her goals were inconvenient, so they drowned her in so much red tape and appeals that it would have taken seven years of court dates just to try to raise the motion to draft a Werewolf Rights Act.

After a year, sitting in her office, up to her ears in piles of paperwork that never seemed to get any smaller, she was ready to give up. She wasn’t naive enough to pretend what she was doing was meaningful. She would slave away for seven years submitting the proper forms and gaining the appropriate clearance to raise the motion just so they could overrule it and start her back at the beginning. At least if she’d gone into research she’s contributing something real, maybe it wouldn’t be as meaningful as werewolf rights, but it would be something.

But slowly the tide began to turn. One day while taking the lift she found herself alone with Blaise Zabini, who after after spending several moments looking terribly constipated turned and said, “You know. Hester Tutley has been trying for years to get the centaur tax credit on his family’s ancestral home in Scotland.”

Then, without another word he stepped off the lift and disappeared, leaving the wheels in Hermione’s head turning.

There were many Wizarding families who had been trying to get the Centaur Land Treaty renegotiated. The original treaty had overlooked some aspects of centaur migration habits which allowed centaurs to sometimes avoid formalizing their land claims. Without the formality the wizards whose properties were claimed were ineligible to have their property taxes written off or receive the additional tax credit. But the centaurs had no inclination to renegotiate the standing treaty and so the motions and attempts to carry it forward were constantly stalled.

As it happened, Hermione was owed what might be described as a favour by the centaurs after she had volunteered to liaise with them as the Wizarding representative in a serial kidnapping case of centaur foals in Scotland. In particular, she had gotten Harry named head auror on the case, rather than allowing it to be handed off to some local investigative team who didn’t want to come within thirty meters of an angry centaur herd.

And Hester Tutley was one of the biggest political donors to some of the very Wizengamot members who had been most assiduously strangling Hermione’s WRA attempts with red tape.

Once Hermione offered the possibility of starting the Centaur Land Treaty renegotiations the appeals against her WRA motion began getting dismissed at a rapid rate. Within three months she was able to get it raised and approved, and at long last she began drafting and people started taking her agenda seriously.

And suddenly Draco Malfoy began appearing in her life with great interest regarding her progress. Initially she had suspected he was there to meddle and retard her efforts but to her surprise Malfoy was highly invested in getting the WRA passed.

In fact, his ambition for it went beyond her own hopes for what could be possible. Beyond non-discrimination and equal opportunities for work and housing, he wanted wolfsbane potion to be reclassified as medically necessary and vital to the interests of the Wizarding world, making it eligible to be subsidized by the Ministry to ensure affordability. He recommended grants be put aside by the Ministry for companies pursuing innovative ways to employ werewolves. That the Ministry provide paid leave for employed werewolves the day after the full moon. He wanted to Ministry to create Werewolf transformation zones; land for werewolves to inhabit and roam through during transformations that would be warded and private for the protection of both wizards and werewolves.

He also, as Hermione learned to her disgust, wanted Malfoy Holdings’ apothecary to corner the market on Wolfsbane Potion. The population was sizable enough to promise a high and reliable source of revenue, especially with the Ministry’s coffers assured.

But despite her reservations she had no choice but to accept his help. He could drum up support anywhere. He brought around business owners by dangling potential research grants. He sketched dire futures for the Wizarding population if werewolf contagion rate remained steady. And The Daily Prophet, whose society pages had seemed to have become his personal house organ in recent years suddenly started featuring a whole series on the need for werewolf reform. Hermione would have been impressed if she hadn’t felt annoyed with him for doing it all just to make more money.

The tiny spark of progress Hermione had managed to coax to life turned into an inferno in Malfoy’s hands and suddenly the Ministry found itself with Healer unions and businesses and demographic specialists and the generally indignant public all clamoring for WRA to be a full fledged reform across the fabric of Wizarding society. A dramatic evolution from the simple non-discrimination act Hermione had set out as her initial goal.

It stunned her, and also earned Malfoy her admiration. He had taken her own dreams for werewolves and shifted the narrative into something that was compelling for the Wizarding world. While it was disheartening to see how clearly self-interest won over anything else, she couldn’t deny the respect she had for his ability to look at the same problem and come up with a more effective solution. At the end of the day, the world would become a better one for werewolves, and that was what mattered most to her.

Standing in front of her fireplace she absent mindedly massaged her temples. Turning toward her kitchen she saw half of the WRA lying on her desk next to a stack of books. She furrowed her brow, trying to remember when she had put them there.

She shook her head. She’d been so absent-minded lately.

Picking up the WRA she carried it into her bedroom with her. She’d told Malfoy she’d send him a copy with the final revisions tomorrow morning before it was sent off for printing.

The next morning she hurried to the Ministry. It had taken hours for her to fall asleep after finishing the WRA and then somehow she overslept and stumbled from bed groggy and in a foul mood.

Riding down the lift to her department she huddled into a corner and tried to conceal her continuous yawning. Rubbing blurry eyes as she stepped off she nearly ran into someone.

Shaking her head slightly she looked up and found Malfoy staring down at her. As she looked up at him a warm goldeny feeling of affection suddenly exploded over her. She wasn’t sure where it came from. Dazedly she smiled at him and it made her feel even more goldeny, as though she were turning into honey on the inside.

“Are you alright, Granger? You look addled,” he inquired, raising a single eyebrow.

That wiped the smile of her face. She straightened and shook her head.

“Just a bit tired," she said dismissively, walking quickly in the direction of her office to avoid letting him see her blush. Where on earth had to all that come from? “What are you doing at the Ministry so early? I thought it was some sort of rule that you never set foot here before noon?”

Malfoy had forced her to reschedule several meetings around his whims, which mostly involved refusing to come to the Ministry early.

“I was expecting to receive the final draft of the WRA this morning. When I didn’t get it I was worried something had come up. You can imagine my surprise that I arrived here before you.“

Hermione blushed again.

“Yes, well, I overslept. And left half of the WRA here for some reason, so I had to come in before I sent it over.”

As they walked down the halls they passed the short hallway that lead to the Magical Bonding offices. There was a caution sign and several wards floating in front of it. A small plaque explained that the offices had been closed due to spell damage and redirected visitors to a conference room.

Hermione paused and stared.

“When did this happen?”

“No idea.” Malfoy said blandly. “It was that way when I got here.”

“I suppose somebody wasn’t interested in being magically bonded.” Hermione surmised. “It seems a bit selfish though, don’t you think? It’s not like magical beings can help it.”

“I don’t know. I think it’s up to the magical being not to try bonding with someone who isn’t interested.” Malfoy said callously. “If they don’t have the sense to do that it’s pretty unfair for them to expect the other person to make all the sacrifices necessary to fix it.”

“Still…” Hermione said quietly, staring down the hall. She wondered who they were; magical bonding was kept highly confidential. “I hope they’ll change their mind.”

“I’m sure everything will resolve itself,” was all Malfoy said as he continued towards her office.

“Parvati,” Hermione greeted her assistant. “Did I leave the first half of the WRA with you yesterday?”

"Yes.” Parvati pulled it out of her desk. “I took it down to printing like you asked , but they were renewing the printer spells and said they wouldn’t be done until noon today. So it’s still here.”

Hermione gnawed her lip trying to remember giving it to Parvati. The memory seemed to be dancing just out of reach.

“Miss Granger?”

Hermione turned around and found Emeliory Bogfeld smiling at her.

“Hello?” she greeted. “Are you alright? I saw the caution wards around your office when I came in. What happened?”

Emeliory’s eyes widened slightly.

“The door was blown up with a fireball,” she said significantly, she paused for a moment but when Hermione said nothing she continued. “But other than the door and some fire damage to the walls everything is fine. Things like that happen occasionally in magical bonding.”

Malfoy popped out of Hermione’s office. Emeliory’s face seemed to tighten slightly at the sight of him.

“Mr. Malfoy, I didn’t realize you’d be here.”

Malfoy smiled beatifically at her.

“Malfoy Holdings has a vested interest in passing the WRA. So I’m here to make sure nothing gets Granger off track.”

Hermione shot him an irritated look but he continued, blithely,

“We have loads of revisions to review so we really can’t chat. Granger!”

He held open the door, inviting her into her own office. Hermione ignored him and turned back to Emeliory.

“Well, I hope everything gets resolved well.”

“Me too,” Emeliory said sincerely. “Well, I’ll let you go. Let me know if you happen to need me for anything,” she seemed to change her tone slightly so her voice would carry more, “I’ll be in the conference room next to your office for the next week.”

Then she turned and walked away. Hermione watched her in confusion. There seemed to be some unspoken antagonism between Malfoy and Emeliory and she felt as if she were inadvertently stuck in the middle of it.

“What on earth is going on with you and Emeliory?” she asked as she walked into the office.

Malfoy scrunched his nose in distaste.

“The woman is nosy and meddlesome. She’s an old friend of my mother, and we have some irreconcilable differences in opinion.”

Hermione studied him remembering his comments as they had stood outside the Magical Bonding offices.

“Because she’s in magical bonding?” she inquired. He looked at her sharply.

“No," he said, shrugging. “It’s more general than that.”

Hermione stared at him skeptically before moving on to business.

“I didn’t make many changes this last time through the WRA. Mostly a few tweaks in wording and then I rearranged some of the subsections regarding the reclassification of Wolfsbane Potion at the recommendation of Healer Abasi...”

Malfoy was haunting her. Hermione was convinced of it. The man wouldn’t leave. Every time she felt sure they were done, he’d suddenly come up with something else for them to discuss. And when she finally managed to get him out of her office, he managed to rematerialized in the cafeteria before she could even speak two words to anyone else and insisted on joining her for lunch.

She stared at him as he poked suspiciously at what they had been told was game pie, but did not contain any varieties of meat Hermione had encountered before. After prodding it inquisitively on all sides and he pushed it away with a sigh.

“Malfoy, what are you doing here?” Hermione asked. He looked up at her and she felt that gooey affectionate wave come all over her as their eyes met. She looked away.

“What do you mean?" he quirked an eyebrow at her.

She gestured toward him.

“What are you doing here, in the cafeteria, with me?” she repeated.

Malfoy widened his eyes innocently.

“We’re eating lunch," he said sweetly.

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“You have never eaten lunch in this cafeteria before. What is it that you want?”

Malfoy lay his hands over his heart. He had long slender fingers that stood out starkly against his black robes.

"Maybe I simply find myself unable to stay away from your delightful company,” he cooed.

Hermione glared at him.

“Come now, Granger. How can you doubt my sincerity? Have you seen yourself. You’re a delight. Under that frightful bird’s nest you call hair and the dark circles from the thousand sleepless nights you’ve spent saving the world, a man would have to be blind to resist your charms.” He gestured toward her lazily with his fork.

Hermione gritted her teeth. Whenever they shifted even slightly from being focused on work he became compulsively sarcastic.

“For Merlin’s sake, Malfoy.” She rolled her eyes at him. “If you don’t tell me what you want I’m going to invite Luna to join us.”

Malfoy stiffened as Hermione gestured toward the woman who had entered the cafeteria. For reasons that Hermione couldn’t fully comprehend, Malfoy found Luna’s cryptical nonsense entirely unnerving. Becoming an Unspeakable had made Luna only more mysterious and Hermione had noticed his tendency to edge out of the room whenever she got anywhere near him.

“Fine.” He conceded, “delightful as I find your company, I’ll admit, I’m actually here to make sure nothing happens at the eleventh hour to derail the WRA. As you’re the crucial piece in this whole affair that means you’re stuck with me for the next several days.” He shot her a tight lipped smile.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

 “For Merlin’s sake," she huffed. “First of all, that’s entirely ridiculous. Secondly, even if you are concerned that something will happen, that doesn’t mean you have to lurk about as though someone is going to hex me in the cafeteria. People are staring. I can only imagine the gossip that’s going to go around after this.”

“What can I say.” Malfoy said dismissively. “Malfoy Holdings has invested a great deal into passing the WRA, for that reason I can handle a slight bruising to my reputation. I’m taking Astoria Greengrass to a ball next weekend and I’m sure it will make everyone forget I was ever seen lunching with you.”

Hermione looked away and Malfoy continued.

“Besides, it’s father’s orders, so.” He shrugged as if there was nothing else to be said and there wasn’t. Lucius Malfoy had handed the lobbying of the Ministry over to Draco but still ruled with a tight rein. Malfoy had made it quite clear to Hermione early on that he was only working with her because he had to.

“Father’s orders,” meant that there was no point in arguing unless she was willing to go confront Lucius himself.

Hermione stabbed her salad viciously.

“Fine," she agreed and then devoted herself to ignoring him.

He followed her around the Ministry and lounged in her office perusing her books as she worked. Sometime she thought she felt his eyes on her; whenever it happened she felt those odd waves of emotion that felt as though they belonged to someone else, sometimes they were affectionate and other times very sad. Startled, she’d look up. But whenever she did he was busy reading or conjuring up flocks of hummingbirds or transfiguring her cushions into voluptuous women who shimmied about suggestively on her armchairs.

Rolling her eyes, she tried to focus, but Malfoy was almost impossible to ignore. She would be composing a memo and then find herself staring at him. Whenever he noticed her looking he’d mock her with his trademark smirk until she blushed and looked away.

At the end of the day she found herself less than half as productive as she normally was. She gritted her teeth and stood to pack up.

“At last,” Malfoy said with a sigh, springing up from his seat.

Hermione slipped all her unfinished memos into her briefcase and slung it onto her shoulder.

Malfoy followed her all the way up to the floo network.

“See you tomorrow, Granger,” he called with a smirk.

Hermione was still rolling her eyes as the fireplace spat her out into her living room.

The next morning Malfoy was waiting for her when she stepped back out of the floo into the Ministry.

“For heaven’s sake, Malfoy," she hissed. “Could you possibly be less subtle? At the rate you’re going Harry and Ron are going to hear about this in America. I already got a concerned owl from Ginny because of lunch yesterday!”

She held up the note.

 

“Less subtle.” He pondered for a moment and then with a flick of his wand conjured a massive bouquet of flowers which he dropped into her arms.

Cheeks aflame she shoved her hand into her pocket and pulled out her own wand.

Incendio ," she hissed and watched as the flowers burst into flames. Dropping them into the floor as the fire merrily burned away she stormed over and stabbed the button for the lift.

Malfoy was right behind her.

“Come now, Granger. Can’t a lobbyist give his favorite Ministry worker an occasional token of his appreciation?" he cajoled as he slipped into the packed lift beside her.

“No!” she hissed. Pushing the button for the fourth floor repeatedly in the hopes it might somehow make the lift go faster. “Because that’s called bribery!”

“Only if the gift exceeds three galleons,” retorted Malfoy. He would know. “Besides, those came from my mother’s garden. So technically they were free.”

Hermione wanted to scream. The moment the doors opened she flew out and beelined for her office. To her satisfaction Malfoy was forced to jog slightly to keep up.

Stopping at her office door she paused and turned to smile sweetly at Malfoy.

“Why don’t you stay out here with Parvati today? You’ll stay apprised of any WRA developments and it will spare my cushions your lechery.”

Malfoy looked ready to argue but then paused.

“Fine," he said shortly and conjured a large armchair in front of Parvati’s desk and settled himself into it resignedly.

Hermione smiled apologetically at her assistant who was glaring daggers at her. Then she scurried into her office and closed the door firmly.

She was making good time on her to-do list she heard Parvati call through the receptionist bauble in a harried voice, “Theodore Nott to see you.”

“Send him in,” Hermione called, tucking her hair behind her ears and straightening her robes.

A moment later Theo slipped through the door. As it opened she could hear Malfoy and Parvati shouting at each other.

“Theo.” Hermione greeted him, extending her hand. He was the chief staffer for the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister and after the public sentiment grew loudly in favour of the WRA they had found themselves working together regularly. Unlike Malfoy, Theo Nott had always approached their working relationship cordially, rather than holding her forever at an antagonistic arms length. Hermione would even go so far as to call them friends rather than simply coworkers.

“Hermione," he said warmly.

“Did you receive the final version of the WRA?” she inquired.

“Yes. Looked over it and forwarded my notes to the Undersecretary and the Minister’s office. Everything seems perfectly lined up. You’ve done excellent work.”

Hermione blushed faintly. Theo was very handsome and she had wondered if eventually they might…

She dismissed the thought.

“What brings you down to my office today?” she asked.

Theo suddenly looked uncomfortable. Hermione furrowed her brow and hesitantly placed her hand on his shoulder.

“Is something wrong?” she asked worriedly. “What is it?”

Taking a deep breathe he seemed to resolve himself.

“Hermione,” he started, “please don’t kill me for this.”

Before Hermione could say anything he slipped his hand around her waist, pulled her firmly against his body and kissed her deeply.

Hermione was frozen against his mouth, her eyes wide in shock. Apparently undeterred Theo proceeded to deepen the kiss and wrapped his arms around her in an embrace until…

Suddenly it felt like the room throbbed and shifted like the ripple of an earthquake, and Theo was very suddenly not kissing her.

In fact he wasn’t so much as touching her. He was instead hanging in midair, held by the collar of his robes by Malfoy, who looked furious enough to murder someone.

Hermione stared bewildered.

“What the fuck are you doing, Theo?” Malfoy asked, his voice was vibrating with so much rage it came out sounding like a snarl.

Theo seemed less surprised by Malfoy’s sudden appearance than Hermione would have expected.

“Hermione is single and very attractive,” he replied, his breathing seemed rather labored. “As we’ve worked together we’ve become friends and I have reason to believe we could be more...”

Before Theo could finished speaking Malfoy turned on his heel, still holding Theo aloft, he stormed over and flung him headlong out of Hermione’s office and then slammed the door.

Still facing the door he stood rigidly for several minutes as though he were composing himself, then turned to face Hermione’s bewilderment. He leaned against the door, and his eyes still looked black with rage.

“Sorry about that, Granger," he said evenly.

“About what?” Hermione demanded, her voice coming out as a squeak as she tried to process what had just unfolded before her eyes. “Theo kissing me? Or you interrupting it?”

Malfoy paled and seemed speechless.

“Sorry. Did I misunderstand? I assumed it was unwanted, but maybe I was wrong. I didn’t realize—you and Theo.” He choked slightly at the last words.

Hermione sank into her chair, her cheeks aflame. Her brain was awhirl and once again she found herself trying to sort through a flurry of emotions that didn’t entirely seem to belong to her.

“Granger-“ Malfoy pressed, “do you like Theo? Did you want him to kiss you?"

He sounded horrified.

Hermione felt sudden anger in the midst of her embarrassment and confusion. Just because Malfoy saw her as nothing more than an unattractive political tool didn’t give him the right to sabotage her chances with anyone else.

“For Merlin’s sake," she practically screamed feeling too hurt and angry to even look at him, “Malfoy get out of my office!”

He stood there and then took a quick step toward her before freezing and after a moment he turned and left.

Hermione dropped her head down onto her desk.

What was going on?

 


Chapter Text

Hermione burned through her memos at record speed. By the time her clock indicated lunch she was almost done for the day. She ignored it and pressed on, completing requests that weren't due until the end of next week.

Eventually she started feeling rather light-headed. Right. She'd skipped breakfast in the hopes of getting the jump on her productivity before Malfoy arrived. Standing up, she walked to the door of her office, then froze and dropped her head against the frame with a sigh.

She just didn't even know where to start with unraveling the scene in her office.

First off, there was Theo, who had kissed her. It had been—nice. Although there hadn't been the spark she would have expected. It had just been so surprising. He hadn't really seemed like the type to just kiss a girl without asking. Could she have overlooked some sign? She didn't think she had. And then, he hadn't seemed at all surprised when Malfoy hoisted him into the air. When he'd said he was interested in her, it hadn't even been directed at her. Like, the whole thing had been a performance directed toward Malfoy and she'd simply been a prop.

Her stomach twisted slightly at the thought.

And then there was Malfoy. Who had barged into her office while she was "meeting" with a coworker and interrupted their kiss in a spectacular fashion. Who had been angrier than she had ever seen. And then his horrified reaction when he asked if she liked Theo. In the midst of it she had interpreted it as horror at his friend dating her, but in retrospect that didn't seem quite right. He had seemed more focused on the idea of her liking Theo than the reverse. But why? Could he possibly like her? Hermione nearly laughed at the thought. No. And even if he did, it didn't explain the extent of his reaction.

There was something she was missing. She just wasn't sure what it could be. She wished there were someone should could talk to about it. But many of her friends were so busy it was hard to find time to have a serious conversation with them.

She gnawed at her lip. Maybe she could make a firecall to Ginny after James went to bed. Then she dismissed the idea. Calling Ginny about a boy problem seemed so, trivial. And Ginny would be convinced the situation was related to the gossip surrounding Malfoy eating with her in the cafeteria, and it was just... Hermione sighed and rubbed her temples.

Reaching for the doorknob she froze again. Malfoy was on the other side of the door. She could practically feel him. She didn't know how to interact with him at the moment. She turned, tempted to turn around and go back to her desk, when a wave of hunger hit her. She should eat. She wished she had snacks stashed in her office, Ron had eaten them all the last time he and Harry had visited and she had meant to replenish them, but she'd forgotten.

Just as she was turning back to the door again for the second time she heard Parvati's voice from the bauble.

"Pansy Parkinson here to see you."

Hermione hurried over to her desk. She'd completely forgotten about her scheduled interview.

"Send her in," she called.

A moment later Pansy walked in.

"Afternoon, Granger," Pansy greeted her.

"Hullo, Pansy."

"What is Draco doing sitting outside your office?" Pansy inquired with raised eyebrows.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"Some nonsense of Lucius’," she said dismissively. "He's apparently worried about some last minute sabotage to the WRA, so Malfoy's been ordered to hang about until it's safely passed."

"Sounds like something the Malfoys would worry about," Pansy snorted.

Pansy was a top journalist for the Daily Prophet. Following the War the newspaper had undergone a massive overhaul in order to recover public confidence. Instead of the trashy tabloid news it once heralded it switched tracks to a heavy focus on journalistic integrity. Pansy had turned out to be an excellent investigative journalist. Unlike Rita Skeeter, whose office Pansy now occupied, Pansy was extremely fair; she vetted her sources carefully and presented both sides. She'd won two international awards for her Magical journalism and even a Muggle one for a supplementary piece she wrote while traveling through a war zone.

Pansy was the lead on the werewolf series and she and Hermione had come into regular contact through Hermione's positions in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and as chair of the Werewolf Fosterage Program. The Prophet was doing a short piece leading up to the Wizengamot vote.

Hermione spotted an opportunity.

"I hope you don't mind," she started, "but I haven't gotten around to lunch. Would you mind interviewing me in the cafeteria?"

Pansy glanced down at her watch.

"It's 4:30," she pointed out.

Hermione blushed slightly.

"Yes. I got a bit caught up in work."

"Sure." Pansy shrugged.

Hermione grabbed her bag and, with Pansy beside her, finally exited her office.

"Parvati, I'm finished for the day," she announced, not allowing herself to glance at Malfoy, and handing several rolls of parchment over. "Can you make sure these get over to Hastings? They're the revised regulations on the wand core imports. And these are my notes for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement regarding the use of veritaserum on hags for the Dawling Case. Have you heard anything from the auror department about whether they need me in Devon next week to liaise for that vampire issue?"

Before Parvati could reply Malfoy spoke up.

"Granger, could I have a word before you leave?"

Hermione froze.

Parvati was saying something but Hermione didn't really hear it.

"I'm in a bit of a rush, Malfoy. I'm supposed to be already interviewing with Pansy."

"It'll only take a minute," he said.

"Go ahead." Pansy said dryly. "I don't have any other interviews after this."

"Fine," Hermione agreed shortly. She really didn't feel ready to talk to him. She still hadn't sorted out what she thought had happened. But she was cornered now. Jutting her chin out she gestured back toward her office.

When the door was closed she waited. He had asked to talk to her, so she would let him start. Maybe whatever he said would clarify things for her.

He seemed to be waiting for her to speak.

"Well?" She finally said, arching an eyebrow at him.

"I—wanted to apologize for what happened earlier," he finally said.

Hermione didn't think Malfoy had ever formally apologized to her before.

"Which part?" she asked carefully.

"I—overreacted, when—," his voice seemed to fail him. "I jumped to an inaccurate conclusion, I didn't realize you and Theo were—," there was another beat, and then finally in a tight voice he stated, "I interfered in your private life and overreacted. And I apologize for that."

Hermione stared at him, still feeling like there a missing piece to this puzzle that she wasn't seeing.

"Apology accepted," she said after a moment. "I'm sorry I shouted at you. I was rather shocked..."

Her voice trailed off.

"Theo and I, we aren't together," she finally said.

"Oh. Do you want to be?"

Hermione blinked, it was an oddly personal thing to be asked by Malfoy.

"I—" she faltered. "Maybe before. But, I don't think he kissed me because he liked me. It felt more like he was doing it to make a point somehow. I feel like now, whatever could have happened between us—can't, anymore."

 "I'm sorry, Granger."

"Why?" She made herself laugh. "It's hardly your fault."

Something glittered in Malfoy's eyes.

"Well, he's my friend and he was an arse to you. I can feel bad about that."

"You're generally more of an arse to me," Hermione pointed out. "But at least you've never kissed me."

Malfoy seemed to shudder at the thought.

"Malfoy?" She asked, "why did you come into my office when Theo was here?"

"Oh—I thought you'd be meeting about the WRA. So I popped in to ask if I could join," he said as though it were obvious.

"Oh, right," Hermione said.

"Granger."

"Yes?"

"You should go eat. If your stomach growls any louder we'll need to communicate through sign language."

"Well. I guess I'll see you Monday then. I'll owl you if anything comes up with the WRA over the weekend. Take care, Malfoy."

"Bye, Granger."

Hermione stared after him as he left. There was—something—between them. She felt sure. She just didn't know what it was. It felt like the answer was there, lurking just on the edge of her consciousness. Like a word she couldn't recall.

Ugh. She'd think about it later. Pansy was waiting.

Hermione wondered if there had been a secret Slytherin course at school on sneering at food. Pansy's expression as she scrutinized the cafeteria biscuits served with their tea was highly reminiscent of Malfoy's when he first saw the game pie.

It made her chuckle.

Pansy glanced up at her and set the offending biscuit down.

"It's not funny. I had better biscuits when I was pretending to be a Muggle in that blood prison in the Black Forest. How on earth does the Ministry get away with serving such awful food?"

"Maybe you should write a story about it," Hermione quipped.

"I should. This is unacceptable."

"The Ministry kitchen is haunted," Hermione offered, "by a thirteenth century witch. They can't seem to get rid of her, and they have tried loads of times. The house elves hate her, but every time they refuse to follow her meal plans she goes poltergeist on the Ministry."

"Ah," said Pansy, scrutinizing the biscuit again. "Maybe I should write a story on it. Maybe it'll drum up the interest of a few ambitious exorcists."

Hermione felt conflicted. She knew how much the house elves loathed Beatrice Birgersdotter, but the thought of the ghost being driven out of her home unsettled her somewhat.

"Please, Granger. Don't tell me you feel sorry a witch who's been haunting the Ministry for Merlin only knows how long? Think of the emotional agony she must be inflicting on the house elves. " Pansy stared down her pug nose at Hermione.

"I suppose," Hermione said slowly.

She and Pansy had an odd relationship; they weren't friends, but somewhere along the way their interactions had become mostly cordial. Despite their many differences, both past and present, they had reached a point where they could disagree without it being personal.

"Should I start my questions now?" Pansy inquired.

Hermione nodded and Pansy swished her wand causing a notepad and quill to appear.

"Let's start easy. How confident are you feeling about the passage on Tuesday?"

"Pretty hopeful," Hermione said cautiously, not wanting to jinx her efforts with overconfidence. "The votes definitely seem to be there. And the public support is very strong. We sent out the final version on Thursday and so far we haven't seen any moves to hold the legislation hostage. And since the Minister's ratings are high and he's been quite supportive, I think we may get it passed with a good percentage of the vote."

"Anything in it you're worried about? Or wish you'd gotten into this legislation that you couldn't?"

Hermione and Pansy spent several minutes going over some of the technical aspects of the WRA. Then Pansy switched track.

"Prima Verde Apothecary just released their earnings report for the year. They've had a significant drop in revenue due to the quantity of Wolfsbane Potion they've produced. Do you think in the long run that Wolfsbane Potion is the best use of Ministry resources, or do you think that eventually a quota should be introduced and the money invested in creating more werewolf transformation zones?"

Hermione blinked.

"What?" she said, feeling confused.

Pansy flicked her wand and produced a roll of parchment which she unfurled.

"Here. You can see the drop in earnings compared to previous years. When you look at their profit margins they drop consistently in relation to the quantity of Wolfsbane produced. Which when you analyze the cost of ingredients, the complexity required to produce the potion, and the brewing failure rate even among seasoned potion masters, it isn't surprising."

"But," Hermione furrowed her brow as she studied the graphs and numbers in front of her. She didn't really know all the technical aspects of the Wolfsbane Potion segment of the legislation. Her speciality in the legal branch had kept her quite busy so it had been primarily managed by the Department for the Regulation of Potions in coordination with the Healers Union and Prima Verde. "Surely that's related to the research and development costs of expanding into the mass production of Wolfsbane Potion. The losses can't be permanent."

Pansy flicked further down the parchment.

"You can see here? This is the research and development cost associated with the expansion last year. The number drops significantly in the second year, so it can't account entirely for the loss in profits."

Hermione calculated the numbers mentally and agreed with Pansy.

"You're right," she conceded.

Pansy looked up at her with an inscrutable expression.

"You didn't know this, Granger?"

"No. It wasn't really my specialty so I let the Healers Union and the Potions Department write up the legislation. Prima Verde had agreed to that price for Wolfsbane Potion back when the Ministry needed an emergency supply to try to stem to population explosion. They didn't try to renegotiate the contract for the WRA, so I assumed it must already be profitable."

Hermione's mind was spinning. Prima Verde Apothecary belonged to the Malfoys. The permanent Wolfsbane contract with the Ministry was ostensibly the entire reason Malfoy had been trying to pass the WRA with Hermione. She had always assumed it was hugely profitable. She was stunned.

"So," pressed Pansy, "do you think in the long run that Wolfsbane Potion is the best use of Ministry money or do you think that in the future it would be better to focus on expanding werewolf transformation zones?"

"I don't know," Hermione admitted. "I'd want to research it more, analyze the data, and also give the werewolf population more time to stabilize and discover what's most beneficial to them."

Pansy nodded and jotted down more notes.

"Well, that's all for today. Don't worry about that last question. It wasn't for this weekend. I'm writing an in-depth analysis of the WRA after it passes, but when I saw this earnings report I couldn't help but ask."

She stood, shrinking her notes and parchment into size of a knut and slipped them into her pocket. Hermione nodded absently.

"See you Tuesday, Granger," Pansy said. "Best of luck."

Then with a click of her heels she strode away.

Eventually Hermione stood up and headed for the lift. Her brain felt like it was about it reach a point of critical overload and possibly explode.

Wolfsbane Potion was grossly unprofitable for the Malfoys. She couldn't quite wrap her mind around it. If that were the case why were they so determined to get the WRA passed? There must be something she was overlooking.

She felt ready to scream. The number of things in her life that currently made no sense were enough to drive her mad.

She scowled angrily as the doors to the lift opened and she found herself facing Blaise Zabini.

He raised his eyebrows at her and she promptly smoothed her features out and scuttled awkwardly onto the lift.

She always felt profoundly uncomfortable around Zabini. She felt that she owed him hugely for his tip which had gotten the WRA on track, but she couldn't understand why he'd helped her at all, because he made no pretense of disguising how much he loathed her. It exceeded Malfoy's disdain for her by a great deal, which made it all the more confusing because she barely knew Zabini.

They stood silently beside each other when suddenly Blaise hissed with irritation and spat out,"You know, for the brightest witch of our age, you certainly are stupid."

"What?" Hermione said, startled from her thoughts.

"I don't know if you're really that obtuse or just too callous to even care, but I hope you figure it out someday and it eats you alive."

Hermione stared at him in bewilderment. Before she could say anything in reply the doors opened and he stormed away.

Hermione stood there, the gears in her mind racing to untangle the mystery.

This had to center around Malfoy. Theo, Prima Verde, and Zabini; their common denominator was Draco.

Theo had kissed her to make some sort of a point. And Malfoy's response seemed to imply that he was protective of her. But she couldn't believe Malfoy was interested in her. He had never made any sort of effort to improve their relationship over the years and when she had tried to make any overtures of friendship he'd shot them down. There had always been very clear, professional line between them Malfoy had been assiduous allowing neither of them to cross, and reminded her frequently that if it weren't for his father's orders he would never have anything to do with her. So why did he care at all about Theo kissing her?

Somehow Prima Verde Apothecary featured in the answer. But she could hardly imagine why Lucius Malfoy was sinking his company's profits and sending his heir into her presence over werewolf reform if it didn't benefit him in some way. Was is just an attempt to try further improving the family name by allying with her and a cause that was the antithesis of pureblood values?

But, that didn't explain Theo, or Zabini.

Zabini treated the situation as something urgent. Something with consequences that were dire enough that both of them should care. But what?

Hermione reviewed the last few days carefully in her mind. Something had happened that was the key to all this. Malfoy's constant presence, which couldn't possibly be attributed purely to some hypothetical concern about someone sabotaging the WRA. Theo. Zabini.

There was something she was missing...if she could just—

Her head throbbed but she ignored it. It was there. As though her subconscious knew but wouldn't give her the answer.

She closed her eyes and sighed. She should let it go, for the moment. Maybe it would come to her over the weekend if she gave herself space to relax.

And maybe she would go see Narcissa. Mrs Malfoy was much more approachable than Draco. If there was something wrong with him, surely she would know.

She glanced around her. She'd been wandering aimlessly around the Ministry and she found herself standing in front of the fountain in the atrium. She looked up at the statues that stood there. Harry, Ron, and herself.

She hated it. So did Harry. Ron was the only one who didn't mind. Whenever he stopped to look up he got a faint smile on his face.

They were supposed to be stepping out from beneath Harry's invisibility cloak, depicted as a thin sheet of water that cascaded behind them. Harry was in the lead, poised as though in the midst of casting a spell. Ron was in the back, turned defensively and looking ready for an attack. And she was just standing in the middle, clutching a large book against her chest and holding her wand across it, looking idiotic. Who walks around in the middle of a battle holding a book?

Harry had been vehemently opposed to the fountain at all once his request for it to include Dobby, Remus, Tonks, Fred, Snape, Colin Creevy, and Lavender Brown was denied.

Hermione had sided with whatever Harry wanted, so she had no one to blame but herself for not bothering to look at the designs and only discovering how they'd decided depict her when the fountain was unveiled to the public. But ugh. Looking at it made her cross.

Yet—she always found herself standing there when she missed Harry and Ron. Their lives had grown apart over the years. Harry was a top field auror and was constantly getting dispatched across the country. Ron had joined George at Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes and managed several of the branches. While Hermione was behind a Ministry desk, churning out memos and legislation. None of them seemed to have as much time for each other.

It had been so easy to stay together during school and the war; it caught her off guard that adulthood could cause them to drift apart. But now look at them. Hermione was about the pass the biggest, most meaningful, legislation in her career and Harry was in America for an international auror symposium, and he'd taken Ron with him.

Ron had always wanted to visit America.

She tried not to hurt by it. It wasn't as though Harry had scheduled the symposium. And he'd felt awful and sent her an enormous, apologetic bouquet of flowers that turned into an armful of books when untransfigured. Ron had asked her if she wanted him to stay because, he said, say the word and he wouldn't go. She couldn't ask him not to, but deep down a part of her wished that they'd realize how much it meant to her without her having to tell them.

Sighing she walked rapidly to the floo network and headed home.

Once in her flat she bustled into the kitchen for a pot of tea. She set her kettle on the stove and stood waiting for it to come to a boil. She could heat the water with magic, but she loved the ritual of brewing tea the Muggle way. It reminded her of her childhood; her mother had always made a pot of tea after school while Hermione sat at the table and told her about her day. Monica Wilkins had no children, so now it was up to Hermione to carry the past.

Hermione closed her eyes and listened to the sound of the heating water. As she did so she suddenly became aware of a foreign flash of worry and irritation jolting through her like an electric shock. Her eyes popped open.

She'd noticed sensations like that over the last few days but hadn't had time to pay attention to them. She closed her eyes and focused.

Chapter Text

They were like—phantom emotions; vague, flickering in and out of range. Stronger ones were easier to notice, flashes of annoyance... Worry, that was a familiar enough... Others were too hard to discern precisely. 

Where were they coming from? Had someone placed some sort of spell on her? 

She cast a diagnostic charm on herself and studied it. Everything seemed normal. Her magic levels were unusually elevated, but that was likely because she'd been cooped up in the office so much she hadn't been using magic. 

She cast a spell residue charm that would show any magic still clinging to her from the last day or so. There was the cooling charm she'd used that afternoon. And the drying charm from after her shower. And that spiky red signature was the residue from the pepper up she'd taken. The green wobbly bit was from using the floo network. There was nothing other than that. 

She tried to think of anything else. It seemed like a type of consciousness sharing spell, but targeted only on emotions. How did that work? She didn't know of any types of spells that could sustain a bond like that that weren't highly advanced cooperative magic. 

A bond.

She froze and then clapped her hands over her mouth. Had she bonded with a magical being? How? 

Theo. 

They'd kissed. A mutual exchange of saliva could suffice to create a temporary connection. 

She felt ready to faint. Theodore Nott was a magical being. She had never suspected. But, why had he kissed her? Surely they weren't, mates? They couldn't be. Theo was a good enough kisser but surely bonding magic had more... oomph to it. 

It hadn't exactly been mind blowing. 

She thought about it more. 

No. It couldn't be. She was certain she had noticed the phantom emotions the day before Theo kissed her. So it was something else. 

She sighed feeling at loss. She felt as though she were sitting in a middle of a puzzle but she still didn't know what the picture was supposed to be. 

Her kettle was singing and she absent mindedly added the water to her teapot. 

"Hermione! Are you home?" Ginny's voice broke into her thoughts. 

"Coming!" she called and hurried into the living room to see Ginny's head floating in her fireplace. "Is everything alright?" 

"Of course," Ginny said giving her an odd look. "I was calling because I wanted to ask if you were alright." 

"Me?" Hermione said in confusion. "Why?" 

Ginny made an incredulous expression. 

"Why? I heard Draco Malfoy and Theo Nott got into a fight in your office today." 

"Oh. That," Hermione said, blushing.

"What happened?" Ginny demanded. 

"How did you hear about it?" Hermione tried to change the subject. 

"Padma is my neighbor. She asked me what I knew because Parvati told her about how Malfoy has been following you around the Ministry like an overgrown puppy and then when Theo tried to meet alone with you he stormed into your office and threw him across the room so hard Theo was sent to St Mungos. She said he didn't even use magic! He went straight up muggle."

Parvati. Hermione huffed, she needed to have a word with her assistant about privacy. 

"She could hardly believe it when I had to admit that you hadn't told me anything about it yet," Ginny pouted. "So, spill please, or I will be forced to tell everyone that I can neither confirm nor deny that you're possible dating one or both of them." 

The redhead shot her a cheeky grin. 

"It was honestly…" Hermione sighed. "I still don't really understand what happened. Theo came by and I thought it was regarding the final draft of the WRA, but instead he kissed me. And then Malfoy was there and went spare because he thought Theo was forcing himself on me. And it was all sort of a blur." 

"Theo kissed you? Ha! Harry owes me eight galleons," Ginny crowed. 

"What?" 

"Oh. Nothing. Harry and I just had a little bet going. He thought Malfoy was going to eventually ask you out, but I said Theo. I mean, I know you and Malfoy work together a lot, but he's never made any effort to get onto better terms with the rest of us the way Theo has. So my money was on Theo. And I won!" 

"I don't think he kissed me because he liked me," Hermione interjected. "It seemed more like a dare or something." 

"Oh." Ginny looked crestfallen. "Are you alright?" 

"I'm fine." Hermione smiled reassuringly at Ginny. "A bit confused by it all. But I'm not too upset about it." 

"Well, just let me know if you want me to hex him. I haven't gotten to bat boogey anyone in ages. Motherhood can be so dull," Ginny lamented, pulling a feigned expression of woe and then sighed. "So, do you think Malfoy sending Theo to the hospital will give Harry grounds to say he won?"

Hermione smiled vaguely. 

"No. I don't think you need to worry about any chance of Harry winning." 

"Are you sure?" Ginny eyed her. "No offense, Hermione, but you don't exactly have the best record for noticing things like that." 

"He's going out with Astoria Greengrass."

"Oh. I'm so out of the loop nowadays. I get practically all my gossip from Padma or Witches Weekly. He's always pictured with his mother at social events, so I assumed that meant he was single."

Hermione shrugged. "I guess not anymore. He mentioned he was taking Astoria to something next week." 

"Is everything looking up for the WRA? I feel like I haven't seen you in weeks."

"Yes. I'm feeling very hopeful."

"You know Harry would be there if he could. He felt so awful—" 

An explosion suddenly boomed from Ginny's end of the connection and her expression blanched as she disappeared from the floo. 

A moment later she re-appeared looking harried. 

"Sorry. Got to go. James and Teddy got into my beauty potions and now they've somehow turned purple. I'll see you Tuesday."

Then she vanished and the fire died away. 

Hermione stood for a moment and then went back to her tea. It was over-steeped. She poured it out started the ritual over. 

The next morning she slept in. She'd stayed up late reading and the opportunity to not need to get up was a luxury worth savouring. At ten o'clock she finally rolled out of bed when Crookshank's yowling for breakfast became too insistent to ignore. 

As she drank her morning tea she closed her eyes and reached out, trying to detect any signs of the emotions she had observed the night before. 

Nothing. 

She waited for several minutes but it seemed quiet. Maybe whatever it was had worn off. Still. She didn't like the idea of magic being used on her without her knowledge. Perhaps a trip to the library later would be in order. 

She poked about her flat, tidying up and re-shelving books. She normally brought a few projects home from work, but she'd gotten so far ahead on her assignments while avoiding Malfoy the day before there'd been nothing to bring. She stared thoughtfully at her living room bookshelf eying an arithmancy text she'd started months before. She'd read a Potion Journal last week that proposed using arithmancy to increase probability odds in completing unstable potions. The trouble was that the number of factors involved in potion brewing were difficult to apply arithmancy to, even if a person were advanced enough in both subjects to do it simultaneously. 

But with Wolfsbane Potion and Prima Verde's earnings report knocking about in her mind, Hermione suddenly felt inspired to try. She had made Wolfsbane Potion to a limited success when she first started the Fosterage program. The demand for it hadn't been very high, most of the children preferred the loss of control to being conscious for the transformation process, and even those who didn't, the taste of the potion drove them away. But a few of the older children had wanted it, and with only a few lost cauldrons she had managed to produce it. The difficulty in Wolfsbane Potion primarily was in the scale of the production. A small batch was do-able but the failure rate in large batches increased exponentially due to the instability of the primary ingredients, which made it the perfect candidate for utilizing arithmancy.

Several hours and two melted cauldrons later Hermione determined that while using arithmancy to brew potions was not impossible, relying on a dicta-quill to do her note taking and trying to do math while she brewed was a challenge beyond her current skills. It probably didn't help that Wolfsbane was notoriously touchy about magic being used around it, even spellwork as minor as enchanting a quill. Opening a window and casting an unmotivated smoke-be-gone charm she gathered up her notes and carried them into the living room for review. 

Her desk was covered in books and she dropped them onto the floor without glancing up. She needed to sort through the mess on her desk later, she wasn't even sure which books those were. She made a mental note of it as she laid out her notes and looked over the numbers. The mistakes were obvious, a smudged one she had mistaken for a seven had set a whole series of predictions off and resulted in a total miscalculation. She sighed. Perhaps she'd invite Padma over next weekend. If someone else were managing the arithmancy it would be much easier.

She grimaced slightly. She didn't really work well with others on research projects. And Padma didn't like potions.

As she sat she suddenly noticed a faint niggling of emotions in the back of her mind. Freezing she immediately zoned in on them. So the bond wasn't gone yet. She couldn't quite make out what the emotions were, but they certainly weren't hers. 

She patted her hair down from the unmanageable frizz that the combined efforts of potion brewing and cauldron explosions had created and hurried to the library. 

An hour later she returned, incensed. Who had gone and checked out every book on bonding that the library possessed? Every single one. Gone. And not due back for nearly two weeks. She had brought home a few texts on variations of legilimency, but she was already certain they weren't what she was looking for. 

She scribbled a note to Minerva about accessing Hogwart's Restricted section. Then she went to get ready to Saturday dinner with the Weasley's. 

The dinner was a relatively staid affair for a Weasley Family get-together. With Harry and Ron in America, Charlie in Romania, and Bill and Fleur in France for the summer the Burrow seemed empty. Hermione didn't stay long. After things with Ron hadn't worked out Molly had begun trying to match Hermione with her other sons, to the general horror and amusement of everyone. First it had been Charlie, for several years. Then George. And most recently and to Hermione's greatest dismay, Percy. As soon as dinner was over she complained about a headache and floo'd home.

The next morning she awoke to the insistent tapping of a Hogwarts owl. It was a note from Minerva, apologizing that the Restricted Section was currently unavailable due to a third year dropping a bottomless pit there and no one was quite sure how to remove it without upsetting some of nastier warded books. A specialist was expected to arrive on Monday, so perhaps Tuesday or Wednesday Hermione could visit. Hermione sent a note back that Wednesday might work and promised to stay for tea.

At breakfast, as she absent mindedly chewed her toast, she perused The Daily Prophet. The article about the upcoming vote included a picture of herself and Malfoy at a committee hearing a few weeks before.

After checking the column to ensure that Pansy hadn't misquoted her anywhere she paused to study the picture. The committee had been headed by Albert Runcorn, the Wizengamot member most vociferously opposed to the WRA. Rather than lasting for the allotted three hours the hearing had gone on for nine. Runcorn had asked long, meandering, leading questions and gotten into arguments over semantics when she or Malfoy answered them.

Hermione thought back on the meeting. Malfoy had started strong, but after the questioning had worn on for seven hours he'd left more and more of it for Hermione to handle. She had been so distracted at the time she hadn't noticed how wan Malfoy had been. Studying the picture he looked like he'd been sick with Wizard's flu.

He hadn't even needed to be there. Initially it was only herself testifying, but Malfoy had insisted on joining her. He'd been convinced that Runcorn would arrange the entire spectacle in an attempt to make them stumble and misstate something that he could get into a headline; a last ditch effort to try turning the tide of public opinion against the WRA. 

When Runcorn had finally subsided Hermione had felt triumphant. As she and Malfoy had left the hearing she'd proposed a celebratory drink but he'd just stared at her for a moment and then said, "Sorry Granger, I think I'd rather spend my evening with a house elf," before striding away. 

Hermione folded the newspaper so that she couldn't see the picture anymore. He could have just told her he wasn't feeling well rather than needing to be so mean. 

But she felt badly that she hadn't noticed. Was that what Zabini had been talking about ? Was there something wrong with Malfoy and she was too wrapped up in work to see it? She'd always prided herself that she was attentive to her friends, that she wasn't the sort to prioritise work over their well being. And while Malfoy might not consider her his friends, she did think of him as one of hers.

She flipped the paper over and looked at the picture again. In the photo, she was looking up at Runcorn and speaking matter of factly. Malfoy was slouched slightly in his seat. It was subtle but he was clearly trying to conceal how unwell he was. He was looking over at her. The intensity with which he was staring was startling. His eyes seemed feverishly bright.

She thought back. She was sure she'd have noticed if he'd looked like that afterward when they'd spoken. Could he have glamoured himself to keep her from noticing? But why? 

She shrank the newspaper and slipped it into her pocket. She'd go see Narcissa after lunch. Mrs Malfoy always spent a few hours at the Werewolf Fosterage offices on Sunday.

When she reached Narcissa's office she paused. The door which, usually left open when Narcissa was working, was closed. She hesitated and knocked softly.

There was a shuffling sound from behind the door and then a muffled tone as Narcissa called,

"Come in!"

Hermione opened the door to find Narcissa sitting before a chaotic pile of paperwork and looking rather, unwell. Hermione blinked. Since the battle at Hogwarts Hermione had never seen Narcissa Malfoy with so much as a hair out of place. And while Narcissa's hair was still tidily arranged, her eyes were suspiciously shiny and her chest was stuttering slightly as she breathed, as though she'd been interrupted in the middle of crying.

"Hermione." Narcissa's voice cracked slightly. "I wasn't expecting to see you today."

Hermione stared.

"Narcissa, are you alright?" 

Hermione and Narcissa weren't exactly intimate, but British though they were Hermione didn't think she could possibly ignore the state Narcissa was in, even if Narcissa preferred it. 

"Oh. Yes. Yes. I'm fine." Narcissa blinked rapidly. 

Hermione hovered in the doorway.

"Is this a bad time? I can come back later."

"No. It's alright." Narcissa sniffed and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. "I'm sorry. I'm just, dealing with a personal matter." 

"Is it related to Draco?" Hermione asked, her concern growing. 

"What?" Narcissa looked up at her sharply. 

Hermione fidgeted slightly. 

"I just, wondered, if it was something to do with Draco. It's seemed lately as if there's something going on. That's actually why I came to see you today. I was worried." 

"No—" Narcissa said slowly, even as her eyes welled up with tears and they started rolling down her cheeks. 

Hermione hurried over to her. 

"Narcissa, What is the matter? Is something happening to Draco?" 

"Draco is—" Narcissa sniffled and paused. 

"He's—" she started again. A sensation of fear began creeping over Hermione.

"He's—he's moving to Asia." Narcissa finally announced.

Hermione stared at her agape, finding herself simultaneously shocked and let down.

Malfoy was going to Asia? 

It wasn't exactly what she had expected. But perhaps she'd just been overthinking things and worrying. Narcissa's crying just seemed rather excessive. She couldn't imagine Molly Weasley cried this much when Bill and Charlie had gone off to Egypt and Romania.

Draco was Narcissa's only child. But it wasn't as if international portkeys were difficult to obtain if you had the money for them.

"When is he going?" She asked Narcissa gently.

"Right after the WRA passes, most likely." Narcissa hiccoughed slightly.

"Why?" Hermione asked, trying to ignore the hurt that Malfoy hadn't even bothered to mention his imminent departure to her.

"Just—something to do with work."

"But—surely he won't be there that long. And you can visit each other."

"He won't." Narcissa said. "and I—I've tried to accept it, but—," she dissolved into tears.

Hermione hugged her tentatively.

"Of course he'll come back." Hermione consoled her. "And you'll go visit him. He'll hardly be able to stay away, especially during the holidays if you ask him to come. You may not have noticed, but your son is quite devoted to you. He'd probably try to give you the moon if you wanted it."

To her dismay Narcissa only cried harder. Hermione gave up on saying anything helpful and just hugged her gently and stroked soft circles on her shoulders.

Eventually Narcissa composed herself. 

"Oh my. I'm so sorry, Hermione. I don't know what came over me. Of course you're right. I don't know why I got so emotional about it. I haven't been sleeping well lately. It must have gotten to me. Was there anything else you needed?"

"No. I only stopped by because of Draco. I just—had noticed that he'd looked unwell at the hearing the other week, and things have been a bit odd at work. I guess it's just because he's going to be leaving soon."

Narcissa looked at Hermione with an indecipherable expression.

"Draco is fine. You just worry about the WRA." 

Hermione felt a bit stung and stood up stiffly.

"Right. Well, I'll let you work."

Walking out of the office Hermione felt brittle, like a gust of wind would shatter her and she'd burst into tears. She couldn't understand it. She and Draco were just coworkers. She didn't know why she'd care so much that he hadn't even told her he was leaving. It wasn't as though they were close. Or that he were even very nice to her.

She should be glad. Or at least relieved. She would finally be able to work in her office peacefully without expecting him to sweep in at any moment to harass her. 

But regardless of how she tried to rationalise how little she should care, she couldn't squash the empty sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. As though the bottomless pit at Hogwarts had somehow been relocated there.

She wandered into Flourish and Blotts. New books. That's what she needed. She was probably just on edge and emotional because the WRA was about to pass and it made her feel at loose ends. She just needed a new project.

She found her way to the magical beings section. The selection was small, but there were a few books that looked promising, especially one on Magical Bonding Theory. She felt a presence behind her.

She turned around and found Blaise Zabini staring at her. She eyed him defensively and his eyes dropped down to the book in her hands. She slipped it behind her back and jutted her chin up slightly to look him in the eye.

"Fancy meeting you here, Granger." He drawled, his tone reminded her of Malfoy back in school. Zabini has always hovered in the background. She remembered he'd been good at arithmancy, but they had never interacted much.

"Did you need something from this section?" she asked steadily.

He shrugged and smirked faintly.

"No. I was just curious when I saw you over here. Maybe you are as clever as everyone says."

Hermione's eyes narrowed. Did he know about the emotional bond?

"What do you mean?" she demanded. 

"Come now, Granger, if I could just tell you I wouldn't hate you so much."

Hermione studied him. There were only a few explanations for such an odd statement. If Zabini was claiming that he couldn't tell her that implied that maybe he wanted to, if she could just give him an opening to get around whatever was silencing him.

"Are there any books in this section that you recommend?" she asked carefully.

He stared at her for a moment and she could see the conflict behind his eyes.

"You would hope it'd be that easy." He finally said coldly, turning and starting to walk away.

"Blaise, are you ready to—" Malfoy suddenly came around the corner and upon seeing her his face shuttered. "Granger."

He looked between the two of them.

"What are you doing back here? Snogging among the stacks?" he inquired lightly, but his eyes were suspicious, scrutinizing Hermione and the book in her hands. "What's this, two wizards in one week, Granger, I never thought you were the type."

"I was confirming for myself that Granger is as dull on the weekends as she is in the Ministry," Zabini drawled.

"I'm looking for a new project to start, now that the WRA is almost finished." Hermione said quietly. 

"Oh." Malfoy's eyes glittered as he stared at Hermione. "Which undeserving creatures are you going to be saving next?"

Hermione met his gaze. "I haven't decided yet."

"Well, I'm sure whatever you decide it will be sickeningly saintly of you," he told her snidely, before looking over at Zabini. "You ready to go?"

Hermione's face flushed and her fingers itched to slap him as they turned to leave. Zabini gave her a mocking salute. When they disappeared around the corner she turned back to the bonding books behind her. Zabini had glanced up at the ones on the shelf over her head. She wasn't sure if it was a clue, but she'd take anything.

They were in French. Of course. English she spoke, Mermish, Gobbledegook, and even a bit of German and Italian. But not French. She stared at the titles. They seemed to mostly be the memoirs of French Veela women and all the lovers they took. One of them caught her eye, the title was something about a male Veela suffering for his love. She was assuming that if she were dealing with a magical bond it would involve a male. She tucked it under her arm and went to find a French dictionary.

After paying for her purchases she emerged from the shop and glanced around. The air was warm and she started for a park nearby. Diagon was full of weekend shoppers. As she pushed through the crowd she paused, remembering that she'd used up her moonseeds and Dittany while brewing the day before. There was an Apothecary around the corner.

As she slipped around a chattering crowd of witches she heard the sound of glass being smashed. Dropping her books she instinctively dove to the ground as something sped past the spot where her head had been only moments before. 

Rolling over she looked up to see a pair of bludgers shooting through the screaming, scattering crowd. She drew her wand and leapt to her feet, poised defensively. The bludgers shot up into the sky and, to her astonishment, suddenly turned sharply and barreled straight toward her again.

She leapt out the way, casting a deflection shield, and felt it reverberate from the force as the bludgers crashed into the spot where she'd been standing. They zipped away into the crowd.

Bludgers were intended to be used only for quidditch. Flying meant that the air could absorb the impact of the heavy iron balls, preventing the injuries from being too severe. But for the crowd, milling about on the cobblestones of Diagon Alley, the impact of a bludger could easily end up deadly. There were no spells to fix smashed brain matter. 

Cursing quidditch for the millionth time in her life Hermione watched as the bludgers zipped through the crowd again. Other witches and wizards had drawn their wands and were shooting protective shields as the bludgers passed, but they didn't seem it be targeting anyone's movement as they droned through the the street. 

Then they were suddenly zooming toward Hermione again. She easily side-stepped the one and then deflected the other with a flick of her wand. They were targeting her. It was clear by the way they passed through the rest of the crowd and then suddenly went crashing into wherever she was.

She steeled herself. She could manage this. The quidditch shop certainly had something to neutralise them. She just needed to buy time.

The bludgers split up, racing across the sky in different directions. Making it harder to track them simultaneously. 

Zip. She dodged out of the way as one came crashing out of the sky straight for her head. And then spun sharply to avoid the other that nearly shattered her hip. 

She focused. She could do this.

Suddenly there was hysterical screaming to her right. She turned sharply as she deflected one of the bludgers. A woman holding a baby was shrieking and pointing. Whirling around Hermione saw a confused toddler hurrying across the street toward the panicking woman while a bludger raced up behind him toward Hermione.

Hermione didn't even have time to think.

" Wingardium Leviosa !" She cast, jerking the boy up out of the way and into the crowd as quickly as she could. There wasn't time to leap away, not even time to brace for impact as the bludger sped through the spot the toddler had been standing and came crashing into her.

She squeezed her eyes shut.

WHAM!

She was knocked off her feet and went rolling over and over. Her head clipped a cobblestone and the blow nearly knocked her out.

Coming to a stop she was dazed to realise there was the weight of something on top of her. Not a bludger, something larger than that, and warm?

Trying to clear her head of the ringing and throbbing she opened her eyes. 

Someone was on top of her.

She hadn't been hit by a bludger. Someone had knocked her out of the way. The head of whomever it was was tucked up against her shoulder and she could feel their heavy breathing against her throat.

It made her feel shivery as she tried to think.

She lifted her hands up and rested them on the person's shoulders.

"Are you alright?" Her voice was shaky.

They breathed sharply against her neck and a warm bolt of something shot straight through her. She gasped, suddenly feeling very aware of the hard body that was pressed up against her own.

It was already hard to think but suddenly everything seemed very fuzzy and she just wanted to stay there and keep feeling the warm, strong, safe, arousing presence around her.

Wait.

Arousing.

What?

She stiffened.

Then the person suddenly growled against her throat, and for reasons she couldn't comprehend it made her whole body want to just melt against theirs. But whomever it was suddenly tensed and sat up.

Her vision was still swimming slightly but there was no mistaking who it was. Draco Malfoy was currently crouching over her like an angry dragon. Glancing down at her as though to assure himself she wasn't dying he leapt up. His eyes were flashing as he scanned the area around them and then whipping out his wand he cast in quick succession a spell that Hermione was positive was categorically dark magic.

The red bolts of magic zipped into the bludgers as they were doubling back toward Hermione again. It nullified the magic that kept them airborne and they crashed heavily into the ground and began collapsing in on themselves, turning white hot and making an unnerving whistling, sizzling noise until they disappeared into small melted puddles of iron on the street. 

He glanced down at her for a moment more and she met his gaze. His eyes were brighter than she remembered, almost silver rather than grey. The crowd started closing in on them but before anyone arrived he stepped back, and walked away. Sitting up woozily Hermione watched him go until a mediwitch appeared and started casting healing charms for the concussion Hermione apparently had gotten.

When she finally got to her feet and brushed off the tearful thanks of the toddler's mother, she looked around for her books. They were gone. She tried summoning them to no avail. She cursed inwardly. Just her luck to have them stolen. Some people really were low.

She made her way back to Flourish and Blotts only to be informed they were out of stock. New copies could be ordered and would be there by Saturday. She filled out the form and went home.

First the library, then a thief. The universe was feeling aligned against her.

Chapter Text

Draco was going to murder someone.

He just wasn't sure whom.

What he was sure of was that someone was trying to force him into bonding with Hermione. He'd suspected after Theo kissed her.

The rage and possessiveness that had exploded over him when he sensed it nearly made him blackout.

He didn't even remember leaving his chair and bursting into her office. He'd just found himself there, a split second from ripping Theo's throat out, with the sight of Hermione stiff body wrapped in Theo's embrace burned eternally into his corneas.

He nearly killed Theo. After flinging him across the hallway and watching him crash satisfyingly into the opposite wall, he had barely restrained himself from turning around and claiming Hermione.

The memory of kissing her in his room haunted him. When he closed his eyes he could still feel her body beneath his hands. The curve of her spine, the soft nip of her waist. She was too thin. But still, so soft and warm, and everything in the universe he wanted. The taste of her skin beneath his tongue and the moan she had made in response to his touch…

He'd come so close to giving in that night in his room. If she had kept insisting or, Merlin help him, if she'd gotten any closer while they'd been speaking, he would have been lost. He was pretty sure Hermione could convince him to do nearly anything if she stared at him long enough with those huge, innocent eyes of hers. He'd had to force himself to stop thinking and obliviated her before he could hesitate.

And there he was, standing in her office after seeing Theo kiss her, trembling with the effort it took not to go and destroy all of his own work.

He had managed it. And then slogged painfully through the rest of the day trying to come to terms with the fact that Hermione, whom he had very nearly given in and bonded with two days before, actually had had feelings for Theo Fucking Nott. And Draco had so upset her by interrupting that she was she was hiding in her office and starving herself. And every time he closed his eyes he had visions of Theo pressing her against a wall, taking her and—

He was going to go insane. He very possibly already was. Good Merlin, why wasn't he dead yet? Right, because Granger had kissed him, creating one of the single best and worst moments of his life all in one go.

Anyway, he digressed. Someone was trying to force him into biting Granger. He had suspected after Theo but he was certain following the accident outside the Quidditch shop.

After he'd tackled her out of the way, when he'd leapt up and cursed the bludgers it had been to force his instincts to zone in on protecting her and not on mating her in the middle of Diagon Alley.

Which was what he quite nearly did when he found himself lying on top of her with his mouth at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. His fangs slid out and if she hadn't still been in immediate danger he wouldn't have been able to stop himself.

Once she was safe again he had forced himself to walk away. Which, had ended up being fortuitous when he stumbled across a bag of books that contained several texts on magical being bonding, amongst which was a French memoir of a male Veela whom he happened to be related to. He'd pocketed them all and then stopped by Flourish and Blotts on his way home to buy out their entire selection on the subject.

Nosy witch, she was getting too close. The intensity of the obliviation spell he’d used on her should have forced her mind to overlook or dismiss any inconsistencies that existed from the lost day. She should be wired to try to ignore anything related to it. Trust Hermione Granger’s brain to defy the rules of obliviation magic. He'd been trying to keep the temporary bond she'd created shuttered, but of course she would still notice and feel driven to try solving the mystery.

So he had to worry about that, in addition to figuring out who was trying to force his instincts to bite her.

Based on the timing whomever it was must have concluded it was Granger after he'd blasted Bogfeld's door. Which meant they had excellent sources within the Ministry. The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures was a cagey lot; Draco had discovered this when he had started "lobbying" with Hermione. After all, the employees spent a great deal of time handling the unsavory aspects of Magical Creatures without going running to the press. Stories about magical bondings never leaked from the Ministry, despite the public fascination. So it was someone well connected. Which narrowed down the suspect to practically any of his friends. Or his father.

Damn, that would be inconvenient.

Draco was reasonably sure that it wasn't his mother. She had gotten hysterical when she learned he'd obliviated Hermione and been in tears practically ever since. She was a Slytherin, and a good actress, but he doubted even she was that good.

Part of his dilemma was that he wasn't even sure which of his friends knew he was a Veela, much less a dying one. It would be hard to go poking about without giving it away and thereby adding to his problems.

The first person to see, he decided, would be Theo. Draco was almost positive that he was not the mastermind. Theo was not the type to interfere in the business of others, and he and Draco were not particularly close friends. But Theo would know who had sent him to kiss Hermione, and Draco was confident he could drag the information out if need be.

It was still early enough on Monday that Theo wouldn't have headed in to the Ministry yet.

He apparated to Theo's townhouse with a crack and reminded himself that he shouldn't start off with hexing Theo if he could possibly help it.

He flexed his fingers and felt the magic sizzling just under the surface. While unbonded, his Wizarding magic and his Veela magic were incompatible with each other; they both swirled around in him building inexorably toward his demise. The only time he'd managed to channel the Veela magic at all was when he'd blown up Bogfeld's door, and he hadn't actually meant to. He'd just been feeling protective of Hermione and it had been in the way.

Kissing Hermione had eased the burn. He'd been able to reduce the potion doses and had stopped feeling like he was dying. But he could sense it wearing off. He only had to contain things for a little longer.

A minute after knocking on the door he found himself facing Theo. Draco didn't even need his magic. He promptly punched his friend in the face.

"Fuck, Malfoy!" Theo reeled back and lifted his wand. Before he could cast anything, Draco snatched it from his hand and flung further into the house. "You already shattered my collar bone last week. I had to drink skelegro because of you."

"Poor you. Just be grateful I didn't rip your esophagus out the way I wanted to. They don't have a potion to grow those back," Draco replied coldly.

Stumbling over to pick up his wand Theo performed a muffled "episkey" and then scourgified the blood from his face.

"For Merlin's sake." He sagged against a wall.

"For the sake of your longevity I'll get to the point. Who sent you to kiss Hermione?"

"I can't tell you," Theo mumbled.

"Theo…" Draco snarled warningly and stepped toward him.

"I can't tell you. If I'd known you'd nearly murder me I would never have agreed to it. But I still can't tell you because I'm under an unbreakable vow."

Draco's eyes widened and then narrowed in calculation.

"What can you tell me?"

"I owed someone a huge favour, they said they'd consider it returned if I kissed Hermione. I thought it was weird, but I agreed because I had no idea you were completely mental about her."

Theo stared at Draco speculatively.

"What are you?"

Draco glared icily at him.

"Someone who cares about Hermione."

Theo laughed.

"Potter cares about Hermione. Weasley cares about Hermione. But if they saw me kissing her I doubt they'd do more than whine about it. You are on a supernatural plane above 'caring'."

Draco shrugged.

"It doesn't matter what I am. Someone is trying to get at me by using Hermione. First they tried to use you, and yesterday they nearly broke her neck by sending bludgers in Diagon Alley."

Theo paled visibly and Draco continued:

"So I'll ask again, what can you tell me?"

"They said you'd probably show up and freak out. I figured it was to make you jealous and face some suppressed feelings you had for her. I swear I had no idea it was anything more than that. Merlin, I wish I could tell you more."

"Fine," Draco sighed, turning to leave.

"Drake, I'm sorry."

Draco paused for a moment and then left. He had nothing else to say to Theo, and the urge to hit him again was rather overpowering.

Standing in his quarters in the manor he mulled over what to do next. He should go see his father. He dreaded the thought. Lucius had been incensed upon learning of Draco's intention to die rather than claim his mate. Their argument had ended in a wizard's duel, which Draco had won rather viciously. After that they had given each other wide berth.

Lucius certainly knew it was Hermione. Draco couldn't imagine his father had failed to deduce that Draco was using Prima Verde as an excuse to help Hermione with her werewolf reform, not when Wolfsbane Potion production was driving their previously thriving Apothecary steadily into the ground. Draco didn't particularly care. He already had his will amended so that his trust fund would keep the apothecary afloat for as long as the Ministry maintained the Wolfsbane contract. And even if he weren't dying, it wasn't as if he could possibly run out of money.

The Malfoys had been growing their fortune for centuries as if it were a dragon hoard. Draco doubted that anyone was aware of just how wealthy they were. The Ministry had financed some of the war recovery efforts by penalizing their family with a seizure of sixty percent of their Gringotts vault and they'd pretended that the vast majority of their wealth wasn't kept concealed elsewhere. Lucius had even allowed the Manor's grounds to lapse somewhat in maintenance and Narcissa was seen re-wearing the same robes to society events. But throughout the "tribulation" the Malfoy family had never protested and still donated generously to postwar charities; it had earned them some reluctant forgiveness.

Lucius had also become something of a recluse. That wasn't an act. Even after his two years of house arrest ended he rarely went anywhere but his office and the manor. Draco accompanied Narcissa to most social events. It was a brave new world and not one that Lucius felt wanted nor comfortable in, so rather than endanger Draco and Narcissa's efforts to rehabilitate the family name he withdrew.

However that did not make Lucius anyone to trifle with. A sleeping dragon was still a dragon, and Draco was certain that the impending loss of his heir had awoken him.

But, the timing of the attempts didn't seem like Lucius. He would have suspected it was Hermione long before the scene in Bogfeld's office, unless he was waiting for Narcissa's interference to confirm his suspicion.

Draco's jaw tightened. He'd have to go see his father. It was no good delaying or trying to rationalise his way out of it.

He surveyed himself in a mirror. Thanks to Hermione's temporary bond he looked considerably less deathly. Not having to walk around with glamours all over his face was a relief. He'd continued wearing the heavy winter robes to the Ministry even though his fever was at bay; it wouldn't do to start dressing differently. They were rather stifling for summer, but it was nothing that a few sneaky cooling charms couldn't remedy.

But he wouldn't need to be so oppressively dressed for a visit to his father. He summoned some summer robes to himself. As he dressed his suddenly found himself distracted: Hermione was upset.

He froze and focused. She was more than upset, she was extremely nervous about something.

Draco kept analysing. After their conversation he had tried to be a bit less presumptuous about the accuracy with which he read her feelings across the bond. Perhaps his assumptions about their relationship had made him interpret things as worse than they actually were.

But she was definitely stressed and nervous about something. It provoked a surge of angry protectiveness in him that he struggled to tamp down. He had to be careful with his emotions; he'd noticed how she would suddenly freeze and glance up when she detected them. Practicing occlumency seemed to help somewhat. So did keeping her constantly awhirl in her own feelings by irritating her.

He'd discovered that try as he might sometimes he couldn't keep his emotions entirely beneath her notice. When he saw her the first day after obliviating her, his feelings had run so rampant she'd gotten swept up in them and looked at him with such an affection expression he'd nearly kissed her. But, after insulting her a bit, her embarrassment and annoyance had caused her to lose track of the connection. The next morning he'd been ready and enraged her as soon as she stepped out of the floo.

Closing his eyes he honed in her location. She wasn't at home, or the Ministry yet, or at the orphanage, or at the Potter's... she was—His eyes popped open and he cursed. She was at Malfoy Holdings.

With a spin and pop he went after her.

Appearing in the lobby he sped over to the lift, shouldering employees out of the way and then sneering and daring them to try joining him on the way up. With a quick press of the button to the top floor he felt it shoot up.

What was Hermione doing there?

Lucius had long been a convenient stick with which to prod her. Anytime she tried to fight against something he was set on he had been able to lay the blame at the feet of Lucius and propose that she go petition his father. She had always chosen to begrudgingly give in instead.

The lift opened and he stepped out to the sight of Hermione speaking to his father's secretary.

"No. I don't have an appointment," she was saying steadily. "But I have an urgent matter to discuss with him personally regarding Malfoy Holding's part in the WRA."

"Granger?" Draco didn't even need to feign the tone of surprise. He still couldn't believe she was there.

At his voice Hermione jumped noticeably and whirled around. Her cheeks instantly bright scarlet.

"Dra- Malfoy!" she said shrilly, trying to recover herself. "What are you doing here?"

"I work here." Draco pointed out, although it hardly true. Technically he was listed as a board member and he had an office somewhere in the building. But his "lobbying" was all done at his own behest, and he rarely even set foot in Malfoy Holdings. Lucius's battleaxe of a secretary shot him a snide look which he ignored.

"Oh. Right," said Hermione looking thrown.

"What are you doing here?" he returned.

"I need to discuss something about the WRA with your father." Hermione said stiffly. She jutted her chin out as she said it, a habit Draco had noticed she resorted to when she was feeling especially uncomfortable.

Draco stared at her in confusion. What on earth would she need to discuss with Lucius? The WRA was ready. It was perfect. Nothing significant had been added to it in weeks. What could have possibly come up since the last revision that she would choose to bring to Lucius instead of himself.

"And you didn't think to bring it up with me?" he couldn't help himself from asking in a hurt tone.

Hermione had to grace to look slightly abashed.

"This is a matter that requires your father," she said.

"What do you mean? What is going on, Granger?" he demanded in a low voice.

"I'm here to cut a deal with Lucius. It can't be resolved by you because it involves you," she said firmly.

What?

Before he could say anything else the door behind her opened and Lucius Malfoy had joined them.

"Miss Granger," he purred, "What a delightful surprise."

Draco could feel the anxiety spike through Hermione as she turned around.

"Mr Malfoy," she said in a clear voice that belied none of her nervousness. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice."

Lucius held the door open, inviting her into his office. Hermione walked unhesitatingly through it and Draco followed her.

"What are you doing here, Draco?" His father inquired His tone was airy but there was ice beneath it.

"If Granger is here to discuss the WRA it makes sense that I would participate," he said firmly. He felt cold with dread at the thought of Hermione alone into Lucius's office. Hermione was a muggleborn, which meant Lucius might casually curse her before recalling that it wasn't fashionable to be a blood supremacist anymore. Or he might use the opportunity to force her into taking an oath to bond with Draco and save his bloodline. Hermione was more than a capable witch, but she had also just waltzed straight into Lucius' territory.

"It's alright, Malfoy," Hermione said.

Draco stared at her in disbelief, "Do you not want me there?"

She blushed faintly.

"If you're trying to change something in the WRA I should be here," he said fiercely. "I worked just as hard on this as you did, Granger. You're really going to cut me out now?"

She was silent.

"I had no idea you took your "lobbying" so seriously, Draco," his father said snidely. "I had thought it was simply a cover to get under the skirts of Ministry witches."

Draco locked his jaw in an effort not to curse his father.

"Well, if Miss Granger has no objections I don't see why you can't. But please, don't interrupt us." His father finished the last words in dangerous hiss.

Closing the door firmly Lucius strode back to his desk and seated himself.

"Please, make yourself comfortable, Miss Granger. What is it I can do for you regarding the WRA?"

Hermione seated herself rigidly on the edge of a wingback chair. Draco hovered behind her. It was a better position from which to shoot his father warning expressions. Her fingers were fiddling nervously with the edge of her skirt and she balled them into fists.

"The earnings report for Prima Verde Apothecary has recently come to my attention," she began. Draco started. How had she seen them? He had always been careful to keep Prima Verde far from her attention. "I was not previously aware that the contract with the Ministry was so unfavorable and unsustainable for Malfoy Holdings and I would like to apologise for that oversight and offer a better one."

"Indeed," said Lucius coolly. "And just how do you propose to do that?"

"I cannot do anything that would jeopardise the WRA's passage, but I would be willing to amend the Wolfsbane Potion contract to last for five years rather than thirty, at which point it will be up for renegotiation. There will be plenty of data on werewolf communities by then to have a better grasp on the benefit of Wolfsbane potion over the value of expanding the werewolf transformation zones. And a five year contract at the current rate will not result in bankrupting Prima Verde the way a thirty year contract would."

"And you want to do this, why?"

"Bankrupting a major Apothecary could be a major blow to the ongoing support of the WRA, it might cause the public the question its drafting and run the risk of budget cuts. It could also result in an interruption in Wolfsbane potion production and access, which could have potentially devastating effects for werewolves who were unprepared for it."

Lucius was staring at Hermione contemplatively.

"And why did you need to speak to me about this? Draco's the one who negotiated that contract, he is more than empowered enough to fix it."

Hermione jutted her chin out again.

"Because, if I do this, I want something from you."

Lucius' eyes flashed, with anger or amusement Draco wasn't sure.

"And what is it that you want, Miss Granger?" he purred.

"If I get the Ministry to amend the contact, I want you to let Draco stay at the Ministry."

Draco stared at her.

"Stay?" Lucius said in a low voice, concealing the fact that he had no idea what she was talking about.

"Narc—your wife told me that Draco was going to Asia for the foreseeable future after the WRA passes."

Draco clenched his jaw. He hadn't been too annoyed with his mother when she told him about the excuse she'd given Hermione upon being found crying in her office. Going to Asia was better sounding that dying in a broom accident like he'd originally planned, and it would have allowed him to delay the announcement of his death until his relationship with Hermione had become more distant for her. But now Granger was meddling, and he couldn't understand why.

"Ah, yes." Lucius played along. "Draco has been planning his departure for sometime. I am surprised by your interest."

"Draco has done invaluable work at the Ministry to aid in the post-war reform efforts. We have worked together quite a lot in the last few years and I can say with certainty that the WRA would never have gotten to the place that it is without his help. There is so much more he could do there. I hope you'll reconsider it."

Lucius pretended to be thinking.

"Well, Miss Granger, I must confess I hadn't looked at it that way before. Although I have been pleased by the extent with which Draco's post-war efforts have restored my family's reputation from the sins of his father," he paused and Hermione stared at him expectantly, "reputation isn't everything. Asia is an untapped well of opportunity and sending Draco himself will open many doors that would be closed to others at Malfoy Holdings, including myself."

Hermione was silent and Lucius continued,

"For example, in Jixi there is a merchant who is renown for his golden caterpillars, which produce the most potent jicun poison ever seen. I am sure you are aware of the many advanced healing potions whose efficacy can be increased by the inclusion of a drop of it. It's like unicorn blood without the side-effects. But China has been reluctant to share in their riches. However, as it happens, the merchant in question has a daughter of marriageable age and he is open to trade negotiations of a more traditional nature..."

His voice trailed off suggestively. Draco stared at him. Lucius was like a spider in the way the lies unspooled from him effortlessly.

"You are selling your son in marriage for a potion ingredient?" Hermione gasped in outrage.

"The most valuable potion ingredient in the world," Lucius inserted.

"You cannot be serious," Hermione seethed.

"Now, now Miss Granger," Lucius chided, "contrary to what you believe, I am not a complete monster. Especially when it regards my son. If Draco wishes to stay at the Ministry I will give no objections. Why don't you ask him?"

His eyes taunted Draco as Hermione turned slowly toward him, her eyes were brimming with hope.

"Malfoy?" She asked.

Draco stared at her, wishing he could vanish into the floor.

"Sorry, Granger, the secrets of the orient beckon." He forced himself to leer as he said it. Her eyes flooded with disappointment.

"Oh," she said in a quiet voice. "Sorry. I didn't realise you wanted to go."

He could feel her disappointment in him rising up like the tide.

"I won't interrupt you further, Mr Malfoy. I apologize for my misunderstanding."

"Think nothing of it." Lucius said in a charitable voice, "It was a pleasure to hear my son has done so well at the Ministry. I am sorry you can't convince him to stay."

Draco couldn't hear what was said after that. His ears were roaring as he struggled to make sense of the swirl of emotions he found himself lost in, both Hermione's and his own. How had everything gone so spectacularly wrong? This was what he wanted, what was best for Hermione. So why did it suddenly feel like he had miscalculated something?

Hermione was saying something to him but he couldn't register what. He nodded absently and then, with another disappointed look, she walked by and out of Lucius' office.

"Well," said his father after a minute, "that was an unexpected surprise."

Draco clenched his jaw and looked up.

"What are you planning, Father?" he asked coolly.

"I don't know what you mean." His father replied, arching an aristocratic eyebrow at him. "I haven't done anything to interfere with your wishes, despite how easily I could."

"Someone is meddling, you expect me to believe it isn't you?"

"I think you have greatly overestimated the subtlety with which you have inserted yourself into Miss Granger's life. She may be too oblivious to notice it, but others are not. Did you really think that your mother and I would be the only ones who wish to see you stay alive?"

Draco was silent, analyzing his relationships; trying to pinpoint the most likely suspect.

"Unless you have anymore baseless accusations to make I suggest you leave," Lucius said in a bored tone. "Some of us actually do have more than pretend jobs."

Turning on his heel Draco left his father's office. When he arrived at the Ministry Hermione was in her office, the door firmly shut. With a sigh he conjured up an armchair and sinking into it, he waited.

Chapter Text

Hermione's cheeks were burning as she composed memos to send down to the Potions Department and prepped a meeting request for Parvati to send off to the head of the Healers Union.

She had been so presumptuous, and now she'd made a fool out of herself in front of Draco and Lucius Malfoy. She couldn't believe how embarrassed she currently felt. It was just—ugh. She wasn't sure if she could ever look Malfoy in the eye again.

The night before, after she had floo'd home from Diagon Alley, she'd found herself unable to think about anything but Draco. With the combination of learning he was leaving and then being saved by him, he'd overshadowed her mind like a persistent ghost.

She still hadn't come to terms with how devastated she felt by the thought of his impending departure. The shock of it had made her realise how much she depended on him. She had always considered him something of a useful nuisance, but imagining him gone was like having the breath knocked out of her.

A lump welled up in her throat. He was important to her and she'd never bothered to realise it until he was leaving. She was a terrible person.

It had just snuck up on her; forgiving him and moving on from their past. She wasn't sure when it had stopped mattering, but now, as she thought about it, she realised at some point she'd left it behind. Their relationship had stopped being defined by school and the war. It had become about the present; the good they were doing and the difference they were making.

Even if his motivation was to redeem his family's reputation, he was choosing to stay and make up for it. Many other pureblood families on the wrong side of the war had simply left rather than endure the vitriol of the mourning wizarding world. But the infamous, distinctive Malfoys had stayed and worked to make amends.

She had just assumed that he wouldn't want to leave. That he was going to Asia upon Lucius' insistence, and if she could find a way for him to stay at Ministry he'd take it. She'd thought maybe Asia was a punishment for the Prima Verde contract being unprofitable and the Malfoys had been too proud to ask to have it renegotiated. She'd been mistaken. He was eager to leave everyone behind.

The more she thought about it more she understood.

It would be a new start for him. Away from the mistakes of his past. Away from the angry hissed insults in the hallways. Away from the constant suspicion of his motives. Even hers. She'd always doubted him, even after he'd spent years giving her no reason to. She was always watching him, tensed, expecting him to suddenly slip and revert back to the old Malfoy.

Of course he'd want to leave. What would he possibly stay for?

She bit her lip and went back to work.

She was going to fix the Prima Verde contract either way. It was unfair and risky to allow it to remain as it was. She'd reviewed everything carefully the night before and she was sure that the revision should have no effect on getting the legislation passed. And until it was voted upon the contract remained negotiable.

A purple aeroplane floated into her office from the Potions Department. The legal assistant she'd sent the Prima Verde earnings report agreeing that a revision was necessary.

Parvati's voice came in through the bauble,

"I have a reply from the Healer's Union. They said a two o'clock meeting for the WRA revision will work."

Hermione sighed and folded up the last memo she had written. With a flick of her wand it sailed to the door and shot through the little memo slot at the top.

A minute later a knock was heard at her door. Drat. Of course he wouldn't just send a memo back. He probably thought it was hilarious.

"Come in," she called.

Malfoy opened the door. She stared at him. He was wearing the light grey wizarding robes that he'd had on at Malfoy Holdings. She was used to seeing him in heavy black robes whenever he was in the Ministry. It felt odd to see him look so different. He was slender and ethereal looking in grey. If she snapped a photo of him there, framed by the doorway, she could probably win an award. The cut of the robes was the kind of perfection that only a truly indecent amount of money could buy. She suddenly recalled the sensation of having him lying on top of her in Diagon Alley, the lithe athletic definition of his body pressed against hers.

She felt a deep blush begin to suffuse her cheeks at the memory and she dropped her eyes.

"A memo, Granger, really?" he drawled, holding up the aeroplane she'd just sent over the door.

"How was I supposed to know whether you were outside or somewhere else in the Ministry?" she replied primly. It was a lie. She had been certain he was there.

"As if I'd ever neglect my current duties as your faithful guard-dog," he said, plaintively, laying his hands over his heart.

"I suppose that's why you saved me yesterday in Diagon Alley," she noted, seeing an opportunity to take up a different subject.

"My father would have had my head if I'd let you die two days before the vote," he said, seating himself across from her.

"Do you really think that's why someone set those bludgers loose? They actually think killing me would stop Werewolf reform?"

"It would certainly affect it. If you'd ended up in St Mungo's I wouldn't have been surprised if they delayed the vote," he noted casually.

"Thank you for saving me," Hermione said quietly.

Malfoy just stared at her and, steeling herself, she pushed ahead, forcing herself to confront the hippogriff in the room.

"And I'm sorry that I went to your father to try to get you to stay at the Ministry. It was inconsiderate of me to have made any assumptions about what you wanted and I interfered in your life. I—I hope things go really well for you there. I really do."

He said nothing in reply. She changed the subject.

"However, we need to take care of this Prima Verde contract. I don't really understand how it happened in the first place. I've contacted the Potions Department and the head of the Healers Union about the revisions and we have a meeting at two. But, Malfoy, why did you agree to this?"

She looked up at him curiously. No matter what angle she thought about it, the fact he'd signed such an unfavorable contract baffled her.

Malfoy's expression looked vaguely conflicted as he answered.

"The Ministry doesn't budget very much to the Potions Department. Even when lycanthropy was classified as becoming endemic, the emergency budget they were granted wasn't enough to fully cover the cost of mass producing Wolfsbane potion. They would have had to slash their budget for all the other potions and it still wouldn't have been profitable for Prima Verde. I made the call to take the contract anyway in order to meet the demand and just write off the loss."

"But- why didn't you renegotiate it for the WRA? If I hadn't found out about this and the demand had stayed consistent it would have eventually bankrupted Prima Verde"

He met her eyes.

"The Ministry doesn't care about potion supplies. They like opening events with large scissors and ribbons where politicians can get their picture taken. If I'd renegotiated the contract to make it balance out, much less become profitable, it could have endangered the whole WRA."

"But why not a shorter contract? Just five years will give us time to get better data on the most effective use of funding."

He was silent for a moment before he replied,

"You wanted a thirty year contract. If I'd argued," he hesitated, "You would have wanted to know why, and I would have had to tell you it wasn't profitable."

"Why wouldn't you tell me?" Hermione was at loss.

"Because—you were easier to work with once you assumed you knew my motives and stopped being suspicious of everything I did."

Hermione felt as though she'd been slapped.

He'd known. He'd known she was suspicious of him the moment he arrived. And he'd just accepted it and let her make whatever assumptions she wanted in order for them to be able to work together smoothly. She stared wide eyed at him for several long moments.

"Why did you come to help pass the WRA?" She said in a small voice.

She'd never asked. She'd always assumed it was for profit, that he was using her and the WRA for his own ends. So she'd never bothered to ask.

He stared at her unwaveringly. His grey eyes were like mirrors.

"It doesn't matter now," he said quietly. Then after a moment he added, "If you want to shorten the contract I'll sign it."

Hermione was silent. She wanted to say something but she wasn't sure how to express it.

She wanted to apologise. And she wanted to beg him to tell her why he'd helped with the WRA. Because—she needed to know or she'd wonder for forever.

But all the words stuck in her throat.

She'd lost her chance. She'd had years of chances. To just stop thinking that she knew why he was there and just ask. But she'd missed them. It was too late.

They worked together silently on revising contract through lunch. When they met with the head of the Healer's Union and legal from the Potion's Department the meeting lasted barely twenty minutes before signatures and spells were cast and the updated contract was sent off to printing.

When Hermione and Draco walked back to her office he dropped into his conjured armchair without a word while she continued into her office. After she closed the door she stood in the middle of the room for several minutes.

She was about to achieve her dreams. She was on the cusp of accomplishing something truly meaningful. And yet, she felt as though she had failed in one of the ways that mattered most.

She would apologise to Malfoy. After the WRA passed, she would tell him how much she appreciated him and how sorry she was. Maybe he wouldn't care. But maybe he would. Either way, she needed to tell him, before she had to say goodbye.

Setting her chin she marched over to her desk.

She was supposed to review the new European trade agreement on imported newt eyes.

The next morning she awoke feeling as though she were on pins and needles. She was so nervous she could barely eat. She stepped on Crookshanks' tail twice as she hurried about her flat getting ready.

"Hermione!" Ginny's voice came through the floo.

"Come through," Hermione called, racing down the hall, trying to remember where she'd left her shoes.

Ginny Potter suddenly appeared in the living room as Hermione ran by.

"Sweet Morgana, Hermione, breathe. You're worse than I was on my wedding day. Mum's going to come with James and Teddy closer to the vote, but I'm going to be there for the whole thing. You'll need someone to poke you occasionally and make sure you don't keel over from nerves."

Hermione smiled thinly at her friend.

"Sorry, Gin. It's just, with it all out of my hands now, I thought that would make it better but it feels worse. I can't seem to stop worrying."

With Ginny’s reassuring presence Hermione forced herself to stop panicking and after taking a moment to collect herself, finally found her things and they floo’d together to the Ministry.

The lift was packed when they headed to the tenth floor and to Hermione's surprise no one got off along the way. When the lift stopped at ten everyone filed off. They were all heading to the Wizengamot's parliament chambers.

The courtroom doors were all firmly shut. There would be no trials when the entire Wizengamot was scheduled for a legislative session.

As they arrived in the large hall Hermione was amazed by the number of wizarding folk already there, the viewing benches already filling up. There were reporters and photographers from The Daily Prophet, The Quibbler, and several international newspapers seated in the press section.

She and Ginny slipped into seats up near the back where they could look down with a good view of the whole room. There were many werewolves there, looking nervous and hopeful. Several of the the older orphans from the Fosterage program were there too, Narcissa was seated near them.

There was a flash of blond and Hermione saw Malfoy walk in with Blaise Zabini. Whatever Draco might have felt at the sight of the crowd he didn't show.

He looked around the room and his eyes landed on Hermione for a moment. She waved nervously. Would he want to sit near them? But he moved up into a seat across the hall from her. She watched him but he didn't look back.

More and more people arrived. The entire Order was there. Hermione's heart jumped slightly when she saw Minerva McGonagall sweep in, leading the entire seventh year class from Hogwarts.

George Weasley came in and blew her a cheeky kiss. Ever since his mother had tried to pair them up he'd acted besotted around her even though he was dating Angelina Johnson. She winked at him and blew the kiss back.

The room was growing quieter, even though it was growing crowded by the number of people trying to squeeze in. There was a nervous hopefulness in the air that everyone seemed afraid to disturb.

Finally the rear doors opened and the Wizengamot filed in and took their seats. Then Kingsley Shacklebolt, as the Chief Warlock, along with the Minister of Magic and the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister entered.

The room fell silent and the parliamentary proceedings began.

The Senior Undersecretary stood up.

"I have here the legislation for the Werewolf Rights Act," he began in his fuzzy bee-like voice. "It has been drafted by my office in coordination with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures..."

Hermione, even after working in the Ministry for three years, still failed to understand how the Ministry of Magic's government was supposed to function. There were so many aspects that didn't make sense and the postwar reform efforts had only succeeded in making it murkier. Attempts to separate powers and increase democracy had been implemented, but they got gummed up in the historic structures instituted by old pureblood families centuries before.

No one could explain to her why it was that the Wizengamot operated as the judiciary, both criminal and civil, while also acting as the legislative branch. Or why none of them were elected officials. Ascending to the Wizengamot was a combined result of ancestry and meritocracy decided by the whims of the current minister of magic or by reaching a head post in specific Ministry departments.

The Senior undersecretary finished his speech and sat down beside the minister.

Albert Runcorn stood up.

"My esteemed colleagues of the the Wizengamot," he boomed. "I urge you not to fall prey to the progressive lies of this legislation. Yes. I have called them lies. While I do not doubt the good intentions of the Undersecretary or the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, their open-mindedness has blinded them to the dangers they wish to expose wizarding society to. There is a reason that werewolves have been outcasts for centuries. They are dangerous animals. A single bite can transform our loved ones into more of these rabid and destructive creatures."

Hermione glared daggers at Runcorn. She couldn't understand how he was still allowed in the Ministry after his actions during the war. But somehow he'd not only managed to slip through the system, he'd crawled into the Wizengamot.

Even once the WRA had started gaining momentum, Runcorn had continue to use his position as head of the Wizengamot Oversight Committee for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures to be a thorn in Hermione's side. He'd constantly gummed up her progress with hearings and department reorganization so that anyone she collaborated with eventually got reassigned. It was only Hermione's invaluable legal work in the department that had prevented him from removing her.

She hoped someone would find a way to interrupt him. It would be bad form, but she was suspected he might be endeavoring a filibuster until it became too late to vote. If he succeeded the vote would be postponed until the full Wizengamot was reconvened in two weeks for the next legislative session.

"Mark my words, my esteemed colleagues," he was saying, "if werewolves are allowed into society—if we employ them here within the Ministry and house them next door to unsuspected wizarding families, they will take our jobs and corrupt our children and rise up until they overwhelm us, and we will look back and realise that this day was the beginning of the end of the British wizarding world. We—"

A cackle broke out from among the Wizengamot and caused Runcorn to pause to see who it was.

An ancient looking witch with enormous spectacles perched on her nose was laughing so uproariously that she was clutching at the shoulder of the dignified looking wizard beside her.

"Why, Albert," she wheezed, "you used that exact sentence at dinner party seven years ago when you were talking about muggle-borns! To think, you plagiarised your own speech!" She cackled again and then wheezed.

"I have the memory right here!" she cried, drawing her wand and, with an easy flick, pulling the silvery strand from her head. "If anyone wants to come see it!"

She waved her wand about over her head and the memory twirled around in the air like a streamer.

Runcorn turned bright red and sat down. There were quiet titters across the room.

"Quiet now," instructed Kingsley in an amplified voice. "Wingletorp, are you alright to continue?"

He was looking down at the still chuckling witch. She nodded and popped the strand of memory back into her head before composing herself once more.

Another old wizard stood up and droned on about the cost of reform. Then another stood up and retorted that unemployed and stigmatised individuals were statistically more expensive for society. They were all arguments Hermione had been expecting.

Then finally it was time to vote. She fidgeted nervously in her seat.

She closed her eyes.

"Please pass. Please pass. Please pass," she chanted to herself.

Opening her eyes she looked across the room and found Malfoy staring at her. He shot her a tight, nervous smile.

She stared at him. Was the passage of the WRA the end for them? She wished she'd worked harder to make their relationship more collegial.

Could she be the reason he was so eager to leave?

After spending all that time he working with her, facing her defensiveness and her suspiciousness. Choosing to let her assume his motives were selfish because it was easier than trying to convince her that maybe they weren't. Yes, he'd been mean and sarcastic to her, but maybe she'd deserved it, she thought with a pang.

Kingsley's booming voice interrupted her thoughts.

"The final count for the Werewolf Reform Act is 37 in favor, 19 opposed. The WRA passes!"

The room exploded with cheers. Hermione was screaming. Ginny was screaming. They jumped to their feet hugging each other.

Hermione wanted to laugh. She wanted to cry. She wanted to shriek with relief. She wanted to jump into the air. She felt as though her legs might give out from under her. The elation flooding over her as the vote was announced made her feel like she might burst from sheer joy.

They had done it!

They had done it!

She never would have thought it possible to do so much so soon.

She turned to find Malfoy in the cheering crowd. It wasn't hard to spot his distinctive hair. No sooner had she spotted him than their eyes met.

He grinned and it made her heart twist slightly. She had never seen such a genuine expression on his face. Having the full force of it directed at her made her heart do a funny hop.

They moved toward each other through the weeping, celebrating, embracing crowd. She wanted to jump into his arms and cheer. As they got closer she noticed the intensity of his gaze on her. Like the whole world was melting away and all they could see was each other. The way he was looking at her, she wanted to…

They had almost reached each other through the crush. She reached out to grasp his hand—

Suddenly she was enveloped in a flash of orange and black.

"Hermione!" Harry whooped and picked her up of the ground. "You did it! I knew you could!"

"Bloody brilliant, Hermione!" Ron was saying as he hugged both Harry and herself.

"Harry! Ron!" Hermione gasped, her eyes suddenly filling with tears. "You're here!"

"Of course." Ron said indignantly. "You didn't think we would actually miss it."

"I—" Hermione hugged them fiercely.

"I told the minister that if he wanted me in America for the symposium I'd need an international portkey to bring me back for today. We were going to tell you, but when you didn't say anything when you thought we'd miss it, we decided to make it a surprise."

"Golly, Hermione, I can't believe you're this surprised." Ron shot her an offended expression.

"Besides," Harry added, "you passed this legislation in memory of Remus. What kind of godfather would I be to Teddy if I weren't here with him when it passed?"

Harry and Ron chattered on and Hermione looked over their shoulders in search for Malfoy. He'd disappeared back into the crowd.

The moment was lost.

She found him again half an hour later when the crowd had thinned considerably. He was in the back, talking to Pansy, who was taking notes.

"Malfoy," she called hurrying over. He glanced over at her while he continued speaking.

"Oh there you are, Granger," Pansy said. "I was just about to look for you. Can I get a picture of you and Draco?"

She gestured to a stubby looking photographer who had been hanging back.

Hermione want and stood uncertainly next to Draco.

"A little closer," instructed Pansy. "It's going to be to the side of the column so it won't be very wide."

Malfoy didn't move so Hermione inched slightly closer to him, Pansy indicated she move over more. Finally, when their shoulders were pressed slightly against each other there was a blinding flash.

"Perfect."

Hermione turned to look at Draco, determined.

"Malfoy, will you be coming to the celebration party?"

He started to open his mouth. Hermione could already tell he was about to say 'no,' so she interrupted him.

"You should," she coaxed. "I want you to be there. The WRA was as much your work as mine. And—if you're leaving, you should give all of us at the Ministry a chance to say goodbye."

He looked conflicted.

"Fine," he agreed shortly.

She beamed at him.

"Great. Theo reserved the whole space at that new bar in Diagon Alley," she said, leading the way up to the atrium.

They could hear the roar of the happy crowd inside the bar the moment they apparated into the street. Pansy paused.

"Granger, before we're required to shout do you think I could get a few quotes from you?"

"Oh right, of course."

"It won't take long," Pansy assured her. "Draco, will you take Peterson inside for a few photos? I brought him to the Ministry on my pass."

Malfoy stared at her aggrieved.

"Why do I have to?" he whined.

Pansy sighed impatiently.

"I'm supposed to get this story submitted within the hour. I don't have time to go in there for photos and interview Hermione and finish the write up. After my generous coverage of WRA, I think you can do this tiny favour for me." She stared pointedly at him until he huffed with resignation and turned to go.

"Keep up!" Draco barked at the photographer. Peterson hurried after him.

"Well. I don't know about you, but I could use a cup of tea after listening to Runcorn drivel on about the impending downfall of the English wizarding world," Pansy said, staring after them. "Have you been to ChariTeas? It's twee enough to make your eyes bleed, but they have a good selection of imported teas and their rose fairy cakes are to die for."

Hermione followed Pansy around the corner to the tea shop. It looked like something dreamed up by a five year old. The little cottage looked like a flouncy petticoat and as they walked in she blinked with astonishment as they were greeted by a woman in a French maid uniform.

"Hello, welcome to ChariTeas. All our teas aim to please. Would you like a private room or a main table?" chirped the maid.

"Private room. We'll have a pot of your Darjeeling and a basket of the rose fairy cakes."

"Just this way." The maid bobbed a little curtsy and led them down the hallway to a cozy room.

They were barely settled into their seats before a tray bearing a full set of English chinaware floated into the room. Pansy caught it expertly and set it down before beginning to serve tea with an effortless manner that belied much practice.

"Strong, with a splash of milk and two lumps of sugar?" Pansy inquired airily. It was hardly a question, it was precisely how Hermione liked her tea.

It was strange to think that somewhere in Pansy's mind it had been noted. Hermione wasn't sure she knew how to prepare anyone's tea aside from Harry and Ron. Harry took his black and Ron with eight lumps of sugar.

Pansy handed her a cup and then turned to prepare her own, not even looking down as she poured, watching Hermione take the first sip.

"Did I get it right?"

"Yes." Hermione said, then wrinkled her nose, "although, the Darjeeling tastes a bit different, there's a flavor to it that I'm not used to."

"Really?" Pansy daintily sipped her own and then stared into it with surprise, "this isn't Darjeeling. How strange for them to get it wrong. Should I call to replace it?"

"No. It's fine." Hermione shrugged, taking a second sip thoughtfully. "It just surprised me at first. Unless you want to."

"Maybe later." Pansy set down her cup and saucer, and with a familiar flick of her wand conjured her quill and notes.

"So, thirty-seven to nineteen, was that a stronger result than you'd expected?"

"I'm stunned. I honestly thought Runcorn had broader support than that. The results exceeded our predictions."

"What do you think will be the first changes people will start to see now that the legislation has passed?"

"Well, a lot of it won't go into effect until next year. But we've already been seeing new opportunities opening for werewolves as the popularity of the WRA surged. Jobs are beginning to open up, and new housing developments are already beginning to include safety rooms for transformations ahead of the mandatory building requirements for mansion blocks. I think we'll continue to see that. And I think as werewolves are brought into the open within society that wizarding folk will begin to see more and more that they're just like any other people and they deserve respect and opportunities to contribute and participate in the world."

"Excellent quote. Should I save it for your biography?" Pansy teased as she scribbled. "And what should the wizarding world expect to see next from Hermione Granger?"

Hermione took a long, deliberate sip of tea as she pondered her answer. For so long her life has been about keeping Harry and Ron alive. And then it had been about fighting for werewolf rights. She wasn't sure what she'd do next. Did she want to stay at the Ministry? She was better at navigating it now, but still, the thought of spending the rest of her life wading through the bureaucracy and politics by herself was dreadful.

"I—I will be doing whatever I can to make the wizarding world a better place for everyone who lives in it." She finally offered.

Pansy seemed unimpressed.

"Anything specific?"

Hermione paused, trying to think.

The room swayed slightly before her eyes.

She blinked.

It wobbled even more.

She looked around slowly and shook her head, trying to clear away the cobwebby feeling that suddenly seemed to have enveloped her mind.

The cup and saucer she was holding felt like lead and slipped from her fingers and onto the floor with a crash.

Pansy looked up her notes up with surprise.

"Granger, are you alright?" she asked, her voice laced with concern.

Hermione cradled her head in her hands, trying to clear it.

"Something's wrong," she mumbled, trying to stand up and get to her bag where she kept a bezoar stone out of habit.

"What is it? What's happening?" Pansy demanded, hurriedly kneeling next to her casting a series of diagnostic charms.

"Did something break? I thought I heard... Oh my!" the French maid came bustling in.

"There's something wrong," Pansy said sharply as she helped Hermione stumble to her feet. "I think she's been poisoned."

The maid gasped.

"There's no time, I need to apparate her to St Mungo's." Hermione heard Pansy declare. Her voice sounded tinny and strangely distant.

She tried to tell Pansy about the bezoar but the words came out an inarticulate moan.

Before the French maid could say another word, Pansy wrapped her arm around Hermione's waist and they vanished.

Hermione was barely conscious enough to notice the tugging sensation behind her belly button.



Chapter Text

Eventually Hermione started to come to. Her head felt leaden. Shifting as she tried to sit up she found that her arms wouldn't move.

She froze. The fogginess in her mind disappeared as she began to take in her surroundings with alarm.

She wasn't in St Mungos. She was in a dark room, restrained, her arms tied to a chair.

She glanced around carefully, taking note of what she could see. She was in a bedroom of an abandoned house. An ancient bed with a large dusty canopy was to her right. The light was dim as it streamed through the smudged glass and heavy drapes. It must have been hours since she'd lost consciousness.

A cold fireplace lay to her left. A heavy door leading out of the room was slightly ajar. The room was strangely cold and damp for a summer's day. It was a old wizarding home, she was certain. The sensation of ancient, faded magic hung over the place like a shroud.

She twisted her wrists slightly, testing the ropes. They weren't cutting off her circulation but the knots were tight, biting down into her skin enough she couldn't get loose from them. She shifted in the chair; if it was old it might be fragile. She pulled firmly at the arms, checking for any rotting.

As she twisted and tested her restraints, she thought back. Who had kidnapped her? Could it be in revenge for passing the WRA?

It must have been the tea. That was the flavor she'd found odd.

Pansy.

Pansy had drunk the tea too.

She arched her neck, trying to look around and see if the journalist was somewhere in the room. She was alone.

She tried to think. Her mind still felt somewhat hazy. Pansy had been taking her to St Mungo's, that was the last thing she remembered. Somehow they'd been apprehended on the way.

She scrunched up her eyes, trying to remember anything else, any details she'd missed.

"Awake now?"

Her eyes shot open.

"Pansy?" she gasped, looking at the woman in front of her with astonishment.

Pansy Parkinson looked brittle enough to shatter. Her wand was clenched tightly in one fist. She gazed down at Hermione with an indecipherable expression.

"Are you alright?" Hermione asked. "What happened? Where are we?"

Pansy's face twisted slightly.

"You still haven't figured it out." Her tone was almost pitying.

Hermione stared, her eyes widening.

"What are you doing, Pansy?" she asked quietly.

"I'm saving Draco." Pansy said tensely.

"You know," She said, walking over to the gloomy window. "I've always been in love with him. Even before Hogwarts. I was so sure that eventually we'd end up with each other. I tried everything to get his attention at school. And that never worked. I mean, we dated, but it was never serious for him. Then after the war, I thought that if I waited, after a while he'd realise how I'd always been there, that I was important to him, that he couldn't do without me, and we'd be together. I even became a journalist because I thought it would be an asset for his family."

Hermione's mind was reeling. Pansy had kidnapped her. Because of Malfoy. She couldn't understand why. Was Pansy under the impression Hermione was some sort of competition for her so she was 'saving' Draco from having his bloodline sullied by her?

Pansy continued to speak, her expression open compared to the guarded look she usually wore.

"But, eventually I realised that he would never return my feelings," she sighed, "And after a while I decided that I could live with that. It was enough to love him and help him find happiness. I'm sure you find that terribly un-Slytherin of me. But, I thought, that as long as he were happy I'd be able to bear it."

Her voice grew bitter and as she turned around her features were twisted into the same sneer she had directed toward Hermione so often back in school.

"When he wanted to help you pass the WRA I agreed to help even though I suspected why he was doing it. But—When I realised he was dying because of you..." Pansy choked and was silent for a moment before declaring fiercely, "I'm not his mother. I don't care about respecting his wishes. I can live with him hating me."

Hermione stared at Pansy in bewilderment. The woman was mad. They had both seen Draco only a few hours before and he was fine.

"Pansy," she said trying to use a calming voice. "I don't understand. What are you talking about?"

"Of course you don't," Pansy said bitterly, tears welling up in her eyes. "That's the worst part. He's putting himself through hell for you and you haven't even noticed."

"Why do you think Draco dying?" Hermione tried again, still keeping her voice even.

"I don't think," Pansy snapped, "I know he is. And you would too of you'd look up from your legislative drafts long enough to realise he's in love with you."

Her voice had a slightly hysterical note to it.

After taking several steadying breaths Pansy brushed away the tears and seemed to compose herself slightly.

"Draco is a Veela," she explained. "Well, quarter-Veela, but apparently it's enough. And of course he ended up choosing you," she said the last sentence sharply.

Hermione stared in disbelief. But even as she doubted the witch's grasp of reality the gears in Hermione's mind began turning. The missing pieces suddenly all falling into place.

He can't be, she thought.

But it all fit. All the things that hadn't made sense. All the strange inexplicable things she hadn't ever been able to quite find the answer to.

"But he won't claim you." Pansy continued. "He refuses to. So he's dying. And this is the the only option I have left."

Pansy stepped toward Hermione and her expression became somewhat remorseful.

"I doubt this will make you feel any better, Granger, but this isn't anything personal. It's the only choice I have left. I tried easier ways. I tried to help you. I thought, if I dropped enough hints you'd figured it for yourself over time, so that he couldn't just obliviate you. But, it's too late now. I just, I want you to know, I would never do this if there were any other way."

Hermione's heart was pounding as the implications of Pansy's words began to dawn on her.

Theo's kiss. Telling her about Prima Verde's earning report. Even the picture of Draco in The Daily Prophet. The bludgers…

Pansy's fingerprints were on all of it. Subtle manipulation. Trying to make Hermione pause. To make her question. Urging her and Draco toward each other.

Hermione felt cold. If the bludgers were Pansy's idea of easy...

What are you going to do to me?" Hermione breathed, her eyes widening.

"You'll know soon enough." Pansy replied, glancing down at her wrist watch.

Hermione pulled experimentally against the ropes again, they didn't budge an iota. She would never have imagined that Pansy Parkinson would be so good at hostage taking.

Taking a slow breath she tried reasoning, wracking her mind to remember anything she had read about Veela mates.

"If Draco really is a Veela and I'm his mate he is going to do more than just hate you for this, Pansy."

Pansy laughed, bitterly.

"You don't even know the half of it yet, Granger. If he ever sees me again he'll probably kill me." Tears slipped down her cheeks and she brushed them away carelessly with the back of her hand.

"Pansy," Hermione implored, "if you're trying to save Draco then let's go talk to him. I—I didn't know I was his mate. Now that I know he's dying I'm willing to help. I want to help. There's no reason to resort to this. Let's go talk to him."

Pansy looked sharply at Hermione.

"You think I'm crazy, don't you?" Pansy snorted. "I suppose it would seem that way to you."

She cocked her head to the side, staring at Hermione thoughtfully.

"Maybe I am a little crazy," she said quietly. "But I hope someday you'll believe that I wouldn't be doing this if I felt like there were any other option. I've tried—" her voice cracked slightly. "There's no time left. This is my last chance. I'm not doing this to force you into anything, Granger. I'm doing it to force him. Because it's the only thing I can think of that will finally make him give in before it's too late."

Pansy's voice was shaking as she finished speaking, she drew a sharp panting breath that sounded like a whimper as she struggle to maintain her facade of composure.

Before Hermione could reply she felt those foreign emotions well up in her. They'd seemed to be growing fainter over the last few days, but this time the bolt of fury struck her like a wave. A second later the building shook as if there had been an explosion.

Pansy stumbled slightly but seemed unsurprised.

"Right on time," she noted. "It takes about three minutes to get from the front door to this room."

Hermione couldn't hold back her internal panic as Pansy moved closer, wand was gripped so tightly her knuckles were white and an expression of steely determination was on her face.

"I really am sorry, Granger. I hope for both you and Draco that this works," she whispered in a shaky voice.

Then she cast a slicing hex down each of Hermione's upturned wrists. The cuts were deep and blood immediately welled up and started flowing from them. Before Hermione finished the cry that ripped itself from her lips Pansy cast a swift, practiced anti-coagulation charm.

"I'm sorry." Pansy whispered again and then reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a knife.

Hermione whimpered, trying futilely to pull away. Twisting her arms forcefully, trying to get the blood to lubricate her wrists enough to escape.

With a quick step forward Pansy buried the knife into Hermione's stomach.

Hermione gasped and slumped down.

Stepping back, the knife dripping with blood, Pansy cast a nervous glance toward the door.

"I'm sorry. I hope you survive, Granger."

Then she reached into her pocket and, pulling out a portkey, she vanished.

As Hermione stared at the empty space where Pansy had been, time seemed to stretch out. She knew she'd lose consciousness within a minute at the rate she was bleeding, but it already seemed longer than that.

She had never felt so close to dying, even during the war. Even when Bellatrix had tortured her until she had wished she could die. The actual nearness of it had never really occurred to her. There had been so many other things to worry about, there was never much time to stop and think about how likely it was that she might die in the next few minutes.

But sitting, tied to a chair, unable to do anything but watch her blood drip into a growing puddle around her feet, there was nothing to do but think.

She didn't want to die.

She had so many things she hadn't done yet.

She—had things she still needed to say.

She didn't want to die.

She tried to rouse herself, to try to escape again. But—she could barely move. The ropes had no give to them, and she was already so weak from shock and blood loss that she had little force to exert.

A whimper slipped from her throat.

"Help," she called out. Her voice wobbling. Someone was in the house, somewhere. If they could just find her in time.

The phantom feelings of fury and panic kept rippling through her like tiny shocks.

"Help," she whimpered again quietly. Even her voice didn't seem to work anymore.

The room was swaying and the edges seemed to growing dark.

Her head lolled back and she fought to keep conscious.

Then suddenly the door blew opened as Draco Malfoy exploded into the room. He looked panicked and seemed to grow even paler at the sight of her.

"Granger..." He flew across the room. In seconds he had the ropes off of her and was sealing the cuts on her arms to staunch the bleeding.

"Oh god, Granger." He seemed to be crying as he cradled her in his arms and rapidly cast spell after spell on her, doing a rudimentary healing of her knife wound.

"Malfoy?" Hermione said, her voice barely more than a whisper.

"I'm sorry, Granger. I'm so so sorry. This is all my fault," he said hoarsely.

Hermione's eyes started to slip closed. It was too hard to hold on…

"Granger. Granger! Hermione!" Malfoy said sharply. "Stay awake! You can't die."

Hermione forced her eyes open to look at him.

He was panting, short panicked breaths and he continued to murmur a rapid succession of spells over her before checking with a diagnostic charm to see if they were working.

Hermione felt as if she were floating, somewhere slightly above and to the right of her actual body. It was a strange sensation. She felt weirdly removed from dying and her mind drifted away from all the spells Malfoy was casting on her.

She studied his face. Was he dying too? He didn't look like he were dying. He did look slightly feverish. Then again, she didn't know much about Veelas and bonding, maybe it was hard to tell when they were dying.

Or maybe Pansy Parkinson was completely bonkers and had tried to murder Hermione.

But...then again, Malfoy was here. Not Harry or Ron. And he did seem very distraught over her. And all those foreign emotions she was sensing did seem to match the grief and panic and rage that he was experiencing as he tried to save her. So maybe Pansy was-

"Granger!" Malfoy's raised voice pulled her back from where her mind has wandered. "I need to get you to St Mungo's. You've lost too much blood. Granger, how did you get here? The anti-apparition wards here will take too long to get past. There has to be a faster way."

Hermione tried to think.

"A portkey," she remembered hazily.

Malfoy swore and cast a series of detection spells around the room.

"Incendio!" he snapped aiming his wand at the cold fireplace.

"Accio floo powder!" He shouted it in several directions.

Hermione could feel herself fading. She gripped the fabric of Malfoy's robes as if holding them would keep her there. They were drenched in her blood.

"Fuck!" Malfoy said with a sob. Slumping down he drew Hermione closer into his arms.

"Granger," he pleaded, turning her face up toward his with a shaking hand, "Please hold on. You need to live. You can't die. I can't let you die."

Hermione's hold on his robes slipped and he noticed. He took several long breaths and stroked lightly across her cheek.

"Granger, I don't know what else to do," he said after a moment, his tone despairing. "There's a way I can save you. But—" his voice hitched. "It will come at a cost."

Hermione stared up at him for a moment.

"Are you a Veela, Malfoy?" she managed to whisper.

"Yes," he answered quietly.

"And I'm your mate?"

"Yes," he admitted.

Darkness began swallowing her and she gripped his robe tightly in her hands, pulling him down toward her as she stared deep into his grey eyes.

"Do it, Malfoy," she said steadily.

He stared at her a moment and then blinked. When his eyes opened again they shone silver and his features shifted, growing sharper and sharper. The magic in the room seemed to twist and thrum around them.

Malfoy slid his fingers up into her hair and tilted her head back to expose her throat. Dipping his head down until his lips brushed against her skin, he sighed softly.

"I hope you'll forgive me when this is over," he whispered.

Drawing back for a moment he seemed to be bracing himself, and then, curling back his lips he exposed two, long fangs in the place of his incisors. With a quick jerk he leaned forward and sank them into the juncture between Hermione's neck and shoulder.

Hermione gasped.

It felt like pure magic being injected into her veins, an icy burning sensation spreading across her body and seeming to well up until she felt like she would burst. It continued to grow until it seemed as though every cell of her body were being pulled taut as a violin string, until she were practically vibrating with tension. She felt as if she were about to shatter into atoms. And still Malfoy's bite held and his fangs pumped more and more magic into her.

Her mind felt as though it were on fire. As if there were a supernova in her brain. The waves of magic were breathtaking and also vaguely familiar feeling. She could feel her magic giving away to the new flood coursing through her, melting away and then melding until it mixed together in a swirl.

After what could have been minutes or hours the flood of magic gradually eased and she became aware of her surroundings again.

She wasn't dying anymore. But, while she could feel herself somewhat refashioned on a magical level, her body was still failing. It was a strange duality. As though something had grabbed ahold of her life spark and was just barely keeping it from slipping over the edge.

Suddenly a low, tortured groan pulled her attention to Malfoy, who was still clutching her in his arms, but now knelt almost doubled over. His eyes were closed and he was shockingly pale. If she couldn't see his shallow breathing she would have thought he was dead. As she stared his shoulders twitched bizarrely and then suddenly twisted, his back arching unnaturally.

Another groan was torn from him and he pulled Hermione even closer. It was as if he were possessed. Hlis body was writhing and twisting uncontrollably. It reminded Hermione of watching Lupin transform during third year.

"Malfoy," Hermione whispered, reaching up and laying a hand on his face.

He shuddered violently upon the contact and then pressed his cheek against her hand for a moment, as though the touch comforted him.

Then he dropped his head to the floor and screamed.

It was horrible. Simultaneously human and not. The sheer agony it contained made Hermione's heart stutter. The sound wouldn't stop, it went on and on, lasting until his throat should have been irreparably mangled. But he kept screaming.

She wanted to do something, but she could barely keep conscious. She could only watch, feeling as though her heart were breaking.

As he continued to scream she watched with wide eyes as suddenly two, huge wings ripped themselves out of his back. As they did so a mirage of white feathers burst out over his skin until his body was covered. Only his face remained bare, his features sharp and his eyes glowing bright silver.

Gripping Hermione tightly in his arms he stumbled to his feet, his wings fluttering unsteadily to balance him. His pallor was still deathly. Cradling her against his chest he tensed and then, with a superhuman leap, launched them through the window and straight up into the air.

Hermione had thought flying by broomstick was too fast. It was nothing compared to this. Malfoy was cutting through the air at an impossible speed. She was convinced they were breaking more laws of physics than even magic was supposed to get away with.

After shooting straight up into the air until they were at an insane height, Malfoy brought them up sharply and angled into a dive, zipping over land and water like a rocket as they sped downward.

Hermione struggled to stay awake, but she could feel herself slipping away again. The thread holding onto her was pulled taut.

"Granger." Malfoy's voice suddenly cut through the fade. "Stay with me. Please."

"I'm trying," she murmured, slumping against him.

"We're almost there," he assured her. His wings drew back into a sharper dive.

She was fading in and out of consciousness. Fighting to hold on she forced her eyes open in time to see them crash through the window of Purge and Dowse Ltd.

The crowd of witches and wizards sitting in the waiting area scattered as Draco burst through on a seven meter wingspan. Sliding through flying wooden chairs until they careened to a stop near the WelcomeWitch.

"Save her!" Malfoy barked, his wings twisting and folding themselves and his feathers vanishing as he reverted back into a human. "She's dying."

Several healers hurried toward them, their lime green robes blurring into floating blobs before Hermione's eyes as everything went black.



Chapter Text

When Hermione woke up she was lying in a hospital bed.

Shifting she sat up slowly and glanced around. She was in a private room, a few meters away a healer and Emeliory Bogfeld were speaking to each other in low hurried voices. They both turned and came toward her quickly when they saw she was awake.

"Miss Granger," Emeliory spoke first, "glad to see you're conscious. You were a bit touch and go there for a while, and then once the healers managed to stabilise you, we weren't quite sure what would happen."

"How long was I unconscious?" Hermione asked.

"Forty-six hours," answered the healer. She was a stout woman who cast a highly complex diagnostic charm over Hermione and then inspected it. "We were going to wait two more and then try to enervate you."

They were both staring at Hermione with somewhat apprehensive expressions. As she stared back the events leading to her arrival at the hospital began flooding back. She realised with horror that the bond, which she now knew was with Malfoy, was unnaturally still.

"Where's Malfoy?" she demanded.

The two women glanced at each other nervously.

"At the manor, in a magical coma utilizing a stasis charm." Emeliory said hesitantly.

"What?" Hermione practically shrieked as she made get out of bed.

"Hold on, Miss Granger." The healer held her down and Hermione tried to wriggle out of her grasp.

"He saved me! And he did it because I asked him to," Hermione seethed. "What on earth have you done to him?"

"Yes. Yes. We know," Emeliory assured her. "Miss Granger, you remember what he did in order to save you, don't you?"

"We bonded," Hermione answered promptly, then paused, "but, not—" she racked her mind trying to place exactly what had happened then she gasped. "It wasn't completed—That couldn't have been it."

"Yes." Emeliory nodded. "Draco performed part of the bonding process in order to save you. He tethered your life forces in order to keep you alive and then utilizing that partial bond he somehow forced a transformation in order to get you to St Mungos."

Hermione stared at her while she continued.

"But, that bond is not intended to be only partially fulfilled. Once you were no longer on the verge of death Draco would become compelled to try to finish the process. And it wouldn't be possible for him to just keep avoiding it out of sheer determination as he has been for the last several years. He knew that, so he agreed to be kept away from you and placed in a magically induced coma."

Hermione stared in horror.

"But we're bonded now," she said in confusion. "Why? What exactly is the point of that?"

Emeliory hesitated.

"To give you some time—to come to terms with it. What comes next," she paused, trying to phrase it delicately, "it may be hard handle, given the suddenness with which it's been forced on you."

The healer still reviewing parts of Hermione aural diagnosis snorted and muttered, "Although, I wouldn't recommend taking too long. We're violating a fundamental element of bonding magic. There's a chance that if his magic breaks through he'll blow up the entire manor."

Emeliory poked the woman somewhat harshly to silence her.

Hermione was staring down at her hands.

What came next.

There wasn't any point in feigning confusion. She knew precisely what they were referring to.

Mating.

Her stomach twisted with anxiety at the thought.

The healer suddenly shoved a cup of calming draught into her hands and she gulped it down.

Sex with Malfoy.

But not just sex. Bonding sex, magical being bonding sex.

It would be feral.

Her throat suddenly felt dry and she swallowed. Trying to think.

She wasn't a sensuous, worldly type woman. She'd had sex less than a handful of times, always with Ron. And it had been, well, not very pleasant. He had tried, but she had just felt terribly awkward and uncomfortable with it all. He'd been very understanding and sweet about how timid she felt about it, but that had been the beginning of the end of their relationship.

The thought that she would, again—with Malfoy. It was—overwhelming.

She suddenly wished she were still unconscious.

But, somewhere deep inside of her, something stirred. Give in. Give in. You know he'll be good to you. He'll set your blood on fire. Go to him.

The magic bond was beginning to awaken in her.

She straightened. There wasn't any good panicking or trying to delay it. She and Malfoy were already bound together now. The magic would eventually draw them in and seal it without caring if she had anxiety about sex.

Besides, she chided herself internally, she had already chosen this. When she looked him in his eye and told him to save her. This was what she had agreed to.

She was feeling calmer now. She breathed deeply as the knot in her stomach released and she stopped feeling like she was about to be sick.

She should go. He'd been so sad when he'd told her. So regretful that biting her was the only option left. If he learned she'd hesitated to go to him... it would hurt him, haunt him.

The way he'd screamed when he'd transformed suddenly rushed back to her. He hadn't hesitated to inflict that pain upon himself in order to save her. And here she was having a panic attack over having sex.

"I want to go to Malfoy Manor now," Hermione said firmly.

Emeliory's eyes flooded with relief.

"Normally I would keep you under supervision for an extra day," The healer noted, scribbling into a file. "But having worked with magical beings for most of my career, I know better than try meddling or violating the nature of bonding. Sign this form and you can go."

In a few minutes later Hermione was checked out and dressed. Emeliory pulled a handkerchief out of her bag and offered it to Hermione.

"The portkey in here will take you directly into his room. There's a vial next to the bed, breaking it will end the stasis."

Hermione gripped the handkerchief tightly and felt the outline of a key inside it. She took a deep breath. A new question had come to her while she was dressing.

"He was dying because he wouldn't tell me. That's what Pansy said before she stabbed me. She said, she wasn't doing it to force me but to force him. But—why didn't anyone tell me?"

Emeliory's expression grew apologetic.

"I did tell you. And you went to him. But he didn't want you to bond with him out of obligation and he didn't want you to feel like you were responsible when he died. He obliviated you."

Hermione gasped sharply.

"After I finish saving him, I am going to murder him," she snarled. "How dare he?"

"I tried to speak to you again. But after that he barely let anyone come near you."

"Is that why he was following me all over the Ministry?" Hermione exploded. The number of conflicting emotions running through her head were enough to make it spin.

She straightened.

"I shouldn't leave him any longer," she stated.

Pulling back the handkerchief to reveal a golden key she picked it up and vanished with a tug.

Reappearing in a dark bedroom she froze. A burning lamp illuminated Malfoy as he lay in his bed.

Hermione walked hesitantly toward him.

There was a sadness to him that even unconsciousness couldn't seem to diminish.

She stared down at him. His features were still sharpened and partially transformed.

Standing beside him she suddenly felt lost in her conflicting thoughts. Her fury over learning he'd obliviated her was the freshest and sharpest, but dulled somewhat by her panic over what she was about to do next. And then there was her frustration as she absorbed everything that had been going on without her noticing.

But all that faded away as she looked down at him and remembered the way he'd begged her not to die, and his screams as he'd transformed. The desperation he'd expressed in that house, the level of attachment to her, it was such a stark contrast to the distance she'd always thought there was between them.

She was still sorting through so much misinformation.

She felt idiotic.

How could she have missed all the signs for so long?

Her heart sank as she realised the answer. She hadn't looked. That was how.

She'd taken Malfoy at face value based on what she had known of him in the past. She had doubted that he could really change. That he would ever leave behind the bully she'd known in school, or the frightened boy during the war, or the manipulative, ambitious Slytherin she'd thought he typified. She'd suspected that deep down it was a core part of who he was.

So it had been easy for him to fool her. A snide remark about her hair or work habits had been enough to make her to stop looking. Ensuring that the thought he would ever suffer for her would never occur.

She had loathed him in school for his blind prejudice, but she'd committed a similar offense toward him as an adult.

He had changed.

That was clear.

He could have easily come to her, told her that she was his mate and that he'd die if she didn't agree to bond. She would have given in, eventually. Regardless of how she might feel about him, she wouldn't have been able to let him die because of her.

But it would have eaten at her. She would have always resented him for it. Even if she'd tried to make the best of it. She'd have always wondered what might have happened if he hadn't trapped her. It would have been like a poison between them.

He must have known that.

How much did he know about her? To fool her so effortlessly? The keep her from suspecting for so long?

She didn't know much about Magical Being bonding, but she recalled reading a little in the past. It was a slow and agonizing death. Brutal. Unendurable. Intended to force the magical being to eventually give in regardless of their reason for fighting.

It shouldn't have even been possible for him to resist. But he'd somehow managed it.

She'd been so caught up in her work that she'd never stopped to realise that subconsciously she'd known he had changed. That it had shifted things between them. She didn't know when she would have realised it…

If she hadn't thought he was leaving... If Pansy hadn't meddled, literally shoving Prima Verde's earnings report in front of her eyes and forcing her to question her assumptions…

And even then…

If Pansy hadn't nearly killed her—

Would she have ever realised in time?

The fear she wouldn't have felt like a bezoar lodged in her throat.

He would have died.

When she thought of how close he'd gotten to pulling it off, she felt ill.

Still, she thought peevishly, he hadn't exactly given her opportunities to notice that he'd changed. He never tried to be nice. He'd kept her constantly at a prickly arms length, always acting as if being near her were some sort of a punishment.

She couldn't understand why he had never even given them a chance. Why he couldn't have let them become friends. Seen if things could have progressed naturally. He'd never tried. That thought made her feel angry at him all over again.

She looked down at his face. Reaching out tentatively, she touched his cheek with her fingertips. There was a little shiver of magic between them upon contact. She brushed lightly across his pale skin.

Could she bond with him?

Yes.

Even if they weren't already partly bonded.

She would never have left him.

She would have come. Scared as she was.

And not just to spare herself the guilt of his death.

She thought back to how she'd felt when she heard he'd be leaving the Ministry after the WRA passed. The dropping sensation in the pit of her stomach. The feelings she hadn't allowed herself to indulge or examine as she'd wandered through Diagon Alley. And the keenness of her regret when she realised how she'd misjudged him about Prima Verde. How much she'd wanted to make amends.

There was something there. Even before the bond that now drew her in. Something in her that felt—possessive of him.

That hadn't wanted to let him go to Asia. That didn't want to let him leave... her.

Somehow, despite his prickliness and refusal of her attempts at friendship, she'd found herself caring for him—in a way she didn't care about many people.

It had happened unconsciously and grown and grown and then just suddenly crashed down upon her when she thought she was losing him.

She hadn't really had time to figure out what it meant exactly…

But now, as she stood beside his bed, she thought she knew.

Slowly she slipped her feet out of her office pumps and unbuttoned her shirt. Sliding her skirt down her hips she left it pooled beside his bed. She reached back to removed her bra but then let her hands drop with a shiver. She didn't feel like she could handle being completely exposed. She left her knickers on too.

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She could do this. She would.

Reaching out she picked up the enchanted vial beside his head. It had been glowing progressively brighter and brighter as she'd been standing there. Tapping it against the wood of the headboard it shattered and vanished.

She slipped under the covers and stared down at Draco as he started to wake.

His eyes opened slowly and looked directly up into hers.

"Granger." He breathed.

She stared at him mesmerized. She'd been too distracted with not dying before to realise how beautiful his transformation was. His sharpened features were so delicate and exact. Not dainty but deadly in their precision, like a golden eagle's beak or the blade of a knife. The fineness of his lovely, high arching cheekbones and straight Greek nose was remarkable. He looked almost too perfect to be real.

"You're here." His voice was full of wonder.

"Does that really surprise you?" She looked at him owlishly.

His eyes were beginning to dilate as he became fully conscious and the intensity with which he was staring made Hermione feel highly conscious of how very nearly naked she currently was—and also, that he was apparently already naked.

He reached up and laid a hand on her cheek. It was electric. Hermione felt chills across her body. Then slowly he slid it down her neck and shoulder before sliding it to rest on her waist as he sat up.

"Granger," he murmured. It came from low in his throat, almost like a growl. He pulled her toward him until she was straddling his lap. He buried his face in her shoulder and breathed deeply.

Hermione felt as though her entire body was slowly catching fire. Even as her heart was pounding with an anxiety that the calming draught couldn't seem to entirely reign in.

"You know," she said, her nervousness making her ramble. "At this point you should call me Hermione. Given that you've saved my life twice and we're bonded. It would be rather odd to call someone you're basically married to by their sur—"

Her voice trailed off into a breathy moan as he lightly kissed the column of her neck.

"Hermione." He repeated, gliding his hands up and down her back until she arched against him. Then sliding one of his hands up to her neck he drew her into a kiss.

It was searing. Like oxygen hitting her lungs after holding her breath for too long. Hermione instinctively tangled her fingers into his hair and pressed herself against him to drink it in.

Shyly she slid her hands down over his shoulders, feeling the muscle rippling under his skin as he began slowly pressing kisses along her jaw. Sliding his fingers through her hair and drawing her head to the side to expose her throat as he kissed along it languorously .

"Hermione," he murmured again, wrapping his other hand possessively around her waist, holding her firmly against him. His voice seemed to suddenly turn into a sort of snarl at the back of his throat. "Mine."

The air was growing thick with magic. Hermione could feel her mind being slowly swallowed by its fog, bringing her inexorably toward a more and more heightened state of arousal. The bonding had been too long delayed and now the magic was drawing itself up higher and higher like a tidal wave ready to crash down on them.

Hermione shook her head slightly, trying to think beyond the burning need that was rapidly consuming her.

Looking into Draco's eyes she realised with a pang that he barely looked human. They were dilated to a point of being almost black, with just a shard of that shining, silver ring edging them. His expression and the way he stared at her was almost birdlike. The magic was smothering his conscious thought, driving him forward on animal instinct, ensuring he would give in to what he had resisted for so long.

She couldn't stop the shiver of fear. Malfoy she—trusted, but Malfoy wasn't there anymore. She didn't know much about Veela bonding, but she'd watched nature documentaries growing up. Gentleness wasn't a feature of mating.

She—before she could think or worry more she felt his fangs slide into the juncture of her neck.

She keened as exquisite desire exploded over her and the magic burned through her body, incinerating all conscious thought beyond her need for Malfoy and his need for her.

Without releasing his hold on her neck Draco flipped her so she lay beneath him and pressed the length of himself against her. When he retracted his fangs Hermione was as lost as he was within the frenzy of the bonding imperative.

Arching up she wrapped her arms against him and crushed their mouths together. Her ankles hooked around his waist to hold him against her, cradling him between her hips. Her tongue flicked out teasingly against his before she peppered kisses across his jaw, feeling the faint stubble under her lips until she reached his ear and nipped it.

He pinned her wrists with one hand and then slithered down her body. He ghosted teasingly over her breasts so that she arched them toward him, but his destination was lower.

Her knickers vanished but she too lost in her drive to bond to notice. His long fingers slid along her stomach and toward her core. Her legs parted further for him and she gazed up as he leaned over her, her eyes drifting across his lithe, sculpted torso.

He slid his hand over the apex of her thighs lightly, teasingly. She keened with want, staring hungrily him, her brain flooded with desire. His eyes met hers for a moment and then he raked them over her body while his hands caressed her possessively. Then, spreading her legs out, he drove into her.

At the moment of his penetration Hermione came, clenching and spasming in a wave of pleasure, as the force of the bond snapped down around them. Binding them together irrevocably; through pleasure; through magic; through their lives.

The ferocity was searing.

The purpose of the bonding ritual was to bind the mate with intensity equal to the affection the Veela had for them. To share it. To ensure their mutual understanding of its potency and immutability.

Draco had burned for her for years.

He held her against himself jealously, gripping her hips almost hard enough to bruise as he continued claiming her. A possessive snarl rumbling in his chest and vibrating through Hermione.

The level of magic finally being released was punishing. Scorching between their bodies driving them together frantically and radiating out until it melted the ancient cornerstones of Malfoy Manor, sinking into the core of the ancestral magic that resided there.

Hermione spasmed around Draco as he pressed deeply into her. His eyes were locked on her face, watching her pleasure.

With a growl of her own she arched forward and dragged him down into her arms. Kissing him deeply again and again until they were both gasping to breath.

Having satisfied the mating imperative by finally claiming her some of the feral-ness in Draco eased. She was fully his. His passion began emerging more as he surveyed her body beneath him. He kissed and gently nipped his way along her body. Tasting her skin, marking it faintly. Sliding his hands over every inch of her to tease and draw her back into a new peak of pleasure.

Draco's possessiveness of her was still overt in the firm way he held her against himself, as though he were afraid she might slip away. Pulling her bra away to press and fondle her, his expression was worshipful. Then he moved further down her body, lowering his mouth, tasting her, while her eyes widened and she gasped, her hands sliding down to tangle in his hair and hold him there.

With the sensation of his tongue upon her, teasing and swirling around that sensitive cluster of nerves, Hermione was adrift in a sea of arousal. There was no room for shyness. For discomfort or awkwardness. The desire roaring through her burned it all into oblivion. Every trace was whisked away by the magic, ensuring that she would never forget, never doubt, the divine pleasure they could experience together.

She shattered beneath him.

Emboldened, she pushed Draco down beneath her. He followed her guidance and lay back onto the bed beneath her. His eyes still ravenous as he watched her exploration of him.

Her hands slid over his body but her eyes were locked on his face, watching his reaction. She slipped her fingers over his pale skin. Relishing the groans and hisses of pleasure she could evoke. Lowering her head she pressed her mouth to the pulse point behind his jaw, feeling its rapid flutter against her lips. She kissed him and tasted his skin. Slowly, she kissed her way down his body, her eyes still locked on his, darting her tongue out to lave across his skin with each kiss.

Reaching his waist she took him in her hands. He had not peaked. She stroked him, lightly at first and then more boldly. Feeling the silkeness over its rigidity. He hissed and his hands tangled into the sheets, twisting and tearing them. She straddled him and holding him firmly in her grasp, she lowered herself down.

Pausing for a moment she rolled her hips slowly, then again. Trying to figure out the right motion. With a groan Draco sat up and cradled her face between his hands, kissing her deeply. Then resting his hands on her hips he guided her to move quicker.

The magic in the air was audibly humming as he hissed against her mouth.

Lifting her off of him he knelt and turned her, pulling her body against his chest so her back was to him as he slid inside her again. Palming her breasts he clutched her body against his.

"Mine." He growled against her neck, his breath caressing the nape and making her arch and gasp as the angle of his penetration and movement pulled her up toward another peak. His fangs sank into her shoulder and she shuddered as she came apart in his arms. With a deep moan he followed her.

Then the room grew still. The humming, throbbing, driving magic faded, becoming calm and soothing; lulling then to sleep so they could adapt to the fundamental change wrought between them.

They leaned against each other, boneless. Panting. Still clinging to one another.

Slowly Draco sank down into the bed, drawing Hermione up against his chest and entwining his arms around her tightly. His face and eyes were fully human again but his expression was dazed as though he were heavily drugged.

He pressed light kisses across her face.

"I love you." he whispered between kisses. "I love you. I never thought I'd get to tell you. But, Merlin, you have no idea how much I love you."

He was still pressing kisses onto her cheeks when his eyes drooped and he fell asleep.

Hermione lay there studying his face as her own eyes continued to clear from the fog of arousal she'd lost herself in. She traced over his features until every detail was memorised before she drifted off, lulled by the tempo of his heartbeat.



Chapter Text

Draco slowly became conscious of a sense of satisfaction surrounding him like a blanket. He felt incredible, both exhilarated and exhausted, like he'd just won a quidditch match. He felt—as though he had been shagged within an inch of his life. He could feel it down to his toes; the release in tension throughout his body. It had been ages since he'd had sex, not since—

He became more conscious.

He had had sex.

There was a sated and tender sensation that could only be the result of a night of frenetic coupling.

Sex.

Which should have been completely impossible, given that he had been imbibing enough libido tamping potions to chemically castrated a giant.

And there was only one person who had the power to burn through them.

He opened his eyes and found himself tangled up in the arms and legs of a slumbering Hermione. Blurry memories from the previous night slowly began coming back to him. They felt strange, removed from him, like viewing another person's memories through legilimency.

He wasn't exactly surprised. Once he bit her, sealing the bond had only been a question of when. He'd assumed that if he awoke it would be because she had come to him or his magic had reached a point where it couldn't be contained. Either way. The bonding had been inevitable.

He stared at her, savoring the sensation of her body pressed against his. She was a very cuddly sleeper if the octopus-like manner in which she was entwined around him were any indication. He could feel the warmth of her steady breathing against his chest.

The magic of their bond was thrumming happily between them. Set in stone. Tied to their very souls. If he closed his eyes he could feel her heartbeat through it. The relief of feeling her safely alive in his arms made him shudder.

The panic of experiencing her dying had nearly driven him mad.

Standing in the WRA celebration party he'd felt the bond suddenly become confused and muddled and then she'd disappeared from Diagon Alley as her consciousness slipped completely away. Without the bond he would never have been able to track her to the unplottable house she'd been hidden in.

He suspected it might be a trap, but he could feel her growing fear and couldn't wait. His instincts to protect her overrode any Slytherin calculation he might ordinarily have made.

It had been a mistake. Almost soon as he tore through the wards he knew it had been a mistake. They had been waiting for him. He'd barely crossed the threshold of the house before Hermione's fear spiked dramatically and she was dying. It was like his sense of her was being sucked down a whirlpool.

Who ever it was, he suspected they hadn't wanted to kill her. The timing was too precise. They wanted Hermione mostly dead by the time he got there, so that there would only be one way for him to keep her alive. The puppeteer who had been moving more and more aggressively to make him to bond Hermione had finally checkmated him.

Draco pulled Hermione against himself firmly. The relief of having her safe and in his arms was enough to make him weep. He wanted to kiss her deeply on the mouth, and then gradually across her entire body so that he could memorise every inch of her beneath his lips. He wanted to make love to her, slowly, the way he'd always dreamed of, rather than the animalistic mating frenzy it'd been last night.

The memories of it remained hazy, but his recollection of thrusting into Hermione's body as she lay spread out under him, seizing with pleasure; that was vivid.

He grew hard.

And the more he tried not to think about it the more he began remembering. The breathy moans as he pulled her bra away and fondled her perfect breasts. And the way she had pulled him down to kiss her, hungrily, her irises blown wide with arousal as he slid inside her. The arch of her back and the way her fingers had tangled in his hair when he tasted her. The way she has peppered open-mouthed kisses from his jaw down to his cock, her tongue flicking out and dancing over his skin with every kiss. And the sensation of her hand, gripping him, guiding him inside her as she rode him.

Draco felt ready to explode. His burgeoning erection was poking up against her thigh and he was almost certain that if he shifted just slightly he would slide into her sweet, velvety warmth. His eyes rolled backward in his head at the thought.

He tried to think of anything but how tight and wet she has been... The taste of her... The sensation of her clenched around him…

He fought back a groan.

He would not take her.

She'd already had sex with him, Merlin only knew how many times, because of a mating imperative. He was not going to touch her again unless she consciously wanted him to.

Which was unlikely to ever happen. So his body might as well hurry up and accept it.

He tried inching away from her but she gave a frustrated huff and then proceeded to press even more of her naked body against his own. She slid her thigh over his cock and wrapped her leg around him more firmly causing him to end up nestled right between her legs.

Fucking hell.

The universe hated him.

There was nothing else for it. Loath as he was to do it, he had to wake her up. The situation was not sustainable. As much as he was dreading the conversation they would then have, he would rather do that than continue to lie there in a state of semi-heavenly agony waiting to find out the precise limitations of his self control.

With a sigh he rested his forehead gently against hers and then pressed a small kiss against her temple.

Then he slowly extricated himself from her cephalopod-like grasp. She hummed and sighed slightly as she began to stir. He could feel her dawning consciousness in the back of his mind.

Her eyebrows knit together and she stretched out giving him an excellent look at her breasts and flat stomach in the daylight. Her eyes cracked open and she looked up at him.

He slid further away, trying to give her space as reality set in. But before he could get far she reached out and clasped a hand around his wrist.

"Where are you going?" she asked, her voice was fuzzy with sleep.

"I—wasn't sure how you'd feel about my being here," he said, staring at her like a deer trapped by a lumos spell.

"Stay," she commanded, managing to use her bossy tone even half asleep. She tugged him back down against her. He followed orders, gingerly lying down next to her, trying to make sure his erection wasn't anywhere near her invitingly nude form. She snuggled up against him with her head resting on his chest.

"Just give me a minute to turn my brain on the rest of the way." She yawned and then closed her eyes again.

All in all, she seemed to be taking everything considerably better than he'd expected. But, perhaps that was because she wasn't fully awake yet. It might change once she had more time to think and reality set in fully—

"Stop overthinking." Hermione interrupted his thoughts without opening her eyes. "I can feel you worrying."

She poked him slightly in the ribs.

"Overthinking things is supposed to be my job," she added.

"You aren't angry with me?" he asked quietly, not able to hold the question back any longer.

"About bonding with me?" Her large, doe-like eyes opened and she looked up him shaking her head slightly, a tangle of curls cascading around her face. "I told you to do it."

"Right." Draco said cautiously. "But you didn't exactly have many other options at the time. And that was my fault."

"Why?" She demanded, with her eyes narrowed. "Are you responsible for what Pansy Parkinson does?"

He stared at her in shock.

"It was Pansy?" he choked.

"Oh. Yes. I thought you knew, already."

"No. I hadn't really had time to think about it." He admitted, his mind was awhirl. Looking back, noticing the many clues in hindsight.

"She's in love with you, you know."

Yes. Draco did know. He had tried to ignore it. He'd thought that Pansy would prefer it that way. He'd thought she'd started to move on.

"I—" his voice died. What could he say? That he should have worked harder to protect her. That he had trusted Pansy when he shouldn't have. Apologies couldn't fix it.

"She said she could live with you loving someone else, but not with you dying. That she didn't care if you'd hate her for it or decided to try to kill her," Hermione told him.

Draco instinctively hugged Hermione closer.

"I will kill her," he swore.

Hermione stared up at him, studying his face for a minute before asking.

"Draco, if I hadn't been dying, if there'd been any other way to save me, would you have ever told me?"

"No." He admitted in a whisper.

Hermione sat up and, seeming aware of her nudity for the first time, pulled the sheets up over her breasts as she looked down at him.

"I don't understand," she said, a faint tremble underlying her tone, "why would you do that? All the time we've worked together, we could have been moving toward this intentionally. Why? Weren't you willing to—were you really going to just let yourself die? Pretend to go to Asia and I'd never hear from you again?"

The tremble had turned into a wobble by the time she finished. Draco was quiet for a minute.

Then he began.

"I watched as you were tortured, Granger," Draco said in a flat voice. "In this house. I stood and I watched you scream. I just—stood there. I didn't- you were lying on the floor of my drawing room and my aunt was—and I didn't try to save you. I didn't try to spare you anything. I just—stood there and watched you convulse and scream until—until—you stopped moving."

He breathed deeply and forced himself to look up into her eyes.

"I stood there and watched because, awful as it was, I preferred it be you than me. I watched. I admitted who you were and let my aunt torture you until she couldn't even rennervate you anymore. And then she was going to give you to Greyback, and—I still didn't do anything."

Hermione's face was impassive. She just listened so he pressed on, looking away, studying the canopy of his bed.

"Even before the war started I was the one who tried to hurt you. Just because you were smarter than me I wished you'd die. I did everything in my power to harm you—I thought that if I could hurt you, it made me better than you. But I could almost never manage it. You didn't even care whether I bullied you most of the time, and it made me hate you even more. Until I'd obsess over interacting with you, trying to get a reaction from you. I wanted you to pay attention to me. To think about me as much as I thought about you. And eventually I even felt possessive, that I was supposed to be the only one who could hurt you."

His voice trailed of slightly but he forced himself to continue.

"I don't even know exactly when it started to change. I just slowly realised my hatred and rivalry with you wasn't the same after a while. That I had started imagined myself kissing you to make you stop talking in class rather than hexing you. And I thought it was just a phase, something I was going through because you were forbidden and filthy and I was horny and adolescent. But, it didn't pass."

He met her eyes again.

"I liked you. I had a possessive, obsessive crush on you when I agreed to become a Death Eater, but I still did it; when you were brought to the manor and I told them it was you, but I still did it; when Bellatrix tortured you until you couldn't scream anymore; when they dragged you up off the floor to hand over to Greyback. I liked you then. And I stood there and I would have watched you die if Potter hadn't come to save you with that elf."

He blinked repeatedly.

"Even my father never did anything to you unless it was under orders. And Bellatrix tortured you because she thought you'd broken into her vault. I am the only one who always tried hurt you just because I could. Even when I thought I cared about you, I was still willing to watch you scream if it meant I wasn't. I was always more worried about me. Every choice I made during the war was the easiest way out, the one that kept me safest. That's the kind of person I am. I—am the last person you should ever be bound to. God, Granger—I am so sorry I did this to you."

His voice cracked and he paused, breathing raggedly. He felt unable to look at her.

Hermione was silent for a long time. So long that he tentatively reached out through the bond, almost out of habit, to try to gauge how she felt. But instead being able to glean her emotional state from her subconscious as it had been, it was like reaching out and taking her hand; a mutual interaction. He started and withdrew, glancing up he found her staring thoughtfully down at him.

"When did it change?" she asked softly.

"What?"

"When did you stop caring more about you?"

He looked back up at the canopy again.

"After the war. When I started wondering what the point of it all had been. My family and I had survived and all that seemed to matter was restoring the manor, getting my NEWT's, and recouping the galleons we'd lost. As though we even needed them. And I didn't understand what we had supposedly been fighting for. What was worth killing muggles and muggleborns for. What was supposed to have been better about a world without you in it. Because I wasn't doing anything that mattered. My mother thought it was so important for me to stay alive she defied Voldemort, but I had never tried to do anything that mattered. All Malfoys are supposed to care about are the Malfoys, I'd always believed that it made sense, but after the war it didn't anymore."

He sighed.

"And, I thought that after the war that you'd change. That you'd stop being so bloody self-sacrificing and I could tell myself, 'She was only that way in order to survive. We were all just doing things to survive.' But you didn't change, you kept giving. And it drove me mad watching. I couldn't understand how someone so smart, so unbelievably smart and talented and beautiful could ignore what the world owed you just for being in it and instead choose to help outcasts who would never pay you back."

He paused and forced himself to continue.

"And by the time I figured out it was just your nature to care and give yourself, I was lost. I wanted to figure out how you did it. I thought, if I could understand, it would show me a path to find some kind of redemption. Not for the sake of the Malfoys, but just personally, to make up for—everything. I had no idea it was even possible to bond with you. By the the time I realised, it was too late."

He glanced at her and but she still wasn't betraying anything through her expression.

"So, I thought, here's my chance to be Granger-like and sacrifice myself for something because I care about it. But—even then, I couldn't stay away from you. And you were so frustrated and sad at the Ministry. I thought if I helped you pass the WRA that it would make up for some of the ways I'd hurt you."

Reaching over he gently grasped her wrist and turned her arm upward to expose the slur carved into it. Then he lifted up his left arm and laid it beside hers. The dark mark was stark against his pale skin, while the crudely carved letters on hers remained twisted and puckered slightly, still angry and irritated-looking from whatever spell had been used to make it permanent.

"The reason I was never going to tell you was because I was sure that if you knew, you'd try to save me. Once I realised what I'd created between us, I knew that the only thing I could truly do to redeem myself would be sparing you. Freeing you from the taint my family and I would cause. I knew you wouldn't be able to make yourself say no. So I decided for you. I'm not supposed to be someone you save. I'm a coward. A selfish coward who was willing to stand and watch you be tortured and killed—There is no set of circumstances where you'd deserve to be bound to someone as awful as I am. I wish there had been any other way to save you. I just—want you to know, I am so sorry, for everything."

He fell silent.

There was nothing left to say. It was almost a relief to have finally apologised. To have finally said everything he had wanted to—

Except, she was only there, hearing it, because she had bonded with him.

He'd failed to spare her.

And he didn't know what he could possibly do to fix it.

Hermione's right hand tentatively reached over and brushed across the dark mark, slowly tracing along the outline of it. He flinched slightly and she stopped.

"When I heard you were going to Asia," she said quietly, not looking up at him. "I thought about how relieved I should be about it. I thought, I'd finally be free of all your looming over my desk and insulting my hair and telling me how awful and exhausted I always look. But—all I could think about was how much I didn't want you to go. Not because of the reasons I told you father, about postwar efforts and all that, but just selfishly—I didn't- want you to go. And I couldn't understand it at first. But when I thought about it, I realised that our past didn't matter to me anymore."

She looked up from his arm and met his eyes shyly.

"Somewhere along the way, when we were working on the WRA, I stopped thinking of you in terms of school and the war. I saw you as my colleague. Someone who was as smart as me. Who I didn't always have to explain my reasoning to. Someone I could trust to take on some of my work without worrying they'd get it all wrong. Someone who could balance out my good intentions with pragmatism. I didn't know how much I'd leaned on you, how much I'd relied on your ability to support and enable me until I thought about the tremendous chasm that would be in my life when you were gone."

She was fidgeting with the edge of the sheet now. Twisting it and smoothing it under her fingers, her voice slightly shrill and hurried as she nervously kept speaking.

"When I thought you were leaving—I felt so awful. I thought—maybe I had driven you away. That you'd decided you couldn't bear to stay in Britain because of people like me—who were never willing to fully trust you, or forgive you for mistakes you'd made in the past. And I realised how unfair that was. That I'd taken stupid things like your comments about my hair and assumed they meant that nothing about you had changed since the war because—because—it was familiar and comfortable to be prejudiced against you."

Tears welled up in her eyes and started slowly trailing down her cheeks. She blinked rapidly and kept fidgeting with the sheets.

"I'm so sorry." Her voice shook. "I'm so sorry that I didn't bother to realise how much you'd changed. That I didn't ever tell you or even realize that I'd forgiven you. That I made you think that you were so irredeemable that you deserved to die—"

Her voice cracked and her shoulders trembled.

Draco couldn't help himself. He sat up and gathered her into his arms.

"Sweet Circe, Granger," he chided. "You do not owe me any apologies."

"Yes I do." She sniffed into his shoulder. "So let me get through it so I can get to the part where I'm very angry with .you."

But she kept clinging to him for several more seconds before composing herself and sitting back to look at him again.

Draco stared at her cautiously. The conversation had not gone in the direction he had expected and it had his heart racing with the a mixture of hope and fear over where exactly it would end.

Maybe she wouldn't send him away entirely. Maybe she'd let him stay in her life, just a little. Perhaps she'd let them still work together. The fear that she would never want him near her again, that she'd never forgive him once she realised the extent of the bond, was like an icy tearing sensation in his heart. But daring to hope she wouldn't was almost as terrifying.

"Draco," she said, staring him in the eyes. "I forgive you for how you were and what you did at school. And for your part in the war. I wanted to tell you that. It was part of a goodbye speech that I was writing in my head for after the WRA passed. That was why I wanted you to come to that party. I wanted to tell you. That I was sorry for the way I treated you. That you didn't deserve to have been doubted by me like that. I wanted to tell you that you were incredible person to work with. I don't think I'll ever encounter anyone else as talented as you. Looking back over the last several years, I don't have words to express how much I appreciate that you worked with me to pass the WRA."

She drew a sharp shivery breath.

"I was going to tell you, that you are a truly remarkable person. And I hoped that only good things would happen to you in Asia. Because you deserve to have only good things happen to you after—after everything you have done to try to redeem yourself and your family since the war."

Draco stared at her with wide eyes, feeling as though he was shattering inside from sheer disbelief.

"That," Hermione said, straightening, "is what I wanted to tell you when I thought you were moving to Asia. But, seeing as you weren't actually, I have few other things I need to say to you now."

Draco braced himself.

"First of all," she glared at him. "I cannot believe you obliviated me!"

She finished the sentence with a shriek of outrage.

"I am so angry with you for that I am barely restraining myself from slapping you. That you violated my mind in that way is truly reprehensible. I cannot believe you tampered with my memory." She was hissing with fury. "If you ever do such a thing to me again I will never forgive you."

"I am sorry, Granger," he whispered. "I didn't know what else to do."

"Literally anything but tamper with my memory," she snapped back sharply. "You should have started there and moved forward."

Draco stared at her at loss.

"I thought it would hurt you the least," he said. "If I had died you would never have known. If I'd let you stay aware it would have haunted you for the rest if your life. You told me that."

"So are you saying I asked you to obliviate me?" she said icily.

"No," he said meeting her glare. "But you didn't know what to do. We talked. I can show you the memory if you want. It was a stalemate. You were there because you couldn't bear to think you'd somehow be indirectly responsible for my death and I refused to have you to bond out of obligation. There was nothing else to discuss. If I could go back I would do it again."

Hermione glared at him angrily but there was a softening thoughtfulness behind her eyes.

"I was just there because I felt guilty?" She asked stiffly.

"More or less. You wanted to see if there was some arrangement we could work out." Draco said tightly. "And you were angry because I never allowed our relationship get closer. Because, you said, that maybe we could have been friends, that maybe you might have been able to care about me, if you hadn't always just seen me as someone who was using you."

"That's what I said?" She paused and asked, "Malfoy, why didn't you ever let us become friends?"

He stared at her steadily.

"It was easier to not give myself any false hope. I was afraid that if we became friends and I let myself think was a chance and told you, you would feel like I'd done it all to manipulate you into agreeing to it."

"But—this was your life we are talking about. I don't understand why you weren't willing to risk anything," she argued.

"Because it was also your life," he retorted, "Trying to come up with a way to survive was always secondary to making sure I didn't do anything that would make you realise what had happened."

"But being friends wasn't going to make you give in. It would have just given this a chance to develop more naturally." She gestured between them.

"You don't have any idea, Granger," he ground out, "how hard it was. The process of bonding on my end is hard to even explain. I didn't mean to involve myself in your life. I just literally couldn't help it. I meant to stay away. I tried to make myself leave Britain, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I'd find myself lurking around places you might be. I'd always rationalise some excuse for it, that I wasn't there to try to see you. I'd pop in at the Ministry because I had to say hi to Blaise or Theo and then happen to miss their floors and end up in the Magical Creature Department. And later I'd nitpick over over every section of the WRA so I could drop by and ask you a question about wording. Whenever I noticed you were upset I could not stop myself from going to find out why. The extent that I involved myself in passing WRA was the best I could do not to involve myself in your life..."

Just thinking about it made him shake.

He continued, "If we'd been friends you would have smiled at me. And invited me to have drinks. And hugged me with those suffocating hugs you always are giving Potter and Weasley." He realised he sounded weirdly jealous as he said that last bit. "And I wouldn't have been able to hold myself back if you were like that toward me. It was hard enough to manage when you were constantly shooting me suspicious glances and disapproving looks."

Hermione stared at him with an expression of frustrated resignation. Her face had a pinched look of disapproval that was highly reminiscent of their school days.

"You know," she grumbled at last, "for someone who spent so much time complaining about Saint Potter, you certainly have done an excellent job adopting his martyr complex."

He rolled his eyes.

"Unlike Potter my martyr complex is very contained. It extends to you and no further."

Hermione blushed and fidgeted the sheet in her fingers.

"Draco," she said nervously. "There's—something I wanted to tell you."

"What is it?" he asked carefully.

Her expression was hard to read, both embarrassed and determined. He wasn't sure whether he was supposed to brace himself for what she was about say.

"When—when I thought you were leaving. Realizing—that I'd forgiven you and valued you as a colleague wasn't the only thing I realised. I realised that I cared about you. That, the idea that you were going away made me feel ill, because—"

She paused and bit her lip.

"Because I felt like you belonged to me. And when the WRA passed, and we were coming toward each other in the crowd, I was going to kiss you. Because—I think, I've been falling in love with you. And I just—didn't realise it until a few days ago."



Chapter Text

Hermione could feel her cheeks burning as she finished speaking. She didn't know why she was blushing. Here she was, sitting across from a man who was head over heels, willing to walk through hell, in love with her and she was embarrassed to admit she was in love with him too.

Draco was staring at her with wide eyes, his entire face was frozen. He looked like he'd seen a—well, not a ghost. Because, really, who hadn't seen one? But something very unpleasant and surprising. Like—a resurrected Voldemort.

Yes.

That about captured his expression.

He looked nearly ready to fall over from shock.

It was not the reaction she had been hoping for.

"That's—that's not possible." He finally said, slowly.

She gave him a look.

"Draco, I wouldn't lie about this just to make you feel better. I've thought it over carefully."

He was very pale.

"But—we talked about this," His tone was firm but there was a barely discernible tremor beneath it. "You talked to my mother about this. Last week. You did not have any feelings for me then."

"Well. I don't remember what my thought process was at the time." She shot him a glare. Being obliviated was going to be a sore subject for her for a very long while.

She continued.

"But I don't think that, in the context of learning you were dying and that I needed to bond with you to save you, I would have realised it. I would have been preoccupied with research and trying to wrap my head around everything. I wouldn't have been focused on my feelings were aside from whether I thought I could do it."

Draco still looked doubtful and terrified. His eyes were huge as he stared at her.

"I mean, it's not like it was a conscious decision I made," she added defensively. "Really, it is very much against my better judgment. You're terribly mean to me most of the time. This probably says truly awful things about my self-esteem or something."

Draco made a choking sound. He looked about to pass out.

Hermione reached out and took his hand.

"Draco, when I came here last night, I was sure of it. Even though you've been about as friendly as a porcupine and never did anything but taunt me when we weren't working. When it came to all the things that mattered to me most; all the times that I needed someone most; you were always there. And—that made me fall for you. But I took you for granted so I didn't realise it—not until I thought you were going to leave and I felt like my heart was breaking."

"Say it," he said, pleading.

She leaned forward so that their faces were only a breath apart. Their eyes locked on one another.

"Draco Malfoy, I love you."

He shuddered at the words. As though something deep inside him had broken.

Hermione moved even closer to him, not caring anymore about holding the sheet up.

He didn't believe her.

Couldn't bring himself to.

She could tell.

In some ways she could hardly believe it herself.

Emotions really weren't her forte. Especially not romantic ones. But being in love with him felt different from any other feeling she'd ever experienced. Overwhelmingly certain. Perhaps because of the suddenness with which it had struck her. It hadn't been a conscious, growing thing that she'd had months and years to mull over along the way. It had been so secret and slow, and then all at once she just—knew.

And she desperately wanted him to know it too.

She rested her hands on his bare shoulders and pressed her forehead against his.

"Draco Malfoy, I love you. Against my better judgment. I love you. And I am sorry it took me so long to face it. I'm sorry you had hurt yourself before I could. But I'm so glad you're alive. I'm so glad you saved me so I could tell you."

He was shaking. She continued,

"When I was in that house, trying to stay conscious, wanting to tell you was part of what made me keep holding on," she whispered, tilting his face up so that her lips were just barely brushing against his as she murmured again, "I love you."

Then she pressed her lips against his, softly. It was chaste. As if it were their first kiss.

He was frozen for a moment before he choked back a sob and, tangling his hands in her hair, he kissed her back.

Hermione thought her heart might burst.

Realizing privately that she was in love with him had been shocking and, well, rather embarrassing. What kind of person went and fell in love the snarkiest, most unpleasant coworker they had? She'd tried hard to come up with another plausible explanation. But her mind was unrelenting, it would not allow her to invent a different theory just because she felt shocked or embarrassed.

Discovering that he also was in love with her had been a relief. She wasn't some lonely-hearted spinster who fell for someone just because they happened to be there. He had been there, helping her, because he cared too.

She hadn't had much time to absorb that revelation. But now, seeing how it affected him. She felt like she'd been dropped into a pool of Felix Felicis. She was so happy.

Fate was an odd creature, she mused to herself as she tangled her fingers into his hair and pressed her body against him so that he moaned against her lips.

Fate could be cruel, impetuous and secret, but somehow She had wound Draco and Hermione together.

And it was perfect.

It was everything.

Before they could break off the kiss Hermione became suddenly aware of a foreign current of malevolent magic invading the room. Tearing her lips from Draco's she turned just in time to see the door glowing red before it suddenly exploded toward them.

She heard Draco snarl and then felt herself snatched up as she went flying across the room until they struck the wall. Everything around her went black and she realised after a moment of confusion that she was surrounded by feathers.

Draco had transformed instantaneously and thrown them out of the blast zone. Peering out she saw that the bed, where they had been a moment before, was mangled with splintered, smoldering wood.

She wriggled through his wings as he crouched protectively over her. Pushing through his mirage-like feathers she gazed out, wide-eyed as aurors poured through the door, lining up along the wall opposite, wands aimed at them. There were at least thirty, possibly more. They crowded into the room so tightly it was impossible to count. Among them she saw Harry. His jaw was tense, his green eyes flashing.

"Harry?" she gasped in rage. "What are you doing? You nearly killed us with that blast. What kind of magic even was that?"

"Hermione," he acknowledged her shortly. She realised then that the wands weren't aimed at 'them.' they were aimed at Draco. "We're here with orders to apprehend Draco Malfoy under suspicion of coercing a magical bonding and using dark magic."

She stared for a moment.

"He didn't coerce me," she snarled. "I asked him to do it. He would never have done it if it hadn't been the only way to save me."

"You've been bonded to him now. That makes you an unreliable witness. His innocence will have to be established by a Ministry investigation and trial before the Wizengamot," Harry replied tightly.

"What is the law or precedent for this?" she demanded, snatching a throw up off a nearby armchair and wrapping it around herself. "As a head in the legal department of the Department for the Regulation and a Control of Magical Creatures I want to know what your legal basis is for this arrest. There are no laws restricting magical creatures from bonding in order to survive. And my testimony that it was not coerced remains valid whether or not I'm bonded. You can verify it with veritaserum if you doubt me that much."

Harry, she realised, did not appear to want to be there. He rubbed his forehead in frustration and, while still alert, Hermione realised that he did not have any of the skittishness that many of the other aurors exhibited.

"There is no legal precedent," Harry said flatly. "Because there hasn't been a full-blooded male Veela in over two hundred years. They're categorised as being mythical. That gives the Ministry good reason to suspect Malfoy of using dark magic and coercion on you, based on his personal history and the state in which you were brought to St Mungo's. You were under protective Ministry custody and you were supposed to remain in St Mungo's until you could corroborate his testimony and his innocence was established. But Emeliory Bogfeld smuggled you out with a portkey. She has been arrested on charges of kidnapping and suspicion of taking a bribe. By the time the aurors stationed outside realised you were here the Veela magic around this room was impenetrable. We were ordered to do whatever it took to get in."

Hermione stared. She wasn't sure she knew what a full-blooded Veela was. And Emeliory had apparently seen fit to leave out a great many details when she sent Hermione on her way. But, it wasn't as if she had even asked Hermione to go. Hermione was the one who decided it.

"Emeliory didn't kidnap me," she scoffed. "I demanded to go to Draco. We were already partly bonded. Trying to leave the magic incomplete could have had deadly consequences by the time the Ministry completed its investigation."

She glared at the room before her. Malfoy was still transformed, his wings arched protectively around her, his hands resting on her shoulders.

"Besides," she seethed, "none of that explains why there are over thirty aurors threatening us. If this is all done in the interest of protecting me, perhaps you should stop pointing your wands at the person my life is bound to."

Her voice was crackling with fury and her fingers itched for her wand.

Harry actually looked slightly annoyed with her.

"I don't think you fully grasp the situation, Hermione. No one knows what a full-blooded male Veela is capable of. There are almost no records of them even existing. The Ministry is dealing with a completely unknown type of magical creature who stands accused of kidnapping, biting, and mating himself to one of the most famous witches in the wizarding world. By Ministry regulation, given that I'm your friend, I shouldn't be here. But due to the situation they sent me anyway, in part because they are hoping as your friend you'll listen to me and convince Malfoy to cooperate."

Behind her she felt Malfoy shift with a sharp sigh. Glancing over her shoulder she saw that he had reverted back to human, standing behind her unapologetically nude. If the air in the room hadn't been so tense she might have been amused by how panicked looking the aurors seemed by it.

"Granger?" he murmured next to her as he pulled on a robe from out of nowhere. "You came here before you spoke to the aurors?"

"I didn't know there were aurors," she admitted quietly. "The only people I saw were Bogfeld and the healer."

"Fucking Bogfeld," he cursed. "She always meddles. I assumed that you were here because the investigation had concluded."

"You were expecting to wait until after the Ministry finished an investigation for us to seal the bond?" she asked incredulously.

Malfoy looked annoyed and muttered.

"I didn't exactly have many options at the time. You were barely alive and the Ministry was very skeptical about how you had ended up nearly dead in my arms."

He pinched the bridge of his nose in irritation.

"What exactly do you want, Potter?"

Harry came across the room toward them.

"Hermione's statement needs to be taken before the Wizengamot. And I have been told to take you into custody and hold you until you have been cleared of suspicion."

"Fine," Malfoy said stiffly.

Hermione was ready to explode with indignation.

"You can't arrest him because he saved me and brought me to St Mungo's when I was dying! What is your evidence that Draco has actually committed any wrongdoing?"

"As a former death eater Malfoy remains permanently under the Ministry's probationary custody. Any suspicious behavior is grounds for the Ministry to revoke his freedom. The only reason he wasn't already arrested was because he had cooperated fully at St Mungo's by giving his statement and consenting to be placed under a magical coma by stasis with auror supervision. But when he proceeded to ward this room and then—mate you, it nullified that Ministry provision by a long shot."

Hermione wanted to shake Harry. Even if he was doing his job, he didn't need to be such an obstinate heel about it.

"Granger, calm down," Draco chided her softly.

"It's not fair," she fumed. "You haven't done anything wrong. I'm the one who woke you up. I don't see why you should be arrested."

"It's not the first time I've spent time in a Ministry cell. I'll be fine."

That did not make Hermione feel any better. But Draco seemed to think that it settled everything. He dropped a kiss on her head.

"Potter," he said in a tense voice, "I'm trusting you that nothing is going to happen to her."

Harry met Draco's eye.

"You're not the only one who'd die for her, Malfoy. In fact, you're rather late to the party."

If the situation were not so fraught Hermione would have been tempted to smack Harry for saying something so ridiculous. But the reply seemed to satisfy Draco. He started move past them. Hermione grabbed his wrist and pulled him back.

"Draco," she hissed. "You can't just surrender yourself like this. They're treating you like you're a manticore or a nundu. They might kill you or keep you permanently restrained if they get the chance. You can't possibly trust that the Ministry actually intends to clear you of suspicion and let you go."

"I don't trust them." Malfoy admitted quietly. "But I trust you, and Potter. And I have a pretty good feeling that they won't be able to do anything to me unless I let them. I'm not going ask you to become a fugitive with me just because the Ministry is a bureaucratic swamp. Your friends are important to you. I can sit quietly in a Ministry cell for a few days while you and Potter get me out."

He slipped her hand gently off his wrist, holding on for a moment before he dropped it and turned away from her. Raising his hands over his head he casually strode toward the rest of the aurors.

"Gentlemen," he drawled, and then noticing a few females among them, "ladies. I'm all yours."

About ten stunners shot out simultaneously and struck him. He flinched but didn't fall. Hermione felt like she was going to be sick.

"Fuck that stings," he whined. "Can't you just chain me or something?"

Several of the aurors looked distinctly green. Harry hissed and stalked over. Conjuring up a pair of manacles he clipped them around Draco's wrists.

"Abbott! Collins! Take Malfoy in for booking," he barked, then in lower tone he muttered, "Malfoy, if you give them any trouble I will be the one that's called in to deal with you, and that will mean leaving Hermione somewhere. Understood?"

"Perfectly." Draco said shortly, allowing his arm to be grasped by a resolved looking young auror. His eyes rested on Hermione and he smiled faintly at her for a moment before vanishing.

Harry moved back to her side.

"Let's get this over with." she said in a tense voice. "I'm trusting that you will do everything in your power to make this happen as quickly as possible. I mean everything, Harry."

The other aurors were filing out and some of Harry's stiffness seemed to fade.

"I'm sorry, Hermione. I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't a total madhouse out there. You were unconscious. The story about you both crash landing into St Mungo's has gone around the globe. The appearance of a full-blooded male Veela is international news enough, but having both you and Malfoy involved has it about a hundred times crazier." He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Let's get you home so you can head to the Ministry in some actual clothes."

Taking her arm he turned with a pop and they reappeared in Hermione's living room.

"I don't understand. What exactly is a full-blooded Veela that makes Draco so unique?" Hermione asked stiffly. "Male Veela may be rare but they're hardly mythical. I just bought a memoir by one last week and it wasn't from the eighteenth century."

"I can't believe there's something about magical creatures that you don't know." Harry observed. "I don't really know anything but what The Daily Prophet has been saying in their coverage on it, so take it with a grain of salt. Basically male Veela are rare and aside from the bonding, they're just average wizards. And half-Veela, and even pure Veela males, don't always manifest enough of the Veela magic to bond. That's part of why the whole species is so rare. But occasionally there's been a few of what they call full-blooded male Veela, and they're different. They don't have the entrancement the way females do, but they're able to transform, and the magical abilities they're supposed to have is why they were thought to be mythical. Most magizoologists didn't believe they existed because they're so rare and the stories of what they could do sound unlikely for a high intelligence sentient magical creature."

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.

"Well, you remember that fountain of the magical brethren that the Ministry used to have, where the goblin and the house elf, and the centaur are basically worshipping the witch and wizard? Part of the reason why wizarding folk are such a stuck up lot is because we have both reasonably high intelligence and a versatile type of magical power. When magical creatures are high sentience they usually have a specialised type of magical ability, like female Veela, goblins, centaurs, or house elves; it's limited to a specific branch of magical ability. According to what little is known about them, full-blooded male Veela can use their Veela magic however they want, just like wizarding folk, and it gives them a resistance to ours. The last record of a full-blooded male Veela was in Germany two hundred years ago, when his mate was murdered, he razed an entire wizarding city within minutes before dying."

Harry sighed. "The Ministry has no idea what they might be dealing with. And based on the records Malfoy is only a quarter Veela, that he could manifest to bond at all is surprising. Having him somehow turn into a full-blooded Veela makes the Ministry suspicious that dark magic was involved, especially given that you were almost dead when he brought you in. People are panicking. They think it's a bid to become a new dark wizard."

Hermione shut her eyes and sighed. Of course Malfoy would somehow end up being a special kind of Veela. Prat.

If she'd had more time to think it would have occurred to her that transforming into a giant bird was not something she'd ever heard of a Veela doing. Didn't females turned into scaled harpy-type creatures?

She felt as though she should probably feel a great deal more curious and surprised, but at the moment she just felt resentful over being separated from Draco. She wasn't sure if it was related to the bonding magic or just the injustice of his arrest.

Everything had felt so—perfect, for a bit. And now—

She slumped slightly against a bookshelf, feeling overwhelmed.

"Hermione," Harry said firmly. "I'm going to get Malfoy cleared. We will get him free. I'm sorry about how it happened. But I had to play my part and follow orders to make sure I didn't get pulled off the case or have my intentions questioned when I push for his release."

Hermione sighed in relief. She had assumed as much, but hearing Harry say it was comforting.

"It's just—a lot. I feel like I'm more in the dark about all this than anyone else. I don't understand why Bogfeld interfered and sent me off before the Ministry took my statement. I feel like everything would have been a lot simpler then."

"Her testimony is scheduled for tomorrow as part of the larger investigation. We'll find out then."

He hesitated.

"Hermione, they're probably going to dose you heavily with veritaserum. They don't know how the bond will have affected you. Everyone is going into this blind and it's causing the Ministry to act paranoid. I want you to be prepared for that. But I'm going to be with you the whole time, and I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

She smiled wanly up at him. As she turned toward her room she noticed a faint jolt of irritation through her bond with Malfoy. She reached out hesitantly.

It was like—brushing their minds up against each other. The wholeness to the connection was startling.

The feeling of feeling him and him feeling her, but also a clarity of insight into his mind. It wasn't like legilimency; there was none of the invasiveness, the prodding in and shoving through thoughts and memories. Instead it was like a conversation happening instantly; an immediate understanding of what was at the front of his mind.

He was fine, he quickly sent her a sense of reassurance. The Ministry was just full of dolts. How she could bear working there he couldn't understand.

The communication was like a gentle caress against her mind. It made her shiver. She missed him. She wanted him back with her.

She didn't mean to communicate it to him but she wasn't really sure how the bond worked. She sensed him feeling her melancholy, and it suddenly felt like he was hugging her in her brain. It was so—comforting.

"Hermione?" Harry's voice broke into her thoughts. "Are you alright? You've been staring at the wall for over a minute."

She roused herself.

"I'm fine, Harry," she said firmly. "I was just—worrying about Draco."

She went to her room and shut the door. When she had dressed she came back out and found Harry reading on her couch.

"When did you get all these books on Veela?" he inquired. "You must have checked out the entire library's collection on bonding."

"What?" She looked at him in confusion.

Harry pointed toward a heap of books lying on the floor beside her desk. She stepped over and stared. There on her living room floor were all the books she'd gone looking for at the library the week before.

She made a strangled sound of disbelief as she gaped at them; remembering that she'd vaguely noticed that pile of books when she'd found half of the WRA on her desk Wednesday night; and then she'd shoved all of them on the floor Saturday when she'd been reviewing her arithmancy notes, minutes before she'd left for the library; and how she'd repeatedly cursed the inconsiderate person who'd taken them all.

"Brilliant, Hermione," she murmured to herself as she knelt down and sorted through them. "You might be the most unobservant witch in all of wizarding history."

She picked up a large, thick volume entitled, "Veela, a Verisimilitude of Information on a Very Veiled Vein of Magic." The small, cramped, scholarly text was very promising looking and it had several appendices in addition to the delightfully large bibliography in the back.

As she stood up, Harry suddenly muttered, "Oops. I forgot to give this to you earlier." He pulled a tiny satchel out of his pocket and enlarged it. "Your wand’s in there. We recovered it in one of the rooms in that house you were taken to."

Pulling her wand out it felt—foreign. As if her magic wasn't compatible with it anymore. She swished it experimentally. It felt like a dam at the tip of her fingers, as though she had so much magic flowing inside her that the dragon heartstring inside couldn't accommodate it all.

"Incendio ," she said mildly, pointing into the fireplace. A large fireball exploded from the tip and crashed into the brickwork.

"Sweet Circe!" Harry yelped. He shot her glance. "Maybe you shouldn't use any magic when we're at the Ministry."

She nodded.

Flooing into the Ministry Harry led her over the lift. It was midday and the Atrium wasn't very busy. But a few journalists and Ministry workers noticed them and approached quickly.

"Miss Granger, are you bonded to Draco Malfoy?"

"Did he force you?"

"Was Draco Malfoy responsible for your kidnapping from Diagon Alley?"

Harry warded them all off and moved her quickly to the lift without replying.

As they rode down the lift to the 10th floor Hermione asked.

"Harry, what exactly happened after I disappeared?"

He rubbed his forehead over his scar.

"Malfoy was at the WRA party and we were all waiting for you to arrive. And then he suddenly just turned white and gasped something about something happening to you before he bolted out. We weren't sure what he meant but we tried to follow him. He vanished as soon as he got out of the building. We contacted the Ministry and then heard the DMLE had been notified by the tea shop, asking if you were alright and wanting to know what to do with your things. When we arrived we found your bag and the drugged tea and heard that Pansy had taken you to St Mungo's."

The doors to the lift opened and, as they walked down the quiet halls toward the courtroom, he continued,

"But when we checked you had never arrived at the hospital. We weren't sure where to begin looking for you. We realised based on the residual magic in the tea shop that you had been portkeyed somewhere. So there were specialists trying to analyze it to try to get any sense of where you'd gone. And someone followed up on Pansy and found out that she'd vanished and her flat and Gringott's vault had been emptied. But that still didn't give us any idea where you might be. Then Malfoy's patronus appeared saying you were in an unplottable manor near Belfast."

They were standing outside the doors of courtroom eight. Harry sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.

"We mobilised there with portkeys within thirty minutes, but when we got there we found the wards shredded, door blasted down, and a huge pool of your blood. We were still trying to find you then we got word from St Mungo's that Malfoy had showed up there with you. You were nearly dead and it appeared you'd been bitten so he could transform into a full-blooded Veela. He said it had been to save you. But there was a lot of fear and skepticism. So, he was supposed to be kept subdued until you could corroborate what had happened. But then, well, you know..."

He fell silent. Hermione was staring at the courtroom doors, trying to prepare herself for what came next. He gave her a minute before asking,

"Are you ready, Hermione?"

She nodded. Harry pushed the door open and they walked inside.

Chapter Text

The full Wizengamot was assembled.

In the center of the room was a large chair and Hermione's heart stuttered when she saw a blond head slumped down in it.

After a moment she realised with guilty relief that it was Lucius Malfoy.

He was chained in place. Clearly he'd been heavily dosed with veritaserum, words were pouring from his lips and muddling into each other as he spoke.

"—trying to die. My son—Heir—Last of the Malfoys and the Rosiers... going to die. Tried to change his mind—muggle-born—not worth his life... Tried to tell him—not too late. Fucking boy—Fucking noble. Cursed me—Wouldn't listen... What could I do? Waited—couldn't change his mind... Cissa tried—always listened—to Cissa. Wouldn't now though. Waited... Thought—just before. Delirious before dying... I'd go to—muggle-born. Tell her. She'd go. If not—maybe force. He wouldn't be able to—stop himself. Save him—Had to save him. He was trying to die—My son... My son... My heir—He was trying to die..."

"So you had no part in the attempt on the life of Hermione Granger?" A witch sitting among the Wizengamot interrupted.

"Stupid—Stupid... Asinine thing—to do. Too risky. Could have killed them both. So stupid. Nearly killed my son. Draco—My son..."

Lucius Malfoy was sobbing before the Wizengamot.

"Do you know how you son managed to manifest as a full-blooded Veela?"

"Shouldn't—be possible. Cissa's father—barely Veela... hardly manifested. We... never bonded. Draco shouldn't have—Don't know. Fucking war. Nearly killed my son. Probably did it."

"You wife has already testified that although she gave a portkey to Emeliory Bogfeld the week before, she had no knowledge of Miss Bogfeld's decision to smuggle Miss Granger from the hospital. Did you have any part in it?"

"Didn't know—not till aurors said. My god. So relieved. He'll be alright. My son—My son will live."

"Lucius Malfoy you are cleared of suspicion. You may go." Kingsley boomed.

Lucius slumped further into his seat. Aurors moved forward and, releasing the chains, half carried him from the room. The room was packed. The press section was crammed with photographers and journalists.

Hermione felt fury well up within her. She didn't even like Lucius and she felt indignant on his behalf. The case shouldn't be public.

"The next witness to the stand. Healer Abasi."

The healer strode into room and stood on the witness stand beside the chair.

"Healer Abasi, you have been called in as an expert witness. You have looked over the medical records from St Mungo's as well as Ms Bogfeld's file on Mr Malfoy, what is your professional opinion of this case?"

The healer furrowed his brow and pressed his fingertips together thoughtfully.

"There is very little verified information on full-blooded Veela. However, drawing on what we know of Veela bonding, it is my opinion that Mr Malfoy's full-blooded manifestation was likely accidental."

"How so?" A wizard inquired.

"Based on Ms Bogfeld's notes, Mr Malfoy refused to give into the bond and was on the verge of dying from the suppressed magic. The Malfoy Family has some of the wizarding world's most ancient magical blood. It's likely his bloodlines combined with the stresses of the war are what enabled a quarter-Veela male to manifest at all. There have been noted upticks in bonding rates following the last several wars among all species. When bonding magic is unfulfilled it builds up, creating a magi-biological imperative to force the magical being to eventually give in. Given his bloodline and how close Mr Malfoy was to dying, he probably had so much magic that it was sufficient to cause a full-blooded manifestation when he bit Miss Granger."

"Don't you think he could have waited intentionally?"

Healer Abasi looked thoughtful.

"I doubt it. No one had any idea how full-blooded Veela manifested before now, especially given the widespread doubt they even existed. I find it doubtful that Mr Malfoy could have suspected it. And I think if he'd intended to give in eventually he would have done it sooner. Most magical beings who cannot bond commit suicide before reaching the second year to avoid dying from the magic. He lasted an unprecedented two and half years. It must have been utter agony. It's remarkable he stayed sane."

"You don't think it could have been enabled by using dark magic? Looking at the crime scene, a tremendous amount of Miss Granger's blood was spilled. You don't think he could have used a dark ritual to enable it?" A suspicious looking old wizard asked.

"Based on everything we know about Veela bonding I would say it is almost impossible. While Veela have been known to bite their chosen bond-mates without consent, it's a survival instinct. They don't do anything intentionally to hurt them. I don't think Mr Malfoy could have brought himself to injure or endanger Miss Granger, regardless of what he might have thought he could achieve by it. You can consult magizoologists to see if they corroborate my opinion. Honestly, if it were possible to manifest as a full-blooded male Veela through dark magic, I think it would have happened before now."

"Thank you, Healer Abasi."

The healer left the room again.

Kingsley looked over at Hermione.

"Miss Granger has joined us to give her statement."

Hermione stepped forward, bracing herself.

"Even though you are a voluntary witness, Miss Granger, due to the circumstances of your recent bonding I am afraid we must ask you to give your statement under veritaserum. If you refuse it will give us reason to believe you are withholding incriminating information about Mr Malfoy and oblige us to charge him with coercive bonding."

Hermione nodded stiffly.

An auror brought a vial of the potion to her.

"Please drink all of it, Miss Granger." Kingsley instructed.

She gaped at him.

She'd expected a double dose of six or even maybe nine drops. A full vial was ridiculous.

She clenched her jaw and popped the cork off the top. Then, glaring daggers at Kingsley, she knocked back the entire thing.

She stood for a moment waiting for it to take effect. For a second there was nothing. Then, like she'd taken a blow to the back of her head, she stumbled forward as it took hold.

She dimly felt herself being lowered into a chair.

"Miss Granger, please tell the court exactly what happened to you on Tuesday." A voice invited her.

A recitation of the day poured from her lips. Starting from the moment she woke she began recounting every thought and action she could recall. Too nervous to eat, stepped on poor Crookshanks' tail twice, didn't remember where her shoes were—

"Perhaps skip to what happened at tea shop," said another voice sounding faintly amused.

Hermione's mind felt almost blank as she told them about arriving at ChariTeas with Pansy. The French maid. The tea cakes. The strange taste of the Darjeeling.

She had nothing to hold back. It was easy to just let it all flow out. The words streamed, tripping over themselves, out of her mouth.

As she continued to speak she became aware of a faint niggling in the back of her mind. She reached toward it dazedly and discovered it was Draco. Her mind cleared somewhat as his mind brushed against hers, as though she were able to utilise some of his mental clarity.

The courtroom swam back into her vision. She became aware of the words leaving her mouth.

"House shook. She was sorry. Cut my wrists—Stabbed me—Wanted me to die...slowly. Had a portkey. Left. I was—bleeding. Tried to escape. Couldn't—Couldn't. Tried. Called. Couldn't hold on. Draco... came. Sealed bleeding. Tried to fix knife—Used..."

Draco caressed her mind as she began reciting all the healing spells he'd used on her. There was a raging sense of fury that she became dimly aware that he was veiling from her. She realised distantly that he was experiencing her account of the kidnapping.

She reached out for him.

"Tried floo—Couldn't—apparate. So much blood... lost. trying to hold on. He said—had to save me..." she was slurring. "Looked in his eyes. Beautiful eyes—could get... lost in them. Sometimes—looks at me, I think... my heart will stop..."

"Yes, Miss Granger, that's enough about Mr Malfoy's eyes. What happened after he said he had to save you?"

"Asked him—Veela? Mate? Said—yes. I told him—do it. He was... so sorry. Afraid—afraid I'd never forgive. Bit me—magic. Just pouring... never felt so much—magic. Stopped dying... then he—"

Her voice started shaking.

"Trying to transform—screaming... worse than—werewolf transformation. He—couldn't stop... screaming. So awful... didn't know. I didn't know—" she became vaguely aware that she was sobbing.

Draco was becoming agitated by her emotional state.

"Didn't know... I'd hurt him. So sorry—my heart... then wings. Flew to Mungo's. Don't know... after."

Hermione subsided. Staring up at the Wizengamot. Her eyes felt glassy but, while still under the effects of veritaserum her mind felt slightly less drugged. The Wizengamot members were staring at her curiously.

"Did you have any idea he was a full-blooded Veela?"

"Didn't know," she grumbled. "Only learned... from Harry—no one tells me anything. Pansy told me—most. And stabbed me."

"Miss Granger, would you describe entering into the bond as being consensual?"

"He—never done it... if—I hadn't agreed."

"But your life was at stake. Would you have done so in other circumstances, in which you had more choices than bonding or death?"

"Yes. If he told me—would have."

"Why?"

"Because... I can't—lose him. I need him—he matters so much... to me. I didn't realise—until... said he was leaving. I was—I was... in love with him—but, didn't know."

"But you weren't in any kind of romantic relationship with him prior to the bonding."

"Snarky bastard—" she muttered. "Never nice—except during work. Always told me... I was—frightful."

"But you fell in love with him?" A skeptical voice asked.

"I think—I have bad taste in men," she said plaintively.

There were titters through the courtroom. Hermione felt herself blushing but couldn't stop herself from continuing to speak.

"He was always there—for me. When it mattered—he always came. Even if he was mean. And he was so smart—it was lonely... to always be the cleverest. Having someone who could understand... was nice. His mind—I fell in love with his mind... first."

"Did you witness any dark magic in the house?"

"No. No dark magic. Just—Pansy's slicing hex. And—Draco's... healing spells. And biting."

Her sentences were less disjointed. Even though the truth continued to flow from her lips, it wasn't so forceful that she couldn't control the phrasing any longer. She was holding onto Draco so tightly through the bond she felt almost physically entwined with him.

"Tell us what happened when you awoke in the hospital."

"Emeliory Bogfeld was there. She asked if—I remembered what happened. When I asked where Draco was she told me... magic coma at the Manor. Said it was—to give me time. But, I didn't want—to wait. I didn't want to leave him alone. Said I could go—gave me a portkey."

"She didn't mention that the Ministry needed a statement from you?"

"No. Just talked about—Draco."

"Were you aware of what would happen when you went?"

Hermione felt her cheeks flush scarlet. She didn't want to answer these questions. This was private. But the words were dragged from her.

"Yes. We had to complete the bond. The magic wouldn't rest until we—mated," she said tightly.

"And did you?" She realised vaguely that it was Albert Runcorn asking the question. She glared at him.

"Yessss," she hissed. "I broke the stasis vial by him and woke him up. As soon as he woke—"

Her chest was heaving as she tried to hold back the intimate details.

Draco's occlumency walls suddenly reached through to her and dropped down around her mind, locking the potion out. Her mind immediately clear she finished, "we completed the bond."

"Tell us about the bond." Runcorn instructed.

Hermione pretended she was still under the truth serum.

"I don't know—much about Magical bonding," she said truthfully. She decided to describe the emotional bond from the week before. "It's like a... string between us. I can feel him—a little. His emotions."

"Can you feel him now?" A witch inquired.

Hermione paused.

"Not much," she lied. "I think—he's sleeping."

"Is it the same for him?"

"I don't know. We didn't have much time to talk—before the aurors came."

"Alright Miss Granger. I think you have answered all the questions we had for you." Kingsley said after a pause.

"Will—will you let Draco go now?" she asked without moving.

"The investigation is not concluded yet." Kingsley replied.

"Will you let him go tomorrow if he's innocent?" she pressed.

Runcorn snorted and spoke.

"Even if Mr Malfoy is found to be innocent, the Ministry will have to confirm he is not a danger to wizarding society before his release can be considered."

Hermione stared at him. She'd expected the Ministry to try to keep Draco imprisoned, but she hadn't expected them to do it by flagrantly violating so many laws and treaties.

"The Ministry cannot imprison a magical being without cause. If Draco Malfoy is found innocent of coercing a bonding or using dark magic you cannot continued to hold him." Hermione said and added for the benefit of the reporters in the room. "It is forbidden by paragraph five of the Guidelines for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans. It would be a violation of clause eight, subsection B of the Magical Beings treaty. And a failure to comply with the Rotterdam Convention’s international law regarding Magical beings."

"Guidelines are guidelines. Neither the Magical Beings treaty nor the Rotterdam convention specify any rights extending to full-blooded male Veela in their text. Therefor Mr Malfoy isn't legally categorised as a magical being at all and the Ministry is free to do whatever it deems necessary," Runcorn replied coldly.

"A full-blooded male Veela is a Veela," Hermione seethed. "Neither treaty nor convention provide any grounds for discrimination against any potential subcategory of Magical Being. Quite the opposite in fact, they both state that a magical being cannot be precluded from the protections if they can demonstrate sentience. And I have just testified under veritaserum to that effect. And if you require more witnesses, there are over thirty Ministry aurors who can confirm it, including Harry Potter himself."

Runcorn seemed to be opening his mouth to say something else but Kingsley cut him off.

"Draco Malfoy will remain in Ministry custody," he said firmly. "Miss Granger, you are free to go."

Hermione stood up reluctantly.

"The hearing will re-commence tomorrow morning at ten o'clock. The Wizengamot is adjourned," Kingsley announced and then he and the Wizengamot stood and filled out.

Hermione stared after them until Harry grabbed her by the arm. The courtroom audience seemed about to descend upon her and he pulled her into a personnel restricted hallway and led her up several staircases to a different floor.

"I think you should stay at Grimmauld place tonight. Your flat is on public record and your wards aren't restrictive enough for the publicity storm that's going to descend on you." Harry said.

She nodded listlessly.

Testifying had drained her more than she had expected. She supposed it was common after being dosed so heavily with veritaserum.

"Harry, can I see Draco?"

He looked at her guiltily.

"I—I don't think that would be a very good idea."

She felt cold.

"Why not?"

"Because—if he's as impervious to spells as he appeared then the Ministry probably has him physically restrained in every manner they can possibly think of. And if they're using the things I'm guessing they are—you won't be able to handle it very well."

"Harry. Take me to him." Her voice was shaking. She reached out toward Draco through the bond. What have they done to you?

"Hermione, think about this." Harry was holding her by the shoulders and looking her seriously in the eye. "We both want Malfoy freed. If you go and freak out about it and he feels how upset you are he's not going to handle it well. He might try to break free just to make you feel better and that will give the Ministry grounds not to release him. We need this investigation to go well and that means that you and Malfoy need to be cooperative. And you know as well as I do that his full cooperation is completely dependent on yours."

"Harry, are they hurting him?"

Harry stared at her.

"If it was anything he couldn't handle I think we would both know by now," he said firmly.

Hermione felt a sort of clutching horror welling up inside her. Her eyes pricked with tears.

"He's always being hurt because of me," she said shuddering. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I don't know how to fix this. I don't know how to make it all up to him."

Her voice was quivering and she felt on the verge of tears.

Harry hugged her.

"Let's get you settled in at Grimmauld place. And then, if you want me to, I'll go check on him and make sure they aren't violating any regulations."

She nodded resignedly.

Draco was reaching out to her. He was fine. Just peachy. His cell was dull and damp but he had already befriended two mice. He planned to teach them the samba and would bring them as a present for her.

She wanted to shake him. Liar. She hissed at him through the bond. I'm going to a safe house and then sending Harry to check.

Draco did not like that. He made it immediately very clear that he did not want her anywhere without Potter. That he would make a scene and cause general unpleasantness if Potter appeared.

She stiffened. If you won't let Harry go by himself I'll come too.

That subdued him. He consented begrudgingly to Potter coming, briefly, provided she was somewhere safe.

Feeling him agree made Hermione's heart ache. How bad was it if he was so eager to keep her away?

He really was fine, he told her. It was not the most unpleasant thing he had ever experienced.

That did not really make her feel any better.

He was growing flustered trying to reassure her.

Then she felt worse.

Here she was, perfectly safe and she was upsetting him with how upset she was over his imprisonment. She was such a terrible person.

Suddenly his wry amusement rippled over to her. Granger, his use of her surname came through the bond so strongly it was a word rather than simply an impression of his thoughts.

If he wanted to leave, he could, he assured her.

That consoled her. It felt true. As though he were quite confident of it.

If they're really hurting you, do it. She instructed him. We can go away. Staying in Britain is not worth it.

He promised he would.

She wasn't sure if she believed him, but she felt marginally better. She composed herself and looked up to find Harry staring at her thoughtfully.

"Just emotions through that bond, eh?" he asked pointedly.

She blushed slightly.

"I don't really understand it yet. It's hard to explain. It's like—our minds can touch each other. But I don't really know how to control it."

"He used his occlumency on you earlier, didn't he?"

"Yes—just at the very end," she admitted.

"I'd wondered. I don't think anyone else did though. They expected you to burn it out of your system quickly, you've got so much bonding magic running through you right now. That's why they dosed you so heavily. Come on. Let's get to Grimmauld place. Is there anyone you want with you? Ron would be happy to come stay if you'd like."

Harry took her by the arm and with a tug and pop they reappeared in the foyer of the dusty old house.

Hermione glanced at him.

"Is there anywhere you can't apparate?" She asked suspiciously, recalling how he'd left Malfoy Manor and then reappeared in her own warded flat. And now he'd just casually apparated from the Ministry of Magic without going into the Atrium and into the unplottable, heavily warded Grimmauld Place.

Harry blushed faintly and ran his fingers through his hair.

"Thought you might guess eventually. Don't tell anyone. It's something I've been working on. It's not everywhere yet. I can't manage the ninth or tenth floors of the Ministry. The wards they have are rooted differently."

"How...?" Hermione demanded.

"I'm not actually sure. It's like I can just slip past them. I talked to Luna about it. Her best guess is that I'm very determined."

"That does not count as an explanation for how you're able to slip past anti-apparition wards."

"Well," he scratched his head. "She also mentioned that I'm very powerful."

He shrugged and glanced around.

"Sorry it's dusty. I don't come here much anymore. But the wards are strong. And it's still unplottable. So no one should show up here unless they were in the Order. Did you want me to bring Ron?"

Hermione shook her head.

"I could use some time to think. You can go check on Draco. Make sure he's alright."

Harry nodded and popped away again.

Hermione wandered into the kitchen. She didn't know when she'd last eaten anything. She found a packet of biscuits that still seemed vaguely fresh.

Popping one into her mouth she rummaged through her satchel and pulled out the Veela book she'd brought.

Seating herself at the kitchen table she started reading.

Harry took longer to come back than she'd expected. She'd made her way through more than two hundred pages before she heard the pop of his apparition. She rushed to the foyer.

He looked tense and distracted.

Her heart dropped. She hadn't sensed anything that had alerted her through the bond but…

"Harry? Has something happened to Draco?"

He looked up at her.

"No," he said shortly. "He's alright."

Hermione stared at him.

"What is it?"

""I stopped by your flat on my way back," he said slowly. "I thought you might want fresh clothes... I don't know how to break this to you. Your flat's been—vaporised. I'm not sure what kind of magic it was. It was perfectly contained inside the wards, you wouldn't even know standing outside. But on the inside there's nothing but ashes. It seemed like an instant incineration. I think someone wanted you dead before the investigation concludes."

Hermione was stunned.

"Why? Why would someone be trying to kill me?" she asked, but she thought she knew the answer.

Harry looked at her soberly.

"My best guess. You're Malfoy's vulnerability. If you died so would he. For someone scared of a full-blooded Veela, killing you is the only sure way to eliminate him."

Hermione's mind was racing.

"Draco doesn't know does he?" Hermione said carefully.

"No. I assumed he would react badly."

Hermione nodded. Harry came over to her.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to get him out tomorrow," he said seriously. "I don't care what it takes. And I'm not going to leave you again until that happens. If that means Ginny and James have to move in here for a bit then that's what I'll do."

He moved toward the living room.

"I'm going to notify the Order. I want Kingsley aware for tomorrow. And I want backup I can trust."

Hermione watched him walk down the hall before leaning against the wall and dropping to the floor.

She had already felt pushed to her limit. Somehow, hearing that her flat was gone pushed her over the edge.

All her old books.

Her pictures of her parents.

Crookshanks…

A sob forced its way up her throat.

Suddenly Draco was there.

Not physically, but mentally. It was like having him hugging her mind. He wanted to know why she was suddenly so sad. She could sense his worry that he was the cause of her distress.

She tried to quell the raising emotions but couldn't quite. She shook with another quiet sob.

Draco was trying more forcefully to pick up the cause for her distress. Intermingling his thoughts with hers with more determination. She looked for an excuse that might satisfy him.

My cat died. She thought.

He went still and she could feel his sudden relief that she wasn't in danger. A wave of guilt from misleading him threatened to overwhelm her but she squashed it and focused.

It just caught me off guard when I found out.

Draco was consoling. Sorry. He remembered Crookshanks. A horrible, angry, orange furball. Just the kind of animal that Hermione would love.

She simultaneously sobbed and laughed through her tears.

He was the perfect cat for me. She thought.

Malfoy's attention in her mind was soothing. She tried to make herself stop dwelling on her flat.

I've been reading up on Veela. She told him.

He wanted to know if she'd learned anything interesting.

Mostly that there really is almost no information about full-blooded Veela. Do you know anything about them?

Not really. He remembered hearing a few fairy tales.

Apparently your wings are invulnerable to most magic. Practically indestructible. And your feathers can deflect some too, like a shield cloak. She told him.

The idea intrigued him.

They lapsed into silence. Just feeling him with her was such a relief. She supposed being mentally linked to her was more pleasant than whatever he was experiencing physically.

A knot formed in her throat.

She caressed him. She wanted him to know how much she missed him. How much he meant to her.

But even as she did so she felt guilty for all the pain she had unwittingly brought upon him. What if he realised eventually that she wasn't really worth it, she wondered.

She was sure she couldn't possibly be worth it.

She wanted to cry again.

She didn't mean to project it toward him but she felt his sudden indignation. Apparently he thought she was quite worth it.

She snorted. Love has blinded you, but eventually you're going to realise you've stuck yourself with an internally mopey workaholic with a guilt complex.

Ah yes. Apparently he already knew all about that. How else would he have managed to trick her so long?

She felt herself blush . Right. Don't forget I'm also an idiot who literally couldn't see things happening right in front of her , she thought woefully.

Sure . She could practically feel him drawling in her head. Because it wasn't as though she'd been busy saving an entire subspecies from centuries of rampant discrimination while simultaneously heading one of the most understaffed and legally complex branches of the Ministry.

That isn't any excuse. She pushed back. I don't want to be someone who overlooks individuals because she's always so distracted with what she considers to be the big picture. You were dying in front of me and I didn't notice.

Well, he seemed sheepish. She probably would have figured it out over the weekend if he hadn't interfered. He might have stolen her books after the bludger incident and gone and bought out all the remaining copies from Flourish and Blotts. Not necessarily, but it had possibly happened.

She gasped in outrage. You prat! She screeched in her mind, noting that apparently she could use intonation if she felt sufficiently motivated.

He didn't feel very penitent. In fact he didn't feel penitent at all.

You're incorrigible. She thought in resignation.

Possibly not. He was open to reform, if given proper incentives and...rewards.

Oh. Are you thinking chocolate frogs? She inquired, feigning ignorance.

No. Not chocolate frogs... but he could think of other things, involving chocolate, that would qualify.

Hermione turned bright red. Let's get you out of prison first and then we can see about chocolate and it's... misuses.

She started fretting again about just what Harry had meant when he predicted she wouldn't be able to handle how Draco was incarcerated. Human rights, much less Magical Being rights were regularly abused in the wizarding world. Things had improved following the war, but there were still shocking abuses to what any civilised society should regard as fundamental rights. Combatting it was her specialty, so the idea that something was being done to Draco that Harry didn't expect her to handle was terrifying.

She felt Draco grow serious. Hermione, he pressed, if she could take a break from her indignation over the potential abuses to his rights, they should talk.

He left it at that but she knew immediately what he meant.

She stiffened. He doubted her feelings, still, she realised with a pang. She could sense it; his belief that her returning his feelings was born from her guilt. That it was her way of trying to make it up to him.

I'm not lying to you, she replied fiercely. I even said it to the Wizengamot when I was still under the veritaserum.

He didn't think she was lying. He was just—worried, that maybe she was overwhelmed by her guilt and gratitude due to the abruptness of everything that had happened. He didn't want her to commit herself in a way that she might later realise she didn't mean. He... didn't think he could handle it.

I'm not. She said fiercely and then sank further into the floor. She didn't want to have this conversation like this. She wanted to be with him, so she could show him. So he'd believe her.

He subsided reluctantly. But she could feel him worrying. Bracing himself internally.

She stared up that the ceiling trying not to cry again. She didn't know what she was supposed to do. How she was supposed to convince him? And make him stop constantly preparing himself to be hurt because of her?

Eventually she fell asleep there, waking briefly when she found herself lifted up off the floor. Opening her eyes she found Harry carrying her.

"Malfoy will have my head if he learns I let you sleep on the floor of the foyer." He muttered. He put her down on a couch.

She curled up into a tight ball.

"Harry?" She asked in a thick voice. "How do you convince someone that you love them, when they're too scared to believe you?"

He stroked her hair gently.

"You just keep showing them, until they can't help themselves but believe it," he said after a minute.

She nodded and fell back to sleep.

Chapter Text

The quiet clatter of dishes and low voices made their way slowly into Hermione's consciousness. Wandering to the kitchen she found Molly Weasley and Harry cooking breakfast. Ron, Dean, Neville, and Luna were seated at the kitchen table eating.

They all turned and stared at her and she suddenly felt self-conscious. She hadn't had time to think about the fact that the whole world knew she had mated with Draco Malfoy. But now, meeting their stares, it suddenly occurred to her. The papers were probably filled with speculation over her sex life and details of what was known about bonding rituals.

She wasn't a prude but it still felt like a strangely intimate thing to have as public knowledge. She tried to steel herself. It wasn't any different than coming back from a honeymoon, she tried to tell herself. But it felt raw, especially standing there alone.

She wavered. Trying to make herself walk the rest of the way into the room.

"Hermione." Mrs Weasley bustled over to her and enveloped her in a crushing hug. "What a mess the Ministry has made of things. Are you alright, dear?"

Hermione clung to the motherly embrace.

"I'm alright," she said quietly.

"Let me get you some breakfast. Harry realised this morning you haven't eaten anything since goodness knows when."

"There were some biscuits in the cupboard," she reassured an apologetic looking Harry as she allowed herself to be served a heaping plateful of food.

No one was trying to conceal their stares. She tried to focus on eating but she could feel her face growing hotter and hotter.

"Just ask!" she finally barked.

They all jumped.

"Are you really alright, Hermione?" Ron asked quietly.

She stared at him.

"No. I'm not," she admitted quietly. "But not because of Draco, if that's what you're thinking. None of this was his fault... well, I suppose it is his fault in some ways. But he didn't mean for any of it happen. And now everything is awful and I don't know what I'm supposed to do to help him."

She stabbed an egg.

"You're not alone, Hermione," Ron said firmly. "I'll alway think of him as a ferrety tosser. But if you're determined to live with a ginormous, pointy-face bird person for the rest of your life, you know I'll help you."

Hermione knew he was trying to cheer her up but she couldn't muster the will to smile.

"Thank you, Ron," she said quietly.

She meant it. The Weasley family's dislike for the Malfoys was legitimately rooted. Even before the War, Ginny had almost died because of Lucius. And Draco's insults toward Ron in school had tended to hit their mark more frequently than when they had been directed toward herself and Harry.

"He isn't the same person he was," she said after a moment. "I don't know if that matters for you all, but I want you to know."

What might have been asked next was lost when George suddenly bustled into the room carrying an armful of boxes.

"Hermione, my love," he cried. "Gone and broken my heart you have. I thought we were destined for each other. Was I not enough of a lost cause for you that you had to choose Malfoy instead?"

His face was woebegone.

"What did you bring?" Harry inquired.

"A bunch of old merchandise. Some of our old shield charmed clothes. And some temporary wands. They'll shoot off about ten small jinxes or three stronger spells. Not the most useful, but handy backup if anyone loses a wand during a duel. You could summon your wand back with it at least."

"Speaking of spells, Hermione, when you're done eating I want to check something." Harry told her.

Hermione ate a few more bites and then stood. Harry led her up to one of the upper floors of Grimmauld Place into an empty room.

"What is it Harry?"

"I want to see your spellwork. It seemed unreliable yesterday and if it's still that way—" he hesitated, "we should know ahead of time so we can strategise accordingly."

Hermione nodded and drew her wand. It still felt foreign. It was different than when she'd used Bellatrix's. It still wanted to cooperate with her, it just felt as though it couldn't.

" Stupefy." She cast toward the wall. The stunner exploded from the tip so violently she slid backward and the beam of red light widened into a broad arc that slammed into the wall so heavily it dented.

She stared down at her hand. And then tried again, several times, trying to hold back as much magic as she could. By the time she stopped there were a dozen dents several feet wide in the wall and the wood detailing was splintering.

"Let's try something simpler." Harry pulled out a knut and placed it on the ground. "Try levitating it."

Hermione cast a restrained wingardium leviosa .

The knut shot off the floor and into the ceiling where it stuck, burrowed into the wood.

"Bugger," sighed Harry as he stared up at it. "I was afraid of this. Try a shield charm."

" Protego." Hermione commanded, trying to siphon out only the tiniest amount of magic as she cast.

A white wave shot from the tip of her wand and spread from the floor to the ceiling. But, rather than remaining in place, it proceeded to roll across the floor like a wave until it vanished through the wall.

"Well," said Harry. "At least that works a bit."

"A bit." Hermione repeated flatly. "I'm going to be absolutely rubbish in a fight. I could kill someone by accident."

She tried again and again to hold a shield in front of herself, but even when she tried to use fianto duri she couldn't force it to stay in place. The shields just exploded out of her wand; as though each time she channeled any magic all of it endeavored to pour from her wand.

After several minutes she stopped, feeling drained and rather defeated. There didn't seem to be any technique or method that worked to manage it. She couldn't understand, she'd never heard of such a side-effect from bonding. She hoped it was just temporary, maybe she just needed to recalibrate.

She looked over at Harry, feeling frustrated.

"It's alright." He gave her an encouraging smile. "I already thought through this. I'm going to have Ron and Neville sitting on both sides and Luna in front of you. They're all your friends so it will be natural for them to be close to you. I'd be there too, but they're bringing Malfoy in for his testimony and I'm in charge of him. George and Dean will be elsewhere in the audience along with Molly and Arthur and Minerva. I'm really hoping I'm just being paranoid about all this. The room will be packed with reporters and anyone one else who can squeeze their way in."

Hermione nodded. Just thinking about returning to the courtroom made her feel a sort of frozen exhaustion. But, she needed to go. To hear Emeliory's explanation for why she'd brought this hell down on them. And to see Draco. The bond had a strained, aching feeling that seemed to grow stronger as time passed. She wasn't sure if it was because of their separation or a sign that he was in pain.

"I'm going to go talk to Ron and Neville, I want to make sure they know you probably won't be able to cast at all unless it's defensively." Harry said.

Hermione got ready mechanically. Harry had brought over some of Ginny's clothes for her to change into. It was odd, to realise her clothes were all gone too. Harry included a shield cloak from George to put on top.

Half and hour later she'd stepped onto the front step of Grimmauld Place beside Ron. She felt so useless, unable to even apparate herself. He took her arm and brought her to the Ministry with a pop.

The courtroom was even more packed than it had been the day before. The walls were groaning slightly from the repeated expansion charms that Ministry's magical maintenance employees kept casting to accommodate the growing crowd.

Hermione tried to slink in behind Ron and Neville in an attempt to avoid the barrage of questions that occurred every time anyone recognised her. Finally they were tucked up against a back wall, far away from the public seating.

The Wizengamot filed in with Kingsley while the side doors opened and two aurors escorted Emeliory Bogfeld in. She was still dressed in wizarding robes rather than prison clothes, indicating a low level of security concern. She walked cooperatively up to the chair in the center and opened her mouth for the three drops of veritaserum that aurors presented to her.

As she swallowed the potion a hush fell over the crowd.

"Ms Bogfeld, you were staying with Miss Granger during her convalescence in St Mungo's for the purpose of getting her statement on how she came to be injured and partly bound to Draco Malfoy. Instead, you violated your wizarding oath and duties by smuggling her out and leaving her to mercies of a magical creature of unknown abilities. How do you plead?"

"Guilty," she answered, under a regular dosage her voice had none of the dazed quality Hermione and Lucius had exhibited. "I did it."

"Why?"

"'Money?" She suddenly sounded confused. "I think. I got money."

"You aren't sure?" Several Wizengamot members were staring down at her bewildered.

"The Malfoys paid me to help make Draco a full-blooded Veela. By doing it he'd be powerful enough to rule the wizarding world."

"Do you believe Mr Malfoy has any interest in ruling the wizarding world?" Kingsley asked, looking at her with a veiled expression.

"No. Not at all. He wanted to die to spare Miss Granger. I tried to tell her and he obliviated her to keep her from bonding with him or feeling guilty over his death." Her voice sounded suddenly clearer.

"Mr Malfoy obliviated Miss Granger?" A witch interrupted.

"Yes. Last week. After I told her about the bond at the request of Narcissa Malfoy. He was determined not to give in to it."

"Why would he do that if he intended to take over the wizarding world?"

"I don't know. I got so much money from the Malfoys. He planned to be the next dark wizard. full-blooded Veela. No one would be able to stop him." Emeliory's voice was confused again.

"When did the Malfoys pay you to smuggle Miss Granger out? And why did Mr Malfoy need your help?"

"I—don't know. I got money."

The witch, Wingletorp, who had laughed during the WRA passage turned toward Kingsley.

"I have known Emeliory Bogfeld for thirty years. Her memory has been tampered with, and shoddily at that. I'll bet my seat on it."

Several other Wizengamot members nodded.

"I think you're right. Remove Ms Bogfeld from the stand and call in a memory specialist to examine her. See if it can be reversed. And send word to to DMLE, I want a record of every person who accessed her holding cell."

Emeliory was escorted out. Hermione watched her go, trying to guess the purpose of the tampering. Was it just an attempt to frame Draco and prevent his release? That didn't seem right. If anything it was framing Lucius or Narcissa.

Hermione had already given her side of the event, so Bogfeld must have known something. Possibly she had an idea of who wanted Draco dead. But Hermione couldn't understand, why had she lied to Hermione and sent her to Malfoy Manor before she could give her statement to the aurors? What was the benefit? Had she simply thought the investigation would go too long and worried about Draco's magic breaking through?

"Bring in Mr Malfoy," Kingsley commanded.

There was a grating sound and a pair of heavy doors to the side of the room slowly slid open. Several aurors stepped out first and then a large metal platform floated out behind them. On the platform was a narrow, spiked cage in which Draco was standing.

Hermione felt her heart drop.

The cage was so narrow it was impossible to do anything but stand in it, not that Draco could have shifted anyway. He was chained from head to toe. Heavy, goblin-wrought manacles stacked one upon another all the way up his body. Beneath the manacles it seemed like his torso was enmeshed in something that resembled chainmail, but she couldn't see his arms. After a moment, she realised that it was a chainmail straight-jacket, but rather than restricting his arms up across his chest, they had been twisted up behind his back to block his wings from emerging. He would dislocate both shoulders if they did.

A heavy iron collar with two large, vicious, metal teeth was clipped around his neck. The teeth were millimeters from his skin, so that he had to strain and keep his chin held up high in order to keep them from sinking into his throat. There was something wrapped around the top of his head, covering his eyes and ears. Only his jaw and mouth were visible.

Everything was intended to strain him. To bring him to a point of exhaustion that he was unable to give into. His shoulders must have been burning from his arm position within seconds and he couldn't lean forward to relieve the pressure because of the collar. The teeth of the collar ensured he couldn't rest or lose his concentration on keeping his chin up without immediately starting to cut his throat open.

She almost wouldn't have been able to tell it was him. Except she just knew. And the bond crackled between them at their proximity. He twitched slightly and she knew he knew she was there.

The audience muttered. Some people seeming horrified and others still seemed afraid of him. The air around the platform was humming with magic, the heavy wards around him shimmering and visible due to the quantity.

Hermione's breath caught as she bit down on her lip to keep from making any noise.

Ron squeezed her hand reassuringly and she nearly crushed it in return.

Have you been like this the whole time? She whimpered through the bond to him.

His hesitation answered the question.

When the cage reached the center of the courtroom a stone-faced Harry stepped through the wards and pulled the blindfold off his head. Draco's grey eyes opened and swept across the room until they locked on her face.

Come on, Granger, he chided through the bond. Can't you look a little bit happy to see me?

She was physically shaking with the effort it took not to sob with rage. He had been restrained like that for almost twenty-four hours. It was torture. It was inhuman.

"Mr Malfoy, you have been brought here today to provide your testimony in regard to the kidnapping and attempted murder of Hermione Granger," Kingsley said. "There is no point in dosing you with veritaserum as you're a known occlumens and a magical being, but we would like an oath from you that you will tell us only the truth."

"I swear it on my magic," Draco drawled as though being dragged, tortured, caged and manacled before the Wizengamot was an unexceptional experience.

"Please tell us what you experienced at the time of Miss Granger's kidnapping."

"I already told all this to the aurors at St. Mungo's." He actually rolled his eyes at Kingsley as he said it. "I knew something went wrong. Everything about our bond got muddled, and when she suddenly disappeared from Diagon Alley, I felt her lose consciousness. And I couldn't tell where she was anymore."

He barely moved his jaw as he spoke to avoid catching the teeth of the collar.

"You're able to locate her?"

"Yes. It's easy to tell when she's somewhere familiar. But if it's not, it's just a sense of direction. I just knew she was somewhere far northwest of London."

There was a snort from the Wizengamot.

"The house she was inside of was unplottable. You expect us to believe you tracked her from London to Northern Ireland in five hours when she was in an unplottable location?" a pompous young wizard asked.

Draco stared at him.

"I can always find her," he said flatly.

"After you found the house, what happened then?"

"I sent a patronus to the Ministry. I would have waited for aurors to arrive, but I could tell that whatever was happening was getting worse. I couldn't wait. I went in."

The pompous wizard made a choking sound in his throat.

"You went in? That's all you have to say? That was the ancient Burke estate. The aurors found the wards torn from the foundations."

Draco appeared to shrug through his chains.

"I believe there was a fireball involved. I wasn't really paying attention."

"What happened when you went in?" Kingsley inquired.

"She started dying." Draco suddenly looked ashen. "I could feel her slipping away. I found her in a bedroom. Tied to a chair with a pool of blood around her. Her wrists had been slashed. She had a knife wound in her stomach. I healed everything as much as I could but she was dying from blood loss and going into shock. There wasn't anything I could do. The house had no floo network or brooms. The anti-apparition wards were attached to the estate, not the house. If I tried to apparate us out I might have splinched her when I tried to force us through. Even if I could, we were still at least fifteen apparitions from St Mungo's. She wouldn't have made it. She was already almost gone."

"So you bit her?"

"I didn't know what else to do. I told her there was only one way left. She already knew. She said to do it."

"Did you know at the time that bonding would cause you to manifest as a full-blooded Veela?"

"I didn't even know they were real."

"But you forced yourself to transform," interjected a witch. "And Miss Granger described it as a long and torturous process."

"It was instinctive. I could just tell that if I pushed into the magic enough, there was a way to save her. Even after I bit her, it wasn't enough to keep her alive for much longer. It just bought her a little time. I would have tried anything to save her. Once it happened I flew her to St Mungo's."

"How long do you think that took?"

"I wasn't really paying attention, maybe fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen minutes from the Belfast area to central London?" The pompous wizard was looking distinctly pale.

"Based on the aurors investigation and the statement given by Miss Granger, Pansy Parkinson is believed to have been behind the attempt on Miss Granger's life. Miss Parkinson has appeared to have fled the country and vanished. As a lifetime friend of hers, do you have any ideas as to where she may have gone into hiding?"

"Pansy's a meticulous planner. She's had bolt holes and contingency plans since the war. She's spent half her time doing undercover work since she became a journalist. If you ever find her I'll be surprised."

"Are you trying to protect her?" asked a witch pointedly.

"She nearly killed Hermione." Draco snarled. "If she has a fraction of the sense I assume she does, she knows never to let me find her."

"After you brought Miss Granger to St Mungo's, you gave your statement to the aurors and consented to be placed in a stasis until your testimony could be corroborated by her. But instead she was smuggled out of the hospital by Ms Bogfeld. Did you have any idea the investigation was still incomplete when Miss Granger appeared?"

Malfoy hesitated.

"I wasn't what I would describe as conscious at the time. But when I regained awareness I had assumed she had spoken to the aurors. I certainly wasn't expecting them to blow up my door with dark magic that nearly killed her the next morning." The menace in his voice was palpable.

"But you agreed to be remain in the Ministry's custody until the investigation was completed?" An old wizard inquired.

Draco stared up at him.

"I agreed to make a gesture of good faith while letting the Ministry corroborate my statement. I did not agree to remain imprisoned until you have caught Parkinson or any other aspects of the investigation that do not relate specifically to me." Draco said coolly.

The expressions on several members of the Wizengamot tightened.

"How are we to know that you are not a threat to the wizarding world?" Asked the old wizard.

"I believe the jurisprudence of the Wizengamot is innocent until proven guilty. It should not be my responsibility to prove it." Draco retorted.

"In 1783 a full-blooded male Veela was recorded as razing a wizarding city because his mate died. Isn't that reason enough to continue holding you?"

"Is something going to happen to Hermione?" Draco inquired, his tone pure ice.

"Last night an attempt was made on Miss Granger's life. Her flat was vaporised. If she'd been there she certainly would have died. If the attackers had succeeded what would you have done?" an elderly witch asked.

Draco visibly flinched at the news and his eyes immediately found Hermione's.

Your cat... he hissed. She could feel his fury.

It would have made you panic if I'd told you. And you couldn't have done anything. Besides I don't recall being the only one that lied about the situation yesterday, she retorted.

"It would have depended on who was to blame," he said flatly to the Wizengamot.

I won't do this anymore. He was snarling in her mind.

Just wait a little longer. She pleaded. Harry swore to do everything to get you out today. There are people here specifically for my protection.

Before he responded the courtroom doors suddenly opened and the two aurors accompanying Emeliory Bogfeld entered along with a unfamiliar witch.

Kingsley looked over.

"Were you able to restore Ms Bogfeld's memory?"

"Yes." Answered the witch. "Luckily for us it was the worst memory work I've ever seen. Rush job. They left the original memories intact and just tried to slopping on a layer of implanted ones. There was so little detail provided that it had barely rooted into her mind at all."

"Excellent," said Kingsley. "Ms Bogfeld, will you please explain to the Wizengamot why you sent Miss Granger on to Malfoy Manor without allowing the aurors to interview her?"

Emeliory was clear-eyed.

"I suspected that someone was trying to take advantage of the partial bond in order to harm Mr Malfoy and Miss Granger. Magical being bonding is my specialty. I've seen what happens when the magic is tampered with. I informed my superiors that trying to interfere with the bond by keeping them apart midway was dangerous and pointless. But rather than consider my advice they seemed to intentionally do the opposite."

Hermione could feel Draco freeze as he processed Emeliory's claim.

"What do you mean?" Wingletorp asked.

"A magical being cannot partially bond. It would be a violation of a fundamental aspect in some of the oldest and most elemental power in the Magical world. When magic is thwarted like that it continues to build. Much in the way it did when Mr Malfoy refused to bond in the first place. Trying to prevent the completion of the bond by holding Miss Granger somewhere would never succeed. Eventually the magic would have broken through the stasis charm and driven him to find her. If it reached that point, he would have been driven entirely by instinct to ensure his cooperation with the mating imperative." She paused. "He would have razed St Mungo's if necessary to reach her. I told my my superiors that we should let the bond be completed and then interview Miss Granger."

"Why didn't they?"

"I—I think someone wanted it to happen. I suspected it when he was taken all the way to Wiltshire and one of the aurors made a comment that made me understand that we were to try to keep Miss Granger from him for as long as possible."

"To what purpose?"

Emeliory hesitated.

"If he was seen as a feral, uncontrollable magical creature... The Ministry would have be obliged to neutralise him. From the little information we have on full-blooded male Veela, the only way we know they die is when their mate does. I believed I was being used to keep Miss Granger hostage. In order to provoke Mr Malfoy and then kill him."

Draco was panicking in Hermione's mind. Get out of here. Get out of the Ministry. She needed to take Potter and go.

He audibly jerked in his manacles. It made the room jump and look toward him.

When everyone was looking toward him Hermione suddenly saw a flicker of motion out of the corner of her eye. Turning sharply she saw a bolt of dark magic shooting toward her. Her wand was already gripped in her hand, she slashed downward on pure instinct.

"Protego!" The shield charm exploded from her wand into a wall of magic that blasted across the room into the opposite wall. The curse she'd blocked smashing into the shield resoundingly.

Suddenly the room was filled with magic. Curses were zipping toward her from multiple directions. She dove to the ground and rolled. The Order leapt into action.

There were so many bystanders in the room. The attacks were concentrated on Hermione but trying to practice anything but defensive magic was almost impossible without risking the packed room of panicking wizarding folk.

A spell whizzed by her head and singed her hair. She still couldn't control her magic well enough to hold a shield charm so she kept recasting them again and again. Ron and Neville were backed up around her protectively, shooting precise spells toward the attackers scattered throughout the room when they thought they could avoid casualties.

Luna was moving across the room like water, sending off rapid spell after spell. Getting close enough to ensure she couldn't miss before neutralising an attacker. Harry was moving toward her steadily but the hundreds of people packed into the room were stampeding in their attempts to escape. The panicked witches and wizards were shooting off dangerous defensive spells and ridiculous hexes and charms in all directions. It was almost impossible to tell who actually was an enemy.

The board was stacked against them, Hermione quickly realised. It was a sheer impossibility to know who was actually trying to kill her among the number of wildly casting wizarding folk; it was just a game of waiting for the perfect moment to strike. And when the Order solely prioritised protecting her, it left the bystanders vulnerable. Some of the attackers were clearly aware that the Order wouldn't be willing to only protect Hermione to the detriment of all others and they were capitalizing on it, drawing the members away, spreading out the defenses by shooting curses toward the vulnerable.

In less than a minute she, Ron and Neville had backed into one of the obtuse angled corners of the courtroom in order to to limit the number of directions attacks could come from as they tried not to get crushed by the crowd.

Hermione was feeling exhausted, as though all the shields she'd cast had overdrawn her magic. She needed to get out. If she got killed it wouldn't just be her, Draco would die too.

Draco.

He was screaming with rage. She shot a glance toward him.

Suddenly there was a shredding sensation through the air. It was unlike anything Hermione had ever experienced. It felt like something other-dimensional and alive was tearing its way into the room. Through the walls, through the air. The power was palpable. The air almost bulging as whatever it was shredded its way through the heavy layers of wizarding magic that wove through every inch of the Ministry.

The fighting stopped as everyone froze, glancing around.

Draco was snarling and suddenly it was like the otherness suddenly concentrated and descended into him for a moment before a shock wave of magic shot out of him. The Ministry shook and Hermione felt all the ancient, onerous wards woven into the courtroom suddenly collapse around them.

As the wards fell she watched as the chains and enchanted manacles around Draco melted as he shifted and transformed, splitting the cage apart as his wings burst out and he flung himself toward her.

She hadn't seen it happen from a distance before. He grew. Suddenly he seemed almost a half a meter taller as his shoulders jerked and his huge wings unfurled themselves from his back. The expression on his face was pure murder as it sharpened and the silvery white feathers suddenly shimmered into place, making him even more angular and predatory and... beautiful.

It all happened in a few seconds.

The entire room was frozen in shock and terror as he dove across the room toward her.

Except—

"Avada Kedavra!" Runcorn snarled from up in his Wizengamot seat. The green unforgivable zipped toward her.

Her eyes widened.

She was cornered.

Ron and Neville were still standing in front of her.

She shoved them away with all the strength she could and dropped to the ground in the hope it would go over her head.

It was angled low.

There was a slicing sound through the air and the instant before she was struck, Draco was suddenly in front of her, his eyes wide, locked on her face.

And then…

She felt it hit him.

The feeling of death rippled through their bond.

It reached through to her, closing itself around her mind. She could feel it swallowing her.

The silver of his eyes vanished into a flat grey as he stumbled and then collapsed onto her.

Chapter Text

Hermione was screaming.

She knew but she couldn't stop herself as Draco fell into her arms, his transformation shifting away as she caught him.

"No! No! No!" 

She shook him. She pushed in towards him through the bond. It felt cold already, like touching a corpse.

She shuddered but kept pressing.

It wasn't severed and she wasn't dead.

There was still a chance.

"Draco. Draco. Come back. I need you. Please come back."

She was saying it both aloud and through the bond as she kept reaching. Further and further in, and it still felt of nothing but death.

She tried, with shaking hands, to perform a diagnostic charm but her magic refused to cooperate, as if she'd run out of it. 

Her fingers searched for his pulse, pressing against his inner wrists and below his chest.  She realised—now that it was suddenly gone—that she had been able to sense his heartbeat through the bond.

She kissed him. Again and again.

"Come back. Please come back," she kept saying over and over as she gripped his body in her arms and kept trying to find anything that indicated there was still a spark on the other end of their connection. "I haven't convinced you that I love you yet. I need you to know it. You can't go anywhere until you know. Please, please come back. We still have to misuse chocolate. I'm not done being angry with you. And I need you to know I love you."

She was sobbing as she kissed him. Her tears made his lips taste bitter with salt.

She kept reaching and finding nothing.

She thought, if she could reach far enough, she'd find some glimmer of him that she could bring back.

But there was nothing.

No matter how far she reached.

It was just more and more death until she felt dredged in it. Like it was seeping into her.

Finally she stopped.

Resting her forehead against his, she wanted to die.

She couldn't bear this. She couldn't carry it with her for the rest of her life. The guilt. The loss.

It felt like a hole swallowing her.

Surely she'd die too. She wouldn't be left with this infectious, corpse-like connection in her mind.

She felt her friends approaching, hands resting on her shoulders. She flinched them off. She didn't want to be comforted.

She needed to find a way to fix this.

He couldn't be dead.

They were bonded and she was still alive.

So there must be some way to bring him back.

...unless she was going to die of a broken heart. She wrapped her arms more tightly around his shoulders. 

She had always thought the expression was absurdly over-dramatic, but perhaps it wasn't an exaggeration in bonding.

The feeling of his death inside of her, if it didn't eventually fade, she was sure it would drive her to follow him.

What if, she shuddered, living meant she'd experience the bond rot away as Draco did?

She forced down the bile that rose up in her throat.

She couldn't—

She couldn't give up yet.

She needed to think.

There might be a way to bring him back. Her mind raced.

The bond was more than just a conscious connection. They were soul-bound. Magic-bound.

Life-bound...

If she could figure out a way to find him.

She reached deep inside of herself, looking for that fragile thread she'd felt holding her back after he'd bitten her in the Burke house. It was there somewhere, if she could find it...

Suddenly she felt it. It was like spider's web. Almost indiscernible. She felt along it lightly, like following a string in a maze, until she couldn't. The thread suddenly disappeared into a blank chasm she couldn't enter. She reached towards it, and the same corpse-like sensation was there. 

It reminded her of the Veil.

But the thread wasn't broken. It passed through into that whispery, cold nothing as though it were still tied to him.

She gathered up everything inside of her. Every shred of magic she had left burning through her, and her own life force, strung on the other end of the thread.

She pulled it together tighter and tighter, drawing them in more and more until it felt compacted like a star, the heat of which she could physically feel radiating out from her chest.

If there was spark left of him on the other side he might see the light and come towards it along the bond.

There had to be reason they were still connected.

She waited, until the strain made her gasp for breath and she could feel herself plumbing the depths of her magic, scraping down toward the bottom.

She kept drawing it in, tighter and tighter and brighter and reaching out.

Nothing.

Still.

There was nothing.

Maybe—if she pushed it toward him.

When she thought she was about to pass out from the toll it was taking on her, she braced herself to shove it all down the thread.

"Don't you dare," Draco's voice suddenly rasped in her ear.

She nearly jumped out of her skin, her hold on all the magic slipping and flooding back through her body so violently she nearly collapsed on top of him.

His eyes were dazed.

"Draco?" she said, her voice shaking. She pushed into the bond again, the tang of death was still thick, but she could feel him again.

"You are truly unbelievable," he muttered, shifting and brushing his hand against her cheek.

She sobbed and hugged him.

Gingerly he sat up and pulled her into his arms with a sigh.

"The things I have to do to keep you alive." He said, his tone a plaintive grumble. "I cannot believe I took the killing curse for you and then you tried to come after me. What exactly did you think the point of that was supposed to be?"

His hands were running all over her as he spoke, as though he were trying to reassure himself she was alright.

"I was trying to bring you back," she said, wrapping her arms around him. "I needed you to come back."

He sighed and hugged her tightly.

"Well, you certainly managed it. I was trying to find my way along the bond and then all of a sudden there was this great, flaming ball of magic. I followed it and I was nearly there when I realised you were about to fling it all down on top of me. What were you thinking?"

"Well did you expect me to just wait and see if you'd revive yourself? It's not as though I had a book handy that I could cross-reference about what you do and don't need to do when you're trying to resuscitate someone through a magic bond. I was trying whatever I could think of," she said, setting her jaw.

He paused.

"Well, I guess neither of us knew what would happen. But, for the record, in the future I expect you to not nearly kill yourself by shoving all your magic on top of me. Don't you dare think I missed your intention to die in the process if necessary."

She shivered and dropped her head against his shoulder. "I thought you were dead. You felt dead. I kept reaching and it was all I could find. I was afraid I'd feel you dead inside my mind forever if I didn't find a way to bring you back."

He sighed and they sat there for several moments recovering.

"Let's both agree that we never want to do that again," he said at last.

She nodded.

She felt woozy.

Her magic felt as though she'd scraped so far down into it that she'd wounded herself. It felt tainted, almost as though there were blood seeping into it.

She cringed at the thought of telling him. He would probably throw a fit. She probably just needed to rest for a little while and it would go away.

He started to stand.

"Come on. I'm suddenly feeling an overwhelming urge to go strangle someone." He pulled her to her feet and she followed him slowly.

There were dozens of people watching them around the room. Healers and Aurors had filled the room, tending to the injured and taking a several wizards and witches into custody.

Looking around, she realised that the Wizengamot was somewhat reassembled. Runcorn was bound and an Auror was bringing over a vial of veritaserum. Harry was standing next to Runcorn, his expression murderous.

Runcorn resisted the truth serum until two Aurors forced his head back and pried his mouth open.

"Now, Runcorn," Kingsley said coldly. "Perhaps you can tell us what you were trying to do."

"That Mudblood bitch is destroying the wizarding world," Runcorn said immediately. "Having Mudbloods among us as equals is one thing, but I won't stand by and watch it happen with non-humans. The werewolves. The centaurs. The house-elves. She's trying to take rights away from us. Trying to weaken wizards. The WRA was only the start, everyone knew it. She has to be stopped. Someone needed to show the world there is a reason why wizards hold the seats of power. There are enough of us that see what's happening; that were eager to see her dead. We couldn't do it before the WRA passed; it would have just made a martyr out of her. We had a plan in the works for before the Act got implemented next year. But when I heard she'd was in the hospital from partly bonding with a full-blooded Veela, I called the reports in to my desk and saw my chance. It was like Fate wanted me to kill her. Somehow she'd ended up getting bound to one of the most famous death eaters still living. It was such a perfect opportunity. I barely had to do anything."

Hermione stood feeling light headed with astonishment. 

She'd assumed that targeting her was to get to Draco. She hadn't even considered that it could be the other way around, motivated by a desire to stop her reform efforts.

Runcorn's face was twisted with rage as he stared at her.

"If I got the DMLE to keep her in protective custody long enough, I knew Malfoy would go feral. I read enough about full-blooded Veela to know that he'd attack the hospital. The Ministry would have fought him and been decimated until I killed the Mudblood. It would have made me a hero. The public would realise that magical beings have no place as equals in the wizarding world. They're all monsters. I could have repealed the WRA and left the Rotterdam convention. I could have gotten bonding outlawed. But Bogfeld interfered and ruined everything, bitch. I had to improvise. I got an unapproved artifact sent over to break into the room. It should have killed her and Malfoy would have wiped out most of the auror division before dying himself. People would have assumed he was just some crazed beast who killed her. But Malfoy was too fast. Then I realised that killing her while he was in custody would be perfect. He'd rip the Ministry apart before dying. But she wasn't home when we burned it. So we had to try today. Even if we died. We'd be heroes. The wizarding world would realise that what she was doing was destroying the Wizarding world."

Draco was nearly ready to explode with rage. Hermione slipped her hand into his.

You can't kill him, she muttered through the bond. It still felt like death to touch it, but she was worried about what he might do. If you kill him in front of the Wizengamot they will most certainly not agree to release you.

Draco didn't care. He didn't need them to release him. He'd already released himself and she had nearly died because he made the mistake of trying to be cooperative.

She squeezed his hand in hers.

I don't want you to kill anyone. Especially not because of me.

He froze and subsided somewhat. She realised that the room had grown quiet and looked over to find Kingsley staring at her.

"The Wizengamot is adjourned to allow those injured to recover and provide the opportunity for the DMLE to complete Runcorn's interrogation. Sentencing will occur Monday," he announced to the room.

Then he looked back at Hermione and Draco again.

"In the interest of your safety, Miss Granger, Draco Malfoy is released from Ministry custody and placed under house arrest in the supervision of Harry Potter until sentencing is complete."

Hermione stood dazedly beside Draco, holding his hand, flooded with relief that he wasn't going to be re-imprisoned at the moment.

The room swam. Her head was achingly hollow. She glanced around for Harry. She was so tired...

So cold...

"Granger!" Draco's sharp voice broke into her thoughts.

She turned to look up at him. He was looming over her.

"What's wrong? What did you do to yourself?" he asked, his tone a low, demanding hiss.

She inhaled, stepping away from him, straightening her shoulders dismissively.

"It's nothing. I'm fine. I just pulled too hard when I was trying to bring you back. I need a strengthening potion and maybe a nap," she said, trying to keep from swaying on her feet.

He stalked after her as she backed away. "Why didn't you tell me?"

She shook her head. "I didn't want to worry you. It's nothing. It's not as though I'm the one hit by a killing curse." She eyed him.

"Yet I am not the one who looks ready to keel over at any moment. I can feel you fading." His expression was hard, a mixture and anger and worry. "When something happens to you, I want to know. If your flat burns down because someone is attempting to murder you, I want to know. If you exhaust your magic reserves, I want to know. You don't lie to me and try to shield me." His tone was still quiet but it was vibrating with rage. 

She stared at him. 

She was exhausted but that didn't preclude her from being angry, in fact it was quite the opposite. She had struggled so much during the last day to rein in her emotions and push through the investigation. She had no reserves of control left.

"Oh. And is this honesty thing going to be a two way street?" she asked, her throat tight. She stuck chin up as she stared up at him. "You don't seem to hesitate at all when comes to lying to me. Not about the fact you were dying before my eyes; or about making me forget me once I knew; or by pretending you weren't being tortured by they way they had you imprisoned!" She half-screamed the last words.

She was furious. Mostly furious at the Ministry, but furious with him too. She hadn't end realised how angry she still felt at him, for lying to her, for obliviating her, for trying to die—until it all just burst out.

They stood there, glaring at each other for several seconds. Draco's eyes were flashing with rage without a trace of apology. 

Her shoulders sank and she shut her eyes. She felt like she was about to fall over.

"This isn't going to work—" she whispered, "if we're always lying to each other."

But speaking was so hard.

She started and then...

She was falling.

Draco caught her immediately.

She tried to push him away. She was so angry and frustrated. She didn't want to "saved" by him again. She sobbed and shoved at him again. 

She'd rather just hit the floor.

It wasn't fair of him to hold her to a standard he wouldn't adhere to himself. To always be making decisions, risking his life, hurting himself, shielding her, and then be so angry and resistant when she tried to be an equal force in the equation.

She wasn't some pathetic damsel he got to keep hidden under his damn wings. She was tired of feeling she had no agency. That everyone—Draco, Pansy, the Ministry—got to make decisions about their bond, and she just got swept along by them.

She tried to pull away from him. Twisting in his arms trying to get free. Trying not to cry with frustration. Draco just pulled her closer. 

"Please don't fight me, Granger," he said quietly, holding her firmly and carrying her toward the Healers.

"Then don't do this to me," she ground out. 

She hated that she felt reduced to begging. Her shoulders started shaking.

Fighting against him was like struggling against a brick wall.

"Oh, Morgana, what happened to her?" She heard someone ask as she started to lose consciousness for the third time that week.

She was just aware enough to feel angry about that too.

When she opened her eyes again, she was in bed in Grimmauld Place. Harry was standing over her sporting an absolutely brilliant looking black eye and Draco was in the far corner, against the wall, glowering.

"Hermione. I'm so sorry," Harry said the moment he saw her eyes open. His hair was standing wildly on end and he looked pale with shock.

She furrowed her brow as she sat up.

"What do you mean?" she asked, confused.

"I didn't know. I had no idea how bonding worked. The healer who discharged you was being held by the DMLE for aiding Bogfeld, and apparently whomever she warned decided to suppress the information. But it was my fault you didn't eat anything. And—I had you practicing magic for half an hour." His voice sounded strangled.

He paused, noticing her confusion. He drew a deep breath and stuffed his hands into his pockets. 

"You were discharged prematurely from St Mungo's because the healer assumed that once your had finished bonding you would be able to finish recovering with Malfoy. Otherwise you should have stayed on bed rest for another day, at least. It normally takes a human a few days to recover from the bonding process because of how dramatically it can affect their magic. However, in your case it should have been a week or more because there was so much magic in your bond that it completely wiped out all of your own magic. You should have been sitting around Malfoy Manor, recuperating and stabilising the bond. But instead you were separated, dosed heavily with veritaserum, interrogated by the Wizengamot, and then dueling. And on top of that you were malnourished because they couldn't feed you anything in the hospital since you were unconscious and your knife injury was still healing. So, aside from breakfast today, you haven't had anything but some old biscuits since Tuesday. And then you went and ripped out all your new, barely-rooted magic trying to bring Malfoy back. You'd be dead if you weren't tethered to him and he wasn't so bloody hard to kill."

Hermione stared at Harry wide-eyed as she absorbed the information. She had just thought she'd been tired and overwrought from the investigation. It hadn't occurred to her that it could be related to bonding.

She looked toward Draco. He wasn't just standing against the wall, he was sagging against it. She realised with a pang, she'd been so distracted with being angry with him she hadn't even been thinking that if she was injured it would affect him too.

He was staring at her. His eyes had that shielded, mirror-like expression to them that she could never figure out how to read. She reached out through the bond. 

It still felt like she was touching his corpse as she reached inside it. She flinched, but kept reaching toward him and found—a wall. 

He was shuttered against her, his mental shields locked tightly in place.

Harry was still talking. "Healer Abasi said you're not to leave bed for two days and no using magic for two weeks, if not longer. He's making some restorative potions that should work with your magic. And..." he trailed off as he noticed she wasn't paying attention.

"But Malfoy knows all this! So I'm leaving. I'm sure you both have loads to talk about. There's food downstairs and you can firecall me." 

Harry dropped a kiss on the top of her head and retreated from the room.

Hermione and Draco continued staring until they heard the crack of Harry's apparition.

"Did you punch Harry?" she asked quietly.

"I did."

The silence between them was heavy. He kept looking at her with that inscrutable expression.

"I wasn't trying to hurt myself. I didn't realise it was so serious," she said at last.

"I know."

Then silence again. She dropped her eyes.

She had wanted him freed so much it had consumed all her energy, but now that they were alone together again, she felt at a loss. What were they supposed to do? How could they make something so abrupt and complicated between them work?

It had seemed doable the morning after the bonding. She had thought they could move on from their past. That if he knew she returned his feelings it would create a path forward for them.

But everything had fallen apart. 

It felt like every time they had tried to protect the other person, they ended up hurting them more. Or found themselves being used like some kind of weapon against them.

She wasn't sure how to fix all the fractured emotions that lay between them.

"Are you angry with me?" she asked after a long silence.

"No." His voice was clipped. 

Hermione inhaled. "Then—why are you standing so far away?"

He straightened and came toward: her. He'd been wearing prison robes at court but he was dressed all in black again.

He sank into a chair beside her bed, still staring at her with that mask-like expression. She could see the strain around his eyes. He looked haggard.

"You haven't slept since they arrested you."

He nodded. 

She wet her lips. "Why are you shutting me out?"

"Because I don't know what you want."

"What do you mean?"

"I know you wanted this to work," he said slowly, his voice flat. His eyes were fastened on the wall behind her head. "That you thought we could make a relationship work between us, but—we have to be realistic. Trying to force this to be something it isn't will only going to make it harder for both of us. So. I would like you to stop trying to make us something we're not, and tell me what you want. Not what you think is fair. Not what you wish we could somehow make work. Not what you think would make me happy. I want to know what you really want."

Hermione's stared at him carefully. "That's why you shut me out?"

He gave a minute nod. "I don't want you to base your answer on what you think my feelings are."

"What I really want?" she repeated.

"Yes." His jaw twitched. "If you want me to stay away from you, I will. You will never have to see me again. Or if you want me to act as a friend, I will play that role and—I will never touch you or try to make it become anything more. Or if you want us to just be coworkers again. Just—" he suddenly hesitated and glanced down, "don't ask me leave to Britain." There was a straining edge in the undercurrent of his voice. "Let me stay close enough that if something happens to you, I'll have a chance of getting there in time."

He stood up abruptly.

"You don't have tell me yet," he said, "Just think about it. You can tell me your decision if I get released at sentencing."

As he reached the door, she found her voice.

"Draco, don't shut me out," she said.

He froze. His back towards her.

"That's what I want," she said firmly, staring at his shoulders. "I know you might prefer to just give up now, rather than risk that I'll hurt you even worse later. But that is what I want. I want you to give me a chance, so I can show you I meant it when I said I love you. I want you to stay with me and risk it."

He didn't move. His shoulders were rigid, she could almost see the tension radiating from them.

"Granger, please don't." His voice was shaking.

"You asked me what I wanted. I'm telling you. If you can't do it; if it's not what you want, I'll let you go. But you don't get to give up on this already and tell yourself you're doing it for me," she said fiercely.

She kept watching him, hoping he'd turn around.

He wrenched the door open, and vanished through it.

She stared after him, her heart sinking.

She wished she hadn't gotten angry with him at the Ministry. She'd just—gone to pieces.

They'd been so close to being alright after he came back from the Killing Curse. That was why she hadn't wanted to tell him when she was feeling faint, she hadn't wanted to lose that little bit of equilibrium that they seemed to have grasped.

She couldn't understand why he thought he got to set all the terms. How he could expect her to accept whatever horrifying decisions he made, but then grow furious when she made choices of her own.

Even now, after asking her what she wanted, as soon as it fell outside of the specific parameters that he wanted to box her in, he'd refused.

She sank back into the bed. She was so tired.

When she woke, he had returned bearing soup.

She peered into the bowl. Chicken soup with vegetables that were diced into perfect cubes. Not done by a house-elf or spell work. This was the knife-work of a potion master.

"I didn't know you cooked," she said, glancing up at him.

He shrugged.

"Just soup. It's potion making without magical ingredients. Not hard if you know how to read directions." His expression was still closed.

When she finished eating, he stood without a word and carried the bowl away.

She fell asleep again, so quickly she was certain he'd put dreamless sleep draught into her food.

When she woke again, he was there. Asleep in the chair beside the bed, her hand clasped in his.

She doubted he expected her to wake again so soon. He must not have realised how quickly she burned potions out of her system.

She sat up and touched him lightly on the cheek. He looked as though he'd aged years in the past day. 

He'd seemed almost immortal in his beauty when she'd gone into his room. Now he looked entirely human, that strained expression that she remembered from the war had returned to his face.

Gently she shifted him into her arms and pulled him into the bed. He'd be furious with her when he woke up but she didn't care. Everything she did seemed to make him angry, so she'd just do what she wanted and not care when he fumed over it.

After she'd managed to shift his larger frame far enough onto the bed that he wasn't in any danger of falling off, there was barely any room for her unless she entwined herself around him. She smiled to herself and did exactly that.

He shifted and she froze, her heart pounding, fearing he was already waking up. Instead he pulled her even closer, wrapping his arms around her tightly and sighing. His expression finally relaxed.

She arched her neck back and kissed him lightly on the lips.

Chapter Text

Hermione was the first to stir the next morning. They had shifted during the course of the night, she was lying on her back and Draco was curled around her, holding her tightly in his sleep.

As she grew more aware she realised that, at some point one of his hands had slipped up her shirt and was wrapped possessively around her breast. Every time she moved, even slightly, he squeezed and palmed it gently.

The touch brought back memories of bonding with him and she felt her nipples growing hard when his fingers brushed over her.

She bit back a moan. She could feel him prodding against her hip. But she was certain that, if she moved, if she woke him by trying anything, he'd flee as soon as he was conscious. Warm and wet as she was increasingly growing, she wanted him to stay and actually talk to her even more than she wanted to attend the needs of the wanton sex kitten that he was apparently capable of awakening within her.

He was still deeply asleep.

She wasn't surprised. After the time he spent in prison, the magic he'd used to break himself free, not to mentioned dying and dragging himself back, she was amazed he hadn't been put in bed by healers too.

Maybe they'd just been afraid to.

She wanted him rested. Part of their conflict, she was sure, was brought on by how over-exhausted they'd both been.

She lay quietly and tried to think of something to occupy her mind. She glanced around the room and her eyes landed on a book on the bedside table. Her arm was mostly free; she slid it over and snagged the book gently. It was the Veela text she'd been reading. Draco or Harry must have brought it up for her.

Resting it precariously on her sternum above Draco's hand she flipped to her place and started reading; trying to ignore the way his thumb swiped gently over her nipple every time she turned a page.

By the time he started to wake hours later she had read all the way through the book once and was making good progress on a second run. Her wrist was cramping slightly from the odd angle she was holding it and she felt nearly cross eyed from reading the text so closely.

She was also in a state of nearly agonizing arousal.

She had paused many times while reading, forced to bite her lip and flex her legs and toes in an attempt to distract her mind from the growing need that was coiling up tighter and tighter inside her from Draco's unconscious ministrations.

Even his steady breathing, brushing lightly on her skin was starting to make her tingle. She didn't think she could possibly feel more tense with arousal.

When he suddenly shifted she couldn't stop the quiet moan from escape her lips. His breathing suddenly caught and she could feel his whole body freeze as he came awake.

She shut the book and put it back onto the bedside table.

She could feel him slowly realizing where he was and where his hands were. He stayed frozen, apparently completely at loss about what to do next.

"Did you sleep well?" she eventually asked.

"How—did I get here?" he asked, sliding his hand away.

"You fell asleep in that chair. I moved you."

She could feel him getting annoyed with her and despite her resolution not to care about it, she found she couldn't.

"And before you get angry with me, well, don't. I don't think I can handle you being angry with me right now," she said quietly.

He subsided from his irritation and stayed there frozen. She turned so she could look at him. They were pressed closely together, the narrow bed leaving little space for him to get away unless he climbed over her.

She looked into his eyes. They had that same terrified expression that he'd had when she told him she was in love with him. Like he was bracing himself inside for it to end up being a cruel trick.

She laid her hand on his cheek lightly. She'd thought of so many things she wanted to say to him when he'd been asleep, but she was afraid if she said any of them he'd run away again. She wasn't sure if she'd get another chance after this.

"Draco, please don't ask me to give up on this," she finally breathed. "Please take this risk for me. You've dragged yourself through so much pain by telling yourself you're doing it for my sake, but you've never actually given me any say in it. I need you to actually let me be an equal in this. If you believe in me at all, please give me this."

"Granger..."

She placed her fingers lightly over his lips, just the barest touch. She was still so aroused it was ridiculous. She wanted to swoon just from touching his mouth.

Ugh. Sweet Morgana, how on earth had Draco Malfoy turned her into a witch who contemplated swooning? If the heat in her body weren't so busy currently being elsewhere she was sure she'd be blushing scarlet. But Merlin, never mind about anxiety over sex; all that had apparently vanished the instant Draco bit her in his bedroom.

She'd always been able to appreciate an attractive man, but going from conceding that Draco Malfoy was attractive to considering him positively edible was a dramatic jump for her. But heavens, he had long fingers. She'd always thought his hands were unjustly attractive. And his eyes, they were always so intense when he looked at her. And his hair was somehow sexily tousled in bed. How unfair was that?

She wanted to kiss him and have sex with him without having a mating imperative smothering her mind. Good as the sex had been at bonding she was far more interested in knowing what it would be like with human Draco and real, coherent her. She imagined it would be slower, a more gradual, intense burn. She was sure, based on the way Draco stared at her, he would make it last ages in all the best ways. He was obstinate and exacting like that. The thought made her feel tingly.

She steeled herself. Having sex would not resolve the issues they were dealing with.

Pulling her fingers away she wanted to kiss him but she didn't allow herself that either.

"I'm hungry," she announced. "You should go make breakfast."

Then she rolled away in order to give him space to get out of the bed.

He stood slowly without saying anything and left the room.

She watched him go. Her heart was racing. She wasn't sure if she was doing this right. She'd always been rubbish at relationships.

It wasn't as though there was any room to doubt his feelings toward her. She'd read carefully through the sections on bonding to make sure she understood the theories on it. They were unanimous.

He was in love with her and he would never stop. Short of her turning into the sun his life couldn't revolve around her more. Everything for him began and ended with being irrevocably attached to her. In his mind she was the entire point of—everything.

It had been sobering. Slightly terrifying.

It was a staggering thought and burden to be so significant to someone. To be so relied upon. But it bolstered her theory that somewhere in his skewed way of thinking he'd convinced himself that this must be best for her. This wasn't an attempt to simply protect himself from getting hurt, he was somehow doing it for her sake.

So if she wanted to change his mind she would have to convince him that it was for her. Even if she made his desire to give in unbearable, he wouldn't, unless he finally believed it was something she really wanted. Which meant convincing him that she wasn't just trying to love him out of guilt. She had to find a way to make him see that her feelings were legitimate.

They were both habitually suspicious of each other. He had spent so long pretending that he loathed her when he was actually head over heels for her, it probably wasn't a stretch for him to imagine that, for some absurd reason, she might do the reverse to him. The lying really had to stop. She had to be entirely honest with him, so that he would believe her about the things that mattered. And she needed to convince him to do the same for her.

He eventually returned with toast, and eggs—of some kind. She stared at them suspiciously.

"I told you, I only make soup." He mumbled after her silence had exceeded the bounds of politeness.

"Maybe you could try porridge tomorrow," she suggested at length, taking a bite of the toast. She didn't say anything to him while she ate, but she could feel his eyes on her.

"Granger, what are you doing?"

She glanced up at him. He was staring at her warily. She arched her eyebrows at him as she finished chewing.

She could pretend she didn't know what he was talking about, but it would be pointless. He was a Slytherin, he would always be better at being sneaky and suspicious than her. But luckily her plan didn't require tricking him at all. Honesty, that was the name of the game.

"I'm trying to change you mind," she said.

"By telling me to make you breakfast?" he asked skeptically.

"No. I was just hungry. You kept fondling me for hours after I woke and at that point the options were ordering you out of bed or jumping your bones."

He choked and turned bright red but she continued.

"And I was sure that having sex would just make whatever the problem is between us worse. So—breakfast," she shrugged.

"I didn't mean to fall asleep here," he said at last.

"Oh, where were you planning to sleep?" she inquired.

He hesitated for a split second and she smirked inwardly. He had no idea what the floor plan was for any of the upstairs. He probably had barely gone anywhere but her room and the kitchen.

"Across the hall," he said smoothly.

"Really? In the room Sirius used to keep Buckbeak in? That's an odd choice." She couldn't hide the smile that crept across her face.

He hissed.

"Fine. I wasn't planning to sleep there, I wasn't planning to sleep at all. Because every time I even close my eyes I see you on on the verge of dying in front of me. In Diagon Alley. Or the Burke house. Or in the Ministry, either from Runcorn or when you suddenly turned grey and started going into shock. I can't—stop—seeing it." His voice was hoarse.

Hermione looked at him steadily.

"Draco, you saved me all of those times," she pointed out.

"They wouldn't have happened if I hadn't done this to you," he snapped.

She shrugged.

"Well, most of them. But Runcorn would still have wanted me dead. If you hadn't bitten me I'm sure he would have followed through with his other plan to kill me in order to destroy and discredit my work. And—if it hadn't been you—it probably would have been even worse. He said it was supposed to happen before the WRA was enacted, so he probably intended to hire a werewolf or a pack of werewolves to rape and maul me to death. And you might have already died by then. And capable as I may be, I doubt I could fight off more than a few werewolves by myself."

He was staring at her in horror. The thought had apparently not occurred to him.

"All in all, I think my chances of survival are now higher in the long run," she concluded quietly.

He looked tired again.

"You can conjure a bed and sleep here, I won't bother you," she offered.

"What are you doing?" he asked, his voice frustrated.

"I'm not doing anything. I don't have any sneaky plot or grand scheme," she stated matter-of-factly, "I'm just doing what you wanted. You don't want us to be anything romantic, so that's what I'm doing. You already know that this is not what I want. But, I'm not going to try to force you to change your mind or do something you don't want to."

She shrugged slightly,

"It's not like I could anyway. Even if I pulled all my clothes off and seduced you, I might break through yours defenses long enough for us to have sex. But then you'd probably never come near me again. At least this way, if I'm doing what you want, I can be with you. It's not going to be very satisfying for anyone, but at least you won't leave."

He was staring at her like a caged animal. Before he could say anything they heard the bang of the front door.

"I hope you're all decent up there!" Harry shouted from the foyer. "I brought Healer Abasi to check on Hermione."

Draco retreated to the corner and looked suddenly worried.

Harry bustled in with an armful of Potions. He had clearly decided that the best way to deal with whatever was going on between Hermione and Draco was to ignore it and let them sort it out themselves. He didn't comment on the tension in the room. He fussed over Hermione for a bit, seeming to be taking in her appearance with a somewhat tense expression, but after kissing her on the cheek he walked right back out the door.

Healer Abasi was in civilian clothes rather than the lime green healer robes she was used to seeing him in.

"Miss Granger, you're looking better today. The grey is gone, although you're still worryingly pale."

Hermione had no idea what she looked like. She hadn't bothered to look in a mirror since she'd had Ginny's clothes resized the day before.

"I'm feeling better," she told him.

He nodded. "Probably because you're back with your bond-mate. The magic of the bond is shared between you, although considerably more of it's in him than you. Proximity stabilises things, which is vital especially at the beginning. You've been staying close to her?"

The question was directed at Draco who nodded tersely.

"Good. Good." Abasi nodded and then performed the longest and most complicated diagnostic charm Hermione had ever seen. A shimmer of magic rose up from her and he began inspecting it.

"It's too bad, I didn't realise they had separated you during the trial or I would have said something. It was a terrible thing to do to a new bond. I'm sure you started noticing the side effects even before you injured yourself."

Hermione nodded. "I was mostly tired, but then it started aching. I wasn't sure if it was because of the separation or because they were hurting Draco. I just started reading about bonding a day ago and I only had one book."

"Granted, Veela bonding isn't my specialty. But as I understand it, it's generally harder for the human; the change is more dramatic, especially in your case given the quantity of magic involved in manifesting a full-blooded Veela, not to mention the fragile condition you were in at the time following Miss Parkinson's attempt to murder you. The Veela is just tapping into something that was already there. But for you, the bond went in and forced all your magic to restructure itself fundamentally. You should have had days, if not weeks of high proximity to stabilise and allow your magic to rebalance before drawing on it. With your separation and then what happened in the Wizengamot, you were easily able to over-exert your magic reserves because your body hadn't realised yet that it was your magic. When you'd cast a spell your system would try purging the unfamiliar magic, trying to reach for something familiar. So you used it all up rapidly. Once you did, trying to pull more was like gardening in fresh soil; you tugged a little too hard after that and it tore your magic out by the roots."

He handed her a potion and watched the colours in the diagnostic shift slightly as she swallowed it.

"The trouble," Healer Abasi explained, "is that your injury isn't something we can fix. Physical injuries or spell damage we can usually repair, but what you did was injure what we call your magic wellspring. We don't even understand exactly how it works, and we can't do anything externally to affect it. This kind of injury is usually only seen in wizarding folk with very low levels of magic, but it's rare even then, since they usually lack the magical ability to do something that would exhaust their magic so much. Normally, the cases involve an accidental use of a dark artifact."

He sat back with a slight sigh.

"Luckily in your case, you didn't use all that magic or you most certainly would have died, even with the added protection that bonding provides. But the injury is still severe, and there's nothing we can do but stabilise you and hope that if you rest and don't try any magic it will eventually be able to repair itself."

Hermione nodded.

"It felt almost as if I were bleeding internally afterward. I could feel it tainting my magic."

"Yes. That's what others have described. It's like internal bleeding, but unlike blood, magic isn't constantly moving through you, so as long as you're not drawing on it you shouldn't have to worry that it will continue to hemorrhage the way it did when you were trying to duel."

Abasi suddenly hesitated and looked solemn.

"Generally, when it's survived, an injury to the wellspring this severe causes a permanent loss of magic for the individual. But—I'm hopeful that it will not be the case for you. You're unique because the magic isn't just yours. You can transfuse it to aid in the healing. That should make a difference. If the theories on wellsprings are correct, in time you should be able to recover fully."

Hermione felt herself stomach drop, she had suspected there might be that chance. Even in the moment when she'd torn it out as she'd tried to reach Draco. But, hearing it from a healer—it made it real.

Healer Abasi glanced toward Draco.

"I don't know if there was a concern that it would hurt or overexert her. But this is actually the only circumstance in which I would recommend sex to aid in recovery. Frequently. Biting her each time."

Hermione turned scarlet while Draco looked pale enough to faint. Healer Abasi didn't seem to realise the bomb he'd dropped and continued examining the diagnostic while handing Hermione new and awful tasting potions to swallow.

After a spending a moment trying to steady herself, Hermione asked the question she had been mulling over for the last day.

"Healer Abasi, after Draco got hit with the killing curse yesterday, it changed the bond," she was speaking in a low voice, hoping Draco wasn't paying attention, but feeling unable to keep herself from asking all the same. "I—felt him die through it, and even once he came back—it still feels like the moment he died. Do you have any idea—if that will ever fade? Or—will it always be like that now?"

Abasi looked up at her sadly.

"Well. I'm not sure. Aside from full-blooded Veela I don't think any other bond-mates can survive a killing curse. But, from what I understand of it, trauma can become associated with the bond when something awful enough gets passed through. The bond doesn't retain anything, but in your case, you can't stop yourself from reliving the trauma every time you reach out. The best I can advise is that if you give yourself time and opportunity, eventually it won't be the only thing you associate with it."

She nodded. She'd suspected that might be the answer, based on what she could find in the book she'd read.

"Well, that's all I can do. Take one of these restorative potions every twelve hours and a strengthener every six. Absolutely no magic. Eat regularly. Sleep. And have sex. It will be vital for rebalancing your magic and probably help you recover from the trauma you associate with the bond."

Healer Abasi stood to leave and Harry followed him, giving Hermione a wan, encouraging smile as he left.

Hermione listened to their retreating footsteps and then the click of the door.

The silence was deafening.

At length she finally spoke.

"I don't suppose friends with benefits was what you had in mind."

Draco did not appear to find the joke funny at all.

"I'm going to make you lunch," he announced before fleeing.

She sat back in bed resignedly.

He would come back. Given the way he'd grown progressively whiter and whiter as Abasi had been treating her, she suspected that he hadn't realised the injury might be long-term.

He would do anything required of him to fix her. But he'd have to come to terms with it first. And she imagined, given how desperately he loved her, being told he needed to bite her repeatedly when he was convinced their relationship was doomed was pushing him beyond his limits.

She was so bored she felt as though her brain were trying to scratch its way out of her head. She wasn't ready to try coming to terms with the idea she might never use magic again. So she picked up the Veela book from the bedside table. She had nothing better to do. She might as well memorise it.

Chapter Text

Draco's hands were shaking as he diced vegetables.

Generally, potion making was something he enjoyed and that helped to clear his mind. The precision and the focus it required. Potions yielded back what the brewer gave. It was the same with cooking, and soup had the upside of tasting better than most potions.

But there was not much precision or focus going into the leeks that he had just mangled.

He laid the knife down and stared at the board.

There was no way, no fucking way he could have sex with Hermione as her friend. And they both knew it.

He was pretty sure something in his heart had permanently broken when she'd turned grey and started collapsing as her body went into shock but had still been so angry with him that she hadn't wanted his help. Having her try to fight him off when she was dying was not something he expected to ever fully recover from.

He had known they couldn't make it work.

He'd tried to brace himself for that inevitability when he was in prison. Even though she'd been so adamant that she did love him, that it wasn't something brought on by gratitude, or shock, or guilt. He'd been sure that, eventually, when the suddenness wore off, she'd realise how little ground they had to stand on in the sea of anger she owed him.

He just—hadn't expected it to happen so abruptly. Watching her fall apart as all of her rage to just poured out... the rawness of her anger over all he'd done to her.

He hadn't been prepared for how hard it would be to handle.

And then he'd carried her to the healers and learned that his decision to let them be separated immediately after bonding had been slowly killing her, that she'd been starving, that she hadn't even fully recovered from Pansy's attack when she'd come to him and he'd violently claimed her—

He hadn't known. He'd barely let himself read about what being bonded with her would be like. So he hadn't known that the extent of his manifestation meant she'd need weeks to stabilise; that he was going to hurt her by going to the Ministry.

Everything he tried to do to protect her seemed to end up hurting her.

Even being hit by the unforgivable. She had nearly died and might be permanently injured from reviving him. And she'd done it intentionally. He knew, based on the lack of surprise on her face when Abasi said she might not get her magic back. It was something she'd already anticipated.

And—he knew how frequently she kept trying to reach out to him through the bond. He could feel her, like a caress against the back of his mind, every time she came up to his occlumency walls. He hadn't known that every time she reached out she was re-experiencing his death.

He knew how awful it felt through the bond when she was nearly dying. The realization that she had felt him go all the way and that it so traumatised her that she kept reliving it—it was horrifying.

But she still kept reaching out. As soon as he'd walk out of the room, she would do it. Like she were reassuring herself that he was still there—

His hands wouldn't stop shaking.

He glanced blindly around the chaotic kitchen. He was generally considered to be rather finicky and obsessive about cleanliness. He'd always hated brewing with anyone else because they couldn't appreciate the value of a perfectly clean workspace. But at the moment he wouldn't really care if the entire kitchen were waist deep in bubotuber pus.

He turned and left. Heading back up to Hermione.

He didn't know what to do.

How he was supposed to have sex and bite her—frequently—and then step back and let her go when she realised again how unworkable they were?

It didn't matter if she wanted to act like being with him was what she wanted, he couldn't bring himself play along. Asking him to pretend that was exceeding the even depths of martyrdom that Hermione Granger could evoke within him.

Because now they both knew it was a lie.

She'd already said it. When she'd finally been too weak to maintain her facade of optimism, too angry to keep hiding it from him, she'd admitted it: it wasn't going to work, she couldn't bear what he'd done to her.

If he played along, when she realised it again—he was afraid of what he might do to try to convince her not to.

There was a jealous possessiveness inside of him that he was terrified of unleashing on her. If he ever let himself believe her, he was sure it would be unlocked and he'd never be able to contain it again.

If she tried to leave him then, he might—he was terrified to even think about it.

This was worse than every scenario in which he'd imagined them bonded. And he'd always thought he had a fairly decent imagination.

He stood at the door. Trying to bring himself to go in to her but unable to.

It was bad enough when he woke up that morning, holding her, and she had begged him to try to make their relationship work, then announced her intention to just let them be platonic until he changed his mind, all while discussing how she wanted to have sex with him.

That had been a strange enough kind of torture.

But then, being informed that they should have sex in order to help her recover—

In what world was recovery-sex a thing?

Fucking bonding magic.

He would have assumed it was some absurd scheme if he hadn't immediately realised the truth of it.

All the magic left in her currently was drawn from him, comprised of what he'd injected into her over the course of their bonding. Until she recovered, it would be the only magic she had. And he could sense it in her; the instability in it, the taint.

Aside from the fact she might never recover enough to regain magic if he didn't—it might poison her eventually, if he refused bite her.

Abasi's recommendation was a politely phrased order.

But it wasn't as if he could just bite her the way he had in the Burke house. Another fantastic aspect of bonding magic, now that he'd completed the initial bonding, his fangs would only emerge during sex.

They had to have sex.

He had to—without making it into something committed or meaningful. He had to.

Fuck bonding magic.

He clenched his jaw and pushed the door open.

She was reading and did not seem at all surprised that he wasn't carrying food.

They stared at each other. She was so pale and thin. Her already enormous eyes seemed even bigger and darker as she looked up at him.

He sank down, wordlessly, into the chair beside her.

"Draco, I forgot to tell you earlier, but I'm sorry for how angry I got with you in the Ministry. It's not any excuse, but I think the relief that they weren't going to re-imprison you made me fall apart and then, when you were so furious with me, I just vented all the frustration I'd felt toward the Ministry and everyone else toward you. But I meant what I said, we both need to be honest."

He looked at her. He didn't really think he could handle arguing with her right now. But, then again, he generally didn't want to fight with her and yet it remained the most inevitable aspect of their relationship.

"Then be honest, Granger. You already admitted it once. This isn't going to work."

She stared.

"I've never said it wasn't going to work!" she declared indignantly.

He ground his jaw.

"You did."

"I most certainly did not," she appeared outraged.

"Yes, you did. Those exact words. And, while you may have conveniently decided to forget them now, I haven't," he said flatly. "So be honest, Granger. Stop trying to be a saint. I don't want you to play house with me just because you feel bad that you said you loved me and then realized you didn't mean it."

"I never said it," she snarled. "I would never have said that. Do you really think I know you so little, Draco, that I would think you wanted to be lied to? Or that I'm just such a swot I don't even know how to appraise my own feelings?"

"You said it." He seethed. "Just before you collapsed. Before you tried to push me away and begged me to find a way to undo it. You said: this isn't going to work." He spat.

Why was she being so obstinate?

"I didn't—" she cut off suddenly and her eyes grew enormous as she clapped her hands over her mouth.

Draco stared. So she'd forgotten? He wasn't sure if he should feel better or worse.

Her hands dropped from her mouth and she suddenly looked profoundly remorseful.

"I said, 'this isn't going to work if we're always lying to each other.' But—then I fell, before I finished. Oh Draco, I'm so sorry. I—didn't realise. And then—I was trying to beg you not to always treat me like I was just some object for you protect and make decisions for. I wasn't asking to undo it."

Her eyes were wide with horror.

He felt something in his heart twist.

"Really, Granger? That's how you're going to try to play this?" he drawled.

"I'm not lying," she hissed, suddenly looking furious with him again. "What would possibly be the point in lying to you? It's not like you're believing me. You can look inside my mind if you're so convinced."

He couldn't sit there anymore. He stood and glared down at her.

"Sure. I'll just shove my way in, just have you re-live the sensation of having me die in your mind, yet again, so I can check. As if we haven't already established your ability to lie through it when you want to. When did you become such a glutton for pain?"

He sneered at her.

She blinked up at him.

"It's not—It's not like that when it's from your end. It's just when I initiate." She paled slightly as she said it. "But I actually meant legilimency. Since it's obvious that we've both figured out how to lie through the bond."

He stared at her astonished. Wondering if she had any idea what she was offering.

"You'll probably be able to see anything you want," she continued, "I tried to teach myself occlumency once, but there wasn't anyone who could help me, Harry's always been rubbish at it. So, I doubt I could hide anything from you. I'll let you, if you want to."

She was gazing right into his eyes. He stared down at her. It was so tempting. It would be so easy. To just push in and find out, to stop wavering and hoping and just—know.

His uncertainty seemed to steel her resolve.

"Do it," she demanded.

He hesitated—he'd always sworn he'd never enter her mind, never invade her privacy that way. But she was offering...

Her brown eyes gazed up at him, completely open. There were no walls around her mind. If he just locked eyes with her, he'd be in.

He wavered for a moment longer and then sank into her consciousness...

Hermione understood, at least a bit, how legilimency worked and shoved what she regarded to be the relevant memories toward him. They were right at the edge of her mind waiting.

Draco was suddenly standing next to her in the Ministry. She was screaming over his body. He'd just died in front of her.

"Please come back. I haven't convinced you that I love you yet. I need you to know it. You can't go anywhere until you know. Please, please come back. We still have to misuse chocolate. I'm not done being angry with you. And I need you to know I love you back." She was begging as she kissed him.

She kept trying to find him inside the bond. He could feel her shuddering as she forced her way through the sensation of death, trying to reach further and further. Her utter desperation. Her willingness to do anything to bring him back. She would do anything, she didn't care what the cost might be for her.

Then suddenly everything shifted and it was a new memory. She was in his arms they were both in shock following his revival, and she was starting to realise she'd injured herself.

She didn't want to tell him; he was back with her, things could be alright. But then when he discovered it, she was so frustrated at the double standard he was holding her to. That it was unforgivable for her to try to protect him but he had the right to make whatever decisions for her that he wanted.

The constant lying to each other was chipping away at the foundation they had.

"This isn't going to work if we're always lying to each other," Hermione was trying to say, but she couldn't keep standing.

She was so angry about feeling helpless. So furious about what the Ministry had done to him. She couldn't hold back, all the unprocessed trauma of the last week finally struck her. She didn't want him to always be saving her and then trying to hold her at arm's length, she couldn't bear how much it hurt. She was so angry about it she tried to push him away when he caught her. She didn't wanted him to treat her like she was a possession he was responsible for.

He was asking her not to fight him

"Then don't do this to me," she forced the words out as she struggled in his arms, keeping conscious out of pure frustration.

Draco started trying to pull out of her mind but she shoved another memory at him.

Then they were back in his bedroom. She knew he didn't believe her when she said she loved him. She could see that he was afraid it wasn't true. She'd kissed him but he wasn't kissing her back yet. Then he suddenly did and she was flooded with emotion.

Pure joy.

It was perfect. It was everything she wanted.

The memory changed again. She was in the Burke house, struggling to stay conscious. He could sense her thoughts.

She didn't want to die—If Draco was a Veela she needed to save him. She didn't want to die—She needed to get a chance to tell Draco how she felt. If he wasn't dying, she needed to try to convince him not to leave her behind.

Another shift. They were across from each other after the WRA passed, the crowd was screaming. He grinned at her and her heart felt as though it had stalled from the intensity of it. She moved toward him, wanting to jump into his arms. The way he was looking at her made her pulse race. She was going to kiss him, right there, in the middle of the room.

Draco wrenched himself out of her mind and stared down at her. They were both breathing raggedly but she recovered herself first.

"Will you believe me now?" she asked steadily and he could see the desperation in her eyes.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak yet.

"I'm not claiming that this is going to easy for us," she continued. "I'm not denying our past. But I think we can do it. If we're willing to trust each other. If we're willing to make choices together. If we're willing to tell each other the truth even when it's going to hurt or upset the other person. I think we can do it."

She stood up from the bed and gripped his shirt, pulling him down toward her.

"So please, Draco. Let me love you back." Her voice was quavering.

He dropped his forehead to rest against hers and shook.

The shock.

The relief he felt.

It was hard to believe it could be true. That their future could be anything but a tragedy after everything he'd done to her.

How she could possibly find him worth it was beyond his understanding.

"I love you, Hermione," he muttered. "I will be good to you. I swear it on every bit of magic in this world."

Then he kissed her. The way he had always wanted to kiss her. Slowly. He tangled his hand in her hair and arched her neck so he could deepen it, running his tongue along hers. She shivered and pressed herself closer to him, twining her arms around him, twisting her fingers into the fabric of his shirt to hold him tightly, as if she worried he'd suddenly flee.

He wrapped his arms around her.

She was so perfect. It was still difficult for him to believe sometimes that she could be real. That someone with a mind so incredible could also be so kind and brave and beautiful and filled with such a capacity to care.

Granted, she was also a complete swot, and a nag, and utterly insufferable about being right about every damn thing. And her idea of self-care was vigorous tooth brushing. And she never did anything but work.

But somehow those things had only made him more determined to force his way into her life. To try to make her leave the Ministry at a normal hour. And stopped to eat. And got to interact with people who were able to appreciate her brilliance rather than merely take advantage of it.

And now, by some clear negligence on the part of Fate, she was his. And she wanted to be with him. And he was never going to let her go.

Without breaking their kiss she pulled him down atop her on the bed.

He detached himself from her mouth and quirked an eyebrow at her.

She smirked.

"I'm supposed to be on bedrest. You're required to snog me like this," she announced cheekily.

He chuckled and kissed her again.

A slow, smoldering heat began blossoming between them.

He kissed his way languorously down her throat until she moaned under him. Tasting her skin, breathing in the scent of her.

She was his.

The burn of desire that he had carried for so many years shifted into an inferno of possessiveness.

She was his.

Every perfect inch of her.

Her soft, kissable mouth that was making the most enticing, breathy whimpers. Her ridiculous, riotous hair that he couldn't keep himself from tangling his fingers in. Her intelligent eyes, blown wide with arousal. The pale, slender column of her throat, arched back and exposed to him.

He nibbled on her neck and she keened under him.

Oh Merlin, there was no sound on earth sexier than that.

He was so aroused by everything about her. There was a good chance that if she kept moaning and writhing underneath him he might lose it.

He wanted to just pull her clothes off and sink into her. To claim her while conscious, rather than under the thrall of instinct and magic.

But he steeled himself. He needed to pace it. This was the first time as just them. No mating imperative, no Veela instinct controlling everything. He wanted her know that the pleasure he could give her wasn't just because of bonding magic. He wanted to unravel her slowly and then watch her crescendo as he acquainted himself with all the secrets of her body.

Hermione clearly had other ideas as she began trying to pull his shirt off and snake her hands down toward his trousers. He entwined their fingers and lifted her arms above her head and then pinned her wrists there with one hand while he continued his exploration with the other.

"Slow down," he chided.

"No," she protested. Her voice was thick with arousal. "I need you. I've keeping my hands off your all day. You have no idea what you did to me this morning. It's not fair."

Impossible little witch. She would never make anything easy for him. As if she weren't already difficult enough to resist; having her staring at him with desperate, ravenous eyes while her voice was filled with want might just be the end of him.

Good Merlin, how was he supposed to refuse her anything ever again?

She kept trying to twist her wrists free. He pinned her down more firmly into the bed and stared into her eyes.

"I have wanted this considerably longer than you have. Let me do this slowly," he said firmly.

"But that's not my fault..." she whined, wriggling her hips against him so that he hissed.

"Please, Granger," he muttered through clenched teeth.

"No..." she moaned and arched as he slide his hand under her shirt and palmed her breast. "We can have loads of slow sex later. I want you now..."

Holy fuck.

How exactly was he supposed to say no to that?

He kissed her deeply and released her wrists. Her hands promptly darted down and ripped his shirt open.

Good lord, since when was Hermione Granger a wanton, shirt-ripping type of witch? It was like a school fantasy had come to life beneath him.

"Take me..." she whispered into his ear.

He bit his lip. The things she could do to him without even trying were truly unfair.

She was wearing entirely too many clothes. He shoved her shirt up and she paused briefly in her quest to strip him in order to pull it over her head, and then, without even bothering to allow him to do the honors, slipped her bra off too.

He barely had time to look at her before she aggressively smashed their mouths together again.

There—was something not quite right about this.

He considered himself to be something of an expert on all things Granger and, unless he grossly misunderstood something about her, frenetic, somewhat violent sex was not Hermione Granger's style.

Hesitating slightly he dropped his occlumency walls and pressed into the bond.

Sweet Circe, she was quite aroused. As if he wasn't already struggling to control himself, experiencing it from her end simultaneously was almost enough to kill him.

But she was also terrified that, if she let him hesitate or have any time to think he was going to come up with another reason to doubt things and then leave her again. And she was so desperate for him to believe her. She was afraid she'd go to pieces if things fell apart for them again.

He sighed and pulled away from her lips. She tried to follow him and he raised himself onto his forearms as he stared down into her eyes. They were still dark with arousal but also flooded with disappointment and a flicker of guilt as she realise he was reading her intentions through the bond.

"I do want you," she said steadily. "Please, don't—"

He interrupted her.

"Granger," he said firmly, "I am not going anywhere."

Her eyes flooded with relief but there was still some suspicion in them. He continued,

"And I am going to have sex with you. Right now. And on this bed. But not like this. A quick fuck is not the way either of us want it."

He dropped a kiss onto the tip of her nose.

"You're stuck with me. So. I am not going to make this last for hours, if for no other reason than that I'm pretty positive that I can't currently manage it. But, please, don't rush this. Let me make love to you."

She hesitated for a second and then, with a nod, she relaxed beneath him. He couldn't believe how much tension she could store inside herself. He lowered his head and kissed her lightly, softly and then gradually more and more deeply.

Gliding his hands over her body, savoring every inch of her that he touched. She moved in kind, tracing her fingertips over him lightly before gently pulling him closer. They just kissed for a while, allowing the pace to increase again naturally.

After much snogging Draco finally left her mouth and kissed his way down her neck and discovered three spots along it that made her shudder and melt against him. On another occasion he intended to inspect them more carefully. But just at the moment he was anxious to proceed on and worship her beautiful breasts. She whimpered and tangled her fingers in his hair.

"You are so perfect." He breathed against a hard nipple before encasing it between his lips and swirling his tongue to tease her. She made a incoherent noise in response.

He wanted to stay there for ages and keep discovering just how sensitive she was. Merlin, he could spend eternity touching her. But he had a pressing need and Hermione's patience with him seemed on the verge of running out.

They pulled each other's remaining clothes off.

It was strange, feeling simultaneously like it was their first time together, but also very much not.

He wanted to taste her again, but when he moved to she flinched, the first indication of self-consciousness, and he resigned himself to saving that for a later point. Instead he touched her lightly with his fingers before sliding a single digit inside her; hissing as her soaking wet, burning, velvet core tightened around him like a vise.

"Take me," she keened. "Please..."

So he did.

Slowly.

And she was so perfect he had to clench his jaw until he thought his teeth might crack in order to keep from losing control. His mind stuttered to a halt, completely swallowed by the sensation.

She canted her hips against him. Trying to make him move and he dropped his head against her shoulder, gasping.

He wanted to lose control. To sink his fangs into her and feel her shuddering around him and just let go. But—

He wanted to make her come.

To do it himself before he bit her. He wasn't sure if he could manage it but he was determined to try.

But—moving inside her, was so perfect it was hard to focus on anything else.

Her fingers were doing wicked things to his torso and she was nipping and licking his collarbone and throat in a way that really wasn't helping him with his goal.

"Oh god, Granger, I have wanted you for so long. You have no idea," he ground out against her ear.

She shuddered under him, arching and—he jerked, moving deeper inside her.

Biting the inside of his lip until he tasted blood he slid his hand between them. She was close—he was sure. If he could just hold on long enough.

When his fingers found her cluster of nerves she clenched around him as they moved together. He slid over her, his fingertips lightly teasing until she started whimpering and writhing uncontrollably, her short nails sinking into his shoulders. As he continued she suddenly grew very still and quiet for a moment before sobbing and almost vibrating with intensity as she orgasmed around him.

That—was the limit of his endurance. He slammed into her. Long hard strokes, seconds from following her.

As he came he dropped his head down and sank his fangs into her shoulder. As the magic flooded into her she orgasmed again.

She was perfect.

He collapsed on top of her.

After taking a moment to recover himself he shifted to pull away, not wanting to crush her, but, before he could, she entwined herself around him. Holding him in place.

"Stay," she whispered in his ear. "Stay with me like this."

He sank down onto her. Kissing her shoulder lightly. The marks where he'd bitten her were already fading into faint silver scars. He pressed into the bond, feeling her mind, still hazy but utterly happy.

Chapter Text

The need to eat eventually pulled Draco from the narrow bed. Or rather, his determination that Hermione needed to eat. She tried to convince him that she would much rather do other things, but apparently having sex did not relieve him of any of his obstinance.

"You're too thin," he complained, as he dragged himself from the bed and got dressed.

Hermione sulked. "You said I was perfect less than an hour ago."

That made him glare at her, albeit mildly.

"Being generally perfect does not preclude me from eventually getting a punctured lung from one of your nearly protruding ribs. I intend to have quite a bit of sex with you and, if I'm going to get bruises, I'd rather they not be from merely lying on top of you." He grumbled.

He ignored her glaring as he wandlessly repaired his ripped shirt and re-buttoned it while he continued,

"Besides, the healers said you should gain at least a stone. And I take medical advice very seriously. I intend to make sure we both follow all of the instructions to the letter."

He smirked at her.

Hermione snorted and stopped trying to convince him to stay. She was rather thin. Eating just tended to be something she forgot about or didn't have time for, especially with the Ministry's cafeteria food being regularly inedible. She normally tried to have a hearty breakfast or dinner, but when assignments piled up and she worked overtime, it was rather easy for her to forget about eating.

Draco was fully dressed and staring at her with an aggravating combination of both concern and salaciousness.

"Go on then," she waved him away. "Go make me a fattening soup."

He smirked again and left.

She watched him descend the stairs reflecting on their mutual snarkiness. It didn't upset her, since it was good-natured, but she worried slightly; in the long run verbally sparring with each other by default might grow wearing. It wasn't as though they lacked common interests or things to talk about. They just—didn't know how to talk to each other politely.

She sat and brainstormed pertinent topics of conversation she thought they'd be unlikely to fight over.

He returned within the hour bearing chowder and a pile of toast.

"Eat all of it," he ordered, setting it beside her.

"I think you might be even bossier than me," she complained. "There are six pieces of toast. I'll pop."

Draco snagged one off the plate and ate it.

"Eat all the rest," he said sweetly, "and we can have sex again."

She snickered and tucked in.

There was a long silence.

"Draco, assuming the Ministry clears you and we don't have to run away together and be fugitives, do you have any thoughts about what exactly you want to do next?" she finally asked.

He stared at her for a moment.

"I'll do whatever you want," he said.

She had assumed he'd say something unhelpful like that.

"Well, I'm currently homeless," she noted.

"Right. Well, we could buy a new flat. Or—" he suddenly looked hesitant. "There's a cottage on my family's estate, a few kilometers from the manor but still under all the ancestral wards. It belongs to me. It would be safer than a new property."

Hermione studied him carefully. Having someone acting protective of her was generally something she found slightly irritating. But, she thought, Draco's current concern was not exactly unreasonable; she had been nearly killed—what was it? Five or six times in the last week?

She remained hopeful the frequency was an anomaly but she didn't know when she'd be able to use magic, or have a functional wand once she could. And—the safer she was the safer Draco was; since she was certain, he would not ever hesitate to fling himself into any danger that happened to befall her. And, most pertinently, if she were to die—he would not be far behind her.

It was no wonder Veela were such a rare species.

"Does it have a garden?" she inquired.

"It does."

"I always wanted to live in a country cottage when I was a child," she noted. "My parents owned a townhouse, but we often spent the holidays in the country. I always thought that someday, when I wasn't so busy, it would be nice to have a garden. Your parents wouldn't mind you leaving the manor?"

"I'm alive. I doubt they will complain about anything that you happen to want."

There was another pause as she ate her third piece of toast.

"Do you have a potions lab?"

"In the manor. Why?"

"Oh. I just have a few projects that I couldn't safely do in my kitchen. It would be nice to have occasional access to one."

Another long pause. They were beginning to feel somewhat oppressive.

"Do you... want me to change my last name?"

This appeared to be the first question that Draco didn't seem slightly uncomfortable answering.

"Well, that would be traditional. Although I have to admit, I've always been partial to calling you Granger."

She snorted.

"So I've noticed. Maybe I'll hyphenate it."

She sighed, "Getting along with you feels very awkward."

Draco smirked at that.

"It really is," he drawled.

"Do you think we'll ever be able to have a casual conversation without bickering?" She asked.

"Maybe a few. But I imagine we'll always be prone to fighting." He leaned back in his chair.

"You're probably right," she sighed, popping the last corner of her toast into her mouth. "At least the sex will always be good."

"There is that," he agreed, his eyes darkening.

"Although I don't think I can manage it right now. I'm so full," she whined. "I hope stuffing isn't a kink you have."

He stared at her astonished.

"No!" he choked.

She burst out laughing.

"How do you even know about that?" he asked with wide eyes.

"How do you think?" She smirked at him.

He remained speechless until she realised he wasn't going to actually figure it out.

"Books!" she barked. "I read. What I lack in experience I make up for with encyclopedic knowledge."

"Oh." He looked suddenly both relieved and embarrassed. "I—should have assumed that."

"You really should have," she said primly. "When on earth did you imagine I had time to get into any type of kinky sex?"

"I have actually devoted a considerable amount of effort the last several years to trying not to imagine your sex life." Draco retorted.

She choked on her chowder and spent a good minute trying to breath again.

"Do you know what I don't understand?" She asked him once she could speak.

"I really don't have any idea," he said dryly.

"How is it that you have feathers? Female Veela have scaled wings when they transform. I don't understand how males get feathers."

He looked thoughtful for a moment.

"Well, male avians species are typically flashier than females. Maybe it's because we're supposed to be pretty," he speculated.

"Do you even know what you look like transformed?" she inquired.

"No. Not really. It's never been my most pressing concern." He paused, "Does it look terrible?"

She snorted.

"No. You are very pretty."

He looked doubtful.

"Pretty might be something of an understatement," she admitted. "It's quite—mesmerizing and, maybe it's just because I'm your mate, but I find it rather—sexy."

Her cheeks felt rather warm for some reason and Draco preened.

"Anyway," she continued hurriedly, "I was wondering about the feathers because I was curious if they could be used as a wand core. My dragon heartstring doesn't seem like it will work with my magic anymore. Fleur Weasley's wand has her grandmother's Veela hair, but seeing as you have feathers, I wondered if the magic in your hair and your feathers might behave differently—assuming I get my magic back and—it was alright with you."

"We could try both," he said with a shrug. "And then you can use whichever you want."

The conversation stalled again.

They really didn't know what to do with each other, Hermione realised. It was terrible. Snarking at one another was so intrinsic to their relationship they didn't even know how to talk to one another when they were both trying to be nice.

"This is really unhealthy," she declared, feeling aggrieved.

"I know. I'm sorry. I've been anticipating my imminent demise, so I'm rather lacking in conversation and hobbies right now," he replied penitently.

"Maybe we should snog," she proposed, brightly.

So they did.

She reached out to him through the bond and found that it felt somewhat less traumatising to do so when she was touching him. And also that snogging was rather incredible when you could experience how the other person felt while kissing you. She wondered what having sex would be like in that case and then they were both quite eager to find out.

"You know," she told him, once snogging was out of their system for the moment and she was lying on top of him and running her fingers through his hair. "I've always had a thing for blonds."

There was a flicker of—something through the bond.

She looked down at him severely.

"What?" She demanded.

"It's nothing," he said cagily.

"Draco..."

"You—You may have mentioned that—the night I obliviated you," he admitted.

She stared down at him, trying to decide how annoyed she should be at being reminded about that. His hand was currently massaging the nape of her neck in a way that was positively divine, so she decided to restrict herself to mildly peeved.

"Oh. What else did I say?"

He thought for a moment.

"You said I wasn't exactly bad looking. And then amended it to that I could be rather attractive. My quidditch uniform may have also been mentioned." He smirked up at her as she proceeded to turn bright red.

"I admitted about your quidditch uniform?" she squeaked.

"Wait—was there more to it?" A wolfish smile crept over his face when she refused to meet his eyes.

"No eye contact and blushing, Granger?" He tsked. "Now I'm curious."

"It's nothing," she said, still bright red and then she buried her face in his chest.

"I thought we agreed not to lie to each other," he singsonged slightly.

"Maybe starting tomorrow," she proposed.

"Now you're making me very curious. And you know... I'll just ask you tomorrow." He murmured, his mouth suddenly very close to her ear so that his breath made her shiver.

"It's really nothing," she said shrilly, "Just—once, after a match, I happened to pass you, and you were pulling your quidditch gloves off with your teeth. And—for some reason, I had never really noticed that you could be attractive until then, and then, after that—whenever I'd notice—that you were, I would always remember you, standing outside, still flushed from the game, your hair all wind blown, and your—teeth gripping the leather gloves, and pulling them off. And I still think of it—occasionally." Her voice grew progressively smaller and smaller as she admitted this.

"Really?" Draco drawled, looking obscenely smug. "I still have quite a few pairs of those at home. I haven't played in a while, but maybe I will just so you can help take them off afterwards. Or just watch me do it."

The last bit he purred suggestively into her ear and Hermione felt chills run down her spine.

"Stop looking so smug. You cannot ever tell anyone," she muttered.

"It will be our little secret," he assured her. "Come now, Granger, you can't begrudge me for being a little pleased to hear this. Until recently I was quite convinced I was going to die besotted with you, while you would regard me as nothing but an avaricious, pointy-faced prat."

"Well, it's not as though you have anyone to blame but yourself," she huffed. "How exactly was I supposed to divine that you liked me when you constantly told me that I looked tired and awful and said mean things about my hair and complained about what an irritating workaholic I was. You even called me a vagrant once."

"You were sleeping under your desk in ratty muggle clothing," he pointed out. "And you did look tired and overworked most of the time and that was very frustrating because there was nothing I could do about it. Every time I took over more of the WRA for you Runcorn seemed to reassign another person and you'd get twenty new cases added to your workload."

"He did, didn't he?" Hermione realised.

"Yes. And you were always too stressed and overworked to even notice. You just seemed to think it was normal."

"I—thought it was," she admitted.

"And... as for your hair. Well, I'm actually very fond of it. So, when I told you how dreadful it looked, it was because I actually wanted to tangle my fingers in it and kiss you. And I didn't think that would go well, so I'd insult you a bit so you'd storm off."

Hermione stared at him.

"You—made quite a lot of comments about my hair."

"Yes. I frequently wanted to kiss you."

"Oh." She turned pink.

The day slipped by slowly, full of kissing. And then sex and more talking, and kissing, and then more sex. And by the third time around it occurred to them that perhaps Draco should expand the bed so that it wasn't quite so narrow.

By evening Hermione was feeling remarkably better. The trauma of the mental bond still remained and probably would continue to for some time. But her magic had started to feel stable and being close to Draco, especially when in contact with him, made the aching, strained symptoms she'd experienced finally fade away entirely.

"Draco?" She suddenly thought to inquire. "The night you obliviated me, did we kiss? Is that why I could feel your emotions even before we bonded?"

"We did. I was nearly delirious from the fever. Apparently it was the only way you could think of to buy time. Otherwise I probably would have died before we passed the WRA."

She froze.

"You were that close?" she finally forced out.

He seemed to realise how horrified she was by the revelation.

"I was," he admitted quietly.

She was silent for a minute.

"It's going to take me a long time to forgive you for that," she finally said. "I'm not sure when I'm going to stop feeling angry about it."

"I know. I'm sorry."

Hermione didn't know what else to even say. It was terrifying and nauseating to think of how close he came to letting himself die. It was hard to even think about; to fully comprehend. Like a pit of horror that she felt as though she were standing on the edge of, just barely spared from slipping into.

He entwined their fingers together.

"You have to understand," he said quietly. "I couldn't bear the thought of living my life feeling that I was holding you back. You have so much potential. The things you could do—with your intelligence and the capacity to care that you have—If you had bonded with me just in order to save me, you'd always have felt trapped by me and wondered about what could have happened otherwise. Even if you wanted it to work between us, the resentment would always have been there, waiting for you to realise what I'd robbed you of."

He straightened his fingers and stared at how much smaller her hand was than his for a moment before continuing.

"I know what you do to yourself when you choose to care about something. You risked your life and magic to bring me back. When you were helping Potter during the war you gave up some of the things most intrinsic to how you saw yourself; your parents and your education, and you were ready to die in my house to keep Harry alive. And that was hardly the first time you risked your life for him. And then the werewolves. You could have done anything after the war, but you chose the legal profession for them, and I've watched you spend the past three years slowly working yourself to death in order to pass the WRA. If I'd gone to you years ago and you had decided that being bound to me was something you could live with, and we had made some arrangement, someday—you probably would have fallen in love with someone else. And it would have slowly destroyed you inside that you couldn't do anything about it, not even love them fully, because of how the bond works. And I would have had to watch it and feel it and been unable to do anything to fix it. I couldn't ask you to sacrifice your chance of ever getting to be with someone you loved. Living—with that as the price, it was never worth it, not to me."

He sighed.

"You have no idea how much I want you to be happy. That was always the thing I wanted most for you. I've been so afraid of becoming the reason you never would be."

There was a long silence after that.

"I am happy," she said. "I like doing things that are bigger than just me. If I had died helping Harry defeat Voldemort or passing the WRA, it would have been worth it. Remus and Tonks died during the war, and though I wish more than anything that they'd survived, it was a worthy way to die. I'd rather die young, doing something that mattered, than live a long, safe little life where I chose to never do anything meaningful. Making a difference is what makes me happy. I'm not trying to be martyrly, some things just are worth dying for..."

"I know. That's how I feel about you."

Hermione lost her train of thought and blinked at him.

"You are delusional," she finally mumbled.

"Doubtful," he snorted. "My mother inflicted me upon quite a number of mind healers due to my angst and moping after the war. I've been repeatedly assured that I'm sound of mind just cynical and obstinate to a fault. So don't worry yourself, now that we're bonded I'm quite devoted to my self-preservation, seeing as it relates directly to yours."

"You are obstinate to a fault," Hermione grumbled.

"That really isn't something you have any room to criticise me about," he retorted wryly.

"You know," Hermione said at last, "our bond isn't typical. Even before we fully bonded, when it was just the temporary connection. It's not usual to feel each other's emotions, at least not so constantly. I imagine you were occluding them from me, but many of the emotions that came through aren't normally able to. It's supposed to just to allow you to find me and know if I'm in danger. It shouldn't have been picking up things like happiness or irritation or sadness the way it often seemed to."

Draco was thoughtful for a moment.

"This is just a guess, but it was probably due to how much Veela magic I was directing toward you. Before we bonded there were only a limited number of ways I could utilise it. I imagine I channeled considerably more toward connecting with you emotionally than I was supposed to. Over time, it likely forged it into a much stronger mental link."

She looked up at him curiously.

"What is Veela magic like for you? Normally it's just for bonding. But, according to the myths, for a full-blooded Veela it's different, like an entirely new strain of magic. It felt different—when you broke through the wards in the Ministry. I don't know how to even describe it. It was like there was a whole new dimension of magic that I'd never experienced before."

Draco was contemplative, then he held up his hand, and with an elegant twist of his fingers, nonverbally conjured a peony. He stared at it for a moment before handing it to her to inspect.

"I haven't experimented with much it yet. But from what I can tell it's not entirely new magic, it's like a fusion of my old magic and Veela magic at the same time. Before we bonded they were separate, I could feel the difference between them because I could tap into one but not the other. But now it's all intermingled. It's more uniquely keyed to me than normal wizarding magic. If I have a clear intent I can do things wandlessly and nonverbally that were impossible before."

He spun his fingers and a flock of hummingbirds appeared.

"As for what happened at the Ministry, well—there was a variety of different magic I was trying to break through, goblin and wizarding, and I'm pretty sure the wards on the courtroom were illegal. It was like another source of magic suddenly opened up when I needed to protect you. I couldn't have torn through it all with just with my magic. It was as though I dragged something from out of the air and then channeled it." He looked thoughtful. "Maybe it was old magic. Magical creatures are generally more entwined with the fundamental layers of magic than wizards. That's why goblin wrought metals are always more powerful than wizard made. And house elves can apparate through any wards. And centaurs can read the stars and heal instinctively. Maybe protecting you allows me to tap into it too."

Hermione's mind raced with the possibilities. There were so many things she wanted to have him try and to hopefully try herself when—if, she recovered. A whole new type of magic that no one knew anything about, and she and Draco could discover it together.

She had so many questions. She supposed it would be a bit rude to barrage him with all of them right at the moment—given that they were both naked in bed together. But she wished she had a quill and a bit of parchment so she could write them all down for later.

He snorted.

"I suppose I can rest easy in the knowledge that you won't get tired of me. I can practically feel you turning me into a research project inside your head. I'll bet my favorite broom you're feeling bitter that you don't have a quill handy to take notes."

Hermione started to deny it and he cut her off.

"I can feel your fingers twitching," he said pointedly.

She stilled them guiltily.

He suddenly rolled them so that she was underneath, his forearms resting on each side of her head, framing her. His hair hung down over his face, making him look rakish as he smirked down at her.

"I realise that I've teased you and complained quite a bit about what a swot you are. But, in case you had any doubts, I am positively besotted with your brain. And if you want to talk research in bed—provided it doesn't interfere with actually having sex, I'm all for it. I'm probably going to do the same thing to you sometimes. I've got a few potion projects that I was dying to pick your brain about."

That... was quite possibly the sexiest thing anyone had ever said to Hermione in her entire life.

"Really?" She breathed, feeling tingly down to her toes. "What kinds of potions were you working on?"

"I'm not going to tell you now."

Hermione's face fell slightly and he chuckled and continued.

"Because I'm going to shag you silly. But when you're coherent again, I'll tell you all about them."

Then she laughed as he leaned down and kissed her. And she felt as though her whole body was catching fire.

Hermione's hands snaked up into his hair, running through it, tangling in the silken strands. The feeling of him in her arms was still so—overwhelming. The flood of emotions he evoked in her—she felt that she had yet to fully comprehend them.

"I love you." He murmured as she wrapped her legs around him.

"I know." She smirked, making him chuckle. Then, just to peeve him as he was kissing his way down her shoulders, she continued in her swotty school voice. "I read all about it in my book. It's called the Veela imperative. For a long time scholars weren't sure whether it was real love or simply a magi-biological compulsion made to mimic love. But, in 1857, Boris Bindleborf demonstrated in the Department of Mysteries that the Veela imperative is actually the purest form of unconditional love, and—"

"Shut up or I will bite you," he ordered.

She stared at him owlishly, her eyes darkening.

"That's not a very good threat."

He looked vaguely abashed but then shrugged as he set to work teasing her breasts so that she moaned incoherently as he replied dryly, "It must be due to my unconditional love for you. I will promise to work on it."

And then he slid inside her. Their eyes were locked on each other.

"I love you too," she murmured, pressing their lips together.

Chapter Text

The pop of apparition woke them late the next morning.

"Are you both decent up there?" Harry hollered up the stairs.

Hermione yelped and started looking around wildly for her clothes. Draco sat up more groggily and with a flick of his wrist conjured two robes, one of which he handed to Hermione. She pulled it on and looked down.

"Emerald green? Honestly, why don't we just hang a sign somewhere that says we're shagging?" she huffed as she tied it closed at her waist.

Draco pulled his on with a smirk.

"Sorry," he drawled, not looking even faintly apologetic. "It's the only color I know how to make them."

She snickered slightly as she shoved him off the bed.

"You can come up, Harry!" she called out the door, gathering up all the haphazardly discarded clothing and stuffing it under the mattress. Then she tried to smooth her hair so she wouldn't look quite so much like she'd had sex a half dozen times since the previous afternoon.

Harry popped his head in and a smug smile crept across his face as he took in the bed which now filled most of the room before him.

"Morning, Hermione," he said cheerfully. "You're looking better, are you feeling better?"

Hermione felt herself turning bright red.

"Yes," she squeaked.

"That's great. Very glad to hear it. Did you sleep alright? I know there are still some magical creatures in this house, I hope none of them kept you up." Harry said with false innocence.

Hermione glared at him.

"Do you want details on my night?" she asked in a saccharine tone.

That wiped the smile off his face.

"Nope! I'm good. Just looking out for your general well-being—responsible friend of yours that I am."

Hermione continued to glare at him. Harry cleared his throat.

"I'm actually here on Ministry business. Given the current situation, I have been asked to come deliver the Wizengamot's sentencing rather than bring you both in to hear it. Which I'm sure gives you both a fairly good idea of what it is."

He pulled a large, official looking scroll out of his pocket and, unfurling it, read aloud.

"Draco Malfoy, the Wizengamot of the British Ministry of Magic has unanimously found you innocent; cleared of all suspicion in the attempted murder of Hermione Granger or of using coercive bonding or dark magic. Your house arrest is lifted and you are free."

Hermione smiled with relief but then Harry continued.

"However, the Wizengamot does find you guilty of breaching the Ministry Regulation article twelve, rule four: usage of an unauthorised memory charm on a Ministry employee. You are fined fifty galleons. In the event that charges are brought by the obliviated party, a trial may result in a sentence of up to two months in Azkaban."

Hermione shot Draco a look. Harry kept reading.

"And, for irreparably destroying magical wards in the Ministry of Magic, per clause twelve, subsection C of the British Wizarding law, Draco Malfoy is hereby banned from setting foot in the Ministry. In the event that he does so in a non-emergency it will be construed as an act of aggression toward the wizarding government and lethal force will be immediately authorised."

"What?" Hermione gasped in outrage.

Harry looked apologetic as he rolled up the scroll and stuck it on top of a dresser.

"I tried to convince them not to. But apparently there are quite a few people who aren't eager to forgive him for destroying a secret, blood warded artifact of Salazar Slytherin that they were using to ward the bottom floors of the Ministry. And they have a legal basis for it. If Malfoy wants to contact the Ministry he'll have to do it through a liaison in the Department of Magical Creatures the same way that the Centaurs and Goblins do."

Hermione snorted.

"It's ridiculous. I am going to do everything I can to overturn the rules that ban some magical beings from being allowed to even enter the Ministry. It's so discriminatory."

"That reminds me, Hermione. You have been placed on a mandatory leave for the next two months."

"What?" she shrieked.

Harry gave her a look.

"You heard part of Runcorn's confession, there are people in the Ministry who specifically want you dead and are willing to do almost anything to make it happen. The Ministry is in chaos. The investigation keeps widening. It's a whole new purge. There were people throughout multiple departments who were willing to help or turn a blind eye to what Runcorn tried to do. Your head in the Magical Creatures Department has been arrested, as well as about four other people there. And there was an unspeakable and at least three aurors and five DMLE clerks who were partially responsible for that dark artifact that blew up Malfoy's door and for vaporising your flat."

Hermione slumped slightly in resignation and Harry continued.

"Until the higher ups feel like they've got a handle on the attempted coup they don't want to be responsible for you. Especially since they're afraid that Malfoy will tear the whole place down if anything does. They'd probably just fire you in tandem with banning Malfoy if they could but, thanks to that apparently airtight law against spousal discrimination you and Andromeda passed last year with the Central Department, they'd risk a rather spectacular lawsuit in an international court. And with the coverage you're currently getting, it would also be a total PR disaster for them."

Hermione stared.

"So." Harry concluded, "you're placed on leave. If you choose to return after that, you're going to be assigned a security detail that is to stay with you whenever you're in the Ministry."

"That's ridiculous. I don't want a bunch of guards following me about the Ministry," she scoffed.

"Hermione, you don't have any choice," Harry said firmly, "If you want to return to the Ministry you will have to agree to it. I'm sorry, I know it'll probably drive you spare. But—it's not like you have to go back. You worked there to pass the WRA, no one would blame you for wanting to leave now."

Hermione gnawed her lip as she stared at Harry.

She had only joined the Ministry because of the WRA, but—that was because she hadn't realised the breadth of discrimination. After working there she'd discovered so many shocking things that most Ministry employees were willing to ignore; the many archaic and unfair laws that stunted the development of other magical cultures; and all the wizarding crimes against magical beings that were pushed under the rug, misfiled, or dismissed as not being "entirely" within wizarding jurisdiction.

As much as she hated the place, she couldn't just leave—

She was interrupted from her reverie by an uncomfortable silence that had fallen over the room.

Harry was grimacing slightly and looking at Draco somewhat apprehensively.

"What else, Potter?" Draco sighed.

"Ummm," Harry ran his fingers through his hair and tugged at it while he looked anywhere but at Hermione and Draco. "Well—the thing is—that—um, now that you're classified as a full-blooded Veela—"

"I'm banned from having a wand, aren't I?" Draco said flatly.

"Yes..." Harry admitted reluctantly. "Since the DMLE confiscated your wand at St Mungo's they have concluded that as a full-blooded Veela you are categorised as non-human and are therefore no longer permitted to possess it. It will not be returned and it is now illegal for you to purchase, borrow, or even touch another."

"But—male Veela are allowed to carry wands!" Hermione exploded. "They've always been excluded from the wand ban!"

"But that's because they can only use their magic for bonding. Because of that they get classified like werewolves as semi-human rather than non-human. Female Veela aren't allowed wands on the basis of their voluntary transformation abilities. Since Malfoy is able to transform at will, even though he's technically only a quarter-Veela, that makes him similarly ineligible." Harry explained glumly.

Hermione was enraged. It felt as though everything she hated about the Ministry, every injustice that made her roil against it, had been gathered up and forced upon Draco during the last several days. She was shaking with fury as she thought about it all.

Draco laid a hand on her shoulder.

"It's alright, Granger."

"No, it's not," she hissed. "You shouldn't be alright with this."

He sighed.

"I'm not. I'm just not really surprised by it either. I had suspected they might do this," he told her.

"It's completely unjust. It's so unfair. The International Confederation and the Ministry hold all the legal power in the magical world but almost all the laws are solely in the interest of wizards. And when other magical beings try to pursue their interests in any way it gets called a rebellion and crushed and outlawed," she fumed.

"I know," he said consolingly.

"You shouldn't be consoling me," she grumbled. "You should be angry too."

He sighed again and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.

"I'm alive and you're in love with me, everything else—it's just noise."

"It's really not." Hermione huffed.

"Well, that's the way it feels to me. I'll be upset about it later, right now I'm busy being happy."

Hermione subsided at that.

"I'm sorry, Hermione," Harry said, looking regretful. "I tried. Kingsley tried too. But it required a majority ruling from the Wizengamot to make an exception and we couldn't get it."

"I know, Harry," Hermione said glumly. "I don't blame you."

"It might be some consolation, the story about Runcorn's attempts to kill you has created a tremendous amount of support both in Britain and internationally for your reform efforts. I think, if you decided to go back, there's enough upheaval and indignation that you might even be able to use it to overturn the wand ban in the Code of Wand Use."

Draco flinched slightly at this while Hermione looked up hopefully, her mind racing as she pondered how to go about it.

"Anyway. Enough about the Ministry. You two are legally married. Here is my wedding present for you." Harry pulled out a large present from his apparently bottomless trouser pocket.

Hermione pulled off the wrapping paper and revealed "Hogwarts: A History."

"It's the latest edition. There are even some stories about you in there. I thought it would be a good one to start your new library, " Harry told her with a small smile and then, with a slight smirk, added. "Although Ginny said to tell you that it is not from her, because she still hasn't forgiven you for saying barely more than a week ago that there was no way I'd win our bet."

Hermione blushed and Draco looked at her curiously.

"Ginny and Harry had a bet about whether Theo or you would ask me out. And I told her that there was no chance you were interested in me because you were dating Astoria."

"Ahh." He snickered. "Right. Astoria Greengrass, I said I was going go a ball with her, didn't I?"

"You did," Hermione said primly.

"There wasn't even a ball happening this weekend," Draco informed her with a mocking expression. Hermione rolled her eyes.

"If you're waiting for me to feel embarrassed for not keeping track of things like that you're going to be waiting for a long time," she told him stiffly.

"Oh and Hermione? Blaise Zabini asked me to give this to you." Harry held out a large envelope.

Hermione opened it and pulled out a card featuring a cartoon version of herself seated in a throne while a winged Draco pranced around her playing a flute. The words "Saint Granger" were written across the top in elegant, curling letters. Upon opening it there was an explosion of red and green confetti.

"Congratulations on the undeserving creature you saved," drawled Blaise's voice. "I sincerely hope you enjoy your new project."

Hermione laughed.

"Isn't that based on what you said to me in Flourish and Blotts?" She chortled.

Draco looked slightly miffed.

"We hadn't even passed the WRA yet and you were already looking for a new source of overtime,” he grumbled.

"Blaise knew about you?" she inquired.

"Blaise knew before anyone else did. I panicked when I realised I had started forming a bond with you and showed up at his house, very drunk, to tell him all about it," Draco admitted. "My parents only found out recently because I floo'd home almost completely blind after Runcorn's last interminably long committee hearing. They were standing in the parlor right in front of me and did not take the revelation well once I found them there."

"How did Pansy know?" Hermione wondered.

Draco sighed.

"I have no idea. Probably because she's a busybody journalist who won't stop digging when she notices a single detail that doesn't entirely add up." He grimaced and glanced up at Harry. "Have you caught her yet?"

"No. It kind of dropped as a priority in the DMLE this weekend," Harry admitted. Draco hissed with irritation. "We think she might have headed into the Middle East, given that none of those countries have an extradition policy with Wizarding Europe. Honestly, I don't expect she'll ever go anywhere that we can get her arrested—unless she had an accomplice she'd turn herself in for. Do you think Blaise would have told her anything?"

"No. I made him make an unbreakable vow not to tell anyone," Draco noted casually.

Hermione stared.

"For Merlin's sake, Draco, that is such a horrible thing to do to your friend."

"I know. He stopped speaking to me for almost six months after that. But he still went and told you about Hester Tutley all by himself, because he knew I was obsessing over how miserable you were and didn't know what to do about it."

"You do not deserve a friend like him," she said severely, closing the card and watching cartoon Draco dance around, his wings carrying him up off the ground every so often.

"So—um. Do you want me to take you anywhere?" Harry inquired. "I mean—you can stay here if you want, but I imagine you might want to go somewhere a bit less drafty, infested with doxies, and inaccessible."

Hermione and Draco looked at each other.

"Probably the manor?" Hermione guessed. "I'm sure your parents would like to see you. And at least then you could have a change of clothes."

"Is that alright with you?" Draco said cautiously. "We don't have to go there."

"Of course it's fine. I've already been back there twice now. And I'll have to get used to it if I'm going to use your potion lab sometimes." She smiled.

"Alright." Draco said, slowly, still looking somewhat doubtful.

"Right. Well, I'll go there now and let them know you're coming." Harry said. "So you both can get changed out of those delightful matching robes you've got, and pack up—although I guess you don't really have much. I'll be back in half an hour or so."

Harry disappeared out the door and they heard the crack of apparition a moment later.

Hermione and Draco sat in silence.

"Your parents—," Hermione said hesitantly. "They'll be alright that you didn't end up with a pureblood?"

"If my father has anything to say about it he can go jump in a lake." Draco said coolly. "My mother however, was apparently anticipating having you for a daughter-in-law even before I turned out to be a Veela."

"Really?" Hermione said in astonishment.

"Really. Funding your fosterage program was her attempt to get to know you."

"Oh. I spent ages trying to figure out why she agreed to," Hermione admitted.

"Yes. Apparently she noticed my interest quite a while ago, so she decided to go with a traditional Malfoy gift for currying favour with potential daughter-in-laws: a Gringotts vault." Draco said sardonically as he pulled their clothes out from under the mattress and cast a cleaning and then a freshening charm on the pile.

He stared at the rumpled heap slightly aggrieved, "I don't think I want to try doing a wandless ironing spell, I'm rather fond of all my fingertips."

"Don't." Hermione agreed, picking up and shaking Ginny's blouse.

Putting it on she discovered that the adjustment charms on it had all worn off. Motherhood had made Ginny a bit curvier than Hermione.

Draco sniggered slightly as he pulled on his trousers when he noticed the way the fabric ballooned over Hermione's chest.

"Not a sound." Hermione hissed, looking down and then added plaintively, "This really isn't the way I wanted to look when meeting your parents again."

"Come here." Draco pulled her over and sat down on the bed so that he was at eye level with her chest.

"I'm not really much good at tailoring charms." He admitted, tugging at the excess fabric. "But, I've got a decent knack for transfiguration. A wizard never knows when he might need a new shirt. And I've got a fairly decent idea of your measurements," he gave her an appreciative smirk. "so if I just—"

The blouse shifted and it was suddenly a very chic little sundress—in emerald green.

Hermione looked down.

"Is that the only colour you know?" she said critically.

"Ungrateful little witch," Draco grumbled. "I'll have you know, I don't make a habit of transfiguring shirts into sundresses."

Hermione snorted with laughter.

"It is a relief to hear," she said dryly.

He stared at it.

"I could probably make it black," he offered.

"Black," Hermione agreed. "I don't want to look like I'm trying that hard."

A moment later the dress was black.

Hermione wandered over to the bathroom and appraised herself in the mirror. She looked slightly vampiric. If this was anyone's idea of looking better she wondered just how pale she'd been before.

Her hair was standing nearly on end it was so tousled. Trying not to frizz it further she endeavored to coax into something more dignified looking. It refused to cooperate. Finally in desperation she shoved her head under the tap of the bath and drenched it until she could run her fingers through it again. Wringing it out she reached back blindly for a towel and felt Draco hand it to her.

"You know," he said conversationally, "it might help to make your curls more manageable if you used a smoothing charm before and after you dried your hair."

She glanced up at him.

"I sometimes use one after. I've never tried before," she admitted and then stared quizzically up at him. "Why do you suggest that?"

"I used to have curly hair," he admitted, "That's why I always used to keep it slicked back in school."

Hermione gave him a look.

"You had curly hair?" she said doubtfully.

"Yes." Draco nodded, looking somewhat aggrieved. "You think I look poncy as it is, you should have seen it when I was a child. My mother used to call me her little cherub. And muggles used to scream and call me Shirley Dimple and try tugging on it."

He looked traumatised just thinking about it.

"Anyway. It's more wavey now. But I figured out in third year, when it was still unbearably curly, that smoothing charms and straightening charms before and after drying in addition to a Sleekeazy's potion made it straight. Your hair is quite a bit thicker than mine, but it might make it a bit more manageable if you wanted to try."

Hermione was distracted by staring at him and trying to imagine him with curls.

"You have to let me see them," she said at last. "I never ever would have imagined you as having curls."

He smirked at her.

"Take a shower with me later today and I'll show you," he purred.

She laughed and finished toweling her hair off.

"Fine. You can try smoothing it, if you want. Although it's normally quite resistant to taming." She turned her back to him.

He slipped his hands into her hair at the base of her skull for a moment and then she felt the tingle of the smoothing charm as he slid his fingers through her hair. She shivered. A moment later it was dried and she felt it expanding outward as was its habit. Then he ran his fingers through it again with a second smoothing charm.

"You have so much hair," he commented snarkily as he repeated the charm several more times. "Sometimes I think you must store part of your brain in here. It's the only explanation for the sheer mass."

He stepped back to appraise it.

"That's the best I can do for the moment. I'll have to experiment later."

Hermione looked in the mirror. It was better; more curl and less frizz than was the typical habit of her magic defying hair.

"At least it looks less like I've done nothing but sit in bed and have sex for the past two days," she agreed.

"I'll remedy that again soon," Draco promised over his shoulder as he looked in the mirror and surveyed the stubble that he had started sporting.

"Prat," she muttered, blushing faintly as she slipped past him. After grabbing the Veela book she made her way down the stairs.

Despite how wonderfully diverting Draco was being on bedrest had made her feel antsy. She was glad to finally be walking about again.

She went into the kitchen to find breakfast.

The fridge was bountifully stocked. She pulled out eggs, ham, peppers, and mushrooms, found an onion in the cupboard, and started making omelettes. Draco drifted in, clean shaven, with a satchel of clanking potions. He pulled a strengthening drought out and handed it to her.

"I didn't know you cooked." He noted as she knocked it back with a grimace and resumed sautéing.

"Just a little. I don't generally have time for it. But my mum always made brunch on the weekends. Harry and Molly are much better at it than I am; normally I act as back up. Can you start a pot of tea?"

They had just started eating when Harry popped back into the foyer.

"Look at you both, being so domestic." He sniggered as he came in.

Hermione looked at him severely.

"You left us here for two days. Veela don't live off of sex."

"I'm just used to seeing you both fighting," Harry noted as he snagged a piece of toast. "It was the same with you and Ron during sixth year. That's why I knew you'd end up with Malfoy. You and Theo got along too well for anything to come of it."

Draco groaned.

"Don't compare me to Weasley," he whined.

"Don't worry. I think your odds of success are much higher than Ron's, even without the whole bit where you're magically bonded for forever and already have kinky, biting sex," Harry said with an amused wag of his eyebrows.

"Ron and Hermione weren't suited for each other, romantically speaking," Harry expounded, ignoring the daggers Hermione was glaring at him. "Ron didn't understand the things Hermione cared about. When he went along with S.P.E.W. it wasn't because he got where she was coming from about it, he just knew it was important to her. That was how they both were. After the war what they had in common sort of faded and their conversations all turned into polite indulgences with each other. Hermione pretended to be interested in quidditch and new WWW product lines and Ron pretended to have opinions about potions and arithmancy and the wizarding legal profession, but really neither of them would have cared at all if it weren't for the other person. And—maybe for some couples that wouldn't matter much, but for Hermione, having complicated, overly deep discussions is how she—" Harry snorted slightly with laughter, "bonds."

Hermione watched Harry as his eyes glittered with amusement and he demolished the plate of toast while continuing his analysis, "Malfoy, you, on the other hand, are also obsessed with overthinking everything. Honestly, you're both total swots with all your matching, obscure interests. It's terrifying. Hermione will bring up some topic no one has ever heard of, but no, wait—somehow you also know about it. Hermione doesn't get bored with you. I have never seen her open a book or start working on something else because you're talking about something she isn't interested in—except quidditch. I've lost track of the number of times I've come into her office and you lot have been so deep in conversation about something only vaguely werewolf related that you don't notice me for ages. And I noticed the utterly besotted expression Malfoy gets on his face when you start rambling on about something and aren't looking, Hermione. And how you would sort of deflate whenever he left. Everyone else just saw you as two workaholics, but I saw all your meetings for what they truly were—"

Harry paused to wave a piece of toast in both their faces, "a weird, cerebral, courtship ritual. Basically foreplay—"

Hermione flicked a pepper at his face with her fork.

"Are you quite done eating our toast?" she inquired icily.

"My toast," Harry corrected her. "My house, so my toast. And yes. I am done with both it and my analysis on why I was certain you'd end up with Malfoy eventually. It was forty galleons well earned."

"Forty? I thought it was eight," Hermione said in a flat voice.

"Eight with Ginny. But there was a betting pool. One night when you and Malfoy were working late on the WRA and the rest of us got drinks together. Luna and I cleaned house."

"Who else?" she asked, sighing in resignation.

"Oh, everyone. Ron, George, Angelina, Neville, Hannah, Dean, Padma and Parvati, Seamus, a lot of the school bunch. They all doubted my well-honed auror instincts. Quite a few of them thought Theo, and there were a couple on Charlie. Parvati agreed that Malfoy was smitten, but she was sure you'd never give in. I think that she was angling to be a rebound for him when he gave up."

Draco snorted with disdain. Then, with a flick of his wrist he sent the dishes over to the sink and started a cleaning charm on them.

"Are you ready to go?" Draco inquired. "Or did you want to hear more about your friends' financial investments in your love life?"

"Let's go," Hermione agreed.

"Nobody appreciates me," Harry said plaintively, following them toward the foyer.

"Nobody," Draco conceded, "that's why you've only got two statues and a great bloody fountain."

"And a holiday," Harry reminded him.

"Oh yes," Hermione agreed dryly. "Let's not forget Harry Potter day. How would we ever remember your birthday without a government holiday?"

Harry took each of them by the arm and apparated to the gates of Malfoy Manor.

The yew hedges cut sharply into the blue sky on each side. It was brilliantly sunny and the sudden brightness from the sky and white gravel made Hermione stand blinking for several seconds as she took in the English countryside and the towering manor beyond the ornate gates.

"Well, good luck you both. I've got to go file reports on Runcorn now. He's scheduled to be kissed by Dementors later this week. Firecall if you need anything."

Harry popped away and Draco and Hermione stood, looking down the gravel lane. Then Draco interlaced his fingers with hers and together they walked toward the manor, passing through the gate as though it were mist.

Chapter Text

The sharp scream of peacocks broke the silence as they crunched along the path. It was a lovely estate. The grounds seemed to stretch out endlessly. There appeared to be several gardens and a lake in the distance.

There were elegant, brilliantly white peacocks strutting along the tops of the yew hedges and over the perfectly trimmed lawn, their long tails trailing regally behind them. Having white peacocks was possibly the most Malfoy-esque thing Hermione had ever heard of. Draco would certainly feel quite at home among all the white plumage, she snickered to herself, feeling more nervous than she cared to admit.

The manor in the distance towered over them. She couldn't imagine what it was like to grow up considering such a place "home." It was so enormous and severe looking. Hogwarts had been home, but it was shared with hundreds of other students. It must be so lonely to live in such a large place with only two other people.

As they drew closer the front doors swung open and Narcissa came running out of the manor and flung herself into Draco's arms.

"You're here. You're here. I promised myself I wouldn't cry but—look at you both. Thank Merlin, you're both alright." She sniffled as she hugged first Draco and then Hermione and then Draco again.

"Mother," Draco said coolly, looking caught off guard by the display of maternal affection.

"Oh my. Look at me. This is terribly undignified. Oh well, your father wept over you in front of the entire Wizengamot last week. I imagine a few more tears can't tatter our reputation much further," Narcissa noted, but she brushed the tears away and straightened. "Come in. We have tea."

It was the most uncomfortable tea Hermione had ever had. As soon as they crossed the threshold of the manor Draco stiffened. Lucius was waiting in the foyer and the moment father and son came within sight of one another the air grew icy as the two wizards glared, silently daring the other to speak first.

Aside from her recent visit to Malfoy Holdings, Hermione had not seen Draco and Lucius together in years. If she had been less nervous at the time, it would have been obvious to her that Draco and Lucius did not work together. The disdain on their faces was overt. There was an angry resentment between them that was barely restrained.

Draco, Hermione suspected, held Lucius responsible for the family's role in the war, and for Draco's views and opinions in school. The boy, who had talked of nothing but his father, who had modeled himself so exhaustively after his sire, was entirely gone. The Lucius-esque traits she had noticed at the Ministry had actually been Draco's own unapologetic self-assurance rather than any further conscious imitation.

She hadn't realised it before because Draco had always spoken so glibly at the Ministry about "Father's orders," and how he had no choice but to accede to them. It was all a lie. Draco would never, in a thousand years, have gone to work in the Ministry because Lucius tried to demand it.

In fact, given the cold tension between them, he probably would have nothing to do with Lucius whatsoever were it not out of courtesy to his mother.

Narcissa served tea for everyone and ignored the rapidly dropping temperature in the room. Hermione seated herself on a slippery chippendale chair and half expected to find frost rimming the edge of the tea cup she received.

Lucius was an old-fashioned wizard, from a time of tremendous prejudice and abominable parenting. She wondered if Draco had any idea how much Lucius cared about him. She didn't imagine that expressing affection was generally typical in the Malfoy family, despite Narcissa's effusive greeting.

Draco seated himself beside her, tense and poised as though he expected to launch himself in front of Hermione defensively at any moment.

She pressed toward him through the bond.

For Merlin's sake, your father is not going to curse me in your tea room. She muttered through it. He was weeping with relief that we had bonded when they questioned him in the Wizengamot. All he could talk about was how glad he was that you wouldn't die.

Draco snorted mentally. Hermione wasn't even sure how such a thing were possible.

Lucius was probably just glad that the Malfoy estate wasn't going to be entailed away to the French cousins, Draco hypothesised wryly. Lucius hated them.

Hermione snorted back at him. Apparently one could snort mentally if they did so very subtly in actuality.

Of course, your father wept for joy in the Ministry of magic because he hates your cousins.

Hermione, Draco noted, had not met his French cousins. They were awful. She had no idea. All they did was obsess over the fortunes of their tea leaves and speculate about their horoscopes. They plated everything with gold and informed everyone of exactly how much every item they possessed had cost. They were so tacky it was physically painful to even look at them. Lucius would probably have burned the estate to the ground rather than allow them to have it.

Well, she retorted, if that were the case then Draco certainly had no need to fear Lucius would curse her, she had never plated anything with gold in her entire life.

"Draco," Narcissa interrupted their mental conversation. "I had your room moved to the east wing. The damage from that dark artifact the aurors used left some rather nasty magic hanging around. And I thought, perhaps you'd like to have a whole wing of the manor now."

There was a faint hesitance in Narcissa's voice as she said this.

"I'm actually planning to move out of the manor, mother." Draco informed her evenly.

"Oh. Of course. I suppose that makes sense," Narcissa said quietly. "Will you still be in England? Or are you planning to go further?"

"We're actually thinking of living in the cottage. Hermione injured herself saving me, and the healers aren't sure... when—she'll be able to use magic again. Given the number of recent attempts on her life, I think it would be best to stay under the ancestral wards."

"Oh. The cottage." Narcissa seemed to brighten. "Of course. I had forgotten about it. How perfect. I'll have it freshened for you. Tippy!"

An elf dressed in a tea cozy appeared.

"Tippy, Draco and his wife are going to be moving into the cottage across the lake. Be a dear and take anyone you need to get it ready."

The elf looked over at Draco and Hermione.

"Master Draco is not being dying anymore! Tippy is being so glad! Miffy is being crying for so long but now she is being glad again!" Tippy exclaimed before popping away.

Narcissa looked Hermione over anxiously.

"How are you? We've read the papers and Harry mentioned you're just off bed rest, but that—it's an injury not quite like anything healers have encountered before."

"Healer Abasi is hopeful that with time I'll be able to make a full a recovery. So I'm hopeful too, but, nothing is certain. I'm keeping my fingers crossed—trying not to presume," Hermione said quietly, feeling awkwardly formal.

She and Draco hadn't actually talked about the possibility yet.

It was hard to even consider the idea of never having magic again. If it were the case—Hermione still wasn't sure what she would do. But—it would be worse if she were unprepared for the possibility.

If everyone were unprepared for it.

She supposed Narcissa and Lucius would remain grateful to have their son alive, but she couldn't imagine they would be thrilled to discover their muggle-born daughter-in-law was also essentially turned into a squib.

"During my two years of house arrest," Lucius spoke up unexpectedly, "I initially assumed that the two year restriction from using magic would be excruciating. I was grateful not to be returned to Azkaban, but the notion of trying to exist in the wizarding world without it felt unbearable. So it was rather shocking to me to realise how much of my life was unaffected by it. It—made me reevaluate some assumptions I had long made. If it ends up that you are without magic, for any amount of time, I doubt you will find it effects the opinion of anyone who knows a whit about you."

Hermione stared at Lucius in surprise and then smiled at him uncertainly.

"That's encouraging," she said, "It's been hard to contemplate the idea that I might not recover."

"You know, there are quite a few Bulgarian healers who are specialised in Veela bonding magic," Lucius continued smoothly. "They may have more ideas for treatment than St Mungo's, given the low Veela population in Britain. I understand that the initial separation contributed to the instability. While the damage to your magic is unique due to Draco's rare manifestation, they would be better acquainted with regular bonding injuries. If you would like, I will write and see if any of them could come oversee your treatment."

"That's very kind of you," Hermione said, "Healer Abasi admitted that Veela bonding isn't a speciality he has. It would be nice to see a specialist, I have so many questions that I haven't found answers to yet."

"Narcissa and I have spent the last few weeks brushing up our knowledge on Veela, as I'm sure you can imagine. I believe we have almost every book in English or French on the subject, if you would like them."

Hermione was delighted.

"Could I? That would be brilliant. I'm afraid almost all the books the library had on the subject were in my flat when it was burned."

She suddenly found herself blushing at the thought of just how many library books she'd had in her home; she was going to have a tremendous library fine.

She dreaded the day she'd have to go in to explain herself. Madam Pince had been terrifying when it came to book damage but she paled in comparison to the head librarian in the central London wizarding library. He was positively dragonish when it came to the books under his care. He would probably never allow her to so much as set foot in the library again.

The thought was almost as depressing as never having magic.

"I'm sure Narcissa would be happy to have all the books sent over to the cottage for you. If you'll excuse me, Miss-" Lucius suddenly paused, "What would you like me to call you?"

"Hermione. You're welcome to call me Hermione."

"Well then, Hermione," Lucius purred, "if you'll excuse me, I shall go write to the hospital in Bulgaria about having a specialist come stay with us."

Lucius swept from the tea room.

Hermione turned to give Draco cautiously heartened smile. He looked vaguely surprised.

Narcissa sniffed.

"Really, Draco, your father is entirely committed to your happiness. There is no need to look so astonished every time you find that he isn't a monster," she said setting her tea down.

Draco rolled his eyes.

"He has made some rather gross errors of judgment that had rather the opposite effect of achieving happiness for me, so you'll have to forgive my ongoing skepticism."

Narcissa pressed her lips together slightly.

"Once we had you, you were all that mattered. We made many mistakes both in our beliefs and in the manner we raised you, and we have both sought to make amends for them. If—you knew how much better a father he was to you than Abraxus was to him—you would credit him with how very hard he is trying."

"He is trying. I will concede it. But that doesn't mean that I am ready to forgive him," Draco said tensely. "Nor that I am ready to trust him in regard to Hermione."

"That's fine," Narcissa said stiffly. "All I ask is that you give us a chance to be a family. As it stands now, if there ends up being a schism between us, it will not be because your father and I are the closed-minded ones."

"Fine," Draco said. "What do you want to do to bridge this gap?"

"Perhaps we can start with dinner once a week. It doesn't have to be in the manor if you don't prefer it."

"Really, father will agree to go out?" Draco looked skeptical.

"He already agreed to it. He—realised that he tends to provoke exceptional vitriol toward the family when he appears in public, and he has preferred not to expose you and I to that. However, he understands that this house is not ideal for moving on from the past. If you wish to go out, in wizarding or muggle London, he will come."

Draco looked caught off-guard by the offer.

"That would be lovely," Hermione interjected. "And perhaps, sometimes we could have brunch on the weekend. My parents—we had a tradition of having brunch."

Narcissa looked delighted.

"Brunch is a wonderful idea. Before Draco attended Hogwarts we would occasionally breakfast in the rose gardens. We have a lovely gazebo there that overlooks the lake. And—it's not too close to manor."

"Being in the manor is fine," Hermione reassured Narcissa. "You don't need to worry that I'll mind being here. Draco has offered to let me use his potion lab, so you probably won't be able to get me out of your house on occasion."

"We have a very large house. You can spend as much time in it as you please," Narcissa said, looking quite cheerful. She glanced over at Draco and then paused and narrowed her eyes slightly.

"Draco, what are you wearing?"

Draco glanced down at his clothes and Hermione turned to survey them as well. Hermione really wasn't much for noticing clothes, she had observed that they were black but she hadn't paid much more attention aside from that.

Now that she was looking she realised that they looked rather vintage and—had a faint paisley pattern to them.

"Apparently they're Sirius' old things. I arrived at Grimmauld Place in prison clothes. There were five healers stabilizing Hermione at the time and we were ordered out of the room. The Ministry doesn't seem to have a policy of washing prison clothes in between prisoners. So Potter went to find me something so I could clean up. Apparently these were the only ones that didn't have a doxy nest in them. I think they were vermillion and ochre originally. I charmed them black."

Hermione hadn't realised that her collapse had been quite that dramatic. She supposed Harry had looked quite traumatised when he mentioned that she'd nearly died. She'd just had so many near death experiences lately, it was hard to keep track of all the details surrounding each of them.

"You should get changed and then give Hermione a tour of the house." Narcissa said airily. "And you can decide what you want sent to the cottage. I'm assuming you'll be staying there tonight."

"Speaking of clothes," Draco noted, "Hermione doesn't have any. She's currently wearing a transfigured piece she borrowed from Potter's wife."

Narcissa appraised Hermione sharply.

"Oh my. Of course. It slipped my mind. I'll have one of the elves take your measurements and we can order a few things. And in the meantime, I have so many robes, we can send some over for you to wear. I think we're close enough in size that they won't fit you too poorly."

Narcissa stood up.

"You go change," she commanded Draco, "It's unnerving me to see you in Sirius's old things. I'll take Hermione to pick out some of my robes."

Draco sighed and departed. Narcissa lead Hermione up the stairs and down a hall and into a closet that was larger than Hermione's old bedroom.

"I don't imagine you'll want any of my current robes. They're getting rather matronly looking now." Narcissa sighed a little wistfully. "But these are some I wore when I was younger. They're nearly vintage now, but I've always appreciated classic lines, so hopefully you won't find them too dreadful."

Hermione didn't really think that wizarding fashion as a whole had really changed substantially in the last forty years. She poked through a tremendous selection of dresses and robes. She supposed Narcissa wouldn't really be the type have any trousers or jumpers. But there was a lovely selection of simple sheath dresses and accompanying robes that looked like they'd about fit Hermione. She picked out a few.

It felt dreadfully awkward to be raiding her mother-in-law's closet, more-so when that mother-in-law happened to be Narcissa Malfoy. But there was really nothing else to do; Hermione could hardly go about in transfigured sundresses forever. And she didn't think she or Draco were ready to get mobbed in Diagon Alley in order for her to buy new clothes.

"Hermione," Narcissa said hesitantly. "I read about your testimony before the Wizengamot. Did—did you mean it, when you said you loved Draco?"

Hermione paused.

"I did," she admitted. "I realised it because of you, actually. When you said he was leaving for Asia after the WRA, the fear that I was going to lose him—it made me realise how significant he had become to me."

She pulled another dress of the rack and looked down to see how long it was.

"I can't tell you how relieved I am to hear that," Narcissa breathed. "All of this—it's been so painful. In some ways it was worse than the war, because it was self-inflicted. I couldn't do anything to protect him. I knew he blamed Lucius for a great deal, but until we discovered he was dying—I had no idea how much he blamed himself. And nothing I did could change his mind. He said, after Emeliory spoke to you the first time, that if I interfered again he'd leave and die somewhere unplottable."

Narcissa's eyes grew suspiciously shiny.

"Everything that has happened to you is awful. But—I am so grateful that my son is still alive," she told Hermione. "And I'm even happier for knowing that this isn't something you are simply enduring out of necessity. If you were—I don't know what Draco would do to himself. I wish it could have happened differently—But he came so close—"

"I nearly kissed him after the WRA passed," Hermione noted. "I was actually trying to get up the nerve to tell him that I liked him when I said goodbye at the after-party. I hope I would have—I hope we would have ended up together by ourselves if Pansy hadn't interfered... but, there's a part of me that's relieved, despite everything that happened, because—I can't imagine what I'd do if—if I hadn't told him—if I'd waited, and then he'd—died."

Her hands were shaking slightly as she finished speaking. It still terrified her to think of how close it had been. It made her reflexively reach toward Draco through the bond. He brushed her mind and wanted to know what was wrong.

It's alright. Your mother and I are just commiserating over how horrible it was of you to try to die.

He rolled his eyes. She wasn't sure how she knew it, but there was an unmistakable sensation of eye-rolling that came through the bond.

Surely they had other things in common than just that, he whined. Couldn't they discuss hemlines or something?

Hermione rolled her eyes. My favourite subject. I've never seen such a large selection of dresses. Your mother must have hundreds.

Whenever she and Lucius fought he bought her a new wardrobe. Draco explained wryly. She didn't care for jewelry, and flowers don't really cut it when a witch has as many gardens as she does. So it's properties in the south of France for the serious fights and whole new wardrobes for the minor ones. She could probably tell Hermione which disagreement every set of dresses was about.

Hermione stared around at the overflowing selection of clothes with an all new perspective.

By the way, she murmured through the bond, he should pack up some extra jumpers and shirts for her to borrow. She did not want to be stuck wearing nothing but sheath dresses until they had a chance to go shopping

He stilled slightly and then practically purred a promise to bring a large selection. He was, at that very moment holding a cashmere jumper that he was eager for a chance to take off of her.

Hermione blushed. She hadn't actually meant it to be a suggestive request, but thinking further she realised just how Draco would take it.

He laughed and still blushing she pulled back from the bond and turned to look at more dresses.

"Pansy visited me last week," Narcissa said casually after a little while.

"Yes. She mentioned it," Hermione replied.

She had wondered if Narcissa would bring it up. Narcissa undoubtedly wanted to know if Hermione intended to mention that particular detail to Draco. It was probably the entire reason Narcissa had sent Draco off to change; to get a moment with Hermione in order to ask.

"She had suspected for a while, but then when she heard about Emeliory's office she was sure." Narcissa looked somewhat nervous. "She came just after Draco had announced he'd obliviated you, and—I was so upset I told her everything. I had no idea she would go so far—I thought she was just going to put the picture from the committee hearing in The Daily Prophet and drop hints. I would have warned you if I'd had any idea of what she intended to do. I would have stopped her. You probably read in the paper, Lucius was already going to go to you, if Draco had come to the end. We were prepared to offer you anything on the earth in order to persuade you," Narcissa said quietly.

That—was not precisely the confession Hermione remembered Lucius making before the Wizengamot. Narcissa must not have known Hermione had been there for it. She recalled a plan involving coercion as a solid backup rather than mere persuasion, otherwise—why on earth send Lucius Malfoy? Narcissa, with whom Hermione worked, would have been a far more persuasive person, if their intention had been to limit themselves to legal means of persuasion.

But Hermione hardly thought it was worth informing Narcissa of that. What would the point be? It would only create more tension. Lucius and Narcissa's priority would always be Draco over anyone else; they had no other loyalty and never would. Lucius had probably been prepared to go to Azkaban if it ensured Draco's life. That Hermione and her well-being or happiness featured in their calculus at all was based entirely on the fact that Draco's life and happiness depended on her.

If they were willing to try bridging the gap and swallowing any remaining prejudice now, Hermione was determined not to discourage it. Narcissa in particular had made an effort before Draco's life depended on it, simply because she realised Hermione was important to him.

And—Draco loved his mother. If Hermione showed any reluctance in her relationship with his parents, she worried he would feel obliged to put Narcissa aside and try not to look back.

Hermione was intimately acquainted with the pain of severing ties with a beloved mother; it was a wound that never fully healed.

So she just nodded as though she believed it.

"I like to imagine it would have somehow turned out, even in different circumstances," she said as she pulled a lovely lavender dress off a hanger.

"I think this should be enough," Hermione added, looking down at all the dresses in her arms.

"You can just lay them on the table here. I'll have an elf take them all to the cottage. If you want, there are some undergarments and shoes in that wardrobe. If you wish to look through it. I'll give you some privacy and go find all those Veela books Lucius mentioned." Narcissa said and then slipped out.

Hermione laid the pile of dresses down and sighed. She felt somewhat tired, she suspected it was because the bond was beginning to grow slightly strained feeling again. But she was determined to get the wardrobe raiding done before she went to find Draco.

Thank Circe that Narcissa had the insight to leave her in private. Hermione would have likely died of embarrassment if she'd stayed.

As it was, it was apparent still waters ran deep; Narcissa's entire selection of undergarments was considerably racier than anything Hermione had ever owned. She tried to find the most normal underthings she could. She didn't imagine Draco would particularly appreciate her in sexy underwear that belonged to his mother.

At last, when she felt ready to expire from the sheer mortification, she thought that she had a pile of enough dresses, underthings, and shoes to keep herself reasonably clothed for a few weeks without ever having to borrow more.

She poked her head out of the room and, not seeing Narcissa anywhere, proceeded back toward the foyer.

As she reached the tea room she paused as an unsettling sense that she was overlooking something suddenly came over her. Turning, she looked carefully around the foyer.

There—was something off about it.

As she glanced around trying to place why a slight chill come over her. She remembered the foyer. It was repainted and redecorated, but—standing there, she remembered it from the war. And—there was something about it that had been adjusted beyond the new paint, portraits, and drapes.

She looked around again, trying to guess what it was. It felt like the answer was just there—that it was obvious but she was simply overlooking it.

Then she heard the sound of footsteps and looked up to find Draco descending the stairs. He was in dark grey summer robes and a crisp white shirt. His eyes had a warm expression to them but it faded as he got closer.

She must have gotten paler since they'd parted ways, because his expression grew worried and his step quickened.

"What's wrong? Do we need to go? Is being here bothering you?" he asked as soon as he reached the bottom of the steps.

His jaw tightened as he took her hand.

"We shouldn't have come here. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left you with my mother in this house. I didn't realise she'd disappear."

Hermione leaned against him slightly. Just being near him again felt stabilizing.

"It's fine. I just missed you, I think," she explained.

He wrapped his arms around her possessively and she buried herself in them. After a moment she looked inquisitively over his shoulder, trying to solve the mystery of the foyer.

The feeling was unmistakable. There was something wrong with the room.

Slowly, it dawned on her why.

Chapter Text

"Draco…" she said confused. "Where is your drawing room?"

"Oh." The tense expression on his face suddenly faded as he loosened his hold on her in order to look in the direction she was staring, appearing faintly embarrassed. "It's—unplottable."

"It's—what?" She stared at him.

"I—hated it. After the war—I couldn't stand it. So many horrible things happened there. My mother renovated the whole thing but it still made me sick just passing it. So, one night—Blaise and I were quite drunk—"

His ears had turned pink as he was speaking.

"And—I came up with the idea of making it unplottable. So—we performed the fidelius charm and Blaise paid some tramp he found to act as the secret keeper and then after we finished up we obliviated the whole night from him and sent him on his way. Now no one knows how to find it—so, functionally speaking, the drawing room doesn't really exist anymore."

Hermione was gaping at him, open mouthed.

"You—" she spluttered.

"My father was quite irritated about it for a while. Apparently his favorite pipe and a two hundred year old bottle of firewhiskey were in there. Although—I'm fairly sure we finished that firewhiskey by the end of the night." Draco added, staring at the wall of the foyer where the main entrance to the drawing room somehow wasn't.

"Sometimes I don't even know what I'm going to do with you," Hermione said severely.

Draco shrugged.

"It's not as though we needed it. We have drawing rooms in the other two wings of the manor. And my father can buy a new manor if he really wants more. The house is much better without it."

"You're so—overdramatic," she sighed.

"I can't help it, it's the Veela imperative," he snarked.

Then he pulled her down a hallway.

"But never mind our drawing rooms, I want to show you my potion lab. I've got a batch of the Skele-gro I told you about under stasis and I'm trying to decide what the proper growth accelerant would be, when I used potio nimbus it interfered with the efficacy of the murtlap tentacles. So—I'll show you what the options are on hand, and then you can advise."

Draco's potion lab was down in the dungeons of the east wing. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all brightly whitewashed. There were four immaculate stainless steel tables and an entire wall of alphabetized ingredients kept behind protective wards. Cauldrons of all sizes and types hung, shining, from a bar on one side along with every variety of stirring rod Hermione had ever heard of: glass, steel, silver, iron, aluminium, copper, and a wide variety of wood. A full set of gorgeous knives lay unfurled across a knife roll beside several cutting boards and mortar and pestles in several sizes. There were several complex sets of scales on a shelf that sat below another shelf filled with empty beakers and vials of every size. A large chalkboard on wheels was filled with Draco's elegant handwriting and pulled over near the table that had the partially completed Skele-gro variation.

A long bookshelf ran along another wall. The top two shelves were filled with uniform journals and the remaining four with potion books. Some were in mint condition and others were quite worn, as though their owner liked cracking the spines and filling their margins with notes. Hermione studied them.

"When Severus died, for some inexplicable reason, it turned out he'd named me as a beneficiary of his estate. The old books were all his," Draco explained. "A lot of these projects were too."

Hermione pulled one of the worn books off the shelf and inspected the familiar cramped, scrawling notes. "He must have hoped you'd carry on with his work."

"I've tried to," Draco said wistfully. "It seems like the least I can do—given what he did to try protecting me during the war."

"You always were good at potions. I had no idea you were still devoted to the craft. You never mentioned it."

"Potion brewing has always felt very personal," he admitted. "And I've never really worked well with anyone else. Blaise prefers arithmancy and runes. But—I wanted to bring you here, I use to dream about it. I thought—you might like it. When I'd get stuck, I'd try to imagine what ideas you would have."

Hermione smiled, feeling both flattered and embarrassed.

"It's an incredible lab. If I'd ever gotten an opportunity to build my own, it couldn't possibly have been better than this. It's just perfect. I could spend ages here," she said admiringly, drawn across the room to inspect the wall of ingredients.

"It can be ours now..." Draco offered as he followed her. "If you'd like. Unless you want your own."

Hermione's breath caught and she turned.

"Really? It would be alright for me to work here regularly? It wouldn't bother you to share the space with someone else?"

Draco smirked at her.

"Well, I might whinge a bit if you don't keep your workspace clean while you brew. But I will try to restrain myself from nagging about it. I've always wanted to work with you on potions, I think once we got used to it, we could be very good brewing partners."

"I have so many projects I couldn't do on my own." Hermione admitted. "I don't even know where to start. I'm probably going to make us practically live here during the weekends."

There was the briefest flash of something in Draco's expression as his eyes got that mirror-like look to them that Hermione had realised meant he'd shuttered himself inside his occlumency walls.

"You're going to go back to the Ministry?" he inquired softly.

"I have to," she said quietly. "I wish I didn't. But I have to."

Draco's mouth pressed into a thin line.

"Not because of me, I hope."

"It's part of it. But no, it's not just because of you."

He didn't look at her.

"I understand," he finally said.

She watched him as he straightened ingredient bottles and brushed away non-existent dust. There was an overly controlled, practiced casualness to the movement.

"Draco..." she said softly.

"What do you want me to say, Granger?" his voice was hard. "It's not as though I can change your mind or order you not to. I just—I won't be able come at all, not even to visit. And if—something happened to you—I—I probably wouldn't be able to get there in time. Even if I was right outside the Ministry or standing in front of a fireplace waiting."

"I know," she said.

"You have no idea how much I hated that you worked there, even before now. But now—after what they tried to do to you—" his voice cut off abruptly.

He tried again, "It's just—"

He hissed sharply, "I can't talk about this yet."

He stalked from the room. Hermione sighed and followed him.

He couldn't possibly be surprised that she intended to go back. But, Slytherin that he was, he had probably been hoping to delay the conversation in the hope that he could dissuade her from it indirectly.

It wasn't that she didn't understand, it was just that—she couldn't refuse to go back because she hated the Ministry for being such an oppressive, cruel, bureaucracy. Or because it was dangerous for her to be there. That was why she had to go back. Because someone needed to be there, to try fixing it.

She found him skipping stones across a lake filled with exotic waterfowl. It was eye-catchingly lovely; the water lilies were in full bloom and there were swans and hooded mergansers gliding across the water and egrets posed still as statues among the reeds.

He knew as soon as she was near.

"My mother will tell you, when I'm sulking here it's generally best to leave me alone. I tend to say hurtful things that are difficult to take back," he said stiffly.

Hermione seated herself on a rock and watched the stones skimming across the surface of the water. When he ran out of rocks he turned back and looked at her.

"Is there anything I could do to convince you not to?" Draco asked, looking utterly dejected.

"Probably," she said, "But you know I'll always regret it, if I don't. I'll always feel guilty. No matter how happy you try to make me, or what projects you try to distract me with. It'll always be there."

"Will—you at least wait—until your magic comes back?" His voice was pleading.

She hesitated and then pressed her lips together and shook her head.

"It might not—I can't waste an opportunity like this waiting for something that might not ever happen."

He stared up at the sky.

"Then—I have conditions," he said at last.

"I thought you probably would," she said quietly.

"I'm picking out your security detail. Potter is welcome to help, but you and I get final say. I'll pay for any difference in cost the Ministry objects to."

"That's fine," Hermione nodded.

"And I'm giving you my house elf."

Hermione opened her mouth to object but Draco held up a hand to silence her and continued.

"Assuming she agrees to it. Miffy!"

There was a pop and a house elf dressed in an elaborately embroidered tea cozy appeared before them.

"Miffy," said Draco, "this is Hermione Granger. I'd like you to take care of her for me."

The house elf looked Hermione over and her enormous eyes welled up with joyous tears.

"You is being Master Draco's love, 'Mione," she exclaimed. "I is always wanting to meet you."

"Granger. This is Miffy," Draco continued, as Hermione reached out and shook the tiny wrinkled hand that was extended toward her. "She is a free elf. She works for wages and personally negotiated the terms. She's quite proud of the hard bargain she drove, ten tea cozies a week and alternating weekends off. Although—she generally spends them baking or helping the other elves with their work."

"Miffy—in a few months, Granger is going back to the Ministry of Magic to work. I'm—not allowed to see her there anymore, but there are bad wizards who keep trying to kill her because she doesn't think wizards should be treated better than house elves or goblins or werewolves. So, I want you to go there with her and if anyone ever tries to hurt her I want you to apparate her through the wards and bring her to me immediately. Would you do that for me, Miffy?"

"Miffy will not be letting any bad wizards be hurting Master Draco's love!" The house elf said indignantly.

"And you'll also need to make sure she takes care of herself. The healers say that she doesn't eat enough. The food that the Ministry serves is vile. So, I want you to make sure she has lunch, composed of edible food, and tea every day."

Miffy looked Hermione over carefully and nodded her head in agreement so violently that she nearly fell over.

"Miss Mione is being too thin. Is Miss wanting tea soon? Miffy is making mirror-glaze cake now. It is being ready in the next hour."

"That would be lovely," Draco agreed and the elf vanished with a pop.

Draco and Hermione stared at each other.

"I don't think that is too much to ask," he finally said.

"No," Hermione agreed. "It's not if it makes you feel better about it. I'm sorry, I really am. I know you'll hate it. I wouldn't go back—if I felt like I had any other option."

"I know," he said bitterly.

There was a silence as they both watched the swans.

"Will you try to work decent hours?" he asked after a while. "At least come in time for dinner? And leave it there on the weekends?"

"I'll try," was all she felt she could offer.

He sighed and didn't say anything else for a long time. Finally he stood up and held out his hand for her. His expression was tense and resigned and his eyes remained shuttered.

"Come on. I'll show you the cottage."

She interlaced her fingers with his and he suddenly hesitated.

"Well, I guess I can't apparate now," he mused, "At least not with you, I'm not risking getting you splinched."

He sighed. "That's going to take some getting used to. Well, I might as well try this now."

He closed his eyes and his features sharpened slightly and then, with a rustle, his wings suddenly unfurled themselves from his back. But the feathers on the rest of him didn't appear. Just the wings.

His silver eyes reopened and he glanced over his shoulders.

Hermione stared.

"You look like an angel," she breathed.

He smirked faintly.

"Maybe that's where the myths come from," he speculated dryly, and then added more seriously. "It would explain why angels are always male."

He glanced over his shoulders again.

"Did it wreck my robes? I can't tell."

Hermione walked around him.

"No. It's like they just phased through them."

"That's a relief. I'd hate to have to replace my robes every time I flew somewhere. Transfigured robes never feel properly tailored," he whined.

He held his hand out to her again.

"Fly with me?"

She took it hesitantly.

"I've always hated flying," she cringed.

"I won't let anything happen to you," he swore.

She knew that to be a fact. She put her arms around his neck and he slipped his behind her back. They shot straight up for a few seconds and then he unfurled his wings and they proceeded to skim rapidly over the Malfoy estate.

After a minute she cracked her eyes opened and looked down.

"It's so strange. It barely feels like we're moving. I noticed that even when we were flying from Belfast. We were going just impossibly fast but until the end I could barely feel it."

"It's probably a sort of barrier magic. Probably one of the properties the feathers have," Draco noted conversationally as he arched into a dive and they alighted outside a large cottage. His wings shifted away instantly.

"This was my grandmother's. She always complained the manor was too cold. So she built this and enchanted it to be always summer. She claimed that it was because she was a witch of simple tastes, but she made them tear it down twice before it was made to her precise specifications. I think she just liked cottages."

There was a low wicker fence around the perimeter. It was like a cottage from a fairy tale; stonework, full of latticed windows and a thatched roof. There was a delightfully overgrown cottage garden obscuring most of it, with roses climbing up pergolas and trellises and a lovely wisteria vine framing the doorway with its canopy. A trimmed path of grass set with smooth stones wandered lazily about to enormous beds of foxgloves, lavender, pea plants, snapdragons, hollyhocks, and delphiniums. A grand old willow stood a ways away, with a little grassy knoll leading to it and a mossy bank leading down to a trickling stream that didn't seem to go anywhere.

Draco led the way to a green door and opened it to reveal a small entryway set with warmly stained wood. The place reminded Hermione of a hobbit hole from her childhood stories, neat and carefully polished. The craftsmanship everywhere was obvious. Everything was warm and light streamed through the abundant windows. There was a parlor and study and dining room, in addition to a large stone kitchen in the back with a breakfast nook and Dutch door leading to more gardens. A winding staircase by the entry led up to two small bedrooms and a master suite.

"It has an unfinished attic that we could make into a library," Draco mentioned casually as they finished the tour.

"That would be nice." Hermione nodded, absently.

"What is it? Do you not like it? We don't need to live here." His expression was worried.

"Oh no. It's lovely. I just—I was just—" Hermione hesitated. "It's just that you're moving out of your manor and sharing your potion lab and giving me your house elf and letting me go back to the Ministry even though you hate it, and I—I don't have any way to make it feel even."

Draco started to open his mouth but she waved him off.

"And don't say that you're alive and I'm in love with you and that's enough. Because I'm alive and you're in love with me, and that's enough for me too, so all this is just—a lot. And I don't—I don't know what I can possibly give back to you or make up for how much it's hurting you that I have to go back to the Ministry."

Hermione felt like crying as she finished. But she didn't. She held it in and looked up at him.

"Is there anything you want? Anything I can give you?" She asked.

He stared down at her, expressionless, for a long time, until she felt ready to slump down into a pile of self-condemnation.

"Don't work more than fifty hours a week. And give me a goal you'll set as your limit. Something that, once you achieve, you'll agree to consider leaving," he said at last.

She opened her mouth to protest that she had meant for him to ask for something less ephemeral but he continued firmly.

"That is what I want. To see you. And not have to nag you about how overworked you are. And to know that I'm not going to have to endure it forever. If you really want to give me something, that is what I want."

"I promise," Hermione said softly. "Fifty hours. And if—if I can give you your wand back—because I've overturned the wand ban. I think—that will change things enough that I could leave the Ministry. I think I could stop without regretting it."

"Alright," He gave her a wan smile and then turned to descend the stairs. She followed him down, still feeling forlorn.

When she reached the bottom of the steps she found him surveying the parlor thoughtfully as though he were mentally rearranging the furniture. He looked over toward her and, seeing her still mournful expression, sighed dramatically.

"Stop sulking," he grumbled. "You're the one who wants to go back. I'm supposed to be the one sulking."

Hermione shook herself.

"I know. I'm sorry. I keep doing this. You were being tortured in prison and I was the one who had to be comforted over it. It's absurd."

"Gryffindor," he muttered, rolling his eyes. "Come divert yourself. Now, I'd never been to your flat so I have no idea what your style is beyond the depressing way you decorate your office. But don't you think we should have the parlor redone?"

"Draco," she sighed. "Don't do this."

"Not the parlor then. What about the study?" he inquired blandly.

Hermione reached up and turned his face down to look at her.

"Draco. If it were you—if there was something you had to do or you'd be haunted and regret it for the rest of your life, but—you knew I would hate it—that it would hurt and worry me if you did it—What would you do? How would you make it up to me?"

He stared down at her in resignation.

"Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to," he chided. "You already know, that's why you feel so guilty. You know, I—just wouldn't do it."

He sighed.

"That's the difference between us, Hermione," he continued quietly. "You can choose something else. I can't. For me, you are the only thing that matters."

Hermione felt a lump form in her throat. Her hands slipped away and she stared up at him, she could feel the blood draining from her face.

"I'm not—" she started.

"I know," he said, taking her hand in his. "I'm not doubting your feelings for me. If you had to choose only one, I know you'd choose me. That, if I wanted to, I could make you agree not to go back and you'd let me. But—I also realise that I am just one of the things you care about. You have that ability—to care about other things. I don't, not really. For me—it will always be just you."

He paused for a moment and his expression grew slightly pained as he continued"You could say—that in our case, that it is the true burden of this bond—It will never be the same for each of us. For you it will always be a choice—and for me, it never will be. I imagine we'll both suffer a bit for knowing that."

He sighed and glanced around the cottage as though he would much rather be redecorating it than having their current conversation.

Hermione gnawed her lip as she studied his face.

This was the awfulness of bonding, of the Veela imperative; the unfairness it created.

She had known that this difference would exist based on her reading.

Draco was in love with her and he would never stop. Everything for him began and ended with being irrevocably attached to her. His feelings for her were unending, without any conditions attached. If he ever had to choose between her and his conscience, he wouldn't hesitate.

He would always love her first.

He would never waver.

But she—could.

Being bound to him—being in love with him—it didn't supersede everything for her the way that it did for him. She could choose to do things knowing it would upset him. She could choose other things over him. She could prioritise the rights of magical beings, who were dying, who had been crippled under hundreds of years of injustice, over the personal happiness of herself and Draco.

She couldn't love Draco so much that she could ignore everything else. And that—was the difference between them.

For good or ill, her love was not unconditional in the way his was. And that meant he would always worry—always wonder if he'd eventually lose it. And she would always feel guilty, that he worried and that the choices she made were not always centered solely on him.

Because mates could do that. They could always choose. They could stop loving. They could leave.

Her book even had stories of the occasional rare mates who would intentionally hurt the Veela or even torture them out of sheer viciousness. And even then, the Veela still weren't able to stop themselves from loving their mate.

The only reason it wasn't completely horrifying was because bonding magic was intent on letting them fall only for a mate that was "right" for them; evenly matched to temperament, intelligence, abilities and ambition. It rarely went wrong.

Once the bond was set, it was the only protection a Veela had from its mate.

And Draco knew.

Because he was too smart not to. He was keenly aware of the cage his magical biology locked him inside. That manifesting as a Veela had effectively robbed him of a fundamental aspect of his free will. And he was both resigned to it and trusting her not to abuse it.

Perhaps—if they were both simpler, happier people they could simply ignore it. But things would never be so easy for them. Neither she nor Draco were the type to stop thinking something through because the conclusion would be painful

Staring up at him as they both abruptly experienced their stark difference—of the agency she would always have and he never would—felt awful.

"I'm sorry," was all Hermione could say.

It seemed so paltry and insufficient.

He just stood there next to her for a little while, as they both absorbed the breadth of influence it would always wield over their relationship; no matter how much they wished it didn't.

There was inviolability in that cruel bit of knowledge. It would always exist—burrowed between them like a thorn.

"I know," he finally said. "It's not as though it's your fault. Or mine. It's just—the way that it is. I can't tell you how to deal with your guilt, anymore than you can tell me how to not worry. There are some things we're going to have to learn to handle."

He pulled her a little closer as he continued, "But... the way that you care is the reason I first fell in love with you. I hate it in some ways, but, it is also one of the best—one of the most remarkable things about you."

He tilted her face up so he could stare sternly down at her.

"Don't try to change it," he ordered. "Don't try to force yourself not to care about things because it would make me worry less. Aside from being underweight I stand by my assessment that you are nearly perfect. I don't want the way you care about things to be something you try to change. I don't want to be a reason you hold yourself back from changing the world with that insufferable brain of yours. It's... who you are."

Then he kissed her. And she kissed him back.

"You are too good for me," she sighed, wrapping her arms around his neck, holding him tightly.

He snorted.

"Truly. You are." She pulled him down to kiss him again.

Poor man, he was probably going to get a neck injury from leaning down to snog her. She kept kissing him anyway.

She didn't want him to regret how vulnerable she made him. He couldn't stop loving her, but that didn't mean he couldn't resent her for her hold over him.

For a Veela, a mate was their heart, manifested outside of themselves. The key to all their happiness and every shred of vulnerability, compacted into a separate, self-determined individual. It was why bonding was kept confidential, especially in the case of Veela, because of what a vulnerability a mate was. If she were in danger, or taken from him, he would do anything to get her back.

In Draco's case, as a full-blooded Veela, he could survive almost anything, even a killing curse, so long as nothing happened to her. The bond his magic had created, the way he had tied himself to her, was so powerful he could drag himself back from death itself—so long as she was on the other side, calling him back.

But not her.

That was something the histories on full-blooded Veela seemed quite certain of. The life-bond gave her a slight edge, a bit of extra ability to hold on. But—if she actually died, she would not come back. The bond would snap and the magic would rebound into him so powerfully he would self-destruct with grief.

Every instinct he had, as a Veela and a human should drive him to try carrying her off, far away from anything that could harm them. But he was suspending that desire, forcing himself to watch her walk daily toward danger in a place he couldn't follow to protect her.

He was letting her risk their lives because he loved her and he understood it was a choice she had to make.

That decision wasn't the Veela imperative. It wasn't something he was forced to do. It was a choice on his part. He could hold her back because he loved her. But instead he was letting her go, because he loved her and knew her.

She wrapped her arms around his chest, listening to his heartbeat.

"I will always love you, Draco Malfoy," she said. "The way I feel about you—it's like you're in my soul. People always say they love someone so much they'd die for them, but—speaking as someone who's come come quite close several times now—dying is often easy, and you've only got to do it once. Living—is harder. And I—I would live for you. Through anything. I would live through it all for you. Not just big things like attempted murders and a Ministry coup d'etat. But through insignificant things and long years. When there isn't anything on the outside that we're facing, when it's just you and me, being together and fighting over how to place cups on the sideboard, watching time pass as we try to reconcile how unbearably obstinate we both are."

She looked up at him.

"I want to live through it all with you. I want all that time to show you how true I am to you. To show you that I don't need anything to make me to love you; I just do. So that you'll know it; that I love you and I cannot possibly stop. Because—the things I care about, they're a part of me. I don't stop caring—or loving—once I start. And I don't think I have ever cared about anything as much as I care about you—not by a long shot. So I'm afraid you're stuck with me—forever."

Draco stared down at her.

"I will endeavor to endure it," he drawled.

Then his eyes darkened and he leaned down to kiss her. She drew him down against herself, deepening the kiss until he picked her up and set her in the alcove of a windowsill. She murmured against his lips as she wrapped her legs around him.

She honestly hadn't known it was possible to love someone as much as she loved him. The feeling he evoked in her, the depth of it, the power in it—

It was like loving him had turned her heart into the sun. She felt she could burn down a galaxy with the power of it.

She wanted to pour it into him the way he poured himself and his magic into her. She wanted him to feel it. She braced herself and reached out toward him through the bond.

She reached until she found herself against his occlumency walls. She pressed against the barrier and he immediately dropped them.

She flooded him with her feelings.

He gasped against her lips and dragged her more firmly into his arms.

She wriggled down from the window as she tugged at his robes. She wanted him. He was hers and she wanted him and she didn't want a scrap of fabric in the way. They stumbled into the parlor, pulling each other's clothes off.

He was so beautiful. She shoved his robes and shirt off his shoulders, running her hands over his muscular torso while she kissed along his neck, noting the spots that made him shiver. Tracing along the tendons and bones, the dips and rises of his body, memorizing him with her fingertips.

Pressing herself against the sculpted planes of his body while he pulled the straps of her dress and bra away and kissed across her shoulders, pushing her down onto a chaise.

She stared up at him, breathing raggedly.

Being with him still felt like it couldn't possibly be real. Too good to be true.

It overwhelmed her until her heart felt as though it might burst or she'd shatter from the intensity. She felt as though it had to be a dream—because it couldn't be possible be so wholly happy. She had never been happy like this.

"I love you," she told him.

He smirked as he knelt over her and drew her up for a searing kiss as his hands slid down her body. He seemed to know instinctively where to touch in order to set her instantly aflame.

"I love you," she keened as he kissed his way down the side of her neck.

She tangled her fingers in his hair and turned his face up toward hers, so he could see her. So she could tell him "I love you. You have no idea how much I love you."

She wanted to sob from the overwhelming intensity as she stared at him. He stilled slightly as he took in the maelstrom of feeling she was pushing toward him.

"You've mentioned that a few times," he said huskily, sliding his hand along her spine and sitting her up so he could pull the dress off of her entirely. "As it happens, I do have a fairly good idea of how much you love me. It seems to be somewhere in the realm of how much I love you."

He pressed his lips against hers briefly before tilting her chin up so he could look into her eyes.

"We will be good to each other," he said quietly. "And, I think, we will always make the other person happier than we do sad."

Then he smirked and added,

"Although—eventually I am anticipating some hot, angry, fighting sex and then, shortly after, some slow, sweet, apology sex." He purred. "Please. Do not disappoint me on that point."

She laughed and nodded as she wrapped her arms around him and he kissed her, lowering her back down onto the chaise.

He was hers. He had given himself to her.

He was hers.

She was never going to let him go.

Chapter Text

Two years later.

The shock wave that abruptly emerged from deep within the Wiltshire countryside one sunny Saturday was powerful enough to be detected by the British Geological Survey's seismology department. It resulted in the dispatch of two BGS fieldworkers, who returned to London late in the evening in a state of bewilderment regarding the general geography of Wiltshire and excitement over the anomalous data readings they had.

It might have resulted in the publication of a highly controversial scientific paper, but before too many reports managed to be filed, the British Prime Minister's office unexpectedly sent some mysteriously credentialed and strangely attired operatives from an undisclosed agency to conduct private interviews with the BGS fieldworkers and demanded a seizure and scrub of all the data. The fieldworkers both became quite vague about Wiltshire after emerging from their interviews. Within a few weeks the event was largely forgotten by almost all but the higher ups, who shook their heads and muttered for months about big government overreach. The office's resident tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist took it as confirmation that the British government was indeed concealing the existence of Martians.

In reality an explosion had emanated from the ancient, warded estate of Malfoy Manor. A blast which roared through the walls of the house causing the portraits to shout loudly in complaint; in the kitchen the Malfoys' priceless crystalware nearly shattered against each other before being frozen in place by the house elves; Narcissa's rose garden vibrated from the shock wave and several petals fell off of her Scarlet Pixie; in the unplottable drawing room, the shaking caused a beloved, long lost pipe to fall off the mantle and break upon the hearth; and it made the Chippendale furniture in the tea room shudder and the Lucius's favorite Wedgwood cup to clatter on its saucer, spilling tea onto the copy of an Advanced Alchemy journal he'd just received.

As the manor ceased shuddering, down in the dungeons Hermione Granger-Malfoy sat up, spitting magical feathers from her mouth, as she popped through Draco's wings.

"Oh, bollocks!" she fumed. "I was so sure we'd gotten it right."

She looked around the Potion lab in despair.

The power of the explosion had cracked the heavy stone walls in several places, the damage showing starkly against the whitewash. The wards protecting the wall of ingredients had been annihilated and the bottles were shattered, their contents oozing over the floor and reacting unpleasantly with each other. The cauldrons that hung along the wall had fallen to the ground, with the more fragile varieties cracked or dented. The bookshelf and other shelves had fallen over and there was shattered glass everywhere. The tables, scales, and knives that had been near the explosion were twisted and warped irreparably. In the center of the room an enormous cast-iron cauldron that looked as though a bomb had gone off inside it; the iron was both shattered and melted in places, and its contents were dripping down from the ceiling and splattered across all the walls.

As Hermione glanced about mournfully a hand snaked up under her shirt to caress her. She smacked it.

"Really, Draco," she huffed, "only you would use the destruction of several thousand galleons worth of lab materials as an opportunity to grope me."

"I'd better be the only one," he snarked, sliding his hand up again undeterred.

"I don't understand what went wrong," she said plaintively as she stared at the wreckage before them.

"I don't understand why we need to make Wolfsbane Potion in batches that large. The arithmancy formula we found for making a hundred doses at a time has already reduced the failure rate to the point that Prima Verde is recovering. Trying to double it again was always overly ambitious," Draco replied, sitting up and looking around at the destruction wrought upon the historically immaculate potion lab.

"It's just—it would be nice to have it. To know what it was," Hermione sulked.

Draco chuckled and stood up. Casting a charm to clear the air, he picked his way across the floor to look at the enormous shattered cauldron.

"I don't think your formula was the problem," he said.

"Really?" Hermione asked, coming inquisitively over to join him.

"Your numerical predictions all seemed right. And at this point I could probably brew Wolfsbane in my sleep. I think it was the cauldron. It's almost impossible make cast-iron cauldrons with absolutely perfect consistency in this size. Look at the way it exploded. The melting along the lower third is uneven. It probably wasn't able to conduct evenly enough for Wolfsbane Potion."

Hermione sighed and then turned to survey the room.

"Well, that's—inconvenient. An absolutely perfect, size eighty-five, cast-iron cauldron must cost—I don't even know. They're so rare, they're practically priceless," she mumbled, looking dejected.

Draco wrapped a consoling arm around her waist and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.

"Hypothetically speaking," he murmured in her ear. "If I were to buy you a size eighty-five cauldron made by Oskar Rupelsteiner... would you finally agree to quit your job at the Ministry?"

Hermione turned, her eyes bright for a moment before suddenly narrowing.

"Draco Malfoy, did you... plan for this to happen?" she asked suspiciously.

He stared at her angelically.

"Certainly not."

She continued to glare at him and he deflated slightly.

"I—may have, suspected it," he muttered.

"You—sneaky—snake," she seethed. "You wrecked my lab!"

"Our lab!" he interjected.

"I can't believe you tried to manipulate me like that!" she fumed. "You dolt! Did it never occur to you to just ask me?"

Draco's eyes lit up hopefully.

"Will you?" he said as he pulled her into his arms. "Please? I hate it when you're there and I can't come see you. Your hours are still ridiculous. And I'm always worried that something will happen."

Hermione reached out through their bond and sensed the compressed knot of harsh anxiety that he tried to keep to himself but couldn't manage to entirely contain.

"You prat," she mumbled, subsiding somewhat from her indignation. "I didn't realise it still worried you so much."

"I can't help it. It's all I do when you're there," he admitted gruffly.

She sighed and rested her head against his chest, listening to his heart.

"It's just—" she started, "there's so much left to do there. I know I said that I thought I could stop now, after the wand ban, but—working in the Magical Creatures Department right now, when there is so much opportunity for reform—I'll feel so guilty if I just left. Even though there's public support, there isn't anyone in the Ministry who would be willing to actually take over what I do. And—there's still so much discrimination. I don't want to abandon all the magical beings who have been ostracised for so long. Things are finally improving for so many of them. If I leave—I'm afraid no one will care anymore."

Draco was silent for a moment before he slid a hand up her neck and tangled his fingers in her hair possessively.

"Emeliory Bogfeld is planning to rejoin the Ministry now that the interminable ethics inquiry into her has finally been completed," he said slowly. "Due to some technicality she's been restricted from returning to Bonding, so she's thinking of joining the legal branch of the magical creatures department. I spoke to her earlier this week. If you left... she'd like to take over your post. And—you could work with her as a lobbyist, the way I did with you."

Hermione's head popped up and she stared at him.

"She is? I—could do that?" Her eyes were wide and hopeful.

"You'd have to get a job with Malfoy Holdings and register with the Ministry." He told her with a wry smile. "But, I might know a few people who can pull strings there. The heir to the conglomerate is a pointy faced git, but he could probably be brought around with some persuasion."

"Really now?" Hermione pulling him down to press their lips together.

"What—" she kissed him lightly on the face.

"kind of—" another kiss.

"Persuasion do you think he'd require?" she asked in a sultry voice.

Before Draco could answer there was a sharp knock on the door.

"Come in!" Hermione called, stepping back while Draco sulked.

Narcissa surveyed the ruined Potions lab.

"Well. Not as bad as I thought it might be. I was worried it might have collapsed part of the dungeons," she observed.

"Apparently there was some inconsistency in the cauldron thickness," Hermione admitted.

"You didn't use the new Rupelsteiner?" Narcissa asked.

Hermione whirled toward Draco.

"You already had it?" she shrieked in outrage.

Draco shot an irritated glance toward his mother.

"I told you it was a surprise. You weren't supposed to tell her about it," he whined.

Narcissa looked unapologetic.

"You ruined the Scarlet Pixie I was planning to submit for the rose competition this week," she sniffed.

"You're going to get me killed because of a bloody flower," he grumbled.

Narcissa shrugged.

"Anyway. I came down because this just arrived." She pulled out a long narrow box and held it toward them.

Hermione's spine tingled with anticipation as she accepted it. Lifting off the lid she gazed down at the long hawthorne and vine wood wands that lay inside.

She was almost trembling with excitement as she held the box out toward Draco.

The wood of each was intricately carved with tiny feathers all the way to the tip. Reaching out hesitantly she touched the shorter, vine wood wand lightly. A whisper of magic stirred in the air around her, shifting her hair.

Picking it up she swished it. The magic flowed into it perfectly, as effortlessly as water. The air was filled with tiny shooting stars.

"The first Veela feather wands in the world," Narcissa noted, watching.

"Took long enough," Draco grumbled, but Hermione could sense his elation through their bond.

"It's perfect," Hermione murmured. "I wasn't sure if it was even going to be possible. Trying to keep the feathers from vanishing was so tricky once the stasis charms were removed."

Narcissa pulled out a note.

"The wandmaker says they only managed it after they wrapped them in a strand of your hair. Apparently your signature is the only thing that keeps Draco's feathers corporeal."

"Interesting," Hermione said, examining it carefully. "They've got a bit of both of us. Do you want to try first?"

She held the box still containing the hawthorn wand out toward Draco.

After staring at it for a moment he plucked it from her fingers and picked up the wand.

"Scourgify." He drawled with a swish, pointing toward the potion smeared walls of the lab. A bright, white light shot from the tip and struck the wall and then exploded over all the surfaces. A second later it faded, the broken glass and wrecked ingredients had disappeared. The lab was again spotless. Dreadfully damaged. But spotless.

He glanced around and then down at the wand again.

"That was different," he noted.

Hermione gripped her own wand tightly. It was such a relief to have a wand that she felt she could control. It had taken almost a year before her magic had fully recovered, and during that time she'd been working with a Veela hair core. But even when it was Draco's hair, the core was temperamental in the manner Veela hair was notorious for. One minute it would cooperate beautifully and then quite suddenly seem disinclined about functioning at all. While her own levels of Veela magic made many wandless spells easier, anything complex was difficult for her to cast without a conduit; unlike Draco, who had yet to encounter a spell he couldn't eventually manage to cast wandless and oftentimes nonverbally.

"Reparo!" She cast powerfully toward a crack in the wall, mostly out of curiosity. To her elation the white light that bathed the walls mostly sealed a crack that should have required months of work by a specialist.

She bounced delightedly on her toes and turned to fix the bookshelf.

"Well, I'll let you experiment," Narcissa said, slipping away.

Draco immediately put his wand away and moved toward Hermione, who was charming the potion books to fly around like a flock of birds.

"Will you really leave the Ministry?" he asked quietly.

She froze and, with a flick of her wand, sent the flock of books to reshelve themselves on the repaired bookshelf.

"I've always hated working there," she said quietly.

"I know."

"And it's worse now. Without you there—it's so lonely, it hurts. Even with the bond—it's not the same. And having a security detail on me constantly makes everyone paranoid and eager to get away. But—" she hesitated, "I didn't know how to leave without feeling like I was abandoning everyone who is still stigmatised by the wizarding world... If Emeliory really can take over for me, and I could still help with the legislation I care about—that would change things."

She sighed.

"I just—I don't want to realise that there was something I could have done, that I didn't. I'm always worried about that."

She turned toward him, her eyes large and serious. He pulled her toward himself and tucked one of her curls behind her ear.

"How you manage to fit the whole world inside your conscience I'll never understand," he murmured. "I wouldn't ask you to if I thought it meant you had to abandon any of your causes. But I think there are ways you could do it from outside of the Ministry now. And I think there's even more you could accomplish if you didn't have to spend most of your time composing interdepartmental memos and reviewing DMLE cases in order to pass the legislation you want during your overtime."

As he spoke his fingers slid back to the nape of her neck and started massaging away the knot of tension that always resided there. With a soft moan Hermione arched her neck to the side, giving him better access. He pulled her closer.

"Let me help you. I want to work with you again," he said as he lowered his head and began kissing along her neck while his fingers continued to massage her.

"I think you are manipulating me." She keened breathily as she arched her head even further back.

"I am," he murmured against her throat, making her shiver against him. "Do you want me to stop?"

"No—" she stammered. "I just wanted it to be noted, for—posterity's sake."

He froze.

"How definite of a posterity are we talking about?" he inquired slowly.

She glanced up at him with a cat smile.

"About six weeks."

He let go of her to stare wide eyed and she straighten and continued,

"I just found out. I was going to tell you tonight. I was thinking I should quit my job. It's not as if very many of the officials want me there anyway. And I imagine they'll feel that way even more strongly now, what with my magic levels and the typical rate of accidental magic during pregnancy. And—I don't want to endanger another person by being there. It—was hard enough—knowing that being there was risking you. I just—I didn't know how I should do it, when I had so much work that still depended on me."

"You dolt," he grumbled, pulling her back into his arms. "Did it never occur to you to just ask me?"

She laughed upon hearing him quote her own recent reproach.

"I was going to. I'd just intended to do it somewhere slightly more romantic than a potion lab. I had a whole plan for tonight," she shot him a sultry smirk, "it involved a bit less clothing than I wear in here."

"Did you now?" he smirked back. "I'm having trouble imagining it. Maybe you should show me."

"I might be convinced to," she purred. "Maybe, if you promise to buy a whole set of Rupelsteiner cauldrons for the lab as my push present."

He stared at her for a moment.

"You... are such a ridiculous, little swot boffin." He sighed, cradling her face in his hands and kissing her. "It's terrifying how much it attracts me."