His eyes have always reminded her of ice.
It’s the way they glint when he sneers. When he looks at her, she can almost feel the cold sensation of his gaze. Cutting, dragging through her like a knife.
She always wishes she were wearing more layers when she has to be in the same room with him. She’s always cold, but it’s like the room drops below freezing the moment he walks in. He makes her skin prickle. Like a dementor, he dredges up her worst memories whenever he’s nearby. All the things she tries to forget. Things she wants to leave in the past.
When she sees his eyes, she hears herself screaming. Hears Bellatrix shrieking “Crucio!” Feels the knife cutting into her.
“We didn’t. It’s a fake. We didn’t…”
Screaming until she feels her mind running.
When it was happening, she had stared at Draco Malfoy. His cold, cold eyes were the only familiar things in the room. Something to hold onto. She latched onto the ice and used it to tear a part of herself free from the fire of agony lacing her body.
When she sees his eyes now, she’s back on the floor, screaming until her vocal chords feel like blood in her throat.
When he walks into the break room on his first day at Gringotts, she had just poured herself a cup of coffee. Scalding hot. Second degree burns on her stomach and legs. She barely feels them as she flees the room. There’s a broken cup on the floor, but someone else can clean up.
She shivers in her office as she treats the burns.
They’re in different departments; there’s not much reason for their paths to cross. But his office is down the hall from hers. When she hears his footsteps pass her door, she can’t help but cast a barricade spell until the sound fades.
She hears he is charming. That’s what her co-workers say. Charming. Helpful. Very smart. Somehow, no one else seems to notice that his eyes are ice.
He never speaks to her. She never speaks to him. But she often feels his gaze on her.
She notices that his steps slow slightly when he passes her office.
At first she thinks she’s paranoid, that she’s just imagining it. But each time he passes her door, she feels a renewed sense of certainty. Finally she times his gait with a stopwatch. Step, step, step, as he approaches. His footsteps slow by as much as two-fifths of a second for the six steps nearest her door.
She times it every time he passes until she has incontrovertible proof. For three weeks, until she’s certain she’s controlled for all variables. The pattern holds. There is no denying it. He slows.
She wants to confront him. To storm into his office, lay out her evidence and accuse him of—
Of walking up to two-fifths of a second slower outside her door.
She shoves the scroll of data into her desk drawer and slams it repeatedly while she shivers.
It’s so unfair that he’s there. He’s ruining everything. She was fine. She was moving on. But now he’s here and dragging everything back up.
Why can’t he just loll about in his manor? It’s not like he needs money. She has access to his vault information. Post-war reparations and he could still buy the Buckingham Palace and several private islands. There’s no reason for him to be walking around freezing her to death with his slowing footsteps.
She works odd hours to avoid him. Uses a thermos with an extension charm so she never needs tea or coffee from the break room. She eats in her office.
When she sees him in the halls, she keeps her eyes carefully aimed ahead. When they pass, she feels as though a ghost has slipped through her. There’s a cold around him that lingers in her.
She buries herself in work so that she doesn’t have to think about the fact he exists.
It works until the winter holidays. Somehow they’re the only two who didn’t apply for time off. She consoles herself. She’s in records, he works in curse breaking. There is no reason for them to interact, even if they are the only two humans in the bank.
His footsteps past her door are even slower. Sometimes she stands at it and prepares to jerk the door open and scream at him. But she always talks herself out of it. Until one day he’s walking by and stops.
The hallway outside goes silent.
Hermione stands on one side of the door. Malfoy stands on the other. She can almost feel the coldness through the door.
She keeps waiting to hear his footsteps continue on. Surely he’ll go eventually.
But he doesn’t. Perhaps he’s placing a curse on her office. She waits for five minutes, then she closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, reminds herself that she’s a Gryffindor, and jerks her door open, wand in hand.
He’s standing three feet away, facing her door with his arms folded. It’s winter, but for some reason he’s wearing summer robes.
She’d strung a tatty tinsel garland along her door frame in an attempt at cheer. As she stands under it staring at him, she suddenly feels conscious of how shabby and half-hearted it is.
“Malfoy,” she says coldly.
“Do you need something?”
He shrugs. “I was wondering if you’d take this curse off me now.”
She stares at him incredulously. “The what?”
She shifts uncomfortably. Standing so close to him makes her feel like she’s freezing to death. She breaks out in a cold sweat; it feels like ice glazing over her skin.
He flushes. In fact, he seems to be perspiring faintly. “You cursed me. That—time you were at my house.”
She feels tempted to laugh at the absurdity. “I did not.”
“I most certainly did not. You may recall I was wandless and on the floor most of the time.”
He reaches up and loosens the cravat tied around his neck. “I assure you, you did. I don’t know how you did it. But I’ve been slowly burning to death for nearly two years now.”
“Burning you? You’ve been freezing me to death like a bloody dementor ever since you got here.”
She’s visibly shivering and her lips feel as though they’re turning blue. He blinks repeatedly, looks up at the ceiling and suddenly seems exhausted.
“So it’s some kind of reciprocal curse,” he says. “That’s useful information. Explains why I can’t find a counter for it.”
Hermione is so cold it’s difficult to think. She shakes her head firmly, trying to clear her mind.
He sighs sharply. “Yes. What did you think it was, the flu?”
If she had the body heat for it, she would have blushed. “I thought it was PTSD.”
“I’ve no idea what that is, but how did someone as allegedly bright as you not realize you’ve been under a curse?”
“I didn’t notice until you started working here.”
He’s panting. She’s shivering violently.
“Proximity factors go both ways then.” He rubs his forehead and there’s sweat on his hand. “What are your symptoms?”
“I don’t know,” she says. She feels so cold she wants to fling herself into a fire.
“How can you not know?” He sounds like himself again. Sneering. Supercilious.
“I just found out and your presence is exacerbating my symptoms. Give me a moment. I’ve just been very cold. I thought it was a circulatory issue. Nothing shows at my annual check-up. How was I supposed to know I was cursed?”
“A general practitioner isn’t going to be checking for long-term curses. Dammit. This is going to be complicated. I was certain you’d somehow cast it.” He hisses with irritation. “So it’s cold for you?”
Hermione nods and her teeth chatter. “You feel like a dementor or a ghost. I can feel the cold through the door. What’s—what’s it like for you?”
“Like smoldering fire. The closer I am to you, the hotter it gets. It radiates from you. I can always tell whether you’re in your office or not.”
“It happened at your manor?” She’s still confused by that detail.
“I assumed it was some sort of retribution for just watching. That you somehow did something to me. That’s why I didn’t bring it up sooner, I hoped at some point you’d just take it off. I didn’t realize proximity affected things until I started working here.”
“You idiot. You thought I’d curse you and leave you like that for two years?” She’s so cold her skin is aching.
“What else should I have thought? You stared at me the whole time. I still see your eyes when I close mine.”
A horrifying thought occurs to Hermione, it would have chilled her to the bone if she weren’t already nearly frozen to death.
“It might not be a curse,” she says abruptly. She’s so cold she’s starting to go numb. “Oh god. I never even thought—I assumed it was trauma—“
“How is this not a curse?” Malfoy is incredulous.
“I—think I tethered myself to you,” she says, feeling faint. “To stay sane. Your eyes… they were like ice, they were the only familiar things in the room. I latched onto them to try to hold on.”
“I see,” he says, not sounding at all like he sees.
“You tethered yourself to me too.”
“Why would I do something like that?” His tone is superior again.
“I don’t know. What were you thinking when you stared back?”
His expression freezes and his eyes widen. He’s silent for several seconds. “That I deserved to burn for standing and watching,” he finally says quietly. “Dammit. You’re right.”
She experiences exactly no elation over hearing the concession.
“I’ll need to research it,” she trails off and tries to think. He looks so warm. There’s literal steam rising off him. She’d give her left hand to feel as warm as he looks for a few minutes. It’s like sitting in a snowbank and staring at a hot tub. “I’ll be in touch.”
She shuts the door without another word and goes and starts a roaring fire in her fireplace. It’s not warm enough. No matter how close she gets.
Draco Malfoy is still like ice in her chest.
Now that she’s realized the coldness isn’t Draco Malfoy’s evilness coming off him in waves, she feels idiotic. A tether. Of course. She should have realized.
She goes to the library and checks out every book that could possibly be relevant and pores over them.
They are unhelpful.
“There’s no reversal,” she tells him on Christmas Eve. She’s wearing flannel long-johns and three jumpers, but the moment she walks through the door of his townhouse to meet with him, she feels like she’s been dunked into a freezing lake.
He’s wearing—not very much. An undershirt and slacks. Not even socks. His house is so cold her breath condensates. The marble floor must be freezing.
He’s thin as reed. And perspiring despite the frigidity of his home. She realizes he probably sweats all his weight off.
“Can I light a fire?” she asks, shivering.
There’s an ice storm outside, the windows are glazed with it. Cold cold cold. Nothing but cold, no matter where she goes.
“This way,” he says, leading her further into the house.
No rugs. Everything is cold marble. She feels like she’s in a museum rather than a person’s home. The sconces emit a cold blue light.
“This house is horrible,” she tells him. There aren’t even winter drapes on the windows.
He has a Christmas tree. Well, she thinks it’s a Christmas tree. It’s a cut evergreen, but there isn’t so much as a fairy light on it. Apparently she isn’t the only one who’s half-hearted about Christmas.
“I don’t entertain much. Dealing with the body heat of others has little appeal.”
“Why work at Gringotts?”
“The vaults are cold. That’s where I do most of my work. It’s preferable to sitting alone, burning to death. I’m well versed in all kinds of theories on curse removal.”
“I don’t know why you didn’t talk to me sooner, although I suppose it wouldn’t have made a difference,” she says, hurrying to his fireplace and starting a fire. The bones in her hands are aching as she holds them toward the heat. She prays she’ll actually absorb it.
Malfoy stands all the way at the opposite side of the room.
“So, we reached the same conclusion then?” he asks. “Too late?”
She gives a slow nod. “We would have needed to sever it within a month. The war was still going then.”
“So we’re bonded,” he says. He sounds despairing.
Hermione shivers slightly at the word “bonded.” It’s not because of the cold. She’s already been despairing for the last two days.
“Our Magic is fused,” she says, staring at the fire rather than at him. She’s conscious enough of him without looking. “We’re tied by the context in which we joined. The bond is trying to force us together by heightening the initial connection. Normally magic bonds are caused by some kind of positive experience, so the proximity is positive. They don’t generally get formed during torture sessions. Which is why it never occurred to either of us that it could be why.”
“So—what do you want to do?” he asks after a long pause.
“There aren’t that many options,” she says stiffly.
“Of our two options, what do you prefer?” His voice is as cold as he is.
Hermione stares into the fireplace for a long time. “Well, given the context of our bond, I’m not sure anything will work. Trying to seal it might make everything even worse. But I’d rather try to live, than just resign myself to freezing to death.”
She feels him move. He ripples the coldness when he shifts. She realizes she’s subconsciously oriented toward him like a compass. He is her true north.
“Should we start with a limited form of contact?” he asks.
“It’s the logical thing to do. If it exacerbates the symptoms we’ll know there isn’t any solution,” she says quietly. The fire isn’t warming her at all.
She slowly turns, and they stare at each other with guarded eyes.
He’s pointy and thin and cold. She wants to touch him about as much as she wants to walk across the arctic tundra in a bathing suit.
She extends her right hand and walks toward him. He moves toward her and the cold starts to hurt. His cheeks are flushed and his skin shimmers slightly from perspiration. He’s almost as pale as the marble. His eyes are like shards of ice. Everything about him is cold.
The moment before their hands touch, her fingers ache agonizingly, as though he’s liquid nitrogen she’s slipping her hand into. She almost jerks back. She forces herself to touch his fingers.
Hermione hadn’t realized how cold she’d been for the last two years until she’s abruptly not cold at all. The aching inside her is suddenly gone and she feels—perfect.
It was initially supposed to just be limited contact, to establish possibilities, but she finds herself buried in his arms and they’re both gasping; as though they’d been dying for two years and now they’re suddenly alive again.
He’s so warm. She doesn’t remember the last time anyone or anything was warm enough to reach the cold inside.
They’re wrapped around each other, crushed so tightly she finds it hard to breathe. She’s warm again. She’d barely remembered what feeling warm was even like.
She doesn’t know if she’ll ever be convinced to let go of him.
They stand there for at least ten minutes just experiencing it. She keeps sighing with relief.
Finally they part slightly, but their hands are tightly entwined.
If they let go, the feeling of relief might stop. They still eye each other warily.
“So—marriage,” Malfoy says after several more minutes.
“The sooner the better, I imagine,” he adds, glancing down at their conjoined hands.
“January 2, it’s the first day the office re-opens at the Ministry,” she says. After a beat she adds, “I’m supposed to be at the Weasleys tomorrow morning, for Christmas.”
“Oh.” His hold on her hand tightens.
“Would—you want to come? They’ll call the aurors if I don’t show. If I beg off by claiming to be sick, they’ll just all come through the floo to bring Christmas to me. I can’t skip it.”
“You realize there will be a scene,” he says dryly.
She nods, trying to imagine what kind of reaction arriving at the Burrow holding hands with Malfoy will result in. Fires. Dueling. She blinks and tries to banish the image of the Burrow exploding.
“You’d come?” she asks. It’s disconcerting how much she wants him to. Her life feels surreal. She’s getting married to Draco Malfoy in ten days. Including their current conversation, she has spoken to him twice in the last two years.
“Are you going to tell them why?”
She pauses. “Maybe someday. If I announce it out of the blue, they’ll probably think you entrapped me intentionally.”
He snorts audibly. “Right. That’s precisely what I was thinking of when you were in my drawing room.”
She studies him. “I was desperate at the time, but I don’t understand—why did you bond with me?”
He shrugs. “Rest assured, I’ve been asking myself that ever since I realized when happened. It wasn’t as though you were the first person I saw tortured. But—you refused to give in. You looked at me and I realized you deserved to be a witch far more than I deserved to be a wizard.” He looked away from her. “Apparently that realization was enough to make me subconsciously shove a fundamental level of my magic into you.”
Hermione stares down at their hands. “I’m probably still sane because of it.”
The moment feels sincere and almost intimate.
“I thought you had PTSD,” he says in his annoying aristocratic drawl.
She flinches and kicks sharply toward his shin. He barely evades it. “Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t make me insane,” she snaps.
He twists her hand behind her back. “Ground rules,” he says in a tight voice, “if you kick me I get to kick you back.”
Hermione pivots and throws him onto the cold marble. She experiences a flash of triumph for approximately a millisecond before she registers that they’re no longer touching. She feels like she’s being instantaneously frozen. She flings herself at him and they lie on the floor, recovering.
“We only need to refrain from killing each other for ten days,” Malfoy says in an irritated voice that belies the way his arms are wrapped around her shoulders. She lies on top of him, her legs straddling his hips. “Once it’s sealed, it won’t be necessary for us to interact further. Then you can resume hating me.”
Hermione blushes. “I don’t hate you. I just don’t know how to take the things you say as anything but a personal attack.”
He’s quiet, and they stand up. He studies her. “You don’t have a boyfriend or anything, do you?”
“No,” she says in a sour tone. “After the war, Ron and I tried but—being constantly cold was a mood killer. I couldn’t ever get beyond kissing. He wasn’t really looking for a non-physical relationship.”
He laughs. “Really, Weasley wasn’t inclined toward a marriage of true minds?”
Hermione snorts. “There were impediments.”
There is another pause.
She gnaws at her lip. “So, ten days. We can be civil for that long, can’t we? It’s like a fake relationship, except the exact opposite.”
“I can behave myself when necessary,” he says, drawing himself up. A trace of reserve enters his voice. “We’ll have to see my mother at least briefly. I need to tell her, so she’ll know I won’t be providing an heir.”
Hermione stills. “I hadn’t thought about—that. Because of this, if you have children with anyone else they’ll be squibs, won’t they?”
He nods without meeting her eyes. “Ancestral magic won't acknowledge a non-magical heir. But—it’s fine,” he says in a tone that doesn’t really sound fine. “If any of my friends have multiple children, I can legally adopt the younger one to carry the family name. There are blood rituals to force it to work.”
Hermione looks away. She’s unprepared to offer to have a child with him at the moment. But at the same time, the bond exists because he thought she deserved to live so much that when she reached toward him, he reached back and they fused their magic together.
“We’re trapped together for the next ten days. We could try—getting to know each other. To see if there’s—anything there.”
“You and I, really?” His tone oozes disbelief.
“You say that like it’s somehow weirder than the fact our magic is bonded and we’re getting married.”
“Touché. We can try, I suppose.” He sounds unenthused. Like he’s afraid to hope.
Hermione understands the fear. But life feels full of possibilities now that it has ceased to be so cold.
She wants to take the risk of trying.
She takes Malfoy home with her. His townhouse is horrible and unbearably cold. She tries to get used to calling him Draco. He's left-handed and she's right-handed; it makes their refusal to let go off each other more convenient.
They sit on the couch and catch up on each other’s lives. There is surprisingly little to say. She spent the last two years buried in work trying to ignore the cold fractured feeling. He spent the last two years studying curse breaking. Socializing had made the symptoms worse so they did very little of it.
They had both read a great deal. They compare booklists. The conversation suddenly stops feeling so stilted.
When he is telling her about a book on Charms theory, his eyes light up.
Charming. Helpful. Very smart. She sees it.
Aside from using the loo, they do not separate at all.
Hermione does not feel prepared to share her bed with him, even platonically. They fall asleep on the couch. It is the first time in nearly two years that she doesn’t wake up in a cold sweat. Doesn’t jerk awake from dreams filled with the sensation of terror slitting her throat open.
When she sheepishly drags Draco into the Weasley’s sitting room on Christmas morning, the silence is so pregnant she half expects newborn kneazle kittens to start materializing out of mid-air.
“What? What is this?” Harry finally manages to ask.
“Draco and I are dating,” Hermione says, her fingers are tightly entwined with Draco’s. Everyone is staring. Ron has dumped a cup of coffee down his jumper without noticing.
“Yeah. I got that,” Harry says, scratching his head. “But this seems like you’re—serious about each other. Since he’s—you know—here.”
“We connected a while ago actually,” Hermione says. It isn't technically a lie. “Then he started working at Gringotts a few months ago.”
“I would never have guessed you two were together,” Bill says, staring alternately between Hermione and Draco with an expression of disbelief. “I thought you hated him.”
Draco can’t keep from snorting.
Hermione blushes. “Well, we were trying to be professional.”
“This is a joke,” Ron says abruptly. “I get not wanting to seem lonely at Christmas, but Cormac McLaggen would be more believable than Malfoy.”
“It’s not a joke, Ron,” Hermione lifts her chin sharply. “I brought Draco here because I didn’t want to come without him.”
“Is he bribing you?” Harry’s eyes are narrowed as he studies her. “Did he offer you something so you’d pretend to date him?”
“The only thing I offer Hermione is the pleasure she derives from my company,” Draco says with a smile as sharp as a razor.
Hermione bursts out laughing. She’s feeling so nervous she can’t stop. She guffaws with total lack of dignity and hangs on Draco’s arm in order to avoid losing contact with him. Out of similar concern he steadies her by the shoulder. When she finally calms down their eyes meet—their fingers entwined—chuckling faintly over the absurdity of the situation.
She feels almost as warm as the fire crackling in the Weasley’s hearth.
“Bloody unbelievable,” Ron grumbles. “Somebody blind me so I don’t have to watch this.”
Everyone in the Burrow looks like they’ve been Confunded. It is the most awkward Christmas Hermione has ever experienced.
Hermione leaves with Draco as soon as it’s polite.
Narcissa Malfoy doesn’t bat an eyelash when Draco and Hermione arrive at the manor holding hands. She is wrapped in an enormous fur coat. They take tea in the solarium. The room is frigid but there is a stunning tree decorated with silver tinsel and hand-blown glass ornaments. There are fairies wintering in the branches; their lights shimmer when they shift sleepily in their perches.
“Mother, you remember Hermione Granger.”
“Your classmate from Hogwarts, decorated war heroine, prisoner in our manor. She rings a bell,” Narcissa replies in an arch tone as she pours tea.
“Right. Well, we’re getting married next Tuesday,” Draco says, apparently choosing not to break the news with any subtlety.
“Really? Are you going to tell me why, or is this another matter I needn’t worry about?” There’s acid in Narcissa’s voice.
“As you’ve noticed, my well-being has declined since the war.”
“Really?” Narcissa straightens the collar on her enormous coat.
“It happened after Potter, Weasley, and Hermione were brought here. I assumed it was a curse. It would appear that it was actually a bonding of Magic between Hermione and me.”
Narcissa doesn’t even blink. “When Bellatrix had her.”
“Yes,” Draco sounds extremely tense. Hermione doesn’t think he’s even aware of how tightly he’s gripping her hand.
Narcissa is aware, Hermione is sure.
“Due to the circumstances, the bond is—unconventional. We intend to seal it as soon as possible, because separation currently results in—severe side-effects.”
“Then there’s really nothing to say,” Narcissa says, turning from Draco to stare at Hermione. “You should know, I’m hoping for grandchildren within the next five years.”
Hermione feels herself blush.
“We are not,” Draco says in a hard voice. “The marriage is just a sealing. There will be other ways to see to the estate.”
The corner of Narcissa’s mouth twitches. “You do realize that a bonding of Magic can only occur in cases of tremendous compatibility?”
Draco and Hermione shift awkwardly.
“We’re trying not to force anything,” Hermione says.
“No. I imagine that part has already happened,” Narcissa says, quirking a pale eyebrow. “Are you planning a honeymoon? There’s the chateau in the Alps, or the palazzo in Rome.”
“We haven’t applied for time off. We’re still becoming acquainted.” Hermione can’t keep herself from blushing again.
“Of course,” Narcissa says, as though she regards it as only a matter of days before Hermione and Draco are tearing each other’s clothes off. “Draco darling, does this mean you’ll finally let me redecorate that veritable mausoleum you’ve insisted upon living inside.”
“If you want. I’m not—currently living there.” Draco blushes enough to stain his cheeks scarlet.
“I should hope not; poor Hermione would contract hypothermia if she stayed there. I’ll see what I can do. Any requests?”
“Do what you want with the furniture, but don’t touch my books.”
They leave after the first cup of tea.
They inform their supervisors that they’re sick. They spend their time getting used to each other. It’s easier than she expected. She feels naturally carved to accommodate him.
They fight viciously on occasion. He’s a sarcastic arse with a tongue made of battery acid. When he thinks she’s wrong about something, he gets under her skin until she’s tempted to kick him out. He’s never quite awful enough or wrong enough that she can bring herself to let go of him.
Her magic likes him. She cannot deny it. They’re so naturally attuned. More importantly, his mind fascinates her. She’s never met anyone she can talk to for so many hours straight. Even after days, they barely stop talking to sleep.
Bonding doesn’t require witnesses.
Hermione, Draco, and a warlock are the only ones in the small room. It’s intricate Magic. Archaic. Spells and runes and enchantments. They have to let go of each other to perform several of them. She feels so cold she wants to die. At the end they slice their palms open and press their hands together. She feels the freezing draw of him finally reconnect with his magic, locking them together so powerfully her knees nearly give out.
“You may kiss the bride,” the warlock says.
It’s a formality, not a necessary part of the ritual, but Draco leans towards her with the question on his face. She leans towards him and their lips touch for a moment. He is warm.
He lets go of her hand.
They stand there in silence.
She feels fine. Normal. The way she felt at some point in the past so long ago that she barely remembers it.
She could walk away now. They could go back to living two separate lives.
But as they stare at each other, she finds she doesn’t want to.
There are possibilities in him that she is unprepared to let go of. Even if she turns away, he will remain an ever-fixed mark.
She holds out her hand and hears him draw a sharp breath as he takes it.
She looks up. His eyes are like molten silver.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.