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The Magic of the Dance

Chapter Text

 

 

Dear Ms. Granger,

You are cordially invited to a memorial to honor the five-year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts.

It will be held on Friday, May the second, two thousand and three, at promptly four o’clock in the Great Hall. Dinner and entertainment will follow.

I await your return owl to inform us of your availability to attend.

Professor McGonagall,

Headmistress of Hogwarts

Hermione read over the invite once more. It had been almost three days since she received it, but she still couldn’t bring herself to respond. The past five years had taken almost as much, if not more, toil on her than the previous five. Sure, she was no longer running for her life away from a monster and his lackeys, but the pressure of being part of the “Golden Trio” – as they had started calling her, Harry, and Ron collectively – was having vastly different effects on them. Harry had half went into hiding to start his life with Ginny, Ron took to the spotlight with incredible ease, and Hermione, well, she struggled.

She had tried to find some normalcy in her life by finishing out her schooling at Hogwarts but could never get past the constant staring and whispers. If she was anyone one else, she probably would have quit her first week back, but she still considered her schooling a high priority. She had hoped it was merely the immaturity of under-age witches and wizards, but after graduation thrust her into the real world, she found the actions of her fellow students was minute in comparison with how the real world treated her. They refused to see her as anything but the teenage hero, one that needed to be reminded constantly of her role in saving the world and fit into the mold of the most brilliant, cheerful witch anytime someone brought it up to her. The years had dragged on, and every day Hermione grew more and more repulsed by the act she had to keep up.

In the time it had taken to finish her schooling, Ron had grown completely distant, soaking up the limelight and all that fame could give him instead of trying to spend any time with her, and as such their relationship had all but ceased. This was another blow to Hermione’s mental state that made her consider turning down Professor McGonagall’s invite. Anytime she saw Ron with multiple girls hanging on him it made her feel sick.

 “It’s no big deal,” he would say to her if she brought it up, “they don’t mean anything to me. Quit feeling so damn jealous all the time and loosen up, ‘Mione.”

Their last fight had been a nightmare, and plagued Hermione more than she would let herself admit. More than once since then had she awoken in her little London flat crying as she replayed the events in her sleep. Thankfully, Crookshanks was always there to comfort her and with his help she could normally get enough sleep to function at work the next day. Once she secured a spot working in the Department of Mysteries, however, she wasn’t around too many people, and soon enough the novelty of her presence wore off to the point her coworkers had mostly stopped gawking.

Maybe if she had someone she could talk to about the upcoming event it would be easier to make a decision about whether she could go. Unfortunately, everything with Ron had made it difficult to go to the Burrow and interact with Molly, and she had had no luck so far recovering her parents’ memories of her.

Hermione just sighed and placed the unanswered letter back on top of its envelope again. Maybe tomorrow she would have an answer.

*****

“You can’t honestly be thinking about turning down the invitation, Draco.” Lucius Malfoy reprimanded his son, staring down his nose at him.

“None of the other students whose families sided with the Dark Lord received an invitation, Father. I’ve checked with Pansy, Theo, Goyle – none of them have,” exclaimed Draco.

“Surely you won’t be the only Slytherin that was invited,” chimed in Narcissa, “I find that to be too severe of a slight for even McGonagall to inflict.”

“According to Pansy - Millicent, Daphne, and Blaise received one, but I didn’t think any of them were there for the battle,” Draco tried to keep his tone level – he knew he’d be told off by his father if he didn’t – but it was proving difficult this time.

“There you go. You can spend the night talking with Daphne about how Astoria is doing.” Lucius asserted, leaning back into his wing backed chair.

“Father, as I have said before I will not marry Astoria. The Ministry has outlawed arranged marriages and I will find someone on my own” Draco’s voice was starting to rise as he spoke again, he was desperately trying to hold it together until he could leave the room.

“We will see about that later, Draco. Right now, you are supposed to be penning at note to the Headmistress accepting the invitation that she so graciously sent you.”

Draco recognized that in this instance it was no good fighting his father on this. He had to save his strength for the bigger fights – like his father’s obsession to try and marry him off to the Greengrass girl. He vaguely remembered seeing her at school, but as she was a quiet student a couple of years behind him he never really paid her much mind.

Draco knew this reunion was going to be a nightmare – just like everything else had been any time he mustered up the courage to leave his house for the past five years. Everyone still saw and treated him like a Death Eater, despite all the strings his father had been trying to pull to change how the Malfoy family was now viewed. Draco would almost prefer the year that he was supposed to kill Dumbledore to this – that at least had an end.

Though that end bled into a worse beginning. Having the Dark Lord living at his house was not the best for his mental state. Seeing his father and mother treated like little more than slaves in their own home, his little lessons with his Aunt Bellatrix – all of it. Though, this, too, had an end. Both the Dark Lord and his aunt had died, stopping both the hell he had been living in at home and the war. He was still surprised that all three members of his family eluded imprisonment – of all people it was Potter who was most instrumental in that – but it seemed almost a sick joke to give him his freedom only to have the world treat him as thought he was too abhorrent to interact with “normal people.” This was a stress that seemed like it would follow him like a dark cloud for the rest of his life. He hadn’t realized how bad his depression had gotten this time until he had caught a look of himself in the mirror earlier that day. He could see protrusion of each and every rib clearly through his pale gray button-down shirt.

“Draco, your quill. It stopped moving.” Lucius’s voice pulled Draco back to the task at hand.

“Yes, Father. Sorry, Father,” Draco answered as he finished writing his reply. He opened the nearby window and called for their eagle owl to send his response back to Hogwarts.

“I am going to head to the library and do some more reading before dinner. If you will excuse me, Mother. Father,” Draco bowed his head slightly to each of them as he spoke, receiving a curt nod from his mother and a scowl from his father. As they didn’t say anything to stop him, he took his leave and headed to the far wing of the manor.

Now all he needed to do was figure out how he was going to get through this upcoming memorial.

*****

May first rolled around and Hermione was feeling quite frustrated with herself for finally saying earlier in the week that, yes, she would be attending the memorial. She told herself it would be expected of her – if she wasn’t there to make an appearance with the rest of Golden Trio it would reflect poorly on her character. Yes, that was a good name for it. What was it that Shakespeare had said? “All the world's a stage”? She truly felt as though she was doing nothing more than playing a part that wasn’t meant for her, but she had been doing so for so long now she wondered if she even knew who she was anymore.

Unable to focus, she put her well-worn copy of “Hogwarts: A History” down on the table beside her chair. Crookshanks immediately took a spot in her lap and started nuzzling against her chest.

“Oh Crookshanks, what would I do without you?” Hermione muttered. The cat began to purr softly, and the vibrations coming from his chest calmed Hermione down enough she could think a little clearer.

“Tea,” she told herself aloud, thinking briefly at how dumb she must look chattering to herself, “tea would be a good idea.”

Understanding her perfectly, Crookshanks jumped down from Hermione’s lap so she could get up. Heading to the kitchen she put a pot of water on to boil before rummaging through the cabinets trying to find some tea. She finally found just enough to make a small cup, making a mental note to force herself out of the house so she could buy some more.

Before long Hermione was sitting curled up back in her reading chair with her tea. Breathing the steam deeply had the desired effect on her nerves, and she was just raising it to her lips when a cloud of ash left her coughing. Startled, she jumped up, dropping the tea all down her shirt as she began to register the source of the disruption.

“Sorry for scaring you, ‘Mione,” the young woman managed to get out between coughs. “Guess I should have owled first”

“Ginny, hi!” Hermione greeted with a genuine smile, giving the witch a hug before continuing, “no, it’s fine, I just haven’t had any visitors lately and I forgot that the floo was open. I guess I haven’t cleaned it in a while.”

“I just wanted to stop by and see if you wanted to go shopping for stuff to wear tomorrow,” Ginny explained, “I’ve only just gotten the day off from work. I didn’t expect flying for the Hollyhead Harpies would be so time consuming.”

“No kidding. I haven’t seen you or Harry in ages. You’ve been really keeping to yourselves.”

“Not as much as you have. When was the last time you left your apartment for something other than work?”

“Ummm,” Hermione thought hard for a moment, “I honestly don’t remember.”

“Which brings me back to my earlier question,” Ginny smiled wickedly, “Do you want to go shopping for stuff to wear tomorrow? I’m willing to bet that you don’t have anything yet.”

Ginny was right, which annoyed Hermione. “I could have found something.”

“Not something that would make my brother stop staring at all the other girls and back at you.” Ginny teased.

“GINNY!” Hermione exclaimed, “I never said I wanted to do that.”

She knew there was no chance she would ever consider taking Ron back, though a small part of her would always love him no matter how terrible he treated her. That tiny bit of her mind was excited about the chance of making him jealous, but she had tried to cast that idea aside.

“You’re thinking about it, though. I can see the gears turning in your head. Come on, let’s go shopping.” Ginny insisted, pulling on Hermione’s arm to her gently.

Hermione sighed. She knew it would be pointless to try and fight it, despite Ginny being completely wrong in her motivations. “Alright, but let me change into something not covered in tea first. And you owe me a cup while we are out.”

“Deal.”

Ginny was grinning in a way that made Hermione wonder what was going through the witch’s mind. She tried to dismiss it as she grabbed a comfortable pair of jeans, a t-shirt with the Weird Sisters branded on it, and her favorite, most comfortable pair of shoes. Ginny was waiting by the fireplace, still grinning madly.

“Ready to go?” Ginny asked, reaching for some of Hermione’s Floo powder.

“As I’ll ever be,” Hermione mumbled under her breath.

It was all the encouragement Ginny required. “Diagon Alley!” she spoke into the fire. Hermione followed suit as soon as Ginny had cleared the grate. A moment later, they were both standing in Flourish and Blotts.

“We can look at books later, ‘Mione,” Ginny chastised as Hermione’s eyes glossed over the displays of books. “We have a mission, so we can save this stop for our last before getting your tea.”

Hermione nodded. She was suddenly aware of all the people whispering and staring at her, and the sooner she got out of here the better.

Ginny led them through the crowded streets to a newer shop that she was told sold a mixture of wizarding robes as well as muggle fashions. Hermione registered a sign above the door that read The Harpy’s Cloak before walking inside. A ringing bell above her head solicited a “be right with you” from deeper inside the shop.

The shop was much bigger on the inside than it initially seemed and was divided into three sections. To the left was unmistakably the men’s section, consisting mostly of suits and polos with a few scattered selections of trendy jeans mixed in. To the far right was all things feminine, most of which were dresses in almost any color and design imaginable. The center, and largest, section was full of dress robes – front and center for the majority of witches and wizards to view. Hermione started poking absentmindedly around the women’s section while Ginny zoomed in on a large display of evening dresses. She had just been wandering close to the jewelry selection when a middle-aged man approached from the far side of the store to introduce himself.

“Welcome to The Harpy’s Cloak. I’m Huntley Copper and – oh my, you’re Hermione Granger, aren’t you!” the wizard gushed, running forward to shake her hand. “It is an honor – such an honor – to have you here in my shop. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to assist you.”

It took a few more seconds before Huntley remembered to release his hold on her hand.

“It’s my pleasure, sir. I will happily let you know if I require your assistance,” Hermione responded almost robotically, but like most people Hermione interacted with he didn’t seem to notice. At least he retreated deeper back into the store to stare in awe instead of hanging around her like some people do.

“Hermione!” Ginny called from a few racks away, “Come look at these! I found some dresses that would look great on you.”

Hermione sighed and walked over to where Ginny was standing. She was holding three dresses – a golden shift dress with mother of pearl accents that came down just shy of her knees, a strapless red mermaid dress that was covered in embroidered blue dragonflies that magically flew around as it moved, and a plum colored halter with a keyhole that dipped deep between her breasts and fanned out gracefully from her waist to her knees.

She had a feeling that Ginny was especially fond of the purple dress.

Sure enough, after putting on each dress so often that Hermione felt like Ginny’s personal dress-up doll, Hermione ended up going with the halter. It took Ginny almost no time at all to select her own dress – a corseted green number that would perfectly match Harry’s eyes and was trimmed with black lace.

“Now come on, let’s go look at the jewelry!” Ginny enthused.

“I’m not really one for much-” Hermione began before Ginny rushed her over to look at the display.

About that time the bell above the door made them all turn to see who was entering.

“You!” she heard the shopkeeper sneer, as though an unpleasant taste was just forced into his mouth. “what brings the likes of you in here, Mister Malfoy?”         

*****

There was just one more shop Draco could try. Most of Knockturn Alley was deserted post war so his usual tailor was gone, Madame Malkin’s magically closed as he walked up to the door, and even the second-hand robe shop had barred his entry just from walking near it. He was almost used to this – most shops had added some kind of spell after the war to keep former Death Eaters and their most vocal supporters out. It wasn’t until he overheard a group of witches talk about a new store on Horizont Alley that he had any hope of finding a place that might let him look for something he could wear to Hogwarts tomorrow. He knew he shouldn’t have waited until the last minute, but it was the fear of just this kind of reception that made him put it off.

Now he stood, staring at a sign reading “The Harpy’s Cloak”, fully expecting to be hit with a repulsing spell or something. Slowly, he opened the door so as to not draw too much attention to himself, though it made no real difference. The bell that rang from above the door was more than enough to alert everyone in the store to his arrival and any hope of a positive reception was dashed quite quickly.

“You!” yelled a middle-aged wizard from the far right of the store. “What brings the likes of you in here, Mister Malfoy?”

“I need to buy a suit,” Draco declared, trying not to sound desperate but landing closer than he’d been taught was acceptable for a Malfoy.

It was at this point Draco noticed who the other two customers were in the store – the Weaslette, Ginny Weasley, and none other than Miss Golden Witch herself, Hermione Granger. It would be just his luck to run into them. They just stood there staring at him – Weaslette with the typical scowl he was used to getting from her family, but Granger’s was vastly different than he had been expected.

“None of my suits fit anymore and I must have something to wear to a dinner at Hogwarts tomorrow evening.” Draco explained. Granger looked to be studying him, but Weaslette was looking furious.

“What do you mean you’re coming to the anniversary dinner? You don’t belong at any Battle of Hogwarts memorial after all you’ve done – what you are! You deserve to be banned from stepping foot anywhere near that castle. My brother died fighting in that battle, and what did your family do? Stand around awkwardly after trying to kill Harry? Why on earth would Professor McGonagall send you, of all people, an invite?”

Draco winced. Nothing Weaslette was saying was anything new to him. His own thoughts had been telling him the same thing about why he shouldn’t be going, but he didn’t really have a choice in the matter. He had to go to the memorial, and he needed a suit that wasn’t so baggy on him that it only emphasized his skeletal frame.

“Not that I have to prove it to you, Weasley, but I certainly was invited. Here is my letter if you don’t believe me.” Draco reached into his pocket as he spoke – honestly, he had half-expected he would have to show proof at some point on this matter. He tried to quickly make his way across the store – which took much longer than he was expecting since it was smaller on the outside – and showed the parchment to the other three.

“If Professor McGonagall invited him, then obviously she wants him there,” Granger pointed out. “And if that is the case, he will certainly need a well-fitting suit. I don’t think he will be a problem, Mr. Copper.”

“Well, if you are sure Miss Granger, I will deal with – I mean assist – Mr. Malfoy as soon as I’m finished helping you and Miss Weasley. Take your time, though, please. I insist.” The shop-keep kept a sharp eye on Draco as he spoke, as if he was expecting him at any moment to run off with half the store.

Draco sighed and moved to sit in one of the chairs by the fitting rooms. Being somewhat away from the merchandise, and in clear site of where Copper was showing the two witches what appeared to be some jewelry, he felt less of the shop keeper’s gaze focused on him.

It seemed like ages dragged on before they were done. He had half suspected the Weasley girl to start finding new things to look at solely to lengthen how long he would have to wait. Granger seemed to be in and out with her excitement, and often showed the same look on her face that Draco had been of late.

‘Could she be depressed like me?’ he thought quietly to himself.

‘Pull yourself together, Draco,’ he told himself, ‘there is no way someone with as much going for them as Granger could ever possibly be depressed.

And yet, Draco could see it plain as day. He didn’t realize he had been staring at her until Granger suddenly caught eyes with him, blushed, and turned away. Weasley scowled when she saw this and seemed focused on a new mission to get them checked out and through the door quicker than she had been.

“Now then Mister Malfoy, do you have any idea what kind of suit you would like?” the shopkeeper scowled, finally turning his attention to Draco when the two witches were out of sight. “The sooner I can get you out of my shop the happier I will be. I hope you understand that you owe Miss Granger a sizable debt for convincing me not to toss you out the door the moment you came in.”

Draco knew the man was right. How he was going to pay her back he had no clue, but he knew he would have to eventually.

“Right. As stated earlier, I need a suit,” Draco explained. “Black or grey is preferable.”

The man mumbled something to himself that Draco missed, and started pulling a few suits from the surrounding racks. He hung up them up on a on a hook behind a half door and gestured for Draco to go in and try them on. Eager to get a reprieve from the man’s antagonism, Draco quickly entered the dressing room.

It took a bit to find one he liked, but he eventually settled on a black suit with white trim on the cuffs and a silvery blue shirt/tie combo. It took the shopkeeper only a few minutes to get it fit to Draco’s very gangly body.

“This will do nicely.” Draco declared, trying to remain as cordial as he could despite the circumstances.

A grunt was the only response he received. Draco made sure to tip the man generously for his efforts, and with it he received the first smile from the shopkeeper all day.

Scurrying out of the shop, Draco made it to an apparition point and headed home. His father was waiting for him when he walked up the path from the gate.

“Finally. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to come back, Draco,” his father announced without greeting. “Were you able to obtain anything?”

“Knockturn Alley was all but deserted. Madam Malkin’s and the secondhand robe shop had repelling magic on them.”

“Unbelievable. These filth complained about their treatment under the Dark Lord’s reign only to do worse to us. I have half a mind to-”

“Do what, Father? Our name means nothing to those currently in power.”

“Don’t talk back, Draco. I do still have some pull in the right places. It would be wise not underestimate me.”

Draco was starting to lose control of his calm demeanor. He excused himself to go up to his room on the pretense of having to put his new suit up before it wrinkled. In reality, Draco had far exceeded his daily limit of being treated poorly. He had barely closed the door before slinking down against it, the tears he could no longer hold in streaming silently down his face.

*****

“I’m telling you, Ginny, he looked worse than normal,” Hermione tried to explain while peering over her cup. They had finished their shopping a short while ago and were currently sitting at a café in Muggle London. Hermione was enjoying the hot tea Ginny had owed her, and the witch had even had bought Hermione some to take home when she found out she was out. Hermione could scant believe that the sweet, helpful witch was the same angry person sitting before her now.

“Well, he should. Honestly, I have no idea why McGonagall would have sent him an invitation. He almost killed Harry the night of the battle-”

“Technically that was Crabbe,” countered Hermione

“Well, whoever decided it was a good idea to teach him Fiendfyre was an idiot, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Draco.”

“Harry swore Draco was doing everything he could to keep him alive.”

“Then why did he still go after Harry to give him up, then? And I don’t exactly recall him attacking any of his fellow Death Eaters.”

“Still, there was something off about him today. I’m not sure what it was, but he looked depressed.”

“Can we stop talking about the Bouncing Ferret. I’d like to actually enjoy my tea without a constant bad taste in my mouth.”

The rest of her time with Ginny she filled with trying to talk about anything but Draco, but ever since she had spoken up for him in the shop she couldn’t get him out of her mind. She was almost thankful when Ginny looked at the time and realized she was late for dinner with Harry. Gathering up her purchases and reassuring Ginny multiple times that it was alright not to escort her back home, Hermione moved around the corner of the café and apparated to her house.

Crookshanks was hissing and backing into the kitchen, clearly angry at her surprise appearance that wasn’t at the time when she normally got home from work.

“I’m sorry, Crookshanks. I didn’t mean to startle you.” Hermione tried to explain. Her cat continued to stare at her angrily until she walked into the kitchen and found some cat treats for him. Momentarily contented, he wandered off the moment he finished, continuing to give his owner the cold shoulder.

She sighed and went to hang her dress up on the door of her closet. The bag that held her shoes and new jewelry – a sensible pair of wedges and a slim silver bracelet with a matching ring – lay on her dresser to wait for tomorrow.

Hermione was drained. So many people fawning over here had taken its toll, and she could feel the depression coming back. Moving sluggishly to the kitchen, she rummaged around looking to see if she had anymore Draught of Peace potions left. She tried to avoid using them too often so her body wouldn’t adjust to them – and thereby lessen their potency – but with the memorial coming up tomorrow she was pretty sure she would need it to rest, especially without Crookshanks to lay down with her. Finally locating a bottle marked x2 potency, she quickly downed it, writing a note on her fridge to remind her to brew another batch in a few days.

Feeling the blissful feeling of nothingness start to overtake her, she crawled into bed and soon passed out, not waking until almost noon the next day.

*****

“Did you remember your invitation, Draco?”

“Yes, Mother, it’s right here,” replied Draco, holding the parchment up for his mother to see.

“Let me fix your cuffs and tie before you leave,” his mother insisted.

Draco let out a small smile. Over the past few years she had been trying even harder to be more motherly to him than ever before. Sometimes it annoyed him, but right now he was actually a bit relieved to have her help making sure he looked presentable.

“There now, my dragon,” she stated when she was satisfied with his appearance. “Go along and hold your head up high. You have more than enough right to be there tonight.”

Draco nodded, secretly thankful for the pep talk even if it didn’t show on his face. He knew if he didn’t leave soon his father would be in to hurry him along, and then any good his mother’s words had done him would be gone.

Draco briefly titled his head towards his mother in farewell and headed outside towards the Apparition point. With a small gulp, he twisted on the spot and soon reappeared in Hogsmeade.

It had been a long time since he had stood in this village. He had no idea when or who would be showing up around the same time as him, so he had chosen to Apparate closer to the edge of town farthest from the school.

He could see a few people he recognized as he passed the familiar shops – the Abbott girl that somehow had fallen for Longbottom was walking arm-in-arm with him towards the school, the loopy Ravenclaw girl whose Father owned the Quibbler was bouncing through the gate ahead of him, and large group of girls were hanging around –

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Amazing Bouncing Ferret himself. Come to try and finish your Dark Lord’s work tonight, or just a glutton for punishment? You’re probably the reason it was invitation only – or were you that delusional to think that being a Malfoy still entitles you to doing whatever you want.”

“I have an invitation,” Draco replied angrily, pulling it slightly out of the pocket inside his suit jacket. He wasn’t expecting to get accosted before he even made it onto the grounds of the school.

Accio Letter!” Weasley yelled. The parchment flew out of Draco’s coat and through his fingers before he could catch it. “This has to be a forgery. There is no way Professor McGonagall would have sent one of these to you on purpose.” In an instant, Weasley had silently cast flames over Draco’s invitation before he started cackling.

“No!” Draco screamed, lunging for the paper. Amazingly the invitation didn’t seem to even be touched by the flames and Draco was able to quickly douse the fire.

By now a few more girls had Apparated in and were laughing along with Weasley – Draco recognized the twins that had been split between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, but not the others. They seemed to all be drawn to him somehow, which seemed to embolden his bravado a little more with each one.

“It doesn’t matter, keep your lousy piece of paper. I’m heading up so I can be first in line to thank Professor McGonagall for inviting me. I can hex you later if you cause trouble. Come along, girls! The party is this way” Weasley grinned smugly before turning his back towards Draco and swaggering off with his ever-growing entourage.

It took a moment for Draco to realize that Granger wasn’t with him as he started slowly up towards the castle, keeping a good bit of space between him and Weasley’s group. A few other people passed him on by, though aside from the occasional glaring stare no one acknowledged his presence for quite some time, and it took him by surprise when he heard a voice behind him speaking to him.

“Malfoy,” he heard a familiar voice bark before turning around.

“Potter. And a Weasley as well I see,” Draco returned.

“Ginny said you had an invite tonight, but I didn’t believe her until I saw you here myself,” Potter told him. He didn’t seem especially happy, but at least he hadn’t said anything that made Draco cringe yet.

“I’m getting a lot of that tonight,” Draco grumbled half under his breath.

“Well, see you up at the school, then,” Potter concluded hastily as Weaslette dragged him up towards the school.

“Keep an eye on him, will you Harry,” Draco heard Weaslette mutter to Potter. He couldn’t hear the response he gave her, but she seemed pretty upset by it.

More people rushed by him, many of which Draco recognized not as his old classmates, but older Order members that had fought five years ago. For some reason, he hadn’t expected to see them, too. He watched the rest of the Weasleys shuffle by him as well, but they at least kept their animosity quiet. Honestly, the only person that greeted him somewhat cordially was Kingsley Shacklebolt, but it was really easy for Draco’s head to justify this show of niceties more because as the Minister of Magic he was supposed to look cordial with everyone, not that he truly cared.

It was nearly four when Draco made it up to the castle doors. They were wide opened and felt inviting, though he expected them to bar his entry at any moment. It was an odd feeling of relief when he successfully made it through and turned down the corridor towards the Great Hall. The feeling was cut short as someone plowed into him from behind.

“Sorry, so sorry,” began a female voice Draco knew all too well, “I was rushing around the corner so I wouldn’t be – oh. Hello, Malfoy.”

“Granger,” he replied, partially stunned for a minute. “Listen, I…I need to thank you for yesterday.”

“It was nothing,” she insisted. “I just…I remembered how I felt being treated different because I was Muggleborn and seeing that prejudice happen to someone else was more than I could take.”

Draco blinked, hardly able to process those words coming from her mouth. After a slightly awkward pause Granger pipped up again.

“We should probably get into the Great Hall. The invites did say four o’clock sharp, yes?”

Draco nodded and followed her in a slight daze.

‘Father is right – it really was a double standard, but to have someone like Granger able to see the situation like that…’

Entering the hall, Draco was not surprised to see the current student body with smatterings of those that had passed him on his way up. He slipped over towards the Slytherin table – which, unlike the other tables, was only filled with students – and took a seat near the end of the table. Even the students around him slid away further down the table, but for now they thankfully seemed to be the only ones that noticed his entrance.

“May I have your attention, please?” Professor McGonagall called from the familiar owl podium that Draco had seen two of her former colleagues use. “I would like to thank all of those that gathered here today, whether they were those instrumental in the downfall of Voldemort or the students that we fought so hard to secure a peacefully united world for.”

Applause broke out around the hall before Professor McGonagall raised her hands to silence it. She then waved her wand and a number of unlit candles appeared above her head.

“We shall now take a moment of silence as I read the list of those that cannot be with us today, for they willingly paid the ultimate price for peace.”

As she read her list, Draco noticed that at each name one of the candles above her head lit with a silent burst of light before fading to flicker until all the candles shown brightly. Despite the call for silence, there were plenty of cries heard around the room with each name– especially when she got to Fred Weasley.

There was one name however that seemed to cause a disruption. As Professor McGonagall spoke out “Severus Snape”, two things happened. First, his candle turned a deep green with a silver spiral curling up and ending in a flickering light of the same color. Secondly, a loud murmur was heard throughout the Great Hall that caused Professor McGonagall to hush everyone with a silent glare before continuing. Draco felt even more alone, as – unlike the rest of those gathered – that name was the hardest for him to hear to him than any of the others on the list. Looking back he wished he had listened more to the advice his Head of House had tried to give him over the years, and a tear fell from his eyes as he realized how much he actually missed him.

It took some time, but eventually all the names were read and every candle above Professor McGonagall’s head was lit. She gestured towards the candles and gently sent them gliding over to rest above the teacher’s table.

“Now then, I think it is time for the feast,” she concluded, waving her wand as the tables filled with food and chatter. Aside from the occasional request of “pass the meat” or “hand me another roll”, none of the students near Draco spoke a word to him. This was turning out to be a much worse event than he had expected it to be.

*****

Hermione sat silently at the Gryffindor table, trying to eat her food in peace. Thankfully, she had been able to redirect most of the students’ excitement so that it was focused more on Ron and Harry than her. She had cried silently through much of the speech Professor McGonagall gave, and she still had a few tears falling. It was a heavy reminder of how many of those that were close to her were forever gone, but she was now growing more aware that there were a much higher number of people in the room than she had been expecting. Hermione could feel her pulse rising as the very walls seemed like they were closing in on her. She excused herself to wander outside to get some air despite having eaten very little of the wonderfully prepared food. She had made it through the heavy wooden doors and braced her back against the stonework arch that surrounded it. The scent of the cherry blossom trees on the wind blew gently through her hair helped her breathe a bit easier.

“Alright there Hermione?” said a voice suddenly beside her, causing her to jump. “I’m sorry, didn’t mean to startle you there.”

“Harry!” Hermione greeted him, throwing her arms around his neck for a quick hug. After a pause she pulled away and speaking became slightly easier. “No, it’s fine. It’s just – the list of those that are gone hit me a little harder than I thought it would. Not to mention there are much more people in there than I had been expecting.”

“When you slipped outside, I was afraid something might have been bothering you. I saw you walk in with Malfoy and wanted to make sure he didn’t do anything. It’s just your depression messing with you again, then?”

Hermione nodded. Harry was one of the few that knew about that side of her, but she saw him so infrequently that it didn’t come up much.

“I think so. It’s been getting bad. And I don’t understand why I seem to be the only one affected by it like this.” It was a bit cathartic to get that out in the open.

“Oh I’m sure loads of people are, they are just better at hiding it. Try breathing or something and see if that does anything” Harry tried to reassure her.

‘Thanks, Harry, but that’s not exactly helpful right now,’ thought Hermione.

“I need to get back inside,” he continued, “I told Ron I was just running to the loo and I doubt you want him coming to find us.”

Ron would definitely be the last person I need to see me like this, she internalized.

Aloud she added, “He’d have to get away from his ‘adoring’ fan base long enough to realize you were gone.”

“Hermione, he’s not as bad as you make it sound. He’s just really outgoing, unlike the two of us. And you know he’s had a flare for over-dramatizing his stories to draw in listeners since first year. That’s all. I can’t make you give him a second chance though.”

Second? We passed second ages ago.

“If you say so.” Hermione conceded with a shrug. “I’ll try to be back inside in a bit, alright?”

Harry nodded and went inside. Hermione took a moment longer to breathe and headed back inside around the time dessert was appearing on the table. Smiling a little, she took a few desserts onto her plate and attempted a bit of small talk with the students around her.

*****

Draco could feel the eyes from the other tables on him throughout the dinner. For the most part he kept his head down and ate what he could force himself to. A few failed attempts to talk to the others near his end of his table had left him silent. He was almost relieved when Professor McGonagall stood up to end to the feast.

“And now everyone, as a special treat, I would like to invite you all to join us for a dance. I haven’t seen our students work this hard since the Yule Ball to get ready for this evening. If everyone will please step clear from the tables.”

Draco felt a familiar weight pressing on his chest. He couldn’t have a panic attack – not here. He stood up from his bench and slid along the wall to the door. As soon as he was close enough, he ducked out towards the garden outside.

Loosening his tie a bit, Draco tried to breathe slowly again. Dancing correctly was something engrained deep into how he had been raised – alongside things like how to walk, how to speak, and how to treat those he was told were beneath him. Lately, though, reflecting on that upbringing had created some dissonance in his head. Draco had been becoming disillusioned towards his father’s lifestyle for a while now, and it was times like this – when proper etiquette would normally be required of him – that he struggled with it the most. The boy that was raised to see himself better than everyone, the boy that was raised to be exactly what his father wanted – was that really him anymore? Or was the world right, and he would never be free from his past?

Feeling no closer to answering the questions that had plagued him for years, Draco sighed trying to concentrate on something else stared hard at the sun setting across the Great Lake. Combined with floral smell in the air and the slow dance music coming from the Great Hall, it created a very peaceful scene. He stood there trying to focus on just those things for a while before noticing the sounds of quiet sobbing nearby. Somewhat curious at this point, Draco moved closer to the noise and half knocked over Granger.

“Sorry, so sorry,” he apologized as he caught her and helped her upright again.

“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten so flustered that…” Granger trailed off as tears began to flow freely from her eyes.

Draco felt awkward. He wasn’t the type to comfort someone – and this was Granger of all people. He still vividly remembered from third year what kind of damage she could do to his face when she was upset.

“’Mione, where’d you go?” Draco heard a slurred voice call out. “I was only playing. Get back here and dance with me like you’re suppose to!”

Draco saw Weasley come around the corner after Granger. When he reached them, he pulled her roughly away with a sneer. He didn’t look all that steady. Draco suspected he might have brought something stronger than Butterbeer with him.

“Get away from my girl, Ferret, or I’ll remind you why we call you that,” Weasley threatened, though not very coherently.

“I’m not your girl!” exploded Granger, trying desperately to get away from Weasley. “Go ask one of the floozies that were hanging on your arm earlier to dance.”

“You’re just jealous. You’re always jealous of my fame. We wouldn’t’ve defeated his lot if it wasn’t for me. I-”

Granger didn’t let him finish. Draco saw her right fist pull back before Weasley did, and with a sick thud it impacted his face.

“Damn bitch!” he spat, somewhat muffled from the now bloody nose. “You’ll pay for that.”

Before he knew what he was doing, Draco drew his wand and pointed it straight at Weasley. “Go back inside, away from her, or I swear I will unleash every hex I’ve ever learned on you.”

Weasley spat on the ground before backing sheepishly inside when Draco took a step towards him.

“So that’s what it looks like when you deck someone other than me,” slipped out of Draco’s mouth before he even realized he was speaking.

Granger blushed a little. It wasn’t at all like the blush she used to have when he bullied her. If it had been anyone other than Granger, he probably would have considered it cute.

“Hey, thanks for that,” she told him, interrupting his thoughts. “I could have handled him if he hadn’t been drinking again.”

“When did he start doing that?” Draco asked, even more curious for some reason. If nothing else, it offered a break from his own depressing thoughts.

“Almost as soon as he was legal. He calls it ‘social drinking’ so he can better interact with the girls that want to hang on him for being best friends with ‘The Chosen One’, but he tends to go a drink or two too far sometimes.”

“Don’t tell me that’s normal for Weasley now?” Draco spat out in shock.

Granger moved into an almost possessive stance before catching herself. For a moment Draco was briefly worried he might have been getting a repeat punch to the nose, but she dropped back into her previous posturing before continuing.

“Honestly, it’s gotten to that point. Our last big fight was over how he acts at the pub, and I really want to be done with him, I just feel like I can’t.” Granger sighed before continuing, this time looking straight towards the lake. “I have to be the third part of the Golden Trio. It’s expected of me.”

Granger blushed again. “I probably am making no sense, but it feels kind of relieving to get that off my chest.”

Draco hesitated a bit. He wanted to tell her that he understood – that he, too, felt stuck against his will –but couldn’t understand the urge. Why? Why now? Why her?

He felt the words come out of his mouth before he realized his lips were moving. “You make sense. Don’t forget I’m ‘expected’ to still be nothing more than a Death Eater, and in case you haven’t noticed, most places treat me like a second-class citizen. Just like how you Mu-ggleborns were under the Dark Lord.”

He had nearly said “mudbloods” but managed to catch himself before continuing.

“Father doesn’t help. He expects me to single-handedly change everything for those that were on his side, but that’s not me anymore.” Draco’s voice was cracking badly now. He ran his fingers through his hair, trying to will his body to stop talking, or at the very least let his voice return to a normal pitch.

Granger stared at him for a moment in silence, her head slightly cocked to one side as if deep in thought. Draco awkwardly turned away from her gaze to watch the last rays of the sunlight fall past the edge of the lake. He began to notice the music from inside the Great Hall grow louder and soon caught himself tapping his foot to the beat. A moment later he noticed something move out of the corner of his eye to see Granger swaying slightly in time with the music herself before she started to laugh. Draco looked at her wide-eyed, afraid he had said something to provoke the witch.

“So it seems we have something in common, probably for the very first time. Our lives are depressing, those that should help us make it worse, and the world is forcing us to be someone we aren’t anymore.”

‘Leave it to Granger to state something like this so matter-of-factly,’ thought Draco before she continued.

“Well, what if we don’t let it?”

“Don’t let what?” Draco asked, confused.

“The world,” Granger explained. “If both of us are trying to break free from how it forces us to act, what if we make a truce. A pact to help the other forget about their hardships and support each other since we can’t seem to manage it on our own. Now I really am sounding crazy.”

She hesitated, which made Draco oddly concerned. “How do you propose we start, then? I doubt you would be too keen on a blood pact.” He laughed at her look of concern and it seemed to put her a bit more at ease to say what she wanted to.

He saw her face. There was something she was struggling to keep from saying, just as he had been trying to do for most of their conversation. He saw the moment that dam burst, and the words poured out of her mouth like pure water.

“Dance with me and pretend the world doesn’t exist,” she pleaded.

And after that, there was no going back. From the moment Granger’s fingers touched his, thin purple streams of fire wove their way around their hands and curled up their arms. Draco looked at Granger for some direction as to what was happening, but almost froze when realized her face looked just as shocked as his did.

Breathing deeply, Draco willed his legs to dance, the heatless flames continuing to grow until it was swirling all around both of them with tremendous speed that made their hair whip about. As the music and their dance slowed, the purple flames did, too, only fading completely when he had let go of Granger.

Draco opened his mouth to ask her something, but never got the chance. Something hit him hard in the chest and everything faded to black.

Chapter Text

Hermione watched Malfoy propel away from her into a cherry tree by a stunning spell. She whipped around to find a very smug looking Ron with a growing group of people behind him.

“See?” he accused, pointing at Malfoy, “I told you he was trying to hurt Hermione! I knew I would need reinforcements after he decked me in the nose.”

“I gave you that bloody nose you lying jerk!” Hermione declared, taking a step towards Ron. “And I’ll break it further if you don’t stop spouting lies!”

“Poor girl is obviously Imperiused,” he insisted. “Come here sweetheart and I’ll deal with this traitor for you.”

Harry stepped forward and put a hand on Ron’s shoulder. “Stand down, mate. I’d expect better from an Auror. If she was Imperiused she would be much calmer.” Harry reminded him harshly, reaching down to pull Draco’s wand from where it was peeking out of his sleeve.

“There’s a very easy way to check if Malfoy cast any spell,” he continued, placing the tip of his own wand on Malfoy’s. “Prior Incantato”.

A bright yellow sun burst forth from where the wands met. Hermione noticed a brief look of relief on his face as the image faded.

“Sorry, Ron, but the last spell Malfoy’s wand cast was a cheering charm.” Harry informed him.

Many of those that had gathered began grumbling and casting Ron dirty looks before returning inside, leaving an opening for Professor McGonagall to come through.

“Out of the way, out of the way!” she hollered, moving towards where Hermione and the boys were standing.  Soon everyone had gone back into the Great Hall except the five of them. Professor McGonagall stood there a moment with a look of unbelief on her face. “Why is it, even when you aren’t my students anymore, anytime something happens it is still always you three?”

“We’re sorry, Professor,” Harry began, “it’s just-”

“It was all Malfoy, I swear!” Ron interrupted. “He threatened to hex me when I came to check on Hermione, so I had some people come back out to help me deal with him.”

“Check on me?!?” Hermione repeated furiously, “you drunkenly tried to force me to dance with you and wouldn’t leave until I punched you in the face. Malfoy was trying to help make sure you left me alone.”

“So you wouldn’t dance with your boyfriend, but you would dance with ferret-face?”

“YOU ARE NOT MY BOYFRIEND!” Hermione screamed, somewhat cathartically.

“Enough!” interrupted Professor McGonagall, causing all parties to suddenly drop their eyes silently towards their shoes. “It is clear to me that some of you are still unaware of what it means to be in a united world. Mr. Potter, you will remove Mr. Weasley from this area and take him up to the hospital wing for a sobering up potion. I would like to have a word with him later.”

“Yes, Professor,” Harry responded, dragging a fighting Ron away from the scene as he continued to hurl obscenities towards Hermione long after Harry had pulled him out of sight.

Professor McGonagall went and knelt down where Malfoy had landed. “Rennevate,” she spoke, a flash of brilliantly colored red light bursting from her wand as she did. Malfoy soon rose to his feet kneading his chest as he did so as if to help dispel any lingering effects of the stunner. Hermione was a little taken aback at how relieved she felt at the sight.

“Mr. Malfoy, are you alright?” Professor McGonagall asked, receiving a nod in return. “I was afraid something like this might happen. As I said in my speech, I felt you, like everyone else I had invited, were instrumental in the Dark Lord’s downfall and had just as much right to be here as anyone else. Hogwarts has taken great strides to unite the next generation of students, but I fear that older ones may not be as generous. That is partially why I only sent you, and not your parents, invitations to tonight’s festivities. I feared that while they, too, were instrumental – especially your mother Narcissa – most of the Wizarding community would be greatly upset at their presence and I felt very conflicted about the whole thing. I was hoping that you, with your classmates having worked so hard these past five years, might receive a more hospitable welcome. I assure you, Mr. Malfoy, you will always have a place here at Hogwarts, at least for as long as I am around. Thank you for your bravery in coming here tonight, as I know you would have probably foreseen this as how the evening could have gone for you.”

“Most of it,” he replied, staring into Hermione’s eyes. There was a look there she had not seen before, and for the life of her she could not place what it was, but she knew there was no malice in it.

“Now if you are sure you are alright, I must take my leave and return to the dance before my presence is needed again. And if Mr. Weasley should trouble you again, he will have me personally to deal with.”

“Yes, Professor,” Hermione and Malfoy answered in unison. She was taken aback at the sound of his aristocratic voice entwine musically with hers. What on earth had been coming over her lately? She shook her head to try and clear it as Professor McGonagall walked back into the castle.

“So, that light…” Malfoy began, pausing a bit as if he was unsure how to continue.

“I have no idea what it was.” Hermione informed him. “Do you?”

“No, but it was quite obviously a spell,” Malfoy told her, “and as it wasn’t green, I’m fairly certain it wasn’t dark magic.”

“True,” Hermione agreed, “purple magic though…I’m trying to remember-”

“Wait!” Malfoy interrupted, dropping into an almost sheepish tone before continuing. “Sorry, but I just remembered. There was this book in our library – I, er, have spent a good bit of the last five years in there reading whatever I managed to get my hands on – anyway, I just happened to flip through it because it had been left out by someone and it was describing ancient magics. It was actually difficult for me to follow, but the first chapter had a breakdown about the origins of most magical spell types. I believe purple was supposed to be the antithesis of dark magic – only the most noble, helpful magics manifest in that color, so I think we might be okay there.”

“Still,” Hermione thought aloud half under her breath, “knowing that it is helpful is wonderful, but that still doesn’t tell us what it was.”

Malfoy chuckled, breaking Hermione’s train of thought.

“Do you always talk to yourself?” he teased gently.

Hermione was reminded of the day before with Crookshanks and blushed slightly. She couldn’t understand why it was Malfoy that was tied up in all of this with her, making her blush like a schoolgirl, the uncontrollable urge to suddenly open up to him-

“By the by, Malfoy,” she started, hesitant at first as to if she should continue before ultimately deciding to, “why DID you tell me all of that stuff earlier?”

“Do you want the honest answer?” he asked, raising one eyebrow.

“Of course, if that isn’t too hard for you.” The remark slipped out before she could catch herself and she felt a bit guilty. That feeling only intensified when she noticed how little it had affected him.

“It just came out. I couldn’t stop myself from saying it. It was like I had no choice but to bare my chest to the last person on Earth I normally would.” Hermione saw him run his fingers through his hair in frustration again and got the feeling that this action was something he did often. Before she knew what she was doing, she caught his hands and pulled them out of his hair before gently dropped them to his sides, causing his breath to catch in his throat.

“My turn to get an honest answer,” he responded after a moment, “why the hell did you just do that? I mean, I’m not upset or anything it’s just-”

“Truthfully? I have no idea. I just…had to. Just like how you just described your side of our previous discussion it just kind of was forced out. Though it means we do know one thing now.”

“Oh? What’s that?” Malfoy inquired.

“That whatever that purple magic was it doesn’t happen every time we touch.” Hermione stated matter-of-factly.

“That is good I guess, though I’m not sure when we will be seeing each other again for it to be a problem.”

“But,” Hermione began before deciding against it. “oh, never mind.”

“What?” Malfoy asked, sounding a little startled.

“I had meant, however odd it may have seemed, what I said about having someone there to support each other.”

*****

Draco froze. Somewhere between the dance, the spell, and the stunner he had completely forgotten why he had been dancing with Granger in the first place.

“Sorry, I forgot. With everything that just happened and, well, the mere fact that until about ten minutes ago we had never even been able to stand being near each other it must have slipped my mind,” Draco admitted. “That being said, I don’t really see a reason to oppose the suggestion.”

Draco noticed a hint of a smile appear on Granger’s face. It made him happy to see it, but he couldn’t pinpoint why. Odd things with this witch were starting to feel more and more normal, and it was beginning to be a bit much for him.

“How do you propose we do this? Send owls each day to see how each other is doing?” Draco inquired with a bit of snark, raising an eyebrow as he spoke. “Father would get quite irate when he figured out whom I was writing to so much.”

“Hmm, I’ll have to think about that,” Granger muttered low enough Draco couldn’t tell if she was actually talking to him. “Owls would be the simplest, but there are also charmed items like two-way journals that might work. I believe I could craft those if given a bit of time to work out all the details...”

Draco leaned back against the side of the castle and watched the witch talk through a few more scenarios.

“A two-way journal set would work just fine,” he told her, raising his hand to stop her when he realized she would probably be at this for a while if he didn’t, “but I would suggest putting some wards on it to make it unreadable to prying eyes, okay?”

Granger looked stunned for a moment, and again Draco was concerned he might have said the wrong thing. Tears slowly started to well up in her eyes and if it wasn’t for the quivering smile on her face he would have thought something was wrong.

“I’m sorry,” she explained when she was able, “it’s just – it’s been so hard not having anyone that could see what I was – am – going through. Being able to just be me instead of a stoic golem forcing themselves to be what makes everyone else happy – it’s not something I had any hope of actually being able to do.”

Draco was about to reply when he noticed a trail of people moving from the castle back down towards the gate to Hogsmeade. It was only then that he noticed the absence of music. Granger seemed to have noticed it as well. He quickly waved his wand, silently cast a cheering charm on both of them before anyone could see her crying. He had gotten exceptionally good at that spell over the past five years and soon Hermione’s face was much drier.

“I should go,” Granger informed Draco as the last few stragglers emerged from the castle. “I’ll start working on those journals as soon as I get home. I have a feeling we might need them sooner rather than later. It’s always hardest for me when I’m alone at night, is it the same with you”

He nodded in agreement, watching as a smile slowly crept onto her face that was much stronger than the spell he had just cast. She waved and slipped back into the passing procession with Weaslette, garnering one more nasty glare from the red head before the night’s end.

Draco sighed, leaning against the side of the castle until most of the group had passed before heading to the closest Apparating point he could find. Seeing the familiar site of his manor calmed his heart a bit as he headed up the walk, but only briefly. Not a second had passed before his father was seen at the front door.

“Ah, Draco, good. I have some things to discuss with you. If you would please change into something more fitting a work related visit, I need you to join me in the library’s parlor with Mister Greengrass so we can begin our discussions for the evening.”

Draco stopped mid-stride, feeling as though this day was about to get much worst.

*****

Hermione knew that there was at least another hour before Flourish and Blotts closed for the evening. She had already Apparated home to change out of her formal wear and into something more comfortable before heading back out to Diagon Alley. She was still pulling her hair into a loose bun by the time she arrived at the bookstore and had barely noticed the other patrons as she headed straight to an area devoted to practical, everyday magics. She skimmed past multiple books on child raising and cooking that Hermione thought would be right at home in the Burrow – the thought momentarily causing her to sadly reflect on how long it had been since she had been there – before finding a single book she thought might work. Your Pen Pal and Mine: Stories of Practical Spells for Staying in Touch.

Flipping through the first few pages told Hermione she had hit gold. She excitedly bought the book, causing the cashier to almost faint when he saw who she was, before walking next door to get a milkshake to drink as she studied it. She was almost through the third chapter – and her milkshake – when she stumbled onto a section about two lovers from warring families and their attempts to stay in contact with one another. She was almost giddy when she read through the anti-scrying enchantments and the like, covering even more situations than Hermione had even thought about.

After rereading over the section a few times and cross referencing a few notes in the back, Hermione felt it wouldn’t be too difficult to transform a couple of books to fit their needs. As enchanting a journal and sending such a charmed item through owl post to one of the most well known old blood families in Britain seemed like a plan with little to no success rate, she was going to have to fudge things a bit.

Remembering that Malfoy had said something about being in the Malfoy Manor library quite often lately, Hermione hoped that one of the lesser studied charms in her book might work. It allowed for a spell to be cast from a far distance, as well as circumventing most magical protections a magical family might have in place through sheer simplicity in places. The caster just had to at some point have been within 50m of where the book being transformed was located and picture the area as vividly as possible while casting.

Hermione had done her best to not think about her brief visit to the Malfoy manor. It was almost too much even now to considering doing it, and she seriously considered calling the whole thing off when she realized this was more than just about her.

“Why am I even considering this,” she mumbled to herself softly. “I mean, it’s Malfoy after all – why him, why this.”

She closed the book and rested her head on it, barely even noticing it when she knocked the last of her milkshake to the ground. The excited feeling she felt earlier when she had a goal to achieve was nearly gone, and everything around her – the faint buzz of the few conversations happening around her that her brain was certain were about her, the creeping dark encroaching from the street lamps that was almost tangible around her chest, the feeling of eyes on the back of her head coming from somewhere-

She jumped up and twirled around but saw no one except a few shoppers heading home for the night.

 “Home,” she told herself under her breath, “I need to get home” She picked up her book as she pulled out her wand and twirled on the spot, collapsing into her perfectly placed reading chair.

Here, she reminded herself, here she could think clearly.

So much had happened over the past two days that she hadn’t given herself a chance to process. Yesterday had started out gloomy before Ginny showed up, her arrival causing both a literal and metaphysical mess in her living room, and then while they were shopping she had run into Malfoy for the first time in, well, five years.

Malfoy, the aristocratic arse that had made a point to tear her down any chance he could find.

Malfoy, the former Death Eater – those who would have loved to see all the people with her blood status removed from the world.

Malfoy, the most confident and well-off student her year at Hogwarts.

And yet –

There he had been, broken and down.

Trodden on to the point the whole world wanted him removed,

Almost begging just to be given a chance to get a suit.

She told him the truth a few hours ago – she knew what it was like to be in his place and it wasn’t fair. Who cares at that point if it was Malfoy – no one really needed to be treated poorly for who they are, or aren’t are as the case might be.

Merlin’s Beard if her 3rd year self could see her now. She was starting to wonder if this was just her being desperate, but then remembered the spell that had happened after they had both opened up to each other.

Renewing her resolve she grabbed the quill and notepad she kept beside her chair for whenever she needed to look something up later from one of her marathon reading sessions. Jotting down all the spells, in order, that she would have to cast to have a chance of this working, she summoned a blank journal from her room. Crookshanks appeared trying to bat it as it moved through the air and looked rather annoyed when Hermione managed to catch it. Seeing him there helped her focus a bit clearer before starting the spell.

Unlike the more simpler spells in the wizarding world, this one required a few well placed runes to be placed on the book she had in her possession to help focus the magic towards its future mate. That was the first step and was easily done. Hermione just had to pick a book roughly the same size and shape as the one that will be used on the other end, but if her spell landed in the library size shouldn’t matter. The real trick would be making it findable, which was another set of spells entirely to make it act like a beacon only Malfoy could see.  After all, what good would this whole venture be if someone else discovered the book before Malfoy could?

After a short bit of work – most of which was checking and double-checking to keep from messing things up – her book was glowing faintly blue. She quickly thought about what she should write before scribbling something witty and closed the book shut – thus, hopefully, sending the note to the paired tome. Now there was nothing else she could do but wait and see if Malfoy found it.

*****

“F-f-father,” Draco started, stumbling in speech as well as step as he tried to keep up his pace behind him as they walked away from his room, “I told you – I will not be marrying Astoria. I’m sure she’s a sweet girl but she’s not the girl for me. Forced marriages were banned three years ago and-”

“And you are a Malfoy and need to start remembering that.” Lucius finished sternly as they headed towards the library parlour. “This is your last chance to change our family name for the better, something we have been working on for years-”

“-you’ve been working on,” mumbled Draco.

“Hush,” Lucius continued harshly, using his cane to stop Draco in his tracks. “I am doing everything in my power as your father to make sure you succeed. Don’t toy with me Draco.”

He pushed Draco through the door to the library and jerked his head towards a chair across from Mr. Greengrass. Astoria was there as well, and looked about as happy to be there as the Malfoy heir was.

“Astoria, Mr. Greengrass,” Draco greeted with a nod before sitting in the chair his father had previously indicated.

‘Just stand firm,’ Draco told himself, ‘he can’t force you to do anything. You don’t have to marry Astoria. You can always-”

“Mr. Greengrass was just telling me about something he had discovered looking over inheritance laws.” Lucius began with an evil smirk on his face. “About how certain requirements could be set in place before an heir or heiress would be aloud to access their family’s fortunes. It seems that, despite the many loopholes the ministry has closed to prevent forced marriages, it hasn’t realized that you can still set two people as inheritors of a large fortune only if they at eligible to inherit together.”

“In other words,” grinned Mr. Greengrass, “as neither of the two of you are married, we can set a requirement for either of you to inherit you must be married to each other. If you don’t, you won’t ever see a knut of our wealth, starting now.”

“We will leave the two of you alone for a while to discuss our proposal. I believe Narcissa has some tea waiting for us elsewhere, Mr. Greengrass. If you will excuse us,” Lucius smiled coldly as he and Mr. Greengrass left the room.

The moment the door closed Astoria stood up.

“I thought the Ministry had taken care of all this nonsense,” she told Draco, “no offense, but I had hoped that Father was just using this as a scare tactic. I didn’t know until just now that he had actually found something.”

“Am I to assume that you are as excited about this whole ordeal as I am?” Draco asked, gaining a nod from Astoria. “Then this is a problem.”

Draco dropped his head into his hands and tried to decompress everything that had just transpired. He could hear Astoria drop into her chair as silence fell between them for a while. After what seemed like forever, Astoria pipped up.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without Father’s help, though. Daphne would not mind a bit taking all of the Greengrass fortune from me and I have no idea how to even function outside of manor life. Aside from what I learned at Hogwarts, I was only groomed to be someone’s wife. I’ve taught myself some things, yes, but that was more out of boredom than anything else.” She trailed off a bit. “I’m not selling myself as a good prospect for a wife, am I?”

Draco tried to smile, but was sure he was failing miserably. “Not really. Look, I know you are a sweet girl, but to be honest I’ve never really been all that interested in you.”

“Well, I’ve never been really interested in you, so it seems we have something in common.” Astoria admitted.

‘Odd hearing that from two women tonight,’ Draco thought; his mind flickering back to earlier.

He had all but forgotten about Granger. He still had no idea what had happened between them, but he probably wouldn’t ever know now. If he agreed to go through with the proposed marriage to Astoria, the two households would be in near lock down level of controlled in preparation of what he could only guess would be as quick of an engagement as could be had between two old Pureblood families, with all the pomp and circumstance that come with it. But if he didn’t…

Thinking about it made him feel even more conflicted. He looked over to Astoria, she seemed almost panicked at the prospect of being written out of her family, and yet Draco didn’t think he could bring himself to marry her. He had been trying so hard to break out of his father’s control on him that this almost seemed like a relief – a surefire way out, despite the calculated threat that his father probably thought it was.

Apparently, he had been sitting there in thought for a while, as Astoria broke his train of thought abruptly.

“Did you hear me Draco? I said I can’t walk out of this one. I have to agree. Don’t you know what they do to Pureblood children that try and stand up to their families over things like this?”

“Of course I do!” Malfoy snapped, regretting it instantly when he saw the tears coming down her face. “Hey, don’t cry,” he awkwardly tried to comfort the second witch that had started crying in his presence that day.

“Actually,” Draco started with a smile, thinking about this for the first time with what probably looked like a maniacal grin to Astoria. “Now that you mention it, most of the people that have been hexed out of my family didn’t turn out too bad. My aunt Andromeda is supposed to be doing quite well, even raising her grandson since my cousin passed away five years ago, and then I’m certain Sirius Black had been removed from the family tree and even with his mother despising every thing about him he still managed to inherit everything upon her death. Potter now has it all if I recall correctly, not that he needs it.”

“But they all had help – people on the outside that could support them until they got on their feet again,” Astoria insisted. “We – I – have nothing. Please don’t do this to me Draco – I can’t-”

Astoria broke down into hard sobs now. Draco had never seen someone cry like this – aside from when he had done it for laughs at school – and it was really hard for him to watch. He tried to contemplate whether she was right, and that marriage was the best – and only – route for them to take, when he noticed a book starting to glow blue on a shelf behind her head.

Using the premise of – rather awkwardly – patting her on the back, he pulled the book off the shelf with his other hand to better examine it.

It wasn’t all that big of a book – scarcely bigger than his hand – and while it was labelled “Stories of Famous Cats from 1485-1789”, there were a few runes that seemed to have nothing to do with the book at all and looked to be the source of the glowing light.  He carefully opened it and saw a somewhat familiar sprawl on the first page that was entirely different from the rest of the text in the book.

 

 “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.  – H.G.”

Slamming the book shut with a hand, Draco’s thoughts started to race. Moving over to kneel in front of Astoria, he started to speak with the slow confidence of someone who had just read the chessboard laying out in front of them and figured out a way they could still win.

“I have a plan,” Draco began with a smile, “and as crazy as it sounds, it should benefit both of us in the end.”

“Oh?” Astoria inquired between sobs.

“We are going to go out there, hand in hand, and tell our fathers that we don’t need them anymore.”

Astoria fainted, propelling forward onto Draco’s chest like a lead weight and nearly knocking them to the floor.

Chapter Text

Merlin’s beard that was fast, witch! I actually need some help already – namely a place where a woman in need can crash for a few days. Do you know of any? – D.M.

Hermione reread the note below hers on the journal she had just finished enchanting. It was definitely Malfoy’s scrawl – she had seen it enough in Potions over the years to know that – but this was far from what she was expecting him to reply with.

I’m sorry – what? – H.G.

She had tried to come up with something else to write but was too stunned to think of anything that sounded more eloquent. She just hoped she would get more info if and when she received a reply.

It didn’t take very long to come through. The book in her lap exuded a comforting warmth that sadly dispersed as she opened it.

I don’t have time to explain. I need to know if I have a safe place for Astoria before I completely ruin everything for her. – D.M.

 Astoria? Daphne Greengrass’ little sister? What did she have to do with any of this?

I guess she could stay here with me if it’s immediate – but I will need some more information... -H.G.

Hermione didn’t get an immediate response, which worried her a bit, but it was getting late and even though tomorrow was Saturday she still had things at the office she wanted to get done in the morning. She put the book on her bedside table and got ready for bed. Climbing under the covers while Crookshanks jumped up to take his spot on the bed, she somehow managed to fall into a deep sleep without a problem for once – completely missing the purple smoke-like tendrils flowing between her and the book as she slept.

*****

Draco knew they didn’t have much time. He quietly paced around the parlor section of the library, thinking of anything he had that was not tied to his family’s wealth, as well as any options outside of his life here in the manor. Honestly, it was a mental activity that he hadn’t ever thought about doing, even though over the past few years he had thought through many odd scenarios to past the time. Coming up with a few ideas, he quickly cast a shrinking spell on the book he was holding – hoping that it wouldn’t impair any of the spells already on it – and pocketed it out of sight with his wand. He reached over to where he had propped up Astoria after she had collapsed and gentle shook her awake.

“Astoria, wake up.”

“Draco, what – what’s happening? Why did I – oh.” Astoria stopped talking and Draco could see the fear returning to her face.

“Look, I know I should be in there begging both our fathers for the chance continue our family’s legacies, and until a couple of days ago I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But now-”

Draco stopped speaking abruptly. He had clenched his hand into a fist as he started talking passionately and now it was covered in smoky – almost shadow like – purple tendrils coming from the pocket he kept his wand in. Astoria had noticed as well and took a step backwards upon seeing it.

He released his fist and tried to disperse the lingering purple smoke into the air before continuing, though Astoria didn’t try to approach him right away.

“Tell me truthfully, if money wasn’t an option, would you rather be stuck in a marriage with me – someone you don’t love – or take a chance on your own to find someone to wed like you have been doing.”

“It’s more than money – it’s my family,” Astoria pleaded. “They are good to me and I love them, I just don’t understand why they are doing this to me. But it’s not like we would be the first people in our families to go through with something like this – our lineage is mostly made up of arranged marriages. They probably already have the whole will thing signed already and are laughing at us sitting in here because they know we will have to do what they say in the end.”

“But they aren’t us,” Draco insisted. “Look, I know you don’t know me enough to trust me on this, but I refuse to agree to this forced marriage, so you can either give me a chance to help you or be cast out alone by your family.”

“Well when you put it that way-” Astoria started, falling into hushed sobs unable to continue.

“Hey,” Draco moved over to her and drew one of her hands between his before continuing. “I know it’s going to be my fault that you are going to be put through hell. Let me do what I can to make it better.”

“And how do you know that you will?”

“Because I have the most knowledgeable witch I’ve ever met in my corner, and she already knows you are coming to see her.”

“Wait, how? You haven’t talked to anyone else since we were left in here by our fathers.”

“I can’t tell you right now. I just need you to trust me on this.”

Astoria took a deep breath and Draco saw her open her mouth to respond but nothing came out. Instead, her eyes glistened with tears as she nodded her head at Draco. It was all the encouragement he needed.

Still holding her hand, he weaved quickly through the dark corridors of his home to where Father had told him they would be having tea. Taking a deep breath himself, he knocked on the door and waited.

A house elf by the name of Tingas opened the door and let them in before leaving in the direction of the kitchen. Draco could see the nasty grins on both Lucius and Mr. Greengrass’ faces.

‘Shit.’ Draco thought to himself. ‘If they had a house elf in here, then Astoria was right – they probably have already used his magic to finalize the arrangement.’

Before he could react further, his mother came over and pulled them into the room.

“Come, come, now my Dragon. How did everything between you and Astoria go?” Narcissa asked, gazing down at where Draco and Astoria were holding hands.

‘Well at least Mother doesn’t seem to be stuffy as well, maybe I can just focus on her and-’

“Yes, Draco, please tell us,” Lucius’s voice moved from cordial to annoyed to downright unpleased as his voice grew more and more staccato. “You were in there much longer than I had expected. It’s not like it was a difficult choice.”

Mr. Greengrass nodded in agreement before Lucius continued. “You took so long making such a simple decision, I was starting to fear it would be daylight before you two emerged. You were right, Lucius, it did keep us from losing anymore sleep than necessary by going on and finalizing everything.

“Astoria, dear, you didn’t make things hard on poor Draco by babbling on more than you should, hmm?” Mr. Greengrass asked his daughter. “I would hate to see that all of the time your mother and I spent making sure you knew how to behave in situations such as this would disappear the moment you are supposed to use them.”

Draco felt her cower slightly against him at the words of her father. ‘No wonder she feels like she has nothing to give.’ The anger he felt gave him just enough of a push to confront both of their fathers.

“Everything went fine.” Draco informed them, slightly clipped but in a voice that was surprisingly much more controlled than he had earlier speaking with his father. “We came to an agreement together after exhausting all of our available options and have decided to decline your pressures to have us forced to marry, understand that this entitles us to, what was it you said, not a knut of our inheritance starting now?”

This declaration caused a few things to happen at once. Malfoy watched his mother covered her mouth to supress a shriek and fall backwards into a chair, his father stared down daggers at them in silent rage, while Mr. Greengrass lunged at Astoria.

“What did I tell you before coming here?” he yelled into her face, slapping her across the check when she tried to reply, “I told you to be seen and not heard. You hear me? You are worthless to me as a daughter, do you understand that! Daphne will be a much better heiress on her own without you. You couldn’t even do one simple thing your father told you to do, even when the man you had to convince to marry you had nothing to gain by dismissing you. You are a failure and no longer worthy of being in my sight.”

Draco couldn’t take anymore. He was a little shocked that while he still lacked the drive to stand up for himself, he again found himself quite easily defending someone else. Shoving himself between father and daughter, Draco pulled himself up to attack Mr. Greengrass face-to-face.

“Now look here!” Draco demanded. “Your daughter is not at fault, so quit trying to treat her like garbage – this was MY choice and I will take responsibility for both it and her well being henceforth if you cannot.”

Then Draco did something that was most un-befitting a Malfoy heir – he shoved Mr. Greengrass fully away from his daughter and into a chair nearby before taking up a stance between Astoria and the rest of the room. He seemed shocked enough at Draco’s actions that he stayed there quietly.

“This was my choice,” he reiterated, “mine. I refused to be forced into this and as you have already signed a magically binding document there’s no negotiations left. And if that means walking out this house and never returning then so be it.”

Draco turned to escort Astoria through the door when his father grabbed his shoulder. “We aren’t finished, Draco. Surely you will reconsider this. As soon as you walk of this room you won’t ever be allowed back into this house.”

Draco detected a hint of desperation in his father’s voice that he hadn’t heard since the Dark Lord had been vanquished. He shrugged off his father and continued towards the door.

“May I at least see my son for five minutes before he is sent away?” he heard his mom pipe up from somewhere behind his father. “I’m sure Astoria’s mother would like to do the same. You two can’t be so heartless as to deny a mother’s final wish?”

No one tried to stop her as she made her way to where Draco and Astoria were standing and ushered them down the hall. “My dear Draco, you are far from the depressed child I have been seeing around the house as of late and much more like the fierce and fiery dragon I know you to be. While your fathers were too full of themselves to even see this as a possibility, I consorted with Mrs. Greengrass as your father was gathering you from your room and we both put together a quick contingency plan in the event you decided to deny your fathers.”

“My mother did as well?” Astoria whispered.

“Yes, dear one, she is waiting for you to Floo home and tell her what you had decided. While we will both be saddened to see our children go in such a matter, we made sure to have your fathers’ ‘not a single knut’ clause have a small loophole. Hurry now, Astoria, here’s our fireplace, I assume that you will want her to return here, Draco, as you are promising to take care of here?”

Draco nodded and Astoria left for her own home.

“Come, my dragon, I have too little time to talk to you before you leave.”

Draco followed his mother to her room where she had a small knapsack and a few other things laying on her bed. She opened it up and placed a piece of paper inside of it.

“Here is a copy of the will your fathers signed tonight. Make sure you read it over carefully as even they are not infallible and there may yet be a loophole left unclosed. This is very important.”

“But Mother, I-”

“Hush, I don’t have much time. There is more at stake here than simply money, or even just our families. I wish I could fit our entire library in here. I had planned to get some books while you and Ms. Greengrass were talking, but as your father chose the library to have the meeting in I couldn’t.”

“Why would I need our library-” Draco began but was silenced as his mom started putting more things into of the bag in front of her.

“Some clothes and food of course, and a handful of useful potions, including a small bottle of veritaserum that I hope you never need. Oh, and there’s 100 galleons in a smaller bag in here. It isn’t yours by birthright but there’s nothing in there keeping me from gifting you some of mine in case of an emergency. I’ve given you everything I can to help you succeed, and not just what you can see in this bag. Here, your wand needs to be in here, too, or it will be considered theft when the ancient magics that govern such treatises take place – the magic put into that treaty only allows for the clothes on your back.”

Draco quickly dropped his wand into the bag, watching as the book that was still glowing a bit toppled down with it as his mother tossed in a few quills and a bottle of ink.

“Hurry, we must meet Astoria at the Floo. She will now be part of your care as far as the ancient magics will be concerned from your speech earlier, so you must be at the Floo for the magic blocking most from entering here to allow her entrance.”

Draco’s head was swimming as his mother spoke. “What ‘ancient magics’ mother? I don’t understand…”

The fire turned green and out stepped a stunned witch clutching a bag nearly identical to his.

“You will have to figure all of that out on your own, my dear, smart Dragon, like I know you can. I can already tell by looking at you that you are already closer to your answers than you think you are. I’m so sorry, Draco. If I could tell you everything I would, but too much is at stake for this to fail.”

She ushered the two of them quickly towards the front door of the manor before touching the backpack Draco was holding as she spoke again.

“I, Narcissa Black Malfoy, do declare that this bag and everything in it is a gift by me to one Draco Malfoy before he leaves this, the Malfoy Manor, on today, May the second in the year of two thousand and three.”

Releasing the bag and giving Draco a bigger hug than he had been taught was appropriate for a family of their class, she whispered into his ear, “find a way to come home to me again, my dragon, before-”

But Draco never heard what she was about to say. A strong gust of wind blew open the manor door and forced him and Astoria through the arch, across the grounds, and past the gate marking the edge of the estate. He tried to take a step back towards the house, feeling no surprise when an invisible barrier barred his momentum.

“So, now what?” asked Astoria, staring out into the darkness surrounding them. “I can’t even see the manor anymore.”

‘It’s right there, why can I see it and not her?’ Draco thought. ‘I could just make out Mother crying in the doorway as she closed the door.’

“I’m not entirely sure,” Draco confided in her, “but I think I know a place we can start.”

Turning his back to Astoria, he pulled out his shrunk book and a pen, praying it still worked as he returned it to its normal size and began writing.

*****

Hermione awoke to Crookshanks standing on her pillow and batting at something.

“Come on, ‘shanks, it’s the middle of the night.”

“MRAW!” Crookshanks seemed to insist, now batting Hermione’s face in between swats at whatever was near the bed as well.

“Okay, fine, I’m. What’s so import-”

Her eyes immediately noticed the glowing book was emitting so much light she was surprised she had been able to sleep through it. Crookshanks now stood beside the book with one paw on the book and his pointed glare on her.

“Alright, let me grab it,” she told the cat, who jumped back onto the bed and curled up asleep as Hermione opened the book.

Are you awake? I really hope you are. I need to talk to you. – D.M.

I really hope shrinking this thing didn’t break it, I need help now. – D.M.

Whenever you get up, I need to talk to you.  – D.M.

‘What on earth?’ thought Hermione. Then she slowly started to remember Malfoy’s messages from before she fell asleep.

Sorry, I feel asleep. Are you still there? – H.G.

Hermione yawned and rested her head on her hand as she waited to see if he would reply. It didn’t take long before a hastily written scrawl appeared.

Thank Merlin! Astoria and I need to come talk to you in person. I know it is the middle of the night, but I don’t have many options right now. – D.M.

Hermione woke up much more reading that. Quickly throwing on some clothes she scribbled out the location of her apartment so that they could Apparate. It was only after she had done so that she realized how careless it was to send her location like that.

In only a matter of a few minutes there were two loud pops in Hermione’s living room. She entered the room to see an awkwardly standing Malfoy and a numb looking Astoria.

“Hello,” Hermione greeted groggily, “so what’s going on?”

“Do you want the long story or the short one?” Malfoy asked.

“Short?”

“Our fathers tried to force us to marry by putting stipulations in their wills that stated that we couldn’t inherit anything unless we were married each other,” Astoria explained, sounding like she was still in shock over the whole ordeal.

“Is that legal?” Hermione inquired.

Malfoy shrugged. “Knowing Father, probably, but only on a technicality or something.”

He pulled something out from the bag he was carrying and handed it to her.

“Hmm.” Hermione scanned the document before handing it back to Malfoy. “It looks binding, but I’ll have another go at it when I’m not tired, if that’s alright.”

Malfoy nodded before looking around her apartment.

“I didn’t expect your place to be so small. My bedroom – well, my old bedroom – would have fit most of this inside flat inside of it. Are you sure it’s okay for Astoria to stay here for a bit?”

Hermione was almost offended at the small comment, but she wrote it off as being concerned.

“It’s fine if she doesn’t mind sleeping on a couch until I can find her something better. Goodness Malfoy, here we are talking and she’s white as a sheet. Sit down, Astoria, while I go make some tea.”

Hermione chastised herself for her poor manners. She had been so caught up in what was happening she completely missed how Astoria was handling all of this. She could hear Malfoy awkwardly helping her into a chair and felt sorry for her. For not wanting to marry the poor girl, he certainly seemed to care for her quite a bit.

Hermione lost focus on the task at hand and nearly burnt herself taking the pot of hot water from her stove. She quickly finished what she was doing and carefully carried three cups back to where Astoria was now sitting. Passing both Malfoy and Astoria a cup she blew softly on hers while Malfoy tried to recall everything that had happened that night since she left him at Hogwarts.

“How awful.” Hermione exclaimed, thankful that she had gotten as much sleep as she could yesterday or she wouldn’t have been able to follow all of that. “Still, it sounds like your mom was trying to warn you about something. You have no idea what it was?”

“Not a clue,” Malfoy informed her, “but I’m more worried about right now Astoria than anything. I’m fully responsible for what happens to Astoria from here on out – it’s all my fault. I took her from her family, I made her a knutless pauper, it’s all because of me.”

He ran his fingers through his hair and looked at Astoria like he was expecting her to respond, but she just sat their sipping her tea with her eyes looking at her lap like she had since being handed the cup.

“It’s not all your fault, Malfoy. Her parents are mostly to blame for putting her into this position, you were merely a catalyst. No family should put their child into the situation you two are in. And Astoria sounds much more capable than the two of you are giving her credit.” Hermione shifted her focus to talk to her directly before continuing. “Didn’t you figure out that before Malfoy that your fathers had probably already signed the agreement?”

 “I guess,” came a quiet reply.

“And I’m sure Professor McGonagall and Professor Slughorn would be appalled at the idea that someone that had graduated from Hogwarts under their care saw themselves as unskilled. That mindset surely couldn’t have come from them.”

Astoria shrugged her shoulders. Hermione quickly came to the conclusion that the poor girl had been through way more than she should have tonight and needed sleep.

“You need to go lie down.” Hermione told her. “Malfoy, help me move her to my bed. She can sleep on the couch tomorrow but right now she needs it more than I do.”

It didn’t take them long to move the witch to the bed. Hermione briefly reflected on the fact that Malfoy of all people was now standing in her bedroom and how absurd that would sound if anyone found out. She thought about Ginny and then Ron before quickly deciding to abandon that line of thought for anything else she could find as they moved back to the living room.

“So where were you planning on sleeping tonight then? You only ever asked about Astoria,” Hermione pointed out.

Malfoy shrugged. “I had one idea, but it might be too late in the night to go there.”

“Oh? I thought you might not have thought that far ahead.” Hermione asked, regretting instantly how it sounded coming out of her mouth.

“No, I have,” Malfoy snapped, “I didn’t run into this blindly. I was planning on asking McGonagall if I could stay there.”

“Then why didn’t you just take you and Astoria there?”

“You said you wanted to make a truce – to help support each other since we couldn’t do it alone.”

“Yeah, and I was thinking more along the lines of emotional support – not showing up at my flat in the middle of the night with someone in tow.”

“Fine, then I’ll wake up Astoria and drag her on to Hogwarts.”

Malfoy got up to move to the bedroom, but Hermione jumped up to stop him.

“Look, I’m sorry for how I sounded. If this is what you need from me to support you right now, then you can leave her here, but I would like to know your reasoning for not going straight to Hogwarts.”

Malfoy sat back down, though clearly still annoyed. “It sounds stupid…” he began.

Hermione sat there quietly, not really trusting her tone to keep things civil if she opened her mouth again, and waited for him to continue.

“I just thought – at first it was more me making sure she had a place. At that point, yes, I hadn’t given a thought to me. If Professor McGonagall hadn’t mentioned it to me tonight I probably would never have thought I could go there. By then I was already working under the idea that she could stay here and-” he paused a moment and sighed before gazing towards the bedroom. “Honestly, I didn’t think she’d want to be around me. I didn’t want to be a constant reminder to what she lost.”

Hermione thought that was a fair assessment. “It is pretty late. I would suggest sending Professor McGonagall an owl in the morning to warn her you are coming. As for tonight,” she got up and walked to her purse lying on the kitchen counter, “here. Take this and go spend the night at The Three Broomsticks. Madame Rosmerta shouldn’t get too upset over the late hour, especially on a Friday.”

Malfoy stared at her a moment. He seemed to be calming down a bit now and reached for the coins she was offering.

“Are you sure you are okay with her staying here?” he managed to get out after a short pause.

“It’s fine, Malfoy. Really. Go take care of yourself and I’ll make sure she’s okay. You need sleep. You know how to get in touch with me if you need to.”

Malfoy nodded before turning on the spot and disappearing from Hermione’s sight. She moved over to the couch and flung herself down. Crookshanks appeared from wherever he had been hiding. He looked quite confused at what had been going on.

“You and me both, Crookshanks,” she told him, nuzzling into his fur as he started to purr. It took her a bit to fall asleep this time, though. Her mind wouldn’t stop replaying the events of the day and over-analyzing ever decision she had made.

'Why on earth am I suddenly trusting Malfoy? I decided he would be a good accountability partner to help my mental state and he uses it to get me a house guest that I really don’t need. Oh Merlin, I even let him into my house.'

Hermione could hear some quiet sobbing coming from the direction of her bedroom and immediately felt bad for thinking ill of having Astoria there. She was doing a bit better having someone else to focus and care for, so maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing? She decided to give Astoria some time alone to come to her instead of approaching her, as that’s what she would want someone to do for her.

Crookshanks moved up to lie on Hermione’s chest and gave her something new to focus on. It helped her rest for a while, but between everything that was happening and trying to sleep in a new place, Hermione gave up when the sun came up and decided to try and make herself some food.

A few minutes later a sleepy, morose Astoria walked out of the bedroom.

“I smelled something cooking and was wondering if I might be able to get some food?” she sheepishly asked.

‘She looks like a wreck,’ thought Hermione.

“Sure. Do you like toast points and fried eggs?” Hermione offered aloud. “I also have a pot of coffee brewing.”

“I’ve never had coffee before, but the toast and eggs sound good.”

Hermione cast a quick spell to increase how much she had made and pulled another plate from the cabinet. Astoria sat down at the kitchen table as she set down the plates.

“Your home is so small,” Astoria almost whispered to Hermione, “I’ve never been in one that had the dining, cooking, and living spaces all in one room.”

“Well, as it’s normally just me here I don’t need that much room.”

Astoria didn’t answer. She still seemed a bit out of sorts and was more pushing the food around on her plate than eating it.

“So when do you plan on kicking me out?” she asked after a while. “Draco said he asked you about spending last night, but never mentioned anything past there.”

She exuded the air of a kicked puppy, and in that moment, Hermione knew she was going to have a roommate for a while.

*****

“Well Draco, I must say when I told you that you would always be welcome back at Hogwarts I didn’t expect to see you here so soon. I scarce received your owl fifteen minutes ago and here you are.”

Professor McGonagall leaned back into her chair waiting for Draco to continue, as did all of the portraits of previous headmasters along the wall. Phineas Nigel Black and Severus Snape looked especially keen to hear his response, which helped Draco steel himself to reply.

“Something happened at home last night. I would rather not get into any details, but for at least the time being I’m unable to return there.”

“Was it at all do to anything that happened at the memorial dinner? Because if it did-”

“No Professor,” he insisted, remembering a moment too late how dangerous it was to interrupt the witch in front of him, but this time she didn’t seem to mind all that much. “No, it’s something between my family and the Greengrasses, but it’s too complicated to try and explain quickly.”

Professor McGonagall shifted in her seat and leaned forward onto her desk to write a note. “Very well then, if you would please deliver this letter to Professor Slughorn down in the dungeons I shall make the necessary arrangements for you to stay here.”

Draco could scarcely believe his luck, though he had a feeling Professor McGonagall would want more details later. He stopped in the middle of the hallway when he realized he had mentioned that the Greengrasses had been involved. ‘That could have been a mistake,’ he thought to himself.

Shaking his head a little, Draco continued on his way to the dungeons. Being back in the familiar halls he had hoped to find a feeling of home, and while the undertones of that still existed, a weighted feeling in his chest grew heavier the longer he lingered in the castle. He had noticed it a little the previous night, but this was much worse. Intrusive memories of things he had done or seen in the castle seemed to battle his consciousness for focus on what was really in front of him. He leaned against the wall and breathed slowly until he could feel most of the sensation leave, and noticed he had made it all the way to the Potion’s classrooms. Professor Slughorn was in the middle of a demonstration when he arrived.

“Oh Mister Malfoy, what a pleasure to see you,” he greeted, causing every student in the classroom to turn and glare at him.

“We are almost done here, aren’t we students, and we can talk as soon as I set these young minds off to brew their draught of peace potions.”

Draco stood silently in the door, wishing he could shrink down and hide from sight. None of the students in the class seemed to care for him one bit and he could barely wait the last 15 minutes of instruction Professor Slughorn presented before coming into the hallway to talk to him.

“Sorry about that – advanced potions had to be rescheduled to the weekend because of the memorial or I would have been with you much sooner. Now then my dear boy, what brings you down to my dungeons today, hmm?”

Draco handed him the paper he had in his hand.

“Ah, but of course. I should have known that must have been why you returned. It hasn’t quite been five years since you left, but aside from barely making the age requirements I can’t think of a better candidate for the job. You were exceptionally good in my N.E.W.T. level courses your final year, even if your sixth year was a bit lacking. Well, if you’ve squared it all away with the Headmistress, then I have nothing left to say other than thank you my boy. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to find someone willing to be both Potion’s master as well as head of Slytherin house, and you’ve come even before Minerva could even put in an ad for a new one. Bless you my boy. I plan to enjoy my second – and final – round of retirement before anything else can happen to me.”

“Wait, what?” Draco tried to interject, but Professor Slughorn had already run back into the classroom at the sound of a cauldron explosion.

Chapter Text

Hermione knew Astoria needed some time to process everything that had happened the night before. Forcing her to talk about it was too tempting, and Hermione had to hold her own world in place first and foremost. It was Saturday, but she figured heading into work anyways would be the best way to give Astoria the space she needed. She had, after all, taken time off for the past two days, and so after explaining to her house guest how to use the Muggle TV set and stovetop Hermione headed into the Department of Mysteries – making sure to grab her journal along with her wand today.

As expected, the Ministry was mostly empty. Very few witches and wizards were scheduled to work the weekends, and it was rare someone came in on their days off like she was, but there was nothing that necessarily barred it from happening.

Hermione took the lift down to where she worked without seeing another soul along the way and headed straight for the one locked room in the department. After going through the lengthy process of verifying who she was the door aligned and opened just wide enough for her to slip in.

Immediately she felt like something was off. The air smelled much different than it had the last time she was in here. Over 3 years of coming into this room and it always smelled the same – fresh cut grass, new parchment, and – the hardest for her to have to deal with day in and day out – the smell of Ron’s hair. Today, though, it didn’t remind her of Ron in the slightest. Instead, it smelled like the fire burning under a pewter cauldron before starting a new potion. She had heard of wands changing allegiances quickly, but this rapid of a change in how someone is affected by the Amorentia in the fountain in front of her was undocumented. This was something that she would need to observe more closely. She moved over to the desk along the far side of the wall and started to record her feelings and thoughts at that moment, as well as the sudden change in her perception of the potion. She had just finished recording her findings when she felt something warm pulsing in her bag.

She quickly pulled out her journal and was surprised to find it working.

“No communication charms should work down this far; especially in this room” she quietly reminded herself.

Still, there it was, growing hotter with every wave of heat. She knew she shouldn’t be interacting with anyone outside of her department, but she was too curious about how the magic was still functioning. She debated not leaving this discovery in her notes.

The headmistress tricked me into becoming the Potion’s Professor and Head of Slytherin house after Slughorn leaves this term. I found this out after having an anxiety attack just walking through the damn castle. I’m not sure I can do this, but I don’t know if I have any other option. Hopefully you and Astoria are doing better than I am. – D.M.

Hermione dropped the book onto the desk. She hadn’t yet thought that Malfoy could have been behind the fact she didn’t smell Ron when she entered the room. Her head was spinning as she tried to remind herself that just because Malfoy was good with potions did not necessarily mean that he was tied to the new change in her reaction to the potion. Especially not with Amorentia’s association mostly with the Greek eros kind of love. She could almost see the starts of a more philia kind, especially if one translated it as a ‘love between two people that considered themselves equals’, but that was rarely how the potion tended to present itself.

‘If you look at it that way, though,’ she thought to herself, ‘I guess I do hold him more as an equal now than I do Ron, but that’s not a high bar to reach. I never thought I’d actually dislike someone more than Malfoy.’

Hermione noticed a faint purple smoke twist around her hands as she thought through her current situation. It was reminiscent of the flames from the previous evening, but much less intense.

“What does it mean,” she mumbled to herself. Drawing a blank, she reread Malfoy’s message before replying.

I’m currently at work. I thought Astoria could use some time on her own to figure things out. This journal shouldn’t be working down here. And you still have time to adjust being at Hogwarts. You can always leave the grounds when you need to have a break. Professor McGonagall wouldn’t have given you the job if she wasn’t sure you could do it. I’ll be here if you need me, but I know you have it in you to get through this. It took me a while to be able to work down here without flashbacks to fifth year. – H.G.

Hermione sighed. She knew she would have to document all of this. And it wasn’t like she was discussing her work with Malfoy, though she had a sneaky suspicion she would need to in the future.

She spent the next hour documenting everything that had happened before deciding it was probably a good idea to just go home. Hermione reminded herself that this was all too much to happen in just a few days, and she really didn’t need to overdo it. Today had played out far from how she had expected work to go when she decided to come in.

She took the lift up to a place she could Apparate from and arrived home to see Crookshanks curled up in Astoria’s lap. Both of them were watching cartoons on TV and barely moved when Hermione popped in.

“Hello,” Astoria greeted, soft enough that Hermione could barely hear it.

“Hi. I see Crookshanks has taken to you.”

Astoria smiled faintly. “He reminds me of the cat I had growing up. He’s half Kneazle, isn’t he?”

“Yes, though I didn’t know that when I bought him,” Hermione admitted.

“Mine was named Fluffles. She was a sickly little kitten when we found her,” explained Astoria, “Daphne wanted us to get this huge toad that scared me, but I knew this cat had it in her to get better. She was so angry when Mother and Father actually sided with me. In hindsight, I think they expected Fluffles to die and then go back to get the toad for Daphne. They seemed pretty upset with me for a while when he recovered. I spent weeks feeding that kitten with a spoon until he could manage to eat on his own. I don’t think he ever forgot it. I wasn’t allowed to bring him to school and he either ran away or Father finally found a way to get rid of him.”

Astoria grew quiet again, but Hermione was glad to see she found something she wanted to talk about.

“Is that something you enjoy? Nursing things back to health?” Hermione asked, hoping that talking would help as opposed to hinder her mood.

“Yes, it really is. Professor Flitwick even said once I was a natural. I figured it would be a great skill to have as a mother, but I guess that isn’t going to happen anymore.” Astoria’s face fell as she spoke.

Hermione took a long, slow breath, trying to think of what she would want someone to say to her when she felt like Astoria is.

“You know,” she started calmly, “there is a place you could put that skill to work even without being a mother.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, you could train to be a Healer.”

“Oh, no, I’m nowhere near good as good as that.” Astoria insisted with a faint blush.

“If Professor Flitwick told you that you were a natural, then I bet you would be perfect for it.”

“I don’t know…”

“You don’t have to decide anything right now,” Hermione reminded her, “I just wanted you to know you have other options out there. You have a place here until you find something else, and I will help support you even after you leave. Because I wish that I had that safety net when I was looking for my job in the Department of Mysteries.”

Astoria was smiling a little but had tears in her eyes. She decided not to push it anymore that day.

“Hey, this is a good cartoon,” Hermione commented as a new show came on. “It’s about young girl who loses her dad and hires a talking blue hamster bounty hunter. It’s a really good sci-fi.”

“Okay, a few questions,” Astoria began, giving Hermione a confused look, “first of all, what is sci-fi?”

*****

“Professor,” Draco started, a little shakier than he would have liked. He looked down at his shoes as he walked, barely able to be heard. “Are you sure I can do this?”

“Draco Malfoy, if I did not think you could handle this position I would not have put you in it,” asserted Professor McGonagall. “Now, as you haven’t much to move into your room, I am authorizing an advance of your pay for the next month to buy some things to make this area your own, as well as any potion ingredients you would like for your personal store. I will have some magazines sent to your room for you to peruse if you do not wish to get them in person.”

“Next month’s pay? I thought I wasn’t going to start until the fall?”

“No, Mr. Malfoy. You will start Monday getting to know your students and shadowing Professor Slughorn. You will sit at the head table for meals and have unrestricted access to the library to assist your work. You may brew whatever potions you may need to prepare for fall. Come end of term you will begin to receive full pay as head professor.

“Here is your room for now,” Professor McGonagall explained. “Once term ends and Professor Slughorn leaves, you will be able to take over his room between the Slytherin House entrance and the Potions classrooms, if you wish. As Head of House it will be your job to be available to your students and help keep them under control, which is why most Slytherin Heads have traditionally chosen that room.”

Draco opened the door to find a sparsely furnished room about a third of the one he had at home.

‘Well, what was my home,’ he thought sadly.

Professor McGonagall placed a hand on his shoulder. “I look forward to teaching alongside you for many years to come. We professors teach as a team here at Hogwarts and have each other’s backs. Do not hesitate to come to us if you need it.”

Draco nodded, and moved to enter his room as Professor McGonagall took her leave. She was part way down the hallway before she turned back.

“Oh, and Professor Malfoy-”

Draco looked down the hall, momentarily taken aback at his new title.

“Yes, Professor?”

“Welcome home,” she stated with a kind, warm smile. Draco nodded in acknowledgement as he entered his room.

Dropping his mother’s bag onto his new bed, he pulled out Granger’s book and placed it on the desk before spreading out his few belongings. It didn’t take him very long and soon he was stretching out on his bed and staring at the ceiling.

‘Salazar’s Serpents, this is really happening,’ he thought to himself. ‘I’ve been cast out of the Malfoy family, ruined someone else’s life, and my closest thing to a friend is one of my worst rivals.’

Draco could feel himself slipping into a dark place again and didn’t know how to stop it. While he had been expecting the night to be as bad as it normally is, here he felt more isolated than ever.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught a faint glow. Sitting up he noticed it was the book Granger had enchanted. Moving over towards his desk he sat down and opened the book in front of him.

Managed to get Astoria to talk a bit today. I think she misses her family, but from the sounds of it you may have rescued her from a pretty shitty one. She mentioned something about Professor Flitwick praising her healing skills and it seems to be an interest of hers. I’m slowly trying to get her to consider a job as a Healer, but she still doesn’t feel confident enough in her abilities.

Crookshanks seems to have taken to her. I know Astoria may need him more than I do right now, but I’m not looking forward to the prospect of not having him by my side tonight. He’s normally the only way I can get any sleep. – H.G.

‘I saved her?’ Malfoy asked himself, somewhat puzzled. ‘And Granger is struggling more tonight as well?’

Draco picked up a quill that rested on the desk and started working on a reply.

Maybe I should get a cat, then. Tonight is proving to be especially terrible for me as well. McGonagall set me up in a small room off on its own until Slughorn leaves. I still have to start work on Monday though. I have some funds to help get me started in my new job, and some magazines I can order through instead of trying to go to Diagon Alley again. I also have access to the whole library now, so maybe I can find something there about what Mother was trying to warn me about.

That was an idea. Madame Pince couldn’t kick him out for the hour being late anymore. Draco grabbed a candle, piece of parchment someone had left in the desk before him, and Granger’s book before heading down to the library.

*****

The sun was barely out on Monday morning when she heard a tapping on her bedroom window. Hermione groaned, cursing her choice to help Malfoy for half the night brainstorming through the journal. He hadn’t discovered any leads in any of the legal books that could help, and there were no books about the “ancient magics” his mother had talked about.

The tapping continued, and Hermione threw off her covers, somewhat shocked that they went as far as they did before reminding herself that Crookshanks was in the other room.

“I’m coming!” she yelled through the glass, jerking it up too hard and slamming her hand into her face.

“Ow! Alright, alright, just give me the letter already,” she demanded before seeing whose owl was in front of her. It was her boss’ owl, Magnus, and it was much too early to deal with him.

Granger, we need to discuss some of your notes from Saturday, as well as some new developments in the department as well. You need to get down here as soon as you can. – Tobias Fawley

Hermione sighed – normally she was able to sleep in a bit and get to the office around nine without any difficulty, but it looked like she wasn’t going to get that luxury today. She flipped over the note, grabbed a quill out of her nightstand, and jotted down a reply telling him she would be in momentarily.

After quickly throwing on her work robes and pulling her hair back she moved to the kitchen to find something quick she could grab to eat. Crookshanks was curled up under Astoria’s arm and barely lifted her head when Hermione walked by.

“Traitor,” she accused him, albeit half-heartedly and with a smile. Knowing she could get some tea at work, she quickly made some toast before Apparating to the office.             

“There you are!” hollered the absolute last voice Hermione wanted to hear at the moment. She turned around to see Ron running across the main floor of the Ministry straight towards her. She expected this was going to be another one of his half-assed apologizes and braced herself to respond.

“Why the hell was Malfoy at your apartment Friday night? And who did he leave there with you? They need to leave. Now.”

Of all the things she expected Ron to say, that was not it.

“Excuse me, what?” was the most she was able to get out.

“You heard me, I want to know why Ferret Face was at your apartment and whoever he left there gone,” he reiterated, only a couple of feet from her face now. “If she’s a friend of Malfoy’s, then she can’t be up to anything good.”

Hermione was appalled – and a more than a little embarrassed. “Why on earth – have you been watching my home? How dare you-”

“How dare I? How dare I what – watch my girl to make sure she’s safe? Have her best interests in mind?”

“How dare you use your power at the DMLE to stalk me.” Hermione accused, watching as people started to back away from the two of them. “How dare you try to call me your girl after what happened at Hogwarts, or were you too drunk to remember any of it?”

“Well, I-” Ron started, but was quickly interrupted.

“And what gives you the right to tell me who I can and cannot have stay at my home. I will have you that that poor woman I have in my apartment was unjustly banished from her family and WILL NOT BE REMOVED FROM MY HOME!”

“Enough!” yelled a voice that quickly parted the growing crowed until he was right on top of them. Hermione saw Ron’s boss, Harold Williams, flanked closely by her boss, Tobias.

“Weasley, in my office, now. I cannot believe one of my Aurors would stoop to this kind of behavior, but I will be conducting a formal investigation into this. Harassing someone – especially an Unspeakable – will not be tolerated.”

“But sir-”

“Now, Weasley!”

Ron scowled, but followed his superior to the lift. It was only then Hermione saw the look on Tobias’ face.

“Hermione-” he pointed towards like he had seen a ghost, “we need to get your downstairs.”

She looked down to see that there was a purple smoke tendril coming from her bag and twisting up her arm again. Most of the people in the atrium didn’t appear to see it, but Tobias and Hermione certainly did. She looked back at her supervisor and nodded before following him into a different lift than Ron and Harold had taken.

“Sir-”

“Shh. Not here,” he whispered in his ear. They remained silent the entire ride down to the Department of Mysteries, and he would not even let her talk until after they were inside the Love room.

“Alright, Ms. Granger, do you have any idea what this purple smoke is that surrounded you almost like snakes? I saw you Apparate in and was unable to get to you before your ex did. You were fine before you started yelling with him. We’ve been noticing fluctuations coming out of the fountain of the same color since Mason arrived here this morning. Nothing out-of-the-ordinary was happening here before you came in on Saturday and your notes were particularly odd this time. We need to know everything that happened.”

Hermione sighed. It was way too early for all of this, especially after having to deal with Ron, but this was her job after all. She caught her boss and coworker up on what had happened with Malfoy after the dinner Friday night, as well as any other time she could recall it happening to either of them, as well as the fact that Astoria seemed to be able to see it as well.

“Has any of this happened before?” Hermione asked as she watched another plume come from the center of the fountain, not sure if she wanted to know the answer to her question.

Tobias reached up and scratched the back of his neck. “Well, you see, we aren’t entirely sure about that.”

Hermione blinked, not expecting such a vague answer, and waited for him to continue.

Accio books 1998, 1981, 1900,” he called, as three large tomes from the archives in the back of the room came barreling towards him and landing on the desk beside him.

“Here is where things get complicated, Granger. In these three books are the only references to purple fog coming from this fount. All but one of them were only noticed by the spells put in place to monitor this room while no one else is in it,” he gestured, opening two of them and watching as they magically opened to where he wanted them to, “sometime in the night between May 1st- May 2nd in 1998, and again sometime at night between October 31st and November 1st 1981.”

“Those – those are the dates Harry – I mean, Mr. Potter – defeated Voldemorte, once as an infant and again as a teenager,” Hermione concluded. “What would that have to do with this room?”

“It’s quite simple if you remember that there are multiple forms of love in the world, and this fountain can be easily effected by large magical bursts of love, especially ones her in Great Britain.”

Storge.” Hermione muttered.

“Familial Love?” asked Mason. “as in, love between family members?” 

“More accurately a mother’s love,” Tobias explained, “something so simple that it would scarce even affect anything in this room – but when done in circumstances that trigger the ancient magical ways. Lily Potter and Narcissa Malfoy both risked their lives to save your young friend, bathing both him and, in the case of the 1998 occurrence, all who fought against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

“Then what happened differently back in 1900?” Hermione asked. “And what are ‘ancient magics’?”

“The most accurate answer is that we don’t exactly know,” Tobias told them. Closing the two books currently out on the desk, he opened the last book and manually turned the pages. “I only know about what happened in 1900 from rumors that my predecessor told me, as probably his predecessors before him. This tome is special, being the only one that is mostly immune to magic. I can summon it, like any other mundane object, but the magic we have on the other books to assist us don’t worked on this one. Ah, here we are. July 19th, 1900.”

Hermione and Mason leaned in from either side around Tobias to hear better and follow along as he read the entries.

July 19th – we have noticed an odd, purple flume erupt from deep inside the well of Amorentia. Abbott does not believe it to have affected the potion in any way, but more tests will likely be needed before we confirm that.

July 22th – purple flumes still erupt, though entwined with green tendrils, potion seems to slowly be changing to a draught of the living dead – Black still has not recovered. We are barring all entry inside for now and have removed this book to another section of the department to safely be able to record phenomenon as able.

July 29th – purple/green shadow has begun seeping to other rooms on this floor. Has not spread to other areas of the Ministry, but we are not aware at this time if it will be able to break through the confinement magic in place. Tests to see if this is related to the time-travel experiments halted last year are inconclusive.

August 1st – While this incident appears unrelated to the earlier time incidents, green tendrils that have made it into the Time and Thought rooms and have started causing pockets of time independent of normal flow as well as almost catatonic states from those found in the Thought room. It, too, has now been barred.

August 5th – Reports from outside the department indicate that either this phenomenon is spreading as magic itself is becoming unstable. Some members of the department have fled.”

“Then what happened?” questioned Mason eagerly “and why have I never heard about this?”

“That’s the problem,” admitted Tobias slowly, “there is no record of any of this happening outside of the books here in this department. All of them read almost identical from July 29th through August 5th when all records cease.”

“When do they start back?” asked Hermione, flipping forward a few pages.

“October 5th of that year I think,” Tobias informed her as she flipped forward to that point in the book.

“Here we go,” she announced when she found it, “October fifth, Nothing to report. All is well. Black here. And then it just looks like nothing happened.”

“Do they mean ‘back’ instead of ‘black’?” Mason queried, “Black makes no sense.”

“Unless it had to do with the Black from the July 22nd entry,” pointed out Hermione.

“Both of those viewpoints have been argued amongst the Unspeakables at various times when this instance used to come up, but it hasn’t been spoken of since I was an intern here. There is no evidence outside of the reports in this department that would ever indicate an odd phenomenon occurring. Most have dismissed it as a failed experiment going so poorly it gave all of the Unspeakables a false view of the world around them for a time and this was all simply imagined.”

“And you?” inquired Hermione, “what do you think?”

“Until I walked into work this morning I thought it was all an elaborate ruse thought up by bored interns, as they used to be the ones that recorded everything until we put an end to having them down here. But now-” he paused a moment before continuing, “I can only hope that this document is flawed and not an accurate description of history. Because if it is, and history does try to repeat itself, we have no idea what stopped it last time. I need both of you to gather the rest of the Unspeakables into the entry room with their copies of 1900 so we can all be on the same page moving forward.”

He moved forward to the door and stepped into the hallway.

“But, sir,” Mason called out, causing his supervisor to turn back and silently glare at him.

“What is it, Mr. Mason?”

“Aren’t you overreacting a bit? We don’t know for sure this is indeed what is happening. There has been no green smoke, just the pink, and we’ve seen that before without any problem arising. Why alert the rest of the department? And how do we know that if something did happen it didn’t just correct itself with time?”

“Because if history does try to repeat itself, and if it wasn’t able to correct itself last time, we won’t get a chance to figure this all out by the time we know for sure.”

*****

Draco woke up with his head on something hard. Opening his eyes, he realized he had passed out in the library. He saw few Ravenclaws moving around the stacks and was shocked to see the time on the wall. Breakfast would soon be over, so he started to gather up the books he hadn’t been able to get through before falling asleep. A few moments later, he realized something very startling.

Granger’s journal was nowhere to be seen.

Chapter Text

Draco was torn. He had to get Granger’s journal back, but he also promised the headmistress he would start work today, and he desperately needed to eat. With everything that had been going on the past few days he had been neglecting basic daily needs like food. Saturday, he had been so nervous that he had barely eaten a bite for breakfast at the Three Broomsticks, and he had been studying in the hall so long the day before that he had to run down to the kitchen for something small before heading to bed. Hearing the protest coming from his stomach, he cursed his luck and ran to the Great Hall in a manner he knew was more than likely in poor taste for a teacher.

He caught himself moving towards the Slytherin table before he realized where he was going. Swallowing hard, he made it up to the head table for the first time. There were few seats there that were still occupied by the time he arrived, as it would seem that most of the teachers had already left to set up their classrooms for the day’s lessons.

Professor Babbling, the Ancient Runes Professor, was still there, as well as Hagrid and Professor Flitwick. The latter called him over to sit and, despite really not wanting to talk to anyone at the moment, Draco slid into the seat beside the diminutive teacher.

“Ah, yes, Draco my boy. Professor McGonagall told us you would be joining us. How has it been being back here? I know it was rather awkward my first few days and more than once I found myself sitting at the Ravenclaw table instead of walking all the way up here.”

Draco tried to smile but couldn’t. “It has definitely been different,” he managed to get out, not really wanting to comment passed that.

“Well, if there is anything I can do for you, just let me know. I can’t wait to see what nuances you bring to the study of potion in the upcoming years,” Professor Flitwick made to get up once he finished speaking, but Draco had a brief thought pass through his head – in between the constant thoughts about where Granger’s notebook could have ended up – and placed a hand on Professor Flitwick’s shoulder before he could hop down from his chair to leave.

“Professor,” Draco started timidly, not overly sure how to word his request, “there is one thing I was wondering if I could trouble you with.”

“There is little need to call me ‘professor’ anymore, my good lad,” he insisted, “though I am honored you would still see me as such. How can I be of service to you?”

“Do you recall a Slytherin by the name of Astoria Greengrass?” Draco asked. “She graduated a few years ago.”

“Astoria…quite girl, rather gifted with healing arts if I do say so myself. I’m afraid I don’t recall much past that though, aside from her being quite sad most of the time.”

“I was wondering, er, if there was any chance you might write her? Some…things…have come up in her life of late and she could use some encouragement.”

The short man looked up at Draco with an odd twinkle in his eye. “I can tell there is much more to this than you are telling me, Draco, but I must ask. Why me, and not her old head of house, Horace?”

“I, well, she could really use a reminder of how good she is with healing. I think she would make a wonderful healer and, not to go into too much detail but she is currently in a position where that would do her wonders.”

“I see.” Professor Flitwick closed his eyes a moment before looking up and continuing. “I can make a few assumptions from what you have told me and surmise the girl in not in the best of situations, among other things. Very well, I shall send her an owl today. I hope the owl will know where to go, as I can guess it won’t be the Greengrass house.”

Draco slipped into a look of shock as Professor Flitwick’s eyes twinkled again. “No need to tell me anymore my boy, the look on your face tells me I have pushed far enough. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a lecture to finish preparing for, and I believe you still need to eat before assisting Horace in the dungeons.”

Professor Flitwick bowed his head and Draco returned the gesture before pouring himself some pumpkin juice and finding something on the table he could eat quickly. His mind was still so preoccupied trying to think of what could have happened to Granger’s journal last night that he nearly was late running to the Potions classroom.

Monday morning was double Potions for first year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs this year. Unlike some of the older ones, these students showed only a slight fear or nothing at all different towards him. Draco was surprised at how quickly the period flew by, and soon they were breaking for lunch.

Deciding this might be a decent time to check the library for Granger’s journal, he ran up to the Great Hall long enough to eat a sandwich and wash it down with more pumpkin juice. He still managed to have a bit of time before he would have to return to the dungeons, so he began to make his way back towards the library.

It was then he vaguely registered one of the Ravenclaws he had seen in the library earlier walking past him with an oddly glowing bag. She was in a group of girls laughing and joking about cats. Draco had made it all the way to the end of the hall before he remembered – Granger’s journal had once been a book about famous cats.

Draco reeled around on his heel to find the girl, but by then she was gone; and with her Granger’s journal. Cursing his luck for the second time that day, he hurried off to the dungeons to try and not think about how he lost it again.

It proved to be easy, as the fifth year Gryffindor and Slytherin’s Potion’s class were not as forgiving as the first years had been.

*****

Something odd is happening down here. I know I’m not supposed to talk to my work with anyone outside of our department, but even my boss wants me to involve you. – H.G.

 

Hey – I know you are busy with your first day back, but we could really use your help when you can. I’m sure Slughorn and McGonagall would understand afterwards. – H.G.

 

I’m really starting to worry now. Are you okay, Malfoy? You’ve never taken this long to respond before. I know this is going to get through because I stepped out of the Ministry to make sure. I’m sorry if I was bit bossy earlier. I know your work is important, but I really need to talk to you. If I don’t hear back from you in five minutes, I’m sending an owl. – H.G.

Hermione stayed outside a bit longer than five minutes, though as she had been sending messages all day without any response she truly doubted another few minutes would change matters much. Tobias had already alerted the rest of the Unspeakables as to what was going on and was met with mixed reactions. Some thought it was a joke, some were downright terrified, though most fell somewhere in between. Shortly after the meeting Tobias had pulled her aside to tell her that, while on paper Unspeakables never spoke to those outside their department, there were occasions where they had to. As one of the head Unspeakables it was in his power to deem this was one of those times, and even offered Hermione the use of Magnus so she wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of checking out a Ministry owl to use.

Malfoy –

Something has come up at work. Meet me at my place when you can and I will explain. I’ve been trying to reach you all day via the usual means, but I haven’t heard back. Hopefully I didn’t make you upset.

H.G.

Hermione watched the owl soar north towards Scotland before she headed home. She could scarce believe how quickly the day had passed, or how exhausted she felt. She turned in place and a moment later she was home.

The first thing she saw was Astoria sitting in tears holding a note. Fearing the worst, Hermione moved to comfort her when she noticed a smile behind the piece of parchment.

“What do you have there, Astoria?” Hermione asked calmly.

“It’s a note. From Professor Flitwick. He wrote to tell me that he would personally vouch for my skills with the head Healer at St. Mungo’s if I chose to apply there. He also said that he would always be there to help any student of Hogwarts in their time of need. I think Draco must have talked to him, but I know Professor Flitwick wouldn’t have sent me this unless he meant it. Do you – do you think you could take me down to St. Mungo’s tomorrow and help me apply there?”

‘Godric’s Golden Gauntlet this is a terrible time, witch!’ Hermione thought to herself.

“I’ll try to go with you in the morning. Though things have gotten terribly busy at work, so I won’t be able to stay too long.”

Astoria’s face lit up for the first time since coming to the apartment, and Hermione just knew she would be late for work in the morning.

*****

Afternoon potions had proven to be a nightmare. While Draco was able to see firsthand how the school’s unification goals were progressing, he wished it he didn’t have to see it shown through their joint disdain for having him around. He could catch whispers here and there when trying to help with Slughorn’s more hands-on approach to teaching; most of the time he swore he could heard the students calling him a traitor or worse. Twice he had to step out of the room to calm himself down to the point he could continue with the lesson.

What made matters worse was that Draco knew without Granger’s journal there would be no one he could confide in that night before trying to sleep. He hadn’t had that luxury for very long, so he was surprised at how hard the realization hit him.

He arrived at the Great Hall after tidying up the main potion’s classroom for Slughorn and immediately looked for the group of Ravenclaws he had seen that morning in the library. Recognizing no one at the table bathed in blue left him no choice but to ask Madame Pince if anyone had turned in the book. Sighing, he resigned himself to his fate and, after forcing down most of a plate of food, made his way back to the library. It didn’t take him long to find the librarian.

“Madame Pince,” Draco began a bit sheepishly, “have you seen a book about famous cats around here somewhere? I brought it from home and appear to have lost it.”

Pince stared at him for a few seconds before responding. “You brought a book, about cats, when you left your home in such a hurry as the headmistresses has alluded to the rest of the staff about?”

“Yes…,”

Another pause with more staring. “While I would normally find that hard to believe I did have someone try to return a cat book earlier today that I’m certain didn’t originate in this library. It had a different scent – more faded old book smell than crackly, musty old tomes – much less abuse.”

Draco began to get excited. “Yes! and where is it now?”

“I haven’t the foggiest,” she explained, “I informed her it wasn’t from my library and sent her on her way.”

Draco’s heart sank. He was starting to worry that he may not ever find Granger’s journal again. Apparently, the look on his face was enough to cause the usually stoic librarian to soften a bit.

“I’ll write a note to be sent to the Ravenclaw Common Room asking if anyone has seen your book. In the meantime, you can peruse the stacks there by the doors. I assure you we have many a volume centered around the lives of cats you can read until we locate yours.”

Draco tried to smile but didn’t see much hope in her plan. Before he could point this out, Pince ran off to stop a couple of students from snogging in the back corner of the library – effectively ending their conversation.

Having no other plans for the evening, Draco made his way back to his room to skim over the catalogues again that Professor McGonagall had sent him to order out of. As he approached his new room, he saw a Hufflepuff student knocking loudly on his door.

“May I help you?” Draco asked, a little confused as to why he was here.

The boy jumped. “This came for you, sir. In the owlery. I thought it best to take it to you in person so’s it not get lost.”

“Oh, thank you,” he replied in a mildly shocked voice.

“You’re welcome, sir. I’ll see you tomorrow – I’ve got potions at 10.” And with a big grin and a wave of his hand the boy made his way off in the direction of the kitchens.

Draco made his own way into his room and sat down on the bed before opening the letter. With a terrible lurch in his stomach he read and reread the note in a script he had been becoming all too familiar with.

Why on earth would she think I was upset with her?’ he asked himself as he made his way out of the castle – first at a walk but soon moving into more of a run. He was hyper aware of each footstep he pounded into the ground as he hurled himself out of school grounds into an area he could Apparate from. He was getting used to the feel of the anit-apparation barrier around the school and quickly transported to Granger’s apartment the moment he felt it leave.

Draco appeared in her living room to find Astoria happily reading a note while Granger paced the floor.

“Oh good, you’re here,” she breathed, a slight look of relief overtaking her facial features. “I was getting worried you might not come. We need to talk, in private, about some things happening at work. It may have something to do with you.”

*****

Hermione was soon sitting with Malfoy at the small table off the side of her kitchen catching him up on what had transpired that day at work. They had asked Astoria to move to the bedroom with Crookshanks to work on what she wanted to say to the head Healer at St. Mungo’s in the morning, though in reality it was a thinly veiled excuse to get some privacy. Malfoy was especially intrigued by the Muffliato Charm she had cast when Astoria exited the room, and Hermione had to remind herself that just because Harry, Ron, and her had used it extensively for a while did not mean it was a spell many people knew.

She had to focus carefully on explaining what had happened to keep from thinking about Harry and Ron again, which made her doubt if she even remembered to relay everything correctly. Malfoy had remained quiet for most of her speech, only clarifying certain points like the fact a member of the Black family was involved or which departments were affected.

Now she was done, and Malfoy sat with his eyes clothes and head bowed. She waited as calmly as she could waiting for him to speak and it seemed to take forever.

“First question,” he began, not moving or opening his eyes, “how did you initially know something was wrong on Saturday. You never actually told me, just that something odd was happening besides just my messages getting through.”

He opened his eyes when she didn’t immediately respond and stared curiously at her while she blushed.

“I, er, well,” Hermione tried to speak, but ended up with her cheeks flushing so warmly she could barely register anything else.

“Now I am curious,” she could hear his intrigued voice speak but couldn’t bring herself to look at him, “What on earth could cause the great Hermione Granger to blush so hard she becomes unable to speak?”

‘If he meant to put me at ease, he’s failing,’ she thought to herself.

Rather quickly, hoping to just get it over with, she mumbled “thepotionsmelleddifferent”.

“What was that?” he grinned, obviously not having actually heard her, which made her just annoyed enough to finally get it out.

“The potion smelled – different – okay?!?”

Malfoy looked at her like she had two heads. “I – what? What potion?”

 “I’m an Unspeakable mainly working in the love room.”

“Okay, that tells me nothing. Like most people in our world I know very little about that department or have you forgotten that.”

“The smoke, coming from the fountain I mentioned – you don’t actually know what’s in there, do you? Dumbledore guessed years ago and told Harry but even so I guess it might not have been public knowledge…”

“Spit it out, witch,” Malfoy almost snapped, clearly starting to get a bit annoyed,

“It’s a fountain full of Amorentia, alright!” she yelled before going mute.

Malfoy silently waited. Hermione took a calming breath before continuing.

“You were in class with us,” she faltered a bit at the thought of who ‘us’ was in that sentence, “when Professor Slughorn introduced us in sixth year to the potion, remember?”

Malfoy nodded, so she continued, albeit a bit slower.

“I had said at the time that it smelled like freshly mowed grass and new parchment, but for me it also smelled like Ron’s hair.”

Malfoy made an unpleasant noise. “I can only imagine how terrible that smell must have been.”

Hermione teared up a bit, which she guessed he had noticed because he went quiet again.

“It has been. Day in and day out every time I have come to work, no matter how terrible he had been to me that damn fountain always smelled like him. Despite how badly he repeatedly broke my heart the potion still registered Ron as the one I was most in love with.”

“Until Saturday. What happened then?”

“Well,” Hermione sobbed a little before she was able to continue, “I hadn’t actually been in since Wednesday so technically it didn’t have to have been something that happened on Saturday…”

“Focus, Granger.” Malfoy ordered, though in an oddly calming way.

This was the part she was looking the least forward to actually admitting.

“Remember what you were doing when you messaged me at work?”

“Yes, I was getting tricked into being the next Potion’s professor and head of Slytherin House, though I fail to see what that has to do with-”

“I now always smell the scent of the fire underneath a pewter cauldron before you start a new potion.”

“Ohhh, oh-, Oh!” he responded.

*****

Draco heard what she said, then it began to click that there was more that she was trying to tell him, and then he realized what she had actually confessed, though he somehow managed to use the same word three times as everything registered in his brain.

Granger looked about as awkward as he was feeling, and for a moment they just stayed there in mild embarrassment.

It was Granger that broke the silence first, in a rambling, explanatory way.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m in love with you, yet, or at all, or, oh Merlin this is tough. The fountain can be affected by other types of love than just eros – like I said earlier, your mother triggered a large outpouring of mother’s love in that room when she protected Harry, and there have been a few instances of other types of love being recorded as well…it could be more that the strongest thing I have to love in my life right now is a love between equals…I haven’t even been around Harry enough to trigger anything close to brotherly love…”

Granger continued to ramble. Draco listened to it a bit before leaning in to get her to slow down.

“Alright, witch, you were supposed to be the brightest mind in our year at Hogwarts – so tell me. What do YOU think is the reason for the sudden change?”

Draco leaned back a bit and waited to see what she would come up with now.

“Well, Ron is clearly in the negative column when it comes to whom I care about at the moment – ”

She started blushing like a schoolgirl again, and if he was honest with himself he’d think it was cute – if it wasn’t Granger of course…

“And you,” she continued in a slightly different tone that was less condemning – which from her sounded almost off, “well, ever since that moment in the dress shop we’ve been acting more like equals than enemies, even if it is because we bonded over the worst this world had to offer us…”

“Are you saying that your convinced that I’M the only reason your potion smells different?” Draco blurted out, regretting it the moment he did.

Granger glared at him. “Of course not! There is clearly something else at work here. That’s the only reason I pulled you into this whole thing! To help me figure out what! You know, for someone that did almost as well as I did in school you can be a bit dense.”

Draco had hit his limit. “Oh that’s the reason, is it? Because your feelings for or against someone might involve using me for info, not because something mutually odd is happening between us?”

He slammed his hands down on the table and pushed himself up to a standing position. It was only then he noticed the purple smoke coming from his hands again. Draco could feel the blood drain from his face as he watched it turn darker than it had been before.

Granger had noticed as well and apparently jumped up around the same time as she was standing in shock behind her chair as a similar effect was happening to her. Draco opened his mouth to say something when they heard a scream followed by a loud boom from Granger’s bedroom.

Both of them ran towards the sound, Draco a bit behind Granger but still close enough to notice a green ball of flame dissipate. It appeared to have had the same strange stylized look as the purple magic he had noticed off and on since Friday night. Everything in the room was slightly askew and Crookshanks was hissing madly on the bed. That was when he noticed a large lump on the floor.

Draco helped move Astoria from where she had fallen to the floor and onto Granger’s bed. She physically appeared to be fine, though the look on her face was one of fright. He gently shook her shoulder and it didn’t take long for her to stir. Relieved, and before he knew what he was doing, he leaned back and squeezed Granger’s hand reassuringly. He let go the instant he realized what he had done and took a half-step away as Granger did the same. Thankfully Astoria opened her eyes at that point and grabbing his shoulder for support, tried to explain what had just happened.

“Oh Draco, it was terrible. I was sitting on the bed petting Crookshanks waiting for you two to finish your discussion when this ghost-like green woman – she yelled something at me I couldn’t understand and then exploded. The next thing I remember is waking up here. What happened?”

Draco looked at Granger for some kind of guidance as to what to say, only to see her look as puzzled as he was.

“It’s alright, Astoria. I’m not sure what happened, but it seems to be gone.”

“It looked a bit like what happened when we were talking in your library. I was a little afraid you two were trying to hurt me.”

“I promise you we weren’t doing anything of the sort,” Granger told her, “I don’t know exactly what is going on here, but it seems to have passed. Lie back down and get some rest. I think we might all need some sleep and we can start trying to figure things out again in the morning.”

Draco took this as a sign his welcome had ended. “It’s going to be alright, Astoria. I don’t know when per say, but it will.” He paused before continuing, annoyed he could tell someone something like that when he struggled to believe it was true himself. “I trust Granger to take care of you in my stead while you are here. If I didn’t, I would never have asked her to.”

He turned to leave, but Granger pulled him by the hand back into the main area of the apartment first.

“Look, I’m sorry about earlier, okay?” she informed him without looking him into the eyes. “I hate not having any answers, especially when every time I look for some I end up with even more questions. It’s frustrating and I really shouldn’t take it out on you.”

“Apology accepted.”

“That’s it?” she looked up suddenly and stared back at him with all the patience and ferocity as a viper as she waited for him to respond.

Draco sighed. “I’m sorry I keep blurting things out. I’m trying to hold my tongue, but I was beginning to struggle with that even around my father. It’s – something I will have to work on.”

Granger smirked. Apparently that was enough for her. She dropped his hand and took a step back. Somehow Draco hadn’t noticed she had still been holding on to it or that she had been that close until she was no longer right beside him. The air felt empty and he couldn’t understand why.

“Try to find that journal,” she asked softly before he could leave. “I’m not entirely sure I could make another one like it. I had to guess at a few of the runes and I was under enough stress I can’t fully remember what I did.”

“I will,” Draco assured her.

Granger let out a sigh. Was that relief on her face or –

“Wait, what’s that?” he asked, pointing at a pink, mist-like cloud coming from Granger’s mouth.

She pulled back to examine it, and slowly pointed at his own face. The same thing was happening to him and soon they merged into a single haze.

It was quite a unique sight for Draco, the same vines he had been growing accustomed to seeing lately wove in and out of it, though with small buds appearing throughout. The light coming from throughout Granger’s apartment bounced off in many faded hues. The feeling of emptiness Draco had felt slowly faded at about the same rate the mist did.

Draco looked at Hermione. “Well, I think we can safely assume our emotions might have something to do with whatever is going on right now, as this stuff keeps happening when I get upset or – whatever that last bit was.”

 Granger nodded. “I’m going to make a cup of tea to calm down. I can make you a cup if you wish before you go.”

Draco thought he detected a bit more to what she was saying, so he sat down and tried to calm his emotions as far as he could. “I guess I could stay long enough for some tea.”

He could have sworn he saw her smile before turning around to make the tea.  He was clearly not going to be able to get enough sleep to be able to teach well the next day, so what harm would it really do to stay for a calming cup before bed, right?

Chapter Text

Hermione rolled off her couch groggily. She was thankful to have gotten any sleep the night before, especially without both her bed and her cat to help her, but she still felt like having that last cup of tea was necessary. For one thing, it succeeded in calming both her and Malfoy down enough to attempt to sleep, while also giving them a chance to compare observations regarding when they most noticed odd spell effects happening around them.  

Now that they knew their emotions had something to do with it, Hermione felt a tiny bit closer to figuring out what was happening around them. Of course in her line of work, emotions were things she messed around with constantly so she was annoyed with herself over how long it had taken to come to that conclusion – even more so because it was Malfoy that had first stated it. 

After getting herself ready, Hermione gently shook Astoria awake and left her alone to get dressed. Moving to the kitchen, she started making a few slices of toast and a couple of poached eggs while rummaging around the kitchen for her thermos. She rarely used it anymore as the Ministry usually had tea and coffee in the break rooms upstairs set in suspension to stay perfectly brewed with some kind of household charm Molly would probably recognize but Hermione certainly didn’t. 

The thought of Molly triggered a wave of emptiness that washed over her completely, almost causing her to burn her toast. She forced herself to focus on the task at hand and soon had two plates breakfast and a thermos full of hot tea to take to work.  

Astoria wandered in and sat down to eat. Neither of them tried to start a conversation – something Hermione was somewhat grateful for as she wasn’t fully ready to deal with people that early in the morning. They finished up quickly and Astoria moved towards the fireplace. It took Hermione a minute to register that Astoria had Apparated there along with Malfoy. 

“Do you mind if we use the Floo?” Astoria asked cautiously. “I never actually took the test to learn to Apparate.” 

“Really?” Hermione asked, somewhat shocked. “How come?” 

She shifted her weight from one foot to another a few times before answering softly, “it isn’t always considered proper for a Pureblood witch to know how.” 

Hermione stared at her for a moment. “I’m sure I saw Bellatrix and Narcissa-” 

“That’s different,” Astoria informed her. “They’re Blacks.” 

She acted as though that was explanation enough, but Hermione had no idea what she meant. 

“What does them being Blacks have anything to do with it?” 

Astoria tilted her head as if confused by the question. “Because they are Blacks. They don’t need to keep their witches a certain way so they can be easier to marry off. Being able to Apparate means I can leave even at times my husband wouldn’t allow. Or wouldn’t have allowed if-” 

Hermione tried to pull her back to an earlier point since this was beginning to be too much for the other witch. “What makes the Blacks so different from all of the other Pureblood families?” 

“They are practically nobility,” she stated matter-of-factly. “I thought all witches and wizards were made to know that. We were told it was the most important part of our world. Their line went on unbroken for centuries until that traitor Sirius Black died a few years back.” 

Hermione let out a faint grumble at the ‘traitor’ comment, but still let Astoria continue. 

“I guess the closest thing to an heir now would have been Malfoy since Andromeda was removed and Bellatrix had no children.” 

“I think Harry legally got some part of the financial end of things from Sirius. I know the Black home went to him.” 

 “Trust me, I know. It was scandalous – if you ask most Pureblood families, everything should have gone to Bellatrix or Draco.” 

Hermione shook her head, suddenly seeing the clock on her wall that reminded her they had a schedule and needed to get to St. Mungo’s. 

“Merlin’s beard, we should really get to the hospital. If you don’t feel comfortable Apparating, feel free to use my Floo anytime you need to. I’ll make sure to keep my powder pot full.” 

Astoria smiled, grabbed a handful of powder and was off in a wall of green flames. A moment later, Hermione had followed. 

***** 

Draco had made it back to his room late enough that he had his doubts on whether he could get much productive sleep. The castle was much louder up here at night that it had been in the dungeons, but he never could figure out why. Even without the added noise there probably wasn’t much chance he could sleep, so Draco was trying to pass the time any way he could. He had tried journaling, flipping through the books he had checked out from the library to see if he found anything new, reorganizing his desk, and was trying to reorganize his small collection of clothes when a piece of paper fell out from between his robes.  

He picked it up and scanned the paper quickly. It was a family tree – his family tree, at least on his mother’s side. He recognized most of the names, as well as some of the holes where family members used to be – like his mother’s traitorous cousin Sirius that had sided against them in the last war. 

He felt bad the moment he thought it. While he was still just starting to see that the whole blood purity thing maybe wasn’t as great as he was taught, his cousin had died for that belief. And while in the end they had both been on the same side of the war, most people still saw Draco for who he was just before the end. He realized that had there been anyone else left in the Black family to do so, his name and his mother’s probably wouldn’t still be on this list.  

He looked over the familiar names one more time when he noticed that this tree was a bit different than the one he had been taught. Instead of showing Phineas Nigellus Black’s, his great-great-great grandfather, at the heart of the tree, this one went back a bit further. It showed names and dates that were mostly unfamiliar to him. He vaguely remembered seeing the names Licorus and Eduardus when he was five on the tapestry at the Black House when they visited his Great Aunt Walburga on her death bed. The family had assumed his mother was the next of kin to inherit everything as Sirius was in prison and a blood traitor, and Bellatrix was also in prison, so they had come to try and get things in order for his mother to inherit. Draco didn’t remember much except having to be very stiff and silent except when his mother had shown him all the names. 

Licorus  and  Limette  sound like silly food names, ” he remembered telling her, which made her laugh. A quick glance from his Great Aunt, even as sickly as she was, silenced his mother and she continued more stoically from then on out. Even back then Draco hadn’t liked that old woman very much. 

Maybe so dear Draco, but look  –  over here. Here is your name,  right near mine and your father’s . Never forget you r part of The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.  You may be the last one of us all.”  

No ,” his Great Aunt had spat from the other side of the room. “ The last Black was my  Regulus . Your boy is a Malfoy, but he might do in a pinch since Bellatrix got herself locked up in Azkaban before producing an heir. We have no other options .” 

Draco had no idea what she had meant then, and to this day he still occasionally thought about it. He did remember that his mom had seemed so worried the whole time they were there. When the inheritance moved instead to Sirius there had been many nasty things said, but at the time Draco couldn’t understand fully why his mother was so upset over something as silly as not getting more money when they had plenty. When he had tried to point it out, it was one of the few times in his life he remembered her getting angry at him.  

When Sirius had died, at first the family was too caught up in the fact that his father was in jail to notice silly things like succession. He remembered the day they found out his will stated that all of the remaining assets of the House of Black had been lumped into the Potter fortune instead of going to his Aunt Bellatrix. It had been the day she and her sister had taken a trip, and after their return she locked herself in her study for days, crying. He remembered hearing her cry out that “ Bella doesn’t understand   and  “he has to live”  more than once. Running into Harry later that summer at Madame Malkin’s certainly hadn’t helped her mood. Then she had spent even more time sequestered in her study once the Dark Lord moved in, leaving mostly to gather more books from the library. 

Draco gazed back over the paper. He squinted a bit at one name – Eduardus Limette Black – that, while it appeared to be burnt off, still retained all the same information the rest of the tree had, just without his face. He looked to be the Great Uncle of Phineas Nigellus Black, and from the placement on the paper looked like he was an older brother to his ancestor’s grandfather. 

“So why would the line not follow him?”  Draco thought aloud. 

He stared at it a bit longer before realizing the first few rays of the sun were making their way across his still made bed. He folded the paper in half before pocketing it and after throwing a robe on over his clothes headed off to the dinning hall to get some breakfast.  

***** 

Hermione and Astoria were led down the hall to the Head Healer’s office upon arriving at St. Mungo’s. As they approached, the door opened, revealing a middle-aged witch standing behind a desk perusing the folder in her hand. She briefly looked up and gestured towards two chairs that suddenly appeared across from her at the desk as they made their way inside the office. She set down her folder and turned towards the two of them as she sat down herself. 

“Ah yes, Ms. Greengrass, I’ve been expecting you.” 

Astoria blushed and extended her hand. “Please, call me Astoria, Madame-” 

“Larch,” the older which informed them while shaking her hand. 

“Madame Larch.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize I was expected. I only decided to come in and see if I could get a job here last night.”  

“And what brings the great Hermione Granger in here as well?” Madame Larch asked, not answering Astoria’s question at all. “That boyfriend of yours drink himself silly and wind up in trouble again?” 

“Ex-boyfriend and, no, I’m here to support Astoria today.” 

“Very well. To answer your earlier question, my dear, I received an owl from Hogwarts yesterday. I was informed by Filius that you were in a difficult situation and was asked that should you decide to ask for a job here to consider it a favor to him to give you a chance. As it stands, it appears you didn’t sit for all of your N.E.W.T.s, so unfortunately you don’t meet the requirements set in place to be a Healer.” 

“Oh. I was afraid of that. Well, thank you for your time then.” Astoria stood, staring at her feet as she talked. 

Hermione reached up and grabbed the witch’s sleeve before she could leave. 

“That’s it?” she asked harshly. “There’s no way she can become a Healer?” 

Madame Lurch raised her hand. “I never said that. I am well aware of the abhorent practice of making certain Pureblood witches learn all they can in school to be better mothers and then pulling them before they can get any credentials that might allow them to start a job of their own outside of a pre-arranged marriage. It would seem that Filius is aware of this practice as well, as he sent along sworn statements from McGonagall, Slughorn, Sprout, Sullivan, and himself stating their confidence that, had she been allowed to, Astoria would have easily received the grades necessary to be a fine Healer.” 

“Sullivan? Who’s that?” asked Hermione. 

“That was after you left wasn’t it. After the rotation of teachers sharing the job your eighth year, Professor Sullivan took over the DADA post and has managed to stay in it since,” Astoria informed her, “though I’m not sure what all their praise will get me aside from a chance to go back and sit the exams when I am far from prepared to do so now.” 

“Believe it or not you aren’t the first person qualified for a job here without the proof to back it up. While I can’t start you out as a full-fledged Healer or even a Healer-in-Training, there is another job that we sometimes fill called a Healer’s Assistant. It doesn’t have any N.E.W.T. requirements, and is a more hands on way to work up to Healer. Most Healer’s Assistants I’ve seen in my time here have become more dedicated than their coworkers and many have become Head Healers and Ward Overseers. You are more than qualified for such a position, don’t you think so?” 

Astoria stared with her mouth opened in shock. Hermione gently shook her shoulder and the witch started to become more animated. 

“Yes ma’am. I mean, I would love to try that job, Madame Larch, if that is acceptable.” 

“Very well.” Picking up her wand as she spoke she flicked it towards Astoria causing a quill and a job application labelled ‘Healer’s Assistant’ to land in front of her beside a pot of ink. 

“If you would then please fill this out, I would like to have a word with Ms. Granger. If that’s okay with her of course.” Madame Larch stood and headed towards the office door, motioning for Hermione to follow. 

“Sure,” Hermione agreed, a bit perplexed as to why. 

They walked through the door and once she had closed it, Madame Larch turned to Hermione with a concerned look. 

“Filius was able to surmise from his brief discussion with Mister Malfoy that something bad had probably happened to both him and Miss Greengrass, and that she really needed a job here because of it.”  

Hermione opened her mouth but was stopped before she could interject. 

“I don’t need specifics. I have found over the years that sometimes a more vague knowledge of things going on with my employees can be beneficial to everyone. Am I right though in assuming she is currently staying with you?” 

Hermione nodded. 

“Then I will ask you then – do you think she is capable of doing this job right now? Academically, I have no reason to believe that she wouldn’t be a good fit here, however judging by what I saw in my office there is clearly some level of emotional trauma being dealt with. I need to know upfront if this is going to cause any problems.” 

Hermione thought a moment before responding. “While I do believe she can do this job, I am not certain she will have enough confidence to do it well at first. She is going through quite a bit in her life right now, but I believe that having a job that gets her out of my apartment every day and especially helping other people would be most beneficial to her mental state.” 

Madame Larch paused a moment. Hermione could almost see her mind racing behind her closed eyes. “Yes,” the older witch finally surmised after opening her eyes, “I do believe you might be right in your assessment. Thank you for your honesty in this matter. I will personally see that she gets fitted for her robes and started on her training as soon as she finishes the paperwork I set out for her. Do you think she needs to talk to you again, or do you need to rush off to work?” 

“I should probably get going,” Hermione admitted. “Some crazy things have been happening at work and I will probably be needed to help work things out.” 

“Very well. I will send her home around five if you want to meet her then.” 

Hermione nodded her head before heading to the lobby. Like Hogwarts, parts of St. Mungo’s was considered a no Apparition zone, and it always annoyed Hermione to have to walk somewhere just to be able to Apparate. She transported immediately to the Ministry and headed down a lift to the Department of Mysteries. When she arrived, she noticed Tobias waiting in the main room that all of the other rooms branched off from. 

“Granger – there you are! Listen, we had to bar access to the Love Room. You will be working with Flint in the Time Room for now.” 

“Why?” she asked. “Did the potion turn like last time?” 

“Worse,” muttered Tobias. “The fountain dried up and started seeping a twisted black mist across the floor. Mason didn’t see it in time when he entered the chamber and was taken to St. Mungo’s a few minutes ago. Thank Merlin the spells on the door seem to be holding it back. For now.” 

“It’s that bad?” 

Tobias nodded. “It would seem that things are not happening quite like they did in 1900, but something is still happening that we need to get to the bottom of.” 

Hermione nodded and unhappily headed off to go start work with Flint. 

***** 

Draco still hadn’t had all that much of an appetite, but as he had the time to eat he forced down a larger, healthier amount of food that he had the last few meals.  He was now on his way to check if anyone had turned in Granger’s journal to the library. He passed a few Ravenclaws going in that smiled when they saw him before breaking out in giggles as he passed. It oddly didn’t have the same malicious feel to it as the other reactions he had been eliciting from the students. Puzzled, Draco stepped into the library and quickly found Madame Pince at the front desk. 

“Professor Malfoy,” she began, the hint of a smile on her face. Draco couldn’t tell if it was genuine or just a sinister smirk, “the book you lost has been graciously returned to the library. I suggest you not lose your precious book about famous cats again, as I am not certain I would be able to locate it for you a second time.” 

For the first time since he entered the Hogwarts library his first year, the librarian had failed to speak below a strict whisper. Instantly Draco could feel most of the eyes in the library trained on him. While it felt a tad bit embarrassing, no one seemed to be making any crude remarks. Draco sheepishly took both Granger’s journal and his leave, and headed back to his room. It was almost searing his hands, but he decided it was best to not be seen gazing at what appeared to be a cat book walking through the hallways. 

Throwing Granger’s journal on his desk, Draco quickly opened it up and skimmed the last few entries he had missed. He cringed a bit at how he must have worried Granger, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that now. Grabbing a quill, he jotted off a brief note before heading down to potions. 

Got the journal back.  Sorry it took  so long. Found something Mother hid in my clothes. It’s a drawing of the Black family tree, but there are names on here that I've only ever seen included once long ago. Might be important. I’ll try to copy it down here when I have a break.  – D.M.  

Closing the book and securing it in his desk – he certainly doubt Slughorn would give him a break long enough to even look at it while he was working – Draco headed down to the Potion’s classrooms. Every so often one of the students he passed in the halls would react similarly to Ravenclaws he had seen earlier. He tried to ignore the odd behavior and soon reached his destination. 

Entering the classroom, Draco saw Slughorn running around the classroom gathering supplies. 

“Draco my lad, come in, come in,” the older wizard insisted. “Your timing is impeccable, had hoped you be early today. I have some business to attend to in my office and I need a sample potion brewed. I assume you can whip up a fine Swelling Solution, right my boy?” 

Draco nodded, though he recalled vividly what happened when he last tried to make one. 

“Good lad. I’ll just be in the next room if you need anything. All of the ingredients are over by the example cauldron in the front.”  

Draco watched Slughorn head off in the direction of his office. Moving towards the cauldron at the front of the classroom, Draco picked up the copy of  Magical Drafts and Potions  that had been left out and skimmed the entry for a Swelling Solution. Confident with his ability to craft it, he started grinding ingredients in the mortar and pestle and an hour and a half later Draco had made a pretty good potion. 

Slughorn returned to assess the contents of the cauldron, proclaiming it to be a “perfect example of a Swelling Solution”, just as the first few students filled into the classroom. 

Before long, most of the students had arriving for class. They shuffled in, many pointing and giggling at Draco. From the looks of it they were trying to be discrete but failing miserably. One of the Hufflepuffs filling in started waving at Draco enthusiastically. It took Draco a minute, but he finally recognized the student as the one that brought him the letter from the owlery last night. Without actually sleeping, it seemed like ages ago instead of mere hours. Rather awkwardly, Draco returned the wave, causing the Hufflepuff to beam brightly back at him.  

Thankfully, Slughorn chose that moment to start class. 

“Good morning everyone. If you will all open your books and turn to the entry for Swelling Solution we can get started. Professor Malfoy here has graciously brewed a wonderful example for you all to examine. Come, come, gather around now and take a look once you find the correct page.” 

Draco stepped back towards a wall while the students rushed forward to view the solution. Pairing off into groups of two, not always within their own house he noticed, Draco watched the frantic scurry to gather supplies and begin working. He let the students start on their potions a bit before moving in amongst them to help out. He zoomed straight in on the Hufflepuff from earlier, who had paired off with one of the Ravenclaws. 

“Hi Professor Malfoy!” he greeted cheerfully. “I forgots to tell you last night, but my name’s Caspar and this is my best friend Phoebe. Some of the students seem scared of you, but I can’t tell why. You seem really nice to me.” 

“Hush, Casper,” Phoebe ordered, “we need to concentrate on this. I just added the water to our powdered ingredients and I’m trying to count out 20 minutes.” 

Draco looked impressed. “She can do that without an hourglass? Or a watch?” 

Casper grinned, “Phoebe is full of surprises.” 

Draco leaned over to talk to Casper easier without disrupting Phoebe. 

“Hey, so, do you have any idea why everyone has been grinning and giggling at me all morning? It’s better than the scowling, but much more confusing.” 

“Oh, that!” Casper managed to get out between laughs, earning him a stern look from Phoebe. “It’s just that, well, nobody can take a former Death Eater seriously that has such a soft spot for cats.” 

Draco stared a moment. “Why would everyone in the school suddenly think that?” 

“Because,” Phoebe interjected, talking rhythmically to keep from losing her timing, “everyone in Ravenclaw knows about how upset you were losing that famous cats book and it’s been spreading quickly through the school.” 

Draco facepalmed. This was not the answer he was expecting.  

“On the plus side,” Casper pointed out, “there are much less people acting openly hostile towards you. I’ve been watching.” 

The cauldron started bubbling a bit higher than it should. Instinctively, Draco jumped back. 

“Make sure to keep it at medium heat you two,” he reminded them. “Trust me, you do NOT want this to explode in your face.” 

“Why? Did something happen to you?” 

“Once – when I was in my second year learning to make this potion – someone tossed a firework into the cauldron I was working on. It got all over my face and I had to run to the infirmary. My partner got hit even worse.” 

“Who on earth would do something like that to a perfectly good potion?” Phoebe asked, shocked at the mere idea. 

“I think it was Potter.” 

“Harry Potter?” Casper inquired.

“Yes. We didn’t get along all that well in school.” 

“Well, what about now?” 

What about now?  though Draco.   ‘I’m at least civil with him now, but I’m not sure if  this – thing – whatever it was with Granger  has  changed any of that.’  

“I’m not quite sure,” he explained slowly, “I haven’t seen all that much of him.” 

“I bet you have more in common than you think,” Casper claimed. 

Some part of Draco felt the young wizard was right, and he really wasn’t sure why. 

***** 

Hermione’s day was far from pleasant. Adrian Flint was much like his little brother, Marcus – a bit troll like, not necessarily the brightest bulb in the box, and a little too determined to get things done despite the costs. He was a fairly good Unspeakable, but terrible at interacting with others, which is why he spent most days working alone. He was especially hostile towards Hermione, mostly due to the fact that she was Muggleborn, as well as when he started working there it was just before the Battle of the Department of Mysteries and he was devasted to come in on the day after the skirmish to find all of the time-turners broken. He was currently studying the crystal jar from which most of the light in the room emanated from, and seemed way to happy dropping creatures in and out of it to watch them progress through their lives. Hermione tried to help but just didn’t have the stomach for it. 

Eventually she had decided it was best to simply ignore Flint and tinker with one of the broken Time Turners. She made absolutely zero progress, which didn’t surprise her in the least, but it was a decent way to pass the time for a bit. Though that had even grown dull as the day dragged on, so she decided look in the adjoining office for this room’s journals, particularly the one chronicling the time experiments from 1900. There were a few references to the last of the major time experiments that had ceased the year before, but once she arrived at July 19th things began to get a bit – odd. 

It appeared there were two entries doubled up on top of each other. One was in a firm hand that seemed to belong to a male author, while the other one was much more thin and curly almost like black - 

“VINES!” Hermione yelled out loud. 

“Pardon?” barked Adrian from the next room, clearly annoyed at being interrupted from whatever he had been doing. 

“This other writing, it resembles vines! See?” Hermione ran over to him as she spoke to show her coworker. 

Adrian scoffed when she showed him the book. “Quit goofing around. At least one of us has important work to do instead of spending all their effort trying to distract people.” 

“Why of all the – are you blind, it’s right there!” Hermione pointed at the book some more, only to realize that Adrian was getting much angrier and posturing in a way that told her she needed to get out of the room and not bring it up again. 

She took her leave and raced to find Tobias. She found him pouring over the journals from the death room at a make-shift podium in one of the other offices. 

“Tobias! I may have found something!” She slipped her opened book on top of the stack he had been reading and pointed excitedly at the two scripts. “See! This second script here almost mimics the spell effects that have been happening around me lately.” 

Tobias looked at her strangely. Clearly something was wrong. 

“I only see the one script. If this is some kind of joke-” 

“No, I swear it is there!” she insisted, pulling back the book. “It’s a little hard to read, but I can make out bits and pieces. ‘ I have successfully done’  this bit is obscured for a while, um, ‘ pay for what they did.  Edaurdus ’  something ‘ love’  can’t quite make out this bit until ‘ one that shall rise like me  ‘. I can’t make out the rest right now.  I could probably figure it out if given some time. I would feel better doing this at home as opposed to trying to decipher it in the time room. I know that breaks about a dozen department rules, however-” 

“In this case, I will allow it,” Tobias informed her before she could finish her well thought out defense. “The other department heads can take it out on me if they find out. Just try to bring it back in one piece, okay? I know it’s a bit early, but if you want to head home now and start work on it you can.” 

“Thank you!” Hermione exclaimed, a little more exuberantly than she had planned, and quickly disappeared towards the lift.

Chapter Text

Draco lay on his bed exhausted. Losing sleep the previous night coupled with how hard Slughorn had made him work was taking its toll on him. Unfortunately, he found that this just left his mind swimming so much that he couldn’t get it to stop long enough to rest. Finally giving up, he rolled over to a more seated position only to notice a faint glow coming from inside his desk that instantly triggered a brief surge of happiness. 

Jumping up and practically leaping to clear the few strides between his bed and desk in one motion, Draco quickly pulled Granger’s journal from the drawer and turned to the glowing page. He smiled when he saw the handwriting, momentarily reminding himself that it had always been Granger’s handwriting...   

I have Astoria settled into a job at St. Mungo’s - she’s not a healer because that needed N.E.W.T.s she didn’t have, but they have a special job for qualified people whose families have kept them from getting those. - H.G.  

Draco cringed. He knew Astoria’s family had been oppressive, but he hadn’t realized they didn’t let her sit for her N.E.W.T.s. Even among Pureblood families that practice had been growing out of style.  

'Would that knowledge have changed my actions a few days ago?’  he wondered to himself. He strongly felt it wouldn’t have. Shaking his head to dismiss the thought, he noticed new words appearing on the page and focused back onto it. 

I also have one of the record books from the  DoM   dating back to 1900 – it has thin, curly black writing in there only I was able to see, and it was written another a different record with a much different writing style. I’m trying to make out the rest of it, but it seems almost intentionally blended into the other text. I’ve even tried a few spells like Revelio to no avail. I’m out of ideas. - H.G.

Draco grinned. He couldn’t get the picture of a frustrated Granger out of his head. He was almost at the point from all of these intrusive thoughts that he could break down and admit she was cute. Almost. He couldn’t really come up with a decent reason to keep him from feeling that way about her, but ever since fourth year at the Yule Ball he had clamped down on those thoughts. 

I wonder what would have happened if I had danced with her that night?’  Draco absentmindedly thought. He then remember what all had happened with the Dark Lord’s return a few months later and realized he would have probably been in a much worst spot than he was now, if that was even possible at this point. He had also become a much different person now, too. 

Realizing he had been keeping Granger without a reply, Draco slid over an inkwell and pulled a quill from his desk. 

I honestly hadn’t realized Astoria was missing her N.E.W.T.s. I know Daphne took them, but she was the oldest and probably much more valuable in her parents’ eyes. I’m not defending that, just observing the situation. Let me know if you can crack that entry – it sounds interesting, I wish I could help. - D.M.

Draco was a bit surprised at how such a little amount of time talking with Granger had taken him from miserably exhausted and unable to sleep to concerned and a bit interested, but terribly sleepy all of a sudden. A sudden burst of light from the book in front of him momentarily curbed his drowsiness.

That’s a great idea! I could meet you in Hogsmeade for a couple of hours before bed tonight and we can trade off – you can look at my book and I can look over the family tree your mom slipped you. See you in ten at the Three Broomsticks? - H.G.  

Groaning, Draco quickly jotted off an affirmative answer, promising himself that he would go to bed at a decent hour only to realize it’s basically going to be the same lengthy walk back to his room in the castle tonight as it is when he aparates from Granger's apartment. Locating his mother’s note, he placed a shrinking spell on it and quickly pocketed it before slipping out of his room, silently casting a locking charm as he headed down the hallway. 

*****

“You sure you are going to be alright here alone?” Hermione asked Astoria one more time before she left. ”I could pay for a few butterbeers if you wanted to sit at the bar while Malfoy and I quickly go over a few things?” 

“I’ll be fine, Hermione,” Astoria assured her with a smile,  “Besides, it’s not like I’m alone, I have Crookshanks.” 

Astoria did her best to try and lift the large cat on her lap as an emphasis to accompany her words, but barely managed to move the beast more than an inch. Crookshanks lazily emitted an annoyed meow, but did not move at all. 

Hermione smiled faintly and slowly nodded in agreement. She knew Astoria would have been fine for a few hours even without Crookshanks. It was late, and from the sounds of it Madame Larch made sure that Astoria was thrown right into the thick of things her first day. Hermione expected she would come home to find the young witch asleep on the couch, curled up with a warm ball of floof cuddled up to her chest. 

“Alright, well, if you need anything, just floo over to the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, okay?” Hermione reminded her before grabbing the tome from work and aparating to the front door of the pub. 

“Hello again, Hermione,” Madame Rosmerta greeted her warmly, “Welcome. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit here this evening. It is pretty late – not that I am closing any time soon or anything, I just find it odd for an Unspeakable to be here, in my establishment, in Scotland, on a weekday.” 

The bar was almost empty. A handful of patrons sat at the bar while others were dispersed among a few tables near it. Madame Rosmerta was behind the bar as usual, though her voice had filled the room and sounded as though she was right near Hermione. Unable to pull off the same trick, Hermione moved over to where the pub owner was standing to converse easier. 

“I had some things I need to discuss with someone up at the school and it was decided that this was the best location to do so, as long as you don’t mind of course.” 

“Not at all my dear. Go ahead and sit in that table over in the corner. Any of my locals will stay close to the bar and you can get some decent privacy there. Speaking of the bar,” she gestured in front of her before continuing, “is there anything I can get you?” 

“Two spiked butterbeers, please,” Hermione ordered, placing a galleon on the bar. 

“I will get that over to your table as quickly as I can,” the witch winked before grabbing a couple of mugs. 

Just then, Malfoy walked through the pub doors. He did not appear to see her at first, and she was a bit surprised to see a faint smile on his lips as their eyes locked. She pulled away with a slight blush – she couldn't understand why she kept doing that around him – and headed towards the table Madame Rosmerta had pointed at earlier, jerking her head in the direction to let Draco know she meant for him to follow her. 

The both managed to get to the table at roughly the same time and after a short but awkward shuffle as to who should sit where, they were finally seated in seats across from one another. Hermione opened the tome she had brought with her and after finding the page she had seen the handwriting start, she plopped the whole book down in front of Malfoy. It hit the table a bit harder than she had expected, causing Malfoy to jump. 

“Jumpy tonight, aren’t we Professor Malfoy?” Madame Rosmerta asked, setting the drinks down on the table with a wink.  

Hermione saw the faintest bit of pink graze Malfoy’s cheeks – it took her a moment to realize that this time he was blushing. It made his features look a bit less sunken and somehow sharper than before. She hadn’t realized she was staring until Madame Rosmerta plopped a drink down in front of her, breaking her focus and causing her to jump, too. 

Malfoy snorted into his butterbeer as he took a sip and Madame Rosmerta shook her head. “Let me know if you two happen to need any Bounce-Be-Gone antidotes.” 

“Bounce-Be-Gone antidotes? Is that even a thing?” Hermione asked 

“You’d be surprised at what kind of antidotes us barkeeps have had to come up with to stop disputes between two feuding, magical patrons. Things can get – interesting. Wave if you need a refill, I can cast the charm from behind the bar without disrupting whatever it is that has an Unspeakable and a Hogwarts professor are consorting about this late on a school night.” 

And with a mischievous grin, Madame Rosmerta headed back to the bar. 

“Can you cast that muffling thing again?” Malfoy asked. “I would not put it past her to overhear us somehow and I get the impression you probably shouldn’t be sharing what is in this book with anyone.” 

“Good idea,” Hermione agreed, and quickly cast it before taking a bit bigger of a chug of her butterbeer than she had intended.  

Between coughs, she continued. “Well, can you see any writing in here besides the thick strokes of the main author’s quill?” 

“A bit, yes,” Malfoy informed her.  

She breathed a sigh of relief. She wasn’t going that crazy at least. 

“It’s a weird script, and too flowy for anything I would expect a man to write. I can see what you mean about it twisting into the other words like, well, vines. I can’t make out all that much. Let’s see, ‘I have successfully done’.” 

“I got that part,” Hermione told him. 

“Something, something – I think this part here is ‘made it to the future’ followed by a couple of words and then ‘twisted in the thorns of chaos’.” 

“I didn’t get that part. Hold up, point to where you saw that?” she scooted over to the seat beside Malfoy as she spoke to get a better look. 

“See?” he asked as he pointed to the page. “At least I think that is what it says. What was the next bit you could work out?” 

Hermione leaned over and took another too deep gulp of butterbeer before placing it down in front of her and showing him the next bit. “I think this says ‘pay for what they did’ followed by a new sentence starting with ‘Eduardus’ a few words I can’t make out here and then ‘love’. The only other bit I can make out it is-” 

“- ‘one shall rise like me’, right?” Malfoy finished for her. Hermione went to open her mouth to chastise him for cutting her off when he pointed back to the name. 

“Eduardus - that’s on my family tree, see?” he pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and caused it to grow back to its full size. 

House of Black Family Tree with Draco's Name as a leaf, Sirius (the Third) with a funnel cloud leading off the page from his name, and Eduardus Limette Black's section of the tree nearly cut off and covered with a black rose bud and vine.

“Well, sort of. He’s off to the side over here with those vines and the black rose. But it’s clearly labelled Eduardus Limette Black. He looks like he’s Headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black’s great uncle, so it’s clearly back there a ways.” 

“Why does your name look like it’s on a leaf?” 

Malfoy shrugged. “I haven’t the foggiest there.” 

“And what is going on with Sirius’ name...” 

“Which one?” asked Malfoy with a smirk before downing more of his drink and continuing, “I’ve got three here for you.” 

“Haha, very funny.” Hermione replied before putting her finger down on the top part of the tree. “I meant the one that is – or was – Harry's godfather. It’s not really a vine – maybe a snake with fangs?” 

“Or a rough looking braid connecting it to the edge of the page.” 

“A bunch of Pac-Men looking for ghosts?” 

“A bunch of what?” Malfoy turned, looking at her in an amused but confused way. 

“Sorry,” she apologized, downing some more of her drink before waving to the barkeep to fill them again. “It’s an old Muggle game.” 

Malfoy chortled into his drink. “If you say so.” 

“Could it be a cyclone or a siphon perhaps?” Hermione postulated. “Like part of the tree is-” 

“It’s Potter!” exclaimed Malfoy. “Part of the Black Family inheritance went to him, but he is not on the tree!” 

“I thought this was a tree of all the people in your family, not all the people that retain inheritance.” 

“Maybe it is though. There is some theory that we inherit more than just blood from our families. Gosh this is hard to explain to a mu-muggle born witch.” 

There he goes again. At least he has gotten pretty good at catching himself.’  

“I am going to just assume that you learned certain things from a young age that are so hardwired into who you are that sometimes it’s hard to remember you even learned them.” She gave him a pointed stare in hopes he would understand both points she was trying to make. 

Malfoy took a bigger sip of his drink and stayed silent a moment before continuing. “Look, I’m sorry about all those times I called you that name. I started doing it for the shock value and then it was just part of the wall I put up. Old habits die hard, but I’m trying to slay them. I give you full permission to hex me if I ever call you that again.” 

“Deal,” she agreed before gently trying to move the discussion back to a different topic. “Is there anything else you can think of that might be relevant to this theory that I, as a Muggle born, might not know?” 

“Well, most of our inheritance stuff has potent house elf magic added to bind it further, but I’ve never met a witch or wizard that knows why. Most probably wouldn’t care as long as it makes their wealth more secure.” 

“Those poor elves! Does it bother them to use that much magic?” 

“Not really. It’s not that different from the goblins at Gringotts using their magic to open the vaults.” 

"Still,” Hermione began, before deciding to forgo the conversation now before things got heated. The last thing they needed right not was to lose their tempters and risk more of the bad untamed magic to start up again. 

“Okay, so let’s recap. Thus far we have part of a mystic note that only the two of us can read, and an odd family tree that has a few weird points of interest on it including you, something that might indicate Harry could be tied up in all of this, and some random wizard that appears on both documents. Have I missed anything?” 

Malfoy looked up from draining the last of his second spiked butterbeer before answering. “Only the bit there in your book about something ‘twisted in the thorns of chaos’. That doesn’t sound foreboding at all...” 

Hermione laughed before draining her butterbeer and leaned back into her chair. She sat there for a while contemplating whether she should order another butterbeer when she started to really feel the effects of the alcohol reach her head. She soon wondered how much had actually been added to her drink. She felt oddly bubbly – having seen what alcohol had done to Ron she rarely touched the stuff so it was rare she ever had enough in her system at one time to even notice it. She wasn’t even sure why she had ordered them today instead of normal butterbeers. 

'Playful', she thought to herself. If she had to name how she felt it was playful. “Of course, how could I forget. Leave it to you to figure out what is probably the most melodramatic part of the text.” 

“Oi, not all of us Slytherins are like Snape you know,” Malfoy teased back with a smirk.  

The exchange continued, flowing easily between them and, though faint at first, Hermione soon began to notice a purple otter take shape playing and twisting around her that became more solid looking the harder she laughed. 

She then saw a snake-like dragon mimicking the moves of her otter scurrying around Malfoy. He was smiling broadly and soon the dragon and the otter were almost dancing as they played above the table. 

“Do you have any idea what is going on here?” Malfoy asked. “I haven’t the foggiest.” 

“Well, I know my Patronus is an otter, what's yours?” 

“I don’t know.” Malfoy replied, looking down at his empty cup. He waved towards the bar to get a refill and started drinking again. 

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Hermione asked him. “Can’t you-” 

“Death Eater, remember? We aren’t supposed to be able to cast that spell.” 

“Oh, really,” she exclaimed. “It has to do with your ability to love and have happy memories, you don’t have some kind of anti-patronus ward in your arm. I’d be willing to guess what shape it would take.” 

She pointed to the dragon that was currently looping circles around a pleased otter. 

Malfoy opened his mouth to say something, but as he did her attention was drawn to the fireplace that had just turned to tall green flames. Out stepped an Auror in full uniform, and even without having a full view of his face, Hermione could recognize him anywhere. 

Harry Potter had just entered the pub, and was walking straight towards them. 

***** 

Draco saw Granger’s attention move from the spell-like animals above them away to the far side of the room as she stood up. He opened his mouth to say something witty when he noticed the otter disappear from above their table. A faint chill began to radiate from Granger as he, too, turned to where she had been facing. Potter was coming straight for their table in full Auror robes, and for a brief moment every action he had taken over the past week he began to second guess.  

This is it’  he thought to himself. ‘I’ve screwed up somehow and now I am going to Azkaban.’  

He closed his eyes right as he saw his dragon dissipate in front of him and waited for Potter to cuff him. Instead, Draco heard footsteps go to Granger instead of him. Opening his eyes, Draco saw more of a concerned look on Potter’s face than the pure anger he had been expecting. 

“It’s Ron.” Potter started. “I don’t know how he did it, but he found out you had left to come here to meet Malfoy. He’s been mumbling all kinds of random things. I think there might be something wrong with him.” 

“What about Astoria?!?!” Draco half-yelled, jumping up in fright. “Is she alright? I couldn’t forgive myself if-” 

Potter put up a hand to stop him. “She’s fine. I sent her off to St. Mungo’s just following procedure to check and see if there were any residual charms that might have been cast on her, but she should be back in under an hour.” 

Draco slunk down in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair trying to dissipate some of his anxiety. His heart rate had gone through the roof a moment ago and it was taking some time to get it back down.  

“What happened, Harry?” asked Granger as she tried to pull Potter up a chair.  

He shook his head and gestured towards the fireplace. “It might be easier, and more private, to discuss this in your apartment. Malfoy, you probably will need to see this as well. If it gets much later I’ll owl Professor McGonagall requesting to excuse you from work tomorrow, though there is no guarantee she’d listen to me.” 

Potter led the way to the fireplace amidst the stares of everyone in the pub. Madame Rosmerta waved, but her smile didn't reach her eyes. Harry dropped a small stack of Knuts on the mantle next the pub’s floo container before grabbing a handful of powder an stepped into the flames. Following close behind him was Granger. Draco took one more deep breath and exhaled before following suit.  

The house was a mess. There were a few places where things had been knocked over and smashed, while in other places there were scorch marks on the walls. The funny looking box with a glass screen on looked like it had been kicked and the table was almost nothing but splinters. A couple of Aurors were busy trying to restore everything, but it didn’t look like they had been at it very long. 

“Alright, Potter. Tell us what happened. Now,” Draco insisted. 

“You could have at least said ‘please’,” Potter pointed out. 

Draco glared at him until the Auror almost sheepishly started his tale. 

“Well, I think Ron had bugged your apartment somehow. We had to administer a truth serum to make sure we got all the facts straight, but he seemed somewhat incoherent on it. He knew Hermione had someone staying with her, he knew that you had something from the Department of Mysteries he was trying to get, and he knew you had just left to go to Hogsmeade to meet Malfoy. Astoria figured the only way he could have known that was if he had overheard her discussing it with you, Hermione.” 

“And?” interjected Draco. “What happened to Astoria?” 

“Apparently, Ron underestimated her. It took him a moment to gather his surroundings when he entered and in that tiny window Astoria was already moving to stun him. She didn’t hit Ron directly in the chest, but it was enough to disorient him a little. There was a bit of a scuffle until Crookshanks tripped him into the table, giving Astoria a chance to hit him with an Incarcerous Spell – apparently it was a charm they had gone over in her training today at St. Mungo’s.” 

“And now she’s back there getting checked out?” Draco finished. 

“Yes. With how little we were able to get from Ron and how shook up after the fact Astoria was, we can’t be certain if he had cast anything malignant on her. The Healers should be able to figure that out rather quickly. As I said earlier, it’s a standard procedure and shouldn’t take long.” 

Draco sat in a freshly restored dining chair, a wave of relief washing over him. 

“She actually did all that? Fend off an Auror trained wizard on her own? I knew she had more in her than she thought,” commented Granger. She paused a moment before continuing. “Where is Ron?” 

“Resting in a heavily guarded holding room at the DMLE. He’s really got me worried, Hermione. It was more than just the unprovoked attack – which even with how he’s been lately is still odd for him – it was how he was talking. It wasn’t full sentences, but we pieced together that he had come her with the intention of subduing whomever was in your apartment at the time, though he may have had worse plans involved for Astoria. He was then going to try and find the whatever you apparently brought home from the DoM – something I thought was illegal to do but is out of my jurisdiction to apprehend you for – before hiding somewhere to do something to you when you got home. Ron was able to give us specifics on everything but what he was planning to do to both you and Astoria, and it was almost like he was fighting against saying anything.” 

“Did he act drunk, or a different kind of off?” Granger questioned. 

“He did seem a bit drunk,” Harry admitted, “but it looked heavily like he may have also been Imperioused.” 

Granger slouched against the wall. Draco could tell she clearly wasn’t expecting to hear that. 

“I think he was trying to fight whatever parts of the plan involved harming you or Astoria, and was really struggling to tell us what he was able to do. Imperio doesn’t always work well with Veritaserum as the spell controls the person from somewhere else and the serum targets the person but not the controller. It can sometimes help break someone from the spell, and I know Ron would know to take advantage of that. If he is cursed, it’s by a very powerful spellcaster.” 

Draco felt bad that is was partially his fault Astoria got caught in the middle of all of this, but he was delighted to hear she was able to efficiently defend herself. There was just one thing that didn’t make sense. 

“Quick question, Potter,” Draco began, “how the hell did you end up here so fast before Astoria could come to the Three Broomsticks to get us?” 

“Oh, that. Well, apparently Ron at one point had set up an early warning ward on Hermione’s apartment. Nothing that could spy mind you – that was separate – but something that if there was a fight it would alert us immediately. It’s another reason why I am so certain he didn’t come here on his own accord tonight. That and one of the neighbors called for us over the floo with concerns after they heard the fighting. Both those things together had us down here as fast as we could.” 

Draco looked over to Granger and noticed her face trying to fight off multiple emotions at once. A dark aura began to radiate off of her, causing Potter to take a step back. The other Aurors, having finished reversing the damage to the room, noticed the change and quickly left. 

“Hermione, what’s going on?” Potter gently asked once the three of them were alone. “You okay?” 

“Okay?” she spat, the room suddenly starting to get darker. “Okay? How can I be okay after finding out that my asshole of an ex not only broke into my apartment, but had multiple charms on my home as well as attacking a guest. How the hell do you think I feel? I’m angry, I’m worried I’ll never be rid of him, and-” 

The lights began to flicker as dark vines started creeping along the walls away from her. Draco felt like he needed to do something to stop this, but he wasn’t sure how. Potter didn’t understand what was going on, but Draco did a little. 

Ever so cautiously, Draco stood up and moved over to where Granger was standing. Gently, he put a hand on her shoulder and tried to act as calm as he could. He knew he had to get her calmed back down, even if he wasn’t totally sure what would happen if he didn’t. Part of him desperately did not want to know what that could be. 

The lights began to fade back on, though the tendrils stayed on the walls of the room. Fueled on by his still somewhat inebriated state, Draco did the only thing he could think of and slid his other hand into one of Granger’s before slowly squeezing it. Granger, to his surprise, returned the gesture before sinking to her knees in sobs.  

Potter ran over at that point and pulled her into a hug. Draco stepped back, reminded of how long those two had been almost like siblings, and kind of felt left out despite understanding why. 

Just then Astoria popped back through the fireplace.  

“Draco!” she almost screamed, excitedly coming over to him. “I assume the Aurors told you everything that happened. I wasn’t even scared until after they arrived and it hit me what I had done.” 

“You did great. Really.” Draco assured her, keeping an eye on Granger as he talked. She seemed to be almost back to normal and Potter was slumped beside her leaning against the wall. He couldn’t hear what the two of them were discussing, so he threw his focus fully onto the witch in front of him. 

“I don’t know what I expected out of you when I brought you here – you were kind of a mess really – but you seem to be more capable than I think even you had thought you could be.” 

Astoria blushed. “It wasn’t bravery or anything, my body just moved before I had a chance to think – almost on its own.” 

“Well, we Slytherins do have a strong sense of self-preservation,” Draco told her with a smile. “You wouldn’t have made it into our house just because of your family. You showed great determination getting your job today by the way. And using what you learned there tonight was amazing. I think you are going to exceed your parents’ expectations of you by a long shot. Salazar would be proud of the witch you are becoming, and so am I.” 

Before Draco knew what to expect, Astoria had cleared the distance between them and wrapped him in a big hug. 

“Thank you, Draco. I’ve been struggling with most of that. I think from here on out I might be okay – but I would feel much better if this was the only time I have to defend myself from a home invasion.” 

The two of them laughed and out of the corner of his eye Draco saw a much calmer Granger being pulled to a standing position by Potter. The Auror then walked over to the two of them. 

“Astoria, do you mind if I have a word with Malfoy? Alone? I think Hermione is just about to call it a night and I would like to clear out of here so she can get some rest. I think you are going to need some as well.” 

Astoria stepped back from Draco and nodded. Potter pulled him more into the kitchen and spoke to him in a hushed whisper. 

“Hermione just filled me in on some of what the two of you have been experiencing the past few days,” Potter explained. “I’m not going to inform the rest of the DMLE just yet, but I am concerned. I’ve been trained to notice various magical phenomena and what I saw here is reminiscent of an obscurus – or at least a very potent, wild magicka pocket. If both of you are experiencing this on the regular anytime your emotions get out of control, this could be bad. Protocol is to quarantine any event like this and destroy the source - no matter what the cost. It should go without saying that I would rather not do that. I haven’t mentioned any of this to Hermione yet.” 

“You know you probably should,” pointed out Draco. 

“I know, I just don’t want to needlessly worry her. I have some pretty strong pull to keep that from happening. I think.” 

“ ‘I think’ isn’t bloody well good enough, and you know that, Potter.” 

Potter sighed. “Alright, I’ll go tell her. Hey Hermione – got a minute?” 

Draco gave them their space and said good night to Astoria who scurried off to use the loo before bed. Potter left shortly after, giving Draco a nod before aparating away, leaving Granger alone with him once more. 

“Well that was an interesting way for the night to end,” Granger observed. 

Draco nodded. “I’m concerned at how fast Weasel tried to steal the book you brought home. Especially if it turns out he didn’t plan on it. There must be something big we are missing.” 

“If only there were someone we could talk to that knew something that happened back in 1900.” Granger muttered. 

“Granger, you’re a genious!” Draco exclaimed. 

“How?” she asked, confused. “Time travel is out of the question...” 

“There are two people we can talk to actually. The portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black in either Professor McGonagall’s office or at Grimmauld place and -” 

“Don’t say it-” Granger winced, holding her hands over her ears. 

“-the portrait of my Great Aunt Walburga that’s also there.” 

Granger sighed. “Somehow I knew you were going to mention her. Can we at least explore these ideas after we get some sleep? I really don’t want to deal with that – witch – until after I am fully rested. I would really rather not deal with her at all.”  

She finished her last sentence with a pronounced grumble. Astoria was just coming out of the bathroom as they finished up, and after saying his goodbyes Draco turned on his heel and returned to Hogsmeade. He briskly walked back up to his room and unlocked it only to find a note on his pillow. 

Dear Professor Malfoy,  

I have received word from the DMLE that you are involved with something out of your control and may need tomorrow to rest and recover from whatever is going on. I would rather see you well rested to teach our students and as such I am giving you as much time off to deal with this matter sufficiently so you may return to teaching with all of your attention. You may still come and go from your room as needed as I know you do not have anywhere else to stay, I just ask that you finish whatever business it is you have between you and Ms. Granger before the start of term next semester at the very latest. I would hate to start the new year without such an important position filled.  

-Professor McGonagall  

 

P.S. I have set up your fireplace to the  Floo  Network. While you cannot  aparate  while on Hogwarts grounds, being Headmistress does give me some privileges. Do not abuse it and I will keep it open only until the end of term. Use it well.  

 

Draco folded the note and placed it over on top of his desk before going over and collapsing onto his bed.  His last thought as he passed out on top of his covers was the hope that tomorrow would bring more answers. 

Chapter Text

Hermione realized shortly after everyone left her apartment that any chances of her getting “fully rested” tonight was just not going to happen. Anytime she closed her eyes her mind filled with darkness. Not the darkness she had grown almost accustomed to over the years. That was almost a familiar darkness – empty and numb. This darkness was far from empty – it was full of more emotions than Hermione could discern. She tried to stay awake, but so much had happened lately that her own body began to betray her. Anger, hatred, fear – every terrible thing she had ever felt multiplied thrice over interspersed with faces and voices moving so rapidly she could barely register they were there. Hermione heard herself scream, but it was soon drowned out.

“ANSWER ME! CRUCIO!”

 “It’s no wonder no one can stand her. She must’ve noticed she’s got no friends.”

Hermione tried to sit up in her bed, but this time it wasn’t there anymore. Or at least, it wasn’t registering as being there. Every fiber of her being was homed in on what was happening in the dark around her.

“I’ve been thinking, why don’t we just move to Australia-?”

 “MUDBLOOD! FILTH! HOW DARE YOU BEFOUL THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS!”

All Hermione – the great heroine – could do in the face of THAT darkness was lay there curled in the fetal position, unable to focus on anything but what the darkness wanted her to see.

“Don’t be so damn, jealous, Mione!”

“No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood.”

“Hermione! Hermione, please, wake up!”

The last two voices sounded alike yet different. The words stopped and light began to fade back in as she grew aware of her surroundings again. She could feel that someone had her shoulder in tight grip and it worked as a beacon – a physical pain she could focus on separate from the pain in her mind.

Two faces began to appear, and at first she was terrified as to who it might be. Her initial assumption was that it must be Ron and Harry, before realizing neither of the two blurry shapes were redheads.

“I think she’s coming around,” came a distinctly female voice she just barely couldn’t place.

“Thank Merlin,” the male voice from earlier muttered. It took her a moment to place it.

“Draco?” Hermione asked, hearing a quick intake of breath in front of her.

“Hermione! We were so worried. Are you okay?”

Hermione turned and looked to see Astoria talking.

“What happened?” she asked, gaining a confused look from the younger witch.

“You started screaming, and then sobbing,” Astoria began as Hermione’s eyes registered she was in her own bedroom. “I ran in here to see what was wrong. I couldn’t wake you up, you were twisting and turning in bed like you were having the most horrid nightmare, but Crookshanks here started pawing at a journal that was glowing a bit beside your bed. I – I took it into the living area and saw messages from you and Draco in there so I wrote ‘HELP’. Crookshanks knocked the book closed and under the couch, and before I could pick it back up Draco was here.”

 “How?” Hermione questioned, giving Malfoy a puzzled look of her own.

He turned a bit pink before responding. “McGonagall hooked my room up to the Floo network last night. I thought you needed sleep, so I wasn’t going to message you about it until morning. When I got Astoria’s messaged, I initially thought it was going to be you saying you couldn’t sleep, either. I Floo’d here immediately and we’ve been trying to wake you up since then.”

Hermione studied the worried faces in front of her when she noticed the clock on the far wall. “Good Godric it’s 4am – how long were you trying to wake me up?”

“It’s been a while,” Malfoy informed her. “I was certain that you waking up out of a nightmare to me forcibly pining you down to the bed wouldn’t end well. Same with Astoria tying you up with ropes.”

Somehow Hermione almost wished they hadn’t told her that, though they were right.

“So we’ve been calling you trying to get you awake, and then I remembered how you calmed down earlier when I grabbed your shoulder and decided it was worth risking bodily harm to do so in hopes it might wake you.”

 “I think I did hear you at one point above the voices in my head, only it was your voice you were drowning out.”

Malfoy frowned. Reflecting, she realized what she said had been taken.

“I wasn’t having a nightmare about you exactly…it was more like – like you know when sometimes all of your brain goes into hyper focus mode where it doesn’t even register the world around you? It was like that, but with all the dark, terrible things that have ever happened. It’s starting to fade, but my chest is still beating like crazy.”

“That explains why the lights came back on when they did,” Malfoy stated.

“Huh?”

“The lights,” Astoria informed her, “I couldn’t get them to come on. That’s why I took the book to the living room to look at it. They only came back on when you started to wake.”

Hermione felt her eyes grow wide. She turned to see the wall behind her bed and the same black vines that had shown up on the wall in the other room were visible here as well.

Malfoy had apparently noticed as well. “Granger, what exactly were you dreaming about…”

Hermione struggled to remember. “It was dark,”

“Yes, I managed to guess that,” Malfoy commented. Hermione glared at him similarly to how he had glared to Harry earlier, only worse. He shut his mouth and let her continue.

“and it was full of all these faces and voices – the last thing I heard my parents say, being tortured by Bellatrix, all such awful memories.”

Hermione noticed Malfoy wait a moment before trying to speak again.

“No wonder you heard my voice,” he mumbled to himself. She saw him grab for his hair in frustration but caught his hands before he could get them there and placed them by his sides. She only realized after she saw the shocked look on Malfoy’s face that she had done that once before – the night all this seemed to start with him.

Struggling to say something before he mentioned it, Hermione blurted out the first think she could think of that would put him more at ease.

“I heard Ron more though.”

It was true – though, conversely, she had heard Ron say much more over the years than she ever had Malfoy. It did seem to calm him a little.

“I’m going to try and make tea in there.” Astoria awkwardly pointed out of the room. Hermione felt bad when she saw how awkward the witch looked just standing there. Malfoy apparently noticed as well as he leaned back away from the bed a bit.

“Tea would be lovely,” Hermione informed her.

Astoria rapidly exited the room leaving her leaning up against the headboard of her bed with Malfoy sitting on the bed beside her. One of her hands was still resting next to where she had placed his and she reached out to squeeze it. Malfoy looked down at his hands before giving her a quizzical gaze.

“Thank you,” she told him, “for coming over to help. I’m not sure that was a normal nightmare and I don’t know if I could have woken easily on my own.” She tried to turn her head to look at her wall again, but Malfoy placed his free hand against the wall beside her bed.

“Don’t think too much about it. It’s over, now you just need to calm down.”

“I wasn’t lying about Ron, I really did hear him more. I also heard your Great-Aunt’s portrait.”

Malfoy winced, pulling his hand from her grasp. “You don’t think me mentioning going to see her caused all this, do you? We can skip that if you want – she wasn’t born before 1900 so she won’t be as helpful as seeing the Headmaster’s portrait and I might be able to get the current Headmistress to let me use her office.”

Hermione shook her head. “Not without telling her exactly what is going on. She’s been helpful, yes, but putting you on the Floo network was helping more than I would have expected her to do. We will work as though that resource has been tapped out, at least for now. I think we will have to go to Grimmauld Place.”

“Does Potter live there now? Or is it back to being the run down dust pile that it became after my Great Aunt’s death?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? How do you not know where your best friend and his wife live?”

“I just don’t, okay?” Hermione snapped.

Malfoy looked at her with an odd expression. Instead of replying, he folded his arms across his chest and waited for her to continue.

Hermione sighed. “Look, Ginny is a chaser for the Hollyhead Harpies. Harry half went into hiding to start a life with her and can do that wherever she happens to be practicing or playing at. It doesn’t really matter where he Aparates in from as long as he gets to work on time, and it’s not like they have to worry about kids or anything. I don’t know where they stay when she’s not working and he’s never told me. It’s not like it would change anything, right? I’ll still have to ask about going there.”

“I might be getting a plan, but it hinges on Potter not having been there for a while. Is there anyway you could find out?”

“Right now?” Hermione looked at him like he was mad. “It’s still 4am…”

“Good point.” Malfoy admitted. “Are you going to go back to sleep tonight?”

Hermione glared at him.

“A simple no would have sufficed.” Malfoy half-yelled, half-laughed.

Astoria walked in groggily with a tea tray. Hermione watched as Malfoy deftly removed the tray from her hands and heard him ask if she wanted to go back to bed. After a nod, he pushed her towards the living room and finished bringing the tea over to Hermione’s bedside table.

“I promise I don’t have any lewd plans for sending her away,” Malfoy defended, moving his hands palms out in front of his chest before continuing. “The girl is exhausted and after everything that happened tonight, the less she knows about what we are doing, the safer I feel about her. Now, here’s my plan.”

Hermione grabbed a cup of (poorly prepared) tea from the tray while Malfoy started explaining his idea.

*****

“You sure this is going to work?” Granger asked for the millionth time.

“It will, provided Potter hasn’t been home and there aren’t any protection spells up.”

“I told you, the place doesn’t need much and besides, all the ones that kept out Snape and the Death Eaters have long expired.”

Draco winced.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to mention it. I’m really nervous and – here it is. Number 12.”

Draco looked up and could just make out a building between 11 and 13. It was about as hard to see as his Manor house had been the night he left, but he wasn’t repulsed from the property.

Good,’ Draco thought to himself, ‘this might actually work.’

Granger followed him up the stone steps, tapped the front door once with her wand, and squeezed his hand before taking a step back. He listened as the door unlocked itself and took one last deep breath before walking inside.

The gas lamps came on as he turned to closed the door, and even covered in dust the place still tried to exude the same feeling of nobility he had remembered as a child. He took a step forward and as none of the spells Hermione had recalled ever being on the entrance seemed to be triggered, he continued down the hall to his target.

Standing silently in front of a set of moth-eaten curtains, Draco cleared his throat.

“FILTH! HOW DARE YOU BEFOUL THE NOBLE HOUSE OF BLACK-”

Draco stood as proudly as he could in front of the portrait as she gradually realized who was standing before her.

“It’s you!” she accused menacingly. “That brat that belonged to Narcissa.”

Draco nodded, but continued to stand silently. The old woman still sounded every bit as nasty as before, only somewhat quieter. Proper etiquette called for him to be silent in this case until his elder asked a question that required a verbal answer, and everything hinged on how well he could play this off.

“Why have you come here, boy?”

“To ask why, upon my mother’s death, I have been denied any and all of my inheritance due me through the House of Black.”

The woman in the painting grew paler as he spoke.

“SCUM! WHO HAS DONE THIS THING!”

“It’s Potter. He convinced my father to write me out of my inheritance due to a marriage issue.”

“HALF-BLOOD! TRAITOR! YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!”

Draco tried his best not to flinch as she yelled but wasn’t sure how long he could put on this act. He hoped he could steer the conversation quickly to where he needed it to go before he cracked.

“You!” she screamed at him as though she just remembered he was standing there. “Speak. Is that Mudblood of his showing any kind of magical abnormalities?”

 “She lost control of her emotions the last time I saw her, and it was almost like her magic did with her.”

“I warned your mother of this. I warned her that we might need you and now she’s gone and failed at that. THOSE TRAITORS ARE GOING TO GET WHAT THEY DESERVE NOW.”

Draco continued to remain calm, which seemed to be making the old woman uncomfortable.

“Why are you staring? The END OF THE WORLD is coming, and you are just STANDING there.”

“The end of the world?” Draco asked, trying to stay calm. “I know I heard her say something about upcoming chaos and Eduardus Black, but the only place I had ever seen his name was here and I never would have associated his name with the end of the world.”

 “STUPID FOOL!” she yelled, grabbing the edges of her frame “IT IS TOO LATE NOW, EVEN IF YOU COULD HAVE MADE IT TO ROME, IT’S TOO LATE! IT HAS STARTED! YOUR FATE WAS SEALED WITH YOUR MOTHER’S DEATH! MAGIC IS ALREADY DETERIORATING! LEAVE ENGLAND IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE. YOU LOST YOUR CHANCE AS HER HEIR! GET OUT!”

Draco bowed his head ever so briefly before running outside to where Granger had been waiting. He had left the door cracked ever so slightly so she could hear, but by the look of things he needn’t have bothered.

“Well that escalated quicker than I had anticipated,” he informed her.

“Potter’s Mudblood? I have to assume she meant me, but I’m confused as to why.”

Granger put on the face she tended to when she was deeply analyzing – and probably overthinking – things. Draco led her aimlessly through London while she tried to piece things together.

“Why would she think I was important in all of this?”

“You are the only one of Potter’s group with…your particular blood status.”

Granger gave him a small glare before conceding his point. “Why would that be important, thought?”

“Why would it not be? Please remember, the Black family has been ‘Toujours Pur’ for forever, remember?”

“Okay…so why would it matter that I was showing odd magic.”

“Remember, I did make it sound like everything was happening to him and not me…”

“Of course!” Granger yelled, stopping abruptly. “The note in my tome!”

Draco wasn’t following. “Which part? The bit about thing getting twisted in the thorns of chaos? Because I think that’s been happening since Friday.”

“No, the other part. Look, we know the writer is probably female, yes?”

“Yeah…” Draco agreed, trying to see where she was going with all of this.

“And it appears the author is writing to Eduardus.”

“Uh-huh….”

“Well, what if the author is muggle born?”

“Of course!” Draco exclaimed, finally catching on. “the Black family are the ones that will ‘pay for what they did’ and it would have to be a mudblood to be ‘one that shall rise like me’ since it can’t be one of us.”

It was out of his mouth before he realized it. In his defense, it was such of a natural anonym to Pure-blood and was engrained into the particular mindset he was channeling just moments before, but he knew it wouldn’t make a difference. Not only had he said the one word he promised her he wouldn’t, he used it in a way that distinctly involved her.

As they were currently walking through Muggle London all she could do at the moment was glare at him, but he knew there was no coming back from this, and no point putting off the inevitable. He pulled her into a deserted alley and made sure there wasn’t anyone around.

“Alright, make it quick,” Draco muttered, closing his eyes and waiting for Granger’s wrath to come down upon him.

Chapter Text

Hermione tried not to cry as she glared down towards where Malfoy had sat down on a discarded wooden crate about halfway into the alleyway facing away from her. She was angry, yes, but honestly hearing that slur slip from his lips had hurt more than anything else. She used to be able to wear the word like armour, owning it until it no longer had an effect on her, but with everything that had gone on in her life lately she was more susceptible to that kind of thing it seemed. It had been hard enough to hear Walburga hurl hate speech a short while earlier, but now Hermione was leaning on the wall of the alleyway trying not to be sick as every moment she had ever been made to feel lesser in the Wizarding community came washing unbidden through her mind all at once.

Darkness began to fill her head, but it surprised her that it wasn’t accompanied by the hatred she had felt the night before. This made her feel small, isolated, and still shrinking far away from where she now stood. She was starting to shake like a leaf and Malfoy’s final slip had been like an epic gut punch she had not expected.

First and foremost, though, she fought hard to remember that she had to find a way to stay calm. If Harry was right, and an explosion of magical energy is considered a threat in the Wizarding World, she could only imagine what might happen if she lost control in Muggle London.

Breathing deeply, holding it and letting it go for various seconds – trying to focus on one thing she could taste and trying hopelessly to remember what senses she should be concentrating on until she made it up to five things she could feel or whatever that bloody trick was – systematically relaxing various parts of her body – nothing seemed to be helping.

After what seemed like hours but was most likely only a few minutes, Hermione remembered her wand and tried to cast a quick cheering charm. Professor Flitwick would not have been impressed by the low potency she managed to pull off, but it was enough to curb some of her panic attack.

Dragging her feet over to where Malfoy was sitting, she saw that he didn’t seem to notice how he was currently shaking as well –  any more than he noticed the fact that the more he shook, the more cats seemed to be coming up to try and comfort him. An almost hazy aura that distorted some of Hermione’s view was also radiating from him, leading her to believe that the cat lure was probably happening from Malfoy’s current lack of emotional control.

A small part of her didn’t want to follow through on hexing him like she promised. As much as it hurt, she knew she had just forced him to drop into a hateful mindset. Still, there was a reason he was working so hard to stop using that word, and as she scoured her brain for a suitable hex, she suddenly realized exactly which spell to hit him with.

Rictusempra!”

Malfoy fell to the ground among the cats and started squirming around laughing at the top of his lungs. A few passing Muggles looked down the alley towards them as he did and shook their heads disapprovingly. Most of the cats took off for their hiding places, but a few of the less skittish ones took this as an invitation to play. Hermione watched the scene for a bit before muttering the counter-curse.

Soon Malfoy was able to pull himself up to a seated position on the ground. A particularly adventurous tabby crawled into his lap and nuzzled against him, causing him to finally break back into a small smile again.

“I’m really sorry about earlier, Granger,” Malfoy insisted. “I should have caught myself better.”

“I can understand how it happened, but it still hurt,” Hermione tried to explain, “especially after everything with your Great-Aunt earlier.”

“I know,” Malfoy agreed, dropping his head into his hands.

“Why were you shaking so hard, anyway?” she asked. “Were you that scared of me hexing you?”

“Not exactly…” Malfoy started, but seemed reluctant to finish.

Still forcing herself to stay calm, Hermione reached down, gently lifting one of Malfoy’s hands from his face and used it to pull him to a standing position.

“Do you think it has been long enough for her portrait to calm down?” Malfoy asked, clearly trying to change the subject. “You have a bit more experience with her than I do.”

“I think so. Let’s head back and speak to our other portrait. The sooner we get more answers, the sooner we can go about fixing things.”

Malfoy nodded enthusiastically in agreement and started leading Hermione back towards their destination. For that she was thankful, as she hadn’t managed to remember where they had walked off to.

“What do you think my great-aunt meant back there about Rome?”

“I have no clue,” Hermione admitted, “but we can make sure to ask Phineas.”

They had made it back to their destination and slowly crept up the steps to the front door and cautiously pushed it open. All was quiet once more, so Hermione and Malfoy tiptoed slowly towards the now quietly sleeping painting and pulled her moth-eaten curtains closed in front of the old Black matriarch.

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief once that section of their plan was finished. She was confident they could get through the rest of their visit without much problems now that they were done with Walburga.

“Come on, I think Harry hung Phineas’ picture back up in the living room.”

The pair moved down the hall to their next stop and saw the portrait in question was empty.

“Professor Black?” Hermione called to no avail.

“Let me try,” Malfoy requested. Hermione took a step back as he moved closer to the portrait.

*****

“Professor? It’s me, Draco. I have some things I need to ask you about your Great Uncle, Eduardus.”

 A moment later, an elderly man slipped in from the side of the picture frame. “Eduardus? What makes you want to know about that traitorous scum? Unless…but no, it can’t be.”

Draco noticed the painting give a particularly foul look at Granger, who chose that time to try addressing him again.

“Good morning, Professor. Remember me?”

“Salazar’s Serpents, anyone but you Miss Know-It-All. I did not take fondly being shoved in your magic bag and I sincerely hope you are not here to try that again.”

“No, I’m just here with Malfoy to get a few answers.”

“Answers? About Eduardus? No, not you, anyone but you – you little m-“

“Do not use that word!” Draco screamed at the portrait, slamming his hand down beside Phineas’ head, causing the painting to take a step back. Granger appeared to be a bit shocked at how strongly Draco had reacted.

“You don’t understand, do you?” the portrait stammered once he had regained his composure somewhat. “How could you though, you’re barely more than a child. And yet, I can see the air around you change as you react to things. It’s finally happening, isn’t it? The end of the Black family’s magical restraints, and the beginning of the end of Magical Britain as we know it. Though it seems to not be at its full strength…”

The painting paused for a moment to think before focusing his discussion on Draco. “You there – when you came into the Headmistress’ office you mentioned something about a problem between your family and another one – did it by chance involve your will?”

“Yes. We’ve already started to suspect whatever is going on might have something to do with that,” Draco informed him.

“Are you an only child with your mother still living?”

“Yes…” Draco responded, looking somewhat confused.

“Oh good, we might still have a chance then.”

“I’m sorry, a chance at what?” Granger interjected.

Phineas’ painting looked over to her. “A chance at keeping chaos at bay, if you must know.”

“Please, sir,” Draco asked with a tone just shy of begging, “we have very little information and not much we can connect. We know that magic itself has been spontaneously happening around us anytime we lose control of our emotion. The first such times happened when we danced, causing purple twirls of fire to cover where our hands met and up our arms.”

The portrait developed a look of horror but did not make a move to speak.

Granger did her best to get Phineas caught up on what was happening, something Draco was glad of as he wasn’t sure if he could have gotten all of the points straight as well as she had.

“I have a feeling my mother may have talked to one of your descendants about this years ago, but she never got a chance to talk to me about it. She slipped me a family tree with Eduardus Limette on it partially cut off with a rose growing on it, but that’s not much to go on.”

“Your mother gave you more than you realize, boy,” Phineas informed him, “but I guess without context it won’t get you far.”

The portrait sighed before continuing. “Oh very well, I assume neither of you will leave until you hear the full story as I know it, so I might as well get this over with. My great uncle, Eduardus Limette Black, who was once the heir apparent of the Black family, fell in love and married a French woman by the name of Rose. Rose was brilliant in nearly every way – beautiful, smart, cunning, and witty to boot. The only problem was she was a m-, she wasn’t actually born into a Pureblooded French family as she had always claimed. It was shortly before his death that this leaked out – terrible scandal, probably contributed to his death either due to stress or a more direct means from our family – and once the Black family tried to throw her out, she disappeared for a while. Many hoped she had killed herself, but odd things started to happen.

“My son, Phineas, he was working at in the Department of Mysteries at the same time Rose was supposed to have been missing. I still believe she did something to him while he was there as he was never quite the same after what I think was an incident there that was heavily hushed up. I don’t know all the details, but he was hospitalized for a while, raving about Rose and how mud-“

“DO NOT SAY THAT WORD!” Draco yelled over the painting again.

“-were no different than the rest of us and later championing their rights. I had no choice but to remove him from the family after that.”

“You had a choice,” Granger muttered. “He was family.”

“Then do I get a choice as to whether I finish my story? Because I bloody well would rather not dredge this up at all.”

Draco watched Granger reluctantly grow silent, and soon the painting began his tale again.

“Then one day, Rose, bold as brass and mad as ever, showed up at our old manor – it was long before this tiny thing here was built – raving nonsense about how she had gone to the future and knew how to destroy us.”

“What happened to Rose?” asked Granger, the naivety in her tone heavily apparent.

Draco placed a hand on her shoulder before speaking, trying his best to word his answer carefully.

“Knowing pure-blood mentality and traditions, you probably don’t want to actually know that.”

“The boy is right, you know. Probably best we just leave that to your imagination. It will be less severe than the real thing.”

Granger covered her mouth in shock. Malfoy gave her shoulder a gently squeeze before dropping his hand and moving closer to address the portrait.

“So you think that somehow this crazy bat from over a hundred years ago might have something to do with us? Could she have cast some kind of spell on us that forced us together?”

“I wouldn’t give her that much credit. If she did target the two of you, she would have possibly guided you along, but I doubt she would be capable of much else. It is very hard, even with magic, to force people together without the constant use of strong love potions and heavily applied imperious curses, neither of which I believe she could have easily done from the past. No my boy, whatever you and this – witch – have going between the two of you I can tell you is most likely not dueto outside means.”

“But what was that fiery purple spell that started all of this? Couldn’t that have been her doing?” Granger questioned the poor old wizard.

Phineas paused for a moment before replying. “Possibly. I believe I recognize that spell, and I’m willing to bet that someone here lost his chance at inheritance because he couldn’t agree to marry another witch. I’m guessing to be part of the Greengrass family after your slip up in the Headmistress’ office.”

“How did you-”

“I may look old to the two of you, but never associate that with lack of understanding. Also, use this as a warning to be careful of your surroundings when you discuss such things; especially pertaining to what you have discussed with me and Walburga in the hallway– you might accidentally end up in deep trouble letting the wrong people overhear you.”

Suddenly, a silvery stag materialized in the room behind them.

“Hermione!” Potter’s voice came through when the stag opened its mouth. “Meet me at St. Mungo’s. It’s Ginny – and, and the baby. Hurry!”

“Baby? What the-“

“Go, Granger, I’ll finish things up here and contact you when I’m done.”

“Alright, make sure you ask him about Rome!” she called as she ran quickly way to the front stoop.

“MUDBLOOD! HOW DARE YOU! OUT OF MY FATHER’S HOUSE RIGHT-”

The front door slammed before she could finish. “-NOW YOU FILTH!”

Draco looked at the portrait of Phineas, both of them wincing from the noise in the hall.

“How long can she go on like this?” Draco half-yelled so the painting in front of him could hear.

“A good long while when’s she’s properly awake. Thankfully, she’s been rather tired lately without any excitement to keep her up. Not at all like how she was when the Order stayed here. I daresay your lie earlier did make her more agitated than before, and then seeing that particular Mudblood certainly didn’t help.”

 “I TOLD YOU NOT TO SAY THAT WORD!” Draco screamed, nearly matching his Great Aunt for volume.

Quiet seemed to come from the hallway, and then a large crash. Draco moved over so he could see what might have made the noise, only to see the portrait of his Great Aunt ripped off the wall and was leaning against the opposite one. There was a gash near the top that allowed the curtain to fall down a bit and was now tied around the middle of the painting – completely blocking Walburga’s mouth, much to her shock.

Draco slowly stepped back towards Phineas’ portrait. It was only then he noticed the shallow crack on the floor that started below where he had been standing and heading all the way to the now fallen portrait in the hall.

“On the bright side at least, she’s now quiet and I daresay Master Potter will be pleased you were able to take care of her. Ancient, wild magic does have its advantages, though in his case right now that’s probably a bad thing.”

“Why? What’s wrong with Potter?”

“Oh, it’ll be nothing wrong with him, mind you. Inheritance is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to families like ours. When my Great-Great-Grandson died and left everything to Potter, certain protections and spells were reconnected to your mother’s section of the line and was set up to continue on to you – even if you weren’t a direct male descendant, you were close enough, much closer than any other living relatives who probably no longer have enough of the Black blood to work. Now with you removed from the picture, the magic that protects Britain is trying to find the source of the interference and destroy it, starting with whomever the inheritance slipped to in the process.”

“Meaning-”

 “Meaning if you and that mud-, witch, don’t fix things in Rome, magic will rebound on any children that Potter conceives, and they will die – quite gruesomely if I remember the treatise correctly. Anything to punish those trying to steal from the House of Black.”

Draco felt the blood drain from his face. He might not be on the best of terms with Potter and Weaslette, but the idea that their children might suffer greatly was not something he could stomach well.

“Since you two have been peppering me with questions all day, I’m going to ask one myself and I won’t answer any more inquiries until you answer, which you will need if you want to know anything more about Rome. What exactly is going on between you and that Mud-, witch, and why are you so dead set against that term when our family has used it for generations.”

“I – I don’t know. And I might have slipped up and called her that earlier. It didn’t end so well and I would rather it not happen again.”

It wasn’t the whole truth, but Draco wasn’t sure even he knew why he was so much more adamant about not using that word.

“Hmm. I somewhat doubt that, considering the spell you two mentioned earlier.”

Draco was curious now. “What exactly was that, then? I haven’t been able to find out anything on it beyond the fact that purple magic seems to be better than green.”

“You have heard of an Unbreakable Vow, yes?”

“I have…I don’t know many wizards who haven’t.”

“There is another spell like it, one that bonds two soulmates together. The spell effects are very similar – as is some of the process. In this case, both parties must make an oath to support one another – usually in specific areas, any sort of babbling charm tends to help with that – both parties must be somewhat compatible with one another though there has been debate as to how that is defined, obviously both must be single, and it doesn’t work with just anyone – it doesn’t create soulmates, it only binds them if used on the right people. Quite useful in some cases – used to be used from time to time to try and get out of arranged marriages, but it never was commonly known.”

“Wait,” Draco interjected, much to the older wizard’s annoyance, “doesn’t an Unbreakable Vow require three people? There was no one there besides Granger and I at that time.”

“You seem to forget, young man, that Rose was a formidable witch, capable of getting in and out of the Department of Mysteries unnoticed – not an easy feat. And there are no other spells I know of that could create such an effect, and I daresay I know more of those than you would. It is quite possible that she knew some means of making herself unseen.”

“That…would make sense,” Draco admitted.

Draco was unsure of how he felt about all this. The word “soulmate” wasn’t one that came up very often – most people in the Wizarding World considered the very concept to be right up there with mediocre Seer predictions on how believable it was.

He was also unsure of how he was going to explain all this to Granger.

“Are you content now, or are you going to keep asking me personal questions to get out of talking about Rome?”

“I am content, if somewhat upset at whom one of my descendants was now bonded to.”

A quick glare was all that Draco had to give to get the portrait back on topic.

“Right, well, about Rome, what you have to understand is, aside from knowing that the Black family was one of the original Pureblood families honored to have our bloodline bound to the magical dampeners set in place to keep everyone’s magic from acting like yours has been the last few days, I don’t actually know much else.”

“You…don’t? But then, what was my great-aunt going on about earlier. Surely she didn’t know more than you did.”

“Of course not, boy. Walburga, while very knowledgeable on traditions and lore involving the Black family itself, she knew much less than even I do about our origins and what has made our line last as long as it has. Or did, as the case now seems to be.”

“Don’t count me out yet. Surely you must know something that can help.”

“I never said I didn’t, just that I don’t know all that much. There was a book, an old book bound by many enchantments, that was said to house the knowledge needed to transfer a family’s inheritance laws to another, with closest family members that hadn’t been allowed to inherit gaining priority over other contenders for a short window until magic became so unwieldy that any Pureblood family could claim it.”

“Great!” Draco exclaimed, finally feeling like they were getting somewhere. “Where is this book now?”

“The last place I know it to have been was the old Black estate from before the family moved into here. We called it Serpent’s End, but I don’t know which family lives there now.”

A tight pain shot through Draco’s chest. “That estate belongs to the Greengrass family now – the ones that tricked me out of my will.”

Phineas looked exceptionally worried. “Then let us hope that it is merely a coincidence that they triggered this chain of events, and not something more sinister.”

Draco knew he had to move fast and get this info to Granger. He didn’t even bother to try and use her journal, choosing instead to bolt to the front door – taking careful strides to not step on the quietly sobbing portrait of his great aunt – and Apparated straight to St. Mungo’s.

*****

Hermione ran up to the Welcome Witch’s desk faster than she had ever moved in her life.

“Ginny Weas-er, Potter! Which room?”

“Ginny Potter is currently on the fourth floor receiving treatment,” the Welcome Witch informed her in an uninterested monotone. “You can wait with the rest of the family on the fifth floor until a Healer comes to tell you she’s ready to move to a room.”

“Thanks,” Hermione tried to say politely but came out a bit more like a sneer. Jumping in the lift and heading up to the fifth floor, she was momentarily taken aback when she saw the whole Weasley family, minus Ron, in attendance. Before Molly could run up and swarm her, Harry jumped out of his seat and pulled her aside.

“Hermione! Thank Merlin you’re here. Look, I don’t know how I can explain it to the others, but we have a problem. Come with me!” he insisted in a whisper as he dragged her back into the empty lift and hit the button for the fourth floor.

“That – thing – that happened last night, when you lost control of your magic – do you think it could have been passed on to me?”

“No…not exactly, though it might have something to do with your inheritance from Sirius. Why? Did something happen to Ginny?”

Harry breathe a small sigh of relief. “Then it might have happened before I got home and isn’t my fault. At least there’s that.”

The doors open and Harry started to lead her through various doors and halls as he filled her in on what had happened.

“Last night – I got home late from finishing some paperwork and found Ginny already laying in bed at our hotel instead of up making dinner or going over some Quidditch plays – I’d never seen her go to bed before I came back and I knew something was wrong. When I went over to check on her, I grabbed her shoulder and black vines appeared where I touched her. She woke up and insisted she was fine, adamant that I had worked late and probably just imagined the whole thing.”

“You had been working hard, so that is plausible,” agreed Hermione. “What happened next that convinced you to come here?”

“Well, we had suspected for a little while now that Ginny might be pregnant, but we didn’t want to check and get our hopes up. Apparently, Molly has had a few miscarriages in the past and Gin was worried if something like that happened with us it might cause Molly some avoidable pain. We thought that this might be something like that, but Ginny seized and passed out when we got here. They haven’t been able to wake her up yet.”

“Do they know?” Hermione asked, though she was certain she knew the answer.

“About the magic destabilization? Not yet,” admitted Harry, “and the family doesn’t even know about the pregnancy. I promised Ginny I wouldn’t tell her parents until she was ready to. I wasn’t even supposed to tell you already, but under the circumstances…”

Harry stopped walking and took a deep breath before opening the door in front of him. Hermione looked in and saw dozens of healers with their wands out surrounding an unmoving body with bright red hair. She could just make out enough facial features to tell it was Ginny, but most of her body looked pale with the occasional black vine appearing on her whenever a healer brushed up against her skin.

One of the senior Healers watched them try to enter the room and moved to stop them.

“Mister Potter, we still have no idea what is causing your wife to be unconscious, and I will have to ask you to leave, DMLE or not, until we do. Visitors are still not allowed.”

“Hermione!” yelled a voice from across the room. The senior Healer looked rather annoyed at the outburst but didn’t say anything.

“Astoria?”

“Yes! I told them you would know what to do here. It looks like something you might recognize, though no one would believe me.”

“Quiet, trainee!” bellowed one of the other Healers, “just stand there and bring us potions as we need them.”

“Excuse me?” came a voice from behind Harry and Hermione. The parted enough to allow the new visitor room to enter.

“Madame Larch, I can explain,” began Astoria, but Madame Larch raised a hand to silence her.

“You, Ashton – under no circumstances are you to ever speak down to a fellow employee. Let me catch you doing it again and there will be consequences.”

The Healer that had spoken out earlier let loose a sneer but stayed silent.

“Miss Greengrass, as you seem to have some familiarity with what is going on, I’m assigning you to stay with Mrs. Potter until she is discharged

“Yes, ma’am,” she replied, moving over beside where the senior healer was working.

“Potter, I need you to come with me,”

“But my wife!” demanded Harry, “I need to stay here!”

“You need to come with me. We have been having some issues in the rooms around this one that I need to talk to you about. Miss Granger is welcome to come along as well if she wants.”

Harry nodded, and followed behind Hermione, but not before she saw him take one more look at Ginny.

Madame Larch was quiet the whole way back down to her office, not even dropping a hint of what she needed to discuss with them until they got there.

“Sit,” she told them as she moved to the seat behind her desk.

Hermione sat down in the same seat she had the last time she was in this office, but Harry just stood pacing near the door.

“It has come to my attention that all the rooms around where Mrs. Potter is being healed have had some interesting phenomenon happening.”

She gave a pointed stare at the two of them, but neither Harry nor Hermione made a move to respond.

“It’s mostly benign things – covers tucking in more securely, lights turning on when needed but before someone can get to it, lost items suddenly appearing right before someone’s face, and one child claims that while he was crying he felt someone hug him tightly – but as this is a hospital, any random bursts of magic, however benign, is cause for concern. Do either of you have any idea what is going on?”

Harry shook his head in confusion, but Hermione had an idea.

“Could it all be coming from Ginny?” Madame Larch and Harry looked at her with quizzical glances as she continued. “She’s up there fighting with everything she’s got to be a mother, her magic might be overflowing, even if she doesn’t appear to be reacting.”

“And why would you suspect her magic to be overflowing? That is not something commonly seen, even in my profession, yet you seem quite keen on it being a possibility.”

“I can’t exactly explain it, but-”

Just then, the door to the office slammed open, and in walked Malfoy. Madame Larch stood up and looked like she was about to yell when he ran straight up to Hermione.

“It’s the Black family magic – it’s targeting the baby. If we can’t figure out what we need to do in Rome to fix all of this, that baby isn’t going to make it.”

Harry looked like he was about to faint as Hermione stepped over to where he had been pacing to help hold him steady.

“Did Phineas tell you what we need to do then?”

“He didn’t know, but there’s a book that should be able to explain everything.”

“Well you need to bloody well find it, and now!” Harry half-yelled, fighting out of Hermione’s hold. “If I lose my child because of something the two of you have done-”

“Don’t worry, Harry,” Hermione assured him, “you are completely in you right to never speak to me again if that happens. But it won’t, because we know where the book is, right?”

She looked at Malfoy at hopes she was right, only to see him look down at his shoes and shuffle his feet.

“Well?” she asked him.

He looked up, showing a slight bit of fear in his eyes as he addressed her again.

“It’s in the old Black manor – the one that the Greengrasses currently live in.”

The blood rushed from Hermione’s face as it registered what this could mean.

“Will somebody please tell me what the heck is going on, and why my office is suddenly busier than King’s Cross?”

Hermione turned and watched a look of panic seep onto Madame Larch’s face as she locked eyes with her. Taking turns, they quickly explained all that they could, with some of the new information making even Harry look uncomfortable.

“You do realize that this hospital has similar rules to the DMLE when it comes to these kinds of magical events, correct?”

Hermione, as well as Harry and Malfoy she noticed, moved to respond but Madame Larch cut them off.

“I see no reason as to why we would need to take any drastic measures now, especially as it only seems to be the people in this room, and one of my assistants, that have any suspicion as to what is currently going on in this facility. Understand that should things get more out of control I will have no choice but to eliminate the problem.”

Hermione looked at Malfoy, who gave her a quick nod.

“We understand,” he told her.

“God speed, then,” she told them, “and good luck.”

“Please,” Harry begged, “I can’t-”

Hermione was surprised to see Malfoy walk over and give Harry’s shoulder a quick squeeze.

“We will succeed. I may not have the same connection to you as Granger, but not even I can sit idly by when someone’s child is at stake.”

Harry gave a slight smile that didn’t reflect the rest of his face but nodded at him. After he walked out of the office, it was Hermione’s turn to comfort him.

For once, she didn’t have any words to say, yet he seemed to understand her completely.

She was going to bring Ginny and her baby back to him, no matter what the cost.

Chapter Text

“Wouldn’t it be easier to take Harry up on his offer to have the DMLE raid Serpent’s End?” Granger asked again.

“And risk having them figure out we are on to them? Absolutely not. Father would get extra protective of everything in the manor whenever he even got a hint there were raids going on. We’d never find the book if we brought them in.”

“Then how do you propose we go about entering a pureblood manor without getting caught.”

“Walking up to it, of course. Most pureblood manors have anti-Apparation charms around their house and keep their Floo’s closed to all but a select group. Very few actually have protections against people just walking on up. No witch or wizard in their right mind would do such a thing.”

“Brilliant!” Granger exclaimed, giving Draco a quick hug before jumping back a step and staring at her feet, causing him to grin heavily.

“Come on, I’ll at least get us close to the manor. Father insisted I visit there a few times over the past few years and I spent most of my time trying to get away. There’s a wood not too far I can get us to easily.”

“I’ll follow your lead,” Granger informed him. “Let’s go.”

Draco felt chills run down his spine as she reached out and grabbed his hand to Apparate. Smiling from the warmth coming from how close her body was to his, he paused a moment to soak up the feeling before turning on his heel, and then they were on the edge of a thick forest.

Draco noticed that Granger didn’t immediately let go of his hand, and he felt a twang of sadness when she finally did.

“Which way to the manor?” she asked as she walked out of the trees and into the light. Draco followed close behind.

“I believe it’s this way – yes, I can see one of the outbuildings from here. Come on, it’s not too far.”

Draco took off in a light sprint, feeling a bit refreshed from being outside in the evening air. He had insisted on coming to the manor around dinner time for many reasons, but he hadn’t really considered how pleasant this was starting out as. Granger easily matched his speed, hanging back just a tad from being level with him.

Scanning the area in front of him, Draco was relieved to not see any of the Greengrasses’ hounds wandering the property. He thought he had remembered that they usually got called in to be fed around this time of night, and he was relieved when it appeared he was right.

Looking back to Granger, he gestured towards the main manor house and stealthily headed towards where he thought the main dining hall was. Sure enough, both Mr. and Mrs. Greengrass, as well as Daphne, were seated around the table.

The plan was to first see if they could overhear anything that might clue them in on whether it was mere coincidence that the Greengrass name seemed to keep coming up or if there was something fouler afoot. Draco carefully made his way underneath a large window close to the head of the table and pulled Granger under the window with him.

Having her so close was somewhat distracting, but he couldn’t fully put his finger on why. Part of him suspected that after his discussion with Phineas he wasn’t holding back from enjoying his time with Granger anymore. Soulmates or not, they were certainly going to be around each other for a while now, and he might as well stop wasting the time and energy to hold up a wall between them.

Slowly gaining more of his ability to focus, Draco strained to hear what he could of the discussion happening inside the manor. He could hear the Greengrass family conversing and the general noise of silverware hitting plates, but Draco was getting a bit worried at how long they had been sitting there. He had heard nothing yet that could connect the Greengrass family to what was happening with him and Granger, and he was really hoping they wouldn’t have to resort to actually sneaking into the manor. He was about to start moving the two of them towards a rarely used door in the kitchens he managed to sneak out of last time when their patience finally paid off.

“Oh, Father, look! I found a part in the journal here saying that Rose managed to find out where the Black family book was located but was unable to relocate it to a new location,” Daphne explained excitedly.

“That still doesn’t tell us where the bloody thing is!” Mr. Greengrass answered angrily.

“I’m trying, Father. I’d almost suspect she was cursed to not be able to directly tell us exactly where it is.”

“Well keep trying. I’ve already sacrificed one daughter for this foolish scheme, and I’m out of heirs to raise my dynasty if I have to do the same to you.”

“Yes, Father.”

Draco could hear the melancholy in Daphne’s voice. He was starting to feel a little sorry for her because of how her father was treating her.

“How is your Imperious Charm holding up, dear? You haven’t told us lately how that was going.”

Imperious Charm? What was Mrs. Greengrass talking about?

“I’m trying. He’s so powerful, and it was all I could do to keep a hold on him when he was given that truth serum.”

“You need to find a way to get him out of the cell he’s in. He’s no good to us if he can’t spy on anyone or cause us distractions. He should have been easily capable to take out your sister, but that failed miserably.”

“He fought me so hard on that one, Father. I don’t think I can manage forcing him to do something so against his will again.”

“Then get him out and I will attach myself back to his necklace if you are unable to adequately handle him. He’s a useful pawn and still has a few moves left before we need to get rid of him.”

“Necklace?” Granger mouthed at him. Draco shrugged and shifted his position under the window.

Unfortunately, he grazed the edge of the window as he did, causing the glass to rattle loudly.

All of a sudden, the sound of multiple chairs being slid back filled the area around him as a spell hit the window above Draco causing it to fly open.

“Show yourself. Now!” demanding Mr. Greengrass.

Granger quickly shot a spell at their faces that would distort their features before standing up beside Draco.

Accio Journal!” she yelled, and Draco watched as a book flew from beside Daphne and soared neatly into Granger’s hand.

“Run!” she yelled, and Draco wasted no time breaking out at the fastest sprint imaginable.

“After them!” Mr. Greengrass ordered, though to whom she had no idea. “Kill them if you must! Where are those damn dogs? Get that book back!”

Panting, Draco turned his head slightly to try and see what was coming up behind them. An army of dirt golems ripped straight out of the ground directly in front of where he and Granger had been hiding moments before and were moving quite lithely across the grass – Draco noticed that they didn’t seem to walk as much as moving through the ground like a wave over water.

Granger must have noticed, too, as she picked up her pace at the same time Draco had. The golems were almost on them as Draco felt the magical anti-apparation spell dissipate behind him. Lunging foreward with all he had left in him, he grabbed Granger’s hand and Apparated them to her apartment.

“Floo, my room, safer,” he managed to get out before stumbling to her fireplace.

Using the last bit of strength he had, he grabbed a handful of Floo powder, feebly hollared “Hogwarts,” and stepped through the green flames only to half collapse onto his bed when he landed.

*****

Hermione followed Malfoy through the Floo as she felt her knees beginning to collapse under her. While she wasn’t in bad shape, running for her life took an awful lot of energy. Not caring for social norms, she threw herself down beside Malfoy on the bed until she could catch her breath.

Not that she would have complained about being there. Mainly she had chosen to rest on the bed because it was the most comfortable thing in the room, but after watching Malfoy run and sitting so close to him at the manor she could barely hear anything over her heart pounding in her chest she wasn’t exactly upset at how close they were.

Why the hell am I feeling like this? It’s Malfoy for Godric’s sake!

Then again, there was that change in how her Amorentia smelled…

Before she could think too much about it, Malfoy rolled over onto his back and pulled up to a seated position. After allowing herself to take a few more breaths Hermione did the same. They still sat there quietly for a few minutes before Malfoy began to laugh.

At first Hermione thought he was crazy until relief set in for her, and after a moment later she was joining in with him.

“Whew. That was intense,” he finally managed to get out between the lingering giggles that they both struggled to stop.

“I don’t think I have ever run that fast in my life.”

“You were brilliant, Granger. Remembering to change our faces and then when you called for that book – it was incredible.”

Hermione started blushing. “It wasn’t all that great. Though speaking of which-”

She pulled out her wand and proceeded to fix the hurried mess she had made of each of their faces.

“There, that’s better.”

Malfoy smiled big after she cast the spell, and she could even hear the difference in his voice as he talked.

“You still have the book? We might want to read over it ourselves.”

Hermione shook her head.

“Not yet, we still have a couple of things we need to take care of,” she reminded him.

She put down the book she had apparently been death gripping without realizing it and pulled out her wand. After summoning her patronus – something Malfoy seemed especially keen to see – she sent out two messages – one to Harry letting him know that Ron had a cursed necklace allowing him to be controlled and the other to Astoria warning her not to go home from the hospital until Hermione let her know otherwise.

“There,” Hermione half sighed, slouching on the lower part of Malfoy’s bed, “now I feel like we can look at this book without my conscious acting up on me.”

Malfoy scooted across his headboard to the far side and looked to the space he had just vacated.

“Do you want to sit up here with me?” he asked, before somewhat awkwardly following it up with “I mean, so we can both see it – the book I mean. Instead of one of us always looking at it upside down and constantly having to flip the it around.”

“Sure,” Hermione agreed, a little more excitedly than she had been trying to sound.

Moving up beside Malfoy, Hermione did her best to sit still enough that she wasn’t leaning against his shoulder no matter how much she seemed to teeter that way. Concentrating as hard as she could on the book, Hermione opened to the first page to find the typical “Here Lies the Journal of…” nonsense that seems to preface most diaries.

The next few pages seemed to mostly be rants about how terrible she saw the Black family as being. Hermione noticed a few notes in the margins of the book and pointed it out to Malfoy.

“Oh, that?” Malfoy replied, “that’s Daphne’s handwriting. I’m surprised you didn’t recognize it after all of our potions classes together.”

“Your handwriting, yes – our group butted heads with yours constantly. Daphne’s though? I have to think to remember she was there some days. I don’t think she was as quiet as her sister – or quiet in quite the same way – but she definitely didn’t make a point to show off.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes and smiled but didn’t comment. Instead, he let his finger glide over the page and flip to the next one.

“Let’s see…well, here it says she found out the Black family didn’t stay at Serpent’s End, but she had no knowledge of whom had moved in between her time and ours. That’s why she left this journal there – she assumed it would be another Pureblood family.”

“And as no family was treated as highly as the Blacks, she could easily predict they wouldn’t feel as close to royalty as them, using that to twist them into thinking they could become as powerful as they once were. Listen to this bit: ‘they aren’t really better than any other Pureblood family – they have merely been lucky. You more than possess the necessary qualities that they did when they came into their power. You could harness it, you just need to wait for the opportune time. It is coming – I have seen it.’ What a load of tosh!”

“Maybe,” agreed Malfoy, “but it seems like it was effective. Look, she even details down here how important inheritance is to everything. This has to be how they managed to trick Father.”

“I’m not seeing anything about a book detailing things that need to happen in Rome, though.” Hermione reflected. “It looks like she barely references it.”

The two of them poured over a few more chapters, each page taking more and more time to glance over, until Hermione started to wonder if they’d even find something tonight.

“Here!” Malfoy interjected, leaning up against Hermione’s shoulder as he reached towards the book. “’it is up to you to find the book I could not retrieve – the Nigrae Sanguinem Magicae – it will be the key to make all your dreams come true.’ Ugh, her wording is insufferably trite – I feel like I’m going to vomit.”

Hermione tried to agree, but her breath hitched in her chest from how close Malfoy was. She settled for nodding instead, which still ended up almost nuzzling him.

“Well,” he mumbled with what sounded like some difficulty, “it would be if I was reading this on my own.”

Before Hermione could ask him what he meant by that comment, a silvery mist appeared in front of them, taking the appearance of a stag. Knowing it was a message from Harry, she felt herself awkwardly lean away from Malfoy as though Harry himself had walked into the door. She barely had time to register a slightly disappointed sigh from beside her before Harry’s voice poured from the Patronus.

“Hermione – Ron’s gone. I don’t know how he’s done it, but when I went to check about a necklace all his guards were knocked out. He seems to have left of his own accord. Don’t go home – I’ll personally move Crookshanks to the Burrow right now. I’ll let you know when I have something more. Please be careful.”

Hermione felt the blood drain from her face. In one moment she had gone from optimistically having more answers than she could ever have hoped for to having no place to go home to and her highly trained – and probably mind controlled – ex-boyfriend on the loose.

Chapter Text

Draco’s footsteps bounced of the walls of the corridor as he made his way to a familiar griffin statue. Granger had already floo’d to the hospital to speak with Astoria in person and try to brainstorm places the two of them could safely stay.

When Draco had asked why they couldn’t stay at the Weasley’s place if that was where Potter was taking her cat, a look of pain followed by tears had overtaken her face as she spoke.

That place stopped being home for me years ago – when I realized that Molly and Arthur would never let themselves see how badly Ron hurt me. And to some extent, I believed their claims that he meant well – why else would I still smell Ron’s hair around Amorentia if he wasn’t meant for me?”

Draco had tried not to look to far into the grieving witch’s words before she continued.

“I think the moment I realized I no longer smelled his hair when I walked into work was one of the most freeing moments I had ever felt.”

Draco had been a little uncomfortable as she began to break down, and not just because the air had begun to chill in his room and literal storm clouds formed above her head. No, this was one of those times that really drove home how little emotion was expected to be shown in the way he had been raised. He had no training in how to calm people who were in distress because he wasn’t expected to ever deal with it.

Going with his gut, he had decided to pull her into an awkward embrace – one he tried to intentionally leave loose in the likely case she moved away from him. Instead, she had pulled him closer and cried deep and hard on his shoulder. He hadn’t really minded. In fact, he was growing rather intoxicated from being in such close proximity to her again, though it made him feel bad to be partially enjoying Granger’s breakdown.

It was only after she seemed to have no tears left to lose that she noticed the rain coming down around them. Thankfully, it didn’t actually seem to drench the room any more than she had drenched his shoulder, but she had still apologized repeatedly while casting Tergeo over him and his room.

And now he was heading back to the Headmistress’ office to do – what exactly? He knew asking her to help house two more people here – during the school year no less – when he was only allowed to stay because he was now employed here was beyond what he could hope for. Still, she might have some kind of wisdom to offer. Draco wished that it was the Gryffindor princess that had the task of talking to her former head of house and that he could have gone to talk with his almost fiancé.

Draco had to stop letting his mind wander to remember where the bloody hell the correct griffin statue was, though this had the horrid side effect of letting his anxiety of being back in the castle resurface. Most places he could go to on autopilot, but he rarely had to visit the Headmaster’s office while he had been at school – aside from a couple of times Snape had requested him come up for trivial matters that Draco knew were thinly veiled excuses to check up on him.

Thinking of Snape made the walk to the statue much more difficult than it already was. He was relieved to finally find it down a hallway he could have sworn he had already checked twice.

As it had the last time, the stairs descended without the need of a password, giving Draco an odd feeling that he was somehow expected. The door opening when he reached the top intensified his feeling.

Stepping through the doorway he found Professor McGonagall seated again at her desk, looking over her spectacles at him just as she had when he was a student, but now with a less severe smile tempering them that calmed his nerves as he entered.

“Professor Malfoy, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? I trust your accommodations are to your likings.”

“Yes, Professor,” Draco replied, still unable to get himself to call her anything else. “Thank you for setting the Floo network up in there – it has been most beneficial.”

“That is good to hear, though I strongly doubt from the look on your face that was what you came here to discuss.”

“No, Professor. Actually, it’s rather complicated…” Draco began, before he noticed the picture of Phineas trying to get his attention. He must have stared at it for a while, or at least long enough for the headmistress to notice.

“Phineas, is there something you wish to speak before I go any further?” Professor McGonagall asked without turning towards where his gaze had lingered.

The painting cleared his voice. “I was just making sure he recalled my words from earlier about being careful who could hear him when discussing certain topics.”

“Really, Phineas,” piped up a portrait labelled Professor Dippet, “are you accusing any of us to not be trustworthy, when it is our sworn duty to advise?”

“I believe what he means” interrupted Snape “is that there are plenty of secrets out there that Professor Malfoy here might have uncovered that even we would prefer plausible deniability of in the future.”

“We won’t know anything more than Draco feels like telling us,” Professor McGonagall called over her shoulder with a tone of finality, “and we won’t know even that much if you all do not quiet down long enough for him to speak.”

The portraits behind her hushed, some more amicably than others, as she returned her focus to Draco.

“I need some advice. I need a safe place for some friends, and I don’t know where to turn. I’m also at a loss trying to locate something potentially dangerous.” Draco’s eyes quickly darted to Phineas’ portrayed as he spoke before returning to the Headmistress. He was uncertain how much info would be too much, but clearly needed help.

“Hmm, I see. Dilys?” she turned as she spoke towards a woman dressed as a healer.

“Yes Minerva?”

“Can you repeat the update you just received from Larch to Professor Malfoy here?”

“Yes, ma’am. Mrs. Potter is stable, she has been moved to a room that Miss Greengrass will share with her until it is safe for her to leave the safety of the hospital. She is proving to be a wonderful asset to the ward, especially for Mrs. Potter and her mysterious ailment. Miss Granger nearly passed out after confirming Miss Greengrass had a safe place to stay and is being administered a few potions and made to eat some food before she leaves.”

“Thank you. Please give my thanks again to Madame Larch for the updates and keep me posted.”

The portrait nodded and slipped back out of frame.

Professor McGonagall turned back to Draco. “Am I right in my assumption that this now means you only need a safe haven for Miss Granger?”

Draco blinked. “Yes, Professor. But how did you-?”

“I may look old, young man, but being the Headmistress of Hogwarts has its advantages when it comes to keeping tabs on things when I have to. How else can I be of use when a student, or a professor, needs my help? I will admit that I cannot even guess what this possibly dangerous item could be, but I may have a few ideas that might help Miss Granger. They would, of course, have her staying here, as I am not certain how many other places I know of that are as impenetrable as this fortress. Well, near impenetrable.”

The headmistress gave him a look that reminded him of exactly what she meant without saying it. Draco gulped and briefly glanced over at the portrait of Professor Dumbledore, who seemed to be asleep.

Her features relaxed as she began speaking again. “It would help me evaluate the situation better if I knew more about what you wish to protect her from.”

“It’s Weasel – er, Ron. We think he is being controlled by a very powerful person – powerful enough to subdue a skilled Auror even when Veritaserum is being used on him. He broke into Granger’s apartment with Astoria there, and then somehow escaped from the DMLE. We, um, have-” Draco looked at the portrait of Phineas before continuing, “strong evidence that the person controlling him wants Granger, Astoria, and I stopped from – something I can’t tell you.”

“I see,” Professor McGonagall replied simply.

She paused for a moment, closing her eyes and placing her fingertips together before continuing.

“And this is where my job gets tricky. My first and foremost safety concern is for my current students. All decisions that pass through this office are done with that in mind. After that, I have to consider the safety of my staff, which now include you. Then, and only then, can I think about the safety of a former student in my castle. Now, answer me truthfully – do you think that whomever is controlling Mr. Weasley is strong enough to get passed the wards set in place to keep this place safe.”

Draco thought for a bit, carefully considering everything he knew about the Greengrasses, and realizing how little that was.

“I – I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “I seriously have no measure to gauge that with. While they were able to get him – er, Ron – out of the DMLE, they also were unable to fully force him to hurt Granger or Astoria. I’m also not sure the same person is still controlling him, or if it is another powerful wizard. That being said…”

Draco trailed off momentarily to make certain to phrase this well.

“I’m fairly certain that even if these people can get Ron into the castle, they would have little reason to harm the students, unless they felt it was an easy way to get to me or Granger. Though, come to think of it, they have abused one of their own before...”

Draco regretted saying it as soon as it was out of his mouth. A knowing look appeared on the headmistress’ face, as it did on a few of the portraits behind her.

“I see. So, if I follow you correctly, my students could be in danger just by having you here, but they would be in the same amount of danger if Miss Granger were also to join us?”

Draco nodded. He was beginning to feel worried about whether he would still have a job – or a place to stay – come morning, though he felt if Professor McGonagall did decide to throw him out it would have been because he was truthful. Had he been untruthful and put people in danger he could only imagine how angry she would have been.

It seemed like an eternity until she spoke again, and he was shocked not to hear anger in her voice but compassion as she did.

“Then there is only one thing left to do. Will you please contact Miss Granger and ask her which class – or classes – she wishes to guest speak in, as well as whether or not she would like to help Madame Pince in the library for the next bit? Whenever she can outside of her work as an Unspeakable, of course. Most of the students are starting to prep for final exams coming up and I’m sure our librarian would appreciate both help with keeping the library up and running as well as tutoring the students a bit.”

The flames in Professor McGonagall’s fireplace momentarily turned green, catching both of their attention. It looked for a moment as if someone was appearing, but before he could fully recognize who it was the flames disappeared. The headmistress smiled a moment at the site before turning back to Draco.

“Ah, good. It looks like you can go ask her in person, as she just arrived through your Floo. Have Miss Granger come up here when she has decided or send me her Patronus. I’ll see about finding her a room to stay in.”

With a confused look on his face, Draco headed back to his room, this time needing no other distraction or guidance than knowing she was there.

*****

Hermione still couldn’t believe that St. Mungo’s had insisted on keeping her there. She had been fine, just a little lightheaded, but they had acted like she was on death’s door.

Well, I had missed dinner,’ she thought to herself, ‘and lunch. Come to think of it, possibly breakfast… running for my life probably hadn’t helped much, nor did what my heart does when Malfoy is near…

Just thinking about him was causing her heart to flutter. She didn’t even know how to explain to him as to why she was back in his room aside from not knowing where else she could go. Hopefully Professor McGonagall had come up with a few ideas where her and Malfoy had not.

Hermione looked over the sparsely furnished room and noticed only two places she could sit – one was the chair at Malfoy’s desk that looked about the opposite of how comfortable the wing backed chairs upstairs in the Gryffindor Common Room would feel right now, and the other was his bed – which she new to be at least somewhat comfortable.

Starting to feel some of the potions she had taken wear off a little, she opted to lay down on the bed just until Malfoy came back. She wasn’t sure how long that would be, but hopefully it would be enough to recover from this tiny bit of exhaustion.

She placed her hands under her head and closed her eyes, trying to think of nothing and failing miserably. Even the bed smelled like Malfoy, and it was actually making her feel more dizzy. She had decided to force herself up to a seated position when the door swung open.

“H-Hi?” Malfoy stuttered, staring at her. “Professor McGonagall said you had come back.”

Hermione was confused. “How did she know?”

“Her fireplace lit up like she was getting a Floo and she said it was probably you coming through to my room.”

“Of course! I forgot that was in ‘Hogwarts, a History’. That must be why Umbridge was able to see Harry talking to Sirius in the Common Room years ago, Hogwart’s Floos all come through one central grate – wait,” Hermione paused, sitting up on the bed as she realizing something, “would that be the same as Professor McGonagall spying on us?”

“Yes and no,” Malfoy answered unclearly before filling her in on what had happened in the headmistress’ office.

“I see – you would need as much information at your fingertips to make sure a school like this is safe.” Hermione concluded when he had explained what had happened, “I had never really thought about it like that. Hang on, you said something about how she had an idea for a place I could stay and you haven’t said what it was.”

“Oh, that.” Malfoy had the beginnings of blush forming on his cheeks as he spoke, “well, I was told to ask you which classes you would like to be a guest speaker in and/or if you wanted to assist Madame Pince in the library at all. Whenever you aren’t working at the Ministry that is.”

It took Hermione a moment to register that this meant she, too, could stay in the safety of Hogwarts.

Surely the Greengrasses would think twice about coming here, right?’ she thought to herself.

Malfoy seemed to be staring at her, but she couldn’t figure out why. She tucked her hair more securely behind her ear and fidgeted with the curl that never wanted to stay back before thinking aloud.

“I think I could help out in the library from time to time, though I am not sure how much studying I could help with under Madame Pince’s strict volume policies. As for actual classes, I could easily offer a few lectures in Muggle Studies, possibly Transfiguration and Charms, too, if Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick don’t mind.”

Hermione saw the corners of Malfoy’s mouth curve up into a smile. Looking at it, she wordlessly cast for her Patronus and it instantly appeared before her stronger than she had ever seen it become. She sent a message off with it before sliding up against the headboard with a yawn.

“Do you want to go over any of Rose’s diary tonight? I need to at least stay awake long enough for McGonagall to get a room ready for me.”

Malfoy moved from where he had been leaning on his doorframe down onto the bed beside her with a smooth gracefulness she had noticed he had been exuding more and more around her. She focused as hard as she could trying to focus on the pages in front of her as Malfoy slowly turned through the pages. Gradually, she became less able to concentrate as she found herself becoming more groggy, barely noting her head slowly hit something firm and warm before her vision blissfully turned black.

*****

Draco had been unsure of what to do last night. Granger had obviously been more tired than she had been expected – falling asleep on his shoulder mere moments after he had opened up the diary. Professor McGonagall had even stopped by the open door to inform them that Granger’s room was ready, only to stop mid-sentence with a smile when she realized Granger had fallen asleep on his shoulder before she closed the door.

Somehow, he had not been expecting that.

Unable to move for fear he might wake her up, Draco stayed on his bed flipping the pages of the book in his lap to try and find some more answers. Rose bragged in a few places about the spells she had put in place to try and destroy the Black family, but he was relieved to learn it was all heavily overstated –she had actually done very little aside from be very lucky in her travels to the future. Draco found hope in the realization that the Greengrasses were never guaranteed success, as Rose was unable to control her trips to the future as well as she would have liked, and at the time she wrote the diary she hadn’t actually seen the outcome of the coup she was attempting to stage.

Daphne did seem to be right about one thing – the way Rose worded some of the entries in the diary did make it sound like she had something keeping her from recording everything she could. You had to string together multiple bits to form a complete idea – like how one area she can actually say the name of the book they needed to find, as well the fact that she could not retrieve it, yet in different areas it says she located it, but was unable to move it. Nowhere, it seemed, did she find a passage detailing exactly where it could be located, which caused Draco much frustration.

At some point he must have fallen asleep, too, as he had woken up still leaned up against the headboard with Granger’s head now more against his chest than his shoulder. After the initial feeling of discomfort, he found himself just as unsure of what to do know as he had last night. He couldn’t stay like this forever and had no way of knowing how the witch lying across him would react. Multiple scenarios, most ranging from embarrassment to downright scornful, played out in his mind as he slowly tried to inch out from under her.

He was almost out from under her when she stirred in her sleep, grabbed his shirt, and muttered “don’t leave me, Draco.”

He froze – this was the second time in her sleep she had called him ‘Draco’, though he had assumed the first time was a possible slip up coming out of a nightmare, though hadn’t he been calling out to her with her given name as well that time?

“Hermione?” he tried out again, the word feeling almost as weird in his mouth as it had when he had talked about Weasel by name, only this time it was more of a cautious, but happy, feeling.

“Hermione, it’s morning-”

Granger started to stir, only to pause before sitting up very quickly. Draco didn’t think he had ever seen the witch’s face turn that brightly of a shade of pink.

“Malfoy – I-”

She was looking as awkward as he had felt last night and this morning. Draco did the only thing he could think to do, which was pull back out the diary.

“Here, I found a few things in here last night,” explained Draco, holding back from adding something like ‘you know, after you passed out on me.

 “Oh?” a look of relief washed most of the blush from her face as she spoke, but not quite all of it.

Draco tried to focus on showing Granger the passages that had caught his attention, but it was difficult concentrating with her so near. ‘Had she always scrunched her face up slightly when she scanned over a book like that? Her hands are so soft that even the smooth pages feel rough. The very muscles in my mouth almost hurt from smiling so much. How is that even possible?’

He continued in his attempts to explain his findings, but eventually noticed he had completely stopped talking and was staring at her.

Even more surprising, he found she had stopped as well.

With his brain failing him, his heart took over and he slowly leaned towards the witch’s lips, trying to give her as much time to back of if she wanted him to stop. He could feel her breath on his face as he paused, merely a centimeter or two between them.

Before he could realize what had happened, Granger closed small the distance between them and plunged her lips against his as the world around him turned blindingly bright, white light bouncing off the walls in a beautiful, sparkling display of magic – the likes of which he had never seen.

Draco barely even noticed it all as he peered into Hermione’s eyes for what he hoped would not be the last time.

Enchantments and families be damned, if saving the world meant protecting the one that was now in front of him, he knew he wouldn’t fail. Some part of him awakened in that moment he never knew existed, and as he pressed his lips back against hers, his heart filled with warmth as he was enveloped in the smells of peppermint, old books, and fresh ink pots.

A knock on the door brought him back to reality.

“Professor Malfoy? Are you in here?” came the voice of a small Hufflepuff by the door. “Professor McGonagall said I had to make sure you were up an’ ready to teach us today since Professor Slughorn is on his way to the hospital wing. I think he messed up a potion or something. What was all that light ‘bout just now?”

Draco sighed, pulling slightly away from Hermione and pressing his forehead against hers before replying.

“Okay Caspar, I’m up. What time does your and Phoebe’s class start again?”

“At ten, but that’s in five minutes.”

Eyes widening, he turned to look at Hermione, who looked equally shocked.

“I’ll – I’ll be right down! Don’t let anyone leave before I get there!”

Draco didn’t even wait for a reply – he was already running around the room trying to find his robes.

“I should probably get to work, too,” Hermione told him, a note of sadness in her voice.

She paused for a moment in her movements long enough to peck him on the cheek before running to the fireplace and Floo’ing away.

Draco let his fingers graze against his cheek a moment before shaking his head to clear it and threw on his teaching robes before taking off at full speed for the dungeons.

Chapter Text

Hermione blushed as she stepped quickly through the floo from Malfoy’s cramped room into the Ministry’s enormous atrium. She had moved so quickly that she had barely thought to check her appearance. Patting her hair and finding it messier than she would like, Hermione ducked into one of the Ministry’s bathrooms to check the mirror.

Running a hand through her hair confirmed it was messier than normal, probably from sleeping upright and against someone’s chest. Her hand slipped down over the side of her face and the imprints left there by Malfoy’s shirt, only to alight gently on her lips, causing her cheeks to burn with blush as images from earlier flitted into her mind.

‘Merlin, did I just kiss Malfoy? Twice?’

Hermione felt slightly dizzy and gripped the counter in front of her for stability. She hadn’t felt this euphoric in years and it was a little disorienting.

She then realized he had called her ‘Hermione’ again to wake her up, just like he had the last time.

‘I could get used to hearing him call me that,’ she thought to herself before realizing she hadn’t wanted to wake up this morning. She tried to catch hold to whatever fleeting dream she had been having, but she couldn’t isolate it. She knew Malfoy had been in it though, and, oh Godric, had she really called him Draco again?

Her thoughts were broken as someone else hurried through the bathroom and slammed themselves into a privy. She shook her head to clear it, made herself as presentable as she could in a small amount of time, and made her way to the lifts.

The ride down to the DoM seemed to take forever today. It didn’t help that everyone else seemed to be taking their bloody time to get on and off today, and they must have stopped at every floor heading down.

Hermione told herself it was only in her head as she wasn’t entirely looking forward to her first full day back in a while – her adventures with Malfoy had been causing her to miss quite a bit of work – so much that she honestly had no idea what day it was anymore. Not that anyone minded – it wasn’t uncommon for an Unspeakable to miss a few days here and there to cope with things – and with how crazy it had been at there lately it was kind of nice not to have to be stuck working with Flint for more than a few hours a day.

Finally, the lift made it to the 9th floor. The doors seemed to take even longer to open than they had earlier, and as she made her way into her department she couldn’t shake the feeling something might be genuinely wrong. She jumped back against the doors with a screech when she saw Tobias seem to phase into being in front of her.

“Her-mio-ne,” he clipped in and out like a bad sci-fi recording, “you nee-ee-eed to go-oo. Now. Ti-i-i-me isn’t flo-o-owing prop-perly.  We ca-a-an’t leave - the w-w-wards set off in-n-n here. I th-th-think you ca-an sti-sti-still fix-x-x-x this, bu-u-ut you hav-v-v-ve to leave. Go-o-o-o!”

Hermione was genuinely startled, and wasted no time getting back onto the lift. The doors moved so slowly that they hadn’t quite fully closed from when she had stepped off, and she managed to squeeze through them at the last possible second.

The ride up seemed to take even longer than the ride down, which gave her some time to think through what her boss had managed to tell her.

‘Wards,’ she thought, ‘those might be the wards set in place to keep failed time experiments from killing Unspeakables by rapidly over- or under-aging them like they have done in the past. Or it could be the wards that try to isolate magical breaches to the DoM  that mitself.But eans-”

Hermione didn’t want to think about it, but it was one of the first things they taught you when you took on a job as an Unspeakable. This job could get you killed, or worse. And the wards were only activated when catastrophic phenomena hit – they were the very last line of safety protocols keeping the Unspeakables safe, but, more importantly, they were also to keep the rest of the world safely oblivious should one of the fail-safes, well, fail. The hope was that if the department went into lockdown mode, whatever had been a concern would be sealed away in it as well. Not even Tobias had been able to tell her when or even if they had been triggered before, and most of them were set up to protect the world more than the Unspeakables.

‘That’s why he needs me to help. Everyone else is probably trapped, the wards aren’t working correctly, and the worst is this is probably all my fault.’

As she finally reached the top floor, she struggled to stay calm – this would NOT be the place to lose control of her emotions – and realized something she hadn’t thought of before.

‘Maybe it is all my fault,’ she reasoned, ‘but I’m also probably the only one that can save them.’

Now to figure out where to go now that work wasn’t an option. She couldn’t go back to Hogwarts to see Malfoy as he was busy working himself - though Professor McGonagall could probably find her something to do if she was desperate - and as much as she would like to visit Ginny or Astoria, she did NOT want to run into the rest of the Weasleys like this.

If I only had my journal, I could take Rose’s diary anywhere I could concentrate well and be able to record my findings for Malfoy and I to read later… I could easily go back to my house for just a moment and grab that…’

She knew Harry had told her to stay away, but surely it couldn’t hurt to go get one thing. It was irreplaceable and still could be quite a useful tool. It seemed as good an idea as any of the others she was having, so once she made it fully into the Ministry’s atrium, she turned on her heel and soon appeared in her apartment.

It seemed a bit darker than she remembered it being, but she didn’t think much of it as she walked to her reading chair to grab the journal. Opening it up and seeing Malfoy’s writing, as well as the last note Astoria sent through, sent a smile over her face that was quickly dashed as hands encircled her waist from behind.

“There’s my girl – finally smiling when I’m around you again, eh?”

“R-r-ron?” Hermione stuttered to get out.

“Yes. And no, you troublesome little mudblood!” Ron’s voice declared darkly right before Hermione felt something hit her head and the room grow steadily darker.

She could feel the journal falling from her hands, and as she felt her body slink against Ron’s, a faint name slipped through her mouth that earned her a kick as she dropped onto the floor - consciousness fleeing fast.

“Draco…”

*****

It was a long day. More than once Draco wondered if McGonagall had planned for Professor Slughorn to have a sudden leave of absence that day with next to no warning after she had seen the Gryffindor Princess passed out on his shoulder. He came down to the classroom only to find many different potions on display with no notes on what was going on. In the end he was forced to send Phoebe (Caspar wouldn’t leave his side the whole period) up to the hospital wing to find out exactly what the old Potion’s master had planned for his classes that day. It turned out he was going to review a few potions they had studied lately, and accidentally covered himself in swelling solution of all things. Caspar had decided to, loudly, compare this to the experience Draco had shared with him in confidence earlier. The class all had a laugh at this, but oddly seemed to respect him even more after that.

It seemed to be the theme of the day, thankfully, as his older students gave him no trouble either, despite having to do the class solo for the first time.

“Right, have your papers done by next class on how to identify the classic warning signs of Amorentia and what smells you encountered. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me who they think their potion reminds them of.”

“Do you know who yours reminds you of?” yelled one of the more troublesome Gryffindors from across the room.

“Actually, yes, I do.”

“What do you smell, professor?” asked a curious Slytherin close to where he was standing.

Draco leaned over the mother-of-pearl potion and took a big whiff. “Peppermint, old books, and fresh ink pots actually,” he admitted with a blush.

“Looks like someone has a crush,” another of the Gryffindors exclaimed, gaining him a nudge from a female in green robes.

“Oh, like you are one to talk! Took you half a year to find your bravery and finally ask me out, so you have no room to harass someone else about crushes, Michael!”

A Slytherin and a Gryffindor actually dating? Man would I have been ridiculed back then, it worse, but this…

“Oddly enough, she’s a Gryffindor as well,” Draco confessed, “There is no way we could have even been friends, yet alone lovers, when we were here at your age, and it gives me hope that we might actually have a chance seeing the two of you together.”

Michael put a protective arm around the girl beside him. “No one in their right mind could ever take Gracie away from me. I’d beat them to a bloody pulp with my Beater bat first.”

Draco could see the love in their eyes, and it was somehow really making him miss Hermione.

“Alright you guys, time to clear out. You can play another round of harass the professor at the next lesson. I’ve got things to do that don’t involve you lot.”

“And people to see?”

“Possibly, but the next person to ask me a question about her today loses 20 points for both Slytherin and Gryffindor. Go!”

The last of the class slipped out the doors, and most headed off in the direction the Great Hall for dinner. Draco was beat – it had been invigorating to teach today, but also exhausting – and he wanted to check to see if Hermione was back before going up to dinner. They hadn’t exactly had time to figure out a plan for the rest of the day before the two of them ran off to work, but he had hoped she would come back here. It wasn’t like she could go home or anything, and she did supposedly have a room here somewhere.

Draco popped his head into his room and quickly scanned it. When he didn't see anyone, he frowned and grabbed Rose’s diary from the tablet beside the door for another quick flip through during dinner.

He spent most of the meal hoping Hermione would walk in, but she never did. Draco found a few more notable things from the diary he had missed before, but the longer he sat there the more he worried about her, and the less he could concentrate on the book. After what seemed like forever, he noticed an odd entry he had missed before detailing what seemed to be utter nonsense – Daphne’s notes in the margins clued him in on the fact that he was not alone in that assumption – mentioning books, a dragon, and a questing ‘night’. Draco could make no sense despite Daphne’s insistence that many of the entries referenced the entry and decided to put the diary down for a bit while he finished his dinner. He shoveled it down much faster than he probably should have before taking his leave and heading back to his room.

He was saddened to see his room still empty and, having no idea where the room was that McGonagall had prepared for Hermione, decided to lay on his bed a moment and rest a little from the long day.

It was then that he saw the glowing light from his desk. Panic set in, as he knew that Hermione’s copy of the journal was supposed to still be in her apartment.

Sliding quickly off his bed to move over to his desk, he pulled out Hermione’s journal and, after taking a deep breath, slowly opened the book. Draco tried to suppress a cry as he started to read. 

Hello Draco. I believe you have something of mine, as I have something of yours. I’ll be generous, as I know you have some kind of work to do up in the castle. You have until 7pm to bring me Rose’s diary, or both the Mudblood and the Blood Traitor will no longer be a problem for me.

Meet me at Granger’s apartment. Do not contact Potter and his lackeys, or I will kill them when he arrives.

‘Shit,’ thought Draco as he continued to read. ‘Where have I seen that handwriting before?’

Really taking your time, aren’t you? Do not think I won’t hesitate to take care of these two.

‘Wait..’ Draco leapt for the copy of the contract his mother gave him. Surely, it can’t be-

Yet there it was. The mystery handwriting matched Mr. Greengrass’ exactly. Draco shivered, and watched as a new message appeared in Hermione’s journal.

Tick tock, Draco. You are down to less than an hour.

He quickly tried to formulate some kind of plan that would give him an advantage but could think of nothing. Knowing this was most likely some kind of trap, Draco tried to get himself ready by securing his wand in his sleeve and grabbing Rose’s diary before steeling himself to step through the floo.

“About time,” barked a voice Draco immediately recognized. “I’ve been here since 8am and was getting quite bored.”

“Where’s Hermione?” Draco demanded, seeing her nowhere.

“Patience, boy. You made me wait, now I will make you.”

Draco shuffled from foot to foot, trying not to think about where Mr. Greengrass could have taken Hermione and Weasel. Almost too late to react, he heard someone to his left shout “Incarcerous!

Thankful for once of his Aunt Bellatrix’s training, Draco quickly had his wand in his hand, shouting “Protego”, following it by the first spell that came to his mind, “Stupefy!

As he suspected, Daphne now laid unmoving on the floor, and he turned his wand towards Mr. Greengrass with a fury in his eyes.

Apparently, he hadn’t expected Draco to react that quickly, as he was starting to shift in the chair uncomfortably. Before he could fully reach for his wand, Draco yelled out “Expelliarmus”, grabbing the flying wand in midair before the elder wizard could react.

“You might want to think twice next time about dueling a former Death Eater. We have a bit more practice at it than mere Pureblood elitists.”

“You’ll pay for that, scum!” Mr. Greengrass spat. “You don’t even know where your precious little Mudblood is, so you might want to keep me happy.”

Draco took a steadying breath but said nothing.

“That’s better, you little brat. Now if you will just give me that diary and my wand, I will tell you where I hid them.”

Diary in hand, Draco started to pass it to him when he had a realization.

“How do I know I can trust you?” he asked, knowing there was no answer he could give that Draco could believe.

“You can’t,” the older wizard sneered, “so I’d advise you work with me here.”

“You know what? No, I don’t think I will.” Draco stated calmly before pulling the diary back.

“How dare you!” Mr. Greengrass yelled, though without the control he had earlier. “You have to comply, or else I will hurt her.”

The moment his nature changed, Draco knew he had him. “You know, for someone who outsmarted my father, you are pretty daft without Rose telling you what to do.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Seriously. You really thought you and Daphne could duel me and succeed? And having her here means you don’t have your best ally watching Hermione. Unless Hermione was still here.”

Draco watched the blood drain from Mr. Greengrass’ face.

“You don’t know that! How could you know that?”

Draco just smiled and leveled his wand towards the elder wizard’s face. “Stupefy!

He watched as the stunner hit its target with full force and, not wanting to risk any problems, quickly cast full body binds and invisible ropes on both of the Greengrasses, taking a moment to grab Daphne’s wand, before running into Hermione’s bedroom.

“Salazar’s signet, please let her be okay,” he cried as he ran, a moment of relief washing over him as he found two bodies thrown haphazardly beside Hermione’s bed.

“Oh thank Merlin,” he breathed, nearly missing movement coming from the closet.

Draco had to physically dodge the wand blast because of how close the caster was, and it took him a moment to register a very terrified Mrs. Greengrass.

“He assured me you wouldn’t find out,” she sobbed, “he said I wouldn’t have to do anything but guard the bodies, but he made me promise to kill you if you came back here.” She shot another spell seemingly against her will and obviously distraught. “Please stop me, I can’t-”

Another spell came shooting out, this time grazing the hair above his ear. “Stupefy” he yelled, and watched her tumble backwards into the clothes, a look of relief on her face.

As much as it pained him to delay getting to Hermione, he cast the same two spells to keep her from moving that he had on the rest of her family before rushing down to where Hermione was.

Rennervate,” he shouted, only to see her barely move. He tried every other spell he could think of that might help, but the only change he could see was her breathing slow further.

Starting to panic, Draco did the only thing he could think of. He slid Hermione under one arm and, after a moment’s hesitation, Weasel under the other, before dragging them both to the fireplace. Momentarily dropping Weasel to reach the Floo powder, Draco tossed it into the fire before grabbing the big oaf again.

“St. Mungo’s Hospital,” Draco yelled, and stepped through the green flames.

*****

The first thing Hermione felt was someone touching her hand. Initially, she recoiled, thinking it was the last person she remembered seeing, until a completely different voice than she was expecting called out to her.

“Hermione? Are you awake?”

Recognizing him immediately, Hermione gripped his hand reassuringly.

“Draco?” she asked slowly as she tried to sit up.

A strong arm was pushing her down as she opened her eyes to see Malfoy’s eyes mere inches from hers.

“Not yet. The Healers said not to let you up until they said so.”

Pouting, Hermione did as she was told, mostly because of the concerned look in on Malfoy’s face.

“What happened? The last thing I remember was Ron grabbing me around the waist while being controlled by Mr. Greengrass and then blacking out.” She decided to neglect the part where she had called out for him.

“He knew about you journal. He used it to lure me into your apartment. Apparently he's had people tailing me for months now, and one of them was curious enough to follow you the night everything started happening at Hogwarts. The spy saw you in Diagon Alley trying to figure out how to make them.”

“Wait,” Hermione interrupted, “how do you know that?”

Malfoy picked up a small, emerald green bottle from beside her bed. “Veritaserum. Parting gift from Mother. It was quicker for me to go get it than let Potter go through acquisition processes through the DMLE. Do...do you want me to finish telling you what happened?”

Hermione nodded and remained silent as he began concluding his tale. To her surprise, he adverted his eyes and started crying.

“I’m so sorry,” he began again, “I – I had classes all day, and then didn’t see your journal glowing when I stopped by for the diary at dinner. I was almost out of time to rescue you.”

He took a moment to compose himself before continuing.

“I figured out that he had you in tied up somewhere in your apartment, but had to subdue him, Daphne, and Mrs. Greengrass before I could get to you. I shouldn’t have tried to revive you – he had some kind of spell on you that really would have killed you if I hadn’t arrived in time, but trying to wake you up made it spread quicker. The Healers have had you out for nearly a week attempting to revive you, whereas they were able to get Weasel – er, Ron – up in a few hours after figuring out what happened.”

“Hey,” Hermione interjected softly and reached to pull his chin up so he looked in her eyes. “You did nothing wrong. I probably would have done everything I could do to revive you if our roles were reversed.”

Malfoy pale cheeks turned a shade pinker as she continued.

“You realize they probably wouldn’t have told you about anything other than where I was, right?”

Malfoy nodded. “That’s what Potter said, too. He’s been in here quite a bit, but he’s still working to catch the ones that did this to you.”

Hermione was confused. “I thought you used truth serum on them. They escape after that?”

“No. I thought I was thorough, stunning them before casting petrification and binding spells on all of them, but I forgot to take Mrs. Greengrass’ wand. Someone must have woken up and wiggled over to where she was because when Potter arrived all he could find was Mrs. Greengrass, and she didn’t have her wand. I should have remembered to grab it – I was just so worried. They also left with the diary. Potter couldn’t find it anywhere, but I have your journal now. It must have gotten lodged behind your reading chair when I stunned Mr. Greengrass.”

“Is Hermione awake then?” came a voice Hermione wasn’t sure she wanted to hear right now.

“Yes, Weas – Ron. She’s up, but she doesn’t have to talk to you if she doesn’t want to.”

“I know. Trust me, I know.”

Hermione could really hear the worry in his voice. “It’s okay, Ron. You can come in, but Draco has to stay.”

There was a sudden gasp of air at her side that she was beginning to drive much pleasure in hearing any time she used Malfoy’s given name. He squeezed her hand hard and didn’t let go as Ron moved over to the bed. He seemed a bit uncomfortable seeing them hold hands but didn’t say anything as he pulled up a chair on the opposite side.

“Did you lose the necklace?” she asked, trying to start conversation flowing before realizing how rude she probably sounded.

“Oh, that. Yeah, Harry made sure to rip it off the second he saw me. I have no idea when I got it, but I do remember playing with it around my neck for a long time. Best we could tell I was nothing more than fun practice at controlling someone until they realized you and Malfoy were friends. They were initially planning to have the world’s most famous blood traitor make a fool of himself and I feel like they succeeded. I’m so sorry, ‘Mione. I was such an ass, and it looks like I have completely lost any chance I had to be with the best girl I ever knew.”

“Hey, you might still have a chance with someone else. I saw how you looked at Astoria when I went upstairs to check on how she was doing in Ginny's room,” Malfoy pointed out.

“Good Godric, Ginny!” Hermione turned to Malfoy in a panic, “And my co-workers! We still have to-”

“Shhh,” he told her, “you aren’t going anywhere until the Healers say you can. “Relax.”

Malfoy tucked a loose hair behind her ears as Ron stood up, “anyways, that’s what I came to say. I’ll understand if you never want to see me again.”

He turned to leave when Hermione managed to grab his shirt before he got too far from her grasp.

“Hey - wait, you didn't give me a chance to talk. I’m - I'm willing to at least try to be friends again, but it will have to take time. When you weren’t drunk you always reminded me of the Ron I knew in school, that I always knew had my back. I miss that Ron.”

A smile slowly came to his face. “Oh. Okay. Thanks then. I’ll do my best not to screw up this time, I promise. I guess I’ll see you later then, ‘Mione.”

Malfoy watched to make sure he was fully out of the room before talking again in a hushed tone.

“I actually got a bit more from the diary before we lost it again. Daphne said everything kept coming back to this nonsense passage that she couldn’t even make sense of, and she’s had years on us reading it. It was something to do with books, a dragon, and a questing night, spelled N-I-G-H-T though. Does that ring a bell with you at all?”

“No,” she admitted. “Not really.”

“Then I hope we can figure it out soon.”

Hermione nodded before realizing how drained everything had made her, and it looked like Malfoy noticed it as well.

“You should rest some more. You’ve only just woken up, and I’m sure more people will want to talk to you now that Ron knows you are up.”

“Okay, Draco, I’ll try.”

Malfoy swiped a hair from her forehead and placed a quick kiss there. “I’ll be here when you wake up. Sleep well. I promise won’t leave.”

And with that, Hermione passed out again, feeling safe enough to sleep with her Draco there.

Chapter Text

“I don’t see why I need to stay here any longer,” Hermione informed Draco. She was sitting up in her bed with her arms crossed in front of her chest, sporting a particularly nasty scowl. “I’m awake, have felt no lingering issues, and I’ve got stuff I have to do.”

“And it will all have to wait until the nurses say you can be discharged. I don’t want to risk anything happening to you.”

Hermione huffed, but didn’t move. She’d been stuck here so long not even Draco could remember what day it was. Draco reached out to tug one of her arms free and pulled her hand up for a quick kiss. He had hoped this might make her relax momentarily, but she only seemed to grow more agitated.

“The longer I’m in here, the worst Ginny will get – and don’t tell me not to talk like that because you know it’s true just as much as I do. She’s still going downhill fast. It seemed to take everything out of her last night when we tried going up to just talk to her. And so help me, if Molly tries again to apologize or suggest I give Ron another try while glaring at you-”

 “Ahem-” an older female voice interjected from the doorway. Draco immediately dropped Hermione’s hand and turned towards the source of the interruption. At first he scowled, expecting to see Mrs. Weasley by the door, but once he registered who it was he jumped up immediately.

“Professor McGonagall! I – I know I’ve missed a good chunk of work but-”

McGonagall raised her hand to silence him.

“Quiet Draco, I’m not here to chastise you, I’m here to speak to Miss Granger.”

“Oh. Well in that case I’ll-”

“You can stay,” she informed him before turning her attention towards Hermione. “I believe this won’t take long.”

Draco sat down and looked back and forth between the two Gryffindors locked in a silent, though firm, staring match. Hermione seemed to be struggling a little to do so, but McGonagall appeared to be an old hat at it.

“Miss Granger – I was just speaking with the Matron here and she has insisted that she keep you here another four days for observation.”

“Four days!” Hermione’s voice creaked, “but-”

Draco watched as Hermione was silenced with naught but a look as McGonagall waited to speak again.

“While I do not understand the particulars of the work the two of you have been up to, and quite frankly if Phineas is to be believed the less I know the better, I do know nothing is being done with you holed up here in this hospital room. The sooner this – thing – gets resolved, the sooner I have my Potions instructor back. To that end, I reminded Larch that Hogwarts does have an exceptional hospital wing and Madam Pomfrey is more than qualified to monitor you for a few days. I may have also pointed out that there are activities there that you should be able to handle, provided you spend a sizeable amount of the day with Poppy. It’s up to you, my dear. If you would like to stay here for the remainder of your stay you can, or you can go to Hogwarts and spend few days working in the library with Madam Pince. I’ll let you think about it-”

“Yes!” yelled Hermione, causing Draco to jump. “Anything to get out of this place.”

McGonagall’s features softened along with her voice before continuing.

“Very well. I figured you would like an excuse to not be cooped up in here any longer. I will let Larch know that you will be transferring your care to Hogwarts just after I take a moment to talk to Draco here.”

After glancing at Hermione to verify she was okay with him stepping out a moment, Draco followed the Headmistress out into the hallway.

“Now, you are entirely sure she is going to be capable of this? If she would actually be better off here…”

Draco shook his head. “Honestly, Professor, I think it would be worse to force her to stay in here any longer if she has any choice and was physically able to leave. While I don’t understand the medical side of things, her behavior has been a bit … altered … the past day or so. If I’ve learned anything being around you Gryffindors, it’s that once you get a fire under you to do something noble, trying to hinder you is a terrible idea. Part of me is surprised she hasn’t tried to force her way out of here yet, but I would expect that any time now.”

Draco hadn’t noticed how tense the older witch had been until she chuckled and visibly relaxed at his words.

“Good, then. Phineas has been insistent Miss Granger try working in the library but has been annoyingly vague as to why. I’m not even fully sure he knows why. Hopefully Larch will be able to transfer her quickly. She wasn’t particularly keen on the idea but being the Headmistress of Hogwarts has its advantages some days.”

With a smile, McGonagall started walking off, not even pausing as she called over her shoulder.

“Who knows? Maybe spending some time in the largest magical library in Britain might prove to be a bit useful for your endeavors.”

*****

The healers did not seem pleased to be releasing Hermione early, but if they were they didn’t say anything about it. Multiple exams and tests were administered – probably in an attempt find any reason to keep her at St. Mungo’s longer – but by the end of the day there had been nothing detected that the Healer’s could find out of the ordinary. Hermione took one more trip up the lift to see Ginny – which only solidified her drive to find a way to end this magical mayhem – before heading downstairs to the hospital’s Floo where Draco was already waiting with the small bag of things she had accumulated in her time there.

“Hermione!” a familiar voice called. “Wait up!”

Turning, Hermione saw Astoria sprinting towards them.

“Did you really plan on leaving before saying good-bye?” she asked, a grin plastered playfully on her face, “You know, I could always convince Madam Larch that you need a healer to come check now and then to make sure you are staying in the hospital wing like you are supposed to.”

“What?” Hermione exclaimed in mock surprise, “you think I might not stay confined to a bed if left alone?”

Astoria giggled before turning to Draco.

“Are you going to be able to keep her in line all on your own?”

“Don’t drag me into this!” insisted Draco teasingly, “I’ve got classes to teach.”

“In all honesty,” Hermione added somberly, “you should probably stay here and help Ginny more than me. I’m still really worried about her.”

Astoria dropped into a more serious face. “I know. You two will figure this all out soon enough, I know you will!”

Stepping up, she gave both of them a hug.

“Keep me updated if you can,” Astoria told them, “and good luck.”

“Thanks. We will. Ready to go Hermione?” Draco asked, offering her his arm.

“Oh, wait!” Astoria piped up. “I almost forgot. For medical transfers a staff member is supposed to run the Floo to make sure you don’t go somewhere you shouldn’t. Here.”

Walking up to the fire, Astoria grabbed a handful of Floo powder and threw it into the flames.

“Hogwarts – Hospital Wing!”

The flames turned green as Draco pulled Hermione through to the other side. Madam Pomfrey was waiting for them in the otherwise empty room.

“About time they let you through. I’ve been waiting half the day for them to send you here. Come along, let me show you your bed.”

Madam Pomfrey led them to a bed towards the back of the hospital wing that was blocked off with dividers for privacy.

“I moved some of the beds away to give you a bit more room,” she explained, “Minerva said I am allowed to send you down to the library as long as I feel you can handle it. The earliest that will be now is tomorrow morning. Hurry up and get into bed while I call for your dinner. Professor Malfoy, am I to assume I need to call you up some as well?”

“Yes, please. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten today.”

Madam Pomfrey looked crossly at him. “The last thing I need is a professor ending up in my ward because they aren’t taking care of themselves. I will be very irate if that happens.”

“Yes, Madam Pomfrey,” Draco replied with his head down. It was all Hermione could do not to laugh at the sight.

“Very well. I will have food delivered up here shortly. I ask that you take it easy, Miss Granger, or I will be forced to deny any and all chance you have to go to the library tomorrow. Understood?”

“Understood. And thank you for allowing me to stay.”

Madam Pomfrey relaxed a bit from her normal frantic caring state.

“It’s no trouble, dear. While I don’t know why Minerva has vouched for me to care for you so fervently, it is my pleasure to do so. Now, get some rest.”

Madam Pomfrey headed out of the partition and left Draco and Hermione alone. Hermione moved to her bed and almost scoffed as Draco carefully adjusted her bedding so she could sit up, catching herself in time once she realized he was trying to be sweet. Grabbing her hand, he held it on the bed gently rubbing the back of it with his thumb.

“So, what are you going to do now that I’m here at Hogwarts?” inquired Hermione, breaking the silence. “You have your own room here, as well as a job to do. Are you still going to sit by my bed all the time?”

“That is entirely up to you,” he informed her. “I’ll definitely stay tonight, as long at Madam Pomfrey doesn’t kick me out, and then I’ll be here as much as you want me to be.”

“Well, if I can work in the library tomorrow, I suppose you should help teach Potions,” Hermione proposed. “I feel more at home around those books than anywhere else in the world. Well, almost anywhere.”

Hermione squeezed Draco’s hand and watched the breath catch in his chest as the words seemed to sink in.

Before he could reply, there was a pop beside the bed. There stood a small creature dressed in a skirt and blouse with a matching blue hat carrying a tray covered in food and a couple of bottles that looked like they were full of pumpkin juice. She placed it on the bed beside Hermione and turned to leave.

“Winky!” Hermione exclaimed once she recognized the house-elf in front of her, startling Draco a bit as she did. “How are you doing.”

“Winky is doing a bit better, miss. Winky is no longer drinking Butterbeers every day, but wishes to some days. Winky is still not a happy elf, but Winky can do what is asked of her. Here is the food Winky was told to bring Miss Hermione Granger and Professor Draco Malfoy.”

“Thank you, Winky,” Hermione told her excitedly. “It all looks delicious.”

“It is my pleasure, Miss. Now, Winky is needed back in the kitchen. Winky needs to get food ready for the rest of the school to eat.”

Winky snapped her fingers before Hermione could say anything else and vanished.

“Wow,” exclaimed Draco, staring at the tray in front of Hermione. “There so much more on here than I thought could ever fit on a tray that size.”

Hermione had been so happy to see Winky that she had failed to really look at the tray on her bed. There was two whole bowls of fresh fruit, a bottle each of Butterbeer and pumpkin juice with clean glasses turned upside down on top of them, four hand pies that looked like they were filled with steak and kidney, a small loaf of bread, a few boiled potatoes, and two pumpkin pasties. Her mouth started to water the longer she stared at it.

Draco slid out a couple of empty plates she had missed when she had inspected the tray and started serving. The food was just as delectable as she had remembered, and for a while the two of them ate in silence.

“I can’t remember the last time I had something this good,” Hermione managed to get out between bites.

“I think my depression must have been messing with my taste buds lately. I can actually taste this. Most of my meals I have been shoveling down something just to say I’ve eaten, but I actually have an appetite today,” Malfoy admitted.

“The food at St. Mungo’s probably didn’t help. It wasn’t bad, but it was far from this quality.”

Hermione bit down into one of the steak and kidney pies and almost moaned. It had been so long – probably as long as she had been away from Hogwarts – since she had actually enjoyed her food like this.

She spent the majority of the meal commenting on the food, while Draco seemed to spend most of his time staring at her. As she finished the last bite of her pumpkin pasty and washed it down with the rest of the Butterbeer, she heard the large – and very loud – doors of the hospital wing open. A slow, but steady, gait could be heard entering, and Hermione wondered who it could be.

“Minerva! I assume you are here to see Miss Granger?” she heard Madam Pomfrey ask.

“Unless you have any of my students hidden away where I cannot see them, then, yes, I would have to be here to see her.”

The matron laughed, and McGonagall joined in with her.

“She’s down at the end with Professor Malfoy. They should be just about finished with their dinner.”

“Good. Thank you again, Poppy.”

“Anything for you, Minerva.”

The footsteps moved closer to Hermione’s bed and just before the Headmistress reached it, Hermione reached up and pulled a bit of the curtain open.

“Hello Miss Granger – I trust you are settling in as well as you can in here?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s almost like coming home – something I haven’t felt in ages. And as soon as I am allowed back into the library, I have a feeling I will feel it even more so.”

“Good. I was just coming to check on that. I always want my students to feel they can come back here and know they have a place – though I would prefer they don’t come through St. Mungo’s when they do. I know Draco here had a few issues with bad memories coming back and I want you to let me know if that happens with you. Especially on the off chance you might decide to transfer your employment here once everything has settled, though I admit that may just be an old lady’s dream.”

Hermione hadn’t thought about that. Would she be able to head back to the DoM after all this? Would she want to? And then, an even more sombering thought, would there even be a DoM after all this that she would be able to go back to.

“I’ll have to think about that. And as far as memories coming back, I suspect there will be some issues but hopefully nothing too severe.”

Hermione squeezed Draco’s hand hoping she was right. She had a few memories in this room of Ron, but nothing that was affecting her with her Draco beside her. Things might be different once he left.

“And Draco, are you going to be able to teach in the morning? Or shall I send your classes up here.”

“I think I can, Professor, but I have to ask – what day of the week is it? I’ve completely lost track.”

The headmistress smiled. “It’s Monday evening. I believe you have second year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws for double potions in the morning, and N.E.W.T. level Gryffindors and Slytherins in the afternoon if I recall correctly.”

Draco smiled. “Well, Caspar and Phoebe will be happy at least.”

“So that means I should be off restrictions on Friday?”

“As long as Poppy says you can. Who knows, maybe the two of you will be able to get something done over the weekend. Now I better leave before she tosses me out. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Professor,” called both Hermione and Draco at the same time, causing Hermione to turn to Draco and lock eyes, triggering each of them to giggle.

The headmistress let loose a small chuckle of her own before closing the curtain around Hermione’s bed and heading out of the wing after a brief exchange with Madam Pomfrey.

Hermione was mildly annoyed with the realization that after that last conversation she was feeling quite tired. It was a reminder that she was still not up to where she should be after her ordeal – something she was trying her best to forget.

Apparently, it hadn’t escaped Draco’s notice either. “Rest, Hermione. Or you probably won’t be allowed to go to the library tomorrow.”

She knew he was right. Draco moved the food tray to her bedside table and helped her get settled in for the night. He tucked a stray hair behind her ear before humming softly beside her with one of her hands secured firmly in his. It didn’t take long before she fell asleep.

*****

Draco woke to the sound of birds outside. It wasn’t a sound he had heard the whole time they had been in St. Mungo’s and as such had startled him. He found himself, as he had often in the hospital, laying in a bed transfigured from the chair he had been on and still clutching Hermione’s hand. She seemed to be sleeping so peacefully that he hated to leave her, but he could tell from how bright the room was getting that he needed to get ready to teach.

Carefully prying his hand from Hermione’s, Draco tried to get out without waking her. She had a bit of a pained look when he pulled away and mumbled something about ‘my Draco’ that made his breath catch in his chest. He was almost convinced this witch had some sort of spell on him to keep him this pathetically in love, but if he was honest with himself, he liked it. No other woman, not even when he had dated Pansy, had made him felt this way, and he could stay here forever basking in that feeling.

Unfortunately, life can be cruel, and right now it demanded he leave to grab a quick bite, find his lecturing robes, and head down to the dungeons to teach.

Somehow, Draco managed to get everything he needed to accomplish with enough time to reach Slughorn’s office an hour before his first class was due to start. He had even found and brought the journal Hermione had made for him on the off chance he had a moment to look at it between classes. Hopefully she would remember that she had hers in the bag he had brought from St. Mungo’s with them.

“Draco my boy, good to have you back. I was really hoping I’d have an extra hand today. We have some mock tests set up to help our N.E.W.T.s get a better idea of what to come, and I was going to have the second years brew me the best potion they could from this year’s lessons. Based on their strengths throughout the year, I suspect we will have more than a few students brewing Sleeping Draughts, a handful brewing Wiggenweld Potions, and I bet one or two of them will be trying to craft a Swelling Solution.”

Draco looked at the list on the desk of Slughorn’s predictions of what he suspects the students to do. He noticed a large question mark beside Caspar and Phoebe’s names.

“What about that pair there, sir?” Draco asked, almost fearing the answer.

“Oh, them? Yes, you would notice that – they seem to have taken a liking to you. Quite honestly, I have no idea what they will brew. Knowing what I do of Phoebe, she will probably choose whatever no one else is brewing, and Caspar with happily support her choice. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they try a Hair-Raising Potion or a Girding Potion despite the class overall being less confident in them.”

Somehow Draco was not surprised at Slughorn’s answer. “So, you have a brilliant Ravenclaw being aided by an eagerly helpful Hufflepuff. I can see why that could be an interesting match-up for something like this.”

Draco smiled thinking about his students, and for the first time truly felt excited to have the opportunity to teach them again over the next few years.

“Good gracious, you are practically glowing from how happy you look right now my lad. Either that or the dim light in this dungeon office is really getting to me. Look at the time, the students will be here any minute. We better get in the lecture area.”

Draco pulled himself from his thoughts and noticed what Slughorn meant. He really had been glowing from the emotions he had been feeling – was it happiness? Pride? He didn’t know, but he needed it to calm down before heading out of the office. While Slughorn might be easily convinced it was a figment of his imagination, he doubt he would be so lucky with the students – especially two in particular.

Sliding out his journal, he pulled a quill from Slughorn’s desk and penned a brief note.

Morning, love. Still having weird emotion spell things happening. I’m currently beaming – literally beaming – at the thought of being able to teach some of these kids as they grow.

Sorry for leaving before you woke up. I’ll see you again either at lunch or after classes. – D.M.

“Professor Malfoy,” called Slughorn from the other room. “Are you going to join us sometime today?”

“Coming!” called Draco, shrinking and slipping the journal in his pocket before heading out to teach.

*****

Hermione woke with a start and sat bolt upright in her bed. It had happened again – she was having a nice, happy dream only to have someone turn into Ron being used as a puppet. The last words she heard before blacking out the day of the attack still haunted her. She felt confident she had been able to hide all of it from Draco, but it was getting harder with him always by her side.

It was only then that she noticed he was gone, and a moment more to register where she was.

“I’m at Hogwarts? But how?”

The events of the previous day slowly trickled back into her brain – a bit slower than normal she noticed as she cursed the lingering effects of her capture – and she suddenly remember what she was allowed to do today.

Happily jumping out of bed, Hermione made a move for the door.

“Hold it right there, young lady,” Hermione heard coming from the office adjoining the hospital wing.

“You aren’t going anywhere until I say you can, and that won’t be until after you eat and get a thorough check up.”

Hermione sighed and headed back over to her bed. A moment later Madam Pomfrey came over with a large plate full of toast points, a poached egg, some more fresh fruit, and a large glass of pumpkin juice.

“Finish this while I run a few tests. This won’t take very long.”

Hermione sighed and started eating. Everything still tasted as good as it did last night, and she barely noticed as the matron waved her wand around.

“Hmm…there’s an odd aura about you that almost causes you to shine – nothing from St. Mungo’s seems to have any record of this happening to you. I have heard of some strange incidents involving you and Professor Malfoy at the Three Broomsticks a while back and it seems it mimics that.”

“How – how did you know about that?” Hermione asked, a bit shocked.

Madam Pomfrey smiled. “Rosemerta, Minvera, Pomona, and I are quite close. Some would almost say meddlesomely so. It worked well for Neville and Hannah, who knows? Might work again…”

She gave Hermione a knowing smile before continuing. “Anyways, other than that you seem to be relatively fine. A little easier to fatigue perhaps, so if you get too tired you need to come straight back here. And if I hear from Madam Pince that you haven’t, you won’t be allowed to leave at all tomorrow. Understood?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Good. Once you finish your meal you can head on out. I’ll be in the office trying to catch up on this year’s paperwork. I much prefer the hands-on part of caring for people more than the tedious office work that comes with it. Oh well. Have fun in the library, dear.”

Hermione continued to eat her meal in silence. Her fingers slipped on the butter of her last toast point, causing her to almost drop it off her bed. Catching it at the last second, she noticed her bag for the first time since entering the wing and saw that it was glowing. Shoving the last bit of food into mouth, she reached down and, after a moment of fumbling with the opening, managed to get her journal out.

At first she was ecstatic to find a note from Draco, and then she saw the other notes from the last time the books were used. A flash of her nightmare from earlier flooded her mind, and it took all she had to banish it. A few deep breaths later, she was able to divert her focus solely to the most current note.

‘So, he’s been glowing today, too?’ Hermione smiled at the thought. She put the book back into her bag, slung it over her shoulder, and headed down to the library to see what Madam Pince had planned for her today.

*****

 “Thanks for helping back out in class today, Professor Malfoy. We’ve really missed you around here,” Caspar informed Draco as he helped them pack up their Potions supplies for the day.

“I’ve actually missed you guys as well. You have gotten pretty good at brewing that potion while I was gone. No one else had even attempted to do a Hair-Raising potion.”

“Too bad it wasn’t perfect – it’s not supposed to curl the hair at the tips like that,” Phoebe pointed out, somewhat dejectedly.

“It was still the most successful brew in class today. You two did wonderful, Phoebe,” Draco encouraged her. “You’re turning out to be great Potioneers.”

A rare smile crept onto Phoebe’s face and it was one of the highlights of Draco’s teaching so far.

“It sure is getting bright in here all of a sudden. We better go before one of those upper level potion’s Professor Slughorn is working on explodes or something. See you soon, Professor!”

It’s not getting bright in here. Unless…Crap! I need to get out of here.

“I’ll see you before the next class, Professor Slughorn!” Draco called out as he ran from the room. “I’m, uh, late to meet someone for lunch.”

“Tell Miss Granger I said hello,” he answered without looking up.

Draco ducked into one of the unused Potion’s classrooms they used on Mondays for fourth years that still had some sort of potion simmering in them. Draco didn’t even have to turn on a light to see them.

“Breathe,” he told himself, trying his best to calm back down and with it calm down the glowing. Once he was unable to see more than just the faintest flame beneath the cauldrons, he raced up to the library to find Hermione.

*****

Hermione had never been this bored in the Hogwarts’ library. It felt as familiar to her as her childhood bedroom had seemed growing up, but Madam Pince had given her the task of going through all the overdue check out lists and cross referencing them with the waiting lists to see if there were any students that needed contacted. She had been doing it for what seemed like all day, but upon looking at the clock on the wall realized it was barely noon.

Draco should be getting out of class soon. I wonder if I’ll get to see him between lessons. It might break up the doldrums I’m trapped in.’

No sooner had she thought this did Draco walk into the library and, after a brief scan of the room, locked eyes with her as he headed straight to where she was working.

“Hello,” he grinned, leaning on the table she was working at. “Are you allowed to take a break long enough to eat lunch?”

Hermione glanced to where Madam Pince was watching them. She was suddenly reminded of the old woman’s obsession against public displays of affection in her library.

“I believe so, but I’m not sure,” she confessed. “I don’t think there will be a problem.”

She picked her bag up from under the table and started toward the door with Draco. Madam Pince watched them leave, but as she didn’t move to stop them, Hermione took it as a sign she could go have lunch with Draco.

Giggling like fools, the two of them made their way to the Great Hall. Draco headed up towards the head table, but Hermione stopped about halfway down the rows of tables.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, grabbing her hand a squeezing it reassuringly.

“I’m – I’m not sure where I should sit,” Hermione admitted. “I’m not a professor like you are, but I am working in the library a little. I know whenever the Weasleys would visit, they’d sit at their old house’s table, as did Mr. Diggory during the Triwizard Tournament. Maybe I should go back to the hospital wing and eat there? Oh Merlin, I don’t know what to do.”

She could feel some of the students staring at them, and an cold feeling began crawling along her skin. Looking down at her arm, she could see a layer of crystal clear, blue ice beginning to form along her skin like glass, only stopping where the warmth of Draco’s hand held hers.

He appeared to have seen it as well, and pulling her closer to him –partially hiding the effect from sight – he quickly drew her towards the high table ahead of them.

“Social etiquette be damned, you’re sitting up here with me and that’s the end of the discussion. Understood?”

He sounded a bit rough, but Hermione was frankly delighted to not have to make a decision. She knew he was actually being quite nice and was thankful to not still be standing frozen in the center of the Great Hall.

Draco sat them down at the end of the table, far from any of the other teachers, though the few that were seated there only smiled when they saw them sit together.

“Come on, let’s get you warmed back up. You’re going to start shivering soon if we can’t stop this effect.”

Draco poured Hermione a glass of pumpkin juice and mumbled something as he tapped his wand on it. Handing it to her, Hermione realized he had expertly used a charm to warm it up just shy of being able to burn her mouth.

“Thanks,” she told him. “I’m feeling warmer already.”

“Good,” Draco replied. “Now let’s eat so I can get you back to your thrilling assignment in the library.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and giggled before grabbing a ham sandwich off a platter and settling it onto her plate.

*****

The week went by quickly for Draco – Slughorn did his best to vary up his classwork much more than Snape had, and Draco was learning all kinds of tips and strategies he hoped to use himself later on.

Hermione seemed to be having the exact opposite time in the library. Every time they had sat down for meals, and every night as he escorted her back to the hospital wing, she would tell him more and more of the monotonous tasks she was forced to endure. She really needed to vent, and Friday at lunch was no different.

“Today she had me reorganizing books in the cat section. How that area got so messed up is beyond me, but it took me all morning just to get them all back in alphabetical order. I know this is a huge library, but seriously, how many books on cats do they need!”

Draco suddenly became very interested in his bowl of shepherd’s pie and tried to change the subject.

“Have you had a chance to look for anything regarding our ‘quest’?” he asked.

They had decided that this would be the best code word to allow them to talk about things in public. Hermione had come up with it, and Draco thought it was brilliant. It also kept the next step in their research in the forefront of their minds.

“Not yet – I’ve been too busy. And it only makes me madder when I watch Madam Pince just sit there at the check-out desk sipping tea all day long. I’m supposed to do the legal section next – I had to spend way more time than I’d care to think about helping Hagrid after the incident with Buckbeak and-”

Hermione suddenly stopped talking and looked at Draco like a deer in headlights. Both of them grew uncomfortable whenever their discussions tread back to the horrendous history they previously had together. Normally that meant Hermione panicking that Draco will react the way he did when the incident happened and Draco having to painfully review what happened in the past through a whole new light – usually causing some kind of dissonance or even a sick feeling to wash over him.

This was no exception.

Hermione recovered first this time. “Well, at least that ended well.”

“Well?” Draco responded, a bit confused, “how do you know it ended well. The beast ran off somehow – or was there more to the story than what we were told?”

Hermione looked a bit uncomfortable.

Great,’ he thought, ‘Yet again I say something to upset her. Why must I keep doing that?’

To his astonishment, she laughed. “I guess its okay for you to know now. Sirius Black escaped on him and kept him for a while when he was on the run. The beast even spent some time at Grimmauld Place – living in Walburga’s old room actually. After we left there, he went back to Hagrid under a new name. He’s down in the Hippogriff pen now.”

Draco still felt like she was leaving a few parts of the story out. Regardless of whether she was or not, he made a mental note to stay far away from the school’s hippogriffs.

“Maybe you can find something to do with the will Mother gave me while you’re there.”

Hermione seemed to jump at Draco’s attempt to redirect the conversation.

“I doubt I will have the chance, but I’ll try.”

She didn’t seem very confident about it, but her body language quickly changed. Draco followed her glance to the large clock in the next room.

“Merlin! It’s nearly one! If I don’t get back soon, who knows what I’ll be stuck doing this evening.”

Draco shuttered. They had enjoyed spending their evenings together lately, but the one time the dawdled too long in the Great Hall, Madam Pince had insisted that Hermione stay to reshelve books left out by students to make up for the lost time. It had taken her long enough that the library had already closed by then, and Madam Pince had still left at eight.

“Hurry along then. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Hermione moved to get up, but Draco pulled her back down just long enough to place a quick peck on her cheek – garnering a few gags from the student tables – and watched her race from the Great Hall. It only took him a moment more to finish the last of his meal before he, too, headed back to work.

*****

“Late again, Miss Granger.” Madam Pince informed her as she re-entered the library after lunch. “Tsk, tsk, are you sure you are well enough to do this job or should I escort you back to the Hospital Wing for more evaluation to explain your lethargy in returning?”

“No! I mean, no, I’m fine. I just lost track of time a bit. I am terribly sorry, ma’am.”

“Hmm, we will see. I still need you to work in the legal section re-organizing the books there, but I am afraid you might not have enough time to finish it now.”

Hermione sighed. “I can stay until it gets done. It’s the least I can do now that I showed up late again.”

Madam Pince grimaced. “See that you do. I’ll be at the check-out station if you should need anything.”

Everyday Madam Pince told her this, and every day Hermione felt the librarian meant it less and less. After a deep breath, she moved through the long stacks of books and tomes until she made it to the legal section. Even the area around there was exceptionally boring – having no real natural light and most of the book bindings being various shades of grey – with one notable exception.

Hermione approached the tiny, golden dragon figurine with a smile. Pulling out her wand, she muttered ‘Draconifors’ under her breath and watched as the small statue came to life. It was a poorly kept secret among students that he was here, and many students studying for N.E.W.T.s had learned to come to him for a mental break. She tickled it under the chin as the statue woke up and after a brief yawn it moved to watch her work – flicking its tail side to side as he stared.

Knowing this particular statue would stay active until she left the area, Hermione played with her companion for a few minutes every time the work grew too dull. Thankfully, the area she was working in was far enough from Madam Pince she wouldn’t be able to see her slacking off.

Hermione was about three quarters of the way finished when she stopped once again to pet the small dragon. She then realized the library had gone even quieter than normal. Turning around to see what was happening, she saw a nearly empty library, and Madam Pince standing right behind her. She could have sworn she had seen a momentary smile on the librarian’s face before she turned to her normal stern self.

“I see you are not quite finished here. The library is closing, but you can stay longer if you need to finish your task. I do not need any further assistance tomorrow, but if you don’t get this finished tonight I will have to ask that you do so before the library opens in the morning.”

“But – but that’s at 8am. I could never get all of this done that early in the morning.”

“Then I suggest you finish it now then. Goodnight – I’ll leave the door unlocked but activate the student determent charm to make sure you aren’t interrupted.”

“Goodnight, Madam Pince,” Hermione called out before realizing the librarian had already left.

She looked over at the dragon. “Guess it’s just you and me now, huh Sparky?”

The little statue curled up in a ball and rolled back and forth a bit holding its feet.

“Aww, I could play with you all night, but I really have to focus, okay?”

The dragon nodded and took up its normal stance hunkered down on all fours on the edge of the shelf, following her every move with his head. Hermione laughed at its eagerness to keep playing as she bent down to start on the last row of books. It was still going to take her an hour or two to organize these and to add back in the ones for this shelf she pulled from the other rows. Sighing, she turned back to the work at hand.

A faint, pulsing light caught the corner of Hermione’s eye. It seemed to be coming from inside the bookcase she was working on near the end of the shelf. The little dragon appeared to have noticed as well and was flying down to get a better view. Hermione carefully removed the books in front of where the light was originating from and set them stacked, in order, on the floor.

Lumos,” she whispered as she pulled out her wand. Examining the area closely, she saw the outline of a small door slowly becoming visible. She also noticed that the brighter the door became, the more faded the glean off the dragon became. He jumped from the shelf onto her shoulder, causing the light to move away from the door back to the little dragon.

“Hmm… Accio Bag” Hermione called, watching it soar towards her before pulling out her journal. Finding a self-inking quill in another section of the bag, she quickly jotted down a note for Draco.

Something odd is happening here in the library with one of the dragon statues. I need you to get here as soon as you can. The door is unlocked and the only deterrent active should be just against students. – H.G.

Hopefully he will see that,’ Hermione thought as she closed the book.

The door was about equally as bright as the dragon was now. She was struggling to watch it for some reason

It didn’t take long before she heard the familiar sound of Draco running up behind her.

“I got your message. I came as fast as I – Salazar’s Serpents, so that’s what you meant!” Draco exclaimed. “Has it been doing that this whole time?”

“Yes, it has. And it takes massive amounts of concentration to focus on it,” Hermione admitted. “I can’t tell if there’s a spell making me forget or if it’s just me being too concentrated on getting this job done.”

“I don’t remember it being this dark at night in here. Or so cold,” he commented. “Granted, the only times I have been in here after hours were the few times just since I have been a professor here.”

“No, it’s a little more drafty after hours, but nothing this cold.”

“Wait, how does someone that was very against rule breaking when she was in school possibly know that.”

“I – well, you see – honestly, thanks to Harry and Ron I probably broke more school rules than you could have dreamed of doing as a student.”

“You know, the more I get to know you, the more I would believe that,” Draco conceded with a chuckle.

The dragon was nearly pitch black – and the library with it – making the door of light seem that much brighter.

Any minute now,’ Hermione told herself. ‘Something just has to happen.”

Draco reached for her hand and pulled her close into a tight hug, tilting Hermione’s head closer to his so he could kiss the top of it.

After what seemed like hours the lighted door inside the bookcase glowed so brightly both Hermione and Draco had to shield their eyes. She noticed a small, bouncy shadow approach the door and appear to open it. Lighting returned to normal throughout the library as the little dragon emerged happily victorious while trying – and adorably failing – to drag out a large book with a note on top of it.

Hermione grabbed the note first and read it aloud to Draco.

“Hopefully no one need ever to find this book. I have done all I could to keep its location a secret – perhaps too well. The secrets guarding the ancient practices of dampening magic must not fall into the wrong hands. – hence why I have hidden this book in such a way that only one searching the library on certain days late at night with this dragon activated would be able to find it, and even then one must be already in search of it.”

“Night questing with a dragon surrounded with books!” Draco yelled. “How on earth did we luck out there. Thank you Madam Pince!”

Hermione waited for him to quiet down before continuing.

“Please, I beg you. Only use this if you absolutely must! Resetting the bloodlines have caused terrible events in our history – sometimes causing entire populations to vanish. Be careful – P. Black.”

Draco reached out for the book that the wee dragon was still trying to drag from the vault. Grabbing it, the now black dragon crawled up his arm up to his shoulder.

“Awww – he’s so cute.”

“Hermione,” Draco called shakily, “look at what book he was trying to pull out.”

Moving her eyes from the dragon, Hermione gazed over to read the title of the book in Draco’s hand.  To her utter astonishment, Hermione read the three words she had begun to think she would never see. On the cover was inscribed Nigrae Sanguinem Magicae.

They had found the next key to the puzzle.

Chapter Text

Draco stared in disbelief at the book in his hand. It had an odd feel to it – much heftier than it should be and emitting a bit of heat – and it had the kind of powerful aura with it that he had remembered noting many times around his father’s dark artifacts. The small, still completely black dragon was playfully trying to bat at the cover like it was a feathered toy instead of this ominous thing.

Hermione reached for the book and Draco gladly passed it to her. The dragon looked almost like he was pulled to her with the book, but Draco couldn’t be so sure. It clung to the side of her arm shaking its head through her hair while staring at the book like it was waiting for it to be opened.

“Well, here goes nothing,” Hermione declared, taking a deep breath before trying to lift the cover.

A loud crack like thunder almost deafened Draco as tiny bolts of lighting crawled over the tome. Hermione dropped the book with a shriek and the dragon fell to the floor onto it.

“Ow! What the-”

“How about letting me try. It might, um, be warded in such a way you can’t open it,” Draco offered cautiously.

Hermione scowled, but stepped aside so Draco could bend over easier to retrieve the book. As he picked it up, the dragon jumped onto the top of his head and managed to keep his balance as Draco stood back up.

“I’m starting to think that the dragon is tethered to this book,” he observed before carefully inspecting the book.

Noting nothing too out of the ordinary, he tried to slowly open the cover. The book threw itself open with a rush of wind that made Draco struggle to keep his hold on the book, blowing the pages over until it stilled in his hand.

“Whoa,” Draco muttered half under his breath. “Let’s see what we’ve got here. The words look like they aren’t in English – ”

“Looks like a blend of Greek and Latin,” Hermione chimed in. I wonder…”

She placed her hand on the page and got zapped again, causing her to grumble. The sound made Draco have to stifle a laugh from how cute it sounded. Hermione did not seem anywhere near as stern as those Draco had grown up around and watching her try to be angry still tended to come off as a bit silly.

Smiling, he watched as the words started to morph on the page through various languages he couldn’t fully isolate.

“Oh, this all still looks like nonsense,” Hermione admitted, “wait, it’s starting to resemble French I think? Ah, now its in English.”

“It must be going through all the different steps in how the Black family’s language has changed since Roman times,” Draco guessed with a shrug. “It’s the only explanation I can think to explain the almost seamless jump from French to English without going through Germanic languages. I think it has stopped now. ‘In the event of the unraveling of magic, you must travel to the place where the ancient pacts were sealed. A thousand roads lead a man forever toward Rome, and Saturn asks that you follow them.’ I think I remember that phrase from somewhere.”

“It was originally an old French phrase, usually translated that there are many different ways to come to a single solution, but I don’t think that’s how it’s meant to be read here. That wouldn’t make much sense.”

“The Romans built roads all over their empire. Wasn’t there supposed to be something that made them special?”

“I think so. Hang on, I’m pretty sure there’s a book or two about Rome in here somewhere,” Hermione said teasingly before wandering off.

Draco pulled the little dragon off his head while Hermione wandered off to the history section.

“I’m curious – Sparky is it? Let’s see if I’m right.”

Placing the open book on the cleared shelf, Draco gripped the dragon firmly and tried to walk away from the bookcase. He didn’t get far before the dragon almost slipped through his fingers, pulling Draco to an abrupt stop. So perhaps he was connected to the book after all.

“Found it!” yelled Hermione from another area of the library. It seemed even louder in the normally quiet library, as did her running footsteps coming back. She laid the large book, 1001 facts about Early Magical Romans, on a table near Draco, prompting him to scoop up both the dragon and his family’s book together and moving to the seat beside her. He snuggled closer to her as she began to read.

“ ‘Caesar Augustus, founder of Rome, ruler from 63 B.C. to 14 A.D., was considered responsible for the extended network of roads that covered his empire.’ ” Hermione read, “ ‘In 20 B.C., the miliarium aureum, or Golden Milestone, was erected just outside of the Temple of Saturn. All roads were considered to begin from this gilded bronze statue.’ Hmm, I think I remember Saturn having a somewhat brutal reputation. There must be a religion section in here somewhere.”

Flipping through the pages, Hermione skimmed until she found another passage. Here it is. ‘The Roman god Saturn was popular among many magic users in this time, especially his depiction of the god of generations, wealth, agriculture (for the muggles to work at and their masters to eat) and the Golden Age of peace – one that many wizards today contribute to the practice of sacrificing any children not of the few upper ruling tiers that showed magic, as well as any of those from families that failed to develop power before they came of age at 12.’ ”

“How barbaric!” Hermione muttered in disgust.

Draco shrugged. It seemed accurate enough from what he knew of Pureblood mentality.

“I’m guessing that might be the first Pureblood families, which could be the ones that my family is descended from.”

The little dragon started jumping up and down at this, spinning a few times on his book before jumping up on Draco’s arm.

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Draco chuckled, “I guess we are on to something here?”

The dragon seemed to nod before moving back to his book and pointing his nose at part of the text like a hunting dog would except with much more wiggling of his tail.

Draco dragged the book, and with it the dragon, to a better position in front of him before reading. “Let’s see. ‘Look towards the temple and offer a sacrifice to prove your worth.’ Somehow I think I know what that is going to entail.”

“What?” asked Hermione somewhat naively.

Draco blinked. “Blood I’m guessing. Specifically mine since it should have at least a bit of the original sacrifice in there somewhere.

“Cruel. Absolutely barbaric. Though I think Harry has encountered at least one place that required that to work so I guess I’m not too surprised.”

“Most dark magic rituals require some bit of blood. Occasionally you find one that needs tears, but they aren’t nearly as potent for most things.”

“If it’s so dark, are we sure we need to be doing this?” Hermione queried tentatively, “Could we find another way?”

“Quickly? Doubtful. This solution took many different wizards years to come up with, and most of the known world’s magic is probably built off it, whether they know it or not. And I doubt this is all done with dark magic – the blood part, sure, but this was also probably from before there was a differentiation. Either way, we should probably stop talking soon if we are going to do this.”

“Tonight? But I’ve still got to finish organizing all these books before I can do anything tonight. And we should probably-”

Hermione stopped talking and dropped her gaze to the little dragon in front of them. Draco looked and followed the little one’s gaze to the books on the floor. Suddenly, all the books on the floor and in the final section she had been working on lifted up and zoomed into where they should go.

“But – but – I tried magicking those earlier and they wouldn’t budge. How-?”

Another gust of wind blew over the table turning the pages of the book in front of them as they turned their attention back towards it. The little dragon was acting all proud of himself as a new page from the beginning of the book opened up, showing a drawing of a dragon that looked exactly like him, with more words working through a translation.

“The dragon tied with this book has been granted an exemption to the magical laws it seeks to protect. If it responds to your needs, you are worthy to use him as you see fit to reset the magical process enacted the known world over.”

“So I’m worthy enough to order the dragon around, but I can’t open the freaking book?”

Draco stood up and slid the book to Hermione. “Probably blood activated, but the dragon may not be. See if you can carry it out of the library.”

“Okay, I’ll try. It’s a good thing it’s a weekend – I just need approval from Madam Pomfrey and we should have a couple of days to take care of this.”

Draco put a hand on her shoulder and turned her so he could look her in the eyes. “Are you sure you want to do this? I might be able to do it on my own if you feel too uncomfortable with this whole thing.”

“No, I’m coming. Someone has to make sure you don’t screw this whole thing up,” she answered with a smile. “Seriously, though, I’m kind of already in the middle of all this. Get what you think we might need before we leave and meet me in the hospital wing. I’ll keep Sparky, this blood magic tome, and my journal with me. As long as he lets me take him that is.”

Draco watched the small dragon curl up on her shoulder and try to go to sleep.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I’ll meet you in a few.”

Before he knew what he was doing, he leaned in to give Hermione a quick peck on the cheek and was halfway to the door before he realized what he had done.

*****

 

Hermione’s hand reached up to graze the cheek that Draco had just kissed. It had happened so fast, and the way he paused at the door made her think it maybe wasn’t intentional, but she was quite pleased it had happened. With a big grin on her face, Hermione summoned her bag and slipped both books, and after a moment’s hesitation the Roman book as well, into her bag and let Sparky climb back up to her shoulder.

After pausing just long enough to fill out a book checkout form at the front desk and to properly lock the door, Hermione and the little dragon were soon headed back to the hospital wing.

“There you are!” Madam Pomfrey exclaimed as she walked through the ward’s doors. “I was about to come looking for you. Madam Pince had no business forcing to you stay again tonight after I told her off the last time.”

“She did technically give me a choice – coming back before the library opened tomorrow to finish –“

“At that horribly early hour? My dear girl, I am not all surprised you chose to stay tonight then, but you should have at least popped back in here for me to assess you. Now stand right there and don’t move. I can already tell by the fact you still haven’t sat down that you are planning to leave as soon as I let you, am I correct?”

Hermione nodded slightly and waited for the exam to finish. At one point, Sparky popped his head out from under Hermione’s hair and startled the older witch, but after a slight chuckle she was soon finished.

“There. You should be good now. Your endurance levels are much higher than they were when you came in, and while they are within the realm of what is considered normal, I would still cautious you from doing too much for the foreseeable future. Though I’m guessing you and Professor Malfoy probably already have plans to go off on an adventure this weekend, correct?”

Hermione dropped her head like a schoolgirl being chastised, and Madam Pomfrey chuckled.

“Don’t worry, dear, it’s not like you are the first Gryffindor to come into my ward,” the matron reminded her warmly. “I know whatever it is you are going to be up to has to be very important for you to risk doing so soon after being in St. Mungo’s. All I ask now is that you take a moment to eat. I have a tray in my office that’s been waiting in stasis for you once I didn’t see you come to dinner tonight.”

“Thank you,” Hermione told the other witch, moving forward and wrapping Madam Pomfrey in a big hug. “For everything.”

The matron tensed for a moment before briefly hugging back and stepped away. “Your welcome, my dear. While this is my job, I do truly try to help people that need it. Anyways, it’s been somewhat calmer at the end of year now that the Golden Trio have left, and an old woman needs something to do besides paperwork.”

Hermione laughed – it was the first time in a very long while that she hadn’t reacted negatively to that title – before retrieving her food. The two witches were sitting on a bed near the door chatting away while Hermione ate when Draco entered.

“I have some of what I think we will need in Rome-,” Draco began before noticing Madam Pomfrey.

“Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just an old woman that can’t hear things very well,” the witch over exaggerated.  “I’ll just go to my office and work on some of the thrilling paperwork I have to do and make sure to close the door.”

A moment later, Hermione was alone with Draco and Sparky pulling out the potions from a sack – one that would have been much too small to fit all of them without magic – that Draco had brought up from his room as they sat on an empty bed.

“I still have some of the potions Mother sent with me. I’ve only really used the Veritaserum, but it doesn’t look like she had enough time to label all of these correctly. I’m confident these are Liquid Luck,” he deduced, holding up a couple of small vials full of a golden liquid.

Hermione picked up a few matching green bottles and uncorked them. “Ugh, this is Polyjuice potion. I’m certain of that.” She offered to Draco to confirm, who grimaced before nodding in agreement.

“These bottles are quite warm, so I think they are Pepperup Potions. And I know the five blue bottles here are what Mother bottles Draught of Peace in.”

“I never knew your Mother was such a good Potioneer. She made all of these?”

Draco practically beamed as he answered. “Where do you think I get it from? It definitely wasn’t Father. Mother always seemed to have something brewing the past few years, but I was too depressed to help her much recently. I recognize these black bottles with the skulls on them – she always puts Draughts of Living Death in them. Hers are the most potent I’ve ever encountered – Snape’s couldn’t even touch it. I’m not so sure on the rest of the potions, though.”

“Hmm,” Hermione pressed her lips together as she tried to focus. “These could be poison antidotes, but I can’t remember which one is for common poisons and which is for uncommon. And I think this is either a Befuddlement Potion or a Confusing Concoction. Any idea what all these red bottles are?”

“Oh thank Merlin, those are Mother’s specialty. They are a cocktail of blood-replenishing, invigorating, revive, vitamix, and a bit of wiggenweld potions. There’s a reason she never labels those.  They are a master level healing potion and she would rather not let most people know about them.”

“That is amazing. I don’t think even I could have managed that! Let’s see here. The ones at the bottom of the bag are actually labeled!” Hermione informed him. “I really hope we don’t need these though. I’m seeing a burn-healing paste, dittany, a few exploding potions, fire protection, invisibility – oh, a shrinking potion, those are fun – and a strengthening solution.  Do you think she expects us to use all of these?”

“Slithering Serpents, I seriously hope not. Though she might know something from her discussion with my great aunt that we don’t.”

“What other stuff do you have for us?”

“Well, I figured we could raid the kitchen on our way out. But I’m not sure about exactly how we are getting TO Rome. Our Floo network only works where the Ministry has domain. And I doubt we could get approval for a Portkey this quickly. You don’t know how to make one of those, do you?”

“Not in actual practice. And I would need to have been to the place we are going to do it safely.”

Sparky woke up and stretched a little before sliding down to Hermione’s bag and pawed at it.

“What is it boy? You have another clue for us?” She dropped her bag onto the bed and slid out the dragon’s book – handing it to Draco to save the possibility of her getting shocked again.

Cracking open the book, it was Sparky this time that moved a few pages over with his nose. It only took a moment for the words to translate through to English, almost as if the book was getting better at doing so.

“ ‘In an effort to save potentially precious time in resetting the bloodlines, you may choose to try and order the attached dragon to send you. He has been given a bit of free-will in who he chooses to help, which could prove problematic for some. Be advised you may need to find alternate transportation.’ ” Draco read. “Do you think that might be tricky for us?”

Hermione laughed and tickled Sparky under the chin. “I doubt it. Is the only thing you have left to get at this point food?”

“Yeah. I’ve got a few things like rope, a knife, stuff like that. And we will have our wands if we get into too big of an issue.”

“True. Come on Sparky, are there any snacks you want us to grab?”

The little dragon reared up on his back legs and shot out a few small bursts of lightning from his mouth, causing Hermione and Draco to jump back a bit before laughing.

“I guess that’s a yes, then.”

*****

It didn’t take long before the House Elves had loaded up a small hamper with food and drinks that would keep during travel. Hermione had then cast an extension charm of some kind on her backpack that allowed them to transfer their entire rations to one of its smaller pockets.

“How much stuff can that backpack even hold?” Draco asked astonishingly as they headed out of the castle.

Hermione blushed. “I’m not sure but considering what I could fit into the small handbag I used 5 years ago, I’m pretty sure you could fit at least a whole person in the biggest compartment. Maybe more.”

“Well that’s handy,” Draco observed, along with the fact her hair had raised up a bit as she had blushed.

He had been noticing small little things like that happening whenever either of them reacted to something lately, but until now he hadn’t been able to convince himself that he wasn’t just imagining it. When he realized he had kissed Hermione earlier, he could have sworn the air around him had heated up as the blood rushed to his cheeks, causing a few stray papers to flutter off a nearby table. Draco was starting to worry about what might happen at this point if either of them truly lost control of their emotions.

“Hey, are you alright, Draco? You looked a bit worried.”

Crap’ he thought, ‘I can’t let her notice.’

“Hmm? Oh, uh it’s nothing. Really. I’m just…thinking about what we might encounter once we get to Rome.”

“Really…” Hermione replied, not sounding very convinced.

Draco was trying to figure out how to respond when the little dragon Hermione had sleeping half in her backpack jumped onto her shoulder excitedly.

“I think we are far enough from the castle that Sparky’s magic might work now. Are we ready?”

Hermione took a deep breath before answering, a blue shimmer of ice falling gracefully from her mouth as she exhaled. “No, not really, but let’s go.”

Draco gingerly pulled her close and held her steady until she relaxed in his arms. As she nuzzled into his chest, he looked to the dragon waiting somewhat patiently beside her head and nodded.

Suddenly, the castle disappeared behind them as they lifted up and zoomed away. Draco had traveled many times by Floo, Portkey, Broom, and Apparition, but this was like none of that. If anything, it was like they were flying at a speed much faster than he could have ever imagined and through a sort of other dimensional tube. Part of him was concerned that if he lost physical contact with Hermione – and therefore Sparky – that he would surely plummet to his death. He wasn’t too concerned, though, as she had been gripping him harder the longer the flight was taking.

“I don’t – do – heights. Not on a broom – not on a thestral – not on a dragon – and certainly not this dragon,” she managed to get out before squeezing him further.”

Draco didn’t know how to reply, so he gently placed a kiss atop her head and squeezed her back.

After a long while – Draco couldn’t tell if it was closer to fifteen or thirty minutes since they had left the school – their flight seemed to slow as the tube faded away into a more earthly setting. Draco was thankful for this, as he really hadn’t been sure how much longer he could have held on. They alighted slowly and carefully on a long rock wall before both Draco and Hermione collapsed against it.

“Good Godric, that was terrible. I guess that should be expected, he IS a dragon after all. Though I have never heard of a dragon using a portal to travel. I don’t care how terrible of a shape we are in when we leave here, I am NOT doing that again.”

“You made it sound back there like you’ve actually flown a dragon before..”

“Well, I have.”

“You have?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve actually ridden a dragon?”

“Yes. Once. The poor old white one that was guarding the lower vaults at Gringotts. But I don’t think he was anywhere near as smart as Sparky here.”

“Wait, that was you? I just remembered hearing something about that, but it was secondary to whatever the Dark Lord had left in Aunt Bellatrix’s vault going missing. He was horribly furious at that. Father said they had to run from the building to keep from getting killed.”

“Yes, that was us, but can we please stop talking about it? My head is already still swimming from our current flight over here.”

“That’s fair – now lets see,” Draco peered through the dark, misty stone ruins. “Merlin, why on earth did we decide to come here at night. I can’t see a bloody thing!”

“You are a wizard, Draco,” Hermione pointed out, sounding slightly annoyed. “Lumos.”

He could make out a bit more of his surroundings now, but despite how bright the wand was trying to make the area, it was still proving difficult to see anything – almost as if the fog was hindering them on purpose. He pull out his and followed suit, but the added light only made things worse.

Nox,” he muttered before lowering his wand. “It’s no use. Even with the wands we can’t see anything. Wait…”

Draco peered against the fog and noticed it part near the remains of a plinth.

“I think I found what’s left of the Golden Milestone. It looks just like the picture in the book!”

“Then that means,” Hermione squinted into the darkness behind her as Draco watched the fog part enough to reveal the enormous ruins behind them.

“That has to be Saturn’s temple,” she concluded. “I wasn’t expecting it to be so big.”

“Well, now what?” asked Draco after he shifted to the far side of the pedestal.  “I’m facing the temple from where the marker should be, but I’m not seeing a set space to offer a sacrifice. Unless…Revelio!”

Draco spun around slowly as he cast the spell and watched as the area around them restructured into what he could only guess was how it had looked centuries ago when his ancestors had been here once before. Light poured down around them and he watched the little dragon on Hermione’s shoulders jump onto the statue. As if to answer his earlier query, he pawed at a tiny channel that appeared below his feet and flowed in a small, empty pool about the size of Draco’s palm.

“Is that it, boy?” Draco asked, already certain of the answer.

The dragon nodded as Draco slowly reached into his bag for a knife. He set the blade against his right palm and took a steadying breath before Hermione grabbed his left wrist.

“Seriously?”

Draco blinked. “What?”

“Of all the places to draw blood, why is it always the palm of the hand? Seriously, I know I haven’t studied much about dark magic, much less ancient ones, but why can’t you use a part of your body that isn’t going to hinder your ability to function for the next few weeks?”

“I – I don’t know,” Draco admitted. “I hadn’t really thought much about it. Aside from blood pacts that require handshakes I guess the only other thing I can think of is if you want to intentionally weaken someone for later, but we do have Dittany on us.”

Hermione didn’t respond, but she also didn’t remove her hand from Draco’s wrist.

“Fine, where would you prefer I cut myself then?”

“I guess it would still need to be somewhere you could still get up to that spot, so you couldn’t use anything below the waist, but you would need…”

Draco tried to focus on Hermione as she verbally worked through various places on the body and the pros and cons of choosing to slice them open, but he was just too tired. The moment Hermione’s hand loosened, Draco repositioned the knife to the inside of his right arm and made a quick gash.

Hermione gasped mid-sentence and stared at where the blood was now coming from his arm. She did not look happy, but she didn’t move to stop him as he pressed the cut below the dragon’s foot for a moment before pulling it away.

The red liquid poured through the little stone trench and into the pool below as he waited for something to happen.

A few minutes passed. Draco held his breath, but nothing happened.

“The statue appeared,” he muttered under his breath, “I’m facing the temple from the opposite side, I put the blood where Sparky said to, what’s missing? Was it supposed to be a hand slice after all?”

The small dragon shook his head and turned his attention towards Hermione.

“What?” she asked the little guy, “I don’t have to do that as well, do I?”

Draco was looking through his bag for a cloth of some type to tie to his arm and missed whatever transpired between her and the dragon.

“Ugh, fine. Draco, hand me the knife. Let’s get this over with.”

A moment later, Hermione’s blood joined his as it trickled down into the pool. He passed her another cloth, but before he could rummage in the potion sack for anything, the ground around them shook.

Draco was almost knocked off his feet as the area around the gilded statue began to slowly sink while rotating, sort of like the entrance to the Headmaster’s office at Hogwarts. Hermione grabbed his arm, nearly knocking him down again, but he managed to keep both of them steady. They had gone down about ten feet before he heard the sound of rocks cracking against each other.

A faint, red light illuminated an archway in front of them. Draco grabbed Hermione’s hand and squeezed it before taking a step forward.

Hermione followed as the little dragon jumped onto her shoulder between them, and immediately after they cleared them, the rocks they had been standing on rotated quickly back up to the surface. A voice then echoed off the walls and hit his chest with almost a thrumming quality. It didn’t sound exactly like English to his ears, but Draco could still somehow understand it in his head.

HMMM…INTERESTING. THERE IS ONE HERE WITH THE OLD BLOOD, AND AN HEIR AT THAT, BUT IS STILL SOMEHOW A SEEKER. AND THE OTHER IS JUST AS STRONG, IF NOT STRONGER, BUT OF A LOWER CLASS…INTERESTING, VERY INTERSESTING…AND YOU, IGNICULUS, YOU VOUCH FOR HER?

Draco watched as the little dragon jumped down and ran forward until he was under the arch. Standing in what Draco could only guess was supposed to be proud stature, but came off as utterly adorable, the little dragon reared up on his back legs and nodded.

THIS IS MOST PECULIAR…VERY WELL THEN. I WILL ALLOW YOU TO TRY OUR GAUNTLET, BUT UNLIKE OTHER SEEKERS, YOU WILL BE GIVEN EVERY CHALLENGE AVAILABLE FOR US TO GIVE. PROVE TO ME AND THE OTHERS HERE THAT YOUR LINE WILL BE POWERFUL ENOUGH TO WITHSTAND WHERE OTHERS HAVE FAILED, AND WE WILL GRANT YOU THE REWARD YOU SEEK.”

“Wait, did he say our line?” Hermione asked, turning to look Draco in the eyes. He was just as perplexed as she was but wasn’t given a chance to think much on it.

FAIL, AND YOUR BODY WILL NOT LEAVE THIS CHAMBER. MAY YOUR FINAL THOUGHTS THEN BE ABOUT THE WORLD YOU HAVE LEFT TO CHAOS.

BE WARNED,” another voice called out, more feminine than the last one, and without as much reverberation hitting them.

THERE IS NO GOING BACKWARDS BETWEEN CHALLENGES OR LEAVING THIS PLACE. FOR BETTER OR WORSE, YOU HAVE COMMITTED TO THIS.

I SEE YOUR CONFUSION.

DO NOT FEAR.

HE MAY BE YOUNG, BUT IGNICULUS HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE BEST OF OUR NUMBER AT JUDGING THE HEART AND MINDS OF OTHERS. HE WILL NOT LEAVE YOU, BUT HE ALSO CAN NO LONGER ASSIST YOU BEYOND WHAT IS WRITTEN.

GOOD LUCK!

The room quieted and felt much emptier. The only movement was that of Sparky running back towards them. Hermione bent down and opened her hand. The little dragon climbed on as she stood up and positioned himself on her shoulder.

“Our line? I did hear that correctly, right?” Hermione asked after a long pause.

“Are you…upset about that?” Draco asked hesitantly, unsure of how she was taking this.

“I’m…I’m not sure,” she told him.

Draco didn’t know how to respond.

“I’m not entirely against the idea though,” she clarified, grabbing his hand. “Come on, let’s get started. You with us, Igniculus?”

Two short bursts of sparks emitted from under her hair.

“Then let’s get started,” Draco began, “together.”

He took a deep breath and exhaled as he stepped towards the ominous archway, Hermione by his side.

Chapter Text

The red light made it difficult for Hermione to discern her surroundings. Past the arch the room turned quickly into a narrowing hallway, its floor uneven and quite difficult to navigate. Draco seemed to be having just as much trouble as she was trying to find his footing, and it wasn’t long before they were forced to let go of one another.

“Stay close,” Draco insisted as he dropped her hand, “I don’t want anything to – WHOA!”

“Draco?”

Hermione turned, but could see no one beside her. She felt Igniculus grip her shoulder tightly, and it was the only warning she had before the floor opened up beneath her, causing her to break out into a scream as she fell.

She dropped a good 30 meters or so before landing on something squishy. Fearing it might be Devil’s Snare or something similar, she scurried to her feet only to realize she would have preferred a mindless plant.

Hermione was standing on top of an enormous brain, one that looked almost exactly like the ones from the Brain Room back at the Department of Mysteries, but instead of being pearly white, this shifted rapidly through more colors than she ever could have thought existed. So stunned by its beauty, she failed to notice as one of its tentacles reached for her leg. Too late she registered it around her ankle, and immediately felt herself failing again as the world around her turned white.

-----

 “Did you hear? A new Mudblood was found by Slytherin’s heir. They finally got that insufferable know-it-all that’s constantly trying to show us up in Potions.”

“Granger?”

“Yes, Goyle, of course it’s Granger. Though I was hoping she wouldn’t have been petrified with the rest of that lot. I thought the Heir was supposed to do something cool and purge us of her kind, not just turn them into stone.”

-----

Hermione couldn’t see anything, but she didn’t need to use her eyes to know whose voices those were.

“That’s not MY Draco – that’s the old one,” she told herself aloud, “he’s not like that anymore!”

It helped keep her mind focused a bit, but her emotions were proving harder to control. She was nearly overwhelmed with pain at hearing those words as the area around her swirled into white oblivion.

A new scene – this one a memory – began to play. There were screams all around her as she ran.

-----

“Ron, where are you?” she heard her voice say. “Oh this is stupid – lumos!”

As the spell activated, she could see Ron sprawled out on the path and knew what was about to happen.

“Well, with feet that size, hard not to,” announced a drawling voice behind them.

She looked over and saw Malfoy leaning up against a tree – much more sinister looking than how she remembered –  and it chilled her to connect him with her Draco, especially when she knew where this memory was going.

“Go fuck yourself, Malfoy!” Ron spat.

“Language, Weasley. Hadn’t you better be hurrying along now? You wouldn’t like her spotted, would you?”

Hearing that voice talk about her that way stung much more than it had back then.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she heard her naïve voice ask.

“Granger, they’re after Muggles. D’you want to be showing off your knickers in midair? Because if you do, hang around…they’re moving this way, and it would give us all a laugh.”

“Hermione’s a witch,” Harry snarled.

“Have it your way, Potter. If you think they can’t spot a Mudblood, stay where you are.”

-----

The malicious grin only added to the hurt that word caused, and it was like a knife slicing through her heart to hear it. It used to barely phase her but now…

Another memory surfaced, this time at Hogwarts. She was walking with Harry and Ron towards Hagrid’s hut and she had just enough time to remember why this memory was so important before she saw him.

-----

“Did I tell you? Father said I could keep the hippogriff’s head.”

“Yeah?”

“I think I’ll donate it to the Gryffindor’s Common Room.”

“Wicked!”

“Look whose here…”

“Ah. Come to see the show?”

“YOU! YOU FOUL, LOATHSOME, EVIL LITTLE COCKROACH!”

“Hermione, no! He’s not worth it.”

-----

It was novel, feeling Ron’s words calm her down a bit. It tempered some of the enjoyment she had felt seeing Malfoy cowering under her wand. And she had been right, it DID feel good to punch him in the face, but after a brief flicker of the rage she had felt at him, she started to laugh uncontrollably.

All she could think of in that moment was when she had decked Ron at the memorial, and Draco’s comment afterwards. The harder she laughed, the more the residual pain from earlier dissipated and the less she felt engulfed in a swirling white nothingness. She was beginning to see the walls of a cave as if through a fog and felt something around her ankle loosen a bit. She thought she could hear the faint sound of someone calling her name but couldn’t tell for sure.

Hermione tried to kick away what had been around her ankle only to feel something lash out and tighten around both of them before more white and then, nothing.

-----

“ ‘Mione? ‘Mione? Come on sweetheart, it’s time to wake up.”

“Ron?”

Something felt wrong, but she wasn’t sure how. She sat up confused and tried to shake sleep from her head.

“You fell asleep again. Did you forget your sleeping potion again last night? I’d been trying to wake you for a while. Were you having more nightmares?”

“It all felt so real,” she told him.

“That’s what you always say, luv,” Ron reminded her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and placed a kiss on her head.

Almost instinctively, she pushed him away, but couldn’t remember why she needed to.

“Let me guess, I was a drunken asshole in this dream, wasn’t I?”

That seemed right. “Yeah, you were,” she admitted.

Ron seemed to cringe at that. “I may have been headed down that way after school, but you know I changed a long time ago. That’s not me. I’m not like that anymore.”

‘Those words,’ Hermione thought, ‘why do those words sound so familiar?

“I was hoping now that we’ve been married a while that these things would disappear over time. We will need to talk to the Healers again about changing up your potions. You are really starting to worry me with all of this.”

“Why – why do I feel like I should be dating someone else. I know I have always had you, so I can’t tell what is wrong. My head hurts so badly right now.”

“Please tell me that you didn’t think you were dating Draco again this time. Of all the dreams you’ve had, those always seem the most farfetched. He was downright abusive to you in school, and people just don’t date their abusers.”

Hermione thought for a minute before answering.

“Yeah, I think I was dating him. I felt so, happy and secure. It was so real – more real than this feels.”

“That’s, that’s crazy Hermione – you’re my girl, and you always have been. Draco has been locked up in Azkaban for the past five years now and I’m thankful for that. Death Eaters really are the scum of the earth and these dreams of yours worry me. Now you really do need to get ready for work – you may be Minister, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a schedule to keep. Come here-,”

Ron leaned in for a kiss and Hermione reluctantly move in to accept it, when she heard someone calling.

Hermione! Hermione, where are you?”

“Draco?”

The name fell from her lips before she could even register it.

“No, I’m Ron,” he insisted, grabbing her by the arm. “Ron, do you here? Maybe we should take you back to St. Mungo’s again. We can’t risk you having another breakdown in the middle of a press conference again.”

“Hermione, please come back!”

‘That is Draco,’ Hermione realized. ‘My Draco.

“No,” she told Ron. “No, you aren’t real. None of this is real. GIVE ME BACK MY DRACO!”

-----

With a crack, Ron and everything around him morphed into the giant, technicolor brain she now remembered seeing earlier. She slid off the top of it and kicked the few tendrils away that had been feebly reaching out towards her.

“Draco!” she called. “Draco, where are you?”

“Hermione!”

She could not express her relief at hearing that voice. Noticing a door appear in the rock at the back of the room she was in she took off running through it, continuing to call for Draco. Struggling see well in the dark, she tried to follow his calls until she ran headfirst into someone.

“Ow. Trying to break my nose again, witch?”

“Draco!”

She wrapped her arms around his neck in a tight hug and pulled him down for a quick kiss before resting her head on his chest.

“Whoa there – what happened to you while I was gone?”

“Oh Draco, it was awful. I think it was some kind of mind control monster in the shape of a giant brain. First I was forced to relive some of our – less friendly memories together from before the war, and then – it was so real –  it was trying to convince me that we were a dream and that I was supposed to be with Ron.”

Draco shuttered. She almost regretted telling him now, but she had and there was no taking it back.

"It's alright. You're safe now. I've got you."

“What about you?" she aske to get her mind off of thing. "What happened when you dropped down here?”

“I – er…” Draco mumbled reluctantly. “You really don’t want to hear this.”

She looked puzzled. “But I do. I want to know what you had to get through. It must have been something challenging about the past, right?”

He momentarily tried to avoid her gaze before looking back at her.

“Oh very well, since you were honest with me, I’ll tell you – but you probably won’t like it.”

Hermione braced herself, not particularly certain with her decision to hear this now.

“I landed on a pile of lush, red pillows in front of a fire. I think there was some heavy incense burning that seemed to have some kind of an alluring element in it. The room was cozy, and, well…”

She could tell he was struggling a bit. “It’s alright. You’re here now, so you had to have gotten through whatever trap was set for you.”

“It wasn’t easy,” he admitted, “I had Pansy – and Astoria – and a few other girls from school – all dressed in extremely skimpy clothes trying aggressively to seduce me. It was really hard to think in there. Pansy was exactly as I remembered her, which made it that much harder to dismiss the whole thing as a dream when she was literally throwing herself at me, but everything just felt slightly off. I didn’t want any of them near me, and all I could think was that someone that wasn’t there should have been. That’s when I yelled out trying to figure out where you were.”

“That’s what finally started to crack my nightmare.”

The dark hallway lightened, and they were able see each other clearly. The caring, yet concerned, look on Draco’s face mirrored how she was feeling. He grabbed her into a supporting hug before reaching down to hold her hand.

“Wait, where’s Sparky? SPARKY!” Hermione called. “Igniculus!”

With a crack the little dragon appeared before them, rearing up on his back legs like he was trying to look cute, but all she could think of was how actually powerful he was despite his current form.

“Shall we continue?” Draco asked. “Or should we find someplace we can sleep? I wasn’t expecting to get thrown into all this so quickly.”

Sparky nodded excitedly before lunging forward towards Hermione’s leg. He climbed up just high enough to reach her bag before attempting to slip into it.

“Alright, alright,” she managed to get out between laughs, “we can get out your book then.”

Slinging the bag off her shoulder, it hit the floor with a loud thump. She didn’t even need to look at which book she was grabbing as the electrical charge was still just as annoying as ever.

“Here, you open it. I don’t feel like getting zapped again.”

Taking the book, Draco knelt down near the floor and waited for the little dragon to half climb/half fall back to the ground. Sparky held his hands near the top of the spine, as the pages flew on their own to the spot he wanted them to read.

“Alright, here we go,” began Draco, “ ‘After each challenge, the seekers may choose to have their dragon create a resting place for them. This will be a safe area where nothing in the Gauntlet is allowed to effect, though nothing that is created by this room may leave it. This room may only be used again if the Guardians feel it is earned. It will disappear when the first Seeker takes a step out of it. Use it well.’ Well then, let’s do that!”

“But is sounds like we may not be able to use it again,” argued Hermione. “Shouldn’t we wait to use it later if we aren’t guaranteed another chance?”

“You and I have both worked an entire day at Hogwarts – you even more so. We then traveled from Scotland to Rome before being dropped into a dungeon full of things that want to do everything in their power to hinder us moving forward and we’ve just had to endure a very mentally draining challenge.” He looked over to the little dragon. “We are taking that resting place now, Sparks.”

The little dragon looked over to Hermione. Draco had a point, and sleep would be a welcomed diversion. She nodded to Igniculus and soon sparks seemed to carve out a doorway into the stonework beside them to unveil a room behind it.

Stepping inside took her breath away. This room had everything someone might possibly need to have a good rest. Off to the side was a lavish bathroom – complete with a gold trimmed clawed tub and a spacious shower. In the center was an enormous bed complete with a lush comforter and oversized pillows decorated in golden reds and silvery greens. On the far side, a small kitchenette with its own pantry completed the amenities.

“Whoa,” exclaimed Draco as he entered the room behind her. “I was expecting a cot or something – not this. It’s opulent even by my standards.”

Hermione had been expecting the same and started to agree, but seeing the bed suddenly caused all of the day’s activities to catch up with her.

“All I care about right now is going to sleep. We can explore everything else in the morning.”

“Explore?” asked Draco, but Hermione had already started for the bed. Not even bothering to pull back the covers, she fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, barely registering as he laid down behind her and pulled her close.

*****

Draco awoke lazily to a face full of bushy brown hair. His arm was half numb, but he didn’t care. Rolling on to his back he began to slowly try and to remove his arm from under Hermione’s head. Once he had managed that he pushed up onto one arm to look at her face better and was taken aback at how much more beautiful she appeared in that moment. Her face was free of the worry and stress that had been plaguing them lately, and he was curious as to what she must be dreaming of.

He didn’t get the chance to stare at her for very long as she all to soon began groggily reaching around for the arm he had moved. When she couldn’t find it, the tip of her nose scrunched up ever so slightly like it always did when she was trying to figure out something that had been puzzling her.

“I haven’t left, Hermione. I’m still right here.”

She stilled for a moment before slowly opening her eyes.

“Draco? What? Oh yeah...now I remember where we are.”

She stretched a little before rolling over to face him better, enticing him to lay back down until their faces were mere centimeters apart.

“You know, a part of me wishes we never had to leave this room,” he admitted. “We have some food, an inviting bathroom, and comfy bed.”

“That is tempting,” she began before pausing. It took longer for her to continue that Draco had expected. “But we have too many people counting on us to return. All of my colleagues at the DoM, McGonagall and Slughorn, not to mention everyone that would be effected by the wards going down.”

“We don’t have to leave yet, though. At bare minimum we should have a bite to eat and bathe. We can save our rations we brought with us for later that way.”

“True…”

Her voice trailed off, but neither of them made a go at getting up. It was almost like an unseen magical force was holding them, forcing them to stare into each other’s eyes and willing them not to move.

Draco couldn’t tell if minutes or hours passed as they lay there, content to just be in each other’s presence, until Hermione ever so cautiously leaned in to close the gap between them.

It was as if a spell had broken. Pressing his lips towards hers, what started as a soft touch became a warm and passionate kiss. He raised a hand to cradle her face as their kiss gradually grew more passionate, only stopping when she broke off to breathe.

She beamed, her cheeks growing ever so slightly pink before nuzzling gently into his hand.

“So this, test, you had yesterday when we were apart…”

Her voice trailed off as Draco struggled to guess exactly which path among the many in his head that this conversation was about to play out. He struggled for a moment on how to answer, not wanting to risk saying the wrong thing.

“Yeah?” he settled on after a while.

Hermione seemed to be deep in her own thoughts before she continued. “You said that Pansy was exactly as you remembered her – I’m guessing you didn’t mean her voice…”

“No…I didn’t.”

“So what did you mean?”

“Merlin’s beard, witch, I am not going to go into my past…escapades…with other women when I have someone as sexy as you in my bed.”

The words came out of his mouth a bit quicker than his mind could stop him. She stopped moving and silently dropped her eyes. He took it as a cue to back off and pulled himself away a bit.

Now he really couldn’t guess what was going through her head.

“You think I look sexy?” she asked after a long pause, still not looking him in the eyes.

“Well, yes. I can’t be the first person to say so.”

“Well, no, but the only other person butchered the pronunciation of it so-”

“How could Weasel mispronounce sexy?”

“He didn’t.” She looked back up towards his eyes, but they didn’t make it to his before continuing. “It was Krum.”

“Krum? The Durmstrang Champion? You two were an actual thing?”

“No, not really. After he asked me to the Yule Ball, we spent a good deal of time together while he was at Hogwarts but I never took him up on his offer of visiting him in Bulgaria. We were pen-pals for a few years, but we only ever were friends. I think he may have wanted more, which was why I never actually visited him.”

“And Ron never called you sexy? Not even once?”

“Not when he wasn’t drunk and trying to convince me I was better than whatever fame seeking arse he had just been caught with coming back from the bar bathrooms.”

Draco clenched his hand in rage. “Seriously? So you’ve never…”

Her cheeks turned a much brighter pink than they had been earlier. “Not really. Ron just always assumed I would be there when he had the time to get around to me. I think he forgot who I was the few times he tried to drunkenly start something because he kept telling me not to tell the bushy haired bitch what we were doing. I mean, I know now that it was partially that amulet, but the pain is still there.”

Tears began to pour from Hermione’s face, and he was at a loss as to what to do. He finally settled on pulling her into a tight embrace and kissing her forehead. Instantly he felt her relax a bit, but she was still silently sobbing.

“If it hadn’t been for that damn love potion back at the DoM I probably wouldn’t have been hurt by him nearly as long as I was. But then again,” she paused for a bit before looking up into Draco’s eyes, “had I not stayed with him, I may not have ever had this chance with you.”

Before he could respond, Hermione was moving her lips towards his much faster than she had earlier. This time Draco could feel a sense of urgency in her that had not been there before. A loud moan escaped her throat as they met, giving him the perfect chance to trace her lips with his tongue. Fingers laced through his hair as Hermione held his head near hers.

As much as he relucted to do so, Draco pushed her slightly away.

“Are you alright with where this might be going? I don’t want you to put yourself into a position that you are going to regret later.”

There was a pause that left him worried he might have done something already to hurt her before she leaned her head against his.

“This is my moment of choosing, and right now I choose you, Draco. My Draco. The one I’m apparently supposed to start a bloodline with anyways.”

They both laughed before he leaned over to give her another deep kiss, excited to see where this might be going.

Chapter Text

Hermione lay on the bad, tired but happy. Between Draco’s careful caressing in the tub and the activities that just transpired where she now laid, she was in a blissful state of being. Draco had encouraged her to lay there for a bit to recover as he tried to cook something in the kitchen nook.

“How on earth is someone supposed to be able to use this thing? It’s not even getting hot!”

Grinning, Hermione rolled over, wrapping a blanket around her snuggly before grabbing her wand from beside the bed and stumbling over to Draco.

“Hey, I said stay in bed a bit longer – I can figure this out!”

“It helps if you turn it on,” Hermione managed to get out between giggles.

“Oh, right. And…how do I do that?”

“It’s a bit like potion making. Here, let me show you.”

Waving her wand, she started a fire beneath the pan Draco was trying to use. Sliding up against his chest, she grasped his hand around the wooden handle and summoned a bottle of oil from the pantry beside her. The stove was a bit different from what she had at home – more akin to the one she had seen in the Weasley’s kitchen – but soon she had two nourishing bowls of fried eggs over a potato and sausage hash. Draco had watched her every movement and at many points she had even thrust the tools she was using in his hands as she worked. She hadn’t lied about it being quite a bit like potion-making.

She put one of the bowls in his hands with a smirk before moving to sit on the bed with hers.

“This is – really good!” Draco exclaimed between bites.

 Hermione gave him a mock look of shock, “Did you expect it to be terrible?”

“No, that’s not it at all! I just didn’t know how good something so simple to make could taste.”

“Great, now you have me blushing like I was earlier,” she commented, suddenly remembering some of what he had done to her a few minutes prior. “Cooking is actually much easier than potion making because you don’t have to follow a strict recipe once you figure out what you are doing.”

“You underestimate true potion making mastery, then,” he countered with a glint in his eyes. “Mother didn’t follow a recipe for her special health potions – she researched ingredients strengths and weaknesses for years – and not just European ingredients, either. Some of our home library is dedicated to Far East wellness techniques. I know some of the basics and can throw together a few decent potions without a memorized recipe, but your cooking seemed much more fluid that what I can currently do with potions.”

“How about I teach you cooking, and you teach me more about potion making whenever we get out of here.”

“It’s a deal.”

They finished their bowls quickly but quietly as the looming threat of whatever unknown trial awaited them next started to sink in. Part of Hermione wanted nothing more than to forsake the rest of the world for spending more time here with Draco – and she had a feeling if she tried hard enough she might be able to tempt him – but a strong sense of chivalry held her to the path she knew she had to trod. Likewise, she knew Draco’s drive to protect those he cared about would be at odds with any temptation to stay.

The look she caught in his eyes as they finished their food and began dressing to leave told her she had been right about what was going through his mind. Still, they had a job to do, and all to soon she was dressed and packed.

“Are – are you ready to go?”

There was more in his question than merely the words he spoke, and despite the slight temptation in them to stay, she nodded as she tightened her bag more securely to her shoulder.

Drawing his wand, Draco took a deep, steadying breath before opening the door and planted that first step. As soon as his foot landed outside the doorframe, the room and everything in it disappeared into a swirling blur before shoving them into the same stony corridor they had been in last night. As if on cue, Igniculus appeared on the floor in the direction they were supposed to go.

Hermione moved to walk forward when she felt a firm hand grip hers.

“I’m not letting go of you this time,” he explained, “I doubt they would pull a trick like that again, but I’m not taking any chances.”

Smiling, she moved beside him as they headed forward. The hallway soon opened up a bit into a perfectly dome shaped room with a stone archway about 3 and a half meters across from them. The only things in the room was a cupboard built into a wall to the left and a table with a cauldron on it near the middle of the room.

As soon as they entered, a burning wall of surging red water crashed down behind them like a waterfall, blocking their way back. A similar wall of light blue water reigned down behind the arch across from them, blocking their way forward.

The floor, which Hermione could have sworn was solid stone when they walked in, was now a metal grate exposing an area that matched the dome room they were in, creating a perfect sphere. The water was pooling slowly in this area, releasing steam from the red side and ice from the blue that were blending into an ominous looking purple pool that appeared to take on the qualities of both instead of canceling each other out.

She watched the blood drain from Draco’s face as he dropped her hand to inspect the area below them.

“It’s filling up slowly, which is good, and it should take a bit longer as the sides widen – or at least one would hope.”

Hermione took a studying gaze across the room and noticed a piece of parchment rolled up beside the cauldron. She walked over and picked it up, skimming it once over before handing it over.

“Hey, Draco, look at this.”

“Hmm…Both steaming cold and icy hot, in its depths you can’t be caught. Seal your fate, your doom awaits, unless a brew you can create. Well, that sounds simple enough.”

“Not if you read on it doesn’t,” she pointed out, pulling the scroll where she could see it as well. “Be cautious though, which herbs you slice. One sprig too much, you’ll pay a price.

“Okay, that does sounds bad,” he admitted before handing her the scroll and strolling over to the cupboard. “As I thought, potion ingredients. This should be – fuck!”

“What’s wrong?” Hermione asked, tilting her head innocently to the side a little as she glanced up from the scroll. Draco turned around with a look of horror on his face.

“This cabinet is full of potion ingredients – thankfully, they are partially labeled, but only in how they should work against whatever is pooling below us. Burn and ice resistance for various lengths of time, ability to breathe for a short period underwater…”

“Then what’s the catch?”

“Every one, every last one of them, are poisoned.”

“Well that shouldn’t be too hard, we have the anti-poison potions your mom sent, so that should-”

“You don’t understand,” he interrupted with a bit of fear rising in his voice, “I didn’t say the ingredients are poisonous – they are all saturated with a poison I cannot fully identify, but it seems stronger in some ingredients more so than in others.”

Hermione gasped before heading over to look for herself. The overwhelming odor of its noxiousness hit her before she could make out what ingredients were in there.

Taking a closer look, she noticed something. “There’s a few here that don’t seem to have any odor at all. Do you think we should use them more, or do you think it’s a trap.”

“I am most certain that those are the ones we need to steer clear of. But we still don’t know what our goal is. Especially with the time limits on effectiveness these ingredients are labeled with, we won’t be able to just stay in this room forever. Let me see that scroll again.”

She handed it back over and watched as he opened it as far as it would go and checked the back side.

“Here we go – To reach your prize before you drown, you must decide – go up or down? Find the key or find the latch, choose it wrong your lives we snatch. Do you see a key or latch anywhere?”

Both of them started to look around to find anything that might remotely fit the descriptions on the scroll.

“Wait – I think I see a key!” Draco nearly shouted as he pointed through the grate. “It’s way down at the very bottom of the water. We must have missed seeing it earlier.”

“That would mean the latch is up higher. Hmm…” Hermione went to try and pull the table over more towards the center of the room to see better, but it was stuck to the floor. “Well there goes that idea. I’m willing to bet that the latch is at the tallest point in here. Can you see it any better than I can?”

He shook his head no. “How about I lift you up? Maybe you could even reach whatever you might find.”

“Okay.”

Walking over to the center of the room, Hermione stood in front of Draco as he grasped her waist and lifted her up until she could stand on his shoulders.

“There!” she yelled, startling Draco who nearly dropped her. “It’s too far out of my reach, but I can just see a small latch at the very top.”

“So, the only way to get to it is by swimming once the room completely fills up. I was afraid of that.”

“The water is still rising,” she pointed out as he put her back down. “We should probably get started on the potion then.”

“Right,” he agreed as he walked over to the cabinet.

Hermione headed over to the cauldron to light a fire under it and cast Agumenti into the pot until it filled to the level she wanted.

“That should do it. Ready when you are.”

Draco brought over a bunch of ingredients and started throwing them into the pot before checking the water levels below their feet.

“I think we have another problem. Look!”

Glancing down, Hermione noticed that the bottom half of the room seemed to be filling much faster than they had anticipated.

“It’s going to be up to our ankles soon.”

“Yeah, and we are going to need this thing finished before it does. Damn it’s hard to guess how long it’s going to take for the room to fill up at this rate. I hope I took the right ingredients, or we’re doomed.”

“Well, what did you add to the pot?”

“I grabbed the gillyweed – hopefully we won’t need more than an hour between when the water comes through the grate and when we can reach the top – but while it was nearly the only thing that could let us breathe underwater, it seems like one of the more poisoned ingredients. There were a few different options for fire and ice resistance, but I didn’t think that the long lasting and more poisonous ones would be wise, so I grabbed bitter root to combat the ice and a few snowdrop petals to combat the heat, with some cinnamon, dandelion root, and honey as stabilizers.”

“Shouldn’t we have used the gillyweed separately since we are going to need the temperature resistances long before needing to breathe water?”

Draco slammed the heel of his hand into his forehead in an epic facepalm. “Shit, that would have made more sense. I was so focused on quickly making the potion I didn’t even think about that. And I used all of it, too.”

The water was now nearly at the grate and rising faster.

“Quick!” Hermione yelled. “On to the table. There should be room for both of us without getting burned by the cauldron.”

Draco jumped up before helping her climb up just as the water came up over the grate. She struggled a bit to get her footing before he pulled her into a tight embrace. Aside from steadying her, it also helped calm her nerves a bit.

“Breathe. We still have a bit of time for the potion to cook this way. And this table is higher than it looks. We will be alright. I am a little worried about one thing, though.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“We are going to have to fight off the poison from the potion until we can get out of this room. I – I don’t know how toxic it’s going to be. I’m going to be giving you something that could kill you if I did it wrong.”

“You’ll be drinking it, too, you know,” she reminded him. “If anything happens to me, it’ll happen to you as well.”

“Just the same, I want you to be the one that swims up to the latch. I feel like there could be more that goes awry swimming down to get the key.”

“Oh – okay.”

Horrid thoughts of how this whole thing could still go wrong started plaguing Hermione’s head as she leaned back further into Draco’s arms. His arms protectively wrapped harder around her as well and she wondered if he was having such thoughts as well.

It seemed to take both forever and no time at all before the water began to lap up against the bottom of the table.

“It’s time,” Draco muttered.

Carefully, the two of them shimmied as quick as they dared around on the table to get to the potion. Conjuring up a pair of goblets, Draco dipped them into the liquid before handing one to Hermione. Leaving no time for hesitation, she downed the glass – the last bit going down her throat as she felt the purply water come over her shoes.

The backlash from the poison hit her system first, followed by the suffocating sensation from the gillyweed. She found herself falling off the table from the queasiness in her stomach and slipped into the rising water.

The shock of the steam and ice on her skin was agonizing as she slammed down towards the grate. It took a moment for her to feel the same feelings come from inside her core, and while they did neutralize most of the hot and cold, some sensation still lingered. Hermione assumed this was due to Draco not grabbing the most powerful ingredients, but in all honesty the overarching feeling from the poison was nearly clouding her ability to function.

She surfaced, putting just her head above water so her gills would still work and searched for Draco. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally saw a burst of blond hair erupt from the far side of where she was sure the table was supposed to be. The water seemed to be rising faster now than ever before.

“You okay?” Draco hollered over the growing noise of the water.

“Mostly. I – I think I’ll be fine though.”

A look of relief washed over his face, despite the tint of green highly visible on his skin. “Good. I’m going to go down towards the grate now. You good treading water until you reach the ceiling?”

Hermione nodded before watching Draco disappear. It still scared her to see it even though she knew it was going to happen. All she could do now was wait for the water to rise a bit higher as it and the poison continued to drain her.

Those two things soon made it become quite difficult to tread water. Any hope of jumping out of the water to reach the latch was soon dashed as her body found it hard to even move. She worried about how Draco must have been doing, and at the thought of him she found herself able to push a bit more – giving her just enough length to push the latch to the side.

A panel dropped open towards her revealing a button and a keyhole. Hermione, feeling ever weaker, had to wait until the water was merely a finger’s length from the ceiling before she could press the button.

Much to her delight, she heard the clink of metal below her. She had fulfilled her part of the job and now simply had to wait for Draco to dive down and then surface with the key.

Suddenly, the water began to swirl around and slammed her against the side of the room, causing everything to go dark.

*****

Draco hated leaving Hermione to swim down to the grate, but he knew this was the best way to complete the current challenge. Not being able to see how high that water was getting was torture – almost as much as the assault on his body from the poison and water.

The grate dropped out from underneath him without warning, and using all the strength he could muster he pushed himself down into the bottom half of the room, quickly grabbing the key from the floor.

Instantly, the water around him began to whirl like the liquid going down a tub drain. Looking down he could indeed see an opening that was letting the purple water exit but did not see anything like a keyhole. It suddenly dawned on him that it was probably on the ceiling, and with the water rushing out like it did he wouldn’t be able to reach it if he didn’t get up there quickly.

Pushing himself further than he thought was possible, Draco kicked off the floor as he fought against the twisting current and forced his poison wrecked body ever upward. All he could think about was how he couldn’t fail Hermione by not completing his part of the challenge after she had done so well with hers.

At last he could see the surface of the water above him as the push and pull of the water intensified. Draco was more scared than ever that there would be too big of a gap for him to reach wherever the keyhole was.

One more kick,’ he kept telling himself. ‘Just one more kick.’

Finally, Draco pushed through the top of the water, barely grabbing the panel Hermione had unlatched earlier. It did not take him long to find the keyhole from there, and as the metal slid into the lock the water began to still. He managed to turn it as he lost his grip on the panel and fell into the water. Now it suddenly felt merely tepid, but his body had not purged the poison that still muddled his senses. He could tell the water was still draining, but not like it had been before – much more uniform and smoother. Soon, he was able to stand again, though his gills made it difficult to do so.

Looking around at first he failed to see Hermione anywhere. It was only once the purply water finally dropped to around his waist did he see her crumpled body leaning against the sphere wall. There was a bruise forming on her head that stood out strongly against where the poison had turned her skin a pale green. Her eyes were closed and her body listless.

Draco screamed – the kind of scream of one who felt like his world has been destroyed, because if anything had happened to her it would be. He slung the bag off his shoulder – somewhat amazed it was still there after the whirlpool – and half dumped it to get to his potions sack. He quickly found a few of the poison antidotes and after adjusting her head poured both a common and uncommon antidote down her throat before remembering to swallow a couple for himself. Before long, her skin turned once more to its normal color and the bruise didn’t look quite as bad. As for their gills, getting rid of the toxins tied to the potion ingredients seemed to stop the effects of the potion itself and soon he found he was able to breath air again.

Still Hermione did not move. The water had all but drained from the room and a large section of the bowl they were in faded away into a hallway with Igniculus waiting for them. Draco noticed that even the little dragon seemed somewhat concerned at the scene he was looking at but did not come any closer.

Kneeling down beside her, Draco carefully pulled Hermione into his lap and cradled her as he gently kissed her brow. He ran his thumb across her temple and waited for any sign of her coming to. He told himself that of course she was going to be okay – after all, the antidotes seemed to have had an effect on her and those wouldn’t work on her if she was gone.

‘Right?’

‘RIGHT?’  

Chapter Text

*****

… … …

*****

After what seemed like an eternity, Hermione began to breathe – slow at first, and shallow, causing Draco to think he was imagining at times, but breathing nonetheless. He waited for another sign that she might be waking up until tears started to fall unbidden from his eyes.

He felt a paw on his knee and looked down to see Sparky was there – as if he was no longer content to just wait for them in the hall. Draco looked down and the tiny dragon started trying to pull him onwards. Any other time he would have thought such a thing to be comical, but now…

“Not yet, Sparky, she needs to wake up.”

Sparky shook his head and tried to pull Draco forward again.

“No, I can’t just leave her here.”

This time, Sparky ran behind him and tried to push them both forward – one paw on Hermione and one paw on Draco.

He opened his mouth to say something when a loud, terrifying noise sounded from the direction they had already cleared. Something was barreling down the halls and would be upon them soon. Looking down to Sparky for some sort of direction, he found that the little dragon was now pushing even harder to try and move them with what appeared to be a terrified look on his face.

Draco wasted no time now. He checked to make sure Hermione’s bag was secure on her back, slung his own over his chest, and hoisted her limp body onto his back. After taking a moment to make sure she wouldn’t fall, he drew his wand and headed off as fast as he could down the hall with Sparky close behind him.

It didn’t take them long to escape the sounds of whatever had been behind them, but in his haste to move ahead Draco had failed to notice how dark and chilly the area around him was becoming until he began to shiver. The room was nearly pitch black, but from the drafty gusts around him he figured he was in a large cavern.

Lumos,” he whispered and watched in horror as his wand lit up a bit of the room he was in.

All throughout the cavern were dementors. He could easily make out there scaly, slimy, and rotten flesh  under their robes even in the dim light, and it would seem that not only could he now see dementors, but the dementors could now see them.

Draco’s mouth went dry as the cold seeped through his chest and into his heart. It was as if freezing water was trying to drown him to such an extent that he would have preferred the water from the previous room.

A moaning sound came from his back. He turned his head to see a dementor coming down towards Hermione with its hood drawn back. Draco spun around with his wand and aimed it at the dementor.

Ex – ex – expecto patro - patronum!

A faint, thin silvery wisp emerged briefly from his wand before falling to the floor. He told himself he could do this – that he HAD to do this – and attempted to try and find a powerful enough happy memory.

Two more dementors were swooping down now, one heading towards his head and the other moved to join the first in its attack on Hermione.

Fog began to obscure his vision. He tried again, this time remembering to focus on a memory before casting – spending time crafting potions with his mother.

Ex-expecto Patronum!

It still wasn’t enough. The dementors moved away slightly as even more descended down on them. One reached out and grabbed his throat with a clammy hand while two others worked to slide Hermione off his back. Draco knew this was going to be their end – he could see the shapeless, gaping hole of a mouth moving in to suck out his soul, when he heard a faint sound from where Hermione had been cast to the floor.

“Dra-co?”

Instantly, Draco was pulled back into a very strong memory – one not too awful long ago when Astoria had somehow managed to contact him when Hermione was having a nightmare. It was here he had first heard her say his given name and remembering how it had made him feel felt like heat surging through his weary limbs. This time, there was no hesitation in his voice.

EXPECTO PATRONUM!

A burst of silvery light exploded from the end of his wand, forming instantly into a serpentine dragon that began to tear ferociously into the dementor in front of him before going after the ones trying to devour Hermione. It slithered its way through the air from one end of the cave to the other, forcing the dementors to flee and spreading its faint light around the room until there wasn’t a single hooded figure left. The dragon then came back and curled up around Hermione as Draco kneeled down to check on her. Her skin was a bit clammy from where the Dementors had grabbed her, but her breathing was strong. She grunted and moaned a little as he shifted her back onto his back, which was more of a reaction than he had received earlier, and he took as a good sign.

Sparky was playing with the Patronus that still lingered nearby. Draco had to suppress a bit of a laugh when he saw it, which caused the silvery dragon to slither over towards him. It circled around them before coming to rest around Hermione’s head, as if to check on her one final time. A moment later it moved back to in front of Draco’s face, nodding briefly before swirling out of existence.

Hermione gripped his shoulders roughly and wrapped her legs around his waist.

“Hey – you awake back there?” he asked tenderly.

A groggy “Dra-co? Draco?” replied, but still sounded far away. She was more awake, but still not quite there yet.

The sound of running water began to grow further in the cave. At first Draco feared it might be another challenge like the previous one, but he rationalized that it probably wouldn’t be something so obvious. Making sure everything was secure, he started walking towards the far door and soon could see what was making the noise.

A small fountain with a large pool at the bottom – easily enough for a full-sized human to stretch out in – appeared as he turned the first corner of the corridor. Twinkling lights and tinkling chimes accompanied the almost musical sound of running water as a pair of fairies flitted around the fount itself.

Draco could sense no malice presence to the water, but still turned to Sparky before moving forward.

“This fountain – is it…safe?”

The little dragon nodded before trying to get to Hermione. Taking the hint, he carefully slid her off his back, being careful to lay her down as gently as possible, and checked her backpack for Sparky’s book.

He pulled it out and after placing in on the floor watched the pages fly until they came to rest on a drawing of the very fountain in front of him.

“Alright, let’s see what you’ve got here. ‘In the event that the Guardians feel you need recovering before you can succeed at moving forward the Fairy Fount may be used in lieu of a full resting place.’ That’s it? Just a little blurb below a picture? Do I just put her in the pool?”

Sparky nodded as he moved the book out of the way of Draco’s direct path to the water. Carefully lifting her back into his arms, he slowly waded into the pool until the water was nearly waist high on him before kneeling.

The moment the water hit his inner left forearm he felt a soothing warmth where his Dark Mark was, followed by an odd fizzing sensation that reminded him of when he once spilled a freshly opened soda all over him. He carefully shifted Hermione to his other arm to get a look and was shocked at what he saw – or rather, what he didn’t see.

His arm was bare – no scar or mark blemished it in a way that marked him as a Death Eater – and seeing it nearly made him cry. For so long it had been part of his identity, his curse, an ill-gotten reminder of how he would always be branded as the enemy – and now to have that gone was just about too much.

Movement against his other arm pulled him out of his own thoughts as the brown-haired witch began to stir.

*****

Hermione panicked as she felt water around her, convinced at first that she was still in the steamy/icy monstrosity and fighting against poison until she felt an odd tingling sensation against her left arm. It didn’t feel in any way painful like the water had earlier – this was more like a fizzy poultice applied to where –

Abruptly, she opened her eyes and jerked her arm towards her face. Hermione was shocked to see the scar Bellatrix had given her nearly 5 years ago was gone. A moment later she nearly fallen off of whatever had been holding her in the water causing strong arms to grip her tightly.

“I thought I had lost you,” cried a pained voice above her. Pulling her eyes away from her arm, she looked up into Draco’s grey orbs to see tears pooling in them.

Leaning up slowly, she pressed her lips against his gently. “What happened? I remember pressing the button at the top of the room and then the water swirling and then nothing but pain and darkness.”

He had winced when she told him she was in pain. “I think you hit your head on the ceiling. I swam down to get the key while the water levels dropped, barely making it to the top to insert it before it drained too far, and then I didn’t see you until the water was nearly out. I gave you some of the anti-poison vials and they seemed to work but you wouldn’t wake up. Sparky had to hurry me out of the room after I threw you onto my back before something caught up with us and then-”

His voice hitched a bit before he could continue. “And then we ended up in a room full of Dementors. I had never even dreamed that many of them could actually exist, let alone in one place. They started attacking us and I nearly failed you.”

“Wait, you stopped a horde of Dementors all on your own? That’s incredible, Draco! I told you that you could cast that spell.”

“I could only do it because of you. You mumbled my name and it – it reminded me of the first time you called me Draco. Back on that horrid night you had the nightmare and Astoria had to call for me. You were even right about what my Patronus looks like, too. It actually stayed with us for a bit before we came in here.”

“Where exactly is ‘here’ might I ask?”

“Some sort of fairy fountain. It’s supposed to help us recover before moving on because apparently we would have been unable to do the next room the way we were. I’m guessing that means I’ll need a second person that’s conscious.”

“It did more than recover!” she exclaimed, showing him her arm. “Look! The scar your aunt left is gone! I can’t actually believe it!”

Draco beamed down at her, a few tear trails still visible on his face sporting a couple new tears as he did. “Look at my arm. The Dark Mark is gone. And it looks like your head isn’t discolored from where you hit it anymore.”

He tenderly placed his fingers where the pain had been earlier before tracing the curve of her face and tapping her nose playfully.

They moved out of the fountain’s pool and, after casting a few Tergeo spells, started making ready to continue towards the next room. It was a much longer hall than they had encountered before – twisting and turning, going up and down and even doubling back on itself a few times – but eventually they came to an archway leading into the largest room she had seen yet. At the far end of it something glowed brightly on a pedestal set upon a small dais just inside the wall. Hermione felt certain that this was what they had been moving towards ever since they had entered this place. There was just one more obstacle between them and it, and it sent shivers down her spine when she realized what it was.

A large chimaera lay sleeping at the base of the dais, flicking its dragon-like tail back and forth. Hermione knew it was only a matter of time before the beast noticed them, and they had to act fast.

She placed a hand on Draco’s shoulder. “I think we are going to need a few of your mom’s potions. Starting with that bottle of Liquid Luck…”

Chapter Text

Draco spread his collection of potions out on the floor in front of them. They had decided to sit outside of the next room, over to the side of the archway leading to the chimaera but just out of its view, as they tried to come up with a plan moving forward.

“Aha! Here it is!” Hermione exclaimed quietly as she lifted the bottles of Felix Felicis from the pile. “It doesn’t look like there is much in them.”

“I’m not surprised. Mother mentioned to me a few times that too much luck was a never a good thing and while it always seemed like there was a story there, she never indulged any further. Still, there should be enough for two people if we work fast.”

“Here goes nothing then.”

Hermione tipped her bottle against her lips and Draco watched as a calming smile overtook her face. With a slow exhale, she handed another off to him before turning back to rummage through the rest of the potions.

Without hesitation, Draco threw back the rest of the vial no differently than he would a shot of scotch. It felt warm running down his throat, thick and sweet like honey. He waited to feel the euphoric confidence he had always assumed would accompany Liquid Luck, but it never came.

“Is this thing working correctly?”

“Hmm?”

Hermione looked up towards Draco with clear eyes and waited for him to repeat himself.

“I asked if this potion was working correctly. I don’t feel extraordinarily at all.”

“Well, I must admit I’ve only used it once but now that you mention it, I don’t feel quite the same as last time. Though it’s been ages since then.”

“Oh? When was that?”

“Er…well, the night of the Astronomy Tower battle. Harry gave a bit of his potion to Ginny, Ron, and I in hopes of it upping our chances to survive. It was all so adrenaline fueled I don’t remember much.”

“Oh,” Draco muttered, remembering his own actions that night with the same guilt and frustrations trying to return that he always seemed to recall at the worst possible moments.

“Could the potion be off?”

“Never,” Draco insisted, thankful for the change in topic. “Mother has never made a faulty potion that I know of and if she did, she wouldn’t have given us one. Hmm…maybe the task at hand is more difficult than the potion can handle? Or maybe the guardians have altered its ability to function?”

“Whatever the case, I can definitely feel something different – even if it isn’t full potency – so that is good. Actually, I did get an idea shortly after taking it that might work.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. What do you remember about chimaeras?”

“They look like some unholy blend of a lion, goat, and a dragon. The goat breathes fire, the skin is nearly impenetrable, the dragon tail can knock out a troll if it hits one just right, and the lion, well, has a bite of a lion. Only one wizard has ever killed one, and he died falling off his flying horse in the process, which doesn’t give us the best of odds.”

“Precisely. As such, I propose we use this.”

She lifted up a black bottle with a skull on it. Draco’s eyes went wide as she gave it a gentle shake, instinctively grabbing it from her hand before she had a chance to spill it.

“You’re suggesting we knock it out with a Draught of Living Death then? Are you mad?” Draco nearly yelled, though somewhere deep inside of him he, too, felt like this was a good idea.

“If they are as potent as you claim they are, it might work on a chimaera – at least long enough to get whatever is beyond it. I don’t feel like killing a poor creature is the right way to go.”

“Oh sure, a monstrous beast hell-bent on destroying anything it meets is a poor creature.”

Hermione shot him a dagger-filled glare but said nothing.

“Alright, fine. No killing the murder happy animal. Got it. How do you suppose we knock it out with these little vials then?”

A self-assured look cemented on her face as she announced “I have no idea. Yet.”

Draco could sense Felix Felicis in him more than ever at this point, because at any other moment he would have been furious with such an answer. In this case, however, all he could do was agree.

“That’s an acceptable option. And I think I have an idea on how to start.”

*****

Hermione approached rather confidently into the room with the chimaera, despite having already failed many initial attempts to circumvent the task at hand. Before fulling coming into the room, the two of them had tried a plethora of charms – Accio, Carpe Retractum, even trying to cast Reducio on the beast. Neither of them were surprised when it all failed, but they felt that it couldn’t hurt to try.

Draco’s plan to use his mother’s potions, though a little unorthodox for a fighting wizard, did seem like it could work – with a little bit of luck on their side. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have stood a chance trying it. As she approached, she downed one of their fire protection potions and drew her wand, vanishing the now empty vial as she did.

It took longer than she had expected to cross the room and by the time they had made it halfway Hermione was stunned at how much larger the beast actually was – nearly twice that of what they had thought from the archway. Still, she felt confident in the plan and was soon in position for Draco to do his part.

She could just make out the vague form of Draco moving against the shadows further up and to her right. So far, his invisibility potion seemed to be working well. Just a few more steps and he’d be in position next to the goat head – ready to toss one of his bottles into the goat’s mouth as soon as the beast turns towards her.

Only it didn’t.

Hermione watched as the beast fluidly moved towards Draco, muscles rippling under its golden fur and shiny black claws extended out almost a meter in front of a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. She was mesmerized by its beauty, so much so she nearly was glued to the spot and would have if not for a suggestive voice strongly willing her to move closer to the wall.

A blast of fire from the goat head erupted a moment later and engulfed the space where she had just been standing, close enough that she could smell a bit of her hair melt that had still been moving.

They had planned a few alternative scenarios but knew that they would probably have to rely a bit on Felix as they went. Suddenly Harry’s actions retrieving that memory from Slughorn years ago didn’t seem so weird.

Ducking down a little she zigzagged towards the beast with her head low, the opposite of what every fiber of her being except the voice in her head told her to do. She couldn’t see Draco anymore but could hear him cry out in pain.

She tried to call out to him, but her voice wouldn’t work. Instinctively she jumped high instead, somehow avoiding and landing on the chimaera’s tail.

Think!’ she thought to herself, ‘what on Earth can I do from up here?

Hermione lurched to the side as the tail moved, reminded suddenly of her hatred of riding brooms as she flew up and to the side, struggling just to hold on.

What can I do from up here?’ she asked herself as she shimmied up the tail bit further, almost reaching the point where the scales faded into fur.

“Hermione!” she heard Draco cry out in a desperate voice. “Look out!”

The feeling of air rushing past her shifted her focus towards the back of the beast, just in time to see the goat about to launch another fire attack. At this point-blank range, she doubt even the fire protection she downed would be enough to save her.

Pulling herself up to a seated position, she reached back into her bag she grabbed blindly where she had stored the potions Draco had handed her before they entered the room. As her fingers looped around the first bottle they came to, she could distinctly make out the shape of a skull. Flinging it over her shoulder she threw it towards the goat’s open mouth, somehow managing to make it in.

The goat choked a moment before shifting the bottle to his mouth to try an expel it. A moment later she watched as it caught on its teeth, breaking instantly and causing the black liquid to slide down its throat out of sight.

She could hear the lion head roar as the world seemed to move in slow motion. First, the goat’s eyes went wide before its whole head came crashing down in front of her – its horns mere inches from slicing her face. Then, the rest of the beast began to thrash around violently, causing her to grab the first thing her hands could land on. Death gripping the limp goat’s horns she sailed off the side of the beast, falling into invisible arms as her hands slipped. She was pulled back a good ways away from the chimaera, which itself moved back towards the dais it seemed to be guarding earlier.

“I don’t believe it,” came a disembodied voice from behind her. “You actually managed to get the potion into its mouth. You were brilliant!”

“It’s not over yet,” she reminded him as he gently set her on her feet. “Are you okay? I heard you cry out.”

“I didn’t quite make it out of the reach of the claws and it rake them across my chest. Not deeply, though, but it still smarts. I’m still surprised I managed to avoid the teeth, though.”

“You do have the reflexes of a Seeker,” she reminded him. She could just make out the edges of his signature smirk as the invisibility potion began to wear off.

“I do, don’t I?”

She gently swatted him before muttering Ferula and pointing her wand at his chest. At first Draco winced slightly before sighing contentedly and leaning gentle against her. Clearing her throat, she tried to turn her attention back to the task at hand before she got too distracted.

The goat section stilled looked like it was out, but she had no idea for how long it would be. The lion head glared at them but didn’t move from its spot.

“It seems like it’s more focused on protecting whatever is over there than simply trying to destroy us,” she muttered half under her breath as she thought through everything. “We’ve taken out its long-range attack, but still have a large, bludgeoning tail at one end and teeth and claws at the other.”

“I got a good look at them too. Those things would have ripped me to ribbons if I hadn’t moved out in time.”

“Hmm…you said that you wouldn’t have been able to defeat this monster on your own, yes? When you used the fountain back there?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, what if you need one person to lure the beast away so the other one can get close enough to grab whatever it is guarding? I have a good feeling about this and think we should try it.”

“That might just work. Do you still have those exploding potions?”

She reached into her bag and pulled them out before passing them to him.

“You know how McGonagall warned us not to using shrinking or engorging charms on people because there was a chance it could go wrong?”

Hermione looked at him slightly puzzled. “Yes, but…oh, I get it!”

Draco smirked again. “Here, down this potion and let’s get whatever that thing is trying to keep us from, yeah?”

“Yeah!” agreed Hermione as the reality of what she just agreed to began to sink in.

*****

Draco noticed a slight twinge of doubt start to overtake his mind. He knew from studying this potion in class that it was a sign that his liquid luck was starting to fade. He knew he would only have one shot at this and having a dash of luck would almost be essential.

He cradled Hermione in his dominant hand and gripped a few exploding potions in his off hand before launching himself towards the beast with a primal yell. As he got close to it, he started throwing the volatile mixture towards its feet, causing the lion’s head to snarl as it jumped to avoid them. Pressing his offense forward, he moved aggressively until he had forced the chimaera from its treasure.

“Ready?” he asked, not waiting for an answer before launching the shrunken witch towards the pedestal. He watched her soar towards the target before detecting the creature pivot and turn its attention towards Hermione.

“NO!” Draco shouted, pointing his wand towards the beast as it reared up on its back legs. “EVERTE STATUM! STUPEFY! STUPEFY!

He repeated this last charm multiple times as a red-hot fury overtook his vision. All he could think of was doing everything in his power to keep this beast from hurting his witch.

The chimaera stumbled backwards and flipped somewhat over itself. Draco turned to check on where Hermione had landed, only to miss the giant dragons’ tail swing towards him and slamming him into the wall.

His eyesight narrowed heavily, but he could make out that the beast was limping away from him, appearing to no longer have any interest in guarding whatever it had been left to do so. A faint crack sounded from the dais behind him, and as his eyes finally faded, he could have sworn he saw the chimaera disappear.

*****

Hermione had landed a little wobbly on the pedestal but managed to not fall off. She was surprised to see a glowing sphere with what looked like two small rings hovering near the center of the orb. As she reached out to touch it, she heard Draco scream before launching an onslaught of spells. Fearing something had gone horrible wrong, she quickly cast an enlarging spell on herself as she jumped down towards the dais. Grabbing for the rings as soon as she had returned to her proper size, the orb shattered with a loud crack as soon as she touched it – the sound reverberating off the walls like a ringing bell.

The chimaera seemed to phase out as the sound waves hit it. A bright red light appeared outside of the door as Hermione jumped off the dais to find Draco.

“We did it! We actually did it, Draco! Draco?”

She saw him leaned up beside where she had landed, and he looked in bad shape. Kneeling beside him, still gripping the rings in one hand, she gently shook his shoulder with the other.

“Draco?”

He let out a faint moan before opening his eyes.

“Did we win?”

Hermione nodded.

“Alright. What did we win then?”

She handed him one of the rings – one that seemed a bit larger and more likely to fit his finger – before finally taking a moment to examine the one she had left.

At first glance it seemed to be nothing more than a sleek silver band, but it was radiating with more raw magic than Hermione could almost handle just looking at it.

As Draco slipped his on the faint outline of a serpentine dragon etched onto her ring that glowed ever so slightly in silver and green. It seemed to nearly dance around the band in excitement and she let loose a slight chuckle as she slipped it onto her finger. Her eyes glanced over to Draco’s ring as a small otter radiating a faint purple light playfully played along his band.

Suddenly, she felt the raw energy she had felt from her ring burst into purple streams of fire that began to radiate from each of the bands. The magic surged over each of their bodies, Hermione watched as the pain seemed to fade from Draco’s eyes even as the magic pulled their hands together, causing immense power to fill her beyond anything she thought was possible as they intertwined their fingers. She felt almost like a battery or conduit and could only wonder what this power could do.

“Well that was a novel feeling,” he muttered as he stood up, twirling Hermione as if they were dancing as he did, eliciting a laugh from her lips as she remembered what had started all of this weeks ago.

“Shall we go see what the voices want by the door?” she asked, jerking her head towards the familiar looking red glow they had seen upon entering the Gauntlet.

As in answer to her question, he offered her his arm which she accepted with a laugh before following him towards the archway.

“CURIOUS,” began the mysterious voice inside her head– the first voice that had talked to them upon their arrival. “NO SEEKERS HAVE EVER MASTERED OUR CHIMAERA – THE ONLY ONES TO HAVE EVER SUCCEEDED IN OUR GAUNTLET HAVE DONE SO BY ONLY BEING GIVEN THE OTHER CHALLENGES. AND YET YOU FIGURED OUT HOW TO GET AROUND IT, EVEN WITH YOUR LUCK POTION PARTIALLY NULLIFIED.”

“I SEE GREAT POTENTIAL IN YOU TWO WORKING TOGETHER IN THE YEARS TO COME,” came the other, more feminine one she remembered hearing. “AND POWER. YOUR SOULS HAVE BEEN ENTWINED LONGER THAN YOU KNOW AND YOUR LINE MAY OUTLAST ALL THE OTHERS FOR I FEEL IT WILL PROVE TO BE THE MOST POWERFUL ONE WE HAVE YET SEEN. YES, DEAR CHILD, EVEN MORESO THAN YOUR BLACKS WERE.”

Draco squirmed slightly beside her, causing Hermione to chuckle gently.

IGNICULUS, COME FORTH!” the first voice demanded.

With a small pop, the little dragon appeared, directly in front of them, glowing faintly as it nestled itself between Hermione and Draco’s feet.

YOU HAVE PROVEN YOURSELF WELL OVER THESE LONG YEARS. IT IS TIME YOUR SACRIFICE IS REWARDED. YOU HAVE TWO OPTIONS. ONE, CONTINUE YOUR DUTIES INDEFINETLY BOUND TO ANOTHER BOOK TO FOLLOW THIS NEW LINE. OR TWO, BECOME THE GUARDIAN OF THIS HOUSE, STAYING IN YOUR CURRENT FORM AS AN ADVISOR AND ALLY TO THE NEWLY FORMED LINE?”

Igniculus shifted from one foot to the other before looking up towards them with a questioning look on his face.

SUCH AN ODD REQUEST, LITTLE ONE,” began the feminine voice once more, “IT WOULD SEEM HE WOULD LIKE TO BE MADE AN ACTUAL MEMBER OF YOUR HOUSE, BORN AGAIN AS A MORTAL, THE FIRST OFFSPRING OF YOUR LINE. IT WOULD SEEM HE GROWS WEARY OF HIS LIFE AS AN IMMORTAL AND WOULD RATHER SEEK AN END TO THIS BURDEN.”

Hermione reached down and picked the little dragon up into her arms to snuggle him as Draco reached over to rub the back of its head.

VERY WELL. IT WOULD SEEM YOU ARE ACCEPTING OF THIS CHOICE. SATURN?”

There was a pause before the first voice began again.

THIS IS NOT OUR WAY. YOU WERE MADE AN IMMORTAL SACRIFICE, ENDOWNED WITH THE GIFTS OF KNOWLEDGE AND POWER, THOUGH I WILL ADMIT IT WAS AGAINST YOUR WILL, AS WAS OUR CUSTOM.

I SUPPOSE IT WOULD NOT HURT MUCH TO LOSE ONE SLAVE.

ESPECIALLY TO A HOUSE SUCH AS THE ONE WE SEE FORMING HERE.”

At the mention of slavery, Hermione tensed up and almost said something before Draco grabbed her shoulder to stop her.

IT WOULD SEEM THIS ONE IS PARTICULARY AGAINST OUR WAY, THOUGH IT IS BEYOND EVEN HER UNDERSTANDING WHY IT MUST BE SO.

VERY WELL.

COME FORTH, IGNICULUS.”

She gently placed the dragon on the ground, and as he stepped forward towards the light a shadow of a young boy overlapped it.

I RELEASE YOU FROM YOUR BURDEN. YOU WILL LOSE ALL OF YOUR PAST KNOWLEDGE OF OUR WAYS, BUT RETAIN YOU APTITUDE AND OTHER TRAITS TO BOLSTER THIS LINE.”

With a slight bow, the young boy faded into a ball of sparks that made its way to Hermione’s middle before disappearing.

“FRET NOT, YOUNG ONES” reassured the female voice. “SHE IS NOT PREGNANT. YET. ALL IN DUE TIME AS YOU NAVIGATE WHAT YOUR NEW LIVES SHALL NOW BE. BUT WHAT SHALL WE CALL YOUR NEW LINE?”

Hermione turned to Draco with her jaw dropped. “I – I hadn’t given it much thought.”

“I’m going to assume the name Malfoy doesn’t set well with you. After all the things I – my family – have done to you, it must mean little more than mud. And yet - even turning away from my father’s ways, I can’t feel myself to be anything but a Malfoy.”

She thought a moment before continuing. “What if we hyphenate it? Become the Granger-Malfoy line? Would that be acceptable?”

A half smile crept over Draco’s mouth. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

VERY WELL. I NOW PROCLAIM YOU TO BE THE NOBLE HOUSE OF GRANGER-MALFOY, MAY YOUR FAMILY LAST LONG AFTER ALL OTHERS AS YOU SECURE PEACE FOR YOUR REALM. YOU HAVE ALREADY BEEN GIVEN YOUR POWER AND HAVE FULL CONTROL OF IT NOW.  APPLY IT WHERE YOU MUST TO FIX THE WORST OF THE CHAOS AND IN TIME THE REST WILL WORK ITSELF OUT. YOU ARE NOW FREE TO GO.

GOOD LUCK!”

With that, the voices in their heads ceased and the light disappeared to reveal a spiral staircase leading up and back out into the world above them.

Immediately, Hermione brought her hands to her middle.

“Did – did I really just-”

Draco leaned over and kissed her forehead. “If they said you aren’t pregnant, then you aren’t pregnant. You said you weren’t entirely against the idea of starting a line with me, but we have time to get to that point in our lives. Right now though I think we need to get back home. I – wait, do you hear that?”

Voices emerged from above them of someone struggling to find something.

“It has to be around here somewhere!” hissed Daphne. “We managed to scry that much, now where is the place to make a bloody offering!”

“Now don’t you yell at me!” the voice of Mr. Greengrass echoed down the stairs. “I’ve given you years to work this out, sacrificed everything I could for you – you will treat me with respect!”

“I don’t know how much more of that I can take,” Hermione exclaimed, shaking her head a bit.

“Shall we go burst their bubble?” Draco asked with a smirk as he drew his wand.

They moved up the stairs as quietly as they could and popped up into the noonday sun naught but a few meters from the plinth they had entered at earlier. The Greengrasses had their backs to them as they ran their hands frantically over the stone, apparently clueless to the area around them.

Hermione glanced over to Draco and silently counted. On three, they both yelled “Expelliarmus!” and watched as the two were slammed back. Draco effortlessly caught their wands as they soared towards them.

Hermione wasted no time clearing the distance between her and Daphne, and before the other witch could catch her bearings a wand was pointed at her throat.

“We know the truth now of what you did. To us, to your sister, what you tried to do to Britain. Now what should we do with you now.”

A look of horror overtook Daphne’s face as she squinted up at Hermione.

“Too bright,” the witch muttered, “how can you be so bright. Unless-”

“We beat you,” Draco finished for her, his own wand pointed at Mr. Greengrass. “And you will be hard pressed to take what is now, undeniably, rightfully mine.”

“You – you can’t prove anything to the Ministry. They will all think you are mad!”

“Perhaps. But you seem to forget something.”

“And what, pray tell you little mudblood, is that?”

Draco punched Mr. Greengrass out cold for his comment before Hermione could answer.

“I work for the Department of Mysteries,” she replied rather coldly. “As soon as I get everything sorted out down there, I will have every Unspeakable ready to testify for your deportation to Azkaban because they do know what chaos you, your family, and Rosa tried to unleash.”

“And with a backing like that,” Draco continued, “you can bet Williams will have the entire Department of Magical Law Enforcement out looking for you. I can assure you that Potter will not rest until the people that put his best mate in danger will not rest until he finds you.”

Hermione smiled. He was right, and there would be no place for them to hide.

Daphne sighed. “Alright, fine. But you won’t take us that easily.”

Before Hermione could react, the witch spat in her face, causing her to pull back a bit, giving Daphne just enough of a break to grab her father and Apparate away.

“Well, fuck,” exclaimed Draco.

“Don’t worry,” Hermione reassured him as she placed a hand on his shoulder. “Harry will find them. Now how are we getting home?”

“Hmm, should we try to make a portkey? I daresay we have enough power to try.”

Draco reached into his bag and pulled out the first thing he could – an empty potion vial – and after a little guidance from Hermione he felt a tug around his middle, appearing a moment later in his room at Hogwarts.

“Well, I can assure you that I did not expect to also get through the school’s defenses, but I figured it was a fitting test.”

“I guess we have work to do now,” Hermione observed. “First at St. Mungo’s and then at the Ministry. I know my priorities should be the other way around but-”

“-but there are lives at stake that you care deeply for. Come on, let’s start healing chaos where we need to and then I suggest we see if the Room of Requirment can duplicate that rest room from the Gauntlet. I think we will have earned it by then.”

Draco smirked, causing Hermione to laugh as she made her way to the fireplace before disappearing through a wall of green flames, her Draco close behind. Together, she knew they could fix their world and nothing could stop them in the process.

Chapter Text

It had been nearly six months since they had returned from Rome, and almost all the excitement had died down. That first month back had been a nightmare – it had taken them two whole weeks to reset the Department of Mysteries back to where it was before, and Mason was cleared to return almost a week later. The events that had happened there though were more than enough for Hermione to decide she didn’t want to work there anymore. Draco remembered her boss informing her that while she could leave indefinitely to pursue other careers, she would always be an Unspeakable – with all the perks and downsides of the job following her wherever she chose to go.

To the surprise of no one, upon hearing the news that Hermione would be looking for a new job Madam Pince had come clean on why she had been giving her such menial tasks around the library. The librarian had grown tired of dealing with children day in and day out and had been waiting a long time for someone capable to take her place. It wasn’t long before Hermione agreed and by the start of the fall term the students of Hogwarts were delighted to see a new system in place – one that was a bit more lenient on noise in the library as well as a tutoring group that sprung up most nights.

Draco himself had encountered much less problems than he had anticipated taking up his own mantle as both Potions Master and Head of Slytherin house. He found he had a knack for teaching, as well as a heart to see his students succeed through the years that he was certain had partially rubbed off on him from Hermione.

Potter and the other Aurors still hadn’t found Daphne and her father, but Astoria had been relieved when her mom had received a very light sentence for her part in Ron and Hermione’s kidnapping. They now shared a flat near Hermione’s while they tried to sell Serpent’s End, and their relationship was on the mends. Without Daphne and Mr. Greengrass abusing the two of them, they were leaning on each other for support, both of them becoming more confident each day they spent together.

The day they had arrived back from Rome, Draco’s Mother had come to Hogwarts to find them and the moment she saw her son began crying tears of joy as she embraced him, not caring who else might see them. She explained that his Father had been a mess after he learned of the Greengrass’ betrayal – he didn’t understand to what extent they had done so, but the loss of his only child had changed him drastically. When the contract magically disintegrated with a loud bang that could be heard all through the manor, they both knew Draco had accomplished something extraordinary. Mother visited every week after that, but it took Draco a long time to finally decide to see his father again.

At St. Mungo’s they had successfully done what the Healers thought impossible. Upon entering the ward Ginny had been in, all problems with her and the baby had disappeared, and for the first time in weeks she was able to sit up and enjoy a meal while talking – even laughing – with her family. The Weasleys had considered it a miracle, and even Ginny had given him a warm smile that day.

Draco was still reminiscing when a perky voice interrupted his thoughts.

“ ’Scuse me, Professor, but I was wondering if you could check on Phoebe and mine’s shrinking potion? It’s not quite as bright green as yours is, but…”

“As long as it’s green I’m sure its fine, but I will come and look at it. If you had messed it up I assure you it wouldn’t be green.”

He approached the cauldron where a Ravenclaw was reading and rereading the page in her textbook and looked up worried when he reached her.

“I’m…I’m not sure, but I might have lost count on how many times I stirred it clockwise, sir.”

Draco bent over the potion and inhaled deeply. “Your potion is quite good, but I think you might have added a tad too little leech juice for it to be perfect. But that’s okay,” he continued when he saw her face, “this is more than passable and would easily get you high marks if this was a test. 20 points to both Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw for not only completing your potion on time, but also making such a good batch.”

Excited whispers spread through the class at this announcement, only stopping when Draco cleared his throat.

“The rest of you still need to finish your potions, but once I check them you can be excused to dinner, even if it is a bit early. I have somewhere I need to be tonight and there’s no point holding you all once you are finished.”

“Are you heading out with Madam Granger tonight, then?” asked one of the cheekier students.

“No, and I wouldn’t tell you if I was, either. This is a personal matter I must attend to, and you need to attend to your potion Mister Anders.”

The boy blushed before turning back to his cauldron, just as Draco noticed a light flash faintly in the next room.

“I’m going to step into my office a moment. Let me know if anyone needs their potions checked before I return.”

Trying not to run to his desk, he opened the now somewhat worned copy of famous cats to find a note from Hermione.

Sorry I’m not going to be able to go with you to the Manor tonight. We can try to reschedule – I hate the idea of you going alone – but Ginny is on her way to the hospital to deliver the baby. You are welcome to come, but I know it’s still a little awkward yet for you to be around the Weasleys. H.G.(-M.)

Draco groaned as he read it. He was already not looking forward to finally seeing his Father after all these months, but had hoped to have his fiancé by his side, as well as Mother, when he did. He knew there was no rescheduling this, and he resigned himself to do it on his own.

I understand. Go do what you need to do and I will do what I need to do. I’ll swing by the hospital later if dinner with my parents takes less time than it does for you to get back here. D.(G.-)M.

He closed the book and chuckled at the initial mark. It had been Hermione’s idea to start using their still unofficial last name in their personal letters back and forth, as it was still rather difficult to begin using it publicly. They might already know how their relationship turns out, but for now they had decided not to confuse everyone else in their lives and had just recently announced their “engagement”. It was technically the reason for the dinner tonight, but even his parents would understand.

There was a knock on his door. “Um, Professor Malfoy?”

“Yes, Milner. What is it?”

“I need my potion checked.”

“Alright, I’m coming,” he told him as he closed his book and turned his attention back towards his teaching.

*****

Hermione barely waited for Draco’s reply before running down to Hogsmeade, the fall leaves blowing against her face as she raced down the well-worn path. Professor McGonagall, true to her word, had ceased the connection for the Floo Network to Draco’s room at the end of Spring Term, citing something about special privileges and unneeded distractions amongst her staff. Now, like everyone else, she had to get away from the school in order to access a way in or out of Hogwarts.

As soon as she had run the full distance, she Apparated straight to the lobby of St. Mungo’s, the Welcome Witch greeting her as soon as she landed in her normal deadpan voice.

“Mrs. Ginny Potter is on the fourth floor, opposite side of the ward from the closed section, room 17 – sixth door on your right. You have already been granted one of the limited passes to enter.”

“Thanks,” Hermione managed to get out between pants before heading to the lift and pressing the button for the correct floor as she tried to shake some of the leaves from her bushy hair.

As the lift door’s opened she was greeted by the sight of a long line of Weasleys assembled down what Hermione was certain could only be the hallway to Ginny’s room, along with Andromeda and little Teddy, who was so excited his hair wouldn’t stop changing color. She barely greeted them as she almost ran down the hallway to room 17 and threw open the door.

Harry was already there, as well as a few Healers and Healers-In-Training, one of which was Astoria. She had proven herself more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with her peers and secured the record for fastest progression from an assistant to trainee, and had been personally requested to be present for the Potters’ birth.

“I’m glad you could make it, Hermione,” Harry told her through a sigh of relief as she approached the bed and gripped his free hand – the one that wasn’t already gripping Ginny’s.

“Is she in pain?”

“No. Actually, I was informed this is nothing like Muggle births. The Healers are able to put her in a sort of trance and negate all pain without slowing the baby’s progression. They also have special charms that can reposition him if he gets caught or something. It’s really rather quite fascinating. I can see why no one seemed to be worried.”

“Anytime now, you two,” Astoria informed them. “Harry, would you like to catch?”

The blood drained a bit from his head and Hermione could feel Harry’s pulse spike.

“Al-alright,” he stuttered as he pulled Hermione’s hand into Ginny’s before he let it go.

He moved over to the blanket covering Ginny’s legs and Hermione watched as an odd look of pride and a little squeamishness crept over his face. Ginny shifted the position she was in and all the Healers but Astoria moved down to assist Harry, yelling spell after spell in rapid fire succession, the only one she could make out clearly was Tergeo . It was only then she saw that Astoria held Ginny's other hand, and the two shared a smile before Harry pulled their attention back to him.

“Guys,” he announced through tears in his eyes, “Meet James Sirius Potter.”

Hermione was a little surprised to see Baby James already cleaned and wrapped in a blanket as Harry stood, cradling the tiny form to his chest. Astoria took that moment to mutter a few spells of her own over Ginny before stepping back to give Harry room to approach her.

The new mother returned to an alert state quickly, and a look of elation overtook her face as Harry bent down to lay James on her chest.

“Hello there, little one. I’m your Mum,” Ginny grinned through tears as she greeted her baby.

“And this is your Dad,” she continued, turning the babe towards him.

“And this,” she paused as she shifted towards Hermione, “this is your new Godmother.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped. “Are – are you serious? Is she serious, Harry? I mean, don’t you want one of the Weasleys or maybe-”

“No, Hermione,” Harry informed her sternly as a few residual tears finished falling from his face. “We want you – and Draco – to be his Godparents. You have already proven you’d go to the end of the world and back to save him and our little family, and we can’t think of anyone better to do the job."

“We may not know WHAT it is you did," Ginny observed, "and frankly I probably don’t want to know, but we figured out ages ago that you and Draco are probably going to be together for the long term. Besides, you might want the practice taking care of a wee one if there’s any chance you might have one of your own one day.”

Memories of Igniculus, whom they had long decided would be renamed to the similar sounding Scorpius as to continue Draco’s family’s tradition of using celestial names, sprang to her mind as her hand dropped unbidden to her waist, something that did not go unnoticed by Ginny if the look she received was any indication.

“Now then, the mother needs her rest,” insisted the Healer in charge, “Everyone but the Father, OUT! Don’t worry, dearie, we can monitor you and the baby easily from the next room. I said OUT!”

Hermione didn’t need to be told again as she and Astoria followed the other Healers from the room. It didn’t take long before they were swarmed by the waiting crowd. Comments of “is she okay?”, “how’s the baby”, “did Harry drop him yet?” (Hermione was almost sure that one was George), “does he have red or black hair?” seemed to blend into one loud blur.

“Enough!” Astoria shouted. “The baby and mother are fine and resting, choosing to have some moments bonding as a small family before seeing anyone else. Now, if you would all prefer NOT to be standing here in this cramped hallway, we can head upstairs to the tea room – we have a private room set up for families for moments like this.”

As they turned to leave, Astoria grabbed Hermione and pulled her back.

“What?”

“I know you.” Astoria observed. “And I know what you probably have in that bag of yours. There is going to be no privacy once you get upstairs so if there is anything you wish to jot down for Draco you might want to do so now.”

“Right,” Hermione agreed.

“Here, step in this room and I’ll personally see no one bothers you.”

“Thanks, Astoria.”

Hermione slipped past her and, not wanting to disrupt anything in the dark room, sat crossed legged on the floor as she pulled out her journal and a pen.

Baby and mother are fine. No sign of any lingering spell effects. As our emotions don’t seem to be tied to any magical flux anymore either, I think it is safe to definitively say the chaos has been leveled back out. – H.G.(-M.)

She closed the book before remembering one last thing to write.

Oh, by the way, we are Baby James’ Godparents. So we can get a little practice for whenever Scorpius is born. – H.G.(-M)

Hermione shifted to get up and head upstairs when Draco messaged back.

We are WHAT? – D.(G.-)M.

She shook her head and headed upstairs with Astoria without replying, knowing she could tell him much more in detail later.

“Oh, by the way Hermione.”

“Hmm?”

“Thanks for the kitten. Ron insisted we name him Fuzzy and, try as I might, he won’t answer to anything else.”

Hermione chuckled. “So, you think he might be the one, then? Ron that is, not Fuzzy.”

“Mmhmm! He's changed so much over the last few months - for the better I mean - and I heard whispers he might be popping the question at the Burrow this Christmas. Are you and Draco going to come this year?”

Hermione hesitated, but things had been much better between her and the Weasleys lately – especially now that Ron had convinced them that he was serious about Astoria. They had even begun to be nicer to Draco. She wasn’t sure if this was just because they thought they would lose her if they didn’t, but regardless of the reason it was a nice change of pace.

“I can talk to him, but I think it might be time for me to go back.”

Astoria squealed a little before continuing down the hall as Draco suddenly walked of the elevator in front of them.

“There you are. Explain. WE are the Godparents? Not-”

“No, not any of the Weasleys. I was just as shocked as you were.”

“Merlin, this is turning out to be one interesting day.”

“Oh?” Hermione queried. “How so?”

“Before dinner began, Father pulled me aside and said that while it goes against everything he was raised with, he wasn’t going to formally object to us getting married and was surprised at how happy I was. Basically, the closest thing we may ever get to his blessing. I left shortly after because of your message so I may need to get back there, but I had to find out in person what you meant.”

“Um, guys?”

Hermione turned back to Astoria, having momentarily forgotten she was there.

“Remember how all of the Healers were monitoring Ginny’s birth and the baby?”

“Yes…what does that have to do with anything now?”

“I – I didn’t notice it before - since we were right on top of him of course, but…”

“Spit it out, witch! What is it?” Draco nearly yelled, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

“I’m – I’m out of range for my magic to still be detecting James, yet my wand is still monitoring the heart rate of a baby boy.”

“You don’t mean-” Draco began, looking to Hermione’s face before his eyes dropped to her waist.

“I do.” She turned to the witch beside her with a big grin. “Hermione, you’re pregnant.”