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Monday, November 1, 2010 - Ministry of Magic, London

Hermione Granger, Head of the Department for Magical Creatures’ Support and Relations, wished that she had had more than a day to bask in the victory that was the reorganization and renaming of her domain within the Ministry of Magic of Great Britain and Ireland.

Yesterday, however, had been an utter cockup, and as usual, no one seemed to be able to find their way clear of the least kerfuffle without her help.

She stood behind her desk, clearing her throat loudly and leveling her gaze and every ounce of gravitas she could bring to bear on the babbling crowd surrounding her.  

“Ahem!  Now, let’s try this one at a time.” She turned to the boss’s messenger. “Minister Shacklebolt?”

A shimmering lynx stepped forward, its intelligent eyes gazing up at her as it opened its mouth to speak.  “Ms. Granger, it would appear that some anonymous prankster decided to make their displeasure at your recent rebranding known by populating my office with garden gnomes and Cornish pixies at the weekend. It is unclear, as I am hesitant to open the door long enough to let loose the chaos these creatures represent upon the Ministry at large, whether additional, more threatening pests may also await within.  I am quite certain, at least, that my pot plants are done for. Would you please be so kind as to send up a team from the Nuisance Relocation Squad to assist at your earliest convenience? I have a meeting with the Lithuanian Minister at ten, and would like to keep it.”

Hermione kneaded at her temples a moment as the lynx faded before turning to her secretary, who knew her well enough to have a pad and quill at the ready.  

“Zabini, would you please ask McKinley, Katri, Jones, and Laird to proceed to the Minister’s Office at once, with containment crates?  Also,” she began, then paused to wait as he tore away a piece of paper, charmed it into a red airplane, then hurled it up through the transom, “Also, would you please make the Head of the Ministry Security Division aware that her lackadaisical attitude toward implementing the wards reforms I’ve requested has led to the minister losing his prize Wiggentree bonsai?  It was a diplomatic gift from the Headmistress of Mahoutokoro before she went on to become Supreme Mugwump of the ICW. Perhaps that will prod her off her chair.”

With a gulp, Zabini spelled that one orange and dashed it aloft, poised for whatever came next.

“Alright. Now, Luna?”

A lanky hare hopped forward, thumping at its ear with a hind foot as it spoke. “Hello, Hermione.  I do hope you enjoyed Samhain. I wonder: could you advise? You see, a demiguise who was involved with prophecy research has wandered off with a time turner and a rare bottle of Ogden’s suspected to be charmed with several strengthening spells, and several artifacts and all the brains in the tank have gone missing down here since.  While this is all quite fascinating, some of my colleagues have become rather cross, and I do worry poor Munroe will be cross to have missed his avocado rolls by tea time if he can’t find his own way back.”

Hermione’s eyes bulged as she parsed that missive and its potential ramifications for a minute, then summoned her own otter Patronus (as the most urgent communique possible within the ministry) to send back to Luna.  It floated in the air expectantly as she marshalled her words, darting a glance to Blaise so he’d know to take notes.  

“Relay this to Luna Lovegood, Unspeakable in the Department of Mysteries: Well, that’s a fairly impressive problem, Luna.  Em… they’re not specifically on catastrophe detail, but given the complexity of your situation, I’m going to send my best team, Patel and Lupin, right away.  I think you should also call in Tonks, as she has a talent for the unpredictable, but just… just make sure all your fragile artifacts are surrounded by wards and cushioning charms first, alright? Please you go with Padma and Remus when they get there, as it sounds like you and... Munroe... have a rapport, and I know you See sometimes, which could be handy as well.  Good luck.”

Zabini zipped off two more memos, red, presumably to Padma and Remus in their department and Tonks among the Aurors.  She really hoped Remus could rectify that clusterfuck without ending the known universe - an all-too-plausible possibility, with the bonus, at leas, that if she didn’t exist she wouldn’t have to work late.

She tried hard not to grimace as she turned to the next waiting Patronus .  “Lavender?”

“Hermione, darling, Pansy and I are looking at drafts for your new public awareness campaign, and let me tell you, Creative has positively outdone itself.  Just wait until you see!” Hermione rubbed at her brow as Lavender’s voice gave a little squeal. “You simply must come up right now and have a look with us, your toes are gonna curl till your heels pop right off! Also… em, have you any tips for good dates to take with a half-vampire?  Faux pas to avoid? Only, I’ve met someone. Right, anyway - ta, see you soon!”

Hermione looked blankly at the spot where the beaver had been for several seconds after it faded from view, her jaw twitching, before she looked up to Zabini.  

“Already on it,” he squeaked, flinging an orange plane aloft without needing to hear her thoughts on this particular chestnut.

She massaged the bridge of her nose as she turned to the last messenger, knowing at least that it wouldn’t be a waste of time.

“Finally, then: Prongs?”

She usually would only call a Patronus by the summoner’s name, but she happened to know this one had its own.  The stag stepped slightly forward.

“Hermione, I can only imagine you’re up against it today, but there’s a… a… holy shit, um…”  She bit her lip as she heard sounds of a commotion through record, making startled eye contact with Blaise as they listened.  “Look, a little after the crowd commute ended this morning, you won’t believe what Apparated into the hall… no no no no no!”  There was a loud crash and a deep, deep sort of huffing sound.  “Hermione, lobby, now!

Spitting expletives, she toed off her heels and, after a half-hearted attempt to find the flats that should have been under her desk, pelted flat-out and barefoot to the lifts.

Chapter Text

“‘Mione, oh thank Godric you’re here!”

Hermione sprang from the lift, wand aloft and Zabini a step behind her, similarly alert, only to see Ron slumped in a crouch against the drawered side of the reception desk with Mafalda Hopkirk, who was shaking like a leaf and didn’t alter her thousand-yard stare at their arrival.  He gestured to them to get down and come over quickly.

Hermione ran, ducked, up to his side. “Ron, what in the blazes is happening?  I got a positively mad message from Harry, and-”

Ron shook his head and held up a hand to stop her. “Believe me, ‘Mione, whatever he sent you was ruddy calm by comparison to the actual situation up here.”  He nodded toward the right end of the welcome counter surrounding the desk, his gaze darting from there back to her.  “Go on, then, have a look, but be quick and be careful , alright?”

While Zabini bent to run some first aid diagnostics on Hopkirk, then Ron, who was so shaken he forgot to be rude, Hermione crept over to look around the edge of the counter, taking a deep breath to calm herself before ducking out from cover.

What she saw made her goggle.

Finally retreating back to the others, she whispered to Ron.  “How long have they been like that?”

He shrugged.  “Since around when you received the Patronus, I suspect?  Maybe twenty minutes.”

She sighed.  At least it wasn’t a species known for aggression toward humans. 

What she had seen, if it had not been so incredibly disturbing, would have been quite spectacular.  

In the middle of the echoing and vaulted lobby, in a spot that had greater pride of place than the new fountain at present thanks to sun streaming in through the skylights, sat a dragon.  Its pose was sphinx-like. Its nacreous sheen reflected in speckles of pastel-colored light all over the walls and ceiling, the complex patterns that resulted making Hermione wonder if its scales were somehow bezeled.  

When she squinted past the dazzle of this effect, she saw that the dragon looked quite at ease, its bearing languid and regal.  Its hind legs folded under it, talons curled delicately up such that they wouldn’t scratch the marble parquet. Its tail was plumed with cartilaginous spikes webbed together with a delicate translucent membrane along its length.  Its vast wings were folded closed above it, not quite at ease against its back, and attached to the same muscle-knotted shoulders as its two long forelimbs, which were graceful and dexterous, with long talons that appeared to be retracted at the ends of elegant digits.  At the front, its weight was supported on its elbows (or was it knees?), though its chest and belly, too, rested on the floor.  

Its serpentine neck, plumed with three ridges similar to the one along its tail, bent into a fold reminiscent of the great blue herons Hermione had always been delighted to see on hikes and country drives as a child.  From its temples emerged two splendid and unusually unscathed horns, which pointed straight back with an elegant helictical spiral. They appeared for all the world to be made of black pearl, as did its great, intelligent eyes - pupilless and unusually dark, though the breed’s typical hue was more pale than steely.  As she looked longer at those astonishing eyes, she could discern that they were shimmering with green, purple, and pink inclusions reminiscent of both the boreal (or perhaps, for this creature, austral) lights and the gemstone for which its species had been named. Its closed lips fully concealed its teeth, its snout tapered and of a shape proportionate to the head of a Scottish red deer.  Another cluster of fringed membrane at its throat signified that this specimen was male. 

She’d be unreservedly giddy at the sight of such a magnificent creature were it not for the fact that the line of its lip curved into a sneer, and it seemed to be engaging in a staring contest with her best friend.  Her best friend, Harry, who was clutched delicately in what, for lack of a better term, she would have to call its fist. He was periodically grumbling and trying to wriggle free, which seemed futile, though the great beast did occasionally huff in irritation or cant its majestic head as if to say, “ surely you jest, puny one.

Chapter Text

A large, pupilless opalescent eye surrounded by white scales flecked with pastel colors.

 

Shortly after Hermione’s arrival, a squad of fifteen Aurors arrived, clad in fire-resistant robes and armed for… well, dragon .  They were already weighing strategies for how to “eliminate the threat” when they emerged from the lifts, and the clinks of bandoliers of potions slung over their hips and shoulders tinkled and chimed as they champed at the bit to go rescue their boss.  

Hermione saw immediately that she would have to act quickly, so she turned to Ron and, in a carrying but soft voice, said, “Mr. Weasley.  As Deputy Head of the Auror Office and senior Auror in charge here in light of your superior’s indisposition, I must respectfully insist that you allow me and my team to address this issue before the shock squad makes another move.”

Ron’s eyes widened. “‘Mione, this has become a life-or-death matter, and your department doesn’t have the training, equipment, or personnel to keep that monster from gutting Harry - you know, our best friend?”

Hermione stood... well.  Hermione crouched her ground. “And I’m telling you that the DMLE doesn’t have the expertise or the understanding to extract Harry safely, even if I were willing to stand by and let you take a chance with the Opaleye.  Even with expertise on our side, if that exceptionally dangerous creature is alarmed by a threatening response, do you actually think the odds of our getting Harry back intact will be worth taking?” Ron greyed a bit, his eyes darting between her and his team. Hermione sighed. “You know I know dragons - you know who I studied them with .  If this can be handled, I can figure out how.”  She scooted a little closer to her second-best friend and continued in a voice pitched for his ears only. “You’re the strategic mastermind when it comes to deploying assets in battle, Ron. I don’t dispute that and I know you’re under a lot of pressure to act. You, however, know I’m right - you know I’m the best piece to deploy, and you also know this entire situation is very, very odd. And that? Solving things like that ? That’s my strength.  I’d love your backup but please, please, please give me first shot at this, for Harry’s sake.”

She did not add, because she felt half-horrible even thinking it when she saw Harry out there, and it’s the first bloody day in the Ministry’s history of trying to cooperate with magical creatures instead of subjugating them, and if this is the very first newsworthy thing that happens, we’ll never get another chance to convince magical beings we’re sincere about change.

She was also fairly sure Harry would agree she should take the first shot, anyhow.

Ron looked at her warily, gnawing his lip. “Alright, then, Granger,” he finally said, loud enough so his Aurors could hear.  “We’ll take our cues from you - for now. What do you want us to do?”

“Nothing!” she said, decisively - but then considered.  “Well, maybe except...” she squinted around them as she considered strategy, “would you please secure the lifts and push the emergency redirect to send all Floo traffic and Apparitions to the 10th floor emergency transit hub so that no one enters this lobby unawares.  Also, we must alert the Minister. Unless you already did, rather than just contacting me?”

Rons ears pinked as he looked back at her, signaling her that no, no they had not.  Then, shakily, he collected himself and nodded, beckoning over members of his team singly and in pairs and conferencing with them in whispers to get these items seen to.  She patiently waited, folding her arms and exchanging some significant glances with Zabini ( no , he shook his head, no one was significantly injured), and occasionally stealing another glance out at the strange tableau beyond their makeshift bunker.  

Unfortunately, before the final lift could be sealed and locked down, Marcus Flint and Gregory Cotton stepped out of it. To her dismay, they were too busy arguing something about Quidditch (which she supposed was their job, but really ) to notice what was happening around them.  When an Auror rushed over to them making desperate shushing noises and gestures, a shocked Flint dropped his armload of broom prototypes with a resounding clatter, and Cotton forgot to catch the snitch he habitually had with him. Hermione had never been more annoyed at his irritating habit of showing off by constantly toting the little golden ball around to let it zip nearly out of his reach before catching it. 

The dragon’s nictitating membranes flickered in a slow blink and, with a huff eerily reminiscent of a sigh, it turned its gaze to the assembled onlookers.  It oozed disdain, somehow clearly indicating that it had heard them all along, but was in awe of their inability to even make a decent attempt at stealth.  

The snitch, meanwhile, addled from its long misuse, bounced off Hermione’s head, yanking several strands of her hair with it, and zipped merrily around the room.  

The Aurors hauled their colleagues from the Department of Magical Sports over behind the desk with them before skittering back to attend to the lift, almost tripping on a broom before Flint summoned them all back to him. 

“Well,” Flint said, sitting with his back to a small shelf under the surrounding counter.  “You don’t see that every day, I suppose.”

There were some weary nods from the assembled.

Flint looked straight to Hermione.  “Antipodean Opaleye, if I’m not mistaken?”

She nodded at her fellow Department Head, glad that the two of them had developed an easier rapport over years of working together to establish and fund snidget sanctuaries. Recently, he’d also proven an effective ally in the fight to ensure the humane treatment and, where appropriate, pay of team mascots and stadium house elves.    

Flint peered back around the edge of the counter, letting loose a slow whistle.  “He’s beautiful, he is. Got family in New Zealand. Never seen one so unscarred.  Though,” he paused, squinting, “I see the end of what looks to be a right frightening one that trails from his shoulder and down toward his belly, there.”

Hermione, who hadn’t noticed, sidled up beside him.  “Huh. I can’t believe I missed that.”

Flint shrugged. “Might’ve shifted enough to bring it better into view.”

The Opaleye, whose ridiculously dainty little ears flicked in their direction irritably, had resumed staring at Harry.

But then, as they watched, the dragon and Harry both looked up.  Hermione gasped as she realized the gold glint she saw in the air was the juggernaut snitch barrelling toward them.  

She thought dimly that the very last thing she needed was a dragon incensed from a poke to his very sensitive eye.

As it closed in on them, Harry reflexively reached for it, missing narrowly.

The dragon, however, caught it neatly between its thumb and foreclaw, the lethally sharp tips barely scratching the etched gold surface.  

Bugger me…”  Flint murmured, leaning forward as he looked on.  

Then, as they watched, the dragon chuffed, a tinge of steam clouding its exhalation. Returning his gaze to Harry, he then delicately sniffed the snitch before, quite precisely, he popped it right into Harry’s gaping mouth.  As the dragon did this, leaving Harry to spit out the offending sphere in indignation, the huge reptilian head turned, his gaze bearing down fiercely… on Hermione.  

Then, releasing Harry, he gave the startled wizard a little shove with his knuckles, pushing him stumbling toward the other humans in the room before resting his chin on his folded forelimbs with affected nonchalance. 

Chapter Text

Saturday, October 23, 2010 - Stonehenge, Wiltshire (Nine Days Prior)

He’d stood by the roaring bonfire for hours, around sundown, but children didn’t come guising for the Samhain celebration at the Manor anymore.  He’d hoped; a great deal had been done to remediate the Malfoy reputation in the years since the war, and he himself had championed all manner of reform that would have twisted the Dark Lord’s knickers but good since taking up the family Wizengamot seat.  He’d also worked alongside his (now paid and liveried) house elves, hauling up an old copper tub to float apples for bobbing and stringing orange lights on trees. He’d ordered enough sweets for guests to keep every child in Wizarding Britain and Ireland zipping about on sugar highs until Yule, too.   

Several late regrets were sent with all due courtesy from what his father called “the right families,” but no one came.  

No one wanted to get quite as close to the liminal spaces, or to be so reminded of true darkness, as they might at Malfoy Manor, erstwhile abode of Lord Voldemort.  Especially not when two marked Death Eaters - ones many believed got off too easily - resided within.  

So, he’d stood beside the statue he’d commissioned of Charity Burbage, who stood tall before the manor with a lit wand held aloft and a sad smile, and read and re-read the plaque commemorating her. It described her heroic and controversial work in a faculty position now endowed by the Malfoy family at Hogwarts in perpetuity, as well as her peaceful resistance even after her capture and imprisonment in this house.  This house, where dwelt a family who risked everything to turn on Voldemort at the war’s end, thus helping to change the tide of the Battle of Hogwarts.  

He supposed he didn’t mind people neglecting to keep that last bit in the forefronts of their minds after everything.  He still had nightmares of what had happened in his home, and many others did, too. To them, he’d looked complicit, no matter how young, terrified, or absolutely helpless he’d been at the time.

Now, standing a short flight away from home among these old stones where he’d last been happy, he sighed.  Then, he added a final ingredient to the crystal phial in his hand and stoppered it. After pausing to watch it turn blood-red, he placed the potion in the pouch he’d prepared for it with a modified stilling spell and a month’s supply of Peruvian instant darkness powder.

And then he lay down, lounging and wondering what fate would do with him now that this plan had almost come to fruition.

Grimacing, he curled his shoulders up to minimize the spill and took another swig of firewhisky from the dusty bottle he’d hauled along with him, careless of the grey smears it dragged across his previously immaculate black turtleneck jumper.  

When he was little, before Hogwarts, Samhain had always been his favorite holiday.  He had so many happy memories of the night.  

From before.

He gazed up at the night sky and saw that the full moon was finally accumulating a veil of clouds.  

Another long, thoughtful pull at the bottle later, and he sat up, letting his legs dangle over the edge of the lintel sarsen stone he’d lain on.  He’d thought about this old monument often since Beltane, and it seemed as fitting a place as any to conduct the evening’s business. His broom had fallen over the edge earlier, soon after he’d made the short flight here around eleven, but the phial was this evening’s greater concern.  

At least the drink tasted better without that miserable mandrake leaf in his mouth.

Leaving the bottle atop the stone, he jumped down, hitting the ground with a roll he’d learned in Auror training while holding the pouch carefully in his hand.  Auror training. Salazar, that had been a miserable year.  After realizing that Robards was never going to crack down on the “harmless pranks” his fellow trainees played on him, he thought maybe he could soldier on and impress his colleagues with his resolve, maybe win them over in the end.  Potter, of all people, who’d been through the program the year before, stepped up to take him to apprentice, and surely, he thought, surely he could make inroads after that .  

No one in the Wizarding world viscerally wanted to vanquish any possible future dark lord more than Draco Malfoy.  

But while Potter knew that, after a year and a half of being relegated to paperwork and fetching kneazles stuck in whomping willows, he’d figured out that Robards would never give him a chance, and hung up his uniform to try to make a difference through legislation. 

Maybe it could be different now, like Potter claimed in the note he’d sent after taking command - and Draco had appreciated the gesture, truly - but he also saw the way Weasley and everyone else still looked at him: with suspicion, at best, and barely contained rage, at worst.

Weaving toward the altar stone, he scratched at his faded Mark, then, realizing he’d done so, scowled down at his defaced forearm.  “Still itchy, eh Tom? Scaly wanker,” he slurred.

Some years ago, he’d become privy to certain bits of history he hadn’t known before he was tied down and tattooed at the age of sixteen as a sacrifice for the sins of his father. Tom Riddle : a name as unremarkable as he wished the man himself had remained. Somehow, it had made all the grisly pomp and circumstance seem tawdry, learning that name.  So, he decided he’d call the tattooed snake, who still feebly flicked out its tongue from time to time, Tom. 

Ah.  But there was the wind.  More clouds were blowing in, and distant lightning split the horizon.  It wouldn’t be long, now.   

With a deliberate irreverence, he hopped up onto the altar to wait.

Chapter Text

Back to Monday, November 1, 2010 - Ministry of Magic, London

“Is … is he…?”  Hermione whispered, eyes widening.

“He certainly is.  You ever give any thought to being a damsel, Granger?  Perhaps a princess?” Flint said, smirking at her. 

Hermione shot him a look. “Been too busy polishing my shining armor. I find it rather suits me.”

He chuckled. “Be that as it may, pretty sure that ‘n wants to carry you off to a hoard from the tales of old. Not that I wouldn’t entertain similar thoughts if you’d ever even have that drink with me, mind.”

Across the room, the dragon gave a low growl, his tail twitching like an irritated cat.

Flint looked up, holding his hands up in a sign of surrender, glancing between Hermione and the beast.  “Kidding! I was kidding! Lord, you great daft beast, if you aren’t understanding and judging everything we say, I’ll be a hidebehind’s giddy aunt.  Psssh.” He shook his head, looking again at Hermione, this time with a little concern. “Do you want to get out of here? Surely others can handle this, and I don’t like the way he’s looking at you.”

Hermione shot him a thankful glance, thinking perhaps she’d have a chat with him about how one might more respectfully ask a person for drinks - and also, that it was amazing what orthodontia could achieve. Flint had kept well fit even after retiring from his career with the Magpies, and had won Witch Weekly ’s coveted Most Charming Smile Award - twice. “I’m fine, but thank you - truly, Flint.” She stared back into the eerie, opalescent eyes across the distance. “I’m also not sure you could drag me out at this point. Too intrigued.”

Just then, Harry finally arrived, having jogged the entire distance to them with frequent looks over his shoulder.  “Blimey that was not what I expected of this morning.”  He nodded to those assembled, particularly noting Hermione and Flint.  “Hermione, Marcus. Welcome to the lobby - do you like the new decor?”

Both stared back at him flatly.  Hermione spoke. “Very shiny, Harry.  Didn’t know you were one for such ostentatious knicknacks.”

Harry shrugged, smiling.  “I’ll stick a pretty dragon that gives me a headache and lets me go above the mantle over a Hungarian horntail bent on my destruction any day!”  He sat between them, unsubtly pushing them apart with the breadth of his hips. He liked them - both of them - but he didn’t like the thought of them together and Marcus had been trying to get the inside track on how to woo Hermione from Harry for months, now. “Well, what’s the plan?  Hermione, I would guess this is in your purview?”

Hermione nodded, relieved that that wasn’t even a question when it was Harry she was dealing with. Then, she looked back at the dragon.  It was still looking right at her. As she peered at it, it blinked and… arched an eyebrow? A brow ridge? That she had not seen before.

“Yes, it is, thanks… but... I’m not convinced that’s a normal dragon, unless there’s something the authoritative texts are missing about this subspecies.”  She watched it as it looked away a moment to fastidiously examine the state of its foretalons. “I think… I think I should call him,” she said, shooting a worried little glance over to Ron.

Ron immediately started stiffening and shaking his head.  “‘Mione, I don’t think that’s a good idea. He really… look, we didn’t get so much as a letter the year he travelled after you broke off the engagement, and there has to be someone else who’s draconologist on call here at the Ministry who could do in a pinch, right?”

Hermione shook her head.  “Rolf’s in the field seeking another mastery, more widely pursuing Magizoology.  Said he wanted to expand his horizons to a broader array of creatures and beings, and we’ve posted the position but it hasn’t been filled yet.  Not that ANYONE else is as good as our man in Romania, and you all know it. Plus… well,” she started, pausing to gnaw guiltily at her lower lip before she sped through the next, “he may be distant, but I know he’s lived among Opaleyes, and he happens to have,” she cringed, bracing to admit the next bit, “a… em...  mysteriously unauthorized emergency Portkey, which I doubt he will have divested himself of, and which will instantly transport him within easy Apparition range of here.”

Harry and Ron looked a little shocked.  Marcus, however, looked lickerish, and gave a long, low whistle. “Granger, Granger.  My goodness, did you break a rule? Who was the lucky bloke, then?” 

Everyone ignored that, though Hermione colored slightly.

Ron made one last attempt.  “‘Mione, you have a mastery. Can’t you just…?”

“I don’t think it’s wise, not on my own.  I’ve never even met one of these before, and I’m rusty to boot. I’m not qualified to judge if this individual is normal or not, not remotely, much less to try to relocate it peaceably on my own.” Hermione raked back her hair, ducking her head and looking suitably penitent for a moment before meeting each of their gazes in turn.  “Look, I know there’s history, but he’s clearly the best option and his project is funded by and under the purview of the Ministry, so really, he is a staff dragonologist, when it comes down to it.”  

They all looked uneasy, but said nothing as she summoned her Patronus and instructed it to move quickly.

The dragon, meanwhile, sighed, canting his head and continuing to look right at Hermione.

Chapter Text

When he stepped out of the lift they’d opened from the subterranean Apparition points, soot-stained and bare-armed, scores of memories drifted through Hermione’s mind.  

That night when, having successfully hatched and given a first feed to all seven orphaned Ironbelly eggs, the offspring of the very dragon she’d ridden out of Gringotts years before, they’d both been positively giddy when relief arrived. They dipped into the ample reserve of brandy brought to feed the hatchlings to celebrate, and after, they’d made love on a bed of moss in a moonlit clearing and fallen asleep in each other’s arms.  

That had been the start of it.  

Those arms still rippled with musculature uncommon among wizards, who seldom lifted anything heavier than a wand, were marked with familiar burns and scars - and perhaps some new ones, too.  She hadn’t seen them since that spring, three years ago, when they’d said goodbye.  

She still remembered those arms wrapped around her.  Remembered those hands clamped over her mouth as she cried out in his childhood bedroom in the Burrow, where they were meant to be sleeping apart.  Remembered their strength when, so many times, they effortlessly worked her hips over him in the throes of passion.  

Flint saw Hermione woolgathering and sad while Charlie greeted his Ron and Harry, and leaned to whisper in her ear.  “Love, if you need him decked or stunned, or need a good snog to drum him out of that pretty head of yours, you need but say the world.  Tetchy dragon or no, I’ll hex his bollocks off and pull you into my lap right here for all to see if you need.”

She scoffed, whacking him on the shoulder with the back of her hand - though her cheeks had flushed a bit. An acid rejoinder was on her lips but, when she saw how grave and solicitous Flint looked, she swallowed it. Instead, slowly, she shook her head.  “I’ll manage, thanks.”

Somewhat chastened, he nodded.  “As you wish, then. Here he comes.”

Flint siddled away a bit as Charlie dropped to a crouch next to her, swiftly looking her from head to toe with a somewhat brittle smile.  “Mya. Glad to see you looking well.”

She smiled sadly back, grasping and squeezing his hand a moment. “You, too, Charles. Thank you so much for coming.” 

He didn’t immediately let go, glancing from their conjoined hands to her face.  “Sorry it’s been so long.”

“I am, too.”

The corner of his mouth quirked and he returned her firm squeeze briefly before reluctantly disengaging and turning to regard the matter at hand.  His expression quickly gained focus as he switched gears, examining the creature before him.

“Crikey.  That’s the prettiest adult male dragon I have ever seen, and we all but completely keep them from fighting in the Sanctuary.  He’s bloody pristine .  How the hell did he get in here?” He asked, looking around.  

Harry siddled forward.  “Em, I could be wrong - could have been some sort of Portkey that got lost in the shuffle, I suppose - but it looked like he Apparated here.”

Charlie stared open-mouthed at Harry.  “Dragons don’t feckin’ Apparate, Potter!  Have you lost the plot?”

Ron chimed in, shaking his head.  “No, he’s right, I was here too and I saw it.  If that’s not what happened, I don’t know what else could explain it.”

Hermione cut in.  “Charles, he’s also been acting odd.  For a long while after his arrival, he held onto Harry - he uses his forefeet more like hands than any other dragon I’ve ever seen.  Harry was undamaged, but for a headache. They seemed to be having a staring context the entire while.”  

Cotton nodded.  “We’re - Flint ‘n me - we’re only here accidentally, but I lost my snitch when I saw the great beasty.  And the ruddy blighter caught it.  Right out of the air.  Between two talons. It was incredible.”

“And then he popped it in my mouth and sent me on my way,” Harry said, shaking his head in disbelief at the very memory.  “Made a point of making his posture seem less alert, ducking his head down as he let me walk over here. But… people know I’ve had a snitch in my mouth before.”  Harry’s gaze grew distant as he thought.

Charlie chuffed a little laugh. “That a new kink, Potter? It gets lonely in the Sanctuary and we’re a creative bunch, but there are probably some things we haven’t heard of yet.” He grinned as he japed, but when his eyes darted over to Hermione, who had colored slightly, the grin looked a bit forced.

Harry, meanwhile, shook his head, unruffled.  “Nah, it was the first snitch I ever caught in a game, at Hogwarts.  Voldydork was jerking on my broom and I nearly lost control that day.  My hands were occupied so I caught it the only way I could. Dumbledore… Dumbledore willed me that snitch.  I’ve talked about it in interviews, but anyone who was there, especially, would remember.”

Charlie’s brow furrowed as he listened.  “Huh. Well, I see several options, and none of them are likely, but they’re what I’ve got.”

“And they are?”  Hermione asked.

He sighed, looking at her sidelong.  “Well… that’s not normal behavior. Also, this dragon is in nothing like normal condition, as I’ve said.  Maybe, as they’re not aggressive to humans, and are even somewhat curious, this could be a dragon of unusual intelligence, and/or one who imprinted on and was trained by a human who decided to raise a hatchling outside the law.”  He smoothed back his close-cropped hair, gazing at the dragon in question. “After that are the really interesting possibilities.  Those, as far as I can reckon, are that that dragon is possessed, somehow under the Imperius curse, or actually a wizard - by dint of transfiguration the likes of which I have never seen nor heard of, or as an unregistered Animagus. That last there who would settle the centuries of argument about whether Animagus forms can be magical creatures with one hell of a bang.”

Hermione nodded to Zabini, who’d made a numbered list as Charlie spoke, then handed it to her. She exhaled, pulling a face as she looked at it.  “I was afraid of that.”

Charlie just nodded grimly, looking at the resplendent creature with unease. “Well, consider your suspicions confirmed; there’s weirdness afoot here.”

Hermione grabbed a stout quill from the desk at random and used it to secure her wild curls into a quick French twist.  She tried to ignore the fact that Charlie had looked back at her, his eyes fixing with a sort of sad longing on the column of her neck.  

“Right, then.  We’ve got a list:

  1. Imprinted on a human
  2. Peculiar Level of Intelligence
  3. Both 1 & 2
  4. Possessed
  5. Creature variant of Imperius Curse
  6. Unusual transfiguration
  7. First Magical Creature Animagus form in recorded history.”

She looked around, shrugging at the assembled.  “What’s the safest and simplest one to test? I say we work through the list to eliminate options until we figure this out.”

Chapter Text

And so it was that Hermione stood, wand aloft, levitating the large mirror from the Department of International Magical Cooperation’s reception area.  

Charlie stood behind her, hands perched lightly on her shoulders as if to guide her.  She forced herself neither to lean into him nor shrug him off.

“So, Opaleyes are the most cat-like of any dragon species.  This is a little daft when you think too hard about it, but I do think it will do the job,” he said, watching as she soared the mirror up toward the skylights.  

“If it works, I’ll be the first to say it was far more brilliant than daft, Charles,” she said, biting her lip in concentration.  

The Opaleye was watching the proceedings with some interest and no apparent alarm, which at least was good for safety.  Charlie, meanwhile, was watching Hermione, leaning a bit close at her threat to call him brilliant.

Meanwhile, the mirror was about in the right place.  Just a little rotation…

There!  Suddenly, an approximately mirror-sized chunk of wall was lit by a reflected sunbeam.  With a jiggle and a few flicks of her wrist, Hermione made it jerk about and race from point to point.  As she worked, she murmured to Charlie. “What’s he doing? I can’t control this and watch him at the same time.”

Charlie didn’t respond for a moment, but when he did, his pitch was unusually high. “He looked at the light a moment, then back to the mirror, and...  just… put his foreclaws over his eyes. Em. He looked embarrassed for us.”

Hermione dropped her wand, summoning the mirror before it could hit the ground and letting Zabini catch it.  “Well then. I think that might be the first three crossed off our list.”

Charlie had cocked his head, gaping at the dragon. “I’ll be.”

As he spoke, his hands had fallen from her shoulders and he’d unthinkingly let them land at her waist, perching over her hips.

The dragon, peering back toward them again, growled low.  Its tail whipped around.

Flint spoke up.  “I wouldn’t touch her, mate.”

Charlie adjusted his grip rather than letting go, glaring at the other man. “What’s it to you, Flint?”

Flint shook his head. “I’ve no claim, sadly, but I’m not the one you have to worry about.  The dragon, on the other hand-”

“-is a gentle little kitten by comparison to me , in all likelihood, if you do not please remove your hands, Charles,” Hermione finished primly. “You’re distracting me. Kindly step back.”

The second he did, the dragon quieted, though it still watched them both with interest, the end of its tail continuing to twitch.

Hermione scrubbed her hand down her face, then glanced around.  “Right. This is taking forever, and lunch is soon. There’s been no violence from this dragon, right?”

Harry stood, shaking his head.  “No. Not... really. Though I didn’t particularly fancy his extended company, I’m remarkably unscathed.”

Hermione started walking toward the far end of the elevator bank, heedless of the distance from cover.  “And anyone can still Apparate out of here from any point in this room, correct?” She noted that the dragons eyes had left the others and followed her. 

“Yes, that’s right,” Harry said, watching her with a slightly worried line between his brows.

“Harry, would you mind walking over to your left, away from me for about fifteen feet?”

He did.  The dragon continued to look at Hermione.

“Right, then,” she murmured to herself, then started walking briskly forward.

Chapter Text

“Hermione, what the … HERMIONE!”  Harry started to follow her, but Charlie and Flint stopped him.

“It’s alright, Harry,” she called back to him.  “Isn’t it?” She asked the dragon, slowing as she neared him.

The dragon just gazed at her from his fathomless prismatic eyes.

Finally, she stood about ten feet in front of him.  He was undoubtedly fully grown, his body about forty feet long, not including his tail.  His head alone was around as long as she was tall. How had a creature of such proportions caught a snitch?   Now, he regarded her with his neck curved, heronesque, his face high and his expression, such as it was, seeming guarded.

“You’re not a typical dragon, are you?” She said, hoping she wasn’t a damned idiot.

After a brief pause, flicking up and then smoothing back his translucent crests in apparent consideration, the dragon slowly shook his head.

Across the room, she heard Ron. “ Blimey , Harry, she’s talking to it!”

Harry replied, and she caught something about being certain she’d be more diplomatic to a dragon than she was to the two of them.

Her primary concern, however, remained the dragon.

“So… am I speaking to an entity possessing a dragon?” She asked.

Again, he shook his head.  She made a mental note, however, that anything that could so clearly communicate in response to human language could almost certainly also lie.

“I suppose you can’t tell me if you’re Imperiused.”

The dragon exhaled with a huff, and she suspected, if he had pupils or distinct irises, he would be rolling its eyes.  As if realizing he couldn’t, though, he shook his head again.

“Tranfigured?”

The dragon sighed , slowly lowering his great head, curving his neck around to continue facing her.  Chin brushing the floor, he shook his head with a decisive no.

“So… are you an unregistered Animagus?”  This was the last question, but it seemed the likely winner.

The dragon wrinked the small, fine scales of his snout distastefully, glaring balefully at her.  Then, he shrugged one shoulder.

“A… new Animagus, who has yet to register, perhaps?”

His little ears and ridges perked right up and he straightened, nodding.  It looked absurd on a creature of this size.  

“That… wow, okay.  A stuck new Animagus, then?”  

The ridges drooped right back down, and this nod looked a little woebegone.

She chewed her lip.  “Well, you’re resistant to spells, then, thanks to this form - and also, everyone and their uncle is going to want to study you, because there are over a millennium of records of this not happening - but shall I try and cast the reversal spell, see if I can get you changed back so you can walk down and register yourself?”

The dragon nodded wearily, unperturbed as she drew her wand and aimed.  “ Homini revelio!

Something happened.  The air around the dragon wavered, warping like the air over pavement on a hot day.  The beast himself twitched a little, looking around at his body’s various extremities with interest then, suddenly, closing his eyes, aiming his face away from her, and letting loose a tremendous but rather adorably high-pitched sneeze.

The wall was blackened with char when he sheepishly looked back at her, one … hand?... attempting to cover his nose.  

She cast an Aqua Eructo in case there were any live embers left.  “Well, I was afraid of that.” She looked at him as if he were a big problem.  Because he was.

“So… first transformation, yeah?”

Nod.

“Stuck like this a little while?”

Nod.

“Hours? Days…?  Days.” she repeated when he nodded.   “Tap how many?”

Gingerly, the dragon lowered a forelimb, taping with one talon on the floor nine times.  

Hermione did some quick computation and recollection.  “So… you got a lightning storm on the full moon?  Lucky if it was the same one you finished on - that’s unusually quick.  There… there was a storm in Southwest countryside last weekend, wasn’t there.  Hmm.”  

The dragon watched her thinking.  He looked hopeful.

She broke off, though, shaking her head and peering up at him.  “I know you, don’t I?”

Definite hesitation before he nodded his head, actually shuffling backward a half step without raising off his haunches.

She regarded him critically.  Then walked right up to his huge face, because she’d realized she could intimidate him.  He cringed away from her. Interesting.

So, quickly calculating, she called over to the others.  “Say, Flint?”

He stood up but did not approach.  “Er, yes?”

“Would you please come over here, throw me over your shoulder, and then haul me off to the nearest broom closet for a quick shag?”

Flint didn’t even have a chance to reply (or be murdered by Charlie) before the dragon’s neck had extended, dividing her from the others in the room. He bared his teeth and gave a long, low roar, somehow more threatening for its softness, as he stood and stepped forward, mantling his wings in magnificent opalescent sails after he had gotten her behind them.

Hermione yelped a little, not having expecting that much of a response.  Then, she thought a minute.  “Wait.” She shouted up to the dragon, which was still holding the other humans at bay, “Stay still, will you?”

The dragon abruptly closed his lips and went quiet, trying to look around at her as its wings sagged a little, as if both confused and a bit embarrassed at his own behavior.  Hermione, meanwhile, had ducked to look under its torso.

His wings snapped shut as he tried to make himself look small, now only looking at her again as she straightened.

She spotted the  Sectumsempra  scar and then looked at him with utter incredulity, “ Malfoy?!”

Looking a little listless, he nodded.

Chapter Text

He thought he’d liked it better when everyone was giving him space. 

Draco the Dragon huffed as his contemporaries, who clearly weren’t giving a thought to what an overwrought dragon might do when his anxiety was triggered even if he did happen to be a bloke they knew, were crawling all over him.  Well, mostly not literally. Buzzcut Weasley was pacing around and occasionally on him taking notes with a measuring tape, probably to see what a so-called “pristine” Antipodean Opaleye looked like as a baseline for future comparisons to wild specimens.  

Harry had come up and put a hand on his shoulder a moment, shaking his head.  “That’s rough, mate.” And then he’d wandered off, doubtless to do some sort of Auror business, taking his ragtag crew with him.  Wankers. At least, he supposed, Harry had no doubt Hermione would be safe remaining in his company, even when he was hardly at his best. That was reassuring, somehow. 

Zabini, meanwhile, had drafted Hopkirk to help him get Draco’s Animagus Registration forms in order.  Granger had asked him to do this - apparently, once registered, he’d enjoy significantly greater legal protections - which she seemed brassed off about, but he’d take what he could get. 

His former Quidditch captain, meanwhile, had stalked up to him with folded arms.  “So. Never been one for indiscriminate acts of chivalry, you. Carrying a torch for Granger, then?”

Draco just stared at him, trying to communicate (though he’d already discovered neither Occlumency nor Legilimency worked in his current state) that it was not a convenient time for a complex conversation.

Flint just scowled. “You’re trouble, Malfoy. Always were a little shit back in the day, and I’m not sure how much I think that ever can change. And your nose may be bigger now, but don’t think I haven’t noticed you, sniffing around.”

Draco looked at him, rolling his entire head rather than his eyes.  He strongly considered scratching some choice words into a wall. Words about being stuck as a fucking dragon and her basically having made her disinterest clear, anyway.  But he was far too well brought up.

Still, any complicating factors aside, if you wanted help and you were a magical creature, there was one person, one , to whom you would go if you needed a champion.  

And she was sitting tailor fashion on the floor in gazing at him, staring and lost in thought, doubtless trying to figure out how to unravel this absurd mess.

And so it was to her he directed his attention as Flint rattled off the usual threats just out of her earshot. She was the important thing - really, champion or no, she had been for a while.  As for Flint, well, Draco wasn’t certain how the actual anatomy worked, but he was pretty sure he’d win any dick-measuring contest, figurative or literal, now he was stuck as a dragon.

Chapter Text

Monday, June 21, 2010 - Broch of Mousa, Shetland, UK (Four Months Prior)

It was “The Year of Celebrating Our Magical History,” by Ministerial Decree, and every high-ranking official and Wizengamot member had been told in no uncertain terms that they had a responsibility to participate in every major festival and be seen doing it.  Beltane had been… well, Beltane had been something , but up here, an all-day party meant 19 hours, and there were yet three to go.  There were tents everywhere, and people were dancing and feasting and hawking wares, but the laughter and frivolity rang a bit hollow to Draco, who’d woken at dawn as usual to cast another Midsummer cleansing on the Manor - and who had, thus, started the day reminded of the stain that never seemed to wash off his house.

It didn’t help that the heroes of the last great triumph against evil were being celebrated in particular today.

Potter, Weasley, and Granger were impossible to miss, garlanded and barefoot in embroidered white robes, each walking through the crowds with subtly trailing Auror protection details as they allowed their pictures to be taken with the simpering common mages of the isles. 

Mother hadn’t let him leave the house in his habitual black today, and so he was in pale grey linen trimmed with sky blue. He wandered about, buying from artisans here, speaking to someone not embarrassed to be seen with him there.  He ended up seated at one of the many outdoor taverns set up for the day with Blaise, who had proposed they sit and enjoy the view together. 

To Blaise, of course, the view was still the many-splendored passage of every pretty girl of magical heritage in the UK and Ireland, and a delectable sight it was for one of the realm’s most eligible and wealthy pureblood bachelors.  Draco tried to look with him - technically he was all the same things, and was wealthier and of a more rarified bloodline besides - but his eyes kept drifting back to her .

Blaise couldn’t bite his tongue the fifth time he’d caught Draco doing it. “Pining still , are we?”

Drago snorted and quaffed his mulled wine before seizing the pitcher and pouring more. “Shut up, Blaise.”

Zabini shrugged. “Can’t blame you, really.  The boss grew up to be a vision and a power to make mere mortals kneel.  Hoping some of it rubs off, really.” He sipped from his goblet thoughtfully.  “Well, less the obliviousness to my own considerable charms, anyway.”

She walked by, again .  Malfoy shuddered, remembering the tinkling bells hung along that little silver anklet of hers as he watched the passage of her bare, pale feet. Again , he fumed, choosing not to remind himself he’d chosen the most centrally located of the places to drink, here at the crossroads, because he’d wanted to see her.

Now, she was crouched and in some deep and serious conference with a little boy, perhaps three or four years of age.  She was just beaming at him, and he threw his sticky little arms around her neck and hugged her before she picked him up and they smiled together for the Ministry photographer.  

I was even cuter, at that age, Draco thought moodily, remembering his Welsh short-snout guising costume from around that era and half considering finding her a photo before he realized how absolutely pathetic that was... and downed another goblet in celebration of just how low he’d been brung.  

“Gonna talk to her,” he said, standing unsteadily and declaring his intentions to his friend. 

Blaise bolted up and tried to catch him before he could knock the pitcher with his elbow. “Em… not sure you’re at your best, mate.”

Draco growled, shaking his arm free. “I’m… very charming!  I’m a charming drunk!  Everyone says so.  Right?” he asked a passing young woman, who blushed prettily and nodded before her friend pulled her along, giggling as they went. Draco nodded, persuading himself. “Tell her how I feel. Tell her about… about… yeah, that, tell her that. And… and… stuff!” He set off with more determination than coordination, his jaw set stubbornly, barely pausing to snatch up a crown of laurels dotted with forget-me-nots from a vendor and tossing back a few galleons more than it was worth as he went.

Blaise kept pace behind him, biting his lip and not knowing if he should support or scuttle this newfound resolve. “Em, mate, you know she… well…”

Draco sighed in disgust. “Of course I do. All my fault.”  She was ahead of him, embracing Neville and Hannah and ruffling the hair of their tiny little sprog. Beyond them, he saw the opportunity - beyond the Welsh folk dancers, there was a cotillion underway. “But I’m an excellent dancer,” he muttered, striding forward now with a purpose.

With a little yelp, Blaise fumbled in his pockets, following.

Draco arrived just as she finished posing with the Longbottoms.  “Granger!” he called over to her, almost avoiding slurring as he tried to wave the camera away. “Dance with me!”

Hermione looked in shock at the striking (if somewhat disheveled) thundercloud incarnate barrelling toward her. He stopped just short of her and crowned her with the wreath.  “You’ve been an attraction enough for the evening,” he breathed, standing too close. “Live a little.”

Everyone within hearing range hushed, glancing between them.  There were even some gasps of disbelief in the crowd. 

“Pardon me just a moment, sorry, em...” Zabini wedged himself between them, pushing Draco away from the witch and ungently tilting his head back to pour a sober-up potion down his throat. “Cheers, mate.”

As his friend ran off, Draco watched, his mind unfogging, before, with dawning horror, he remembered what he’d just done and his eyes swung back to her, standing there startled and… blushing quite becomingly. “Em, alright, I guess.  Have to get a photo first, though.” She shrugged, nodding at the irritated photographer.

Chapter Text

Monday, June 21, 2010 - Broch of Mousa, Shetland, UK (continued)

Stiffly, Draco drew himself up and stepped over to her side.  Or somewhere near it. Well, he thought they’d fit in the same frame.

The photographer, who turned out to be one of those Creevey nuisances, looked between them, put out, but then something Draco did not like at all seemed to dawn on him, creeping over his face in a wicked smile.  “Stand together, if you please, now, Dr. Granger, Lord Malfoy. No no, that won’t do, put your arm right about her waist, tuck her in close, now, that’s right.”

Draco had sidled up in desperate apprehension, looking at her as if deeply concerned she’d curse his arse shut but also as though he were really grateful for the opportunity to blot his sweating palm on her robe before he’d have to take her hand.

Creevey, the cheeky little blighter, winked at him right before he ducked back to look through the camera as the flash went off.

“Claim your copy at the Ministry next week!” the photographer chirped, heading to the bar for libation as the Aurors, frowning, went to take up positions around the dance floor.  

After seeing all this, there was nothing left but to look down at her , still snug to his hip and looking up at him with all the incredible intellect she had to bring to bear whirring and buzzing behind her eyes.  He had no doubt this was a fascinating development to that mind of hers.  

Steeling himself, he stepped to the side, leaving a polite distance between them, and extended his hand, bowing over it as was traditional. “Milady.”

Her eyebrow quirked, the corner of her mouth tugging up in a smirk as she curtseyed and laid her hand across his.  “ Sir, ” came her reply, her eyes dancing with mirth.

He nodded and led her to the floor with a reasonable facsimile of dignity. There, he parted their hands to stand with the other partners in the traditionally masculine role across from her while the musicians plucked at strings and tuning pegs.  “You can, of course, lead, if you would prefer, Granger,” he drawled.

“No, no, I believe it will do you good, being in control for a change- that is, if you can manage it,” she quipped as the music started - an allemande - and they exchanged bows.

His eyes narrowed at her as he pulled her with him into a stately spin, their arms crossing across their backs.  Salazar, but there was nothing in this world so captivating so a beautiful woman with a provocative mouth.  

“I'll muddle through, and I appreciate the magnitude of such a concession,” came his mild reply. As they shifted to spin the other way, he couldn’t help smiling down at her, undoubtedly more sincerely than he ought.

She blinked back at him as if startled before they briefly parted to spin with others.

When her hand returned to his, warm and soft, she regarded him curiously. “Do you? I hope that my habitual partner looks kindly on this little jest of yours.  He’s grown inexplicably fond of you in recent years.”

As they parted to let others promenade between them, he raised a brow at her.  “No matter how fond we may now mutually be, I’d hate to see you partnered out of mere habit.”

She frowned as their turn came to join hands and dance, skipping and leaping, between the long columns of other dancers.  “And you think that’s why we're together, do you, Malfoy?” she asked, looking at him.

He shrugged, his eyes burning into hers across their joined hands. “A bad man - a man whose life is written in mistakes - recognizes passion, both good and ill, if ever he wants to rule his impulses and be better.  A good woman deserves her fill of the best of it, I should think.”

He resumed his place standing across from her, their conversation again paused by an exchange or partners.

When they returned to each other, it was for each to spin for the other in turn, one watching as the other slowly twirled. His eyes could not help raking over her when it was his turn to watch; the quick tapping of feet below was sufficient to make a mouth-watering show of where her body bounced and where it was taut beneath her robes. By Merlin , how it made him want to touch her, seize her, drag her into some dark ruin and taste her, seeing her display herself for him so.

She, meanwhile, watched him guardedly, though her words were unexpected candid. “I’ve been worried about that.”

He blinked, pulling her closer to spin with him again.  Poking at her further seemed in poor taste after she’d ventured that . “Oh? I’m… sorry to hear it.”

She smiled at him wearily, her palm pressed to his between them, “Perhaps it burnt itself all out at the start.  It was… Godric , though, what a start.”

“At Beltane?” he queried.

“At Beltane,” she confirmed.

As her eyes grew distant with reminiscence, he wanted to claw his own heart out in frustration.  Instead, he danced impeccably. If he were wearing the robes his childhood dancing master had insisted on, she could see the flash of his shapely calves, but he didn’t know if women were really into that sort of thing in the 21st century.

She canted her head at him, again waiting to promenade.  “What, no joke at my expense, then?”

Slowly, he shook his head.  “The loss of something a… a good person must only have attempted with great hopes for happiness isn’t a laughing matter, to me.”

Her brow knitted slightly again. “Compassion? From you to me?”

“Or some word like it,” he muttered, uncertain if she could hear him as he once again swept her down the line, the fingers of the hand he held flat on her back struggling not to clench and seize her.

Chapter Text

Back to Monday, November 1, 2010 - Ministry of Magic, London

The problem remained, but she’d started to get things back to some sort of normal again.   

The velvet crowd control ropes the Ministry kept to manage queues were brought out and had been strung around Draco on their brass polls, giving him enough room to pace a bit and swish his great tail while they attempted to unravel all this.  She’d made sure there was also an outer cordon festooned with signs to notify people that they were in no danger (but to stay back or else she’d be happy to fix that).

She stood side by side with Charlie in an awkward silence by the wall, watching the dragon stew and pretend he wasn’t seething just below the surface as people walked by on their way out for lunch, gawping at him.  Hermione supposed that Malfoy would at least have a lot of practice with that.

“So.” Charlie said, looking down at her over his shoulder.  

Hermione smiled up at him sheepishly.  “Em, hi. How are you?”

Charlie gave her a long, appraising look, his expression neutral. “Having quite the interesting day.  Yourself?”

She looked up at his familiar eyes and saw the distance in them. It was saddening but it was best. “Same ol’, same ol’,” she replied. “Had this really awkward moment when I saw an ex, though.”

He raised a brow, his gaze sweeping swiftly over her face.  “That so?”

She nodded, eyes scanning the room (and avoiding his). “It was this sudden reminder of how, once, I’d proven absolutely incompetent for a change - only instead of it being about school or work or a little light saving of the world, I failed at having a respectful, honest, open relationship with the person most important in the world to me.  That sort of thing really changes you, you know.”

Charlie looked down at his feet a moment, then back up at her.  “Did you learn? Did you change? Do you think you can do better, when you love someone like that again?”

Hermione hesitated a moment, resolutely keeping watch on the makeshift paddock, making sure all was well - and definitely not looking at him.  “Yes. Yes. Godric, I hope so.”

He sighed, stepping in front of her, and leaning down to give her a gentle, chaste kiss. He stroked her chin with his thumb and forefinger as he slowly pulled back, gazing down and coaxing her to look back up at him. “If he was anything like worthy of you, I’m sure he would admit he shared the responsibility and had a lot to learn, too. If it all meant your lives will be happier in the long run, well, I suspect he’ll make his peace with that. Also, he’d want you to have a rather sentimental Portkey back.”

Taking and exhaling a deep breath, he took her hand, and let a plain platinum band strung on a round-linked chain pour into her palm from his own. A tear did escape her eye, then. She daubed at it with her handkerchief, looking back at Charlie quietly and giving him a small nod. “I appreciate that.”

He nodded, smiling wryly and touching her lower lip lightly with his thumb. “Take care, Hermione.”

And with a small crack, he was gone, and she was left standing there, eyes distant, lips slightly parted.

Chapter Text

Well.  

Hermione sniffed, delicately dabbing at her nose, then ducked under first the outer perimeter and then the velvet rope, walking up to Draco. She stood there a moment, looking slightly down into his eyes.   He’d lowered his head to lay his throat directly along the marble floor. He looked … not smaller, but like he was trying to be, and a bit somber, too.

“Have you eaten lately?” she asked

He shook his head slightly. Though it was impossible to tell the direction his pupilless eyes were looking, she thought she felt his gaze on her.

She sighed, asking quietly.  “Have you eaten since you changed?”

The shake of his head was somehow small.

Hermione massaged the bridge of her nose, impulsively sitting down on the floor leaning against his enormous shoulder.  “Right. In case the sparkles haven’t tipped you off, your Animagus form is an Antipodean Opaleye.”

He craned his neck around to point both his eyes at her, snuffling as if unimpressed.

She continued, unphased. “The subspecies’ favorite food is mutton on the hoof, cooked with breath and swallowed whole.”

He looked at her and after a few beats, eloquently stuck out his forked pink tongue.

She couldn’t help laughing. “Maybe a great deal of gyros or shawarma, then, you delicate little flower?”

His eyes widened and he nodded vehemently, pulling his tongue back as he salivated embarrassingly.

She nodded decisively; that was that settled, then.  “Greek then. I could demolish some avgolemono soup.”

She took a pad of paper out of her pocket and after jotting a few things down, charmed it into an airplane memo and sent it off to Zabini. “Lunch is my treat, Malfoy.”

He looked a bit affronted, stiffening his crests. 

“I believe,” she said, narrowing one eye at him, “that it was you who once told me I could lead if I wanted to.  So relax, my lovely little glitteryn; I’ve got this. Frankly, it’s going to be the least of our problems.”

His inner lids flickered in a slow blink as he looked at her, expectant.

“Well, let’s see,” Hermione sighed.  “Headmistress McGonagall, who wrote her doctoral thesis on the difficulties inherent to the mere possibility of magical beings as Animagus forms, is going to Floo in late this afternoon.”

His ears flickered marginally back, but she decided to ignore it.  

“Technically you’re the DMLE’s problem, not mine, now, but as you’re registered and no one has thought to put together a subsection of the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad trained to handle Animagus incidents - which are, to be fair, vanishingly rare for everyone other than you, you big, fancy snowflake - everyone is being remarkably eager to defer to me today.”  She glanced up at him. “And I need an intelligent interlocutor to toss possibilities around with, so forgive me for calling in one of the world’s leading experts even though she gave you detention from time to time and didn’t fancy your Quidditch team.” She thought a moment. “ Nice catch earlier, by the way.”

Little wisps of steam huffed out of his nostrils in what she suspected was a draconic laugh.

She wondered how in the hell she got into these messes.  “Did you really Apparate into here?”

He picked his head up enough to give her a regal little nod.  

She nibbled along her lower lip thoughtfully.  “We may need to try to get you out. Portkeys aren’t safe at your current tonnage.”  She shook her head. “What else… oh. Em, your mother had filed a missing persons report for you.  Actually, if she hadn’t, Shacklebolt would have been beyond peeved that you didn’t show last night for the Samhain celebration on Tlachtga - even though you could have made one hell of a guise of this predicament.  But the Aurors detailed found some evidence you’d been at Stonehenge, of all places.”

His eyes widened and, to her delight, the pale scales around his reptilian cheekbones pinkened a little.  

She stared and bounced a little in glee.  “Opaleyes can blush?!  That’s amazing!   Huh. I don’t think the born ones know about the whole concept of embarrassment, really, so maybe it’s just never come up. Aw, d’you know how mutinous looks on a dragon, Malfoy?  Even sillier than it did on your human face, no matter how many times you strutted it about.”

She shook her head.  “But I’m getting distracted.  That’s where you changed, isn’t it?”

He hesitated a second, then nodded.

She leaned forward, intrigued.  “Why there? You realize that the magical energies there could easily have catapulted this into the ridiculous situation in which you now find yourself, do you not?”

He just looked at her, ears twitching.

She shook her head.  “Well, anyway. Your mother is coming, too. Likely any minute.”

He gave a low, whistling groan and let his head just thud to the ground, dragging it over the floor with a fold of his neck so he could reach to put his forelimbs over his nose. 

“Didn’t tell anyone where you were going or why, or that you were trying to find your form, did you?” she guessed.  

She took his silence for confirmation.  

“At least you have her.” She said quietly, thinking on her own mother and father, now happily living in ignorance of their daughter’s existence under false names in Australia.  She’d tried, but the restoration of their memories wouldn’t take by the time the war was done.

Draco made a noise that sounded somehow like a reptilian form of whickering, and brought his head back over near her.  

Hermione looked at him.  “You’re so pleasant when you can’t shoot your mouth off.”

Draco barely parted his lips and blew a small cloud of steam through his teeth.

“Alright, alright, poor choice of words when addressing a dragon.” She sighed.  “Well, I can’t deflect the irrepressible Narcissa Malfoy. Is there anything else that I might be able to do for you?”

The enormous dragon froze, clearly hesitating.

This certainly piqued her curiosity.  “Well?”

He huffed and made a scratching motion with his left forelimb while flicking his left ear, which said forelimb could not reach.

She laughed.  “Aw, you have an itch?”

He glowered and started to swing his great head away from her before she called him back. “Wait, no, come back.  You have to admit it’s funny, but I’ll help, here.”

He hesitated, and then swung back, nearly bumping her with his opalescent cheek before his head came to a rest.

She looked down at his eye a moment, which blinked up at her hopefully before, leaning full-length along the side of his face to reach, she stretched up to give him a thorough scratching about the base of the soft-scaled, almost cat-like ear.  She’d never touched an unsedated adult dragon before. She took special care to get between the ear and the base of his nearer horn, her entire body shimmying with the effort.  

“Helping?” she asked, still scratching as she glanced down, seeing his eye half-lidded and vague and his tongue lolling out like a dog gone slack-jawed with relaxed satiation.

She chuckled and kept it up a bit longer.  With his mother coming (and for all she knew, his father), he could use a respite now.

Chapter Text

Creevy was just wrapping up taking some shots for the Prophet (an offering to keep them from invading with their own crew) and for the Ministry’s Animagus records when Narcissa and Lucius arrived.  Various members of the Ministry staff stiffened at the sight of them as they walked, heads held high and in impeccable dress, to the outer cordon around their son, only to be stopped by one of the Aurors supporting this situation when Lucius started to duck under it.

Hermione heard the raised voices and looked over her shoulder, spotting them.  “It’s alright, let them through.”

As the two walked nearer, in a bit of a huff, she looked at the great draconic face and whispered, “Em, it is alright, is it not?”

The dragon drew in a deep breath and let out an embattled sigh, turning slightly to better see the approaching visitors, who were eyeing him calculatingly.

“Ms. Granger,” Narcissa nodded.

“Dr. Granger, actually, Lady Malfoy,” Hermione corrected automatically, unable to bring herself to regret the reflex as a frisson of irritation passed through the aloof blonde’s flawless bearing.

“Of course,” Narcissa said, eyeing the dragon warily. “You mean to tell us that this creature is…?”

Draco lifted his head over Hermione’s, looking down at his parents with an unmistakable Malfoy sneer.

“Ah.”  Narcissa almost whispered, conjuring a chair before she could fall back into it.  

Lucius remained standing, but braced his feet a bit more securely as he looked up. “If you really are my son, what was your present for your sixteenth birthday?”

The dragon suddenly pulled back his lips from all his gleaming, sharp teeth, a menacing low growl resonating from his throat.  His eyes flashed and steam escaped between his closed teeth.

Lucius held up a hand quellingly.  “Very well, yes, that’s him. How do we restore him, then?” he said, looking at Hermione impatiently.

She glanced down at him, surprised to find she wasn’t the list bit discomfited by the threatening dragon hovering over her. “Obviously, the normal ways haven’t worked. Minerva McGonagall and I will be working together in search of a solution this afternoon, and as she is the foremost expert on matters of this sort in Europe, I hope we will be able to make some headway soon.”

Narcissa, who had recollected herself, nodded.  “Right. Very good. We’ll be taking him home until you’ve got that sorted, then.”

Hermione blinked.  “And how precisely do you intend to do that?”

Narcissa started as if to speak and then paused.  “Could we use a portkey?”  

Hermione shook her head.  “He’s too big. That or side-along and he’d almost certainly be splinched.

Narcissa sighed.  “And no one has a hearth so big.”

Hermione hesitated a moment.  “He did say… Draco, do you think you could Apparate out of here again?”

Draco looked a bit nervous and gave a little shrug, and Hermione, watching him, did not notice the narrowing of both his parents’ eyes at her use of their precious heir’s given name.

Hermione bit her lower lip, thinking.  She didn’t want to risk anyone’s safety but it wasn’t good for him or the Ministry that he was currently stuck here. It wasn’t healthy for dragons not to vent flames at least once or twice a day, among other things. 

She didn’t want him at the Manor, either; with him indisposed and without a spouse or heir, the control he’d assumed of the family’s holdings could be argued to revert temporarily to Lucius.  Aside from the many other worrying possibilities that would raise, Lucius and Narcissa could then choose to eschew all help and keep the Ministry out, however illegally, through family blood wards - something they might feel justified in doing if they were worried about this becoming a scandal.  It didn’t look good that they’d had no idea he was pursuing becoming an Animagus, at the very least.

Also, this was an unprecedented magical transformation, and Wizarding kind should benefit from whatever they could learn about why it had happened and how Draco could be helped to transform again. 

Not to mention… unless she was mistaken, he’d very deliberately decided to come to her - her, no one else - for help, and she felt bound by honor and pride to recognize the sacrifice of amour propre it must have cost him to do so.  

Especially because, funnily enough, she realized she’d rather come to like the primping prince these last few years.  She wanted a chance to raz him about this properly, after he could once again do that thing he did with raking his white-blonde hair back through his fingers in exasperation.  And that other thing he did, with the great staring grey eyes and slightly parted, pliant lips, bending from derision to dark amusement to sincerity through the subtlest of curves.

She blinked.  Hmm. That was trouble she’d have to contemplate later.

“Maybe the Hogwarts grounds, or the Snowdonia Dragon Sanctuary… mmm… well, only if they have a rather isolated paddock, as I’m certain the actual dragons would try to start things with so obvious an interloper on the basis of species alone.  I’ll make enquiries.”

“Nonsense.  He belongs at home, with us,” Lucius sneered, though his sneer was more drawn and weary than it had been, before the Death Eaters lost.

Hermione shook her head.  “This situation and its potential for changing everything we know about how Animagi work, not to mention its potential to become seriously problematic to the International Statute of Secrecy, must be handled by the Ministry.  Draco knows that - he came here rather than returning there, despite the fact it would have been barely two flaps of his wings from Stonehenge, correct?”

The retired Lord Malfoy glowered at her with reddening face.  “Now see here, you filthy M-”

Draco’s head very abruptly inserted itself between his father, who had started to step forward menacingly, and Hermione, who was knocked back with a stumble to make room. He stared pointedly at his pater familias , who had a remarkable habit of decisively making poor decisions on behalf of those he professed to love.  

Narcissa stepped up and tugged at her husband’s arm cajolingly.  “Lucius, my love, it seems Draco trusts this young woman and that she has the situation in hand for now.  I do not think his safety is at stake and am willing to let them try to help him - as, it seems, is he. As he didn’t think he could tell us he’d embarked on this… endeavor… I believe we should avert any tensions from boiling over until the crisis at hand has been resolved.”

Chapter Text

Saturday, October 10, 2009 - Knockturn Alley, London, UK (about one year prior)

Draco ducked into the first open shop he came to, leaning back against the door behind him and panting when it shut.  Usually it was limited to spitting, but today someone had thrown a brick, they and their friends following up with hexes and a few punches.  He’d limited himself to defensive magic, but his lower lip was split and swollen and he suspected he had at least bruised a rib.

He cast a couple Episkeys on himself before he even let himself think.

But then… he slumped, starting to shiver as the shock took hold.  Images of running away through the Malfoy woods during one of Voldemort’s little “practice hunts” flashed through his mind as his back slid all the way to the floor and he covered his eyes, lowering his head between his knees and trying to take deep, slow breaths. 

He startled and looked up, ready to fight or flee, when he heard a cup and saucer being gently placed on a small table just inside the door, in front of him.

He looked at the tea, and then up.  “It’ll be milky and sweet on such a stressful day, I expect.  Hmm. Well, take your time, but it’s there when you’re ready.”  

The individual before him was striking  They were wearing a body-hugging, floor-length gown of emerald satin and nearly shoulder-high plum dragon leather gloves festooned with various large rings. The gown was sleeveless and exceptionally low cut, sinking to their jeweled naval and displaying most of their chiseled pecs and abs, which were sparsely downed with fine hair and resplendently tattooed.  The tattoo was a complex, animated diagram of the constellations of the zodiac in metallic gold and silver on their cinnamon-hued skin. A thick gold torc adorned their long, graceful neck. Their face, with a strong rugged jaw and deep, liquid eyes, was all sharp planes melting to soft, full lips. Their aquiline nose was studded with sapphires and their long, iridescent black hair, like a grackle’s wing, was swept to their right and cropped short underneath from neck to mid-ear height on their left.  Their eyebrows were long, thick, arched, and expressive. And right now, they were expressing amusement - though it seemed that amusement was tempered with some sympathy.

Draco gulped, confused clear of his panic as he stared. “Em… Thank you.”

He shakily reached for the tea, then, realizing he was still sitting on the floor, stood, brushing himself off and bringing the warm drink over to sit across from them at a small table covered in a black cloth.  They smiled, then didn’t bother to hide their slow, raking gaze taking him in at least at thoroughly as he had them. He colored slightly. “Draco Malfoy,” he introduced himself. “I apologize for barging in just now - there was a bit of an altercation in the street and I confess I was looking for any port.”

They smiled darkly back at him.  “Morgan,” they purred, expending a gloved hand, palm down.

Draco looked for a moment before he picked up their hand and dropped a soft kiss that spanned their first two knuckles, watching their eyes narrow in appreciation.  “Charmed,” he said. “And thank you for the tea.”

He released their hand and picked up the cup, still looking at them as he sniffed surreptitiously, then took a small taste to check for the presence of anything that shouldn't be there.  

“All part of the service we provide, here at The Starry Prophesier.” They said, coyly sipping their own tea and sitting back to cross their legs, which exposed a broad swath of smooth, bronze thigh through a slit in their skirt.

Ah .  So that was where he was.  He’d walked by but never come into the narrow little storefront before.  “And…” he said, “What service exactly is that?”

Their deep eyes sparkled as a broad smile curved their scarlet-painted lips. “Mmmmm.  For you, alas, I suspect it may only be a Seeing, although you might be able to persuade me to let you dip a little deeper into what my decadent little establishment has to offer, I suppose.”

Draco blinked slowly.  “Ah. Em. Do you need my hand?”

They leaned forward.  “Give it to me, will you? Oh, may I have it? Please?” Innuendo dripped from their pink tongue as it flashed behind those lips.

He tripped a bit over his own tongue before he successfully replied. “I thought… palmistry.”

They smirked, winking.  “No, darling, not for that.  This, however,” they said, pulling over Draco’s just-drained cup of tea.  “Hmm. May I look at you?”

Draco didn’t feel he had a real choice but to concede, and was curious by now besides - so he nodded.

They smiled, swirling the cup widdershins twice, and turned it quickly upside down onto the saucer, letting it sit.  “Give that a moment to settle. So, Draco Malfoy. I’ve heard of you, of course, and saw the photos when you won the Witch Weekly’s Best Brooding Bachelor Award - all three times - though I can’t say they did you justice.”  They canted their head at him curiously, lowering their long lashes to take in the clenching and relaxing of his hands. “Wound up today, are we?”

Draco decided to stick with what he was good at, unleashing a small smirk of his own.  “It’s not every day that I flee for my life, all coursing with adrenaline, only to find myself tête-à-tête with such a striking individual as yourself, Morgan.” He batted his own lashes, knowing well the effect. “A fellow can only handle so much excitement.”

They fanned themself about the face with their hand, looking delighted to have someone to play with. “Hmm.  And now I’ve put you in suspense, too. You’ll have to tell me, after this, how I could possibly make it up to you.”

With that, they licked their lower lip and flipped the tea cup away, pulling the saucer forward to peer at the leaves. 

They were silent for several minutes, spinning the saucer occasionally and bending over it to look closely..

Finally, they looked up, watching him appraisingly.  “It’s been a very dark decade for you, and your every effort seems to go awry as you seek to atone.  You’ve accomplished more, though, than you believe, and a turning point is in your near future. You need to see to it that you enjoy some old traditions, I think.  That will help you along. And… there is an ancient, difficult magic. You will pursue it, and it will protect you, though it will take a year or so and some… unexpected turns.” They shrugged.  “Nothing dark, naturally, not for the emerging you. And that is all of it.”

Draco blinked, puzzling at this.  “The Ministry is … well, we’ve been planning something for Yule at Newgrange, and might hit all the old holidays one way or another in the coming year.  And… but, what takes a year?”

Somehow, Morgan’s eyes portrayed their confidence he’d work it out. 

A minute later, he blinked, scoffing. “A pretty white ferret to be harvested for its pelt?  That seems a bad idea, Seer.”

Morgan smiled. “Who said you’d be a white ferret?”

Malfoy stared at them.  “Well, I just… it’s the easiest thing to transfigure a person into, the form that would be their Animagus form, the others are so much more complicated, and why would… huh.”

He paused, thinking.

Finally, Draco started to smile.  “A nice brown ferret.  Or a snake.  Anything, really.  I could go wherever I wished, and everyone would leave me the fuck alone. Could even hide in plain sight, like as not.  It’s bloody brilliant , is what it is...”

He got a far-away, dreaming look in his eyes, and Morgan let him hold onto it a moment, not daring to say more and risk it all for him.

Finally, he looked up, grinning and energized, nearly bouncing with the need to move. “What’s your payment, Morgan?  I don’t know if you saw or if you’re just clever, but I owe you and I pay my debts.”

Morgan recrossed their legs, gazing at him with transparently hungry appraisal.  “Well, it depends. Do you think I deserve a lovely, fat tip?”

Three hours later, Draco skipped out of the store, straightening his tousled blonde hair and throwing a parting grin over his shoulder as he flicked the sign back from closed to open.  “Sorry about the table, love… and the wall. Owl me if the Reparos don’t hold, yeah?”  Then, he was off.

He was going straight home to the library - he’d worked off his agitation nicely, and now there was work to do.

Chapter Text

Back to Monday, November 1, 2010 - Ministry of Magic, London

Headmistress McGonagall stood looking up into the slightly discomfited face of the wonking great dragon, who had drawn himself up a bit but was still shifting from foot to foot under his former professor’s scrutiny.  

“Well,” she finally said, shaking her head as she looked up at him.  “Mr. Malfoy, you’ve really landed in the thick of it again, haven’t you? Ah well. You always were an excellent student of Transfiguration, which may help you yet.” Draco blinked in surprise at this, and McGonagall smirked, not missing it. 

Hermione, meanwhile, rushed back over to Minerva’s side.  Calling her that - Minerva - was still difficult, no matter how much her name suited her.  Still, at some point her favorite professor had baldly stated that she was getting on in years enough that almost no one called her by her given name anymore, and that it was a lonely predicament to be in.  Hermione had braced herself under the slightly uncomfortable weight of being, now, a peer and friend.

“This was brilliant, Minerva. I feel quite silly for not having thought of such a thing before. I don’t know for certain it will work, but he definitely has excellent control, so...”

“Mmm,” the Headmistress said, still dissecting her former student’s shining bulk with her steely gaze. “Yes.  Afraid it’s a bit late in life to peak as a Seeker, Mr. Malfoy, but I’m sure you could make a go of it yet. I never thought I’d say this,” she said, then paused to conjure a comfortable chair to sit back into, “But I believe some... frivolity ... would do you a world of good.”

The dragon’s mouth hung open and his ears pressed back against his head in shock.

“Oh, do stop gaping, Draco, it’s quite warm enough in here already with all these fires,” she said, gesturing around at the transit hearths.  Then, she looked up at Hermione, who was standing awkwardly at her side. “Oh, forgive me my dear, there you are.”

A twin of Minerva’s conjured wingback chair appeared side-by-side with the first, complete with little velvet ottoman.  Hermione, who realized she’d been hovering after sitting on the cold marble half the day, sat down - though at the edge of her seat, leaning forward as if she expected to need to jump up (or perhaps raise her hand quickly) at any moment.

Draco took in the at the formidable pair, their coziness not lulling him at all, and curled his neck a bit to lower his head.  He had the wit to know he’d just look a damned fool trying to look intimidating to this pair.

“Em, so, Draco,” Hermione started, “I nipped over to Dover, and did manage to find quite a few large chunks of…” She watched the first chalk boulder crumble in the Opaleye’s grasp, “Yes, well, I thought that might happen, so try to be gentle and… yes, there.”

The dragon stood before them with a draconic fistful of chalk, now, surrounded by a broad wall of conjured chalkboards, some hovering above the others to achieve a suitable height.  

Hermione smiled at him reassuringly. “There, now.  This should help.” She turned to McGonagall. “Well!  Where would you like to begin?”

The headmistress sank back, fingers tapping along armrests thoughtfully.  “Mr. Malfoy, did you follow the standard process to realize your Animagus form precisely?”

The great pearly head bobbed in a diffident nod.  

Minerva nodded. “Good, I wouldn’t expect otherwise, you were always quite attentive to detail, but it was a necessary place to start.”  She thought a moment. “Why Stonehenge?”

Hermione darted a glance at her mentor as the dragon’s face pinked. “You see?” asked the younger witch.

Minerva smirked.  “Indeed. Wonders never cease, even when I think I must’ve seen, oh, everything.”  She turned back to the dragon. “Well? Write, then.”

Over an entire large chalkboard, the Opaleye managed to write, WHIM .

Minerva rolled her eyes in exasperation.  “Give us more than that.”

Haltingly, his pink forked tongue poking out the side of his mouth in concentration, he managed to write more.  When he pulled back from the several boards he’d scrawled over, Minerva read aloud.

“Not Manor, but close. Seemed fitting. Sentimental attachment?”  She looked down her nose at the 40-foot reptile. “What sentimental attachment?”

The pink travelled down the dragon’s neck, and he shuffled backward a couple feet before he realized he was doing so and stopped. With a great, steaming sigh, he wrote: BELTANE.

Minerva conjured a cup of tea just quickly enough to cover her smirk, which might seem unsympathetic. “Ah.” The headmistress noted that Hermione’s eyes had gone wide, and she, too, was now blushing a lovely rosy hue. “This year, was it?”

The dragon nodded once, looking like he’d very much prefer to be a mouse.

McGonagall massaged the bridge of her nose, thinking. “Elphias put some rather old and strong enchantments around the year’s festivities.  Nothing sinister, but… well .  Some traditions are rather weighty in these times, to bring back without warning.  I shall reach out to him to inquire about exactly what complicating factors he might have introduced to this situation.”  She shook her head, seeing alarm dawning on her young companions’ faces. “Don’t worry, I hardly think this shall devolve to the point where a blow-by-blow account of the festivities will be required - we much simply understand whatever Druidic tosh got thrown into the cauldron. But now… Mr. Malfoy, where exactly in the henge were you when the storm struck and you transformed?”

The dragon had to switch to a more intact chunk of chalk mid-word, but managed to write, ALTAR STONE.

Hermione conjured her own tea and immediately gulped it down and refilled it.  Minerva, meanwhile, scoffed and folded her arms. “ Really . Well. I should have hoped you’d have outgrown your penchant for dramatics by now, Mr. Malfoy.  That could certainly be a factor.  Goodness knows how many feats of magic that place has steeped in over the years.”

The dragon looked abashed.

“Actually on the altar stone?”  Minerva had to make certain.

A doleful nod.

Minerva primly shook her head, lips pressed together, and vanished her tea.  “Well. I suppose what remains, then, is motivation. The incantation, the spell, and the process, Mr. Malfoy are meant to be about embracing a new form with an open and loving heart, of sharing your life with something wilder.  You would have been talked to about this, of course, had you joined the Aspiring Animagus Support Group I administer here at the Ministry, but I suppose, no, you’ve had a difficult time of it, socially, haven’t you.”  She hemmed, biting her lip in thought before shaking her head and looking back up to him. “Well, is that what you sought from the process?”

Hermione watched in fascination as the dragon hesitated and then shook his enormous head.  

“Hmph,” Minerva said, leaning back and folding her arms.  “Thought it’d be a lark, then, did you? Or what did motivate you?  It’s a grueling process, something must have made you stay the course.”

The dragon blinked at them both a moment, looking at Hermione, finally, before turning to try to write. 

HOPED SMALL. HIDE. RELIEF. GO OUTSIDE. NO SPITTING.  NO HEXING.

Hermione found her eyes filling as she read, noting that the dragon’s head still rather than swinging back to look at his interlocutors after he wrote.  “I… I apologize, please excuse me.”

She strode briskly in the direction of the loo.

Minerva sat, regarding the dragon.  “We haven’t helped you very well, have we.  No, but you might have helped yourself better, too.  You’re never going to be entirely clear of it, right or wrong, Mr. Malfoy, not in the eyes of some.  I had hoped, though, you would have come to terms on your own account.” She sighed, watching the peculiarly despondent, beautiful monster.  

“You know…” she started, slowly, as if having trouble putting together the words.  “I had become an Animagus long before the love of my life died. He was a farmer, you know - a Muggle. I couldn’t… tell him what I was, and worried that if I didn’t, it would destroy the love we shared, if we ever, well, were blessed with a child.  So we never married.” She was quiet a long moment. “When I heard, though, that he had passed - killed, with his family, by Death Eaters,” She shook her head when the dragon flinched, “You were never truly a Death Eater, Draco, do not confuse my intent in telling you this.  Anyway… when I heard…”

She looked at the ceiling a moment, lost in thought.

“I transformed.  I wanted the more overwhelming sensory connection to the world I enjoy as a cat.  My intellect isn’t dulled, exactly, but it’s… harder, I think, to get lost in introspection, and no one would keep questioning me so.  So I transformed, and I got stuck.”

Draco swivelled around, quietly putting his head on the floor at her feet.  She had his full attention.

“Mr. Malfoy, the Animagus form isn’t intended to be used to put off coping with human emotions.  If you’re very overwhelmed and do not really want to be human anymore when you change... well.  Let us just say that I suspect, particularly in light of this remarkable creature you’ve turned out to be, that there were other factors at work, but that similar sentiment on your part might be part of the problem.”

Draco’s strange, pupilless eyes shimmered back at her, blinking, his body otherwise still.

Minerva drew herself up, leaning forward and willing herself into a business-like posture.  “Now. What I believe you can do, now, is to think about your life.  Think about how you could make peace with it.  I know that this… spectacle… is hardly what you wished to make of yourself, but if you do not truly want to be human, you’ll be hard pressed to return to that form regardless of what other factors we may yet need to untangle.  Do you understand?”

Barely lifting his head, the dragon nodded. 

“Good, then.  Well. I think you’ve quite broken Ms. - em, Doctor Granger’s heart with sympathy-” Minerva saw the dragon twitch in surprise and filed that reaction away to consider later before she continued, “...but I’ve offered to transport you back to Hogwarts, where you may be more comfortable.  You can stay in the cavern where the harbor is if you’d like to sleep inside, and I suspect you may be begged to cooperate with a Care of Magical Creatures class or ten - don’t look at me like that, you owe Hagrid as much and you well know it.  But! The grounds will be yours to explore, a bit less exposed and more expansive than here.  If you are amenable, Ms. Granger has arranged for either herself or Mr. Potter to be on site in an unoccupied faculty cottage for the duration of your stay, and Aurors will also be posted to ensure no mischief befalls you.  I would ask that you limit your exploration of the forest, however, as it has its own delicate balance, and you… might upset some of those whose lives are linked to it.”

The dragon seemed to think a minute before pulling himself up to write: TRANSPORT HOW?

McGonagall could still look quite the impish little girl when she smirked. “Well, I’ve always wanted an excuse to try it…”

Chapter Text

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - Grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland

Draco had finally managed to stop sneezing, and Hermione thought she’d put out all the fires.  They really did all come out a rich crimson, from this subspecies, and she was delighted to have finally witnessed it properly.

“Well,” Minerva said, glancing around.  “That was bracing! I’ll have to make certain future treatises on that transportation spell mention the possibility for respiratory distress, though.”

The Opaleye looked rather wilted, still panting and now rather tired.  It had taken most of the remaining chalk to draw the appropriate circles and runes on the Atrium floor, which had taken time and precision, and it was now approaching two in the morning.  

“Now,” Minerva said, rubbing her hands together briskly, “Hermione, the cottage is just there, and Winky insisted on setting it up for you herself.  I believe if you call her by name, she’d be happy to bring you anything you might need from the castle. Mr. Malfoy, I’d prefer not to see you in the Great Hall in your present state, but when you’ve settled yourself the elves will bring you some roast mutton, and you may the run of the grounds and the caverns.  I will see you both tomorrow morning.”

Then, with a bob of her head and a soft crack, she was gone.  

Hermione looked over at the lovely little cottage, its chimney breathing smoke into the chill November air.  There was something slavic about its character, with carved sprigs of herbs and flowers in dark wood and a foundation of round stones, and she remembered that the architect the school had hired aspired to enchant one of his creations to putter about on chicken legs but look like a caravan to Muggles. 

Well, it was home for now. She’d managed to nip off before they’d left London, both to pack a bag and to explain to Kingsley that she felt a personal responsibility for seeing this through, given the faith this magical mishap victim had demonstrated in her and his habit of advocating for her department’s work. Remus would be acting department head for the next few days.  She rather fancied having the werewolf in charge, anyhow - let the old bigots digest that .  

Finally emerging from her thoughts, she glanced up at Draco, resting a reassuring hand on his delicately tapered nose.  “Are you alright? Any more itches you need scratched, my starry-eyed grumpus?”

Again, the blush.  She could admit to herself she was rather enjoying provoking it, now.  Something so enormous and deadly should hardly be so adorable, and yet.  But, there, he shook his head slightly, not dislodging her hand.

“It’s strange, being back,” Hermione mused, looking around.  Her temporary residence and a few other cottages (including a new and improved home for Hagrid) dotted the peripheries of the grounds, now.  It had been a kindness for the school to consider the needs some faculty might have for greater privacy, though most still preferred to lodge in quarters within the vast and underutilized castle. The castle, which might actually need two professors per subject soon, thanks to the fruit of the joyful unions that followed the conclusion of the war - but which could house several times that.  

She understood the Room of Requirement had even been reconstructed, now, though the Room of Hidden things had come back echoingly empty.  Who knew what new generations might hide there? She knew vanishing cabinets were banned here, now, and the thought made her look up at him, curious.

He looked about as wistful and uncertain of his feelings about being here as she felt.

“Listen, Malfoy,” she started, petting his nose soothingly.  “I know… well, it’s been good, getting to know you in the context of working on reforms these last few years.  You’ve been a good and unexpected ally and I’m glad to know you in that context now. But I know… I know we’ve never been friends, exactly.  And this place… well, it’s full of memories. If you’d like, I could leave and Blaise could-”

Draco’s gave a small but resolute shake to his head, her hand sliding along his smooth scales beneath it.

“Really? Well, I’ll try to be worthy of your vote of confidence, then. Filthy little Mudblood grew on you, did she?” Hermione asked with a wry smile.

She saw immediately, though, it had been the wrong thing to say.  He let his head fall to the ground, both sets of eyelids closing fully for the first time she’d seen.  He looked… pained.

“Draco!” she said, rushing to stroke up his face to around his closed eye and his ear, murmuring softly. “Draco, I’m sorry, look, I didn’t mean I thought you still… look, childhood trauma and bad parenting were all the rage in our class, and I know… oh, please just open your eyes and stop this, I am sorry, but if you truly feel remorse, perhaps stop making me stand here stammering about something you did, however long ago and whatever the extenuating circumstances.”  She sighed in exasperation.

But he did blink his eyes open, looking at her before he scratched at a nearby patch of mud with a talon.  ALWAYS ME. NEVER U. DEEPLY SORRY. SHOULD’VE HELPED U.

Another set of memories echoed up from her nightmares as she read, her hand unconsciously tightening around the base of his nearer horn as the skin of her forearm twitched.  “I… Draco, you couldn’t have. She was mad and you were a prisoner there, too. Luna… Luna told me that you used to come down to bring them food, in the dungeons, and to heal them, cast Scourgify .  You did what you could.”

He looked at her, gesturing to her with his nose with a rather dry look.

“Let’s not hold up the mad trio of child soldiers who never should have had to fight and very nearly died horribly on several occasions as reasonable examples of what children should be like that others should aspire to, shall we?” she said.  “Draco, we… we were lost in the dark, like you, so much of that time. Now Harry’s always sad, I work to the exclusion of having to even consider my personal life, and Ron, if anything, has taken longer to grow up because he’s chasing a childhood he didn’t quite properly have.  But we at least had each other. Who did you have, really?”

His lids drooped before he looked back up at her.  

She sighed.  “I’m for bed.  I’ll see you in the morning, Draco, but you need only… do that wickering thing, there, by the window, if you need me.”

And she trudged off inside.

~

Shortly after, Draco had been accosted by several elves hauling a huge platter of cooked meat that had him struggling not to drool, so mouthwatering did it smell.  He tried to duck his head to express his gratitude at the tiny creatures, all the tinier from his current vantage, and bent to his meal, knowing that ravenous consumption, here, would be the sincerest form of flattery.

They fussed and refilled the platter three times before he finally nosed it away firmly, wishing he could better thank them.

The moon was waning in the starry sky, then, and he looked around, considering the short flight to the cavern across the lake.  The flying was decidedly an upside of this new prison, but… no, he wanted to be here . So he went to make his visit.  

Peering at her sleeping form, draped over the pillows in the moonlight, he rubbed his muzzle softly on the window panes, lingering a moment before, seeing that it was soft for a November night, he curled once about the cottage and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

He woke in the morning to Hermione’s voice, and opened his strange eye to see her, wrapped in a robe and leaning out the bedroom window to peer at him. “Draco, were you trying to use Legilimency on Harry yesterday?”

Blinking himself awake, he nodded.

She scowled out at him.  “Well, he’s got such a bad headache today he’s sick in bed.  Poor Ron’s just owled me for my headache draught recipe.” She sighed.  “Really should have thought of the chalk thing sooner.” She shook her head, looking back at him.  “Well, it’s us again today, then. Would you mind budging yourself? Only, you’re lying across the doorway.”

He scampered to the side, carefully rubbing his eyes with the backs of his not-entirely-hands and yawning..  

A few minutes later, she came outside, a piece of toast between her teeth as she worked her arms into her coat sleeves.  After she buttoned up, she grabbed the toast, chewing the bit she’d just been holding it by before she spoke.  

“Mmm.  The Legilimency thing was a good idea, though, sorry - should have said that with the grousing and the grouching.”

The dragon looked pathetically pleased to be praised, blinking his big huge eyes at her.  She, however, was already looking around the grounds, assembling plans.  

“Have you eaten, Draco?” she asked, as if she hadn’t just woken him.  When he shook his head, she cleared her throat and enunciated. “Winky, when you’re able, could you please bring this dragon some breakfast?”

The elf immediately appeared with several others, struggling under the weight of a platter holding three large mutton roasts.  Even Hermione had to admit it smelled good.  

“Thank you so much, Winky, and really, you needn’t come right away when I talk to you, I know you have so very much to do.”

“Winky is delighted to have Dr. Granger at Howarts again, Miss!  And also to have so appreciative a voracious eater to feed, yes, we all is!  It is our pleasure , Miss!”

Hermione smiled wryly.  “Well, if I argue with you, I know you’ll win.”

Winky smiled coyly.  “Winky always does, Miss.  Let Winky know when you is needing lunch for the lovely Miss Doctor and her beautiful dragon.  Winky thinks it’s so very romantic, Winky does.”

With a smile, she popped out, leaving Hermione and Draco exchanging awkward sideways glances.  

“Em…” Hermione said, “Well, enjoy your breakfast.  Elves, eh?”

And then she scuttled back into the cottage and thought for a little while whilst he ate.

Chapter Text

Hermione had walked Draco over to Hagrid’s Hut for the start of classes - definitely not dragged, how could she, but there had been some manipulatively plaintive facial expressions.  She’d supervised a reintroduction, prompted Draco to write SORRY I WAS AN AWFUL GIT in the mud, and overseen a cautious half-giant/dragon handshake.  

Once Hagrid had started walking circles around Draco murmuring praise (“By gum in all me days I never saw summat so lovely!”, “‘At’s just the prettiest scales I e’er did see, aye!”, “Show us your choppers, then! Ah, tha’s lovely, lookit them sharp little pointsies, there’s a fierce wee dragon an’ no mistake!”), and Draco had started ruffling himself up like a bird fluffing its feathers under the light of the sun, she left to find Minerva.  

She ruffled the heads of several children she knew from her work as she passed the crowd exiting breakfast in the enlarged Great Hall, which had apparently decided to grow at the start of term three years ago.  Some of the ghosts were pleased to say it now reminded them more of what it had looked like in their lifetimes. 

Hermione knew so many of the students because she’d worked alongside their parents to fight for their right to be here.  It was much, much more common now for children of Goblins, Werewolves, Merfolk, Centaurs, Vampires, and even House Elves, as well as an increasing number of previously secluded half-human hybrids and some rarer beings, to attend the school. For those who needed it, a year of immersive preparatory instruction in the English language was provided. Thanks to an endowment from the Potter Charitable Fund and the Malfoy Foundation, all students’ required texts were now free, which removed a hurdle to access for beings who did not work in a galleon-based economy.  Hermione was hopeful that more would come as she continued to peel back prejudicial wand bans. 

Some of the children - several Half-Vampires and Centaurs, for instance - had their own powers but were not gifted with the ability to do wand-based magic.  Still, they and Squibs could now be educated under an expanded pilot curriculum at the school. This program was designed to attend to specific needs of magical groups whose needs and abilities varied. Werewolves, for instance, learned to brew their own Wolfsbane Potion, a priority even if they did not in general excel at all advanced potion-making, along with basic healing, pack dynamics, and the art of constructing warded areas in which to transform together. Squibs could take their A-levels and were given guidance in how to  apply to Muggle universities. Muggleborns also gained something: an introduction to Wizarding culture that included popular culture, introductions to household spells, bonds, different social traditions, and so forth.

If that coursework might divide students or set some apart, a new common thread united them: core-level coursework in a social science track had moved in to replace History of Magic. Most of the same subject matter was still covered through a less Wizard-centric collection of primary source accounts, but subjects like ethics, sociology, etiquette, and civics were mixed in.  Binns, of course, continued to give lectures to his usually empty classroom - which Hermione generally felt was rather a good end to his career. The students, though, would learn the basics of how to interact with all known intelligent communities , magical and otherwise, by the time they took their OWLs. The hope was that all this would help all students, wizarding and otherwise, thrive in a more inclusively-constructed future magical world. 

Optional advanced tracks had even been added to prepare students of any background to expertly navigate single predominantly non-human magical or Muggle communities. To allow time to pursue up to three of these, students could now stay on up to 10 years to earn additional credentials in CHIMERAs, or Culture & History in Magical Entities, Rite-Based Groups, & Assemblages .

To enable all of this in good faith, the faculty had grown and become considerably more diverse. Firenze and Ronan, for instance, both taught at the school now - and did so with the Forbidden Forest Centaur Colony’s less-and-less grudging approval. Hermione was grateful for every year she could keep Lupin at the Ministry, but knew he’d eventually surrender to the siren song of teaching again - which could be literal , these days. Underwater dormitories and lake’s edge classrooms had been constructed in and along the Black Lake and a new salt water facility was being constructed on new coastal land adjoining the Castle’s vast existing campus.

She just about beamed, passing Flitwick in spirited conversation with a new faculty member, Grimblenack, who was now teaching Arithmancy along with Sinestra. There had been a tearful moment at a Board of Governors meeting when Philius had stepped forth and proudly stated that this just-hired goblin was his second cousin, when for decades he had had to avoid any unnecessary reminder to his peers and superiors that he was of mixed ancestry.

There had been other little changes, of course.  The castle, generally, seemed far less underused- though it still had several half-abandoned halls.  And, in an act taken in Dumbledore’s memory, Minerva had decreed that any student could voluntarily be re-sorted at the beginning of any year, which had helped to promote interhouse unity.  It wasn’t uncommon to visit other house common rooms anymore, and though rivalry still existed, it was far healthier.

Draco, she was reminded, had been the vocal proponent and often even drafting sponsor of several of the bills that had made it all possible, as both a governor and a member of the Wizengamot.  She’d always figured it was down to working on the family image, but now… hmm. She had gotten some unprecedented glimpses of him being, well, a real person since he’d been a dragon.

It was in this thoughtful state of mind that she reached the gargoyle guarding the head’s office.

“Sloth Grip Roll,” she stated clearly, watching the statue leap aside to reveal the spiraling stairs beyond.

“Ah, Hermione, I trust you slept well?” Minerva was bustling about with timetables she had hovering around her desk, apparently adjusting schedules for next term.  

“Yes, thank you Minerva.  Is this still a good time to chat with Mr. Doge?”

The headmistress gave a crisp nod, still looking at the papers whirling around her as she made little adjustments.  “Indeed. In fact, I owled him, and we can expect him to arrive by Floo shortly. Excuse me, my dear, I’ll be but a moment.”

Hermione nodded, looking around the room.  Her eyes lit on one former headmaster’s portrait.  “Hello, Severus, and how are you enjoying the current crop of aspiring potioneers?”

The portrait only possessed half the vitriol necessary to conjure his iconic sneer these days, but he made the attempt. “Ridiculous waste of my time, as usual.”  A thoughtful look stole over his face. “Although Ms. D’Eath shows some promise. Thank you for enabling her to attend.”

Hermione nodded.  “Very glad to hear it.  Another of your erstwhile star pupils is on the grounds today, and would doubtless appreciate your stopping by to say hello.”

Snape shook his head.  “I’d heard, and have relayed this to my embodied counterpart.  Poor Mr. Malfoy has rather profoundly bad luck. I’m certain, whatever’s happened, that the potion was not at fault - not with him brewing it.”

Hermione nodded.  “No, we didn’t think so.  All the same - he’s … assisting… with Care of Magical Creatures today, so if you’d like to, say, duck out to see him for lunch…” 

The Potions Master paled.  “You didn’t.”

“I really did not, no, but it was suggested and Mr. Malfoy seems to have developed the impulse to do good even when it’s personally inconvenient or uncomfortable late in life.  I personally blame one of his role models, great sentimental sap that he is.”

Snape scowled at her then lifted his face haughtily. “Do not spoil my reputation. Dr. Granger, or I will contrive some way to give you detention yet.”

Hermione laughed.  “Oh, Severus, it’s so good to see you!  Please tell your ambulatory self to stop by for a cuppa, truly, while I’m here helping to sort this all out.”

With a smirk he ducked his head in a little parting bow. “But of course, Hermione .”

And then he walked out.  

When Hermione looked up, Minerva had finished and was studying her, a little smile on her face.  “I remain grateful that you gave my fool of a colleague a chance to redeem himself without paying the ultimate price, Hermione.” 

The young witch shrugged.  “There was a lot of time in the tent when I had nothing better to do than test the venom sample I got off Nagini as we fled Godric’s Hollow.  I’m just glad it was of use. Although,” she tittered, slightly nervous at the thought, “He is so very nearly cordial and personable sometimes, now, that I half think he’s flirting with me, which is absurd, I know, but-”

Minerva gave in indelicate snort. “That would be the smartest move Severus had ever made, and you too could do worse - but I don’t think that’s where your story leads, dear.”

There was a tell-tale rustling of the logs on some nearby fire.

“Ah, that will be Elphias,” said Minerva, beckoning for Hermione to follow her into the adjoining meeting room. 

Chapter Text

Hermione greeted the elderly gentleman cordially enough.  She knew he’d been a childhood friend of Albus Dumbledore’s, and that Aberforth loathed him for his perpetual hero worship of the same, but had only ever spoken to him before at Bill & Fleur’s wedding.  

They sat down around a small table set with a steaming pot of tea and a variety of biscuits.  

“Now, now, ladies, what might this simple old wizard be able to help you with today?” asked the wizened old wizard, his eyes still bright.  

“Elphias, Hermione and I were reminiscing about what a remarkable Beltane celebration you chaired last spring,” Minerva said with a sweet smile, patting his hand genially while she poured him some tea.  Hermione was a bit surprised to see her mentor adopt such a… hostess’s role, and to see her dissemble slightly about the nature of their interest, but was quick to follow her lead.

“Oh, yes,” Hermione said, smiling prettily and using her daintiest table manners. “I had a truly unforgettable evening, sir, and am most fascinated by how it was all achieved.”  

She really had, was the sad thing.  Ah, well. She shook it off, watching Doge flush with pleasure under their praise and care.

“Oh, my dears, so much of tradition has been lost, but, well, once it was common to celebrate the Spring in such a fashion.  My father, and my father’s father before him, and so on were Druids, you know - and while I have not, well, clung to the affectations of that role, I did learn a great deal about the old magic involved in their marking of the passage of seasons.  Really fascinating stuff, you know,” he said, picking up a biscuit and regarding it bleakly.  “It’s a shame that it will die with me, as I have no heir to whom to pass it along.”

“What a tragedy!” Minerva lamented, looking very sad indeed and placing her hand lightly atop the wizard’s.  “You know, Elphias, perhaps you could share that knowledge with us? I would so hate, as an educator, to see the world lose at least the understanding of such traditions.”

“Minerva,” Elphias smiled and shifted uncomfortably, “Em, that’s very thoughtful of you, but this magic was passed from man to man , by oral tradition, and I… it simply isn’t fit magic for young ladies.”

Hermione was so very pleased that Elphias was falling into Minerva’s batting and unflinching eyes, because it meant he completely missed her face twitch with a variety of homicidal impulses that lifted her hair in a cloud of stinging little sparks.

Minerva flicked the younger witch a glance, then looked back to Doge, continuing. “Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to treat your customs without the respect they’re due, Elphias.   But surely, there is some, em, worthy young man who could take on the mantle of such great knowledge?”

He shook his head sadly, “I never had a son, Minerva, and, well, I could not possibly , would never entrust such powerful and ancient knowledge to any but the most trusted and upright of gentlemen.  I could not let my heritage be profaned by risking it falling into any but the most impeccably scrupulous hands - and though I have kept a weather eye on the horizon, never have I taken such a protegé.  It is a sad thing, indeed, but I don’t know what else there is for it but to let these ways die.”

Hermione stirred some honey into her tea, schooling her face to look less calculating and more thoughtful and doting. “Well, sir, if I might… I believe I know someone who could suit your needs.”

Doge turned to look at her, sighing wistfully.  “And you are no doubt a clever young lady, if half the stories are true, though I have no doubt Misters Weasley and Potter were of great assistance to you in the great consternations of times past - they seem upstanding young men, and would doubtless aid such a beautiful young woman of their acquaintance when she encountered difficulties...”

Minerva’s eyes narrowed momentarily before she could control her expression again.

“...but you must understand, dearest, that while I’m certain whatever young man has caught your fancy seems quite worthy to you, well, men judge such things differently, and I couldn’t possibly entrust this to anyone I did not personally know to be both capable and ethical.”

Oh. My. God . Thank you for not having sons to indoctrinate with this utter codswallop , she thought, a pleasant smile cemented on her face. 

“Oh, well, Mr. Doge, it is funny you should happen to mention Harry, because he precisely who I meant!”

Doge sat back, apparently stunned into silence.  Hermione sipped her tea to hide her smirk. Take that, you paternalistic old toady. If anyone had succeeded Albus Dumbledore where reputation for power, goodness, and incredible accomplishments was concerned, it was Harry - though he was a very different wizard.  The gears were clearly whirring behind Doge’s own now-calculating eyes.

“Oh, I … well, that is to say… how could I possibly impose on such an important , heroic, brilliant-”

“Oh, goodness, but he’s so thrilled at the prospect of meeting you , sir!” Hermione chirped, making good use of her own long lashes. “In fact, he was meant to be here by now - well, he is Head Auror , you know, such is the life!”  

She laughed loudly, and he joined her in it.  “Em, well, I…”

Hermione stood, patting the old wizard’s shoulder and taking in Minerva’s approving wink.  “Let me just dash to the office hearth and check on him, shall I? I do so like to help him, in little ways, where I can - I might be able to hasten him along.”

Chapter Text

Within a minute, Hermione emerged with purpose from the boys’ fireplace.  They were ostensibly attempting to renovate the old house, but once the shrieking portrait had come down ( with her help), they seemed remarkably unmotivated to apply themselves to the task.

Harry was snoozing on the couch in the very same room as the hearth - it comforted him to be near the sound of others moving about when he was ill, she remembered sadly - and Ron, in the kitchen, was swearing over a spitting cauldron.  Apparently, he wasn’t doing well at brewing her potion.

Hermione paused to look over his shoulder.  “You forgot the honey water.”

“I did no… I did, didn’t I?  Blimey, Hermione, where did you even come up with this impossible thing?” He moaned piteously, throwing himself onto a tall chair at the kitchen island.  

Hermione shook her head, vanishing the mess.  “I brought some, don’t worry. I need Harry for something.”

“Oh, ‘Mione, I don’t know… I haven’t seen him with his head splitting so since… well… and before that probably since Moldypork was around, and he still...”  He followed her hurriedly to their sleeping friend, kneading his large, freckled hands together fretfully.  

Hermione was already pouring a phial down Harry’s throat, kneeling beside him.  Ron sighed and shifted his weight from foot to foot, watching anxiously from behind her.

Harry blinked awake, still groggy, to see Hermione’s smile swim into focus.  “Hey,” he said, dreamily.

Hermione, missing the warning signs in her hurry, tossed him a wry grin and replied “Hey, sleepyhead. I-”

And then Harry wrapped her in his arms and pulled her in to kiss her.

She squirmed away with a little squeak, blushing furiously. “Ack, oh, no, Harry, no , no no no, em, I think perhaps I need to let you finish waking up, I’ll be… I’ll be in the library, but please, em, hurry.”

Chapter Text

Saturday, May 1, 2010 - Stonehenge, Wiltshire (About Five Months Prior)

Draco arrived in the morning mist for the mandatory sex revel. The things he did for this blasted Ministry.

At least today’s seasonal tradition was being celebrated close to home, he supposed.

Like all the youthful and “concupiscent” young mages of England and Ireland, he had been specially urged to make an appearance.  The Ministry’s communications team seemed to, a) think sex sold, and, b) be under pressure from others who were worried that, after the initial rush of giddy impregnations following the conclusion of the war, birth rates had dropped off precipitously as the young adults of the magical community slowly realized their trauma didn’t die with the war, and that they were the grown-ups who had to make everything alright, now.  It was worrying; hell, even Zabini could get a job these days, the Ministry was so hard-up.  But this… he wasn’t sure.

It had been made very clear that any participation in the less symbolic aspects of the festivities would be entirely voluntary and that comfortable privacy and anonymity would be available to all.  Young married couples as well as the wary and resolute singles of the Wizarding world were warmly invited to this celebration of the athame dipping into the chalice, the flowery wreath sinking down onto the rigid maypole, the unhappily unmarried women chanting “here is the sheath where is the blade,” and the Maiden Goddess opening her dewy thighs to the Green Man.  And, today, while a high priestess and priest or a May Queen and consort typically took the most visibly salacious role, every woman was the Maiden Goddess incarnate, and every man the horned and horny God, if they chose it, no licentiousness barred, no strings attached. 

Well, not until the March babies were born, anyway.

There’d even been some preparatory cocktail parties where daring others to come while tipsy had been subtly seeded into conversations.

As with all the other historical seasonal festivities observed this year, though, those who occupied positions of prominence within the Ministry, Wizengamut and Administration alike, were strongly encouraged to participate as fully as possible.  The Minister himself, who was single though at the upper end of his, em, concupiscence window, was essentially given no choice but to come lest the entire thing lose credibility.

And Draco resented the contrivance of it all, however... magical, anonymous, outdoor fucking with randy young women who would think of him not as the child Death Eater but the avatar of a god? 

Yes , please , sang the flesh, and the spirit didn’t really bother arguing.

He’d never seen such fog on Beltane, though.  It was a little… sinister, really. He was surprised the planners hadn’t tinkered with the weather.

He knew where he was going, though - this was his estate (well, damn close to it).  Others would be portkeying directly. It would be fine.

And he should really stop berating himself with thoughts that whoever he might end up celebrating with might as soon kick him in the bollocks on a less mystic day; everyone knew he and various other black sheep would be present; all part of the thrill, he supposed darkly. 

~

Finally, he found the entrance. It was odd; he was used to this place being so unenclosed, at least for wizarding kind.  But here there appeared to be some old geezers guarding the path and playing Druid, chanting with athames and cups and… oh good, libations.  He only saw them and himself, for now - which was odd, but after all this strangeness, a libation could go down a treat right now.

So he wandered up to the silent druid with the drinks.

“Er… Joyous Beltane?”

The druid sighed.  “Are you here to enjoin the festivities freely and fully, thou strapping youth?”

Draco considered. “If I say yes, may I have a drink?”

A more irritable huff.  “You may.”

Draco shrugged, picking up a chalice in miniature and drinking it down.  “Thanks. Onward?” He pointed forward, under a plaited willow arch.

“Indeed,” said the Druid dryly, motioning him on. 

Chapter Text

Back to Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland

Hermione and Minerva worked in companionable silence at the faculty carrels in the restricted section, researching whatever they could find of Druidic Beltane rituals and the magical history of Stonehenge in companionable silence.  They’d taken their leave of Harry and Doge within minutes of introducing the two, Doge falling over himself to bow and scrape while Harry tried to conceal his awkward embarrassment.

Hermione should have felt more guilty, she supposed.  

Still.

At some point, to her shocked amusement and Minerva’s every outward sign of angry dismay, Draco flew by with Hagrid clinging to his back, whooping with glee like a very, very large little boy.  It seemed impossible that the dragon could have spotted her here but perhaps he was just playing probabilities; she had an uncanny certainty that somehow the show had been for her.

“Honestly!” Minerva huffed loudly.  “Setting terrible examples for children who must understand that dragons are not creatures to be tamed or trifled with! I certainly hope they learned enough today to offset the damage of this… this spectacle!”

But as they’d walked back to their books, having gaped out the window for several minutes, Minerva muttered so only Hermione could hear.  “You’ve ridden a dragon. Hagrid has ridden a dragon. I’m an excellent flier and I never get to ride dragons, and do you know what I think?  It isn’t even the least bit fair .”

~

It was past lunch when Harry eventually came to find them, looking drained.  “Minerva, Hermione. I think this might be most efficiently done with the Pensieve, if you still have it in your office, ma’am.”

~

Hermione and Minerva both looked up from the glimmering pool of memory only about ten minutes after they’d submerged.  Harry was seated across from them, watching them - especially Hermione - anxiously.

Hermione didn’t bother to stifle a growl as she looked at the sloshing white light of the memory.  Minerva only looked as if she’d smelled something distasteful.

Eventually, through gritted teeth, Hermione said, “So it’s a pact with the fae?  They provide the… the porn set and we entertain them enough for them to bless the herds and fields?”

Minerva nodded grimly.  “With a potion that facilitates transfer of… carnal energies, and significantly increases the chances that participants won’t over-analyse the situation.”  

Harry bit his lip, his eyes darting between the table top and Hermione’s.  “Well, more like fae gods or demi-gods, really. They do use the generated magical energy to make agriculture more fruitful.  And… there was also the bit where the fae will sniff out and reveal any pairs connected by... soul bonds .” He shifted in his seat restlessly. “Surely that makes it a bit less nefarious, doesn’t it? Connecting soulmates?”

“I for one am not convinced such things exist - it seems far more likely to me that old men who fancied they knew best used that as a ruse to manipulate bloodlines,” Hermione said, resolutely addressing Minerva. “It’s hardly unprecedented - there are scores of ways in which it’s been proven to have happened, one way or another, in Wizarding history. No wonder that slimy old flobberworm Doge didn’t want to tell us women about it.  Society can be accepting of Beltane babies all it likes, but only those who could conceive would have to bear the long-term consequences of any dreamy neglect of contraception. Probably just trying not to make the uppity incubators fretful of their proper place.” She seethed. “I think I’m going to murder him, if you’ll just excuse me…”

Minerva placed laid a quelling hand over her forearm.  “No. No. Hermione, I realize you’re upset about this, and I understand that, but for now, I don’t think going to Doge is advisable. For now I suggest alerting the Minister and letting him decide how to proceed - not to mention have the horrifically awkward conversation with Doge that is bound to ensue - is likely the better course.” She paused thoughtfully. “If you still want to murder him next week I’ll help, though.”

Harry cleared his throat, hesitant and pretending not to have heard the last bit in hopes it wouldn’t become his problem.  “You’re right, of course - the Minister should be told directly and everyone should have known more going in at the very least. I wonder if, with better communication, though, the rite itself might not be entirely bad.”

Hermione looked at him flatly.  “Fine, Minister first. But as to all that other codswallop, Harry, it seems beside the point at the moment, when we’ve learned that the ritual’s underpinnings among the wizards who oversaw it were corrupted by paternalism and misinformation.  Please forgive me if I insist you prioritize the correct tree to bark up right now.”

Harry colored and ducked his head, quiet.

Minerva nodded slowly, drumming her fingertips on the table as she thought.  “Yes, Hermione’s correct. I’ll take care of the report, worry not, but the immediate concern, right now, is how this utter... rubbish fire might be connected to Mr. Malfoy’s predicament.”

Chapter Text

Back to Saturday, May 1, 2010 - Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Draco felt… strange.  The fog was colorful now, and moved in odd shapes he didn’t think the breeze could account for.  

Had that utter wanker of an old druid spiked the punch?

And then… on that maddened thought, he felt all his tension just… drift from him.  Like a sandcastle eroding in a strong wind until no bump remained to suggest it had ever been erected.  And he felt peace .  

And then there was sun.  And… people. They were stranger and more beautiful than he’d remembered them being, the people.  And he knew he probably knew most of them, but he also didn’t know any of them at all. They were all… strange, and in strange, druidic-seeming robes in pale browns, greens, and whites, only most of them were both ceremonial and risqué, somehow.  A flash of midriff here, thigh there. A plunging neckline bearing tight muscles or a single supple breast. One woman wore an otherwise modest floor-length vestment that split from ankle-length hem to base of spine up the center of the back, revealing the deep seam of her buoyant round fundament.  

But none of the skin tones stuck to his memory, none of the laughter came from a familiar voice, no one had scars or birthmarks, and everyone was wearing an eerie animal mask that concealed their hair.  None of the habitual jewelry he knew a third of these people wore was in sight.  They were of different shapes and sizes and represented a variety that, whatever was in that drink, all looked eminently fuckable to him right now, but nothing at all could reveal to him who , other than representations of the animals who rutted in the fields, they actually were.

They were standing in a beautiful clearing filled with flowers in a verdant wood, only… the henge was still here, and before the altar stone, there was the Maypole, a fat birch trunk looming up from the ground, just as phallic as it was intended to be. On the altar itself sat a beautiful wreath bedecked in fiery-hued late spring flowers.  

And without realizing it, he started striding toward it.

When he reached for the wreath, two things happened.

The first was that he saw his own hand did have a color sticking to it.  Draco, somehow, was green.

The second was that his hand nearly collided with another, bright and shining and beautiful.

He drew his hand back and looked up the arm the other hand flowed from.

And there all clad in white, masked in white, with fathomless dark eyes, was beauty herself.  He had a sense of a roiling, wild cloud of hair, but he could not properly perceive it, and her smile was both innocent and terrible. He fell down on his knees with a sob before her and she stepped forward, running her hands over what he eventually realized were antlers that now sprouted from his own head, and leaves that grew from his own cheeks and nose. 

His nose, which he pressed into the joining of her legs with a sound of pain as he smelled her and ached .

The May Queen, the Goddess, picked up the wreath and bade him, “lift me up,” in a voice that was babbling brook and crashing wave, birdsong and birthing scream.  

Seizing her hips and keeping them level with his worshipful, searching face, he stood, lifting her as easily as if she were air as his heart submerged under the inestimable mass of her. And she lowered her wreath onto the pole. 

There was laughter, clapping, cheers, and the strange menagerie of the young and fecund danced up and took ribbons in their hands, weaving around and singing a song he would never be able to remember as he let the length of her body slide torturously down his face.

But he never let her feet brush the ground. 

It was as if some outside force guiding them had done this dance before as he gently laid her on the altar and climbed up over her, pressing his lips to her wet mouth with fervent kisses.  And then, parting her robes in his descent, letting his attentions trail to her warm, lovely breasts. And then… then the crux of her, opening to his searching tongue.

She cried out and arched under him, he knew not how many times, as the dancers wove and sang.

Until, as if compelled, he crawled up her, feeling his length grow from among the leaves that covered him.  

“May I?” he whispered against her lips, between kisses, “Please, may I?”  And the words sounded like his own, and the God seemed miffed he had felt it necessary to ask.  

But he felt the gaze of his goddess on him. “Yes,” came the almost human voice. “Yes, please , yes.”

And as the dancers sped, their voices rising to the distant beat of drums, there on the altar, he spread wide her thighs and took her.

Chapter Text

Saturday, May 1, 2010 - Stonehenge, Wiltshire (continued)

When the thunderous climax of the ceremonial consummation struck, the dance was done, but the celebration had only just begun.

A huge bonfire burst into flame and then... chaos.

Almost all of the animals laughed and dropped their robes to the ground.  They left shrieking and chasing each other, pouncing, and rutting where they fell.  Some made it into the woods, some fell among the flowers. A very few remained robed and backed away, disappearing into mist.  

Draco (he thought that was his name - wasn’t it?) shook and shuddered, nuzzling the Goddess’ neck.  But then, with a laugh, she pushed him off of her and ran off into the woods, grinning mischievously over her shoulder once before dashing into the trees.

Never in his life had he ever been so motivated to run .  

And so he did.  And he caught her.  And, some time later, she ran again, laughing.  And he caught her. And only after the fifteenth time they shuddered together under the warm sun was it possible for them to hold each other gently, kissing and softly stroking, finding wonder in each other without heat.  

But then the heat rose again.

The thirtieth time they cried, and it hurt, but still, they went on.  The sun would set soon, and they didn’t want the day to end.

The God and Goddess would use them until they broke, and they would happily splinter apart into each other, legs interwoven, her belled ankle hitched over his verdant shoulder, his sobs of pain, mortal flesh ill-used by immortal desire, overpowered by ecstasy.

And when the sun burned the sky orange with its farewells, after forty lays and forty flights, the God and Goddess faltered, tumbling apart and falling blissfully asleep, entwined among the bluebells in their bower.

Chapter Text

Back to Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland

Minerva came back to the table where she’d left Harry and Hermione after Flooing the Ministry, finding that the friends were uncharacteristically quiet. 

“The Minister is leaving to speak to Mr. Doge directly and is bringing a Mind Healer and a Solicitor along to assess the possible legal and psychological ramifications of what took place.  He promised me that all known attendees would be discreetly informed of facts they may need to know. I have to agree that that seems a kinder way than simply sending a statement to the Prophet , at least at first.” She thought a moment before swiveling her piercing eyes to the two of them.  “I take it you both were also there that evening?”

Slowly, both nodded, and both blushed.  Minerva’s brow twitched, but she didn’t comment on that.  “Did either of you see Mr. Malfoy?”

Hermione shook her head. “There was a very thick fog - I wonder now if it was on purpose.  I didn’t see anyone else arriving, and by the time I was inside the festivities, no one was recognizable. W- I departed fairly quickly and didn’t look around.”

“Hmmm.”  Minerva thought.  “I do not think I am the appropriate one to ask about this.  Of the two of you, though, which do you suppose would be the better one to ask him to recount his experience?  I am asking, of course, to decrease the harm and pain we may cause in dredging things up, and also to maximize the possibility that he’ll actually disclose anything whatsoever.”

Harry and Hermione looked at each other uncomfortably.  “Actually, Headm… em… Minerva ,” Harry said, “We… have something urgent to discuss before that.  Would you mind terribly if Hermione and I used the Room of Requirement briefly?”

Minerva sat back, surprised.  “Well, no, I suppose not…” She glanced between them both.  “Are you alright?”

Hermione shook her head slowly.  “It was a very intense experience, Minerva, and hearing all this raises new questions.  I… well. Maybe if you go and talk to Draco to let him know one of us will be along shortly, he’ll take you over the lake.  I’m sure you’ll have time.”

Minerva pulled her dignity about her like a stiff wool cloak.  “I couldn’t possibly ask him something like that! It’d be terribly rude.”

Hermione shrugged.  “He loves flying every bit as much as you do.  You could tell him I asked him to take you, if you like - because I do quite sincerely want to hear the story after if you do.”

After hemming a moment, Hermione kissed the older witch on the top of her head.  “You’ve been just incredible. Thank you for all your help. I’m very sorry to exclude you from any part of this, but it really is very important that Harry and I talk.”  Harry nodded behind her, looking tense.

Minerva rolled her eyes.  “Very well, go. I suppose it’s off to see the dragon with me.”

Chapter Text

Back to Sunday, May 2, 2010 - Stonehenge, Wiltshire 

Draco woke aching and dazed, his back freezing and his front sweat-slick and warm.  He was too exhausted to open his eyes at first, but could feel dawn coming - though for now it was only foretold by a lightening of the horizon.

Eventually, lying there, he became conscious that his face was warmed, his breaths perfumed, by billows of soft hair. Someone was breathing into the bend between his neck and shoulder. There was a sigh beneath him, and something soft moved under his belly before subsiding back into sleep.

Her legs were still entwined with his, and the thought of it made him ache… but… what had even happened?

Conquering his fear, he pried open his eyes.

“No,” he breathed, shocked.

But there was no mistaking the marks they’d left on each other, or intimate position in which he woke.  And as, carefully, he disentangled himself, he remembered the bells at her ankle ringing beside his ear with each beat they’d drummed into each other.

And with a crushing, absolute certainty, he knew that he would never love another woman but Hermione Granger, whom he did not deserve.  

He looked down at her peaceful, slumbering face, and cried at the unfairness of it.  

And no, god and goddess it had been sweet , but it hadn’t been the sex.  That had only been the catalyst that combined a thousand moments. Eating dodgy takeaway and revising legislation. All the times he couldn’t stop fuming about her slightly superior academic performance no matter how hard he tried to think of something else as an entitled brat of a child.  A sympathetic look she spared him when she was the one being tortured in his house.  Teasing that eventually had become collegial, to the surprise of all concerned.  And her, the first person ever to recognize that the only thing that could penetrate his utter insufferability was a literal punch in the face, a punch from a gentle swot who’d likely never swatted so much as a fly, a punch which resonated deep into the flawed core of his self-certainty and created the first necessary crack to break him torturously free.

He was a damned fool, he thought, his tears falling in her hair as he bit back sobs and held her.

He couldn’t inflict himself on her.  He wouldn’t. He’d taken so many things he’d never had a right to touch, he’d ruined so much.  Not her. Not her.

He murmured a contraception charm over the softness of her belly first, and then he struggled to stand.

Gone were the woods, now, and the flowery field.  The mist too had left. Now, in disarray, couples lay naked and scattered over the grass, every soul among them still with sleep but him.  He didn’t have time to be embarrassed about it. He set about what needed to be done. 

He didn’t have to wander far before he stumbled over Potter, his and the unfamiliar woman with him’s eyes covered with leaves.

Harry was by far larger, but he … he just couldn’t bring himself to disturb Hermione, and didn’t know if he’d have the strength to leave if he touched her again.  So Potter it would be.  

Draco stooped beside the other man and slid his arms under him, standing to lift him up.  Quietly, carefully, he carried him back to put him down beside Hermione on the grass, and, not knowing if they might be important, gently pulled the sticky leaves from his lids.  

With one last look, he strode back to where Harry had lain and replaced him there, feigning sleep with his borrowed blindfold of green in place.

When he felt the sun peek over the horizon, the little sounds of waking and surprise started all around him - but he continued to pretend and stay still.

He heard two disbelieving voices like knives twisting in his heart.  

“Hermione?”

“Harry?!”

And then the druid’s voice sounded.

“Who woke here to unsealed eyes has found the mate to their very soul.  Who woke to green mysteries, do as you will and cherish your memories of the celebration of a fertile summer, and celebrate here again next year, if it finds you young and willing - but go now, and do not look back.”

Draco felt a woman’s soft fingers reach out searchingly and touch his bruised lower lip.  “Thank you,” she breathed, and then with a crack, she was gone.  

He waited a moment, and hearing no more, followed suit.

Chapter Text

Sunday, May 2, 2010 - Stonehenge, Wiltshire (continued)

Hermione woke to be startled by brilliant green eyes - familiar eyes with a slant of perpetual mirth - gazing dumbstruck into hers.

Then the Druid had spoken.

It still beggared belief.

“Hermione?” he breathed, reaching hesitantly toward her.

“Harry?!” she half cried, so terribly confused.

She’d been shaking when he reached out and held her, and, pulling him firm against him, Apparated them both back to her flat.

He’d placed her on her couch and wrapped her in a blanket.  “Please, just wait. Will you be alright? I’m going to make tea and run a bath.  Stay, I’m here, I’ll take care of you, love.”

Hesitating only an instant, he bent to sweetly kiss her, and then strode away.

~

She watched him as he fed her, breaking tiny pieces of crumpet off and placing them between her lips with butter-slick fingers, lifting her tea for her to sip.

She watched him as he cast healing charms on her before himself, soothing their abraded intimate places and sore muscles. He seemed to have fared much better than she. She stopped him from vanishing her love bites, and saw him smile with a sort of triumph that she somehow didn’t feel.

She watched him as he gently lowered her into the hot, deep water of the only extravagance she indulged in with selecting this place to live, the capacious tub. She watches as he climbed in after her and gently, gently washed her, every inch of her, heedless of the soap bubbles clinging to his lips when he followed the strokes of the flannel with kisses.

And when he peeled back the covers of her bed and laid her down into it, she watched him as he slid in beside her, the curtains shutting out the light, and gently, gently moved over her.  In the dark, it was with her body that she watched how he made love, and then, whispering “Always, always, Hermione, always,” fell asleep still softening inside her.

She wanted to be so happy about it.

Chapter Text

Back to Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - Room of Requirement, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland

After a brief hesitation, Hermione, whose heart hurt to consider where this was likely going, let Harry pick the form of the room.

She was not surprised when, on entering, she found herself in a wildflower-strewn clearing in an early summer wood.  She wasn’t surprised either when, after the door was closed behind them, he pressed her up against the broad trunk of an ancient beech with a little cry of pain and covered her mouth with his.

She let him, and even tried to reciprocate cautiously, trying to ease the urgency he was imposing on the kiss, but she left her hands at her sides.  He whimpered in frustration and withdrew, looking at her with misery writ large in his beautiful green eyes.

She stroked the side of his face soothingly.  “Harry…”

He shook his head, cutting her off. “No!  We… we are meant for each other, Hermione.  I love you. I think I always have. Can’t you please give this another chance?”

She sighed.  “Harry, you are gorgeous, smart, funny, skilled, conscientious, effective, powerful, and my best friend.”  She narrowed her eyes briefly. “All restrictions remain in place regarding telling Ron he’s my second best friend.”

Harry nodded vigorously.  “Likewise. But you were saying?”

Hermione ground her teeth, her mouth trying to form the words.  “Harry, you are absolutely who I want to love. As a best friend, as family , I do love you, as much as anyone else in the world. In so many ways, you’re so perfect.  But I’m not in love with you.  And I can’t decide that into not being the case.”

He blinked as tears filled his eyes.  Whenever he cried… whenever he cried, she’d learned, the green blazed brighter.

“I told you all this after Litha,” she said softly, reaching out to pull him into a hug.  “Whatever that old man said, whatever the gods themselves might say, it doesn’t change my heart.  If anything could, you know that I’d be the first to start rewiring myself, right?”

He nodded against her shoulder, shaking slightly.  

She let him grieve for a while before, slowly, she pulled back.  “Harry, this is important. I think… I feel there’s something more at work in all this. You know I take a dim view of intuition, but I can’t shake this.  I think one of us may have seen something, that night, that could shed some light on why, at least for three of us, everything came out so wrong .”  She sighed shakily. “I think one of us should describe everything we remember from the night to the other, so we can compare accounts and talk about anything either of us mentions that seems odd.”

He nodded, his face behind his handkerchief.  

She sighed.  “Would you like to go first, or should I?”

Harry sniffed.  “Honestly, I think it’d break me.  You talk. I’ll stop you if anything seems significant.”

Hermione nodded. Part of why it should be so easy - so very, very easy - to fall in love Harry was his ability to do what needed to be done, always, often despite being in incredible pain. “Alright…”  She took a shaky breath. “Well. When I Apparated in, there was nearly impenetrable mist, but I thought it might be part of the plan, so I walked in the direction where it had parted.”

Harry nodded, listening.

She went on.  “Em, I got to some older gentlemen dressed in traditional Druidic garb, and I don’t recall quite what they said, but one had an athame and a chalice and was chanting, and one was silently holding other little chalices full of some sort of mulled wine, or at least, that’s what it seemed like.  He encouraged me to take a drink, before going in. Said it was part of the ritual.”

Harry nodded again, apparently without anything to interject.

Hermione paused a moment, groping at her memories, which seemed more dreamlike from shortly after then.

“I walked forward, and suddenly there was a sun, and people in costumes that … were both very revealing and absolutely hid their identities, in ways I’m uncertain I could specifically describe.  Animals, mostly, the costumes. I remember… I remember people looking at me as I walked in.”

Harry shrugged.  Anyone with eyes wouldn’t be able to help looking at her, not that night.

“And,” she continued, “Stonehenge was still there, but it was in a field of late spring wildflowers, flowers growing thicker than grass, and there was this beautiful, fairytale forest growing all around, and a birch maypole in the center, with a wreath up on the,” she paused, swallowing and flushing slightly, “on the altar stone.”

Harry nodded - this was consistent with his memory, though he hadn’t paid so much attention to their surroundings.  That wasn’t atypical, though - him noticing less than she did.

“And then… I walked over to the stone, and I reached for the wreath, like … like it was mine , somehow.  And my hand was all pale, and it almost bumped into, well, your green hand, and-”

“Wait,” he said, brows knitting.  “Green?”

Hermione nodded slowly, looking at him.  

He shook his head.  “Might be nothing, might be something.  Go on?”

She pursed her lips, then spoke. “You… had antlers, and leaves on your face.”

He nodded.

“And,” she shifted her weight uncomfortably.  “You fell down on your knees and hugged me about the hips, and you pressed your nose, well , you were-”

Harry squinted. “This sounds different.”

Hermione bit her lip.  “Did you lift me to put the wreath on the may pole?”

Harry shook his head slowly.  “No, we danced around the pole, remember?  We kept looking at each other as we wove through.”

Hermione shook her head slowly.  “I… didn’t. I was on the altar stone.”

Harry lurched back.  “You were the May Queen?!”

Hermione nodded slowly.  “I think I must have been.”

Harry looked a bit panicked.  “Hermione, are you sure you were with the same partner all day? Until you slept?”

Hermione nodded. “Quite positive.”  

Harry bit his lip, looking anguished.  “Then… then we were switched about somehow, I was with… with a doe , and … and maybe one or both of us has a soulmate we met that night that we didn’t get to see in the morning.”

It hit her like a bucket of icewater to the heart.  “Oh,” she said, stumbling backward.

She remembered… dancing .  “Oh, oh no .”

She looked up from the forest floor and back to Harry.  “Harry, I need to go and talk to a dragon.” She stroked his cheek gently, her eyes kind and sad.  “We will get to the bottom of this. Will you be alright? Would you like me to get Ron to come and be cried on or ranted at?”

Harry started to shake his head, but then, having gotten a bit better about suffering alone after the war, nodded.  “I think that would be a good idea. Thanks, Hermione.”

Chapter Text

Hermione met Minerva, her windblown hair down from its usual chignon and her cheeks pink from the whipping of the wind, as she fairly skipped back into the castle, laughing and singing under her breath.

The headmistress looked up and sobered immediately when she saw Hermione’s stricken face and took in her determined gate as she headed out of the castle. 

“My dear, are you quite well?”

Hermione nodded wearily, not breaking her stride.  “Ron Weasley is Flooing in through your office to see Harry, Minerva.  Draco is near the cottage?”

“Well, yes, but-” Minerva called to Hermione’s retreating back.

“Thank you.”  The young witch stormed onward.

~

The dragon curled about the little house looked satisfied and tired.  It wasn’t something she remembered seeing often in him, and she thought, despite her temper, that it would suit him.  

The real him.  His real face.

She called out.  “Draco!”

He raised his head, looking at her warily as the moonlight just about plinked off his shining scales.  

She stopped in front of him and stared into his enormous, nacreous eyes.  After a minute of this, he shuffled backwards slightly, his ears flattening down and his head low.

She walked right up to his nose and rested her fists between his nostrils, teeth grinding in frustrated rage.

“Were you the Green Man?” she asked, finally.

He seemed to deflate for a moment before he replied with a tiny, dejected nod.

She slammed her fist down on his sensitive nose and he whined and leapt back involuntarily.  Immediately she looked horrified. “Oh, oh god, Draco, I’m so sorry, are you alright? You’re just… huge, and I… I, I don’t know, it felt like I was leaning on a table, or something I could take out my righteous frustration on.”

Her eyes glistened with tears as he looked at her, pulling back and frightened.

“Why?!”  The word tore ragged from her throat, months of confusion and pain and years of loneliness propelling the mess of emotions behind it from her throat. “Tell me why!”

He hesitated a moment, then started to scratch in the dead turf with a claw. DESERVE BETTER.

The arrow pointed at her.

She sobbed and half-heartedly kicked him in the knee.  “You great scaly asshole , thinking you get to make that choice for me.  Draco, I think… fuck , I feel that we may actually, truly be soulbound, something I’ve always thought was some myth of romanticism, and I’ve been so... empty.

The gigantic dragon looked sad, meek, taken aback, and small.  He inched away, writhing in discomfort and shame.

“No!” she snarled, pursuing him.  “You do not get to run away from this.  Draco Malfoy, transform this instant and do me the courtesy of having the conversation you should have had with me that morning, the moment you knew.”

He stared at her, gaping.  His mouth moved, and if he’d been human, the words he’d formed would have been “I can’t.”

“Oh yes, you can.” she seethed.  “Yes you can, you coward, so bloody well do it, do it now!  Now or never, Malfoy, because this is your one chance to have this conversation with me, and if you don’t take it, neither of us may ever be whole!”

A ripple like a chill went through the enormous, serpentine creature as, desperately, he tried.

Chapter Text

He felt so cold, and so tiny, in this body.  

Draco found himself himself again, crouched there at the edge of the Forest.  His black slacks and jumper were little the worse for wear, but … he was cold, and defenseless, and his senses felt… wrong .  

He started to shake uncontrollably, blinking around in a daze.

That was when she came up and knelt beside him, pulling him into her arms and transfiguring her coat into a cloak she could wrap around them both.  

“Draco, you did it!  Oh dear, em,” he heard, distantly, “Draco, you’re going into shock.  You’re going to be alright, but I’d like to get you inside. Draco, can you speak?  Please, talk to me.”

He looked up at her dully.  If he was tiny, she was miniscule .  It couldn’t possibly be safe.  He swept her unresisting body up into his arms and pulled her tight against him, into his lap, curling himself around her protectively as much as he could as he shook. 

“Talk to me,” she said softly, stroking his rattling jaw.

He was aware she was asking him for something simple but had difficulty fathoming how he could do as she asked.

She sighed and started to disentangle herself from him.  He cried out, the sound low and pained, but she persisted in peeling away and finally stood up, leaving her cloak wrapped around him and extending him a hand.  “If you want to hold me, you have to come inside.”

At that, he forced himself to figure out this absurd body again, and shakily, he stood.  

She smiled tightly, nodding, and he went in after her.

~

She had helped him ease down onto a small couch in front of the crackling hearth.  He looked up at her, seeming lost, as she knelt at his feet, gently unlacing and removing his shoes and placing them near the fire.  He realized dimly that the ground had been wet, watching as she next peeled away her own sodden boots. She rolled down his socks next, and once she’d put them aside, just sat a long moment looking at his long, pale feet where they rested on her lap.  

It was more intimate, somehow, than almost any sexual encounter of his life: her just sitting there, slumped, letting him see how tired she was, and how unsure.  Sitting there, still but buffeted all around by the more tenuous figurative currents between them that he couldn’t name.

The shaking started to become more erratic, which broke the trance.  She pulled herself up beside him and, touching the damp knees of his trousers, frowned and cast warming and drying charms on him.

She spoke as she pulled a blanket over them both.  “Did Harry have leaves over his eyes or no, before you switched me?”

“Y-yes,” he said, startled to hear his own voice, which he apparently had found simply by dint of responding without having thought about the difficulty of speaking.  “He had leaves over his eyes. So did the woman with him, who wasn’t someone I know - I don’t think she was at Hogwarts with us. And,” he said, his eyes flicking over to hers quickly before darting away, “I didn’t switch you.  I picked him up and put him where I’d been. You were… peaceful. I didn’t know if I could… I didn’t feel that I should touch you.”

“Why.” She uttered it quietly, looking at the fire.

“I…” Draco’s head rolled around as if scanning the room for a means of escape. “Hermione, Harry’s worth ten of me, and you’re worth thousands.  I couldn’t… I mean, I didn’t even know if what the old druid reenactor said was true or real, but if it was, how… how could I do that to someone I’d just realized I madly loved?”

He nearly bit his tongue right off when he realized what he’d just blurted out, the shaking worsening again.

She didn’t respond with words, but she did tighten her arms around him, and, after a moment, she crawled into his lap and wrapped as much of herself protectively around him as she could manage.  It reminded him, dimly, of what he’d tried to do around her outside. Her arms were so fiercely strong for limbs so slender and soft. He shuddered and shook against her, and she rode it out. With what control he could muster, he managed to gather her in the reciprocal circle of his own embrace.

Chapter Text

It had taken at least an hour for the tremors to stop.

Slowly, Hermione uncurled herself, gently lifting up his chin so she could see his face when she talked to him. 

“Draco?  Will it make you anxious if I send a few Patronuses ?  I’m sure people are wondering what’s going on.”

Draco looked up at her warily, more anxious about why she wasn’t just leaving him to his own devices than anything now.  “I’ll be fine,” he said.

Hermione gave a shaky nod, and then incanted, “ Expecto Patronum!”

But for the first time in over a decade, she only produced a wisp of light. She frowned and tried again.  And again. By the tenth try, Draco can feel every muscle in her body tensing in frustration and sadness and anger, and he couldn’t keep watching.

“Ssssshhh.  Ssssshhh,” he soothed, stroking his long-fingered hands firmly but gently over her shoulders and upper arms, trying to coax her into relaxing.  “Hermione, can you take a deep breath in, and then one out, with me?” He demonstrated, his expanding ribs shifting her on his lap as he let the breath sound louder than it naturally would.  She managed to join him on the second inhalation, and for a few minutes, they just breathed together, his hands working to loosen the knots of her back and shoulders gently in the quiet.

When she seemed calm, he lifted her chin up, gently turning her face to his.  “May I try something else, please?”

Though a momentary flash of consternation warped her brow, after a beat, she nodded.  

Draco steadied himself, then spoke clearly. “Winky?”

The house elf appeared immediately, twisting the hem of her little apron in her hands with worry.  Her eyes immediately widened, and she smiled. “Ah! You is you again, Mr. Dragon, sir!”

Draco bobbed his head to acknowledge this.  “Yes. And I’d like to thank you and the others who helped feed me while I was unwell very, very much for their help.  I hadn’t eaten much in over a week before I came here. I really appreciate it.”

He felt Hermione shift slightly in his lap as he spoke, but continued to keep his attention on the elf. “Winky, I’m sorry to ask this of you so late, but is it possible you could relay a few messages for Dr. Granger?  We’ve had a bit of a difficult evening, and it would be a great help.”

Winky nodded proudly. “Winky would be honored, Miss Dr. Hermione Granger!”

Hermione, her voice a little hoarse, spoke quietly.  “Thank you Winky, and I’m sorry I couldn’t manage this myself, but-”

Winky put her hands on her hips and shook her head, scowling. “Miss is always managing everything for everyone.  Miss should let friends help her, Miss should.  Miss shouldn’t apologize to Winky for Winky doing her job, which Winky enjoys.”

Hermione smiled wearily at Winky.  “Well, I have asked you to be frank with me and to never flinch from criticizing me, and I appreciate your taking that request to heart, Winky.  I apologize for… apologizing. Em.” Hermione smoothed down some flyaway curls as she tried to re-board her train of thought. “Winky, could you please tell Mr. Harry Potter, who I last saw in the Room of Requirement, that he had leaves over his eyes, and tell both him and the Headmistress that Mr. Malfoy, here, has managed to regain his human form?  I’m afraid we may not make it up to dinner tonight, as we’ve been through a rather training ordeal, but-”

“Winky and her friends is bringing you dinner, Miss, and no arguing.”

Hermione couldn’t help smiling a bit more sincerely.  “I’m honored to know you, Winky. You are an exceptional person and a good friend.  That would be very kind of you. I think … I think those are the only things I can think of, but I may need to ask you for more help, or possibly the loan of an owl, if more come up.  Oh! Please… please ask the Headmistress to let Mr. Malfoy’s parents know he’ll be alright, if you would, too.”

Winky nodded smartly, looking proud of herself, and cracked away from the room.

Where Draco and Hermione were left looking at each other, blinking and inches apart, feeling sad and tired and pent and wound so tight their springs could break, neither knowing what to say.

Chapter Text

They just stared at each other, both afraid to move and start an inevitable collapse, either toward or away from each other.  Both prospects were terrifying, and it seemed either one or the other was imminent.  

It was a relief when a large, covered platter of food appeared on the small table beside them, along with plates, napkins, and cutlery. Something, other than to disintegrate under pressure, to do.

Hermione awkwardly started to unfold herself from his lap after they both cast ravenous looks at the source of the delicious smells wafting toward them.

And then, as she started to lift off of him, Draco heard the disconsolate whine rising from his throat before he even knew he was making it. Next thing he knew, he’d thrown them both down and was pressed full-length atop her on the couch. Their lips were so close to touching it maddened him even as he couldn’t bring himself to close the gap.

But then, with her own little angry growl, she wove her fingers into his hair and pulled him down, their lips irreversibly pressed together now - the decision made, the following deluge a fait accompli .

It was the work of an instant, the claiming that sparked between their desperately writhing tongues.  They grasped at each other crushingly, pressing their ribs together so hard he thought he felt his flex under the pressure of it.

And then, with a snarl, she fumbled her wand free and every thread of cloth that separated them vanished, and he knew that this was to be no romantic journey, but a point hammered home that tenderness would have to take shape from later, hewn from this rough, hard stone. 

Their hands scrambled to know every inch of each other, their mouths utterly refusing to part, neither willing to concede, to back down in the struggle that so unlikely and intense a union as this must be.

So, when she threw her legs around him, it was not gentle, nor was it sweet when he seized her hips and adjusted the pitch of her, each opening their eyes so they could witness the other’s face as they stilled, shuddering before the next precipice.

Then, her legs tightening, his hands pulling her up to him, he surged into her, and she welcomed him in, eyes wide open, no looking back.

~

She had thought to put a stasis charm on the food at some point.  Perhaps two hours later, bone-weary and beyond all capacity for tension, they used each other’s bodies as plates, tongues and fingers as forks and spoons.  They hadn’t intended to, but each was so languid by the time they remembered food that the spill that started it all could not have been prevented. Some steaming meatballs among the tagliatelle were still hot enough to burn, but each laved the sting hungrily from the other’s skin with long, savoring licks, and wrapped little strands of pasta mischievously around places they salivated to retrieve it from with their mouths.

Hermione particularly enjoyed their dessert - a dark, dark chocolate mousse - although she never managed to get any of it across her own tongue. 

By the time they got to the washing up, engaging the shower rather than the kitchen sink, they’d regained some energy. Hermione celebrated magic with pure joy as, after washing away they made of each other in attempting to get clean again and again, the hot water never ran out.

When she ultimately fell asleep atop him in the bath, Draco let himself stroke her as he would a basking cat, reveling in the depth of feeling he wrung from every passage of his hand down her spine as, unconscious and guilelessly trusting, she arched under his palm.  He cooed then, as she slept, all the soft things he’d never said to anyone. He knew he’d be able to when she was awake, eventually, but he practiced having courage now, because he also knew to keep up with her he’d need it, and it was new.

It was bittersweet when finally he disengaged their bodies, whipping about them with the wand that had still been in his pocket to warm, to dry, to clean teeth, to untangle her hair, all with the same hand that supported her weight under her knees while his other looped under her upper back.  In her sleep, she turned her face against his shoulder and nipped at him, leaving the little indentations of her teeth on his skin. He shivered and took her into bed, wondering if he could ever again sleep without constant interruption to stir and sink just one more time into this extraordinary creature.

Nothing would be easy, he thought, as she barely roused enough to climb over him, insistent, again .  Nothing would be easy, but everything would be right , and he could live for that.  Would live for her, he thought, as she rose over him, too tired to pry open her eyes but rocking faster, nails skating along his stomach as it tensed and relaxed, again and again. 

Yes. Words would be impossible, but they would find them.  History would be hard, yes, but they would reconcile it.  Yes, they would. Yes. Yes .  Oh, Gods and Goddesses and Salazar and Godric and Rowena and Helga and Merlin and Morgana and yes! Yes! Yes!

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 - Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland

She fell down sated on his chest in the early light of dawn, and he held her, stroking her hair.  

“I’ve noticed,” he said, voice hoarse from repeated hard use, “that you haven’t left, or told me to go.”

She craned her neck to look up at him, blinking lazily. “I find I prefer to keep you coming.”

His eyes rolled back with a shiver and he felt himself falling toward her orbit again. “And why is that, just so that I can be sure I understand what you want from me, Dr. Granger?”

She bit his clavicle, causing him to yelp and flinch.  Her eyes narrowed as she looked up at him. “Hermione. You call me Hermione now.”

“Hermione,” he breathed, looking down at her.

She squinted at him.  “Your eyes. Draco, it’s subtle, but there’s still some opalescence in your eyes.”

He blinked, considering. “If there had to be a loitering trace, that’s probably a lucky one, I suppose.”

She sighed, pulling his knees up to hug around her waist.  “What did you hope to get out of being an Animagus, Draco? I mean, now that you don’t have to write with a boulder.”

He looked down at her a moment before he spoke. “Anonymity.  I had hoped to be a nice fat ermine or even a damned white ferret.  Maybe a small dog, or a cat. Perhaps,” he said, wrapping a finger in one of her curls, “an otter.  Or a mouse, a snake, a rat. A little nondescript bird would have been ideal. Something that could be... inconspicuous .  Something that could wander around the periphery of Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley without anyone giving it a second glance.  Something no one would lash out at, at least not as anything personal. Something no one would spit on, or hex, or lob masonry at on sight.”

She was quiet a long moment, looking up at him.  “Those are things that happen to you,” she stated.

He nodded in confirmation.

“Not anymore,” she said, biting off the words as her eyes blazed up at him.

He looked down at her.  “You can’t fix everything, Hermione.”

She nodded. “But I can stand beside you .”

He blinked, not knowing what to say.

She looked up at him unflinchingly, as if to insist she wasn’t going anywhere , not with regard to this new proximity they shared..

He dashed a few tears away impatiently.

She was still looking at him.  “Draco, did you consider Polyjuice?”

He nodded.  “I used it all the time, for a while.  I was… tired of never remembering what I looked like that day. And… well, I’m a horrible actor.”

She continued to look up at him. “Did you consider moving to another country?”

He blinked.  “I… did not. This is my home.”

She canted her head.  “Living among Muggles, without magic, perhaps?”

He bit his lip. “Hermione… I mean no disrespect to your parents or yourself or any other Muggle or Muggleborn when I say this, but no, I didn’t. I also didn’t consider cutting off my own arm. But I probably would have gotten to my arm, first.”

“Asking a friend for help?” she asked, quietly.

He cast his gaze up in frustration. “Who?  Who would help me?”

“Harry,” she said, with no hesitation.  “Me.” She kissed his neck softly. “Blaise.  Lots of people. Draco. The people you’ve helped.  The ones who actually have been close enough these last several years to see you and know you.”

Draco shifted uncomfortably, but she was on top of him and there was nowhere to go. “All of you are... important, happy.  You all had much better things to do. Nevermind the fact it’s still hard to think of even Harry as a friend, and we were joined at the hip the year of my apprenticeship. And… and the last time I thought I had an unassailable network of support, just look at how it turned out.”

Hermione looked up at him critically, propping her head up with an elbow planted by his ear.  “Draco, you give yourself too little credit for your own importance in any of the work any of us have been doing.  You also give yourself too little credit for how much your own taste in people has changed. You’re a much better judge of character than you used to be.”

He looked down at her with pursed lips, having difficulty with all this. “If I promise to think about all that, can we please stop talking about it for a while?”

“Yes,” she said, rolling onto her back  with her side pressed to his, his arm under her neck.  “What would you like to talk about?”

He paused a moment, half-heartedly trying to talk himself out of asking. “Beltane,” he started, watching her lips begin to curve into a smirk.  “Did we really , I mean, seriously , forty times?”

She looked over at him dryly.  “We have done another fifteen since you managed to fit through the door again, Draco, and we’re not possessed by deities anymore.”

He shook his head.  “So that was a thing that really happened?”

She shrugged, snuggling into him.  “Minerva, Harry, and I got the grumpy druid with the drinks’ explanation for how the fae gods or demigods involved basically had us star in their erotic entertainment feature for the year so they’d bless the herds and the fields and show some of us our soulmates.”

He blinked.  “We’re really soulmates?”

Hermione just looked at him.  “You know we are. I feel you tugging at the other end of this rope to see what happens, Draco.”

“How does it feel, to you?” he asked.

Her eyes fluttered closed a moment before popping back open.  “Like your hands on me. Like your mouth on me. More. Like we’re intimately conjoined in ways that have nothing to do with our bodies or even our minds.  What does it feel like to you?”

He shook his head. “Like everything that I was always missing and never knew the shape of.”

“Draco,” she said, rather cross, “Can we not fuck again right now, please?”

He groaned. “I didn’t intend to, but then you went and said fuck , and I thought of other shapes I didn’t know until recently that were always missing to me.” He squirmed, his hips pulsing up helplessly against the blankets under her gaze. “Just… just let’s put the fire out, somehow. Salazar, Hermione, we’re going to kill each other at this rate.”

She considered a moment. “Well, I can dampen your ardor, and with a matter that needs to be discussed, but it’s something miserable that we’re going to need to figure out how to deal with, so are you sure we shouldn’t just die a little bit more?”

He growled and shuddered, rolling onto her and putting a stop to any coherent conversation for a while.

Once there’d been a few more little deaths, though, he looked up at her, the sun pulling strands of gold from her hair.  “I suppose you’d better tell me whatever it was, among other things because I’m experiencing ideas about the table.”

She arched an eyebrow.  “The table?”

He nodded, biting his lip.  “And… and the wall, and the floor, and on one of the school brooms, and under the lake, and in the Slytherin Common Room, all the Common Rooms,” he threw his forearm over his eyes, “and on the headmistress’s desk, and the staff table in the great hall, and in the stands during a Slytherin-Gryffindor game, without being caught, and…” he peeked out at her, “Hermione, help a man out here, it turns out this bound soul of mine has a direct line to less elevated places.”

She had a far away look in her eyes, as if conducting feasibility studies and drafting proposals for best logistical models by probability of success in her head.

“Hermione,” he whined, “help!”

She snapped out of it, “Oh, uh… well… I know you saw the pictures, they were all over the press, of Harry and me, you know, after Beltane.”

He nodded, feeling dampened indeed. “Well done. Yes, quite the fairytale dream come to life. What about it, exactly?”

She sighed.  “He was very, very eager to jump with both feet at the idea we were soulmates, and that’s rather your fault, isn’t it?”

His eyes widened in horror.  “Oh hell.”

She nodded.  “He still… I mean, at least as of last night, he really wanted it to be true.”

“And… you are where in this?” he asked, needing to know.

She rolled her eyes.  “In bed. With you. Talking about tragic, horrible heartbreak for my best friend to keep us both from death by libido, which seems our default destination absent another dire cause to throw ourselves at.  Draco… if I could have fallen in love with Harry, I would have done it years ago. There are ways in which I think it would have been perfect , but from that morning, when he took me home, it never felt right.  If I hadn’t been with you first, would I have known the difference?  I’m not sure I couldn’t have let him talk me into it, but it never… it wouldn’t have been this.”

He looked at her a long while before he spoke.  “Alright.”

“Alright.” she echoed.

“Which… still leaves me, in particular, needing to figure out how to make amends with someone we both would be miserable to hurt. Which is a thing I … actually just said about Harry Potter, apparently.”

She smiled slightly.  “That.”

“What?” he said, confused.

“I’m with you, now Draco.  Because you’re good and you care and you’re dark and snarky but you’ve grown and people who grow to be better are basically the ultimate aphrodisiac to me.  I’ve known so many who… just plateaued somewhere and called it a day, and others who keep climbing but never … struggle and stumble and so never really build the strength had only by those who’ve failed and got up again. That’s why.  You wanted to know who you are to me. You’re my fucking soulmate.” She grinned. “Get used to it, darling, because I doubt it’ll be the smoothest of rides.”

Stirring beneath her, he shifted a bit, drawing a gasp from her lips. “I have no complaints.”

Chapter Text

It was Lucius and Narcissa who finally interrupted them, knocking curtly at the door.  Because of the light, Hermione knew they couldn’t see in even as she could make out just enough to discern who was there, but she was off Draco like a shot and dashing for the safety of the bedroom, where her clothes were.

He moaned piteously, his hands flopping off the edge of the table after failing to catch her and haul her back. “But why?!”

Hermione was much better at rapid hair-taming maneuvers these days, and had years of experience being mussed by rambunctious dragonlings.  She emerged less than a minute later, decently clothed with her hair in an intentionally-messy-seeming knot atop her head, her wand already out to levitate the various discarded items of clothing into a dresser drawer.  Cursing, she hit everything porous with freshening charms and straightened the cushions of the couch, then caught him with a well-aimed stinging hex.  

“Ow!” he cried, indignant as he bolted to his feet.

“Up!  Your parents!” she hissed, shooing him into the bedroom to dress.  “I’m sure they’re anxious to see if you’re well.”

It turned out it was possible for him to get paler, after all.  “I thought that you were making the knocking noise again,” he said, faintly accusing, dashing across the living room as if pursued by bees.  “Like that thing you did earlier.”

She shook her head, hissing, “That was just a drawer that stuck to the sweat on my back, you idiot, not something I like to do. It just kept… opening and closing, a little, when we… you know. But, dress!  Now!”

She spelled the door shut firmly in his face and looked around. She stomped in helpless frustration and whispered, “Winky?”

Winky immediately appeared, taking in the increasingly frantic knocks at the door and the still… debauched state of things with a little giggle.  “Oh, Miss Dr. Granger! Winky is happy for you!”

Hermione puffed out her breath, dancing from foot to foot in panic.  “Winky, those are Draco’s parents, who will not want their pureblood son to be soulmate to a Muggleborn.  I’ve done all the tidying spells I know but I … well it’s still rather obvious, isn’t it? Can you help?”

Winky smiled and cracked her knuckles.  “Miss should hold on to… hmmm… perhaps miss should go into the bedroom, only she mustn’t be naughty again, no, not for the ten seconds this will take Winky.”  

Hermione dashed to the door, feeling the ominous tide of strong magic electrifying the flyaway hairs at the nape of her neck before she could get it closed behind her.  

Draco, shirtless still, turned to her, in the act of doing up his zip, his eyes questioning.

She groaned and bit her lip, closing her eyes and counting aloud slowly.  “One… two…” 

She was fairly proud to reach ten without either of them ending up ruining it all, and, feeling a new stillness in the room beyond, bolted out the door, only briefly seeing Draco pull the bunched hem of his jumper down over the tightness of his stomach, and barely groaning at all.

“Winky, thank you,” she breathed, sweeping the startled elf into a hug.  

“You is welcome, miss.  Winky will be back with tea for your visitors.”

And the elf cracked away.

~

Lucius and Narcissa had dashed right past Hermione as she opened the door, descending with startling ferocity on their son, peppering him with questions and looking him over to ensure he was unhurt.

Hermione stood back and watched, briefly remembering the aftermath of that last battle, and smiling faintly.  At least she had something in common with these exceptionally problematic people.

Draco, meanwhile, caught her eye and mouthed, Do you see what I have to put up with?!

Hermione pressed the fingers of her right hand above her heart, mouthing, Awwwwwww.

He huffed and tried to catch up with their questions a bit.

“Em, no, I’m fine now, it’s alright, just… well… mother, that’s quite unnecessary, if you please… oh look, it’s tea!  Won’t you sit down?”

Everyone calmed somewhat and nodded, settling at the thought of tea, which has its own form of magic.  Draco yanked the back of his jumper back down where his mother had dragged it up to check for injuries or some other mystery known only to overprotective parents and mustered his dignity as he stepped over to the… table.  Studiously not looking at Hermione, he pulled out a chair for her.

Studiously trying not to blush as she hoped Winky had caught this surface in the cleaning tsunami, Hermione didn’t even think to scoff at the antiquated and rather patronizing gesture, just murmuring a thank you. 

Lucius and Narcissa watched this all, their eyes narrowing as they, too, took their seats.  It wasn’t usual for their son to do such a thing outside a formal dinner, and then only for… well.  The right sort of people.  

“Draco,” Narcissa said finally, picking up the pot to pour herself and Lucius tea as she sank into the comfort of hosting mode. “We did not receive the owl notifying us of your recovery until this morning, so naturally we came as quickly as we could.  You seem well?”

Draco picked up the pot then, ignoring everyone’s interested attention as he poured first for Hermione, and then for himself.  “I seem to have made a rather full recovery, although after being stuck so long, at first I was in shock for some time. Fortunately, Dr. Granger here was here to take care of me.”

Narcissa’s eyes darted to the perpetually disheveled brunette and then back to her son.  “Em… quite. And how did you finally come to be unstuck, pray tell?”

Draco nodded, picking up a thin slice of lemon with silver tongs and dropping it into Hermione’s cup with a little plonk .  “According to Headmistress McGonagall, who is an internationally recognized expert on such matters and has significant personal experience as an Animagus as well, transforming back into one’s human body can be very difficult when you transformed out of it because you no longer enjoyed being yourself.”

Hermione, who had not been present for this conversation, stiffened, looking over at him as he spooned honey into her cup and then nudged it toward her by its saucer with a little smile.   She knew hopelessness could complicate things, but had never heard it said quite like that before, and it made her pensive about both Draco and Minerva, as well as about whatever they must have discussed.  

Lucius looked at his son flatly as he sipped at his cup.  “Well, that sounds a touch dramatic.”

Draco blinked down at his own cup as he stirred it.  “Father, I think you’ll find a mirror just through there, if you’d like to see where I got dramatics from.”

Narcissa gasped, Lucius scoffed. Hermione bit back a laugh. “Every time I begin to think perhaps you’ve finally grown up, you show your nature as a childish little brat again,” Draco’s father drawled. “Really, Draco, you were raised better than this.”

Draco put down his cup with a clink.  “Father, can you even hear yourself? You think being spoiled rotten until I was held down and signed away to a sadistic monster when I still was a child was any sort of proper upbringing?  Being lied to, constantly, about the capabilities and value of those who were different from myself?  Really?”   

Narcissa stilled her husband with a hand on his forearm when he leaned forward to snap back at their son.  “Draco, darling, please understand that a flat declaration that you’d lost hope is rather uncharacteristic of you and of… how our family communicates.  I am very sorry to hear that you felt so low. Am I right to think you are feeling better now?”

Draco drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, his eyes darting around at those sitting around the table. “I see a way forward that is worth pursuing, yes, and that makes a great deal of difference.”

Narcissa nodded, not pressing, although her eyes did flicker a little more slowly over the young woman beside him.  “Darling… why didn’t you tell your father and me that you were planning to become an Animagus? Forgive me - it must be personal for you to have gone to such great lengths not to discuss it, but we are both having some trouble understanding what happened.”

Draco rubbed at the spot between his brows with the back of a knuckle, feeling weariness more keenly now that more invigorating stimuli were no longer actively in play.  “I wanted to be able to go out without being glared at, spat on, cursed, or hexed. I wanted a sunny day to just be a sunny day, and to go for walks and watch people again without them drawing away at the sight of me.  I’d hoped I’d have fur or feathers to cover Tom, here, too,” he said, flashing her his dark mark then pulling his sleeve back down again. “It was a bit of a lark at first. Fancy my surprise when I ended up more conspicuous changed than before.  I’ve never even seen a real Opaleye but in pictures.”

“So…” Lucius hazarded, clearly working to keep himself steady, “How long has it been, then, since you stopped wanting to be yourself?”

Draco shrugged.  “Intermittently, for a long time. Constantly, since May.”

Hermione’s eyes shot to his, but she held her peace.

Draco looked at his father, whose expression was guarded.  “Have you never wanted not to be yourself, Father?”

Lucius sneered, though not with absolute conviction.  “I have seen a mirror before, Draco.  Who would give up being this?” he said, gesturing to himself.  “Who would not want what I have?”

Draco shook his head.  “Me,” he said quietly. “I’m not just trying to change things to help the family, father.  You have what you have because we and people like us have severely buggered everyone else, and it needs to end.”

“Draco,” Hermione said softly, “Perhaps you could use more civil language in the presence of your mother, who seems to want to understand you better, and was quite genuinely worried about you.”

Narcissa peered more closely at Hermione yet again, eyes narrowing not unkindly over the rim of her cup.

Draco sighed.  “Sorry, Mother.”

Narcissa shook her golden head.  “Don’t be. You’re quite right. Even your father knows that, cantankerous as he may be.  But,” she said, a slight frown getting past her control, “Are you alright now?”

Slowly, Draco reached over and picked up Hermione’s hand, holding it before he cast a challenging look at first his mother, then his father.  “As long as we do not have a problem here, I expect I’ll be well enough. I would, however, like to wrap some things up. Perhaps we could discuss this at some later point.  I will let you know when I’ll be by the Manor, but I wouldn’t expect to see me today, certainly.”

Lucius looked on the point of saying something, but he stopped himself, and both Draco’s parents nodded, his mother touching her napkin to the sides of her lips.  “Very well.” Lucius said, standing awkwardly and, with a slight bow, stepping out the door.  

Narcissa hesitated in the doorway behind him.  “Draco… I’m glad to see you doing better. And, Dr. Granger,” she said, turning to the other person in the room with a nervous smile, “Thank you for your help and hospitality.  I do hope you might allow me to have you for tea sometime soon. Maybe… in the gardens.”

Hermione blinked. “You’re welcome. Lady Malfoy.  I’ll…. I’ll contact you when matters calm some.”

And then, they were alone again.

Chapter Text

After Draco's parents left, Hermione pointedly scooted her chair around to be exactly opposite his at the table.  She was aiming for the upside of this position: farther away, no touching. The downsides, however, included helpless excesses of eye contact and the expanse of smooth wood between them reminding them of where they’d been prior to the unforeseen visit.

“I think,” Hermione said slowly, “That if we head up to the castle, we’ll find several people who care about us wanting to know what’s going on, at least one of whom will require delicate handling.”

Draco frowned a little. “The handling part. That… that must have been weird, when you were… well.”  He sighed, raking his hair from his eyes. “I’m so fucking sorry, Hermione, I had no idea. I know how much Harry means to you.”

Hermione sighed. “You should be, but honestly, I blame Doge for it at least as much as you.  You at least I’ll see about forgiving you at some point.  Still, that he lept at the excuse so makes me think it might have happened anyway, and that maybe, now it has, it’s something that can be done .”  She sipped her tea.  “It wasn’t entirely bad.  And I didn’t exactly stop him, either.”

Draco ground his teeth a bit.  “Please tell me there isn’t listening-to-sex-stories penance.  I’m a self-punishing little dragon; it’s all built right in, so there’s really no need.  I’ll brood and brood and maybe get stuck as a tea kettle next time. I’ve got awards for brooding, you know - quite famous for it, really.”  He treated her to an exaggerated pout.

She laughed. “We need to get out of here before we’ve ended up on each other again.  C’mon, you miscreant.”

~

They dodged several enticing opportunities to get distracted as they made their way to the headmaster’s office. 

“But… the prefect’s bath!” he moaned, as if she’d walked him right past an ice cream cart without slowing.

But eventually they were on their way up the spiral stairs.  The door at the top was open, and Harry, Ron, Minerva, and … “Kingsley?  What are you doing up here?” Hermione asked.

He looked around and pulled her into a hug.  “You’re taking the rest of the week off, at least, to recuperate and we are not in the office, so I can give my friend a hug without Skeeter writing something absurd.”

Hermione blinked. “Wait, I am?”

He gave her a significant look, then reached over to shake Draco’s hand.  “Lord Malfoy.”

Hermione glanced behind her and up into grey eyes, then shrugged.  “Alright, I am. Remus will be fine.”

“Meanwhile, Draco, Hermione,” Minerva said from where she stood against the front of her desk, “Several scholars in my circles and a few Unspeakables have inquired about whether or not they might be able to meet this unprecedented Animagus who has surfaced.  I was wondering if you, Mr. Malfoy, had checked to see if you are now able to change into and back from your Animagus form at will, and also if you might be willing to stay on here an additional week or so since Hogwarts has space to house visitors and would love to have some visiting luminaries as guests lecturing in NEWT level classes.”

Draco considered.

Kingsley shrugged.  “Also everyone wants to get to ride a dragon now.”

Minerva smirked.  “Perhaps also that, yes.”

Hermione stepped back to lean against the wall, looking quite smug.

Harry’s eyes flickered over to her, and the expression immediately fell away as she saw the hurt in them.  

“I’m sure the Department for Magical Creatures’ Support and Relations would love to facilitate such an exchange in coordination with the school,” she said, stepping back into her professional habitus. “That is, if all concerned are willing.”

Kingsley nodded.  “I like it.”

Draco looked over to her.  “Alright. No dragon rides to anyone I don’t like, though, and for anyone outside this room, Hermione gets to make a fundraiser out of it for whatever she thinks best.”

Harry pursed his lips.

Draco saw it.  “So I guess it’s you up next, Potter.  C’mon, let’s see if I can even do it again.”

Harry startled.  “What? Me?”

Draco nodded, already headed toward the door.  “Yeah, come have a ride on me, everyone’s doing it, loads of fun, good time guaranteed.”

Hermione watched them go between the fingers of the hands she’d plastered over her face, uncertain if she should be laughing or calling in the Auror shock squad to stand by.”

~

Harry and Draco walked out into the sunny, brisk day in a building silence.

They’d wandered over near the whomping willow by unspoken accord, because no one else was daft enough to want to be anywhere near it and there was open space around, too.  

Finally, Draco opened his mouth and spoke.  “I’m really, really, really sorry.”

Harry looked at him.  “It’s you?”

Draco nodded.  

“Dammit, Malfoy, then why was she there when I woke up?”

Draco sighed.  “I didn’t know what it meant, that it was her in front of me. Still, I woke early and… well, cried all over myself, knowing I’d never again want to touch anyone but her. But she deserved better, and I didn’t want to see her… repulsed she’d touched me… so I picked you up and put you where I’d been, because you’re better, then took your leaves and wandered back to where you’d fallen asleep.”

Harry looked at him quizzically. “Better, and you came up with me?”

Draco shrugged, “Closest person I could think of to good enough.”

Harry sighed.  “I love her so much.  I never feel lonely when she’s around.  She’s like home.”

Draco thought a moment.  “I’m certainly not an authority, Potter, but maybe you’re fortunate enough to have one of those really incredible friendships that actually feels just like that, and maybe trying to shag the one you’ve got it with is the wrong approach, despite the fact she’s devilishly attractive and positively wicked in… let me just… stop there.” Harry nodded gruffly and Draco considered.  “You and Weasley , however… I could ship that. Bet you anything he makes all your lunches and holds you when you cry, already.”

Harry scoffed and gave him a relatively harmless shove, though he did blush slightly. “No love advice from you.  You aren’t skilled , Malfoy, you’ve only won the bloody lottery.”

Draco stuck out his tongue mutinously.  “Yeah, alright, true , but no need to be mean about it.”

Harry drew himself up.  “Fine. I want to ride the damned dragon now.”

Malfoy arched a brow.

Harry gestured impatiently.  “C’mon, do the thing so I can mount you.”

Malfoy waggled both brows.

Harry crossed his arms over his chest in exasperation. “Look, if it comes to it, I want to save myself for Ron’s sweet caresses, alright, not you, you great brooding brute.  But flying focuses me.” Harry nudged the other man’s shin with his toe. “So get to it, now, or I’ll unleash the innuendos on purpose, and Hermione will be all sad when she sees you swooning at my feet begging to be soulbound to me instead for my incredible witticisms. All this,” he said, gesturing down at himself, “was made for cracking dad jokes, baby.”

Draco gave him a strange look, and then, finally, shrugged.  “Stand back a mo, then, Daddy, and I’ll give you what you need.”

Chapter Text

“OoooooOOOooo Godric Yessssssss this is brrriiiilllliiiiannnttttt!”

Hermione sat in the afternoon light on an obliging rock near the cottage, watching the boys show off.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh--!”

Harry kept screaming and egging Draco on.  Draco kept buzzing her and trying an ever-escalating series of stunts.  They’d been at it for hours.

“Can you do a double loop? Tell me you can do a double loop!  Oh fuck yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssss yooooooooouuuuuu caaaaaaaannnnnn!!”

Hermione understood the physics of it, and she’d been on roller coasters, where the theory was roughly the same.

“How ‘bout a corkscrew during a double loop, how about that?”

Still, it seemed somewhat miraculous Harry hadn’t fallen off.  He’d sort of wedged himself between Draco’s enormous back-swept horns,  which seemed to help.

“Meeeeeeeeeeeeeerliiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnn’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallls!!!”

Draco hadn’t crashed either.  It was remarkable, really. For a new Animagus he might as well be a very acrobatic fish in water. Fruits of being a seeker?  

“Who’s a gorgeous dragon?  Who is? Who is? You are, you great arrogant scalehead, you , that’s right!”

And neither of them seemed at all tired. Because she’d been a very mature child, when she was ten, she’d frequently watched her neighbor’s four year old for afternoons in the park.

“And now maybe with some fire?  Who’s a big fiery death machine?  Who breathes fire, baby? That’s right, it’s you.  Let’s see it, then, let’s go!”

That kid, that kid could just go full tilt all afternoon, and some other little ones were like that.  But grown men - did they come that way, too…?  Oh, shite, did he just? Er…

“Oh fuck oh fuck oh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii…!!”

~

Harry was only very superficially singed, and as Hermione tried to clean his pinked skin with a soft cloth (as it was too delicate for spells), Draco hovered around them both like a hummingbird trying to find a good angle of approach to a flower, but more high strung.  Harry, meanwhile, could neither sit still or stop talking.

“Hermione, and then, and then he was like bjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjhhhh !  And I was like, oh, you can go higher, you can do it, c’mon then, and he did , and it was like woooooooooooooooo ! And then-”

“Harry, just pause a moment, okay? I have to put this aloe balm on your lips now, they’ve blistered a bit.”

“OooohgodsHarryI’msosorryI’msososorry.” Draco said, neglecting to inhale until he had to stop, “shit, man, I didn’t know that the fire ball thing would still be there when we flew forward,” Draco said, gnawing at his nails and hovering, driven to distraction by guilt. His voice had lifted at least half an octave.

“He’ll be alright,” Hermione smiled over her shoulder at Draco, still dabbing at her best friend.

Draco bit his lip doubtfully.  “I know a charm I think will grow his eyebrows back.  D’you think I could help? I feel like an utter wanker, I want to help!”

Hermione turned her face back to Harry’s, her tone even but her eyes widening in repressed mirth. “Everyone’s fine, and we learned something new, no use worrying now.”

Harry beamed.  Draco whimpered.

Hermione smirked.  “Draco, honestly, I know Harry, and the best thing I think can be done to make him feel better now?  Is to say he can borrow you sometimes. Though… maybe no pyrotechnics.”

Draco vehemently shook his head no.  Harry vehemently nodded his head yes.

Chapter Text

Hermione and Draco lay in bed, exhausted and sated and gazing into each other’s eyes, utterly besotted.  She was methodically, slowly sucking on his fingers, each in turn, while he met her eyes. He was just holding her. 

“Does this really happen?” he asked, immediately startled that he’d said it out loud rather than just thinking it.

She cocked an eyebrow in inquiry, her cheeks dented inward by the vacuum she’d formed around his ring finger.

He smiled sleepily at her, angling his head to make his gaze coy.  It made her go all languid and half-lidded, sometimes, when he did that, which he found delightful. “Can I be miserable and you be an unattainable workaholic one day, and us be in bed later the same week?  In bed together, having utterly destroyed each other, harboring a mutual expectation neither of us will sleep without the other ever again, if in fact we ever do manage to sleep? And, can we so quickly find ourselves here together with the expectation that all the details athwart that path will just, somehow, fall into place?”

Pulling slowly - so slowly - up his finger, she looked at him and, with a flick of her tongue and a smirk, nodded.

He shivered, letting his eyes half-close. “Hermione, I’m sorry I was such an unmitigated disaster of a classmate.”

She let her teeth scrape over the pad of his finger just a bit before she pulled her lips up and off him with a pop .  “I know.”  She kissed the tip of the damp finger, then blew on it softly.

“We still,” he said, finding it difficult not to be distracted as he watched her, “we still haven’t figured out why my form turned out as it did.”

“We will,” she murmured, letting her swollen mouth brush his skin as she spoke. “Eventually.”

“So, right, tell me if this is mad,” he said, “only: marry me, maybe?”

She smiled against the whorls of his fingerprint.  “Alright.”

He blinked.  “Alright?”

She smirked. “Alright.”

He looked at her, dumbstruck.

Finally, she stopped scrutinizing his hand with her mouth and looked at him thoughtfully. “Look, it’s not that it isn’t odd.  I just… I learned a long time ago that nothing is guaranteed. And at some point, that translated to me being able to just … act decisively - to just say yes , because I want you , Draco, and you melt things in me that I’d frozen and…” She shifted, frowning and searching for words. “I don’t know if you imagine I’ve spent a great deal of time like this before - all smitten and… and canoodling … but I haven’t.  I don’t know how long we’ll have together - I hope more than a century and I plan to keep you out of trouble to facilitate that as best I can. I know the bond thing is weird, but I viscerally recognize the realness of it and it helps me to be certain that what I’m feeling toward you isn’t just some impulsive infatuation, and that it can be honored without it being sheer idiocy.  Even though my new-ish decisive tendencies might once have considered this all a bridge too far, with you, I’m learning I like to listen to what I feel

“And,” she said, looking at him as if she had to rush through the rest before she lost her nerve, “I think I want to have babies with you. I know I want to have mad, passionate, baby-making sex with you, looking into those damned grey eyes and digging my heels into your ass as we come screaming and you fill me with fecund little possibilities.” She paused a moment while the look he gave her drew a flush into her cheeks, but she had to rush on, had to say it all.  “I want to be anxious and sleep-deprived and proud of our children together. I want to worry when you teach them to fly.  I want to read The Wind in the Willows and The Hobbit to little children who might have blonde heads or grey eyes.  I want your father to have to deal with the real possibility of a brown-eyed half-blood heir with darker coloring than his sacred bloodline has ever had to countenance and I want you to laugh with me about it.

“I want to see you grow old, and not just because I suspect you’re of the Sean Connery school of aging - although it must be said I rather do .” 

Draco had no idea who that was, but he made a mental note to check even as she ploughed on.  

“You’ve shown such a tremendous capacity to transform yourself to for the better, Draco,” she said, a soft edge of pleading to her words, as if she needed him to see that about himself. “I want a front row seat for what’s next.  And whenever the world goes to shit, I want you at my side next time, looking around the corners with me, shooting hexes back-to-back at whatever threat comes our way.”

He stared at her, his eyes shining and wet.  

She sighed, throwing her hands out in front of her, palms up, in a little helpless gesture.  “I’ve never noticed whatever present moment I’ve occupied to the exclusion of all my habitual analysis and anxiety before, not like I do when I’m with you.  Deities chose us to love each other through, which… okay, may be a bit of an endorsement but I suspect will be at least one adventure we’re not done with, and I want to be with you to figure out how that ends. And I find I’m desperately, madly, passionately in love with you but also incredibly happy and content and safe-feeling when I’m with you.”

She took a deep breath and glared at him in defiance as she approached the end. “So don’t look at me like someone’s Imperiused me.  I love you, you idiot, and I’ll marry you if you want to, try and stop me.”  

She tossed her hair and flashed him a daring look, rant concluded.

He blinked back at her, rubbing his eyes a moment, but eventually smirked, pulling her close against him.  “Kingsley could do it. Newgrange at Yule.”

She rubbed her nose against his. “That would be fitting - but I think it’s in Wales somewhere this year, actually.  More Mari Lwyd, fewer Muggles on years-long waitlists to Obliviate .” She considered the conversations ahead of her. “Can we not tell everyone until after?”

He nodded. “Except witnesses. My parents will have kittens but we’ll pacify them and the Gryffindor mob with a reception later - maybe for Ostara.  Unwrapping you under a tree by fairy light is just for me.”

She smiled.  

He looked at the smile as if it made him worry she wasn’t actually real. “Are you… are you sure, Hermione?”

She looked at him and lazily picked up her wand.  “Expecto Patronum.”  A large, glittering dragon streaked imperiously from the stick of vine, flying the circuit around the bed twice before she let it dissipate.

He looked at her.  “Did you know it would do that?”

She nodded. 

“So… it’s happened before?”

She shook her head.

He just looked at her. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

~

Outside the window, a many-colored voice rumbled in a deep chuckle.  Most of the colors were green - every green imaginable, and some that could not be imagined - but there were also all the shades of earth, from palest sand to darkest loam. There was some blue sky and flashes of sunset and wildflowers.  The voice had no shape, not now, but there were suggestions of leaves in wind and soaring branches - maybe even sharp points - about it.  

The presence that owned the voice watched as, again, the bodies he and his counterpart had so enjoyed inhabiting twined together. 

He let out a wistful sigh, riming the outside of the glass with the impossibly intricate patterns of his breath, remembering. He nurtured both a twinge of envy and a warming certainty that he would revisit that feeling and relish it once more.  Well. Several times more. 

If he could, he’d do it now, but he’d need to wait. 

Hmm.  He’d have to think of another suitable gift.  The first had entertained him unlike anything for centuries.  

Things had not gone to plan.  It was delightful .  Mortals hadn’t defied him properly in eons . It was like they’d just given up on all their best, most infuriating qualities.  Like they’d given up on believing, fearing, worshipping at all. 

Like there weren’t any heroes anymore.

But then...

This… this congress he witnessed, though, sighing as the woman’s stomach undulated, hips gliding to meet each of the man’s rough thrusts up into her.  This was worship, and fear, and belief. This was dark and bright and holy.

It would roll over his tongue again, in time.  In time, and from time to time, and oh, the gifts he’d give.  

It was dreadful, he thought, as the man rolled the woman beneath him, holding her down at the wrists, to think of inhabiting any less incredible a pair, now he’d remembered .

Gathering a little power about him despite the day, and despite the oppressive wards, he pulled his insubstantial fingers around, straining, into a tight, tight, tight fist - watching the celebrants speed and pant and moan.  And he held it just a moment, shivering in pleasure as they threw back their heads and, in hoarse, keening voices, screamed. 

Finally, though, he released, and they followed, falling together in a sated, exhausted heap of reverent ecstasy.  

Yes , he thought, as he faded back toward the dark and waiting woods.  Yes, dear ones - the gods are not finished with you yet.