Chapter 1: The Price of Looking
Warm Up Constellation: Draco
Word limit: 350
Result: 1st Place
The Price of Looking
Draco Malfoy shoved open the Astronomy Tower door, nausea rolling like a loose stone in his gut. He made it to the railing, gripped the cold iron with both hands, and retched over the side.
Another failure. He would never fix the cabinet in time. He and his family were as good as dead.
“Are you okay?”
Hermione Granger looked up from her telescope, a quill in one hand, her Astronomy homework on a conjured table beside her.
He wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Sod off.”
She frowned, narrowed assessing eyes. Then, she backed off the telescope. “Take a look.”
Draco hesitated. Nothing was given without a price, but he’d have to pay one soon enough, anyway. Damned in either direction.
He looked through the lens.
Hermione had increased the magnification, applied the infrared charm Sinistra had taught them, and located a nebula: elliptical, woven with blue and gold light, and haloed by a web of orange-tinted stardust. Its overlapping gas rings created a central iris, which stared at him from across the universe. Passing judgment. Delivering a stark reminder of his insignificance.
“The Cat’s Eye Nebula,” she said. “You see Draco?”
He stood from the eyepiece to glare up at his namesake, which stretched across the northern sky. Hermione traced the constellation’s shape with her finger.
“He’s curled around it, almost protective. Like he’s guarding a golden apple from the Hesperides’ garden.”
“Protective.” Draco’s lips curled at the bitter taste of it. Unbearably ironic, too, given the mythology. “Some job he did. The dragon failed. He was slain by Heracles.”
“Only in some versions.”
Her tone gave it away. What she knew, what she suspected… Neither mattered, if the alternative she offered was sincere.
The price of looking. One he was willing to pay.
“I didn’t want it. I didn’t want any of this.”
She stepped close and looked up at him, her eyes shining with starlight. Ever since they’d met, a galaxy’s worth of distance had separated them. Hermione bridged all of it with a hand on his arm and a simple request:
Chapter 2: An Annual Pattern
Week 1 Constellation: Leo
Word limit: 400
Result: 1st Place
An Annual Pattern
A set of geographic coordinates, a clear view of the north sky, and a date. Those were the conditions under which they had first agreed to meet, and they had remained consistent through their years of spy and handler.
Nothing else had.
Curt, coded notes about resources and potential targets had become laced with personal requests. An update on his mother, her death faked after the stalemate at Hogwarts, after his father was killed, after he decided to defect. Mercy for a fellow combatant, who he thought could be turned with the proper application of leverage. His fears about the present. His hope for the future. For them.
Hermione leaned against a boulder and pulled her knees to her chest. The Leonids peaked tonight. Sparks flashed and streaked across the heavens, there, gone, and there again. An annual pattern, just like theirs.
Apparition cracked the silence. Hermione palmed her wand and aimed at Draco, who stood six feet away.
“How would you have slain it?” she asked. Their code phrase, arranged last year.
Draco glanced toward the sky, at the sickle of six bright stars that shaped Leo’s head and heart. “Sticks and stones would break no bones, but words could skin that lion.”
Hermione stowed her wand. Draco sat beside her. They’d shared this sight for three years; it had felt wrong—less significant, less beautiful—in the hours she watched without him.
“I wondered if you’d come.”
“Still doubting me?”
A hanging silence and a pleading look adequately expressed her worry. Draco sobered, shifted so that their arms touched. A small comfort.
“I had trouble leaving,” he confessed.
“Are you hurt?”
A rolling shrug. “I’ll survive.”
She didn’t press. They had learned early on to trust the first answer.
“What news?” she asked.
For hours, they discussed what could not be put in letters. Details and patterns. Strategic locations and new supply routes. Theories. Timelines. And this is where they snagged.
“I want out.”
She wanted it, too.
“I’ve put in my time.”
“I deserve something normal.”
They both did.
But she forced herself to say what Headquarters had instructed. “One more year.”
He cursed and looked away, but didn’t refuse. She extended a tentative hand, threaded her fingers with his.
“Why does the lion’s heart shine so brightly?” Next year’s question.
Draco met her eyes and provided his answer. “Because my heart beats along with it.”
Chapter 3: Birdwatching
Week 2 Constellation: Pavo
Word limit: 500
Result: N/A, did not place
“Your father hates me.”
After two years, Hermione knew Draco well enough to recognize the sound of sincere concern. She leaned back from the sudsy sink and peered around him. Her parents sat at the dining table, wine glasses far too close to empty, wearing similarly pinched expressions.
“Yes, he does.”
“And your mother, she—”
“She hates you, too,” Hermione confirmed. No use in denying it.
“Shite. I told you this wasn’t going to work.”
She handed him a dinner plate to rinse and kept her reply mild. “It’s only our first night.”
“And this no magic rule... Are you sure I can’t...” Draco raised his left hand and mimicked a wave.
“Don’t you dare.”
Hermione had restored Wendell and Monica back to Hugh and Helen after the war, but trust was harder to repair than memories. Six years had passed, and still they seemed uncertain around her. Like she was a stranger they feared, not the daughter they loved.
“I’m never going to win them over.”
“You will,” she said, more confident than she felt. “You have to get to know one another. Connection through common interest.” She nudged her hip into his, prompting a grin. “It worked for us.”
Later that evening, they shared another bottle of shiraz in the rear garden. An unfamiliar sky spread like a blanket above them, the Australian night clear and mild. Draco cleared his throat, testing the silence.
“Do you hunt or fish, Hugh?”
Her father answered with a flat, “No,” and Hermione hid her grimace with her wine glass.
“Do you garden, Helen?” Her mother looked at Draco, expression blank. To Hermione’s horror, Draco took this as a positive sign. He continued: “My mother prefers plants to people most days. I’m sure she would send you some cuttings.”
“I don’t garden.”
Hermione curled her fingers around the chair’s arm to keep from cringing. He was trying so hard.
Draco leaned forward for a final attempt. “Do you have any hobbies?”
Her parents exchanged a look. “We birdwatch.”
“Birdwatch,” Draco repeated, savoring the hard-earned morsel. “My family has peacocks. They wander the grounds. Does Australia have them, too?”
Another shared look. “Yes,” Hugh said, “but we’ve never seen one.”
“Are you sure?” A smile played across Draco’s lips.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Helen said with a dismissive scoff. “They’re not hard to miss.”
“They are if you don’t know where to look.” He pointed out at the sky. “I think I see one just there.”
“I don’t see—”
“Helen!” Hugh’s chair scraped against the deck as he stood, eyes wide.
A thousand lights shimmered over the constellation Pavo, and a peacock appeared in the night sky. Its fanned tail spread glitter across the heavens, one-hundred luminous feathers waving in a celestial breeze.
Draco sheathed his wand and took her hand. Surprised shouts and the tinkle of broken glass sounded from rear gardens across the city of Melbourne, but Hermione’s parents stood silent and still. Dazzled by the magic and, for now, unafraid.
Chapter 4: Propositions
Week 3 Constellation: Pyxis
Word limit: 500
Result: N/A, did not place
The ship appears from the ether. One moment: empty water, dark and lapping against the cement berm of Liverpool’s docks. The next: a massive construction plucked from Greek mythology, long and thin, sail gathered to make port. Silent oars dip into the water, deftly steered by an absent crew. A looped mooring line secures itself over a bollard, newly grown from the cement. The ship’s hull creaks as it comes to a halt.
Hermione steps from the shadows, her hood pulled low. Nothing can go wrong tonight, and indeed, nothing will. Per usual, she’s thought of everything. A Muggle-Repelling Charm ensures privacy from the night watchmen patrols. A quick fizzle of carefully aimed electricity has disabled the cameras.
Nevertheless, her nerves jangle in anticipation. It’s more excitement than fear, the crescendo to a piece painstakingly orchestrated over three months.
A man—also hooded—steps from the gangplank.
“Jason,” she says in greeting.
“Medea.” Hermione hears the smile on his reply. They’ve both played this game of protected identities before, though these aliases are more entertaining than most. “My payment?”
She holds her hand aloft, palm up. A leather sack, fat with Galleons, appears upon it. Jason reaches for it, but Hermione pulls away.
“I need to see the cargo first.”
He leads her to a stack of crates, unlocks the topmost, and steps back. Hermione’s heart thuds as she leans over, but the cockatrice is hooded, its deathly glare contained.
“You’re aware that cockatrice are considered Class B Non-Tradeables?”
Jason scoffs. “You’re aware that I don’t care about Ministry rules?”
“Well, you should.” She flips her hood and turns on him, wand drawn. “Hermione Granger, Regulation and Control. You’re under arrest.”
He draws and fires. Hermione expects the curse. She deflects it, disarms him, conjures ropes that bind his hands and feet, and removes his hood. They trade glares over the length of her wand.
“Is anyone else aboard?”
Then, from the gangplank, the sound of slow clapping. “Well done, Granger.”
She whips around, her wand level with Draco Malfoy’s chest. A smirk curls his lips.
“What are you doing here?”
“Providing back up.”
“I don’t need an Auror.”
He looks to the trussed man behind her. “Clearly.”
“I have a proposition for you. There’s trouble brewing on the continent, and I need a specialist.”
“It couldn’t wait until business hours?”
“I wanted to see what I was getting myself into first.” He takes her in, head to toe. Hermione’s stomach swoops at the implicit approval. “Perhaps we can discuss the details over a nightcap?”
His eyes shine with the promise of adventure. It sets her alight, but it’s not in her nature to go quietly. Besides, Malfoy has a lot to prove.
She brushes past, nonchalant. “No. It’s late, and I need to get my suspect into Ministry holding.”
He practically growls, unaccustomed to the refusal, and Hermione knows the game has started. She gives him an over-the-shoulder grin.
“You can make your case over lunch tomorrow instead.”
Chapter 5: Firestarter
Week 4 Constellation: Phoenix
Word limit: 500
Result: 1st Place
NOTE: For this challenge, no entry was allowed to mention The Order of the Phoenix.
We will rise.
The posters had appeared overnight in cities around the United Kingdom. Rebellion was hardly unusual. Uprisings had sparked like meteors since Potter’s defeat, but always fizzled out, transient flickers against the tenebrous infinity of the Dark Lord’s reign.
This felt different. The posters’ simultaneous appearance indicated a thriving, country-spanning underground. Taken alongside the recent circulation of subversive fliers, and there was perhaps good reason for the Dark Lord to worry.
By mid-morning, the assignment had reached Draco’s desk, accompanied by the instruction to handle it personally or else resign the comforts attendant with the Head of Magical Law Enforcement position.
Find the culprits or suffer the consequences: a threat dulled by overuse. Nevertheless, Draco dispatched the requisite orders. One team to map the posters’ locations, a second to interview known Undesirables. He took the city patrol for himself, stalking London’s streets like a wraith.
Near midnight, he saw her. A slip of a woman, standing at the rear of an alley before a newly erected poster, muttering a Permanent Sticking Charm. He drew his wand.
“Stop. Lower your wand and turn around.”
She obeyed, hands at her sides, face wreathed in shadow. Behind her, an illustrated phoenix flashed scarlet and gold.
“Step forward. Do not attempt to cast.”
Draco’s wand-light illuminated her face, and the last seventeen years of his life disappeared as memory took hold.
A stolen moment at war’s end, occupying the brief space between Potter’s death and Voldemort’s regime. A promise of protection if only she would stay quiet and hidden. A child’s dream, he’d realized later. He wouldn’t have been able to protect her, no matter how hard he tried.
They’d shared one night together—one blissful taste of what he could have had for a touch more courage, a touch less cowardice. Then, she ran. She’d survived the fall from his bedroom window and the sprint through the manor’s gardens. She hadn’t taken anything but her wand.
Or so he’d thought.
The curly-haired witch standing before him had eyes that mirrored his own in shape, shade, and glare, and her wand bore the creeping vine pattern he knew all too well. The earth rocked beneath him, sending him spinning off axis. He braced a hand against the alley wall.
“She died.” Draco’s voice cracked. “Two weeks after she ran. I saw the report. I saw the… The photos.” He looked back up at her. Could not look enough. “Where is she? Your mother?”
The girl scowled. Draco cursed himself. Of course she wouldn’t tell him anything; she’d been raised better.
He staggered forward, twisting the signet ring off his finger and holding it out to her.
“Take this,” he said. “Give it to her. Tell her…”
What to say after a lifetime of mistakes and regret? His eyes flicked to the phoenix. A swell of hope lit within him, a fire banked too long by the weight of his failures.
He stood tall, met her gaze.
“Tell her we will rise.”
Chapter 6: Aim True
Week 5 Constellation: Libra
Word limit: 100
Result: 1st Place, Nik's Post-Petal Pick
Azkaban smells of rot. The Dementors are gone, but their presence lingers, cold spiderwebs in dark corners.
His eyes are hollow, his face thin from hardship and taut from fear. Hermione’s chest constricts, equal parts anger and empathy.
“I’ll get you out of here,” she promises. “The arc of justice bends toward truth.”
“Justice isn’t an arc.” Draco’s voice is hoarse. “It’s a bow. It bends to the strength of the wielder, and its arrow flies where she wills it.”
Their fingers entwine through iron bars.
“Aim true, Granger.”
Her arrow is knocked, drawn, and ready to fly.
Chapter 7: Guaranteed Catch
Week 6 Constellation: Orion
Word limit: Exactly 394
Result: 3rd Place
Frigid air seared Draco’s lungs as he ran through the forest. Branches bared by autumn grabbed his cloak, scratched his face with splintered fingers. Desperate, he sent a spell ahead. The overgrown deer path cleared with crackle, the branches sparking blue where they broke.
He might as well have sent up a flare.
Not thirty seconds later, the crack of Apparition. A second pair of footsteps close behind, light and fresh for the hunt.
He couldn’t be caught. He’d already failed tonight’s mission, led his team of Death Eaters into a trap. Returning meant a night of torture for him; capture meant the same, but for his parents.
Draco knew which he preferred.
He slung a curse over his shoulder, wincing as he heard it crack against a tree. He swore, cast another, and felt a moment of confusion as the world disappeared beneath his feet. The dark path ahead tilted, sank, and Draco landed hard on his back.
Hermione towered over him, wand sighted and steady.
She bent to retrieve his wand, just beyond his left hand. But Draco wasn’t above playing dirty. His right hand shot up to yank her braided hair. She fell to her knees with a cry, off-balance, and he swung an ill-aimed fist toward her face. She dodged it and threw her weight into her elbow.
She was worse than a Bludger to the gut. Draco moaned, instinctively tried to curl, even as Hermione straddled him. Her weight pressed against his chest. Her wand dug into the soft skin beneath his chin.
“Give me a reason,” she hissed.
“Do it,” he bit out. “I’ll die before I give the Order anything. I’m no use to you.”
“Agreed,” Hermione snapped. “You're no use to the Order at all. But your mother is.”
Draco stilled as understanding dawned. Narcissa had provided the intelligence that had sent him on this mission. Narcissa had suggested he lead it.
Narcissa had planned the whole thing.
“She wanted me to get caught.”
“She wanted you to get killed.” Hermione stood and offered her hand.
Draco looked from her open palm to her resolute eyes. “Why?”
“She weighed her priorities and decided to tip the scales.” Then, far more brittle: “You’re the price we all have to pay. Now come on.” She helped him to his feet. “We have a death to fake.”
Chapter 8: Arcane Omen
Week 7 Constellation: Corvus
Word limit: 500
Result: 1st Place
Hermione put little stock in tasseomancy. She read the symbols in her morning tea not as a predictor of what her day might hold, but instead as a smug reminder of coincidence. Cups that read struggle preceded easy days as often as difficult ones. Cups of good fortune could leave her crying and reaching for a bottle at the day’s end.
Cups that read illness and death were de rigueur. As a St. Mungo’s Healer, there was little doubt of those.
As a ritual, it reminded her that there were some things magic couldn’t foresee. Unknowable events could still remain in her control and under her influence. Their outcomes depended on her alone: a combination of skill, knowledge, and pattern recognition, applied judiciously after a half a lifetime of experience.
But one spring morning, a raven appeared, black and bold in the dregs. The ill omen foretold bad news and death. It sent a shiver crawling down her spine.
The leaves did not change how she performed her job, but when Scorpius Malfoy was admitted to her ward, she remembered it.
The boy lay motionless. A butterfly pulse trembled at his pale wrist, and shallow breath barely lifted his chest. His father, distraught, sat bedside, elbows on knees, head sunk against interlaced hands.
Draco looked up when she entered, his terror washing away into something like gratitude. He drew a cloth-wrapped item from thin air.
“I found him with this.”
Hermione unfolded a green apple, a child-sized bite torn from its flesh.
“I tried a bezoar,” he continued. “I didn’t know… I didn’t know where else to go.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder. He shuddered at her touch, and Hermione felt an empathetic wave. She and Ron had separated, but Astoria had died during labor. By all accounts, Draco had done the best he could as a single father. But this—waiting, helpless, as his son drifted closer to the veil between worlds—was more than could be borne alone.
He covered her hand with his, curled his fingers around hers, and squeezed. A silent show of gratitude in the face of marrow-deep fear.
“He’s stable,” she said. “The Junior Healers will notify us if anything changes.”
Normally, she would suggest he go home, try to rest. But the bright, fever-shine that glazed his grey eyes and his drawn, haunted expression, made clear the futility of that suggestion. Instead, she chose a different path.
“I need to analyze this if I’m to brew an antidote. Come with me to the lab. It might help you…”
It was then that Hermione remembered a third, arcane reading for a raven sitting amongst the leaves. It was a harbinger of transition; of endings that led to new beginnings, the change hurried by hardship and made memorable by strife.
The feeling of surety Hermione had been missing all day suddenly returned.
She was going to save Scorpius. If she persisted, maybe she could heal the broken man before her, too.
Chapter 9: Drown
Week 8 Constellation: Eridanus
Word limit: Exactly 100
Result: Did not place
Draco had learned to swim the conventional way: in a quiet, balmy pool in the manor’s basement. It had been a controlled environment, safe and easy to navigate. Predictable and dull.
Hermione was the opposite.
The woman cut through the world like a river, with quick currents and treacherous curves. Her still waters beckoned; Draco knew they ran deeper than he dared venture on a single breath.
He didn’t care. He wanted the risk, the danger, and the fight of loving someone he couldn’t control.
And if he drowned, then so be it.
At least he would drown in her.
Chapter 10: Reins of Power
Week 8 Constellation: Eridanus
Word limit: 400
Result: Admin's Choice
Reins of Power
The room erupted into applause as yet another county turned purple.
It wasn’t surprising: every reputable pollster had Hermione leading by at least six points. But to see the predictions bear out, to know what they meant…
She smiled at Draco, and a sudden wave of tenderness brought tears to her eyes. He noticed—after fifteen years of marriage, he always noticed—and offered his hand.
They navigated through the excited crush of her campaign staff. She did her job, nodding and smiling, congratulating and thanking, while Draco deflected offers for photos. He closed her office door.
Hermione leaned against her desk, arms crossed. Her doubts had been growing with her poll numbers over the preceding months. Only now, with her victory assured, did she feel the enormity of her accomplishment.
“What if it’s too much for me?”
“It won’t be.”
“But what if it is?”
Draco closed the gap between them. “It won’t be because it can’t be. You hold the reins of power now, Hermione. You have a responsibility to your constituents. And because of the work we’ve done, you’ll actually be able to keep your promises.”
Work they’d done the right way.
She could’ve used money and influence to gain an advantage. In those early days, when her campaign was struggling to attract donors, she’d seriously considered it.
But Hermione had decided against.
She didn’t want to be indebted to special interests: a representative of the many controlled by the few. She needed to be clean. Only someone with unquestionable integrity could implement sweeping social and economic reforms without losing the public’s trust.
Another cheer drew her eyes toward the office door.
Draco grinned. “Remembering why you wanted to run?”
“Remembering that we planned for this,” she said. “And you’re right: there’s too much at stake. Equal rights and representation for Beings of all colors, creeds, and orientations. Faster, more affordable access to healthcare. An equitable tax structure that ensures the wealthy pay their due.”
She stood tall, smiled as Draco captured her lips in a kiss.
“Let’s head back out,” he suggested. “We have a long night of celebrating ahead.”
“Indeed we do. And when the sun rises tomorrow, it will shine upon a more equitable world. Are you with me?”
A nod to her campaign slogan. He took her hand and kissed the back of her palm.
“I’m with you,” he answered. “Always.”