The owl was there again.
Glossy, white feathers, piercing, golden eyes, it watched quietly from its usual perch on the old oak tree up near the old greenhouses. A patch of darker feathers spread across one wing, which is how Hermione knew it was the same owl each time.
She studiously kept her eyes averted, holding her books a little closer to her chest. Even so, she could feel it watching her as she hurried along. She was the only one who used this route, the quickest way from the library to Hagrid’s hut. She knew the groundskeeper had been missing Harry and Ron this year - they’d not come back to Hogwarts, choosing to go straight into Auror training with the DMLE - and made an effort to visit him on Saturday afternoons in between her study sessions.
And every time, the owl had been there, watching her.
She only ever saw it on the weekends. She’d started paying extra attention to the owl deliveries at breakfast, watching each bird as it swooped low over the tables, but she’d never seen the same one.
Hermione resolved to put the strange, watchful owl out of her mind and returned to the library to get back to work on her Transfiguration essay.
The next day, Hermione sighed as she approached the stone griffin that guarded Headmistress McGonagall’s office. This monthly ritual, held every last Sunday of the month, always left her with a sour taste in her mouth.
Then again, she thought as the griffin gave way and she climbed the stairs to the office, at least she wasn’t Malfoy.
Everyone was already waiting for her: Professor McGonagall, her lips thin; Gawain Robards, head of the DMLE; Percy Weasley, aide to the Minister of Magic.
And Draco Malfoy, arms crossed and scowling.
Malfoy didn’t look up as Hermione walked in, but she didn’t blame him. It was awkward enough that she, as the most senior student, had been chosen to be Malfoy’s advocate. There was no need to actually make eye contact while these sessions happened.
Robards pulled out his parchment list and ran through the usual questions. Malfoy replied in a monotone as Percy made a big show of examining his wand and making a note of the results.
Malfoy had apologised to Hermione, one day in the first week of their eighth year. It was awkward and painful, Malfoy barely meeting her eyes while Hermione felt all the heat in her body rush to her face and tried her hardest not to scratch at the scar on her arm. She’d been glad when it was over, actually, and she’d been able to escape to her room in the eighth year dorms. But still, he had apologised, and she had resolved to forgive, although she knew she could never forget.
‘Miss Granger, anything to add from you?’
Hermione looked up in surprise at Robards words to find the whole room - minus Malfoy - staring at her expectantly.
Hermione hesitated for a moment. In the past few months since school began, she’d never been asked to comment on Malfoy’s parole meetings before. In the stretching silence, Malfoy finally looked up at her, grey eyes flashing with cold interest.
‘Oh, um, well,’ Hermione began, trying to ignore Malfoy’s hostile gaze and the heavy weight of three other pairs of eyes on her. ‘I mean, Malfoy has been perfectly well-behaved from what I’ve seen,’ she said, wondering what they wanted from her. ‘He’s excelling academically as well; he’s the only person taking as many N.E.W.T.s as I am, and his work standard is… brilliant,’ she finished feebly.
It was true, after all, from the group work they’d done together in Arithmancy and Potions.
Malfoy lowered his gaze and appeared to battle to keep something like a smirk off his face. Hermione caught McGonagall’s eye, and the headmistress gave her a satisfied sort of smile that made Hermione think she’d said the right thing.
Robards, meanwhile, was silent as he wrote something on his form, giving Hermione a short nod of his head. ‘Excellent, thank you, Miss Granger. Malfoy, we’ll see you in a month.’
Considering herself dismissed, Hermione turned to go, hiding her surprise as Malfoy got to his feet and followed her out. He looked at her only once more, as they stepped out into the hallway.
‘Granger,’ he said quietly, and before she could respond, he’d stalked off down the corridor towards the dungeons.
Hermione didn’t see Malfoy again that day. He wasn’t at dinner, and she couldn’t see him in the common room, despite casting a surreptitious eye around for his distinctive white-blond hair. It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that she saw him at the Slytherin table, his Arithmancy book open in front of him, ignoring his younger housemates as he ate his toast and studied. She watched him carefully, as he scratched at his forearm - where she knew, beneath his robes, the faded Dark Mark was - and wondered idly how he’d been finding being back in Hogwarts after all that had happened in the school.
A moment later, Neville reached over Hermione for the pumpkin juice, Ginny laughed from across the table as Luna got to the end of some rambling story about a made-up creature, and Hermione’s reverie broke. She bit into her own toast, resolving to put Malfoy out of her mind.
Hermione had other things to concentrate on anyway: schoolwork and friends and the mystery of the diurnal owl.
Hermione, being Hermione, decided to get to the bottom of the owl mystery. She felt a little silly the following Friday evening as she pulled Harry’s invisibility cloak from her trunk. Harry had pushed it into her hands when he and Ron waved her off at King’s Cross at the start of term. ‘Just in case, Hermione,’ he’d pleaded, eyes worried. ‘Just so I know you have it if you need it.’ The war, and the final battle, had left its toll on them all in different ways, so Hermione had taken the cloak with a smile and pressed a kiss to Harry’s cheek.
It was soft and fluid beneath her hands, familiar and comforting, in a way. She pulled it around herself, keeping her wand by her side, and crept out of the common room.
As was usual for the start of the weekend, the other eighth years had already started on a contraband bottle of Firewhisky, the Wizarding Wireless turned all the way up, the Weird Sisters drowning the common room in a blaring of music.
No one seemed to notice the common room door open and close, seemingly by itself.
Once out in the corridor, Hermione hurried along, managing to guiltily avoid Ginny on Prefect patrol and Peeves the Poltergeist, who was hanging upside down and humming maniacally to himself just outside the Great Hall. As she escaped into the courtyard, the cool November air made her shiver, but she cast a silent warming charm and carried on, taking her usual route that led her towards Hagrid’s hut.
As she passed the old greenhouses along the way, she looked up at the old oak tree. Sure enough, the snowy owl was there, watching and waiting as usual. Its enormous eyes focused on her, despite the invisibility cloak, and Hermione froze in her tracks, belatedly remembering that owls have exceptionally good hearing. For a few long, nerve-wracking seconds, the owl was still and watching, until it seemed to decide there was nothing there and swivelled its head back to look into the darkness of the forest, ruffling its feathers and giving a long, low hoot.
Hermione quietly sank to the ground, warming charm still holding strong, and watched. For almost an hour, the owl just sat on its branch, head swivelling as it looked around itself, and watched the evening fall on the forest.
Just as Hermione was completely numb from sitting so still for so long and ticking herself off for being so paranoid - the war was over, after all, she needed to stop being suspicious at every little thing - the owl spread its long, white wings and launched itself from the branch.
Hermione leapt to her feet, holding the cloak tight around her, and followed the owl as it glided silently through the trees. When it was deep in the forest, she thought it was going to land on another branch, but instead it turned on its wing and dived towards the ground.
Rather than snatching up some poor, innocent mouse in its sturdy talons, there was a flurry of magic, and a cloaked figure landed lightly on two feet, in human form.
As Hermione stared with wide eyes and bated breath, the figure cast a careful look around themselves before lowering their hood and turning towards where Hermione stood, invisible and uninvited.
Draco Malfoy’s cautious, silver eyes gazed right through her.
Hermione almost ran back to her dorm after Draco left the forest, her mind rushing with confused thoughts.
The owl that watched her every Friday evening was an Animagus.
Draco Malfoy was an Animagus.
She knew he was unregistered: the Ministry would definitely not have let him back to Hogwarts if they’d known.
And if they found out…
Hermione reached her dorm, darting inside and slamming the door behind herself. She tossed the cloak back into her trunk and sank onto her bed, wishing - not for the first time - that Harry and Ron had come back this year. She missed having them to talk things through with, to bounce ideas off.
If she told McGonagall, the headmistress would have to tell Robards. And if Robards knew, Hermione was fairly sure Malfoy would be carted off to Azkaban, all thoughts of probation ruined. For a brief moment, she wondered how and when he’d learned to become an Animagus before shaking her head and focusing back on the problem at hand.
She was still battling about what to do as she got changed into her pyjamas and lay in bed, staring blankly at the dark ceiling, missing the sound of other people sleeping in the same room as her. Even Ron’s snoring would be a comfort right now.
It was as she was drifting off to sleep that the idea occurred to her.
After all, when had Hermione Granger ever passed up on an opportunity to learn something?
Hermione hunted Malfoy down the next day. Most of the eighth years spent their Saturdays in Hogsmeade or else playing Quidditch or Gobstones or anything other than studying like they should be.
Malfoy, however, seemed to spend as much time in the library as Hermione did.
She found him at his usual table, at the back of the library, hidden behind a stack of books on ancient runes.
Hermione sat herself down opposite him, ignoring his look of surprise.
‘I know your secret,’ Hermione hissed, without preamble.
Malfoy looked at her, warily. ‘What are you on about, Granger?’ he drawled with such innocent arrogance that Hermione would have been impressed if she weren’t so focused on getting what she wanted. She cast a wandless Muffliato, noting with pleasure Malfoy’s look of shock.
‘About a certain owlish appearance you take on every Friday night,’ she whispered despite the spell, and for the briefest of seconds, a look of pure horror crossed Malfoy’s face. Almost immediately his face was impassive again, and he looked almost bored, arching a disdainful eyebrow at her.
‘So, what, Granger? Is this you telling me to enjoy my last night as a free man? That the Aurors come for me at dawn?’ Although he looked unbothered, Hermione could hear the tension in his voice. For some reason, it tugged sharply at her stomach.
‘I won’t tell,’ she said, and Malfoy’s silver eyes widened in surprise. ‘Not if you teach me how to do it.’
His eyes narrowed at that, and his mouth twisted into a sneer. ‘Blackmail, Granger?’ he snarled, his eyes flashing furiously. ‘And here I was, thinking you were different.’
She felt herself flush at his words, but she crossed her arms and waited patiently until he sighed dramatically and looked up to the ceiling in exasperation.
‘Fine. I’ll teach you. I need a few days to prepare. I’ll come and find you when I’m ready to start.’ He packed away his books as he spoke, angrily shoving them into his bag. When he was done he stood up, pushing his chair back with a loud clatter. ‘I warn you though, Granger. It’s fucking hard work.’
Hermione snorted inelegantly, pushing down a laugh. She’d brewed Polyjuice Potion in her second year, for Merlin’s sake. ‘I think I’ll manage just fine, Malfoy,’ she retorted, and his silver eyes flashed at her once more before he stormed from the library, leaving Hermione sitting alone and, strangely, feeling a little sad.
Step One: The Mandrake Leaf
Malfoy was infuriatingly aloof for the next few days. Four of them, to be precise. On a midweek afternoon, the day of the full moon, Hermione was walking back to her dorm from her History of Magic class when she was pulled unceremoniously into a broom cupboard. A large, firm hand covered her mouth before she could speak, and she could feel the breath and the body of her attacker behind her, holding her still.
‘Hush, Granger,’ a familiar voice drawled, and Malfoy loosened his grip ever so slightly, as if to check if she would run off when given leave.
‘What the hell, Malfoy?’ Hermione hissed when he removed his hand from her mouth, trying not to dwell on the fact that his fingers had brushed her lips as he pulled away, soft and gentle, like a lover.
She could practically hear him smirk in the darkness.
‘I didn’t think you’d appreciate me accosting you in the common room in front of all your friends,’ he replied, and Hermione settled for scowling, unseen, as she couldn’t deny his words. ‘Besides, I’m about to help you secretly undergo a very illegal magical ritual. I didn’t think you’d want everyone in eighth year knowing about that.’
‘Fine. What is this about, then?’
Malfoy cast a Lumos, and the tip of his wand glowed in the darkness of the cupboard, bathing everything in a silvery, moon-like light. With his other hand, Malfoy held a single, dark leaf. Hermione took it from him, gingerly sniffing it in the gloom.
‘Mandrake leaf?’ she said in surprise, and Malfoy nodded.
‘Step one of becoming an Animagus is easy,’ he said, although the nasty grin on his face suggested otherwise. ‘All you have to do is keep this leaf in your mouth for an entire month. Until the next full moon, to be precise.’
Hermione looked from the innocuous leaf in her hand to Draco’s smug expression, disbelief flooding her veins. ‘You have got to be kidding.’ She sighed, and Draco’s grin widened.
‘Afraid not, Granger. Don’t chew it, or accidentally swallow it, or remove it for any reason. If you do, we’ll have to start all over again.’
Hermione nodded glumly. She’d have to start using a cleansing charm on her teeth, and eat carefully, and not speak as much in class. ‘Great,’ she muttered, and carefully placed the leaf in her mouth.
Malfoy nodded, a look of satisfaction on his face. ‘Good. Next full moon, we’ll meet up again.’
Step Two: A crystal phial and a silver teaspoon of dew
The next full moon could not come fast enough.
If someone had told Hermione she’d have to keep that blasted leaf in her mouth for another day, she’d have spat it at their feet and then hexed them into the next week.
As the full moon rose, Hermione slipped out of the common room in the invisibility cloak, and made her way up to the clock tower. Malfoy was waiting for her, as they’d agreed. He gave her a look that, if Hermione didn’t know better, could have passed for impressed.
‘Good work, Granger,’ Malfoy said as she walked up to him. He held something in his hand, and when he saw her looking, he gently unfurled his palm, showing a tiny crystal phial, glinting in the moonlight.
‘I left this up here last full moon,’ he explained, passing it to her. ‘It’s received the pure rays of the moon. ‘Put the mandrake leaf in there, along with one of your hairs.’
Hermione unstoppered the phial, and carefully drew the saliva-drenched leaf out of her mouth. ‘Thank Merlin for that,’ she sighed gratefully, and Malfoy laughed as she curled it into the phial.
‘It’s grim, isn’t it? No wonder not many people go through with this.’
As Malfoy instructed, Hermione plucked one of her long, dark hairs from her head and added it to the bottle, looking up at him expectantly.
‘Now, we head to the Forest,’ said Malfoy.
He and Hermione cast Disillusionment charms on themselves - Hermione wasn’t keen on letting Malfoy find out about Harry’s invisibility cloak - and she followed him down the stairs of the tower and out into the courtyard. They walked in silence towards the Forbidden Forest until Hermione’s curiosity got the better of her.
‘Where did you find out how to do this?’ she asked. ‘I’ve searched the library from top to bottom, even the restricted section, and there is nothing in there about becoming an Animagus.’
Malfoy snorted in amusement. ‘Well, I’m not surprised. The last thing Hogwarts wants is for students to be attempting something as dangerous as becoming an Animagus.’ He gave her a wry sideways look at that, acknowledging their own attempt. ‘However, Malfoy Library is one of the best private magical libraries in the world. I found all the information I needed there.’
They were silent for a little longer, Hermione still clutching her tiny crystal phial, turning his words over in her mind. Despite telling herself she’d never want to set foot in Malfoy Manor again, the thought of having access to a library such as Malfoy’s was enough for her to add a caveat to her promise.
‘Why did you decide to do it?’ she eventually asked, once they were deep in the forest, Disillusionment charms dropped. ‘I mean, if it’s this complicated and time-consuming. Why bother?’
Malfoy didn’t reply at first, raising his wand to cut down a vine-ridden path so they could carry on into the darkness. Eventually he sighed, and Hermione wondered if he’d been battling with himself about whether to answer her question or not.
‘I was on house arrest all summer, Granger,’ he said, quiet in the night. ‘Stuck in that Manor, with all of those memories. Completely alone while my parents were in Azkaban awaiting trial.’
Hermione stayed silent, her stomach churning uncomfortably. Her own summer had been a mess of anxiety and panic attacks and the terrifying realisation that her Obliviation of her parents may well be irreversible. It had been terrible, but at least she’d had her friends. Harry and Ron and Ginny and Neville and Luna, all living at Grimmauld Place, looking after each other.
‘I needed to do something, anything, to keep my mind busy,’ Malfoy continued. ‘Becoming an Animagus seemed… suitably complex enough to distract me.’ He held his wand up, a low Lumos lighting up the entrance to a cave.
‘Where are we?’ Hermione wondered out loud, and Malfoy led the way into the cave mouth.
‘We are somewhere we can get what you need next,’ Malfoy replied, a little cryptically. He didn’t speak again until his wand lit up a bluish patch of grass, growing in the darkness from the cold, slimy stone of the cave. It glistened slightly with dewdrops that sparkled in the wand light. Malfoy pulled something from his robes and passed it to Hermione.
It was a tiny, silver teaspoon, the handle stamped with the Malfoy crest.
‘“Add a silver teaspoon of dew from a place that neither sunlight nor human feet have touched,”’ he quoted, and Hermione did as he instructed, carefully spooning the dew into the phial. She stoppered it again, and looked at Malfoy expectantly.
He smiled, slow and sweet. ‘We wait. Seven days. Then we’ll meet at the clock tower again for the next stage.’
Step Three: The chrysalis of a Death’s-head hawkmoth.
Seven days later, Hermione met Malfoy back in the clock tower. He was leaning against the high railings when she arrived, his white-blond hair ruffled gently by the night air as he looked out over the sprawling forest below.
She joined him, neither of them speaking, leaning next to him. It was quiet, the sky cloudless and full of distant, sparkling stars, chips of ice against the blackness of night.
It was peaceful, and she sighed happily. Malfoy shifted very slightly, enough for his arm to brush against hers, leaving a trail of fire as he did.
‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it.’ Malfoy spoke quietly, as if afraid to break the spell. Hermione nodded, smiling.
‘It really is,’ she replied. Then, Malfoy cleared his throat and pushed himself off the railings, and the peace broke.
‘I have something for you,’ he said, his voice back to normal, and Hermione leaned back against the railings, waiting, as he placed a hand into his robes. For a split second, she dreamily wondered what kind of gifts Malfoy would give to a lover. Something exquisite and generous, she decided, and carefully thought-out.
She held out her palm, and Malfoy dropped something small and dark into it, an inscrutable kind of grin on his face. Oh no, she thought to herself warily. Was Malfoy a Legilimens? Had he heard her idly wondering about how he would treat his girlfriend? To stop herself dwelling on these uncomfortable thoughts, she brought her hand up to her face, peering at the strange, furred husk in her palm.
‘Is this a chrysalis?’ she asked in surprise.
‘It is, Granger,’ Malfoy replied. ‘The chrysalis of a Death’s-head hawkmoth, to be exact.’
‘Where on earth did you get this?’
‘I had it sent from Slug and Jiggers,’ he said, easily, as if writing to the Diagon Alley apothecary for a rare potion ingredient just to satiate Hermione’s magical whims was a usual occurrence for him.
Then she remembered her threat to him, at the start. I won’t tell. Not if you teach me how to do it. Her heart sank in her chest, and she kept her eyes lowered. Of course he wasn’t helping because he wanted to. He was doing this to avoid Azkaban.
‘I should pay you for it,’ Hermione said, quietly, and she saw Malfoy shift on his feet, a small, puzzled frown appearing on his face.
‘Don’t worry about it, Granger,’ he said, softly.
She took a deep breath to clear her head, and looked up at him, refusing to seem upset in front of him. His silver eyes were guarded, one eyebrow raised very slightly as if in confusion.
‘What do I do with this, then?’ she asked brightly, hiding away the dull ache in her heart.
‘You add it to the phial,’ Malfoy explained, and Hermione pulled out the little crystal jar from her robes. She’d been carrying it around with her the whole week, very unwilling to spend another month with a Mandrake leaf in her mouth if anything happened to her potion. She unstoppered the phial and gently pushed in the delicate chrysalis. She looked through the glass, the dark green leaf curled around the chrysalis, the dewdrops still sparkling, the long, dark strand of her own hair tangling around it all.
‘What next?’ She hoped it would be something easier, this time.
‘You have to put it somewhere dark and quiet and forget about it. You can’t look at it, can’t even think about looking at it. Put it somewhere you’re not going to be tempted to check.’
Hermione frowned as she thought it over. Somewhere in the castle would be too easy to want to see if it was still there. Somewhere in the forest too dangerous. Somewhere outside of the Wizarding world too risky. She looked up, the perfect place occurring to her.
‘Come on,’ she said, not even pausing to consider that Malfoy didn’t need to be with her for this bit. He just smiled and gave a nod of his head as if to say lead the way.
She took them to the Shrieking Shack. It was empty and abandoned still, the rumours of monsters and werewolves and ghosts enough to keep students and Hogsmeade locals away. She led the way up the rickety stairs, right up to the top floor. There was a dark, dusty wardrobe in the corner of the dark, dusty room, and Hermione opened it and carefully placed the tiny crystal jar on an empty shelf, closing the door and confining it to darkness. She looked expectantly at Malfoy.
‘Now comes the hardest part,’ Malfoy said, making Hermione wince. ‘At least, it was for me. We have to wait until we have an electrical storm.’
We, he’d said. Hermione felt a warmth spread through her chest at that before she processed his words. ‘A storm? That could take months!’
‘Afraid so, Granger,’ he said.
She had an image of Malfoy under house arrest at the Manor, having put in all the hard work of the Animagus charm, waiting desperately for an electrical storm over the summer. There must have been moments when he’d worried that he’d be sent to Azkaban before the spell was complete.
‘Okay,’ she said, humbled into perspective. ‘Until the next electrical storm.’
Malfoy held out a scrap of parchment, and Hermione took it from him. Written on it, in purple ink in Malfoy’s elegant script, were the words Amato Animo Animato Animagus.
‘Every sunrise and sunset, without fail, you must place your wand tip to your heart and speak this incantation.’
She nodded, reading over the words and carefully folding the parchment, tucking it into her robes. She and Malfoy faced each other, and Hermione couldn’t help the wave of sadness that flowed over her.
‘So, we won’t get to… I mean, there’s no reason for us to, er, hang out? Until then?’ She could feel herself blushing furiously as she stumbled over her words, angry with herself for letting them out at all.
Malfoy just regarded her carefully, his eyes thoughtful, before shrugging and shoving his hands into his pockets.
‘There is that Advanced Arithmancy partner project coming up,’ he said, his voice just a touch too casual. ‘I suppose we could work on it together. If you wanted.’ He kicked at the dusty floor as if he didn’t care either way, but Hermione could see the way he held his breath, waiting for her to reply.
‘I’d like that,’ she whispered, and Malfoy smiled at the ground, sending a thrill of happiness through her.
Step Four: Amato Animo Animato Animagus
‘Draco!’ Hermione burst into the common room one evening a few weeks later, just after the sun had set. To her horror she realised several eighth year students were still up, studying or just sitting around the fireplace, reading or talking.
Everyone looked up at Hermione’s cry. Her heart beat frantically in her chest, and she knew her eyes were wide and alarmed.
Draco stood from his table in the corner. He had an ancient runes book open in front of him and was the only student sitting alone in the common room. Hermione never really saw him with any other students, even the Slytherins.
‘Don’t tell me you’ve found an error in our Arithmancy project, Granger.’ Draco’s voice was colder than usual, and louder. Hermione gaped at him, until he gave a surreptitious nod of his head towards the room and the turned heads of the other students. She realised he was giving her a cover for why she wanted to talk to him.
‘Oh, er, yes, actually,’ she stammered, realising she was still holding her wand in front of her, brandishing it like a madwoman. She lowered it and turned away from the common room, her ears burning as the low murmurs of gossip rippled through the room. Draco followed her as she walked back to her room, hesitating at the threshold only momentarily before joining her in her room. She closed the door and turned to him, excitement and alarm still fizzing in her veins.
‘I felt something,’ she hissed, and Draco smirked and crossed his arms.
‘I need a little more than that, Granger,’ he drawled indulgently.
‘Another heartbeat. When I spoke the enchantment just now.’
Draco’s eyes darkened, and he took a step forward. ‘A second heartbeat? That’s excellent, Granger. It’s working!’
She beamed up at him when he said those words, excitement still tingling from her fingertips to the ends of her hair. There was a comfortable, pleased silence hanging between them, and Hermione didn’t want to break it.
She also didn’t want Draco to have to leave, she realised, and cast around for something to keep him with her a little longer.
‘Why do you think you became an owl?’ she asked, giving in to the lingering curiosity that had haunted her since she first found out about his being an Animagus.
Something in Draco’s expression shifted, and he frowned at the floor before looking up again. His eyes were softer than usual, Hermione thought, and she was struck with how alike the colour was to the stormy grey of a raincloud. Sad and heavy and lonely.
‘Did you know in Celtic folklore, owls have a tradition of being signs of the underworld, harbingers of death and misfortune?’ Draco looked haunted as he spoke, and Hermione reached out and took his hand almost as if in a dream.
‘Draco,’ she said gently, and he gave her a desperate look, not pulling his hand away. ‘You know semantics is a very cloudy subject. Death in symbolism often doesn’t mean literal death: it’s about change, renewal, new beginnings. I think an owl is a perfect symbol. A symbol of hope.’
Draco gave her the tiniest scrap of a smile before gently pulling his hand away, clearing his throat. When he looked back up, his eyes were clear and cool, and he looked as unaffected as usual.
‘Enough chit-chat, Granger,’ he drawled, and Hermione bit her lip to hide a grin. He was clearly feeling himself again. ‘We do actually have an Arithmancy project to work on, after all. Might as well do some work on it now you’ve interrupted my studying.’
The weeks carried on, and Draco and Hermione grew closer still. They worked on their project together, studied in the library together, and when the time came around for Draco’s parole meeting, they walked to the Headmistress’s office side by side, in pensive silence. As they waited for the griffin to reveal the staircase to them, Hermione reached out and gave Draco’s hand a comforting squeeze, and he looked over at her and smiled gratefully.
The meeting went much as usual, McGonagall thin-lipped, Percy Weasley looking down his nose, Robards frowning and laconic. Draco made an effort to be forthcoming and friendly, which just made Percy regard him with more suspicion than usual. As Percy and Weasley stood to leave, Hermione cleared her throat, making Robards pause in his movements and look at her with curiosity colouring his gaze.
‘Miss Granger,’ he said, mildly. ‘You had something to add?’
Hermione ignored Draco’s warning look, and gathered her Gryffindor courage.
‘Yes, I do,’ she said, her voice loud in the quiet of the room. ‘I merely wondered how much longer Mr Malfoy will have to undergo this monthly humility.’
Draco made a soft sound of disbelief, while Percy puffed up like an angry peacock. Robards mild expression never changed, but Hermione was sure she could see the hint of a smile in the headmistress’s expression. Hermione held her head high and continued.
‘It has been six months now, since you first started your monthly interrogation of Draco, and he has proven nothing but repentant, obedient, and tolerant. Alongside the fact that everything he did during the war was as a minor, with no choice in the matter, I would have thought the Ministry would be satisfied with his demeanour and consider these farcical meetings complete.’
There was a stunned silence for a minute, as Hermione breathed heavily. Finally, Robards nodded, ever so slightly. ‘I will make sure your recommendation gets passed along to the Minister,’ he responded, ignoring Percy’s quiet snort of dissatisfaction from behind him. Robards and Percy turned towards the fireplace, and Draco stood next to Hermione.
‘Thank you,’ he all but whispered, his fingers brushing against hers in a ghost of a touch. Percy stepped through the Floo, and Robards hesitated, turning back with his handful of Floo powder.
‘Have you ever considered going into magical law, Miss Granger?’ Robards asked casually, a flicker of a grin on his face. ‘I have no doubt you would have a most transcendent career.’
Step Five: The electrical storm
The sound of her surname, called out in a frantic cry, pulled Hermione from a dream.
‘Granger, wake up!’
A moment later she was fully awake, her wand in her hand, sitting up in bed as she peered into the gloom. From her window, a lightning bolt struck, bathing her room in a strange, silvery light, one that matched Draco’s eyes. Eyes that were watching her now, as he stood before her, his wand tip lit up with a Lumos.
‘The electrical storm,’ he urged, as the room lit up with another lightning strike. ‘It’s time!’
Understanding flooded her all of a sudden, and she was up on her feet in seconds, halfway to the door in her excitement before the chill of the stone against her feet reminded her she was dressed only in pyjamas. The rain started to pick up, pattering against the window pane like a prisoner trying to escape a cell.
‘I have to— turn around!’ she said, voice husky with sleep, and Draco did as he was told, turning his back to her. ‘Accio!’ Hermione cried out, and her clothes flew to her from different parts of the room. She dressed hurriedly, pulling her thick winter cloak around her and spelling it with an Impervius to make it waterproof.
‘Let’s go,’ she urged, and Draco looked over his shoulder, giving her a sweet, little smile, before casting a Disillusionment spell over both of them and leading the way from her room.
They got soaked on the walk to the Shrieking Shack, even with the Impervius giving them some protection. The rain fell harder and harder, and the lightning struck over and over again as the air buzzed with static. The Shack howled and creaked in the wind, their footsteps on the old floor boards drowned by the sounds of the storm.
Hermione flung the wardrobe door open, relief washing over her when she saw the tiny, crystal phial still in place, undisturbed. She crouched down to pick it up, Draco hovering over her shoulder.
‘Did it work?’ he asked, crowding to see. ‘There should be a mouthful of red potion, if it’s worked.’
Hermione held her breath and cast a non-verbal Lumos. The end of her wand lit up with a gentle, golden light - so soft compared to the jagged silver streaks from the lightning - and she pointed it at the phial.
Gone was the mandrake leaf that she’d held in her mouth for so long she could still feel the shape and texture of it on her tongue. Gone was the single strand of her own hair, and the silver dewdrops that had clung to it before. Gone was the hawkmoth chrysalis, a strange gift from an old enemy, given freely.
In their place, a swallow of potion, dark red and glistening, as if blood.
‘It worked,’ Draco whispered. ‘You did it.’
‘We did it,’ Hermione objected, reaching up without thinking to take his hand. Without his help, she would never have even made it this far. Draco didn’t pull his hand away, holding onto hers and giving it a gentle squeeze.
‘Come on,’ he said, pulling her to her feet. ‘Let’s head out into the forest. You need space and solitude for your first transformation.’
‘Solitude?’ She looked up at Draco in alarm, but he laughed, soft and quiet, and tenderly brushed back a wet, loose curl behind her ear.
‘Don’t worry, Granger,’ he murmured. ‘I’ll be with you the whole time.’
Final Step: The first transformation
They stood in a clearing deep in the Forbidden Forest. The electrical storm still raged about them, and Draco faced Hermione, a grim look in his eyes.
‘Listen carefully, Granger,’ he said, his voice cool and calm despite the enormity of what she was about to do. ‘A lot is going to happen. You need to speak the Animagus spell one more time, and drink the potion. You’ll feel pain - it was like fire for me, just beneath my skin - and that second heartbeat you felt a few weeks ago? That will come back, but stronger.’
He paused slightly, looking at Hermione with gentleness in his gaze. ‘With me so far?’ he asked, and Hermione nodded wordlessly and clutched her phial closer to her heart.
‘The shape of your Animagus form will then appear in your mind. You must accept it, Granger. You can’t be scared, or disappointed. It’s the shape you’ve willed it to be, all those dawns and dusks you cast the spell. It will be the right one for you. You’ll change minutes after that.’
Hermione nodded, tightening her grip on her wand. The lightning seemed brighter out here in the trees, closer than it had been before.
‘I’ll stay in human form to make sure everything goes smoothly,’ Draco added, and Hermione felt relief knowing he would be there to watch over her. ‘And to put your wand somewhere safe once you’re transformed.’
Hermione held all of the instructions in her head, repeating them until she could easily recall them. ‘How do I turn back?’
‘Just hold your human form in your mind,’ Draco replied, and Hermione took a deep breath and held her wand to her heart.
‘One last thing, Granger,’ Draco said, and when she looked up, he was watching her with a smirk on his face. She raised an eyebrow, waiting, and Draco’s grin widened. ‘It’s best to be naked for the first transformation.’
Hermione narrowed her eyes and lowered her wand. ‘You’ve got to be joking,’ she muttered, but he shook his head.
‘First transformations can be hairy. Literally,’ he added with a small laugh. ‘Fabric, metal, leather can all end up melded to skin and feather and fur. Being naked is the safest way, until you’re competent.’
Hermione watched him through suspicious eyes, but Draco seemed to be speaking in earnest.
‘Fine,’ she said, carefully placing her wand and the phial on the ground before her, unclasping her cloak and tossing it aside. ‘But turn your back. And no peeking until I’m transformed!’
Draco nodded and turned, and Hermione hurriedly undressed, shivering as she stood naked in the rain. The ground was wet and loamy beneath her toes, and the stormy wind ruffled her hair. She picked up her wand, pointing it at her hand and saying the now-familiar incantation.
Draco stayed turned away.
She unstoppered the potion and swallowed the thick, red liquid, grimacing a little at the bitter, stale taste.
As Draco had said, a fiery, burning pain engulfed her body, enough to make her gasp and double over, clutching her stomach. She saw Draco tense at the noise, and he clenched his hands into fists but didn’t turn around. The second heartbeat returned, hammering painfully in her chest like a stampeding erumpent. She fell to her knees in the dirt, gritting her teeth and closing her eyes against the discomfort, when an image flew before her mind’s eye.
A low, silent swoop of wings.
A piercing, golden gaze.
A symbol of renewal and rebirth.
Hermione grunted as she felt her body start to change shape, uncomfortable but not painful, and with a final gasp from human lungs, she was in the air.
She was flying, flying for the first time in her life without feeling scared. She was in control, on wings of her own, and it felt….
It felt glorious.
She called out with joy, the sound echoing back to her as a long, low hoot. From below her, on the ground, Draco must have heard her as he looked up, delight sparkling in his eyes.
‘Look at that, Granger,’ he said, his voice deep with pride. ‘You bloody well did it. Nice choice, by the way,’ he added with a knowing grin.
She hooted again, turning gently on her wing. As the rain eased up slightly, she was able to pick up the sounds of the forest around her, amplified through her owl ears. She watched as Draco changed too, into the familiar snowy owl with the patch of black on his wing. He joined her in the air, and although he could no longer speak, it was if Hermione could somehow read his mind.
Together they swept off into the trees, full of joy and freedom and friendship.
All too soon, owl-Draco led them back to the clearing. He landed easily on his human feet, already fully transformed when he hit the ground, and looked up at Hermione as she flew around a little longer. He had an indulgent smile on his face, his arms crossed over his chest.
Hermione forced herself to focus, to ignore the rustle of mice in the leaves below, the pull of the moon above. She concentrated on Draco, imagined herself standing next to him, back in her human form. She thought about the way he made her feel fuzzy inside, the way her whole body warmed up when he smiled at her. She remembered the fire that chased his touch, whenever his fingertips accidentally brushed over her skin.
The next thing she knew, she was back in human form and tumbling into Draco’s welcoming arms.
‘Woah, Granger,’ he laughed, holding her close and Summoning her cloak to wrap around her naked body. ‘I’ve got you.’
She didn’t reply, even as he tucked the cloak around her, keeping his eyes carefully averted. She didn’t reply, even as he brushed back her hair and smiled down at her with joy in his careful, silver eyes. She didn’t reply, even as he re-cast an Impervius over the both of them, keeping the idling rain from getting them any wetter than they needed to be.
Instead, Hermione lifted up onto her tiptoes, wrapped her arms around Draco’s waist, and kissed him.
And under the rain, as the thrill of their first flight together still danced in their veins, Draco Malfoy kissed her back.