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A Creature Most Unusual by JMilz

Format: Novella
Chapters: 9
Word Count: 25,515
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Scenes of a mild sexual nature

Genres: Fluff, Humor, Romance
Characters: Hermione, Draco
Pairings:

First Published: 04/16/2019
Last Chapter: 08/31/2019
Last Updated: 09/01/2019

Summary:

 

Draco Malfoy is on a mission. Unfortunately, Hermione Granger catches him in the act. When she sees that he has adopted a rather unusual magical creature, she becomes determined to make sure he takes care of it. Little does she know, the animal may hold her key to eternal glory.



Chapter 1: Knockturn Alley
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Knockturn Alley was full of smarmy characters, from conniving squibs to bumbling drunks. Dirty, rotten-toothed riffraff were quite the norm, which is exactly why a blond, slender wizard stood out from the crowd. As soon as passersby saw him, they scattered, eager not to block his path. He was not to be crossed. That much was certain.

 

The well-dressed wizard was making haste, his eyes darting from a warty-nosed hag to a sneaky-looking house-elf. It was not often that he worried, but if anyone knew what he was carrying, he could have a one-way ticket to Azkaban. Turning in a wizard as important as himself would surely earn someone a rather hefty profit from the Ministry of Magic and nobody in Knockturn Alley could say no to promises of gold.

 

The cage that he carried was heavy. While he did try to play it off, there was no hiding that his right shoulder was slumping. Fortunately, nobody could hear the high-pitched hisses, as he had the foresight to cast a muffling charm on the blanket covering his secret. While many narrowed their eyes, nobody could know exactly what he was concealing.

 

"Whatcha got there?" a drunk asked, staggering towards him. He hiccupped. "Somethin' fancy, I reckon?"

 

"Don't you have a gutter to be pissing in?" the wizard spat, coldly, speeding up his pace.

 

The drunk tried to follow him, but stumbled and fell onto his bottom. The wizard did not look back. Instead, he willed his feet to carry him faster.

 

Borgin and Burkes had never seemed so far away. Leering undesirables were nothing new, but as he carried his unmentionable merchandise, he was much more aware of them. Hundreds of scheming magical folk had seen him hiding an object in the alley where little needed to be hidden. Knockturn Alley was a smorgasbord of illegal items. Hiding one was not only unusual, but damning in and of itself. If it were not for his poise and status, someone would have already wrestled it away from him.

 

Inebriated witches and wizards wobbled out of the White Wyvern, tripping over their heels and grabbing at one another. The wizard puckered his nose as a rotund, short-legged man vomited openly in the alleyway. Disgust was not a strong enough word.

 

Distracted by the blithering idiots plodding out of the pub, the blond wizard did not even see the put-together witch that was coming from the other direction. Like him, she stood out amongst the foul crowd. Her bushy hair was pulled into a tight ponytail and her pastel clothes were quite recently washed. She was fishing for something in her messenger bag when the two of them collided.

 

"Ow!" She rubbed her arm. "Oh, Draco! I'm so sorry—"

 

"Damn it, Granger," he muttered under his breath, quickly seizing the blanket from the ground to cover his vociferous companion. He looked around the immediate area, trying to assure that nobody had seen his new pet. Fortunately, the incident happened by the pub so everyone was too intoxicated to notice much of anything—everyone except the witch that ran into him.

 

"Draco, was that what I think it was?" she asked, slowly. Her gaze was searching and accusatory.

 

"You didn't see anything," he insisted, securing the blanket to the best of his ability.

 

"I know what I saw. Who gave it to you?"

 

"You must know I can't tell you that. What are you doing down here anyway? Not exactly the type of place to buy quills and ink."

 

"I was looking for a very specific book, thank you very much," Hermione responded, unable to tear her eyes away from the covered cage. She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Draco, you can't just have one of those. It's illegal."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about, Granger." With that, he kept walking, his pace much faster this time. Unfortunately for him, Hermione had never outgrown her determination, and she kept up quite easily. He glanced over at her. "Would you quit following me?"

 

"Not until you explain why you have that.” She nodded at the blanketed cage.

 

"I don't owe you an explanation for anything," he retorted, huffily. "I'm half-tempted to obliviate you."

 

She sucked in a breath. "You wouldn't dare!"

 

"Wouldn't I?"

 

They were closing in on Borgin and Burkes. Draco knew that Hermione Granger may harass him, but unlike everyone else in Knockturn Alley, she was not the type to turn him in to the Ministry of Magic for a reward. After all, he hadn't hurt anyone.

 

"Draco, do you have any idea how dangerous a Wampus is?" Caution was in her expression. "I don't think you know exactly what you're getting into."

 

The nosy witch was partially right. Wampus cats were notoriously unstable. North Americans used their hair as wand cores, but only the Cherokee people were able to successfully harvest it. Nobody was sure how they managed such a feat. After all, dozens of wizards had tried, hoping to be rewarded with praise and gold. Sadly, they all failed. While Draco Malfoy knew this, he was pompously convinced that those unfortunate wizards that been attempting to procure hair from wild adults. His Wampus was only a kitten. After being raised in captivity, it would surely be much more docile than its ferocious brethren.

 

Draco stopped and looked her in the eyes. His irises were stormy. "It's none of your business." He began walking again. The door to Borgin and Burkes was only steps away.

 

She chased after him. "There's a reason so few have studied them closely. Of all the impulsive, stupid—"

 

"I'm not your little pet, Weasel," he carped, turning to face her. They were right in front of Borgin and Burkes. He could practically taste his freedom, but the Muggle-born refused to leave him alone. "You don't have to traipse around behind me reminding me how to wipe my own arse."

 

"You're right! You aren't Ron! Even Ron wouldn't do something so—so idiotic!" she exclaimed, throwing her hands up. While she knew that the Wampus was not much larger than a house cat, it couldn’t have been very old. It would grow into a menacing, bloodthirsty beast before long. "This isn't a bloody Pygmy Puff. Wampuses are rare and dangerous. After your little run-in with Hagrid's hippogriff, I thought you'd know better."

 

"What do you care, anyway?" he growled, his arm aching from carrying the heavy, iron cage. "It's not your problem. Now go on and find your little book. I have things to do." He wrapped his fingers around the doorknob, but Hermione wedged herself between him and the glassy door. "Oh, come on."

 

"It's a living thing, dangerous or not. This is inhumane." She folded her arms. "What if I said I was going to turn you in to the Ministry? What then?"

 

He snorted. "You may be a lot of things, Granger, but a snitch isn't one of them. Now, watch out." Pushing past her, he opened the door.

 

Hermione stumbled a bit, but righted herself and followed him. "Draco! Draco Malfoy, you come back here!"

 

He looked over his shoulder, smirking. The fireplace was painfully close. He had to use the Floo Network. Apparating was too hazardous with such valuable cargo. "Or what?"

 

She briskly approached him. "It needs to go back to its home. You can't possibly take care of it.”

 

"He has a home. With me," he replied, airily, stepping into the fireplace. “I can guarantee you it’s better off with me than where it was going to end up.”

 

"Do you know what it eats? How big it will get? How will you feed it?" Her tone was rushed and pleading. "It's wrong to keep it in captivity!"

 

The complimentary Floo powder sat in a bowl hanging from a peg beside the fireplace. Draco reached inside. "If you're so worried about it, why don't you feed it?"

 

"Maybe I will!"

 

Draco rolled his eyes. "Go find that book, Granger." He dropped the Floo powder and shouted, "Number seven, Nettles Way!"

 

Green flames glittered in Hermione's pupils. The book she needed was long forgotten as she angrily took a handful of the complimentary Floo powder and stepped into the fireplace just after him. Seething, she boomed, "Number seven, Nettles Way!”

 

 

***

 

 

 Nettles Way was a quiet two-track road in Fiddlesby. Only nine homes were on the twelve-mile road, and six of the nine belonged to Wizarding families. In a small valley, a tiny cottage with a large yard hid amongst the oak and sycamore trees, hugging the nearest hill. While the sun shone down upon it, the spirits inside were dampened.

 

 “Bloody hell, Granger. You followed me home?” Draco Malfoy growled, squatting to the floor. He tugged the blanket off of the large cage and curled a finger in between the bars. The Wampus kitten mewed back at him, leaning into the touch. “I don’t know what you’re so worried about. He likes me already!”

 

 “It’s a cub, Draco,” Hermione reminded him, wiping the ash from her cheek as she stepped out of the fireplace. “What are you going to do when it’s five times bigger than that and its teeth can rip open your jugular?”

 

 “Well, I suppose I’ll have to get a bigger cage,” he joked, opening the creaky, iron door. The kitten trepidatiously wandered out into the small living room. It scratched at the Persian rug for a moment before rolling onto its side and yawning. “I think I’ll call him Bartholomew.”

 

 “Bartholomew?” she repeated, her arms crossed over her chest. “You’re absolutely mad.”

 

 “No madder than that oaf, Hagrid.” He scratched the kitten’s belly and it blinked at him with its glowing sapphire eyes. “If that dragon of his was half as cute as Bartholomew, I could see how he was so fond of it.”

 

 Hermione bit her lip and took a step closer to the creature. Although she did not want to admit it, the Wampus kitten was quite endearing. Black markings were striped throughout its fuzzy, fawn-colored coat, giving off the appearance of eyebrows just above his blue, bulbous eyes. As Draco ran his fingers through the thick fur on the creature’s stomach, it purred and kicked all six of its legs. Hermione could not tear her eyes away. She had never seen Draco look so innocent.

 

 “He is rather cute,” she admitted, getting to her knees. Nervously, she touched its head. When it didn’t react, she scratched it behind the ear. “Still, he’s going to get a lot bigger, Draco. They’re hardly meant to be kept as pets.”

 

 “So I’ve read. They’re quite powerful, you know. Their hair is worth a fortune here in England,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I’ve read that it isn’t quite as valuable until they’re grown, though, so I suppose he’ll have to stay with me until then.”

 

 Hermione clenched her jaw. “You’re keeping him here just to pluck his hairs and then let him run off? That’s barbaric!”

 

 “I can’t keep him here once he’s full-grown. Not permanently, anyway. You said it yourself. Once he's too much of a handful, I figure I can donate him to the school. That imbecilic half-giant would have a field day with him." He scratched the kitten under its front armpits. It stretched, begging him for more. “But for now, I think I can handle him.”

 

 “You barely paid attention in Hagrid’s class,” Hermione pointed out. “He’ll have to eat every couple of hours just to be satiated. Do you have any idea how much work this is going to be?”

 

 “Well, since you offered to feed him, I guess you’ll get to find out firsthand.” He smirked.

 

 “Draco, I—”

 

 “What? Were you just blowing smoke?” he asked, feigning hurt. He picked Bartholomew up and placed him in his lap, holding him up by his front armpits so he was facing the pastel-clad witch. “How can you deny this face?”

 

 “I should’ve gone straight to the Ministry as soon as I saw that blasted animal,” she grumbled, crossing her arms and sitting back on her feet. Nevertheless, the blue eyes were too precious to disappoint. “Fine. I can stop in every once in a while to check on him. But only because you’ve already made me an accomplice in this whole thing!"

 

 He cocked an eyebrow. “I made you an accomplice? Don’t forget, Granger, you bumped into me. I didn’t ask you to follow me here either. You might not want to admit it, but you’re fascinated by him—unless, of course, it’s me you’re fascinated by.” His lips curled into his signature smirk. “If that’s the case, I’m afraid it will have to wait. I’m a bit too busy for a romp right now.”

 

 She scowled. “The only thing that fascinates me about you is how absolutely dimwitted you can be.”

 

 “If you say so. Now, I suppose I better go fetch some chicken from the ice box. I doubt he’s been fed much today. Do you mind watching him for a moment?” Draco got to his feet and wiped off his satin black pants.

 

 “I-I—sure." 

 

 Hermione softly scratched the cub’s stomach. Every ounce of her wanted to feel anger, to turn Draco in to the Ministry of Magic, but there was some part of her that just could not do it. As Bartholomew yawned and his tiny pink tongue poked out of his mouth, she stifled a squeal. The creature had captured her heart, whether she wanted to admit it or not.

 


Author's Note: This was inspired by a request from Ashley Marie. This short novella is absolute fluff. Please note that I'm not slowing down on updates on Wreck. This will just be updated as well. If you're reading both, please consider this a lighthearted break from my other WIP. :) 



Chapter 2: Potions and Wandlore
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 Two glowing, sapphire eyes were staring at the slumbering wizard. His pewter duvet was pulled all the way to his chin, occasionally brushing against his morning stubble and pale lips as he shifted in his deep sleep. While the light blanket did not wake him with its subtle movements, the weight on top of him certainly did.

 

 Sunlight pierced his grey eyes as he opened them just a sliver. At first, the orbs looking back at him were startling and he screamed, but as he fought off his grogginess and recalled the previous day's events, he realized that the giant, bulbous eyes did not belong to a stranger, but to his new house guest. The Wampus cub should have been in its cage, yet somehow, it did not surprise the wizard that it escaped. The creatures were known to be extraordinarily clever.

 

 "Are you hungry?" he asked, scratching the striped kitten behind its oversized ear.

 

 It purred at the touch, but its restlessness answered his question. He wrestled the kitten off of him and swung his feet over the side of the Gothic four-poster bed. Adorned in only his boxers, he yawned with exhaustion, scratched his bed-head, and tiredly padded into the hallway. The creature chased after him, its ears perked up and its large feet pounding loudly against the hardwood floor with each lighthearted bound. He turned into the kitchen, the Wampus still at his heels. Chuckling to himself, the blond wizard raked his fingers through his messy hair and opened the ice box. The kitten pawed at his bare feet while he fetched a plate and heaved a raw steak onto it, which had, within seconds, become the animal's main point of focus. 

 

 "That's a good boy," the man praised as the Wampus cat ravenously tore into the raw, bleeding venison. He patted the animal on the head. "I'll be right back."

 

 Shaving had become part of the slender wizard's daily ritual ever since Madam Primpernelle's stopped carrying the potion he liked. He spent hours looking for it during his last visit to Diagon Alley, searching carefully for the blue label he knew so well. When he had finally asked the manager about it, she said, "Moustache-Away Serum? You know that was for women, right?"

 

 He cursed as he nicked himself. Quietly mumbling that he would have to figure out how to recreate the potion, he razored the final hairs from his chin and patted his face with aftershave. After fixing his hair, he stepped out of the bathroom and peeked into the adjacent kitchen to see what the young Wampus cat was doing. His heart skipped a beat. The plate was empty and no longer was the creature in the room.

 

 "Bartholomew?" he called, worriedly making his way through the kitchen. Then, as he peeked around the opening between the kitchen and the living room, he saw the young beast. Its teeth were ripping into his favorite armchair. "Bartholomew, no! Bad!"

 

 Naturally, the Wampus kitten had no idea what "no" or "bad" meant, so he continued destroying the emerald upholstery. Before the wizard could scold him further, he was interrupted by a knock at the door. He froze. Very few knew that he was staying at the Nettles Way property, but with Bartholomew in plain sight, even most of those few would be unwelcome. Anxiously, he went to the door, acutely aware that he was still only in his boxers. He peeked out the peephole.

 

 A severe-looking witch had her arms folded and her lips pursed. She shifted her weight, impatiently. With a smirk on his face, the wizard opened the door and greeted her. "Good morning, Granger. Come to see our darling son?"

 

 "As if I'd ever procreate with you," she scoffed, her arms still crossed and her eyes combing over him. "You don't have on pants."

 

 "If you didn't notice, it's early. I was just getting out of bed." He stepped aside, beckoning her over the threshold. "You just missed Bartholomew's breakfast, I'm afraid. Interesting that you were so worried about my ability to take care of him while you're yet to feed him." He closed the door behind her.

 

 "Are you sure I missed breakfast? It looks like he's making quite the meal out of your armchair." She sat down on his sofa, her arms still crossed and her expression still as stern as ever. The cub let go of the armchair, at last, only to begin clawing the Persian rug with two of its six paws. "For Merlin's sake, Draco, he's going to have this place destroyed by nightfall."

 

 Draco shrugged. "I'm sure he'll more than pay for himself." He bent down to pat the kitten on the head and collapsed into the ruined armchair. White tufts of cotton protruded from dozens of fang-sized holes. "Why don't you go say hello to your mother?"

 

 "So you're still planning on keeping him until he's an adult," Hermione deduced, "all for hair for wand cores."

 

 "Ah, that's where you're wrong," he replied, lacing his fingers behind his head. "Sure, I'll put some on the market for wandmakers but I suspect there's a much larger fortune to be made with potioneers."

 

 "Potioneers..." she repeated, disbelievingly. "There is no evidence that Wampus hair has any use in potion-making whatsoever. Why risk Azkaban for something entirely unfounded? This seems a bit reckless, even for you."

 

 Bartholomew spun around several times before laying on the rug where he had been scratching. Smirking, Draco leaned forward to stroke the kitten. "Does your brain not work as well in the morning, Granger? Think for a moment. Unicorn hair, phoenix feather, Veela hair, dragon heartstring—what do they have in common?"

 

 "They're all used in wands." Her eyes were drawn to the now-snoring Wampus cub. Its back rose and fell with each breath. "What's your point?"

 

 He gave the kitten a few final pats on the head and leaned back again. "Yes, and they're strong potion ingredients."

 

"You only use unicorn hair in potions," she argued, knitting her brows together.

 

 "See, that's where you're wrong, Granger. You may have gotten better grades than me, but if this is all news to you, I doubt you've perused too many potion books since we graduated."

 

 "I've read plenty of potion books! Just last week I brewed—" She stopped, trying to recall what it was that she brewed and why she needed it. Perhaps, it had been longer than a week. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that he was right. After school, she bought most of her potions from shops in Diagon Alley. After all, there were people that chose to brew them for a living and surely, they were more skilled than she was. Her interests revolved around the government, spells, magical artifacts, and international relations—not potions. "Ah, yes! A cough potion!"

 

 "You sure that was last week? If so, we may need to whip you up a memory potion."

 

 Hermione was not used to people besting her, especially not with such an irritating grin on their face. Most people accepted everything she said as law, but Draco Malfoy did not blindly trust her judgment, and that was a new feeling. Wrong answers simply did not fall from her lips.

 

 "Well, to get back to my point, all of those are powerful ingredients in potions, as I said. Perhaps, you haven't brewed many of the types of potions I'm talking about, but a Master Potioneer would. I suspect Wampus hair would have quite a special place in any potion enthusiast's cupboard. The research just hasn't been done yet." He got to his feet and stretched, his lean muscles tensing with the motion. Hermione's gaze was briefly drawn to his strong abdomen before her cheeks flushed and she jerked her head the other way. Nothing got past Draco Malfoy, though. "I'm trying to have an intelligent conversation and you're busy ogling at me like some sort of schoolgirl. Please tell me you've been listening because I'd hate to have to repeat myself."

 

 "Of course, I've been listening," she snapped, crossing her arms. Hearing him speak with so much authority in a subject she once believed she knew everything about had caused something inside of her to stir. There was no denying that she had been looking at him; he had always been notoriously handsome but rarely had she thought of him as anything much more than a spoiled, self-serving Slytherin.

 

 "I sure hope so. Now, if you can get your mind off of me for just five minutes, I'll get dressed and start some tea. I wouldn't want to distract you with my rippling muscles, after all. This is important business." He acknowledged her raging leer and passed through the kitchen into the hallway. A shout echoed against the walls. "Do you take sugar or cream?"

 

 "No thank you!" she shouted back.

 

 Hermione sat in silence, watching the animal for several minutes as she tried to wrap her mind around her sudden attraction to her childhood nemesis. Bartholomew blinked, sleepily, and let out a long, breathy yawn. His tongue rolled out of his mouth and she could not help but let out a girlish squeal. She covered her mouth.

 

"Sounds like you're taking a liking to him," Draco noted, entering the room, fully dressed in black. He carried two saucers and teacups. She accepted one, desperate not to meet his grey eyes. "And here I was thinking you just stopped by to try and flirt with me."

 

 She narrowed her eyes. "I came here to see if you'd come to your senses yet, and clearly you haven't."

 

 "Ah, but is that why you stayed?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow. He sipped his tea and lowered himself into his armchair. "Something tells me the idea of discovering a new important potion ingredient—one that could change the world as we know it—is all too intriguing for you to turn down. I know you only originally agreed to help feed him, but I'm feeling awfully giving today. If I were you, I'd seize the opportunity before I change my mind."

 

 Hermione gulped and placed her teacup and saucer on the small end table beside the pewter sofa. Naturally, her interest was piqued. Her name was already in textbooks, referencing her as Harry Potter's right-hand woman—the brains of his operation. However, that was not the type of attention she wanted. Magical discoveries were where her ambitions truly were, and Draco Malfoy had lain the opportunity in front of her face. If what he said was true, they would both be legends in magical academia. Perhaps, her name would be well behind his, but surely she would be mentioned briefly. 

 

 "I see the cogs in your brilliant little brain moving." A twinkle was in his eye as Bartholomew rolled over onto his feet. He scrubbed him behind the ears. "You want in."

 

 "You just called me brilliant." The brunette was in disbelief.

 

 "Flattery works with you, does it?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow. "Somehow I thought you'd be above that."

 

 "Well, I—"

 

 "So are you in or not, Granger? I was going to do the research alone, but frankly, a little help would speed things along—and the sooner we're done, the better," he said, gravely. "This is the kind of glory you always wanted. Equal credit—no living in anyone's shadow this time around."

 

 "Equal credit?" she asked, wringing her hands. None of the history textbooks had given her equal credit. "You're willing to share credit with a Mudblood?"

 

 "Oh, Merlin's beard! This is bigger than blood status." He took a quick drink of tea before placing the teacup on the mahogany coffee table. "Think Granger—eternal glory. Eternal fortune. There's no end to where a discovery like this could take us. If we're right, we can move on to harvesting thunderbird feathers, Horned Serpent horns, you name it. Our names will be in every advanced potion book in North America and the United Kingdom."

 

 A lump was in Hermione's throat. She always dreamed that she was destined for important academic findings, but never did she think that she would have to work with a Malfoy to achieve such things. Nevertheless, he was correct. If his theory was true, their names would most certainly be plastered across Potioneering Quarterly and at least a dozen textbooks.

 

 With one final glance at the purring kitten, she knew the answer. "Okay. I'll do it."

 

 He grinned. "I had a feeling you would. Of course, no worming your way out of our initial agreement. I'll still need help with Bartholomew while we get you all trained up."

 

 "Trained up?" Hermione asked, frowning.

 

 "Your potion-making skills will need to be tip-top." He took a brisk sip of tea. "As they are not, we'll need to do some practicing—high-level potions, at that. I suspect it won't take you long to get up to par. Quite lucky for me that you ran into me yesterday and actually returned without Aurors, but cough remedies are for house-witches. If you don't want to be a house-witch, you'll need to work with me, listen to me, and do some auxiliary reading. Surely, the last bit won't be a problem for you."

 

 Auxiliary reading sounded delightful, but she was not so sure about the rest. "So I'm just supposed to trust that you're some sort of potion guru? I always outscored you in Potions in school. What makes you so great now?"

 

 "It's been an area of interest." His voice was airy as he ran his fingers through Bartholomew's fur. "Now, if you could name the three most common uses for a phoenix feather in a potion—oh, that's right! You didn't even know you could use a phoenix feather in a potion."

 

 She gritted her teeth. "Fine. I could probably use a bit of brushing up."

 

 "Indeed. Are you working right now, Granger? Anything that may get in the way of this little project?"

 

 Her face reddened. She was embarrassed to admit that she had not worked for nearly a year. Instead, she spent her time researching, trying to find her calling. Everyone told her that she could be anything that she wanted. Unfortunately, that was a bit of a problem for someone as studious as Hermione Granger. She found it hard to choose one thing when she wanted to be everything.

 

 "I didn't think so," he chortled. "If you had been, I probably would've seen it in the Prophet five times by now."

 

 Hermione did not respond. She wasn't sure if he was insulting her or trying out more flattery on her.

 

 "Well, then we'll be meeting here every day for the foreseeable future. I have a feeling my contact in Knockturn Alley lied to me when he claimed to only have one cub, so I'd like to make sure we're the first ones on the Quidditch pitch, if you get my meaning."

 

 "Yes, of course," Hermione quickly replied, suddenly concerned that there may be another Wampus kitten somewhere in England. "Who else would buy one of these?"

 

 He cocked an eyebrow. "Do you think that giant oaf is the only person out there after rare magical creatures? Only difference is his intentions are quite pure. There are hundreds of witches and wizards just like me, except they would take far less time to assure the animal is cared for."

 

 "That may be the nicest thing you've ever said about Hagrid."

 

 "He's not the type of person we'd be watching out for, is my point. We'd be lucky if he got a hold of any other cubs. I mean, Bartholomew may be the only one, but the man I bought this from is a bloody liar if I've ever met one. We have to play our cards right—like someone is ready to snatch this opportunity from us at any moment." Malfoy clenched a fist. "So you better get comfortable with me, Granger. We'll be spending a lot of time together."

 

 She nodded, now focused only on the chance that there may be someone else competing with them. Her name belonged in those textbooks. She would do anything to make sure that it made it into them.

 

 "Only my mother and a few close friends know I'm staying here," he explained. "Still, you're to open the door for no one. One wrong turn and we could both be in Azkaban. Until we succeed, we have to remind ourselves how illegal this is."

 

 Suddenly, her heart sank. She had nearly forgotten how illegal it was to possess a Wampus cat. "Couldn't they arrest us even if we do succeed?"

 

 He shrugged. "Theoretically, sure. But loads of witches and wizards did something illegal and had charges cleared if it was for the greater good. I think the Ministry would see it our way once this is all said and done. For now, we just have to keep this all under wraps. No telling anyone, especially Potter and Weasel."

 

 Not telling Ron would not be a problem for her, as he had barely spoken to her since she ended their on-again, off-again relationship several months prior. Sometimes not seeing him made her a bit sad, but she knew that he would come around eventually. Harry, on the other hand, was a different story. The two of them spoke at least twice a week and they told each other everything. She didn't know how she would keep such a life-changing secret from him.

 

 "I need your word, Granger."

 

 She closed her eyes, imagining her name emblazoned upon Potioneering Quarterly. No mention of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, or the war would be shadowing her story. Perhaps, Draco Malfoy was not who she envisioned sharing the glory with, but they would be equals. She would not be "Harry Potter's girlfriend" or "Ron Weasley's girlfriend" or "the brains of Potter's operation". Maybe running into the blond wizard was the best thing that would ever happen to her. She was willing to do anything to find out, even if it meant lying to Harry.

 

 "Okay, Malfoy. My lips are sealed. Now, teach me what you know."

 


Author's Note: I hope you're enjoying! If you haven't checked out my less playful WIP, please give it a shot. It's also Dramione, but will be a lot longer than this with an eventual prequel. Check it out here.



Chapter 3: Calming Draught
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Dozens of books were stacked on top of a coffee table that cost more than many Muggles' cars. The witch felt out of place at the cottage, because even though it was small, most of the furniture inside of it cost more than anything she had ever owned. Each time that she set down her mug, she assured that it was placed atop an old print of the Daily Prophet.

 

"Bartholomew, no!" she screeched, batting at the air behind the misbehaving Wampus cat in an effort to scare him away.

 

The cat simply rolled over onto its side. Her fair host, dressed in all black, walked into the room and stepped over the animal on his way to his usual armchair. After sitting down, he patted the Wampus on the head.

 

"He's growing just as fast as I said he would," the woman pointed out. "Look at what he’s done to the rug!"

 

The wizard looked down at the Persian rug and sighed. Discernible claw marks had compromised the intricate embroidery. "Well, I'll have to fix that later, I suppose."

 

"Draco, it's been less than a week and he's eating nearly twice as much," she hissed. "We need to figure out a way to keep him under better control." The youngest Malfoy opened his mouth, only to be met with a dark look. "And no Imperius Curse."

 

"Good thinking, Granger, but I actually have a better idea. Calming Draught. Not exactly its intended purpose, but it should still slow him down. It's safe enough for Kneazles, so I'd assume the same would be true for a Wampus."

 

Hermione was surprised at his suggestion. "That's actually a really good idea."

 

"You say 'actually' like it shocks you."

 

"I mean, you are the one that decided to bring him into your house," she retorted, looking back down at the creature. It rose and fell as it slept, living out its dreams by pawing at the rug.

 

"I could always just finish the project on my own," he threatened, shrugging. "You're still not exactly up to snuff yet.”

 

"I've been studying nonstop, thank you very much!" she snapped, gesturing the books on the table. "I only stopped to keep him from destroying the rug before it was too late!"

 

"Well, he's sleeping now. Back to it, Granger."

 

Hermione scowled and opened the book she had been reading. Her brows were knit together as she irately read the words on the page, eager to learn everything she could before Bartholomew was full-grown. Each day, she arrived at Draco Malfoy's home bright and early with an armful of books. After scoffing at several of her choices, he would saunter to his bookshelf, select a few texts, and add them as required reading. She would never admit it, but secretly, she quite liked it. It felt like being back in school.

 

"Be ready to practice at four," he said, getting to his feet. "We have a calming potion to brew."

 

The brunette froze. "We?"

 

"What? Did you think you were just going to leave me to do it on my own? It's a perfect learning opportunity."

 

She could not argue, but still, her stomach lurched. Calming Draught was not necessarily a high-level potion; in fact, it was so simple that she brewed it in her fourth year. Nevertheless, it had been over a decade.

 

Bartholomew purred and stretched and her eyes landed on him. If she did not brew the perfect potion, he would be the one to pay the price.

 

 

***

 

 

The kitchen table was covered in an old potion-resistant tablecloth that Draco had found in the linen closet. Atop the table was his favorite cauldron, a cauldron pedestal, a handful of ingredients, a small paring knife, a cutting board, and an iron ladle. A smirk played at the corners of his lips as he waited for his houseguest to find her seat.

 

At a minute after four o' clock, she shuffled into the kitchen, her hair sticking out every-which-way and an anxious look on her face. She blew a large gust of air out of her mouth and sat down at the table.

 

"You're late," Draco chimed.

 

"Oh, come off it, Malfoy. I was in the next room over. It was only by a minute, anyway."

 

"Ah, but would that fly with Professor Snape?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.

 

"You're not Snape," she growled. "Can we just get started?"

 

"Fine. You read on Calming Draught to prepare for this, surely?" He seated himself beside her.

 

"I mean, I—well, yes. I did." She scratched the back of her neck. "Maybe I should grab my book—"

 

Draco shook his head and pushed the ingredients her way. "Ah, ah, ah. Use your intuition. You've been reading about potion-making for five days straight, Granger. Let's see how much you've learned."

 

Panic immediately set in. Even in school, she always used a book to give her proper directions. "But—"

 

The handsome blond leaned back and crossed his arms. "Go on, then."

 

With a quick glare, she waved her wand and lit the fire beneath the cauldron. Two smoldering grey irises were fixed on her as she picked up the first vial and uncorked the top. She quickly flitted her gaze towards him, looking for some sign of approval or disapproval, but to her annoyance, his expression offered nothing.

 

Chopping was one of her least favorite parts of Potions class when she was in school, and she quickly discovered that that had not changed in adulthood. With each slice to the lavender before her, she noticed Draco's eyes following her movements. Frustrated, she spat, "Can I help you?"

 

"Just observing, Granger," he murmured, his chin resting in his palm. "Problem?"

 

"No, it's fine, I guess," she grumbled, finishing her last cut. Still uncomfortable by his gaze, she picked up the cutting board and scraped the lavender into the cauldron. As she uncorked the next vial, she found herself growing increasingly bothered by him. "Can you at least tell me if I'm doing it right?"

 

He shrugged. "Do you think you're doing it right?"

 

"I don't know!" she exclaimed, dumping the Honeywater into the cauldron. "I think it's right, but I don't have my book to check my work."

 

"You won't always have a book around."

 

Urgently shuffling through the vials, she spat, "We're doing research, Draco, not field potions. I'm getting my book." She stood to retrieve it, but Draco simply grinned and waved his wand. Horror was evident in Hermione’s expression as A Healer's Guide to Potions floated into his grasp. "Give it to me, Draco."

 

"If you're going to be a world-renowned potioneer, you need to be able to do it without a book, Granger," he taunted. Tucking the book under his arm, he continued to preach. "I thought it lucky I ran into such a capable witch, but if you can't even brew a batch of Calming Draught without a textbook, I'm not entirely sure that you'll be suited for this."

 

Livid, Hermione seized a vial of pearl dust and carefully tapped some into the cauldron. Draco watched intently as she stirred and moved onto the morning dew, her tongue slightly poking out the side of her mouth. With each stir, the brew changed colors: from chartreuse to pink to violet and finally, as she added the last ingredient, to blue.

 

The classically handsome wizard clapped. "Well done, Mudblood. Well done."

 

She smirked, too proud of herself to acknowledge the nasty nickname. "The perfect shade of blue."

 

"Indeed. I suppose we'll only know its potency once we put it to use. There's some venison in the ice box, if you'd like to do the honors."

 

Hermione's eyes widened. "I-I mean, don't you think this should just be a test batch? Perhaps you ought to brew another."

 

"Not so confident now, are we?" he drawled, swinging his legs around. Once he was standing, he pushed in his chair. "Just a moment ago you were convinced it was the perfect shade of blue. Is it or is it not?"

 

The witch's insides twisted and turned as she examined the potion again. Draco Malfoy had a way of making her second-guess herself. "I think it's good."

 

He leaned against the table, hovering uncomfortably close to her. His focus did not graze over the potion even once. Instead, he stared at the Muggle-born, his grey eyes tired and untelling. "You think?"

 

"It's good!" she exclaimed, throwing her hands up. "Is that what you want to hear?"

 

With a nod and a smirk, he replied, "Very good. Now, if you're truly confident, you'll pour it into Bartholomew’s bowl.”

 

The brunette's heart was pounding, but still, she flicked her wand to quickly cool the potion and seized the cauldron by its handles. Within moments, the Wampus cat was lapping up a mixture of blood and potion.

 

 

***

 

 

A sleeping creature had claimed the young Malfoy's armchair. He and his wild-haired research partner sat on opposite ends of the sofa, observing the cub as it snored.

 

"I think it was a bit stronger than we intended." Draco stretched. "It's a nice little break from all the chaos, though. Good work, Granger."

 

Hermione felt her face flush. Compliments were such a commonality for her that she often took them in stride, but when they came from the cynical wizard, she felt a sense of warmth. Harry Potter buttered her up to do his bidding. Ron Weasley was impressed by mediocre parlor tricks. Draco Malfoy, on the other hand, had standards. To meet those standards, especially when it came to potion-making, was a feat worth its salt.

 

"Thank you." She yawned and wrapped her arms around one of the throw pillows. "Merlin, is it possible that the fumes got to me?"

 

"Hardly," he scoffed.

 

After a quick glance at the clock above the fireplace, she realized that it was well past nine in the evening. "Is it really so late? I probably ought to be getting home."

 

Malfoy shrugged. "Suit yourself. I was going to make a late dinner shortly. You're welcome to join."

 

It was unexpected, but the offer made Hermione's stomach flip. The two of them ate together often as of late, sharing a quiet breakfast with coffee while she read or nibbling at sandwiches while Draco played with Bartholomew. However, there was something inherently intimate about dinner. Perhaps, that was why she usually left earlier.

 

"If you're not going to answer me, I'm going to assume you don't want one."

 

Hermione's face became pink as she realized Draco had been saying something to her. "One what?"

 

"A steak," he repeated. "Merlin, Granger. A few days of reading and your brain has turned to mush all of a sudden?"

 

"Oh, um—" Something about a steak dinner with the blond Slytherin sounded more appealing than she ever thought it would. "—I don't know. I don't think so."

 

Draco squinted. He knew that she wanted to stay, yet she was turning down his offer. The young heir had always been able to read women, but the Muggle-born challenged him. Her expressions did not give everything away, unlike most. He could only tell that she was denying herself sustenance when she needed it. The rest was a mystery.

 

"You're sure?" he pressed.

 

"Yes, quite," she said, firmly, piling her books on top of one another. "I-I suppose I can leave these here, can't I? Um—well, I'll see you tomorrow morning, then."

 

He nodded. "Bright and early, Granger. We have work to do."

 

The brunette cleared her throat. "Right, work."

 

 

***

 

 

The small apartment in Cadsfordshire had become more of a hostel than it was a home. Hermione Granger murmured the counter-charms to her many enchantments and unlocked the front door.

 

Her stomach rumbled and regret set in. Dinner in her apartment consisted of stale bread and cheese, and as she chewed, she could not stop thinking about the juicy steak that she could have been eating. Still, she was not sure why Draco's offer had made her so nervous, but her speculations made her want to vomit.



Chapter 4: Potter
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The unlikely duo had been working tirelessly for nearly three weeks. Their furry companion, who had grown immensely, was curled between the two of them on the couch, his head placed in the witch's lap. While she turned the yellowed page of Moste Potente Potions, the creature rolled onto its back and purred loudly. A smile bestowed her face as she idly scratched him behind the ears.

 

"This is the last book," she murmured. "Unless you have some hiding away in your library at the manor."

 

"Is it?" the wizard asked, looking up from the Daily Prophet. He rubbed the Wampus cat's belly. "You've double-checked the shelf?"

 

"Triple-checked, actually," she replied, marking her page and shutting the book. "And honestly, I've read this one before. It was good to brush up though."

 

"Well, we aren't going to the manor, Granger. My parents will ask what we're doing and I don't exactly feel like explaining it to them. My father would probably want a cut of our earnings." His eyes glanced over at the animal between them. "I suppose I could go pick up more if you could watch Bartholomew."

 

"If you're leaving, I'm leaving. I feel like I'm always in this blasted house, lately."

 

Hermione spoke the truth. She oftentimes was inside the Fiddlesby cottage before her host was awake, and she left far after the average person's dinnertime. The two of them had found an unconventional rhythm. While she spent the day reading, he prepared breakfast, coffee, lunch, and tea, only pausing to quiz her in between meals. It had become such a routine that he remembered exactly how she took both her morning and afternoon beverages. If someone had told him he would be serving Hermione Granger on a daily basis, he would have laughed in their face.

 

"Well, someone has to watch Barth," he interjected.

 

Usually, she would agree with him. It was dangerous to leave the animal by itself, but after weeks of being in the cottage, no matter how cozy it was, she was becoming increasingly cagey.

 

"There's quite a lot of Calming Draught left over from the last batch. Couldn't we just get him to sleep and lock him in the guest bedroom? I'm going positively mad in here, Draco."

 

The blond wizard drew in a deep breath. Locking the Wampus cat in a room without supervision was far too risky for his liking, but it did present an opportunity for his partner to practice her potion-making skills. "Fine. Brew something a bit stronger and we can go. I don't want him waking up while we're gone or else he'll have the entire carpet torn up within ten minutes."

 

After weeks of studying, Hermione had quickly reached and surpassed the level of mastery that she had achieved in school. "Sleeping Draught is safe for cats, isn't it?"

 

"What are you asking me for?" He turned his attention back to the Daily Prophet. "You should know the answer to that."

 

She was used to his hands-off teaching style, but for some reason, she still had not gotten out of the habit of asking for his opinion. Instead of pressing him, she quietly shuffled her feet towards the bookshelf and ran her fingers along the many spines. It did not take long for her to find the book she needed. After all, she had spent more time looking at that shelf than any single shelf at the Hogwarts library. After plucking Potion Safety and Side Effects from between a garnet book and a violet book, she lightly traced the golden title and made her way back to her spot on the sofa. It took her all of two minutes to find the answer.

 

"Perfectly safe!" she announced, getting to her feet once more. "I can have it whipped up in probably twenty minutes or so. Can you be ready by then or does it take longer than that to gel your hair?"

 

Draco looked down at his silk emerald robes and pursed his lips. His hair was nearly as messy as hers and he had allowed a subtle stubble to sprout. The woman was in his cottage so often that he had gotten comfortable with her, though he would never admit it. He often stayed in his robes until the late afternoon, smirking at her small questions while he sipped his tea. The Slytherin had begun to enjoy her company. Of course, he would never tell her that.

 

"Twenty minutes should be fine," he drawled. "Surely, I can trust you to properly brew something so rudimentary?"

 

"Would you help even if I asked you to?"

 

"No, but I'd be happy to tell you if you're doing something wrong. After all, we won't exactly be here to force a bezoar down his throat if you poison him."

 

Hermione rolled her eyes. "I think I can manage a simple Sleeping Draught. I spiked Crabbe and Goyle with it in second year, after all."

 

Draco cocked an eyebrow and folded the newspaper. "Is that so?"

 

She nodded. "Sure is. Anyway, you ought to go get ready." Padding into the kitchen, she yelled over her shoulder. "As lovely as you look in green, I have a feeling you won't go out in public in anything other than black."

 

He patted the purring Wampus cat and stood up, chuckling. "Lovely, you say? I'm flattered. Maybe I'll rethink my choice of ball gown after all."

 

As he passed through the kitchen on his way to his bedroom, he stopped to observe her. Watching her work always reminded him that he made the right choice when he asked her to help him with his project. Never had he met someone with as much ambition as he had, but Hermione Granger, perhaps, rivaled him. Sometimes, it was hard to believe that she had not been sorted into Slytherin.

 

"I don't know how you'll fight all the wizards off of you," she chimed in between slamming cupboards, not turning around.

 

"Ah, but you're the only one for me, Granger."

 

With that, the blond briskly carried himself to his bedroom to change. Fortunately for Hermione, that meant he couldn't see the slight tinge of rose in her cheeks.

 

 

***

 

 

Diagon Alley was bustling as it usually was on a summer weekend. A plump witch curled her lips downward as she caught a glance of the sneering Malfoy heir, who was weaving his way through the crowd with Hermione Granger following closely behind. When a throaty noise of disgust fell from the stranger's lips, he rolled his eyes. In Knockturn Alley, he was respected. It often made him forget that to the most Wizarding families, he and his parents were social pariahs.

 

"Thanks for stopping by Madam Primpernelle's with me," Hermione said, walking double-speed to keep up with the tall wizard's long strides. "I love their hairbrushes but I do wish they were better quality. They always seem to break after a few months."

 

"Merlin, Granger, you practically insult yourself," Draco muttered. He grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the way for a Thestral-drawn carriage to go by. "When did they let those things down here?"

 

"They usually only let celebrities use them. Wonder who it is." Hermione wrenched her arm away and fixed her blouse. "And I don't like being grabbed."

 

"Oh, you prefer being trampled, then. Good to know."

 

Just as a man pulled his young son away from their path (not without shooting a glare at the reformed Death Eater), Flourish and Blotts came into view. The bizarre pair trod down the cobblestone street, ignoring the few gasps and fingers pointing their way. As soon as they reached the store, Draco opened the door and beckoned Hermione inside. The wizard had been surprising her a lot since they had been spending more time together. To her horror, she sometimes found him to be quite charming.

 

"Potions, potions, potions..." Her eyes darted from the glistening bronze-and-sapphire signs above each of the many, many aisles. She waved at an aisle that seemed to have only fairytales for children. "I was sure they used to be right here."

 

Draco craned his neck and pointed to an aisle just up the small set of half-stairs. "Over there."

 

"Ah, perfect!" Hermione exclaimed, rushing towards the section that he gestured.

 

Draco, however, kept his lackadaisical pace. The bookshop, unlike the rest of Diagon Alley, was not too busy. With the school year not starting for another two months, parents and children had chosen to visit shops of the fun sort rather than Flourish and Blotts.

 

He slowly perused an aisle with several books about Quidditch, thinking to himself that it would be quite nice to read something enjoyable after he finished his project. He removed a mustard-colored book from one of the shelves. As he studied the flying patterns of Chasers, he paced the aisle, barely noticing that the shop's front door had creaked open.

 

"Excuse me."

 

Draco briefly glanced over the page, sidestepping to let the speaker through. Once he realized who it was, he looked back up. "Potter."

 

"Malfoy." Harry Potter had not moved an inch.

 

The blond looked around. "Can I help you with something?"

 

"You're just um—you're kind of in front of the book I need," Harry explained, pointing at a shelf packed full of both shimmery blue spines and fully exposed covers.

 

There had to be dozens of copies of Women and Quidditch behind the blond wizard. When Draco got a better look at one of the displayed covers, he realized that there was a reason that Potter wanted the book. The author was Ginny Weasley.

 

"Is the She-Weasel really so desperate for money that she's making her own boyfriend pay for copies?" He tucked the mustard book under his arm, intending to purchase it before he left. "Unless she broke up with you and this is your pitiful way of moping about."

 

"It's called being supportive, not that you'd know anything about that," Harry spat. "What are you doing down here, anyway, Malfoy? I didn't pin you for the reading type."

 

Draco opened his mouth to lie, but before he could, he heard Hermione's voice a few aisles over.

 

"Draco! Draco, where are you?"

 

Harry knit his brows together, clearly recognizing the voice, but refusing to believe it. Surely, Hermione Granger would not be addressing Malfoy by his first name in such an endearing, singsong tone.

 

"Over here," Draco said through gritted teeth.

 

"I found a lot of really great books but I'll need help—" As she stepped into the aisle, her brown eyes widened. "Harry?"

 

"You have to be joking," Harry breathed, looking from his friend to his childhood archnemesis. "You two aren't—you aren't—"

 

"No! Oh, Merlin, no!" Hermione exclaimed, though somehow she didn't feel as nauseated by the notion as she once would have. In fact, she turned a faint tinge of pink. She looked away, trying to hide it. "We're just—erm—we're just here. Together. Browsing. Yes, browsing."

 

Rolling his eyes, Draco muttered, "Smooth, Granger."

 

"But why?" Harry asked, suspiciously. "Hermione, if you're shagging him..." The very thought made him sick.

 

"So what if she is?" the blond asked, cocking an eyebrow. "What would you do about it, Potter?"

 

The raven-haired man was taken aback. To him, there was no better explanation, as Hermione was hardly the social type. She would not just be wandering around a bookstore with an acquaintance, especially not one like Malfoy. Something was going on, and whatever it was, he did not like it one bit.

 

"It doesn't matter, because I'm not," Hermione cut in, stepping between the two men. "We just—we're just—we're friends."

 

"Friends." Harry was skeptical. "So this is why you haven't been answering my owls?"

 

"Well, I've just been a bit distracted is all. He's helping me get a start on my library," she continued to lie, finally finding it in her to come up with an excuse. "It's quite tiny but I have to start somewhere, right?"

 

Her best friend did not believe her. His green eyes were questioning as he clenched his jaw. "That still doesn't explain why he is helping you."

 

"He—um—well—" She was starting to sweat at the brow. "He has great taste in books."

 

"That's how we reconnected," Draco added, cool and composed. "She was book shopping. Lucky for me, she was too distracted to reach for her wand when we bumped into each other."

 

It wasn't a lie. Hermione had been looking for a book when they quite literally ran into one another in Knockturn Alley.

 

"I see." Harry frowned.

 

"Well, what brings you in here?" Hermione asked, hoping to change the subject.

 

"Ginny's in town," he replied, still glaring at Malfoy, mistrustfully. "She didn't believe Flourish and Blotts would be carrying her book so I was bringing her a copy to prove it. Her carriage should be getting into town soon, if it's not already. I was cutting it pretty close on time..."

 

Hermione connected the dots, remembering the Thestral-drawn carriage that she and Draco had seen in the street. "Well, isn't that sweet of you. I'll take a copy too. For the library."

 

Harry grabbed a second navy-covered book from the display and passed it to her. "You know, I'd like to see this library of yours sometime."

 

The brunette cleared her throat. "Yes, yes, of course. Maybe once it's finished." She met Draco's eyes. "Well, er—we probably ought to get going. Tell Ginny I said hi, would you?"

 

"Yeah, sure," Harry murmured.

 

"See you later, Potter." Draco had a scowl on his face. It disappeared when he turned to Hermione. "Let's go collect the rest of those books of yours and get back to the library. I'm sure it's waiting patiently for us."

 

The two of them turned and headed towards the potion book section, Hermione's heart pounding and Draco's mind fixated.

 

Harry narrowed his eyes as soon as their backs were turned. Even an Auror with half his talent would have known that his best friend was lying through her teeth.

 

 

***

 

 

After the Malfoy fortune graciously paid for a dozen potion books and Flying Patterns of Traditional Quidditch, Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger Side-Along Apparated back to the cottage on Nettles Way.

 

"He's still sleeping," the blond reported, plodding into the living room after checking on their pet. He collapsed into his usual armchair. "What was that back there, Granger?"

 

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, her nose already buried in Potions for Life, Death, and All Other Occasions.

 

"I mean with Potter! You had the grace of a Blast-Ended Skrewt talking to him!"

 

"He thought we were shagging," she hissed, slamming the book shut. "Obviously I was going to be a bit upset!"

 

Draco scoffed. "Grow up, Granger. Who cares if he thinks we're shagging."

 

Her face went nearly crimson. "Well, we—we aren't—"

 

"I knew I should've gone alone." The wizard shifted in his armchair, folding his legs over one of the armrests and leaning against the other. A small smirk crept onto his face. "He was pretty quick to jump to that conclusion, though."

 

"He was, wasn't he?" Hermione opened her book again and laughed a bit, remembering the look on her friend's face when he saw the two of them together.

 

His eyes raked over her. "I was going to make dinner in a bit. You should join me tonight."

 

Suddenly, her heart lurched. He always offered to make a second portion for her, but never had he worded it so straightforwardly. The lump in her throat warned her of what she had been fearing as of late.

 

"Um—yeah." She smiled a bit, trying to stifle the giddiness that even she didn't understand. "Yeah, that sounds nice, actually."

 



Chapter 5: Invitations
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 The usually-familiar kitchen table seemed foreign as the anxious witch sat down. Fine china was in front of her place, accompanied by patinaed silverware and an all too-fancy-goblet full of white wine. Her attractive host sat across from her while a floating serving spoon shoveled linguine onto her plate.

 

The two of them had shared meals together a number of times, but it was always in between reading and cleaning up a very specific brand of Bartholomew's messes. This time, the Wampus cat was at their feet, sleeping soundly. Without distractions, the scene seemed much more romantic than was intended.

 

"This is delicious, Draco."

 

"I know."

 

Several moments passed before Draco said anything else. "You think Potter is going to blab about our little run-in with him today?"

 

"He'll probably tell Ron and Ginny." She groaned. "Hopefully not, though. I wouldn't worry about Ginny, but Ron, he might—well, he may not take it very well."

 

"What? Are you worried he might get jealous and try to hex me or something? I'd like to see him try." He stabbed at his pasta and flared his nostrils. "Not my bloody fault you left his sorry arse."

 

"I don't remember telling you about that." Her voice was quiet, and all of a sudden, she was not quite so hungry anymore. Ron was the last person she wanted to talk about.

 

"Oh, please," Draco scoffed, swirling a pile of linguine around his fork. The stabbing method clearly had not worked. "It hardly takes a genius to do the Arithmancy. The both of you were always peppering the front page of the Prophet, then all of a sudden, there are no more pictures of the two of you snogging in public and Weasley is getting caught pissing in alleyways like the animal he is."

 

She sighed and put her hands in her lap. "Yes, well, he was pretty put out by the whole thing."

 

"Obviously." He snorted. "Kicking himself for acting an ass because he knows he can't do any better."

 

Hermione's heart fluttered in her chest, but she beat the feeling down as best she could. "Was that a compliment, Malfoy?"

 

"Not really. Superseding Weasel is hardly an accomplishment." He took a large bite and chewed thoroughly, swallowing before he continued. "I am curious what made you come to your senses, though. You and that imbecile have been googly-eyed over each other since we were in school."

 

"Honestly, I suspect you may be able to figure that out yourself." She used her fork to push her food around her plate. It was a nervous habit she had ever since she was a child.

 

"What? Couldn't agree on your favorite book? Let me guess: his had lots of pictures and was written in colored ink."

 

Hermione chuckled and found herself eating again. Somehow, he helped her feel at ease, despite the awkward conversation. "That isn't too far off, actually."

 

"At least you keep better company now." He smirked.

 

"Better? Is that the word for it?" she poked, a playful smile on her lips as she pointed at him with her fork.

 

"Well, more handsome, at least." The blond finished his pasta and dabbed his lips with the loose kerchief he had wrapped the silverware in. "And more intelligent."

 

Hermione could not disagree with either statement, but she was not about to let Draco Malfoy think that she found him handsome. The very thought made her shudder. "More intelligent than Ronald Weasley? Sure, I'll give you that."

 

Draco chuckled and took a sip of wine. "I'll take it. I have a feeling that bears more significance to a swot like you, anyway."

 

"And why does that matter?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow as she swirled her last bit of pasta around her fork.

 

"So, it's true, then." A sly grin was on his face. "You're attracted to my brilliant mind."

 

Suddenly, she went crimson in the face. "I never said that!" she exclaimed, pounding a fist on the table in protest.

 

"It was implied."

 

"It was not!" Hermione's silverware clattered against her plate as she piled it on with more force than necessary. "Merlin, you're insufferable!"

 

"I'm insufferable?" he repeated, incredulously. After he murmured a quick spell, the dirtied dishes cleaned themselves and found their way into their respective cupboards, leaving them only with their goblets of wine. He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "In fifth year you threatened Weasley with a Knee-Reversal Hex because he couldn't name the thirteenth headmaster of Durmstrang."

 

Her face only reddened more. "You heard that?"

 

He shrugged. "Umbridge had me spying on all you lot."

 

"How did you remember, though? It's been over a decade."

 

"Hard to forget the look on Weasel's stupid face." Draco snickered. "'Bloody hell, Hermione! Not my knees!'" His impression of the youngest Weasley boy involved adopting a rather nasal, squawking tone that Hermione had to admit sounded quite close to the awkward teenager she remembered.

 

Before she could suppress it, she was giggling like a madwoman. "He sort of did sound like that, didn't he?"

 

"Sure did. Surprised him and Pansy didn't have a go at it. They're quite the mental match." He finished his wine. "Suppose he didn't have the money to land a chance with that one."

 

Confused, Hermione asked, "Weren't you always with Pansy? Second year and on, I thought you two..."

 

"Oh, Merlin's arse, no! Friends, sure, but—well, let's just put it this way: Pansy passed her classes because I spent as much time helping her as you did with Weaselbee and Potter. All that time was destined to give her...ideas," he sneered. "I had about as much interest in Pansy as I did Filch and his cat."

 

"Wow, so you were in love with her," Hermione toyed with him.

 

A soft chuckle emitted from his lips before he finished his wine. To her surprise, the sound left her stomach in knots. Certainly, his laugh had not had such an effect on her.

 

"Good one, Granger."

 

She cleared her throat, hoping that the burn in her cheeks was not easy to read under the candlelight. "Well, I suppose I ought to head home. I can give Bartholomew his last feeding for the day."

 

Draco frowned as she stood. "I was going to have another glass of wine in a moment. Will you not join me?"

 

"Er—no, I don't think so," she murmured before summoning a raw steak from the ice box. The steak bled into Bartholomew's food bowl after lightly flopping into it. "Thank you again, for dinner."

 

His forehead crinkled with confusion, but he nodded, nonetheless. "It was my pleasure. Have a good evening, Granger."

 

"You too, Malfoy."

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

If Hermione had told her fifteen-year-old self that she would one day be spending every day with Draco Malfoy, willingly, she would have scoffed at the notion. Yet, as she steeped her evening tea, she found herself missing their good-natured banter. Her apartment in Cadsfordshire was just so painfully empty.

 

In the quiet of the late nights, she found herself practicing potions without the judgmental stare of her partner. At first, it felt like she was getting away with something each time she peeked inside a book for further instruction. Then, some part of her felt guilty. The past several nights, she had not used any books at all. Smiling to herself, she wondered if Draco would be proud.

 

"Bloody Malfoy," she scowled, realizing how silly it was to care about his opinions.

 

Several drops of flobberworm mucus later, she was staring at a glimmering yellow elixir that would have impressed even Severus Snape. Satisfied with herself, she bottled the Bull-Waddle Potion and shelved it amongst the dozens of other bottles and vials. The cupboard was a rainbow any potioneer would envy.

 

Unlike the grand furniture at Draco's cottage, the couch in Hermione's living room was far from comfortable. It was stiff with little wear and itchy fabric that carried the smell of a chemical she couldn't quite place. For many, the sofa was where they spent most of their time. Hermione, on the other hand, much preferred her small office and her deep-seated desk chair.

 

No matter how much she readjusted herself, there was not a cozy spot on the cursed cushions. After emitting a final, frustrated scowl, she heard a tap on her window.

 

A darling long-eared owl was pecking fervently at the glass, an envelope clutched in its tiny feet. Rarely did owls other than Harry's visit her, as she had all but fallen off the grid since she stopped working and ended her relationship with Ron. She was a mess of nerves, shock, and glee as she stepped away from the dreadful couch and opened the window.

 

She accepted the envelope and patted the bird thankfully on the head, but as soon as she tore it open, a groan fell from her lips. How coincidental that she and Malfoy had just been discussing the sender.

 

Hermione,

 

Hope this letter finds you well. Sorry if you don't recognize the owl. I had to borrow Neville's. Oxyl has been seeming a bit under the weather, but I think he's faking it to get out of flying. Ruddy bird.

 

Neville's house isn't all bad, though I do think our old place was better. He has bloody plants everywhere and it's hard to remember which ones might try to attack me, but I think I've gotten pretty good at memorizing the ones that'll leave a nasty rash. Learn from your mistakes, am I right?

 

Speaking of mistakes, just wanted to say sorry for how out of hand things got. Was hoping we could meet for tea soon.

 

Always yours,

Ron

 

P.S. The owl is a bit of a git. Give him a biscuit before sending him back or he'll never leave.

 

The inevitable had finally happened. Months after the two of them split, Ron was sending her owls, begging for her forgiveness—again. Hermione, of course, knew that he would contact her eventually. Their codependent pattern never failed.

 

Admittedly, she had been hoping to speak with him, eager to carry on the long friendship that she cherished so dearly. There was only one problem. Ronald Weasley did not want to carry on a friendship at all. His intentions were clear in his signature, because it was the same way he had signed every other post-breakup letter that he sent to her. Always yours. Then, they would meet for tea, they would make amends, and they would pick up right where they left off.

 

As Hermione turned the letter in her hands, trying to think of an amicable response, she realized that the circumstances were, perhaps, not coincidental at all. Just earlier that day, Harry had caught her at Flourish and Blotts with Draco Malfoy and Ron was one of the only two people that her friend was likely to inform about the encounter. While Harry was not the type to pry, he tended to act rather irrationally when it came to the blond Slytherin.

 

"Harry Potter, you absolute buttinsky."

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Blue eyes hurriedly ran across the words. He had waited for the letter's arrival for days, though it felt much longer. One, two, three times, he read it. Life had grown quite strange for the redhead, and he had hoped that the message contained some level of normalcy.

 

It didn't.

 

Ronald,

 

How lovely that you are staying with Neville. I can't think of a better roommate for you. Of course, I know you'd prefer Harry, but it would likely get a bit uncomfortable when Ginny visited. I'm sure you agree.

 

Thank you for apologizing. There are things that I am sorry for, as well. Unfortunately, I've been quite busy and I don't think it will be the best time to meet for tea. Perhaps in a few months when the wounds aren't as fresh, you, Neville, Harry, and myself can go for drinks. I haven't been to the Hog's Head in a long while. Aberforth would be delighted to see us.

 

Wishing you the best,

Hermione

 

He didn't know whether to be angry or disappointed. As a mixture of both set in, he sat down to pen his response. Harry had told him not to mention her fling with their childhood bully, but his emotions spoke louder than his best friend’s advice.

 

Hermione,

 

It's a good time for you to be gallivanting about with Draco Malfoy but not to have tea with me? He's a git! We always end up getting back together. Surely, you aren't going to let MALFOY be the reason we don't?

 

Honestly, have you lost your bloody mind, Hermione? He's a Malfoy and you're a Mudblood. You can't possibly think you're a good match. Bloody hell, woman, I thought you were smarter than this. Does he have a big knob or something? I just have no idea what you see in him. He's MALFOY.

 

Guess you always have had a thing for shagging the enemy, so maybe this is no big surprise. First Krum, now Malfoy. Next thing we know, you're going to be the Knockturn Alley trollop.

 

When you stop being an idiot, you can find me at Neville's.

 

Ron

 

The words were harsh. He knew it, but he was too livid and hurt to care. Instead, he sealed it in an envelope, offered the long-eared owl a treat, and sent him away to deliver the rude message.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Buried nose-deep in Rearing Rare and Dangerous Creatures, a platinum blond wizard sat upon his sofa, legs crossed and his favorite pet lain across him. He was not surprised when he heard the same soft crack! he heard every morning. In fact, the sound brought a subtle smile to his face.

 

"Morning, Granger. Coffee is on the table." He gestured the green-and-silver mug she had grown accustomed to using. The Slytherin rather enjoyed that she was using a mug with his House colors.

 

"Rearing Rare and Dangerous Creatures?" she asked, frowning as she began unpacking her bottomless bag full of tomes. "I've never even heard of that book. Where did you find it?"

 

"Knockturn Alley."

 

Hermione sighed, dropping her books onto the coffee table with a loud thud. "Yes, I suppose that is where we'll be finding any information we might need outside of basic potioneering. Come across anything helpful?" She gave Bartholomew a light push. After a notably reluctant roar, the Wampus cat jumped down and settled onto his favorite rug while the witch plopped onto the sofa beside Draco. "I'm particularly interested in what we're supposed to do once he starts walking on his hind legs." She peered over his shoulder, her hot breath tickling his neck. "I imagine he'll be quite a menace."

 

"Hind legs, I can handle. It's the hypnosis that worries me," Draco mumbled, shifting in place. He felt Hermione move with him, seemingly eager for the human contact. "Are you even listening to me or are you too busy trying to feel up on me?"

 

"I'm not trying to feel up on anything." A sentence that she would have usually scowled came out meek and tired.

 

He glanced over at her, noticing that her eyes were red-rimmed and her bushy hair was somehow unrulier than usual. "You look a right mess."

 

"Gee, thanks, Malfoy."

 

"No, really. What's going on with you?"

 

"Nothing," she asserted, her gaze focused hard on the lines of text. "Last I checked, we're here for research, not chit-chat."

 

 He frowned, but knew how to take a hint. Pressing her would get him nowhere. "Well, I haven't found any chapters on Wampus cats in particular. All I've found mention of was some bloke named Abel Treetops who—"

 

"Claimed he domesticated them, but they were actually engorged Kneazles. Yes, I know him."

 

"Right. So it looks like we may not have much to go off of, but I've been finding some other information that may translate." He flipped back several pages until he reached a chapter entitled "Hungarian Horntails and Why They're Terrible Pets".

 

Hermione trailed her fingers along a moving illustration of a Hungarian Horntail that appeared to be breathing fire upon a man that had it leashed. She lay her head on Draco's shoulder. "Well, at least he can't incinerate us."

 

Draco chortled and skimmed the page until he found what he was looking for. "Yes, here it is. 'A Horntail is among the worst of the dragons to try and keep in captivity. Slashing claws and large teeth can easily be tamed by blunting charms but there is no ethical way to stop a dragon from...' and the rest really doesn't matter. Blunting charms. Should've been obvious before, honestly. I've never had to learn one, but I figure they would be simple enough. Easier than filing the bastard's teeth down..."

 

The brunette was nonresponsive to her partner's findings. Instead, she stared at the page, unblinkingly, the whites of her eyes only growing more bloodshot.

 

"Granger?" He frowned, moving his neck just enough to give her a good look without disturbing her place on his shoulder. "Granger, what the hell is wrong with you? Did someone lay some sort of nasty hex on you this morning?"

 

She shrugged. "No."

 

"Then what in Merlin's bollocks is your problem? You come in with more books than I can count, ready to work, and five minutes later, you look like you saw a bloody dementor."

 

"It doesn't matter," she grumbled, closing her eyes.

 

"It bloody well does if you can't get any work done!" He pulled away from her, drawing his pale brows together as she simply let her body slump into the sofa. "Merlin, witch!"

 

She sighed, straightening herself and laying her head back to look at the high ceiling. "Well, if you really must know, Malfoy, it's Ron."

 

Draco narrowed his eyes and slammed the book shut. "You aren't actually back with Weasel, are you? I can't have you getting distracted—"

 

"I assure you, he will not be a distraction," she scoffed, crossing her arms. "He sent me an owl a few days ago after Harry ran into us in Flourish and Blotts. Harry put him up to it when he saw us together."

 

Draco cocked an inquisitive eyebrow, entirely certain that there had to be more to the story. Granger was hardly the type to get worked up over mere contact, especially when she had already expected it.

 

"He wanted me to have tea with him. It's—well, he didn't say it but he always does that when he's trying to patch things up. I told him it wasn't a good time and he sent me a rather nasty letter last night. Mostly along the lines of 'you have time for Malfoy but not me?' and the classic 'have you lost your bloody mind, Hermione?'—not to mention the fact that he called me a Mudblood!" The woman was seething. "Harry gave him the impression that you and I are having...relations."

 

The blond wizard sniggered. "Weaselbee thinks we're shagging? Oh, that's grand."

 

Hermione whacked his upper arm. "It's not funny!"

 

"Oh, it bloody is! There was no turning Potter off that idea, was there? Must be having some strange fantasies, that one."

 

"Draco!" the witch scowled.

 

"And did you say Weasel called you a Mudblood?" Draco cackled. "I hope he wasn't suggesting he's superior to you. I'll take a Mudblood with brains over a Weasley any day."

 

"If that was supposed to be a compliment, it wasn't a very good one," she growled, crossing her arms again. Then, a small smile grew on her face. "I am better than him, aren't I?"

 

Draco's laughter slowed and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, squeezing in a way that many could have described as affectionate. "I've told you as much before. I would rather spend the rest of my life looking at that stupid bushy head of yours than get within ten feet of that ginger rodent even for a second."

 

Hermione opened her mouth as though she wanted to say something, but instead, her smile grew wider and she summoned one of her half-dozen tomes. "You know, I found something too." Wandlessly, she used her magic to track down the page she was looking for. The pages turned on their own. "Ah, yes! Take a look at this."

 

The blond comfortably watched the text her finger was tracing as she curled back into his side. Perhaps, it was just to make it easier to share their findings with each other, but something about her being so close made his heart swell. He would never admit it, but even disheveled, his schoolboy crush still gave him an anxious feeling that he couldn't describe.



Chapter 6: Roses and Vials
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Red and white roses were strewn across the carpeted apartment floor, while columbines and daisies lined every countertop, table, and windowsill. Unfortunately, it did not end there. Everywhere she looked, there were heavily embroidered tags with dreadful scrawls of "I LOVE YOU, HERMIONE" emblazoned upon them. The ghastly sight was one that she had only seen once before. She and her ex-boyfriend had broken up at least a half-dozen times, but usually, they reconnected before he could reach the third sickly-sweet stage of apologizing. Showering her with floral displays had worked that time, and clearly, he was convinced that it would work again.

 

Fatigued, she charmed an unwelcome cluster of buttercups away from her mattress and collapsed onto her stomach. After a long day of chasing after a rambunctious Wampus cat, she was not in the mood for Ronald Weasley's persistent advances. Patching up their friendship would take some time after the boorish letter he sent her, and she was certain she would never even entertain the idea of dating him again. The thought of kissing him had become truly nauseating.

 

Hermione's mind raced as she closed her tired, bloodshot eyes. She did not have time to worry about her ex-boyfriend's inability to move on, and she certainly didn't have time to tend to what appeared to be thousands of flowers. There were much more pressing matters. The Wampus cat was finally grown and she and her partner were well-equipped for the first round of testing. Nearly two months of working with Draco Malfoy had made her quite an expert in potion-brewing, and though she would never admit it, it was all thanks to his demanding, hands-off approach.

 

Despite her strong interest in magical law, she found that potion-making was much more fascinating. How had she removed her focus from the subject for so long? It was brilliantly rewarding. Perfect attention to detail was of the utmost value, and if Hermione Granger was anything, she was a perfectionist.

 

Her rekindled passion made it quite a challenge to keep her work secret, especially when it came to her best friend. Harry Potter was not easily duped. He was an Auror, after all. Eventually, she would have to tell him what they were doing. The bespectacled wizard seemed quite sure of himself when he accused her of having a fling with her partner, and to assure him that her relationship with Draco Malfoy was strictly professional, she would have to tell him the truth.

 

Hermione was still upset with Harry. How could he think so little of her? The blond wizard was attractive, sure, but she certainly did not want anything more than a working relationship. Draco had always been comely, even when they were in school. That hardly meant that she was interested in him. In fact, she still smiled when she thought about slapping his handsome, smirking face back in their third year. Traditional beauty may have gotten him many things in life, but Hermione Granger was not so easy.

 

As she opened her eyes in the semidarkness and rolled over, the sea of flowers brought her back to a small, niggling thought that she had been fighting for quite some time. If she had no interest in Draco Malfoy, why hadn't she reunited with Ron? She always gave in to his letters of admiration. What made this breakup any different?

 

Convincing herself that she was simply over Ron and that she was too busy for a relationship, she rolled onto her back and fell asleep.

 

 

***

 

 

Fawn-colored hair blanketed most of the furniture in the small cottage, including the duvet in an exhausted wizard's bedroom. As the Wampus cat grew larger, he only found more ways to be the menace he was always destined to become. Calming Draught did not work anymore, and the creature often tried to use his hypnotic powers to get his way. Avoiding his gaze had become second nature.

 

The sun had barely peeked over the horizon as the man felt a heavy weight on top of him. It had become an early morning tradition, and while many people quite liked traditions, the wizard loathed this one.

 

"Damn it, Barth!" he scowled, trying to push the creature off. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

 

Of course, Bartholomew did not know what time it is. Outweighing his owner by many, many stone, he licked the man's pale face, triumphantly, quite certain that he was enjoying it. After several curse words and another scowl, the Wampus cat had finally grown bored with his owner and he hopped off the bed.

 

"Time for breakfast, then," the wizard groaned, kicking off his blankets. He dragged his feet to the kitchen and pulled an entire raw chicken from the ice box. As he lazily dropped it on the wooden floor he added, "You're not getting any more than that until afternoon, you giant oaf. Last bloody thing I need is for you to get fat. You nearly break my ribs every morning as it is."

 

Bartholomew excitedly chomped at the featherless corpse. With a roll of his eyes, the wizard scrubbed his hands and leaned against the kitchen counter, quietly wondering when his partner would finally arrive.

 

Long days with the wild-haired woman had, to his surprise, proven to be enjoyable. She had always been a brilliant witch, and beautiful too, but he never knew her to be witty, caring, or attentive. The more time he spent with her, the more he realized that he was not destined to escape his boyhood infatuation. She was, after all, just that. Nothing would come of his attraction to her.

 

Before he could put any more thought into the matter, he heard a small crack! come from his living room. Eager to see her, he crossed the kitchen and into the room, only to be greeted by a bouquet of roses with an unkempt, chestnut mane. The bouquet sounded much like his daily houseguest, although it was swearing.

 

"How lovely, Granger. You brought me roses," he jested, reaching out to take them from her. "And here I was thinking you didn't care about me."

 

Scowling, she pulled her tangled hair into a ponytail and plopped onto the sofa. "They're from Ron. I thought they might make it smell a bit less like Wampus in here."

 

Chuckling, the wizard summoned a glass vase, tucked it under his arm, and cast a wandless Water-Making Spell. Before he could submerge the thorny stems, he found a small tag with terrible, scribbled handwriting. "This must be from Weasel too, then, eh?"

 

"Probably," Hermione muttered, acting as though she didn't care, though her face was turning pink. "You can just put it in the bin. I'll vanish it all later."

 

"Oh, I think not!" He plucked the tag from around the bouquet and began to read. "'Hermione, you and I are simply meant to be'"

 

"Malfoy!" the brunette whined, getting to her feet. She pawed for the tag, but it was no use as Draco held it far above her head. "Give it back!"

 

"No chance, Granger," he laughed, looking up to continue reading. "'...you and I are simply meant to be together. That's why you always come back, isn't it? I miss your big, brown hair and your pretty eyes' and how you always wipe my"

 

"It doesn't say that!" Hermione exclaimed, finally reaching for her wand. A quick rib-jabbing spell seemed to do the trick, as he dropped the tag and she collected it from the floor. Unfortunately, the flowers fell along with it. Her eyes trailed across Ron's ugly scrawl and she laughed. "It is rather corny, isn't it?"

 

"Corny?" Draco repeated, seizing the vase from underneath his opposite arm. "More like absolutely nauseating. Don't tell me you're falling for this nonsense."

 

Hermione cocked a dark eyebrow. "What's it to you if I am?"

 

He cleared his throat. "Nothing. We don't have time for you to be running about with that ginger twit." With the flick of his wand, the flowers floated from the floor into the vase. "I suppose we ought to collect a few hair samples."

 

The witch's gaze turned to the sleeping Wampus cat. Frowning, she said, "I wouldn't want to wake him."

 

Draco scoffed. "Clearly, you have better manners than he does."

 

Hermione tilted her head, questioningly.

 

"Never mind, Granger. Besides, we don't need to wake him. There's enough Wampus hair around here to replace the rug ten times over."

 

 

***

 

 

Collecting Wampus hair was certainly no difficult feat. After finding thousands of samples, Hermione wiped her brow and turned to her fair-skinned partner. Bags under his eyes were a sign of sleeplessness, and part of her wondered if he had been awake at night for the same reason that she was. The very idea made her stomach churn.

 

Alas, she shook the notion so they could focus on more important matters. They did, after all, just collect their first hair samples and they could begin experimentingbut only if they were both mentally sound. Exhaustion would lead to mistakes.

 

"You're tired."

 

"What?"

 

"Your eyes," Hermione noted, gesturing the spot beneath her own. "They're purple."

 

"Oh, right," he muttered, tucking several vials of Wampus hair into his breast pocket. "Bartholomew has been a bit of a nuisance in the early mornings. No reason for concern."

 

"You shouldn't brew anything if you're tired," she warned. "We'll be dealing with volatile ingredients, Draco."

 

"What? Are you going to put me down for a nap like my mother?" He fixed his blazer. "Why don't you get me my stuffed owly and a warm, bloody blankie while you're at it?"

 

Hermione rolled her eyes. "If something explodes in the house, don't say I didn't warn you."

 

"Let's just get testing, Granger."

 

"Fine."

 

Draco stepped out of his bedroom and she followed closely behind him. She quietly breathed a sigh of relief. Being in his bedroom with him had actually made her stomach lurch, but not in the way it might have when she was a teenager. Now, it lurched in a way that scared her even more.

 

As they padded down the hallway, Hermione called for Bartholomew, eager to scratch him behind the ears before they began testing. Knowing that Hagrid would take care of him did ease the pain, but the Wampus cat would be leaving as soon as they discovered a use for his hair. She blinked back tears.

 

"Where are you, you giant buffoon?" Draco said, though Hermione could tell he meant it in a loving way.

 

"Bartholomew!" Hermione called again.

 

Then, she heard it: rummaging in the kitchen. She put a finger to her lips and slowly snuck down the hallway. The rummaging grew louder. She peeked into the kitchen, and to her horror, Bartholomew was buried headfirst in the ice box.

 

"Barth! No!" she shouted, running towards him.

 

"Bloody cat!" Draco scowled, tailing her.

 

The Wampus cat growled and sprinted in the opposite direction. With a gasp, Hermione darted after him with Draco close behind her. He brushed past her and looked around the living room, only for the color to drain from his face. Before Hermione could ask what was wrong, she saw it. The door was open.

 

"Bartholomew!" she managed, hurrying out the door and down the steps. "Barth!"

 

"Come here, you stupid creature!"

 

He was in the yard, digging. Draco bolted towards the six-legged creature, Hermione hot on his heels. As he launched forward to grab the Wampus by the hindquarters, Hermione's shoes brushed his and they toppled into a rather unfortunate pile. Bartholomew haughtily circled them and trotted back into the house through the door that he had undoubtedly opened himself. Though the cause of her anxiety was resolved, Hermione found her heart pounding even faster. She was lying on top of Draco, her face hovering above his.

 

They were silent, studying one another for a lingering moment. Hermione had been trying to push aside her attraction to him for weeks, but as her eyes raked over his rosy pink lips, she knew that she did not stand a chance. How had she controlled herself for as long as she had? Even the famous Viktor Krum was not as beautiful as the pale man before her. His grey eyes looked her up and down, and it was then that she realized he was thinking the same thing that she was.

 

So she succumbed.

 

Her lips were against his, and to her glee, he was kissing her back. Never had she thought she would be snogging Draco Malfoy, yet as he rolled his tongue against hers, reality set in. Even when she was a teenager, no boy could make her lose herself. How was it Draco Malfoy that cracked her shell? How had her childhood bully become the person she was carelessly straddling in his front yard? Certainly, the Muggle neighbors driving along Nettles Way had not expected such a sight. Whoever was in the tiny Vauxhall had gotten quite an eyeful.

 

Somehow, she didn't mind.

 

Hermione had no idea how long it lasted, but as his hands traveled up her back and she twisted her fingers in his perfect, platinum locks, she knew she did not want it to end. His lips were warm and soft, unlike the cracked, dry lips of Ronald Weasley. Was this what kissing was supposed to be like? Feeling particularly brave, she drug her hands down his sides and trailed them underneath his black button-up shirt. She felt a smirk against her lips and found herself fumbling with his trousers.

 

Then, she remembered where they were, and her eyes widened. Mortified, the brunette pulled away, refusing to look at the man beneath her as she removed her hands from under his shirt. Only then did she fully realize what had transpired and how public it had been.

 

"Um, very sorry," she mumbled, her face beet red. She rolled away from him and brushed the grass from her knees and bottom. "I just umI just fell."

 

Draco gulped and nodded, getting to his feet. "Right." He scratched the back of his head. "Iermwe ought to be getting back to work."

 

"Work. Right, yes."

 

And so they did, avoiding eye contact for the rest of the day.

 


Author's Note: Only two more chapters in this fluffy tale, I believe. I hope you have enjoyed it insofar! If you're a Dramione fan and would like something a bit more serious, please follow my other ongoing fanfiction, Wreck.



Chapter 7: Professor Schnitzel's Invisible Hair Potion
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The table was covered in ingredients, from aconite to flying seahorse tails. Weeks of experimenting had led the duo nowhere, and with a full-grown Wampus cat running around, their hands were more than full.

 

"How in Merlin's name are we supposed to test when you can't go ten minutes without breaking something?" the blond wizard shouted, burying the creature's nose in the pile of rubbish that he had knocked over. "I was just about to get rid of that!"

 

"I told you to take care of it before he woke up from his nap," the brunette woman scolded, stirring the neon pink potion before her. "Draco, I need those lacewings!"

 

"One bloody second, witch!"

 

The potion was quickly becoming murkier and murkier, a color indicative of a failed brew. Panicking, the woman searched for the lacewing flies, knocking over the dozens of vials and apothecary bottles in her way. With a roll of his eyes, Draco shuffled towards the table and handed her the cutting board.

 

"You may as well toss that batch, Granger. Looks too far gone."

 

"It wouldn't have been if you were—" To her horror, a cloud burst forth from the cauldron. Her hair, which was already quite unkempt, had transformed into a rat's nest worthy of the tabloids she hated so much. "Oh, hell."

 

Draco exploded into a fit of laughter, shaking his head as his scarlet-faced partner tried to smooth down her mane. "Who knew your hair could be an even bigger mess?" He flicked his wand at the cauldron, leaving it glimmering and ready for another batch. "Perhaps I ought to mix this one."

 

"Please do," Hermione grumbled before retreating to the bathroom.

 

She clawed at her hair, mortified by the many layers of tangles and frizz. Charm after charm failed, and despite her better judgment, she rifled through the bathroom cupboard to try and find something to tame the nightmare atop her head. After moving several Wizarding brands of expensive cologne and a large shaving razor, she found her only hope.

 

"Professor Schnitzel's Invisible Hair Potion," she read aloud before unscrewing the lid. As she peered inside at the clear, bubbling gel, she chuckled. "This can't be much different than Muggle gel."

 

She fingered just a small dab of the thick potion and applied it to a frizzy clump of hair. Miraculously, it was smoother than it had ever been. Now confident in the product, she combed more and more of it through her wild locks, humming away as she did so. Perhaps, she would impress Draco with her new look.

 

Her stomach rolled. She was not supposed to care what Draco thought of her, but after their front yard kiss, she only felt more attached to him. Unlike the harsh press of Viktor Krum's mouth or the cracked, dry lips of Ronald Weasley, snogging Draco Malfoy had been an extraordinarily soft experience. Naturally, she would never tell him that.

 

Unfortunately, she had gotten so lost in her thoughts that she absentmindedly added far too much product to her frizz. It was not until it was too late that she realized what a sour mistake she had made. What had been smooth, feminine ringlets suddenly appeared drenched and weighed down. She had seen marathon runners with drier hair! Mortified, she looked at the label once again, and sure enough, the directions on the back confirmed her suspicions.

 

Step 1: Use a dab - no bigger than a Knut!

Step 2: Wait two minutes!

Step 3: Watch your mane transform into our signature 'just-bathed' look!

Step 4: Enjoy!

 

Perfect for parties, holidays, and work!

Our unremovable, long-lasting formula lasts 12 hours!

 

Hermione's eyes widened. She tried several removal charms, water, and even some transfiguration, but nothing did the trick. The gel was, in fact, unremovable.

 

Then, she heard several knocks on the door. "Granger! What the hell are you doing in there? You didn't get eaten by that hair of yours, did you?"

 

"Erm—no!" she shouted, frantically putting everything back into the cupboard. "No, no! Just trying to fix it!"

 

"You're more likely to mix a potion that turns skinks into Hungarian Horntails! Forget that lost cause and get your arse out here! I've found something."

 

Nervous, Hermione drew in a deep breath and tugged at a crunchy, hard lock one last time. She opened the door and, to her surprise, Draco was not there. As she padded down the hallway, she hoped for two things: firstly, that Draco would not make a nasty comment about her hair, and secondly, that his findings were valuable.

 

To her annoyance, he roared with laughter as soon as she stepped into the room. "Is that my hair potion, Granger? You look like a wet fucking dog!"

 

"Did you have something to show me or did you call me out here just to mock me?"

 

"Right to business, then," Draco muttered. He waved her over. "Come here. Take a look in the cauldron."

 

Hermione did as she was instructed to do and raised an eyebrow. "Neon pink. Did you just adjust the ratios?"

 

"And I added fairy wings," he said, gesturing an apothecary bottle. "As you know, that means we likely have one of two types of potions."

 

"Cosmetic or endurant."

 

Draco nodded. "Precisely. Now, the next step is to determine dosages. We'll need a few bezoars on hand, since we have no idea how potent this is. If you don't mind digging those out of this mess, that would be incredibly helpful."

 

His pale pink lips kept moving, excitedly delving into the details of the potion and what it could be, what dosage he recommended for a start, and how they could determine the properties of the Wampus hair. Never had research bored Hermione, but for some reason, she could not focus on what he was saying. Instead, her gaze was fixed on his perfect mouth.

 

"Granger, did you hear me?"

 

"What? Y-yes, of course! Dosages. Right."

 

He narrowed his eyes as Bartholomew wrapped his tail around his leg. The wizard scratched the cat behind the ears. "You're distracted."

 

"I'm not distracted," Hermione fibbed, not eager to discuss her fascination with the man sitting beside her. "Quite the opposite, in fact."

 

Draco looked unconvinced. "Right. Well, I'll feed Barth and then let's get to work. No time to waste, yeah?"

 

"Yeah," she repeated, ripping her eyes away. "No time to waste."

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Malfoys did not test potions on themselves. A younger Draco Malfoy might have encouraged his Muggle-born partner to do the honors, but he had grown to care for the frizzy-headed witch. While he would never tell her that, he certainly was not going to let her ingest mystery potions, either.

 

"So I got the bezoars around. I suppose we should just start with a drop or two like you said?"

 

"You won't be starting with anything," he corrected, setting several vials down onto the coffee table. They rolled a bit, clunking together as the bright pink liquid splashed inside. "The tester I have in mind—well, you may not approve of it, but I assure you it's our safest option."

 

Hermione looked skeptical. "Who do you have in mind, if not us?"

 

"You won't like it."

 

"You can't know that until you tell me," she replied, coolly, curiosity lacing her tone.

 

"Fine." He clapped his hands three times, and a wide-hipped house-elf appeared in a wisp of smoke. "Lippy, meet Granger. Granger, this is Lippy."

 

"Lovely to meet you, Lippy." She shook the house-elf's tiny hand and glared at Draco. "I thought you didn't have any house-elves."

 

He smirked. "I don't. She's my parents'. I'm just borrowing her."

 

She looked down at the small creature and flashed a smile before turning back to her partner. "Draco, I'd like to talk to you in the other room, please."

 

"I figured as much." He looked down at Lippy. "Make yourself at home. The sofa's all yours."

 

As soon as they were in the kitchen, Hermione turned on her heel, glaring daggers in his direction. "You have to be joking. I thought you'd changed! Still arrogant, sure, but cruel? And to think I—ugh!"

 

"Calm down, will you?" Draco hissed, leaning closer to her. "She's a house-elf. Bezoars are more effective on her. It's the only rational method of testing."

 

"I never read that," Hermione spat, crossing her arms.

 

"Why else did you think potioneers have done it for centuries?"

 

"Because house-elves have been oppressed that long! They have no choice!"

 

Draco rolled his eyes. "Want me to prove it to you?"

 

"No!" she shrieked. "You are not about to go pump her full of potion!"

 

"I meant, I'll show you in a book. Though, you should know this already. I'm nearly positive you read the one I'm thinking of." He crossed the room and turned back to look at her. "Are you coming or not?"

 

"I would've remembered reading something like that." Storming towards him, she added, "Even if you think it's rational, it doesn't mean I approve."

 

Draco snorted. "I didn't think you would."

 

He plodded out of the kitchen, but as soon as he stepped into the living room, he stopped. With his eyes as wide as tennis balls, he took in the scene before him.

 

Lippy was burping endlessly, an empty vial on the sofa beside her. At first glance, he thought that she was suffering, but as he got a closer look, he realized that that was not the case at all.

 

"Very good potion, Master Malfoy." The house-elf was speaking much faster than usual. "Lippy likes it very much."

 

"Lippy, can you describe how you feel?" he asked, cautiously, taking a few steps towards her. From the corner of his eye, he caught Hermione glaring at him. "You aren't hurt, are you?"

 

"Hurt? From from it, sir. Lippy feels strong! And fast! Like Lippy could finish all the chores in less than an hour!"

 

Hermione gave him a concerned look. "Can I check your pulse, Lippy?"

 

"Lippy doesn't mind," the house-elf said, carelessly flinging her arm towards the witch.

 

Hermione pressed her thumb against Lippy's wrist and frowned. "It's normal."

 

"What, is that strange?"

 

"Well, usually drugs—I'm sorry—potions—like this would drive up the user's heart rate." She let go of the house-elf's arm, frowning as she watched the happy creature belch and giggle. "Her pupils aren't dilated either. I would like to know if her blood pressure is within a reasonable range, but if it is, this potion seems to have no adverse effects."

 

The house-elf burped again.

 

"Besides that," Draco corrected. He raised his brows. "I suppose the next step is to check this—what did you call it?"

 

"Blood pressure," Hermione mumbled. "Is this really not something you test?"

 

He shrugged. "If something is wrong, we can usually tell."

 

"Well, I'll need to get some Muggle supplies then. If her blood pressure is okay, I'd think it would be safe to move onto testing ourselves." She leered at him. "But don't you dare think this means I approve of this."

 

 

 

***

 

 

After a brief visit to Fritz Drug, the only drugstore in all of Fiddlesby, the brunette witch was able to test the house-elf's blood pressure. Of course, she was not sure what a house-elf's blood pressure was supposed to be, which made the process all the more challenging.

 

"So, we know that her blood pressure is ninety over fifty after drinking the potion. That would actually be low by human standards." Hermione frowned. "How utterly bizarre."

 

"Is that bad?"

 

Hermione removed the cuff from the elf's skinny arm and shook her head. "I don't know."

 

Lippy belched and grinned. "Lippy is thirsty. May Lippy conjure some water?"

 

"Please do," Draco replied before Hermione could offer to do it instead. When she narrowed her eyes, he said, "What? We need to see how well her magic works right now."

 

The house-elf snapped her fingers and a glass of water appeared out of thin air. She drank it quickly and graciously, before wiping her upper lip and summoning more.

 

"Are you able to hydrate?" Hermione asked the elf, concernedly. "Does the thirstiness go away?"

 

Lippy thought for a moment. "Lippy isn't thirsty anymore." She set the half-full glass down on the coffee table.

 

"So what do we do now? Wait until the potion is out of her system?"

 

Hermione sighed and got to her feet. "I suppose so." She looked around the room and drew her brows together. "Where is Barth? It's nearly his dinnertime, isn't it?"

 

"Sleeping. I wouldn't mind if it stayed that way."

 

"There's really nothing to do other than wait it out, then," Hermione said, awkwardly. She bit her lip. "Erm—do you want to play some Exploding Snap or something? I always keep a deck in my bag."

 

Draco shrugged. "I mean, I'm not twelve but I suppose we have time to kill."

 

 

***

 

 

Weeks had gone by and still, the redhead was alone. Having already tried his usual approaches, he was stumped. He and his longtime girlfriend always made up and got back together, so what was so different about this time?

 

"Malfoy," he spat, crumpling up a piece of parchment. "I just don't understand what she sees in the git! He bullied her for how long? Called her a Mudblood. Wanted her dead. Left her to get tortured by that dreadful aunt of his."

 

"But he's better now, isn't he? He did help Harry," his rosy-cheeked roommate said, tossing a Remembrall in the air. He had purchased it quite recently, as he had forgotten where his last three Remembralls were. "And didn't he apologize to her and Harry ages back?"

 

"Sure, but that doesn't mean she should be shagging him. He's still a git."

 

"I dunno, mate. Hannah was telling me all the girls in school fancied him," his roommate replied, still tossing the small, glass orb. "Maybe she's going for looks?"

 

"Are you saying I'm worse-looking than that ferret?"

 

"I'm just telling you what Hannah said. It could be the gold too. His family's got quite a lot of it, don't they?"

 

"She never cared about gold before," he muttered. "I just don't know what to say! 'Hey Hermione, this is Ron. Noticed you didn't owl me back after I sent you four hundred bouquets of flowers. Was there a misdelivery?' She'd think I was absolutely mental."

 

"Still can't believe that didn't work. Hannah really loves when I send her flowers."

 

"Can you stop talking about your girlfriend for thirty seconds, Neville? This is Hermione. Nothing impresses her." Ron sighed and lay back onto his pillow. "Nothing except Malfoy, I guess."

 

"You two have been at it for ages. She'll come around," Neville assured him, catching his Remembrall with both hands. "I reckon she just needs to get this whole Malfoy thing out of her system. I mean, Hannah dated Justin Finch-Fletchley for a while but in the long run, she picked me!"

 

Ron glared at him.

 

"Sorry. Bit of a habit."

 

 

***

 

 

"Ten out of ten!"

 

"Because you didn't play fairly," Hermione spat, shuffling the cards. "I don't think Bavarian Rules are even a real thing."

 

"They most certainly are!" Draco exclaimed. He and his houseguest had gotten rather comfortable sitting on the floor. "It's not my fault your Muggle family never taught you how to play."

 

"Harry and Ron taught me—and they never mentioned anything about Bavarian Rules." She passed out the cards and looked at her hand. "Can we play with normal rules this time?"

 

"Normal rules aren't nearly as fun," Draco drawled, "but sure. Let's do it your boring way. I'll still win."

 

Hermione glared at him before playing her card. It exploded as soon as it hit the tattered rug, leaving an unsightly black mark where it had landed. "You have to be kidding me!"

 

"Shame. You seemed pretty confident in that one too."

 

"I was!"

 

He eyed her as he put his first choice down. "Only a few more hours of that awful hairstyle of yours."

 

"What do you—oh, right." She felt the top of her head before playing another card. "It didn't look this bad when I first applied it."

 

"Yes, well, your usual hair suits you much better."

 

"Was that a compliment?"

 

"No," he replied, trumping her play with a smirk. "Granger, it's almost like you're trying to lose."

 

She opened her mouth to rebut, but they were interrupted by a loud yawn.

 

"Lippy is tired now."

 

Draco and Hermione exchanged glances.

 

"The potion must have worn off," Hermione noted, tossing her cards onto the floor. Several exploded, but she ignored them and scrambled to her feet. As she seized the blood pressure cuff from the coffee table, she added, "Let me see your arm, Lippy. Just a little pressure. Same as last time."

 

Hermione wrapped the cuff around the house-elf's arm tiny arm and put the two earpieces in her ears. Confusion was evident in Draco's expression as he watched her listen to the Muggle device; it was, after all, still quite new to him.

 

"Is she fine?"

 

Hermione pressed her forefinger to her lips as she listened closely. Within just a moment, she was grinning at her blond partner. "Eighty-eight over fifty."

 

Draco frowned. "That's different, though."

 

"Slightly," Hermione agreed, "but not enough to be considered a dangerous side effect. Draco, do you know what this might mean?"

 

"That it's perfectly safe for house-elves, just like I figured," he declared, triumphantly.

 

"Well, yes, but if it affects humans the same way, we could help thousands of witches and wizards. The way coffee wakes you up in the morning—this potion seems to have the same effect, except in a much more potent way," Hermione explained. She turned to Lippy. "Lippy, have you ever had coffee?"

 

Lippy peeked nervously at Draco. "Lippy is not supposed to sneak beverages from the Malfoys."

 

"I won't tell my parents," Draco said, annoyance in his tone. "Just answer the bloody question."

 

The elf fidgeted for a moment, clearly still uncomfortable by his presence. He was, after all, a Malfoy, and Malfoys did not treat elves with kindness. "Well, yes. It helps Lippy wake up in the morning for chores."

 

"And this potion—did it feel the same? Different?"

 

"Oh, Lippy did not feel so good even after an entire pot of coffee. Potion is much better. Much better, indeed."

 

"Merlin, we just might have done it!" Hermione exclaimed, throwing her arms around Draco's neck. "We—" She paused, her eyes finding the same lips that she had kissed not all that long ago. Her heart pounded in her chest as she realized his silver irises were raking over her too, almost like he ached to feel her in the same way that she ached to feel him.

 

Then, for the second time, their lips collided.

 

It was just like the last time: sloppy, passionate, searching. Lippy squeaked in disapproval, only to dart out of the way when they collapsed onto the sofa, clearly caring very little about the elf's presence. His mouth found her neck and, unlike the last time, she did not come to her senses as soon as their lips were apart. Instead, she wrapped her legs around him, urging him to keep going.

 

Hermione had no idea how long it lasted, but by the end of it, she was dizzy and Lippy was gone.

 

"I suppose I ought to—erm—maybe I ought to get home. I am quite hungry—" She fixed her blouse and sat up, only for Draco to seize her arm.

 

"Oh no you don't. This is the second time this has happened and you aren't about to just run off like you did last time."

 

She sighed. "Well, what do you want me to say, Draco? I'm—I don't know. Maybe I'm confused."

 

He buried his face in her neck. "You aren't confused. You're making excuses, just like before."

 

"Don't you dare put that all on me, because if I might remind you, you kissed me back."

 

She felt him smirk into her neck before he traced her jaw with his mouth. "Indeed I did."

 

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but she was quickly shut up by the feeling of his soft, supple lips against her throat. She let out a small moan.

 

"See. I don't think you're confused at all."

 

And he was right. She wasn't confused when she kissed him, she wasn't confused when he kissed her back, and she most certainly wasn't confused when he pulled her towards his bedroom. In fact, her thoughts had not been so clear in a very long time.

 



Chapter 8: An Unwanted Visitor
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The witch and wizard lay beside one another, staring uncomfortably at the vaulted ceiling. Neither of them ever thought they would be where they were, but now that the unthinkable had happened, the inevitable silence was there to follow.

 

The quiet was only broken by the snoring Wampus cat who lay on the floor, entirely unaware of the consequences that his loved ones could face for their actions. After all, mortal enemies were not meant to share a bed, and though the creature never would have known it, the man and the woman were, in fact, mortal enemies. At least, that is what the public thought.

 

"So, I suppose that's one way to celebrate," the woman said, slowly, still watching the ceiling far too intently.

 

"Well, at least Potter isn't wrong anymore," he said with a smirk. "First time for everything."

 

Her face drained of all color. "Well, he doesn't need to know that. This isn't going to be a—well this was a one-time sort of thing, so no reason to involve him."

 

With that, she rolled out of bed and began collecting her clothes. The blond wizard frowned at her from his place in bed, wondering what he had done to make her leave in such a hurry. Based on the sounds she had been making, he assumed she had enjoyed herself just as much as he did.

 

"Whoa, Granger. Slow down," he said, sitting up. "Where are you going?"

 

"Home." She pulled her top over her head. "I'll be back to run more tests tomorrow."

 

"You can't just leave," he argued, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

 

"Can't?" Hermione raised her brows, but refused to make eye contact. "I can do whatever I want."

 

"But—but we just—" He struggled to pull his boxers on, hobbling on one leg as he tried to pull them up. "Hang on, then! Just sit down so we can talk for a moment, yeah?"

 

"About what?" she asked, fixing her waistband.

 

"About what just happened!"

 

Hermione shrugged, still not looking at him. "I don't need to talk about it." She reached down to scratch the Wampus behind his left ear. "See you later, Barth." Glancing briefly at the wizard, she added, "Bye, Draco."

 

"Wait—"

 

But she did not stick around to talk to him. Instead, she Disapparated.

 

 

***

 

 

It was time for desperate measures. Flowers and letters were apparently not enough, and if the youngest Weasley brother was going to win back the woman he loved, he would have to make her listen to him. Set on his new idea, he put on one of the button-up Muggle shirts that she always said made him look "handsome". Surely, that would impress her.

 

"Ron, are you sure about this?" his roommate asked, awkwardly, swiveling away from the Spleenworts that he was watering.

 

"Never been surer of anything in my life, Neville." The redhead looked at himself in the mirror above the mantlepiece. "Pretty sharp, yeah?"

 

"I guess so." Neville scratched the back of his head. "You're just gonna Floo over there, then?"

 

"Well yeah, want to keep my energy up for, well, you know." Ron wiggled his eyebrows. "Don't think I'd have it in me if I Apparated over."

 

"But what if you Floo in and erm—what if—what if Malfoy's there?"

 

"Hey, I could use some encouragement here!" Ron griped, taking a step towards the fireplace. "Sometimes you just have to take things into your own hands, y'know, as a man."

 

"As a man," Neville repeated. "Yeah, alright, then. Well, good luck."

 

Ron nodded and took a handful of Floo powder. "Thanks, mate. Might be back tonight, might not be." With a smirk, he dropped the powder and said, "Hermione Granger's flat!"

 

The pull of the Floo made his stomach churn, but before he knew it, he was crawling out of the fireplace in his ex-girlfriend's apartment. He was met by a shriek.

 

"Ronald?"

 

He grinned. "Yes, it's me. Thought we could—what's going on with your hair?"

 

"It's none of your business," she growled, her face turning beet red. "Why are you here?"

 

"Well, I needed to talk to you." He frowned, astonished that she did not look as pleased as he thought she would. "Aren't you happy to see me?"

 

"Shocked is more like it." She was fumbling with something in the small kitchenette, but Ron could not make out what it was. The clanging of dishware filled his ears as she rifled through one of her few cupboards. "So what is it you wanted to talk about?"

 

Ron did not know what he expected, but he most certainly did not think she would be so cold. With her back turned to him, she pulled down a glass and tapped her wand against it; water spurted forth from the tip of her wand, filling the glass, but only to the halfway mark. He waited for a moment, expecting her to offer him a drink as she did even during the worst of their many fights. When she offered him nothing, he realized that something was terribly wrong.

 

"Hermione, what's going on with you?" he asked, quite certain that it wasn't his actions that could have made her so distant. "Did he do something to piss you off? Er—Malfoy, I mean."

 

She whipped around, glaring daggers in his direction. "Why do you assume it's Malfoy that's pissed me off?"

 

"Well, I mean, it's Malfoy, isn't it?" To Ron, it was the most obvious thing in the world, but he knew Hermione, and if she was not ready to admit that she was wrong yet, she wouldn't. "I'm not judging you or anything, but—"

 

"You're not judging me but you're about to say something really judgmental," she snapped. "Save yourself the trouble and go home, Ron. Clearly, you don't get it."

 

He took a few steps towards her. "Hermione, I know I don't like him but I get why you picked him. It's okay that it happened you just—you just need to fess up and we'll move on, alright?"

 

"I didn't pick him," Hermione snarled, turning back around to fish through the cupboards again. "I ran facefirst into him in Knockturn bloody Alley."

 

"Well, however it happened, I mean—Neville says he's apparently handsome, and then there's the gold and I mean, I know I don't have all that..." He scratched the back of his head. Convincing her to rekindle their romance was not going exactly as he planned.

 

"I didn't break up with you because I didn't like the way you looked." She pulled something down from the cupboard and pivoted to face him once more. A dusty apothecary jar was in her hands. "And I don't care about gold. I broke up with you because, well, we don't have anything in common."

 

"And you do with Malfoy?" he scoffed in disbelief. "Spoiled, Slytherin, pure-blood Malfoy?"

 

"He's smart, thank you," Hermione growled, uncorking the jar. She dumped the substance into the glass of water and once a cloud of aquamarine had turned the entire glass the brightest shade of blue, she took a swig. "Besides, I'm not dating him. Harry just—he jumped to conclusions. We're just working on something together. A erm—a project."

 

"Harry mentioned the library." Ron looked around the apartment. "I don't see any books."

 

She sighed and took another drink. "The library was a lie. What we're working on is sort of a secret. I'd tell you but it's pretty confidential. We kind of work together."

 

"Since when did you get a new job? And what is that you're drinking?"

 

"It helps with anxiety. I water it down a bit so it doesn't put me to sleep. And the job started a few weeks ago," Hermione said, her voice small. "Um, I like it a lot, actually. It's a good...job."

 

Ron's heart swelled with hope. "So—so you're not shagging him, then?"

 

Her face paled. The response he ached to hear did not slip from her tongue, and with each second that she remained quiet, the truth became clearer. Despite all of their many rows, never before had Hermione caused him as much pain as she did in that long, silent moment.

 

"So you are shagging him?" he asked, angrily, balling his fists. "You aren't dating him, you're just sleeping with him? Is that supposed to be better?"

 

"Well, I—erm—you see, you and I are broken up, Ron—"

 

"Broken up or not, it's Malfoy! I could handle anyone else but him? Really?"

 

"Honestly, you just picked a really bad day to come here." She leaned against the kitchen counter. "Look, you'll always be my friend, Ron, but things have gotten very...complicated...for me."

 

"So complicated that you're shagging the biggest git we know?"

 

Her eyebrows drew together in fury. "Don't blame him, Ron. If you had taken any interest in the things I liked to do, then maybe we wouldn't keep breaking up! It's not his fault you don't know the difference between a Calming Draught and a Sleeping Draught! It's not his fault you'd rather blubber on about Chocolate Frog cards than read a bloody book!"

 

Confused, Ron inquired, "Potions? Since when do you give a damn about potions?"

 

"I always have," she huffed, crossing her arms. "Draco and I—we make a good team. A really good team, actually."

 

"The Mudblood and the Death Eater." The words tasted like poison. "Real solid team, Hermione. That's just ace, that."

 

"Mudblood," she repeated, storming towards him. "Well, I'll have you know, Ronald Weasley, that Draco doesn't care that I'm a Mudblood. He thinks I'm smart. He challenges me. And I—I like him. He's nice to be around."

 

"Why don't you just marry him then?" Ron spat.

 

"Maybe I will." Defiance was written in every single one of her features. There was no winning an argument with her when she looked like that.

 

"Whatever," he mumbled. "I'm going home. Owl me when he fucks you over like we both know he will."

 

"No, you owl me when you get your head out of your—"

 

Before she could finish her thought, Ron Apparated back to Neville's house, livid.

 

 

***

 

 

Number Seven, Nettles Way was usually a place full of warmth. That evening, however, it felt hollow. The sofa was more than full with an adult Wampus cat and his long-legged human, and as Draco Malfoy idly scratched the creature's head, he pondered the day's events. After all, he had never had a woman run out on him, especially not so quickly.

 

"Who does she think she is?" he pouted, reaching across the animal to seize his glass of wine. He took a long drink. "Coming in here and having a shag and then just leaving like nothing happened. Does she have any idea just how many women would line up at the bloody door just for a slim chance of doing what we just did?"

 

Bartholomew pushed his giant head against Draco's palm, seemingly unaware of the issue, but quite aware that his human was upset.

 

With a heavy sigh, Draco admitted something he never thought he would say out loud. "I guess that's what's so appealing about her, though, isn't it? She's Hermione bloody Granger. Why would she give a damn that I'm the Malfoy heir? Gold's clearly not her thing. She was with Weasley for how long?"

 

The Wampus cat massaged its massive middle feet against Draco's side.

 

"Hey, watch it!" the blond complained, elbowing the animal. "You really have no idea how big those things are nowadays, do you? You could've taken a chunk out of my abdomen, you great brute."

 

Bartholomew flared his nostrils and closed his eyes, settling on top of the human that was all too narrow to be supporting his weight. Draco closed his eyes too. Never did he think he'd feel so emotionally drained over something so silly.

 

Then, a soft crack woke him up.

 

Standing there, disheveled, was a nervous Hermione Granger. He rubbed his eyes. Was he dreaming? Was she there to discuss work?

 

"Draco, we need to talk."

 



Chapter 9: Epilogue
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Unkempt curls had invaded his space. His favorite witch's nose was deep in a thick book, as per usual, and like he often did, the blond peered over her shoulder to see exactly what it was that she was reading. Several mentions of Arsenius Jigger stood out against the tattered, yellow pages, and he could not help but smile. It was no shock that she was studying the famous potioneer. She had, after all, been mentioning him whenever she had the chance.

 

"Some light reading?" he drawled, pressing his lips against her bare shoulder.

 

The corners of her mouth twitched upwards, but she did not tear her eyes away from the book. Nothing could distract her from a good read. "I was just thinking about Jigger's Theory of Rebottling. It wasn't making much sense to me."

 

"Which part?" The wizard buried his face in her neck. Her scent was intoxicating, or at least it was to him.

 

"All of it, really," she admitted, marking the page. "I see how he concluded that the fourth time rebottling will lessen a potion's strength, but I don't understand how he can assume that's true for all potions. He only tested three, and all of them have at least two ingredients in common."

 

"Moondew and lacewing flies." The blond pondered for a few seconds. "And it is known that when trimmed, Moondew—"

 

"—loses its properties when exposed to the elements," she finished. "Yes, exactly. So I want to do some testing with ingredients that don't have this property."

 

"Granger," he said, meeting her eyes, "we have to be at the gala at two. For our findings. We can mess with this tomorrow, yeah?"

 

"Malfoy," she mocked him, "are you telling me you can't finish a few small experiments before two? You're slipping."

 

"Am I?" He smirked and embraced her lips with his, softly moving his tongue against hers in a lingering moment of bliss. When she finally pulled away, it was back to their everyday routine. "Did you feed Barth yet?"

 

She shook her head. "He was still asleep."

 

Draco swung his feet over the side of the bed and stretched. It had been months since Hermione had left his cottage, and though he sometimes teased her about the flat she still paid for, he would have it no other way. An arrangement that once would have been taboo had become nothing less than natural for the both of them. Funny how things could change so swiftly.

 

He padded towards the kitchen and frowned when he saw the Wampus cat gnawing on a bleeding steak. Their unusual pet had made quite a game out of tricking them into feeding him twice—a game they were losing. "Granger! You did feed him!"

 

"Ugh! I'm sorry! He must've hypnotized me again!"

 

Chuckling to himself, Draco patted the animal on the haunches. Menace or not, he loved Bartholomew just as he imagined someone might love their firstborn child.

 

 

***

 

 

The gala was as expected: ostentatious, crawling with scholars, and swimming in the aroma of decadent food. Though it had taken nearly an hour, Hermione had managed to smooth her hair with a potion Draco brewed just for her—a potion that turned out to be much better than Sleekeazy's. It started out as a bit of a joke, but eventually, she came to love it, much like she came to love Draco.

 

"You look nervous, Granger."

 

"I'm not," she fibbed. The witch was terrified, mostly of her friends that would be attending. She had not spoken to them much at all since she and Draco were featured in Potioneering Quarterly, and based on Harry's reaction, he was more disappointed than he was proud. Apparently, Aurors couldn't endorse keeping illegal magical creatures in captivity, and they really couldn't endorse Malfoys.

 

"No need to lie," Draco purred in her ear. "Can't say I look forward to seeing Potter either. He'll probably hex me."

 

"He won't hex you," Hermione hissed. "He'll just—well, honestly, I don't know what to expect. This is sort of uncharted territory with him."

 

"Oh, he hates me enough that I wouldn't put it past him. I can't say I expected him to use that Sectumsempra curse of his on me, but a nice trip to the hospital wing proved me wrong."

 

"He didn't know what that curse would do!" Hermione insisted. "I warned him about that dreadful book he got it from."

 

"Honestly, I was just shocked he knew something other than 'stupefy ' and 'expelliarmus'." Draco cocked an eyebrow. "You know, if we were friends in school, we both probably would've finished our N.E.W.T.s a year early. Think of all the time we wasted between both of us, babysitting Potter and Weasel, Crabbe, Goyle."

 

Hermione narrowed her eyes. "We probably would have been friends if you weren't so prejudiced."

 

"Yes, well, I'm not now, am I? Wouldn't be shagging you if I were."

 

"Right," Hermione agreed, though she was still a little irate with him. "But that doesn't mean Harry approves of you. He's stubborn, Harry. I don't know if he'll ever get used to the fact that we're together."

 

"I know he hates me. No need to sugarcoat it."

 

"Sure, but he does know how important this is to me. I can't imagine he'll make too much of an arse out of himself." Hermione sighed. "Speak of the devil."

 

The bespectacled wizard was headed towards them, his lips pressed together and Ginny Weasley on his arm. Hermione could not help but notice how toned her friend's arms were after her year of practice with the Holyhead Harpies. Never had she seen someone look so good in an olive green dress.

 

"Ginny," she breathed, reaching out for a hug. "You look great!"

 

"So do you," the redhead replied, grinning. She pulled away and raised her eyebrows, clearly wanting more details about Draco Malfoy. "It's been a while."

 

"Certainly has," Hermione agreed, clearing her throat. Her eyes trailed a bit left to her other friend. "Harry."

 

"Hermione," he said, stiffly.

 

"Glad to see you were both able to make it," she murmured, lacing her fingers together. "There's a buffet, if either of you are hungry. Seafood, steak, potatoes with gravy, chocolate gateau. Potioneering Quarterly really didn't disappoint."

 

Ginny gave Harry an expectant look. "I probably ought to get my daily bit of protein in."

 

Harry's gaze was fixed on Hermione and the wizard just behind her. Only when Ginny tugged on his hand did he say, "Yeah. Yeah, alright."

 

Once the two of them were out of earshot, Hermione said, "Well, at least Ginny seemed fine."

 

"Potter wants me dead," he chuckled. "Did you see the look he was giving me?"

 

Hermione pressed her lips. "He'll get over it. At least he was civil, right?"

 

Draco didn't respond.

 

"Our speech is in an hour," she said, peering down at her watch. "Merlin, I hope everything goes fine. I don't have the background that some of these people do, so I'm really not sure what all they might ask. Oh, and Draco, what if they want to know about the first test? People might think I endorse such things. I'd look like such a traitor, after talking to the Prophet about S.P.E.W. and—"

 

"Granger!" Draco interjected, seizing her by the shoulders. "Just slow down, okay? Everything will be fine."

 

Hermione was not convinced. "What if they ask about Barth?"

 

"Well, if they do, let me do the talking. Nobody needs to know about him," he muttered. "We'll have these snakes knocking on our door all hours of the day wanting hair samples."

 

Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but to her horror, she saw another flash of red amongst the crowd. Her eyes darted to the buffet. Ginny was loading a plate, her hair pulled into an updo.

 

"Ron is here!" Hermione exclaimed, turning back to look at the man. He was now pushing his way through the people crowding Ruby Shillbend, a rather infamous potioneer that moved to Russia to work with nightshade. If Hermione wasn't so flustered, she might have rushed to meet the woman herself.

 

Draco frowned. "Weasley? Are you serious?" Just then, he noticed the same figure that she did. He was nearly past Shillbend's fans. "Merlin's beard, it is Weasley."

 

"What is he doing here? I most certainly did not invite him."

 

"Well, did you invite Romilda Vane?"

 

"No, why?"

 

"Well, he's got her on his arm. You might not be able to see but if you lean this way—yes that's it. That's her trailing just behind him, isn't it?"

 

It had been a long time since Hermione had seen Romilda Vane, but the woman certainly looked like her.

 

"Thought maybe she brought him as a date," Draco went on. He raised a brow. "You think he's trying to gatecrash?"

 

"Obviously."

 

Her heart pounded as he drew closer, determination in his gait and Romilda Vane in tow. Rather than traditional robes, he was adorned in a blue button-up and grey slacks that she had bought for him to wear to her cousin's wedding. The man was dressed to impress, and Hermione had a feeling it wasn't Romilda Vane that he hoped to woo.

 

"Hermione!" he said, waving a hand wildly. "Oi! Hermione!" He tugged Romilda Vane towards her and Draco, spilling the poor woman's martini everywhere. Romilda screeched, which earned her several glares.

 

"Ronald." Acknowledging him was her only choice when he called her by name. Oh, how she wished he could have just watched her from afar like he usually did during their breakups. It was always easier that way.

 

"Decided to come as soon as I heard," he said, breathlessly. "Brilliant thing you've made. Read about it in—erm—that potion book that you were in." He scratched the back of his head. "Er—you remember Romilda?"

 

"Yes," Hermione drawled in an all-too-Draco-like fashion. "Lovely to have you here, Romilda."

 

"Lovely to be here," Romilda replied, smiling widely. Exchanging pleasantries did not seem to be the source of her giddiness, though. Her eyes were drinking up every inch of Draco. He was particularly handsome in burgundy robes, and while Hermione couldn't blame her, she still felt a pang of jealousy. "I see you brought your partner."

 

"Partner, boyfriend, it's a bit of a mixed bag." Draco chided, his focus solely on Ron.

 

"Right," Romilda said, sounding a bit let down. "I'd heard but wasn't sure if the rumors were true."

 

Hermione inhaled. "I assume you two are an item, then?"

 

Still all too entranced by Draco, Romilda opened her mouth to say something. Ron cut in before she could. "Yeah! Yeah, we are. Been together for the last couple months. It's been great, hasn't it, pumpkin?"

 

Romilda looked sour but nodded as he elbowed her. "Yeah, right. Just great." The smile was forced.

 

"Wouldn't want to spend it with anyone else," Ron continued, locking eyes with Hermione. "Everything I ever wanted, Romilda is. Ran into her in Diagon Alley and just couldn't help myself. Asked her out right then."

 

He was all too obvious, but so was Romilda. Draco's face was crumpled in confusion, perhaps even disgust, as the witch stared at him.

 

"Is that so, Romilda?" Hermione asked, acidly.

 

The woman blinked a few times. "Erm—yeah. Yeah, all true."

 

"Well, isn't that nice," Hermione said, flatly. She took Draco's arm in hers with enough force that she nearly pulled it out of its socket. "Draco and I ought to mingle. Thanks so much for coming. Was lovely to chat."

 

She pulled Draco away.

 

"I can't believe he showed up," she hissed. "Did you see the way she was looking at you? Clearly, they aren't together."

 

"Weasley's just trying to make you jealous." He frowned. "Don't tell me it's working."

 

Hermione snorted. "Fat chance. I just wish he would've done this any other time. I've got enough to worry about what with the speech and all."

 

He kissed her temple. "You'll do great. If you bugger it up, I'll come in for the save, yeah?"

 

There was nothing that could keep her from grinning at that moment in time. Ron had never "come in for the save".

 

 

***

 

 

It was time. She had been dreading the speech for weeks, and as she stepped up to the podium, she saw why. Witches and wizards that had recently become her idols were swarming around the stage, expectantly looking up at her. In the crowd, Harry, Ginny, and Draco waved, while Ron forcefully pulled Romilda Vane in by the waist. Hermione swallowed hard. At least Harry found it in him to be supportive.

 

"Hello, everyone," she started, awkwardly. "I hope you're all enjoying your afternoon."

 

Bored stares were the only response, accompanied by the light clinking of wands against cocktail glasses. Hermione's nightmares were filled with the bulbous eyes of her new colleagues, and it seemed that those nightmares had become a reality.

 

"If you haven't made it to the buffet yet, I highly recommend the prawns and the mash," she said, cursing inwardly as she heard the words out loud. Between her cliche introduction and her ex-boyfriend's outfit of choice, it was just like being at Cousin Lucille's wedding all over again.

 

The crowd continued to stare at her. Then, she caught Ginny making a gesture, urging her to keep going.

 

Hermione cleared her throat, "Erm—a big thank you to Potioneering Quarterly for putting this event together and for featuring us in last quarter's release. Draco and I couldn't have gotten the news out without your assistance."

 

Ginny was giving her a look again. Hermione wasn't sure whether it was helping or making her more nervous.

 

"Of course, not all of you may know exactly what the news is, so we'll get to it in a moment, but first, I'd like to talk about Wampus cats."

 

Several cheers commenced. Wolf whistles and cat-shaped sparks filled the air, and finally, Hermione had the small boost of confidence that she needed.

 

"Ah, yes. Our Ilvermorny alumni," she chuckled. "I suppose some of you were in Wampus House. You probably know all about them, then. Impossible to control, dangerous, cunning—all words most would use when describing the Wampus. All words I probably would've used too—but then I came to know them differently.

 

"You see, Wampus cats are all of those things, sure, but they are more than that. They know how to love. They cuddle. They like having their ears scratched. In a lot of ways, they're like your average housecat—loving, but quick to tell you if you're bothering them. This is, of course, if they are raised in captivity. In order to harvest their hairs, it is pertinent that the cat is raised from kittenhood."

 

The crowd buzzed with disapproving whispers. Hermione expected such a reaction, and she hoped she could quickly change their minds.

 

"It took a lot of work to get the Ministry to agree to permit the captivity of Wampus cats. Draco and I had to invite Ministry leaders into our home. We had to show them our lovely boy, Bartholomew, and demonstrate how housebroken he was. I would've brought him tonight, but I don't think we can be confident in how he'd be with this many people."

 

Some people in the crowd snickered. Most just looked concerned.

 

"When Draco had the idea to use Wampus hairs in potions, I wasn't sure that it would work. Honestly, I thought what you are all probably thinking right now. Is it worth it? Even if it's possible, why risk it? But it wasn't the desire for glory that brought us together. I was curious, yes. Hungry for recognition? Perhaps. I think most of you can relate. Still, such things were hardly enough to drive me to working with a dangerous beast. Like some of you here, I had my fair share of Blast-Ended Skrewts in my fourth year at Hogwarts. I'd seen what controversial creatures were like."

 

Harry and Draco sniggered at that. She recalled Draco detesting the Skrewts more than anyone else—so much so that he spoke to Rita Skeeter, of all people.

 

"But there was something about that Wampus cat. He was far too young to perform hypnosis, according to the little bit that I'd read up on them, so why I couldn't turn him away when he looked at me? Why did I follow Draco Malfoy—who some of you may know, bullied me quite badly during our time in school—all the way to his home? I told myself it was for Draco's own good. I told myself it was to keep Draco out of trouble. When I reflect on it, though, I realize it was something else. I was drawn to him—not Draco, but the Wampus. If he could bring a Muggle-born and a Malfoy together, I wondered: what other powers could he possess? What untapped potential did this species have and what would I be missing out on if I were to walk away from it?"

 

The audience was still staring at her, but now there was a glimmer of curiosity in their expressions. Even Ron seemed fascinated.

 

"So, I started spending my days with two boys: a Wampus cat named Bartholomew and the man that decided naming a Wampus cat was a good idea," Hermione went on, smiling a bit as she earned more laughs. "We studied ceaselessly while we waited for him to grow, and by the time he was large enough to harvest his hair, we were ready to test."

 

The potioneers of the group started to clap and whisper in awe. Harry and Ginny were visibly confused, but Hermione could not blame them. Only potion enthusiasts would clap for something as universally boring as test preparation.

 

"As many of you in the audience understand, testing was easily the worst part. Some might think raising a Wampus cat to be difficult but I'd rather raise five Wampuses than ever crush another beetle in my lifetime." The roars of laughter only sparked more confidence. "Draco and I were practically tearing our hair out. We'd work ten hours a day, making lunch and then realizing we coudn't even eat it because we contaminated it—again." She went on, smiling a bit at the many chuckles. "But then, one potion came out perfect. One potion, the potion we came here to speak about, came out strikingly pink, and it gave the user an incredible amount of energy with no dangerous side effects. Unheard of, right? Well, we knew that it was. We discovered something groundbreaking and we knew it, but it made us ask the question: how much further can we go?

 

"Wampus hair might have multiple uses. We should keep testing. You should keep testing. We've only used adult hairs! We should try it with kitten hairs, hairs of different mutations, hairs from specific parts of the body—claw shavings, even! We want the world to benefit from our findings. And through you, the world's greatest potioneers, there may be more benefits to be had. Thank you all for coming, and thank you for supporting us on our journey."

 

The crowd clapped, especially Draco. Ron looked a bit bewildered, but as she stepped down from the stage, she found that she didn't mind. She pressed her lips to Draco's and with all of the greatest potioneers in the Wizarding world surrounding her, she knew where she belonged: with Bartholomew, with Draco, and most importantly, with a mortar and pestle.

 



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