”Hermione Jean Granger, you can absolutely not marry that man!”
Hermione stared shamefacedly down at her striped socks, unsure of what to say to her own mother. A part of her wanted to explain that this wasn’t real, that it was all just a ploy to ensure Malfoy’s continued usefulness with a wand, although doing so would require her to admit that she still believed that magic was real and that Ron Weasley was alive and well and living somewhere outside of her head. She knew she was justified in her faith now, but she feared that admitting this to her mother would result in her being comitted to a mental institution for the remainder of her life. Besides, her mother believed that she was making such good progress, and Hermione couldn’t bare to face the unavoidable disappointment in her mother’s eyes at the bare mention of this other world.
Hermione steeled herself, fighting hard to keep her face soft and lovelorn, the way actresses did in movies when professing their affections, rather than disgusted at the mere thought of harboring feelings above grudging respect for the man currently sipping tea in the Grangers’ living room. ”I love him, Mum,” she said, unable to keep a certain note of stiffness from her tone, though hoping that it would pass by unnoticed.
Hermione and her mother were pressed into the Grangers’ humble downstairs bathroom, which barely allowed the two women enough space to stand between the sink and the toilet. Hermione felt a certain obligation to return to the living room to prevent her father from throtthling Malfoy, but her mother was blocking the door.
”What has gotten into you?” Mrs. Granger demanded of her daughter, hands on her hips, red roses flaring in her cheeks. Still, indignation and disbelief were better than disappointment and resignation, Hermione reasoned.
”I’m in love,” Hermione muttered, wrenching the words out, hating herself for lying to her mother.
”Since when?” Mrs. Granger shrieked. ”You barely know the man! You can’t have known him for more than a few months, and that’s hardly long enough to make a lifetime committment-”
”We plan on a long engagement, Mum,” Hermione said in what she hoped was a reassuring voice. ”Just call off the search, and give us some time to sort everything out.”
”How did you meet this man?”
”He came into the bookstore and we got to talking,” Hermione said, which was perfectly true. She omitted informing her mother that this exchange had taken place the previous day, and that what had followed had been a whirling rollercoaster of revelations. ”We actually have a lot in common. We both like books.” One book in particular, Hermione reflected glumly. Where was it now?
”But you’re still so young, Hermione,” Mrs. Granger said, changing her tactics from outrage to reason. ”You have so much yet to experience-”
”And I can experience all those things with Mal- er – Draco,” Hermione said, biting her tongue. If they were going to keep up this charade, they were going to have to get on first name basis. ”I’m just getting married, Mum. I thought you’d be happy for me.”
She could see that she had played the right card, the ace in the hole. Tears sprung up in her mother’s eyes before she enveloped Hermione in a tight hug. ”All I want is for you to be happy, Hermione,” Mrs. Granger whispered into her daughter's frizzy hair.
Hermione felt a stab of guilt, but repressed it as she freed herself from her mother’s arms. ”Then trust my judgement,” she said, smiling up at her mother’s tearstained face. ”I have a good feeling about this.”
The two women returned to the living room to find Malfoy more uncomfortable than Hermione could recall ever seeing him in all her eight years of memories, or dreams, or whatever they were.
Mr. Granger was glaring at Malfoy from the love-seat opposite, whilst Ophelia was kneeling on the floor in front of his armchair, ogling him with apparant adoration.
”Ready to go, sweetie?” Hermione said, wrenching the term of endearment out of herself. ”We have a lot of stuff to do today, you know.”
Malfoy took a moment longer than he should to realize to whom she was speaking, although once he did he sprang promptly to his feet and cast her a short, grateful glance. ”Sure, whatever you say, er, honey.”
”Already?” Mrs. Granger squeaked. ”We hardly got to chat at all. And in this ungodly weather…”
Hermione and Malfoy shouted down Mrs. Granger’s offer for them to stay for supper, both equally eager to get out of the house. They departed on foot, waving heartily to Hermione’s family until they had rounded the corner and passed out of sight.
”God, your sister is even more vexing than you are,” Malfoy hissed once they were out of the Grangers' earshot. ”I didn’t think that was possible.”
”Oh, shut up,” Hermione snapped back. ”None of this would be happening if you hadn’t waved your wand around, left, right, and center. Now, where to?”
Malfoy was visibly fuming as he grabbed Hermione’s arm, and the pair of them disappeared with a loud crack.
Moments later they reappeared outside of Hermione’s flat in London.
”Your aim’s getting better,” Hermione commented snootily as she retrieved her keys from her pocket and unlocked the front door. They made their way up the rickety stairs to Hermione’s flat on the fourth landing. It was a small space, but to Hermione this was home. The creaking floorboards, the neighbour’s voices sounding through the walls, the leaky kitchen sink, and the spotty carpet were all home to her, and she was already dreading having to leave the place, if only for a limited time. ’Or forever, if all goes well,’ she reminded herself.
Malfoy obviously did not share her affections for the place. ”Is that a cockroach?” he asked, crinkling his nose and pointing towards something scurrying along the living room wall. Hermione glanced in the direction indicated.
”Nah,” she said, squinting at the corner. ”Just a beetle.”
”How can you live like this?”
”Not all our parents go to jail and leave us a comfortable mansion in their wake,” Hermione pointed out, slightly stung. She has always been proud of her living quarters and dreamed fondly of the day when she would have friends over for dinner. Unfornately, as she had come to learn, your supply of friends were rather sparce when you had been in a coma for the entirety of your teenage years. The only people her age that she fraternized with were her co-workers, most of whom had more than enough friends of their own, and now, of course, Draco Malfoy, who could hardly qualify as a friend even if he were her make-believe fiancé.
“Stay here,” Hermione told him and ducked into her bedroom. She found an old bag in the closet, flung it onto her bed and started cramming all of her wordly possessions into it. There wasn’t much to take from, once you subtracted the furniture. Hermione felt bad taking handouts from her parents, and the wages she made at Newman’s barely covered her rent. She fished a few ratty sweaters, some secondhand jeans, and all of her socks and undergarments out of the closet and crammed them into the bag. She made a detour into the bathroom to cram some basic toiletries into a make-up bag, giving her hair a quick once-over with the brush, and upon her return was disgruntled to find Malfoy standing by her bedside, lifting an eyebrow as he gazed down at the contents of her bag.
Malfoy snorted. ”Is that it?” he said. ”That was hardly worth the trouble of going to London in the first place.”
Hermion slung the bag over her shoulder and pushed past Malfoy, shutting the lights on her way. ”Coming?” she said icily.
Well outside of Hermione’s appartment building, the pair located an empty one-way street and Apparated back to Malfoy’s considerably more extravagant living quarters.
”So,” Hermione said, once she had parked her bag in her makeshift bedroom and the pair of them had sat down for a spot of tea in Malfoy’s dining room. ”Ready to start scheming?”
”Sure,” Malfoy drawled. ”Feel free to air any brilliant ideas you may have concerning how best to approach this thing.”
Hermione thought for a second, but her thoughts were tainted by images of Ron and Merediths’ wedding picture. ”How about we put Meredith in a coma? If your theories are correct, that should restore my magic, right?”
Malfoy looked for a moment as though he rather enjoyed the idea, but his dreamy smile was quickly wiped away by a sneer. ”The objective isn’t to restore your magic. It’s getting the book, remember?”
”Fine,” Hermione said, faintly agrieved. ”You come up with something, then.”
They sat in silence for a while, each of them staring down at their steaming cup of tea, contemplating.
”Maybe we should get some paper?” Hermione suggested after a few minutes had passed in silence. ”We could write down everything we need to concider, like the fact that they might put an Infedelius charm-”
”Flimsy!” Malfoy suddenly barked, the unexpected outburst nearly causing Hermione to fall off her chair.
The tiny elf scurried into the kitchen.
”Bring us some paper and two quills,” Malfoy ordered, his eyes following the elf out of the dining room.
”You could have done that yourself,” Hermione said, outraged at being a first hand witness to the blatant explotation of House Elves. ”And there’s no need to use that tone with her.”
”She likes feeling useful,” Malfoy said, taking a sip of tea.
”That’s because she doesn’t know any better!” Hermione hissed. ”Honestly…”
Flimsy returned with a stack of blank parchment and the quills Malfoy had requested. After placing them at the center of the table, she bowed her way out of the dining room. Hermione wanted very much to continue lecturing Malfoy on the proper treatment of House Elves, but Malfoy had already grabbed a piece of paper and a quill. He dipped the end of the quill into an ink bottle and began scribbling.
Hermione found it rather disadvantageous, everything considered, that they were seated on opposite ends of the long dining table, so she got to her feet, bringing her teacup with her, and settled into the seat next to Malfoy. He flashed her an inscrutable glance, but otherwise made no objection to their sudden proximity as he continued writing.
”Your handwriting really is awful,” Hermione commented as she sipped her tea. ”I can hardly make out a word.”
”Then make your own notes, and we can compare afterwards,” Malfoy grumbled without lifting his gaze from the paper.
Hermione obliged, grasping the remaining quill and a piece of blank parchment, and she began to write.
1. Ron and Meredith are suspicious and might have put an Infedelius charm on their house.
2. Ron and Meredith know that there is something special about the book, given my indiscretion when I asked for it.
3. Ron and Meredith both work at the Ministry, so around midday would be an ideal time to strike, providing that they are actually keeping the book at their house and that their house has not been given additional security (pending confimation)
She paused in her writing, an idea just occuring to her. ”You work with collecting Dark objects, don’t you?”
Malfoy didn’t respond, but he stopped writing and glanced up at her with a cocked eyebrow.
”Wouldn’t you hear about it at work if Ron handed the book over to the Ministry?”
Malfoy shrugged. ”I mainly work with cursed objects, and that book isn’t cursed.”
”But you can’t deny that the book could be considered Dark.”
Malfoy shrugged again. ”Possibly, but-”
”Wouldn’t it make sense for Ron to hand something like that over to the authorities? Given that he’s an Auror?”
Malfoy seemed to consider it, his brow creasing. He appeared unwilling to concede that she made a good case. ”Maybe I should poke around the Ministry for a bit, see if I hear anything interesting…” he said slowly.
”Wouldn’t that look suspicious, if you didn’t have anything to hand in?”
”Oh, I have plenty of things to hand in,” Malfoy said sleekly. ”I was just rather hoping to avoid it.”
Hermione gasped. ”You’ve been… er… embezzling from the Ministry?” she said, shocked at his lack of moral conscience.
”Hardly ’embezzling’,” Malfoy snorted. ”The Ministry doesn’t own every Dark object out there. The ones that might come in handy I consider just as well off here as there.”
Hermione was practically fuming. ”I don’t believe you.”
”And here I was, thinking that you knew me so well,” Malfoy said, smirking. ”Besides, I don’t know why you’re complaining. My hoarding is serving your purpose right now, in case you haven’t noticed.”
”That’s not the point…” Hermione said, somewhat lamely, deciding that she would be better off dropping this subject. He had a point, after all. ”When can you go to the Ministry?”
”I can leave straight away,” Malfoy said, getting to his feet. ”In fact, I think it would be for the best. Catch this early on, before they destoy the book or something.”
”What should I do while you’re gone?” Hermione said, getting to her feet and following on his heel into the foyer. She did not know why, but for some reason the idea of Malfoy leaving her in this huge, empty house was unappealing to her. Perhaps it was the memories of her last visit here, or the thought of how much Dark magic had flourished in this house over the centuries.
Malfoy turned and looked down his nose at her. ”Why don’t you take charge on the plotting.”
”But we don’t even know if the book is at Ron’s place or if he’s turned it over to the Ministry! Plotting is somewhat pointless until we know, wouldn’t you agree?”
”Fine,” Malfoy said, exasparated. ”Do whatever you like. Take over Flimsy’s household duties, for all I care. Just don’t go poking around the house. You might find things you’re better off not finding.”
”Like what?” Hermione inquired as she watched Malfoy unlocking a door leading into the cellar.
”Like Dark objects that might kill you if you as much as touch them,” Malfoy said darkly as the door swung open. He climbed down the staircase and was soon swallowed up by the darkness. ”Come to think of it,” he called back up as Hermione hesitated in the doorway. ”Come right on down here and touch something.”
”I think I’ll pass,” Hermione muttered.
Malfoy returned upstairs, patting his pocket with a smug look upon his face as he shoved Hermione out of the doorway, closed the door and proceeded to lock it with a silver key that he then stowed away in his pocket. “Well, then. I’ll head over the Ministry and check wether or not the Weasel has turned the book over. You stay put.”
Hermione had no time to do anything but frown before Malfoy disappeared with a loud crack, leaving her standing quite alone in the middle of the impressive foyer.
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