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!"
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.
“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.
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. :)
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