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."
"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.
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