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.
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."
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