Two grey eyes snapped open. Heaving, a weary blond wizard sat up and took in his unfamiliar surroundings, jaw agape. The moon loomed overhead, an owl nearby emitted a loud hoot, and the soft whir of wind kissing the trees filled the cool winter air. Then, he saw the only thing that mattered.
"Granger!" he shouted, grabbing his wand and crawling towards her. Shaking her, he shouted again. "Granger, get up!"
Hermione's soft ringlets were splayed in the grass beneath her and her chest rose and fell with life. Still, she did not wake. Holding back tears, Draco Malfoy shook her a second time.
Her eyes flickered and she pressed her palm against her brow. Draco let out a sigh of relief. As he wrapped his long arms around her, he quietly wondered how long it had been since they were knocked unconscious.
"The force must have knocked us out," Draco replied, brushing a rogue strand of hair from her eyes. "I woke up just a moment before you."
Hermione jerked away from him and scrambled to her feet, only bending down to retrieve her wand. Any reasonable person might have thought she had a good night of sleep and a pot of coffee, for someone that spent their evening fighting Dark magic most certainly should not have had the amount of energy that she seemed to have. "Lumos!" She hurried towards the edge of Hafna Mine. "Where is it?"
"Look for ashes." Draco begrudgingly stood up and made his way to her. His muscles ached more and more with each step. "It's gone, Granger. You really think Death Eaters would've left our wands with us?"
"I don't know!" Hermione was clearly exasperated as she traipsed back and forth, searching for a sign of the destroyed vase. "If it was the Ministry, they could've just taken it as evidence so they can arrest us both later. You forget that Death Eaters aren't our only concern."
In all of her panic, the witch missed a large pile of black ash.
"Stop worrying. Look to your left."
Hermione turned and let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank Merlin." She wiped her brow. "Bellatrix's magic—gone and never to return."
"It's been a long time coming." Draco glanced towards the silhouette of the forest. "We shouldn't linger here. We could have company at any moment."
"Can you Apparate?" she inquired, wiping the grass and wet soil from her bottom.
He nodded and held out his hand.
The harsh tide lapped threateningly against the Cornish coast. It was a sight to behold, and an adventurous photographer seemed to agree as the flash of his camera captured the breathtaking image before him. To his misfortune, his stunning snapshot had been ruined by a group of five strangely-dressed men and women.
"Oi! Watch it, would you?" he scowled, brushing frozen chestnut locks from his face. "Tryna take a picture 'ere!"
A dark-haired man with an unsightly scar apologized for the group and hissed, "Walk around next time. We don't need to be pissing off any Muggles, do we?"
Confused by the word "Muggle", the Cornish man picked up his tripod and moved several feet closer to the arguing party of five. He had never heard anyone call him such a thing, and if the group was insulting his Cornish ancestry, they were going to regret it.
"It's a lost cause!" one of the women exclaimed. "Bulstrode must've caught wind of us."
"She couldn't've," the man with the scar said. "We're just looking in the wrong places."
The photographer furrowed his brow. He had no idea who Bulstrode was, but it sounded as though she were in a heap of trouble. As he felt eyes on him, he pretended to fiddle with his camera.
"Where d'you reckon we look next then, boss?" asked the largest member of the group.
"I don't know!"
The man with the scar was looking directly at the photographer. He watched the man pull out what appeared to be a polished twig, and after he uttered an unrecognizable word, their voices ceased. Bizarrely enough, they all still seemed to be moving their mouths. He drew his brows together. The crash of the waves was loud, so he had not gone deaf. Perplexed, the man moved his camera yet again, but still, he heard nothing.
Then, it dawned on him.
"Ain't you lot a bit old to be playin' these type o' games?" he snorted. "The weird clothes, the Abracadabra nonsense. Some sort o' Dungeons & Dragons type thing, innit?"
The group ignored him.
"My kid plays that with 'is friends. 'e's a bit airy-fairy if you ask me, but 'e's still only twelve. You lot, though, you ought to be findin' a new 'obby, yeah?"
Four of the five looked quite confused, but the man with the scar plodded towards him. "We quite like our game, thanks. If you could just leave us alone, we'd appreciate it."
The photographer nearly asked how one acquires such a unique scar, but decided against it. After all, it would be quite rude. "You're the one that called me Muggle. Some sort o' nasty word for Cornish folk, is it?"
The man narrowed his eyes, calculatingly. "I meant no offense. It's just a word for non-magical people in our—in our game."
"Pah! Silly word. Surely, you can think of somethin' better than that."
With a strange sort of smile, the man replied, "We'll consider it. Have a nice day, sir."
"Yeah. Yeah, you too."
With that, the man rejoined his group and marched them along the coastline, still arguing about the details of their game. The photographer had no idea who Bulstrode was, but by the sounds of it, there were other adults pretending to be magical creatures too. So, while the five men and women bolstered away, he heaved his tripod and camera back to his original spot and muttered his disapproval. It was all that he could do.
The ink staining the Minister for Magic's hand was marking every parchment she touched. Too fatigued to fix the documents, she piled them high atop her desk, hoping that nobody would ask why she had turned in such sloppy work. After all, she was happy to be working again. For the first time in a while, things almost felt normal.
She took the Floo from Draco Malfoy's cottage earlier that morning, too tired to trust herself during Apparition. To her dismay, Della's incessant racket made it quite a task to sneak into the Potters' home undetected. Wide-awake, Ginny sat on the colorful bedspread in the spare room, a cup of tea in hand. As usual, she was quick to voice her disappointment.
"It's four-thirty in the morning."
"Yes, I know. Ministry business," Hermione replied, keeping her head down. She cleared her throat. "I ought to get a few hours of sleep before work in the morning."
Ginny closed her eyes. "Hermione, I can't keep doing this with you. Please just stop lying."
"I'm hardly lying. Something happened in the Department of Mysteries. All confidential, of course, but it required my attention since Harry is out."
Hermione knew that Ginny had not believed her, but after the long night, she didn't care. Instead, she found a vial of Sleeping Draught and fell into a deep slumber until she had to go to work.
Much like Muggle sleep aids, the potion left her feeling groggy. Even though it was nearly one in the afternoon, she still felt like she was in a bit of a fog, and as most do when they feel such a way, she filled her coffee cup. Over and over, she filled it, emptying it quickly, only to fill it again. It was not until her signature was completely illegible that she realized she had drunk at least seven cups. That much caffeine would affect anyone, and as Hermione was only human, her body told her it was time to visit the loo.
Despite the numerous helpings of dark roast, she was still exhausted. The lavatory seemed all too far away as she trudged down the long hallway, her bloodshot eyes ricocheting from wall to wall, searching for a door and a single word. Once upon a time, the Minister for Magic would have had her own private restroom, but she had it removed to make room for her books. At that moment, she was mentally cursing her former self for making such a decision.
It was the mumblings of passersby that made her go white in the face.
"Who knows? Thomas hasn't shown up to work," Niamh Murphy said. "We can't do anything without her signature."
"So we wait, then?"
"We have to."
Hermione's stomach churned, but it was not from the coffee. She quickened her pace.
Seconds later, she opened the door to the women's restroom and snaked through the small, winding hallway. To her glee, it was empty, and she was able to peacefully close herself in a stall.
As she sat on the toilet and relieved herself, she dug her elbows into her knees and cradled her head. Somehow, in all of the commotion, she had nearly forgotten about everything else that still stood in their way. Not only had she erased Lenore Thomas's memory, but Draco was still being hunted by Death Eaters, she still had to face her husband, and the Ministry of Magic still had grounds to arrest the man she cared most about. She was delusional to think it would all disappear once Bellatrix's vase was destroyed. Perhaps they would never overcome all of the obstacles before them.
It was long after she emptied her bladder that she heard the bathroom door creak open. Clicking heels wove through the zigzagging hallway, and to her horror, a familiar blonde stepped in front of the mirror across from her stall. Judging by the woman's taut face, she had taken her fair share of illegal youthening potions. After all, she appeared to be Hermione's age, though she was almost thirty years her senior.
With a giggle and a twirl of her wand, the pale witch was shrouded in a cloud of powder. Hermione made a face. The last thing the woman needed was more makeup.
The ritual seemed to last all too long, and as Hermione peeked at her pocket watch, it became clear she could not wait it out any longer. Annoyed, she fixed her skirt, flushed the toilet, and unlocked the stall.
"Minister!" the red-lipped woman exclaimed, her hands idle as an enchanted comb teased her platinum curls. "What a pleasant surprise!"
"Rita." Hermione walked to the sink furthest from the reporter and turned on the faucet.
"You sure were in that stall for a long time," Rita Skeeter said coolly, crossing her arms. A brush swirled across the apples of her snowy cheeks. "Surely, you weren't experiencing anything embarrassing."
"Of course not!" Hermione defended herself, lathering pumpkin soap in her overworked hands. "I just had a bit of a headache."
"Any reason why?"
Hermione turned the faucet off. "Drank too much coffee is all. I'm feeling much better now."
"Ah, I prefer tea, myself," Rita noted. A tissue blotted her lips. "No headaches to be had."
"What are you doing here, anyway?" Hermione sniffed, shaking her hands dry.
"Just visiting a friend. Hardly a crime."
"I find that hard to believe," Hermione muttered under her breath. She narrowed her eyes. "Behave yourself while you're here, Skeeter."
Rita grinned. "Always, Minister."
What should have been a relaxed evening of celebrating was anything but. With her fingers tangled in her unruly hair, Hermione Granger paced back and forth in front of the blazing fireplace, sputtering on about her many worries. A pair of steel eyes were fixed upon her, silently willing her to sit down.
"I don't think you understand, Draco. Lenore Thomas didn't show up to work. Who knows how far back that Memory Charm went! I was stressed when I cast it and I-I didn't focus very well—"
"Well, no one knows when it happened, right? If you act guilty, they'll suspect something. Stay calm and everything will be fine."
Hermione stopped and chewed on the inside of her cheek. "It's not just that. It's Skeeter too. She's up to something."
"As she always is," Draco said, pointedly. He reached out with one of his long arms and brushed her fingertips with his. "Just sit down, Granger. If Skeeter wanted something from you, I'm sure she'd be in your face with a camera and a Quick-Quote Quill like usual."
With a sigh, Hermione succumbed and plopped onto the sofa beside him. "It's Ron too. The paperwork is filled out on my end but I mean, how is he going to take it? He's always been a bit reactionary..."
"That's an understatement," Draco muttered.
Hermione glared at him. "So you see my point. We have all these awful things revolving around the both of us. I don't know how you can just sit here and pretend everything is fine."
"I've been through much worse."
"I know," she sighed, laying her head on his shoulder. "But you wouldn't be in this mess if it weren't for me. I mean, wouldn't it just be easier if we never got into all of this?"
"If you're second-guessing all of this and you really want to go back to your boring little life with Weasley, be my bloody guest, but I really don't think you want to do that just for the sake of avoiding confrontation," Draco said, heatedly, pulling away. He looked down at her, his brows drawn together and his eyes cold. "My regrets with you are a far reach from everything that has happened in the past few months."
"It's not that I want to go back to Ron," she explained, sadly. "It's that I want this—" She gestured herself, and then him. "—to have a fighting chance. It's hard to believe that we do when everything is working against us."
"Everything has always been working against us, Granger," he growled. "That didn't stop us before."
She bit her lip and leveled her gaze with his. "You'll stay this time?"
Nodding, she leaned forward and pressed her tentative lips to his. It was the only answer Draco needed. For a short moment, she melted into him and he coiled his tongue around hers, greedily exploring every crevice of her warm mouth. No potion could produce such a feeling. It was pure. It was real. It was all he craved, ever since he was a lovesick teenager.
"We should slow down," Hermione giggled, unable to control herself as he traced his lips along her neck.
Before she could answer, the brunette gladly accepted another passionate kiss from her paramour. She wrenched his mouth back open with her tongue and twisted her fingers in his hair, tugging in a way that forced a moan from his throat.
As Draco made a note that she tasted of peppermint, it occurred to him just how little affection they had shared since she had finally decided to leave her husband. The vase and all that came with it had become such a terrible distraction. Of course, it was not the first time that their place in the world distracted them.
"Do you have any idea what Harry and Ron will think?"
"I couldn't care less," Draco spat, before pressing more kisses along her collarbone. "They know you spend time with me, do they not?"
"Yes, to study," Hermione pointed out, pushing him away. She fixed the strap of her bra. "Look, maybe we can do this later when we're somewhere more private."
"Everyone snogs on Hogsmeade weekends."
"We are not everyone and you know it. You're just drunk."
Draco sighed. Drunk, he was.
Years had gone by and as his time alive grew more and more scarce, he did not care about being a Malfoy. No matter how much the world forbade it, he would not give up on the woman he could never forget.
Winter raindrops were trickling against the windowpane, a comforting sound as the fireplace crackled in contrast. Her lips were just as warm and soft as he remembered, and in a moment of bravery, Draco slipped his fingers underneath her blouse. To his dismay, she pulled back.
"What is it now?" he asked, a bit impatient. The problem between his legs ached to be resolved.
"That flash." Hermione was wide-eyed as she fixed her shirt. "Didn't you see it?"
"No, my eyes were closed. You know, as they tend to be when you're snogging someone."
"But—but it was there. There was a flash. I saw it."
"Lightning. It's raining. Merlin, Granger. Could you be any more paranoid today?"
"It didn't look like lightning," she argued. "It was blinding."
"If you were blind, how could you tell?"
She groaned. "All I'm saying is that I think you should go outside and see if someone is out there."
Draco peered through the window, not keen on allowing anyone to see him in his disheveled state. Plus, his clothes were far too expensive to ruin. "Nobody is out there."
The thunder roared once more and Hermione pulled the curtains together. "Well, let's just be safe from now on, okay?"
"Haven't we always been? The last thing we need is a frizzy-headed brat with your brains and my legal record."
"Be serious, Draco!"
He smirked. "Never."
There were a hundred reasons that he should be worrying exactly like she was, but even if it was just for one night, he needed to pretend that everything was fine. Even if it helped him none, perhaps, it could help her.
Author's Note: Nobody has figured out the main symbols in this story so far. If you want to take a guess, please leave a comment with your thoughts.
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