On Monday, Draco entered the meeting room to find a dark-haired young man seated in Hermione's spot. He was relieved that he didn't recognize him, although that didn't necessarily mean he wasn't someone who had a grudge against him or his father.
"Good morning, Mr. Malfoy," the young man greeted him. Draco noticed he had an American accent. "I'm Steven Carmichael, your new Defense Inquisitor. Have a seat."
"You're American?" Draco asked.
Steven smiled. "Yes, with so many cases going on right now, the European Ministry is bringing in American Inquisitors to help with the load. I arrived on Friday."
Draco nodded, feeling extremely relieved. It was probably the best scenario he could have hoped for. Although, he was a little worried because Steven didn't look much older than him. Did he even have any experience? Of course, Hermione was young too, but she was unique.
"You don't look very old . . ." Draco eyed Steven critically.
Steven laughed. "Graduated top of my class at Ilvermorny three years ago. Got all O's on my N.E.W.T.s and landed a highly competitive internship at the Magical Congress of America. And I've won the majority of my cases . . . You're in good hands, Mr. Malfoy."
That was a relief. Although Draco had to fight the urge to roll his eyes. Carmichael sounded like he was just as much of an overachiever as Granger.
He's probably her soulmate.
Draco frowned, envisioning the two of them as a power-couple with a perfect house full of accolades and polite little know-it-all children. Although, he begrudgingly conceded, Steven seemed like the type of guy she deserved. Not like those morons she usually went out with.
Oblivious to Draco's unhappy musings, Steven referred to a sheet of parchment with Hermione's handwriting and began asking Draco questions, taking his own notes.
"I don't plan on changing much with my defense," Steven said after they finished going over the basics of Draco's case. "Miss Granger did a wonderful job building a solid case for you but, I must warn you, because of the nature of her dismissal from your case, your trial is likely to be a bit of a media circus."
Draco groaned, knowing what Steven said was true. As if the wizarding world needed another reason to hate him. Now he could be blamed for corrupting the Golden Trio's princess. Everyone would be out for his blood.
"So basically, if we lose, I may actually be safer in Azkaban," Draco said dryly.
Steven gave a short laugh, adjusting his reading glasses. "Let's try to think positively, hey? Now, Luna Lovegood returned my owl saying she'll still testify, and your mother will, of course, but I haven't heard back from Harry Potter yet."
Draco was not surprised. He was sure Harry would not be testifying anymore. Potter would be furious knowing that Draco had kissed Hermione, especially because her job was likely in jeopardy over it.
There was a time when Draco would have loved nothing more than to irritate Potter so much. He would have enjoyed smugly rubbing it in his face. But now, not only had Draco just lost his best defense for his case, he also knew Hermione would be getting nothing but grief from her friends. Draco hoped she had good sense to blame the whole thing on him.
While Steven droned on about his plans for the case, Draco found himself struggling to concentrate on his monotone voice. It was difficult because his thoughts kept straying to Hermione. Now that she was no longer a regular part of his life, he realized he missed her.
While he would have liked to blame it on his lack of human company, he knew that wasn't what it really was. After all, his mother still visited him daily, and he had Steven to talk to right now.
It didn't matter though. He wanted to talk to Hermione.
It wasn't just that Steven was boring, but Draco realized anyone would be boring compared to her.
He missed coming into the room and trying to guess what kind of mood she was in, based on her expression and the state of her crazy hair. He missed the way she bit her bottom lip when she was concentrating. He missed how she would take the time to ask him about the things he'd been reading in her Hogwarts textbooks, then answer any questions he had. He missed how she would talk to him about what was going on in the world, her animated voice making him somehow feel like he was a part of it.
He missed everything about her and, what was most painful of all, he had no idea if he'd ever see her again.
Draco wasn't surprised that she hadn't come to see him or written since the disastrous court day last week. Reporters were watching her every move and if she dared come within fifty feet of him, the media would be all over it.
Every day since Hermione had been dismissed as his lawyer, Draco's mother had come to see him with news articles claiming to have all the details of his and Hermione's "relationship." The lies they printed were outrageous, although at times, entertaining.
He wondered how Hermione was faring out in the real world. Probably not great. Any contact she had with Draco would simply exacerbate the situation.
"I think that's everything we need to cover today," Steven said finally and began gathering his things. "I'll be back tomorrow."
Draco got up to leave, then stopped himself. "Steven, do you know . . . how is Hermione Granger?"
Steven looked at Draco as he removed his glasses. "I heard she's been moved into the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Not where I would want to be, but apparently, she has quite a passion for that area of work. In fact, it sounds like it was a promotion."
Draco released a relieved breath. So she hadn't been fired. That was good. He was happy she was finally working where she really wanted to.
"I'm glad to hear that," Draco said. "It sounds perfect for her—she'll love it."
As he was escorted back to his cell, he was comforted by the fact that he, at least, hadn't ruined her life along with his.
As Hermione Flooed home Monday evening, she was exhausted. Her first day as Head Mediator for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had been tough, especially with the mixture of curious and hostile stares she received from her new co-workers, but she knew she'd be much happier working there.
When Hermione arrived at her flat, she was greeted by an owl waiting patiently at her window. She looked at the message tied to its leg. It was from Ginny.
Stop avoiding us. We're coming over tonight and bringing dinner! Don't write back pretending you have plans, because we know you can't even leave your flat right now.
P.S. Is it true? Did Malfoy make a move on you? How was it? (Don't answer that question around Harry and Ron, but I want to know.)
P.P.S. I saw a picture of him and he is still hot. I knew it.
Hermione rolled her eyes at her friend's audacity while simultaneously fighting back a smile. Only Ginny. She wrote a quick reply.
Dinner sounds great, thanks. See you then.
P.S. I'm not answering that question at all.
As much as Hermione was not looking forward to what was sure to be a very awkward conversation with her friends, she was eager for the company. She was also grateful they were bringing dinner because she had almost no food left in her fridge. Like Ginny said, she'd barely been able to leave her apartment since the trial due to reporters hounding her for details about her and Draco's "relationship."
Even without her saying a word, every news source had posted a variety of outrageous articles about them, each more ridiculous than the last. She glanced at the stack that had been delivered that morning.
In Love with a Death Eater? Hermione Granger's Traitorous Escapades Reach New Heights.
That one was written by Rita Skeeter. After registering herself as an Animagus a few years ago, she had returned to slandering Hermione at any opportunity, being the first one to paint her as a traitor given her job defending Death Eaters.
Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy's Torrid Love Affair: Read All the Details Here!
She sighed. That one was quite ironic considering Draco's sarcastic quip a few weeks ago. She almost wished she could owl it to him.
Granger and Malfoy's Secret Love Child, Plus Another on the Way!
Hermione cringed at the clearly fake rendering of a toddler with an awkward mashup of her and Draco's features. The poor child was incredibly pale with a pointy nose and chin, a huge mess of brown curly hair, large teeth, and dark brown eyes. On the sidebar was a picture of an incredibly disgruntled Hermione looking nine months pregnant.
Hermione tossed the articles in the trash, then heard her friends arrive through her Floo.
"Do you guys want wine?" she called out from her kitchen, grabbing a bottle and four glasses. She knew she was going to need some.
"Are you sure that's a good idea since you're about to give birth to Malfoy's spawn?" Ron said petulantly, crossing his arms as he sank down on her couch.
"I'll have one," Ginny said, flipping through a copy of the same magazine Hermione had just tossed in the trash. She cringed. "Ugh, don't worry, I'm sure your and Malfoy's real kids would be much better looking than that."
"Ginny!" Harry scolded his fiancée.
"Honestly . . ." Hermione sighed. "Throw that out. It's a bunch of rubbish!"
"Is it?" Ron glared at her.
"Yes, Ronald, do I look pregnant to you? Or have a terrifying child running around my flat?"
"Well, obviously that's lies." Harry inclined his head towards the article Ginny was reading. "But there must be some truth to the story for you to be removed from his case . . . What's going on, Hermione?"
"Nothing," she said. "Nothing at all, really, it's been blown way out of proportion."
"Hermione, I swear, if he hurt you—"
"He didn't." She held up a hand. "Look, I'll tell you, but you need to stay calm and not interrupt." She looked directly at Ron.
"Fine," Harry agreed while Ginny closed her magazine and leaned forward.
"First of all," Hermione said, "there is nothing going on between us. We are not in a relationship. I just want to make that clear. All that happened was . . . we kissed. That's it. And it didn't—"
"I can't believe it!" Ron's face turned red. "I'm going to kill him!"
"Ron! It's not that big of a deal—"
"Not that big a deal? He's using you, Hermione!"
"He's not using me! This hasn't benefitted him in any way. His trial's been postponed and who knows who he has defending him now."
"Please! He's probably hoping to get sympathy from the public or something. I knew this would happen! He's completely underhanded."
"When did it happen?" Harry asked.
Hermione sighed. "The day you agreed to testify. Right before, actually. I should have told you, but I was afraid you'd react . . . like that." She gestured toward Ron. "And I didn't want to lose your testimony. It was wrong, I know. I'm sorry."
Harry rubbed his brow. "I just don't understand."
"We were in the Pensieve, viewing Draco's memories—of the night at the Manor." She swallowed. "He stopped her. Bellatrix. He helped me."
"He did? How?"
"He Stupefied me. His family just thought I passed out. But Bellatrix stopped torturing me and . . . you know the rest."
Harry nodded slowly. "That was actually really smart . . ."
"Seeing it all again was really hard. Draco tried to get me to leave the memory, but I felt like I needed to see it. We were both very emotional. And then when I found out what he did . . . it just happened."
"You mean he saw his opportunity," Ron grumbled. "Slimy git."
"Ron! It wasn't like that." Hermione shook her head. "It was . . . genuine."
"Right," Ron scoffed. "As if anything about him could be genuine."
"Do you have feelings for him?" Ginny asked.
"No," Hermione said, then looked down at her hands. "I don't know . . ."
"What!?" Ron slammed a fist on the coffee table. "I don't believe this!"
"Ron, just calm down, it obviously doesn't change anything—"
"Calm down?! Do you even hear yourself right now? He's completely tricked you and you don't even care! You could have lost your job because of him!"
"Ron," Harry began, but Ron immediately cut him off.
"And you're almost just as bad! Agreeing to testify for him. He deserves to be in Azkaban!" Ron jumped up from the couch and stormed over to Hermione's fireplace. He threw down a huge handful of Floo powder, leaving an angry green cloud behind him.
"Well," Ginny said, "that went . . ."
"Terribly," Hermione finished for her.
Harry sighed. "He'll calm down. He always does." He turned to Hermione. "I don't agree with him, but I do think he has a point. You and Malfoy . . ."
"Harry, please! There is no 'me and Malfoy,' all right? I do care about him, and I think he deserves a second chance, but that's the end of it."
"If you're sure." Harry eyed her dubiously.
Hermione sighed, picked her plate up, and set it on the counter. She no longer had an appetite.
"Neither Draco or I are solely to blame about what happened between us, but I feel terrible about the way I handled things. I'm afraid this might've cost him the chance of a fair trial. It certainly didn't do anything to help the public's opinion of him. I just don't want him locked up because of me." She turned to Harry. "Are you still going to testify for him?"
"Well, I wasn't," Harry said slowly. "But after what you told me about the night at the Manor, I will. Knowing he did that for you . . . it makes me hate him a lot less."
"Thank you, Harry," Hermione said quietly.
Harry got up. "I should go check on Ron. Try to calm him down."
Ginny nodded. "I'll stay here and help Hermione clean up."
After Harry left, Hermione brought the rest of the dishes into the kitchen with Ginny right behind her.
"Don't," Hermione said to her friend before she could utter a word.
"You know what . . . Don't start asking me questions I don't have the answers to."
"All right," Ginny said. "But, Hermione, if you do want to talk to someone about it, you know you can talk to me. I'm not going to judge you, and honestly, I trust your opinion. If you say Malfoy's changed, then I think he has. And maybe he didn't even need to change all that much when you think about what he did at the Manor."
Hermione rinsed dishes in the sink, taking in her friend's words.
"Do you think he feels the same way about you?" Ginny asked.
"Of course not," Hermione said.
"Why not? You're amazing and I'm sure he's smart enough to realize it. Is he still prejudiced against Muggle-borns?"
"No, it's not that. It's just, well, it's Malfoy. He's not exactly open about his feelings. And I don't even know how much he lets himself feel. He didn't even want me to find out about what he did to stop Bellatrix. It's like he doesn't want me to believe he has good in him. Like he doesn't want to believe it."
"Sounds like he's scared."
"It doesn't matter, anyway." Hermione wiped her hands on a dish towel. "It's not like there could ever really be anything between us."
"Come on, Ginny, think about our past. And you saw how Ron just reacted! Plus, the media would have a field day."
Ginny shrugged. "They're having a field day anyway. Might as well give them something factual to write about."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Look, I just want him to have a shot at a real life after all this is done. And that wouldn't happen with me."
Ginny smirked. "Real life is overrated."
At that moment, Harry returned through the Floo looking deeply troubled. Hermione and Ginny immediately headed toward him.
"What's wrong, Harry?" Ginny asked.
"Is it Ron? Is he okay?" Hermione was worried that what she'd told her friends tonight had finally pushed Ron over the edge.
"He's fine," Harry said, although he shook his head. "But he says he's going to testify against Malfoy."
A/N: What did you think of everyone's reactions? I always love to hear your thoughts! Oh, and anyone recognize Steven Carmichael from anywhere? As always, a chapter preview can be found in the following places (click for links): FACEBOOK, TWITTER, and PINTEREST.
Thank you to everyone who asked for a copy of Desperate Forest to read and review! I can't wait to hear your thoughts 😊. If anyone is still interested in a copy, email me at cece(at)cecelouise(dot)com.
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