Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling and Warner Bros. All fics posted at this community were written entirely for fun, not for profit, and no copyright infringement is intended.Title: Beacons of Light Author: hiddenhibernianRating:
After the war, the battle for the Ministry's soul is fought over at interminable committee meetings. A reformed Draco is there with a Muggle pen in his hand, fighting very hard to stay awake. It gets much more interesting when he notices that Hermione Granger actually has a sense of humour. Warnings:
My sincere thanks to my wonderful betas Rachael and Híril; any remaining mistakes are my own. Thanks also to the amazing mod, for all her work running the fest, doing such a great job pairing the participants, and not least being very understanding when RL interfered! Mod's Note: Click here to download a longer version of this story!
Draco took his usual route to the doors of the Great Hall, keeping his eyes on the floor when he bumped into something. Suddenly, his face was full of curly brown hair.
He took a step back to discover it was Granger who had waylaid him.
She looked acutely uncomfortable. “Malfoy – Draco – can I speak to you for a few minutes? Somewhere else?”
“Why?” He could think of no reason she would like to speak to him. They lived in the same castle, but she may as well live on the moon as far as any interaction between them was concerned.
“Harry has been clearing out Grimmauld Place, and there are some things...”
He may as well get it over with. Draco Malfoy was hardly in a position to deny Hermione Granger anything she asked these days.
“All right. Meet you in the Charms classroom in ten minutes?”
Granger was pulling objects out of a bedraggled beaded bag, lining them up on a desk at the front of the classroom.
“As I was saying, Harry is trying to make Grimmauld Place fit to live in. Seeing as he has even less interest in Black heirlooms than Sirius – and by that I mean he's not actually destroying anything he comes across...”
” Apparently, the stories he had been told about his reprobate cousin had not gone far enough, rather than exaggerating as Draco had believed. “He would have destroyed – this?” He picked up a priceless Regency wand holder from the pile at random.
“You don't know much about your cousin Sirius, do you?” Granger mumbled as she pulled out a footstool embroidered with the Black ensign from her little bag, wrestling to get the legs past the clasp.
“No.” His voice was flat.
“Anyway, Mrs Tonks picked out a few things, and Harry thought...”
Hearing his aunt's name falling from Granger's lip as casually as she referred to one of their teachers further underscored to Draco how wrong this was. A Mu – Muggle-born was handing him Black family artefacts he remembered seeing on his great-aunt's mantelpiece, and she knew some members of his family better than he did.
Unbidden, his mother's words after the battle returned to him: “The worst thing with this wretched war is that it turned families against each other. Never forget that, Draco: put your family first, above everything.”
“What did Potter think?” Draco asked resignedly. Most of the time he tried not to think about his mother's departure from normal, nor Potter, nor anything beyond getting through the day.
“That your mother should have a chance to see if there is anything she wants to keep. Harry doesn't want to just throw them away –"
“Throw them away
? Have you any idea how much some of these things are worth?”
The rapier she had wrapped in a frayed bath towel was probably worth more than the Weasleys' house alone.
“Dispose of, then. They're not Harry's to keep. Will you take them?”
“Yes. Thank you,” he remembered to say. It would make his mother happy – a rare occurrence in recent years.
“OK.” She had a last rummage in her bag, and Draco belatedly realised this was his only opportunity.
He cleared his throat. “Would you – Can you tell me what Sirius was like?”
It came out in a rush.
Granger's eye didn't meet his, but finally she took a deep breath and spoke.
“It's different... I was so young when he died, even if I didn't think so then.” The corner of her mouth lifted briefly. “Did you know he spent most of our fifth year stuck in Grimmauld Place? It was the Order headquarters at the time.”
Draco shook his head – no one had told him anything of importance in fifth year. That had come later. Once it was too late to go back to being a child who hadn't a clue.
“As you can imagine, it wasn't exactly great for his mental health to be cooped up in the home he'd escaped as soon as he had been able to.”
That wasn't quite the story Draco had been told about Cousin Sirius, but he had at least learnt enough to hold his tongue and let Granger continue.
“He was one of those people who could charm a troll. You know, the kind who are always late but no one minds because they're so much fun when they get there.” She looked slightly wistful. “That's who he was meant to be, I think – what he would have been like if the war hadn't happened. He was intelligent, too. Some of the stuff he got up to with his friends was truly brilliant, and it wasn't all Professor Lupin's doing.”
Granger was pacing between the desks, pent-up energy spilling over in heavy steps and a whole row of desks left shuddering after she walked into it.
“It must have been hell for him,” she said, coming to an abrupt stop. “He must have felt like everyone he cared about was leaving him behind, that he had failed them...” Her eyes were full of tears but she looked Draco straight in the face.
“I understand now: what it's like to be desperate, to feel that you're losing everything you care about. I think that's what it was like for Sirius at the end. He loved Harry, and Harry was in mortal danger. He loved his friends, and most of them had died. Professor Lupin spent most of that year with the werewolves, so it wasn't looking too well for him either. All Sirius could do was to sit in that house, with the portrait of his mother screaming at him. Small wonder he seemed a bit edgy.”
“I – I –....” No other words would come until Draco fell back to: “Thank you. And thanks for the – the things,” he said, conjuring a chest to sweep the Black-crested heirlooms into, almost leaving the stool behind in his haste to be gone.
He couldn't look at Granger.
Fortunately, she didn't seem to remember he even was in the room.
“'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends',” she told the large window at the front as Draco crept towards the door.
It took Draco the better part of a year to admit to himself that Granger probably had forgotten he was in the room by the time she said it, and even longer to look her in the eyes again.
Fortunately, he managed to force himself to do it eventually. It would have been rather awkward otherwise, considering how often their paths crossed at the Ministry.
The Pre Pre-Budget Committee. The Draft White Paper Working Group. The Policy Committee – only the lowliest of ministry minions attended that one, those who had no leverage to get away from the deadly dullness of it all. Plus Granger, whose knowledge of the Code of Conduct went far beyond the limits of common decency.
In the fullness of time, the Modernisation Committee was added to their number.
Draco had been promoted by then, but he wouldn't dream of sending a deputy to the Mod-Con, as some Ministry wit christened it. It was actually important.
Granger was on it, for one thing – she had gotten better at prioritising over the years.
The Mod-Con was chaired by Lucy Pilkington, for their sins, and one afternoon in February found her presiding as usual over a great deal of nothingness.
Draco fought desperately to keep his eyes open. This was boring, boring, bo-ring. Robert Mitchell was discussing Biros, for Merlin's sake – any moderately competent Ministry employee already had their own stash, be they ever so pure-blood.
This was the great new dawn of technology for wizardkind? Rolling his eyes so violently he took in the whole group gathered around the conference table, Draco noticed Granger's expression.
She was intent on something; unlike the sagging figures surrounding her, she was coiled as a spring.
Draco looked in the same direction as her and his eyes landed on Pilkington before he could avert them elsewhere. There was absolutely nothing about Pilkington that merited further scrutiny, and Granger must know that as well as he did. Unless...
Madam Pilkington seemed strangely restless. Several times her hand rose to her neck and then fell back again.
Was he imagining it, or was there a faint buzzing when Mitchell occasionally had to stop for breath (regrettably, he was more adept at engaging his lungs than his brain)?
There definitely was.
Draco bit back a laugh. Unless he was much mistaken, the prim and proper Miss Granger, Second Permanent Secretary of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, had set an Aedes Angebus
spell on the Ministry's Special Envoy for Modernisation. The conjured mosquito would cling to Pilkington until she managed to squish it.
Given that Granger was an extremely competent witch, that would be very difficult indeed.
Something moved at the corner of his vision, enough to send a tendril of fear down his spine. Draco recognised the shape of a wand pointing at him by now, even though it was mostly concealed by Granger's sleeve.
Forcing himself to relax, he raised one eyebrow in the grand manner of Severus Snape in a wordless salute.
To his wonder, she responded in kind. The corner of her mouth moved upwards very slightly and her wand disappeared from view. It made a reappearance every so often, whenever the spell was wearing off.
Several hours later, Mitchell's outpourings had been succeeded by a number of better-informed but deathly dull Ministry officials.
Pilkington was on edge: her eyes were moving faster and faster between the current speaker and the regular committee members, crossing each other whenever the buzzing got particularly obnoxious. Madam Pilkington had not been in the war, but even she had learnt to spot a wand when the pointy end was directed at her.
It was only a matter of time before she caught Granger's wand in motion.
That was why Draco seized the opportunity to nod minutely to Granger while Unspeakable Gupta was dismissed and Edwards from Magical Maintenance was called up.
Edwards fluttered her long eyelashes and patted her hair before nodding to indicate when she was ready, which enraged Pilkington even more. As she had told them loudly and repeatedly, if there was one thing she couldn't stand it was faffing.
Draco disliked it too, but not as much as he detested Pilkington's particular brand of officialdom. That was why he took up the baton, as it were, and set off an Aedes Angebus
that should singe the ears of its recipient.
He almost lost it as he looked across the table to see Granger using her wand to cast a cleaning spell on her fingernails, with Pilkington and most of the committee watching with horrified fascination.
Pilkington hit out and almost took the ear off the wizard next to her. Amidst her apologies, she had to admit defeat as most of the participants decided to take the long anticipated break.
Draco almost whistled as he strolled down to the Ministry canteen in search of coffee potent enough that he could stay awake for the rest of the afternoon. Based on past experience he was unlikely to find it there, but hope springs eternal.
The next committee they met at could not have been more different. Draco was skulking in a corner in Meeting Room 5C when Granger barged in with her usual bustle.
“Malfoy!” She had obviously not been expecting him – not that the Ten Year War Memorial Planning Committee.
“I was forcefully conscripted,” he said so quickly his tongue almost tripped over all the syllables. “I tried everything I could to get out of it short of faking my own death, I was begging Cartwright to send someone else –”
She sat down heavily.
“I should not be here,” Draco said more calmly.
“Why not?” Granger asked eventually. “At least you were there, unlike some people I could mention.”
She was probably being sarcastic, but Draco still replied honestly. He owed her that much, at least.
“Because I wish I hadn't been there. I still was, though, and there is nothing I can do to change that. I don't get a second chance, so who can believe me when I say I would do it differently now?”
The truth sat awkwardly between them long enough for Draco to regret his momentary lapse and wish he had gone for a more traditional Slytherin response.
Someone poked their head through the door, unleashing a bubbly monologue:
“Hello! Am I late? Oh, Unspeakable Malfoy! Such a pleasure to see you again. Your mother's soirées are always so exquisite! And Ms Granger, of course – no need to ask why you're here, of course! I'm sure you'll be the brightest shining star at the celebrations. Or one of the three, at least!”
There was no need for Granger's glance at Draco to make it clear Tessa Spencer was a stellar example of what she had had in mind. The breathless delivery made it all too clear.
It was odd being allied with Granger, but somehow it worked.
Most of the time they didn't need to confer – neither of them saw the point of including a procession of Thestrals, and it should have been clear to the meanest intelligence that commemorating who had killed who was an extremely bad idea.
Unfortunately for Tessa Spencer, she had not been at Hogwarts with Hermione Granger and had no idea when to start battening down the hatches.
Spencer had simply mentioned she had sourced chairs for the memorial ceremony at Hogwarts at a cost fifty per cent higher than the budgeted amount, but that it didn't matter anyway thanks to the gracious assistance of Unspeakable Malfoy.
“What do you mean by that?” Granger asked with terrible finality.
Miss Spencer predictably fluttered under pressure.
Draco took pity on her. “She means I'm supposed to bankroll it, of course. Why did you think my department head was so insistent I ended up on this committee?”
It was quite the thing to see the scales falling from Granger's eyes.
“That is entirely inappropriate,” she said in a tight little voice that suggested volcanic depths bubbling beneath.
“Have you ever met a Ministry official who was happy to part with money?” Draco asked. “We all have our role to play here, and mine is rather obvious.”
If that was pity in her eyes, Granger could stick it up her poorly-knit Weasley jumper.
“Last thing I heard you were quite a talented Unspeakable, not to mention your inherited flair for Ministry politics.” What a day this was turning out to be; Granger didn't even look put-out to be praising him to his face.
Fortified with one bottle of wine and several large whiskeys, Draco felt it incumbent upon him to slide up to Granger who was waiting for a large order at the bar.
“Didn't think I would find you in a joint like this, Granger.”
“It's the Ministry Christmas party, Malfoy. I work here.”
“So do I,” he pointed out, in case she had forgotten. ”I make a point of never attending these things.”
“Then what made you change your mind?” Irritatingly, her speech was as precise as ever. The large G&T the barmaid was pouring had better be for Granger, or the spirit of the event was completely lost on her.
“Spencer. She promised she would show me a good time.”
Granger blanched. “Oh dear God.”
“Precisely. So I said I had a date with you.”
“I thought her reaction would be worth the inevitable hex. I've put it in a Pensieve for dull Tuesday afternoons.” If he was slurring, it was only a tiny bit, so he was quite annoyed when she went on to point it out:
“Don't worry, I'll save it for when you're sober. Otherwise, people might think I waited until you couldn't defend yourself.”
Draco pulled out his wand with a flourish. There was something wet at his elbow, but it was unimportant at this juncture. “I'll duel you right here, right now. Can't let it be said I let a Gryffindor get the better of me.”
“Excuse me, that was my drink you just knocked over!”
“He's terribly sorry,” said Granger, “and will get you a new one. Two new ones, in fact, and one for the gentleman too.” She had stepped forward until she was standing between his legs, pushing his wand arm down with a death grip that was certain to leave bruises lasting into next week.
She was speaking over Draco's shoulder to whoever had complained about having their drink spilt.
Draco rather thought it was he who should be complaining – his robes may never be the same again, and they had cost more than the whole bar. He opened his mouth, only to get a face full of Granger's death stare up close. It almost made him sober up.
As if the glare wasn't sufficient, she moved her knee minutely. It was in a very sensitive location, and she was holding his wand down towards the floor.
The fate of the Malfoys rested in his hands; Draco decided prudence was called for.
He nodded enthusiastically, which relaxed Hermione's posture and reduced the tension several notches.
Draco was in a position to appreciate every fraction of an inch Hermione unbent, as it brought him into contact with new and interesting parts of her body. The smell of her hair was almost, but not quite, able to overcome the lingering aroma of stale beer from the bar.
The state of his mind was pleasantly befuddled to the extent Draco couldn't remember quite why he shouldn't be disappointed when she finally stepped away.
“I think you got your wish,” Hermione said in the dry tone of voice that meant Draco needed all his brain cells to keep up with her. It was unfortunate most of them seemed to have deserted him. “There's no way the gossips would have missed that.”
“I only told Spencer!”
“Did you really expect her to keep the juiciest gossip since Skeeter broke who deflowered Dumbledore to herself?”
There were far too many syllables in that sentence to be decoded easily. Draco swallowed most of his drink as he stumbled through it.
“I may not have considered what she would do next,” he finally admitted. “I might have hoped she would keel over with shock and die.”
Hermione sighed. “I think I need another drink.”
Draco hopefully held up his empty glass. The contents had disappeared rather quickly.
“Dream on, Malfoy. I can't tell you what to do, but I certainly won't help you get even more drunk. Just think of the damage to the family name if you make a tit of yourself at the Ministry Christmas party.”
He snickered, which made Granger sigh deeper.
“Suit yourself, then. Don't come crying on my shoulder in the morning.”
“Or on your tits –"
The business end of a wand appeared between his eyes out of nowhere. Draco went cross-eyed trying to keep it in focus. He was feeling a lot soberer now – maybe Hermione had been right about him not needing one more drink.
“Sorry. I'm sorry. That was very inappopr – inapprorpia – inappapp – not the right thing to say.”
The wand retreated, Hermione's robes swirled and she was gone.
Draco could have sworn he heard a faint “Oh, for fuck's sake” as she turned around, but he was too busy falling off his barstool to be certain.
The Ministry Christmas party always took place on a Thursday, to ensure the attendees could recover on the Ministry's time. As they had to pay for their own drinks, this was felt to be a fair arrangement.
Naturally, the Mod-Con met on the following Friday.
“You'd better drink this if you want to survive the next few hours.” A red paper cup appeared in front of him as Hermione sat down in a flurry of wet robes. She must have gone outside at lunchtime, Draco deduced. He was pleased with himself – apparently, some brain cells had survived last night.
“Well – um – thanks,” he managed. Unfortunately, it took half the contents of the cup to revive his brain sufficiently to remember what had been said last night.
The mouthful Draco was swallowing got stuck halfway down, and it took much back-slapping (Hermione got a few good wallops in) and disapproving looks from Madam Pilkington before he could breathe again.
Taking advantage of a lull in the proceedings, Draco leaned over to Hermione to whisper: “Obviously I'm terribly sorry about my behaviour last night. I don't just mean the inappropriate language –" he didn't mangle the word this time, thank Merlin, “but the whole situation. I should never have brought your name into it in the first place, never mind using the sort of language not fit for a witch's ears...”
To his dismay, Draco felt his cheeks turn red.
“Ron and I have been best friends for almost twenty years. Believe me, 'tits' is on the inoffensive end of the spectrum. It's a pity I can't say the same about your sexist standards for swearing.”
The only thing Draco wanted to was to bury his head in his hands and pretend none of this was happening.
Unfortunately, it was not an option.
“Order, please!” Pilkington banged her gavel on the table with unseemly pleasure.
It took Draco thirty seconds to establish that the discussion of overhead projectors was dead in the water; Hermione's expression of disdain made that clear. Or perhaps it was intended for him?
He had to fix this, or it would be the death of him,
The only thing he could do without incurring Madam Pilkington's censure was to write – she could hardly object to him taking notes. Dear Hermione
, he began, chewing his biro to come up with the next bit. It was curiously addictive, much better for thinking than feathers.
It was only then he realised the flaw in his plan. The intended recipient could read every line of his letter, and was waiting with poorly disguised anticipation. I wish you would not read ahead, it's very distracting. I would be distraught if my poor behaviour last night made you reconsider our friendship. As your friend Ronald Weasley may put it, I was as drunk as a skunk – unfortunately, I failed to adjust my alcohol intake to reflect my current sedate way of living, compared to my somewhat more gregarious youth.
Along with a great many things, I was taught to treat witches in a certain way. Upon consideration, a lot of the teachings imparted to me turned out to be completely wrong, so it is very possible that also applies to the use of coarse language.
It's probably safest that you continue to expand my education, however, as I am reluctant to model myself on Weasley et al. The use of the words 'wankbadger' and 'twatface' as applied to your esteemed department head may be factually correct, but I am told they caused a bit of a kerfuffle last week.
Please do me the favour of accepting my sincere apologies.
He signed with a flourish, only to regret it immediately when Hermione grabbed a piece of notepaper and put her pen into service. Dear Draco,
Apology accepted (I have seen worse).
Your continued insistence on acting like someone in a Regency novel is occasionally confusing, but I can see how it would have come about. I would be grateful if you refrain from deliberately stoking up gossip about me (I've had as many full-page spreads in the
Prophet as I can stand), but it will be fine – we'll just have to wait it out.
In the meantime, I suggest you model your behaviour towards witches (and other women) upon that towards men – if no genitals are involved, chances are sex is irrelevant.
Thanks for telling me about Ron, by the way – he refused to tell me what he got suspended for. I may have to borrow a Pensieve to see that live, as it were. Do you have one down on level nine?
After that, even the agony of having the risks of placing a transparency the wrong way around on the overhead projector explained for half an hour couldn't put a dent in Draco's good mood.
That was lucky, because there would be precious little to be happy about soon.
Hermione also skipped out the Ministry that afternoon, metaphorically speaking.
After all the time she had spent thinking about Draco, the fact that he considered their friendship much closer than Hermione had was a pleasant surprise. It had not been lost on her that he had used her given name for the first time– it was only common courtesy to do the same in return.
Merlin knew it was an improvement on the past, anyway.
The Mod-Con rumbled on, wasting months on devices no longer seen in the Muggle world. Once Hermione had finished laughing at the demonstration and helped the unfortunate presenter to disengage his sleeve from the fax machine, she had taken Draco on a walk through London.
“But where is your money?” He turned her credit card over, tracing his fingers over her name.
“In the bank.” Hermione did her best to sound brisk – it was different out here, more intimate despite the thousands of people surrounding them.
They were here because they both wanted to be, rather than being forced together by circumstances.
“So how do they know you still have it? What if you go and buy –" He looked down Kensington High Street, spotting a 'For Sale' sign on the second floor of a well-tended terrace. “– That flat over there, for example?”
“You can't just buy property like that, it takes a lot of paperwork. Besides, it would be about half a million Galleons. They do put a limit on those things. You
could probably get a special one, of course.”
That got her the one eyebrow-treatment. “What makes you think I don't have one already?”
“The fact that I had to pay for our Tube tickets, and your obvious lack of familiarity with the concept. I do welcome contributions to further excursions, though. Not all of us can afford half a million Galleon flats.”
Draco being flustered and apologetic, trying to repay her the £3.50 the Tube ticket had cost, was so entertaining she let him suffer a bit.
They wandered around Kensington, stopping whenever something caught their eye, and it was so enjoyable it was no surprise they agreed to meet up again at the weekend, and the one after that.
Hermione found something new to puzzle her at every turn. As they were walking through Regent's Park she managed to put one of her realisations into words after it had lurked at the back of her mind for weeks:
“You've never been here before, right?” she asked.
“No. I've clearly become more adept at reading Muggle maps if you were in any doubt, though,” Draco said, proudly patting his pocket.
“Do you ever wonder if pure-bloods have it wrong? That it's you on the outside, looking in – or not, as the case may be – rather than the other way around?”
“This is one of the Royal Parks of London. Most English Muggles have been to them, never mind Londoners who treat it as an extended sitting room. Still, most pure-blood wizards living in London don't have a clue what's on their doorstep.”
They slowed down as Hermione was talking. She had taken to using her hands, as she normally did when she wanted to make a point. Passers-by occasionally had to duck.
“It has occurred to me lately that everyone had it the wrong way around when I was eleven. It's the wizards who live on the margin, not the Muggles. Look at London – it's hardly the Muggles who get the short end of the stick, is it?”
Draco looked at her like she had two heads.
Hermione ploughed on, even though the conclusion that had seemed so obvious in her head was faltering a bit: “Hogwarts is quite misleading, in fact. It's like the Wizarding world has to hit you with the very best it has to distract you from the fact that the rest of your life will be spent walking down the same two streets of London, or visiting the same four wizarding villages every time you venture outside it.”
“You're saying wizards are confined to the Wizarding world, rather than Muggles being kept out of it? Yes, I can see what you mean.”
Hermione stopped dead and Draco had to whisk her out of the path of a Spanish tourist, who looked at her with affront. She paid him no mind – it was Draco who captured all of her attention.
His hand was resting on her arm and his face was turned towards her. There was a glimmer of grey in his eyes and his finely wrought lips were half-open, and it occurred to Hermione that she could look at him all day and not get bored.
It was the understanding on his face that got her. Draco had listened to her ramblings and figured out exactly what she meant. It required some fairly impressive mental gymnastics on his part, considering where he had started out from.
It wasn't an obnoxious little boy walking beside her – it was a man, someone who had been through quite a lot in his short life.
Just like she had.
They kept walking.
It felt right, the way they walked side by side both literally and metaphorically, after everything they had gone through to end up on the same path.
Draco stole a glance at her every now and then, his hand still resting on her arm, but for once in his life, he stayed silent. It made Hermione enjoy his company even more.
The spell was broken when a large man almost barrelled into Hermione. While she pushed her dislodged shoulder bag into the right place on her hip again, Draco turned in the same direction as the man had taken.
“I could have sworn that was McLaggen.” He was frowning, and he had let go of Hermione's arm. She felt the loss of the warmth of his large hand disproportionally.
“Good morning to you too.” Hermione's smile was as insincere as Linda O'Donohue faked delight when the former swirled around in the corridor on level seven to talk to her.
The whispers had been getting on Hermione's nerves since Wednesday. They had started as she returned to work from the weekend, but she had developed a thick skin. It was more a sense of righteous indignation, really – the most exciting thing she had been doing lately was plotting to equip the Ministry with what would have passed for modern technology in the Nineties. Hermione did not think that the introduction of photocopiers merited grown adults whispering in the corridors as she was walking by.
Once she had thoroughly embarrassed O'Donohue, Hermione dismissed the Ministry gossips from her mind. She was having lunch with Draco, and he was bound to talk about something that was actually interesting.
When Hermione entered the Ministry canteen on Wednesday the 16th of October, she could tell something momentous had occurred. For the first time in a few weeks, nobody seemed very interested in her. Hermione strode to the cake counter, determined to enjoy the peace and quiet for a while.
Ron was only fifteen minutes late when he joined her. “Carrot cake! I haven't had that in ages!”
Hermione pulled to plate closer towards her. “You'd better start queuing up then, don't you think?”
“Come on, just a little bit. Or I won't tell you what really happened down at the Department of Mysteries. You can make do with the official version, just like everyone else.”
“Is that what everyone is talking about?”
“Yes, haven't you heard anything? I was there.” Ron laid it on thick, even with his mouth full, taking full advantage of Hermione's temporary surrender of her plate. “The wards on the Brain Room were up for renewal and it's always done by an Auror, so I was down on level nine. Always gives me the willies, but there you go.”
“Yes, yes,” Hermione urged him on. “Scarred for life, I know.”
“I was! Here, I'll show you, you can't have forgotten –"
“It went down a treat at the Leaky last weekend. And it's not like you haven't seen my chest before –"
Hermione moved quickly to cut him off. “I don't need to see your battle scars, I was there when you got them. Will you tell me what happened, now that you've polished off my cake?”
“McLaggen went in to see Malfoy. Everyone knows they hate each other –"
“Very suspicious. Then what happened?” Hermione nudged him on.
“Well, then McLaggen left –"
“When was that?”
“Oh, after fifteen minutes or so – the door to the Death Chamber was right spooky to ward, I can tell you that.”
Hermione discovered she was sitting at the edge of her chair and shuffled back a few inches.
“Then what? Someone was talking about 'the storm' in the queue for coffee – what was that about?”
“Well, Malfoy went back to his office or whatever they have down there. Must be right up his alley, I bet they could set him up with an actual dungeon if he wanted –”
“Yeah, well, nothing happened for a good while. I was actually thinking I might even get out for lunch for a change, the wards were going so well, and then I started feeling a bit chilly.”
“If only you'd had a jumper,” Hermione mumbled, rolling her eyes.
Ron ignored her pointedly and ploughed on: “Then I noticed it had started to snow.”
“What? And what about Malfoy?”
“I'm getting there, aren't I? So I was in the Brain Room, up to my knees in what I thought was snow, when I reckoned it would be a good idea to see if it was happening anywhere else. I went back to the Entrance Chamber, which was full of people. It was hard to hear what anyone was saying over the wind, but everyone saw Malfoy leave on his broom.”
“On his broom?”
“He's actually a decent flyer – he just made it through the door before Upshott sealed it, despite the conditions.”
“But why? Did everyone else make it out?”
“Yes, of course. It stopped when Malfoy left. As soon as someone thought to look at the snow it was pretty obvious.”
“The snow?” Hermione repeated, even more confused.
“Turns out the snowflakes were charmed to spell out 'Fuck you' when you looked at them closely. They didn't need me to confirm Malfoy was a bit cheesed off with the terms of his employment, so he upped it and left. They had to fumigate his office after finding his letter of resignation.”
“But – Where – It just doesn't make sense!” Hermione almost wailed.
“It's a good story though, isn't it? That charm on the snowflakes was quite clever. Wonder if George could do it if I showed him my diagnostics, they're all melted now but I did a quick spell before...”
Hermione abandoned Ron to his meanderings. She was worried about Draco.
They had gone for lunch together the previous day, and he had been perfectly normal. Their new, better understanding sat between them, still too fragile to acknowledge openly, but it had been there. It had, Hermione reassured herself. She would simply send an owl to Draco, and then –
Well, he would explain what was going on and then they could take it from there.
The owl returned, the letter it carried unread. The second owl didn't fare much better, while the third must have been disorientated and did not return until after several weeks.
Hermione built herself up to try a Floo call, only to hit a brick wall literally as well as metaphorically.
As a last resort, she was contemplating cornering Pansy Parkinson before asking Andromeda for help when Ron appeared at The Burrow after his usual Sunday run to the newsagent.
“These Muggle papers weigh a ton,” Ron complained as he drained his can of Red Bull. Having finally mastered Muggle money when he started to earn his own, he had developed a bit of an addiction after nights out. Hermione wasn't going to point out the drawbacks of caffeine-based drinks when it got her complimentary newspapers.
“There's a lot more Muggles to write about in the world than wizards, you know,” Hermione observed absently.
“I know one thing they don't know about, anyway,” Ron said. “Guess what Tracy Davis told me last night?”
“What – that she's going out with Terry Boot?”
“Nah, that was later – not much point hanging around talking to her once she told me that, was there?” Ron had much better taste in women these days – hard-as-nails Tracy Davis and he made an odd sort of sense.
Hermione hoped Terry Boot would be given the boot soon. Hur hur.
Her internal debate whether cheering Ron up would be worth making a truly awful pun was cut short by Ron continuing his story.
“No, it's about Malfoy actually. And Astoria Greengrass, if you remember her.”
Hermione had been feeling pleasantly numb, her hangover taking the edge off the world, but now she felt like someone had poured molten lead down her spine. Her mouth was opening and closing but no sounds were coming out – thankfully, Ron didn't need much encouragement.
“Tracy said they're getting married.”
Hermione found her voice at last. “What
“Don't shriek, my head is really sore. That's what she said. But here's the interesting thing: apparently, Malfoy just called over to the Greengrass castle or whatever they live in and proposed. Just like that.”
That made no sense. Not that any of the first parts of the story did either, but even so.
“Astoria accepted?” Hermione asked, trying hard to sound only politely interested. It came out with a wheeze, so she probably failed.
“Obviously. Listen, I know what they're like, the old families – Malfoy is loaded and as pure-blood, as they come. Plus he's rehabilitated now, too. Astoria can marry him and do whatever she likes for the rest of her life, as long as she has a son or two. Why do you think Parkinson was so keen on Malfoy at school? They all know there's only a handful of people they can marry to keep the bloodlines pure, it doesn't come as a surprise.”
“I know that, do you think I've lived under a rock since I was eleven,” Hermione snapped. “I don't understand why he would do it, that's all.”
“Who knows why Malfoy does anything? Maybe he had an early midlife crisis or something.” Ron seemed to notice the state Hermione was in for the first time. “Why do you care if Malfoy gets shacked up with Astoria Greengrass, anyway?"
It was a fair question, and it deserved a fair answer.
That, and she was barely holding it together enough to remain sitting up, never mind coming up with a halfway convincing lie.
"Because I love him," she said.
“Yes, that would just about sum it up. Now, excuse me while I go off and tell him.”
“How is he supposed to avoid getting engaged to other people if you don't even bother to let him know? Who's got the emotional range of a teaspoon now?” Ron asked in a long-suffering voice.
Hermione could not answer – she was already Apparating to Andromeda's.
Two Apparitions, one lengthy Floo call conducted out of her hearing and several hours of waiting in immaculate drawing rooms later, Hermione found herself knocking on the door to Draco's study.
Before her courage failed her, she threw the door open at the same time as Draco said:
“Come in then, if you must – Granger
“The last time you saw me, you called me Hermione.” It slipped out before she could close her traitorous mouth.
Draco brushed the hair out of his face with a wary hand – one could have fit a weekly shop into the bags beneath his eyes. “Surely you agree this is closer to the natural order of things.”
“You mean where you don't reply to my letters?”
“Where you live your life and I live mine, and never the two shall meet.”
“That's bollocks, and you know it – we even work in the same place.”
“Worked,” he pointed out, but Hermione was reaching full steam ahead and wasn't going to get derailed by petty details.
“We went to school together, we fought in the same war, and we have at least some friends in common. Your mother saved my best friend's life. My best friend saved your life – several times. You'd better come up with a more convincing argument than that.”
“Very well. In all the aspects of our personal lives, we are irreconcilably different.” If Draco was wheeling out the six-syllable words, she must be getting to him.
Hermione couldn't remember anything that had hurt as much as Draco standing there pretending they were as good as strangers, not even her parents stripped of their memories – at least she had done it to save their lives, no matter how presumptuous her seventeen-year-old self had been thinking she knew what was best for other people.
A flicker of a thought suggested she should follow that thought to its conclusion, but Hermione was in too much of a hurry to demolish Draco's argument that she dismissed it.
“Whereas you and Astoria Greengrass, whom you didn't even bother speaking to when she was standing next to you at the Ministry Christmas party, are soulmates?”
Draco inhaled quickly, his nostrils flaring. “She and I share an understanding of our role in the world, and we have been bred to similar values.”
“Hopefully these no longer include the oppression of people like me,” she mumbled.
She raised her eyebrows. “It's a fair comment, don't you think? Especially considering that you've spent the last few months finding out that the world is full of Muggle things vastly superior to their wizarding equivalents. Forgive me for finding your Damascene conversion a bit lacking in plausibility.”
Hermione did a quick mental check – she was still holding it together. That had only been four syllables, five at the most.
“Yet here I am, about to get married to Astoria.” Draco rested his arm on the mantelpiece, but the Lord of the Manor look failed to take away the sad cast around his mouth.
“You're looking so happy, too,” Hermione said.
“Yeah, well, I have to get married at some stage. I may as well get it over with.”
“That does sound a bit more plausible, actually.”
“Thank you.” He bowed politely, already moving towards the door, no doubt to hold it open for her so she could be escorted out. Maybe it would have worked on someone who had been brought up like they lived in an Austen novel. It definitely didn't work on Hermione.
“What did McLaggen have to say, then? Judged on his normal level of intercourse it was probably nothing interesting, but I'm willing to stand corrected.”
Fortunately, one of the many, many ways Draco was nothing like his father was the way his emotions showed across his face.
For a moment, there was sheer panic. Then, the bland Malfoy mask slipped on, but his eyes were still darting around the room like a house-elf uprising was being mounted from the interior walls.
“You would have to ask him – how am I supposed to know?”
“Oh, I will, believe me. I just wanted to ask for your version first. At least it won't come accompanied by excessive spitting.”
There was a brief moment when their eyes met, brimming with amusement, and Hermione felt a staggering sense of relief. It was still Draco in there, she just had to coax him out.
“He simply shared his views on the current political situation. Namely, that it would be better without me being involved in any managerial capacity at the Ministry.”
“This would be the man you called “an affront to blundering idiots everywhere, bringing their good name into disrepute” last week? That's who you decided to listen to?” She could hear her own voice getting shrill, but she didn't care.
“Even a blind Niffler finds a silver spoon. Eventually.”
Hermione paced around the room, her robes snagging on furniture as she swept a path where there was room only for exquisitely embroidered tablecloths.
McLaggen, McLaggen... He seemed to be popping up everywhere recently – only last month he'd been trying to get her to dance with him at the war memorial ball.
There was something about McLaggen, other than his persistent inability to accept a 'no' without being hexed first...
“The bastard!” she shouted so loudly Draco must have feared for the crystal on the mantelpiece.
He concealed it well, though. “The Niffler?”
“McLaggen, you idiot!”
“I thought he was the idiot?”
“Don't play dumb! What did McLaggen tell you he would do if you didn't resign from the Ministry and stopped meeting up with me?”
Draco's face turned so pale she was concerned he would faint.
“Never mind,” Hermione said, as gently as she could manage. “It doesn't matter what he said, because he is an idiot. And a bastard. You're neither, as it happens, and that's why I would be distraught if you listened to him. What am I supposed to do if I don't have you to talk to?”
“Distraught?” He looked up from under his eyelashes, head still tilted down towards the Axminster carpet, and if Hermione hadn't been quite sure she was in love with him before it would have been enough to push her over the edge.
“Indeed.” Instinctively, she took a step forward and then one more, until they were so close she could feel the heat of his breath. She had to look up then, to be able to see his face.
“If you change your mind and start living in the 21st century rather than the 18th, I would like to propose a somewhat different arrangement than what you have with Astoria. One with love, but no marriage – at least not to start with. What do you think?”
Draco swallowed loudly and backed away.
Hermione tried very hard not to feel like her world was crashing down around her shoulders.
“You're offering me everything I could ever want on a silver plate,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Don't think –”
What this situation needed was less drama, Hermione decided. “Why don't you tell me exactly what McLaggen said?”
“McLaggen said,” he began, “that I wasn't remotely good enough for you. Which I can hardly dispute.”
“He also informed me that any hint of a close relationship with me, however platonic, would be the death knell for any political ambitions you may have.”
“In the unlikely event that he is correct this time, I will point out that I will not let prejudice dictate my life, now or ever. If the Wizarding world can't deal with the two of us being together, it will simply take a little bit longer to drag it, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.”
“You say that a lot,” he said, taking a determined step towards her. “What's so great about the 21st century?”
“You're in it,” Hermione said, and by the time she was back on her feet, she was in his arms.
“I'd better not kiss you until I've spoken to Astoria,” he told her hairline.
Hermione whispered in his ear: “Then you'd better hurry, or I'll self-combust!”
Draco disentangled himself so quickly she barely had time to notice him spinning around before he had Disapparated.
“I fear you look rather dishevelled,” a disdainful voice announced and Hermione almost drew her wand before she realised it was only the mirror.
“I had better fix that before he comes back then, hadn't I?” she replied, amusement and relief and sheer happiness making her giddy. “Or he may not make me even more dishevelled.”
The mirror only sniffed in response. THE END