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Love and Other Historical Accidents

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As though her mind was a photographic lens held close to its subject, Hermione’s frame of awareness filled from corner to corner with the press of Draco’s lips to her own. With her capacity for organized thought sharply limited, she allowed him to monopolize her breath. Her omissions had caused him pain, and his touch revealed traces of frustration. Though his hands held her face gently, his kiss was unrestrained, almost harsh. The heat and intensity behind it overthrew her equilibrium and reorganized it into euphoric anarchy. For the first time, she understood how comprehensively she would give herself over to him if he asked.

After a while, his posture eased, and his lips grew gentle. He sighed once, low in his throat, then drew away and looked at her with astonishment. “I’m sorry," he said. “I ought to have asked.”

It was a minor break in their communion—only a blink—but it provided a fissure for the world to seep through. He stroked her nape, and before he could kiss her again, Hermione stepped back.

“Did you not want me to?” he asked.

“I—” Hermione glanced at the cottage; mercifully, Grix had moved away from the window. She touched her fingers to her lips. “I need—” She took another step, and held her hand out. “Just...five minutes.”

With no explanation to give him, she offered none. She hurried through the garden gate, and after considering the forest path running to either side, chose to walk straight ahead, along a narrow track leading into the woods.

Draco called after her. “Hermione?”

“Five minutes.” She gathered her skirts and took the brambly trail at an awkward gallop. Twice, thorns snagged her dress, forcing her to disentangle it before jogging on.

“Hermione!”

“Five minutes!” she repeated. Of their own accord, her hands moved to her bodice and drew out the Time Turner.

“Hermione!”

She loosed the crown, and as she ducked beneath a branch, spoke the first measure of time that came to mind.

“Hermione!” he shouted. “ Don’t—!

She never heard the rest. 

The Turner spun, and the air around her shivered. 

The sun stuttered to a halt overhead, then reversed course, slipping below the eastern horizon and leaving her in the dark before rising once more in the west. Gathering speed, it flashed through one day, then two, then five, then slowed and resettled in its late afternoon position.

She’d stumbled into a sheltered clearing. The brook trickled nearby, nurturing a ring of young oak, ash and dogwood whose canopy formed a high-ceilinged cathedral. Exploiting the dappled sun, honeysuckle in full flower wound into the treetops, where butterflies the size of an adult's palm glided in lazy arcs. Below, foxglove and demure herbaceous shrubs with tiny pink blooms ringed a bed of moss. Where an altar would be stood the cleric of the woods, an ancient oak of colossal circumference, coarse and black, with great, pendulous arms sleeved in moss and tufted fern. It was one of nature’s self-glorifying tabernacles, warm and still, with an air of prehistoric consecration. Standing within its nave like a hunted criminal breathlessly invoking the right of asylum, Hermione covered her face and took several meditative draughts of clean, sweet, unerotic forest air.

“Hermione.”

She swore under her breath and spun around as Draco, still in his picnic day finery, ducked under a branch and entered the clearing.

“How are you here?” she cried.

Concern clouded his face. “You told me to follow you.”

“I never did!”

“Merlin, Granger, you said five minutes, not five days. Are you— dammit, Hermione!”

She’d already whirled away from him, snatched up the Time Turner, and uttered her next destination.

Days careened overhead—one, two, five, and on, until the sun slowed on the fourteenth day, and stilled.

“Hello, there!” said Martin.

Hermione gasped.

In the center of the clearing, illuminated in mote-speckled bands of sunlight, sat Martin in his chair. Despite the fine weather, he was swaddled in his Tartan blankets, wearing the same knit cap he’d sported at Tom Longbottom’s wedding. His hands lay palm-up in his lap in a gesture of welcome to the drifting butterflies. They flocked around him, their black and white wings briefly beating the air before coasting in elegant arcs. He remained stone still as they landed on his hat, shoulders, and outstretched fingers. Neither Grix nor any other chaperone could be seen.

“Hello, cousin,” said Hermione.

He squinted through his spectacles. "You've appeared!"

A hand closed around Hermione’s elbow, and she bit back an angry exclamation.

Draco, having arrived behind her, looked desperate. “ Stop, Hermione. You’re going to harm us both.”

“Shh!” said Martin. "Quiet time."

"Apologies." Draco lowered his voice, and spoke to Hermione again. “Have I made another mistake? Should I not have kissed you?”

As she considered how to answer, Draco acknowledged Martin.

"Good afternoon, cousin. Taking some air on your own?”

“Cousins!” Martin blinked as a butterfly glided past his nose. “What fine good cousins are these?”

Draco looked bereft. “You don’t remember us?”

“Oh, my God,” Hermione whispered. “This is”—she quickly calculated—"almost twenty days ago. We haven’t met him yet.”

She faced the professor to properly greet him, and Draco wrapped an arm around her waist, as though she’d disappear again if he didn’t keep hold of her. It was, she supposed, not an unreasonable precaution.

“I’m Hermione Granger.” She shuffled out of Draco’s grip. “And this is”—she winced at the ever-increasing grotesquery of the conceit—"my brother.”

“Draco Malfo..." Draco hung on the o for a beat. "Shit. It's Granger. We’re your Grangers, cousin.”

“Cousins, are we? You lay a twist in the final act, sir! A twist! I will shake hands with you, dear Malfo!” Martin wafted a butterfly away from his steering toggle, then bumped over the mossy ground to grasp Draco’s hand. He blinked up at Hermione.“ Mal foi, Miss Granwood!" He tapped the side of his nose. "From the French.”

“Granger, sir,” Hermione replied. For a few blissful moments, she’d forgotten that France existed. Her chest constricted in a bruising ache.

“I’ve read some of your work, Professor," said Draco, eyeing Hermione with evident anxiety. "It’s extraordinary.”

“It is,” Hermione agreed. “Unparalleled.”

She could only think of how Draco had kissed her, and that if she let him do it again, they would progress to a great deal more. Bedroom things. Under-the-chemise things. Things she’d only ever done with Ron. 

Her abdomen tensed. 

It didn’t bear thinking about. In any case, in a day, or a week, or maybe a month, he'd have had enough of her, as he had of every other woman for as long as Hermione had known him. Then off he'd go to France, like it never happened. She folded her hand over her heart.

“We had to come all this way to read your works," she said to Martin. "Unfortunately, there are no copies available in any of the libraries where we’re from. It's criminal, frankly.”

Martin blinked owlishly, leaned back and bapped his hand against his armrest. “I shall post them to you directly.”

“That would be splendid, cousin.” Draco continued to monitor Hermione as she walked around the clearing. “Hermione?”

“Is everything alright, my gel?” asked Martin. “You look quite unwell.”

“I’m perfectly well!” A twig caught in her hair, and she spent several seconds loosening it. “It’s warm. And it’s been a long day. I’m very tired.”

“Hermione,” said Draco. “I’m struggling here. I’d like to understand.”

Hermione fervently wished to understand as well.

She wanted to tell him how, as a little girl, she liked to sit in the front passenger seat of her father’s powder blue sedan and control the radio dial. She liked the music, but found the gaps between stations displeasing, when the stereo produced jumbly static and bursts of disjointed signal from neighboring broadcast frequencies. She wanted to explain that for a very long time, her thoughts had been every bit as disorganized and unintelligible as a detuned radio. But because she was sensible and pragmatic, and not the sort of person who went hopping about forests and the historical timeline for reasons she couldn’t articulate, she rolled her shoulders back in a posture meant to communicate certainty.

“I don't want any of this to make you feel obligated. France is a great opportunity for you.”

Draco’s expression twisted with disbelief. “ What?

Martin sandwiched Draco’s hand between his own and peered up at him. “Leaving us for France? But you’ve only just arrived!”

“He is!” Hermione hoped to communicate cheer and enthusiasm, but to her own ear sounded thirty seconds from a full spectrum meltdown. "To teach Potions. And Quidditch! He has experience coaching girls and women. I'm sure he'll be indispensable."

"No, my lad!" Martin cried. "You see how my poor cousin is unhappy? Your Quidditch girls will muddle along tolerably without you."

“You want me to go?” Draco asked Hermione.

“If you’d like to, then yes, of course. I acted inexcusably before. I'm truly sorry.”

Draco seemed bewildered. “And that’s what you think I want?”

Hermione’s internal static ratcheted up so loud it seemed impossible no one else was aware of it. She felt her teeth would start buzzing at any moment.

“I have no idea what you want.” It was the truth. She spoke to Martin again. “We’ll see you again very soon, at Tom Longbottom’s wedding.” She stepped around a butterfly resting on the ground, and kissed Martin’s cheek, which set him to hooting in delight.

“Hermione.” Draco squeezed Martin’s hand and released it. “Don’t you dare —”

She dodged a cluster of butterflies in flight, and took up her Time Turner.

"You as well, Miss Granger?" Martin studied her with interest. “Look what you have there!”

“It’s called a Time Turner, Professor,” said Draco. “You have my word that we’ll tell you all about it, only”—he clasped Martin’s shoulder—“our exploits are something of a secret.”

“That they are,” said Martin.

“When we see you again, perhaps pretend we haven’t met.”

Martin shot Draco a caricatured wink. “Our bamboozlements filed right away.”

Draco stalked towards Hermione and drew a Time Turner of his own from his shirt front. As Hermione yanked the crown loose and rushed out her desired interval, she heard someone calling in the distance.

“Gaffer! Where’ve you gone now?”

She knew Draco would follow the Turner’s time stamps wherever she went. But she traveled back two days, and jumped forward again by nineteen hours and twenty-seven minutes for spite. Instantly, he appeared alongside her.

After several jumps, she felt subtly out of phase, as though she’d woken up late for work and fallen behind by a critical quarter hour. It must have been sometime around noon, but heavy grey clouds covered the sky beyond the tree canopy, and rain streamed through the cathedral roof. The pink blooms of campion and herb-Robert ducked their heads and hid their faces, and neither Martin nor the butterflies were anywhere to be seen.

Hermione faced Draco, Time Turner clenched in her fist. “You skipped that last one!”

He held his own Turner out like a weapon, his eyes trained on her closed fist. “I have a record of where you’ve gone. You don’t.”

“You’re the worst!”

His gaze never faltered. “So you’ve said.”

“Are you going to stop following me or not?”

“Not.”

“Fine.” She slammed the crown into its locked position, drew the chain over her head, and shoved the Turner in her pocket. “I’ve stopped.”

He slowly relaxed and glanced around the clearing. “When are we?”

“I’ve lost track. I think midday, maybe a day or two before Tom’s wedding.”

"You couldn't have picked better weather?"

Hermione glowered at him.

Draco slipped the chain over his neck, and secured the Time Turner in his pocket. Then he dragged both hands down his face. “I never thought I’d hate these devices as much as I do right now.”

The adrenaline of their farcical chase exhausted, Hermione felt chastened and thoroughly embarrassed.

“I did want you to,” she said.

“You wanted me to—what?” He looked at her sharply. “Follow you?”

“No, I did not want you to follow me. I don't know why I would have told you to do that.”

“Then what?”

“I wanted you to kiss me.”

Draco’s brows rose.

“All the times you did,” she went on, “I wanted you to. I can't stand you thinking that I didn't.”

The rain had already soaked patches of his shirt over his shoulders. “But?" he said. "There’s clearly a caveat.”

But—

While Hermione tried to discover what she ought to say next, his eyes remained fixed on hers. The clarity behind them stung her with envy. He knew precisely what he wanted. Was it the chase? Women chased him, never the other way around. Was it the conquest? Who had he ever bothered to conquer?

“It’s just that I think I need a minute,” she said, “if we’re going to...continue. I haven’t—” She chafed her hands anxiously against her skirt. “There’s only ever been Ron. For everything, really–except Krum, I suppose, in the margins.”

“You’ve been with Viktor Krum?”

“Not to bed. I only kissed him.”

“When?”

“That’s wildly irrelevant. The point is, if I’m going to start sleeping with new people, I think I need a moment to get up to speed on the motorway, so to speak.”

“You’re going to start sleeping with new people,” he said flatly.

“I suppose. It’s inevitable, isn’t it? Get back in the saddle. Lord, that's a crass idiom."

“I love you.”

Hermione’s lips parted, and for an interval, she became acutely attuned to sound. Rain plipped on the leaves overhead. A woodpecker drummed incessantly. Bird calls sounded everywhere—some reserved and civil, some boisterous and confrontational—like overlapping conversations in a crowded concert hall. Somewhere very distant, a church bell rang the quarter hour.

At last, his words penetrated her awareness, and passed through her like a string of detonations. She searched his face for the lie.

“No, you don’t,” she said.

“Yes, I do. Rather desperately.”

Snippets of signal crackled in and out of Hermione's mental noise.

“You don’t.”

He stretched his arms to either side, then let them drop.

“You don’t fall in love.” A hysterical edge crept into her voice. “You take women home, and politely manage their expectations.”

“I’m not a saint, Hermione. I have tried. To move past this.”

Both distressed at the thought of him with other women and ashamed of her extraordinary unfairness, she rubbed the heel of her palm against her sternum. “I don’t believe in saints.”

“Just rumor and innuendo.”

“You never corrected me!”

“What was I supposed to say? I realize I appear to be a libertine, but it seems I’m incapable of being in love with more than one person at a time, and it's still your turn? You had a partner, Hermione. I’m selfish, not delusional. I wasn't about to interrupt you at the altar."

Hermione stared at the ground. "You’re not selfish."

“If I’ve failed to adequately demonstrate my capacity for self-indulgence, please allow me to remedy the situation.”

“You weren’t the only one indulging." Her skin prickled with heat. "But does it follow that—”

Draco shut his eyes. “Fuck.”

“I know you think I'm ridiculous!” she cried. “It’s only that I—” She spread her hands helplessly before her. “I wonder if we don’t often confuse base physical desire with something more. Lust can be so bewitching, can't it? Bodily craving, and that specific hunger for carnal actualization—”

“Specific hunger.”

"Yes! Or thirst, if you prefer—it’s such a persuasive condition! It’s entirely possible that a person could mistake that sort of persistent animal yearning for—”

“I miss you.” Rainwater dripped from his hair and collected in his lashes. "All the time."

Hermione’s throat tightened. “What?”

“I miss you, Hermione. On weekends. Nights. When I read a passage in a book I think you'd like. When there's some irrelevant, inconsequential thought I feel compelled to say out loud, and you’re not right there. I swear, it’s the most trivial things. I had an atrocious coffee in Soho a few weeks ago, and you were all I could think about for hours.”

She drew deliberate breaths, trying to control the tide of emotion swelling inside her.

“I miss you when I’m with other women,” he went on. “Every time. Can you imagine? I promise you can’t.”

The floodline of feeling inched higher, and she lifted her chin, as though holding her mouth above water.

“I miss you when we’re in the same room,” he said. “I miss you when you’re so close I can smell your hair.”

Overwhelmed, Hermione began to cry. “Why didn't you try not to?”

“I tried," he said. "Of course I tried. And please, don't mistake me. If hunger was adequate proof of love, I would starve at your altar. But you’re here.” Draco flattened his hand over his heart. “You’re always here. I’m always waiting for you.”

Hermione stood gaping under the downpour until at length, she realized he was waiting for her to speak.

“Nothing’s changed for me," she said.

His expression wilted. “So you've said. But here— now —there was a moment.” He pinched his fingers together. “An instant. In the way you looked at me. I let myself think that it had.”

“You don’t understand.”

The static inside her increased to deafening proportions. A great many parts made up the noise. There was longing for Ron, who she had greatly loved, and still loved, and always would. The persistent sense that she'd let down Harry, who loved both Ron and her, even when she didn’t love Ron the way she hoped to. She yearned for Molly and Arthur, the only mother and father who remembered her, and every Weasley brother and sister she’d been able to call her own. There was pride, too, so dense and immovable it could easily be mistaken for obstinacy; honor and loyalty. There was old anger, and constant fear, razor-edged shards of it everywhere. Blazing over it all, like a shameless and unquenchable firework, there was desire.

But all of that, she silently acknowledged, was the noise. The signal hovered just beyond, forever waiting for her to receive it.

“Nothing’s changed for me,” she repeated.

Draco's eyes fell closed, and he lifted his face to the rain.

“I had every reason to think it would stop,” she said plaintively. “It should have. There are natural limits to these things. It’s very well documented. I kept waiting. I truly believed it would stop.”

His brow furrowed, and he blinked at the sky.

“It happens all the time,” she continued. “I’ve read the research. It’s perfectly normal in a long term, monogamous relationship. And it’s predictable, isn’t it? Two people of similar age, with a shared passion, working in close quarters. It would almost be more surprising if there wasn’t a transitory attraction.”

He looked at her again, eyes open wide.

“You have to understand that I never stopped caring for him,” she said. “Never once. I loved him."

Draco nodded. “Of course.”

“Only—" She laid her hand over her mouth, collecting herself before moving on. "It wasn't the right sort of feeling, was it? Our interests were so different. The things we wanted—the timing for when we wanted them—never properly lined up. I’ve owned that I worked too much.” She swiped the damp from her cheeks, only for it to immediately renew itself. “But it was never an affair.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We had firm boundaries. Always. We never spoke about our personal lives. It was always about our work. We didn’t rely on one another for emotional support of any kind.”

“Oh, my God.”

“And now we're here," she said, "and nothing’s changed. I don’t feel any differently. So I don’t understand why you're too far away when you’re not in my bed.” She laid her hands over her face, and for a long time, wept into her palms.

“Hermione.”

“I’m so tired,” she said hoarsely.

He drew near, and with great care took her in his arms. Quietly, he spoke into the crown of her soaked head. “Tired of what?”

“Of not being in love with you.” As he cradled her, whatever shred of composure she’d maintained dissolved, and she cried without restraint. “It’s very hard.”

“Do you think it might be easier, then?”

“What?”

“To just be in love?”

Her eyes fell closed. Worn to the bone from trying to outthink her own body, she laid her ear against Draco’s chest and listened.

She and Ron had outgrown their romance like a child who wakes one morning to find its toes cramped inside a beloved pair of boots. Her cold consolation was an unremitting ache for a man whose body was within reach and whose heart was secured in a vault alongside his other liquid assets. The exchange was unwanted, and her grief at having unwittingly made it starkly physical—a relentless downward force weighting her limbs.

But she'd been mistaken.

Shining the light of his declaration on their disastrous recent days, she saw the fingerprints of his devotion everywhere. She recalled him splayed in a reeking field, his face aglow with unmasked joy at discovering her safe and unbroken. Wrapped around her in a bed of fresh linens, yellow roses on the windowsill, his breathing slowed like he'd attained a hard-earned peace. In a crowded ballroom, she swirled past every unfamiliar set of arms until she found his, held open to receive her.

And there was the truth of it: nothing had changed.

She tumbled backwards two centuries to discover his heart where it always had been, beating hard beneath his ribs. He’d never hidden it, hadn’t held it back, but plainly, and without pride, left it out for her to find. Day after day, he’d endured the erratic overtures of her want, never presuming, never demanding, always gentle, always patient, always, she could scarcely bring herself to believe, waiting for her to arrive.

Would it be easier to love him?

Alone, in the soft and secret center of her heart, she'd defended her integrity the best she could. But her sword and shield had served their purposes. Hermione laid them down.

“It would be the easiest thing in the world,” she said.

Draco drew back and framed her face with his hands. “Tell me I’m the worst."

“You’re the worst.”

“Say it again.”

“You’re everything.”

“Again,” he demanded.

“You’re the worst.”

“Again.”

“I love you.”

He kissed her, and for a long while, they said nothing else. Reluctantly, Hermione pried herself from his arms and stepped away. She fetched the Time Turner from her pocket, looped the chain over her head, and loosened the crown.

Drenched to the skin, his complexion feverish, Draco watched with concern as she articulated a spell. Time stamps appeared in clear gold print mid-air before her. She selected her time of origin after the picnic, and set the jump to return shortly after.

She locked eyes with Draco. “You’ll follow me?”

“Anywhere.”

She depressed the crown, and sixteen days and several hours progressed around her. The sun settled in the west behind the dark-limbed oak, slipping fingers of light through the green cathedral like the hand of creation. Skin rain-dappled, gown heavy with water, she picked her way along the overgrown path to the cottage.

Draco waited beside the gate, still bone dry, his face pale with worry. “What’s happened to you?" he asked. "Are you alright?”

The version of him standing before her had neither made his confession, nor heard hers. Hermione ached with compassion for them both.

“Hermione?” he said urgently. “Have you been hurt? Has someone—”

She slid the Time Turner over her head and held it out to him. As he took it, she gestured towards the clearing. “Go follow me.” She stepped through the gate and crossed the garden. He would leave, and when he came back to her, he'd be at once the same, and totally altered.

“Hermione?”

Halfway up the ramp, she looked back. “Just keep following me.”

When she entered the cottage door with her hair sopping wet, Grix paused mid-stir over the soup pot. “You alright, my gel? You look chilled to the bone.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “Perfect, actually. And tired. I think I'll go upstairs and have a rest.”

Beside the fire, Martin awoke with a snort. “Caught in a squall, old salt? Reef the mainsail and secure for heavy weather!”

“I’ve been to see the butterflies, cousin!” She crossed the sitting room and kissed Martin's temple.

“Ah ha! Limenitis camilla. A friend.” Martin settled back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Fine good cousins.”

Hermione hurried down the hallway, and started up the stairs in time to hear Draco burst through the front door.
“Mr. Grix,” he said. “Cousin.”

“You’re wet as a duck’s undercarriage,” Grix said irritably. “What nonsense have you been up to?”

“Only good things,” Draco replied. “You have my word.”

Hermione followed the sound of his footsteps down the hall until he careened around the stairwell corner, wet hair pushed back from his forehead and shirt soaked through. Midway up the stairs, he captured her in his arms.

"Say it again,” he demanded.

"I love you.”

He made a coarse, possessive sound low in his throat, and without another word, caught her up and carried her to the top of the stairs. He crashed through her door, and after shoving it closed behind them, rushed through half a dozen privacy spells. The moment Hermione's feet touched the floor, she and Draco began the desperate, tedious work of undoing their clothes. He shed his cravat, waistcoat and shirt with alacrity, and turned his efforts on the long row of fabric-covered buttons down the back of her dress.

“These are—” He glowered over her shoulder. “Fuck!” Catching her eye with evident guilt, he rent the placket apart, sending buttons skittering across the floor and under the furniture. With some awkwardness, he compelled the wet dress down her shoulders and hips.

“Margaret’s going to ask difficult questions,” said Hermione.

She exclaimed in surprise as he spun her around, and darted her hands forward to steady herself against the door.

“I’ll be happy to answer them.” He stripped her fichu away and ran his lips along her neck while he tore at the lacing on her stays. Once he'd cast them aside, he lifted her off her feet, hauled her across the room like a sack of dry goods, and none too gently tossed her on the bed. He muttered oaths while he unfastened her boots and flung them towards the hearth. Finally, as though evaluating a work in progress, he paused at the bedside and considered her sprawled figure.

Hours of molten daylight remained. Translucent with rainwater, her chemise clung to her skin. A breeze flowed through the open window, and she folded her hands over her chest and shivered.

Draco’s expression softened, and for a long while he seemed dazed, tracing the lines of her body absently. Finally, he shut his eyes and breathed several times before opening them again.

“We don’t need to...we can slow down,” he said. “Or stop, obviously. If you need more time, I could just hold—”

Hermione’s heart tremored like a hunted rabbit. She rose to her knees on the bed, and before she could reconsider, drew her chemise over her head. With that, the work was done; she knelt before him in nothing but her stockings, still held in place with pale pink ribbons.

Draco neither moved nor spoke.

“Shall I?” She reached for his trouser placket.

He pulled away and sat at the edge of the bed. Not knowing what else to do, Hermione reclined on the coverlet, arms covering her breasts in virginal inhibition as he kicked off his boots and shucked his trousers. After retrieving his wand from his pocket, he cast overdue drying and warming charms on them both, then a carefully worded contraceptive spell on himself.

He stretched out beside her, and took her face in his hands.

In contrast to the violence he deployed in making her bare, he kissed her with tremendous consideration. Apart from the soft friction of their bodies on the bed, the room was quiet. Hermione traced his features with her fingers, making a slow study of his lips, his bisected brow, the perfect, symmetrical line of his nose, his incongruous dark lashes, trimmed with gold in the afternoon light.

Over and over again, carefully skirting her breast, Draco ran a hand down her side, and pressed his lips to the hollow of her throat.

“Don't stop kissing me,” she said.

He arched his brow. “I thought I was kissing you.”

“Not there.”

He stroked his finger along her collar bone. “Not here? Hm.” He embarked on a reconnaissance, mouthing tauntingly at each of her joints: her shoulders, inner elbows, and the insides of her wrists.

He moved down the bed, and as his lips approached the boundary between her thigh and pelvis, she clenched her legs together in a rush of anxiety. “Are you going to—?”

“In a moment.”

He slowly sampled her knees through her stockings, and at last, he kissed her ankles.

Inventory complete, he took her knees in his hands and parted them.

Like a novitiate suffering the first exhilarating humiliations of intimacy, Hermione covered her face. He struggled with no similar reserve.

“Hermione.”

“What?”

“Look at me.”

She peeked through her fingers.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Why are you looking?

“Because you're beautiful.”

Hermione sighed irritably.

“I want to put my mouth on you.” He laid a reassuring palm below her navel. “Tell me I can.”

She dropped her hands to her sides and bunched the coverlet in her fists. “If you really want to.”

He must have done, because without further prelude, he hooked her knees pragmatically over his shoulders and began fulfilling his earlier promises.

She lingered on individual facets of sensation: the firm heat of his hands holding her hips in place; his ribs under the soles of her feet; the vibration of his groans against her pelvis. The vocalizations she curbed by sinking her teeth into her bottom lip expressed want, held too long at bay, that approached a kind of pain. His cure was worse than the affliction. Angling her body however he liked, he brought her to the cusp of resolution again and again, then let her regress. The ache became unbearable. While she writhed and whined, soft-eyed tormentor that he was, he laughed at her.

“Why are you doing this to me?” she complained, lying captive on her side.

He flipped her onto her back again. “I’m sorry.”

Her brow furrowed. “Are you?”

He pushed her knees open, appraised his handiwork, then kissed her navel. “No.”

Having apparently accomplished his objective, he traveled up her body, grazing her hip bones, her abdomen, her sensitive sides with his lips. He lingered on her breasts, applying his ineffectual curative to each alert and tender part of her, evidently delighted by the way she tried to direct his attention everywhere all at once.

When he finally settled his hips between her parted thighs, she was forced to remind herself she was a grown woman who’d lived a multifaceted adult life. The impropriety of feeling him between her legs for the first time was only tempered by the total privacy of an act which belonged to them, and them alone. 

It occurred to her that without anyone ever knowing she’d done it, she might take him in her hand if she liked. 

And she did.

“You’re so soft,” she murmured.

“Granger, I have never in my entire life been this—oh, God.

Mesmerized by the feel of him, gratified by the anguish in his exhalations, she pulled him in lazy, experimental strokes, taking up an unhurried rhythm while she slid her lips along his jaw.

“I’m losing my mind,” he gasped.

She took pity on him, and coaxed him to the locus of her suffering.

He held back. “Is this what you want?”

By Hermione's count, they'd performed at least three acts of sexual congress already. That he felt the need to make her wait another instant for this particular one was nothing short of capricious, phallocentric cruelty.

Obviously. ” Hermione arched her hips, disorganized and fairly frantic.

Replacing her hand with his, he pressed his lips against her forehead as he entered her.

Hermione’s gaze fell between their bodies, eyes open in astonishment as she reached down to feel him with her fingertips.

“Is this good?” he asked.

Distracted and overwhelmed, she answered him through a fog of confusion. "Is it?"

He laughed, and rested his forehead against hers. "It's you."

Though his movements were fluid, his rhythm easy, his fingers shook as he stroked her hair. “Will you talk to me?” he asked. “Tell me what you like.”

Hermione didn’t know what to say.

She'd hardly allowed herself to picture what it might be like between them. But never in a hundred years of illicit daydreams could she have imagined how correct it would feel to lie underneath him. “Stay inside me.” Her fingertips dug into his hips, and her heels into the backs of his thighs. “Don’t leave.”

He urged forward reflexively. “I won't. Anything else?”

“No.” She tried to draw him further inward, though it was an impossibility. “Why aren’t you kissing me?”

He laughed at her again, and kissed her.

Hermione expected she'd be anxious with any new lover, and she'd been correct. But lust washed away timidity as efficiently as alcohol. In the heat between them, every thought evaporated as soon as it materialized. Mindless with want, already exposed to him with near total comprehensiveness, carried along by his steady determination, her shyness fell away. There was a quality of Edenic innocence in being naked together for the first time, as though no one else was alive in the world, or ever had been. It felt right and good to fit together, every change in timing and position guileless and instinctual, an expression of curiosity and uninhibited affection.

Kindled with yellow light in her rumpled bed, his body was exquisite: hard in every pleasing way, muscles steeled with restraint as he moved.

“You’re beautiful.” Flat on her back with her eyes half shut, her knee folded to her chest and held firmly in place, she trailed a hand up and down his belly, dipping low to feel his fingers as they scribed dilatory circles between her legs. “You’re so beautiful.”

He ruled her in her own bed with a benevolent despotism, directing her actions towards their common good, and by way of compensation for her easy compliance, poured his devotion over her like water. He called her his beloved, his perfectly adored, his brilliant fool, always—because Hermione was right, and he was actually, terribly spoilt—in the possessive . When his pace grew mercenary, he clutched her breast, and called her mine. Like she’d been waiting on that one ridiculous word, she arched her back and trembled all over, crying out a string of mindless affirmations. Her climax precipitated his. Hands tensed in her hair, honoring his promise to stay inside, he told her that he loved her.

“Did you know?” she asked, some minutes later.

Head resting on her stomach, he contemplated her right breast through barely parted eyelids, and indolently stroked her nipple. “Did I know what?”

She brushed her knuckles across his cheek, and shifted her bottom against the clammy mattress. “That it would be like this.”

He rolled partway over and mouthed at her belly. “Honestly?”

“Honestly,” she said, and pinched his earlobe.

“I couldn’t possibly have imagined.”

“If you tried?”

“No.” He shifted to free his other arm, and as his mouth slid wetly towards her navel, he pulled the end of one pink garter ribbon until the bow fell loose. “I absolutely tried.”

He nudged her knee open and moved to resettle between her legs. When he slipped his hand into the top of her stocking and began pushing it down her thigh, her lips parted to scold him, then closed again. She only sighed, and blushed, and twirled her fingers through his unruly, tousled, infuriating, lovely hair.

 


 

The following morning, Hermione woke to full sun pouring past the open curtains, pooling at the end of her bed and warming her bare feet.

She arched her back, and rubbed her cheek against Draco’s chest like a cat.  

“What time is it?” she asked.

He buried his face in her hair and kissed the top of her head. “Just past seven o’clock.”

After scrubbing the sleep from her eyes, she took notice of a tea tray beside the bed.

They’d made an honest attempt at leaving her room for dinner. In the end, Draco escaped only long enough to make half-baked excuses to Martin and Grix, and affirm the silencing charm he placed was doing its job. He returned, and spent the following hours with Hermione in total dissipation, hedonically spiraling through the sexual response cycle until long after sunset, when they finally both fell asleep. At some point in the night, he’d put on a pair of boxer shorts, but Hermione remained bare.

By the light of day, she considered her nakedness, the devastated condition of the bed linens, and the presence of the tray.

“Grix brought that up?” she asked.

“Don’t worry.” Draco retrieved his teacup from the bedside. “I made sure you were fully covered when he brought it in. You’ve shifted quite a bit since then.”

The full comprehension of what she’d said and done over the previous hours arrived like an unexpected bill for services. Hermione slipped out from under his arm and rolled to the empty side of the bed. She tugged the sheet to cover her breasts, folded her hands over her stomach, and lay blinking at the ceiling like an invalid. Both principal and interest on her borrowed disinhibition came due at once. Her entire body tingled with embarrassment, and, to her deeper mortification, a strong physical drive to do it all again.

Draco’s teacup clinked in its saucer. “Hermione?”

“Yes?”

“I’m going to be very honest with you right now.”

She braced for impact. He’d thoroughly scratched the erotic itch, and must have discovered, probably with no small regret, that he’d overestimated his attachment. Next, he would bring her expectations into alignment with his intentions going forward. With great maturity and equanimity, she accepted that when he did, she was going to be violently ill.

“Alright,” she said.

Tentatively, he reached across the bed and hooked his index finger around hers. “I see you’ve moved all the way over there, and I’m suddenly feeling terrified this was the wrong thing to have done.”

She winced at an intrusive memory from the night before. Her bedroom had been awash in white moonlight, the open window drawing in the scent of clematis, her hair tied out of the way, her breasts rebounding in a tawdry fashion. Sometime during his first refractory period, he’d reversed his provisional policy vis-à-vis Hermione and sexual climax. In their subsequent trials, rather than deny her, he brought her to orgasm like he intended to put her average per encounter on his resume. On that particular occasion, his thumb circling menacingly around her critical anatomy, she rode him like an Irish Sport Horse through three successive crises, vocally blaming him for her incapacitation with the vocabulary of a back of house restaurant worker.

As she processed that vision, he threaded his fingers through hers.

Was this the wrong thing to have done?” he asked.

She cast him an anxious, sidelong glance. “If you think it was—I mean, if you’re not interested in doing it anymore, I’m positive we can both be adults about—”

Before she finished, he rolled over and covered her body with his.

“Merlin, you genuinely had me worried.” He kissed her with dubious intent. “Stop trying to make this awkward, Granger. It’s not in the cards for you.”

She felt enormous relief at being crushed by him as his mouth trailed down her throat.

“So you would like to do more of this?” she asked.

He pondered his hand, now folded over her breast. "I want to do more of this, yes."

“Even after we go back?"

"Even then," he said.

"Just with me, or...?”

He laughed into her shoulder.

“Stop laughing at me!" she cried. "I’m perfectly serious!” She attempted to roll out from under him, but he settled his weight onto her definitively, then turned them both over so she was stretched out on top of him.

“The shocking truth of it all is that you”—he kissed the tip of her nose—”are the actual worst.” Wearing a tranquil, beatific expression, like a randy Renaissance Madonna, he swept his thumb across her brow, and touched his forehead to hers. “And I take back everything I said yesterday. I’m not in love with you.”

“You’re not?”

“No. You were right; this is obviously a sex curse.”

At the feel of his assertive interest, Hermione wriggled her hips. “Why are you like this?”

He chastely touched his lips to hers. “Because we’re naked. And cursed, probably.”

“I’m the only naked person present.”

“Easily mended.” He hooked his thumbs under the waistband of his boxers and pushed them down.

“Haven’t you had enough for the moment?” she asked.

“No. Have you?”

“No, but—”

“Good. Sit up.” Nudging her to rise to her knees, he took himself in hand. "Wait." He grabbed her thigh to stop her. "Do you want to do this with other people?"

Already, the thought was harrowing. “Not in the slightest.”

His hand relaxed. “Then yes, to all of the above. I’ve spent my entire life not being inside you, and frankly, I’m over it.” He indicated she ought to proceed with next steps. “I would like to do a disquieting amount of this, absolutely only ever with you, and if at all possible, I’d like to be there to see Potter’s face when he finds out about it.”

“We can't stay up here all day. We need to”—Hermione’s eyes rolled back in her head—“go down.”

He exhaled appreciatively as she settled. “ Do we?”

“Yes.”

“What for?”

“To eat.” A shudder passed through her from crown to toes. “Why are you laughing now?”

An hour later, once Hermione had been cinched into fresh stays and buttoned into a coral-colored gown, and after Draco spent a dilatory interval kissing the swell of her breasts burgeoning over her bodice, they made their way downstairs.

Hermione intended to leave their fledgling intimacy behind them in the bedroom, but in the hall, he reached back and took her hand. In his breeches and dark waistcoat, he strode into the sitting room tall as a bridegroom. Hermione couldn’t take her eyes off him.

“Your breakfasts are there.” Grix indicated two covered plates sitting on the kitchen table. A folded letter sat between them. “And a note from the Hall. They’d like to have you and the old man up for tea before you go.”

“Malfo, at last!” Martin shouted from his laboratory. There was a blunt explosion, and a puff of purple smoke drifted around the corner. “Time’s wasting, lad!”

“I’ll be there shortly, cousin!” Draco answered. “I’m famished.” He drew Hermione’s chair out for her, ignoring her dubious look, and they sat down to a lovely fry up.

Hermione breathed in the steam rising from her plate, and discovered she was positively starving. “Thank you very much, Mr. Grix. This is beautiful.”

Draco smiled enigmatically at his egg and tomato.

“What are you smirking about?” Hermione asked.

“Honestly? I have no idea.” The corners of his mouth quivered. “But I can’t stop.”

God. ” She stabbed a sausage. “We’re worse than teenagers. Maybe we should stay here.”

Draco leaned over and pressed his lips to the soft place just below her ear. “You want to go home, so, let’s get you home.”

She and Draco made short work of their breakfasts. He washed their dishes and disappeared around the corner as Martin shouted, “Malfo! Get you here! It's fizzing!”

Covered by a practical canvas apron, Grix busied himself emptying the book shelves one by one. He cast specialty cleaning charms over each book as they drifted into stacks on the rug, and scrubbing and polishing spells on the bare shelves. The room smelled pleasantly of lemon.

“I suppose I’m not needed back there,” said Hermione dolefully. “Shall I help you, Mr. Grix?”

“If you’d like.” Grix snagged a brown leather book from mid-air, and rubbed at its cover with his thumb before letting it sail onto an upper shelf by the door. “I won’t turn down an extra set of hands.”

Hermione threw an apron over her dress and started on the shelves in the opposite corner, resisting the temptation to snatch several books out of the stream and curl up on the sofa.

In the laboratory, Martin and Draco nattered to one another, producing every manner of gongings, bubblings, and other esoteric clangour, occasional indefinable odors and, once, a round of blistering swearing from Draco.

Near lunch time, an owl sailed through the kitchen window carrying a parcel and letter.

Grix fed the owl a treat from a jar near the stove, then blinked through his spectacles at the addressee's name on the envelope. "What’s this, then?” Sitting at the kitchen table, he broke the wax seal on the letter. As he unfolded the parchment, a second, sealed letter fell onto the table. Grix read its address, then read the open letter several times. He glanced at Hermione with a strange expression. After setting both letters aside, he loosed the brown paper wrapping, opened the box, and removed a lacquered wooden case. It was the size of Hermione's hand, intricately worked with dark and light wood. Grix flicked open the hinge, lifted the lid, and paused.

Curiosity overwhelmed her manners, and Hermione tried to peer into the box’s velvet interior from across the room. “What is it?”

Grix drew out a shining gold pocket watch, dangling from a polished fob. He examined it minutely, running a calloused fingertip over the etched case before opening it.

“Oh, how beautiful, Mr. Grix,” said Hermione. “Did your brother send it?”

“No.” Grix blinked several times, as though something was irritating his eyes, and began the prosaic work of attaching the fob to his waistcoat buttonhole and stowing the watch in his pocket.

He stashed both the opened and unopened letters inside a secretary desk in the sitting room corner, and resumed his dusting, saying nothing more. More than once, from the corner of her eye, Hermione spied him removing the watch from his pocket, opening the case, and stroking the bezel with evident pleasure.

Around noon, they paused their project and assembled a sandwich picnic in the front garden. Hermione went to call Draco and Martin to lunch, and found them conferring over a steaming cauldron.

Draco took no notice of her as she rounded the corner. “You’re not worried about the separation happening here?" he asked Martin, indicating oily orange rivulets on the surface of a bubbling pea-colored concoction. He consulted a neatly arranged row of notes on the workbench.

“No,” said Martin. “Some separation at this stage is expected. If there’s a great deal, you simply add more...?” He winked at Hermione and pointed hintingly at a jar of brilliant orange powder.

Draco searched one parchment, then examined another. “Powdered shachihoko scales.”

Hermione approached. Without looking up from the formula, Draco slid his hand around her waist, pulled her between himself and the bench, and continued to read over her shoulder.

“What are you like?” she scolded.

“Professor,” he said, massaging her hip, “I’m noticing there’s no direction here for reducing temperature after adding the crushed citrine.”

“It’s in the footnotes," said Martin, "there below.”
“Ah,” said Draco. “I see it now—citrine...low boil, but if you needed the asphodel earlier...high simmer.” His hand roamed to Hermione's backside.

She fiddled with his top waistcoat button. “Lunch is on the lawn.”

“Ten minutes.” Still intent on Martin’s illegible scribbles, he kissed her absently, in what Hermione had begun to comprehend was his favorite place, just beneath her ear. “We’re very close.”

“Are you sure you haven't just been making refreshing beverages back here?"

He looked at her at last, still wearing the abominable soft-eyed expression he’d had all morning. “It’s nearly finished, actually. Despite appearances, it seems the professor was extremely productive this week. This dress is my third favorite, by the way.”

Hermione’s pulse throbbed at their proximity. She wondered when she’d be able to stand close to him without feeling like the world was tilting. Possibly, she never would. 

“Can you actually read his notes?” she asked.

“Mm hm.” Draco kissed her on the mouth. “It should be ready shortly after dinner.”

“And we’ll simply—leave,” she said.

“If you want.” His gaze wandered over her face. “Unless you’d actually like to look into fishmongering. You’ll need to pick up knitting soon if you plan to cover two and a half Quidditch teams worth of little girls in Aran jumpers.”

Hermione felt warm and liquid all over.

Once Draco and Martin reached a passive stage in their brewing, they propped Martin regally with enormous Transfigured velvet pillows on a blanket in the garden. After they’d eaten their sandwiches, Hermione gathered raspberries under the supervision of the crow, hopping along the fence.

“You’re just like him.” She handed the crow a raspberry. With a look, she indicated Draco, visible through the cottage’s front windows, tidying up the dishes. When the crow tilted its head in inquiry, she held out another berry. “Charming everybody into giving you what you want.”

She returned to the blanket, and overtaken with a wave of tiredness, curled up against a pair of pillows and watched Grix wander between his garden beds. He fussed generically, here and there: training pea vines, plucking away dead buds, and squeezing ripening apricots. Settled into his own pillow nest, perhaps taking Hermione’s cue, Martin began to snooze. Draco emerged from the cottage and tucked a blanket around Martin, set the professor's spectacles safely out of the way, and with a book in hand, sat beside Hermione.

“Is it alright if I sit here, Miss Granger?” he asked.

She arched her back and yawned. “Are your intentions honorable?”

“They neither have been, nor ever will be.” He ran a hand along her calf.

“Mr. Granger,” she whispered, “if anyone were to see us, my reputation would be in tatters.”

“Then I suppose it’s pistols at dawn with Potter, or a trip to the altar.” He cleared his throat, and opened his book.

As he read, he continued stroking her leg, and Hermione drifted in and out of wakefulness.

She startled at a muttered oath and the swift withdrawal of Draco’s hand from beneath her hem.

“Fuck,” said Draco under his breath, then louder, “Weasley.”

Hermione sat up as Roland Weasley approached along the forest path.

“Granger!” Roland called cheerfully. “Miss Granger.”

Hermione quickly stood, stifling a yawn as she straightened her skirts. “Hello, Mr. Weasley. It’s a pleasure to see you.”

Sunday smart in a fine blue coat and lustrous topper, Roland halted before the garden gate. He regarded Martin, still asleep on the blanket, and Draco, sitting beside him. “I’m heartily grieved to have disrupted your leisure. I’m returning to Devonshire this afternoon, and had hoped to see you before dinner.” He drew a generous, immaculate bouquet from behind his back: roses, dahlias, sunflowers and hollyhocks in a riot of summer color, tied with a red silk ribbon.

Hermione looked down at Draco, who watched Roland with an unreadable expression.

“Will you walk with me, Miss Granger?” Roland asked.

“I—yes, of course,” she agreed. “Only…I shouldn’t go far.”

Hermione received the flowers and brought them inside. Summoning a vase from atop the kitchen cabinetry, she quickly arranged the flowers on the kitchen table before fetching her bonnet and a shawl.

Wrapped in the soft armor of propriety, she passed through the gate and took Roland’s arm. Casting an anxious glance at the man who’d spent the previous night in her bed, now conspicuously absorbed in his book, she let Roland guide her down the path towards the brook.

On the little bridge spanning the stream, he removed his hat, and laid it on the railing.

“Miss Granger.” Nearly everything about him was formal and correct—his dress, posture, the tone of his voice—but his eyes were aglow with fervency. “Hermione. I have no wish to delay.”

The sun struck from directly above, setting apart every gold and bronze filament of his hair and lashes. Hermione knew, with the certainty of fact, he’d have children, who would themselves have children, and one day, in some small part because Hermione had hurt him in the sunlight on the bridge over the brook, there would be Ron.

Ron. His name still felt like pressing a bruise, and maybe always would.

Like Hermione, Ron was heartbroken. And like Hermione, he was happy. She’d met him for coffee weeks before, and with tremendous kindness and civility, he’d told her he was seeing someone new. He insisted it had been, like everything seemed to be, an accident. He’d meant to wait a bit longer; to take time for himself. But through his body language, the spaces between his words, he revealed to Hermione without meaning to that he was stumbling into love—that he was, she thought, rapidly falling.

“I don’t wish to delay either,” she said. “So I’m going to be extremely forward. I believe that if I didn’t stop you, you might have asked me to marry you.”

Roland’s brow furrowed. “I won’t conceal that was the whole of my purpose in coming here.”

“Then I’m very grateful you didn’t,” said Hermione, “because I’d have been obligated to disappoint you.”

Roland’s expression shifted, passing through confusion, comprehension, and despair.

“I would have had a great many explanations to give you for my refusal,” she said. “None of which would have had anything to do with how perfectly lovely and disastrously eligible you are. The most important would have been this: I'm in no way suited to being your wife.”

Roland’s lips parted.

“Please, let me finish.” Hermione wanted to take his hand in hers, but knew it would be cruel. “If I'm vague, you’ll think I’m being self-deprecating, or coquettish or something, so I’m going to be honest. I have no idea whether that’s the correct course of action, but I’ve recently come to understand that in every moment, all any of us can do is the best we can with the information we have available. Even when we’re doing our absolute best, we’re going to make mistakes. We're going to cause accidents. And it would be very nice to drop every event and its outcomes into an equation, and have it spit out either a positive or negative solution. Then we’d know when we’d done the right thing. But I’m beginning to believe we’re all part of a larger and more complex problem than we can imagine. Its solution could be infinite, or non-existent, but we can’t know, because we can’t see either end. It just goes on, back in one direction, forward in the other, and we’re here, balanced on the equals sign, with all our best intentions falling to either side. It’s distressing, really—all the not-knowing we’re obliged to do. And how maddening that it’s impossible to make all the right decisions. But what a relief, too. What a terrible responsibility that would be.”

She glanced back to the cottage behind them. No one was visible in the windows or over the garden fence. The Time Turner hung beneath her bodice; she drew it out, and held it forward in her palm.

“I know this is going to sound preposterous, so if you need confirmation, you can ask William. He knows everything.”

“Will?”

“He became involved entirely by accident. Or design. Anyway, what I’m trying to get around to telling you is that my—” She gagged on the word brother. “Draco and I are both from another time, quite a long way off from this one. And absolutely under no circumstances are we genetically, legally, or effectually related.”

“Genetically?”

“Nevermind that part. The material point is, he’s not my brother.”

“You’re from another time, ” Roland repeated.

“We’re time researchers at the Ministry. We had an accident in our laboratory, and were blown off course for a while.” She lifted the Time Turner. “This is the instrument we use.”

“But you’re Martin’s cousins.”

“I deeply wish that were true,” said Hermione. “And maybe we are his family, in the ways that matter. But that was an accident, too—although a very happy one. We never meant to deceive or hurt anyone. Everything that’s happened here has been some sort of mishap.” She could tell every time her words landed an unmeaning blow. “Or serendipity.”

Roland was an enormously intelligent man, who’d grown up knowing magic was real. It took him all of a minute to determine she was telling the truth. He touched the Time Turner in her hand. “So—you’re going back. And you won’t return.”

“I believe the past is a country we can visit...and also that we shouldn't stay.” Her stomach twisted with longing for a place she hadn’t left yet. “We still have a lot to figure out, but if we could be certain we wouldn’t unduly influence anything—”

He held her gaze. “You don’t intend to come back. I won’t see you again.”

“No.” Hermione tucked the Turner back in her bodice. “I don’t think so. Certainly not long enough for what you had hoped.”

“So, your letter,” Roland said. “In the book. And your note. Those were—what?” His gaze lost all exterior focus as he puzzled his way through the events of the previous weeks. To Hermione’s eternal wonderment and admiration, he said, with conviction, “You wouldn't make sport like that.” He silently deliberated, and at last, guessed the shape of the missing pieces. “They weren’t for me, were they? Only...accidents.”

“Yes. I’m so terribly sorry.”

He watched the brook flow below them. “The flowers are from my estate, Wrayburn Hill. I should very much have liked you to see it. It’s not the largest, but if I may repeat the claim myself, the most enchanting house and gardens in Devonshire.”

“I have no doubt. The flowers are extraordinary. I thank you with all my heart.” She had a thought, and weighed it in her mind before forging ahead. “You have a family in the time I’m from. Descendents.”

Roland jolted. “You know them?”

“Quite well. They look a lot like you, actually. Every bit as handsome.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “And they’re happy? They’re well?”

She thought about Molly, Arthur, George and Percy, Bill, Charlie, and Ginny. Last of all, she thought about Ron. “They are all happy, yes. All quite well. I love them very much.”

His brow rose. “Do you?”

“Dearly. I would say they’re like family to me, but they’re not. They are family.”

“I see.” The weather on his face changed again, and the clouds parted. “So, you’re going to go, and an undisclosed number of years from now, you’ll love, and be loved, by people who wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me.”

“That’s exactly right.” Hermione took his hand. Both its strength and warmth passed through his glove.

His eyes were still kind and blue, still laughing and clever, and also reflected how profoundly he’d been disappointed. “Then my kin are fortunate, indeed. I’m glad for them.”

Hermione squeezed his hand. “You will make someone the happiest of women, Mr. Weasley. I hope that whoever you choose, she deserves you.”

“I assure you, Miss Granger, you deserve the world.” As he mulled over a thought, his joyful spirit—never fully repressible, Hermione suspected—reasserted itself. “And for myself, I must learn to be content to consider that under different circumstances”—he lifted her hand to his lips—“I would have very much enjoyed being taught how to make you happy.”

 


 

At the cottage gate, Hermione shook hands with Roland, and found Draco in the sitting room perusing the shelves.

She hung her bonnet and shawl by the door, and without a word, wrapped her arms around him from behind. As she settled into the curve of his back, she felt his entire frame ease. She waited for a joke or snide remark, but instead, he turned and wrapped his arms around her.

“Are you alright?” he asked. “That couldn’t have been easy.”

“I don’t especially enjoy jilting earnest young men I've strung along by accident, no.”

“He looked like he took it about as well as could be expected.”

“I told him we’re time travelers,” Hermione admitted.

Did you?”

“Yes. He wasn’t as shocked as he ought to have been.” She held tight to him. “I was worried you were annoyed.”

“I’m the one going to bed with you tonight.”

“Are you sure about that?” she asked.

“I’ll pout.”

“Of course you will.”

“By the way, Margaret’s upstairs rifling through your clothes.”

“Oh, Lord.”

Hermione’s cheeks burned as she hustled down the hall and bounded up the stairs.

The borrowed dresses lay organized by color and degree of formality along the bed. Margaret stood beside the hearth, examining a gown. “Hello, Miss Granger!” she said cheerfully. “I’ve come to fetch the clothes away. You’ve had an adventure in this one.” She lifted the torn dress from the night before in one hand, and in the other, a palm full of loose buttons.

Draco crested the stairs and leaned in the doorframe. “We engaged in some exciting activities yesterday.”

“Indeed!” Margaret laughed. “Impatient to get to bed, I imagine.”

“Desperate, actually,” said Draco.

Hermione stared daggers at him.

Margaret indicated a brown paper parcel on the bed. “I’ve wrapped your ball gown for your journey, along with all the underthings and the jewels for your hair. The bottle of rose absolute is tucked inside as well, like you asked, Mr. Granger.”

“That’ll all be fun,” said Draco.

“Would you like to keep the one you’re wearing for your journey, Miss Granger, or something else?” asked Margaret.

Hermione considered her gown. “I hadn’t thought about that.”

“Where’s the one with the roses?” Draco asked.

“That one makes me sad,” said Hermione.

“Then we’ll have to make you very happy in it,” Draco countered.

“Here we are!” Margaret whipped the gown from the trunk with a flourish. “And the bonnet as well, Miss Granger.”

After helping Margaret pack and submitting to being dressed a final time, Hermione found Draco in the garden. She’d checked herself in the mirror, and there’d been nothing for it. Rosy and voluptuous, unable to shed her expression of earthy fulfillment, she’d blossomed into the picture of a woman who’d been bent over every piece of furniture in the boudoir and comprehensively satisfied.

“Are we ready?” she asked, swinging her bonnet primly from its ribbons.

Draco locked an artful gaze on her and held out his hand. “Let’s take a walk.”

“Where to?” Hermione asked.

“Places,” he replied.

“Is there time?”

“We’re not expected at the Hall for another half an hour.”

“I thought they wanted us at three o’clock,” said Hermione, hooking her hand through his. “That’s in fifteen minutes.”

Draco kissed her below her ear. “We can make that work.”

He drew her through the garden gate, then along the thorny path, picking up his pace until her heart quickened.

“What’s the hurry?” she cried.

He answered her with a puckish look, swiping brambles out of her way as he took his long strides. Breathless, smiling, she ducked after him under a branch into the entry of the green cathedral. The day was fine, the air warm and heavy, almost cloying with the scent of honeysuckle. Butterflies flocked in the canopy, and across the clearing floor, the little pink flowers stretched open in the filtered sunlight.

Draco released her hand and meandered across the clearing to the clerical oak.

“Why are you all the way over there?” Hermione asked.

He hooked his hands over a low-arching branch and tilted his head. “Maybe I’m waiting for you to come over here.”

“We’ll be late to tea.”

“Oh, no.”

She walked the length of the sun-patched nave, arriving at a cluster of round, half-buried stones which might have marked the boundary of the cathedral's chancel. The mounded moss could be taken for the altar, and behind it, smirking diabolically, leaning with unconcern against the limbs of the primordial priest, her iniquitous redeemer.

She tossed her bonnet aside. “You shouldn’t look at people like that.”

“I don’t look at people like this.”

“Only me?”

“Only you.” Like a predator licking a recent meal from its paws, his posture conveyed a relaxed awareness of her potential to meet his needs. He crooked a finger at her and beckoned.

“You think I’m just going to come whenever you call?” she asked.

“If I’m good? Yes.”

With no desire to pretend she didn’t want to, Hermione drew near. “ Are you going to be good?” She tucked her hands underneath the hem of his waistcoat.

“I’m quite certain I already have been.”

“You’re horrible.”

“I thought we were talking about how good I am.”

She pulled back and met his eyes. “I did know. That you wanted me.”

“Everyone knew, Hermione.”

Her body flared with hunger and humiliation. “I was terrified that if we slept together, I’d lose you.”

“Quite the opposite.” He still didn’t put his hands on her. “I hope that’s alright.”

She rose onto her toes and kissed his chin. “I thought you brought me here to accost me.”

“I’m shocked you would suggest such a thing Miss Granger. I’m a gentleman.”

Her hands trailed lower, and she began undoing his trouser fastenings.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.

She tugged on his arm. “Touch me.”

“Is this how a lady behaves?”

“I’m not a lady,” she grumbled.

“I see.” He watched her hands go about their work. “In that case.”

She’d turned out sweet as a spring lamb in roses and cream. Leaning close and taking in the perfumed scent of her, his lupine lethality uncoiled in slow motion. His hands first went behind her head, drawing her mouth to his, then dropped to her thighs. He didn’t bother to undress her. Gathering up her skirts, hiking her legs around his waist, he took her against the oak like she charged by the hour.

How distressing not to know, Hermione thought, panting against his shoulder. How maddening the mystery could be. And what a relief it was, in the end, to fall into the unknown. What a pleasure it was to give in.

After, utterly debauched, bonnet ribbons looped around her wrist and scraps of lichen in her hair, she took his hand and led the way back, laughing and reprimanding him every dozen steps when he drew her back into his arms and kissed her. Faces flushed, smiling like fools, they found Martin and Grix waiting for them in the garden.

Grix clicked his pocket watch shut. “See to it Martin makes it back for the decanting step. I understand if you miss the window, you’ll have to start from scratch.”

Draco looked at Hermione sidelong.

“No, I am not learning how to knit,” she said.

He acquiesced with a roll of his shoulders. “That’s a shame.”

 


 

Draco, tidied up into the shape of a respectable gentleman, and Hermione, dignified on his arm, followed the professor’s chair up the rise to Bugg-Buntley Hall.

The family served tea on the lawn, a silver service laid atop a swaying white tablecloth, elves at relaxed attention minding overflowing platters of fruit. Only Sir Thomas, Lady Longbottom and Mrs. Longbottom sat at the tables. All four Longbottom girls, their elder brother, and William Avery cavorted over the lawn, batting a shuttlecock between them with small rackets.

“It’s mine!” Cressida shouted, rushing forward, but William intercepted her. He snatched her up by the waist, whipped her away to the side, and smacked the shuttlecock towards Penelope while Cressida laughed from her belly and ground out her disapproval.

“Willy, you cheater, come here!” Cassandra cried. “I’ll show you a smack!”

“How can I have cheated?” William called back, now holding a struggling Cressida in both arms. “You Longbottoms are too slow! Except you, Penny!”

“Thank you.” Penelope bapped the shuttlecock neatly towards Isadora, who knocked it along to Tom.

“Circe smite you in the head, Tommy!” howled Cassandra. “Stop looking at your wife!”

Indeed, a distracted Tom sent the shuttlecock astray. It arced past the tip of Isadora’s outstretched racket, sailed before Lord and Lady Longbottom’s unsurprised faces, and splashed down in Sir Thomas’s teacup.

“Ah ha!” Sir Thomas slapped his hands against his knees. “Fifty points to our Tom!”

Lady Longbottom withdrew an elegant limewood wand from her skirts and set the table to rights.

“No, Daddy, fifty points is far too many. Oh, it’s my good Professor! Hello, there, Mr. Martin!” Cassandra waved as the Twiggybroke party approached. “Mr. Granger! Come and play!”

Draco laid his hand over Hermione’s and gave it a pulse, then trundled along with Martin to join the fray.

“Miss Granger!” As Hermione approached, Sir Thomas leapt from his seat and took up the silver teapot himself. “As you well know, we here at the Hall don’t traffic in the art of formality.” He swept his arm towards the scene of his grown children running around the lawn, shoulders jostling, leaping out of the way of Martin’s careening chair and swishing racket. “We’ve set you quite a scene for your farewell!”

Hermione accepted the teacup he offered. “It’s perfect, Sir Thomas.”

And indeed, the Hall had never felt more vivid nor less capable of possessing any fault.

Hermione sat beside Mrs. Longbottom. Rolling a mouthful of full-bodied tea over her tongue, breathing the scent of cut grass and roses in sensual flush, Hermione rested in the sweetness of a singularly flawless summer afternoon.

Save the gangling Tom, Draco was the tallest in the field of contenders. They played with no net. Hermione deduced the objective was to keep the shuttlecock from hitting the ground as long as possible, a goal the Longbottoms and William appeared disinterested in achieving. They all chased one another about, sabotaging every swipe with legs and elbows, while Draco dashed behind Martin’s chair, backstopping his missed attempts.

Hermione practically leapt out of her skin when Mrs. Longbottom laid her cup in its saucer and spoke in her timorous voice.

“You and your brother will be sorely missed, Miss Granger.” The young bride laid her gloved hand over Hermione’s and squeezed it. “You’ll come again soon, won’t you?”

“I—” Without warning, tears pooled in Hermione’s eyes. She looked towards the woods, wicked them away with her glove, and faced Mrs. Longbottom again cheerfully. “I would like that very much.”

Mrs. Longbottom set her cup aside and picked up her knitting, now an elongated rectangle of delicate white lace. “It all came right in the end, didn’t it?”

Hermione drew back. “How do you mean?”

“With Mr. Granger.”

“I—” Hermione’s mouth fell open.

“He seems entirely himself.” Mrs. Longbottom gently touched her forehead.

“You mean his injury!” said Hermione. “Yes. He’s every bit the person he always has been.”

"You're fortunate to have an affectionate brother." Mrs. Longbottom looked towards the players on the lawn. “He loves you very much.”

The game was paused. Through an unwitnessed miracle, two rackets had become trapped high in the elm. Martin sat below them, one eye closed, wand aimed at his targets, gearing up for something more interesting than a simple Accio. His own racket pinched under his arm, Draco kicked the shuttlecock back and forth with Cassandra, but again and again, looked towards the tables, mouth wrenched in a half smile, eyes alight with—

Love.

It arced off him in waves, like energetic particles radiating across the heated July air, striking Hermione's awareness in a tidal wash of colored light, warm, staggering, and unsubtle.

“Does he always look at me like that?” Hermione asked.

Mrs. Longbottom laughed. “Indeed, he does! He reminds me of Tom, sometimes.” She peered at her husband, predictably staring at her with unconcealed ardour. With deft movements, never looking at her hands, her needles clicked. “His affection perfectly matches your own.”

“What?”

“My brothers dangled me out the window as a child,” said Mrs. Longbottom.

So that’s where that comes from, thought Hermione, throwing back an over-large mouthful of tea.

A short blast preceded two hollow tocks. Martin whirled around in his chair, rubbing the top of his head, and held up both rackets.

“Granger!” bellowed Sir Thomas. “Come here, my lad!”

Draco approached, wiping the back of his neck with a handkerchief. “Yes, sir.”

Sir Thomas summoned an elf, holding a pair of wooden boxes. He presented the first to Draco, and watched with a raised brow as he opened it.

“Oh.” Draco removed a fist-sized object.

“What say you to that, my lad?” boomed Sir Thomas.

It was an enameled metal box in an uncanny likeness of Sir Thomas’s grey cat Edward, down to the chilling lack of empathy in the narrowed eyes.

Sir Thomas handed Hermione the second present, from which she predictably drew a box made to look like the little black and white cat, Hugo. It had two wide-open, deeply unintelligent yellow enamel eyes, a white enamel mustache, and two pointy enamel teeth hanging over its lower lip.

Sir Thomas roared with laughter. “Snuff cats for you both, my good Grangers!”

Draco held his cat next to Hermione’s. “How extraordinary, Sir Thomas,” he said. “They’re exquisite.”

Hermione rotated hers to and fro. “I don’t know what to say.”

“This is really elaborate enamelwork,” Draco said quietly. “They must have cost a small fortune.”

“Yes, Daddy, you’re quite the comedian,” said Penelope. “Are we finished playing? I’d like to sit down.”

The family and their guests sat, ate, and laughed; drank and talked; walked the garden paths and along into the orchard.

Midsummer had passed, but the parched and spent weeks of late July and August still lay ahead. The world hung from the branch in perfect ripeness. Perched at the season’s pinnacle, Hermione observed her surroundings with an acute awareness of the fugitive present. Each moment hung before her like a prism, pure and crystalline, tangible and changeable as water. The chilled soft skins of strawberries glistening in a bowl; William, reclining in the grass, hand surreptitiously cupping Cressida’s ankle; the ladybirds creeping in the hearts of the yellow roses; Isadora adjusting her spectacles, slipping down her nose in the heat: one after another, instances collapsed continuously out of existence to make way for what came next, like tumbling liquid holographic cinematography, time as a projection within a waterfall, image after three dimensional image viewed sequentially, forming the flickering, churning, kinetic, inevitable narrative of life. Hermione wished to hold out a bottle and capture a measure of it, seal it up and preserve it like wine, draw it out in old age and taste the halcyon sweetness of love in youth, warm as a strawberry fresh off the stem. But she could only attend to the conversation, revel in the sun searing her skin in its overhead race, and now and again, catch Draco watching her, still brazen, but finally perceived; still himself, and finally known.

“You’ll come again,” said Lady Longbottom, embracing Hermione when it was time to go.

“We’ll try,” said Hermione, a lie she told mostly to herself.

William and Draco clasped one another as friends, and Hermione allowed herself to sink into the hold of each Longbottom sister in turn.

“I see you prevaricating! You will come and see us,” Sir Thomas insisted as he yanked Hermione into his fatherly grasp. “Next summer, at the latest! There may well be more of us!”

Mrs. Longbottom blushed fiercely.

“Malfo will come again,” Martin declared, “when I’m dead.”

“Keep your maudlin prognostications to yourself, old man!” said Sir Thomas. “You Cassandras are all alike!”

“I’m macabre in an entirely different way, Daddy,” said Cassandra. “Anyway, the professor refuses to tell me when I’m supposed to die.”

Isadora presented Hermione with a potted strawberry plant.

“Mr. Weasley,” Hermione said carefully, “may need a good friend. I believe he has one in you, Izzy.”

“I see.” Isadora anxiously adjusted her sleeve. “Do you think—should we write to him? My sisters and I?”

“Undoubtedly.”

William briefly shook hands with Hermione, thought better of it, and drew her into a fraternal clutch. “Will you—if you find a way, that is—send word that you’re alright? I don’t trust your friend here to do it.”

“Of course,” Hermione promised.

Each goodbye begat another, until at length Martin took it upon himself to bump down the lawns alone, drawing Draco and Hermione after him.

“Do you actually know when you’re going to die, cousin?” asked Hermione on their walk.

“February 29th, 1808, round about four o'clock in the morning,” said Martin. “Leap year!”

“And what makes you think you know this?” she asked.

“Ah ha!” Cresting the final rise before descending into the glen, Martin bashed his steering toggle forward and raced down the decline, now free of every stone and pebble.

As they approached the glen, Draco took Hermione’s hand.

Nested in the flourishing garden, moss greening its storybook peaks, the yellow-stone cottage dozed. As the sun faded westward, a smoke plume curled from the chimney.

Far ahead, Martin passed through the arched gate and through the blue door.

Hermione’s breath caught in her throat. “I can hardly stand it.”

“I know,” said Draco.

“It’s awful enough to be far away from people, but when we go back—they’ll have all gone, long before.”

He only squeezed her hand.

“What do you suppose happens next?” she asked.

“We go home.” Draco pulled her hand through the crook of his arm. “Assess the damage in the lab. Determine how to hide its extent from Shacklebolt for as long as possible, and then—have I ever told you about the bath in the Manor master suite?”

“I keep thinking I’d like another day. But then I’d want one more. Isn’t that how it goes? All the way along?”

As he opened the gate and held it, suit jacket hung from a fingertip over his shoulder, Hermione paused.

“What?” He tilted his head in inquiry.

“Nothing.”

“Something, Granger. Come on. We actually talk to one another now.”

Hermione swayed closer to him as though magnetized. “We do lots of things now.”

“We do.”

“I can't stop looking at you,” she muttered, blushing beneath her bonnet.

He leaned in close, and kissed her below the ear. “Now you know how it feels.” Taking her hand again, he led the way into the cottage.

A basket sat beside the door, neatly packed with Hermione’s clothing parcel, Roland’s flowers wrapped in brown paper, a jar of honey, a net bag bursting with peas, salad greens, and courgettes, a bag of plums, a crate of raspberries, and several wrapped packets, possibly sandwiches. All prepared in Grix’s language of affection, seeing them safely on their travels.

His papers lay organized on the table, and he sat before them with a quill and ink pot, peering down his nose through his spectacles. “All well, I gather?” he said without looking up. “Your potion’s got another ten minutes. I’ve gathered your things there.”

Hermione hung her bonnet on the pegs by the door. “This is the last bonnet I’m ever wearing.” She withdrew the enameled cat boxes and the strawberry plant from a net bag slung over her arm, and stooped to tuck them into the travel basket.

Hanging his coat by the door, Draco frowned. “You pierce me.”

“Come, my gel, you’ll see how it is.” Beside the hearth, Martin yanked a thin volume covered in blue leather from the shelf over the fireplace, knocking an unmarked pink clothbound book onto the floor. He handed the blue book to Hermione.

On Potions and Portents.” Hermione flipped the cover back and read the table of contents. “ A potion for seeing into the future. You did not make that work, cousin.”

“Ha!” Cackling, Martin zipped around the sofa and kitchen table towards his laboratory. “Takes it right out of you. Down for the better part of a week. You ready, my boy?”

Draco followed, deftly cuffing his sleeves. Buzzing with disbelief and envy, Hermione flicked through Martin's book. Predictably impenetrable, the entire text appeared to lay out a theoretical and practical groundwork for a formula that would allow its user to peer across time. “Absurd,” she muttered, several times. At length, she shelved the book, retrieved the fallen volume from the floor, and idly opened it.

Her hands stilled. “Draco!”

“What’s wrong?” he called from the back of the house.

“What was the name of the novel you read last week? You said it had, what—a stepmother? And it wasn’t Cinderella?”

“No. I do know that one, though.”

“What was it called?” she cried.

“Merlin, Granger, what’s the problem? It was called Wives and Daughters. I quite enjoyed it. Why?”

Hermione’s pulse accelerated. She tucked the book under her arm, and scanned the shelves until she found another volume with a plain, unmarked spine. Unshelving it, she flipped its cover open.

“How are these—” She tossed both books onto the sofa. Anxiety rising, she located two more and turned to Grix. “The unmarked books. Where is the professor getting them?”

Grix shuffled his pages into one pile, and folded his hands on the table. “I suspect they've come from someone particularly good at textual Transfiguration.”

Novel in hand, Hermione raced into Martin’s laboratory.

Clad in an apron, Martin observed Draco ladle their potion into a sieve hung over a funnel emptying into a series of additional filters. Nearly all the potion had been filtered and collected in glass beakers on the worktop.

“Where did you get this book?” Hermione demanded.

Martin held his finger against his lips. “Steady on. Last thing you want to do is spill the lot.”

“Cousin, please!” said Hermione.

Without wavering from his task, Draco glanced up. “What’s going on?”

Wives and Daughters wasn’t published until the 1860s,” said Hermione.

“Oh,” said Draco. “I thought you were angry at me for using one of your garter ribbons as a bookmark.”

“Why would I—hold on, you stole one of my garter ribbons?”

“How have you gotten ahold of forbidden books, cousin?” Draco waited until the level inside the sieve lowered, then scooped in the last few ladelsful.

“Keep ladeling, lad! Once all the solids are out, dose it out and cork it up!” Martin tossed his apron aside, then steered around Hermione and through the kitchen.

In the sitting room, he drew his wand, and mumbling, carved swift, fluid patterns into the air. Luminous blue outlines appeared around every book. One after another, several dozen unmarked books slipped from their places, flocked to the center of the room, and fanned out in a tidy grid, covers facing Hermione as she approached.

She practically vibrated with anticipation, and underneath her discomposure, scolded herself for incuriosity. How astonishing, she thought, that she hadn't bothered to open a single untitled book; she’d hardly even noticed them. What sort of rabid reader was she? One by one, she folded back their covers.

She first opened Catch-22. Then Beloved. As I Lay Dying. A translated edition of The Master and Margarita. All three volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

Inside each book, plain on the outside, was only a simple title page and text. There was no publishing information or further details about the author. Hermione detected magic. Pulling her wand from her pocket, she revealed sturdy, straightforward confounding spells directed specifically at Muggles, designed to ensure non-magical eyes would perceive blank pages.

Handwritten messages were inked on their titled pages.

A favorite.

Like poetry.

I expect you’ll enjoy this one particularly.

Hermione angled the title page of the pink clothbound book towards Martin. “Who gave you A Room With a View ?”

“It was given to me, ” Grix corrected. He pushed back from the table, and with a handwave, sent the books back to their places. A Room With a View tugged curtly out of Hermione’s hands and drifted away.  

Wiping his hands on a cloth, Draco entered the room. “What’s all this?”

“Who gave them to you?” Hermione asked again.

“I couldn't have told you that definitively until this morning,” Grix answered.

Hermione waved her hands in exasperation. “Is this something to do with Martin’s potions? Peering into the future?”

“Parlor tricks!” said the professor. “Not much use when no one wants to know what happens next.”

“You can’t go ‘round telling people when you’ve seen their demise,” said Grix.

“Poor Malfo!” Martin slapped his forehead. “Bonged himself right up!”

“The professor’s mostly used it in the drawing room at the Hall,” said Grix. “He sees visions of some kind of storytelling light box installed a couple hundred years from now. I’m surprised the family still invites him up.”

Mostly through his nose, kazoo-like, Martin hummed the theme from Doctor Who.

“No,” said Grix. “Do not try to explain it to me again.”

Draco took an unmarked book back down off the shelf and examined its title page. “This is your handwriting, Granger. God, now that I’m looking at it, this is probably your copywork.

“How did I send you books?” Hermione pleaded with Grix.

Grix removed his spectacles, then put them back on. “Anonymous owls. Just about the time the old man goes adventuring.”

Adventuring? ” Hermione repeated. “What do you mean by that?”

“That trireme was junk,” said Martin. “Monsters in the Hellespont, make no mistake!”

“Who have you been adventuring with, cousin?” Hermione cried.

The room fell silent.

Hermione and Grix looked at Draco, pale as chalk beside Martin’s chair.

The professor peered up at him, and gently took his hand. “Now I’m old and you're young. Turned the tables on you, haven’t I, my friend?”

“What have you done?” whispered Hermione.

“I haven’t done anything yet,” said Draco.

Grix dipped his quill in the inkwell. “Every few years since—” He looked at Draco and Hermione shrewdly. “Since long enough , the good professor goes away. Just for a blink. Usually, I don’t even notice he’s done it until I round the corner and find him yammering about mastodons or the ritual baths at Mohenjo-daro. He's extremely secretive about it."

“Cousins in the end!” Martin declared.

"It's always been around then," said Grix, "that my mystery correspondent posts me something.”

“Just once more after this for me.” Martin patted Draco’s hand. “We’ve had a grand time, you and I.”

Hermione folded her hand over the Time Turner beneath her bodice. “Am I meant to understand that for—what, decades?”

Grix blinked his acknowledgement.

“You two have been cavorting through the timeline like it’s lads’ night?” Hermione exclaimed.

“I suppose," Draco said carefully, "if we have an effective potion to suspend aging, and it seems we're unlikely or unable to cause any splintering or other catastrophic deviations, we could probably do whatever we want. And that's a very judgmental tone from someone who's posting people illegally made copies of books that haven’t been written yet."

"I've never once done such a thing!" Hermione clenched her fists. “Even if I had, there's a vast difference between sending a friend a book–"

"Dozens of books," said Draco.

"—and jeopardizing the Indus Valley civilization."

Draco lifted a brow. "Is there, though?"

“I especially enjoyed the Jerome K. Jerome,” said Grix. “Thank you for sending it on.”

"Oh! Three Men in a Boat?" Forgetting her shock and agitation, Hermione beamed. "If you like that…"

“I’d emphasize that I haven’t done any of this yet,” Draco pointed out, “so you’re not allowed to be annoyed with me.”

“I told the priest, ‘I won’t be dunking my head today, my good sir,' and wouldn't you know, he dunked my head anyway,” Martin contributed. "I'd like to go back and dunk his head, even if he is a holy man."

The grandfather clock chimed six; tightly wound, Hermione jumped in surprise. Grix snapped open his pocket watch to confirm the time. As though he'd been waiting on that cue, he fetched the unopened letter from the secretary desk and handed it to Hermione.

Its address read: Hermione, 6 o’clock.

"What is this?" she asked.

Grix folded his arms over his chest. "I'm as curious as anyone."

Breaking the envelope's wax seal, she drew out a note folded around a photograph. Holding the picture to the side, she read.

Hermione,

Given such an opportunity, you'll understand the temptation to offer copious advice. But that would spoil the better part of the story; you'll want to discover it on your own.

I'll indulge myself this far: nearly all your plans don’t go to plan. Fortunately, you learn to hold on to them more lightly.

Hermione examined the photograph.

The image began with an extreme close-up of a man’s pale whiskers, coming in and out of focus, and the beautiful arch of Draco Malfoy’s upper lip. Finishing some adjustment to the camera, he stepped back, revealing himself in boots, cuffed dungarees and a cable knit jumper, wearing a full beard and a watch cap, hair evidently tied back underneath. He sat on a log beside Hermione, also in a jumper. Two sets of clunky, old-fashioned skis and poles sprouted in the snow behind them. As Draco hooked both arms around Hermione’s waist, a line of dark figures entered from the left in the frame's far distance.

Hermione squinted at the image, and picked out what looked like men on horseback, wearing silly-looking arched hats. “Is that—that isn’t Napoleon’s army! I absolutely refuse!”

Her rejection phased neither Photograph Draco nor Photograph Hermione in the least. She turned her face to his, and kissed him in a way Hermione felt wasn’t entirely appropriate for the outdoors, nor a photograph, nor a man with a full beard. She went on kissing him like that, as if no one was watching, let alone a camera; let alone a doomed imperial army advancing in the snow.

Hermione returned to the letter.

Please expect to spend half a lifetime in the past, and a very full one in the present. You will, I’m afraid, trade any hope of equanimity for a great deal of wonder. From my vantage point, the equation appears to balance.

Yours, as ever,

H

P.S. Cables aren’t as difficult as they look. You’ve done both the jumpers here, and they’ve held up beautifully.

P.P.S. You have a lot of tidying up ahead of you when you get home.

In different handwriting, a third postscript read:

I love you, Worst. Please remind me to enjoy myself. I know I will. —D

Hands trembling, Hermione refolded the letter around the photograph.

“What is it?” asked Draco. “Are you alright?”

Hermione tucked the letter inside the pocket of her dress, and folded her hands in front of her. “Is the potion ready, then?”

“Are you alright? ” Draco asked more forcefully.

“Quite well.” Hermione pressed her hands to her cheeks. “What’s not to be well about? You’re only jumping around the outdoor bath with over-enthusiastic priests, and probably riding Bactrian camels across the Alps, and who knows what else, or when else. And I’m set to send Mr. Grix my favorite books. Several hours ago I was somewhere else in 1804 posting myself correspondence and a watch.”

Seated again, focused intensely on his manuscript, Grix’s lips formed a straight line as he scribed. His gleaming gold watch fob dangled from his pocket.

“Oh, God.” Hermione’s insides went all to jelly. “Do you like it?”

“It’s exquisite.” Grix dotted the end of a line. “Thank you.”

“Of course. I hope it’s a fair replacement. It’s the least I could do since we ruined yours for the Timekey folly.”

Grix patted his pocket. “This one’s a great deal nicer.”

Draco came near, and cupped her elbow. “It’s all going to be alright.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “So everyone keeps telling me.” 

She couldn’t bear to look at him; between his present waistcoat and fitted trousers, and his infuriating, rugged Shackleton aesthetic in the photograph, desire had been roaring through her for the past few minutes like water loosed over the spillway of a dam.

“Is there something I should know about in that letter?” he asked softly.

She lifted her chin. “Nothing anyone should know about.”

“I’m going to go decant the potion now.”

“Thank you.”

“And then I’m taking you home,” he continued. “And putting you in the bath.”

“Maybe I’m taking myself home.”

“However you like it,” he said patiently.

“That’s just it, isn’t it?” she said. “How exactly is anyone supposed to do what they like? Maybe I’d like to take up sheep farming in Tasmania. No one’s asked!”
“I’m sorry, Granger. I know you like picking out your own trousers.”

“I do like it when they have a bit of stretch,” said Hermione. “I thought at least a person should get to pick out their own—”

He was distractingly tall, and standing quite close, looking at her like a man who’d thoroughly defiled her twice that day, both morning and afternoon, and wanted an unnecessary retake to improve his grade.

“Your own what?” Draco asked.

Hermione blushed. “Who goes cross country skiing in Siberia in the middle of an imperial invasion?”

“I trust that will be explained to me at some point. For now, I’m going to bottle some potion.”

After he’d rounded the corner, Hermione sat at the table and took very normal, unagitated breaths, in through her nose and out through her mouth, while she watched Grix’s hand move over the page.

“What are you writing?” she asked.

Grix engaged in a prolonged bout of internal wrestling, then slid a page along the table. Hermione angled it towards herself and read in Grix’s small, unfailingly tidy script: A True Narrative of Events in the Life of a Free Elf.

“You’re writing a memoir,” said Hermione.

“Mm.”

“You’ve enjoyed them?” she asked. “The books.”

“And recipes. Informative articles trimmed from periodicals.”

“Really? Nutrition, I imagine?”

“A lot of that,” said Grix.

“It’s an interest of mine as well.”

“I know.”

Hermione reached along the table and took Grix’s hand. “But I didn’t come and snatch you along to monitor working conditions at the construction of Khufu’s pyramid?”

“Thankfully not.”

“You know that I would take you anywhere you wanted to go.”

Still writing, Grix gave her hand a pulse. “I’m perfectly comfortable in my own time. But thank you.” He glanced at her. “I gather you’re headed for adventures of your own. Only I imagine yours generally have an itinerary.” Grix appraised the boxes Draco had nested in the travel basket. “What’s Sir Thomas given you?”

“A pair of very silly snuff boxes.”

“The lad’ll be chuffed.”

“Quite chuffed.” Draco trailed Martin into the kitchen, a half dozen corked glass vials in hand, each filled with a thin, translucent orange potion. “They’re not swans, but they’ll do. You ready?”

Hermione wasn’t ready. Not to help Grix package up the spare vials of potion, nor to rise from the burned kitchen table, nor to mechanically scoop their basket from beside the door, nor to take one last cup of grass-green tea sitting beside Martin on the bench beneath the plum.

“Notes are all in order.” Martin drew a folded packet of parchment sheets from his Tartan wraps, and passed them to Hermione.

Hermione unfolded them, and squinted at the wobbly nonsense within. “You’re sure you can decode this?” she called out to Draco.

Draco situated himself by the garden gate, and stared up into the trees overhanging the house, assessing potential hazards in the future physical environment. “Not a problem. These will have come down, I imagine. Lime. Oak.”

“I’m more comfortable with our theory on physical displacement than possibly anything else,” said Hermione.

Draco’s mouth curved in a smirk. “As sure as you were about the potion ratios?”

Hermione hopped up from the bench and shoved the potion notes deep inside her bodice.

As she drew close, Draco tucked his finger into her bodice front and peered inside. “Everything I’ll ever need is down here.”

“You’re the worst.” She withdrew the Time Turner.

“Here you go, my gel.” Martin whirred near in his chair. “You’ll want this.” He held up the straw bonnet with pink ribbons.

“I do not want it,” said Hermione.

Draco took it from Martin, settled it on her head, and began tying the bow under her chin.

“Why?” Hermione asked.

He fluffed up the bow loops, then tapped the tip of her nose. “Why does a man want anything he wants? There’s an old stile or two on the Manor grounds.”

“Shall we play Maiden in Distress?” she asked.

“Please note, I’m not laughing.”

“Here you are.” Grix held out the basket, and Hermione hooked it over her arm.

Draco pulled two vials of the orange potion from his jacket pocket. It moved like it was full of minuscule sea life, sparkling red and gold particles forming and reforming clusters and strands, bubbles flitting from base to cork and clinging to the inside walls of the vial.

“Lights your sinuses up,” said the professor.

“Ready to say goodbye?” Draco asked.

Martin sat beside the ramp, and Grix stood beside him, both wearing serious, watchful expressions.

Hermione threw down her basket and hurried forward. “I’ll see you again.” Tears sprang from nowhere and flowed freely down her cheeks, coming faster than she could swipe them away. “I’ll see you again soon.”

She first bent low to embrace Martin, the professor’s reedy arms circling her, his clever, deceptively brittle hands patting her hair fondly, like a pleasing little dog. “Yes, yes. Take this when you’re back,” he said, fishing a tiny vial of a dark potion from his blankets. “You’ll have a headache.”

“Thank you, cousin.” She turned to Grix.

He snapped his pocket watch open and glowered at its face. “It’s going on six forty five.”

But Hermione was on her knees, holding out her hand, tears hopelessly cascading. “Thank you. For everything.”

“Come on, then.” Grix waved her close, and as he squeezed his arms around her shoulders, said, quietly, “It was my great pleasure, my gel.”

“Cousin,” said Draco stoutly, clasping and slapping the professor in masculine fondness, then he shook Grix’s hand.

Grix’s eyes narrowed. “You think good and hard about where you take him,” he said. “No guns. No horseback riding. No shooting guns while horseback riding.”

Martin made a pair of finger guns and fired them into the air. “Pschww! Pschww!”

Standing on the ledge beside Draco’s open bedroom window, the crow watched them inquisitively as Draco and Hermione stood face to face before the garden gate. He bent his head, and she looped the Time Turner’s chain around his neck. Draco uncorked a vial of Martin’s potion, tossed it back and bunched his nose. Hermione did the same.

A wash of pleasant, tingling heat started from her belly, spread up through her chest, down through her pelvis and out through her limbs, and finally warmed her to the crown of her head. 

“Tastes like carbonated gelatin,” she said.

“It’s quite good, actually. I might have some more when we get back.”

“Of course you’d say that. Oh!” she cried. “Hold on.” She tipped the dregs of her potion into the soil beneath the potted strawberry. “Hope that holds him.” Taking the Time Turner in hand, she twisted its crown free. She articulated an incantation, and an array of spell diagnostics in silver, gold and blue spread across the air before her. A limiting spell—a pie-shaped segment of glyphs—glowed bright red, and after she’d spoken a simple three-line negation, blinked green. She dismissed the grid, and Draco drew his wand.

“I still can’t sell you on fishwifery?” he asked.

“I’ll compromise,” she said, “and learn to knit.”

In front of Martin, Grix, and the crow, he kissed her.

“You’re not going to get everything you want that way,” she said.

“Half of what I want will be plenty.” Draco focused intently on the destination. “On the hour? Close to it?”

“Just before,” she said. “We’ll need to change out of these clothes before we go back to the Ministry.”

“You’re a coward, Granger.”

“I certainly can be.”

Draco set the jump.

Hermione leaned her head on his shoulder, and looked back at Martin and Grix.

“Please take care of him,” she said.

Martin nodded.

Draco kissed her below the ear. “It’s time.”

Hermione straightened up, and held the Time Turner between them.

He’d been tossed about, thrown in the mud, blown up, broken, beaten and bruised, and managed to escape with nothing more than a thin white line through his perfect, insufferable left brow. It only served to throw into the sharpest relief the beauty of his pale, self-satisfied, insupportable, familiar, beloved face.    

“You really did blow up my lab,” she said.

“Our lab.”

“Our lab,” she agreed.

“I did. And I’d do it again tomorrow.”

Hermione pushed the crown into place, and he brought his mouth to hers.

The Time Turner whirled. The dark shapes of Martin and Grix blurred, then disappeared. Day progressed to night and back to day again. The forest changed. Green bled away to gold and red, then withered to thin black fingers twitching against the sky. The yellow cottage and its blue door remained, only flickered behind the branches stuttering around its shoulders. The Turner sang in metallic resonance, its speed doubling, then doubling again. The blue door became grey, the black trees fell away, birds shivered from the branches like falling leaves, moths churned in clouds like dust. The young trees passed through midlife and old age, endless saplings like unfurling snakes raised their heads, the writhing wood rising, falling, shrinking, breathing around the constant yellow walls and the crumbling slates, the silent chimney, and the gap with no grey door. The sun hurtled across the sky, light to dark to light again, one sun, then two, then four, faster and faster, until the blurred suns condensed into one and traced a single, magnificent arc from one horizon to the next.

He held her close in the late afternoon, and they kissed for two hundred years.

 

The End