The floor of The Daily Prophet looked the same as it did on Hermione’s first day. The smell of ink on fresh parchment and the scratch of quills, voices a constant wave of crescendo and diminuendo like the bellows of lungs. The place lived and it breathed and she could do without the headache now.
“Granger, that you?” Marcus Flint grinned from the Sports Desk, his trollish features doing their best imitation of a buck-toothed wolf. “Couldn’t keep away any longer?”
“The separation was so hard, I had to Obliviate myself.” Her heels clacked like a typewriter would if the office had ever bothered with a hat tip to the archaic Muggle method. The rhythm returned like a familiar drum beat, staccato ready for the war ahead. “Did you miss me?”
“The boys wouldn’t shut up about it!” Parvati yelled, taking coffee from a harried intern as her head popped up from the pit that was International Affairs. “Where’d you get those shoes?”
“In my settlement.”
A manicured hand grabbed her arm as she strode ever onwards. “Don’t be uncouth.”
“Pleasure as always, Panse.”
“Now give me the real deets.” The Style Editor’s claws were fully unsheathed and dug in through the fabric of Hermione’s blouse. “Paris? Milan?”
“I don’t know why you still talk to me like I know a thing about fashion.”
“I don’t. But my readers still can’t get enough of your ugly duckling to swan transformation.”
“Did you know that swans are exceptionally aggressive?”
Pansy released her grip with a frown. “You’re still no fun. And who is this?”
Hermione glanced behind her. “Oh, him?” She smiled at the man she was dragging with her back into hell. “Please be a love and flirt with Parkinson for a while.”
The handsome redhead smiled and held out a large calloused hand. “Charlie Weasley at your service.”
“Weasley?” Pansy visibly vibrated with glee. “He’s going to fucking love this.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Promise I won’t be long.”
She finally reached the door to the office in the center of the room, the heart between the lungs from where the (pure)blood forever flowed. She entered and did not knock, causing the louche figure of Blaise Zabini to straighten up from his desktop perch. His companion, who paced as he talked, did not stop in either, preternaturally unperturbed.
“… I told him that sixty thousand galleons to his re-election campaign and a favorable editorial were at stake unless the wretched house-elf could be granted a stay of…” When he deigned to notice her, he shook his head ruefully. “Speaketh of the downtrodden creature and a wild Granger shall appear. Zabini, we’ll confer later.”
Zabini kissed Hermione’s hand as he left with a wicked “ciao, bella.” It was just the two of them now.
“Divorce becomes you, Mrs. Malfoy,” her ex-husband said.
“And you don’t look any different. Funny that.”
Draco Malfoy pressed a hand to his heart, or at least the spot on his chest where, in lesser mortals, a heart would reside. He smiled and it was the glowing sort, his gray eyes sparkling silver and mischief promised in the quirk of his delicious mouth. She would never taste it again and that was fine with her now.
“Also, the name’s Granger,” she reminded him.
“Always.” He glided towards her and slid an arm around her waist. “Your desk awaits. Millie’s been keeping vigil; won’t let any of us touch a thing. It’s like a shrine. I go pay homage myself. Would you like to see?”
“I would like to leave.” Her body leaned back in his hold. “You have to let me go.”
His arm tensed for only a second. “I can’t. You’re the best reporter I have.”
“Is that all?”
“Is there anything else?”
She sighed, pushing herself free and taking a step back. Her hands adjusted her hair and straightened her skirt. Just the slightest touch and he left her feeling ravaged. There was a reason she had left and the reason she was here now.
“This is goodbye,” she said.
“You’ve not even said hello. Where on earth are your manners?” He pulled out a chair with a flick of his wand. “Take a seat. Have coffee. Regale me with how you’ve missed me. You know that I’m the forgiving sort.”
“I know quite a lot but that’s some new information. Are you well? What have you done with the real Draco Malfoy?”
“Ah, looking for an exclusive still. You can’t fool me. This pressroom’s your Amortentia. Fresh ink on clean parchment. Am I right?”
He could always see through her, right down to her bones.
“I’ll cut to the chase,” she said. “I’m leaving for Romania.”
“What’s the scoop?”
“That’s the juice. Plain divorcee seeks to start over.”
“There’s nothing plain about you, Granger.”
“I’ve been worn down. I’m just hair and a husk.”
“In fuck me heels.”
“The alimony pays well and, since it’s you, it better. I need more. Connection. Companionship.” She held up a hand as he started to talk. “I don’t mean work. I mean a husband, a real partner. I need the simple life.”
“Are you well?” He grabbed her raised hand and pressed his other to her forehead. “What have you done with the real Hermione Granger?”
“This is me. Look closer, Draco.” She nodded at her left hand, the one he was still holding. He raised it higher, his eyes landing on the ring where his own used to be. “I got engaged.”
“Let me meet the sucker.”
“I want to commiserate,” he said, his thumb running over the extremely modest diamond. Even the band was slim, nestled loose within the groove around her finger.
Draco had proposed with an heirloom once owned by the French royal family. That had been (or so he claimed) worth three times’ more than what he paid to buy the paper. It was sealed by their blood at their wedding and carried a protection charm infused by ancient magic that had taken six Unspeakables weeks of research (and a lack of cooperation from certain parties) to break. No Malfoy had ever ended their marriage except upon death, and even then it tended to be a brief separation.
“He’s outside,” Hermione said, extracting her hand.
Draco stalked past her and pulled open the door. “Lead the way.”
They walked back through the main office, Draco in front as always. He had the same sharp silhouette; she could admire his shoulders and how well his robes fitted them. His posture was strong and his steps were assured. Even divorce could not shake him, though she knew he was angry. He hated to lose, whether it be work or life or love. Since the war, there had been no more failures. Until this. Until them. Marriage was more a battle than any they had fought before.
“Draco,” she called, spotting Charlie trapped by Pansy in a corner of the reception area, his large body trying to shrink back against the wall. Hermione waved. “That’s him.”
Draco ignored her and walked straight up to a waiting Gringotts Goblin, exaggeratedly shaking their wizened hand. “Congratulations, dear fellow. She’s a stellar girl. Wholly unreliable and fickle in her affections and liable to take you for all you’re worth. But stellar, truly stellar.” He slapped the gobsmacked creature on the shoulder. “When’s the date?”
“But Mister Malfoy, I’m here about the—”
“Don’t interrupt me, Granger.”
“Charlie’s over here.”
He let the Goblin go and turned, his eyes sizing up the broad muscular form of his replacement. Though they almost matched in height, Draco was still lithe as a Seeker. Not that he appeared intimidated in the slightest.
“This I gotta see,” Pansy crooned, one arm still looped around Charlie’s.
“Granger,” Draco began, “is that a Weasley?”
“Did you get the right one?”
“If you mean my brother,” Charlie said, carefully freeing himself from Pansy to hold out his hand, “Ron is happily married with two kids.”
“Draco, we went to their wedding.”
“They all look the same.” He took the proffered hand and shook it, no pissing contest thank goodness as he gripped with both his own. “Weddings, I mean. You planning this shindig at the Warren?”
“You mean the Burrow?”
“Did it shrink?”
“We’re getting married in Romania,” Hermione said, shoving herself in between Charlie and Pansy to wrap an arm around his waist. “Once we have the Portkey, we’re heading there tonight.”
“So soon?” Draco watched as Charlie pulled her flush against him. “Then let’s have lunch.” He clapped his hands together rather loudly. “My treat. I need to give Ron—”
“Draco, it’s Charlie!”
“My bad. Weasley the elder then,” he said with a bow, “I need to give you some advice.”
The main thing to know about Hermione Granger was that she was madder than a box of chocolate frogs.
Draco first learned this during his final year at Hogwarts. In fact, his suspicions started as far back as his trial when she showed up to make an impassioned speech on his behalf. What could have triggered the gesture, he could never understand, but even the Boy Who Would Not Fucking Die was dragged in on the action and Draco was spared a sentence in Azkaban.
His father, unsurprisingly, was not so lucky, although unexplained circumstances had saved him from the Dementor’s kiss. His mother was reduced to Ministry-supervised afternoon tea with friends but, given that they had become infinitesimally few and the humiliation was too much to bear, she opted for social isolation instead. All Draco had to do was sit his exams.
Such kid glove treatment by the Ministry (for were they not all children at the time?) led to him being hounded by the vulture press. He became the poster boy for ex-Death Eaters everywhere and whipping post for Voldemort’s damage, and his fellow students felt justified in making his life a living hell. Since it had already been a living hell before and during the war, he took it all on his pointy chin. His skin hardened to steel and his heart froze into an ice fortress. There was nothing to be done but to live.
And win, he decided. Let no one forget that he was still a Malfoy.
He graduated with ten N.E.W.T.s, all Outstanding (and second only to Granger’s deranged eleven), then made it his mission to conquer the world of journalism, a world that had ruined his. Guided by the works of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli (and wouldn’t Hogwarts be horrified to know compulsory Muggle Studies had exposed him to such knowledge), he interned as a runner and junior reporter for a while. As his reputation improved, people’s defenses came down. He wined and dined Skeeter to the point of uncomfortable rumor, working his way up to that old duffer Cuffe and the board, all the while gaining info on every scandal and the intricacies of their financial structure. And then he bought the paper out from under them all, including that animagus bitch and her ever-changing feet. She was fired, along with everyone else, and Draco endeavored to create something better. Something that suited him.
He employed his peers and friends and, though the nepotism was rife, it served a purpose, which was his. Everyone was capable and culpable. Truth and accountability was the byline of The Prophet and the authorities feared it. That was what the press ought to be.
In the midst of it all there was Granger, struggling in her entry-level Ministry job and getting nowhere in her efforts to improve conditions for magical creatures. She would complain to him at society functions, having decided in her infuriatingly artless way (and based on a tenuous civility at Hogwarts) that they must be actual friends. Still, given she was a bottomless source of Ministry gossip, he would always seek her out. He had seen her miserable beside Weasel and later miserable alone and he offered her an ear as he formulated his plan. Opportunity was his greatest trick; he had become an alchemist for failure, could transfigure any disaster into success.
“Work for me,” he told Granger and put in her resignation howler to her department head before she had even said yes.
She joined his staff as an investigative reporter, taking to the role like the most incessantly tenacious duck to water, and she became the best he had. The readership could not get enough of the Golden Girl and her in-depth exposures of grave mistreatment and injustices to house-elf, werewolf, kelpie and centaur alike. She was the voice for the downtrodden, achieving more on the outside pissing into the tent than she ever did on the inside still pissing in. (“You really don’t know how to take a piss at all,” Draco had said, which she hated and thus gave him the greatest pleasure.)
Together they were unstoppable, formidable and on the verge of killing each other on a daily basis. The whole office trembled in the wake of their fights and he lived for her angrily storming through his door just to see how far he could push her and how she’d push him right back. It didn’t make for the healthiest work environment but, since Draco owned the place, he could care less. His friends all saw it as something more: Blaise begged them to fuck, Theo started a betting pool for who would cave first and Pansy demanded an exclusive as soon as the ceremony was announced.
His friends all sucked. They were wed within a year.
Hannah Longbottom ran out from behind the bar to greet them, practically lifting Hermione off her feet in a hug.
“Look at you, it’s been so long.”
“It has. Good to see you, Hannah. How’s Neville?”
“Same as always: boring,” Draco said. “Abbott, be a love and get us the usual table.”
Hannah only smiled as she took Draco’s arm and led them to their favorite corner booth in The Leaky Cauldron. It had been the spot for their first date and many after and where Draco proposed and where they discussed and argued over stories every lunch from when they first worked together right up to their divorce.
“Sentimental,” Hermione murmured as Draco stepped in front of Charlie and slid onto the bench beside her.
“I can’t help but be nostalgic. You know this is where Granger wore me down and forced me to marry her. Only seems right you start your sentence—”
“Sentence?” she said.
“Term. Punishment. Take your pick.”
“I’m rather looking forward to it,” Charlie said, left with no option but to take the opposite seat.
“You Weasleys are so delightfully uncomplicated.” Draco lit a cigarette with the tip of his wand, a habit she had barely tolerated over the years, while partaking in one that she did not approve of in the least: he ordered for them all. Steak cooked rare and fire-whisky for him, Niçoise salad and a Butterbeer for Hermione and exactly the same for Charlie as well. “Granger thrives on being unchallenged and ruling the roost,” he explained. “Think you can handle her autocratic nature? Alas, I couldn’t.”
“What tosh!” she said, shrugging off the arm he had slung around her shoulders.
Charlie smiled. He was incapable of being jealous and never questioned what she felt. “I think I can handle whatever Hermione wants.”
“You’re a lucky girl.” Draco held up his glass. “To acquiescence and appeasement. May you make a happily uncontentious couple.”
“Don’t sound so bitter.”
“Ha! So tell me, what’s in Romania for an overachieving busybody to do?”
“I work at a dragon sanctuary,” Charlie said. “Hermione’s keen to get involved.”
“Taming dragons, ay?” Draco’s eyes glanced to the side and he let slip a subtly devilish smirk. “She’s not had much success so far.”
Hermione did not rise to the bait so much as set the trap on fire. “In Romania, the hopeless cases get put down so you can see why I was tempted.”
Draco’s hand squeezed her thigh beneath the table. “I’m sure she won’t get bored.”
“Or annoyed,” she added, forcefully prying his fingers off.
“Oh Draco, there’s an urgent owl for you.” Hannah handed over a scroll, which Draco scanned with the burning cigarette still hanging from his mouth.
“Can you believe it? The bugger!” He scrunched the paper up and set it aflame with his wand. “That gallivanting dandy Nott’s come down with the mumblemumps and I’ve no one to cover the elf execution tonight. Well, there’s nothing to be done.”
“Elf execution?” Hermione dropped her fork.
“You’ve not been following the news? Tut tut, Granger.”
“I’ve been out of the country—”
“And as soon as you left, nefarious machinations were afoot. Listen closely, Weasley, and I’ll give you the lowdown.” Draco leaned across the table and gestured at Hermione with his thumb. “Granger here got house-elves legally recognized as having the same rights as wizards and witches and the like. All well and good until one silly little soul Avada’d their former master. Now he’s facing the Dementor’s kiss under the same laws as everybody else. Not taking into account an elf’s innate nature, of course; they don’t murder unless someone tells them to. What say you, Granger? Equal rights for all come to bite you in that delectable arse?”
“Where is he?!” She stood up. “I’m sorry, Charlie. I’ve got to see this through. You can sort the Portkey out, can’t you? Do you have the money?”
“Good, good,” Draco said. “I’ll put the poor man straight. You go and do what you do best. Raise hell!”
“Play nice!” she said as she shrugged on her coat.
Draco grinned, crushing his cigarette out in the ashtray. “If I’d have done that, you’d never have married me in the first place.”
“So who’s the mark?” Blaise said, peering through the blinds in Draco’s office.
“Tall, red and earnest.” Draco did not looking up from his parchment as he spoke. “Is Panse giving him the old one-two again?”
“She’s practically an accessory the way she’s draped over him.”
“So what d’you need me to do?”
“Do what you do best, Zabini.”
Blaise saluted. “Aye aye, captain.”
“Brings a tear to the eye.”
“If you had tear ducts.”
“I’ve read it’s something those lesser non-Slytherin creatures are born with. Fascinating stuff.” Draco put down his quill and gestured to the door. “Send the next victim in.”
Charlie entered and took a seat on the other side of Draco’s desk. At that moment the office floo came to life and Theo Nott’s untimely face appeared.
“Why the flying fuck does everybody think I have—?”
Draco stuck his leg out and kicked him back in.
“Wrong fireplace. Happens all the time. So what can I do you for?”
“What’s the fastest way to acquire an international Portkey?” Charlie said.
“Good question. My associate here, Signor Zabini, will help arrange it for you. You should know it’s extremely short notice and the Ministry has tightened restrictions. That waste of space head of the IMC, what’s his name again?”
“Percy Weasley,” Blaise provided.
“No relation I’m sure.”
“Zabini’s your man,” Draco said, sticking two figurative fingers up to the fucking obvious. “He knows his way around, down and under that place. For the right fee.”
“How much do you have?”
“Hermione said it would cost one hundred galleons.”
“One hundred? That knut-pinching harridan. And she bled me dry as well. Tell you what. I’ll give you a loan.” Draco reached down into a drawer, coming up with a thin slab of gold. “This bullion is good for at least five thousand. Take it to Gringotts and mention my name then grease the palm of every Ministry drone that blocks your way. Blaise here will take care of the rest.”
“Are you sure this is legal?”
“Not exactly,” Blaise said, showing Charlie to the door, “but it’s definitely legit.” He gave a final salute before departing.
“Granger, Granger,” Draco lamented once he was alone. “What has become of you? Oh, Millie!”
A small elf appeared with a pop atop his desk; she wore a green eyeshade and a tailored tweed dress. “What is it, Master Draco?”
“The Mistress has returned.”
“Mistress Hermione Granger-Malfoy?!”
Draco cringed at the ridiculous double barrel title as much as the squeaking tone. The surname situation had certainly been a longstanding point of contention, his argument being that Hermione Malfoy was shorter and saved on ink, his ex-wife’s counter taking the stance that he was an old-fashioned chauvinistic pig. Guilty as charged, it had left him with the uneconomical and mouth-twisting compromise.
“Where is she?” Millie said.
“Sniffing out the next big story. Did you run that reconnaissance I asked?”
Millie might have been Hermione’s PA but she was one of his longest serving house-elves and also his greatest intelligence-gathering asset.
“You’re an angel.”
“Anything to get my mistress back.”
He patted her big drooping ears and handed the parchment over. “Take this to the Goblin still waiting outside, follow him to Gringotts and report back.”
She disappeared with another pop. Draco leaned back in his seat, ignoring the sounds of coughing coming from behind him.
“Just what are you planning, Malfoy?” Theo said, his head re-emerging through a cloud of soot.
“Nott, good to hear you got over that bout of mumblemumps so quickly. Still, until I’m sure you’re not contagious, I’m keeping you off the job.”
“Still trying to win her back?”
“I need her. Last quarter’s numbers were abysmal.”
“You’ll have to try harder to fool me. You’re never getting over—”
Draco tossed in a handful of floo powder; “Begone Nott,” he said. The fireplace sparked and the smoke dispersed. Alone once more, he twisted the band concealed on his left ring finger, “There isn’t a man who could.”