A/N: Quarantine has led to this. Forgive me. Probably a couple more chapters to come. <3
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.”
A/N: Hope everyone is safe and well and enduring the lockdown, wherever you may be in the world. I apologize for this not being one of my best efforts but writing it gave me some much needed distraction and I hope that reading it will do the same for you. There’s still a final part to come and hopefully it will redeem this disappointing second act. Think Avengers: Age of Ultron rather than The Godfather Part II and your expectations should be suitably adjusted lol.
Cormac McLaggen and Ron Weasley jumped up from their Wizard’s Chess game at the front desk of the Ministry dungeons, their bodies and voices both rising simultaneously. Hermione folded her arms and leaned one hip against the doorway.
“Busy on the job, I see,” she said.
“How’s Charlie?” Ron was doing that awkward scratch of the back of his head that she had never found endearing.
“You left him alone with the ferret?”
“It’s only right that the ex and future husband get to meet. And I live to torture him.”
“Who?” McLaggen said. “Don’t tell me you’re off the market already?”
Hermione stepped forward and held out her left hand. “Engaged again for all my sins. Now let me in. I’m here to see the prisoner.”
“No can do, ‘Mione” Ron said. “Ministry orders. He’s in isolation until the Dementor’s kiss.”
“Quarter to seven.”
“Right before the Wizengamot sit.” The current Head of the Ministry for Magical Law Enforcement was having his term renewed by the Wizengamot that night and the first successful punishment of a convicted magical creature under new legislation would guarantee him the votes to win. Hermione had learned all this in the hour she had spent trawling through the archives and speaking with her contacts at the Auror Office (namely Harry). Now she just needed a way in. “If you don’t let me see him, I’m writing an in-depth investigation on lax work attitudes by aurors, I’m naming names and Ron? I’m telling your wife about that secretary I saw you flirting with from Games and Sports. Cormac, don’t cooperate and I’ll tell Draco about that time you tried to kiss me at the Ministry Christmas party. Does that seem fair?”
“Open the door, Weasley!” McLaggen begged, suitably terrified of Draco and his now wholly earned reputation.
“Malfoy’s really rubbed off on you,” Ron muttered as he unlocked the door to the cell.
“On the contrary, I’ve always been this devious.” Draco had said it was one of her most attractive qualities.
She entered the cell to find a bedraggled house-elf. He looked up from his spartan cot, one small foot hanging off the edge with a magic-suppressing shackle thick and heavy around his ankle.
“You Abner?” Hermione asked, and the elf silently nodded. “My name’s Hermione Granger-Malf… Hermione Granger. I work for The Daily Prophet and I’m here to help you. Can you tell me what happened?”
She crouched down to the elf’s eye-level. His condition was poor. There were old bruises on a cheek and his upper arms. He smelled unwashed and appeared malnourished.
“Who did this to you?” she said.
The elf started violently sobbing and it took several moments of consoling and resisting the urge to shake him by his tiny shoulders until he was composed enough to speak with any sense.
“Master Fawley! Master Fawley!”
“Master Fawley what?” Hermione quickly transfigured an earring into a handkerchief and dabbed at the wretched creature’s eyes. “What about him? Did he hurt you?”
“I miss him!” The elf descended into more crying. Hermione gave up on her awkward crouching and ended up crosslegged on the filthy floor.
“There, there. This just won’t do. You’re going to be killed tonight because they think you killed him. Is that any good? To be the first of your kind punished for such wrongdoing?”
“But I’s did! I’s killed him!”
“Not on your own and not without a reason to. Tell me and I’ll make sure the world knows your story. I’ll stand before the Wizengamot myself.”
“He told me.”
“He asked you to kill him?”
“Master Fawley got sick. I’s cared for him as best I could. Sixty-two years I served as the Fawley’s head house-elf. Master was proud and good. Ever since he was a babe he’d been so kind to poor old Abner, yes. But he couldn’t stands being sick. Nothing I’s could do. And he turned away all healers. Hated to be weak but he was brave, so brave!”
“A mercy killing then?”
“Mercy? No! There’s been no mercy for me. Only the peace I’s see on my Master’s face. Abner, he’s said. Abner, yous do the greatest service to me. And he placed his wand in my hand! You’s is free; you’s is free if you’s just do this. Takes away my pain with just a thought. Make it go. And so’s I did.”
“Oh, you poor thing. You’ve been so loyal. You mustn’t beat yourself up.”
“But I’s did! I’s must!” Abner started pinching his arm, drawing a fresh bruise beneath the paper-thin skin. “This is hows I’s know. How’s I’s remember what I’s did.”
“Stop it! Stop that at once!” She grabbed his frail limbs and held them still. “It’s not going to be easy. That curse you used is an Unforgivable and that means that the Ministry won’t forgive. How terrible. How awful to know that conniving Draco was right. The laws of nature, you see? You house-elves are such subservient creatures, loyal and good, and it could be your undoing. When we set you free and let you been seen as equal to us, we forgot that it doesn’t mean that you’re the same. I’ve done you a disservice, horribly, truly. Do you forgive me?”
“Miss, what’s is you talking about?”
“In the Muggle world there’s such a thing as Diminished Responsibility. You cannot be held accountable for what you did when what you did is what you always do: obey your Master.”
“Mistress is wise.”
“Mistress is a fool.”
“Do the Muggles serve Masters too?”
“Some Muggles did and they were Muggles as well. We called them slaves and it was a terribly cruel and barbaric thing. That’s why I can’t abide what happened to you, you and all your kind. But does it hurt you to serve if you still want to? If you are treated with kindness and care?”
“It is my life.”
“Mine too. Not to serve but to… oh dear.” Hermione stood. “I’ve stayed too long and thought too much.” She brushed off her skirt. “Stay strong. Stay here.”
“What is Mistress going to do?”
“What I was always meant to do, Abner. I’m going to save you.”
In the crudest Muggle terms, it might have been said that Hermione had something of a hero complex.
She never saw it like that, just knew deep in her heart what was wrong and what was right and if others didn’t see it? Well, then it was her job to educate them. Draco dubbed her the patron saint of meddling and her causes all unsuspecting victims, with him being the first poor sap; for wasn’t that when everything had started?
After the war, she had wanted to save him. He was a silly boy led by the curse of his blood. Innate nature just like a house-elf, he thought only of superiority by birth. He did not deserve to rot in prison for the sins of his father and however many more generations such ideals went back. So she made her point and desperate plea and argued for close to an hour while the lanky blond sneered from the accused’s bench.
After that he would barely look at her.
She tried to talk with him on their return to Hogwarts, engage in class, converse on prefect patrol, but he was cold and aloof, like an ice-carved statue. Something changed during that year and he grew tall and strong and ever distant from the rest of the world. Taunts bounced off him like a shielding spell. He read the paper every morning in the Great Hall at breakfast, a moving image of his face staring from beneath the latest headline of his failures. He opened Howlers without discrimination and silently dared anyone else in the room to speak as the audible vitriol flowed. He was intimidating in his indifference, right down to how he surveyed her. He told her once—and with an infuriatingly unreadable smirk—that she was out of her mind but didn’t expand any further. It drove her rather mad wondering what could be wrong in doing good, but surely only a disgraced Slytherin would feel that way about it.
It might have surprised her when he left school (and only second in the year to her) to go on and pursue a career in journalism. There was no special treatment, other than his continued demonization by the press. He started from the bottom, just like she chose to with her Ministry position. Though his reported dalliance with Skeeter made her uneasy for reasons that she never delved into, it all made a strange and typically serpentine sense when he was announced as the new owner of the source of all his torment.
At the same time she was struggling as her dream job turned into a nightmare. Bureaucracy combined with a widespread ignorance and the worst crime of all—bone-idleness in her colleagues—conspired to undo the essential work she had given her life to. Ron hated it, but then Ron hated a good many things that required any effort. To be without an ally, no one who saw or understood, left her feeling quite alone in the world and as powerless as those who she thought she should be helping.
“Maybe you’re the one in need of rescue,” Draco had observed, his first words after she had drunkenly unloaded all her worries at another painful Ministry function. She could never quite be sure but it seemed that he gravitated towards her, still not saying much but offering her an ear. Even if he didn’t mean to, she would still have talked to him. Her heroic input at his trial meant that they were connected now, not quite friends but no longer enemies. She would not think of him or any others like him so unfairly, despite a good number of her peers still doing so. And, ultimately, she had no one else who would listen.
Their sporadic tête-à-têtes sparked the demise of her sorry relationship with Ron. He was pathetically jealous and unhappy with his lot and took zero interest in the reasons that she might be just as unhappy with hers. Not that she was any happier after the separation. Work at the Ministry continued to destroy all the hopes that she had. Her friends had moved on with their lives and their own less lofty ambitions. There was only Draco, her loyal confidante and, most unexpectedly, her savior.
Draco was making his mark in the world while Hermione was drowning. He offered her a job like a lifebuoy and she grabbed on with both hands. The Ministry seemed glad to see her gone; her resignation was accepted before she’d even submitted the letter. That was their mistake and the beginning of her salvation. On the outside, she could see the whole forest and shame the very worst trees. She didn’t like the tent and pissing analogy Draco was so obscenely fond of, but then, in his new role as her boss, she really didn’t like him.
They argued more than she had argued with another person before. He challenged her on every story, made her question her motives and double-check all her sources. He was exacting and relentless and harsh, and she thrived under his uncompromising guidance. She felt alive in her anger; the magic soared in her blood. No one else was smarter or worked harder or understood the world as she saw it. He was beautiful and remote and he called to her; she wanted him so badly. Though they fought, she fell in love. She might have been falling a lot sooner but there was no way she would ever admit to it out loud. Despite how they had mutually saved each other, he only saw her as a means to his ends.
Even that first time he kissed her to shut her up and took her spread out over his desk, he assured her that it still meant nothing. Same as when he got her off beneath what had become their unofficial table at The Leaky Cauldron. And when he won the office sweepstake on how long it took for him to ask her out, it was supposedly all for the joy of gambling.
At the time he proposed, he said they were stronger together and she was better off permanently under his wing. Even on the day of their wedding—though he held her hands like they were spun from glass and stared into her eyes with a startling reverence; as he made an eternal promise that he would always take care of her while a drop of his pureblood mixed with her muddy own—she felt a certain distance.
Married life didn’t close the gap. Stupidly smart but still stuck in his pureblood ways, he was an infuriating contradiction of brazen and conservative. He never called her by her first name; she was Granger like it was the only name that she owned. Yet it belonged to him now and he forced her to change it. At work, he wanted her out in the field, even at a potential risk to her life. Children were off the table, not forever, but the time wasn’t right. He bought them an apartment off Diagon Alley because it was closer to work. Never mind that she could not abide being Lady of the Manor; her traumatic memories didn’t scare him, but the circulation numbers did. He was singularly obsessed and disturbingly determined. If he had put these skills to use during his Death Eater days, she wasn’t sure that the war would have still gone their way.
He didn’t hold open doors or pull out chairs for her. He appeared unmoved by her wardrobe change following Pansy’s interventions. In all the ways and on most days on that pressroom floor, she was Hermione Granger-Malfoy, The Prophet’s ace reporter and one of the boys. She, who had given up all she had for the paper and to be his wife, yet he remained Draco Malfoy, editor-in-chief first and husband second. She could not just be his employee; there had to be something more. Do you love me? she wondered, and even as he resisted their divorce and fought her at every turn, on every corner, she still wasn’t sure.
Who was she to him? The Golden Goose Girl or one half of his soul? He’d become everything to her and letting him go was the hardest thing she’d ever done. Still, it was just as she told him at their final divorce hearing:
It was time that Hermione Granger learned to save herself.
“Millie, have you seen this?”
Draco looked up from the special parchment, charmed to display whatever Hermione would write in the field (and of her own creation). It was why they had always gotten her articles to press on the very same day. She had cast the distinctive spell from the Ministry dungeons just like in the good ole days, and now he was pouring over copy in her usual impassioned and persuasive prose.
“Granger’s done it again,” he said, swinging his long legs down from his desk.
He stood and handed the parchment over to the excited house-elf bouncing at his heels before pacing his office floor; it was the best method he found to organize his thoughts. Conjuring a cigar from his humidor, he clicked his fingers and lit it with a wandless flame. The smell and the movement took him back to his favorite days. They were all hers; from the moment she came into his employ until she walked out of his life. Nothing stirred him like his ex-wife at the height of her powers.
“It’s good, right?” he said, glancing down at the strangely quiet Millie. “Why, I’d say it’s some of her—”
“Sir.” The elf held up the paper; the black ink on its white surface was rapidly fading away. “Something’s wrong.”
He snatched it back. Her words had now bled out into nothing. “What the—?”
“Draco!” The diminutive lioness roared from the floo. “Tell me why Charlie’s been arrested at Gringotts or you’ll never see another word I’ve written ever again!”
Draco sighed. “Alas, the cigar was premature. Millie, please give the Mistress and me a moment.”
He lifted Millie by her scruff before she could hug Hermione to death. “Remember the mission,” he whispered and the elf gave a solemn nod.
“I won’t let you down.”
With a pop she was gone and Draco turned to offer Hermione his hand. She refused, crawling ungracefully from the fireplace and brushing off the soot from her mane.
“I’m going to kill you,” she said, wand aimed right beneath his chin. “And I think the courts would thank me for it.”
“You got the story from Abner then?”
“And the news from Harry. He said Charlie’s been detained for having a counterfeit bullion.”
“A fraudster? Oh dear. You can never be too careful—”
Her wand tip began to dig into his skin. “You did this, Draco. You’re trying to ruin my life again.”
“I wasn’t aware it had already been ruined.”
“No, you wouldn’t, would you?” Her arm dropped and she let out a pathetic sound that might have been a whimper.
“You’re not going to cry, are you, Granger?”
“I’m going to scream!” She beat her hands against his chest. “How could you? How can you keep doing this?”
He took hold of her wrists to keep her still, and if it meant he dragged her body almost flush to the length of his then so be it. “What do you think I’m doing?” he said, his eyes gazing down on her.
“I don’t know. I don’t understand. You want to keep me here but you don’t want to keep me. You want to drive Charlie away but you don’t want me back.”
“Not me; I meant you.”
She looked up at him, blinking. There was a shine to her eyes that threatened to spill in a sad little cascade and he couldn’t have that. He was tired of being blamed for making her life so bloody miserable.
“I should be the one crying,” he said. “You were the one who left me.”
“You gave me no choice.”
“All you ever had were choices. Have you ever stopped to consider that you’re just bad at making them?”
“I married you, didn’t I?”
“Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Still, you only managed once—”
“Why didn’t you fight for me?!”
Tears fell as she struggled and he spun them around, pushing her back with his whole body until she collided with his desk. “You don’t know what I did,” he said.
“You wouldn’t say.”
“Actions, Granger.” She was pinned flat beneath him now. Her breasts rose and fell, straining beneath her flimsy blouse and the lace of her bra, all in forest green to taunt him. As if he was the only one who didn’t play fair; she’d been teasing him all day. Those heels were as good as an open invitation.
“Your actions are all stupid,” she breathed.
He leaned down to kiss her. “I know.”
Their heads collided as she tried to sit up and his lips missed their mark. A pain throbbed in his nose; there was blood dripping onto his shirt and sparks in his vision. “Charlie?” She shoved him away, ignoring his close to life-threatening injuries. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine—oof!” Hermione lodged her elbow beneath his ribs. Draco bent over double as she bent down before the floo.
“What happened?” she said.
The smoke-obscured visage of the Weasley’s face appeared. “They’re keeping me in the Gringotts vaults. Ron got in contact; said you’d be here.”
“I…” Hermione glanced back in time to watch him perform an Episkey on himself. “I came to ask for Draco’s help,” she said, turning back to the fireplace. “I’ll get you out; I promise.”
“What about the house-elf?” Draco pulled out his pocket watch and tutted. “It’s already almost five.
“I…” Hermione started looking between the two men. It would be funny if it wasn’t entirely maddening. There was a reason he had always treated her with a firm hand.
“Draco gave me that bullion,” Charlie said. “I’m sure he didn’t realize it was a fake; if he could just explain.”
Draco was going to kick Weasel the elder in his condescending ginger face.
“I’m coming,” she promised.
It should have been for him, on his desk, by his hand, with him inside her—
“Please just wait where you are.” The floo dissolved from green flame to inert ash. Hermione slumped, head in her hands, her shoulders shaking. “What am I going to do?” she cried.
Draco began to brush off the incongruous amount of dust that clung to her backside. “I’m here. What’s the worry?”
“That’s the bloody problem! You’d have me cheat—” she fought him off again. “You don’t get to have me, alright! I’m not yours. I’m not a person who does that.”
“You don’t love him, Granger.”
“And what would you know about it?”
Draco tugged on a loose curl before tucking it carefully behind her ear. “When this is all over, I’ll tell you.”
“It’s too late.”
“There’s still two hours before the Dementor’s kiss.”
She took her wand and cleaned the blood from his shirt and face. Her small hand rose to cup his cheek and she smiled at him with a warm fondness he had forgotten. “I think I know what that must feel like.”
“What happened to trying to save the world?”
“There are just too many who need saving,” she said, “and Charlie needs me now, thanks to you. This is all on your head.” She removed herself from his reach and stormed to the door. “I’m done. You have to let me go for good this time.” There was the strangest sense of déjà vu as she crossed the threshold to claim the final word: “Find yourself another poor sap who’s willing to shill for your paper.”
The two inept aurors cried out in unison, jumping up from their Wizarding Chess game. Draco leaned against the doorframe, twirling his wand in one hand and lifting a cigarette to his mouth with the other.
“I heard my wife paid you a visit,” he said.
“Ex-wife,” McLaggen said.
“Far as I know we were married when you tried to kiss her beneath the mistletoe.” Draco smiled as McLaggen paled. “Ever wonder why you’ve never been promoted beyond dungeon duty?”
“Is that why I haven’t either?” Ron said.
“Don’t be daft. That’s all down to your own subpar merits.” Stubbing out his cigarette in the middle of the chessboard, Draco held out both his palms. “Now all our cards are on the table, how about a renegotiation?”
“What are you talking about?” McLaggen puffed out his chest but his brow was sweating. “Since when was there a deal?”
“Are either of you fans of the current MLE Minister?”
Ron rubbed the back of his neck, causing his hair to stick up in a way that was unpleasant. “Not really,” he confessed.
“Is he the one who withheld our promotions?”
“McLaggen, you’re surprisingly smarter than you look.” Draco pointed with a thumb to the locked cell door behind him. “Now what would you say if I told you that house-elf’s pardon could be paid for?”
“You mean a bribe?” McLaggen said.
“Not so loud.” Draco beckoned with a finger as he reset the chessboard to how he wanted. “Listen closely and I’ll let you in on Granger’s plan.”
He grinned. “That’s the fun part. She doesn’t know a thing about it yet. But here’s the gist: it’s a little scheme I’ve concocted called save the house-elf, save the girl. Love and justice win the day, your incompetence gets ignored and I once again rescue Granger from her mortal enemy.”
“Who?” Ron said. “Is ‘Mione in danger?”
“No more than usual.” He picked up the White Queen, the animated piece trying to smack him with her crown. “She just needs saving from herself.”
A/N: Now after the catharsis, comes the fluff. This one gave me a lot of joy; hope it does the same for y’all. <3
Gaining admission to Gringotts proved somewhat more difficult than Hermione had expected. She was barred at the entrance since no one with her name had a vault—no one with the name Granger and no one with the name Granger-Malfoy.
Draco had ensured it that way.
“Try Hermione Malfoy,” she said and the fastidious goblin behind the reception desk perked up.
“Malfoy? Why didn’t you say?”
“I already did—never mind.” Unorthodox double-barrel reclamations held no water in the sexist cesspool of pureblood money and its archaic banking ways.
“A drop of your blood, Madam.”
“It’s Ms.” Hermione held out her left hand for the pinprick to be made. “Where’s your prisoner? Charlie Weasley?”
“The one that tried to thieve from your husband, Madam Ms?”
“Ex-husband—oh forget it! Lead the way.”
Her heart still thrummed, its furnace stoked by a guilty conscience and the fuel of Draco’s hands upon her. He had been so close to kissing her like he’d done that first time and she’d wanted him to; to take and to keep on taking. Harlot! She was ashamed and aroused at what they had almost done. If Charlie hadn’t broken the spell and returned her to her senses, they would have; her blouse and her skirt would be in ruin, her knickers vanished away, and she would have come from all the ways that he’d touched her. No one else could; nobody knew the silent depths of her depravation. Only Draco had dug and uncovered it like some archeologist of lust. He was profane in his proficiency when it came to her body.
“You always wanted it. I know. Wound so tightly like a top; I’ll pull your string and you’ll go.”
Those were his words as he had staked his initial (and she feared eternal) claim. And he was not wrong. The fire was burning in her blood; her ribs were melting from the heat inside her chest. It did not go away, only grew when he touched or he looked, yet he could not tell her the truth.
“When this is all over, I’ll tell you.”
Tell me what? she thought. That you’re a selfish, conniving, possessive prick? What a surprise. Try harder, darling. Tell me something I don’t already know.
As they descended deep into the vaults and deeper still to a special dungeon she had never seen, her faithless thoughts were interrupted by a growing echo of voices.
“Trouble afoot,” the goblin said.
“When is it not?” Hermione overtook the shorter creature and rounded a corner to see. Trouble had been her childhood and she’d made a career of it later. She was a talisman for danger and hence the best story, according to Draco, who relished the returns when it came to her peril.
And now the danger was greater than most.
“Release my son at once!”
The stout woman stood in a herd of goblins and wizards, the latter all aurors, though none Hermione knew. Charlie was just visible between the iron bars of a cell, his wonderfully big hands hanging through the gaps in a tired dejection.
“Charlie!” Hermione called and he smiled and waved and the fire was doused in a moment.
“Mistress Hermione Granger-Malfoy! Oh my goodness, is it really you?”
Her arrival was made official by her dear assistant Millie, who had saved her from danger more times than any other creature—before, during or after the war.
“Am so glad you’re here!” The elf wrapped her tiny arms around Hermione’s calves, her disproportioned face gazing up adoringly. “I missed you! I missed you so much!”
“I missed you too, dearest Millie. Now tell me what that dastardly ex of mine’s been up to. I know you will.”
“Master Draco loves Mistress Hermione Granger-Malf—”
“No need for the full name please. And don’t tell lies. A good journalist lives off the truth.”
“Hermione, please make these goblins see sense!” Molly had her by the arm and was dragging her to the throng; she nearly tripped over in her heels, since Millie was still clinging. “My Charlie never stole a thing!”
“Fraud,” said the goblin who appeared to be in charge, at least by his clothes and the ornateness of his glasses; Hermione was certain she had seen him before. “Forgery. Cursed artifacts trying to be passed off as currency.”
“Slow down,” Hermione said. “So it was a set up? Zabini!” She pulled out her wand and cast a Jelly-Legs curse. The tall wizard went down like a washed up octopus, barely making it to the hallway in his attempt to escape. “Talk. And fast. And in English to boot.”
“But you know Italian, tesoro,” he said.
Hermione nudged him onto his back and pinned him with a stiletto to the chest. “I’ll send you back to Draco as a poorly made leather bag. You know how he hates shoddy workmanship.”
“You’re fucking hot when you get like this.”
“Keep flirting; it’s not helping your case.”
She reversed the hex and helped him to stand. He took her by the elbow and led her to a more secluded corner.
“He did this for you,” Blaise said.
“Because. The man is nuts. You’ve made him fully mad.”
“He was the one who drove me to madness—”
“No. You don’t see. He’s not been himself since you left. He’s not been himself since he met you.”
“We were eleven.”
“Not then. Since he really knew you. Ever since the trial.”
“I don’t see—”
“You got too close.”
“Stop talking in riddles!” Hermione stomped her foot. “I’m so tired. It was always like this. Playing games. Always guessing. Never saying what he thought. Just help me to release Charlie.”
Blaise took her hand and kissed it. “If that’s what you really want.”
They returned to the crowd and he ingratiated himself with Molly Weasley. Hermione went to the bars. She let Charlie take her left hand, his thumb brushing over her ring, and she remembered Draco doing the same. She remembered his long elegant fingers gently handling her own as he slipped the weighty heirloom upon it.
“It was a mistake,” Charlie said. “I’m sorry. We can still get the Portkey—”
“Hush. It doesn’t matter. We’ll sort this out, you’ll see. We’ll be gone before midnight and we’ll be wed by tomorrow.”
“I can’t wait to marry you.”
His guileless stare made her stomach churn; couldn’t he see what a cheating whore she was? It had been such a balm in those early days; the simplicity of his wants. He had pursued her like a proper courtship. He was handsome and strong, and the sex was good. It was easy. Soft and comfortable. No arguments. No extremes. Nothing to push her to a place she had never been. She was tired of being challenged, of being teased, of being unsure. She was tired of the stretch of her feelings, like an ocean vast and deep, which Draco had filled the volume of.
“Me too,” she said and leaned through the bars to kiss him. It didn’t feel like Draco; nothing did and that was good and it was right.
“You’re going?” Millie said, tugging on her ankle again. “But you just came back to save that poor elf. You wouldn’t let one of us die, would you, Mistress Hermione Granger-Malfoy? Not the Dementor’s kiss!”
“What time is it?”
Millie produced a pocket-watch that looked mysteriously like Draco’s. “Just after a quarter past six.”
“There’s only half an hour!” Hermione looked at Charlie. “I’m coming back; I promise. You wait there. This is important.”
“I have to see this through!” It was a mantra that she lived by and had mostly succeeded at until the failure of her marriage.
“You’re not coming back,” Charlie said.
“If you go, he’ll get his claws in you.”
“I can handle dragons; you taught me that. And I don’t need ultimatums, just time. A couple more hours.” She was leaving him now. “I know you can wait for me.”
His smile turned sad as he waved her goodbye.
“Explain again.” Potter dislodged his glasses askew while squeezing the bridge of his nose. His dark curly hair had turned to salt and pepper. That was what three kids and leading a bunch of clowns did to a man, Draco supposed.
“As you can see,” Draco gestured to the cell, “the elf overpowered your two good men, having picked the lock of his shackles with this,” he held up an earring, “the property of one Hermione Malfoy née Granger. Seems that orders were not entirely followed due to her malign influence.”
“‘M sorry, Harry,” Ron mumbled from behind the bars. McLaggen looked too embarrassed to talk.
“And you were witness to the escape?” Potter asked.
“Why, I could barely see. I was cowering for my life.”
“And why were you here?”
“To offer my apologies for my wife’s malfeasance.”
“A watertight story,” Potter said.
“It’s not like I make a living off of leaks.”
Draco straightened his cuffs then patted the shorter man on the shoulder. “You take things from here. I’m off to see how the Wizengamot are handling this. Nothing sadder than a Dementor without a soul to kiss.”
He strolled out the Ministry dungeons as he heard Potter’s yelling begin. He tossed Hermione’s earring up like a lucky coin, catching it in his palm and pocketing it. He might have even whistled if he could carry a tune. He lit a cigarette instead and made his way to the main atrium. There were crowds of people and general chaos, including an unseemly line for the public floos.
He turned to find Zabini approaching. “My good man. What’s the brew?”
Zabini looked somewhat sheepish for a snake in the grass, never a good sign. “I might have lost a Weasley.”
“Make it a good one.”
“How does the matriarch sound?”
“Like a blood clot waiting to clog up my coronaries. I’m too young and too healthy for a heart attack yet.” He stubbed his cigarette out and disappeared it with his wand. “Be a sweetheart and clear me a path to the nearest floo. I need to call the office.”
Blaise did what he did best like the failure had not occurred, a series of unnoticeable hexes being cast until people moved aside and Draco could jump the queue.
“Scram,” he said to a whiskered crone who was struggling to reach the floo powder bowl. He threw a handful of dust into the fireplace and poked his head through. “Greetings, Panse.”
“Draco, darling.” The fashion editor had her delightful gams propped up on his desk while filing her nails. “I was just holding the fort. Nott’s been a dreadful bother.”
“If the two of you fucked on my desk, I expect an exclusive for the gossip column.”
“As if he’s anything to write about. What can I do you for?”
“Has Granger made any contact? Or an enraged flame-haired dowdy old witch trying to burn us to the ground?”
“Nothing so fun. It’s been so boring without you.”
“Have them hold the front page.”
“It’s not been written yet.”
“I know. I’m working on a lead. That nefarious little Abner’s escaped and the Ministry’s up in arms. Tell Bones the Politics Desk is an MLE auditor from now until I say it isn’t. No Chosen One front is going to cover up this mess. And since I’m feeling verbose, I’ll pen that editorial on the Minister myself.”
“When do you ever not feel verbose?”
“It takes a special sort to shut me up, as you know.”
Pansy studied her fingertips like they were diamonds of undetermined carats. “I hope this all works out for you, Draco. Divorce never was your thing.”
“Let’s not make this personal. The timing’s all off.”
“Let me know when it isn’t.”
“Panse, my girl, you know you’re first on the list of people I’d never tell.” He blew her a kiss as she flipped him a french polished finger. “Parkinson and Nott have been rutting again,” he said, straightening up and brushing the soot from his robes.
Blaise gave a wry smirk. “I thought he had the mumblemumps.”
“Probably caught it from Panse.”
They shoved their way back through the crowded atrium, making a beeline for the lifts. As they waited for the doors to open, Millie appeared at Draco’s feet.
“Mistress Hermione!” she cried. “I’ve lost her!”
“Seems to be something catching, wouldn’t you say, Zabini?”
Blaise shrugged innocently.
“Where’d she go?” Draco said.
“We were leaving Gringotts about to head here when this sick old elf appeared.”
“By sick and old, do you mean Abner?”
“Yes, that’s him!” Millie slapped her sallow cheeks. “Oh no! You mean—?”
“Yes, very good.” Draco pattered her ears as she started crying. “So Granger’s gone gallivanting with a fugitive house-elf.”
“Now there’s your story,” Blaise said.
“I couldn’t have planned it better.”
They entered the lift and zigzagged their way to the second level. As they exited into the hall, various members of the council were already bustling into the main chamber.
“They still planning to re-elect the MLE Minister?” Blaise asked.
“Not if I have anything to say on the matter.” Draco handed the inconsolable Millie over to his friend. “Take care of this one. And why not see if you can’t reunite the disparate Weasley clan.”
Blaise gave a salute as the elf kept on sobbing. “Master Draco, I’m so sorry!”
“Come now, you need to stay strong.” He chucked her under her wobbly chin. “Don’t you see, Millie, my love? Everything is coming together.”
The terrified house-elf had apparated them six times all over Wizarding London by now. Hermione felt dizzy and sick from the travel.
“I need to sit down.” So she did on damp steps at the base of a door tucked down a narrow alleyway. “Talk to me please and tell me again.”
“Mister Draco said I should find you. That you’d help me, just like you promised.”
“Yes, I did. And I’m sorry I didn’t come back sooner. But going on the lam? And kidnapping me? I don’t think the Wizengamot is going to listen—”
“That’s just it, just like Mister Draco said. They woulds not listen to me. But to yous, Mistress? Why, you’s is brave and good and a hero. You’s saved all the elves just like me.”
“I’m not as good as you think. I’m no good at all.”
“What makes Mistress says that?”
Head down, she looked at her hands, held palms up. The thin band shined in the drizzly air. Her hair was taking up moisture and would be an unsalvageable mess, just like the one she was in now. Not only Abner, but the rest of the stew.
“What am I thinking?” she said. “I’m being a coward.”
“No, you’re not!”
“You’re sweet. And a little bit bonkers. Bless you, Abner. Will you go back? I’ll take you and we’ll tell them the truth. I’ll defend you, just like I promised. I won’t let the Dementors touch you.”
“Dear brave Mis—”
“There they are!” A pair of aurors rounded the corner and pointed their wands. “You’re under arrest.”
“Do as they say, Abner,” Hermione said, rising from the stoop. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“You as well, Ms. Granger,” a tall female auror said.
“What on earth for?”
The auror nodded to her shorter wizard partner, who produced a scroll and cleared his throat. “One,” he announced, “aiding and abetting the escape of a Ministry prisoner. Two: blackmail of Ministry Law Enforcement officials. Three: harboring an escaped convict. Four: obstructing the course of justice. Five: kidnapping—”
“That’s quite enough!”
“You have the right to remain silent,” the female auror began.
“I rescind it.”
“Very well.” A silencing spell was cast and Hermione had her wand taken by an overly aggressive Accio. She and Abner, now back in magic-suppressing cuffs, were led down the alley from whence they came.
“Side-along?” the male auror said and took her arm without waiting for a response. Hermione closed her eyes as they popped away and reappeared in the Auror Office. Harry was there and rushed to her aid.
“What’s this?” he demanded as Hermione swayed and was sick onto his shoes.
Oh dear, she thought as Harry released the spell and she could finally speak. “I made a mess,” was all she said, the world spinning a bit too fast and too strong. She knew what was coming as her eyes rolled back and her body gave up the effort of standing at all.
“Order, order!” The Chief Warlock slammed his gavel to little effect. The council was already arguing over what to do but no one was listening. Draco uncapped his hip flask and wordlessly toasted to the mayhem. The press gallery always had the best view.
He wondered what he looked like as he had stood trial. No one occupied the accused’s bench now. He had been young and an idiot, still mad at the world and the injustices he felt. All that privilege had counted for nothing in the grand schemes of life and death. And fairness was entirely subjective. He was guilty in the eyes of most and the proceedings were just a formality, the veneer of civility, which was the worst kind of all. True breeding was more than a performance and did not exist by the mere gift of one’s blood. Class came from some place deeper and that day he had seen it.
“I do not believe that a child should be punished for the failings of the society that nurtured them so poorly. Draco Malfoy was just as much a victim of this conflict as any Muggle-born wizard or witch, myself included.”
There had been gasps as she had spoken and, if not for his self-discipline and Occlumency walls, one of the gaspers would have been him.
Madder than a box of chocolate frogs had been his verdict on Granger at the time but it was a diversion and an excuse. Something changed in his whole outlook, more than from the sounds of her screaming on his drawing room floor or the hateful scar that his aunt left upon her. Changing the world took courage and it took seeing yourself as no better or worse than your enemies were. There were no enemies, not really, unless you tried to seek them out. And every creature was capable of failure and therefore worth defending. That was Granger’s sickness and she’d infected his blood. He would not be the Ministry’s scapegoat and he would no longer let them off the hook.
“I SAID ORDER!”
A tenuous silence took root and the MLE Minister was brought out. Draco knew him well. A half-blood career sycophant, he had glad-handed and yes-manned his way up to the top. That made him devoid of all conviction and easy to manipulate to any cause, particularly if demonstrated to be of benefit to his own. Equal rights for house-elves did not take as much persuasion as his wife had been expecting. A few expensive dinners and shallow conversations, the career opportunities that could be sought and the backing of an influential paper. Draco did not believe that upholding the truth meant adhering to a hopeless good; success required flexibility, not a stiff moral backbone. Results were what counted and so required whatever means that they took.
A longstanding point of disagreement but how he loved to argue with her like it was their foreplay (which, of course, it bloody well was).
“Minister Bartholomew Reginald Pendragon, please stand,” the Chief Warlock said.
Funny that it was the accused’s seat that those elected to office also used.
“You have adequately served your term as Minister for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and upheld your duty in such an important role. The Wizengamot had convened to vote on the re-election of you to this position. However, we find our attention diverted by the disappearance of a notable prisoner—”
“HOLD THE COURT!”
The doors burst open and a raging Potter entered, the scar on his forehead virtually glowing in rage. He had the aforementioned house-elf by the scruff as he led him in.
“The prisoner’s been apprehended,” Potter declared. His four-eyes searched the room and landed on Draco. “No thanks to him.”
Draco put away his flask. “Looks like this is my cue.” He rose from his seat and descended to the floor as the council jeered and several aurors closed in.
“Distinguished witches and wizards of the Wizengamot,” he nodded towards the speechless form of Pendragon, “and those not so distinguished,” he began, “if it may please the court, I request a precious minute of your time.”
“What is the meaning of this?” the Chief Warlock demanded.
Potter sighed. “I believe Malfoy may have had something to do with the escape of the prisoner.”
“Trying to cover for the Golden Girl? How noble.” Draco looked to the open doors as said Golden Girl stormed in.
“Draco!” Aurors stepped aside as she swiftly closed the distance. Her hand swung back and she slapped him hard. Draco tasted blood; he saw fire.
“Who the fuck is this?”
“Hermione!” At that moment Charlie Weasley appeared. He was accompanied by the somewhat disheveled visage of his mother plus a redeemed Blaise Zabini and now smiling Millie. “They told me you were arrested,” Charlie said.
Potter sighed again.
“Well…” Granger looked like a frizzy-haired deer caught in lamplights.
“Are you okay?” Charlie took her by the shoulders. “I managed to clear things up with the goblins and then Mum was needing my help. But it’s alright. I spoke to Percy and got the Portkey. We can leave as soon as you want.”
“Let’s go now,” Hermione said and took him by the hand to lead him towards the exit.
“Stop that impostor!” Draco produced his wand and shut the doors with a wordless spell. “That thing is not Granger.”
“What are you talking about?” Harry said.
“Oh Charlie, he’s trying to hurt me. I told you he’d gone mad.” The oversized Weasley had his paws around her and pulled her close.
“You better have a good explanation, Malfoy. You’ve been trying to ruin us all day.”
“Guilty as charged but that is not who I’m after.”
“Malfoy,” Potter moved closer towards him; an Expelliarmus could only be mere moments away.
Draco reached into his pocket and pulled out Hermione’s earring. “Here.” He tossed it to the now bemused Head Auror. Still Potter was an annoyingly effective Seeker and snatched it in one hand.
“That thing claiming to be Granger has two earrings on. Also, I’m fairly certain that it’s really Skeeter.”
Potter blinked as Weasley took a step away to finally scrutinize his supposed fiancée. “You mean—?”
“Polyjuice,” Draco explained. “She may be an animagus but she is of limited talent.”
The fake Hermione sneered and her form began to change. “Damn you!”
“You try and regularly fail. Don’t think I don’t know all the ways you’ve tried to sabotage my paper and endanger my star reporter.” He crossed the floor to stare down the older woman, who was already being restrained by aurors before she could turn into a beetle and fly away.
“How could you?” she spat.
Draco smiled in a way that made the repulsive Skeeter shiver. “I spent an apprenticeship learning all your tricks. But today you made a rookie mistake: don’t impersonate the one person I know better than any other. And maybe stop using that same awful perfume.”
Hermione edged her way to the entrance of the council chamber. She looked pale and still felt a little unsteady, having woken up on the couch in Harry’s office to be told that he’d already taken Abner to face the Wizengamot. She didn’t know if she was too late but, given the density of bodies currently blocking her way, proceedings surely couldn’t be over.
She was right as she gradually nudged her way towards the front. Someone was speaking and the voice she heard was unnervingly familiar, as known to her as if it were her own.
“My wife may not be here right now to defend the convicted house-elf know as Abner so I shall attempt to in her more learned stead. The elf you see before you is loyal and good. He is not a murderer but a kind and compassionate soul that followed his orders right up until the dying wish of his only Master. That is the burden and the beauty of house-elves, and we fail to honor these noble creatures if we deny who they are. No murder was committed. At a push, in the grossest Muggle terms, it could be argued as manslaughter. But the Muggles have a better term: euthanasia. Assisted dying. Don’t you see? You would kill this elf to prove that he is as flawed as we are, but all you prove is your own callousness and cruelty.
“I do not rely on my words but those that my wife had composed earlier today in an article meant to save this victim of his own circumstance from the Dementor’s kiss. But I fear there are no ears for justice here, no eyes to see the truth, no hearts open to change. My wife believes that all can change and that all are capable of good. She believed it of me as a sneering, arrogant youth brought to his knees by a war that spared no one. And in a way I could not appreciate at the time, it was then that I fell in love. That is what kindness does: begets more kindness and breeds compassion and gives life to hope.
“My wife saved me like any other magical creature, dismissed and denigrated by the world and in need of a champion. So do not punish her for helping Abner in his feeble escape. Do not punish Abner for being the very best of house-elves. And do not punish Pendragon for being an egotistical and populist fool swayed by words and even galleons of praise,” Draco produced a wad of parchments from his robes, “as these documents show. But let his trial for corruption be on another day.”
“Potter,” Pendragon cried, “do fucking something and shut this lying bastard up!”
Harry accepted the documents from Draco then turned towards his current boss. “I think your re-election might be on hold now, Bart. Let’s talk about it back in my office.” And the now erstwhile MLE Minister was taken through a side door by Harry and half a dozen other men with much resistance and continued swearing.
Draco cleared his throat and regained the room’s attention. “Forgive the interruption. If I may continue, perhaps punish Skeeter”—what had she got to do with any of this?—“for being the worst kind of gutter hack. But mostly, punish me for being madly in love with my savior and doing anything to win her back.
“In closing, I ask the court to grant Abner a stay of execution and to spare him from the Dementor’s kiss. And to drop all charges against Hermione Malfoy—”
“For the love of god, Draco, it’s still Granger!”
She pushed her way through the remaining bodies until she was fully in the room and only one body was left. The only one she could see, the only one she loved, the only one it had ever been.
He smiled when he saw her. “Eavesdropping? Really. We’re not a tabloid publication.”
“That was quite a speech,” she said.
He moved closer, sliding an arm around her waist. “Had a inkling you were listening. And as to your first point, you’re still technically Hermione Granger-Malfoy.”
“We’re still married.” He beckoned with a conductor’s hand and Millie hurried over, holding a red velvet box that she passed up to Draco. “I had this dug out from my vaults by the goblins today. Strange coincidence.” He flipped it open to reveal his heirloom ring. “But stranger still, when I had one of their specialists look into it for me, it seemed that all my suspicions were correct: that seal of ancient matrimony and protective charm formed by our blood has not actually been broken.”
“I’m going to actually kill you.”
“I’m not sure even that would work.” Draco glanced at something past her shoulder and she turned, the rest of the room finally coming back into focus. The council and still numerous aurors were all gaping from where they sat or variously stood. Quills were scratching and cameras were flashing from the floating pit of the press gallery. And Charlie was staring forlornly close by the entrance, with Molly glaring by his side and Blaise grinning (he even dared to give a triumphant thumbs-up).
“My apologies,” Draco said to Charlie. “But she was never yours.”
“I was never—”
“You still love him,” Charlie said. “Stop lying to yourself and to me.” He stepped forward and held out his hand. “You’re wearing the wrong ring.”
“I’m so sorry.” He graciously hugged her as she cried and she loved his strong arms; she would miss them but they didn’t fit. “You’re a good man—” she tried.
“I don’t want to hear it.” She slipped off the slim and simple band and dropped it into his waiting palm. “Good luck,” he said, wiping a tear from beneath her eye. “And Malfoy? If you fuck this up again, I’ll turn you into dragon food.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Draco said. He stood behind her and she did not resist as he turned her around to face him. “I did fight for you.” He took her left hand and pressed a kiss to the now naked groove on her third finger. “I know I promised an explanation when this was all over, but what’s better than reporting the news if not making it?” He took the heirloom ring and slipped it back on where it belonged. The fit was instant; the magic flowed. She felt it as she had on their wedding day, saw it in the same way that he looked at her now. “I love you,” he said. “Only you, ever you. And my promise is forever. I’ll take care of you every day that is to come as I did every day that came before it.”
“But all those times—”
“What about them?”
“It always seemed like I was only important to the story. Even when I got hurt, if not for Millie—”
“She was my eyes and ears when I couldn’t be with you. But I always knew where you were and I always kept you safe. I didn’t want you to know how much I worried; you’d have never done that incredible work that you did. But it made me a nightmare at the office. It was better that you never saw it.”
“You were always there if I got hurt.” She remembered it well—waking up in St. Mungo’s or out in the field, after any danger, after Millie had seemingly saved her life—Draco was always the first to appear. “I thought it was to check my copy,” she said.
“Darling girl. Of course it was. I’m still your editor.”
“Fuck you, Draco.”
“But I’ve always been your husband first.”
Her heart had burst and the ocean was flooded. “I love you so much,” she said.
“I know.” He took her in his arms, the best fit there was, and he kissed her finally. At last, at last, at last, she thought. What a fool. What an idiot to believe she could ever have lived without this; without her work and his world and without him.
She had always been his girl Granger.
“Hermione Malfoy narrowly avoids a bigamy charge. That’s quite the headline.”
“It better not be.”
Draco laughed as she fought for the parchment, catching her off balance enough to drag her onto his lap. “Tell me. Which part do you object to?”
“The name part obviously.” She wrapped her arms around his neck as his hand explored her stockinged thigh. It disappeared under her skirt to explore the soft, smooth skin she insisted she must hide. “Bigamy’s a forgivable sin,” she explained, trying to maintain her composure. “I always thought it might be fun to collect husbands, keep a spare—”
Draco unclipped a suspender, his thumb edging ever higher. “Am I so easily replaceable?” he said.
He stroked over warm lace as she let go and squirmed. “Very well.” His hand made a full retreat. “I’m sure any cretin knows how to reduce you to a wanton mess with barely a finger. Good luck in all your future endeavors.”
“Have I made my point?”
“Make me come if you want to prove it.”
He did. The evidence lay in the state of his desk and the now pliant and incongruously quiet Hermione draped like a sated cat in his arms.
“I’ve been thinking of a honeymoon,” he announced into the silence.
He slapped her arse then rubbed over the bare flesh. “I’ve been wondering about Romania.”
“You’re not going to parade me around in front of Charlie—”
“As if. I’d rather never see him again. But a source has been in touch to say there’s a growing illegal trade in dragons’ eggs.”
“Charlie never knew—”
“If you dare to start that list, we’ll be here all day.”
“You are jealous and cruel.”
“And vindictive and possessive and petty. Don’t forget the last two. I’ve hired a castle in Transylvania.”
“Are you for real?”
“About the dragons’ eggs—?”
“No!” She sat up to smack his chest. “A real honeymoon?”
“A working holiday. Your favorite kind.”
“You haven’t changed at all.”
“Why would I need to when you love me as I am?”
“And will you treat me as you always do?”
He reached for her left hand and kissed the ring she would never take off again. “I’ll be the perfect pureblood gentleman.”
“So the legends are true? I thought such creatures can’t be real.”
“This one’s been in hibernation. Being your boss has failed to bring you to heel so I will kill you with kindness. Romantic gestures, effusive compliments, maybe flowers.”
“Forget the flowers. What about the sex?”
Insatiable minx. Thank Merlin the rest of the world didn’t know. “Routine,” he went on, “and always—always—on a bed. Twice a month until you get pregnant. That’s what tradition states.”
She feigned going faint. “You just painted me a nightmare.”
“I thought you loved me as I am.”
“I take it all back,” she said, the back of her hand pressed dramatically to her forehead.
Draco held back his grin. “Can I get you pregnant anyway?”
Maybe she really was going to pass out.
“Aren’t you ready?” he said.
“I want to stake my claim for good.”
“You sexist pig!”
“What’s wrong with a man wanting his woman fat and immovable with his child?”
Hermione took his face in her hands, her smile bright like the best kind of headline, her kiss sweeter than the greatest scoop. “My one and only man Malfoy,” she said, “if I dared to start that list, we would most definitely be here all day.”