Hermione spared Draco Malfoy no more than two seconds of her attention when he stepped into St. Mungo's. She merely shook her head before reverting focus to the parchment in front of her. From the smug confidence emanating off of him, one would have no idea that his presence was Wizengamot-mandated.
“That’s the new volunteer Potions expert?” Samantha asked from the other side of the welcome desk. Out of the corner of Hermione’s eye, she saw the receptionist grin. “He’s cute.”
Hermione scoffed. "He's vile," she corrected, determined not to let Malfoy ruin her happy Saturday routine of volunteering at the hospital. She signed the confidentiality agreement required of her each week, dotting the “i” in her name so hard that only the counter underneath prevented the quill tip from piercing through the parchment. “Clearly you didn’t read the Prophet article earlier this week.”
Samantha quirked an eyebrow. “Which one? The one announcing the conditions of Draco Malfoy’s revised sentence, or the one spreading pictures of your ex-boyfriend on three different dates in one weekend?”
A heat flared across Hermione’s cheeks. “The first one, obviously.” She handed back the signed parchment for Samantha to file and returned the quill to its holder. “To consider him a volunteer is generous when his presence is part of his required community service.”
Samantha waved her hand in dismissal. “Regardless,” she said, lifting her chin a bit higher and craning to see in Malfoy’s direction, “the article didn’t include a recent picture. It appears the two years of house arrest were kind to him.”
Hermione didn’t look to confirm. House arrest wasn’t intended to be “kind” to anyone in any way. And while she agreed he didn’t deserve a sentence in Azkaban, she still had mixed feelings about the fact that—except for an undisclosed length of community service—Draco Malfoy was now a free wizard.
She inhaled. “Yes, well, I imagine being trapped at a massive manor with free use of house elves is far from punishment.”
Hermione thanked Samantha and left the lobby before Malfoy figured out where he needed to check-in.
Hermione arrived at St. Mungo’s early the next week. And the week after that. For the duration of Malfoy’s “volunteering” at the hospital, she had no intentions of letting their paths cross.
With a bag full of books, Hermione made her way through the third floor corridors. This Saturday, she had been assigned to read to the young witches and wizards being treated for potion and plant poisoning. Too often, children were enticed by the pretty colours of an unattended potion or lured by the intrigue of an unfamiliar plant. Treatments often took no more than a couple days, but Hermione was happy to read to the children while they waited for the rash, regurgitation, uncontrollable giggling, or whatever other ailment, to be completely cured.
A cold, familiar voice stopped her steps.
Something twisted uncomfortably in her stomach, yet she held her head high when she turned to face Malfoy just a few feet behind her.
His eyes darkened upon confirming it was her. A sneer soon accompanied his glare when he caught sight of the books peeking out of her bag. “Unless you’ve somehow mistaken this for a library, I believe you’re lost.”
Hermione fought to maintain a neutral expression. “Actually, I’m here to read to the patients. So no, I know exactly where I am. And unlike you, I’m here completely and fully of my own free will.”
With a sharp whip of her curls, Hermione turned on her heel and resumed her previous trajectory. His shoes clicked against the tile floors, following close behind. Hermione did not face him again until they stopped, inconveniently, at the same door.
Hermione recoiled when their hands collided, reaching for the same handle.
“And I’m here to help monitor the patients’ progress, so I believe my work takes precedence—whether I’m here by my own ‘free will’ or not.”
Heat flared across her chest. Hermione knew she had already lost when Malfoy twisted the handle and pushed himself inside ahead of her. She only caught a snippet of his voice turning cheery as he greeted the patient before the door slammed in her face.
An indignant huff blew a stray curl out of her face as Hermione stalked to the adjacent room. No, she wouldn’t let Draco Malfoy ruin this.
Malfoy was already at the welcome desk and chatting with Samantha by the time Hermione arrived the following Saturday. Hermione shifted, planning to leave and then return only after she had grabbed a tea at the nearby Muggle bakery. That opportunity vanished when Samantha waved in greeting and Malfoy turned, following the motion.
Hermione trudged with heavy footsteps as she approached the desk. She maintained at least four feet of distance between herself and Malfoy when she rested her elbows on the counter.
Samantha greeted Hermione with her typical jovial demeanour, but Hermione’s posture remained rigid. She accepted the confidentiality agreement and retrieved a quill to sign.
“And here you go, Draco. Just remember to come back at the end of the day for me to sign off on your hours.”
Hermione further stiffened at the sound of his given name. It was unsettling to hear Samantha’s niceness directed towards him, but Hermione supposed that was a part of her duties as the welcome receptionist.
Hermione didn’t mean to look, but she caught sight of the purple parchment that Samantha slid back to Malfoy. At the top right corner was the Wizengamot’s seal.
Malfoy left without a single word.
Hermione steeled herself when she was once again asked to read and chat with the patients on the third floor. Now that Hogwarts had let out for the summer, an increased number of young witches and wizards tended to find themselves at St. Mungo’s for a variety of reasons. And of all the wards, she’d been assigned the one for potion and plant poisoning.
The morning had been peaceful so far—not a single spotting of that platinum blond hair. One wizard, a boy no more than thirteen, had swallowed an expired Giggle Potion that forced him to burst into laughter every thirty seconds. A teenage witch had had a bad mix-up with a Venomous Tentacula that wrapped around her arms and legs, leaving marks that needed tending lest they scar. And then there was little Lena, a five year old witch who had green splotches all over her skin from swallowing a blended Frog Parts Mixture that had been left out in the sun.
Lena curled into Hermione's side as Hermione read a third book. The little girl had insisted on yet another, and Hermione had found it impossible to resist. They were only halfway through the book when Hermione's morning bliss was broken.
"Morning, Lena, I hope you're ready for—"
Malfoy's words fell short when his stare tracked from Lena to Hermione.
"Miss Granger," he said, voice tight and terse. "I presumed you two had already finished."
If not for Lena’s wide eyes watching Malfoy, Hermione guessed he would have been staring daggers at her.
Lena only broke her gaze to tug on Hermione's sleeve. "Keep reading?"
Hermione gave the child a soft, sympathetic smile. "It looks like it's time for you to have a check-in, so I'll come back to finish the story later, okay?"
"Please?" Lena pleaded. "I want to know what happens next for Paddington!"
Malfoy had yet to step more than two feet into the room. He wore a hard, irritated expression, but after a glance at the two vials of murky grey in his grip, he managed to force it aside. "Perhaps it will help Lena if you read to her while this potion takes effect."
Lena's face lit up as Malfoy finally approached the bed. Hermione arched an eyebrow in silent question, but Malfoy didn't look her way again. He busied himself by reviewing the medical information contained on a scroll.
The mattress shifted beneath Hermione as she pushed herself more upright to keep better watch on Malfoy. She looked down at Lena. "Now where were we?"
Lena listened intently while Hermione continued with the story. They only paused when Malfoy instructed Lena to open her mouth and then swallow the bubbling potion.
When he was finished, Malfoy gathered the stoppers and empty vials and headed towards the door, but Lena lifted her head off from its resting position on Hermione's shoulder.
"But you need to stay for the end of the book, Healer Malfoy!"
Hermione instinctively recoiled at the way Lena had addressed him. "I'm sure Mr Malfoy has other patients who need him."
Lena pouted. "But the book is almost done."
Hermione glanced at Malfoy, who peered at Lena with resignation. With her bright blue eyes and bouncing strawberry blonde curls, Hermione knew from personal experience how difficult it was to say no to her.
"Alright, fine," Malfoy submitted. Lena let out a squeal before a residual burp from the potion’s aftermath escaped her lips. She covered her mouth with a giggle as she leaned back into Hermione. Yet as Hermione finished the final few pages, she couldn't help but keep peering at Malfoy seated on the corner of the bed as he, too, listened.
The temporary lapse in tension vanished the moment they exited Lena's room.
"Interesting book selection," Malfoy said, his tone clipped and aloof. "I’d never heard of Paddington."
Hermione fixed him with a glare. "I wouldn't have expected you to," she firmly stated. "It's a Muggle book, and I'm quite familiar with your opinion on those."
Something contorted in his features, but Hermione changed the topic before she had to endure a lecture about why she ought not to read Muggle literature to young witches and wizards.
"You shouldn't be letting her call you Healer Malfoy."
That seemed to successfully divert him from her Muggle book choice. His gaze darkened as he scowled at her. "And why not?"
"You may volunteer here, but you are not a certified healer."
Ire ignited in his gaze. "You sure do still think you know it all, don't you, Granger?" Disdain deepened his lips into a grimace. "Don't pretend to know anything about my life or my opinions."
Malfoy stormed away, leaving Hermione standing alone in the third floor corridor, Paddington book in hand.
She successfully avoided Malfoy for the rest of the day. Any time their paths crossed, one—or both—of them turned in the opposite direction.
Once it hit three, Hermione said goodbye to her last patient of the day and headed back to the lobby. As she prepared to leave, a thought that had been irritating her the past several hours prompted her to stop at Samantha's desk.
"I understand if you can't tell me," Hermione said after greeting her, "but what precisely is Mr Malfoy's volunteer role here?"
A glint shimmered in Samantha’s eyes. She glanced over her shoulder in both directions before furtively casting a spell to summon a file. Her fingers leafed through the first few documents until she stopped to read one. She leaned in to whisper, "It says here that he works with the healers to confer about treatment plans and then helps monitor patient progress."
Hermione blinked. "I don't understand.” A strange surge of jealousy swelled inside of her. "I shared in my volunteer application that I got an O on all my N.E.W.T.s, yet I'm not working with the healers."
"Yes, but you're not a certified healer. He is."
Samantha placed the folder on the counter for Hermione to see. Hermione’s jaw fell agape. On top was an official certificate designating him, Draco Malfoy, as a certified healer. As she flipped through his credentials, she learned that he had obtained permission to take both his N.E.W.T.s and his Health Certification Examination at Malfoy Manor under strict supervision during his house arrest. And to her great irritation, he, too, had also scored all Outstandings.
She threw the top flap of the folder over the parchments and handed it back to Samantha.
"Can I help you with anything else?"
Hermione paused, then canted her head. "Next week, can you schedule me to work on the third floor again?"
Hermione purposefully left the door open as she read to a little boy named Max who drank an Ageing Potion and now had a ten-inch long white beard despite only being six. Hermione sat in a chair while she read to him, having carefully angled her position so she could watch out the door during the times she showed Max the pictures.
She had chosen the book special for him, and he had been quite excited when he learned that he and the main character shared a name.
Max was now sitting cross-legged on the edge of his bed with his white bed sheet draped over his head so he could imitate the fictional Max's costume. It was right as Malfoy was walking past their door that Max let out a roar, seemingly capturing Malfoy's attention.
Hermione pretended to keep her eyes on the book, but she noticed Malfoy pause. She resumed reading, yet when she glanced up again, a shadow darkened the tiles in front of the door, the sign of someone standing beside the frame.
The shadow didn't move, not even when she finished the story.
Max bounced on the bed, white beard flapping along with him. "Did Max really travel to the land of the Wild Things?"
"No, those things only happened in Max's head," Hermione explained. She glanced to the doorway where the shadow still remained. "Not everyone has magic, but we all have imagination."
Max tightened his grip around his make-shift costume and then flopped back on the bed. "I have magic and imagination! But I'm glad Max returned home."
Hermione smiled. "Me too. He had fun as King of the Wild Things, but after all that adventure, he just wanted to be with the people who made him feel loved."
The shadow disappeared.
When the next week came, Hermione found Malfoy in the cafeteria during lunch. He sat alone.
Hermione pulled back the opposite chair, its legs scratching against the floor. Storm grey eyes met her with a look of disinterest.
"I prefer my solitude while I eat."
Hermione set down her tray of food and slumped into the seat. "Not an option, Malfoy."
He looked as though he would rather swallow a bad potion and join the patients in their ward. "What do you want, Granger?"
Her food remained untouched. "Why are you here?"
"At St. Mungo's."
He scoffed. "You know perfectly well that I have mandated community service."
"The Wizengamot could have had you picking up trash on Diagon Alley. But you're not. So why, of all the places in Wizarding Britain, are you here?"
His fork clanked as it dropped onto his plate. "Do I really need to tell you?" he bit back. "I assume you've already found a way to read my court file."
"No, I haven't," she answered truthfully, but she didn't mention anything about the file she did read.
Malfoy didn't seem to believe her, but he spoke anyway. "In return for the Wizengamot agreeing to let me take my N.E.W.T.s and Healer Certification Examination under house arrest, I agreed to attach mandatory volunteer hours to my sentence." He leaned back in his chair and huffed. "It's not as though I need the money. I'm only here until my name is cleared, and then I can start my own consulting business specialising in healing potions." He folded his arms against his chest. “Satisfied?”
Hermione didn't ask any more questions. Neither did Malfoy. They spent the rest of their lunch in silence. But at least silence was better than their usual antagonism.
“But I didn’t request to be assigned to the third floor this week,” Hermione said to Samantha. Not that she objected. She just hadn’t expected it.
Samantha didn’t look up from the parchment holding her attention. “I know you didn’t. Healer Malfoy did.”
An inexplicable flush heated Hermione’s cheeks all the way from the welcome desk to the potions and plant poison ward. When she arrived, Malfoy stood in the floor's reception area with a scroll open for his perusal.
He gave her a curt nod. “Granger.”
For the first time in her life, Draco Malfoy smiled at her. It lasted a grand total of one second.
“There’s a patient in room twelve who I just had to give an unsavoury potion. He might appreciate your company.”
Hermione nodded. “I’ll be right there.”
She knew it was minor, but it felt like something had finally shifted between them.
The weeks seemed to fly after that. Each Saturday, Hermione came to expect that she be assigned to the third floor. She and Malfoy developed a system. Whenever he had a particularly nasty potion to administer, Hermione would either read to the patient if they were young, or provide comfort and company if they weren’t. Communication between them remained brief, but even his silent nods of gratitude filled Hermione with a certain level of pride. He had yet to criticise anything about her methods.
Lunches were a different matter. Sometimes they sat together, sometimes on opposite ends of the cafeteria. Other times, they worked straight to three and only took bites of their sandwiches in passing. The fact that she and Malfoy had yet to strangle each other was accomplishment enough. In fact, on the days where they did sit in the cafeteria to eat, they’d actually shared some pleasant moments.
“That book today with the little boy and the beasts…”
“Where the Wild Things Are?”
“Yes, that one. You read it before, haven’t you?”
Hermione did her best to fight a smile. She knew he had listened when she read that story to Max.
“I’ve read them all before,” she said, lunch hardly touched. “Multiple times. My collection of children’s books is only so extensive.”
“So get more books,” he said as though it was the easiest solution in the world.
Despite herself, Hermione snorted. “Unlike you, I don’t have vaults filled with Galleons just waiting to be spent.”
She expected a clever retort, but it never came. Instead, he seemed to consider something, brows furrowed in thought.
“Months of working together, and I don’t even know what you do the rest of the week.”
Hermione blinked. The topic had never come up. But for some reason, Malfoy appeared genuinely curious.
“I work with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures,” she answered simply. “And I love it. But after the Battle of Hogwarts, I found myself frequenting here to visit the people who had been injured. It didn’t matter if I knew them beforehand; I visited them all. It was comforting to talk with people. Give them something to look forward to. So, even after the last person from the war got discharged, I kept coming.” She glanced down at her plate, then up at Malfoy. “And I haven’t stopped since.”
“How stereotypically Gryffindor,” he said, no sign of malice or sarcasm in his tone. He raised an eyebrow. “And outside of work?”
“The same as anyone, really.” Hermione gave a gentle shrug. “I see friends whenever possible but also enjoy time at home with a book and Crookshanks.”
“So no significant other?”
Her face suddenly warmed. This was the most she and Malfoy had ever spoken about their personal lives. Usually, they discussed the strange afflictions they treated, or Hermione asked how Malfoy had gone about designing the potions for their patients. But this, this felt— Well, it was personal.
Hermione absently pushed her salad around her plate. “I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures of Ron with other witches. There certainly isn’t a dearth of them.”
She once again found herself waiting for him to say something snide. He undoubtedly had plenty to say about Ron. But just like earlier, his reaction was not what she anticipated.
All he did was blow out a derisive huff. “I could never see it between you two.”
“We’re still friends,” she needlessly defended. “Our relationship merely ran its course.”
Malfoy peered down at his food, raising his shoulders in a single shrug. “He’s still an idiot for not realising you’re the best he could ever do.”
Hermione bit the inside of her lip to prevent a smile from blooming up her cheeks. Thankfully, Malfoy didn’t appear to notice.
A comfortable pause blanketed their conversation. Hermione pushed around her salad some more, stomach too full with something akin to jitters to eat. Only a few seconds passed before she glanced across the table to find Malfoy looking at her, a contemplative expression spread across his face.
“Max seemed to like that book. The Wild Things.”
“Where the Wild Things Are,” Hermione couldn’t help correcting. Though, admittedly, she was rather pleased he had remembered that much of the full title. “It’s easy to enjoy when he shares a name with the main character, not to mention the appeal of returning home to those who love you when you’re stuck in a hospital.”
Malfoy returned his gaze to his lunch, index finger tapping against his water glass.
“Yes, I would imagine there is.”
The loud cries of drunk witches and wizards filled the Three Broomsticks on a Friday night. On such a rainy evening, Hermione would have preferred to cuddle up with a book at home, but a tankard of warm butterbeer wasn’t the worst alternative—particularly since Ginny rarely had a weekend off from the Harpies.
Ginny’s goblet met the table with a thunk. “Wait, wait, wait.” She waved a hand to stop Hermione. “I’d read that Malfoy was forced into community service at St. Mungo’s, but you mean to tell me that you two are actively working together?”
Hermione snorted into her drink. “Pretty unbelievable, right?”
Ginny’s expression turned serious. “Yes, it is unbelievable.” She stared Hermione dead in the eyes. “He’s a proper prat in every single way. How can you even stand to be in the same building as him, let alone the same floor or room?”
Hermione sat back in her chair and sighed. “It was like that at the beginning,” she confessed. “And it’s not as though relations between us are all sunshine and daisies, either. But there are certain moments when he isn’t terrible.”
Suspicion ran deep in Ginny’s narrowed gaze. “How much time do you two actually spend together?”
“Each week?” Hermione shrugged. “A couple hours give or take, no more than fifteen to twenty minutes at a time.”
“And he hasn’t murdered you yet?”
“To our knowledge, he didn’t even murder anyone during the war, so breaking that streak right when he’s allowed back in society seems like an illogical choice.”
Ginny didn’t so much as blink. “Hermione.”
Hermione let out a heavy breath. “What do you want me to say, Ginny? That he’s still an awful human being that we should continue to shun? Because that’s not true. I’ve seen him work. He’s still blunt and occasionally callous, but he also cares.” She gnawed at her lip as she peered down at her now room-temperature butterbeer. “Maybe those two years of house arrest changed him more than people want to give him credit for.”
A long stretch of silence followed after that.
Raindrops pattered on the pavement as Hermione returned home later that night. When she reached her front stoop, an eagle owl sat perched on a nearby fence, eyeing a parcel in front of her door. Hermione bent down to pick up the package that must have been protected from the rain with an Impervius Charm. The owl expanded its large grey wings and disappeared into the cloud covered sky.
Hermione stared at the parcel. She couldn’t think of anything that would be delivered to her so late at night.
She stepped inside the warmth of her home and set the delivery on the kitchen table. A small note was attached to the ribbon that wrapped around the packaging. Hermione turned it over. The note contained two simple words.
The parcel contained a stack of fifteen new children’s picture books—all by Muggle authors.
The rain continued through the night and into the next morning, a typical scene for London in October. Yet, despite the weather, Hermione stopped by a Muggle bakery on her way to St. Mungo’s, purchasing two teas and pastries.
When Hermione spotted Malfoy as she exited the lift onto the third floor, she took a deep breath and walked over to join him.
“Thank you,” she said, setting a tea and pastry on the counter in front of where he reviewed a scroll of charts.
He glanced at her. “Yes, well, I was getting tired of overhearing the same books all the time.”
The tips of her ears warmed. “You got Muggle books.”
Malfoy set down the scroll to properly look at her. “I imagine children also don’t enjoy hearing stories they’ve heard before, so acquiring Muggle books was the only way to guarantee these books would be new for all listening parties.”
He snatched the tea and pastry and walked away; Hermione smiled nonetheless. He may not want to admit it, but she knew how big of a step it must have been for him to buy books at a Muggle store.
With a bag full of her new books, Hermione strode down the corridor to her first patient of the day, delight bursting in her chest.
“I feel so foolish for forgetting to sign it this morning,” Hermione said to Samantha as she scribed her signature at the bottom of the volunteer confidentiality agreement.
“It happens,” Samantha said when Hermione handed her the signed document. She blew on the drying ink then swished her wand so the parchment filed itself. “Your hands were quite full when you walked past, so I figured I would catch you on your way out.”
The ding of the lift chimed through the front lobby, and out stepped Malfoy. He nodded to Hermione and Samantha and bid them farewell, before walking out the front doors.
Hermione blinked at his departing form. “Seems I’m not the only forgetful one today,” she commented. “Malfoy didn’t have you sign for his community service hours.”
“His community service hours?” Samantha scrunched her forehead. “He finished those weeks ago.”
Hermione started. “What?”
“I thought you knew,” Samantha returned in equal surprise. “He was only required to do three months here, but he still comes every Saturday.”
Her stomach churned. “So he was done in August?”
A beat of silence passed between them as a grin stretched Samantha’s lips.
“How funny,” she beamed. “Come to think of it, that’s right around the time you and Draco started working together.”
A haze muddled Hermione’s head. She didn’t know where to begin with her thoughts. But her feet jumped to action before her brain could catch up.
Within seconds, Hermione had raced out of St. Mungo’s. The rain pelted her skin, but she didn’t waste time casting an Umbrella Charm. There, no more than a block away, she spotted him. She shouted his name—his first, even—but the rain drowned her out. With no other choice, Hermione ran after him.
She didn’t avoid the puddles as she chased down the pavement. The wetness seeping into her shoes seemed irrelevant. Her curls grew heavy, constantly absorbing water that would make a mess of it later. But again, that seemed irrelevant.
Finally, she reached him. With panting breaths, she placed a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to face her.
“Granger.” His eyes widened. “What are you—”
“Why are you still here?”
Malfoy furrowed his brow. “I like the rain, so I decided to walk instead of Apparate.”
“No. Here,” Hermione said through shallow breaths. “As in volunteering. At St. Mungo’s.”
“You know perfectly well—”
Her face hardened. “Don’t bother lying, Malfoy. Samantha told me.”
The sound of pounding raindrops drowned out any other noise around them for several seconds. Malfoy’s features remained stern before he averted his gaze. When Hermione reached out and brushed her wet fingertips against his cheek to turn him back to face her, something in his expression softened.
Her voice was small. “I thought you were only here until your name was cleared.”
She made to remove her touch, but Malfoy’s hand clasped around hers and kept it in place. “My name may have been cleared legally, but I wanted it cleared with you as well.”
She searched his face, eyes frantic. “But why?”
He took a step forward. “Because, just like that fictional Max, I want to find the person that makes me feel loved.”
Her breathing hitched. A moment later, his lips captured hers.
His hand slid to the small of her back. The raindrops that had been blocked by his forgotten Umbrella Charm cascaded over them. His mouth pressed insistently against hers, and before Hermione could fully grasp her actions, she kissed him back.
The heat from his lips spread through her like a blazing fire. Rain continued to beat against her skin, but when his other hand curled into her wet hair and pulled their bodies flush, Hermione lost any sense of the world around them.
Throwing aside logic, reason, or anything else that may cause her to second guess herself, Hermione swept her tongue across his lips and leaned in fully to the kiss. She felt the rapid pounding of his heartbeat against her chest, and she had little doubt that he could feel hers beating in tandem.
His kiss was hungry. Starving. Like every minute they’d spent together the past several weeks, he’d been waiting for this very moment. And while Hermione hadn’t realised it until now, perhaps she’d been waiting for this very moment, too.
She craved more. More of his hands exploring her skin. Of his lips moving against hers. Of him.
But with a ragged breath, he pulled away from her and dropped his hold. Hermione’s lips remained parted, eyes wide as she stared up at him.
When his hands reached out to twine their fingers together, her heart did a little jump.
“Why don’t you and I go find a cafe where we can dry off and talk?”
Hermione could feel her eyes sparkling. “I’d love to.”
Hand in hand, they walked through the rain together.