“You can’t possibly be serious,” Hermione said.
“I’m very serious,” Harry said. “There aren’t any other options.”
“Absolutely not,” Malfoy said. “You can put me on Azkaban cases for the entire winter, I don’t care. But I’m not doing that.”
“I’m not spending months on polyjuice,” Hermione said. “It’s terrible for you, as evidenced by the complete disaster that happened fourth year.”
“We’re actually banking on the media attention,” Harry said, mildly. “I don’t want you going as someone else.”
“She’s going to have to go with someone else,” Malfoy said. “End of story.”
“In the interest of intradepartmental cooperation –“ Harry said.
“Fuck intradepartmental cooperation,” Malfoy said.
“I really think –“ Harry said.
“I’m with him,” Hermione said. “There is absolutely no way I’m going undercover on an assignment with no end date with Malfoy.”
“Okay, let’s try this one,” Harry said. He was starting to sound aggravated. “I’m your boss, I said so, and your choices are doing it or getting fired.”
“I’ll take fired,” Draco said.
“Let me rephrase. Your choices are stepping up and getting enough evidence to prosecute a fucking illicit ingredient smuggling ring that’s killing people,” Harry said. “Or you can still get fired, but I would think very hard about the reasons you agreed to become an Auror.”
“Are we counting mermen and centaurs as people now?” Malfoy said. “Funny, I thought they adamantly declined that designation.”
“You’d better be careful or Harry’s going to think you’re prejudiced and awful,” Hermione said. “Oh, wait.”
“Great start,” Harry said. “There’s also a vampire and a veela on the missing persons list associated with this mess. If you want to debate the merits of veela personhood with Gabrielle Delacour, you know where her desk is. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to oblige you. Try not to get set on fire.”
“You can find someone else,” Malfoy said.
“Actually,” Harry said, “you are dead last on my list. But Selwyn’s married, so that’s not going to work, and Parker doesn’t speak French, nor does his family conveniently have a history of vacationing in the south of France. I’d send Gabrielle, but no one’s going to buy Hermione being a lesbian.”
“I actually think they’re more likely to believe that than that I’ve been having some sort of sordid affair with Malfoy and that, while not under Imperius, I decided to marry him.”
“They are, because you’re going to sell it,” Harry said.
“I’d ask for further concerns, but they’re utterly unwelcome,” Harry continued. “Are you in, in the interest of catching people who killed a six-year old merrow, or are you going to make me fill out termination paperwork?”
“I’m in,” Hermione said, after an uncomfortably long silence. “I’m stating for the record that I loathe this entire premise with every fiber of my being, but I can’t do nothing about people who are murdering children.”
“Brilliant, good choice,” Harry said. “Malfoy?”
“Just give me the bloody dossier,” he said, finally. “Contrary to Granger’s esteemed opinion, I’m not here for the terrible pay and bad coffee.”
“Thank you for your overwhelming dedication to actually doing your job,” Harry said. “I’ll make arrangements. You can leave in the morning. Go pack.”
It was a ridiculous assignment, and a truly excellent example of why putting Harry in charge of tactics was a terrible idea. The smuggling ring was operating out of a number of safe houses, but the most active seemed to be in a beach town in the south of France, presumably because shipping horrible potion ingredients was easier near a water front. Even though they were operating in France, the people involved seemed to be British. And all of the missing and dead magical beings were too, which put it squarely in their jurisdiction. But the people involved were so jumpy – understandably, since they were committing about ten Azkaban-worthy felonies simultaneously – that the Aurors hadn’t been able to get anyone close enough to document anything.
That was where Harry’s idiotic plan had come into play. There wasn’t any way to sneak anyone in, and it was likely that the smugglers would pack up and move if they thought they were being watched. But Harry had apparently decided to take “hiding in plain sight” to new extremes. She and Malfoy, at least in terms of the European wizarding press, were big enough names that they’d never have been sent undercover without polyjuice. The idea of conducting any sort of surveillance as themselves was utterly laughable – so laughable, in Harry’s opinion, that they weren’t likely to spook anyone who was conducting evil business next door, because they were just too overwhelmingly obvious to be trying anything.
That had left the problem of figuring out a reason for them to be staying in a stupid beach town in the south of France, although they’d gotten lucky with the fact that the Malfoys had a cottage – a cottage that was probably bigger than most respectable wizarding houses – up the road in the next town, which wasn’t on the water. There weren’t a lot of good explanations for suddenly packing off to France for a few months; unless, of course, you were interested in avoiding the press and most of wizarding Britain. Romantic relationships made for exactly the kind of scandalous headlines the Ministry thought would work, and if they could simultaneously aggravate both the pureblood houses and the people who still hated the pureblood houses for their role in the war, well…
The idea of Hermione pretending to be married to Malfoy was, in fact, the stupidest plan Harry had ever come up with, bar none. But she also had to admit that staying away until a scandal died down was a reasonable excuse for jetting off to France.
One of the Ministry’s real estate contacts had convinced the beach rental next door to the safe house to give them a month-to-month lease, and then someone at Gringotts had rather convincingly routed the whole thing through Malfoy’s account.
If she had to take an assignment that was going to be absolute hell, at least she’d be on a beach.
Harry and Malfoy met her outside her flat the next morning with the flying car; they were taking enough things for at least a few months, which meant Hermione didn’t want to Apparate. The car was shiny and black and very far from the usual Ministry issue, which probably meant Harry intended for it to be noticed. Draco was lounging up against the side of it, looking vaguely annoyed. Harry looked significantly more than vaguely annoyed.
“It’s been fifteen minutes,” Hermione said, lightly. “Do you really expect me to do this for months?”
“Sorry,” Harry said, taking her aside. “I really, really am. But you’re the best I’ve got, and I need this done. They can’t just get away with killing sentient creatures and using them for potions ingredients.”
“I know,” Hermione said, standing to kiss his cheek. “We’ll… be okay. Maybe.”
“That was very nearly convincing, Granger,” Malfoy said. “Although I hope your acting skills are significantly better than that under pressure.”
The likelihood of Malfoy surviving four hours in the confines of a car with her was low, but it was probably wrong to wreck all of Harry’s expectations off the bat.
“Right,” Harry said. “We have the photos from yesterday, Parker’s going to leak them in an hour, and your very convincing fake marriage certificate went on file with the Ministry last night.”
Harry had make them take a number of suspicious photos; Malfoy had managed to be neutral instead of horrible, so they’d largely looked nervous instead of furious with one another. They’d apparently seemed very convincing for two people who were having a clandestine affair, so Harry was happy with them.
“Oh, good,” Malfoy said. “I’m so profoundly excited about this entire endeavor.”
“We really can’t tell how heavily they’re monitoring the street or how much attention they’re going to pay to you,” Harry said. “So you may have to fake it in the house for a while.”
“Really, I can’t tell you how much better that makes it,” Malfoy said. “I assume we’ll be safe if we want to discuss how much we hate each other in the shower or the pantry.”
“Probably,” Harry said. “There’s a muggle post office, you might be able to send reports back that way, but I wouldn’t count on it. You can owl me, but I’m supposed to be very angry with both of you at the moment, so I probably can’t respond. Make sure you’ve encrypted everything.”
“Hating me isn’t new,” Malfoy said. “But you should send some angry and convincing Howlers to make Granger’s life difficult.”
Hermione briefly entertained the fantasy of punching him in the face again, then sighed. “We should probably get going.”
“Malfoy?” Harry said. “Your stupidly ostentatious rings?”
“Oh, right,” Malfoy said, digging in his pocket and tossing a box at her. “It’ll resize. Probably. I don’t think anyone muggleborn has ever tried putting it on.”
“This is garish,” Hermione said. The diamond on the engagement ring was probably large enough to purchase half of wizarding London. The wedding band was slightly better, but when she slid it on, it went warm. “And is this one about to kill me?”
“No, it’s just made of alchemical gold,” Malfoy said. “So’s mine. It might settle in once it gets to know you.”
“Couldn’t we have gone with something a little more… traditional?” Hermione said.
“No,” Malfoy said. “There are things I might be willing to compromise on if I were theoretically marrying you, which I feel obligated to remind everyone would never happen. The rings aren’t one of them. And they’re as traditional as it’s possible for rings to be.”
Harry lifted her luggage into the trunk. “Have fun,” he said. “Don’t kill him.”
“That’s going to be hard,” Hermione muttered, but she pulled Harry in for a hug.
“I’ll be in the backseat,” she informed Malfoy. “Reading.”
“No, you won’t,” Malfoy said. “Hypothetically, do you really think I’d let you ride in the back if we’re meant to be – I don’t know, going on a ridiculous French extended honeymoon?”
“Who said anything about let?” Hermione said. “Just so we’re clear, we’re not having one of those arranged pureblood marriages where I turn into a mouse and my entire goal in life is to produce an heir.”
“Good to know how much you know about pureblood marriage,” Malfoy said, shortly. “Fine. Ride in the back if you want.”
“I’ll… climb up front when we get closer,” Hermione conceded.
He had an incredibly stupid point; if they were meant to be madly in love and eloping, she’d probably want to stay close.
“I’m just going to go,” Harry said. “Er, enjoy the trip.”
Hermione climbed in the back, which had more room than she was expecting. “Don’t try to talk to me until we get there.”
“My pleasure,” Draco said.
Once they got over southern France, she got into the front seat. Malfoy looked even more annoyed than usual and gave her a look that made her rethink her plan of changing the radio station just to bother him. It probably wasn’t exactly a pleasant assignment for him either.
When he pulled up in front of the house, she was still reading, but she’d learned a long time ago that the best lies were closest to the truth. Even being disgustingly in love wasn’t going to make her less likely to stop paying attention to everything else if a book was involved.
“All right,” Malfoy said, finally. “I hate this assignment and I can’t stand you, but obviously the reason we’re stuck with it warrants doing it well.”
“I know,” Hermione said, shortly. “I’m not going to fuck it up just to annoy you.”
“I think we can probably get away with privacy charms in the bedroom,” Malfoy said. “No one’s going to think twice about that. I won’t…” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “I’m willing to call that room neutral. I can’t do this without anywhere to take a break, and I think that’s going to be it, so I won’t start anything if you don’t.”
“Deal,” Hermione said. “I think we can talk about the assignment if we’ve got the shower running. Or in the car.”
“I think so. And we don’t have anyone else,” Malfoy said. “So don’t do anything stupid, I won’t do anything stupid, and we back each other in the event this all goes to hell.”
“That should have been obvious,” Hermione said. Even if she couldn’t stand Malfoy, it wasn’t like she was going to let him get killed by dark wizards.
“You and Potter do joke about offing me a lot,” Malfoy said. He sounded, for a few seconds, like it bothered him.
“Emphasis on joke,” Hermione said. “I don’t actually want you dead.”
“That’s comforting,” he said. “Anything else?”
“We can always talk about it in the shower,” Hermione said, lightly.
“Thank god we’re basically contractually obligated to be having excessive amounts of fake sex,” Draco said, dryly. “No one’s going to notice if we spend an hour in the pantry.”
Hermione hadn’t entirely figured out how they were going to play that yet, but at least no one would be able to tell what they were doing in the actual bedroom. Snogging Malfoy was presumably going to be unpleasant, but there wasn’t any getting out of that one.
“Minor victories,” she said, taking a breath. “Let’s do this.”
“I’ll get the door for you,” Malfoy said.
She wanted to object, but she couldn’t argue with him about every little thing.
And when he pulled open the car door and she looked up at him, he suddenly didn’t look anything like Malfoy.
“Hi,” he said, looking happy and overly pleased with himself. “Ten seconds was obviously too long, I had to get you before I could get the luggage.”
“You’re insane,” Hermione said, but she changed her tone, making it fond and slightly exasperated instead of actually annoyed.
“You like me that way,” Malfoy said, holding out a hand. He pulled her up, staying close. “What do you think?”
“I think it looks amazing,” Hermione said. “And there’s not a single person with a camera, which makes it a thousand times better.”
“I thought so,” Malfoy agreed. “The town is a little bigger than when I was a kid, but I don’t think we’re going to have anyone knocking down our door.”
“I’m glad we decided to come down here,” Hermione said, sliding her hands into the back pockets of his jeans. “Don’t get me wrong –“
Malfoy laughed. “Were you about to lie and say you liked the cottage? You hate the cottage.”
“It’s nice,” Hermione said. “It’s just sort of… drafty and damp and full of marble statues. Who puts marble statues in a beach house?”
“Malfoys,” he said. “Hey, you’re one of those these days, are you feeling any urges to decorate with stone columns and topiaries?”
“I’m still a Granger,” Hermione said, but she realized didn’t have to resist the urge to laugh at his awful sense of humor. “Which means I’m going to decorate with books. You have to bring them inside first, though. I’ll help.”
“I think I should carry you across the doorway,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “It’s traditional.”
“You can carry the groceries instead,” Hermione said, leaning up to kiss him. He didn’t even look startled. She was definitely going to be very annoyed by his overly talented acting.
“That’s no fun,” Malfoy said. “That kiss wasn’t any fun either.”
He leaned to kiss her again, but she ducked. “Don’t start,” she said. “We’re not going to get anything in the house.”
“Oh, all right,” Malfoy said. He looked very put upon. “I’ll get your books if you get the… whatever all that is.”
Malfoy had seemed confused when she’d said they ought to stop by the corner store. She was counting on him having to pretend to like her to get through any complaints about having a mostly muggle kitchen.
“I could like this place,” Malfoy said, a moment later. She’d gotten the front door open and he was levitating their trunks through. “I’m going to have to check the size of the shower and how close it is to the water before I decide.”
“It’s definitely got a lot of light,” Hermione said. The back wall looking out onto the ocean was nearly all windows, and the kitchen had a row of them too. The ones in the kitchen appeared to provide a straight view into the kitchen across the way, and she went to open them. “It needs airing out, though.”
“You grew up in a tower and you like that kind of thing,” Malfoy said. “I grew up with better architecture.” He went to look out the back windows. “It’s not the dungeons, but it might do.”
“You’re comparing the Mediterranean to the Hogwarts lake and the Mediterranean is losing?” Hermione said, amused. This version of Malfoy was almost… charming.
“I can’t have everything,” Malfoy said, coming back over. He wrapped an arm around her waist, and she saw his gaze go to the open kitchen windows for a moment. Then he started to back her up towards the counter. “On the other hand, if I play my cards right, I can probably have you. That’s almost as good.”
“I have to put the food away,” Hermione said, laughing. “Quit being shameless.”
“You know,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “This house’s house elf isn’t very welcoming.”
“That’s because it doesn’t have one,” Hermione said, cheerfully. “Why do you think I got groceries?”
“What?” Malfoy said, then looked over her shoulder at the rest of the kitchen.
He suddenly sounded horrified, and she realized it wasn’t all pretend. She decided she was allowed to consider it a moral victory.
“Not every house has a house elf,” she said. “This one didn’t. My flat doesn’t.”
“We could have brought one,” Malfoy said. He’d gone to examine the counter. “I could have found a defective one for you that wanted to be paid. I already let you make sure none of the ones in my building wanted a salary.”
“There are only two of us,” Hermione said. “We talked about this.”
“We did, and I said you were welcome to find one that wanted clothes,” Malfoy said. He leaned down. “What is this?”
“A toaster,” Hermione said.
“I don’t think it works,” Malfoy said. “It’s not toasting anything.”
“You have to put bread in first,” Hermione said. She was trying not to laugh this time, because Malfoy would probably hold it against her later.
“We could get an elf from the cottage,” Malfoy said. “I’m sure one would be happy to come down here.”
“Not happening,” Hermione said, going to wrap her arms around his waist. “If we were living at the cottage, I’d let you have a house elf, because the cottage has kitchens that aren’t one room over from our bedroom.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Malfoy said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Hermione said, drawing him in. She kissed him again, because he still looked very annoyed. “What if I want some privacy?”
“House elves don’t care about that sort of thing,” Malfoy said.
“Well, I care,” Hermione said.
“We could go live at the cottage,” Malfoy suggested, brightening.
“Yes, but then you can’t have that,” Hermione said, pointing out the back window. “Ocean or house elf?”
It looked as if it had taken Malfoy a minute to realize that they couldn’t actually move.
“Ocean,” he said, finally. “But you have to make sure I don’t starve.”
“Fortunately, I can cook,” Hermione said. “Which you know, since I feed you on a regular basis.”
“Oh, all right,” Malfoy said. “The things I do for you.”
“I do plenty of things for you,” Hermione said, holding her hand up. “This, for one. My hand is starting to feel like it’s going to fall off.”
“I think it looks good on you,” Malfoy said. “Although you definitely have a few things on that would look better off of you.”
She wasn’t sure if Malfoy was this annoying in real relationships, but if you liked that kind of thing, it was probably nice to be with someone who felt comfortable enough not to hide the fact that he wanted you all the time.
“You should be careful,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I’m going to get the idea that you want to have sex, and then where are we going to be?”
“In the bedroom?” Malfoy said, brightening. “Or on the couch? I could probably even work with this counter if you moved that toasting thing.”
“One of us has to unpack and make lunch,” Hermione said, but she leaned back against the counter and looked up at him. “But I’m open to convincing later.”
“I suppose I can wait that long,” Malfoy said, looking her over. “Maybe.”
“For the record, I’d much rather be doing things on the counter that aren’t making sandwiches,” she said, leaning up to kiss him like she meant it.
“Then why are you making sandwiches?” Malfoy said.
“We can’t have so much sex we don’t eat,” Hermione said. “One of us has to be practical, and it’s not going to be you.”
“I really,” Malfoy said, kissing her again, deeper this time, “hate it when you decide to be reasonable.”
“Go see the beach or something,” Hermione said. “Maybe an outside something where you aren’t sneaking in here to distract me every two minutes.”
“I think I’m going to drive up the road and see what’s down that way,” Malfoy said. “There might be somewhere that does take out. Since I’m not allowed to have a house elf and I’m being kicked out of our new house.”
“I obviously hate you,” Hermione agreed.
Malfoy levitated the rest of their things inside and then left, presumably to get a feel for the area. Hermione was a little relieved to be left alone to put away clothes and make sandwiches. Malfoy’s weren’t the overly formal button downs she was used to, and she was almost surprised to find that he’d packed normal clothes like jeans and t-shirts. Frankly, she was almost surprised that he owned them. She was trying not to think too hard about Malfoy; she wasn’t entirely sure what she was expecting, but it really hadn’t been… this.
She heard the front door half an hour later.
“I’m back,” he said, somewhat unnecessarily. “We might not starve, there are restaurants.”
“Oh, good,” Hermione said. “I need you to get a jar of mustard in the pantry, it’s too high for me. Then I can finish the sandwiches.”
“Couldn’t you just summon it?” Malfoy said.
“I should probably show you where it is,” Hermione said. “It might be tight, but I think we can manage.”
“Oh,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “I think I see the problem. I’m very happy to help.”
“I appreciate it,” Hermione said, holding open the door. “You’re very helpful.”
It was, in fact, very tight, which felt a lot worse when Malfoy dropped the act.
“I drove up to the end and walked back down,” he said. “They’re bringing new meaning to paranoia.”
“I thought we weren’t doing anything stupid,” Hermione said.
“Oh, come on, it’s not as if I was just strolling in there,” Malfoy said. “I changed.”
“Foxes are nocturnal, someone’s going to think you’re rabid,” Hermione said. “It was stupid.”
Malfoy was - to her overwhelming annoyance – an unregistered Animagus; Harry felt the strategic advantages outweighed the benefits of the Ministry registry. Hermione would have accused him of being sentimental about it if the Animagus in question hadn’t been Malfoy. Malfoy seemed to enjoy rubbing it in her face that he’d gone off and mastered a form of magic she hadn’t. Hermione had to resist the urge to point out that it was only because she hadn’t tried every time he brought it up, mostly because he considered that response a victory.
“There was plenty of cover,” Malfoy said. “And we needed to know.”
“And?” Hermione said.
“The number of perimeter spells is astounding,” Malfoy said. “We ought to be sure to run into the ones closer to the beach and behind the house so they know we aren’t looking for them. But they’re definitely interested.” He paused. “It might not have been the worst idea in the world to open the windows, they’ve fallen for that one already. There was someone listening in their kitchen. And someone else was definitely looking at the car. I think they’ve even got some monitoring charms up.”
“Well,” Hermione said. “I guess we’re just going to have to keep convincing them that we’re innocuous. Anyone you recognized from the recon photos?”
“Not in the slightest,” Malfoy said. “I’m going to be very annoyed if they’re so suspicious they’re using polyjuice or disguise charms. Presumably they’re decent at potions since they’re making all sorts of horrifically illegal black-market ones.”
“Well, their buyers are, anyway,” Hermione said. “Polyjuice isn’t exactly convenient, though. And they’ve got absolutely no reason to think anyone’s on to them.”
“I’ll go see what else I can find tonight,” Malfoy said.
“That’s probably safer,” Hermione said. She reached for the door.
“Hang on,” Malfoy said, reaching to undo the top button on her blouse. He made his hair significantly more of a mess than it had been.
“I think we may have to limit the pantry to fake snogging,” Hermione said. “There’s no way to have fake sex in here without being killed by canned goods.”
Malfoy actually looked as if he wanted to laugh. “It wouldn’t be an issue if we had a house elf,” he said. “A fact which you and Potter neglected to mention.”
“Malfoy,” she said, impatiently. “It would have to be a house elf Auror, and there aren’t any of those. Besides which, it would probably be in a lot more danger than we are.”
“They’re not going to chop up the house elf from next door,” Malfoy said. “No one’s that stupid.”
He opened the door.
“Really, sandwiches,” Hermione said, a little out of breath.
“You started that,” Malfoy said, sounding smug. “I just finished it.”
“No, you didn’t,” Hermione said, mildly. “Although you’d better after we eat.”
“You just say things like that,” Draco said, summoning plates. At least he didn’t seem to find that too strenuous and beneath him. “And then you expect me to eat lunch.”
“I do,” Hermione said. “Oops, we forgot the mustard.”
Malfoy summoned that too. “Are you going to make me act civilized and eat at the table?”
“No, that’s going to take too long,” Hermione said, putting his sandwich on a plate. She’d read his stupid personnel file for ideas, since it didn’t seem very likely that they’d be getting married without knowing a single thing about one another. He ordered turkey and swiss from the deli down the street a lot, so she assumed he liked it.
“Oh, hey,” Malfoy said, after he’d taken a bite. He actually sounded startled. “My favorite.” He stopped to take another bite, then managed to play off being surprised: “You always forget.”
“I never forget,” Hermione said. “I’m just usually making breakfast or dinner.”
“Well,” Malfoy said, looking pleased. “I like when you remember my favorite sandwich.”
People who were supposedly in love were completely mental. Malfoy was also completely mental, but at least it meant he was very convincing.
“I even put on extra tomatoes,” she said, taking a bite of her own sandwich, which was definitely tomato free. “That’s how much I love you.”
“Hey, look,” Malfoy said, a moment later. “No more sandwich. Counter or bedroom?”
Hermione laughed. “There are blinds in there,” she said. “And I soundproofed it. Our new neighbors would probably appreciate not having to hear us.”
“They’re probably at work,” Malfoy said.
“Probably, but you’ve already seen the counter,” Hermione said. “You should let me show you the bed.”
“Well, if you insist,” Malfoy said.
When she shut the bedroom door behind them, Malfoy sprawled backwards on the bed. “You’re sure the privacy charms are working?” he said. “You might have a point about not annoying the neighbors too much to start.”
“Very sure, you can stop faking it,” she said. “There are three layers. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary if they look. I think they’ll just think we’re loud.”
“Speaking of sex,” Malfoy said. “Where am I drawing the line when we’re not in here?”
“You don’t seem to be drawing any lines,” Hermione said, coming to sit on the other side of the bed.
“Don’t be stupid,” Malfoy said, suddenly cold. “Talking about sex isn’t the same thing as shoving a hand up your skirt. I’m not doing anything you’re not comfortable with.”
She’d never really thought of how Malfoy would feel about it, but she had to admit that she hadn’t thought he would be insistent about boundaries. It had probably been wrong of her not to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“I’m okay,” she said, after a moment. “I can tell you to stop if I don’t like something.”
“Actually, I’m not sure you can,” Malfoy said. “At least not the way you normally would. I don’t like not knowing.”
“I don’t think we can get away with being really careful about it,” she said. “We wouldn’t be, if we were married.”
“No,” Malfoy admitted. “But clothes stay on?”
“My shirt can come off,” she said. “I mean, I’m against seeing criminals seeing me topless, but that’s probably a job hazard. And I’ll just suggest we go in here if something’s too much for me.”
“We can probably make things look more risqué than they actually are,” Malfoy mused. “They’re paying attention, but it’s not like they’re looking into the sitting room with binoculars.”
“I sincerely hope not,” Hermione said. “But where am I drawing the line when we’re not in here?”
“You don’t need to,” Malfoy said. “I’m fine.”
“I might not like you, but I’m not buying that,” Hermione said. “We’re stuck here for who knows how long, you have to be honest with me.”
“No actual sex,” Malfoy said, finally. “And don’t touch me when I’m a fox unless it’s an emergency or I initiate it. It’s… personal.”
“You probably shouldn’t start walking around the house as a fox,” Hermione said, dryly. “I think they’ll probably notice a wild animal in the foyer.”
“No, but I might do it in here,” Malfoy said. “I think differently when I’m shifted. I’m going to need the break.”
“I get it,” Hermione said, then paused. She couldn’t stand him, but at least they were sort of in it together. “It’s a lot, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Malfoy said. “I think I’m going to get some sleep since I have to go poke around the bushes in the middle of the night.”
Hermione glanced at her watch. “I’ll stay for ten more minutes and then go read. You can have some privacy.”
“Thanks,” Malfoy said. He almost sounded as if he meant it.
Malfoy slept for a few hours – long enough for Hermione to finish unpacking and to get halfway through a book. She managed not to jump when he leaned over the back of the sofa and brushed a kiss to her neck.
“Thanks for letting me sleep,” he said, still sounding drowsy.
“We got up really early,” Hermione said, reaching up to comb her fingers through his hair with a smile. It was still a mess. “I slept in the car, I thought you probably needed some rest.”
“I did,” Malfoy admitted.
He was less animated than he’d been that morning, but he also seemed less nervous.
“Want to go see the beach?” Hermione said. “We could take a walk.”
“Yes, please,” Malfoy said. “I like beaches.”
Hermione smiled. “I would never, ever have guessed based on you talking me into running away with you to one.”
Malfoy nuzzled her neck a little. “I’m not sure I’d call it running away, exactly. More like paparazzi-dodging.”
“We could have slipped photographers anywhere,” Hermione said, amused. “We picked a beach because you love them.”
“I mean,” Malfoy said. “I do, but the idea of getting to see you in a bikini on a daily basis is a serious draw.”
“I don’t know, I wouldn’t want to get tan lines,” Hermione said, thoughtfully. “I’m sure I could get away with half a bikini, it’s France.”
“I was also thinking,” Malfoy continued, “that you’re very cute when you get freckles on your nose in summer. I thought maybe we could see if those go further down.”
She didn’t know how Malfoy had noticed any freckles, but they did work in the same office.
“Here I thought you liked me for my excellent reasoning skills,” Hermione teased. “Now I find out it’s just freckles?”
“I like all of it a lot,” Malfoy said, leaning further over the back of the couch to tilt her face up with one hand. He smiled, and she blinked; she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him smile like that. “Actually, I love all of it a lot.” He leaned to kiss her. “You’re good for me. And you make me happy.”
“You make me happy too,” Hermione murmured. “Want to go see your beach?”
The water was beautiful. If they were going to be stuck undercover, there were significantly worse locations. And Malfoy relaxed more the further they got from the house, presumably because he didn’t need to try as hard. He’d held her hand for a few minutes, but then he went to walk in the water, then explored along the tide line. She could remember trips to the beach when she was little, mostly how her sand castles had never washed away like everyone else’s when she really wanted them to stay.
It was going to be hard, but Malfoy hadn’t really gone in the direction she’d anticipated. He was funny and a little anxious to please, and she wondered again what he’d decided to work from. But this version of Malfoy was certainly easier to live with than the one she’d been imagining. He waved from up the beach as if he was just checking in, and it seemed more real than acted. He’d faded back into being calm and collected, but that was probably closer to what he was like when he was comfortable with someone. She didn’t really have the energy to be actively hostile, and she suspected he didn’t either. And she had to admit that it was starting to seem possible that Malfoy had been deliberately pushing her buttons the entire time they’d worked together. If he’d stopped trying to make her mad, it probably explained why she hadn’t had a single negative thought about him all afternoon.
Malfoy eventually turned around and came back, catching up to her.
“At least there’s some compensation for the reason we’re stuck here,” he said.
“How are you doing?” she said, quietly. “I know this isn’t ideal.”
“It’s not,” he said. “But it’s not great for you either, really.”
“It could probably be worse,” Hermione said. “I could have married Parker. That would have made for a fabulous few months of lying low avoiding the press.”
Malfoy actually laughed. “Are you telling me there’s someone who would have been a worse marital choice than me?”
“Oh, come on,” Hermione said. “I don’t think he’s ever picked up a book in his life. The Auror training manual is completely beyond him. I’m not even sure how he got admitted.”
“I would definitely rather be married to you than Parker,” Malfoy agreed. “You’re not overwhelmingly boring.”
“I bet snogging me isn’t quite as bad as snogging Parker,” Hermione said.
“There’s that too,” Malfoy said. “You’re, you know, attractive in a Gryffindor sort of way. Parker’s terrible.”
“I was more thinking about the fact that he’s a man,” Hermione said. “But thanks for just admitting you think I’m attractive.”
“Damn, you’re never going to let me hear the end of that one,” Malfoy said, but he sounded more amused than anything.
“Just…” Hermione looked at him for a long moment. “I think we’re in this together. So I’m here if you need anything. I wanted you to know that.”
“I am too,” Malfoy said, quietly. “I’ll even try to get along if you want.”
“Thanks,” Hermione said.
“Although at the moment I mostly need dinner,” Malfoy said. They were getting closer to the house. “Which is on you, since you’ve deprived me of a house elf.”
“You have to at least cut up the vegetables,” Hermione said. “I know you’re capable, you make potions all the time.”
“That’s different,” Malfoy said.
“How, exactly?” Hermione said.
“It just is,” Malfoy said.
“You know,” Hermione said, “I was thinking I might just go to bed with a book after we eat. I’m very tired.”
“That’s not very feminist of you,” Malfoy said, looking as if he was trying really hard not to laugh.
Hermione stopped to stare. “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”
“I read things,” Malfoy said, straight-faced. “You like sex too, so you shouldn’t punish yourself just because I don’t want to dice carrots.”
“I’m not going to do all the cooking for the rest of time,” Hermione said.
“Obviously not,” Malfoy said. “Sometimes we can get takeout. And when we decide to go back, we’ll have a house elf.”
“Says you,” Hermione said. “You might want to start practicing.”
“You’re so mean to me,” Malfoy said, taking her hand again with a sigh. “But I can do the vegetables if you really want.”
Malfoy also willingly dried the dishes, even if his strategy was lining them all up on the kitchen table and casting drying charms, then spelling them back to their original places.
“What?” he said, when he caught her laughing at him. “It’s efficient.”
“You’re talking to the dishes,” Hermione said, going to kiss him. “It’s cute.”
“Shut it,” Malfoy said. “Did you notice we have a fireplace?”
“I did,” Hermione said, with a smile. “Let me guess, you want to start a fire and cuddle next to it even though it’s not actually cold?”
“Someone left the windows open, and now it’s dark,” Malfoy said. “I’m cold.”
“You’re always cold,” Hermione said, but she kissed him again. It was true; there was some sort of ongoing war between Malfoy and Harry about the office ambient temperature spells. Malfoy was always changing them to make it warmer.
She shut the windows, and it felt like an enormous relief to not have to choose every single word so carefully.
“Thanks for helping with dinner,” Hermione said, going over to where Malfoy was levitating wood over to start a fire.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “But I still think you could have warned me about the muggle kitchen.” He gestured over his shoulder to the kitchen appliances. “I can’t figure out what at least five of those things are. And I really don’t understand why there’s something whose entire purpose is making toast. Couldn’t you just use the oven if you don’t want to spell it?”
“That’s actually a decent point,” Hermione said, coming to sit next to him. “Especially since we appear to also have a toaster oven.”
“Muggles are completely and utterly insane,” Malfoy said. “There. Now we won’t freeze.”
“That seemed really likely in south France,” Hermione said, amused.
Malfoy levitated the couch closer, then got onto it and summoned a book from the bedroom. The one she’d been reading appeared a moment later.
“If you stop making fun of me, you can come enjoy the fruits of my labor,” he said, stretching out and moving over so there was a space for her between him and the back of the couch.
Hermione took her book and climbed over him to settle against his side.
“What are you reading?” she said, ducking her head to look at the spine. “I didn’t know you liked to re –“ She paused, correcting herself. “To read that author?”
Malfoy snorted. “You don’t have the market considered on reading, darling,” he said. “Fortunately for you, I’m not Parker.”
“I might want to borrow that when you’re done,” Hermione said, thoughtfully. “I didn’t know it was out yet.”
“You can have it when I’m done, but you can’t steal it while I’m still reading it,” Malfoy said. “I know you. You won’t give it back until you’ve finished.”
It was, on reflection, probably true.
“I want to finish this one first anyway,” she said.
“Nice cover,” Malfoy said. “You just don’t want to let on that you’re disappointed now that I’ve figured out your book thieving ways.”
It was almost too easy, reading tucked up against Malfoy’s side with his arm around her shoulders. She’d never read so close to someone else, mostly because she didn’t really like the idea of letting her guard down so far while anyone was watching her, but – strangely – Malfoy didn’t really feel like a threat. He seemed absorbed in his own book, although he’d used a spell to hold it up. She watched for a moment, and the page turned when his eyes hit the end of it. It was vaguely ridiculous that Malfoy knew a spell about reading that she didn’t. It might have come in handy any one of the thousands of times she’d been trying to eat breakfast and read at the same time.
“Could you show me that spell again?” she said. “I forgot it.”
“That’s the least convincing thing you’ve said all day,” Malfoy murmured, turning so his mouth was close enough that no one could possibly hear.
“Well,” Hermione said, sliding a hand up his side. “I’ll just have to be more convincing for the next five minutes to make up for it.”
She lifted a hand to cup his face, drawing him in for a warm kiss. If anyone was looking in through the window, they’d get the idea.
“Oh,” Malfoy said. She noticed that he’d gone very faintly pink along his cheekbones.
“What, now you’re shy?” Hermione teased.
“I’m not sure how I feel about you going rogue and start things,” Malfoy said, almost thoughtfully.
He looked like she’d actually startled him, even past the roles they were playing. But it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that he wasn’t used to women being forward.
“You know,” she said, sliding a hand under his shirt as she leaned to kiss him again, “you can stop acting surprised that I want you.”
“Maybe someday,” Malfoy said. “For now, I just think I’m very lucky that you like this.”
“Sometimes you’re an idiot,” Hermione murmured, against his mouth. She reached to close his book and sent it back to the bedroom.
“Often, actually,” Malfoy said. She couldn’t figure out the look on his face, but it didn’t seem particularly rehearsed.
“Not always, though,” Hermione said. She kissed him again, deeper this time.
“Do you want to go to bed?” Malfoy said. “We could go to bed.”
“Later,” Hermione said. She grinned. “I’m being convincing for a while.”
Malfoy looked vaguely uncertain, which was nothing like him at all. It really was entirely possible he’d had enough of faking it with her for one day.
“Well, I should probably ask,” she said, running her fingers through his hair. “Bed and sex or snogging on the couch for a while and then bed and sex?” She nudged her nose against his temple. “Or bed and sex at some point in the near future if you’re still tired.”
“Let’s go to bed,” Malfoy said. “That requires less waiting.”
Hermione laughed. “You are really the most impatient person I know,” she said, affectionately, climbing back over him. She held out a hand to pull him up.
“Sorry,” she said, once they’d gone into the bedroom and she’d recast the soundproofing charms. “I didn’t mean to push. I’m sure it’s normal for two people who are worried about press photographs to only want to do things behind closed doors, we can stick to in here.”
“It’s not really that,” Malfoy said.
“Okay,” Hermione said, carefully. “Do you want to talk about whatever it is?”
“I’m not great at casual,” he said, finally. “I wouldn’t say I had much experience kissing people that I didn’t feel anything for. And we’ve successfully gotten along for a record twelve hours, but it’s not like that’s real. You don’t like me.”
“I get it,” Hermione said. “And I know you don’t want to. I’ll… we can keep it to a believable minimum, all right?”
“I just think I might not be exceptionally good at pretending to enjoy kissing you all the time without – I don’t know, actually enjoying it,” Malfoy said.
“What do you mean?” Hermione said.
“If I pretend to be that physically interested all the time,” Malfoy said, “I’m… probably not going to be able to keep myself from –“ He looked vaguely frustrated. “I don’t know. I can’t stand being around you under normal circumstances, but I don’t want to start to like that side of things and back you into a corner.”
“You can quit pacing around over there,” Hermione said. It would probably have been funny if Malfoy hadn’t seemed legitimately worried about it. “We’re human. I’d be incredibly surprised if we could manage half an hour of kissing without getting turned on.”
Malfoy stopped to look at her. “I’m so glad you think of everything,” he said, looking really irritated. “It’s just such a winning quality.”
He was spending a vaguely excessive amount of time trying to respect her boundaries, and she wasn’t sure what the hell to make of it. She’d never thought of Malfoy as the kind of person who worried about that.
“I’ve had plenty of casual sex,” she said, after she’d thought about it. “You sort of figure out after a while that sometimes your body can be very interested in something even when your brain isn’t. And honestly, I don’t think we can do this without ending up with some blurred lines somewhere.”
Malfoy was still effectively glaring at her, so she sat down on the edge of the bed. “I have absolutely no issues with you liking it. I even have no issues if you like it enough to want to do it even if it’s not for the benefit of the neighbors, it’s not like it’s going to hurt our cover.”
“That seems very unlikely,” Malfoy said. “And probably excessive.”
“I am going to have issues if you don’t like something and don’t tell me about it, though,” Hermione said.
“I don’t like this entire assignment,” Malfoy said, darkly, but he came and sat down next to her.
“It’s a really terrible assignment,” Hermione agreed. “But on the bright side there’s a beach and a very well stocked liquor cabinet and all the snogging you could possibly want with the last person on earth you’d want to be shacking up with?”
Malfoy actually laughed. “I wouldn’t say you’re last,” he said. “Actually, you’re somewhere in the middle in terms of people who were theoretically capable of doing this assignment.”
“At least I’m not Parker,” Hermione agreed.
“He’s also not on the bottom,” Malfoy said. “At least you’re not Potter.”
“Actually, he’s dead last by a long shot on my list too,” Hermione said. “Probably for different reasons, admittedly.”
“You’re a lot better than Potter,” Malfoy agreed.
“Sorry I’m not Gabrielle, though,” Hermione said.
“Actually, no,” Malfoy said. “She’s third to last. Veela like sex too much. There wouldn’t be any way we could stick to fake sex. Then I’d have to seriously edit all my reports.”
“Oh, sex with Gabrielle,” Hermione said, amused. “That seems like a terrible outcome.”
“I’m not even remotely interested in her, so yes, it does,” Malfoy said.
“Who’s at the top of your list?” Hermione said. “Just out of curiosity.”
There was a very long pause.
“Patil isn’t too bad,” Malfoy said. “She’s smart and I don’t hate her.”
“I think I’d have gone with Gabrielle,” Hermione said, laughing too. “I’m mostly straight, but it doesn’t seem to matter that much once you get the veela thing involved. I wouldn’t really have said no to spending the next few months having ridiculously good sex. I’d be happy to fake the reports instead.”
“Who says it’s ridiculously good?” Malfoy said.
“You clearly have not spent enough time around Fleur and Bill,” Hermione said.
“They’re Weasleys,” Malfoy said. “I enjoy my current level of time spent with them, which is absolutely none.”
“I’m just saying,” Hermione said. “Harry was totally wrong that we couldn’t have sold it. The problem would more have been selling it too hard.”
“You know,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “Maybe we could invite her down here. Three Aurors are better than two, right?”
Hermione nudged her shoulder against his. “You just said you didn’t want to have sex with her.”
“I don’t,” Malfoy said. “That doesn’t mean I’d be put out if you were so overcome by veela allure you had sex in front of me. That wouldn’t be terrible.”
“Maybe at next year’s holiday party,” Hermione said. “I’m sure you could strategically arrange some mistletoe.”
“I like the way you think,” Malfoy said, then went to look out the bedroom window. “Do you think it’s late enough for me to leave yet?”
“Probably, if I go shut the lights off,” Hermione said. “Give me your shirt.”
“What?” Malfoy said.
“Your shirt,” Hermione said, unbuttoning her blouse and tossing it vaguely in the direction of the wardrobe.
“Why –“ Malfoy said, as she undid her jeans and kicked them off.
“Quit looking scandalized,” Hermione said. “I’m going to be a lot less covered if I go spend tomorrow on the beach in a bathing suit.”
Malfoy was definitely staring. At least he was likely to be convincing if she started walking around without clothes on.
“There’s absolutely no way I’d get completely dressed again just to go turn off the kitchen lights,” she said, trying to keep a straight face. “I don’t really want to go in just my knickers, so give me your shirt. It’s not like you’re using it.”
“Er, okay,” Malfoy said, unbuttoning it and handing it over. He still had a t-shirt on underneath.
Hermione did a few buttons, considered, and then undid them again to fasten the middle three off center.
“You’re a terrible Auror,” she informed him, finally laughing. “What if the sexy female criminals take their clothes off in front of you?”
“It’s just, I didn’t think,” Malfoy said, then paused. “Suddenly naked women aren’t… really a strong suit. Of mine. You know.”
Hermione snorted. “I’m sure you’ve seen at least a few,” she said. “Do something with my hair.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Malfoy said, reaching to run his fingers through it. “Who just takes their clothes off in ten seconds with all the lights on?”
“You appear to have had a lot of very boring sex,” Hermione informed him. “As your fake wife, you should know that I would very happily take all my clothes off in ten seconds and leave the lights on. You’re welcome to get fake used to it.”
Malfoy, apparently, was easy to mess with.
“I do not have boring sex, I –“ he started.
“Yeah, yeah,” Hermione said, and went to turn off the lights. People were definitely still awake next door, which was probably a good sign that it was a decent time for Malfoy to see if he could pick anything up. She opened the back door, making sure the screen door behind it was shut but not latched.
“Okay,” she said, coming back into the bedroom. She turned down those lights too. “Want me to wait up?”
“It might be a couple hours,” Malfoy said.
“I think that was a yes,” Hermione said, summoning her book from the living room. “Try not to require rescuing.”
She wouldn’t have thought that foxes were capable of particularly withering looks, but Malfoy definitely gave her one after he’d changed. He looked over his shoulder for a moment, then crept out the bedroom door.
Malfoy came back a few hours later, slipping through the bedroom door so quietly she didn’t notice until he jumped up on the bed.
“Well?” she said. It was a little strange trying to talk to a fox.
He blinked at her a few times, then curled up in a ball near the foot of the bed.
“I guess that means no news,” she said. “Are you sleeping like that?”
He just looked at her.
“That’s weird, Malfoy,” she said.
He flicked an ear at her, then pointedly stuck his nose into his tail and closed his eyes.
“Do you want a blanket or –“ Hermione paused. “Never mind, that was a stupid question.”
He didn’t respond, which she assumed meant that he agreed with her. It at least solved the problem of awkward sleeping arrangements.
She woke once, in the dim light just before dawn, and discovered that Malfoy had moved close enough that she could feel the weight of him against her calves. It had gotten chilly, and he was curled up tightly enough that he seemed cold. Hermione summoned a blanket out of the chest at the foot of the bed, waiting in case he woke up, but he didn’t, so she spread it over him, being careful not to touch.
When she woke up again, it was much later and Malfoy was nowhere to be seen.
“There you are,” he said, when she finally stumbled out of the bedroom. “I figured out how to use the toasting thing, but I can’t figure out how to make tea.”
“What time is it?” she said, rubbing a hand over her face.
“Just before ten,” Malfoy said. “I’ve been up since six. I deserve an award for not waking you up.”
“Thanks,” she said, going over to kiss him. “I guess I needed the sleep.”
“I’m sure you needed the sleep,” Malfoy corrected, pressing a kiss to the inside of her wrist. “But I’m happy you’re up.”
“You just want tea,” she said, amused.
“That’s definitely a factor,” Malfoy said. “And the fact that you look good in my clothes is also a factor. But mostly I’m just happy to see you.”
“You’re very charming,” Hermione said, going to look in one of the cabinets for a kettle. She thought she’d seen it the night before.
“Maybe in that lower cupboard,” Malfoy said, and she bent to check before she realized he’d tricked her.
“That view would be so much better if you weren’t wearing anything under my shirt,” he said. “Just so you’re aware for future reference.”
“Are you ever going to stop flirting shamelessly?” she said, after she’d found the kettle and started to fill it at the sink.
“No,” Malfoy said. “You like it.”
“I do,” Hermione said, putting the kettle on and going back over to him. She slid into his lap. “But you could probably relax a little.”
“Well, now I definitely can’t,” he said. “You shouldn’t have climbed in my lap if that’s what you wanted.”
“You’re keyed up,” she murmured, stroking her fingers through his hair. Malfoy still seemed more anxious than playful, although she didn’t think anyone who wasn’t seeing the shift between public and private would have noticed. “Can I fix that?”
“No,” Malfoy said, but he wrapped an arm around her waist.
“I was thinking maybe we should take some pictures of the house for my mother and then go lie around on the beach for the rest of the day,” Hermione said.
“Oh, your mother,” Malfoy said. “The one relative or friend who’s still speaking to us.”
“Hey, my dad is included,” Hermione said. “They like you.”
She highly doubted anyone was about to ring her mother and check.
“They’re… nice,” Malfoy said. “For muggles. Not that I know a lot of those.”
Hermione laughed. “She won you over when she started sending packages of baked goods just for you, admit it.”
“That may have influenced my opinion on the matter,” Malfoy agreed.
“Everyone else will come around,” Hermione said. “I promise. It just takes time. And, well, we did sort of surprise them.”
“I wonder if anyone’s helpful enough to provide The Prophet to people in Azkaban,” Malfoy said, dryly. “My father would be so thrilled.”
He sounded bitter. She wasn’t surprised, but it was strange to realize that she didn’t like that he was upset.
“I know that’s hard,” she said, setting her head on his shoulder and reaching to tangle her fingers with his.
Malfoy looked startled again. “You can’t stand him.”
“I can’t,” Hermione agreed, softly. “You know I’m not sorry he’s there. But I’m sorry you’re caught in the middle. I’m sorry you have to deal with it. People aren’t always just one thing, he meant different things to you than he did to me.”
“I don’t forgive him,” Malfoy said. “If that’s what you’re asking.”
“I wasn’t asking, actually,” Hermione said, squeezing his hand. “I’m just here.”
“Do you mean that?” Malfoy said. “The rest of it?”
“I do,” Hermione said. “I would mean it even if…” She paused. “I’d even have said it earlier in the bedroom if someone hadn’t woken up four hours before me and come out here and worried about whether everyone was going to be mad forever.” She smiled. “Pretty sure that’s what you were doing while you were being incapable of making tea.”
“Oh,” Malfoy said. He was looking at her almost thoughtfully. The kettle went off.
“I’m just saying,” Hermione said, going to find mugs, “that I’m happy with you and that we’re here. Everyone else can just deal with it if they don’t like it, it’s my life. Okay, our life.”
“I know,” Malfoy said. “I worry sometimes, though. That you won’t think this is worth it.”
There was something else there, and Hermione didn’t entirely know what it was. It was hard to try to have two conversations at exactly the same time.
She brought over his mug of tea. “Draco, I’m not going anywhere.” She kissed his temple. “I have a ridiculously stupid diamond ring to prove it. You should probably start trusting that at some point.”
“I’m probably too good at worrying,” Malfoy said, ruefully.
“You are, and I’m going to get dressed,” she said. “Then you get to learn how to use a muggle camera.”
Malfoy actually knew perfectly well how to use a muggle camera, since occasionally still images were better proof than moving ones. The Ministry considered them less prone to tampering, since you could get people in a wizarding photograph to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.
“Okay,” Hermione said. “You just hold down the button and –“
“Like that?” Malfoy said. He’d pointed the lens at the house next door – you could barely see them, but there were definitely people in the kitchen.
“No, not yet, you –“ Hermione said.
“Oh, this button,” Malfoy said.
“You have to point it at me,” Hermione said. “Look through the little window. It’s just like a wizarding one.”
“Okay,” Malfoy said. “Go look happy on the porch or something.”
“Got it,” Hermione said, going to lean over the railing. She smiled.
Malfoy took quite a few pictures.
“If there isn’t anything for your mother in there, I give up,” he said.
“Oh, that one’s nice,” Hermione said, going to look over his shoulder. He’d managed to get a few shots directly into the kitchen with a pretty good view of faces. “And that one’s good of the house.” She leaned up to kiss his cheek. “Thanks, I’ll send them later.”
“If this were a wizarding camera, we could get a photo of both of us,” Malfoy said.
“My mum can’t show off moving pictures to her book club,” Hermione said. “Beach?”
“I hope we packed about eight bottles of Sun Stop potion and an umbrella,” Malfoy said, dryly.
“Of course we did,” Hermione said. “You can even help put it all over me, I don’t want to miss anywhere.”
“I’m going to go dig around in the boot, I can’t find this book I thought I packed,” Malfoy said. He kissed her. “But I’ll meet you down there.”
“That’s an excuse so you don’t have to carry anything down,” Hermione said.
“Tell you what,” Malfoy said. “You take the towels and umbrella, I’ll bring alcohol and sandwiches.” He grinned. “I was watching very closely yesterday, I think I can make them.”
“Should we be drinking before noon?” Hermione said.
“People drink mimosas before noon all the time,” Malfoy said. “That’s alcohol. We can have those. And then later I know how to make beach drinks with umbrellas in them.”
“Did I know you were that into daiquiris?” Hermione teased.
“I have hidden depths,” Malfoy said, looking amused.
She levitated everything down, then carefully staged a gust of wind to blow her hat into the yard next door.
“Damn it,” she said, loudly, sending the rest of it toward the beach and walking through the middle of their protection spells. Someone appeared on the porch looking alarmed, but she waved cheerfully, pointed to her sun hat, and then went back toward the blankets and umbrella. Whomever it had been went back in the house looking vaguely annoyed, presumably at the false alarm.
Malfoy took forever, so she was very happily sprawled out on one of the beach towels with her book when he finally came down with a plate of sandwiches and drinks.
“Sorry,” he said. “I really can’t find it. Maybe it ended up in with the rest of the books.”
“Did you try summoning it?” Hermione said.
“I did, but you know that won’t work if it’s stuck in a trunk somewhere,” Malfoy said.
She put a hand up to shade her eyes and sat up. Malfoy paused.
“You’re…” he said. He was definitely trying to focus on the beach umbrella and failing.
“I did warn you I didn’t want tan lines,” Hermione said, cheerfully.
Malfoy seemed extremely easy to fluster with when it came to her getting naked. She’d thought about keeping her top on, but it had seemed like a sadly wasted opportunity.
“Now I’m not going to be able to focus on my book,” he muttered.
“Too bad,” Hermione said. “Come put this on my back so I don’t burn.” She did her best to keep a straight face. “If you’re really nice, I might let you do my front too.”
“Not happening,” Malfoy said. “That’s going to lead to us having sex, and we can’t have sex on a beach.”
“You have no sense of adventure,” Hermione informed him.
“My sense of adventure has limits,” Malfoy said. “Those limits include sand.”
“What was I saying about you and boring sex?” Hermione said.
“You weren’t, because we obviously don’t have boring sex,” Malfoy said, sitting next to her. She handed the bottle of potion over.
“I guess it’s okay,” Hermione agreed. “So-so, even. We might need more practice.”
“I’m going to get you back later if you keep teasing me,” Malfoy said, starting to cover her shoulders.
“Yes, please,” Hermione said, leaning into his touch.
“No beach sex,” he said, firmly. “Hold still, I’m going to miss spots.”
“Oh, so you can come on to me, but I can’t come on to you?” she teased. “What’s the matter?”
“Maybe I’m not used to this not being a giant secret yet,” Malfoy said. “It’s a little different inside the house. We’d notice if someone showed up with a camera in our bedroom.”
She couldn’t quite get a feel for where Malfoy was acting and where he wasn’t, but he still seemed off. Which was a stupid thing to be concerned about, given that she didn’t actually like him and that he probably needed more than a day to get used to pretending to be married to her, but it wasn’t like she actually wanted him to be unhappy.
“I know,” she said, leaning over to kiss him. “Finish that, then I’ll do you. Then I can put a cushioning charm on this towel and we can –“
“Not have sex?” Malfoy said.
“I was going to say read and eat sandwiches,” Hermione said, laughing. “I’m going to wear you down on that eventually, though.”
“I mean, if you keep looking like that, I’m going to do whatever you want,” Malfoy said. “But my way is sand-free and involves a bed.”
“Well, sometimes it involves a bed,” Hermione teased. “Sometimes it’s the couch. Or your desk. Or –“
“Oh, look, you’re all done,” Malfoy said, lightly. “My turn. I’ve been out here for five minutes and that’s five minutes too long.”
“Should I be harboring concerns that you’re a vampire?” Hermione said. She started spreading the potion over his back.
“No, just British,” he said. “I’m not sure where you came from, but it obviously wasn’t England.”
“It helps when your pedigree isn’t the same ten families marrying each other repeatedly,” Hermione said, but she pressed a kiss to the curve of his jaw to show that she was joking.
“Look at me, destroying centuries of traditions,” Malfoy said.
“Hey, our kids might be able to stay outside for longer than thirty seconds,” Hermione said. “There are upsides.”
Malfoy went very still, and Hermione resisted the urge to remind him that he didn’t actually have to harbor concerns about having less-than-pedigreed children. She focused on making sure his back was covered, since he really hadn’t been kidding about getting burned.
“Do you?” he said. “Want them, I mean?”
“We’ve talked about this,” Hermione said, because she figured that conversation was sort of a prerequisite to getting married if you weren’t being phenomenally stupid about it. “You know I do.”
“Really, or hypothetically?” Malfoy said.
“Both,” Hermione said. “Someday. It’s not like there’s any rush. Would you quit worrying about everything?”
“Sorry,” Malfoy said, quietly. “I think I saw –“ He glanced up the beach, back toward the houses. “I had a… nightmare. It wasn’t very pleasant.”
“You know you can wake me up,” Hermione said, reaching to brush his hair out of his face. “You don’t have to do things alone these days. You shouldn’t try.”
She was a little annoyed that Malfoy had apparently seen things and neglected to tell her, but he also rarely teamed up with anyone else. She always worked with Harry, and they were good at talking to each other. Malfoy probably was still getting used to the idea of working with her, and the circumstances weren’t exactly ideal.
“I didn’t want to bother you with it,” Malfoy said, shortly. “I thought it would be better if I didn’t.”
“It’s my job,” Hermione said, firmly. “To be your partner. No more not talking to me.”
“Okay,” Malfoy said, leaning in to rest his forehead against her shoulder. “You’re right. I’ll tell you later. But can we just enjoy the beach for right now?”
“Of course we can,” Hermione said, reaching to smear potion on his nose. “You’d better do the rest of yourself.”
“Why would I do that when I have you to help with it?” he said.
“Because you know exactly what’s going to happen if I put my hands all over you,” Hermione said, reaching for a sandwich. “You don’t want to cave on the whole beach sex thing after fifteen minutes. It would be sad.”
Malfoy made an irritated noise, but he eventually finished making sure he wasn’t going to burn and stretched out beside her. The sandwich she’d picked had too much mustard and required flinging an excessive amount of tomatoes off toward the water, but it wasn’t bad for a first attempt.
He still hadn’t moved by the time she finished eating, so she nudged his side.
“Don’t tell me you’re sleeping,” she said, amused. His eyes were definitely closed.
“I’m getting warm,” Malfoy said, drowsily. “Don’t bother me.”
“I’m going to move the umbrella if you’re going to fall asleep,” she said. “You can get warm out of direct sunlight.”
“You ruin everything,” Malfoy said, but he didn’t move to stop her when she flicked her wand at the umbrella and it rearranged itself.
“I do,” Hermione agreed, rolling over onto her stomach and propping herself up so she could open her book.
Malfoy definitely fell asleep, but since he wasn’t actually in the sun, it was a much better idea than freezing all night as a fox. He didn’t even wake up when she went back to the house for more drinks and another book. She was perfectly happy to read on the beach all afternoon, but even Malfoy probably needed to get out of the heat and to find water and something to eat. She’d eaten his sandwich too since he hadn’t seemed interested.
“Hey, sweetheart,” Hermione murmured, carefully rubbing a thumb over his shoulder. The last thing she wanted to do was startle him. “Draco. Time to go back in.”
He blinked at her for a moment, looking a little out of it.
“You put a shirt on,” he said, finally. He definitely wasn’t very awake.
Hermione laughed. “Now I know what kind of dreams you’ve been having,” she teased.
“You really have no idea,” Draco said, then sat up and rubbed his face.
“I think we probably shouldn’t repeat last night’s sleeping arrangements,” she said. “I’m judging by the four-hour nap that you didn’t get enough. I’ll make the bed bigger like the one in your flat.”
“I’m okay,” Malfoy said. “I think my body doesn’t know what to do when I’m not pulling sixteen hour days.”
“It’s strange not to be at work,” she agreed. “But I think you might need the rest.”
“Since I keep passing out in the middle of the afternoon, I’m going to side with you,” Malfoy said, yawning.
“You can go back to sleep if you want,” Hermione said. “I just thought you should get out of the heat.”
“I like when you worry about me,” Malfoy said, reaching an arm out to pull her in.
“I love you,” she said. “I always worry. Although I’m a little happier worrying about too much sun than you working yourself to death.”
“This is definitely better,” Malfoy agreed.
She stood up, offering him her hands to pull him up, then sent all the beach things back to the patio.
“I think you’re okay if you want to lie down again,” Hermione said. “I’ll even come with you.”
“I’m not going to get any sleep if you do that,” Malfoy said, with an easy grin. “That’s the opposite of helpful.”
“Knocking you out first doesn’t seem like the worst idea,” Hermione teased. “You can even fall asleep in the middle if you want, I’m happy to do all the work.”
“Have I mentioned lately that you’re my favorite person?” Malfoy said. “You’re my favorite person.”
Hermione made him drink a glass of water in the kitchen, then pulled him into the bedroom and shut the door. She had to remind herself that the bedroom was off limits for yelling, because the idea was tempting.
“Can I ask a question?” Malfoy said, almost thoughtfully.
“Is it about you coming home from recon and finding things and not sharing?” Hermione said, pointedly.
“No,” Malfoy said. “I’ll table it.” He looked exhausted. “It was horrifying and I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I was going to bring it up this morning, but I couldn’t think of a good reason to drag you back into the bedroom. And I’m not sure I can explain. I didn’t see much.”
“Okay,” Hermione said. “I get that.”
She actually did, and she was annoyed that he’d found the one thing to say to make her less angry. If there wasn’t any active danger, she was going to have to give Malfoy room to process things. And he was probably going to have to extend the same courtesy.
“There’s this big row of bushes on the other side of the house,” Malfoy said. “And they’re stupid about the windows, I think because there isn’t a house on that side. So they left the lights on, I could see everything.”
“Okay,” Hermione said. “How bad was it?”
“Visually, it wasn’t,” Malfoy said. “They were just sorting and packing things. But when I’m changed, I don’t really see with my eyes, it’s scent. And what they’re working with smells completely and totally wrong.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t explain it. A couple of times when we’ve hit dead ends, Potter’s sent me to see if I could turn up evidence or a body. My magical senses and physical senses get tangled up, it’s almost like you smell magic on top of the scent. Dead things don’t really smell badly to me, foxes sort of like them because it means food, but there’s usually a lot of fear if someone’s been chased and killed. That whole house smells like that, only a few hundred times worse.”
“What a mess,” Hermione said, softly.
“Sorry I’ve been jumpy,” Malfoy said. “I know I need to get it together. I just can’t get it out of my head.”
“I wasn’t trying to get you to calm down,” Hermione said. “I was trying to tell you that it was okay to back off some.” She sat down on the edge of the bed. “We have to lie about our relationship. But it’s not like we aren’t real people who have bad days and get tired. I think we’re both going to go crazy if we have to be dialed up to eleven every minute of every day.”
“I know,” Malfoy said. He came to sit next to her. “I just don’t want to tip them off. I’m really starting to hate these people.”
“I think you should act like you, only married to me,” Hermione said. “You don’t always have to act like you’re incredibly happy. No one can keep that up forever.”
“I’d probably be incredibly happy if I liked someone enough to want to elope and go live in a beach house with them,” Malfoy said, wryly. “But I’ll take your point.”
It was a little hard not to touch him; she was starting to get used to it.
“We should probably spend the next few days getting photographs when we can and seeing if we can identify anyone,” Hermione said. “But I also think we should probably sleep as much as we need to. We’ve both been burning the candle at both ends.”
“I’m really tired,” Malfoy admitted.
“You can sleep as a fox if you want to,” Hermione said. “But –“ She thought it over. “I mean, given the rest of it, I can understand why you’d want to draw a line in here. But this bed is huge. We can share.”
“I didn’t feel up to going human again,” Malfoy said.
“And that’s okay,” Hermione said. “Really. But if you want to sleep like that, you’re doing it up here under some blankets. You don’t have to cram yourself into the tiniest corner of the foot of the bed.”
“You’re different than I thought,” Malfoy said, finally. “I was really expecting for us to spend the whole time shouting at each other in private.”
“I can’t do that much of a swing between out there and in here,” Hermione said. “I’m not that good. I guess I have to try to like you even when I’m not pretending to be married to you.”
“I guess I do too,” Malfoy said. “I’m not used to this.” He smiled, a little wryly. “Maybe you’ve done more of it, but I’ve never really had the type of relationship we’re pretending to have.”
“Do you want it to be like this?” Hermione said, after a moment. “We probably should have talked about that. We both know it’s a lot easier to lie when you’re only stretching the truth instead of completely making things up.”
“I don’t know,” Malfoy said. “I don’t think I’d ever thought about what it would look like for me.”
“I might have gotten closer, but if I’d had this kind of thing with a boyfriend, I’d probably have married him,” Hermione said. “So, I don’t know, do what you need to. I can follow your lead. Mostly.” She paused. “I don’t think I can do particularly passive, though, if that’s your ideal.”
Draco snorted. “You really do have all the wrong ideas about me,” he said.
“I guess you did date Pansy,” Hermione said, dryly. “Pansy is the opposite of passive.”
“We didn’t, actually,” Malfoy said. “Well, okay, we said we did, but she just didn’t want to deal with declining arranged marriage proposals.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you really liked fake relationships,” Hermione said, lightly.
“They’re really great on the lack of commitment front,” Malfoy said, sounding amused. “What more could you want?”
“Fake sex probably gets really boring after a while,” Hermione said.
“There’s that,” Malfoy said.
“What did you want to ask, by the way?” Hermione said. “Before.”
“Oh,” he said, then paused. “I didn’t think you’d be…” He laughed. “I don’t know, you’re the opposite of self-conscious and reserved. Maybe I should have been expecting that. I think I might have to recalibrate.”
“I can probably stop taking my clothes off in front of you if you want,” Hermione said.
“Is that what you normally do?” Malfoy said. “Throwing clothes everywhere and talking about sex?”
“Pretty much,” Hermione said. “Trust me, Harry’s gotten significantly more traumatized than you every time we’ve gone on vacations together.”
“So that’s real,” Malfoy said.
“Yeah,” Hermione said, laughing too. “I mean – I’m faking it, but not about all that. You can probably take it at face value. Or I can dial it back if I’m actually making you uncomfortable.”
She probably shouldn’t have been entirely surprised that Malfoy was a little uptight about her being open about sex. Even if she was definitely pretending. It seemed sort of stupid to hash out rules for a fake relationship, but it was probably necessary.
“You’re not,” Malfoy said. “Or, all right, not anything I can’t handle. I don’t think you should try to be someone you’re not either. We might have to keep this up for a while.”
“That’s what I meant, earlier,” Hermione said. “I think we should just try to be ourselves and see where that gets us.”
“I think so too,” Malfoy said. “Did you actually want a nap? I guess we can practice not elbowing each other in the kidneys.”
“I do,” Hermione said. “This whole no work thing is exhausting.”