Chapter 1: Prologue
Year 0, Day 0, Hour 20:00
“I was under the impression that you rarely attend social events,” Hermione Granger comments just as her companion reaches for his wine glass. Her own hand is entwined in the chain of the locket that always graces her neck. “In fact, I think you said as much yourself … but with a few choice words, of which I think ‘swine’ was the most tame.”
Draco Malfoy glances up from the table, lips clamped together in an attempt not to laugh. “Normally. But I just can’t resist a free quality meal. Especially at the Ministry’s expense.”
The corners of her mouth turn up. “Who knew you were so cheap?”
“I prefer opportunistic.”
“Excuses. Admit it, you’re as excited about this project as any of us.” With that, she looks pointedly at the remaining guests at their table.
There are three others; each is an instrumental part in some facet of their preparation for the trial. The three—two witches and a wizard ranging from fresh out of school to three decades into the work force—had been virtually hand-selected. It’s in both his and Granger’s nature to seek excellence in their respective associates. Otherwise, what’s the point? There’s almost nothing worse, in his humble opinion, than being in the presence of someone who just jabbers on whilst you feel your brain cells killing themselves for mercy.
He can’t help but return her smirk. It’s true. If this project pans out, he will not only stand to inherit quite the profit thanks to his financial investment in the trial, but his actual career will benefit greatly. Being the only prosecutor with access to such memory technology will give him more of an edge than anyone in a courtroom would expect from someone like him.
And if it doesn’t, he doesn’t stand to lose much. As much as he dislikes thinking about the possibility of defeat or failure, it is something with which he is rather familiar. The only thing he really has these days is his job, which they can’t very well take from him when the trial is completely ordained by the MLE (the pigs are just happy that they don’t have to foot the entire bill). And his mum, but he’s more than completely sure she’s a secure thing in his life. If the Blacks are good for anything, it’s their undying loyalty.
“I must admit, Granger, when you came to me with this idea, I thought it was your most hare-brained yet.” He takes a long sip of the Riesling he and Granger had decided to split. One of the few commonalities they’d discovered through preparing for this was their taste in wine. In fact, she’d suggested it, as the “economical thing to do”, since a glass costs the same as half of a bottle. He’d decided not to remind her she wasn’t paying for the meal.
“Colour me surprised.”
“Oh my! I thought nothing could faze the great Draco Malfoy.”
“I said nothing about being fazed. ‘Surprised’ was the word.”
“And is that a good ‘surprised’ or a bad ‘surprised’?”
“Won’t know until the results of the trial come out, now, will we?”
“You do realize when those are coming out, don’t you?”
Five whole years. The joys of the scientific process, especially when combined with bureaucracy.
“A handful of patience is worth a bushel of brains.” She simply raises her eyebrow in response. He supposes she was valiantly trying to ‘dignify that with an answer’. “One of my favourite Dutch proverbs, you know. I particularly like the fact that it’s a bushel of brains, don’t you?”
He sniggers as she shoves his face to the side. “Oh, shut up, will you? Leave my hair alone.” He turns his head back to face her once she starts giggling.
A light cough brings both of their attentions across the table, where their youngest researcher sits with her glass raised. Miri smiles warmly at everyone. “A toast,” she begins, “to this wonderful project and this awe-inspiring team. It’s been an absolute honour working with such brilliant minds over the past few months. A huge thank you to Hermione for putting this group together and letting us be a part of this.”
“And to Malfoy,” Cameron quickly cuts in with a cheeky wink. “We really couldn’t have done it without your Gringotts account.” A solid thud sounds underneath the table, quickly followed by Cameron’s grunt of pain.
Hermione chuckles, and Cameron glares at Miri. “That was completely unnecessary. And okay,” he admits, looking back up at Draco, “we’re glad you’re testing the trial out for the Simmons case.”
“In all seriousness, you all should know this project would never have reached stage 2 without you, much less come to the actual trial.” Hermione raises her glass. “To Team Moneta.” She is rewarded with a number of sharp clinks against her glass and several excited faces.
Day 0, Day 0, Hour 23:00
Most of her life, Hermione has always thought being rich must be overrated. She’d always been happy with her middle-class life in her youth, and as far as she could tell, her parents were just as satisfied with their life.
Five minutes of lying in Draco’s bed, waiting to catch her breath, nearly completely changes that opinion. Nearly. She’s never been so comfortable in her life. It’s like lying on a cloud. A very fluffy cloud, with goose feathers and the softest sheets she’s ever felt against her skin and a warm body surrounding her.
Once her heart rate returns to something resembling normality, she takes a quick breath and climbs out of his plush bed. “I should really go. If I fall asleep here, I won’t want to get up until Friday.”
“Feeling less stressed, then?”
By the time she’s found her dress and heels and dressed enough for her trip through the Floo network, he is standing next to his bed. It’s unfair of him to say something so cheeky when she can barely get her words from her mind to her mouth. Apparently her wit and his nakedness are not meant to coexist. Especially when mixed with fatigue and wine.
She yawns and shrugs as she pulls the satiny sheath over her head, tugging it to the proper length just above her knees. “Sure.” She’s trying to will herself not to think about where they will go now. Will they continue along this path of (bad bad bad) flirtation, or is it one of those Thrill of the Chase things for him? A one-off, perhaps? She shakes her head in an attempt to get rid of those sorts of thoughts, ones that include almost inevitable hopes, which always seem to attract disappointment. With the trial beginning in the morning, she has bigger things to be anxious about. Like the future of her career or, more importantly, her research.
Hermione jolts. When she’d turned around to pull her shoes on, using the doorframe as support, he’d been standing several metres away. His sudden proximity is disorienting, to say the least. She glances over her shoulder at him, eyes wide. “Am I? Just tired, I guess.”
He chuckles low, placing open-mouthed kisses on her bare neck as he zips the back of her dress. Goosebumps remain in the wake of his soft lips.
She straightens her posture, slightly wobbly on unsteady legs and her pumps. “You know, this is highly unethical.”
He seems completely unfazed as his hands move to rub her arm, his face still dangerously close to her neck. “Do you really think I care about ethics?”
“Well, you should,” she says, turning around to face him, despite how red her cheeks must be. She knows she probably paints the perfect image of a deer in headlights.
“If you say so.”
She merely nods. “Um, well, I’d better go. Need to get a good nigh—” His lips cut her off, and she can’t help but lean into him. When she opens her eyes again, he is smirking at her. Never has she wanted to wipe it off his face more than in that moment.
“Good night, Granger. Big day tomorrow.”
She sighs, her mind veering back and forth between her recollection of the past hour and the pressure of everything she’s got to do tomorrow. She really needs to get a full night’s rest, which is looking tentative at best. “Right. Good night.”
Year 0, Day 1, Hour 9:00
The Memory Investigation office, nestled deep within the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Magical Law Enforcement, screams of chaos. Memos have been flying since six that morning, and the small office is filled to the brim with assistants, researchers, officials, and lawyers running back and forth to finish preparing for the meeting.
When Hermione walks in the door at precisely nine o’clock on this, the most important day of her life—or rather, career—she has to stop herself in the doorway for the first time ever and take a quick pause for breath. Today would be stressful, she’d always known, but she hadn’t quite envisioned this level of pandemonium.
She closes her eyes, sparing a short moment for sanity. Today marks the beginning of a change to her career. Whether said change will be positive or negative is up in the air, but the tentative optimist in Hermione is insistent on the former. Still, she’s on edge with frayed nerves.
Needing a moment of calm, she reaches for her locket. It contains still photographs of her parents, the very raison d’être for her passion for memory research and her involvement in the MI department. At times, that small pendant has stood as a tether to sanity over the past couple of years. Her eyes shoot wide open, spine stiff as a board, when her fingers graze bare skin.
“Shit.” Her whisper flies out on a breath, her mind racing with the possibilities of where she’d left it. It could be virtually anywhere. Christ, but it’s so unlike her to misplace something, much less something so valuable—even if it’s all in personal sentiment.
Before she can get carried away in mentally retracing her steps, Miri appears before her. The younger witch’s smile is wide with unadulterated excitement. “Are you ready for this, Hermione? We’re going to make a difference today.”
“Come on, the meeting’s starting.”
As she follows Miri to the conference room, Hermione does her best to gather her mental faculties. This is the last preliminary meeting before the trial officially begins this afternoon, but the Ministry still has the ability to stop it in its tracks if they suspect a single gear is out of place. She needs to be completely mentally present at that meeting, prepared to answer any and all questions the group of media representatives and Ministry officials would have. She can’t be distracted by something so seemingly trivial as a missing necklace.
Perhaps she just left it in her bag…
“All right. We might as well get started since everyone’s arrived.” Cameron stands at the front of the room, marking the beginning of the meeting. The noise dies out within seconds, though some tension remains. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming.”
Miri nudges Hermione, who follows her to the front of the room near Moira. Together, the four of them stand as the researchers for an investigation called several different things. Officially, mainly for the purpose of the press, it’s called “Project Moneta”, taking the name of Ancient Rome’s goddess of memory. Most commonly amongst the researchers, however, it is referred to as “The Trial”. The MI office likes to throw around the words “harvesting” and “transplants” as well. Anything to sound like they know what they’re talking about.
This is actually, in all probability, the largest number of people that have ever congregated in MI’s small office. The Facilities department had cast plenty of Extension charms on the usually smaller room. Twenty officials from various departments of the Ministry, as well as a small number of reporters from the likes of the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler, sit around a half-moon table, their attentions focused on Cameron. He is, for all intents and purposes, the mouthpiece for the project. He and Miri are equally charismatic, in Hermione’s opinion, but Miri is often taken less seriously due not only to her age but that she looks evenyounger than her nineteen years. The girl often blamed her height, or lack thereof—what she likes to refer to as being “vertically challenged”. As much as the thought of that particular injustice makes Hermione bristle, she knows that battle is for another day.
“As you all should be well aware, today marks the end of the preliminary stage of Project Moneta and the beginning of the trial stage. Our team has spent months researching and preparing for this day, and we could not be more excited to stand here before you. If you’re unsure of what exactly Project Moneta is … well, you’ve likely strolled into the wrong meeting. However, I will humour you.” Cameron chuckles to himself quietly.
Hermione frowns and clears her throat, sending him a warning glare. She knows his tendency to joke around with virtually everything, and this is neither the time nor the place. The younger individuals may appreciate his attempts to lighten up the meeting, but the majority of the big-wigs are much more traditional and sober about things as potentially controversial as this study.
Her hand reaches for the chain around her neck out of habit and comes up empty once more. She grasps the neckline of her Ministry robes, grateful for something to hold onto despite her growing anxiety. Where had she put the bloody locket?
Cameron sighs quietly, a sign of—hopefully, thinks Hermione—his acquiescence. “You all probably know that the purpose of this project is to investigate innovations to memory investigation. Currently, the only memory technology we have apart from what we call First-Degree Recollection—that is to say, the recollection a witness gives of his or her own memory—is the Pensieve, often paralleled as Second-Degree Recollection. Although Pensieves have helped the MLE in leaps and bounds, the technology is still limiting and fallible.
“Team Moneta researched and developed this trial to test another manner of viewing second-degree memories. While we currently use Pensieves as the medium through which we view another person’s memories, we have reason to believe a much more efficient way to view them is to use our own brains as the medium.”
A hand shoots in the air. Dangling from it is a quill with which Hermione is irritatingly familiar.
“Yes, Ms Skeeter?” Cameron asks, his nose twitching a little.
“What … exactly does that mean? Using your brains as a medium.”
Cameron looks relieved as Moira steps up to answer. “It’s essentially an implant. Simply put, a memory is inserted through cutting edge technology—”
“And what technology might that be, ma’am?”
“I’m afraid that’s quite confidential,” Moira states. This is what Hermione loves about that woman: so matter-of-fact. Unfortunately, she also knows how wily Rita Skeeter fancies herself.
“Surely you can give some sort of information about it.”
Distracted from her anxiety by her disdain for the woman sitting in what looked more like a lime than a pantsuit, Hermione clears her throat, ensuring the attention will shift to her and away from Moira. “The thing about confidentiality, Ms Skeeter, is that it remains in confidence. You should be well aware of the Ministry’s regulations regarding such matters by now. We as the research and development team for this project are not in the position to offer the information you seek.” Rita turns to face Hermione, her nose turned up just so. “Now, if you are still interested in such information, you can take it up with our investors.”
“And they would be?”
Hermione can’t help but smile. It might be slightly triumphant. “Why, the Ministry itself, of course. They are rather tight-lipped about their new technologies, but not quite as much as the other investor.” Every guest in the room, looks expectantly at her, though Hermione really only cares about Rita’s reaction. “Mr Draco Malfoy.”
The explosion of conversation that erupts after that revelation is expected. The idea that two such prominent figures from the war as Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy could work in any capacity together still shocks the public. Even after nearly five years, his name sparks with controversy. Smears are not so frequent anymore, but neither are they yet obsolete.
Another hand rises, and Cameron jumps at the chance to answer a question not from one yielding a Quick Quotes Quill.
“Yes, thank you,” says the young reporter. “There has been a rumour of Draco Malfoy’s participation in the trial, but I thought it was not financial.”
Cameron nods. “You’re quite right. Mr Malfoy has been involved since the beginning of the preparations. He is the lawyer the trial will be providing information for.”
“Is that not a conflict of interest?”
“Not at all, considering he is not involved in any of the actual R&D—sorry, research and development. He is simply receiving the information as evidence for his case.”
“But if he stands to make a profit off of the technology…”
“I assure you, the MLE and the Minister have both been informed and have come to the agreement that Mr Malfoy’s participation as both an investor and lawyer using information from the trial is by no means whatsoever illegal or unethical. Any other questions?”
“You said the technology uses someone’s brain as a medium. Who will be participating as the medium in the trial?”
“To be honest, we’re more than impressed that this little tidbit hadn’t been leaked before now,” Miri pipes in, her excitement almost tangible.
Hermione stuffs her hands into the pockets of her robes in an attempt to hide how much they are shaking.
“Our first … ‘medium’, as you put it, will in fact be our very own Hermione Granger. Although, we’ve been using the word ‘proxy’.”
She forces herself to smile at the reporters and officials surrounding her. She needs to find that damned locket as soon as possible. Hermione can honestly not see herself surviving the day without it.
Year 0, Day 1, Hour 11:55
“All right there, Granger?” Hermione raises her head from her folded arms. Malfoy stands in the doorway to her office, which is truly more of a closet.
It’s been at least two hours of frantic searching and wracking her brain—and still no cigar. No locket to be found … anywhere. She has spent the last twenty minutes going through the pros and cons of postponing the start of the trial and popping home to search for it. The only thing that has kept her in place is the idea of telling the technicians and her superiors—and her team!—that she can’t go through with it because of a bloody locket.
His smirk falls a little. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’, then.” He strolls in, taking the only other chair in the small room. Hermione’s anxiety has been high all morning; being in a small space with Malfoy elevates it so much that she wants to pull every hair out of her head if it will just free the pressure. She can’t remember being this on edge around any other bloke in her life.
A groan escapes her. “I don’t think I can do this.” His eyebrows furrow, and her stomach clenches. She hadn’t realized how loud she’d said that.
“Did the meeting really go that poorly?” A bit of concern tinges his voice. The unfamiliarity of it distracts Hermione for a moment, causing her to look up into his face rather than the corner of the doorframe she’d been gazing at so intently.
She clears her throat. “Erm, no, it went fantastically, actually.”
“Then what’s the problem? I thought everything was in order.”
“It is. … I just—something’s not right.” She fists the collar of her robes once again. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”
He stands abruptly, and she jolts, startled. “What are you talking about, you’re not ready?”
She has nothing she can tell him by way of explanation. “It’s silly, really—”
“Well, what is it? Come on, out with it. I’m sure we can figure something out.”
“I lost my necklace!” she finally blurts. Her cheeks redden almost instantly with humiliation. She hasn’t felt this vulnerable in a long time, and certainly not in front of Malfoy. Or is it Draco now? Seriously, this—this confusion and uncertainty about their new boundaries—is the last thing she needs.
He looks perplexed. “A necklace? You can’t go through with months’ worth of preparation and research because you don’t have a piece of jewellery with you?”
Her gaze falls down to her desk, which is littered with stacks of paperwork about the very research she’s spent the last several months on. “I told you it was silly.”
“Merlin, Granger. I—wait.” He pats his robe once or twice, feeling through the fabric of his pockets. His hand emerges from one of the chest pockets fisted, and he empties it onto her desk, an old locket falling out of his grasp. “I told you not to leave anything behind.”
Hermione nearly screams as she leaps from her chair. “Oh, Merlin! Did I really leave it at your—oh, thank God!”
“I intended to give it back after the procedure. Though, if I’d known how important it was to you…”
“Oh, never mind that!” She grabs the locket and walks around her desk to where he’s standing. “Would you mind clasping it for me?” she asks, holding the chain out to him. She’s sure that her eyes are shining with the unshed tears that are nearly blinding her, but she can’t bring herself to wipe them away.
He simply grabs it as she turns with her back towards him, and her entire body sags in relief once the clasp has been fastened once again around her neck. She’s so overcome that she quickly turns in his embrace, determined while she’s still got the courage, and captures his mouth hard with her own, her thumbs rubbing along his cheeks. When she pulls away, she’s certain that she looks as dazed as he does, perhaps more so. “Thank you so much, Draco,” she says, never more grateful in her entire life. “I don’t know how to repay you.”
He smirks. “Well, actually going through with this thing would be a start. Someone convinced me to put a lot into this project, if you recall.”
She smiles, almost shy. “Let’s get this show on the road then, shall we? I just need to grab the last of the paperwork.” As soon as she’s compiled everything the technicians need, she and Malfoy leave.
“So, did you get released from that liability rubbish?”
She smiles up at him. “Of course I did.”
“Oh, and let me guess. You didn’t take a single one of my suggestions to heart.” He smirks. They had had a very long discussion—some would call it an argument—over how she should go about dealing with the mountain of liability releases the Ministry wanted her to sign. His suggestions had been for word manipulation to avoid it, and Hermione had argued for what seemed like hours that there must be a more ethical way.
Her smile falters. As it was, she’d had to resort to what she is now mentally referring to as “Malfoyian” tactics. Basically Machiavellian, but with a slight difference she had yet to pinpoint. His knowing smile doesn’t help matters.
By the time they reach the conference room, her nerves are significantly less on edge, leaving her almost relaxed. The stress she feels from the oncoming procedure pales in comparison to the past couple of hours. But that makes sense. She’s researched and planned and prepared for this moment for what feels like years but is probably months. She, Miri, Cameron, and Moira had explored every possible avenue, and she is as sure as is possible that this will work.
The room shocks her at first when they enter. Even after so long in the Wizarding world, magic and how limitless it seems still catch her off guard at times. Like this. The conference room has been completely changed and expanded. In place of the stiff tables, chairs, and presentation materials stands furniture much more fitting of a room in St. Mungo’s. The place looks sterile in its brightness alone.
She spots a Healer in the corner conversing with Moira, who offers a warm smile. Next to the two brunette women is a small assortment of phials, each filled with something silver and viscous. Hermione moves to nudge Malfoy towards Moira and the Healer, but when her elbow swipes through air, she looks up to see that he’s already making his way over. Taking larger strides than usual, she catches up with him just as he stops next to Moira.
Malfoy’s entire body is suddenly as stiff as a board, and he falls back one step. Just as Hermione is about to question what’s happened, she recognizes the Healer, and her eyes widen.
“What are you doing here?” Katie Bell’s voice sounds low. She looks like she can’t decide whether she should be angry or afraid.
And Moira looks simply confused. “Mr Malfoy is the participating lawyer,” she explains. “He’s in charge of the case and is here to brief Hermione on the memories—right, Draco?”
Malfoy nods curtly, his gaze riveted now on the phials on the counter.
Katie snarls. “Fine. You can brief her whilst I check her vitals. Hermione, if you’ll take a seat.”
Hermione strides quickly to the seat her former House-mate motioned towards and perches on it. As Katie begins her array of diagnostic and other spells, he begins.
“As you know, this case is charging a man with burglary, and these memories were procured from the Simmons family’s house elves—voluntarily,” he quickly adds with a raise of his eyebrow at Hermione. “The first two are from the head elf, who apparently had the most contact with the intruder. There are two more from others in the staff, and we’ll only be administering four today, per your own suggestions, Granger.” Hermione nods. She’s heard this all before, seven ways to Sunday. She thinks she could probably recite the details about everything—the case, the memories, the procedure. “Granger and I have done a walk-through in each of the memories in the MLE’s Pensieve, so there should be no surprises.”
Hermione nods her affirmation once more, and then Malfoy drags Moira towards Cameron under the pretence of some legal something-or-other the two need to be aware of. Katie visibly relaxes once he’s several feet away. Her posture is less rigid now, and the frown on her face relaxes.
“You know, he’s changed,” Hermione whispers.
Katie’s hands still. “That’s easy for you to say.”
Hermione doesn’t know how to respond, and so, for once, she keeps quiet. She figures it’s the smart thing to do, considering Katie is armed with an arsenal of pointy objects.
“I still have nightmares,” Katie mutters, her voice pained and eyes shining. “I took this job to see some familiar faces, you know. That, and I’m quite interested in the research you’re doing, Hermione.” Hermione offers what she hopes is a reassuring smile. “But suffice to say, I’ll be asking for another Healer to be assigned to you lot.”
Hermione can think of nothing to comfort the girl but to grasp her hand and squeeze. “I understand, Katie. I promise we won’t be offended if you can’t do this.”
“Pity, too. This really is great work you’re doing here.” Katie smiles at her then, a first for the day. “Well, you’ve got a clean bill of health. Looks like we’re set to start this.” She quickly summons the others over to Hermione’s chair. “Is this everybody, then?”
Cameron affirms with a yell before he locks the door, ensuring no interruptions. As the group gathers around her, Hermione begins to feel more and more anxious. Her knee begins to dance with anticipation.
“Nervous?” Hermione’s eyes dart up to see Cameron smirking, trying to contain his own excitement.
“Hardly,” she states primly. “Just ready to dive in and get this done with finally.”
Cameron simply nods, and she knows he doesn’t believe her. Well, it’s at least half-true. She couldn’t consider herself human if she weren’t the least bit nervous about sticking something foreign in her mind. The idea frightens her, but she’s also as excited as she’s ever been.
“I’ll assume that satisfies the vow of consent,” Miri says, looking at Malfoy, who nods. “Right then. Healer Bell, whenever you’re ready!”
Hermione can barely hold in her chuckle at Miri’s enthusiasm. She then looks up at Katie and nods with a small smile. The Healer gives her a vial of a purple liquid, explaining, “Just a sedative. You need to be asleep for the procedure.” She then summons the first of the four vials. Hermione nods and thinks to herself, Bottoms up, old girl.
What seems like seconds later, her eyes open to the bright lights of the conference room. Just as she’s about to ask what’s happened, her mind flits straight to a strange, new memory. She closes her eyes once more and tries to steady her breathing when she feels something akin to an old, heavy door opening.
Year 0, Day 3, Hour 19:00
Hermione sighs at the awkward silence and continues to stir her soup. Harry had certainly never hidden his feelings, and their dinner that evening is no different. Waves of disapproval seem to waft from his being, complete with a deep frown and an untouched plate.
“Harry, are you going to eat, or are you just going to glare at me all night?” she asks as she manoeuvres the spoonful of broth to her mouth.
He blinks, his eyes refocusing on her face. “I wasn’t glaring.”
“Fine. Are you going to eat, or are you just going to frown at me all night?” Semantics.
And with that, his frown deepens. She hadn’t thought it possible.
“We’re just worried, Hermione,” Ron pipes in from beside her, having decided to take a breath between bites for once. “Even Luna thinks the whole thing’s odd.” He adds with a whisper, “And that’s certainly saying something, isn’t it?” though not as low as he’d thought. Harry’s frown then does really turn to a glare, followed by a loud thud and Ron’s grunt of pain.
“I’ve told you all, you’ve got nothing to worry about! I’m perfectly fine.” She’s been trying to explain how safe the project is for months, as well as how instrumental, at least to her. Ron mostly accepted—she isn’t so delusional to think he truly understands—what she tells them, but Harry? The only word can she think of to describe his reaction is ‘resistant’. How much time he spends with Luna probably isn’t helping Hermione’s case in his book.
Luna’s reaction had actually been the most surprising to Hermione. It was, in fact, the first time she’d seen the girl so ill at ease. Hermione had half-expected Luna to be as excited about it as she herself was, but then again, she and Luna have never seen things the same way.
Harry lets out a grunt, which Hermione doesn’t know how to interpret. Just as she’s about to ask what he wants, because honestly, she’s sick and tired of all the brooding, sighing, and grunting, he cuts in, “Look, let’s just talk about something else, all right? There’s got to be something else we can talk about, right?”
“Erm,” starts Ron, “Ginny’s got a new bloke. Apparently he’s a reporter for the sports section of the Prophet and spends a lot of time around the team or something.”
“Glad to see we’ve moved the conversation onto bigger and better things,” mutters Hermione, “like gossip. I think the purpose was to pick something that’s going to lift Harry’s mood, not make it more sour, Ron!”
Ron looks at least somewhat sheepish. “Well, I don’t know what to bring up! The only people I see around besides you lot are my family. What else am I supposed to talk about?”
Hermione chances a quick glance at Harry. She thinks he looks mere seconds away from murdering the fish on his plate. Her gaze darts back to Ron. “Oh, I don’t know, what about the shop? How are George and Angelina doing? And Verity?” she hisses.
“Shop’s fine. We’re getting ready for that little anniversary party. Are you two coming, by the way?”
Harry nods. “Yeah, of course, mate.”
“Right then. I imagine you’ll be bringing Luna?” At Harry’s nod, Ron continues, “And you, Hermione?”
“Of course I’m coming.”
“Well, yeah. I’d have expected the moon to fall out of the sky first. What I meant was are you bringing anyone?”
Hermione blinks rapidly. “Oh.” She’d completely forgotten about a date. “Yeah, I probably will.” She has an idea of whom she’ll invite, though whether he’ll accept … that is a completely different question.
“Well, let me know if you need—”
She interrupts Ron mid-offer, “No, no. You don’t need to do that. Even if I don’t have someone to go with by then, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gone alone, would it? No.” She smiles and barely stops herself from winking. “From what I hear, there’s someone who’ll be expecting to be your plus-one, Ron.”
He blushes a little but manages a toothy grin. “So, how’s Luna doing, mate?” he asks their other half. Hermione hopes that the mention of his newly betrothed will bring a little sun back into him.
And it does. Just enough. “She’s great. Helping her father out with the magazine still. She claims the readership’s been going up by a steady 300 hyatiwatts per month or something.” Hermione’s always found Luna’s oddities … well, at odds with her own hyper-logical personality, but she’d bear five million hyatiwatts of nargles if it means keeping that bit of sun in Harry. The logic could wait.
She spoons herself another bit of soup but can’t enjoy it, despite how delicious it’d been twenty minutes ago. Hermione’s never been able to enjoy a soup gone cold. Something of the flavour always seems to go with the heat, and even a solid Heating Charm never can quite do the trick. It never tastes the same. She supposes it’s the same with some things in life. Relationships, perhaps. It’s what had happened with Harry and Ginny years ago. They lost something of their very essence, and no matter how much either of them tried, everything else seemed to fall short.
“Have you two started planning yet—for the wedding?” she asked, setting her spoon down. Luckily, Harry has found a new soup, so to speak. This one was so much less heated in the beginning, and nobody had really understood the attraction. But whatever heat had begun between Luna Lovegood and Harry Potter two years ago has never waned; whether it’s increased was the couple’s secret to tell, but it’s obvious to most who care to look that the heat is constant. Hermione’s logical mind compared Ginny and him to the flame that burned hot and burned out quickly, but he and Luna are much more the flame that starts low but always burns, whether it increases or remains in stasis.
“She really wants a spring wedding, so it’ll probably be this time next year,” Harry answers, a smile tugging on the sides of his mouth. Hermione smiles and squeezes his hand.
Year 0, Day 3, Hour 20:00
“I still don’t see why we couldn’t be there, Hermione.”
Hermione’s eyes fall shut. She had hoped to avoid this conversation altogether, but it seems that Harry was just waiting until Ron left to really dig into her on the subject. There’s also the fact that they’re outside of the restaurant, away from the threat of causing a scene. Auror training has certainly honed his skills, but Hermione has always thought an Auror must be at least a little Slytherin. “Don’t be brave!” she'd heard a ranked Auror shout at his trainees once, which had certainly turned her for a loop.
“I’m part of the MLE, Hermione.”
“Harry, I realise that. There wasn’t the room.”
“Haven’t you heard of Expans—”
“We just wanted it small and quick, with only the necessary people there.”
“And Malfoy’s more necessary than me?” Hermione could almost hear the dual hurt and anger in his voice. Even after so many years as an MLE lackey and, later, an Auror, he takes almost everything as a personal offense.
“Harry. Stop this,” she says, grabbing his hand once more. “Malfoy had to be there to brief the case, and you know it. I obviously survived intact, no harm done.”
“I just still think this is a bad idea.”
“And I know why you’re doing it, Hermione.” When she simply looks at him in question, he continues, “It won’t bring them back, whatever you’re doing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“All this research you’re doing, this development where it really doesn’t belong … ” Harry says, taking ginger hold of the pendant around her neck and opening the locket. Her parents, not moving in their Muggle photographs, look back at him. “It isn’t going to bring them back to you or bring you back to them.”
She swallows, a lump having formed in her throat. “Nothing is absolute.” Hermione can’t bring herself to say the words that had been on the tip of her tongue: You don’t know that. It sounds so childish to her ears, petulant even. And there isn’t a single other thing she could say that would have born more proof to Harry’s claim. “Besides, this trial has nothing to do with reclaiming memories. It’s ab—”
“Yes, I know. It’s all about ‘better memory investigation’. I’ve heard your speech countless times, in person and on paper, Hermione.” He steps closer to her, and suddenly their height discrepancy is much more obvious. She has to hold her head back to an uncomfortable angle to even meet the level of his face, much less eyes. “But I’m afraid that you’re putting yourself onto a slippery slope.” He ignores the roll of her eyes. “Maybe if you weren’t so obsessed—”
Hermione’s jaw drops. “I’m not obsessed! What are you on about?”
“Really?” His gaze drops to her locket again. “Right, then tell me why you don’t wear any other necklace.” She can feel her cheeks heating, and she curses her utter inability to control how easily she blushes. “Or why you have an anxiety attack each time you misplace it?”
Her silence greets him.
“Hermione,” he says softly as he pulls her into a tight hug. “Just promise me you know what you’re doing.”
She nods and, muffled against his jumper, answers, “I promise.”
“And that you’ll ask for help if something goes wrong.” There’s no room for question.
She nods again, her eyes shining. “I promise, although nothing is going to go wrong.”
He smiles down at her, the first she’s received that night unsolicited. “Ever the optimist.”
“I prefer realist,” she says with a smile.
Chapter 2: Part One
Year 5, Day 271, Hour 06:45
A ticking next to his head startles Draco from his sleep.
He grunts as his body protests the interruption, although they each know it’s futile at this point. Once he’s awake, he’s awake for good—especially with the sun shining so brightly through the window. Usually he can sleep through the light, and at times through the buzzing alarm set on the wand under his pillow, but that’s contingent upon his face not being exposed to the blaring sun rays. Today is no such day.
He gazes down at his chest, blinking to focus his eyesight, and grabs the arm that’s lying across him. He turns it gingerly, too lazy at this point to engage all his muscles, and takes a moment to read the face of the obnoxiously ticking watch. Barely seven, reads the culprit. Bloody menace, this watch is. Ticking is certainly not his favourite means of being woken.
Even after so many years of getting up at or around this time nearly every day (with the exception of the sacred Sunday), he still has to convince himself to get out of his warm bed each morning. Seven is an unholy time of day, in his humble opinion. The wrist in his grasp, which just so happens to be connected to the body keeping his bed warm, begins to flex and he drops it just as his bedmate draws into a stretch. Ever so cat-like, his Hermione Granger.
“Too early,” he hears mumbled through pillows and covers.
“It’s your own damn fault. If your watch didn’t tick so obnoxiously, I’d still be asleep for,” he grabs her wrist again to read the time, “another fifteen minutes.”
When she begins to burrow back into her covers—a habit he blames on spending entirely too much time at the Weasleys’—he pushes himself up to a sitting position and is about to poke her side, when she smiles.
“Mmm, yes. Perfect. Just stay there, please.”
Draco frowns in confusion, then notices the large expanse of shadow he’s drawing over her face. “What, so you can sleep longer? Fat chance.” He laughs then draws his long legs out from their duvet—not before giving her a solid prod to the flesh lining her ribs as he’d initially planned. She grunts in response—yes, she’s quite eloquent in the mornings—and just as he’s passing through the doorway to the remainder of the flat, he hears small thumps as she walks to the loo.
Year 5, Day 271, Hour 07:15
Her hair finally presentable after a few attempts at drying charms, Hermione runs her hand through her hair to move the wayward mess out of her face. Her hand stops midway, though, accompanied by a yelp as her hand gets tangle in the curls. She winces. “Again?”
After a short time of detangling her fingers and then the ring that’d gotten caught on her curls, Hermione looks down at the piece of silver and diamond in her hand. She pulls a stray hair off the stone, where it’d been caught somewhere in the scuffle between jagged jewelry and hair, and slips the ring back onto his left ring finger. Four months of wearing this thing, and she still hadn’t learned not to run her hand through her bloody hair.
Four months. It’s still surreal to her that she’s engaged. Engaged to be married. To Draco Malfoy. Even more surreal is the thought that in the coming spring she would actually be married to him. Forever. Every time this thought has crossed her mind over the past few months, her reaction has surprised her, and this morning is no different. She feels much more of an excited nervousness than the anxiety attack she’d always expected.
In fact, she probably has that goofy grin Ron has complained about occasionally—in good humour, that is (at least she assumes and hopes so). A glance at the mirror confirms this. She’s sure Ron’s complaints about her happiness are just teasing; he never can keep a straight face throughout any comment. In fact—
She’s jarred from her thoughts by two sharp raps on the door behind her. Hermione quickly grabs her watch—which she’s happy she remembered to remove before getting in the shower this morning—and opens the door to let Draco in. She pauses to attach her watch to her wrist as he saunters in.
With a quick glance at what she’s doing, he mutters, “I really don’t understand why you don’t get one of those other watches—the ones you don’t have to bloody translate?”
Hermione can’t help but chuckle. “I’m going to ignore the fact that you just commended Muggle technology, though only for a moment. First, why are you complaining about my watch? You don’t need to use it.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that I do. So, why don’t you? It’s got to be loads easier, right?”
“I’m perfectly content reading my analog watch and not going digital, thank you very much. Especially now that there’s the potential that it’ll keep you from constantly grabbing my wrist to check the time.”
“As if that would work.”
“Get your own bloody watch, Draco.” She struggles not to laugh. That would be tantamount to defeat. It’s always the little battles with them.
He smirks. “And when you get a digibal one, I won’t wake up to ticking watches any more.”
“Digital,” she corrects with a smirk to rival his own. He rolls his eyes. “And you say that as if I’m going to get a digital watch.” He grins. Cheeky bastard. “Which is false.”
He simply chuckles in response, which she knows is (unfortunately) a sign that he thinks she’s the false one. All in all, Hermione doesn’t get his problem with the ticking watch. She likes the sound of it, and she’s certainly never woken to any ticking. It’s hardly the watch’s fault (or hers, for that matter) that he sleeps so lightly.
As she turns to walk through the doorway to the bedroom, Draco steps into the shower. “I’d offer for you to join me, but,” he gestured to her hair with a pause, “I really don’t fancy being drowned by that thing you call hair.”
“Blast!” she says with a grin. “You’ve foiled my master plan.”
Year 5, Day 271, Hour 07:30
“Well, hello, Headmistress. I see you’ve managed to tame the beast.”
She stops mid-sip, and her free hand flies to her hair. Her gaze narrows and then darts over to her fiancé, who’s walking towards her, every strand of hair and fiber of fabric looking immaculate as always. It still boggles her mind daily that Draco can manage to look so perfectly put-together with just a quarter hour, shower included. Hermione’s lucky if she’s presentable within forty-five minutes.
Her fear of rings and hair tangling had pushed her to pull her hair as out of the way as humanly possible. The result was a bun, which she’d fervently hoped looked more stylish and less uptight.
“Are you insinuating what I think you’re insinuating?” she asks slowly, watching him warily.
“I’m not a Seer, Hermione,” he says.
She gapes at his roundabout answer, then closes her eyes in exasperation. Always with the non-answers. Answering with a question or something totally unrelated or something that he thinks trumps whatever she’s said. It isn’t until she opens her eyes and notices him lift a teacup to his lips that she realises he’s taken hers right out of her hands.
“Draco!” she chides, snatching the cup back. “Get your own, you pillock.”
He simply stares ahead and frowns. “That was much too bitter.”
“Perhaps because it’s my bloody tea and I don’t drown it in sugar like some people,” she says before taking her own gratuitous gulp of the liquid. Bloody wanker steals her tea right after insulting her, comparing her to— “McGonagall.”
Draco raises his eyebrow in response.
“McGonagall. You compared me to her.”
He smirks. “Well, you do look a bit matronly. It looks like you’re just asking for a migraine. Not that you need help in that department.”
Hermione’s emotional reaction sways between anger at the offense and dejection. “How do you like having a matronly wife?”
“You’re not my wife.”
“Fine. Matronly fiancée, then.” She pauses. “Unless this is your way of saying you really don’t want a wife.”
His face flashes with a glimpse of something she can’t quite decipher, though just for a moment. It quickly reverts to something indicative of teasing. “You can’t get rid of me that easily. You’re stuck with me.”
She smiles in response, then moves to refill her cup with fresh tea. Just in case he feels like stealing her tea again, she leaves it black. It’s not undrinkable, at least not to her. Draco’s prefer three large scoops of sugar in each small cup of tea if he could get away with it. The trick, his mother’d once told her, is to drop a quiet remark about sugar and his figure every once in a while. Hermione doubted there was a Malfoy in existence who hadn’t been plagued by vanity.
“But really, why do you always wear your hair up these days? I seem to remember you leaving the beast down every once in a while.”
She holds up her left hand in response. “I have a habit of running my hands through my hair, and the ring gets caught. It’s quite painful.”
“So, why don’t you stop?” he asks, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. He would, with his short, silky, not-curly hair.
She narrows her eyes. “I can’t. It’s not as easy as saying, oh, I’m just not going to do this anymore.”
“Sure it is.”
He nods slowly, though she notes his gaze grows more calculating as she smirks. “Though I suppose you’ll learn your lesson eventually.”
“You’re not one to talk,” she says. “You still crack your joints as much as you did when we were in school.”
“Perhaps,” he says. He pulls his left hand into a fist, and she imagines the very mention of the word crack makes him want to pop his knuckles. “But your habit does two things mine does not.” He holds up a forefinger, and her eyebrows raise in question. “It causes you pain.” She frowns, about to say that it wasn’t her fingers but his ring that causes the pain, and that it’s not serious pain by any means. His second finger joins the forefinger of his left hand. “And it causes you to change bits about yourself.”
Her mouth falls open, and she’s not sure what to say to him, but only because so many things are flying through her head.
“Do I get a touché?” he asks with a glint in his eye. One she’d dearly love to remove forcibly.
Her eyes narrow again then. “Only you would make a big deal out of hair. It was one of two options. This, or not wearing the ring. Which would you prefer?”
He frowns again, drawing closer. She almost flinches when he reaches near her neck, but he just maneuvers his fingers so that the bun her hair is pulled into loosens. “Now you make me less inclined to shove a headache tonic down your throat.”
Hermione’s gaze travels to his face, her eyebrows drawn. “Should I be thanking you?”
Draco doesn’t answer. He simply smiles and then kisses her. Her smile and fluttering stomach are almost immediate responses. Sometimes she worries about how easily she responds to him. It’s unlike anything she’s ever experienced. But she’s gotten past the point of no return; she can’t imagine living in a world where the two of them were apart.
Year 5, Day 280, Hour 16:50
Hermione turns the last page over slowly, the fact that the report is finished hitting her like a splash of water. Her heart speeds up when the page settles, finding itself perfectly in line with the stack of hundreds of pages upon which it has fallen. These hundreds of pages, as well as thousands of others that had gone the way that drafts usually do, are everything she has worked on the past several years.
Five years, she thinks. It’s still disconcerting to think so much time has passed since the beginning of the trial—to think of how much has happened in that time. She still cannot believe the impact her research has had on the Wizarding world at large to date, and she can only imagine what it will accomplish in the future. Surely, this is what it means to feel successful.
A knock on her doorframe—she’d apparently forgotten to close her door since her lunch break—jolts her out of her musings. At the sight of Miri’s beaming face, Hermione can’t help but to mirror it. The girl’s joy was contagious on the most morose of days; on days like this her enthusiasm would catch like wildfire.
“You ‘bout ready, then?”
With a small smile, she nods. “Yeah, of course. I just finished the last revision.” She quickly binds the report and gathers her effects.
“Fantastic,” Miri exclaims, and Hermione can’t help but wince, the near-shout sending a jolt to her temple. For such a small person, Miri has a surprising ability to speak up both in volume and pitch, sometimes at the same time. Mostly when she’s very excited. And it’s those times when Hermione doesn’t have the heart to admonish her for her enthusiasm. (In truth, Cameron generally took it upon himself to do it anyway.)
Their walk to the conference room is very relaxed, with Miri’s energy and excitement mounting steadily. She’s practically bouncing on the balls of her feet, and not for the first time, Hermione is reminded of Tonks. Much like her, Miri is passionate to a tee, and nobody could contest her work ethics and ability, but there’s always a childlike wonder and excited energy about her. It’s something Hermione often wishes were instilled in more people.
“Have you two love-birds selected a date yet?”
Hermione nods with a grin.
Her grin widens. "The invitations'll be out soon. Have some patience, Miri!"
“Fine, don't tell me." Miri huffs. "Oh, are you two still coming out with us tonight?”
Hermione nods quickly. “Yeah, I believe so. Don’t see why not!”
Miri beams. “Excellent! Just like old times.” She pauses. “You know, it’s strange.”
“This project’s officially over. Not that it won’t continue on for years, but the team’s ... you know, we’re splitting up. Five years of working together and it feels like when the Weird Sisters called it quits.”
Hermione grips her hand and squeezes. “We’ll still see each other plenty.” With a wink, she says, “You can’t get rid of me that easily! MI is just expanding, and all three of you really deserve a bit of a promotion after all the work you’ve put in. I’m more than happy that the trial’s going into a further stage of development. Give you lot a chance to spread your wings.”
Miri smiles, returning the squeeze. “Yeah, of course. It just feels like the end of an era or something.”
And what an era it has been, Hermione thinks. She feels like the past five years have contained ten years’ worth of work--not because she feels overworked, but rather because the progress of Project Moneta has been that fulfilling for her, made her feel that accomplished--but at the same time, she feels like it’s passed in the blink of an eye. The end has come quickly. And Miri’s right. This era is ending, and the only thing Hermione can really count on in the near future is a lot of change.
When she and Miri arrive at the conference room, Cameron and Moira are sitting. Moira has the fingers on one hand fanned out to cover as much of her--very red--face as possible, and Cameron has the largest possible smirk gracing his face.
Miri pokes his shoulder hard. “Oy, Cam, what’d we tell you about telling poor Moira there dirty jokes?”
Cameron’s mouth hangs open in what must be mock shock. “What? Me, tell dirty jokes? I am offended.” He rubs his shoulder. “And blimey, that smarts. Watch where you put that thing, Mir. And I will have you know that I did not tell Moira anything dirty. It was specifically a non-dirty joke.”
Moira, who appears significantly less red, nods.
Hermione can’t help but chuckle. “Let’s hear it, then. What’s your hilarious joke, Cameron?”
“Oh, no,” he says, leaning back in his chair a bit.
“Stingy,” Hermione chides.
He grins. “So, tell me: why’s this got to be so formal? You’re just handing reports off to the three of us. Reports that we helped write, might I add.”
“How is this formal?” Hermione asked.
“It’s so ... official,” Cameron says, his voice teetering on the edge of a whinge.
“Ministry policy. I’ve got to do the hand-over in the presence of—” The familiar sound of a throat clearing shortly interrupts her train of thought. “In the presence some official representative or another.” She could just hear Draco: Wouldn’t be surprised if you knocked someone’s eye out. “We had to have official details booked, since our lawyer seems to have gone and got busy on us.” Hermione turned her head to quirk an eyebrow at their most recent arrival. “So glad you could grace us with your presence.”
He simply smirks and crosses the remaining distance between the door and their small table. “I’m sure.”
Hermione doesn’t know whether it should bother her that her immediate reaction to that smirk is still, even after all this time, a faster heartbeat.
Year 5, Day 280, Hour 17:30
“So,” Cameron exclaims as he stands abruptly, “time for dinner, yes?”
“Sure, let me just hand these copies off to the Head,” Hermione says, holding up a stack of reports meant for the Head of MLE and Kingsley. “We should be there in fifteen minutes.”
Cameron smirks. “Give or take three minutes, eh?” he says with a snigger. At the perplexed looks from the women surrounding him, his brow furrows. “You know, it only takes—you don’t know? They say it only takes three minu—”
“I suggest you not finish that sentence, Spencer,” Draco drawls, and Hermione presses her lips together in an effort not to smile or laugh ... or make any sort of fool of herself. It’s only a partial success; she can feel the sides of her mouth turned up, no matter how much she tries to resist.
Cameron opens his mouth as if to retort, but Miri beats him to it. “Now it’s not so surprising how few women you bring around, Cam.” Cameron turns his glare to her, but she just laughs. “Three minutes, ha!”
Hermione bites her lip in attempt to hide her chuckle. “See you lot in a bit!” she says, backing towards the door as Cameron rounds on Miri.
Once they’re in the lift, she looks up at Draco. His mouth is quite tense, as if he’s afraid of losing control of the muscles surrounding it. “You can smile, you know. It won’t hurt, I promise.”
He glances down at her and shakes his head, still trying not to smile. “That cheeky little--”
“I have a small feeling that wasn’t a dig at your manhood, Draco.”
“Any more talk about my manhood, and I can guarantee you won’t make it to dinner, Hermione,” he mutters low enough for her to hear. Even lower, he mumbles with a curse, “Three minutes.”
“If you say so,” she sings quietly.
He hums. “Is that a challenge?”
Her gaze darts up to meet his, where she finds a question. Ah, that question. She breaks her gaze from his and purses her lips while shaking her head.
“That’s what I thought.” Merlin, she can just hear the triumphant smirk. So typical.
“I just really want to go to that dinner.” Hermione takes a small step back so she can stand behind him, then leans up to whisper in his ear. “But it might be a challenge later.” She feels his head snap to look at her just as the doors open to Level One, and without another glance at him, she darts outside the small cabin, though she doesn’t miss his grumble of “Tease.”
The second she turns out of the small foyer at the entrance to the lift, she stops short, bracing herself on the doorframe between the foyer and the rest of Level One. She feels heavy pressure closing in on both sides of her head, and she’s so dizzy that she swears if she weren’t holding onto the frame for dear life, she’d go spinning off into the universe. Headaches aren’t unfamiliar to her, and neither are migraines like this. In fact, she’s taken at least half of her sick days for migraines alone this year. Never mind that she hasn’t taken any other sick days. She’d never thought she would need to take more than one or two a year. And yet here she stands, clutching onto a doorframe for dear life yards away from the bloody Minister of Magic’s office.
Her hand moves up to massage her temple in an attempt to relieve the great pressure, but she may as well have been trying to massage a wall. She feels Draco come up behind her slowly, and she knows he’s trying to assess the amount of pain she’s in. They almost have it down to a system now. If they could make it down to the Atrium, a jump in the Floo network would be the only thing standing between her and a combination of one of Mungo’s tonics and her bed--although the trip through the Floo would make that two of Mungo’s tonics.
“Home?” Draco’s whisper was barely audibly, even with his mouth mere centimetres from her ear. Hermione nods once, knowing that each movement between here, this beloved doorframe, and home will be brutal. He hums under his breath, slowly tugging her back towards the lift.
Year 5, Day 280, Hour 23:00
Her eyes peel open slowly and with resistance. After a second, she jolts up into a sitting position. Shit, she’d completely missed that dinner. She immediately regrets how fast she’d sat up, though her head is nowhere near as pained as it had been earlier that evening. At least, she assumes it’s still the same day. If she slept through to 23:00 on what should be ‘tomorrow’, she doesn’t know what she’d do with herself.
“You should go back to sleep.”
She starts at the sound of his voice, soft as it is. “Sorry about tonight.” Her voice is rough, her throat dry.
He shrugs. “Moira says they’ll try to reschedule dinner sometime next week or something.”
She nods and bites her lip. This was becoming way too routine-like for her tastes. She absolutely hates the migraines, not just because of the pain, but because of how little she can do about it or to clean up after it. It bothered her that, when they do strike, she can’t even send her ill notice to a secretary or a quick owl to friends she’s meant to meet for dinner.
“Told Shacklebolt’s secretary you’d set up a meeting tomorrow about the report,” Draco continues as he lies down next to her.
She nods again.
“You feeling better?”
Hermione smiles. “Loads. It doesn’t hurt to think.”
He chuckles. “Maybe it’d be better if you didn’t think so hard all the time.”
She quirks an eyebrow. “Yeah, I’ll definitely start on that tomorrow,” she says, eliciting a laugh from him. She leans over with a smile and claims his lips with a lazy kiss. “Good night, love.”
Year 5, Day x, Hour 18
Of all the reasons to get Draco around her friends, Hermione’s favourite is seeing his interaction with the Potter children. As Luna and Harry’s twins had grown older, she’s watched him grow more used to their presence (which could be because of him being more comfortable with older children and him), though she still gets a kick out of how tense he gets.
“Lyra Jacqueline Potter, don’t you dare.”
Luna beckons them into the flat just as Harry’s voice booms, accompanied by what sounds like Ron trying – and failing – not to laugh, from near the kitchen. With wide eyes, she smiles at Luna.
“Welcome to the chaos,” Luna says cheerily. “You two know to make yourselves at home. I’d better go intervene.”
In the kitchen, they find Ron, a glass in his hand and a mouth full of what they can only assume is pumpkin juice.
“Hello, Hermione.” He smiles, but the smile fades once his eyes absorb Draco’s attire. “You and your Harpies, Malfoy.” Ron sniffs.
“Sorry, Weasley. I don’t support orange. It clashes with my complexion.”
“At least you’ll have Gin to cheer with you. Wouldn’t want you to be all alone with that.”
Draco raises an eyebrow. “There’ll be three of us cheering on ol’ Holyhead.” Ron looks shocked, his eyes darting to Hermione and then narrowing. Draco continues with a smirk, “Notice Hermione’s colour of choice tonight. Yes, that is green and not orange.”
After quickly elbowing Draco, she holds up her hands as if in surrender. “It’s only fair, Ron.”
“That’s no excuse!”
“Sure it is,” Hermione protests. “You, Harry, and Luna’ll be cheering on the Cannons. That makes three. Draco and I will cheer the Harpies with Ginny. Three. Equal and fair.”
Ron simply rolls his eyes. She’s surprised he doesn’t make some quip about how she’s ‘too logical’ or something.
“Besides, it’s because of the Harpies that we even have these tickets,” she says with a small smile. “It was sweet of Ginny to invite us to share the box with her.” The youngest Weasley had just been promoted, from Quidditch columnist to editor of the entire sports section of the Daily Prophet. Not that the sports section contains much of anything but Quidditch, but she’s nonetheless now in charge of everything related that goes to print. The hours are perfect for her too, as Hermione’s heard. Ginny’s always been something of a night owl.
Ron nods slowly. “Yeah, yeah. I appreciate her new perks more than any of the lot of you. Doesn’t mean I need to cheer them—Oh, hell. What is that?”
Luna and Harry are emerging from the fireplace, having just delivered their two to Xenophilius for the evening. Luna’s head is adorned with a large orange-and-black hat—complete with the Chudley Cannons’ logo—that stands several inches above her head.
Luna had been tempted to bring out her old lion hat from Hogwarts – “It’s orange!” – but the kids had commandeered it sometime throughout the day. As she notices Harry’s light blush, Hermione thinks it wasn’t entirely an accident that the lion is currently in the possession of young James at his grandpa’s.
“It doesn’t … shoot off anything does it?” Ron asks, not in the least put off by Harry’s glare. “What? She always said she meant for that lion to … roar or something. It’s a matter of personal safety.”
Harry continues glaring.
“I made it from Lavender’s bridesmaid’s dress,” Luna says, and Hermione finally notices the very light, paisley design all around it. “Of course, I had to spell it orange, but that’s just a quick charm. Hopefully it doesn’t wear off before the game ends.”
“So! Speaking of weddings … ” Ron trails off.
“Way to be subtle, Weasley.”
Harry sniggers. “You two can’t honestly not have chosen a date yet. You’ve been together long enough.”
“Just because we didn’t get married within a year, Harry,” Hermione says, on the verge of scolding.
She ignores Harry’s muttered “Yeah, but five?”
“We’re not in a rush.” She clears her throat. “But as it happens, we’re sending invitations out in a couple weeks. For April.”
Luna breaks out into a grin. “How wonderful! Perfect time for a wedding. Oh, I hope it rains.”
Hermione glances at Draco, who looks beyond confused – and a little perturbed. “I’ve heard … erm, that rain on your wedding day is good luck.”
“Where do you learn all this stuff?” Ron asks with a grimace.
“Some people can fit more than a couple of paragraphs’ worth of information at once,” Draco quips.
“No, don’t you all remember? Slughorn talked about the magical properties of rain for almost a full class period. He paid particular attention to special events like weddings and naming ceremonies, I think.” Hermione looks around for affirmation. She doesn’t expect anything from Luna, as the Ravenclaw hadn’t been in their sixth-year Advanced Potions course, but surely the other three remember that discussion. It had been so fascinating, the idea of rain’s magical properties. Harry and Ron both shrug, not seeming troubled that Hermione remembers something that they don’t; after all, they haven’t been in a classroom with Horace Slughorn in almost ten years. Some things get lost in time. However, Draco, having shaken his head in denial, is looking at her through the side of his eye. She knows he hates forgetting things as much as she does, so she can only imagine how strange it is to him.
“Are you sure it wasn’t one of your other classes, Hermione?” Harry asks. “I mean, it was hard keeping track of which classes you were or weren’t it with that Time Turner.”
As Draco’s hand curls around hers, Hermione clamps her mouth shut on the half-formed retort that had been resting on her tongue. Yes, perhaps this is a fight for another day. She’d have to remind herself to ask Draco in more depth later about whether he recalled that lecture. She can’t be the only student who’d found it interesting.
“If you want to be really lucky, make it a Wednesday,” Luna says, eyes bright. “Saturdays are said to be the unluckiest.” Hermione has to stop herself from saying they don’t believe in luck. Draco’s grip on her hand helps. It grounds her, something she needs more often than not when around Luna. Hermione Granger is no free spirit, as Luna is; it seems only natural that their opinions should differ on a large scale.
“So that’s why you refused to have it on a Saturday?” Harry asks with not a little incredulity. Theirs had been on a Tuesday. If Hermione remembers correctly, that’s the day associated with health.
“Would you look at that?” Ron asks with fake shock, having grabbed Hermione’s wrist to read the time on her watch. “It’s time to go!”
“Piss off, Ron.”
Hermione glances down at her watch. “Oh! No, Harry, it really is time to go. The match is starting very soon.”
Year 5, Day 297, Hour 13
Hermione sits on a small bed, surrounded by thin curtains, in the diagnostic sector of St. Mungo’s. Her right knee seems to be bouncing at a million kilometres per minute, also causing a bit of a ruckus. She doesn’t understand why the beds in hospital could be so squeaky. Moving her knee around, something her mother had always termed her “Nervous Leg Syndrome”, has always been a nervous tic of hers. She’s never been able to kick it, but she figures she deserves this one thing. Ron eats. Harry scratches his scar. Draco pops his knuckles. Her knee bounces.
Nervous tics are totally normal.
“Good afternoon, Miss Granger.” The Healer strolls into her makeshift treatment-area, the thin curtain flaring behind him. He wastes nary a breath. “Do the migraines coincide with your monthlies?”
She has to stifle the small part of her that’s put off by a man asking about that part of her. “Not at all. They’re random at best.” Indeed, random. She’s not been able to identify anything that links her headaches together. Not a single thing. And she’s fairly certain if Draco’d come up with some link, he’d have told her. After all, she doesn’t imagine he relishes taking care of her as often as the pain makes necessary any more than she does—which is to say, not at all.
The Healer hmms, which is quite possibly the most annoying thing a Healer could do in this situation. He continues through a series of questions, as if her yes-or-no answers to the little questionnaire in his hands will solve the very problem. If that were the case, she’d have diagnosed herself. Or treated herself, which is essentially the reason she’s here. The headaches aren’t life-threatening, so Hermione would prefer to simply treat them. No use in worrying over an over-arching diagnosis to further pigeon-hole herself in this society. No, just treatment. That’s all she wants. If she were in a Muggle hospital, they’d simply have written a quick prescription and she’d have been off.
It still strikes her on occasion the differences between her two worlds.
After describing the array of spells he’s about to cast, the Healer hovers his wand over her body, watching as first red, then purple, green, yellow lights appear in various places.
“Your body is in perfect condition, Miss Granger,” he says with a step back, allowing her to manoeuvre herself into a sitting position. “However, although your brain is functioning at a healthy level, it is less healthy than it should be. In all honesty, my guess is that it’s being overworked.”
Hermione blinks. Overworked has never been a word she’d use to describe herself. She’s always thought she leads a life with a healthy mix of everything necessary to feel any sort of fulfilment: work, loved ones, learning, fun. “But I’m really not overworked.”
“Your brain says otherwise.” Hermione sighs. “I’m going to ask that you take it easy for a week or so, maybe take a day or two off and just relax. We’ll schedule a follow-up appointment for next week to check on any changes.”
Hermione nods. “So there aren’t any tonics or potions you’d suggest if I do get a migraine between now and then?”
“A simple relaxation tonic should work just fine. I whole-heartedly believe that your mind just needs a bit of rest. Try to relax and let your brain recover.”
“Yes, of course,” she says with a half-hearted smile. None of what he had said makes sense to her.
Year 5, Day 315, Hour 10
“Tell me, how is … that job of yours going?”
It had taken his mother almost a year to stop dropping blatant disapproving comments about Project Moneta. Slowly, throughout the past few years and with the help of her son’s persuasive talents, she’d come to the point of inconspicuous unease. Or at least, that’s what she affected. It’s still understood that she does not approve – and ignored.
“Hermione’s taken a few days off this week, Mum.” The three are taking tea around Draco and Hermione’s small dining table. The conversation mainly consists of Draco stirring various combinations of sugar and cream into his tea whilst his mother and fiancée chat about whatever strikes their fancy. He likes to pipe up every once in while, mainly as a reminder that he’s there and listening. In an ideal world, that’d be a way to prevent the two from talking about him.
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Even without looking up from his tea, Draco can hear the excitement in his mother’s voice. “You really should do that more often.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, honestly.” Hermione laughs.
“Nonsense. When did you last go on an actual holiday?”
Hermione pauses. “Wasn’t it a couple years ago that we went to Athens?” she asks Draco.
Draco’s head snaps up from his tea, an eyebrow raised. That must be a joke. He’s been to Athens, yes, but not with Hermione and certainly not recently. The last time he’d been has to have been before the war. His eyes narrow as his thoughts grow more and more worrisome. When his eyes catch his mother’s, he sees something similar in her face. Her unease has grown significantly – and just with a single sentence.
He clears his throat once he notices how long it’s taken him to answer her question. “Erm, no. We last went to Cork last spring.” Hermione frowns. “We haven’t been to Athens together.”
Her frown deepens. “That’s strange. I specifically remember being there within the last couple of years.”
Draco looks at his mother again. Her eyes are wide with several emotions he hasn’t seen reflected there in years – in his opinion, not long enough. The worst of it is the fear that he feels reflected deep within his own soul.
He shrugs and turns his attention back to Hermione. “Who knows? Maybe you went with Potter or the Weasleys.” She still looks confused, her brow as furrowed as he’s ever seen it, but she nods quickly, as if that must be it.
Though Draco can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that it isn’t.
Year 5, Day 318, Hour 20
“Hermione.” Miri sighs, her voice soft. The usual good humour, which is rarely absent from her voice, is non-existent and nothing but concern is in its place. “Why are you still here?”
She looks up from her desk, her back still angle awkwardly over the mounds of papers surrounding her, and then focusses once again on the work in front of her. “Just catching up.”
Miri sighs again and shakes her head. “Wasn’t the point of your holiday to de-stress? That doesn’t mean hold off on the stress and then overload once you return.”
Hermione simply waves her comment off. “I’m not overloading myself. I’ve always worked this much.” She glances up at Miri for the second time, looking at her for the first. “You look nice.” The blush that burst on the young girl’s cheeks is not lost on Hermione. “Going somewhere fancy?”
The girl lifts her head such that her nose is pointed up a bit, and Hermione can’t help but see herself in how Miri’s holding herself. She knows she does the exact same thing when she’s on the verge of embarrassment. Hold your nose high, and nobody will know. They’ll think you’re as confident as the Queen of bloody Sheba, and everything will be all right.
Miri’s arms fall from where they’d been crossed at her chest, and she says – with no small amount of exasperation – “Well, of course I’m going somewhere fancy! When was the last time you saw me in something like this?”
Hermione sniggers. “What, you mean a dress?” Miri’s glare just elicits more laughs from Hermione. Taking a second to compose herself, she strides over to her young colleague. “Now, the question is … why are you checking in on my office at eight o’clock when you obviously have a date?” Miri presses her lips together, causing Hermione some suspicion. Her hands go, almost of their own accord, to her hips. “Come on, out with it.”
“Well, you see … I promised Draco I’d keep an eye on you.”
“I see.” Her brow furrows and she bristles instinctually. “Interesting.” Well, that is certainly surprising.
“I-I’m sorry, Hermione, really. It’s just, he’s really worried about you.” Before Hermione can interrupt with his incredulity, Miri continues, “I know. I was so shocked… I don’t think I even hesitated to say I would.”
Hermione just nods, her brow still furrowed and her thoughts racing a mile a minute. “Look, Miri, I appreciate you dropping in, but I’m fine. Really. I just really need to catch up on the work I missed last week. You know how it is, this paperwork seems to reproduce itself asexually.” Hermione all but pushes her out of the small office. “Now, you didn’t get all dolled up for me. You go out and have fun tonight, and tell me all about it tomorrow.”
“Okay, fine!” Miri beams. “On one condition. Leave here by nine.”
“Yes, whatever you say.”
“I expect a call when you’re home, Hermione. By nine!” She begins walking backwards, which Hermione thinks is impressive considering her added height this evening. “If I don’t hear from you by nine, I’m calling Draco.”
Hermione shakes her head in amusement before clicking the office door shut and leaning against it. A heavy sigh escapes her, and it hits her that she’s been doing that a lot lately. She’s stuck between being offended that he’d gone behind her back to have her friends watch over her – like a child! – being sad. Because if there’s one thing she knows about Draco Malfoy, it’s that he doesn’t talk about his feelings. He’d sooner do something about it or that expressed it than put his feelings into words. Just like now. It would be foolish of her to lament the fact that he hadn’t told her he’s concerned. (That’d surely be a sign of foul play – perhaps an imposter under the influence of Polyjuice.)
With a huff, Hermione stomps back over to her desk. I don’t have time for this right now. As she sees it, she has a good forty-five minutes’ worth of work between now and when Miri would sound the alarm, so to speak. Might as well make the most of it, hadn’t she? This paperwork and research wouldn’t complete itself.
Within fifteen minutes, however, she finds herself incapable of focussing on anything. Her mind keeps flitting from thought to thought, a problem she’s never had whilst working. And never before have her eyes burned so badly so early in the evening. It irritates her more than anything that she has so much left to do, and yet the one thing she absolutely needs to cooperate – her stupid body – isn’t. After a fair couple of minutes of grumbling to herself, she decides perhaps a quick nap is in order, and then she’ll get right back into it. Hermione gathers a couple of stacks of the papers she’ll need that evening and prepares to Floo home.
Suddenly, without warning, it hits her. Her head, pounding in absolute agony. She falls to her knees and cradles her head in an attempt to soothe the pain, but nothing will cure her of this feeling – like someone had placed a metal vice around her skull and was steadily tightening it. Tighter and tighter, until the pressure would crack her mind, her being, her very soul.
The pressure mounts, and she feels like her brain is trying to seep through her skull, trying to escape its confines. More than anything, her brain feels too full for her skull to contain. Hermione’s afraid to move, afraid to speak, afraid to even breathe. If she does so much as exhale, she’s sure she’ll explode into mere atoms.
The pressure mounts, and she feels desolate. She’s alone, just her and this brain that doesn’t fit in her skull. Just her and this agony and that crack, which must be her sanity.
The pressure mounts, and then it snaps, and her mouth falls open in a voiceless scream. As she falls into the darkness surrounding her, all she can feel is heat.