The halls of St. Mungo’s were dimly lit, and Hermione found herself squinting at the numbers on the doors she passed as she walked in a brisk pace. With a folder in her hand and a quill hidden in the pocket of her robes, she couldn’t help but think that in the two years since she had created this specific organisation the first meeting was the most nerve-wracking moment in her job. And even though the company would call them clients, she saw them as so much more.
Once she reached Room 412, Hermione took a moment to pause outside before going in. Using the few seconds to brush her fingers through her unruly curls in a practised move in an attempt to tame them and straighten her robes, she fixed her lips in what she hoped was a happy smile before entering.
No matter how many times she had done this, the first image of seeing the person she was supposed to help was always the hardest.
The boy – nine-year old Alfy – looked weak and small under the covers of the hospital bed that had been propped up so he could lie back in a sitting position. Pale with shallow cheeks, the boy wheezed with each breath, his eyes drooping while his mother, seated to his right, lightly caressed his bald head.
Hermione didn’t really want to interrupt the precious moment between mother and son.
“Mrs Slaytre?” Hermione whispered as she got closer. At the confused expression of the mother, Hermione smiled gently. “I’m Hermione Granger. We got the letter you sent through the staff of St. Mungo’s.” The woman nodded, a sad smile gracing her face as she looked once more at her sick son. Hermione turned her attention to the sick child, a brilliant smile decorating her features. “And this must be Alfy.”
As Hermione approached the bed, the boy moved his head so he could see her, a small smile splitting his lips in response to hers. He opened his mouth, trying and failing to form a word to say something to her. After a moment he sighed in good humour. “You’re pretty.”
Hermione’s laugh was a burst of sound. The boy’s grin widened before his head lolled to the side and his breathing quickened. She came to stand on the other side of the bed and looked down at the boy who had gone through so much pain for one so young. “Would you like me to come at another time?”
His mother shook her head, her eyes not leaving her son’s face, not for a moment. “I didn’t want to send that letter,” she said softly, her voice hoarse and full of pain. “I didn’t want to accept what the Healers were telling me.” She looked at Hermione then, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. “I can’t imagine how there’s nothing they could do.”
Neither could Hermione. Feeling her throat closing up, Hermione said the speech that she never thought she would get used to. “I can’t understand it either. We could heal broken arms, grow bones and disappear with the blink of an eye. Your son has suffered. I only wish to give him what he has always wanted.”
The woman nodded as she wiped away a stray tear and let a tiny sniffle escape her before shuttering her expression into one of fake optimism. “What would you like to know?”
Hermione felt her heart constrict painfully. She could understand why this could never get easier. Clearing her throat, she asked, “Is there anything Alfy liked to do? A hobby? Or is there anything he wanted to be?”
A fresh wave of tears choked out from the woman before she fought it back valiantly while her fingers still caressed the head of her sleeping son. “He liked to fly,” she choked out. “His father used to take him to every Quidditch match when he had the chance. He used to…” She took in a shuddering breath. “He used to talk about how he would grow up to be a Quidditch Captain someday.”
Hermione asked her next question softly. “His father?”
Mrs Slaytre smiled wistfully. “He was an Auror. A rogue Death Eater killed him two years ago.”
Hermione stared at the woman, unable to comprehend the struggle she had experienced by going through her son’s sickness alone. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s fine,” the woman said with a small smile as she wiped away another stray tear. “At least he didn’t see our son like this.”
A moment passed as Hermione paused to consider what the Head Healer had said about the boy’s case. He had gone through excruciating pain, undergoing charms and curses that would make any adult wish for death. Yet the boy had smiled when she had entered and called her pretty. He was a fighter and he deserved to get a day of happiness. She thought of the countless Quidditch matches she had attended as a girl and wondered if Alfy would enjoy seeing one last match. But the idea of taking him away from the safety of the hospital worried her.
“Would he like to spend the day with his favourite players?”
Mrs Slaytre smiled. “He would like that. When he was…healthy, he couldn’t stop talking about Red, Burtrum, Seymor or Wood—“
“Wood?” Hermione asked her, suddenly excited by the prospect. “Oliver Wood? Is your son’s favourite team Puddlemere United?”
“You know Quidditch?”
Hermione shook her head, amused at how many times people had asked her that question. “I know of Quidditch. If he likes Puddlemere United, that means that I have a way to contact the team and I will be able to get your son that meeting.”
“He would love that,” Alfy’s mother said sincerely.
Hermione knew it was wrong to promise things that she wasn’t sure of delivering, but knowing that she wouldn’t rest until this boy had one day of happiness she promised it anyway. “I will make sure that Alfy will have one full day with Puddlemere United.”
His mother’s grateful expression was all she needed.
“How old is this boy?”
“Nine. Nearly ten but the Healers don’t think he would live to see his birthday.”
Oliver shook his head, his hands tightening around the steaming cup of coffee he held. “You do this every day?” he asked with a pained expression.
Hermione’s smile was just as pained. “I have twenty others working with me, doing what I do. I usually take the cases that will have to be handled as soon as possible.”
Oliver let out a low breath, as if he was trying to shake himself out of the gloom that had settled on them at the start of the conversation. “I will gladly spend the day with him, and I’m sure the other players will too.”
“That’s great, Oliver. Thank you.”
He nodded absentmindedly. “We could probably make it within the next month—“
He stared at her. “No?”
Hermione shook her head. “He can’t wait that long. I was hoping for a day within a week.”
“A week? Hermione, the Quidditch World Cup is in two weeks.”
“And this boy is dying. Doesn’t that matter?”
“Of course it matters,” Oliver snapped harshly. “What I meant was that we have signed a contract. We will be practising every single day until the World Cup. We have no choice.” Seeing her expression, he continued hastily, “We could come for a few hours.”
Even before that sentence was finished Hermione was shaking her head. “No. It has to be a day.”
“We can’t give you a day.”
“Then you’re not helping him.”
He let out a frustrated sigh. “I’m trying. I really want to do this, and I’m sure that the moment I tell the others they will want to help too. But we can’t miss a day of practise. If we did, we’ll be benched for the rest of the year.”
Hermione scoffed. “Like you said, the Quidditch World Cup is around the corner. Who in their right mind would ban the whole team because of one little infraction and cause England to lose the chance at getting the cup?”
Oliver’s expression darkened. “You don’t know our new boss.”
Letting out a small sigh, Hermione’s expression softened. “You have to see it from his point of view. This child has gone through excruciating pain. He lost his father two years ago and his mother had to watch him deteriorate right in front of her eyes. All she wants is to see him smile and have fun, just this once.”
“I know you think that a few hours would help him, and maybe you’re right, a little is better than nothing. But my goal is to make him forget that he’s sick for one whole day. A few hours are easily forgotten if he is forced to remember that he’s a patient a few hours later. A day is a memory that he wouldn’t be able to forget. I want him to smile the days after because he knew that he had gotten the one thing he had always wanted. I want him to leave this world without any regret. He’s nine years old. Doesn’t he deserve that?”
Oliver shook his head, his expression forlorn and far from unaffected. “You have to speak to the team Manager. No one would want to risk their career. Not now. Not when we’re so close.”
“I don’t have the time, Oliver. It will be one owl after another with names, information, dates and the longer we spend conversing the more time we will be losing.” Hermione looked at him pleadingly. “He doesn’t have the time.”
Her friend looked like he was being placed in a very difficult position and he wasn’t at all happy about it. “Then you should go straight to the owner of Puddlemere United,” Oliver said with a light shrug. “If you speak to him directly then you need not go through the usual procedure.”
“I can do that.” Hermione sighed in relief. The last thing she wanted was to spend unnecessary time on securing this wish. “I just need you to introduce me to him.”
Oliver hesitated. “You already know him. And…” He looked at her regretfully. “He already knows you.”
Hermione looked at him quizzically. “Who is he?”
Oliver looked at anything and everything over her shoulder before he met her gaze in a way that she could have only described as unwilling.
Hermione hadn’t even realised that she was staring at him in horror until Oliver nodded his agreement sympathetically.
“Who do you think made us sign those bloody contracts?” he asked dryly before taking a sip of his coffee.
Hermione wasn’t known for swearing, but at the moment, Ron would have been happy with the word she chose.
If she hadn’t been worried about wounded pride, perhaps she would have sent someone else to discuss this issue with him. But, if he was the person she remembered him to be, then he would research her company, realise she owned it, and ultimately she would be the one forced to deal with him. Hermione didn’t believe in taking the long route unless it was more beneficial, which was why she did the very thing Oliver warned her not to do and went to his work place directly without an appointment. She even distracted the secretary long enough to sneak into his office and take a seat in the visitor’s chair on the other side of his large desk to wait for him patiently. Honestly, she would not have thought of doing what she did if she never had met Harry and Ron. Like every other morally questionable choice she had ever made, she blamed her best friends, and she had no qualms as to believing that they would gladly take credit for her behaviour.
The office where Draco Malfoy conducted his business was exactly what she had envisioned it to be. It was large — unwantedly so — and decorated with priceless antiques posing as everyday items. The desk was deep mahogany with intricate work, the chairs seemed overly decorative for the work place and Hermione was even surprised to notice a Muggle item in the form of a lamp on his desk. And Muggle it might have been, but as they were taught all those years ago as to the Muggle mechanics in a magical world, this item was powered by magic. Hermione was busy admiring the large painting in the room when the door opened and the sound of footsteps paused suddenly.
Draco Malfoy stared at her, his expression a mix of disbelief, disgust and anger. Of course, she couldn’t have expected anything less. He looked exactly how she remembered him, only older: his hair the same pale blond strands, his tall, lithe build, and even his eyes held the same grey storm in its depths that she had never gotten quite used to. They had never spoken except for an exchange of insults all those years ago, and the last time she had seen him had been a brief exchange of neutral glances after the end of the Battle of Hogwarts. They had spent the past five years blissfully living their lives without a thought as to the other. Hermione’s presence was no doubt unsettling. And as such, she waited patiently for him to react.
What disappointed her greatly was how he didn’t react. A moment passed as their gazes met, defiance meeting defiance, before he simply turned around and walked out.
Hermione stared at the place where he had stood. She hadn’t expected that. Unsure of what to do she stood up from the chair and made a move to leave, only to be startled when he entered his office once again and closed the door behind him.
“What do you want?”
His tone was harsh and rude. She should have known he hadn’t changed. He was probably thinking of the fastest way to destroy the chair she had sat on so her Muggle-born germs wouldn’t affect the rest of his office. Narrowing her gaze because of the less than pleasant greeting, she asked curtly, “Why do you assume that I want something?”
He glared at her. “No one comes to me unless they want something. You, especially, wouldn’t come to me unless you wanted something.”
She stood up straighter. “Maybe that’s true. But you know that I wouldn’t come to you unless you were the only one who could help.”
“Yes,” he said snidely. “My secretary said that she didn’t know there was anyone in here.” He gritted his teeth with suppressed anger. “Apparently, the service is dismal for what I’m paying them.” His gaze was hard. “What do you want?”
Deciding that maybe she should change tactics, Hermione smiled. When his gaze narrowed further, she could only assume that he trusted her even less because of her expression, which she wasn’t sure was wholly possible. After all, they still stood in the middle of the office, none of them making a move to sit down in an effort not to be subordinate to the other. Hermione was nothing if not adaptable and resilient. “I hear that you recently purchased a Quidditch team.
“What of it?” he asked carefully, his gaze measuring her.
Hermione’s smile widened. “I would like you to give the players one day off from practice.”
He scoffed. “No.”
Hermione’s smile didn’t lessen. He hadn’t heard her reason yet. Surely, not even Draco Malfoy could be so heartless. And if he proved to be otherwise she could always tell him that Alfy was a pureblood. She didn’t know if it was true but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be.
As Hermione expected, her expression unnerved him.
“Why are you smiling?” he asked suspiciously. “I just said that I wouldn’t.”
“But, you didn’t listen as to why I wanted you to give them a day off.”
“You think your reason would make me change my mind?”
“Obviously.” She opened the folder in her hand to the page that showed the particulars of Alfy’s wish and held it out for him. She expected him to glance at it and demand that she not waste his time by telling him what she wanted, not take the file and go through it with a frown marring his features.
After a moment, he finally spoke, his eyes still fixed on the open file. “You work for ‘Making Magic’?”
“Yes,” Hermione said brusquely, choosing not to expand on the ownership of the company.
Malfoy’s frown deepened. “The organisation that helps to make wishes true for dying children?”
He sounded so harsh. “Yes,” Hermione said again, only this time uncertainly.
Raising his head from the document, Malfoy shut the file with a snap and held it out to her. Hermione accepted it with confusion. He wasn’t acting at all how she had envisioned.
“Well?” She looked at him expectantly.
He looked at her for a moment, his eyes cool before he shrugged. “I would have thought that my answer would be quite obvious.” Turning on his heel, he took long strides towards his office door and turned to face her. “Now, if you could only be so kind to…” He pulled open the door and gestured towards the exit. “—get out, I will be most indebted to you.”
Hermione blinked at the atrocious way he decided to kick her out. “He’s a child,” she pleaded.
“Yes,” Malfoy said impassively. “I wouldn’t have guessed after having read that he was nine years old. Thank you for explaining it to me.”
Hermione felt an unwelcome feeling of hatred in her gut. “You would be so heartless as to let a boy die without living his dream because of a Quidditch match?” she asked incredulously. “Don’t you have any compassion?”
His jaw twitched. “Apparently not. Get out, Granger.”
“Fine.” Hermione strode past him, anger barely in check. Her parting words to him were, “You haven’t heard the end of this.”
She barely heard him respond with a dry chuckle before he shut the door behind her.
Phase one was a simple plan. With the help of Oliver Wood, she met with Puddlemere United: the current team and a few members from the previous teams who could be contacted. They all agreed that they were willing to help in any way they could, and Hermione couldn’t help but feel pride at having a small army fighting for the happiness of a little boy. Phase two included tricking the Team Manager to meet with her, which wasn’t as hard as some might have thought. Even though he was sympathetic but resistant at first, after explaining how the press might feel about this good deed and how the support for the team would simply increase for the Quidditch World Cup, he started seeing sense in her logic within the hour. Everything seemed to go as plan, including phase three, where she sent an owl nine times a day to Draco Malfoy with the same proposal clutched in between every single pair of claws. It was something she learned from Dumbledore who apparently had a sense of humour when Vernon Dursley decided to ignore his letters. Hermione thought hundreds of owls might be a little too much. Besides, nine owls seemed more poetic to her.
She never expected Draco Malfoy to barge into her office on day three of the owl assault to demand that she stop her ‘bloody birds’. Honestly, she had expected him to hold out until day four.
“Stop this madness.”
Hermione had never heard a man so angry his words actually sounded like a growl before. Despite the situation, she found it highly amusing. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Her confused expression of extreme innocence only served to aggravate him. “Stop sending me a million bloody birds.”
“Speak sense, woman.”
Standing up from her seat she walked leisurely around her desk until she stood in front of him. “Nine birds, Malfoy. Nine birds a day.”
As what she said finally sunk in, realisation dawned in his eyes and he swore. “You’re mad.”
“Maybe,” Hermione said carefully. “Change your decision and I will stop.”
He stared at her, his breath coming out so raggedly that Hermione couldn’t help but recognise how hard Malfoy was working to control his anger. Finally, when he spoke, it was a with a soft, firm, “No.”
Hermione had a sixth sense that he might continue to be stubborn. He was turning away from her, preparing to leave when Hermione decided that she had no choice but to use phase four, the phase she wouldn’t have brought forth had the other three phases had worked.
“I’m sorry, Malfoy.”
It all happened so fast. He was leaving, she reached for his hand and the moment she took his hand in hers, Muggle-styled, metal handcuffs formed themselves around his wrist and hers effectively holding them together. Malfoy turned in surprise to stare at their joined hands and the silver bracelets that kept them attached. “What the bloody—“
Hermione let go of his hand. “I didn’t want to do this.”
He looked up at her, his gaze dangerous in its intensity. “What is this?”
Despite how threatened Hermione felt, she looked up at him defiantly. “You’re stuck with me. And you will continue to be stuck with me unless you change your decision.”
Jaw locked and glare in place, Malfoy reached through his robes with his free hand.
“It’s charmed. No magic can break it. You might as well keep your wand in your robes. Only a key can separate us.”
He stepped forward, towering over her and his face too close to hers. “Where’s the key?”
Hermione stood her ground and glared back at him. “Somewhere you can’t find it.”
They continued to stare down each other until Malfoy finally seemed to succumb to the situation. He looked at her incredulously. “Why are you doing this?” He raised his hand that was shackled to hers to gesture at her latest ploy to get him to change his mind before dropping his arm just as suddenly. “What makes you think I won’t gladly go about my day while dragging you every step of the way?”
Hermione opened her mouth to respond only to close it sharply. She thought this would strike his last nerve. She thought he would do anything to stay away from a Muggle-born like her.
There was probably something in her expression, for Malfoy took a step to be even closer to her, causing Hermione to move back instinctively only to find that she couldn’t since the person she had tried to annoy had her hand in a tight grip.
“You are the most annoying, strong-minded, irritating witch I have ever had the misfortune to meet.”
Hermione stared into his eyes in surprise, a sense of excitement curling deep inside her belly. She didn’t understand it. He shouldn’t be standing only inches away from her, breathing the same air or close enough to touch. This was all wrong. “Don’t you mean Mudblood?” she asked softly, her eyes studying his and waiting for the honest reaction she had hoped to see.
If Hermione had seen any emotion before, she saw nothing now. It was almost like he had shuttered his expression to one of neutral detachment. “Of course,” he said thickly, his tone betraying hostility. “That’s what you were expecting, wasn’t it?” His expression was one of disgust. “You haven’t changed at all since Hogwarts, have you?”
Hermione bristled at the insult. “I’ve changed,” she found herself saying passionately.
“But I couldn’t have?” He eyed her carefully. “Do you think that I would have ever done this in Hogwarts?” She felt his shackled hand take hers before entwining their fingers together. Hermione never thought it possible that a simple act could make her breath pause. “Or this?” he asked her with a challenge in his eyes. Hermione gasped when she felt his free arm circle her waist and pull her flush against him.
He was playing with her; she knew it with every last cell of her body. Yet he didn’t look like he was playing with her. He held her too close and he didn't look at all unaffected by her body against his. Even though he was a head taller, his head was bent and his nose could easily brush hers if he only moved a centimetre closer. Hermione was even conscious of the fact that her breasts were flat against his chest. His behaviour confused her. He confused her even more when he moved his lips dangerously close to hers.
“Release me, Granger.” His voice sounded like a hidden plea, yet Hermione couldn’t let her confusion be the reason she failed.
“Not unless you change your mind.”
His eyes met hers. “I told you my answer was obvious. Do you really want me to change it?”
Hermione tried to ignore how the hand around her waist was lightly brushing his side. It was obvious that he was trying to distract her and she was convinced that she wasn’t going to let him. “Yes,” she said strongly, and if her voice had a husky tinge to it, Hermione simply ignored that.
She didn’t know why, but his jaw tightened with suppressed anger. “You really think the worst of me, don’t you?”
Hermione stared at him in surprise, speechless for one of the few moments in her life. “I—“
“You can have the team for a day.” He dropped the arm from around her waist and stepped back before gesturing to their bound wrists. “The key.”
Too surprised to react in any other way, Hermione silently led him to the desk and with her free hand lifted the Snitch-shaped paperweight Ron had given her for Christmas before finding the silver key hidden underneath. Keeping her head down, she unlocked the handcuffs and watched them dissolve into thin air.
Once she had kept the key on the desk and looked up, she found Malfoy eyeing her strangely. He then made a move to leave only to stop and look at her. “There’s something else I wouldn’t have done while in Hogwarts.” Before Hermione had time to react he had a hand behind her neck to keep her still while his lips met hers in a short, forceful kiss. He pulled back quickly, his gaze meeting her wide eyes meaningfully. “Maybe you should think about that the next time you look down from your pedestal at us unchangeable folks.”
Letting her go instantly, he turned on his heel and stormed out, leaving Hermione surprised, breathless, humiliated, and above all fearful of the sudden spark of electricity that had coursed through her veins the moment he had kissed her.
Hermione stomached what she could of constant Quidditch talk before deciding that she needed a break. The moment she stepped outside of the crowded hospital room, she paused at the sight of seeing the last person she had expected to come to the hospital watching the activity within the little room.
“Don’t worry,” Malfoy said dryly the moment he saw her. “I’m leaving.”
“No. Wait.” Hermione panicked, her steps quick as she moved to stand in front of him and block his exit. She wasn't sure what she had thought to do, but she did know that she didn't want him to leave; not yet.
Malfoy looked at her expectantly, and Hermione found herself in a very awkward situation. Even after so many years, apologies did not come easily to her. An apology to Draco Malfoy seemed even more inconceivable. Therefore, it was completely normal that she turned to face the open door to the hospital room of 412 where a sick boy was grinning widely.
“You did that.”
Malfoy glanced at the scene before him “It wasn’t me.” Even though he looked unaffected Hermione knew he was far from it.
She used this opportunity to try to apologise for the second time. Instead, she vocalised the suspicion she had since their last meeting. “You were going to give the team a day off, weren’t you?”
Malfoy looked at her warily. “I told you my answer was obvious.” He paused, his glance falling on Alfy once more. “I’m not a monster.”
Hermione tried to stifle the need to point out his mistake in the whole matter but failed terribly. “It couldn’t have hurt had you told me this when I was at your office.”
Malfoy looked at her thoughtfully. “It couldn’t have hurt for you to give me the benefit of the doubt. And it couldn’t have hurt for you to not break into my office and try to manipulate me.”
Hermione felt a light blush colour her cheeks as she finally mumbled her apology. “I’m sorry. I guess it’s hard to forget what we were like five years ago.”
Malfoy’s gaze once again fell on the boy who was now laughing at the argument of a Keeper versus a Troll. “Next time you want something, Granger, ask. I just might give it to you…if it benefits me.”
Hermione eyed him incredulously. “How does this benefit you?”
He smirked as his glance fell on her. “Haven’t you heard? Puddlemere United is the team that gives. The story will be in The Daily Prophet tomorrow.”
Amused, Hermione shook her head. “I promise to ask you next time and not manipulate you. And even if you say ‘no’…” Her smile widened. “I have more owls.”
He glared at her, though there was no animosity behind his gaze. “Don’t start something you can’t finish, Granger.”
“I never do, Malfoy.”
He looked away briefly before his gaze fell on her once again. “There is one other thing.”
Hermione looked at him curiously. “What?”
“I got a letter from your organisation saying that an eleven-year-old girl wants to play a game of Quidditch with the Holyhead Harpies. I own them too, you know.”
Hermione rolled her eyes at the predictability of the statement. “Of course.”
“Someone else is in charge of it, I think. Sandy something—“
Malfoy winced. “I don’t much care for him.”
Hermione laughed. “You haven’t met him.”
“Never mind that. I want a replacement.”
“Who? Someone strong-minded and annoying?” she asked in a teasing tone.
“No. Someone docile and harmless.”
Hermione felt herself deflate with disappointment. “Oh.”
“But, if you can’t find someone, you would do, I suppose,” he continued in a bored tone.
“Of course,” Hermione agreed in a mock-serious manner.
“Oh, and Granger?”
“When you break into my office next time, bring something to eat. I usually skip lunch and I don’t think I can handle you on an empty stomach.”
Hermione smiled sweetly. “I wouldn’t want to put you in such an uncomfortable position. Would lunch next week do?”
“No,” Malfoy said seriously. “This might take some time. Let's start tomorrow.”
Hermione’s grin vanished as she nodded in agreement. “Tomorrow.”
With a final nod, Malfoy left. Hermione watched his retreating back before she turned her attention back towards the room full of Quidditch players. Against her will a small smile fought through, and Hermione found herself grinning in such a silly manner that she was sure the staff at St. Mungo’s who passed her probably thought that she had gone mad.
Hogwarts was so long ago. Hermione didn’t understand why she never thought that she wouldn’t be the only one to change in the past five years.