From: Your Secret Santa
Title: One Year By Moonlight
Summary: When Hermione is bitten by a vampire, she finds an unlikely ally in Draco Malfoy.
Length: 15,300 words
Warnings: Vampirism, and blood. Some violence. No warnings for the actual smutty situations.
Author's notes: Lori, you will probably figure out who I am before you finish this. I just hope you enjoy this epic pile of words, because it really was a joy to write for you. Have a wonderful holiday! ♥ you! Thanks to K and S for beta'ing and cheerleading, and especially to K for giving me one my favourite lines in the story.
It wasn’t until she felt the fangs piercing her skin that Hermione realised she was in trouble.
It was much later, awakening in an anonymous room above the Leaky, that she discovered the full scope of that trouble. Hermione came to consciousness, alone in a dark chamber. Despite the lack of light and the shadows that covered everything, she could see every detail in the room. Her mouth felt wet; she dragged the back of her hand over it, and it came away with a dark substance smearing the pale skin.
But her skin was deeply tanned, the result of a summer spent in the Greek isles. She fumbled for her wand with her clean hand, finding it in her pocket. That was something. She pulled it free, whispering, "Lumos."
She tried again, casting the spell more loudly, with more oomph in her voice. Still nothing.
Hermione felt a small tremor of fear, but she suppressed it and reached for the lamp, lighting it the old fashioned way. The oil lamp flared to life, lighting the room in flickers and flares. The room gave no clues, other than it was one of the ones that existed on the second and third floor of the Leaky Cauldron. There was a bed, which she was sitting on. A night stand, where the lamp resided. A dresser. A mirror. Hermione looked at her reflection. The tremor was now an earthquake.
Red. Her mouth was smeared with something wet and red.
Hermione lifted a shaking hand. It was also smeared with red. And it was an ashen color, lighter than she’d ever seen on herself. Forcing herself to be brave, she bent her head, sniffing her hand. The red liquid had a metallic, tinny odour.
"Oh," she whispered. "Oh, god."
Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to have it off of her. The blood. It was blood. She supposed it was better to just admit that. She stood, and raced to the washroom. Turning the tap, she lowered her face to the basic, splashing the hottest water she could stand onto her face until the results ran clear instead of tinged pink. Her hands were next. Only when she felt clean did she lift her eyes to take a closer look at herself in the mirror.
Drawing a deep breath, Hermione made herself look at her reflection with a critical eyes. She was pale, yes. Her eyes looked large, and the warm brown stood out against the surrounding white skin. Her hair was the usual mop, though the halo of chestnut curls standing out in a nimbus about her head seemed somehow shinier and more... intentional. She tugged on one curl, pulling it straight until it reached past her breasts. When she let go, it went back to its former shape with a lively bounce. Hmm. She took another deep breath, and skinned her lips back from her teeth.
Perhaps if her parents hadn’t been dentists- if she hadn’t spent so much time looking at models of teeth and gums and palates in her youth- perhaps then she might not have spotted the difference straight away. But her gums looked thicker, just above the incisors. She prodded the area with a cautious finger, surprised to feel an ache that tugged all the way down in her gut when she did. She poked again, harder- and something changed.
"Well, I suppose that settles it," she muttered, calmer than she might have expected.
Hermione rather thought that there were probably only a blessed few reactions to the discovery that one had fangs. Shrieking terror, sadistic pleasure, or pragmatism. Clearly, as a mostly rational person, she’d opted for the latter. Alarmingly, however, the descent of the fangs had awakened a corresponding hunger, and it was one she wasn’t quite ready to address just yet. She squashed the impulse, praying the sharp teeth would retract, and went back into the main part of the room to assess the situation.
It was what it was, even if it was a rather disturbing turn of events. What mattered now was how she proceeded from here. And perhaps a bit how she dealt with the hunger that was already beginning to gnaw at the pit of her stomach.
If one could shout and whisper at the same time, Marley had mastered the art. Draco looked at the house elf, and gave a weary sigh. Marley certainly seemed to be in a tizzy, but then he regularly was. It could be anything from a book out of place to a dragon crashing through the stacks, and Draco suspected Marley’s reaction would be the same. At least the elf was consistent. But first things first.
"Marley, I am not your Master," Draco said. "We’ve been over this. You are in my employ, as are the other elves serving in the library."
Marley fidgeted, and blinked up at Draco. Rubbing at his temple, Draco moved his hand in a rolling gesture, indicating the house elf should get on with it.
"Master Malfoy," Marley said, giving Draco a cautious look. "There is a problem in the Magical Creatures section. There is a... mess. And a witch who will not permit Trissy and Caddy to clean it."
Situations like this were precisely why Draco had hired on elves in first place- so that he wouldn’t have to deal with them himself. Still. Marley looked so fretful that Draco nodded, and stood, placing his spectacles into his vest pocket.
"Very well, Marley. Take a break." He began making his way around his desk and out of his office. Over his shoulder, he said, "And I’d better not catch you ironing your ears again."
Draco gave a little shudder. That had been a very unpleasant sight, indeed.
Back in the Magical Creatures section, it was easy to spot the source of his employees’ distress. At a corner table, there was a massive heap of books, piled so high that Draco could not determine who was behind them. Trissy and Caddy stood a few feet away, twitching and fretting. Draco sent them off on a break as well, and cautiously approached the table.
He removed a book, and set it aside. Nothing happened. Another. Nothing. Hah. Those elves were such dramatic creatures. Then he reached for a third, and a hand slapped on top of his, causing him to jump a good foot or two into the air.
"No," said a voice, and then an atrocious amount of hair began to rise over the visible edge of the pile.
"Granger," Draco said, a note of satisfaction at solving this minor mystery creeping into his voice. "I should have known. Honestly, I’m shocked that this is the first time I’ve found you in my library under such circumstances."
Granger stood, revealing herself. "It’s not your library. It’s a public library, and I’m within my rights to use it for research."
Draco cooly raised an eyebrow, discreetly removing his hand from underneath hers. "You were upsetting my employees. Investigation is required." He lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. "Even you can only read one book at a time. And if you’re intent on causing havoc, I was given to understand that the Ministry archive was more your usual stomping ground."
Granger’s eyes shifted to the side, ever so slightly, and her lips pressed together in a thin line, but she didn’t give any ground. The tell was enough for Draco.
"Ah, you don’t want the Ministry in the loop. Whatever are you researching?" He reached out for yet another tome, moving quickly enough that she wasn’t able to stop him. "The Blood is the Life." He looked up at Granger again. "Vampires? How on trend of you."
Granger only glared, and began to sit again, clearly intent on ignoring him and stubbornly exercising her right to use the library. She wobbled- ever so slightly, so slightly that Draco might have imagined it. He leaned closer, reaching for her out of gentlemanly instinct.
"Master..." Trissy was pulling insistently on the hem of his waistcoat, and Draco looked down, intending to admonish the elf about the whole Master thing. Trissy’s face, however, was etched with genuine alarm, and Draco turned, frowning, to look at Granger again.
Granger was staring at his extended arm with the most intense look Draco had ever seen. For a fleeting moment, he had the odd thought that she could see beneath the surface, that she was seeing some bit of him never before glimpsed by human eyes. Then she fainted, and all such poetic thoughts were driven from his mind.
Draco Malfoy sat beside her bed. Well. A bed. Not likely hers, as the memory of passing out in the library came to her full force. It was probably Malfoy’s. She jolted to a sitting position in the bed, a desperate sort of laughter escaping through the throes of her revulsion.
"I’m afraid I’ve missed the joke," came the drawling, snobbish voice that Hermione had come to know so well over her years at Hogwarts.
Hermione struggled to stop laughing, which was becoming dangerously close to sobbing. Everything was so much more since being bitten. Including hysteria, it seemed.
"No joke," she managed, finally, "Just irony. Of all the beds I never imagined awakening in, yours probably topped the list."
She thought Malfoy would be cold, but instead he smirked. "Consider me wounded." He gave a little shrug, then continued. "But given your state, and the sustenance you required, I didn’t think it would do to stretch you out on the table in Magical Creatures section of my library."
There was that possessive my again. But Hermione couldn’t focus on that, not when he’d mentioned sustenance. Not when she’d so clearly fed.
"I... oh, god. You? Did I... with you?"
Now Malfoy was the one laughing. "No, you bint. Look in your hands."
Hermione became aware that she was clutching a bladder of some sort, with what looked like a straw poking from the top of it. She lifted it cautiously, giving it an experimental sniff. Blood. It was definitely blood. Given how utterly scrumptious it smelled, she’d wager it was human blood. She looked back up at Malfoy, who was still looking vastly amused, the git.
"How did you get this?" she asked, cutting to the chase.
He gave that annoying shrug again. "I have a connection at St Mungo’s. I sent Trissy to fetch some of the blood they keep for emergencies once it became clear what was ailing you. Don’t feel badly; this seemed to qualify." His smirk deepened. "Fainting in the library, tsk tsk. Not the done thing at all."
Hermione quelled an urge to toss the bladder into Malfoy’s face. She settled for giving him a withering glance, and turning her attention back to this unexpected blood source. It was emptied, unfortunately. Loathing herself for doing so, she asked quietly, "Can you get more?"
Malfoy sobered some. He hesitated, then nodded sharply. "Yes, I should think so. Though I have to ask why, when you could easily take your... nutrition... directly from the source."
Hermione’s eyes narrowed. Malfoy was taking this entire situation far too calmly for her liking. Had the shoe been on the other foot, she would have run screaming looking for the nearest bit of pointy wood. It made her suspicious, which made her feel better about conversing with Malfoy at all. It felt like a little bit of normalcy had crept in.
"I don’t want to take human blood. All the tales, all the research... it indicates that taking a human life, until the last heartbeat, makes this curse permanent. I don’t want to risk it." She set the empty bladder aside, and folded her arms over her chest. "And I don’t find it easy to talk so nonchalantly about drinking human blood from the source," she said, pointedly. "I don’t see why you’re dealing with this with such aplomb."
Truth be told, Hermione was envious. She’d been in a high state of freaking the hell out ever since she’d awakened at the Leaky Cauldron. It irritated her that Malfoy sat there looking as serene as anything as he discussed her methods of obtaining blood.
"I have a vampire friend," Malfoy said, meeting her gaze evenly. "It normalises things a bit."
Hermione spluttered. "You have a vampire friend? You. Have a vampire friend." She shook her head, beyond irritation now, verging into real anger. "And meantime I’m buried under books frantically searching for a cure, to no avail, I might add."
Malfoy’s expression was quizzical. "A cure? I wasn’t aware there was such a thing."
Hermione’s hand fisted in Malfoy’s quilt. A quilt? She’d figured him more the satin duvet sort. She forced herself to focus.
"There has to be," she said, and even she could hear the rise of desperation in her voice. "Everything says I must turn fully- by draining a human to death. But why have a grace period, not fully turned, if there’s no cure?"
Hermione knew it was a wild hope, and an unlikely one at that. But it was the hope she was clinging to, because she didn’t want to be a vampire. The only immortality she had ever craved was through her hard work. She didn’t want to hurt anyone. She didn’t want to live like this, drinking purloined blood and hiding from everyone she cared about. She wanted her life, the one she’d made for herself. Not this one that had been forced upon her.
"I suppose we could ask my friend," Malfoy said slowly. "If anyone would know, it would be a real, live vampire. Well, not live. But you get my point."
She did. She just didn’t understand why he was making it.
"Why would you help me?" she asked. It made no sense. She’d have supposed that Draco Malfoy would cackle at her predicament and leave her to her own devices, telling her it was karmic retribution.
It was Draco’s understanding that vampires lost their ability to do magic, probably something to do with being deceased, though he’d not mentioned that to Granger. The woman seemed like she was hanging on by a thread as it was; there was no need to tell the brightest witch of her age that if her problem wasn’t resolved, she’d not be a witch at all.
It was full dark when Draco knocked on the black door, Granger shifting nervously at his side.
"Stop that," he hissed through gritted teeth. "He’s a very pleasant fellow."
"Yes, certainly," Granger shot back, though she stilled. "Just like the one that attacked me probably serves high tea to kittens and teddy bears when he’s not taking a chomp out of people in back alleys."
"He’s different," was all Draco said, because the door opened then.
A handsome young man stood in the doorway. He was a drone, a vampire’s daytime accomplice, one who was hoping to someday become a vampire himself. He greeted them, and ushered them inside.
"He’s in the front reception room," the drone said. "You know the way. He’s expecting you. Tea, or perhaps something stronger?"
Draco accepted the offer, asking for a glass of Scotch. Granger, of course, declined. Knowing that the drone would see it into his hand, Draco lead Granger to the room that, in an old fashioned house like his parents’ manor, would be called a parlour. The room was brightly lit, and featured two couches facing one another across a low table, along with a few scattered chairs. Everything was sleek. Modern. Unobtrusive music filtered in from some hidden place. And lounging on one couch, looking as modern and elegant as the room, was the man they’d come to see.
The vampire Sanguini was a surprisingly tall man, considering he’d lived in a time when men had been much shorter. He was long of leg, broad of shoulder, with a chiseled, handsome face, and artfully tousled dark hair. His clothing was impeccable, and his slight smile revealed nothing. Yet Draco knew him to be intelligent, witty, and compassionate, something one might not expect from a five hundred year old vampire (give or take a few years, Sanguini always said), which was why he’d supposed the creature might take pity on Granger.
Sanguini gestured for them to sit, and Draco made introductions. In his owl post requesting an audience, he’d laid out as much as he could, so the vampire was up to date on Hermione’s situation, though Draco had not thought it wise to go into great detail. Sanguini made no effort to shake their hands, a behaviour Draco had come to understand went with the vampire territory, which left Granger awkwardly fidgeting with her hands in her lap. This amused Draco, and once the Scotch found its way to his hand, he took a sip to hide his smile.
"So," said the vampire, as the drone placed a wine glass containing a deep red liquid into his hand. "I understand we’ve an unwilling fledgling here. That is most unfortunate."
The drone placed second wine glass in front of Granger, who seemed determined to ignore it. Draco took another amused sip as the drone exited as silently as he’d entered, pausing only to whisper something in Sanguini’s ear before leaving. Draco knew the vampire and his drone were actually quite close, but he supposed the discretion was for Granger’s benefit. She was awfully touchy and anxious, and it was easy to read.
"Yes, this is Hermione Granger. She was a schoolmate of mine. I’ll allow her to explain everything."
Draco’s amusement subsided as Granger told the tale she’d already told him once. Even if he enjoyed amusing himself at her expense, no one deserved what had been done to her.
"I was assisting Harry and Ron- auror friends of mine, you see- with a case. Harry is very high profile, he’s almost always recognised, and he needed information from people in Knockturn Alley, which he supposed would be difficult to get on his own. Ron’s a Weasley, just as recognisable. Now I’m thinking they just ought to have used polyjuice, but neither is fond of it and the Ministry’s stores taste even more awful than what I can brew at home. Anyway. I offered to do it, to poke around and ask people questions. It seemed simple."
Granger was rambling, but Draco didn’t interrupt. He watched Sanguini instead. The vampire’s face had taken on a serene look that Draco knew meant he was listening and thinking intently. He also suspected Sanguini was not happy with this story, but time would tell.
Granger reached for the glass of blood-laced wine; her fingers twitched and she drew back, instead telling the rest of her story in one rattling go.
"It was difficult to find someone willing to say much. But finally, just as I was about to call an end to it for the day, I met this man. Vampire. I didn’t know he was a vampire, obviously, or I wouldn’t have gone with him. He invited me back to the Leaky Cauldron, which I thought was a sign of sincerity, because it’s so public and not, you know, on the darker side of the alleys. I don’t remember much after that. We were in the pub, and then I woke up alone, and everything was different. I was different." She spread her hands, and looked beseechingly at Sanguini. "That’s all. I knew what had happened, but I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I began researching, and that’s how Malfoy found me. I hadn’t had any blood- I didn’t really know how to get it and I didn’t want to hurt anyone- but he’s given me blood from the hospital. And he brought me to you. Can you help?"
Sanguini was still for a long moment. He stared at Granger, tipping his head ever so slightly to the side. He took a long sip of his wine. And finally, he nodded.
"What do you want help with?" Sanguini asked, setting his glass down and sitting up straighter. "Transitioning? Or..."
He left the question open. Draco tensed, wondering if the vampire might not find Granger’s quest insulting. As well as he’d come to know Sanguini, Draco didn’t know much about his human life, or how he felt about being a vampire.
Granger must have come to the same realisation, because she drew in a deep breath before answering. "Not transitioning," she said. "I don’t wish to be a vampire. I’m sorry."
Sanguini only nodded. "I understand." He paused. "This is indelicate, but it must be asked- you were not already dead when your attacker gave you his blood, were you? If that’s the case, there’s no help for it, I regret to say."
Granger shook her head, her curls bouncing around her shoulders as she did so. Draco caught himself staring fascinatedly at her massive hair, and turned his attention back to the conversation.
"I don’t... think so," Granger answered. "I don’t remember much."
"You were probably glamoured," Sanguini said, as if such a thing were normal, everyday occurrence. "Oldest vampire trick in the book. But if you were not dead, there is hope. You must simply find and kill the one who turned you."
Draco thought this ought to be good news, but Granger’s face fell. He gave her a quizzical glance.
"I don’t know his name, or anything about him, really. If I did know, he’s made me forget."
Now Sanguini frowned. "The bastard." Draco looked up in surprise. "Miss Granger, let me assure you that this is not how things are done. The way this vampire has behaved is abominable. There are different ways of being a vampire, it is true, but whether in a coven or living alone as I do, one does not turn someone and run, leaving them to their own devices during the most delicate time in a fledgling’s life." Sanguini looked angrier than Draco had ever seen him. "It’s cruel. And I’m sorry it was done to you. You are most fortunate that Draco discovered you and has brought you to me."
Draco looked back and forth between the two of them, and then took a long, deep sip of his Scotch. He’d known the situation was serious, yes, but until now he’d mostly looked at it as entertaining, a bit of a diversion from the daily grind of his life. Now he felt a bit heroic, and that made him uncomfortable. Draco Malfoy was not meant to be the hero of anyone’s story.
"Can you describe him?" Sanguini asked, looking very intense.
"I... yes, I think so," Granger said, giving another curl-bouncing nod.
"Good. And Draco, you will draw what she describes, yes?"
Draco froze, giving the vampire an irritated glare. He swallowed before he choked on his drink, and set the tumbler down forcefully. Tersely, he said, "I suppose so."
Granger was looking at him, her eyes wide and curious. Draco ignored her, using the time it took to open his attache case and find parchment and charcoal to regain his composure. Damn Sanguini, anyway. This wasn’t something he shared with anyone. He told himself this was a dire exception, and his drawing would be helpful and necessary. It only mollified him slightly. He slid from the couch, kneeling on the floor so he could reach the low table comfortably.
Without making eye contact with Granger, he said, "Go on then."
She took a moment to begin speaking, and Draco was about to snap at her to get on with it, when she started. Slowly, at first, giving him time to get a rough sketch done. Then she went back to the beginning, giving him more detail, quietly pointing out things he’d gotten wrong, so he could erase them and correct them. It took some time, and Draco bit his lip in concentration as his charcoal moved over the parchment, giving shape to the creature, wanting to get each line, each curve, as close to reality as possible. Eventually, however, she gave a tiny gasp that told Draco he’d gotten the essence of the fellow on the parchment. He set down his charcoal and looked up. She nodded.
Draco stood, his knees feeling creaky from kneeling. His hair had gone messy, too, and with some annoyance he pushed it back from his forehead. He handed the drawing to Sanguini, accepting the handkerchief the vampire handed him so he could wipe the charcoal residue from his fingertips.
Sanguini studied the drawing a long while.
"I do not know him," Sanguini said, regretfully. "But allow me to keep this, and I shall investigate. In the meantime, you two should do some digging of your own. Time is of the essence."
"It is?" Granger looked worried again.
"You have a year, my darling." Sanguini was grim. "Then, you must feed, or you will die."
"A year," she said, turning the notion over in her mind. They had hashed things out a bit longer with Sanguini, formulating the beginnings of a plan. "It sounds like so much time, but I don’t feel good about it."
Malfoy blew into his hands, then shoved them in his pockets when he caught her looking. "I suppose we’ll need to retrace your steps in Knockturn Alley. Find out if anyone saw anything."
Hermione hesitated. "You don’t have to continue helping me. You’ve done enough." That sounded ungrateful, and she tried to find better words. "I mean, you don’t have to turn your life upside down to help me. I know you’ve plenty to do in the library. Even if it’s boring."
Hermione couldn’t imagine being bored in a library, but most people weren’t her. Most people didn’t want to spend their days simply inhaling everything books had to offer, from the lovely smell of them to the knowledge contained within the covers. Her favourite part of her work for the Wizengamot was doing research on cases in the Ministry archives.
Malfoy gave her a sharp look. "The library isn’t boring. It wasn’t my first choice, but it wasn’t boring. Being alone is boring. The elves call me Master even when I don’t want them to; they’re not my friends. Not having anything to challenge my mind is boring. I supposed that having someone who could operate in daylight might be useful. But if you’ve a problem with me inviting myself along, I can leave it alone."
He’d gone stiff, and Hermione only then realised that he’d been different before. More relaxed. Open. She didn’t want him to be stiff, especially if she was going to be spending time with him. And it looked like she was, because she was already feeling badly for making him feel unwanted. Malfoy wasn’t who she might have chosen as a companion, but as he’d said, it would be nice to not be alone. To have someone to share this awful secret with, even if he was a pompous git who didn’t much like her.
"No, that’s not what I meant. I only meant you’re not obligated. I... I appreciate what you’ve done so far. That’s all." Hermione bit her lower lip, a human habit that she doubted she’d ever shed. Uncomfortable with thanking Malfoy for anything, even if he’d earned it, she changed the subject. "What was your first choice? If not the library, I mean."
Malfoy’s face was wary and guarded, but he nodded and answered her, even if his tone was very clipped. "Potions. That’s how I met that one." He gestured sharply with his chin toward the house, apparently unwilling to take his hands from the warmth of his pockets. "He was a Potions Master, once. Before he was turned. He can’t stir a potion any longer, but his advice and experience were invaluable. Once I believed I'd be a Potions Master myself, but after all the fallout from the war, I thought I needed something higher profile, to fix my image- but not something that looked like I was grabbing for power. So, the library."
Hermione was surprised; she’d thought he’d say art, after the display inside the house, and she said as much. Malfoy shook his head.
"That’s just for me. Sanguini only knows because I would draw images of ingredients to help keep them straight. Otherwise..."
Hermione nodded. She understood. And once that pressing question was out of the way, she latched onto something else Malfoy had said.
"Wait- did you just say that Sanguini can’t stir a potion? Because he’s... because he’s like me?"
A real tremor of fear ran through her. Everything about Hermione’s life had been defined by the moment she’d opened her Hogwarts letter. She was a witch. She was good at being a witch, spectacular at it, even. Nothing ever felt so right as when she was performing magic. If she couldn’t perform magic, Hermione didn’t even know who she was.
And this hadn’t been in any of the books, which she found infuriating.
Malfoy’s cheeks went a deeper red than the cold had already rendered them. "Hadn’t I mentioned that?" He wasn’t very good at being disingenuous, and Hermione glared at him. "I suppose it’s to do with being dead, yes?" He looked away from her, and she glared harder. "Have you tried?"
She thought back. It had been such a blur, with her hunger sapping most of her focus. She ran carefully through all she’d done since her discovery in the rented room. Then she brightened.
"Yes! I opened the entrance to Diagon Alley, to get to the library."
That made Hermione feel immensely better.
Malfoy met her eyes thoughtfully. "Then it seems you’ll keep it until you fully turn." He seemed to be puzzling something over. Eventually, he asked, "If the year is up... and we don’t succeed... what do you want to do?"
Hermione knew what he was asking. Would she kill a human being, to preserve her own continued existence? Or would she allow herself to die?
"I can’t kill someone. Other than the someone that did this to me. So I guess that only leaves me one other option."
She dared a look at Malfoy. He didn’t look happy. On impulse, she reached up, wiping away a smudge of charcoal on his temple.
He flinched away from the contact, and Hermione was left looking at her offensive fingers. Quietly, she explained, "You had a smudge."
"A smudge? Granger, you’re talking about suicide."
"More like a delayed homicide, really," she said, trying to inject some levity. She didn’t like this intense, unhappy version of Malfoy. It reminded her of how he’d looked during their sixth year. It reminded her that until this week, they’d always stood on opposing sides of the spectrum. She supposed it was good that he seemed to care whether she lived or died.
"It’s a moot point, however you’d classify it," he said sharply. "We have a year. You had top marks in school; I was right behind you. If, between the two of us, we can’t catch and kill a rogue vampire, it can’t be done."
"A year, then," Hermione repeated.
In January, Hermione put in a leave of absence with the Ministry, citing personal reasons. It was one of the few times she was glad of the reputation her adventures with Harry had earned her, because her request was granted without question. She explained it to Harry and Ron as getting sidetracked by an interesting research project, which was only really a small stretch of the truth, and those two were so bogged down in Auror things that they, too, didn’t question it much. Hermione wasn’t sure why she didn’t just tell them the truth- embarrassment, perhaps, or not wanting them to feel guilty, almost certainly. There was also the fact that they were also Ministry employees, and law enforcement at that, and she’d be asking them to hide what they knew. But maybe it was just that she felt that she and Malfoy had the situation in hand, and Ron and Harry barging in and stomping about could only make things worse.
The research project excuse also provided a convenient alibi for her constant visits to the library. Hermione had taken to spending her evenings in the library. There wasn’t much else for her to do, and Malfoy didn’t seem to mind her being there after hours, even after he retired for the night. If she wasn’t working on the vampire problem, she had a world of books at her fingertips, and could indulge every craving, from romantic fantasies to treatises on peace in the wizarding world to books classifying all the mushrooms native to Britain and their uses is potions.
She also took up knitting, when she tired of reading. It was only January, but she had most of next years’ holiday gifts started by the end of the month- hats and scarves and mittens and blankets. She found she could knit very quickly, once she’d mastered the technique. She wondered if any other vampire had put their speed to use in such a fashion. Malfoy said she was likely an anomaly, but he wasn’t quite mean when he said it, more teasing, so she made him a scarf, too.
He seemed surprised when she handed him the long length of wool, done in soft grey ombre. At least, that was how Hermione chose to interpret his mouth opening and snapping shut several times before he said a short thank you. She thought perhaps he didn’t like it. It wasn’t designer or store-bought, after all. And one of the rows was crooked.
But she noticed he took to wearing it for the rest of those cold months. Why that pleased her so much, she couldn’t say.
It wasn’t all scarf-exchanges and snarking. They did work on the vampire situation, Hermione researching the truth of Sanguini’s words, Malfoy visiting Knockturn Alley, where he was a more welcome figure than she was, to poke around. So far he hadn’t turned up much- none of the shopkeeps even remembered seeing Hermione that evening, let alone any mysterious creatures of darkness, which made frustrating sense, given what Sanguini had told them about glamour, and how people could be compelled to forget.
Hermione had reached the depressing conclusion that they’d have to wait for Sanguini to identify the vampire, before they could even begin to try to track him down.
Malfoy also continued supplying her with blood; Hermione didn’t begin to know how he was able to obtain so much, and she didn’t dig too much, grateful as she was to have it. Each week, he brought her a basket, which had been enhanced with cooling charms, with enough blood to get her through the week. Hermione had found she could stretch it if she followed Sanguini’s example and mixed it with other liquids. It was much less disconcerting to drink from a coffee mug than it was to drink directly from the blood bag. It tasted better warm, too, and Hermione had to stop herself from imagining how it might taste from the source.
So January passed, the two of them settling into their new routine.
Draco was not a fan of the month of February. Its only saving grace, in his opinion, was that it was so short. He managed to keep cherubs and hearts out of the library by loudly declaring that it was a place of serious study. Outside of the library, however, he was powerless to stop the steady stream of love and mush and Cupids. A good scowl kept it mostly out of his face, but even his favourite coffee shop had changed their mugs over to shades of red and pink, and somehow managed to form a heart in the foam atop his latte. It was disturbing, how very much the wizarding world embraced this ridiculous holiday.
Valentine’s Day. What utter rubbish.
Luckily for Draco, this year he had no woman he was obligated to bestow with candy and flowers, so it would be a night like any other, or like any other since Hermione Granger, inept vampire, fainted in the middle of his stacks. He wondered if he ought to be bringing her some blood filled chocolates, and it made him snort in spite of his over all grumpy mood. Draco suspected Granger liked Valentine’s day as little as he did.
There was, however, a gift of sorts for her.
A name, sent over by Sanguini’s daytime man, along with the drawing he’d done at the vampire’s house that night.
He did hope Granger would be pleased.
She came when she usually did, shortly after sundown. Draco locked the door behind her, and she settled at a table near the circulation desk, which had become customary for her now that she no longer had to hide the fact that she was staying after hours or what she was looking into. He let Granger unpack her bag, which was Mary Poppins-esque thanks to a bigger-on-the-inside charm. Once she was settled, he seated himself across from her with a satisfied expression on his face.
She didn’t notice.
"Oh, it’s such a relief to be out of the path of singing cherubs," Granger sighed, attempting to set her riot of hair to rights. "No less than three of them tried to intercept me between the Leaky and here. I’m clearly not on a date! Although I did have two coffees, perhaps that’s what it was."
She handed a paper cup over to Draco, which a quick sniff ascertained held a vanilla latte. He made a point not to look as Granger tipped a bit from her blood supply into her cup, just taking a grateful sip of his own beverage. These late nights had increased his caffeine intake rather a bit. He’d always been something of a night owl, but his limits were being pushed.
"Here," Draco said, pushing the owl over to Granger, unable to wait any longer.
Granger licked a bit of foam from her upper lip, then pulled the parchment close, her eyes quickly scanning the neat handwriting. Then she looked up at Draco, eyes wide.
"Malfoy! Is this what I think it is?"
Then Granger smiled, wide and happy. Draco realised it was probably the first time he’d seen her do so, at least when it was directed at him. For some reason, it made him very, very glad that he was helping her.
He couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t have elongated front teeth any longer.
"Reinhardt Stauss," Granger said, reading the name from the page. Then she started giggling.
"What?" Draco asked, bemused.
"Stauss," she said, laughing harder. "It means buttocks, in German."
Draco tried to remain serious, to pretend he found all of this really juvenile, but he couldn’t do it. First one side of his mouth lifted in a smile. Then a snort escaped. "Well. He certainly seems like an arse, so it’s fitting."
Granger began cackling, and that made Draco feel even better than the smile. Which made him feel contrary, so he forced his face straight with a little cough.
"It’s just a name." He frowned for good measure. "We still need to track him down."
"It’s a start," Granger offered. "It’s more than we had to go on yesterday."
"Yes, it’s a start," Draco conceded. "I’ll start poking tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I think we’ve earned a night off."
"Oh?" said Granger. "I suppose it is Valentine’s Day."
Draco lifted a pale eyebrow. "Don’t expect me to start reciting poetry." He cracked half a grin again, in spite of himself. "But we can celebrate the start of our hunt for Sir Buttocks with a bottle of wine."
Granger smiled that wide, guileless smile again. "Sounds good."
And so, even though Draco regretted it immediately, he summoned a bottle of cabernet from his apartment, and poured two glasses. He let Granger add her own blood.
Hermione wished that her first trip to Spain wasn’t as a vampire, partly because it meant that she could only see things at night, but also because they were there to track down Stauss and Malfoy had been before so they weren’t exactly sightseeing.
It had turned out that having a name was indeed helpful, because Stauss was an arrogant bastard, among all the other things that he was, and he filed travel documents in his own name. Which meant that they had discovered quite easily that he’d booked a flight to Spain- Muggle travel, which had made Malfoy groan, though Hermione pointed out they needn't trace his steps exactly. But it was true that it indicated that they’d be dipping into the Muggle world to find him (which really, she had to give him credit, because it was the best way to hide from wizards). She was surprised when Malfoy argued that flying would be better for them, too, because that way nobody important would know what they were up to.
He was not, however, a good flyer. Hermione had finally slipped him a calming draught because the tight way he was gripping the armrests was too much to bear. He also kept breathing really funny. He’d glared at her something awful when they’d landed and he realised what she’d done, but she didn’t regret doing it.
Stauss had stayed at a small old hotel near the bahia in Cadiz, so Hermione and Malfoy did as well. While Hermione was stuck in the room for the day, the curtains drawn under heavy shielding charms, Malfoy had shown his sketch around to the hotel staff. He’d reported that most of them had just shaken their heads, clearly not wanting to get involved. One housekeeper, however, had pulled Malfoy aside, and whispered to him that he must talk to the local police. On their second day in Cadiz, Malfoy had gone to do just that, and Hermione awaited his return anxiously.
Outside their window, Hermione could hear the water lapping at the shore. It wasn’t fair; she loved the beach, and she loved to swim. She supposed her vampire vision would allow her to swim at night, but she didn’t want to give it a go and cause people to whisper, to fear her the way they clearly feared Stauss. As it was, the maid for their room had obviously noted her nocturnal habits, because she crossed herself when Hermione came near and she thought Hermione wasn’t looking. Perhaps she’d chance a swim, anyway, after Malfoy reported back.
For now, she ensconced herself in the hotel’s cafe, once the sun went down, and busied herself with a book Sanguini had loaned her while she waited for Malfoy to finally put in an appearance. She’d ordered food, despite having no intention of eating it, for appearances sake. Malfoy would eat it when he arrived. It was after 8:00, and she suspected he’d be hungry. He forgot to eat when he was deeply involved with something. And he’d be happy with what she’d ordered. Over the last few months, she’d become familiar with his preferences.
Finally, she saw a flash of silvery hair through the window. There he was.
Even on something of a holiday, Malfoy dressed like he was behind the library desk. Trousers, buttoned shirt, waistcoat, and tie. His only concession to the temperate weather was his coat, which was looped over his arm instead of on his back. Hermione felt a bit sloppy in her denims and peasant blouse, but she suspected she was also infinitely more comfortable.
He slide into the seat across from her, and Hermione laid a bookmark between the pages of her book and set it aside. She nudged the plate of food over to him; a glass of wine already awaited him. To a stranger’s eyes, they likely looked like the honeymooners that they were pretending to be.
As Malfoy dug in, Hermione leaned closer, so they wouldn’t be overheard. "How was your visit with the policia?"
Swallowing a bite of his gambas al ajillo, a dish involving prawns in a garlic sauce, Malfoy dabbed at his mouth with his cloth napkin and answered, "Informative. Stauss has definitely made himself known here."
"Oh?" Hermione asked. The vampire had been relatively discreet in London, but perhaps that had something to do with what he’d left behind- namely, her.
"Indeed," Malfoy said, abandoning his food for the moment. "We know Stauss checked in here the night after he left London, after he... did what he did, to you, yes? "
Hermione nodded. They’d gone over and over the timeline before booking this trip. They knew it was unlikely they’d actually find Stauss here. This was strictly recon.
"Three nights later, the police found a body here. One drained of blood." Malfoy’s face was grim, not a trace of smugness.
Hermione gasped, her hand lifting to her mouth.
"The next night, another. By the third night, they found a witness, though not soon enough to save a third girl. They were able to track Stauss back here, to the hotel, but of course by then he’d covered his tracks with the staff and cut loose." Malfoy paused. "Granger... all three girls had fair skin, brown eyes, and curly brown hair. He certainly has a type. I think your magical blood is the only thing that spared you."
Hermione was silent a while. "Well. I certainly feel better about having to kill the fellow now." Her voice was soft, but serious. "Guess my blood’s not so muddy after all."
It was amazing how, even now, after all this time and all they’d gone through lately, the words from childhood still stung.
Malfoy looked at her, then speared another prawn on his fork. "Guess not."
He didn’t say another word until he’d polished off his dinner. Hermione supposed she deserved that. And they’d been working together so nicely, too.
After the server cleared his plate, Malfoy continued like there hadn’t just been twenty minutes of silence. "He won’t have used his own name to travel, not after being the target of a manhunt. Tomorrow I’ll visit the airport, the train station. See what I can turn up and report back."
"Malfoy... Draco." Hermione forced herself to use his given name. It was becoming more and more difficult to remain formal and detached, given everything that he was doing to help her, without being asked, without complaining. "Thank you. For doing everything I can’t. And for helping, at all." She fiddled with the tassels of her bookmark. "You would have made a good Auror."
Malfoy looked at her, his face unreadable. "Nah. I’m not upstanding enough for all that. But I suppose I will thank you for saying so. Granger. Hermione."
She nodded, and glanced away under the pretense of sipping her blood-spiked wine.
As spring melted into summer, a pattern developed. They’d discover whatever identity Stauss was using, and track him to a city, or small town, or village- he didn’t discriminate. Usually they were a month or so behind him, though as time passed, they were catching up. They didn’t generally linger as long as he did, which was typically until local law enforcement caught on to him. In each place, Stauss drained as many people as he could get away with, all of them resembling Granger. So far, no other vampires had been left behind. Granger was the only one. Once the jig was up, Stauss would flee, taking on a new name.
Draco hired more staff for the library, human staff. Marley and Trissy and the others weren’t comfortable managing the library alone for days at a time, so there was no help for it. Draco wasn’t entirely thrilled, because at some point all this gallivanting about would be over, and then what was he to do with the two witches he’d taken on? The library had a budget, set by the Ministry, and the more Galleons that went into staff salaries, less went into his own. He already paid the house elves, and now he’d added two more humans. It was a good thing that his Gringotts assets had been released to him when he’d taken the Head Librarian position on.
After Spain, they went to Italy. After Italy came Greece. Greece led back to Italy, where Stauss bounced about a bit. He’d ended in Rome, and they were now back in England, cracking his latest identity. Granger had been lamenting their inability to sight see the entire time- So much art, Draco! Aren’t you interested in seeing it?. Which, yes, he was. But there wasn’t really time for such pursuits, and he knew Granger understood that. She simply wished they were there for another reason. Of course, if not for the current reason, they wouldn’t be there together.
It was something Draco had begun considering, during the daylight hours when Granger wasn’t nattering in his ear. It was something that had been tickling at his brain, since that first time he’d seen her smile, and had tickled more and more as time had gone by. He had to admit, she wasn’t entirely unattractive. She had a nice smile, and her hair was actually sort of fascinating. He wanted to draw it, to figure out how all those curls fit together. But beyond the physical, they’d developed something of an accord. A friendship, even. And lately he’d found himself imagining...
But she was a vampire. That was a major hurdle. Bigger even than the years of animosity, bigger than Slytherin versus Gryffindor rivalry. His attraction might even be because she was a vampire. Vampires were alluring, the better to attract prey. Draco didn’t want to be prey.
So he said nothing, but he mused on it.
One night in late June, the subject of those musings came bursting through the library doors. Draco looked up in surprise from his vantage point behind the circulation desk. His staff, of course, had been dismissed hours before. One of the disadvantages to being in England in June was a sunset that came after nine in the evening. It was nearly ten, now, which meant Granger had likely come directly to the library after performing whatever rising rituals she was inclined to.
"Hermione," he said, the name still feeling odd in his mouth. "What the deuce has you so excited?"
She wasn’t flushed, because she just didn’t do that these days, but her eyes were wide and excited, and her hair was in disarray. Oh, she’d hurried there. Oh. She plonked herself into the chair next to him, but she leaned forward, gripping his hands.
"Hermione!" Draco tried to free his hands, to no avail. She was too bloody strong. "That hurts, you know!"
"Oh!" Granger said, releasing him. "Sorry. But I have wonderful news!"
"I can see that," Draco said dryly, shaking his hands slightly to return circulation to them. "So spill it, then."
Granger pushed her mass of hair back from her face, winding it up and securing it with some sort of elastic. That was good. Her hair was distracting.
"I used a computer." She flapped a hand at Draco, and he snapped his mouth shut on the question he would have asked. "Muggle thing. Anyway, you can look things up on it. I dug around a bit. Well, a lot. And I found a pattern in the aliases that Stauss is using. They’re all body parts. I guess because of the buttocks thing."
Draco waited for all of this to become as exciting as Granger seemed to think it was. "So..." he drew out, encouragingly.
"So! So one Bernard la Bouche just booked a trip to Paris. He leaves tonight. Draco!" She leaned forward again, and Draco pulled his hands back preemptively. "This is our chance to catch him! We’ll be in the same city at the same time."
Alright, yes, this was exciting enough to warrant mussed hair and bright eyes and unseemly speed. Draco grinned at Granger, unable to help it.
"I assume you’ve packed a bag?" He waited for her enthusiastic nod. "I’ll book the tickets."
And that was how they found themselves in Paris in June.
They stayed in the same hotel as Stauss had booked again- why not?- but Draco took the liberty of acquiring passports with aliases for the two of them. No point in tipping Stauss off, if indeed he even remembered the bushy haired witch he’d attacked several months ago in England. The honeymooner cover seemed to work, so he booked a single room under their assumed names, and off they went. Draco wondered what his Slytherin chums would make of him honeymooning with Hermione Granger, of all people. They’d likely laugh him out of the room, but Draco found he cared less and less. Even if they were actually undercover and hunting a deadly and murderous vampire, it was more fun than Slytherin charity balls and stuffy high teas.
Knowing that Stauss was there, just three floors below them, zapped Draco with an odd sort of energy. They were so close. They were about to do something important.
Granger insisted they attempt to catch him as soon as possible, before he killed anyone. Draco would have liked more time to observe Stauss’ habits, would have liked to have things go smoothly, but he couldn’t get Granger to budge. And really, it was her enemy. Draco was just along for the ride.
They loitered in the cafe near the lobby, Draco marvelling at how nice French lattes were. And their pastries. And then feeling badly, because Granger couldn’t truly partake. Perhaps for breakfast, if they were successful. The thought made his stomach give a flip that was half anxiety, half excitement. He couldn’t imagine what Granger must be feeling, though if the way her hands were twisting her napkin into various shapes was any indication, she felt about the same way he did.
Finally, nearly at midnight, Stauss made his way through the hotel lobby. Draco recognised him, sort of, from the sketch he’d made, but even more telling was the gasp from Granger, and the way what little colour she had drained from her cheeks. Stauss was a dapper bastard, Draco would give him that. The vampire wore a three piece suit, though he’d gone rogue and worn no tie, and left the top buttons of his shirt open. He was shorter than Draco’d expected, used to Sanguini’s great height; Draco judged Stauss to be no taller than himself, not by much. And the German monster was also blonde, bearing a fair golden head of hair that was striking with his pale, chiseled features.
In fact, now that Draco saw him in life and not two dimensional on a piece of paper, he couldn’t help but think that Stauss bore a striking resemblance to one Draco Malfoy.
Unable to help himself, he turned to Granger and said, slyly, "That the sort you find attractive, eh?"
That remark, at least, made a hint of colour return to Granger’s cheeks, as she muttered, "He compelled me."
"Mhmmm," was all Draco said, as he dropped some Muggle Euros on the table, and signaled to Granger that they ought to get a move on.
They gave Stauss a block head start. He was relatively easy to follow; the vampire gave off an energy that made him noticeable. Deliberate, Draco thought. He was already trolling for prey.
Stauss strolled the streets, that was the only word for it. He was casual, in no hurry, despite the late hour. Draco frowned, however, when they passed several bars and nightclubs that seemed ideal for the business Stauss was about. Granger shot him a concerned look, and he shrugged. What else could they do, but follow Stauss?
Draco had forgotten something important, however. He had forgotten he was a librarian, not a professional spy or trained officer of the law. And by the time he remembered, it was too late.
Stauss led them down increasingly narrow, darkened streets, in seedier and seedier parts of Paris. Draco wondered irritably why the vampire couldn’t fancy a good stalk through the Louvre. He soon had his answer: they were, in fact, being led. And when they reached a dead end in some back alley, Stauss whirled on them.
"Why are you following me?" Stauss snarled.
Draco wanted to run. It was shameful, but it was his first urge. Stauss no longer looked like an urbane businessman on holiday. His cheeks were hollow, his eyes were slitted, and his fangs gleamed, bright and lethal in the moonlight. Draco fought the urge to flee, and also the one to pat his inner coat pocket, where a sharp bit of wood resided.
Granger, vampire though she might be, was still at heart a Gryffindor. She stepped forward, and for a moment that Draco would be ashamed of for a long time, he found her as horrifying as Stauss. He’d simply never seen her like this. All... vamped out. Her fangs were extended, and every muscle in her body seemed poised to pounce.
"You?" Stauss’ face relaxed, and he laughed a cruel laugh. "I see my experiment in biting witches was fruitful."
"Fuck you, Stauss," Granger bit out, her voice strange around her fangs. Draco’s eyes widened. He’d never heard her talk like that. She stepped forward, and Draco could see she had her stake in her hand.
"I see the pleasantries are over. A pity."
The last syllable had no sooner left Stauss’ mouth, that he lunged at Granger. He looked monstrous again, which must have ignited some long lost, foolhardy sense of chivalry in Draco. Quite stupidly, he put himself between the two vampires. He knew it was stupid when Stauss grabbed him, and grinned like he’d just found the best present under the Christmas tree.
Draco understood when he felt something sharp and white hot slide into the flesh under his rib cage. It didn’t hurt, not until Stauss pulled the blade free, and Draco felt the regrettably familiar sensation of his own blood flowing through his fingers. Stauss pushed him away, forcefully, and Draco slumped against the stone walls of the alley, his hands clenched against his side.
Stauss fussily wiped Draco’s blood from his knife with a handkerchief, which he lifted to his nose before tucking it into his pocket. Then the German turned to face Granger, who stood there with her fangs still gleaming, her face looking wretched. The blood. Draco understood the full danger, then.
"It seems you have a choice, my pretty little fledgling," Stauss said, still sounding amused beyond anything. "Ta ta."
Stauss left the alley with vampiric speed, and Granger chased him to the mouth of the alley, then drew to an abrupt halt. She looked back at Draco.
"You should go," he managed to say, though it took effort. "Get him. End this."
Granger shook her head forcefully. Then, before Draco could blink, she was at his side.
"Hermione..." he whispered, trying desperately to staunch his bleeding, knowing it was futile- his hands were covered with it, as was the lower half of his shirt.
"I can do this," she said, but her voice was low, and Draco could read the lust in her eyes, lust that was, alas, not for his body, at least not in the traditional sense. He braced himself for a bite.
It never came. He heard Granger draw a shuddering breath, and then she brought her wrist to her mouth with a quick motion. Draco found her wrist pressed to his mouth, and at the metallic taste of her blood against his lips, comprehension dawned. It was offputting, but she wanted him to drink. It would heal him. He swallowed. Then again. Again.
The last he remembered was his head cradled against her, her wrist to his mouth, and her strong arm around him. When he came back to consciousness, they were back in their hotel room. Granger sat in a chair next to the bed, a perfect reversal from the day he’d discovered her in the library. She sat up straighter when she saw that his eyes were open, and she leaned over him, looking concerned.
Draco forced himself to sit. "You saved me."
"It seemed like the right thing to do."
"But he got away."
"But you lived. We still have time to find him again."
Draco shook his head. "It will be harder now. He knows we’re looking. And he has my scent."
"So what, you daft idiot? You think I’d be happy to have killed him, if you’d also died?" She gave him a withering scowl, and Draco imagined that if he’d been well enough, there would have been a swat to go along with it.
He didn’t know what to say to that, so he changed the subject. "Why the knife, do you think? Why not bite me?"
Granger looked uncomfortable, and she actually squirmed a little in her chair. "To preserve his appetite, I think. He still wanted to hunt his brunette. He didn’t want draining you to keep him from draining her. It’s why I... why I was able to, you know, resist you. Your blood. I filled up before we left the hotel."
"Oh." Draco felt a bit sick, knowing how close he’d come to being a vampire’s meal, even if it was a vampire he’d decided he rather liked, and knowing what it would have done to Granger if such a thing had happened.
He fought the nausea, and reached up to hold Granger’s chin, forcing her to meet his eyes. "Thank you, then. For saving me. For not hurting me. For choosing me."
And then he did something quite silly. He kissed Granger. It wasn’t a big, passionate, romance novel kiss, mostly because he was still weak but also because it caught the pair of them so much by surprise. But it was nice, anyway, and when their mouths parted, Granger relaxed, her hand coming up to smooth the fine, flyaway hair back from his forehead.
"You’re welcome," she said, sighing slightly. "We still have time. We’ll find him. Let’s go home."
For the first time since they’d known each other, Draco immediately agreed.
They laid low for a few months. The pursuit for Stauss didn't grind to a halt, but it wasn't as hands on. Draco had been right- now that they'd had a confrontation with Hermione's attacker, he changed his methods. He was more careful. He changed the style of alias he used. He didn't revisit past haunts, even if he hadn't come to the attention of law enforcement. The only way to track the vampire was by his body trail, and by the time a body trail was evident, Stauss had left the city.
So Hermione and Draco stayed in London, chasing Stauss electronically and through newspapers that Draco brought in to the library from around the world. It was maddening to see innocent people being killed, but he had a head start that they couldn't catch up. It was an exercise in frustration.
Also frustrating was their relationship, which was fledgling as much as Hermione was a fledgling vampire. The kiss had awakened something between the pair of them, and it did indeed lead to more kissing, but beyond that, Hermione dug her heels in. It was understandable; she wanted to be herself before she became herself-and-someone else. But they both often ended the night with still simmering desires.
It was a frustrating fall.
Halloween found them tucked in the back of the library, as usual. Hermione sat on top of one of the tables, her knitting needles moving busily. Draco lounged on a small sofa nearby, the laptop Hermione had rigged to work on magic balanced on his lap. Every so often, she looked surreptitiously up from her knitting, watching his nimble fingers move over the keys. He'd taken to the Muggle device surprisingly well, declaring it something of a cross between a typewriter and a magic photograph. She had to agree, and she didn't harp on about him liking something Muggle; she'd come to know him well enough to know that if she did, he'd stubbornly be making notes with a quill and parchment as he pored over magic only newspapers. She was learning. And the newspapers, magic and Muggle alike, took care of themselves, a clever spell of Draco's tasking enchanted quills to search for certain keywords, words that might lead them to Stauss and his activities.
Finally, Hermione broke the silence. "I'm surprised you're not at that fancy dress party Pansy Parkinson is having."
Draco paused in his browsing, though his eyes remained on the screen. "Don't really go to those." He ran his fingers over the trackpad, then looked up. "Not my thing."
Hermione finished the end of a row on the hat she was working on, and moved to the next one. Carefully, she said, "Oh, I suppose I always assumed that all the Slytherin families attended. Social obligations and all."
This was dangerous ground; they rarely talked of their respective social circles, or their previous alliances, when their world was at war. They tended to focus on the here and now, which was certainly enough to occupy their attention, and when there was nothing to talk about, there were other ways to busy their mouths.
Draco sighed, then set the laptop aside to run his hand back through his hair. That meant he was agitated, Hermione had come to know, but his voice was even when he spoke.
"Not just Slytherins, firstly. Purebloods, and those come from all four houses, as you know. The division falls more along the lines of money and purity, though the first is shaky nowadays. But your dorm-mate, Brown- her family is usually in attendance. And there are others, Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws and blended families, as well. Secondly, though... secondly, I am something of a black sheep among that set."
Hermione was surprised, but she held her tongue. Draco played with his own fingertips, toying with his index finger with the opposite thumb, and carried on. "When the war ended, and people were made to pay reparations in order to stay out of Azkaban for their activities during the war, it became the done thing to bear it stoically, and with pride, noses firmly in the air. Genteel poverty, in some cases. In-your-face excess to prove how much they didn't care, in others. Getting a job, working to earn that money back, or doing work, paid or charitable, that would get the garnishment of our accounts stopped altogether, was looked down upon. Seen as giving in to, well, your lot. Giving up somehow, admitting something, I don't know. But I... I didn't feel proud. I felt ashamed, for what I'd done, even though I had my reasons for doing it."
Hermione held her breath, and her needles slowed. This was the closest they'd ever come to discussing what had happened during the war. She had so many questions she didn't dare ask.
"Sometimes when you do terrible things, the reasons why don't matter, only the end results. The Dark Lord threatened my family, and I was terrified.That doesn't excuse any of it. I still needed redemption." Draco's cheeks flushed. "So I took this job, running the public library. The pay is peanuts, and the work is constant. But I feel good about it, and that's the first time I can say that about any task that's been handed to me. Until you, anyway. Of course, most of my so-called friends didn't see it that way. My own parents didn't. They only saw me humbling myself to our former enemies."
He drew a deep breath, and finally looked Hermione straight in the eyes. "And now you know why I don't attend pureblood fancy dress parties on Halloween."
Without a word, Hermione set her knitting aside, and went to the small leather sofa, making Draco budge aside so she could sit next to him, leaning over him. She reached up, threading her fingers through the fine, glossy blond strands of his hair, combing them back from his forehead. Still silent, she leaned closer, and kissed him deeply. He remained still a moment, perhaps still lost in the memories of how his life had changed so drastically, then his arms came up around her, hugging her tightly. It said more to her than any words of his could.
When she came up for air, she said, "You can spend your Halloweens with me, then."
Draco nodded, swallowed, and seemed like he might say something, when pinks sparks flashing to their side stole the words from his mouth. One of the quills had uncovered something.
Hermione sat up, and reached for the paper the charmed quill had alerted them to.
"Which is it?" Draco asked, his voice rough.
Hermione looked at him, dread and excitement both pooling in her stomach. "The Daily Telegraph. He's in London."
With Stauss back in England, Hermione had decided she had no choice but to alert Potter and Weasley to his presence. Draco didn't much like it, but he understood. Though he very much wanted the pleasure of staking Stauss for Hermione and himself, it would be irresponsible to hide him from the Aurors. If more innocent women died because the two of them were being selfish, it wouldn't sit well with either of them.
Of course, telling the charming duo about Stauss meant telling them about Hermione, and his own involvement. Draco wished he could have been a fly on the wall for that conversation, but had decided the wisest course would be to absent himself until their rage cooled and level heads prevailed. Not that he had much faith in the levelness of Potter and Weasley's heads, but Hermione had assured him that they would come round eventually. It probably helped that she omitted any salacious details about the recent developments in their personal interactions.
That was how Draco ended up standing within a block of Potter, staking out the area Stauss seemed to be frequenting during daylight hours. There had been no bodies after the first, but showing an updated sketch of Stauss around to shopkeeps and club owners had allowed them to narrow things down. Potter called it triangulating. Draco called that showing off.
Hermione surmised, and Draco agreed, that there had been no bodies because the first had simply been to get their attention. Stauss' visit to London was personal, this time. Draco supposed he wanted to finish what had been started in Paris. That was fine, because so did Draco.
It was cold, and Draco was grateful for the warming charm in his coat pockets, and the hand-knit scarf around his neck. Waiting for sundown was tedious, but he wasn't sure what other tactic they could take. Potter hadn't been able to come up with anything better. Draco scowled down in the direction of his former nemesis. Potter had a confidence that Draco recognised as different from when they'd been in school; it was a confidence that came with years of experience, with comfort in what he was doing. Draco envied him, a little, which made working with him worse. Though Draco supposed it was better than working with Weasley, who'd had trouble accepting him with the pragmatism Potter had shown. It likely had something to do with Weasley's romantic history with Hermione, something Draco preferred not to dwell on. Of the two of them, however, if he had to work with one, he could tolerate Potter. Weasley was guarding Hermione, and Draco derived some satisfaction in the knowledge that such duty was just as tedious as his, since Hermione spent the daylight hours in a deep, unshakable slumber.
Finally, there was some movement on the sleepy street. Two men stepped out of an apartment building adjacent to alley. Draco didn't think much of it- daylight hours and all- until they made a beeline for him, stalking toward him with a purposeful menace in their gait.
"Potter!" he yelled, not too proud to ask for help, not since he'd gained a scar to complement the ones Potter himself had laid on his chest all those years ago. "Drones!"
At his shout, the men sped up, driving Draco back into an alleyway between the building and the neighbouring shop. Sodding alleys. But it was to his advantage, too, because it was a Muggle area and he couldn't very well draw his wand in the street. He did draw it now, however, holding it at the ready as Potter appeared at the mouth of the alley, behind Stauss' drones.
Wands proved useless at first, however, because the drones were Muggles, and fought that way. The attack was physical; the two of them came at Draco swinging. Draco had never been built for fighting, and the bigger of the two landed a punch to Draco's jaw that sent him to his knees, his wand knocked from his hand.
In front of Potter, too. How embarrassing.
Draco didn't have time to dwell on that, because while Potter launched a stunning spell at the smaller drone- and small was subjective, as both were over six feet and built like walls of bricks- the bigger one was on top of him. Draco threw punches and kicks blindly, wrestling his way out of the big drone's grip, scrambling for his wand. He nearly had his fingers wrapped around it when he felt a sharp tug at his neck, and something tightened around his throat.
His scarf. Of sodding course.
"Potter!" he choked out, leaving his wand on the ground and wrapping both hands around his scarf, trying to pull it free of the drone's grip.
Potter, finished with the smaller drone, who was now neatly trussed up on the ground, shot another stunning spell, and the big drone fell. Draco pulled the scarf from the drone's hands, gasping for air as he loosened it around his neck.
"Bloody hell, Malfoy, it's just a scarf," Potter muttered, while he threw an Incarcerous spell at Draco's attacker.
Draco, fetching his wand from the ground, turned to scowl at Potter. "It's not just a scarf."
He didn't elaborate, leaving Potter to draw his own conclusions. Potter summoned some of his fellow Aurors to cart the thugs off to the Ministry jail, and Draco brushed the dirt from his clothes and smoothed his hair back. Then he shook out the scarf Hermione had made him, and he wrapped it loosely back around his neck.
"He'll move now," Draco observed.
"But he'll stay in London. He wants Granger."
"Frankly, that terrifies me, Malfoy."
"You and me both, Potter."
In the end, they decided to let Stauss come to them. Hermione argued that if he wanted her, the best way to catch him was to dangle herself in front of his nose. Draco, Ron, and Harry had argued it at first, but ultimately, she won the argument. The fact that she was a vampire and very difficult to kill was persuasive, as was the fact that she agreed that protection should never be far from her. She also rigged a ring with Protean charms, to summon them if she needed them. She didn't tell Ron and Harry that Draco's companion ring worked independently of theirs.
She'd have to come clean about Draco, eventually, but it had been enough of a surprise to sit them down and say, So guess what- I'm a vampire! One revelation at a time.
Hermione took to going to vampire clubs with Sanguini, flaunting herself in a way she was not quite comfortable with. She wasn't used to stares, to calling attention to her person and not her knowledge. Sanguini was a terrific help, in that regard, as he was very, very comfortable with attention. He also had impeccable fashion sense. Hermione felt guilty when he purchased her slinky dresses and towering heels, things that had never figured in her own wardrobe; she felt even worse when she learned Draco had bankrolled them. But she had to admit, it worked. Word would definitely travel through the vampire grapevine.
Vampire club was something of a misnomer, which Hermione hastened to reassure all three concerned human men. In fact, the vampires were outnumbered at least thirty to one, but the clubs were places vampires didn't have to hide what they were, and where willing blood donors were easy to find.
Hermione stuck to her purloined blood bags from St Mungo's. If she ever became human again, she was going to have to donate so much blood to make up for this.
In the end, it was outside of one of the clubs that Stauss made his appearance. He didn't come right after them- Sanguini's place at her side likely deterred him- but when Sanguini tucked her into his flashy little car and drove her home, Stauss followed.
Sanguini walked her to the door, at a slow, leisurely pace, so Stauss could follow at a safe distance. The older vampire leaned in to kiss Hermione's cheek, and he whispered, "I shall not be far."
Hermione nodded. She'd activated her ring's connection to Draco's while in the car. Harry and Ron would give her grief later, but Draco was the one she wanted there. He was the one who had been in the thick of this with her the entire time.
It was amazing, she thought later, how quickly it all happened, when it finally did. Months of tracking Stauss, chasing him around Europe, stalking him through London, and when it came down to it, the kill took a matter of moments.
Hermione was ready for him. When he grabbed her, just inside the entryway to her flat, she had already taken the wooden stake from her glitzy little sequined clutch- good old bigger on the inside spells were so very useful. Before Stauss even said a word, she had the tip in his chest.
"You," he said, much as he had in the alley in Paris. It wasn't as scary now, when he was already driven to his knees from the pain of the wood angled under his ribcage.
"Me," Hermione agreed. She pushed a little bit harder, and blood spilled from the vampire's mouth.
"Why?" Stauss asked, the words garbled by the liquid bubbling from his lips. "I gave you a gift. Why did you hunt me?"
"You hurt people. And I will never, ever do that. I would die before I take a human life. But I don't think I'll have to."
Draco arrived in time to see Hermione straddling Stauss' body, her hands still on the stake that was driven to fully into the vampire's heart.
He held a hand out to her, helping her up. "Are you alright?"
Hermione nodded. Surprisingly, she was. She'd thought it would he hard to kill Stauss, to take a life, no matter how evil. She'd thought the sight of his body would sicken her. But mostly, she felt relieved, and satisfied. It was done. Finally it was done.
"I'm sorry you missed it," she said, giving Draco a grim smile.
"I saw," he said quietly. "You were so strong."
Sanguini appeared as she was stepping away from the body, distancing herself, wrapping her arms around Draco.
"I'll dispose of this, shall I?" Sanguini said, giving what remained of Stauss a distasteful glance. The corpse was swiftly decomposing.
"Thank you," Hermione said, sagging against Draco. His arm tightened on her, and she was profoundly grateful for both men.
"It's over," Draco said, holding her tightly once Sanguini and the remains were gone.
"I don't feel any different," Hermione whispered, looking up at him.
"You look the same," he admitted. "But, Hermione? I don't care. I love you no matter what."
She froze. Had he just said all that she thought she'd heard him say? He loved her? Even if she was a vampire forever?
"Let's give it time," she managed to say. "Let me sleep and see."
"Alright." Draco's face went rigid, and she realised what she'd said.
"No!" She clutched her hands in his coat lapels. "I meant about the vampire bit!" She paused and bit her lip. "I love you no matter what, too."
She felt Draco's posture relax. Then he nodded. "Well. Happy Christmas, then."
"Christmas?" Hermione gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. "Oh, it's Christmas Eve! Draco!"
"Yes," he said, smiling slowly. "It's after midnight, so it's technically Christmas Eve. And even if we have to celebrate in the dark, I'm inviting you over for Christmas."
Despite not getting much- any- sleep the night before, Draco waited all day on Christmas Eve. He told himself not to expect anything; there were no guarantees when it came to the mystical doings of dark creatures. Even so, he couldn't help anticipating Hermione coming through the door at any moment.
Because he liked Christmas far better than he liked Valentine's day, he allowed Marley and the other library elves to decorate the library and his personal apartments. Draco even hung a garland or two, and levitated the star to the top of the tree.
Still Hermione didn't come.
He wrapped gifts and sent them out by owl to his parents, to Pansy, to Theodore Nott and his girlfriend, Tracey Davis. He kept Hermione's gift there.
Still she didn't come.
He told himself perhaps it hadn't worked, but he could count on seeing her after sundown, which mercifully came earlier in late December. But as twilight rolled into full dark and then into midnight, and Hermione didn't show, he began to worry.
What if it hadn't worked, and she'd died?
What if it hadn't worked, and she'd decided she had no reason to see him any longer? If she'd decided she'd regretted the words they'd exchanged the night before?
What if it had worked, and she'd still decided the same? What if she'd realised, after the help they'd given her, that she preferred Potter and Weasley after all? What if now that they were no longer tethered by a shared project, the scales had fallen from Hermione's eyes, and she'd seen him clearly for what he was, a former reluctant Death Eater turned recluse librarian, too liberal for his own kind and too sullied for anyone else?
She said she loves you.
But Draco had never been any good at convincing himself of anything.
Draco drank the bottle of wine he'd put aside for the two of them, and left the dinner he'd cooked mostly untouched. He fell asleep where he sat, on the skirt surrounding his Christmas tree, parchment spread around him and charcoal on his fingers.
It didn't seem he slept long, but daylight was streaming through his windows when a gentle hand shook him awake. Hermione's voice murmured wakeful things that made Draco's eyelids flutter.
He sat up with a shot, which toppled Hermione back onto her bum. Reaching out, he pulled her close, staring at her face with fascination.
"It worked," he murmured, running his hands along the side of her face and down her jaw. Her cheeks were suffused with colour, and her eyes, while still a lovely and soulful brown, didn't compel him to drown inside them.
Hermione nodded her head, and her mad hair flew all around her face and shoulders. That was different, too, no unnatural gloss, but it was still intriguing to Draco in every way. The drawings scattered around them testified to his obsession, and he still hadn't quite figured out how to do her hair justice, but he was beginning to believe that he'd have time to master it.
"You look beautiful by daylight," he said, and to his surprise a look of profound relief settled on Hermione's face.
All she said, however, was, "You do, too," which made him cup her face and kiss her deeply.
"What made you wait so long, to come to me?" Draco asked, unable to help himself.
Hermione looked puzzled for moment, her hands flying to her mouth as she gasped her understanding. "Is it Christmas morning?" At Draco's soundless nod, she carried on, the words practically tumbling over one another in their hurry to escape her mouth. "Oh, Draco, I'm so sorry. I just woke up this morning. I didn't realise. You must have been so worried."
He swallowed. "I was. I thought..." His cheeks got hot. "I thought perhaps you had changed your mind. About me. Now that all this was over."
Hermione's face was a mix of amusement, exasperation, and fondness. "No. No, I did not. I guess my body needed time to recover from being vampire. But I don't think I'm going to recover from loving you."
Draco nodded again, feeling stupid and at an uncharacteristic loss for words. "So now what?"
"So now I suppose I'll reassure you the best way I know how."
Hermione leaned down, and her lips met his. Draco reached up to tangle his fingers in her insane, wondrous hair, taking control of the kiss and making it hungry, turning it fierce. He didn't care that he was in yesterday's rumpled clothes, or that his hair was in disarray, or that he likely had a crease in his cheek from the tree skirt. He fully intended to shag Hermione rotten, right there under his Christmas tree.
He shifted his weight, rolling Hermione underneath him. He wasted no time, frantic to finally know her intimately after months of dancing around it. She was wearing some sort of truly awful Christmas jumper, which she had probably knitted herself, and Draco spared a moment to admire the ever so slightly crooked reindeer on it before he pushed it up her torso, and with her help, over her head. They made quick work of each other's kits, and while Draco might normally worry about a pine needle poking him in an inopportune place, in this particular moment he was too caught up, burning with too much desire, to give a flying fig.
Hermione was bared to him, and it was glorious, and he demonstrated how completely incredible he found her by kissing his way down the length of her body. She sighed, and shifted in a way that drove him absolutely mad. He slid back up along her, his hands ghosting over her flesh, so he could take her mouth once more, his kisses fervent and wild.
He was bare to Hermione, as well, and her hands moved down his chest, pausing when they reached the white scars that criss-crossed his ribcage. She murmured something sorrowful, but Draco wouldn't allow it, not now, in one of the most joyous moments of his life; he distracted her with a hand on her breast, his fingers nimble on the rosy tip, his tongue following. He was rewarded by a low, thrilling sound from the back of Hermione's throat, and her back arched to allow him to take her nipple into his mouth.
Perhaps seeking vengeance, Hermione traced her hand in the most tantalising way down his torso, finding him impossibly hard, and wrapped her hand around him. He gave a deep groan in return, and rolled his hips against her smooth fingers.
And so it went, the two of them thoroughly exploring one another with fingertips and lips and tongue and even teeth, now that fangs were not a near and present danger, until Draco could bear it no more. With a sound akin to a growl, he nudged Hermione's thighs wider, and guided himself into her.
He felt like he was going home.
After that, it was all a blur. Draco lost focus on the particulars, enveloped completely in the feel of her heat surrounding him, of her hands clutching at his back, of her urgent words whispered against his shoulder. It was only after they had both thrown themselves over the brink with abandon that he came back to himself, and had any sense of time and space and concrete reality.
Slowly, he became aware of the velvety tree skirt, the scent of pine, and the warmth of Hermione's very human, very naked body collapsed against him. Draco lifted his hand, pushing the unruly strands of hair, now sodden with perspiration, out of Hermione's face and off his neck. Tenderly, he cupped her cheek, kissing her now not with desperate need, but the deepest affection.
Lord, but how he had come to love this woman.
"Thank you," Hermione said, propping herself up on her arm and kissing the tip of Draco's nose.
"For what?" he said, certain he was the one who ought to be thanking her.
"Well," she said, and her face turned impish. "That was quite the nicest Christmas gift I've received in a very long time."
"Oh?" asked Draco, returning the ornery look. "What would you say if I told you it was the first in a series?"
"I'd say let's go to your bedroom."
So they did. But first he kissed her again, and said, "Hermione? I'm terribly glad that you're not a vampire any longer."
Hermione gave a throaty laugh. "Oh, me too, Draco. Me, too."