Draco watches as the latest Muggle scientist assigned to work with him shoves her way back-first out the laboratory door, box full of glassware and the odd dull, still photograph of family or friend in her arms. She glares at him balefully as if he hasn’t already made it clear how little her (or any Muggle’s) regard for him matters.
She is the fourth he’s run off this month.
He wonders if this will be the one. The one whose exit gets him what he wants.
* * *
Until the thing begins to heat and nearly burns her.
With a cry, Hermione drops the memo onto her desk and hastily draws her wand, muttering a quick spell that causes the paper to unfold itself and ends the stupid heating charm at the same time.
“Bloody McCall,” she mutters. She hopes his system of marking memos “urgent” doesn’t catch hold in the department. It would likely set the place on fire.
With a sigh, she scans the message, frown deepening.
As you know I’m on the committee for the Wizard and Muggle Scientist Cooperative Project Initiative (WaMSCPI), an effort I’m aware is dear to your heart. After a few initial stumbles, things have been running with astonishing civility and efficiency, with one very noticeable exception.
Since the project’s been up and running, Draco Malfoy has taken it upon himself to sack or incite the resignation of no less than four of his assigned Muggle scientist partners. I have attempted to deal with this matter myself, but there are certain measures the Powers That Be have forbidden me to take concerning Mr. Malfoy’s participation in the Initiative. Therefore, I’ve regrettably been unsuccessful in curtailing his disagreeable behavior.
Were you and Mr. Malfoy not schoolmates at Hogwarts? I thought perhaps your history (of which I’ve heard much, though it can be hard to tell rumor from truth), if not your rank within the department, might incline Mr. Malfoy (or the higher-ups) to see reason.
I would be endlessly grateful for your assistance in this matter. I’d so hate for this largely successful and well-intended initiative to earn a poor reputation due to one man’s prejudices and obstinacy.
Hermione looks up from the memo and heaves a sigh that puts the previous one to no small shame. In one message, McCall has managed to admit failure whilst taking no responsibility for said failure, insult those in authority above him, and pass off his duties to her through a combination of flattery and guilt-laying. On the one hand, it’s no surprise he couldn’t get the job done. On the other, such dubious skills indicate the man’s likely up for a promotion.
Still, she wonders what Malfoy’s playing at, if she can trust McCall’s assessment that prejudice is involved. She’s barely seen, let alone interacted with, Draco in the past five years, but the last time she did, after the Death Eater trials, he had seemed…changed. Still snide and abrasive, yes, but matured. Cowed. Awake and interested in a new life.
But, Hermione knows, a new life is hard. She thinks of herself studying endlessly before setting one foot in Hogwarts, skipping meals, missing sleep, worrying her parents. And it hadn’t stopped once school started. It maybe hadn’t ever stopped. And Hermione had wanted her new life with every cell in her body, magical and mundane, had been supported wholeheartedly by her nevertheless still befuddled parents. It had barely felt like a change in belief to learn that magic did exist—more like an explanation for, a confirmation of what was already suspected.
Draco is older and, as a participant in the Initiative, learning a system of knowing that must feel entirely alien to him.
Maybe it’s not the Muggles themselves. Maybe it’s the science.
* * *
Hermione stops reading the pamphlet she grabbed from her office before leaving and fumbles through her cavernous tote bag for her building pass. The facilities where the Initiative scientists and wizards and witches work had to be accessible to denizens of both worlds, yet be secure enough that some Muggle couldn’t stumble upon what would appear to be very strange goings-on. The laboratory in Muggle London with magically-encrypted key card security doors was a compromise. (Secretly, Hermione is giddy about the idea of magical encryption and had a strangely giggly lunch date with its developer, a Muggle-born witch like herself.)
She finally finds the thing and marvels once again at its plain appearance, white and silver with her name and a horrid Muggle photo. She slides it through the reader at the main door, smiling at the Auror and Muggle security team. Entering, she approaches the front desk.
A woman and man look up at her, one from a computer, the other from The Daily Prophet, both dressed in matching, nondescript uniforms that lean toward the Muggle. “Can we help you?” the woman asks politely, hands folding over the Prophet.
The man’s mouth gapes. “Merlin! Hermione Granger! What an honor! Sarah, you know who that is,” he admonishes his Muggle co-worker, elbowing her.
“Oh! Oh, yes, I apologize Ms. Granger. I’m still learning names and history, but I do read your newspaper,” Sarah falters.
Hermione flushes, still uncomfortable with the attention her name can bring. “Please don’t apologize. My name hasn’t been in the paper in months,” she jokes good-naturedly.
“About that,” the man looks pained, as if he’s about to tell her her cat’s died, “I was so sorry to read about you and Ron Weasley. Such a shame.”
Beside him, Sarah rolls her eyes and grimaces at Hermione sympathetically. “And now I really must apologize for my colleague here who apparently doesn’t realize that your personal life is none of his business despite what this newspaper says.” Her finger rests on an image of Harry at a recent Ministry event, Ginny on his arm, both smiling tautly.
Before the wizard can turn a deeper shade of red, Hermione says, “You’re all right. I could use your help, though. Where can I find the Potions and Chemistry lab?”
“Which one?” the man perks up in his chair like a small dog, eager to be helpful after his faux pas. “There are six, Ms. Granger. Do you know which one in particular you need to find? If you don’t, I’d be happy to escort you to each and—”
“That’s not necessary, thanks,” Hermione raises a hand and laughs lightly. “I’m looking for Draco Malfoy.”
“Oh.” Both his and Sarah’s faces twist into scowls, and Hermione’s brow arches.
“Problem?” she probes.
Sarah shifts in her chair and glances at her co-worker. Hermione does the same, finally thinking to take note of his nametag. Brian.
“Er,” Brian false-starts, clearly stalling, hoping Sarah might take over.
“Perhaps it would help to know that I was on the committee that formed the Initiative and continue to liaise with the committee currently running it and will take part in the Exhibition?” Hermione urges.
“He’s gotten nearly a dozen Muggles taken off the project!” Brian exclaims as soon as she finishes. “He’s going to ruin everything!”
Hermione nearly takes a small step back from the force of his outburst. “Actually, it was four, but I understand your concern,” she says calmly. She shifts her focus to Sarah. “How is his attitude? I mean, how does he treat staff? You, for instance?” She’s trying not to ask leading questions.
Brian snorts. She understands how he feels. Given Draco’s trademark sarcasm and general snobbery, she’s not sure how useful this question will be.
“Oh, fine,” Sarah shrugs.
“Come again?” Hermione’s certain she misheard.
“Actually, he’s rather…solicitous,” Sarah explains. “Got me some magical flowers for the desk once. What were they called, Bry?”
“Oh who cares about bloody flowers! Look, I’ve got a Muggle girlfriend,” he stage-whispers the last words, “and this project is too important for the likes of Draco Malfoy to ruin!” His face has gone red again.
There’s an uncomfortable moment of silence during which everyone looks at his or her feet. Then, Sarah speaks. “Level 5-B. That’s Mr. Malfoy’s lab, Ms. Granger. You can take the lift or the stairs right over there. The signs will point the rest of the way.”
Hermione takes a breath. “Thank you, Sarah. Thank you both.” She nods and smiles before heading for the lift.
* * *
“How have you been, Malfoy?” she asks politely and makes her way over to him, looking around at the lab with ravenous curiosity.
“Wonderful,” she hears him say in the same tone. Hermione smiles at the beakers and cauldrons and Bunsen burners, studies the periodic table on the wall, runs a finger over the shelves of potions books.
“Shall I leave the room? I’m starting to feel like a voyeur.” He sounds both annoyed and amused.
Hermione tears herself away from the bookshelf reluctantly. “Sorry,” she says, approaching the lab table. “Working on something?” She gestures at the notebook.
“Oh yes. Vital stuff.” He grins, charming and wide, and she glances down when he moves his arms to allow her a peek. Instead of any sort of potions work, she sees a series of doodles—actually, quite elaborate sketches—of Draco “dismissing” individual Muggles in a variety of ways. A boot to the arse, a wand in the face, a cloud of hideous stink from a potion filling the room. Finally, a litany of vile words spilling forth from Draco’s mouth.
“There are some exaggerations, of course,” he shrugs. “The potion didn’t make that big a cloud, and I only threatened to kick—”
“Draco, what’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” she nearly yells, feeling like she’s back at Hogwarts and Harry or Ron (or Harry and Ron) has just made a devastatingly stupid mistake.
His grey eyes go big, innocent and confused. She marvels at his ability to extinguish any spark of insincerity. “What do you mean?”
She drags over a stool, resolved to a long, frustrating conversation. “I mean the four Muggle scientists you have, in fact, given the boot.” She places her palm on the sheet of drawings.
He puts his elbow up on the table, props his head on his hand and looks at her with deep unconcern. “They were incompetent.”
He gasps comically. “Language, Granger! How unbefitting someone of your stature.”
She rolls her eyes. “As if you haven’t heard worse. Now come off it. Are you really so desperate to get yourself sacked?”
“Like there’s any chance of that,” he yawns. He lifts a hand to cover his mouth, and the sleeve of his plain, dark blue, Initiative-issue robes slides down his arm, revealing his Dark Mark. Hermione doesn’t miss his haste in crossing his arms as if cold, giving a little shiver in the perfectly comfortable room.
“What do you mean?” She’s tired of asking questions, tired of him forcing her to with his ridiculous responses. She remembers McCall’s memo and the mysterious Powers That Be he referenced. “Who is it you think will allow you to continue endangering the Initiative this way?” It’s not like his family has any influence in the Ministry left, though she’s not about to rub his face in it.
He swivels on the stool to face her fully, a look of gleeful surprise on his face. “You mean you don’t know?” A harsh bark of laughter escapes him, bends him in two at the waist. It’s followed by a series of loud, coughing, increasingly breathless peals of further laughter, and Hermione waits, shifts her bag on her shoulder. She scrunches the paper still beneath her hand, rips it out of the notebook, crumples and holds onto it.
Once he’s finished, Draco shakes his head, blonde hair falling in soft glints. “Sorry, Granger,” he smiles, and it looks genuine, if at her expense rather than for her benefit. “I thought that’s why they sent you to chastise me. I thought The Boy Who Lived Twice must be too busy for such trivialities.”
“What—Harry?” Her brow furrows. “Not that Harry isn’t a good person, but why would he stick his neck out for you professionally?”
Draco leans back on the table behind and shrugs. “I guess he promised my mum or something. For that bit in the war.” He doesn’t explain further; he doesn’t need to.
She’s going to murder Harry for not telling her. He knows how important this project is to her. She can only assume he has no idea how grandly Draco’s screwing it up.
“By the look on your face, I can tell Potter’s in for it.” She hears the delight in his voice before she shakes herself out of her reverie long enough to see it on his face. “Honestly, though, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. The Muggles will just be Obliviated and replaced anyway. No real harm done.” He tilts his head insouciantly and peers at her with absolute guilelessness.
She barely resists reaching for her wand and casting Ginny’s infamous Bat Bogey Hex on him. Instead, she smoothes her pinned hair with a hand and grips the crumpled drawings tighter with the other. “You can’t really be that daft, Draco. Yes, the Muggles are Obliviated, but you must have some idea how difficult it is to find Muggles both qualified for the Initiative and willing to sign the contract. Willing to be Obliviated should the need arise. Would you want to be Obliviated?”
A strange look flits across his face—guilt, longing; if she blinked, she would have missed it. She can’t dwell, however; she has to make him understand the seriousness of the situation.
“Listen, each time you force a replacement, a report is filed, and the Muggles on the Initiative committee see it. How do you think that makes us look? What the Muggles chiefly get from this arrangement is the assurance that the British Wizarding Community wants to cooperate with them, respects them, and won’t endanger them again—or at least has no interest in doing so and a vested interest in working to prevent such danger to them. Sabotaging the Initiative won’t exactly help with those goals, and I assure you that I can work around or through Harry to protect this project.”
This look she can’t read at all. She’s not exactly familiar with The Many Faces of Draco Malfoy; she’s used to a particular subset, she realizes, and this conversation, five years from their last substantial interaction, falls outside that subset.
She’s also not accustomed to such silence after a speech like that. Typically, Ron or Harry would be grumbling an apology or firing back an impassioned defense at this point. But Draco only hugs himself again and shifts his gaze outwards to the periodic table on the wall opposite. Hermione runs her finger along the metal rings of the notebook’s spine and tries to think what to do next. For the moment she studies him, the sharpness of his face less severe than in school now he’s grown, or perhaps simply less pinched with the derision she was likely to see there then. She’s happy to note he’s put on some weight since last she saw him just after the war, though he’s still lithe. She has no trouble imagining him on a broom after a Snitch.
She wonders how he became involved in the Initiative. Standards for acceptance into the project are high, and though she remembers he excelled in Potions, she was never sure how much of that had to do with Snape’s favoritism. As a member of the committee that got the Initiative going, she knows wizards and witches cannot be mandated by the Ministry to take part, so Draco’s participation could not be the result of some assigned post-war community service, not that she remembers the Malfoys being sentenced with such.
She continues toying with Draco’s Muggle notebook and thinks of the flowers he got Sarah. She thinks of him five years ago, what she perceived as his eagerness to move on, go forward, be something else. Be something.
“If you hate being here with the Muggles so much, why not quit yourself?” she probes in as casual a voice as she can manage.
He snorts and tosses his hair back. “Why should I? It’s a good gig. Prestigious. Besides, Malfoys don’t quit.”
She refrains from commenting on the last bit, which is patently ridiculous. The rest is indeed quintessential Malfoy—arrogant, status-conscious—but she can’t help feeling it’s a put-on, like a fine and delicate cloak that’s nonetheless worn through in places.
“That’s why you wanted to take part, then? Prestige?”
A muscle in his jaw twitches. “Of course.” A pause. “And the whole working-with-Muggles element couldn’t hurt to rehabilitate the Malfoy name.” His pale skin is slightly flushed.
She nods. Right then. She presses on.
“You say the Muggles were incompetent, but you’re a pureblooded wizard. How can you judge the competence of a scientist when you’ve known nothing of science?” Her tone is inquisitive, non-accusatory.
He turns away from the periodic table, eyes flashing. “I know plenty,” he protests. He unfolds his arms and grips the stool beneath him. “This Muggle science stuff is…silly,” he finishes lamely.
Hermione ducks her head in an attempt to hide her small smile, pleased that she was correct about the reason behind his actions. Then she remembers the consequences of those actions and mentally rolls up her sleeves.
“But there’s so much science and magic have in common, don’t you think?” she begins. Draco looks at her quizzically, but she continues before he has a chance to reply. “Spell innovation, potion-making, Transfiguration…they rely upon the same spirit of inquiry as science does. They’re also methodical, requiring trial and error for the desired result. And,” she went on, growing increasingly excited, “spells and scientific language are both Latinate.” This time she lets him see her smile.
He looks at her blankly. “You sound like the wankers at Orientation.”
She huffs and crosses one leg over the other in indignation, tugging her skirt down a bit; she left her robes at her office for the trip here. When she’s done fidgeting, she looks up and catches Draco looking at her legs, still tan from a girls’ holiday she recently took with Ginny, Luna, Fleur, and Angelina. She’s startled by the hot spike of pleasure she feels under his gaze and clears her throat, ending the moment. Draco meets her eyes, and where she expects a leer she sees a sort of sheepish curiosity.
Job. The fate of the Initiative at stake. Right.
She tucks a loose curl behind her ear and folds her hands in her lap. Her heart is beating a touch fast and hard; she can feel it in her fingertips. She senses Draco watching her.
“All right,” she tries again. “I’ve always thought that often there’s a bit of magic in science and vice versa. Like when you fall in love, or even when you feel attraction for someone.” Her face feels warm. “There are actually chemicals in the body that change and create that feeling. At the same time, we’re more than the sum of our parts. What’s responsible for that reaction in the first place? Some Muggles say pheromones, but I think it’s a kind of magic.” She’s staring at her hands now. “I’m not saying this right. I don’t mean to indicate that magic is defined by or defines the unexplainable. Magic has rules; science has rules, or they make no sense.”
Sort of like this disastrous speech, she thinks.
There’s one, two, three beats of silence.
Then: “I understand.”
She looks up at him finally, suspicious. Who could make sense of what she’s just said? Is he trying to shut her up and get her out of the lab? She tells herself you can take the boy out of Slytherin and all that, but the quiet intensity of his gaze leaves no room for insincerity.
“And I’m sorry. I thought—I didn’t know…” There’s something conflicted in his pained look, but Hermione is rather busy being astonished at his apology to examine it further.
“Well, so, you understand now, then.” She’s not sure whether she’s asking a question or not. “Because it seemed like you wanted to really do something, Draco, and this is an excellent opportunity.” She feels so much better now that she’s reminded of her purpose here, of her position.
He raises his eyebrows and stands. “Yes, it is.” He smiles. “I’ll be on my best behavior, Granger, promise. By which I mean I won’t purposefully run off any more Muggles. I can’t account for personality conflicts. Let me tell you, the second bloke had this intolerable ego. He reminded me of—”
“That’s fine, Draco.” She smiles in return, gathering her bag, a bit stunned at the speed with which he’s had a change of attitude, especially given the way she bungled things. She still worries there will be another memo in her future. “If you do have problems, perhaps raise them with McCall before doing anything rash?” she advises.
“Actually,” he says, a hand hovering near the small of her back as they head for the door to the lab, “I think it would be a better idea if you and I maintain contact. How about dinner this Friday?”
Hermione stops, and Draco’s hand accidentally brushes against her. There’s a charge she distantly recognizes.
“Dinner. Friday,” he repeats simply. As if the idea of Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy having dinner together were nothing.
She swallows though her mouth’s gone dry. “What about Sarah, the Muggle receptionist?” she asks then mentally kicks herself. He mentioned the dinner in the context of the Initiative. Surely it’s not a date date.
“What about her?” His expression doesn’t quite read as puzzlement. More like amusement. When Hermione is silent in response, trying to think of how not to indicate she thought it was a real date, he goes on, “Did she tell you about the flowers, or did that tosser, Brian?” He shakes his head. “She was interested in moon flowers, so I got her a Venetian Water Lily. Nothing romantic.” His smile is crooked, the charm full-blast.
Hermione’s stomach knots itself. So it is a date date.
“Er, I’ll have to Owl you. My schedule is a mess,” she stalls.
“Of course. I’m sure we can find a time.” Since she’s resolutely been staring at the door as they resume their approach, she can better hear the note of hope in his voice. He pushes the door open for her, and she smiles up at him.
“I’ll Owl you soon.”
As soon as there’s a theory, magical or scientific, that explains this afternoon, she thinks.
* * *
She would accept, though. She was obviously attracted to him, or, at the very least, open to his attraction to her. How she reacted when she caught him ogling her legs; the adorable way she tucked her hair behind her ear; her nonsensical, impassioned speech—he’d wanted to tackle her right then and there, spread her out on the lab table and shag her senseless. Thank Merlin she hadn’t paged through the rest of the Muggle notebook and seen his other, much naughtier sketches featuring exactly such an activity.
Still grinning, he goes over to the table beneath the Muggle chemistry chart and opens a drawer. He pulls out a phial of Amortentia, uncorks it, and sniffs, smelling the well-oiled wood of a broom, freshly-scrubbed cauldron metal…and white chocolate.
Draco has never liked white chocolate.
The door to the lab opens with a clinical swish, and he replaces the phial in the drawer, surprised. Granger charges back into the room and tosses her large bag on the nearest table before stalking up to him, hands on her hips.
“You ran those Muggles off just so I’d be sent here, didn’t you?” she demands.
Draco blinks, unsure if it’s worth it to lie and play the fool. She’s a Gryffindor, not a Slytherin: she won’t appreciate his manipulations. Already he sees he’s going to have to do much work to pay for the orchestrations that brought her here, flushed, more and more hair coming loose from its bindings, brown eyes bright…
“Uh,” he finally replies intelligently.
His hesitation appears to tell her everything, and her arms fall to her sides. “I knew it. I knew your compliance came far too easily.” She shakes her head and gnaws on her lip. “Let me repeat my initial question to you: What were you thinking?” She throws her hands in the air and looks at him imploringly. Before he can respond, she’s moving closer, and he backs up against the table. “Did you really think endangering the Initiative would endear you to me?”
“I never meant for it to go so far, I swear! I thought they’d send you much sooner, after the first Muggle, even,” he explains in all honesty. She crosses her arms over her chest, and they brush his abdomen in the process. He licks his lips and goes on. “I thought Potter would have told you about his involvement with my family and everything, and you’d know what was happening. But McCall’s such a twat—”
“Do not blame McCall,” she admonishes, and he sighs, nodding in defeat. He fingers the knob on the drawer containing the Amortentia behind him.
“Draco,” she says, voice strangely quiet. “If you were interested in me, why didn’t you just ask me to dinner without all this?”
He snorts. “Right. As if you’d have said yes.”
“Because this plan makes so much more sense.”
“You were on your way to going out with me,” he reminds her, trying not to smile too triumphantly.
Her mouth gapes as if she’s about to say something, then clicks shut. She uncrosses her arms and steps back, lowering herself onto a stool. “I don’t understand. We’ve barely even seen each other in years. How did you become interested in me?”
He takes a step closer to her, blood rushing in his ears. “Do you remember the last time we spoke?”
“Of course. When I returned your wand.”
His lips almost form a smile without his consent. She remembers.
“When you handed it to me, there was this feeling I got, this charge. Like those Muggle chemicals you were talking about before or something. At first I thought it was my wand; I hadn’t held it in so long, but it wasn’t. It was your hand. When you came to the Manor that day, I was so glad it was you and not Potter. You were so bloody kind but without condescension. I couldn’t believe you’d come to the place you’d been…hurt. I thought maybe you were trying to prove something—to yourself or to us—but it seemed like you really wanted to see me. Our old elf, Tiffy, offered you some sweets, and you chose the white chocolate, which I hate, and I told you—”
“—white chocolate’s not real chocolate,” she finishes for him. Her eyes have grown large, soft and dark. Wondering.
Draco’s lips part in surprise, but he is silent. He doesn’t like to expose his thoughts so explicitly; it’s not in his nature. But she’s left him no choice. Not if he’s to have any chance with her. He slides his hand into the inside of his robes and pulls out his wand.
“Now every time I cast a spell, I think of you,” he confesses. He holds his breath. From the looks of things, she does, too.
“I…might have felt something, too,” she says, almost whispering, and Draco takes a breath.
Instead of falling into his arms, or pressing her soft lips to his (or removing all her clothes and straddling him on the table), she stands and clasps her hands. “But I’m still angry and confused, Draco. There’s no way I can accept your offer right now.”
His chest tightens, but he hangs onto her last two qualifying words before giving up hope completely.
“If your next two reports for the Initiative are encouraging, I’ll go to dinner with you.”
Reports are monthly. He supposes he’s waited years for the proper opportunity, for Granger to be single, for his own head to be sorted; two months should be nothing, even if he realizes they won’t feel like it now he knows she reciprocates in some small way.
“Very Slytherin of you, Granger. All right,” he accepts.
She nods decisively, offering a somewhat nervous smile before she makes for her bag and the door. They exchange goodbyes, and he watches her leave, her hair an utter, beautiful mess.
After she’s gone, he casts a simple Lumos and feels the chemicals, the magic, light him up.