Actions

Work Header

Of Matches and Malfoy

Chapter Text

A loud cheer greeted Draco's ears, as his feet hurried towards the stadium. He took his pocket watch out and checked the time. He grunted and looked around. Why should the apparition points be located, this far from the gates?

"Finally, the prince makes an appearance."

Draco stopped and looked at his friend. "What are you still doing here, Blaise? I thought you would be in the stands by now."

"Waiting for you, apparently," Blaise drawled kicking his feet off the wall. "Come on, Theo and Greg are waiting," he said guiding Draco to the VIP entrance.

They passed through the invisible shield, directly entering the arena. A guard shot his hand to halt them. "Your wands, please."

"What?" Draco asked sneering at the guard.

"Wands are not allowed inside," the guard stood his ground. "We don't want a repeat of what happened in the last season."

"Do you know, who are you talking to?" Draco asked advancing towards him.

"Draco, mate," Blaise stopped Draco with a sly smile. He then turned to the pale guard and spoke. "Of course," he said handing his wand. Then, he reached into the pockets of Draco's robe, dug out his wand and presented it. "You take good care of them. You don't want to face the wrath of a Malfoy and a Zabini."

The Guard flinched at Blaise's words. He took the wands without a word and exited their proximity.

"What the hell was that?" Draco asked with an incredulous look.

"A security measure. Fans of Harpies and Puddlemere are well known for their violent acts of love for their favorite teams."

"I know that. I'm talking about you putting your hands, in my robe," he whispered in a harsh tone.

Blaise just winked and headed towards their box.

Draco shook his head and gritted his teeth, but took Blaise's lead.

"What's with the scowling face?" Theo asked as Draco entered the box. When Draco continued with his sulking, he turned to Blaise and asked, "What did you do, Blaise?"

"Draco," Gregory Goyle greeted passing a glass of Fire whiskey to the rest of the group.

"It's boiling outside. Why are we drinking this scalding drink?" Theo asked bearing an expression of disdain after taking a sip.

"Let me," Blaise said bending over, and with a dramatic flourish of his wand, spelled a charm to cool down the drink in Theo's hand, to an icy cold one.

"I thought your wand was confiscated?" Draco asked raising his eyebrow.

"No, it's still with me," Blaise smirked. "And so is yours."

"So, what's with all the drama at the entrance?" Draco asked taking out his own wand from his pocket.

"We'll lose precious time arguing with those imbeciles. So a fake wand sounded like a better idea. He's happy with the fake wand and we are happy with the originals. Problem solved," Blaise explained.

"Welcome to the Finals of European Quidditch League Cup. The weather is hot and the anticipation is wild. So, without any further ado, let's welcome the Champions of the last season, 'The Puddlemere United'," a large voice boomed in the surroundings, interrupting the Slytherins' chatter.

A wave of navy blue rushed into the air accompanied by the crowd's loud cheer. They surrounded the pitch and performed a beautiful maneuver, charming the crowds. Draco with his friends beamed at their favorite team, lifting their cups in cheer.

"Now, for the first time in European Quidditch League Cup's history, we welcome, the all women team, who have surprised everyone by proceeding to the finals with their magnanimous success. 'The Holyhead Harpies'."

Zooming forward and breaking apart the formation of the Puddlemere United team, a green tide of players lunged into the arena, with a louder cheer than the former champions. As the crowd watched on, a player separated from the formation and headed towards the box opposite to the one Draco and his friends had occupied.

"The terrific chaser and the aptly named Firecracker of the Harpies, receiving her traditional good luck kiss from none other than, Harry Potter," the commentator exclaimed. Draco adjusted his Omniculars and turned his attention to the people sitting opposite to him. His eyes fell on the sea of red headed people indented by an occasional brown, black, and blonde hair. A blushing Harry Potter gave a peck on Ginny Weasley's lips and she zoomed back into the formation with a bright and cheery mood.

"She's their good luck charm," Theo commented. "Since the time, she joined the team, Harpies' are doing quite well. Puddlemere has a tough game ahead."

"You're not wrong my friend," Blaise said turning his Omniculars to the players. "And being the boy-who-lived's girlfriend does add the extra charm."

"I don't a know a thing about that team, but those girls are fit," Goyle said wiping the drool from his lips.

But Draco's Omniculars were still set on the box, looking at its occupants. Especially, the golden trio. Harry Potter was still sporting a red face cheering his girlfriend. His faithful sidekick joined him, clapping with enthusiasm at his sister. Draco's eyes trailed to the brains of the trio. She too was smiling brightly with all the others in the box, but Draco could clearly say she was an outsider, amidst all of them. She squealed loudly when Weasley pulled her up to join the cheer. Draco smirked and turned his attention back to the players.

"Puddlemere is going to win. Those Harpies don't stand a chance," Draco said with a proud voice.

"And how do you know that?" Theo asked.

"Because it's our team. Puddlemere has got our support and it will make them win."

"Want to hear something interesting?" Blaise whispered as the commentator introduced the team members.

"Always," Theo said pushing forward in his chair.

"The chosen one's proposing his girlfriend tonight after the game," Blaise said smirking.

"Holy shite," Goyle said dropping his glass. "Is it really true?"

"A nose never lies. I have seen him sniffing around some Jewelry stores, recently. A little birdie at the stadium cooed about a special arrangement at the end of the game," Blaise replied with a smug expression, tapping his nose.

"I won't be surprised. With Magical matching, making the headlines, people are prone to make hasty decisions," Theo said.

"Magical matching? Is that a real thing now? I thought it was some nonsense cooked up by the Unspeakables," Draco said quirking his eyebrow.

"No, my dear friend. It's the real deal. The results were quite astonishing, ninety-nine percent foolproof," Theo confirmed.

"What the hell is this Magical Matching?" Goyle asked scratching his head.

Draco gave a sigh and went on to explain. "It is one of the ancient practices followed by our ancestors. When the magical population started dwindling back in times, they selected various groups of people. Performed some blood rituals to determine their magical potential. Based on those results, two people with unique magical cores were chosen to beget an offspring." At Goyle's confusion, he immediately corrected his sentence. "Produce a child with superior magical potential."

"And the first goal of the game by none other than our own firecracker, Ginny Weasley. Ten points to Holyhead Harpies," the commentator announced dragging the boys' attention back to the game.

"Harpies are surely here for the win," Blaise said. "I think we need to create some kind of diversion to take off the attention on Harpies and move it to the Puddlemere," Blaise said brandishing his wand.

"You will no such thing, Blaise. We are here just to watch," Theo admonished, but Draco winked at Blaise twirling his wand too.

"So they are doing those blood rituals now?" Goyle asked bringing up, Magical matching again.

"No," Theo answered this time. "They have adopted a new technique, Muggle I think. Even using a single strand of your hair or a chopped bit of your nail, they'll determine your magical propensity."

"What a disgusting thing to do," Goyle said cringing. "Only Muggles can think of such crude ways."

"Sadly, that's what is happening," Draco said patting Greg's back.

"It isn't bad, Draco. By using simple methods, you'll be able to choose, who is going to be your partner in order to have a strong magical child," Theo said shrugging his shoulders. "I think it's a brilliant idea."

"It's a stupid idea. For the sake of a magical child, you are ready to consort with anyone. What if it pairs you with a Mudblood?" Blaise scoffed at Theo's statements.

Theo ignored Blaise's words and turned to Draco waiting for his reactions.

"Oh, look. It definitely looks like our team's going to get their first goal," Draco said fixing his Omniculars.

"Draco, what do you think about this matching method?" Theo asked directly.

"Look, Theo. Honestly, I don't care. I'm happy with Astoria. If it works for you, that's great, but Blaise does have a point. What if you are matched to a Mudblood?" Draco asked.

"Are you going to marry her? Further more, will your family accept her?" Blaise asked with a sarcastic smile.

Draco sighed at Blaise's mention of Theo's family. He knew Blaise had definitely crossed a line. By the look on Blaise's face, Draco knew, he too realized his mistake. "Shite, sor…," Blaise started to say.

"Well, I don't have to worry about that, now do I?" Theo said with a sharp sting in his voice and turned his head away.

Draco reached out and gave a smack on the side of Blaise's head.

Blaise rubbed the sore spot and glared at Draco, "It just skipped my mind."

"Even Greg remembers, Blaise. How could you forget?" Draco hissed under his breath.

Goyle, who had missed the parts of their conversation asked with a confused face, "What?"

"Nothing," Draco said looking at Theo's stoic face. He gave a gentle squeeze to his friend's shoulder.

"I'm alright, Draco. Enjoy the game," Theo said in a no-nonsense tone.

Draco turned his attention back to the game, as a somber mood took over the box. Apart from the few people closer to Theo, no one knew about Theo's father. He was one of the Death Eaters that was hauled to Azkaban at the end of the war. But the man lost all his sanity in the midst of Azkaban. Not too long after his incarceration, he threw himself into the sea, leaving Theo an orphan to the world.

Theo had been withdrawn in the days that followed. Draco with the help of the other Slytherins managed to bring him back to his usual self, but the hurt always lingered. Theo being a Slytherin, never showed his emotions, but Draco knew better.

The game carried on with much enthusiasm and vigor. Both the teams' chasers engaged in a brutal battle over the Quaffle and were currently standing neck to neck. To the gathered Slytherins' happiness, Puddlemere United had the lead by 50 points.

When a particular move, almost pushed Ginny Weasley off her broom, there were loud protests from the box opposite to them. Ron Weasley stood, angrily yelling at the Beater who hurled the Bludger at Ginny.

"Weasel still loses his temper in a Quidditch match. What a loser!" Goyle said laughing.

Draco saw the whole altercation. He turned to Blaise and asked, "Any news on Weaselbee and Granger? I heard they were dating."

"Let's just say he loses temper not only over a Quidditch match. The boat of their relationship isn't sailing smooth," Theo quipped. When Draco snorted, he replied with an innocent face. "What? I work at the Daily Prophet. It's my job to hear these things."

"No wonder. On one side, you have this horribly brash Weasley and on the other side, you have a highly logical swot, who has a bloody stick up her arse. It was bound to fail," said Blaise.

Draco nodded his head thoughtfully. He didn't know whether to pity Weasley or Granger in this case. Just by looking at them, it was clear that they didn't belong with each other.

"Where is Astoria, today?" Theo asked Draco as the game resumed again. "I thought you would be bringing her, with you."

"No. We have our clear boundaries. She doesn't cross hers and I made it very clear I have no intention of joining her, in any disgusting girly things," Draco said with a shudder.

"So, you got yourself a good package deal, huh?" Blaise said patting Draco's back.

Draco shrugged his shoulders at Blaise's comment.

"What more do you want? A fit pureblood wife who doesn't interfere in your things. Nothing could be better than that," Goyle said proudly.

Theo caught Draco's eye and asked, "So are you popping the question soon?"

Draco sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Father is already in the talks with the Greengrasses. He reckons we shouldn't waste any time and think about ensuring our future."

"The baby business," Blaise said with a laugh. "So what's stopping you?"

"Nothing, I guess," Draco started to reply but his eyes went wide as he saw a green figure and a blue figure rushing towards the box. Then, he noticed the tiny fluttering thing hovering in front of their eyes. The members of the box sprung to their feet and stood at the edge of the balcony watching the interesting scene unfold, in front of their eyes.

"The snitch had been spotted and the seekers are racing towards their victories. Remember Ladies and Gentlemen, whoever lay their finger on the golden ball, will ride their way towards the victory. Seems like Puddlemere is ahead, but not for long. Harpies are unstoppable today and they are slowly gaining their lead. Puddlemere is trying hard, but luck is most definitely not with them, today. Harpies are gaining and gaining and now they have crossed the margin. Yes, the Harpies are in the lead. Wait a minute, is that the snitch I'm seeing in her fist. Why it is. For the first time in the history of European Quidditch League Cup, Harpies have won."

"What a waste of time," Goyle grunted getting up from his seat.

"I told you it's not going to be easy for Puddlemere," Theo said slowly stretching his body.

"Whatever. I'm very disappointed," Blaise clutched his head. "At least we are going to have some fun now, watching the savior of the wizarding world stumble over, declaring his love."

Draco snorted and got up. "Thanks but I'll pass. I have better things to do."

With that Draco walked to the exits. As his steps hurried towards the apparition points, he heard deafening cries of joys, letting him know that Harry Potter had just laid his heart out. Draco's body shuddered, hearing the cheer. The last thing he wanted on his mind was Potter on one knee professing his love. The only other thing that could top that, was Weasley avowing his passions to Granger. Pushing aside his revolting thoughts, he stepped into the apparition point, raising his wand and pictured his room, back at the Malfoy Manor.

The constricting pressure released his body and he landed in his bedroom. He stretched his body and placed his wand on the table. He unfastened the ties that held his robe together and stepped out of it. He sauntered to the armchair and dropped into it closing his eyes.

A knock at the door disturbed him and he groggily answered, "Yes."

"Master Draco," a squeaky voice sounded from outside.

"Yes," Draco answered without opening his eyes.

"Master wishes to see the young master in his study."

Draco grunted and opened his eyes. The afternoon was a busy one and he just wanted to relax with a nice glass of drink. What did his father want now?

"I'll be there," he said slowly with a grimace, getting up from the chair. He put on the robe he just took off and strode out of the door.

"Father," Draco addressed Lucius, entering his magnificent study.

"Draco," Lucius said without lifting his eyes from the parchment in his hands.

"You wished to see me."

Lucius finally looked at him, putting down the parchment in his hands and said, "sit."

Draco furrowed his eyebrows and followed his father's direction. His eyes fell on the parchment his father was reading with rapt attention. Apart from his and Astoria's names he couldn't understand anything. Draco reckoned it was another document regarding their betrothal.

"Let me come directly to the point, Draco. This doesn't seem to be working."

"What is it you are talking about, father?"

"You've to let go of Astoria Greengrass."

Draco was confused. "Pardon me, I don't understand."

"Ms. Greengrass is a charming woman. She would've made a good Malfoy bride. But your union is going to be a fruitless one."

Draco didn't answer. The word 'Fruitless' was ringing in his brain.

"I believe you've heard about Magical matching. When I submitted yours and Astoria's, the results were hopeless," Lucius said summoning the parchment from the table. "Magical prowess of your potential offspring with her is equal to 1.2%. It might as well be a squib," Lucius hissed throwing the offending parchment into Draco's lap.

Draco roved his eyes on the lines written on the paper. It indeed showed their child would have a meager magical power. He understood his father's frustration. But he didn't follow his father's trust in this feeble method of determining the magic of a potential child. "I think your worries are misplaced, father. The process doesn't seem to be reliable."

Lucius huffed and shook his head. "You are wrong, Draco. The process is ancient, powerful and foolproof."

"I heard, they have introduced muggle mechanics into it. How can you trust such a procedure?"

"You doubt my research. Enlighten me, Draco."

"That's not what I meant," Draco mumbled looking at the sudden change in his father's demeanor. "I'm sure, you are correct about your research, but I feel we shouldn't trust these Muggle methods."

"Then, you are wrong. The results astonished me when the same test was performed between your mother and I. They turned out to be right in many others cases too."

"What should I say to Astoria. She's expecting an engagement soon."

"Her family would be taken care of. But you have to deal with Ms. Greengrass yourself. That's your duty, Draco."

Draco sat there with his head in his hands. Until that evening, his future was planned. It may not be a very contented one, but it was a steady one. And he was happy with that. But now, in a mere blink of an eye, everything had turned upside down. But on the other hand, an almost non-magical child, scared the hell out of him. He groaned and leaned back into the chair.

"On a fortunate turn of events, we have the perfect solution," Lucius said with a smug smile. "I have the found the ideal candidate for your bride. With her, Malfoy line would have an heir as powerful as the great Merlin himself."

"And who might that be," Draco asked popping his eyes open.

"Hermione Granger."

Draco didn't understand what his father was saying. It definitely sounded like Hermione Granger. Surely that wasn't it. Or was his father playing a joke? He had never seen his father deliver a joke before, but that doesn't mean he is not doing it right now. With that thought, Draco burst into a riotous laughter. When he encountered Lucius' stern glare, he righted himself and spoke, "I'm sorry, Father. It sounded like Hermione Granger. That was one good quip."

But Lucius' stare didn't rescind. "Is our family's future a joke to you?"

"What?" Draco asked jumping up from his chair. "Of course not. But surely, you didn't say, Hermione Granger."

"That's what I said, didn't I?"

"Father, she's a Mudblood."

"I'm amused by your efforts to educate me, Draco. I'm well aware of that predicament," Lucius said with a sigh. "But that is the small price we have got to pay for securing our place as the most powerful magical family."

"Father, this is outrageous. You can't possibly expect me to marry her," Draco began, as his inner voice screamed in panic.

"Woo her, charm her, and yes, finally marry her. She should become your utmost priority, Draco. I want to see her in this house as your bride ready to carry the next Malfoy heir."

"I can't do this," Draco said dejectedly.

"I don't remember giving you a choice, Draco. She's a Mudblood, I don't deny. But her magical signature is the most powerful one. Numbers don't lie, Draco." Lucius produced another parchment from his pockets and shoved it in front of Draco's eyes and whispered. "Just look at that, Draco. The magical prowess of your potential child, 99.2%. Most powerful, I've ever seen or known. This heir of Malfoys will go down the history as the most powerful one," Lucius said beaming with pride.

By looking at the glee on Lucius' face Draco knew he didn't have a choice. His life had hit the rock bottom and it was only the beginning.

Chapter Text

A sharp ray of sunlight, hit his face and Draco groaned at the interruption. He squinted, trying to see the source, coming from the window. He scowled and reached for his wand under his pillow, and shut the drapes, trying to fall back into sleep.

But to his indignation, the blasted curtains opened again and Draco distinctly heard the little squeak of a voice that followed the stinging light, "Master Draco."

"Get the hell out of here," Draco yelled turning his wand on the trembling elf.

"Mistress wishes to see young master for Breakfast."

"Not now," he growled and covered his face with his sheets.

"She insists, Master Draco," the elf said holding the edge of his sheet.

Draco tried to sit up as the elf pulled down the sheets. His head felt heavy and his vision remained hazy. As he stretched the muscles in his arms and neck, the events of last night rushed into his mind. "Shite," he cursed as the remnants of his sleep vanished, leaving him completely aware of his disastrous situation. He remained on the bed with his head in his hands as his father's words started swirling in his mind. "Hermione bloody Granger," Draco growled thinking how preposterous the whole argument sounded. How could his father expect him to woo a Mudblood? And not just any Mudblood, the Gryffindor extraordinaire, Potter's best friend, Weasel bee's Girlfriend, the face of Muggle born activism. Draco shuddered just by the mere thought of it. Why wasn't he matched to a half blood, at the least? That would have given a chance to save their faces in the Wizarding world.

Azkaban had destroyed the minuscule amounts of sanity his father was able to hold on. And this was a clear example of it. Believing in nonsensical and baseless muggle methods to know the magical potential of a child? It is outrageous, and who did he end up with? The snottiest swot of all times.

"Young master?" the elf, whose presence was forgotten until then, spoke. "Breakfast."

Draco's eyes snapped to the elf and he replied curtly, "I'll join her in few minutes." He knew what his mother was going to talk about and he needed some time to brace himself for an onslaught of a different kind.

"Yes, master," the elf disappeared with a pop, leaving Draco to his thoughts.

"Good morning," Narcissa Malfoy greeted her son, her dainty fingers stirring a spoonful of sugar in her tea.

"Mother," Draco greeted moving to his chair at the dining table. He started loading his plate with an assortment of pastries and fresh fruit. He ignored his mother's sharp gaze as he started to sate the hunger riding his insides. Last night's missed dinner and enormous amounts of Firewhiskey weren't a good combination and his head was on the brink of explosion.

"You might want to go easy on the pastries, Draco. They aren't good for you, in your current state," his mother chimed sipping her tea.

"I'm fine," he grumbled, his hand reaching for another Danish Pastry.

Narcissa narrowed her eyes at Draco, but her hand waved her wand under the table.

Draco ignorant of her actions sliced a generous piece of pastry and put it into his mouth. "What the…" he said pushing the plate away. There was no doubt in Draco's mind, about who turned that pastry bitter and there was no point in arguing. He finished the fruit on his plate and poured himself a cup of English Breakfast.

"That's my dragon," Narcissa said with a smile.

"What is it, mother?" Draco asked with a dejected expression.

Narcissa's composure faltered. Her eyebrows furrowed and leaned forward and caught Draco's hand. "I know your father discussed with you."

Draco's grunt was the only reply she got.

"I raised you better than that, Draco. This sulking won't get you anywhere and is that how you answer your mother?"

"No," Draco said in a downtrodden voice. "Have you heard him talking about it? It's completely a mad idea. He wants me to court a Mudblood. It's worse than my task to kill Dumbledore. I will have to live with her, my whole life. I'll be destroyed."

"I agree," Narcissa nodded her head. "It's disgraceful. You're the heir to the pure and most noble houses of Black and Malfoy. And sullying them with a Mudblood is just unthinkable."

Hope started to flare in Draco's heart. "See, you understand it. Why can't father?"

Narcissa's expression became subdued again. "But your father's only aspiration is the protection of our family and our bloodline, Draco. If he thinks a child with her," Narcissa's face contorted, "will ensure us the most powerful heir, I can understand his wishes."

Draco huffed in frustration. "First of all, she is not even a half-blood. If we somehow over look that fact. It is Granger. Potter's friend, Weasley's girlfriend and was a bloody pain in my arse, during all my school years."

"Draco," his mother said slowly.

"Did you forget? She was tortured in this very house, in front of our eyes, by your sister."

"Ah! Bellatrix. Bless her departed soul. She wasn't sane or right at that moment. I'm sure Ms. Granger being an intelligent witch, wouldn't hold us responsible for those unfortunate things."

Draco gave an incredulous look at his mother's words. "Mother?"

"Draco, it's not easy for us to accept her, either. But it's our duty to think about the benefit of our family. If she is your only chance to beget a powerful heir, you have to forgive her minor faults. Besides all these facts, even you can't deny that she is a formidable witch. Noone could stand your aunt's torture. She not only withstood it but was also able to blatantly lie through that pain. It's is quite an admirable quality that even some pureblood girls lack."

Draco sat there dumbfounded listening to his mother list out Granger's attributes which she thought were brilliant. Both his parents were perceiving the matter at hand, only on the basis of some unfounded theory. They don't understand what they are asking him to sacrifice. His entire life with a Gryffindor know-it-all, the future seemed bleak. But he knew there was no point in arguing with them. Once they both made their minds up, it's nearly impossible to sway them. He groaned and stood up from his seat, "I'll think about it."

"Draco, wait," Narcissa stopped him.

"I need some time, mother," Draco said without turning back.

"Draco, we don't have a lot of it. So, we already took care of something," said his mother and gave a loud call, "Tinky."

Draco watched with a horrified expression as the elf popped in with a bag of Galleons in his hand. "What did you do?" He asked his mother in a horror-stricken voice.

"This is our monthly donation to the ministry as a part of our sentence. We are supposed to donate a certain amount of money to any chosen department. Lucius had pulled some strings and found out about the needs in Ms. Granger's department. Some absurd thing about creature regulation, especially elves. So we decided our donations should be going there," she said taking the pouch from the elf's out-stretched hand.

"Why are you telling me this?" Draco asked with raised eyebrows, sensing a cunning motive behind her words.

"You are the one who'll be handling everything from now, Draco. You will be the point of contact. It will give you all the time and opportunity to woo her. You have your first appointment tomorrow morning at seven," Narcissa said placing the pouch containing the money in her son's hand.

Draco clenched his teeth and disapparated from the place with a loud pop without bothering to say a good bye.

Narcissa sighed and stormed off in another direction, with agitation clearly written on her face. She stopped in front of a large door, forcing it open. "It's done, are you happy now," she flared at the person sitting inside the room.

"Ah! Narcissa, come in. Done, you say. That's wonderful news," Lucius spoke in an extremely cool demeanor, without even lifting his gaze from the chess board in front of him.

"Wonderful news? How can you say that? You didn't see the agony in his eyes, Lucius."

"You have got to stop coddling him, Narcissa. Draco is not a child anymore. He has to understand his duty towards the family."

"But Lucius, it's her? How can we condemn him to that fate?"

"I hope you haven't talked to Draco, in this manner. I had better expectations from you."

"Of course, I haven't. You made it very clear that Draco had to attend this appointment tomorrow. And I made sure he did, didn't I?" She came closer and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You know I support all your decisions and I have faith in your judgments. But are you sure there is no other pure blood girl who has a better chance?"

"Cissa, I didn't close that door, yet. The girl isn't important to us. We want the power of her magical core that would be passed onto the offspring. I wish those ancient laws were still in practice, where we could have forced her into an arranged marriage. But sadly, they aren't," Lucius said taking the white bishop into his hands, his eyes still focused on the board. "At a glance, one might think I have lost this game. But with this bishop, we shall be victorious." With that said, he placed the Bishop back on the board. "Draco is our best chance to gain what we lost. It's high time he understood that. It's his duty to ensure her affections and coax her into marriage."

"So, there isn't another way," Narcissa said with a glum expression.

"The war had costed us many things, Narcissa. The Malfoy name doesn't have its previous glory anymore. Many believe we have been tainted by the Dark Lord's magic. Only a powerful heir will keep us on the top of the wizarding world. And you know, I'll do anything to keep my family powerful, feared, and safe."

"Another," Draco slammed the glass on the table.

"Take it slow, mate," Blaise slurred. "I'm not exactly in a position to carry you back to your place."

Draco glared and pointed it to the now empty glass. Blaise sighed and filled his glass. Draco didn't wait as he gulped down the entire contents ignoring the burn that raged his nerves. "I'm ruined," he whined.

Blaise caught his head, looking at Draco's state. "Stop your pity party, Draco."

Draco sniffed and rubbed at his nose. "Did you hear, what I told you? I'm supposed to marry Hermione fucking Granger." When Blaise started to say something, Draco stopped him. "And that's not the annoying part. I'm supposed to court her. Does she even know the meaning of that word?"

Blaise snorted at that remark. "I'm sure she doesn't. She probably even wears a chastity belt. Poor Weasley."

"That's it. She is already dating Weasley, right, how can I court her? That should be a good enough reason for my father," Draco said with a sudden, cheerful smile.

"Draco, sorry to burst your bubble. But according to my sources, their relationship is already failing. So, if I knew about this little tidbit, I'm sure Lucius Malfoy knows about it too."

"The whole thing is fucked up," Draco said banging his head on the table.

Blaise gave a sympathetic nod as Draco wallowed in his misery. "What about Astoria, then?"

Draco let out a mirthless chuckle. "I'm meeting her tomorrow. I know she's going to be devastated. She's already planning our future."

Blaise seemed to stay tight-lipped at Draco's words. But Draco wasn't in a position to discuss any of that. "How can I get out of this?" Draco whispered lifting the glass up and licked the last drop that was slowly sliding down.

"Draco, stop being a bloody Hufflepuff. Where is that boy, who fixed Vanishing Cabinets for the sake of his family? Bring your inner Slytherin out," Blaise said patting on his back.

Draco blinked his eyes and looked at him. "Meaning?"

"It's Hermione Granger. You didn't have any problem finding her faults, back at school."

"Of course. What do you mean at school? There are a thousand things on tip of my tongue about her, that would make me shudder in repulsion."

"Great. Then what are you waiting for? Be a good son and follow your parents' wishes."

"What a great piece of advice, you, wanker," Draco said with a sneer.

"Let me finish. Your parents are not going to sit quietly if you kept on protesting. Trust me and agree to their demands. Once they know, you are committed, they are going to loosen their hold. Then, my friend, you'll get the opportunity you are waiting for. You can magnify the faults you see, in that Mudblood, for them to notice, and they themselves will realize she's not suitable to be your wife."

Draco was suddenly hit by a burst of happiness. Finally, a solution. He pulled Blaise into a hug and said, "Thanks, mate. You are truly a great friend."

"Of course," Blaise said with a smug smile. "So, pull your arse together and go to your meeting tomorrow morning." He pushed a bottle of sober-up into Draco's hands. "Now go and knock her socks off."

After an exhausting day and a disturbing night, Draco stumbled into the ministry of magic at a very early hour. If not for the sober-up, Blaise had pushed into his hands, he wouldn't even be standing here. With a plan in his mind, he proceeded towards the lifts. There were only a few people scattered around the Atrium who were just starting their days at the ministry. Draco, without sparing a glance at anyone, entered the first lift that opened. When the door was about to close, he heard a yell, "Hold the door," followed by a clattering of heels on the floor.

Normally, Draco wouldn't have cared, but he would do anything to stall his meeting with her. He stopped the lift, but to his befuddlement, the object of his thoughts entered the lift in the next minute.

"Thank you so much," she panted clutching a large bundle of parchments. "I was almost late," she said with a laugh until her eyes fell on the only other person in the lift. She immediately stilled and stood straight. "Malfoy," she said in a strangled voice and turned around.

As the lift moved through various floors, Draco couldn't help but sneer at the woman in front of him. With his disdain still on his face, Draco's eyes automatically started gauging Hermione Granger. She didn't seem like the awkward girl he went to school with. Her stance, though a bit clumsy was confident. Her hair was no longer a bushy mane, but it was nowhere near the stylish locks, any of his previous girlfriends gracefully maintained. Draco squinted his eye to notice her befitting curves in all appropriate places. Draco smirked looking at the tiny hints of being a lady, in the know-it-all.

The lift halted and a voice declared it was their destination. With a plan to fulfill, Draco recalled his pureblood manners and moved forward to open the door.

"Thanks, but I don't need your assistance. I can manage myself," she replied haughtily and strode to her office before Draco could think of a reply. His kind gesture was usually accompanied by a giggle and a flirty thank you. But leave it to Hermione Granger to turn his manners into something akin to an insult. He grimaced, realizing she was the same proud swot from the school.

He dragged his feet along the corridor until he was standing in front of her office. He gave it a few more seconds and knocked on her door.

"Come in," she chimed in a sweet voice.

Draco scrunched his face, hearing the fake saccharine in her voice. He opened the door and entered with a polite greeting on his lips, "Hullo, Granger."

"Malfoy?" Hermione's face was in shock.

Draco strolled inside and smirked at her confusion. "If you are quite done appraising me, I have things to discuss."

"What are you doing here? I have a very important appointment."

Draco tucked his hands into his pockets and took an aristocratic pose. "Did you check with whom do you have your appointment?"

"Of course. What did you take me for? I'm meeting a prospective benefactor for my new elf rights program."

"Yes, that would be me," Draco said tapping his foot impatiently. "Do you always keep your prospective benefactors, standing?"

"What?" Hermione asked in confusion.

Draco rolled his eyes and with his hands reaching inside his pockets and took out the large pouch his mother had pushed into his hands. He dropped it on her table and looked at her proudly. "That's the Malfoys' donation for your project." Looking at her still shocked he shook his head and said, "You're welcome."

Her eyes moved to the pouch on her desk and back to Draco's face, "I don't understand." Immediately, stumbling on her words, she said, "why don't you take a seat?"

"And they call her the brightest witch," Draco grumbled under his breath and sat in the opposite chair. "Malfoys want to support your program and provide any funding that is required henceforth."

"Why?" she asked her hand twitching towards the wand on the table.

Draco snorted at her reaction. "I'm not here to duel you, Granger. Just offering our support, monetary wise."

"I see," Hermione said scrunching her eyebrows. But her hand was still near the wand. "Are you sure this is for my elf relocation program."

"Yes," Draco said examining his nails. "Am I not saying it, right? I thought you were bright."

That got a reaction from her. She harshly pushed the pouch towards Draco and hissed. "I'm sorry I can't take it."

"Why may I ask?" Draco asked raising his eyebrow.

"I'm not sure if you are aware how your money is going to be utilized. So let me make it clear."

"Enlighten me," Draco drawled with the same bored expression.

"Malfoy, I'm obligated to do this. Or else I would have kicked you out of my office by now. This money is used for improving the lives of elves. I'm not sure, you know about them. The poor beings that serve you, from the day they were born and whose lives are at your mercy," Hermione explained.

"I know what an elf is, Granger. But I don't see your point. Why are you explaining this to me?"

Hermione gave a smug smile. "If my efforts are fruitful and if I notice your elves are being abused, I have every right to move them out of your house. If that happened, I don't want you coming back to me and demanding your money back. So, if you don't believe in this or my ideas, I don't want you investing in it."

Draco barked at her words. "I know about your little program," Draco continued with air quotes, "since Hogwarts. The elves at the school, wouldn't shut up about it. But, all our elves are quite happy with us. I don't see the need for your involvement in the betterment of their lives."

Hermione bit her lip and continued looking at the money on the table.

"Suit yourself, Granger. You are letting your personal vendetta into your program. Because of our personal history, underprivileged beings are going to suffer. If you don't want our assistance, there are many other departments who'll gladly welcome, a Malfoys' steady stream of incoming funds. I'll take my help where it is appreciated." Draco said grabbing his pouch from her hand and strode towards the door.

"Wait, Malfoy," she called as he was about to step out.

He stopped and gave her a look over his shoulder. She was now fidgeting in her seat. He saw the decision forming on her face as she spoke. "Thank you, Malfoy. I really appreciate it," Hermione said pointing him to the opposite chair. "As a benefactor for my program, I'm supposed to discuss my plans with you and accept any suggestions," she said with a grimace on her face.

"You're welcome," Draco said walking back to his seat. "Now, fire away."

Chapter Text

Hermione knew it was a very bad idea to listen to Ginny. But, all her efforts to convince the little firecracker, turned futile, when she demanded Hermione to spend the night at Grimmauld Place, with that no-nonsense tone of hers. And now she was left to face the consequences.

She cringed hearing the telltale sounds coming from the kitchen. If luck was on her side, she could sneak out before either of them noticed her. She tried opening an eye, but her vision was clouded by the mass of her hair, some of it even finding its way into her mouth. She sputtered and adjusted her hair trying to see where her things were.

"Mmm, Har.., Mmm," Ginny's muffled noises were increasing.

Hermione quickly gathered her sweater, shoes, and her bag. "Where is my wand?" she muttered searching her surroundings. It wasn't in the cushions or under the sofa that she slept in. "Come on, come on," she said trying to remember the last thing she did with it. "Was it for turning off the lights or summoning another bottle of wine?"

"Wai.. Harr.."

The sounds were getting closer and Hermione's eyes began to move frantically, but with no result. Hermione gave up when the newly engaged pair stumbled into her vision. She tried to avert her eyes but the pure emotion radiating from them had her gaze fixed. Harry was still in his Auror robes and Ginny was holding a jug of orange juice in one hand and a large plate of scrambled eggs in the other. But that didn't stop him, as Harry greeted her with a passionate kiss.

Clank. A sharp sound sprung the couple apart.

"Hermione, what are you doing here?" Harry asked with a mortified expression.

"That's what I've been trying to tell you," Ginny said with a laugh, placing the breakfast on the table. She came closer to Harry and wiped the smudge of her lipstick from his lips, making Harry blush crimson. She then came towards Hermione and offered her hand. "Though you look adorable lying down on the floor with your gorgeous hair, I think you might need some help with your knee."

Hermione glared at the redhead, as she helped her up. "I was trying to find my wand, but your stupid coffee table was in the way," she said rubbing a sore spot on her leg.

"You mean this?" Ginny asked plucking the wand out of her hair.

"Bugger," Hermione murmured patting her hair down. "I don't know what else I have lost in my hair." Seeing Ginny completely dressed, she asked furrowing her eyebrows. "Where are you off to, this early?"

"Early, it is almost eight, darling," Ginny said pointing to the clock.

"Oh! Shoot, I've to go," Hermione said as her eyes went wide.

"Ah! Not so soon, come on, have some breakfast. We all know you won't have time to prepare anything, once you go back to your place."

"I'm sure Ron will have something prepared," Harry chimed taking a spot on the table. "But we would love to have you join us, Hermione. We hardly see you at all," he said scooping up a large heap of eggs on to his place. "Mmm, it's delicious, Gin," Harry said fondly, not noticing the tense atmosphere between the other occupants of the house. Finally, sensing the silence in the room, he looked up and asked with an incredulous look, "what happened?"

"My idiot brother happened," Ginny muttered dragging a reluctant Hermione to the table.

"Ginny, I should really go. I have a lot planned today at the ministry. I'm already late," Hermione tried to protest.

"I know your plans. According to my calculations you still have time for a decent breakfast," she said pushing Hermione into a chair.

"Let me freshen up, first," Hermione acquiesced, heading towards the washroom. She turned on the tap and splashed her face with a cool spray of water. She looked at her face in the mirror and sighed, looking at the dark circles around her eyes. Last night's fight with Ron, was the last straw. She had enough of his arguments. Hermione didn't know what made her apparate to Grimmauld Place after Ron stormed out, but she now acknowledged was a good decision. Harry being away for the night on Auror duties, worked out in her favor. Ginny had given what she needed the most, at that time. A good company to bitch about Ron's idiocy. She wanted to leave after their talk, but Ginny insisted that she stay the night.

As she came back to the dining area, she saw Harry and Ginny waiting for her, her plate already set up. They stopped their hushed conversations as she approached. "Feeling better?" Harry asked pushing a cup of coffee towards her, while Ginny wrinkled her nose at the bitter drink. Neither Ginny nor Ron shared Harry and Hermione's affixation towards the Muggle beverage.

She inhaled the enigmatic aroma emanating from the hot liquid while its taste jolted her into action. "This is good," she said glancing at Harry. "You need to give me the address of this shop."

Harry shared a concerned glance with his fiancé and asked Hermione, "Everything alright, Hermione?"

Hermione wanted to blurt out everything the moment those words came from her best friend, but she didn't want to destroy the exciting bliss he was currently in. She smiled and assured him, "Everything's fine, Harry. Don't you worry."

But she should've guessed, Ginny's not going to keep quiet, "My brother's a complete prat."

"Ginny, it's alright," Hermione warned subtly shaking her head.

"What did he do, this time?" Harry asked.

"Nothing new. He's just being Ron," Hermione said rolling her eyes.

"It's about that Magical Matching," Ginny mumbled swirling her fork through the eggs. "I admit it was a foolish thing to do. If I hadn't dragged Hermione to get our magical cores tested, nothing of this sort would have happened."

"Ginny, it's not your fault, Ron's acting like that," Hermione said squeezing her hand.

"Is he still, fixated on that? I thought you guys have moved past that," Harry asked with a confused expression. "And who in their right minds would believe theories like Magical Matching."

"It definitely seems to be a big thing," Ginny said waving her hand animatedly. "Those obnoxious Pureblood Supremacists are taking this thing to a whole new level. Didn't you read the whole scandal about ferret's break up? Some of the girls in the locker room said the reason was Magical Matching. Apparently, their supposed child could be a squib."

"That's preposterous," Harry exclaimed in shock.

"To be fair, Harry. A child with a lesser magical ability would terrify some people," Hermione said nonchalantly.

"Not everyone," Ginny said giving an appraising glance at Hermione.

Hermione bit her lip to stop herself, from saying, if the results of Harry and Ginny's Matching weren't that positive, even Ginny would have been disappointed. But she rephrased her argument. "I come from a muggle family Ginny, unlike Ron. I didn't know about magic until I was eleven. But Ron's not like that. He grew up with magic. He can't imagine his life, without magic. I agree with his arguments. He wants his child to experience the beauty of magic in the same way he had experienced. I don't blame him," Hermione said with a sad smile.

"It's madness, I tell you," Ginny said stabbing her fork into her food. "He's going to come crawling back to you, with in no time. You just wait."

Hermione choked on the food at Ginny's words and Harry was on her side, patting her back. Ginny pushed a glass of water into her hands. "Are you alright?" Harry asked in a soothing voice.

"Sorry, the wrong pipe," Hermione said with a smile, rubbing the moisture at her nose. But, she understood that she didn't fool Harry. She needed an immediate distraction. She plastered a beaming smile and asked, "Ginny tells me, it's going to be a short engagement."

Harry turned to Ginny and clasped her hand, "Yes. We both agreed it's for the best."

"I'm so happy for you both," Hermione said truly feeling happy for them. She looked at the boy-who-lived gazing at his future wife as if she hung up the moon for him in the sky. If anybody deserved that sheer bliss of a family, it was him.

"And guess, who agreed to be my maid of honor," Ginny said with a squeal.

"Oh! I can never guess. It's the toughest question I've ever faced," Harry exaggerated.

"Git," Ginny smirked ruffling his hair. "Hermione, always be on alert. Maid of honor duties always come first. I don't care if you are in the middle of an elf rescue or a Goblin trade, I expect you to come to my aid, immediately."

"Yes, ma'am," Hermione said giving her a salute.

"I have to go. I'm already late for the practice," she said looking at the clock and sprinted towards the broom cupboard, grabbing her Quidditch gear on her way. Harry followed her and helped her get ready. Hermione chuckled as their ardent goodbyes reached her ears. "Bye, Hermione," Ginny yelled for the last time and disappeared into the flames.

"Harry, that's enough," Hermione yelped when Harry scooped another helping onto Hermione's plate.

"Ginny's orders. Can't help it," Harry said with a smile getting back to his own breakfast.

"She's quite a girl, isn't she? Oh, I'm so happy for you, Harry."

Harry blushed and shrugged his shoulders. Hermione knew by the goofy expression he donned, that her best friend is indeed very happy. A tear escaped Hermione's eyes and Harry's face twisted in confusion. "Hermione! What happened?"

She immediately wiped it, "It's nothing." She had nothing but happiness for them in her mind. But a small fear that the little idea of family, she had harbored in her mind and the happy moments she wanted to experience, was ready to crumble, did trouble her.

"It's Ron, isn't it? And this bloody Magical Matching? But let me ask you one thing. The Hermione I knew, never stayed back and let the things unfold on their own. She would've sent birds up Ron's arse if he's being a git."

Hermione dropped the fork on the plate and looked at his concerned gaze. "That's the thing, Harry. I'm not sure if it is Ron, I'm worried about. Lately, I'm starting to realize my feelings towards Ron were nothing but a school girl's crush." Harry stayed mute. "Sorry, I should go, I didn't mean to blurt it out."

"Hermione, please. I know Ginny would be better for this kind of talk, but I'm ready to listen to whatever you want to say," Harry said sheepishly.

"She's over the moon, right now and I don't want to trouble her, more than I have to. Besides, Ron's her brother and she still thinks everything will work out between us."

Harry nodded his head. "You both are my friends. I can't just stand here and see you both like this. If that's what is on your mind, perhaps you should sit down and talk."

"We should," Hermione conceded. "But enough about me. How's everything at the ministry?"

"How would I know? I'm stuck with these raids for the past two weeks. But some one told me, Malfoy was seen around your office," Harry said narrowing his eyes.

"Shocking, right. Out of nowhere, he came offering donations to my new project."

"Shocking, indeed."

"He is still the arrogant prat we loathed from the school."

"With those Malfoys you never know, you have to be extra careful. Why a sudden interest in your program?" Harry said his Auror senses kicking in.

"I appreciate your concern, Auror Potter. But you know me, I wouldn't hesitate to put him in his place, if he tried any of his bigoted nonsense with me. Honestly, I don't think he has an ulterior motive. I did some research of my own. Malfoys are supposed to donate funds to Ministry, every month, as a part of their sentence. I believe mine was the only project that desperately needed that kind of funding to even kick off, all thanks to that Davis."

"I'll never understand, your issues with Tracey Davis. She's nothing but understanding when it comes to Aurors," Harry said shrugging his shoulders.

"Correction, not all Aurors, just you. Everyone is nothing but polite and kind towards the savior of the wizarding world."

"As they should be," Harry said with a cheeky smile. "I'm sure she'll sign off your petition for more funds if you presented your case with appropriate reasons."

"Appropriate, my arse. She just wants my project to get shelved. But I can't wait to see her reaction when I shove the donation, the Malfoys have offered, in her face," Hermione said with a gleaming face. "In fact, I think that is the first thing I'll do today."

"Good for you," Harry said with a satisfied smile that Hermione couldn't place. But as she headed towards the fireplace after few minutes, she definitely felt better, as all her tumultuous thoughts about her relationship with Ron, took a back seat, for the day.

"Hermione Granger," Tracey Davis smiled demurely, "What can I do for you?" She said offering the opposite chair.

"Davis," Hermione said in a curt voice. "I trust your day's going well."

Tracey raised a perfectly shaped brow and replied, "Rather well. But I doubt you came all the way to the revenue department to inquire about my day."

"You're right," she said extracting a sheaf of parchments. "My project's a go. I'm just filing the required paperwork."

A look of confusion passed on Tracey's face, but she recovered from it soon, taking the parchments into her hands. "I don't remember funds being allotted to your elf project. Forgive my doubts, but I do have a very good memory."

"Everything's in there," Hermione said narrowing her eyes.

Tracey gave a thorough scrutiny to all the details and put them down on the table. "Malfoys, huh. That is some good amount of money." Hermione tried to curb her smug smile as Tracey further continued with her perusal. "Are you sure, you are comfortable spending a fair galleon on elves. There are many other departments that could use this kind of handsome funding."

Hermione was about to share a fair retort of her own, but a knock on Tracey's door disturbed their conversation.

"Tracey," a gruff voice sounded and Hermione couldn't help but notice the sudden spark in Tracey's usually calm and composed eyes.

"Theodore," Tracey said as a beautiful rose shade started to tint her cheeks. She gave a smile that Hermione had never seen before and spoke, "I just need few minutes."

"Sure, I'll be outside," he said giving a nod.

Hermione suddenly felt she was in a wrong place as he observed a silent exchange between the Slytherins. She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat and said, "I just wanted to drop off the paperwork. Update me."

"Sure, Granger. It seems you found a firm backing now. I guess the elves are in for the world, of rescuing now," Tracey said with a condescending smile.

Hermione gritted her teeth and stormed out of the door, running directly into Theodore Nott, who was standing just outside of Tracey Davis' door. "Granger," he greeted in a polite voice.

"Nott," Hermione reciprocated apprehensively. The pleasant smile he was giving her, was a bit creepy and left her unsettled.

"So you and Tracey working on something, together?" he asked casually tucking his hands into his pockets.

"Something like that," Hermione said furrowing her eyebrows, wondering why these Slytherins are trying to chat her up. "Good day, Nott," she said hurriedly wandering down the hall before he could engage her in any other discussions. A confused and irritated Ron, and friendly Slytherins were never a good combination.

Chapter Text

"Long time no see, mate."

Draco looked up from the parchment on his desk and groaned. "It's you," he exclaimed dryly, adjusting his reading glasses and went back to his work. This particular Arithmancy equation was putting up a tough challenge.

"Expecting someone else? Perhaps a curly haired brunette with an inordinate amount of knowledge," Theo smiled strolling into the opposite chair.

Draco threw his oldest friend a withering glare, "Don't even joke."

"Get over it," Theo smirked. "Pretty soon we'll be hearing news of your engagement if your father is to be believed. The pureblood heir of the noble house of Malfoy to wed the Muggle born war heroine."

"You've spoken to my father?" Draco asked clutching his head.

"We seem to agree on few things," Theo replied evasively.

"So, it's true. You and Davis, huh?" Draco said placing the quill back in its holder. He took his glasses and rubbed the sides of his nose. "I hate wearing these, reminds me of bloody Potter."

"Those are far better than the wires Potter wears." Theo shrugged his shoulders and gave a smile. "Anyway, Tracey really is a nice girl. Her half blood status may have kept her off our radar in Hogwarts, but she's rather charming and certainly better than most pureblood girls."

"At least you were matched to a half-blood. And what of your prospective child?"

"The strongest Nott in over a century, but not as good as your match with Granger," Theo said. "By the way, I saw her two weeks ago, at the ministry. It seems Granger and Tracey are working on something, together."

"Mmhm," Draco said with an uninterested look. He had been diligently avoiding any thoughts pertaining to her. After his extremely publicized, but a very amicable break up with Astoria, there had been a lot of speculation going around. So, he avoided any place or occasion where there was even a minute chance of running into Hermione Granger.

"She seemed very excited about your donation, and just so you know, she's finally rid of Weasley," Theo said popping a sweet from the box on Draco's desk.

"Don't you think I know that?" Draco had been subjected to an extra evening of a lecture from his over-enthusiastic parents, now that Hermione Granger is no more under the restraint of a relationship.

"For a person, who seemed completely repulsed by the idea of a relationship with her, your donation was a pretty bold move."

"That's what happens when you have meddling parents," Draco grumbled.

"At least you have them to meddle," Theo said with a nonchalant wave of his hand.

"Don't Theo. You may not have your parents, but you've got us. If you want us meddling, you just need to say the word."

"I have no doubt," Theo said rolling his eyes. "What have your parents done now?"

"Their fervor to secure a powerful magical grandchild is driving me crazy. Yesterday, I was given a not-so-subtle threat that if I don't start acting soon, they are going to get involved."

"That sounds…," Theo paused biting the inside of his cheek, "unsettling. Although, if you look past the swotty attitude, Gryffindor recklessness, and the nest on her head, she's not that bad. She definitely has an excellent mind under all that hair. We all know Potter wouldn't have survived if not for her."

"I don't know," Draco grumbled. "I'll think about it."

"Are you not even a little bit excited about your magical matching. Don't you want a powerful child?"

Interrupting their discussion, a tapping was heard from the window.

"Umm, Draco. What did you do?" Theo asked suddenly, pointing to the window.

"What do you mean?" Draco asked squinting his eye.

"The envelope is red mate, and the owl looks familiar. Who does it belong to?"

Draco's eyes widened in recognition. Before a mumbled whisper escaped his lips, a shrieking voice echoed in his chamber.

"DRACO LUCIUS MALFOY. HOW DARE YOU FORGET THE PROMISE TO YOUR FRIEND. THOSE MINISTRY OFFICIALS ARE TORTURING US. GET HERE, NOW."

"That was loud," Theo exclaimed wiggling his ears. "Even for Pansy. Sounds serious."

"No, she's just being Pansy. Trust me, it would be nothing but routine checks by the ministry for any dark artifacts."

"But since when she asks your help for these checks?"

"All the time. I went for the first few times, but they were nothing. If anybody is worried, it should be the person from the ministry who conducts these visits. He was literally trembling with all the glares he was receiving from the Parkinson women."

"But she never sent a howler, before?"

Draco bunched his eyebrows and said, "No."

"Then, let's go. We can't ignore a howler Draco. It could be serious," Theo said moving to the door. "What are you waiting for?"

"I don't know. I can't handle Pansy, now."

"You're coming with me. She may be a screeching harpy in this state, but she's our friend."

Draco sighed and followed Theo to the fireplaces.

Not a minute later, they were standing in the Parkinson living room. Draco glanced around the room and noticed the tense atmosphere, unlike the usual ministry's visits. Pansy was talking in her enraged mode with hands moving animatedly, while her mother stood huffing just behind her. Both of them were completely unaware of the newcomers, but the whimpering creature between their legs turned her eyes towards Draco and Theo. From their location he couldn't see who it was that got the Parkinsons riled, but this ministry official was definitely doing a better job than the previous ones.

"Pansy," Draco's suave voice cut through their argument. "What's going on?"

"Draco, Theo," Pansy's face beamed in exuberance. "I know you would come," she strolled towards them.

"Not much choice after a howler," Draco grumbled. Thankfully, those words didn't reach Pansy's ears or else they would've been treated to the experience of a live howler.

But Theo asked with a genuine concern, "Is everything alright, Mrs. Parkinson."

"No. Nothing's been right since my husband was taken to Azkaban," she sniffled into her handkerchief. "Now, they are trying to take our house elf from us."

"House elf?" Theo asked in confusion.

Draco's eyes widened as he took quick steps towards the ministry official, who had pushed the Parkinsons to the brink of their sanity. He knew what to expect and he wasn't disappointed. "Granger?" he gasped.

"Malfoy, how nice to see you," she threw a glance around the house in a nonchalant way, "here." Though her words told him she looked unperturbed, but a slight change in her posture betrayed her words.

"Draco's my friend. Theo too," Pansy said raising her chin. "They won't let you bully your way into taking away our elf."

"Why don't you let Draco do the talking, Pansy," Theo said not even bothering to hide his mischievous smile, all the while dragging her back to her mother.

"There is nothing to discuss," Hermione said folding her hands. "I have been trying to negotiate with them since I first received a complaint. But they are not ready to listen," she said with a stern gaze that would put McGonagall's to shame. But her eyes immediately changed their demeanor as she looked at the simpering thing on the floor. "Don't you worry, Pippy. You'll have your freedom back soon."

"Granger, she's been in their family, since Pansy was born. You can't do this," Draco said. "They would never hurt her."

"My evidence says otherwise," Hermione said waving a rolled up parchment in her hand.

"She's lying," Pansy yelled. "She hates us. They all hate us. That's why she's doing this. Since she can't hurt us in any other way, she's doing this."

"Seriously, Parkinson," Hermione said slightly shaking her head. "It's a pity, that you think I can't do anything." She then bent down to the elf's height and gingerly ran her fingers on the large bump on her head.

Draco got a clear look at her, then. The usual fire, he was so accustomed to, since their school years, was burning in her eye, along with the concern for the elf, but there was also something else. A determination that she would get what she came for, was shining in her posture. "What exactly had happened?" Draco asked getting her attention.

But Pansy burst into an unrelenting speech, without giving Hermione a chance. "Oh, Draco! It's absolutely nothing. Tell her, how very well, we take care of our elves," she said at the end.

Hermione scoffed. "Clearly, very well," she said without taking her eyes off the elf.

Draco moved uncomfortably. Gauging the elf's condition, he immediately knew that she was far from being treated well. Her fingers were swollen, there was a large bump on her head, and the stains on her tea cozy were clearly of blood. But Pansy was his friend and she needed his help. Theo remained conspicuously silent, pushing all the responsibility onto Draco's shoulders while Mrs. Parkinson joined her daughter, in reciting the noble things they do for the elf, inadvertently pushing the entire situation into chaos.

"We even gave her rest from cooking the dinner because of her bruised fingers. Merlin forbid, if her nasty blood seeped into the food, we'll die of food poisoning," the older lady said with a disgusted expression.

Draco wanted to bang his head on the wall while Hermione's face turned red in anger. He understood if he didn't interfere in the next few seconds, somebody was going to get hurt, very badly.

"Granger, if you could give them a chance," he started, but he was hit by the brunt force of her anger.

"Just because, you funded this project, don't think for even a second, you'll have an advantage," she said with a menacing glare.

"I wasn't suggesting," Draco said immediately stepping back.

"You funded this project?" Pansy's shriek reverberated in the house. "How could you do this, Draco?"

But saving Draco from giving an embarrassing answer, Theo jumped in, "Is there any chance that Pippy's fingers were swollen by accident?"

"She made a mistake. She misplaced my potion," Mrs. Parkinson exclaimed with an exaggerated expression. "You see, it's a priceless potion that is nearly impossible to find in these current circumstances. So I gave her the usual punishment to iron her fingers."

"That's ridiculous. How could you torture your elf, for a menial thing like a potion," Hermione gasped.

"Ignorant mud…," Mrs. Parkinson started to say, but Pansy's hand clamped on her mother's shoulder instantly, making her realize the grave mistake she was about to commit. "Muggle-born. You wouldn't understand its value."

Draco met Pansy's worried glance. If there had been any chance to keep the elf before, they had just lost it entirely. But to Draco's shock, there wasn't a single change in Hermione's demeanor. She, as if waiting for this precise moment, gave an inconspicuous smile and reached into the robes and pulled out a small vial, "Is this the potion, you said I wouldn't know about?"

"Where did you get that?" Pansy's eyes widened as lunged to take it from Hermione's hands.

"Not so fast," Hermione stepped back, drawing her wand. "You know, I have full authority to use my wand in threatening situations. I'd rather not need to use it," she said waving it.

Theo stepped forward and drew Pansy back, "For God's sake Pansy, wait."

"Surely, you didn't think every ministry official that paid a monthly visit to your home would be willing to overlook something like this?

"It's an anti-ageing potion. Is ministry objecting to us taking beauty potions as well?"

But Draco knew, Pansy was bluffing. They may have altered the label, but the distinctive aqua blue color of the potion didn't betray its true nature. It used to be common, but very expensive household potion, used by pureblood women, and occasionally men, to hide their age. Although the potion itself was hardly malevolent, the process used to brew it was considered dark, as it has minuscule amounts of unicorn blood, thus making it a forbidden item in the eyes of the ministry. To Draco's relief, his parents had forgone the use of it, gracefully embracing the dignity that came with age, making them look even more proud and esteemed. Sadly, that was not the case with the Parkinsons, and Pansy was nothing but a fool to think Granger would be falling for her ruse.

"Oh, Parkinson! Have you forgotten that I was top in our Potions' class," Hermione said wiggling the vial in front of her eyes.

"No, you weren't. Draco was," Pansy said leaning on Draco's arm and diverting Hermione's attention to the blond.

"Well, it's obvious, isn't it? If not for Snape's bias, he wouldn't have gotten such high scores."

"You think, I only got those scores because of Snape?" Draco said taking a step forward after shrugging Pansy off. No one challenged him in Potions, even the know-it-all Granger.

"This should be interesting," Theo murmured with a smile, joining Pansy, as they both watched Draco and Hermione.

"It's not the time or place to feed your ego, Malfoy. I'm here for Pippy and I'm not leaving without her. We can play your childish games later."

A mischievous thought crept into his mind without his knowledge, and he was not responsible for the next words came out of his mouth, "Of course, you name the place and I'll play with you." He didn't realize the innuendo behind his words or what he said until a horrified expression took place on Hermione's face.

"Damn," he cursed himself and immediately moved back, stumbling into Theo and Pansy. While Theo caught hold of him, Pansy looked at him with furrowed eyebrows. Bugger, now he had to face Pansy's interrogation. Thankfully, he was saved by the elf who gave out a whimper shifting focus from his blunder to the true matter at hand.

"Where is your proof, that it was taken from our house? It could've been taken from some place else," Pansy said glaring at the elf.

"I have it on the report, since the Ministry's first visit to your place."

"Then why were you waiting this long? You could have pushed my mother and me into Azkaban for it," Pansy said her nostrils flaring.

"As thrilling as it sounds, I just didn't see a reason to punish an already suffering family," Hermione said with a scoff. "But, this has gone too far," she said pointing to the elf.

Now, Pansy stood there, suddenly taken aback. And she wasn't the only one. Except for the older Parkinson, all the remaining Slytherins bore similar expressions of confusion. Before they could recover, they were hit another time with Hermione's words.

"Let's make a fair deal, Pansy. To save you all the trouble, you free Pippy, I'll forget about the report," Granger said with an exhausted expression.

"What?" Pansy asked as her eyebrows rose into her hairline. "But it's my elf."

"Take it, Pansy," Draco said with a finalized tone in his voice. "You've lost, it's time to let her go."

"Draco, no. She belongs to us. If she's gone, we have to do everything by ourselves. Pansy do something," her mother cried.

Theo jumped in and gathered the sobbing woman and drove her to a side. Hermione folded her hands and tapped her foot continually, avoiding Draco's presence altogether.

"Come on, Pansy. There is no point in delaying inevitable. Let her go. She's served you, all these years. Now it's time to let go. If everything works out, you could hire a new elf," Draco said effectively coaxing Pansy into offering the elf, clothes.

As the elf gleefully held Hermione's hand getting ready to apparate, Pansy stopped her. "You got what you wanted. Now give us back the potion."

"I said, I'll forget about the report, not the potion," Granger said pocketing it. "Thanks, Pippy, for getting this to me and lodging the complaint. You're free now," she said taking hold of the elf's fragile wrist with utmost care, into her hand, and with a tentative glance at Draco, vanished into the fireplace, leaving a fuming Pansy and a very intrigued Draco, behind.

That evening, Draco lay back in his chair, thinking about the same equation that had been troubling him since morning. It appeared to have become an even more challenging puzzle. He'd been unable to focus properly since the incident at Pansy's home. There was something about Hermione Granger's actions that hounded him and wouldn't leave him at peace. Her display of Slytherin caliber cunning was certainly unexpected, did it amuse him? He couldn't defiantly say no, it was rare that a display of cunning was so elegant that it left him in a mildly puzzled state. Even more puzzling and dare he say it alluring was her desire, not to trouble the Parkinsons anymore. She recklessly used her authority and power over them to secure her interests but didn't resort to cruelty or compromise her morals. Pansy hadn't ever been kind to Granger at any point in their lives, in fact, she'd been quite the opposite. So why did Granger show such compassion? It wasn't necessary, if Granger were a Slytherin, he might presume she had an ulterior motive, but she wasn't, she was Gryffindor. A reckless Gryffindor that bested Pansy with Slytherin tactics.

With those thoughts swirling his mind, he looked back at the equation that was troubling him since that morning. Perhaps a tiny bit of Gryffindor recklessness might provide some clarity, and to his shock, the solution presented itself. Draco bit his lip trying to stop the chuckle at his success in solving the equation, with Gryffindor tactics. As unpalatable as their future courtship seemed, maybe a small step towards her wouldn't hurt, and he might learn what about her had prompted that playful and unbecoming quip to slip from his mind, that very afternoon.

Determination beginning to take seed in his mind, he dropped the parchment containing the equation and picked up his regal letter pad, that bore his family insignia, and started to pen down a simple note.

Granger,

I'm ready for our first monthly meeting. I'm looking forward to learning, how well my money is being put to use. My schedule is free tomorrow afternoon.

Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

A knock on her cabin door made Hermione jerk. Her eyes darted to the clock and she scoffed. Apparently, her first meeting of the afternoon was going to start right on schedule. She had expected Malfoy to be at least a few minutes late, delighting in the thought of making her wait. Clearly, she'd underestimated him and he was early. The door was wrenched open before she could give the consent to enter. Ready to give Malfoy an earful for his lack of decorum, she opened her mouth only to close it in confusion.

"Ron? What are you doing here?" she said blinking her eyes.

"Hermione," Ron gave an awkward smile and strolled towards her, leaving the door open. "How are you?"

"What? Did you come here to ask me how am I?"

"I was just checking in on you," he said looking downward.

"I don't know what Ginny might have told you, but I'm perfectly fine Ronald," Hermione said flouncing her new hairstyle. She enjoyed the way her hair now danced delicately on her shoulders. Although shortening her curly locks that morning had been a sudden and admittedly a rash decision, it reflected her resolve to start anew. "Seriously, Ron. Don't worry about me."

"Right."

Hermione slowly began to understand the change of dynamics between them. It was true they were still friends and cared deeply for each other, but after that unseen line was crossed they both knew things would never be the same, ever. While she had managed to skip past the initial stage of self-loathing after their breakup, the realization that it was for the best did little to soothe her conscience. "Ron I'm waiting for someone. If there is nothing important we can talk later," she said, her subtle dismissal evident in her tone.

"Since I'm not your boyfriend anymore, you're telling me to get out?" Ron said with anger tainting his cheeks.

"I'm working Ron. Even if you were my boyfriend, I would be asking you to leave," Hermione said folding her hands defensively.

"So it comes to this. I can't even come to you as a friend," Ron said shooting up from his place.

Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. "Ron this isn't the place or time to have this conversation. I have no problem discussing this somewhere else. As I said, I have an important meeting."

"As entertaining as it may be to watch the two of you squabble. Granger and I have an important meeting, and your presence is neither required nor welcome Weasley," Draco said standing near the door with a smug smirk plastered on his face and his hands in his pockets.

"Are you kidding me? The ferret's your important meeting?" Ron said pointing to the blond.

"Yes, Ron. He funded one of my projects, so this is a rather important meeting. Now if you'll excuse me," Hermione gestured towards the door with her eyes.

"Bloody hell," Ron muttered in a low voice glaring at Malfoy on his way out. His shoulder would've easily collided into Draco's if the blond hadn't moved at the last minute.

"Sorry Malfoy, please come in," Hermione groaned tucking a stray curl behind her ear.

He nodded at her stepping into her cabin and waited for her to offer the chair.

"Please, take a seat," she said sitting in her own chair. "If you could just give me a moment," she said picking up the assortment of parchments on the desk and started to sort them.

"I expected better Granger, my time is precious," Draco said carelessly checking his pocket watch. "If you were going to be busy entertaining your boyfriend, you should have notified me. We could have scheduled this meeting at a later time."

A low growl emanated from Hermione. Her breakup was splashed on the front pages of the Daily Prophet. Why was Malfoy referring to Ron as her boyfriend? Was he just trying to get a rise out of her? "There's no need for that. I'm done," she gritted her teeth, dropping a large bundle of parchments on the desk. "I was just placing them in the correct order."

Draco picked up the topmost parchment of the bundle and gave it a scrutinizing look. To her surprise, he began to study the document with utmost concentration. She was even more confused when a small look of appreciation started to form on his face. But he immediately schooled it and gave her a sneer instead, "Am I expected to read all of these?" he gestured to the parchments with undisguised disdain.

A smirk formed on her lips and she smiled sweetly, "Yes. Read it, understand it, and improve it if you can." Her challenge was evident in her words. She was quite confident he wouldn't be able to find a fault in it.

"Alright," Draco said leaning back in his chair, accepting the challenge. "Where's Pansy's elf?"

"Why? Are you planning to smuggle her back to your friend?"

"There's no need for me to take the elf back. Pansy has already hired a new elf Granger. This time, I have seen to it that they've both been thoroughly advised on how to take proper care of their elf."

"What?" Hermione shot up from her chair. "They are under probation Malfoy. Until they clear that period of time, they can't get a new elf."

"My mistake, perhaps that should have been made more clear, or you should have told me," Draco said shrugging his shoulders. "Besides, that was the only way to keep Pansy from barging in here."

"As if coming here would help her," Hermione huffed. "All the evidence was against them."

"You're obviously unaware of how a relationship between an elf and its master works."

"Are you questioning my methods?"

"Hardly, I'm questioning the research on which those methods are based."

"That's even more insulting. If you didn't believe in what I do, why did you provide funding?" Hermione said her voice cracking.

Draco slowly bent forward and grabbed the pitcher of water on her table. He poured one for her and slowly pushed the glass towards her. "Granger I repeat, I don't trust your sources. That said, I understand your conviction and perhaps sought to give you a little guidance."

"My sources are strong," Hermione's hands stayed close to her, totally ignoring the glass.

"Care to tell me what they are?" Draco asked raising his eyebrow.

There was a flicker of movement in her eye. "I don't need to tell you anything."

"So, all those claims about me being an important part of this project when you accepted the funding, was hogwash?"

Hermione sighed. She should've known the ferret would twist her words and use it against her. "No Malfoy. I stick to what I said. As long as you are providing financial support, you are an important part of this project. I got all my research material from the Black Library."

"The Black Library you say," Draco said tapping his chin. "Not a bad place to start, and that library certainly has a fair amount of ancient knowledge. However, the Black family is quite well known for having a rather vicious disposition. You must have presumed that all the purebloods adopt the same methods. Your lack of proper knowledge on pureblood customs puts you at a disadvantage. It's no wonder why this project is so hideously flawed."

"How are you any different Malfoy? You all think in the same way," Hermione snapped, thinking about her various encounters with elves. She paused in her thoughts as she started to see a new pattern develop. Dobby and Pippy were the only ones that ever truly complained and wanted to be free. All the other elves still view Hermione as the bane of their existence. According to them, she was the monster wrenching them from their duties.

"Find out for yourself," Draco said extracting two books from inside his robes. "These are some of the oldest records from the Malfoy Library. They should tell you everything you don't know about elves; how they came into this servitude, and why their lives are bound to it."

Hermione narrowed her eyes, "Why are you helping me?"

"I'm not helping you. I'm helping assure that the project I've invested in, does not become a failure. I'm protecting an investment."

That she could follow. A Slytherin and on top that a Malfoy would never help anyone unless they have some kind of self-interest in it. If the project failed it would reflect poorly on the Malfoy family and be a waste of his money. With that explanation assuaging her mind, her fingers darted forth to touch the books. But to her annoyance, Draco pulled them back immediately. "They are a very important part of our collection. I'm trusting them with you and I expect you to treat them with respect. No ink stains, no dog ears, and absolutely no notes, in any part of them. Do we have a deal, Granger?"

"Unlike you, I know how to respect knowledge. I'll treat them with utmost care," she said raising her chin as he placed the books in an empty spot on the table.

"I want you to remember those exact words," Draco said with a taunt in his eyes. He stood up from his place taking the sheets of parchment she had given. "Until then, I've got my homework and you've got yours."

With a haughty smirk in place and without a backward glance, he strode out of the room leaving Hermione in a puzzled state thinking about his last words.

That evening, Hermione was hit by a hurricane in the form of another Weasley, barging into her office.

"What are you still doing here? The weekend has started sweetheart," Ginny asked from the door, with a hand on her hip.

"Ginny," Hermione sighed, putting down the book that had her entranced since Malfoy had left. "You're back from your training. That means it's already evening?"

"Come on, move your lazy arse. We have some exciting things planned for this evening," she said tapping her foot.

Hermione groaned thinking about the definition of exciting things from an exuberant Quidditch player. "I do have a lot of homework," Hermione said lifting the book in her hands. "How about a rain check?"

"Homework? Are we back at school or what?" Ginny said storming deeper into the room. Sensing her intention to snatch the book out of Hermione's hands, clear in her eyes, Hermione immediately placed the book out of her reach. But instead of reaching for the book, Ginny trailed her fingers on her hair. "I like the new look. Although I don't envy your nest, this is something I could never pull off. Come on, let's show it off."

"Gin, I don't think I can party with your teammates tonight. How about you let me skip this party and I will go on that shopping trip you've been pestering me about for a long time?" Hermione understood the intention behind younger Weasley's insistence on dragging her to this party. Ginny was still clinging to that little thread of hope that Hermione and Ron would get back together.

"We're not going out with my teammates. Don't you know who is back in town?" While Hermione pondered who that was, Ginny continued. "And what do you mean pestering? It's spending money and getting things we like. Who wouldn't like that? You spend on books and I spend on something else."

"Back up there for a minute. Who is back in town?"

"That would be us," a chorus of voices sounded, dragging Hermione's attention to the door.

A beatific smile spread across Hermione's face and she advanced towards the newcomers. "Neville, Luna," she cried out pulling one of her oldest friends into her hug. "When did you come back?"

"It's only been two days," said a red-faced Neville slowly pulling out of her embrace.

"Luna, how nice to see you," Hermione said giving an equally enthusiastic hug to the dreamy-eyed blonde.

"It's always nice to come back here," Luna said with a smile. "Although we had to cut our expedition short, I'm not sad about it. There are many new things that are waiting to be explored here," she said giving a strange look at Hermione. "You look, peculiar. Something big has happened, hasn't it?"

"I thought your expedition won't be over until two more months, why have you cut it short?" Hermione spoke abruptly, dismissing Luna's question.

"Oh! Come on. We can find a better place than Hermione's boring office to have all sorts of discussions," Ginny said moving forward, looping her arms through Neville and Luna.

Hermione couldn't help but smile at the three of them. The Silver trio as they were called, were the beacon of hope during one of the most traumatic periods Hogwarts had ever seen. Under the deadly regime of the Carrows, they stayed together, guiding all their friends and fellow students to safety. They assumed the roles of leaders in the absence of the Golden Trio. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione lead the war from outside the walls of Hogwarts, these three stood up within Hogwarts. Their friendship remained strong, even though they had gone down different paths. Ginny accepted the offer from Holyhead Harpies, while Luna went on a worldwide expedition in search of strange creatures with Neville joining her, to nurture his interests in Herbology.

"Are Harry and Ron going to join us at the Leaky?" Neville asked.

"Later," Ginny whispered. "But why the Leaky? I was thinking about that new pub that opened opposite the Eeylops Owl emporium?"

"Because Hannah would be there," Luna said, twirling a lock between her fingers, making Neville blush crimson. "Oh, was that supposed to be a secret?"

"Neville, you sly dog," Ginny said smacking his chest. "When did this happen?"

"That's great news, Neville. Hannah is a wonderful girl," Hermione beamed.

"It's nothing," Neville said scratching the back of his neck. "It would be great to meet all of them. It's been a while since I talked to either Harry or Ron. Where are they, this evening?"

Ginny met Hermione's gaze and replied, "Off with some Auror duties, both of them. Enough chatter, let's go."

Hermione followed, knowing there is no other way to escape from this. An evening spent catching up with old friends sounded lovely, yet it lost some of its appeal when an ex-boyfriend was included. As she was stepping out of the room she heard the telltale pop of an elf apparating into her office.

"Miss Granger?" the elf squeaked in a tiny voice.

"Yes," her eyes bulged, looking at the elf who was holding a large stack of books in his hands. "I'm Hermione Granger. Are you here to make a complaint against the monsters, who are making you carry that heavy load?"

"No miss. It's not heavy," the elf said passing the stack into Hermione's waiting hands. "Tinky would never complain, Tinky is happy to serve."

To Hermione's surprise, the elf was right. The stack was as light as feather. With a snap of the elf's fingers, the weight returned to them and Hermione wobbled under its weight. "So sorry Miss Granger, Tinky didn't mean to do that."

"Tinky, how are you?" Luna greeted bending down to the elf's height.

"Miss Lovegood," Tinky beamed two red spots blotching its cheeks. "You work with Ms. Granger?"

"Do you know him, Luna?" Hermione asked with furrowed eyebrows.

"He used to bring green apples to us when we were imprisoned," Luna said shaking Tinky's delicate hand.

"Yes, miss knit a pair of socks for Tinky," the elf said, wiggling his toes. "I still wear them," the elf showed off proudly even though its toes peeked out of the holes in them.

"You belong to the Malfoys," Hermione said realizing Luna's statement about imprisonment. "So these books?"

"Master Draco sent them Ms. Granger," the elf said pointing to the stack. "There is a note for Miss in the top most book."

With a nod, to Hermione and Luna, the elf disapparated. Ignoring curious stares from all her friends, Hermione picked up the book and extracted the note.

Granger,

Here are some additional sources regarding knowledge on elves that we have accumulated over the years, from other prominent pureblood families. I trust you still remember your words.

D.M

Chapter Text

"It's disheartening. After everything that had happened, not a single thing changed here. Same old dusty tables and moth eaten carpets. I expected better under the new management, you'd think a Hufflepuff would've put more effort into this place." Pansy said turning her nose up and gave a scathing glance at the new landlady Hannah Abbott, serving the customers with a beatific smile. "Blaise, why did we have to come here of all places? We could've gone to the new pub everyone has been raving about."

"Do you mean the new establishment started by those Muggle-borns," Blaise said with a note of derision. "No, thank you. I'll stick to Leaky Cauldron. At least this one is still under the supervision of a half-blood."

"I didn't know that," Pansy recoiled. "You made the right choice Zabini."

"When is Theo coming?" Blaise asked turning towards the brooding blond who was sitting quietly, impassive to the exchange between his friends.

"Soon," Draco said. "He has to pick up his Girlfriend."

Pansy's face broke into a huge smile. "This is interesting. Finally, a girl who could keep Theodore Nott's interest. I bet she has an impeccable fashion sense."

"Don't get your hopes up Pansy," Blaise said dryly. "I very much doubt Theo would choose a girl to suit your tastes. If you ask me, she'll most likely be serious just like him."

Draco suppressed a snigger. Looking at the mortified expression on Pansy's face he couldn't help but let a smirk grace his lips. She was in for a rather rude awakening. "Don't tease Blaise. She might actually be nice. The main point is Theo's happy. We should be thanking Salazar that she is at least a Slytherin and not a bloody Gryffindor."

His whole rant went unheard when a raucous laughter reached their ears. "Speaking of Gryffindors, guess who just walked in," Blaise said with a sly glance towards Draco.

A single voice pierced the ambiance and Draco knew exactly who Blaise was talking about without needing to turning back. Accursed fate, that insufferably familiar voice could only belong to the witch he would have rather avoided this evening. Wait a minute, when did he start recognizing her voice?

"Just look at her. Strutting all over the place like she belongs here," Pansy huffed.

"What's got your knickers in a twist?" Blaise asked in confusion. "It's just a bunch of Gryffindors and Loony. I say the entertainment for our evening is covered. Just look at Longbottom, he's already tripping on the barstool," Blaise sniggered.

"You might want to control your tongue when it came to Neville Longbottom," Pansy said with a dejected smile. "He might be my future husband."

Blaise broke into a coughing fit, while Draco looked on with wide eyes.

"I don't understand," Blaise said recovering after few minutes. "Don't tell me, it is because of Magical Matching?"

"My mother got hold of his test results. Apparently, a union between our families will give us a powerful heir. Unfortunately, we'll need that to regain some of the respect the Parkinson family held in the past," Pansy said her eyes wandering towards Draco. "You don't have anything to say?"

"You are talking about the boy, who lost his toad on the first day of school and was ridiculed by most of the teachers pretty much all through out the school," Blaise continued.

"Well, he's not the boy who failed at everything, anymore," Draco supplied thinking about the days they worked together collecting Potion ingredients during their seventh year. He can't say they were friends, but they had developed an almost cordial relationship with one another or at least one that was far less antagonistic.

"And it definitely helps that he's still one of the most eligible pureblood bachelors," Pansy said shrugging her shoulders.

"You wound me, Pansy. What about us? Don't you think we are eligible pureblood bachelors," Blaise said wagging his eyebrows.

"You all are practically my brothers," Pansy closed her eyes giving out a tiny shudder. "That awful date with Draco back in the fourth year was enough for me to understand. I wouldn't want that kind of relationship with either of you."

"But that doesn't explain your loathing for Granger," Blaise leaned forward.

"You didn't know? Granger made Pansy free her elf," Draco said taking a long sip of his cold drink. "But honestly, you should've known better than to abuse your elf. Particularly when you knew you had an inspection so soon."

Pansy narrowed her eyes. "Why are you taking her side? As a matter of fact, what is this baloney about you funding her project?"

"Yes Draco, what's that about?" Blaise winked and nudged Draco. "How's it going with Gryffindor princess," Blaise asked raising his eyebrow.

Draco sighed ignoring Blaise's inquiry and answered Pansy's question. "It's a long story. Suffice it to say, it was my parents' decision."

"Poor you, I understand how it feels," Pansy tapped Draco's hand. "Now, if you excuse me," Pansy said getting up from her seat. "I need to get a refill."

"I'll get it for you," Draco said stalling her.

"No, this is something I have got to do," she said her eyes trained on Neville Longbottom, who was nervously trudging towards the landlady with a sheepish smile on his face. Draco followed Pansy's eyes and cringed at the sight of Neville Longbottom trying to chat up the girl behind the counter, with cheeks as red as Pansy's lipstick. He heard a catcall and his eyes found the Gryffindors. The catcall originated from Harry Potter's rambunctious Fiancée. and just beside her was Loony Lovegood who was laughing in her own flaky way.

Draco felt another gaze on him and he froze knowing to whom it belonged. His eyes involuntarily moved to the last occupant of the table. Hermione Granger was indeed looking at him, with her hand raised in an awkward wave.

"Is Granger waving at you?" Blaise's voice was loud enough to bring Draco out of his stupor. Apparently, she is. He gave her a curt nod and turned to face his friend. "Oh, Draco! When did this happen? You have to tell me everything," Blaise said in an overly dramatic way, batting his eyelashes. "My boy is growing up."

"There's nothing to tell," Draco said with a finality in his tone.

"Something definitely seems to be happening between you and her. Do tell, how far along are you in your attempts to woo her?"

Draco groaned, hitting the back of his chair with his head. "It's madness. How am I supposed to woo her when she insists on being this little worm, constantly gnawing at my brain." His thoughts traveled to their meeting that afternoon, when she had doused him with an insane amount of plans and practices, she had formulated. What troubled him was that he had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop an appreciative remark at the sight of her meticulous planning. The first thing that caught his eye was her penmanship. He never expected it to be so elegant. Draco prided himself on his own mastery of that particular skill and knew only one other person who had superior handwriting, his mother. However, he begrudgingly had to admit that Granger had bested him yet again. He wasn't able to fathom the fact that a mud blood like her could match the skill of a pureblood, let alone challenge the artistry that was his mother's penmanship.

"This is priceless," Blaise laughed getting Draco's attention. Draco turned around to see what exactly had Blaise going mad with laughter. Draco bit back his own laughter contemplating the thought of going to Longbottom's rescue. Pansy was leaning on the counter with a coy smile, while the proud Gryffindor who cut down the Dark Lord's snake was shying away with a horrified expression.

"Some one should rescue Longbottom," Draco said getting up from his chair. "And save Pansy before she drives him off with her flirting prowess."

"Not me. I like to watch," Blaise said with a smile.

Draco rolled his eyes and walked towards Pansy. Instead of greeting his friend, he extended his hand to Neville and greeted him, "Longbottom."

"Malfoy," Neville stuttered, his eyes darting between Pansy and Draco. "How are you?"

Draco nodded and turned to Pansy, "Let's head back. Theo will be here soon."

"It was nice to see you, Neville," Pansy giggled and leaned forward to place a kiss on Neville's blushing cheeks and trudged back to their table, adding an extra sway to her hips. Draco shook his head as Neville looked at her retreating back with a mortified expression.

"I didn't understand any of that," Neville mumbled turning his attention back to the Gryffindors. With a nod, he started to move back to his friends.

"You'll get used to it," Draco murmured under his breath trying to make a quick exit.

Before he could turn away a voice that had kept him on toes for the last two days, reached his ears, "Malfoy?"

Draco schooled his expression and replied, "Granger."

"I just wanted to thank you for the books you've sent with your elf," Hermione approached him with a tentative smile.

"Well, you did challenge me about my attitude towards knowledge," Draco said folding his hands.

"Come on, Malfoy. Who in their right minds would think that you would have books about house elves?"

Draco narrowed her eyes. "That doesn't sound like a compliment. I share valuable input about how to improve our project, and you choose to insult me."

Hermione bit her lip and looked at him with suspicion filled eyes, "Our project?"

Draco was taken aback, he didn't remember when he started to think of it as their project instead of hers alone. "My investment and your project."

It was troubling how easily she seemed to be able to influence his thoughts. He needed to be more careful. Hermione Granger's presence in his life was proving to be far more insidious than he had anticipated. If he wasn't careful he might end up having to share drinks with Potter or Weasel at some point in the future.

"Whatever you say," she said with a smile. "But I appreciate it. I never really expected this from you. When you dropped by my office claiming you were there to fund my project, I was sure you had ulterior motives. But seeing your efforts, I'm really impressed."

Draco remained there with completely gobsmacked at her reactions. He was composed enough to not show any of his reactions on his face, but the unrestrained emotions she portrayed unsettled him. Looking at her twinkling eyes and moving lips, he realized she was still talking.

"..quite interesting. I have never viewed them in that perspective. If you could spare some time over the next week, I want to discuss a few things," she continued completely unaware of Draco's inner tumult. "What do you say?"

Draco licked his lips. "I'm rather busy most days," he blurted out.

"Oh! How about the week after?" she asked with hopeful eyes.

"My whole month is busy Granger," Draco said tapping his foot.

"How about evenings then? We could meet over dinner and discuss things?"

Draco narrowed her eyes at her. Was she asking him out? Is she even aware that she was asking him out? Just for the sake of knowing how things were about to unfold, he spoke with caution. "That could be possible."

"That's great. I'll check my schedule and owl you the details," she said tucking a strand of her hair.

"Don't bother. I'll make the reservations and owl you?" Draco said, trying to understand what was happening between them. Draco knew, if it was left up to her, she would definitely pick up some Muggle place.

When there was no response from Hermione, he looked at her. Her glance was fixed on the entrance. She narrowed her eyes and growled, "Bane of my Project's existence."

"Potter?" Draco asked looking at the people at the entrance. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley were there laughing and chatting. When he craned his neck he saw who is on the other end of their conversation. To his surprise, it was Theo and Davis.

"Of course not. I'm talking about Davis," Hermione said with a sigh. "She'd been the one who had been thwarting all my efforts to gain funding. That is until you came through."

This was news to Draco. From what he learned from Theo, Granger and Davis were working together, not against each other. Perhaps, he could do something about it. But for now, he had to get out of Granger's company. "Granger," he gave her a nod and walked away.

By the time Hermione reached her table, all of them were staring at her with curious eyes.

"First Parkinson, and then Malfoy. What's up with these Slytherins?" Ginny asked leaning forward on the table.

"She ruined my entire evening," Neville said harshly rubbing his cheek. "I was actually planning to talk to Hannah."

"I know nothing about Parkinson, but Malfoy and I were just discussing my project," Hermione said nonchalantly.

"It definitely felt something more," Luna chimed sipping her Gillywater. "Almost like you were asking him out?"

"That's preposterous," Hermione dismissed. Who in their right minds would think of such an outrageous statement? The notion of her going on a date with Draco Malfoy was utterly ridiculous. She shook her head clearing those insane thoughts and spoke. "Forget about those Slytherins. Do you know your boyfriend's talking to Tracey Davis?" Hermione said pointing towards the entrance.

"Harry's here?" Ginny beamed. "That means Ron's here too."

"Yes," Hermione said narrowing her eyes. "Ginny, why did you invite me? It's really going to be awkward for both of us."

"You're my best friend, Hermione. You'll always be a part of this group," she said lifting her drink. "I'm the bride and can't pick between you both. You just have to get used to it. There are going to be many occasions that you'll have to spend in each other's company," she said giving a sly glance from under her lashes. Her eyes sparkled in the next second and she gave an exuberant smile, "Harry."

Harry Potter had eyes for no one except for his Fiancée as he greeted Ginny with a gentle kiss. He settled into an empty chair beside her and turned to the other occupants at the table with a hearty greeting.

"It's okay Ron," Hermione said pointing to the last empty chair next to hers. Ron sat down beside her, awkwardly conveying his own greetings.

"Neville, how was your trip?" Harry asked taking a sip from Ginny's glass. "I ran into Professor Sprout after my last DADA class at Hogwarts. She was very impressed that you have taken her suggestion to go on this expedition. She can't wait for you to start your apprenticeship."

"It was pretty great," Neville started to explain enthusiastically. "You'd be amazed by the unexplored wilderness."

"Both Flora and Fauna," Luna said joining Neville's excitement. "Nature never fails to amaze us."

"That's very true," Neville sighed. "But I think that was it for me. I have to work on setting up a meeting with Professor Sprout and start my internship. There are a lot of things I need to sort out," Neville said glancing at Hannah Abbott.

"When did this happen?" Ron said clapping on Neville's shoulder.

"Never mind that," Hermione burst out. "What were you doing, laughing and talking to Davis and Nott?"

"We weren't talking to Nott, just greeting Tracey Davis. It's called being nice, Hermione. We recently found out she was the person behind the Auror Department getting new robes with special impervious charms. They are very useful," Ron said with a smile, ignoring Harry's signals to keep his mouth shut. "What's got you all worked up?"

"Nothing," Hermione gritted her teeth. "You can sing praises of her, for all I care."

"Bloody hell, Hermione! I was just trying to say that she's a good addition to that department. She's probably the only Slytherin worth talking to," Ron said shrugging his shoulders.

"Ron, I said, I don't care," Hermione said punctuating her each word. She shot up from her chair and declared, "I'm going to the ladies' room." Without waiting for a response from anyone, she dashed out.

"You idiot," Ginny smacked Ron on his head and followed Hermione, while Luna moved after them slowly.

"What was that for?" Ron said rubbing his head.

"Sometimes you know mate, it's better to remain quiet. Take it from me," Harry said finishing what was left in Ginny's glass.

Ginny circumvented the table where the Slytherins were involved in a deep discussion. As soon as she made a left at the pillar that continued to the path that led to the ladies' room, she encountered a blockade. "Aah! Hermione, what are you doing here?" She asked looking at Hermione who was bent in the shadows, her concentration clearly on the gathered Slytherins.

Hermione clamped her hands on Ginny's mouth and gestured her to stay quiet, turning her attention to the Slytherins. Hermione was determined that today at any cost, she would find something about Tracey Davis that could be used to keep her away from her plans and projects.

"So, Davis," Pansy started. "I never heard of your family. I'm quite curious to find out more about them. You see, we were given education about all the prominent Pureblood families since our childhood. I find it quite odd that your family's name never came up"

Tracey smile was clearly visible and Hermione knew what that smile meant. She had been on the receiving side of it, quite a few times. "You wouldn't know them. They are originally from France, we moved to Britain when I was still quite young. In fact, my aunt you might have heard of her, Adeline Andrè still lives there."

Pansy gasped at that, the drink spilling out of her mouth, while an unamused Blaise offered a napkin to her. "You know Adeline Andrè? She's one of the most sought after Fashion designers in Paris. In fact, this is one of her designs," she said pointing to her own dress.

Hermione saw Theo discreetly stroking Tracey's arm. She couldn't see Draco's expression as his face was the only one that was obscured from her vision.

"I know. But that was last season, wasn't it?" Tracey said raising an eyebrow running her eyes over Pansy's dress. Pansy grudgingly nodded while Tracey continued, "Don't worry, Parkinson. Perhaps, I can get you a pass to her next fashion exhibition."

"That would be great," Pansy said with a genuine smile.

"Aren't we a bit old to be eavesdropping on the Slytherins?" Ginny whispered in Hermione's ear.

"Hush, you," Hermione said her eyes fixed on their conversation. She couldn't understand Pansy's animosity towards Tracey. Weren't they all together at school?

"What made your parents leave France, in the first place? Is it because your father married a Muggle and he was outcast?" Blaise asked leaning back in his chair.

Hermione's eyes caught a sudden change in Theodore Nott's demeanor, she saw fury buried just below the surface. It was quite a surprise when Tracey gently covered Theo's hand with hers and spoke in a sweet voice. "My mother was a Muggle born, an extra ordinary one too. You could say, she was Hermione Granger of her time."

Blaise snorted at that, but Tracey remained undeterred.

"Are we eavesdropping?" Luna's dreamy voice joined Ginny's.

Ginny sniggered and whispered, "just luckily, overhearing."

"Girls," Hermione admonished moving further into the shadows. Her inquisitive mind didn't want to miss even a single word of their discussion.

"My parents are renowned counselors. They were invited to Britain by the Minister of Magic himself. Their counsel was quite sought after by many Pureblood families. I believe Lady Zabini was one of their clients. You should ask your mother, why she invested in ten hotels in Milan back then when no one knew it would turn into this massive fashion capital. Isn't it your major source of income that filled your vaults with gold?"

"Do you know Tracey is being considered for the position that oversees the Foreign revenue flowing into the country?" Theo said with a smug smile.

Blaise almost fell out of his chair at their words and even Hermione curled her lip in a small smile. Somehow it felt nice to hear her retorts to their taunts, even if Tracey and Hermione were at loggerheads for most of the time.

As the three Gryffindor girls moved to their destination, she heard Theo's words beaming with pride, "Isn't she great?"

Hermione's mind was still swirling around the Slytherins as she absentmindedly washed her hands. When she stopped to listen to Tracey, she thought she would be hearing some intricate details about her life, but not that bigoted nonsense.

"I'm truly sorry," Ginny said again. "But I promise it won't happen again."

"Ginny, please. It's not your fault," Hermione's voice echoed softly through the ladies' room as she explained for the tenth time. "It's my fault. I shouldn't have come since I knew Ron would be here."

"You should take it easy, Hermione," Luna said summoning a glass of water. She opened her bag and extracted a small vial that contained dried flowers. She dropped a few petals into the water and handed it to Hermione. "Drink up Hermione; it'll soothe you. Your head is full of Wrackspurts. This will help you drive them away."

Hermione skeptically accepted the glass and took a sip. A cool burst spread through her head and slowly slid down her throat. With a smile, she turned to Luna and said, "This is really good, thank you."

"Anytime, I told you it would help drive them away. All you needed was a little trust," Luna said putting the vial back into her bag.

Luna's words added to the confusion that was troubling already Hermione. "Did you see what happened there?"

"You mean the Slytherins? Who cares. Let it go," Ginny said applying another coat of lip gloss to her lips. "They live in their own pretty little world. They wanted the world to bend to their whims. Since that didn't happen, they are still dangling in there," she said smacking her lips together.

"But Tracey Davis is one of their own. Why were they treating her differently?"

"You heard it from horse's mouth itself, she's a halfblood," Ginny said shrugging her shoulders.

"What does that matter? There were quite a few halfbloods in Slytherin. Voldemort was a half blood and not to forget Professor Snape."

"No one knew You-know-who's blood status and they followed him like sheep," Ginny said wrapping her hand around Hermione's shoulders. "As for Snape, he might have been a halfblood but he had all the characteristics of a Pureblood snob."

"Snape was not an ordinary half-blood Hermione. He was exceptional," Luna said taking Ginny's lip gloss. She smeared it across her thumb and applied it to her cheeks. "I'd guess even Snape had to try very hard to be accepted by those Slytherins. I suppose his talents made him invaluable in their eyes, hence the respect. Their upbringing is different from ours. It's harsh to expect them to change overnight. Perhaps a new perspective or novel influence could help them."

"It's been six years, they had plenty of time," Hermione huffed. "Even after that, still hanging on to their stupid practices."

"Not all of them. Draco has changed, hasn't he?" Luna said and even Ginny raised an eyebrow at that.

"Well, he did seem interested in my project," Hermione fidgeted with her hands. "But that doesn't mean he's given up his prejudices."

"Everything has to start at some point," Luna smiled. "Perhaps you'll be that embarkation in his life."

"I highly doubt that" Hermione snorted and Ginny joined her. "You can't compare Draco Malfoy to Severus Snape. His love for Harry's mother is what made him overcome his prejudices. He didn't even care for his own safety when it came to her."

"Enough about Snape. I don't care he was a spy for the Order of the Phoenix and fought along with us. He was an awful person who was mean to all of us," Ginny exclaimed with a pout. "He made sure that anyone who wasn't in Slytherin had a bloody tough time."

"Be careful there, Gin. Harry holds him in a very high regard. After all, he sacrificed his own life for Harry. I won't be surprised if Harry pesters you about naming your kid, Snape."

Ginny hung her head low and muttered, "Severus, not Snape."

Hermione gasped in shock while Luna nodded her head thoughtfully. "It's a way to keep our loved ones close to us, even if they are very far away."

"Let's go, I want every little detail about Neville and Hannah. And I will have to have a word with Parkinson to keep her grabby hands away from Neville," Ginny said with a sigh, looping her hand through Luna's. They skipped away leaving Hermione to follow, as she stood there contemplating her opinion of Tracey Davis and her behavior and a certain blond Slytherin and his motives.

It didn't take long for Hermione to join her friends and slowly getting herself lost in the merry conversation going around their table. Ron was now seated between Ginny and Neville, leaving Hermione to sit between Harry and Luna. Though she found herself relieved in the beginning, the feeling began to subside when she noticed her eyes frequently ventured towards the Slytherin table, especially to Draco Malfoy. She wouldn't be lying if she said, she noticed his eyes glance her way occasionally. Luna's words lingered in Hermione's mind and she pinched the bridge of her nose; did she inadvertently ask Draco Malfoy out on a date?

Chapter Text

Shrill cries pierced Hermione's ears as she stepped out of the fireplace into the former ancestral home of the Black family. She cringed at the sound clamping her palms on her ears. Taking a deep breath, she popped one of her eyes open and roved it over the entire expanse of the living room in her best friend's house.

Everything was out of place. Cushions were strewn over, a vase with its flowers was lying broken on the floor, and there was debris of bits and pieces everywhere on the floor. Hermione's eyes widened as she looked at Ginny who was slumped on one of the armchairs with two hands protecting her ears.

As the shrieks came to a halt Hermione breathed, "What in the name of Merlin has happened here?"

"What do you think?" Ginny huffed.

"Ginny," Hermione said bunching her eyebrows. "Is it Kreacher?" It started to happen quite often. Whether it was because of his old age or something else, she didn't know. Whenever the elf started crying, the whole place would become a mess.

"Who else?" Ginny said. "I don't know what to do with him. Harry had ordered him to go back to Hogwarts. But any time we go near that damn wall of heads he pops back, claiming he's too old and wants his head to join the legacy of his mother."

"Oh, the poor thing," Hermione sighed.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Sometimes I wish Harry would listen to him and grant his wish. At least we would be rid of this nuisance."

"That's barbaric Ginny," Hermione sighed casting a concerned glance towards the stairs. "What did you do now? No, let me guess. Your infamous 'Reducto' again?"

"What infamous?" Ginny smirked. When Hermione glared she twirled a red lock with her finger. "I just wanted to make Harry happy."

"Nice try," Hermione growled. "I'm not Harry-the-boy-who-is-madly-in-love-with-you-Potter. What did you do?"

Ginny cast a downward glance and mumbled, "Not me. Mum said she had an idea."

"We talked about it," Hermione said moving towards the stairs. "He's been in this house for a very long time. You should consider his feelings before you try anything."

"Harry cringes whenever he looks at that disgusting display. I was just trying to help," Ginny said following her up the stairs. "Besides, it's mum's idea. They work almost every time."

"Almost," Hermione said under her breath as another set of cries reached her ears. "Kreacher," Hermione hurried.

She gasped when she saw Molly Weasley standing in front of the elf with her wand stretched out, while the old elf stood there bawling its eyes out. "Dirty blood traitors, sacrileging the ancient noble house of Black and master does nothing. Oh, what would my dear old Mistress say!"

"Step away," Molly brandished her wand. "Don't make me use this on you."

"Molly, please. That's enough," Hermione said rushing to the elf. "Just look at him," She pointed to the whimpering elf, trying to take his frail hand into hers.

"The Mudblood wants to help Kreacher. She's touching Kreacher with her dirty hands," Kreacher drew back, placing his hands protectively in front of the elf heads that were proudly displayed by Walburga Black. "You can't do anything to the prized possessions of my mistress as long as Kreacher's alive."

"You don't know anything about them, dear. That thing is insulting you. Each and every time you come to its rescue and that wretched thing hurls slurs at you," Molly said with a sigh shaking her head.

"Not it Molly, him," Hermione said raising her chin. "I'm sorry to say but I actually know quite a bit about them now," Hermione said stepping away from the elf. Kreacher sniffled away giving her a wary look. "Kreacher has every reason to defend his old Mistress. After all, it is only because of her he's been able to live this long."

"Well, that makes me hate that screeching banshee in the portrait even more," Ginny scrunched her face leaning on the wall that was far from the elf.

"That is all hogwash, my dear," Molly scoffed. "That vile woman abused this delirious elf and drove him into insanity."

"Actually," Hermione said folding her hands. "According to the earliest records, elves were one of the most vulnerable magical beings. They were very weak and very susceptible to disease. Helga Hufflepuff was the first to acknowledge the potential benefit to both elves and wizardkind by creating a magical connection between the two. The symbiotic partnership between an elf and a bonded witch or wizard is really quite fascinating. In fact, Helga was the first person to 'own' or rather 'partner' with a house elf."

"Hermione," Molly stopped her with an exhausted expression. "That's lovely, but it has nothing to do with this," Molly scrunched her face and pointed to the elf. "This is going to be Harry and Ginny's home. If they wanted these blasted things out of their home, they should be able to do it. As a friend, you should help them in achieving that, not interrupt them."

"Mum," Ginny's curt tone cut through the silence that pervaded like a dagger. "I agree with Hermione; let's leave it be for now."

"Of course dear. After all, it's going to be your home. I can only suggest," Molly said moving down the stairs. "Do join us for morning tea Hermione," her voice trailed off as the older lady moved further away towards the kitchen.

Hermione found it difficult to move her feet. All of a sudden, she felt like an outsider in her best friend's home. She bit her lip as the corners of her eyes crinkled. She saw Ginny consoling the elf, saying they wouldn't do anything to the wall. The elf nodded his head gingerly and vanished with a pop. Ginny then turned to Hermione and winked. "There, happy? Come on, let's have some tea. Mum brought treacle tarts."

"Ginny, I should go," Hermione said feeling uncomfortable.

"Don't you dare Hermione, you are always welcome in this house and you will always be family. Mum's just still upset that you and Ron didn't work out your differences," Ginny started to say holding her hand.

"I don't want to do this again," Hermione said pulling her hand back.

"Will you let me finish?" Ginny said keeping a tight hold on her hand with her Weasley temper dancing in her eyes. "We all made peace with the fact that you both are happy like this. The awkwardness of that evening at Leaky Cauldron was a very good eye opener for all of us. Unfortunately, she didn't see that and still hanging to that little thread of hope."

Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. "You know I'm not upset about Molly. It's just that, why is she thinking that I'm solely responsible for this?"

Ginny gave out a throaty chuckle. "Believe me, she's not. Ron got a good earful last Sunday. Compared to that, this is nothing. Now stop those churning wheels in your brain and come on. We have loads to do this afternoon. The appointment at Twilfitt and Tattings is going to start soon and I don't want to be late. I hear the new wedding collection is simply amazing and Luna said she's okay with whatever we pick." Ginny babbled away garnering Hermione's attention. Hermione schooled her mind, thinking about her promise to her friend to be a good maid of honor.

Hermione slowly took out her notepad and a pencil and started taking notes, as they got themselves seated around the dining table. One glance at the living room told her that it was back to its normal condition with everything in its own place, clearly showing Molly's work.

"About the cake," Ginny said taking a large bite of her treacle tart. "I was thinking about an ice cream cake from Florean Fortescue. I heard they are a huge hit nowadays."

Hermione nodded her approval. After the war, Florean Fortescue's grandson reopened the famous ice cream shop honoring the name of his grand father. He introduced a variety of new flavors and was an instant hit. She made a quick note thinking about scheduling a tasting as soon as possible.

"Ginny, you shouldn't be spending that much on a cake. Those hideous ice-cream cake monstrosities are overpriced," Molly interrupted.

Hermione bit back a retort, as the elder Weasley's words were still buzzing in her ears. That wasn't the first time Molly had made her feel out of place. But there was truth in Ginny's words. Molly was extremely disappointed when Ron and she called it quits and she still believed if they put effort into their relationship, things would get better.

Hermione cut a small sliver of her own tart and placed in her mouth. "This is delicious Molly."

"Take a big bite, Hermione. You hardly eat anything. I would love to see some meat on those bones," she admonished in a heart warming tone.

"You are right, mum," Ginny said grabbing a small cake from the plate and shoved into Hermione's mouth.

"Gnn," Hermione mumbled, glaring at her friend, who was laughing at the sight of Hermione with her chipmunk cheeks.

"Enough with your childish tactics, Ginny. Can you believe this girl is getting married in two months?" Molly whimpered brushing away few tears from her eyes. "I still remember you as that tiny little girl, blushing at the very sight of Harry Potter on platform nine and three-quarters. And here you are marrying him, your first love."

"Stop it, mum."

Hermione noticed twin red spots on Ginny's cheeks at her mother's words and she nodded her head in agreement. "Yes. They both have grown into these wonderful people, who are going a start a beautiful future together. I'm so happy for you, Gin."

"Not you too, Hermione," Ginny said with a pout. "We have to go."

"Of course, dear," Molly said encouraging the girls to help themselves to a few more bites.

It was getting difficult for Hermione to stomach any more food. She didn't understand if it was Molly's words about first love or her own state of mind that brought on this feeling. There was a tiny bit of anxiety in her, looking at her friend's blissful state. Will she ever find that kind of love?

Interrupting their discussion, an eagle owl swooped through the open window and landed on Hermione's side. The three women at the table jumped a little at the sudden intrusion, while the owl gave an exasperated glance extending the letter in his beak towards Hermione. As the letter got transferred to Hermione's hands it didn't wait for another second, taking off in the same direction.

"Is it work, dear?" Molly asked looking skeptically at the letter.

"Yes," Hermione said looking at the curved M, emblazoned on the wax seal.

"It's Saturday for Merlin's sake. Who is trying to get a hold of you on a weekend?" Ginny said eyeing the cream colored note.

"It's Draco Malfoy," Hermione breaking the seal. She unfolded the missive, completely unaware of the skeptic glances the Weasley women shared. A smile tugged her lips as she read the words. Malfoys and their propensity towards extravagance. Seriously, who would get a reservation at an expensive restaurant for a business dinner? She folded it back and tucked it into her bag. She lifted her gaze catching on the confused expressions on Molly and Ginny's faces. "What?"

"Why is Malfoy writing to you?" Ginny asked pointing to the letter.

"It's about a business meeting," Hermione waved it off. "I already told you the Malfoys are funding my project. We are meeting over dinner to discuss few things."

"Dinner?" Ginny's eyes widened.

"A business dinner."

"Hermione, are they funding your project for elves?" Molly asked pouring tea into their cups.

"Yes," Hermione said taking the cup. "I had my doubts, but Malfoy seemed really dedicated. He lent me books to improve my understanding of them. I can honestly say, they have been a great help."

"Hermione, you know I always considered you as my daughter," Molly said with a concerned look.

"Of course, Molly," Hermione smiled.

"Don't believe them, dear. I don't know about Draco, but Lucius and Narcissa can never be trusted. They are arrogant, conniving, and prejudiced. Even though Voldemort is defeated they are still rolling in their pureblood practices."

"I appreciate your concern, Molly. But I'm not dealing with his parents. My meeting's with Draco. He had been nothing but helpful since the time we started this collaboration."

"Yes, Mum. Hermione's right. Even Neville told me the ferret helped him during the school year. I'm sure, if he tried to pull any kind of bigotry nonsense, Hermione can put him right back in his place."

Hermione blushed when Ginny took her down the memory lane back to their third year when she'd punched Malfoy's face. Yes, he certainly wasn't that boy anymore.

Ginny's new status as an esteemed player of Holyhead Harpies gained her a lot of attention. On top of that, she didn't hesitate to flash her new ring as the chosen one's Fiancé to get things done right. As a result of that, they were now seated in a special chamber on the upper floor in Twilfitt and Tattings with bubbling Champagne in their hands, looking leisurely at the brochures that displayed a lovely collection of wedding dresses.

Molly's exhilaration was clear whenever she came across a dress with lots of puffy layers or stuffed with shiny gems and beads. Ginny rolled her eyes and moved on.

"They all look so stuffy," Ginny said, closing the third brochure. "How can anyone stay in them?"

"What exactly are you looking for?" Hermione asked looking at the last brochure in the pile, that sported unconventional styles. "You might like one of these," she said taking it into her hands.

"Hermione, a traditional wedding dress is supposed to be white, not cream or gold or silver," Molly said with a look of distaste, as Hermione turned over each page.

Ginny bit her lip and looked over each new page with a renewed curiosity. Her eyes shone whenever a beautiful style unveiled. "Forget tradition, just look at this, mum."

Even Molly's mouth dropped open when they saw beautiful off shoulder cream dress.

"Beautiful," she whispered, running her fingers on the page. "But I still say, it would've been divine if it was in white."

Ginny placed a smacking kiss on her mother's cheeks and rushed to the girl who stood there patiently waiting for Harry Potter's Fiancée to choose a dress.

Hermione smiled happily checking 'wedding dress for bride' off her list, as the mother and daughter talked excitedly to the bridal consultant. Her eyes wandered to the front of the shop as she heard raised voices. She walked towards glass windows and took a peek at the reception area. To her shock, it was none other Draco Malfoy. He stood there silently, his hands tucked in his pockets and his expression bored. He didn't notice her, his concentration else where.

Hermione recalled the letter she received earlier that afternoon and thought about of giving her answer in person. "Ginny, I'll be back in a minute." She snorted looking at the excitement of Ginny, as she nodded her head absent mindedly.

"How dare you talk to me in this way?" a sharp voice reached Hermione's ears as she reached the bottom of the stairs. "Do you know how much business you've had thanks to our family?" Hermione stopped in her step seeing Narcissa Malfoy speaking to the lady in a cold tone. "I demand to see your Madame, right away. Tell her, Narcissa Malfoy wishes to speak with her."

"Of course Ma'am. Please take a seat," a trembling voice replied.

Hermione immediately took a step back sensing it was neither the right time nor the right place to have a conversation with Draco Malfoy, especially in front of his mother. Unfortunately, her movement caught Draco's attention and he raised an eyebrow at her. She gave an awkward smile and started to turn away.

"Granger."

Hermione stopped in her step and sighed. Now she has to face the judgmental looks of the Lady Malfoy while trying to carry on a civil discussion with her son. She bit back the curse that tried to slip out of her mouth and plastered a smile, "Malfoy." Hermione knew from her peripherals his mother was waiting for an introduction.

But to her astonishment, Malfoy spoke in the same baritone voice, "Mother, you remember Hermione Granger?"

"Quite well Draco," Narcissa spoke with an appreciative glance towards her son. "How do you do, Ms. Granger?"

"Quite well. Thank you, Mrs. Malfoy. What brings you here today?" Hermione asked politely.

"It's a usual shopping day," Narcissa said flippantly. "and yourself? I presume the same."

"Well, not exactly. I'm here with Ginny Weasley shopping for her wedding dress."

"How lovely," Narcissa said going back to her cold voice. "Then don't let us keep you then. Draco why don't you escort Ms. Granger back to the wedding section."

"Oh, no. That's not needed," Hermione said with wide eyes.

"Mother?" Draco asked narrowing her eyes.

"Don't keep the girl waiting, Draco. She had taken time from her friends to come and greet you," Narcissa turned away ending the discussion.

Hermione cringed at her wording and looked at Draco. She saw he was in no better position. "Let's go," he said in a resigned tone, leading the way.

Hermione closed her eyes and slowly fell into step with him. "Do you always accompany your mother for her shopping?" she asked not a minute later. She expected him to get all embarrassed about the situation but his posture remained stoic as he answered without even looking at her.

"Seeing that she no longer has the advantage of going anywhere she wants unless accompanied by someone, I see no other option, Granger."

"What do you mean?"

"She fell victim to her own actions, Granger. She should've anticipated the consequences of lying to the Dark Lord."

"About Harry," she gasped. "Did someone attack her?"

Draco nodded providing no further information.

Hermione stopped herself from asking more. "Did you contact the Aurors about it?"

Draco scoffed at her words. "Do you think the ministry would've bothered enough to provide her with security? Wake up, Granger. According to them, we are second class citizens."

"That's horrible. I'll have to talk to Kingsley about this." Hermione was baffled. She didn't know things were this pathetic.

"Don't bother," Draco said curtly avoiding her gaze.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know," she immediately said with concern.

"You didn't cause it, why are you saying sorry?" he smirked.

"It's called courtesy, Malfoy," she snapped and skipped up the stairs, moving in front of him.

"Why did you come to meet me?" he asked from behind her.

"Oh, right. I forgot," she stopped and turned towards him. "I received your owl. I just wanted to say I'm fine with it."

He nodded and asked, "When should I arrive to pick you up?"

Why was he being this courteous as if he was picking her up for a date? "I know the place. It's actually quite close to where I live. Don't worry about it," Hermione said nonchalantly. Draco seemed frozen in his spot at her answer. "What is it?" she asked confused by his reactions.

"Not important, I'll see you then?" Draco said quickly ascending the last few stairs and opened the door that led to the wedding section.

"Thank you," Hermione smiled and proceeded inside, while Draco retreated towards the reception area.

"Was that the younger Malfoy?" Molly's voice drew her back to the reality. "What is he doing here?"

"He's accompanying his mother. He told me that his mother needs to be accompanied because of threats."

"Serves them well," Molly said with a huff. "If you ask me, their punishments are quite moderate for all the awful things they have done."

Hermione didn't quite agree, but she kept quiet. Narcissa Malfoy was definitely held in some esteem in Hermione's eyes after learning of the risk she took by lying and being partially responsible for saving Harry's life. That was the reason she supported Harry and his testimonies that played a major role in the Malfoys' case. She looked beyond Molly and inquired. "Where's Ginny? Do they have the dress, here?"

Molly's face brightened instantly. "Oh, yes! The dressers even agreed to make it in white. But Ginny is adamant that she needs it in cream color. Come on, Hermione. You are the only one who could convince her."

She pushed her thoughts about Malfoys into the recesses of her brain and dragged her feet, considering her thoughts of whether to talk to Ginny that white would be better or talk to Molly to let her daughter decide what would be the best. Both of them seemed equally daunting.

Chapter Text

Draco took a deep breath and stepped out of the dark lane he apparated into. He could see the restaurant from the corner of his eye where he was supposed to meet Hermione Granger. He clutched the bouquet of flowers that were handed over by his mother and proceeded towards his destination.

"Malfoy?" a tentative voice called him.

Draco turned around with a confused expression. Wasn't she supposed to meet him at the restaurant? "I thought we were meeting at the restaurant. I don't recollect any plans to walk there together."

Hermione rolled her eyes and hurried towards him, holding a beaded bag in her hand. "I told you, I live nearby." She pointed to a block of flats at the end of the lane. "I saw you apparate when I was getting out of my building." Her eyes slowly moved to the flowers in his hand. "Why did you bring flowers?" She asked as she felt her heart race a little bit faster.

Draco pursed his lips and extended his hand towards her, "For you."

"Do you always bring a bunch of flowers to a business dinner?" she asked with a playful smile but her eyes remained on the bunch that was tightly held within his grip. "Where did you get Daffodils at this time of the year?" Her hands still remained at her sides as she made no attempt to take them.

"My mother grows them in her garden," Draco said looking at her hesitating eyes. "New beginnings?" He mumbled lifting the golden bunch hoping she understood the exact meaning of bringing Daffodils.

"New beginnings," she beamed taking the delicate bunch into her hands. "They are lovely. Please do convey my thanks to her."

Draco nodded his head and they both fell into an uncomfortable silence as they began walking towards the restaurant. Draco resisted his instinctive urge to offer the crook of his elbow to her, as they walked. But as he regarded her from the corner of his eye, he couldn't help but smile seeing her attire. All the girls who he had taken out for a dinner or any fancy before never wasted an opportunity to show off in this kind of situations; yet here she was, in a very practical dress with her short hair tied up into a messy bun. He noticed it wasn't much different to the look he had seen her wearing to work. They both were on the same page. The small fear in the back of his mind, that she might think it was a date slowly vanished. They both clearly knew this was to be nothing more than a business dinner.

"Do you come here, often?" she asked as they approached the door that led to the restaurant.

"I have been here a few times," he said opening the door and waited for her to enter.

"You don't need to do that, every time," she said tucking a curl behind her ear. "But, thank you."

Puzzled by Malfoy's actions, Hemione began to pour over the details of the evening thus far. Picking an expensive restaurant, offering to pick her up, bringing flowers and not to forget this uncharacteristically chivalrous behavior. Hemione's overactive brain couldn't help but speculate about the changes she was seeing in the Malfoy heir. What exactly is on his mind? She couldn't stop thinking as the pair entered the dimly lit restaurant.

While Hermione fidgeted with the flower bouquet in her hands, Draco turned to the hostess who approached him hurriedly. "Mr. Malfoy, please welcome. Your table's this way." Draco gave a curt nod to the over-enthusiastic woman who had eyes only for him, as she guided the way. Once at the table she gave a flirtatious smile pointing to the chairs. He cringed at her actions. This wasn't the first time he encountered such a forward gesture. After his breakup with Astoria, there were far too many occasions where he had to dodge this kind of advances. "Please let me know if you need anything."

"We will. Now if you please excuse us, we have a lot to discuss," Hermione said sitting in the chair gracefully pulled out by Draco. More unnecessary chivalry, she cringed.

The Hostess gasped, "Hermione Granger." She looked at Draco and asked in a squeaky voice, "How lovely, are you here for your first date?"

Her shrill cry rang through the restaurant and everyone's heads turned towards them. Draco and Hermione looked at each other with widened eyes at this new development. But Hermione recovered quickly and snapped. "That is none of your business. But let me be clear, we are here for a business meeting and we'll appreciate if you keep your baseless questions to yourself and leave us."

The Hostess eyed the flowers with a skeptic glance but didn't say anything. "Of course. Ms. Granger, Mr. Malfoy, we hope have you a pleasant dining experience. One of our waiters will be with you very soon," she said with a troubled smile and scampered out of there.

"Take your time and don't disturb us until it is necessary," Malfoy smirked at the way Granger handled the little bint. He leaned back in his chair and asked, "Where shall we begin?"

"There are so many things I want to discuss. I don't know where to begin," she said rubbing her palms together.

"How about with a nice wine," Draco said taking the wine menu into his hands. He needed alcohol in his system before delving into deep discussions with a knowledge obsessed bookworm.

"That sounds great," Hermione said absentmindedly. She then reached into her tiny beaded bag and started to pull out something. But to Draco's astonishment, a notepad too large to fit in that tiny bag of hers started to emerge, along with a shiny stick thing with a pointy end.

Wine menu completely forgotten, he exclaimed, "That's a pretty neat trick, Granger. A compression charm?"

"Not exactly. An undetectable extension on the bag. Saved us a lot of time back then."

Draco raised an eyebrow in appraisal. "What's that?" He asked taking the small stick like pointy thing into his hands expecting to see some kind of charm on it.

"It's a fountain pen. Muggles use them to write. It's not practical to carry an ink pot and a quill, wherever I go."

Draco curbed his instinct to drop the muggle thing, recognizing it was likely an expensive item. Looking at the revered look in her eyes, he knew he'd made the correct choice. He handed it over to her waiting fingers and said, "We have self-inking quills, there isn't any need to resort to Muggle inventions."

"True, but this is more convenient to carry and it was a gift from my father."

"I see," he mumbled. Clearing his throat and turned his attention to the forgotten menu in his hands, "how about a nice Pinot Noir?"

"Do you know most producers prefer to call it a red burgundy instead of Pinot Noir?"

"And why is that, Ms. Wine expert?"

"They want to give importance to the region where it comes from. Just like the cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano," she said with a smile.

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Good evening, how may I help you today?" The waiter appeared by their table.

"I think we need a moment," Draco said passing the food menu to Hermione.

"No need. I'll have a glazed salmon with spiced carrots," she said passing it back to Draco. "Go ahead."

"That's an excellent choice, Ms. Granger," the waiter turned to Draco with an expectant look. "Can I make a suggestion, Mr. Malfoy. The chef's special is quite spectacular."

"No," Draco cut him off. "I'll have seared duck with roasted figs. And a bottle of your finest Pinot Noir, sorry a red burgundy," Draco handed the menu back to the waiter. "That will be all," he said quietly dismissing him.

"Good choice there, not taking the chef's special. I used to tell Ron all the time, but he never listened. Always enamored by the fancy descriptions the waiter laid in front of him," she stopped suddenly and Draco saw realization dawn on her face that she was talking about her ex during what was essentially a business meeting.

"I know what a chef's special entails. I wouldn't risk it. Now you said, you had questions."

"Oh, so many," she said flipping to the first page. "But before we begin," she folded her hands and said in a low voice, "explain Dobby."

Draco knew they would be coming to this at some point in their conversations and he was prepared. He licked his lips and leaned forward, "Dobby was my father's personal elf, his second elf to be exact. From my mother's stories, I came to know that my father was quite fond of his first elf. He was what everything a house elf has to be. During the first war, my father used to take the elf with him on his," he cleared his throat, "duties. He never dared object when the Dark Lord started using that elf for his own tasks, even though they were quite unpleasant. The unfortunate creature thought its master would save him from all those atrocities, but he didn't, rather couldn't. My father knew very well what happened to those who interfered with the Dark Lord's plans."

"What happened after?" Hermione asked her attention completely fixed on him.

"The wine happened," he said looking beyond her.

"What?" she asked, confused for a moment.

"The wine, Granger. It's here," he said with a smirk.

She rolled her eyes and smiled at the waiter who stood before them with their requested bottle. "Thank you," she said impatiently. As soon as the waiter moved on, she asked, "then?"

"It's a good vintage, we'll need to commend the sommelier," Draco said savoring the taste of the light wine.

"It's all great, now would you continue?" she said her impatience getting the better of her.

"What's got your knickers in a twist, Granger? I've no intention of leaving until I've answered all your questions. Now relax and enjoy the wine," Hermione glared at him but took a sip of her wine. "Now where were we? Ah! Yes, Dobby. Shortly before the Dark Lord was first defeated, he killed my father's elf in a fit of rage. My grandfather was disgusted that my father had allowed a Malfoy elf to be killed, and then had Dobby bonded to my father as his second personal elf."

"About that, I read about the connection and how Helga Hufflepuff was the first one who bonded with a house elf. It's really fascinating to know how it began. I always thought wizards had established these things to take advantage of the house elves, but I was shocked to know the truth that these bonds were initiated for the benefit of elves, most precisely to improve their life expectancy."

"I knew you were lacking the appropriate knowledge when it came to elves, Granger. Thank you for confirming that."

Hermione rolled her eyes and continued. "I've always wondered about how offering clothes to an elf would give them their freedom. But it totally makes sense." Her eyes were sparkling with jubilation. "I've always admired the unique traits of all the founders; well, not Salazar Slytherin." It was now Draco's turn to roll his eyes. "But the kindness in Helga Hufflepuff's actions only increases my admiration for her."

"She founded Hufflepuff, Granger. What would you expect?"

"It's just that using a gift of clothes to remove a bond is such a brilliant and kind gesture. Without a magical bond an elf isn't as strong; so giving them clothes is symbolic of a wizard giving the elf a parting gift as well as something that will protect them against the elements." Hermione's eyes were alight with unrestrained emotion, in that moment she looked completely open and beautiful. Draco stayed mute marveling at her. Hermione didn't notice as she went on musing. "It's like giving someone a coat when you know they are heading out into the cold. Preparing them before they venture into the outside world to face it on their own; it's just such a beautiful sentiment." she trailed off realizing her complete lack of professionalism and cleared her throat, "Sorry."

He schooled his reactions and gave her a smirk. "I'm glad a person from Salazar Slytherin's house was able to present you with the knowledge about it. And for your information, I've read most of the books in my Library."

"Oh, shut it Malfoy," Hermione waved him off. "Who would've thought that you'd ever read a book on house elves, knowing how Dobby was treated by your family."

"Careful there, Granger. You know nothing about Malfoy elves except for Dobby and he was not a proper example of how we usually treat them. I won't deny, my father can be a very cruel man. He saw Dobby as a punishment from his father for allowing the Dark Lord to kill his first elf. With the Dark Lord's fall at the hands of an infant Potter, he directed his frustration towards Dobby, and over time it simply became the norm for all of us."

"That's no excuse, and would you stop calling him Dark Lord. Voldemort's gone, Malfoy. Fear of the name increases the fear of the thing itself, which is non-existent in this case." Hermione corrected him, but she couldn't help but appreciate the fact that he didn't sugarcoat his family's treatment of Dobby. The bold Gryffindor part of her heart understood the step he had taken wasn't easy for him.

Draco took a deep breath and sighed. "It's not as easy as you make it seem Granger. 'He' is not a fear easily forgotten. Also, if you'd stop interrupting me, we'll be able to leave the restaurant at a reasonable hour instead of being stuck here the whole night."

She slumped her shoulders and gestured him to continue, grumbling under her breath. But as the waiter arrived with their dinners, their conversation again took a back seat.

"Everything looks so great and I'm starving," she said digging in. Draco suppressed a snigger, looking at her enjoying the food with tenacity. She caught his eye and blushed. "It's really good. Sorry, I just got carried away," she said munching a piece of carrot. She licked the spice that lingered on her lips, the action that wasn't missed by Draco as she savored it closing her eyes. "It's definitely Ron's influence. I guess that's what happens when you live together for so long."

"Why did you break up with him then?" Draco asked with a surprise that she was discussing this with him, slicing a tiny sliver of his seared duck.

"Just drifted apart," she said taking a gulp of her wine. "Were you told as a child, that presence of an elf in your life stabilized your magic and minimised the accidental outbursts."

"No," he said in a curt voice. "It was much later I came to know about it. To be precise, after Dobby was freed by Potter."

"See, we have to something about this dismal situation. People should be made knowledgeable about this symbiotic relationship, Malfoy," Hermione spoke her food completely forgotten. "We can't let the wand wielders take advantage of the elves."

"I suppose, that's the final goal of your project. But before you indulge in fervent proclamations, may I continue about Dobby?" He said pointing at her plate.

"Of course, please," she said getting back to her food.

"He rushed to Potter when he heard about plans bringing You-know-who, back. Dobby knew of the horrors that happened to elves and wizards alike during the first wizarding war and that Harry Potter had stopped that. So he was determined to protect Potter. Even while bonded to my father, he wanted to be free so he could be bonded to a different master. Once Potter had freed him, he started to act as if the boy-who-lived was his master. Dobby felt he was indebted to Harry Potter and rushed to him whenever he felt he was in danger. It's possible he was never truly free but simply transferred or formed a new bond with Potter. That's the true nature of a house elf, Granger."

"That's totally unfair. Poor thing, he proudly proclaimed he was free but he might have still been unknowingly bonded to a wizard. Of course, he was bonded to a better wizard, but it was still servitude."

"Let me stop you right there," Draco said finishing the last piece of meat on his plate. "Why don't we go back to our fourth year. What was the society you formed for the elves?" Draco asked wiping his mouth with the napkin.

"S.P.E.W."

"Care to expand it?" He had acquired full knowledge about her little society and now it was his turn to make her understand the real purpose of her little effort.

"Society for the promotion of Elfish Welfare," she said extending her glass when Draco moved to fill the now empty crystalline vessel.

"Long story short, you have started this whole thing for the welfare of the elves. It's not about freedom, Granger. Through these bonds, both the elves and wizards are benefitted. So why force them to be free. As you said, it should be about their welfare, isn't it?"

Hermione paused and Draco leaned back into his chair. A triumphant smirk graced his lips for having rendered her speechless. He could imagine the wheels turning in her head and he was happy he had accomplished his goal.

"Dessert for the evening, Mr. Malfoy," the waiter was beside them.

"I'll have a Cranachan and Granger…," he trailed off looking at Hermione. She was still lost in her own world oblivious to the transaction between the waiter and Draco. "Granger, your choice of dessert?"

"What?" she realized the presence of the waiter and cleared her throat, "I'm good, thanks."

"Are you sure? You said you were starving."

"No, I don't think I can take in a full plate of dessert after the Salmon."

"In that case, may I suggest this beautiful dish our chef creates, which could be shared between two," he said with a wink. "Quite a popular dish among the young couples who usually come here," the waiter tried again.

"No," they both chorused.

"For Salazar sake, please just order a dessert Granger," Draco said gesturing to the person beside them.

"I'll have a chocolate éclair then," she said effectively dismissing another suggestion that was about to spout from the waiter's mouth.

As they waited for their desserts they fell into an easy conversation. Hermione Granger was, to Draco's surprise, an adept conversationalist. Despite the nature of their past interactions and contrasting viewpoints, it became obvious that they were not as dissimilar as expected. Her willingness to share little tidbits of information and knowledge, while annoying, was not without its charm. If only she could curb some of her Gryffindor forcefulness, Hermione Granger would make an ideal companion.

Draco found himself disturbed by the effect this forced association with Hermione seemed to be having on him. Was he truly enjoying her company? The notion of becoming a blood traitor because of Granger was still unacceptable. Escaping this match without earning his father's ire would have to become more of a priority, lest he somehow falls victim to her charms.

"Honestly Malfoy, I was the one who suggested this dinner. It's only fair I have to pay for it," she said folding her hands. She didn't realize it was this late into the night until she found out the place was almost empty. Talking to Malfoy had been quite an intriguing experience. He never appeared bored or disinterested when trivial details about insignificant things slipped out of her mouth. Furthermore, he offered his own quips and challenged her with different perspectives. She could honestly say, she had never had a business dinner in such an intimate setting nor had she ever enjoyed a night out this much in recent history.

Draco gave her an incredulous look. "I don't know how it works in the muggle world, but here we don't let a lady pay for a dinner."

"Don't you patronize me Malfoy."

"This is called chivalry Granger. I'm not patronizing you. It must seem like a foreign concept after so many years with the Weasel," Draco said dropping a handful of galleons in the plate. Hermione wanted to share a fair retort of her own at his usage of Ron's name but there were more important things at hand. She tried her best to object but Draco got out of the chair ending their discussion. He picked up the forgotten flowers and handed them to her, letting her guide both of them to the exit. As he unconsciously reached for the door to open, Hermione bit back her snigger. Seriously, it was getting a bit too much. Were all the pureblood girls this lazy to always look for some guy to open the doors for them? She chuckled and followed into the night.

Draco noticed that it had definitely got chillier and the evidence was dancing on her arms in the form of Goosebumps.

"Thank you for the dinner and your time. You cleared so many of my doubts," she said rubbing her palms over her bare upper arms. Why the hell did she forget to bring her coat or at least a stole? She gave him a curt nod and turned towards her home.

"Granger, aren't you going to apparate?" Draco asked averting his eyes from her arms to her face.

"It's quite close Malfoy, I prefer to walk."

"Allow me to escort you then," he said involuntarily tracing her steps, cursing his chivalry.

This was getting too uncomfortable. Now, is he walking her home? She gave him a skeptic smile and waited for him to join her. "You never told me where you got all those books you sent me?" she asked as they fell into step.

"They are all mostly journals, documented over the years by pureblood families," he said offering his arm, involuntarily.

"All the pureblood families or just yours?" she looped her wrist around his offered arm, pondering his words. Both of them remained oblivious to this strange occurrence as their words continued to engage them.

"All of them, Granger. Most of them didn't care about that knowledge anymore. So the Malfoys claimed that wealth."

"Instead of donating that knowledge to the ministry and sharing it with the world, you took it for yourselves," she said in an accusatory tone. She closed her eyes and shivered when a slow chilly breeze passed over them. She realized where her hand was, and slowly withdrew it back with a tentative smile. Draco gulped as his attention was drawn to the stray wisps that have managed to escape her bun and were now dancing delicately in the breeze. Was she cold? Should he offer his coat? Questions began to run over his mind. "I call it stealing, Malfoy," she said hugging herself as her feet moved forward.

"Not exactly," he said absentmindedly, noticing the tiny hair on the nape of her neck stood to prominence, bringing his attention to the long column of her neck. He bit back a curse, shrugged his coat off and put it on her shoulders.

She stopped suddenly in her step as her heart jumped into her throat. She bit her lip and dared a look at him.

"You were obviously cold, and I'll not have you blaming me for getting sick," he said authoritatively.

"Thanks," she mumbled now hugging his coat closer. A sharp scent of pine needles invaded her nostrils making her head swim and the delicate flowers in her hands suffered for it as she gripped them tighter. Why was he able to affect her her so much? She sucked in a sharp breath and moved forward, hurriedly. Even though there walking two feet apart, his proximity was making her confused. She shook off her thoughts and looked at him. "You should share that knowledge with the world, Malfoy. Everyone should be able to access it."

"These journals are from families like the Lestranges, Carrows, and Rowles. If I agree to what you said and take them to the ministry, what do you think they'll do to the things that belonged to a Death Eater?"

Hermione's eyes widened, "They'll destroy them."

"I rest my case," he said coming to a stop in front of her building. One look at the housing area told him, it was one of the more recent constructions that didn't come cheap. Wandering his gaze across the posh building he followed her inside the gate. The place though it looked safe and secure, appeared solitary.

"I think you did a good thing, preserving all that knowledge," she said taking off his coat.

"I try. Keep it. You can give it back to me at your door."

"It's alright, Malfoy. I can go from here," she said pushing the coat into his hands.

"Are you sure?" he said glancing around. None of his dates dismissed an act of chivalry and here she was questioning his each and every move. Was he calling this entire ordeal, a date? Definitely not. Even though his actions and her reactions are screaming a big yes, this was a business dinner, not a...

"Yes," she said with a smirk, trying to understand why he's acting like he cared about her.

"Okay then," he said putting the coat back on, noticing its extra warmth and the added hint of orange blossoms.

"Thank you, Malfoy. I really had a great time," she smiled. "I never thought I would. But surprisingly you are a good business partner."

Draco stood there contemplating to how to answer her with a witty remark and then the unthinkable happened. She stood up on her toes and pressed her lips to his cheek. Before his mind registered what had happened, she vanished up the stairs.

Chapter Text

 

Their footsteps were muffled on the fallen leaves as they walked side by side. From the corner of her eye, Hermione couldn't help but notice her companion's smile. She'd first taken note of it during dinner. It was a lovely smile; warm, yet still somewhat alluring, all the while still holding a hint of playful mischievousness.

Without a word, they came to an abrupt halt and stood, facing each other. Hermione could hear her own heartbeat as it thudded against her chest. She felt fingers close on her wrist as he gently tugged her closer. The warmth from the place he held her, spread through her entire body and her eyelids started to flutter as he saw his face appear closer. Dreamy golden eyes surrounded by orange hair made her sigh.

Hold on, aren't they supposed to be grey and white-blond? Also, why was his face covered in fur? Hermione's eyes snapped open.

"Crooks, old boy," she relaxed immediately and smiled at her cat who was now lying on her chest, staring into her face. She nuzzled the cat pulling him into her cozy blanket. "Breakfast time?" she cooed holding Crookshanks' squashed face between her palms. When the cat growled Hermione couldn't help but scoff, as the absurd dream sequence flashed in front of her eyes. She pushed her blanket off and got down from the bed. With the cat trudging behind her, she moved to the kitchen. After securing a plate for her half-Kneazle pet, she rushed off to brush her teeth. With the toothbrush lazily massaging her teeth, Hemione's thoughts wandered to the odd events of the last evening. Somehow, she had ended up enjoying an evening out with Draco Malfoy, to say nothing of this morning's silly fantasy.

Did she really dream Draco Malfoy was kissing her? She splashed her face with water and took a look at herself in the mirror. Although she wasn't as well rested as she would've liked, Hermione was surprised to notice a telltale spark in her eyes. The night out had done her far more good than she expected. The business dinner had seemed like such a bad idea, but apparently, an evening with Draco Malfoy was all she needed to reignite the fire inside. Hermione shook her head trying to rid herself of such a silly notion. It was one thing to have enjoyed his company, it was quite another to be having dreams of kissing the man. Not only was it highly unethical, given that he was her business partner, but it was also Malfoy of all people. Still, she couldn't help a fleeting thought of how his lips might feel on her skin. "Bad Hermione," she chided herself and moved to the kitchen.

She put the kettle on for a fresh pot of coffee and prepared a plate of fruit for breakfast.

A small tap at the window dragged her attention to a small tawny owl, carrying the morning edition of Daily Prophet. It was difficult to keep up with the regular happenings around the wizarding world while being a part of the ministry. So her subscription to that newspaper was compulsory, even if its pages were often filled with utter nonsense.

Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she sat down at the table to peruse the falsehoods of today's Daily Prophet. She scoffed at the latest rumors about Harry and Ginny and skipped over the pointless quidditch news, it wasn't until her eyes came to a picture just beyond the cover that her mood turned sour.

"Love Conquers"

The future we've dreamed of may be closer than we thought. The divisions created by war are healing and the terrible influence of You-know-who and his acolytes has never seemed so far away. The proof stands right in front of our eyes. Last Night, The Gilded Grove played host to an intimate dinner between the most unlikely pair. Draco Malfoy, reformed Death Eater, and son of noted pureblood Lucius Malfoy were seen in the company of none other than our own Muggle-born War Heroine and Champion of the Downtrodden, Hermione Granger.

According to sources, Mr. Malfoy was the perfect gentleman all evening creating a very intimate and romantic atmosphere around the couple. "They both said, it was just a business dinner but he gave her the most beautiful bouquet of daffodils I've ever seen." the hostess proclaimed. Our readers needn't be reminded that daffodils are a flower that symbolizes new beginnings. The couple reportedly spent several hours in deep discussion, and the young Mr. Malfoy was even seen giving his coat to Ms. Granger shortly after they'd left the restaurant. It seems the handsome pureblood scion may have fallen prey to the charms of our own Muggleborn heroine.

What sort of new beginnings await these two, only time will tell, but we here at the Daily Prophet hope that love will conquer and are committed to following this unlikely romance as it develops.

Hermione gulped looking at the moving pictures that accompanied the must have followed them outside, and if pictures were taken, why the bloody hell they didn't see a flash? Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the edge of the table. Anger flared in her eyes, followed by a sudden realization that the whole wizarding world had seen this by now.

She groaned and banged her head on the table. This is going to be such a disaster. By this time all her friends would've seen this and she nervously looked at her fireplace, expecting someone to pop out. She needn't wait, as a telltale flash of green flames soon filled the room. She closed her eyes hoping it was Harry Potter, whom she could manage. Regrettably, she wasn't so lucky as his soon to be wife emerged from the verdant plume.

"Got a minute?" Ginny approached with a predatory smile.

"Go away," Hermione groaned without lifting her head from her dining table.

"Not today honey. We've both got big plans."

Hermione sighed pushing her hair away from her vision and looked at the sparkling eyes of soon to be Mrs. Potter. "What brings you here?" Hermione asked as Ginny got comfortable in the opposite chair.

"You really want me to answer that?"

"What do you want me to say?" Hermione asked tilting her head on the table looking straight into Ginny's probing eyes.

Leaning forward Ginny said, "You told us it was just a Business dinner."

"I still say the same. It was just two people working on a project together, meeting to discuss some details," Hermione said trying to desperately avoid Ginny's eyes. Hermione could swear the girl was a Legilimens with how quickly she could read Hermione's emotions.

"Is that it?"

"Yes," she said firmly this time, gathering some of her Gryffindor courage.

"So the flowers, sharing his coat, and taking a walk after that was all part of a business dinner," Ginny said her expression morphing into an amusing one.

"I was hoping you didn't read the whole article. Most of it is just rubbish," she mumbled. "Just the fact the paparazzi would go to these extreme lengths to get a few details about someone's personal life, is just pathetic."

"Can you blame them? Let's take a look at the two people involved," Ginny started. "On one side, you have the Pureblood prince and on the other side it is you, the Muggle-born war-heroine."

"Stop it Ginny. Those names are just horrible, and anyone who uses them should be stunned immediately. Actually, I should probably look into this reporter. If they're anything like Skeeter, I might be able to find a way to stop this kind of nonsense," Hermione said giving it a serious thought.

"You're sounding a bit too much like a Slytherin." Ginny muttered, "I don't think it's the press you need to worry about."

"Of course it is the press. What happens between Malfoy and me is none of their business. It shouldn't be publicized in this way."

"So something did happen? Is that why you're so tetchy this morning; did the ferret try to romance you?"

"For the last time, Ginny. It was just a business dinner."

"Is that your whole argument?" Ginny leaned closer. "It's completely okay, Hermione. Still, if you're all worked up because of this article." She took the paper from Hermione's hands and with a quick flick of her wand, the offending item burst into flames. "That never happened," said pointing to the burning embers of the paper. "Now tell me everything."

"I don't know," Hermione conceded with a sigh. "It was strange, if I didn't know any better, I'd have suspected it was someone using Polyjuice Potion to look like Malfoy. He showed up with flowers and acted like a gentleman the entire evening. It was surreal, he made a point of opening doors for me, ate with perfect table manners, and provided polite dinner conversation the entire evening. "

"Go on." Ginny urged, while silently lamenting her brother's role in lowering Hermione's standards.

"We talked a lot. He paid attention to every little thing I said. Then he offered to walk me home and gave me his coat when it got too chilly," she trailed off.

"And?"

"I may have kissed him on the cheek." she said, once again trying to avoid the gaze of Ginevra Weasley.

Ginny's eyes widened at those words. "You, naughty girl. What did you do after? Invite him in for a 'cup of coffee' and a snog?"

Hermione scoffed. "He walked me home and gave me his coat when it got chilly. There are no sordid details to share, my kiss was just an impulsive reaction." Hermione shrugged her shoulders.

"So, nothing else happened?" Ginny slumped her shoulders in a mock disappointment. When Hermione laughed, Ginny held her hand. "It's good to see you like this. I know you'd prefer Harry to be here, but you're my best friend Hermione. I don't deny that I was a bit sad when it didn't work out between you and my brother, but you my dear are family. You deserve somebody who thinks the world starts and ends with you. If that blond ferret's the one to make you happy, I suppose I can learn to accept him," Ginny said planting a kiss on her cheek. "I know he's still a git but Neville tells me he's now a tolerable git. After all, Neville is a pretty good judge of character."

"He's certainly a lot less vile and loathsome than he used to be," Hermione said thinking about Ginny's words. She knew if Harry were here, he would have echoed Ginny's desire for Hermione to find her happily ever after, but Hermione was a practical girl. Life wasn't a fairytale, and the idea that Malfoy could be her prince charming was just absurd. That dream this morning didn't hold any special meaning and anyone who thought it did must have been struck with a Confundus.

"Did he pull any bigoted nonsense during your meetings?"

"Not particularly. He might have said I was ignorant of pureblood practices, but he never mocked my blood status. Do you think he would still be standing if he pulled any of that nonsense with me?" Hermione said as a familiar and almost Malfoy-esque smirk began to tug at her lips.

"It certainly seems like he fancies you," Ginny said in a sing-song voice.

Hermione bit her lip. She didn't want to deny it. Being desired by someone as attractive as Draco Malfoy was oddly empowering. It's not every day you discover that a handsome man fancies you. "I don't know. Malfoy isn't the same person anymore. I've enjoyed all our meetings until now, but I can't be sure."

"All his actions clearly show that he's interested in you."

Hermione slowly shook her head. "His actions have been professional, not romantic, and he's invested in the project, not me. You're reading a bit too much into his actions."

"Relax Hermione. You're just being you. Stop all that thinking and enjoy it."

She understood what Ginny was trying to say. She wanted to accept the thrill of being desired, but she would never lose her guard, especially around a Slytherin. With a small shake of her head, she turned to Ginny, "Do you want to postpone the cake tasting for tomorrow? I know I said my weekends are for you until your wedding, but today I have to go and meet my parents. It's been a while."

"Don't worry, I'll manage. Today I have a very important task."

"What's that? If you need me, I might be able to work something out in the evening," Hermione said calculating the time she has to micromanage.

"This is something that only I can do," Ginny said exasperatedly. When Hermione continued with a confused look she wagged her eyebrows, "I have to persuade Harry into moving his lazy arse for his fitting. You know, the kind of persuading that involves a tongue and …"

"Ginny, please. Harry is practically my brother," Hermione clamped her hand on Ginny's mouth.

The redhead burst into peals of laughter slowly pushing Hermione's hand away. Her eyes suddenly got focused on something beyond Hermione's shoulder. "Somebody can't wait to talk to you."

"What?" Hermione turned around and narrowed her eyes on the small unfamiliar owl perched on her windowsill.

"What does Malfoy want now?" Ginny said following Hermione to the bird.

Hermione took the letter from owl's beak and looked at the sender's name. "It's not Malfoy." Ginny furrowed her brows. "It's from Tracey Davis."

"The Slytherin girl we saw at the Leaky?"

"Yes," Hermione said breaking the letter open. Receiving a letter from the girl that had been a hurdle to her project since the beginning wasn't unexpected, but getting a letter immediately after scandalous news about her was printed in the papers wasn't good. The whole situation set off alarm bells in Hermione's head.

Granger,

Your presence is required in my office at 8 AM this coming Monday morning. It has become necessary that we have a detailed discussion about your project and funding. After the news that came in the papers today, I can't guarantee its survival.

Tracey Davis

Department of Treasury

Hermione's eyes saw red. "That vile, despicable, cow," she growled gripping the paper tightly.

"What's wrong?" Ginny asked concernedly.

"She's threatening to shelve my work. If she thinks she can use the ministry to stop me from helping house elves, she's sorely mistaken. I'll show her what happens to people that interfere with my plans."

"You do that, girl. I know you can manage everything on your own, but would you still like me to give her a good Weasley earful?"

"Thanks, Gin," she said giving Ginny a hug. "Harry and Ron are a complete waste against her, but I think I know what needs to be done."

She moved to her desk and pulled out a parchment paper and sat down scribbling a hurried note to Malfoy. She knows that together they can easily prove their point and she had an inkling that with their combined courage and ambition, they can see this project to its end. With determination taking root in her mind, she called for her owl, that was gifted to her by Harry at her graduation.

"Take it to Draco Malfoy," she said stroking its feathers gently.

"Come on, let's go out for a spot of breakfast. From there you can go to your parents." Ginny said watching the owl soaring into the sky.

Hermione nodded absentmindedly, as anxiety took root in her heart in place of the amorous feeling that woke her up this morning.

Draco sat in the chair, reading the small note in his hand. His eyes traced her elegant handwriting, but he could see the haphazard strokes clearly showing her anxious state. Clearly, Tracey Davis had opted to become a major obstacle to their endeavor.

His Slytherin mind started to think about various possibilities about how to deal with this matter, some of them distinctly against the righteous Gryffindor's holier than thou attitude. According to the letter, she just asked him to accompany her to Davis' office and show that his support would continue regardless of the baseless rumors the Prophet had printed. Unwilling to leave things in Hermione's hands, Draco decided it would be best to be more proactive. Davis was a Slytherin, and he couldn't allow Granger to underestimate their opponent and ruin this whole venture. Besides, what Granger doesn't know doesn't hurt her. With a smirk on his lips, he penned a note to Theo asking him to meet tomorrow.

Once his note to Theo was sent, his attention went back to Hermione Granger's message. His eyebrows furrowed noticing that it was her complete message. There was nothing else in the letter regarding this morning's offending article or her thoughts. Did that mean she hadn't seen it, or did she have no problem with notions and insinuations of a budding romance between them? Draco restlessly shook his legs. He had been counting on her to push back against the whole thing. If she didn't thwart these claims, the expectations on him would only worsen. He was counting on her professionalism to dispel any notion of impropriety but given her actions from last night combined with the contents of this letter, she seemed far less opposed to his advances than he would have liked. Granger's forgiving nature might end up leading both of them to ruin.

He groaned throwing his head back and closing his eyes. His mind reeled back to the events that happened last night. He absentmindedly lifted his fingers to his cheek, expecting to find something, but the skin remained unblemished leaving him to deal with the memory of it. He tried to scrub away her presence from his body and mind, but the task seemed unachievable. She was not supposed to have this effect on him. He needed to control the situation and he was failing.

That blasted article painted them as a couple. The very thought itself made his stomach churn. As if anyone could find her interesting? His traitorous mind replayed images where he found her annoying aspects a tiny bit intriguing while Draco adamantly tried to deny them. He obviously forgot the way her eyes sparkled whenever an interesting factoid spilled out of her mouth, or the way little wisps that escaped from her nest of hair danced on her neck. He most definitely had forgotten those soft lips as they pressed against his cheek.

Draco's eyes snapped open as he felt a primal and lustful stirring wash over him as his mind replayed those images. "No," he yelled and jumped from the seat cursing the treacherous reactions of his body.

The elf popped into the study at the right time and saved him. "Master wants to see young master Draco in his study. Tinky was sent to fetch him."

"I'll be there," he dismissed the elf. He tried to control his rapid breaths, thinking of various imagery that would tone down his embarrassment. He blamed all this on the lack of intimate relations with a woman, since being thrust into this absurd situation.

He gathered his nerves and stormed out of the room as if the room itself started laughing at his unseemly thoughts.

As he approached his father's study, Draco's steps came to a halt. His raised hand remained in the air awkwardly as he contemplated whether to go in now or come back later.

"Don't lurk in the corridors, Draco. Enter," his father's harsh voice took the choice out of his hands.

He slowly opened the door of his father's study and stepped in. As he walked towards his father's table, the entire evening that was the starting point of his descent into insanity, flashed through his mind. "Father, you called."

Lucius Malfoy didn't acknowledge his son as his eyes remained on the article that ruined Draco's entire morning. Lucius slowly shook his head after a minute and finally glanced at his son. "This is not enough."

"But fathe…"

"I expected better. It's been almost two months now. If she somehow becomes aware that we acquired knowledge of her magical core before you've secured her affections we will be undone. She will never trust you and Malfoy family will have fallen to ruin because of your failure."

"Not mine alone," Draco mumbled, so quietly his father likely didn't hear it, or mercifully chose to ignore it.

"I don't care if there is more to this drivel." Lucius said with an impatient sigh, "Your task is simple, secure Ms. Granger's affection, and sire a powerful heir for the Malfoy family. That is your duty Draco, there is nothing of greater importance."

"I know what I have to do. It's not easy. She's not like others."

"They're all the same. Give her some fine Jewelry, take her to lavish places, and most important of all show her how it is to be with a Malfoy."

"Would you say the same for, mother?" Draco countered,

It was rare that Draco's sharp tongue slipped in his father's presence, but one look into the eyes of the Malfoy patriarch told him he was lucky to not have been thrown across the room by one of his father's spells. Likening Hermione Granger to the current Lady Malfoy was a mistake. Regaining his composure, Draco took a calming breath and spoke, "times have changed, father. She's also M-muggle-born," his father threw him a questioning look at his choice to avoid using the derogatory slur. "Their upbringing is completely different."

"She should consider herself lucky that the Malfoy family's heir is pursuing her. Her heritage would normally make her unworthy of such an honor, but her magical capabilities are giving her an opportunity to become a part of this prestigious family."

"Yes father," Draco said giving up. He was not in a position to make his father understand the complexities of courting Granger.

"I expected by this time we would be discussing Marriage contracts, yet you've made so little progress that we are still only talking about a business dinner. Merlin forbid, but the usage of Amortentia seems inevitable."

Draco understood his father; the man had lost everything. He lost his magic and he was restricted to his home. The name Malfoy wasn't feared or respected anymore. The long-held reputation that was held by their family was irrevocably tainted. Granger and a powerful heir seemed to be their only hope. Lucius would do anything to see his family restored to their former glory, but Draco would be lying if he said his father's words didn't hurt. His father didn't bother to understand the torment he was being made to endure. They were forcing him a to make life with a person, he was taught to hate. All these conflicted emotions battered his mind. He bit the inside of his cheek as his face started to betray his anger. "I have something very important to attend to." He didn't wait for his father's response as he strode towards the door.

"It seems I have to take matters into my own hands," Lucius said stopping Draco in his steps. "Tell her I wish to have a complete knowledge on my investment. Inform her it is imperative that she needs to give us a detailed progress report of how every Knut, Sickle, and Galleon have been put to use and what was the result of it. Update her that she has to do this in person, in this very house." Draco turned around stared at his father who was speaking with a malicious look on his face. Lucius Malfoy's eyes were still fixed on the picture of them walking into the night. "Now stop gawking at me and get to work. There is much that needs to be done."

 

Chapter Text

The early morning sun streamed through the windows as Draco paced, his eyes continuously glancing towards the clock in the Library. Where in Merlin's name was Nott? He should have arrived by now. It was a quarter past eight, and Draco's impatience was starting to give way to concern. Theodore Nott was never late. In all the years Draco had known him, Theo had always been eerily punctual and it was now more than fifteen minutes past their stated meeting time.

"Tinky."

"Young master called," the elf appeared.

"Arrange for a small breakfast service by the table. I'm expecting a guest."

"If young master's talking about Mr. Nott, he's already in the Manor."

"What?" Draco paused and looked at the elf. "Where the hell is he, then?"

"He's in the dining room with the Mistress. They're expecting the young master to join them for the Breakfast." When Draco glared, the elf trembled and disapparated.

Draco dragged his fingers through his hair, cursing his fate yet again. Everything and everyone seemed to be conspiring against him. What was Theo doing with his mother? They were a potentially dangerous combination. Past experiences only illustrated that whenever they spent any length of time together, Draco's life would become far more complicated.

He stormed out of the library, with the intent of giving a good earful to his traitorous friend. He sneered at Theo who was calmly enjoying his breakfast with the Lady of the Manor.

"Thank you again for having me, Mrs. Malfoy," Theo said sipping his tea.

"Theodore, you are always welcome in the Malfoy household," Narcissa smiled. Her eyes then turned to her son. "Draco, please join us. Theodore has come to join us for breakfast this morning." Theo met Draco's eye and gave an apologetic smile.

"Of course," Draco said greeting his mother with a kiss on her cheek. He then took the seat beside Theo and spoke in a whisper, "I asked you to come and meet me, not my mother."

"What was I supposed to do? She invited for breakfast as soon as I stepped out of the fireplace." Theo cleared his throat and spoke in a voice that was slightly louder than needed, "I hear congratulations are in order, Draco."

Draco cast a skeptical look at his friend; Theo was up to something, what exactly that was remained to be seen. Draco had never known Theo to choose to be the center of attention unless he had a plan. Narcissa chuckled and stirred a spoonful of sugar into her tea. She put the spoon down and turned her attention to Theo. "How are things at the Daily Prophet?"

"Things have improved considerably under the new management, Mrs. Malfoy. I expect it will not be long until the Prophet is restored to its former glory."

Narcissa nodded and continued, "And your marriage contract?"

"It is progressing very well, Tracey's parents are quite pleased with this union. It seems as though they are looking forward to the formal announcement of our engagement."

"As they should be. The House of Nott is one of the few remaining prestigious pureblood families. They should consider themselves fortunate to have found such an agreeable match for their half-blood daughter."

Theo shifted under the watchful gaze of the Lady Malfoy but didn't respond other than offering a half-hearted smile.

"Such wonderful news. There are so few of us left, it warms my heart to know that your family's legacy will continue. Your mother would've been so happy," Narcissa's eyes sparkled with joy.

"These palmiers are delicious, I can see why Draco likes them so much," Theo said quickly, diverting the attention to his friend who was enjoying the pastry on his plate.

"If you'd like, I will have our kitchen elves share the recipe with yours. Although, I should hope that once Ms. Davis accepts the title of Lady Nott, you'll no longer need concern yourself which such domestic matters. After all, household affairs are best managed by the Lady of the house."

Draco couldn't help but snort at his mother's words. Based on what he had seen of Tracey Davis thus far, she was as stubborn and career minded as Granger. The notion of either of them as a demure housewife was simply absurd.

"From the article in the Prophet yesterday, it would seem as though Draco and Granger will not be too far behind Tracey and I," Theo said making Draco break into a coughing fit.

"It would appear so. Although, I'm not surprised the Prophet decided to report on this. Both Draco and Ms. Granger are rather influential." Narcissa said pushing a glass of water towards her son. "Slowly, Draco."

"I personally saw to the credibility of the article, Mrs. Malfoy. The reporter was very thorough, he had solid evidence, including details of Draco and Granger's interactions, interviews with other patrons and not to forget the pictures. It almost seemed like he'd been gifted this opportunity. He was literally jumping for joy at his own luck at getting his hands on the most scandalous tidbit of the year."

Draco's eyes shot up at Theo's words, while Narcissa continued to sip her tea with a smug smile.

"Only fools believe in luck, my dears," Narcissa said getting up from her chair. "It was nice to see you, Theodore. Do find time to come and visit us more often."

"I can't believe this," Draco seethed as soon as Narcissa vanished out of their sight. "How did you know it was her idea?"

"I had an inkling that the Malfoys would be behind this whole drama, but I didn't know it was her. I honestly thought it was your father's idea."

"Sometimes it's so scary to think how deviously similar their thoughts are."

"They are a rather formidable duo," Theo said with a chuckle. "I wouldn't think of going against them."

"Now do you realize what I have to deal with on a daily basis," Draco said pushing his plate away. "Each and every conversation begins and ends with the same name. Hermione bloody Granger and how I'm not doing enough to gain her affections."

"I understand mate," Theo nodded. "It's not easy."

"And on top of that, Granger and her project. Everything's just driving me crazy."

"What happened with her? I thought you both had a good time at your 'business' dinner," Theo said with air quotes.

"She wasn't supposed to have a good time with me. She was supposed to push me away and despise me. Not bloody kiss me," he said muttering the last part.

Theo broke into laughter at Draco's grumbling. "She kissed you? How did we miss that very important detail? It would seem your gentlemanly charms are working rather well; which begs the question, why did you ask me to come here. I doubt you need my advice on what to do after a good kiss."

"She kissed my cheek, you idiot; and I didn't ask you to come here to discuss that," Draco sighed and rubbed his brow. "Not here, let's go to the Library. If this news travels to my mother, next thing I know, she'll be planning engagement parties."

"Alright, let's go," Theo said between his laughs.

"Tinky," Draco called getting up after Theo. As the elf popped in, he ordered, "Clear this up and bring two French roasts to the Library. We'll be in there."

"Yes, young master," Tinky disapparated.

"I need something stronger than tea to keep my mind sharp today," Draco grumbled leading them to the library.

"She seems to know just how to vex you, doesn't she?" Theo said looking at his restless friend as they entered the Library.

"It's not her per say," Draco said dropping into the armchair. "It's your girlfriend."

"What?" It was Theo's turn to look shocked. "I don't understand. How does Tracey fit into your problems with Granger?"

"Calm down, lover boy," Draco smirked. "Before getting into the details. Did you know Granger's working on a house elf project?"

"You might've mentioned it at some point."

"And Davis never made any mention of it at all?"

"Again, what has Tracey got to do with Granger and house elves?"

"Wasn't it you who told me that they were working on something together?"

"We don't discuss work, Draco." Theo smiled smugly. "I try to keep her occupied with far more pleasurable activities. In fact, this meeting is keeping me from those activities. So if we could move this along, I'd like to get back to my comfy bed and my witch."

"Spare me the details of your sordid activities," Draco said with a grimace as his shoulders slumped. "I was hoping you had an idea about Davis' work. Apparently, she's is not exactly happy with Granger's project. According to Granger, Davis has been hindering the project since the beginning and yesterday she sent an owl threatening to shelve the whole thing."

Theo's eyes narrowed. "Tracey is very good at what she does. The department had been singing her praises since she joined and I know her. She's not the type to hinder others without reason."

"This is Granger, Theo. The brightest witch of our age despite her lineage, and a very stubborn Gryffindor who wants to help the downtrodden even if it is against their own wish. I don't know what's going on yet, but Granger believes Davis is hell-bent on thwarting her elf rescue mission. I'm just trying to understand what's happening there."

"You seem to be putting in a lot of effort for someone you claim to despise."

Draco shot up from his place and advanced towards Theo. "I'm just trying to protect my investment. Now just tell me if you have any idea why your girlfriend is against the welfare of elves. Does she even know about house elves?"

"Don't be absurd, of course, she knows about elves. Their family had Tracey's house elf has been with her since she was a child, and from what I have seen she's quite fond of the Nott elves too."

The elf popped in with two mugs of steaming coffee. "Young master," Tinky said treading cautiously with the tray in his hands.

Theo strolled to Tinky and took the cup, while Draco remained in his thoughts. He took the mug then nodded absentmindedly to the elf dismissing him.

"When I thought Tracey and Granger were working together, I honestly thought they would make a good pair," Theo said thoughtfully taking a sip of the coffee. "This is too sweet for my taste."

Draco crooked an eyebrow and said, "It's perfect."

"Not all of us have the same fondness for sugar as you, my dear friend." Theo propped himself in the chair and said, "Do you think Granger might've misunderstood?"

"Perhaps, Gryffindors are known for making rash judgments. Still, I'm missing something, a piece of information that explains why Davis and Granger are so at odds when by all accounts they shouldn't be." Draco said scratching his stubble. Then it hit him. Soon like a jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces started to fit in in their own places. He leaned forward in his seat and grinned, "I think I know the source of the problem and how to fix it."

"Care to share?"

"No," Draco said relishing his sweet coffee. "Go back to your witch, I have things to do."

"With the amount of sugar you consume, It's comforting to know that all that sweetness has no effect on your words," Theo grumbled.

"It's a skill I've developed over the years," Draco smirked. "Don't expect it to change."

Plans started to form in Draco's mind as Theo left, he couldn't wait to see Granger's face when he put them into action. With a renewed energy, he pushed all the bitter thoughts to the back of his mind and geared up for his encounter with Granger tomorrow.

"Watch it," Draco snapped. As an overburdened boy stumbled into the ministry lift dropping the parchments he'd been trying to carry. Draco shoved the parchments closest to him away with his foot.

"Sorry," mumbled the flustered boy, picking up the parchments that were now strewn all over the floor of the lift.

Finally arriving at Granger's floor, Draco sneered at the boy, who was still gathering all his papers and stepped out of the lift crushing several of the fallen parchments under his boots. He heard the boy's whimper, but couldn't care less. His mind was too chaotic. He was meeting her for the first time since their disastrous business dinner and didn't exactly know how to approach the situation.

He saw Hermione pacing in front of her office door. She looked completely stressed out. Her eyes looked tired but her stance was alert. She was dressed in very professional attire and not one strand of hair was out of place, yet he could see the strained veins on her neck clearly showing the tension in her. It was clear that this impending meeting with Tracey Davis was driving her mad. Hermione looked at him and gave a troubled smile, "Malfoy."

Draco's hands stayed in his pockets trying to cover his own tumultuous state. "You didn't need to stand here to receive me, Granger. I'm quite capable of finding your office without you standing in front of it."

Hermione rolled her eyes at him, but he didn't miss the hint of a relaxed smile on her lips. Her shoulders relaxed and she opened the door to her office. "Would you come in for a minute?"

Draco followed her inside, but the fact that he made her smile, troubled him and he needed to remedy that immediately. "So, why is Davis being a hurdle to this project now?"

The smile instantly dropped from Hermione's face as Draco now sported a content smile. He tried to ignore the slight twinge he felt at her crestfallen look. She opened her mouth to answer but her attention shifted to the door as they heard a knock. "Oh come in, thank you so much." She stood and rushed to the door. Draco noticed from his peripherals that it was the boy from the lift, handing over the same parchments that were crushed under his boots. Draco also noticed the boy was looking at him with wide eyes. "What happened to these?" she said checking the crumpled parchments. "You should be more careful. These are very important parchments."

"Some of us here are on a schedule, Granger," he snapped trying to dismiss the situation before the boy opened his mouth to divulge who exactly was responsible for the state of those parchments.

Hermione smiled at the boy and closed the door. Sneering at Draco, she returned to her desk. "He could have shown a little more care in handling these papers. These are the new outlines, arguments, and plans related to the project." Draco cringed looking at his boot print on one of the documents.

"Let me take care of that," Draco said taking out his wand. "Tergeo," he muttered siphoning out the dirt. "There, it's all good."

"Thank you." Slumping down in her chair, she said. "Davis has been undermining this project since the beginning. Unfortunately for me, she's the first point of contact in all matters regarding finances."

"Don't you have close relations with the minister, you could've easily bypassed her."

"I would never take advantage of a friendship like that," Hermione said folding her hands.

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Yes, and I'm a purple pygmy puff with glittery feathers." She laughed out loud at his words. "Now the truth, Granger."

Her shoulders slumped and she grumbled, "They all think it's not worth the trouble. Whenever I go to Kingsley, he says I have to concentrate my efforts on more meaningful projects. It's a lost cause." She shook her head and her eyes turned to meet his. "Actually, I wanted to ask you something." He nodded gesturing her to continue. "I know Davis' family is from France and according to my research, French elves were supposedly treated better than their English counterparts. What puzzles me most is, why she is so dead set against this?"

Draco furrowed his brows. Slytherins didn't tend to share personal details. How did Granger gather that information when he himself had only learned it recently? "Where did you learn about Davis?"

She blinked and mumbled, "It's not important. As a Slytherin and a Pureblood I thought you might know. Anyway, I don't think we need to worry about her anymore. Thanks to you, our project is in a better state than before and I think that gives us enough leverage. A simple article in the papers shouldn't destroy what we've built so far. We shouldn't let her get away with this. Do you have any suggestions?"

Draco smirked, "Maybe, a few."

Hermione rolled her eyes and said, "Let's go," gathering every parchment on the table. Draco sniggered at the size of the pile, but immediately stopped at her glare and offered to take them off her hands. "Okay," she said transferring half of her pile into his waiting hands.

"I do have one request to make," Draco said getting into the lift, just after her.

"What?" Hermione's eyebrows furrowed.

"Try and keep your Gryffindor sensibilities in control while we are in there. Davis is a Slytherin and she needs to be handled carefully or we risk further complications."

"You think I can't handle her?"

"Well, the situation speaks for itself. She has been a thorn in your side since the beginning and you've yet to find a proper solution." Draco leaned back on his heels and tucked an unburdened hand into his pocket. He could see the fury in her eyes as a beautiful red color started to taint her cheeks. Draco had to grudgingly admit that she looked adorable; righteous indignation suited her. Pride spread through his chest; knowing he still held this kind of power over her was oddly comforting. It felt familiar and normal; insighting her fury was how their relationship was supposed to be.

"What do you mean? Are you suggesting, I'm letting her? She's from the Treasury Department and every expense has to be approved by her," she shot him a sharp look. "Every time I've tried to secure financing for this project, she'd redirect any available funds to some other department, usually the Aurors since no one argues with giving Harry's department more money."

"Did you try talking to her?" he asked with an innocent expression.

"What?"

"It's not Arithmancy Granger, just a simple conversation. Not unlike what we're doing right now," he whispered to her as the lift came to a halt. He didn't miss her sharp intake of breath as he accidentally brushed her on his way out.

"I don't like where you are going with this, Malfoy," she said stepping out of the lift and scurrying away down the path.

"Oh, but I'm liking it very much," he whispered to himself.

Soon they were standing in front of what Draco presumed to be Davis' office. Hermione stood there biting her lip. Her hands were gripping the pile in her hands tightly, her knuckles turning white. "Let's get it over with," he said knocking the door.

"Come in," Tracey chimed from inside.

"Go on, Granger. You can't win your battles by standing here," he said placing his hand on the small of her back.

Hermione took a deep breath and Draco smiled to himself as the expression on her face started to change. Her lips quirked in a confident smile and her eyes sparkled with vigor. With a renewed demeanor, she entered Tracey's office.

"Davis," Hermione greeted adding a bit of grit to her voice.

"Ah, Granger. How nice of you to come." Tracey's eyes then flickered to Draco who had followed after Hermione. Tracey's eyes narrowed and she said in a curt tone. "And you brought Draco Malfoy, how nice. This will make things easier. Come and have a seat."

"Good to see you again Davis, I trust you and Nott had an enjoyable weekend and were able to partake in some pleasurable activities," Draco said with a devious smirk on his lips.

Tracey's eyes widened and her cheeks flushed as she busied herself with the newspaper on her table.

Hermione tossed him a questioning look but Draco merely shook his head and placed his half pile of parchments back on Hermione's stack. He casually checked the clock and said, "If you could hurry things along, I have places to be and I'm sure Granger has other matters to attend to."

"Of course," Tracey said looking at Hermione. "Here at the Ministry of Magic, protecting the sanctity of our programs is the utmost priority. In certain cases, the Treasury Department is forced to intervene if there are concerns compromising the ethical integrity of funding provided via donation."

"Cut this sweet talk, Davis. I'm perfectly aware of that regulation and I doubt Malfoy cares." Hermione's voice didn't betray the promise her eyes held. "Your owl made no sense. First of all, there's nothing going on between my sponsor and me. So, your claims are unfounded." Draco let out a relieved breath at that. Finally, an answer from her. "Secondly, even if there were something going on, I fail to see how it affects my project." Draco's momentary relief evanesced and he was thrown back into a pit of uncertainty. What does she mean 'if something were going on'?

"The article speaks for itself, Granger. It clearly shows that you are not above offering personal favors in exchange for your funding."

"How dare you," Hermione shot up from her seat. "How dare you insinuate something like that?" Draco massaged his temples. So much for keeping her Gryffindor urges in control. "This is the last straw. I am tired of waiting patiently for you to understand and stop interfering with this project. Thanks to the Malfoys, it is now in a manageable state and I swear to Godric, if you do anything to it, I will make you suffer."

Tracey remained in her seat, her back plastered to the chair and chin held high in defiance. Draco saw the telltale look of a Slytherin preparing to strike as well as something else. He tutted contemplating that Hermione was doing more harm than good with her outbursts.

"I suggest you be careful Ms. Granger. You're being rather defensive which only weakens the credibility of your argument and confirms my suspicions."

"Okay, that's enough," Draco interfered. "Davis, I assure you there has been no ethical impropriety, nor have any favors been exchanged. If you still don't believe us, you're welcome to attend each and every business meeting to assure that we are meeting the ministry's ethical standards." His eyes then turned to Hermione and spoke in a calmer tone, looking at the sheen of moisture in her eyes. He curbed his urge to try to comfort her and said, "Despite Davis' claim, I can assure you that she doesn't have the power or influence to stop this project. Malfoy influence may not be what it once was, but so long as you have our support, your project will go on," he looked at Tracey and finished. "Unimpeded"

"That's highly unlikely," Tracey folded her hands and stated defensively. Draco noticed Tracey's protective stance and now recognized the near perfectly masked fear in her eyes. "I have every right to transfer all her funds to the treasury should any impropriety come to light." Draco was well acquainted with how Slytherins acted. She may be a half-blood, but no one can deny the cunning quality in her. She was desperately trying to control the situation by manipulating Granger's emotions.

"That's nonsense," Hermione said with an incredulous expression. "I'm not involved with Draco Malfoy. Let that sink into your thick skull."

Draco closed his eyes for a minute and savored the comforting words that had spouted from Hermione's mouth. She indeed wasn't involved with him. Now that he got his answer, it was now high time to take care of the problem before it gets out of his hand.

He opened his eyes and with a predatory gleam in them put his plan into action. It was high time to expose Tracey Davis' weakness and make her realize what exactly Hermione Granger's plans were. "Davis, what exactly is your problem with Granger's project?" He saw Tracey's mask falter, and she was exposed. There was no doubt in Draco's mind that she was a true Slytherin, resourceful, and cunning, but she lacked the strength of will that came with the brand burned into his left forearm. She couldn't hide her emotions well enough, at least not from someone who endured Voldemort's tyranny.

"She is a muggle-born and doesn't understand how important elves are to us. Her goal is to give them 'freedom' they don't want and take them away," Tracey spoke in an exasperated voice.

"For Merlin's sake, Davis. Being a Muggleborn doesn't make me ignorant of the ways of elves," Hermione started.

"Granger, let me finish." She raised a hand and stopped Hermione. Tracey stood up from her chair and moved behind it. She turned towards the wall and spoke, "My doubts in this project are not solely based on your heritage. There are many muggle-born people among us who have added their value to our society without disrupting the already established harmonies." She threw a sharp glance at Hermione over her shoulder, "My mother was a Muggle-born, but of course, you know all about that, don't you?"

Hermione clenched her teeth and grunted as her cheeks turned red. Draco looked on curiously, trying to understand why Hermione was getting all riled up.

"Tell me, Granger. Was eavesdropping one of the traits of a courageous Gryffindor?" Tracey asked.

"What if I did? I was just trying to understand why you hated my project so much, that's all," Hermione answered raising her chin in defiance.

Draco remained mute, trying to understand the banter between the two girls.

"Did you find out anything at all?"

"Except the fact, Parkinson and Zabini are pathetic jerks and your family was from France, nothing important," Hermione grumbled.

"Pity," Tracey shrugged. "If you had stayed for a little longer, you might've."

Then it struck Draco's mind, they were talking about the night at the Leaky Cauldron. He smirked at Hermione who was avoiding Draco's gaze. Who knew the bookworm of Gryffindor had sneaky snake tendencies?

"I'll directly get to the point. Your project doesn't make any sense to me. But I did try to understand where you are coming from. I have seen my mother and her reluctance at accepting the services of a house elf. But let me tell you, she never tried to free an elf."

"Do you think I care, what you think," Hermione's fury was dancing in her eyes as she started to get up from her place. Draco gently reached for her wrist and shook his head.

Hermione scrunched her face but stayed in her place while Tracey continued. "I spent most of my childhood in an elf care. She fed me, she told me stories and took care of me when my parents couldn't. I cannot imagine my life without her. My magic was unbalanced until I started spending more time with her. Until I started to realize that she was a part of my family, my magic was everywhere. Once I bonded with her, it became more stabilized. She is now very old and during these moments of peace, the last thing she needs is the worry of about being given freedom." Tracey slowly walked to Hermione and stood beside her. She pointed to the bunch of parchments on the table and sighed. "It's not only her. Every other elf I met, is under a constant worry because of this project." She placed her palm firmly on the stack of parchments. "They don't know when you're going to drop in their houses and try to free them. All these efforts are nonsensical. According to my research and information, you're not helping anyone." With those last words, Tracey went back to her chair. "That's all I have got to say."

The anger in Hermione's face slowly morphed into confusion and she started to shake her head with a small chuckle escaping her lips.

"Well, isn't that interesting," Draco said casually. "It seems Davis is not as well-informed as she thinks, Granger. You might want to enlighten her."

This got the proper reaction from Tracey, Draco was waiting for. She narrowed her eyes at Hermione and Draco and said, "I tried to handle this in a subtle way. I didn't want to be the person who thwarted the project of the great Hermione Granger who helped the savior of our world. But the indirect process isn't working anymore. Do you know how many departments could benefit with the kind of funding you're getting from the Malfoys? Think about it, Granger. It's time you stop your silly plans, or else I would be forced to take matters into my hand."

Hermione was still trying to stop her chuckles and Draco couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of the situation. A small miscommunication could lead to big misunderstandings.

"How can you let her do this, Malfoy? Admittedly, she doesn't know how a bond between an elf and her master works, but you're well aware of that. Still, you chose to side with her," Tracey said with an incredulous look. "Do you even know, that freeing them could kill them?" she directly questioned Hermione this time.

"I know," Hermione stopped and looked at Tracey. "Now."

"Then why would you do that? With your stupid project, you are punishing the elves not helping them."

Hermione took a deep breath and looked at Tracey. "Neither I nor my project has any intention of forcibly taking any elf away."

Tracey's eyes narrowed skeptically. "You don't?"

Draco leaned back in his chair with a smug smile looking at the two women. Theo was right, they would make quite the pair. Both were intelligent women, driven to protect that which they cared for, albeit in their own way.

"I won't deny I used to think that freeing house elves was the right choice in the beginning, but I don't anymore. Why don't you sit down?" she said casting a glance at Draco. "I realize I never explained myself properly and I think it's time we discussed the goal of this project in detail."

Tracey's eyes traveled between Hermione and Draco. Doubts still lingering in her eyes, she went back to her seat.

For the next fifteen minutes, Draco was reminded of Hogwarts and the girl who always had an answer as Hermione Granger unleashed all her knowledge. From the origins of her ideas about S.P.E.W., to how to it led to her current project and then how Draco's involvement helped refine her goals. Hemione explained every parchment they had brought and detailed plans for the project's future goals, By the end, Tracey's expression changed into a contemplating one while Draco was simply amused. Watching Granger work was certainly entertaining.

"This could work," Tracey said, nodding her head.

"Really?" Hermione's face lit up.

"I can't say it is flawless. But the ministry could be benefitted with this kind of thing."

Draco saw the myriad of expressions on Hermione's face as she understood what was happening. She looked at Draco with emotion filled eyes and Draco felt uneasy at her open expression of gratitude. He let himself a little smile and whispered to only Hermione's ears, "I told you, all you needed was a little talk. Some solutions can be quite simple."

"We should've had this conversation a long time ago," Tracey said passing all the parchments to Hermione. "That's alright. Better late than never. Maybe you needed the right kind of support," Her eyes paused on Draco for a second and returned to Hermione. "Your plans are good, but they need a little bit of tweaking to better suit the ministry purposes. If I may suggest, there are few things we can modify in your established plans."

"I can see no problem with that," Hermione said grinning widely.

"That wraps it then. You and your project have the approval of the Treasury. Look forward to my owl for further discussions."

"I should be really in a resentful state for all your attempts to stop my project," Hermione said looking at Tracey. "But someone told me to keep my Gryffindor urges in control. Nevertheless, we both were trying to protect the elves in our own way, so I suppose I can forgive you." Hermione said extending her hand in truce.

"Yes that and you still need my approval for your project," Tracey returned Hermione's gesture with a smirk.

"I can't believe it," Hermione said with a blinding smile as they exited Tracey's office. "I really can't believe we were able to convince her."

"It was simple, once I gave you a nudge in the proper direction," Draco said trying to dissect Davis' tacit approval of an unprofessional relationship between himself and Granger.

"I suppose it was," she said shrugging her shoulders. "How did you know about Davis' thoughts?"

"A Slytherin never reveals his plans, Granger. There is no point in asking," Draco said with a smirk. Hermione scoffed, shaking her head slightly. "Need I ask, what was it about eavesdropping?" Draco asked folding his hands.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures. How would I know what was she thinking about, then?" she winked at him, draping her arm over his shoulders. "We make a good team, Malfoy."

Draco gulped as he distinctly remembered, she used to do the same thing with Potter and Weasel. Does she look at him in the same way, a friend? A hope flared in his heart. He can handle being a friend to Granger, but his father's words echoed in his mind and he was reminded of his duty.

"Nothing's going to stop us now, Malfoy. S.P.E.W. is a go."

Draco sighed as he removed Hermione's arm from his shoulders. She merrily strode past him as he struggled with his thoughts. "Granger."

"Yes?" She paused and looked at him with sparkling eyes. The happiness and joy that twinkled in her eyes, made Draco stop in his step. The words about his father that had already formed in his brain, couldn't pass the barrier of his lips. He didn't want to be the one who snatched that beatific smile off her face. He cursed as he lost the battle of wills, but he couldn't help it. He mutely walked towards her; taking one last glance at her cheerful face placed the stack of parchments in her hands and left.

Chapter Text

"Ready to go?" Harry Potter's voice brought Hermione's attention to her fireplace.

"Just a moment," she said stuffing a beautifully ornate box into her beaded bag.

"Are those the invitations?"

"Yes, almost done," Hermione said pushing the last one into her beaded bag. "I promised Ginny; they'd be sent out by the end of the week."

"You're working too much," Harry said looking at her concernedly. "Is there anything I can do for the maid of honor?"

"Actually," Hermione said with a smirk. "I'll need to you keep the bride totally occupied on Friday. I know I'm asking the impossible, but I'm sure you're up to the task."

"Totally occupied? Not a chance, but I'll see what I can manage," Harry said with a smile and an exaggerated sigh. Hermione might as well have asked him to defeat Voldemort again. Harry truly loved his firecracker of a fiancée but she was a force of nature that could never be tamed.

As his eyes wandered throughout the living room, Harry noticed a single wedding invitation was left sitting on a table. "Hey, it looks like you forgot one."

"Oh, this is the one for my parents," Hermione said in a low tone taking it from Harry's hands. "Ginny insisted they be invited."

"How are my favorite dentists in the world doing? Ginny mentioned that you went to visit them."

"They're doing well I suppose," Hermione said slumping her shoulders.

"Still no development, huh?" Harry asked dropping on her couch.

"I don't think our relationship will ever be what it once was," she said writing her parents' names on the cover.

"If not for me, nothing of this sort would've happened," Harry said in a heavy voice.

"I'll have none of that, Harry Potter. It was my choice to alter their memories and I need to accept the consequences. If nothing else, at least they remember I'm their daughter." She said tracing the name 'Granger' on the card.

"They also remember me," Harry said with a troubled grin. "Now give that card to me. I'll personally take it to them."

"You know they're not going to come," Hermione sighed dejectedly.

"It doesn't matter, Hermione. I want to make sure they know that I would be honored to have them at my wedding; I wish I could do more."

"Are you sure?" Hermione said chewing her lip.

"Yes, and I promise I won't freak them out. I'll go like a normal muggle."

"Okay then," she handed the card letting him tuck it into his pockets.

"Now, Let's go. I'd like to get this over with as quickly as possible."

"I still don't understand why you're bringing me along. I'm not a part of the Auror department, and I'd say this falls outside of my duties as Maid of Honor considering Kingsley asked you to handle this matter yourself," said Hermione folding her arms.

"Yes. Kingsley, the Minister for Magic himself, called Auror Harry Potter to his office and instructed him to talk to Narcissa Malfoy about recent threats against her, and provide security if necessary. This is an everyday occurrence." He raised an eyebrow and Hermione had to suppress a chuckle.

"I'm just trying to return a favor, Harry. Before you say anything, I know it is a part of their sentence, but they didn't need to fund my project specifically. Although she might have been complicit, Narcissa Malfoy doesn't deserve to be threatened and attacked. Everyone has the right to be protected from harm."

"Of course, but I didn't need to get dragged into this."

"She helped you, Harry. Probably for her own reasons, but her lie got you through. Besides, it's going to be a good change for you. Your wedding's drawing near, and I know one person who will be very happy about you having reduced working hours."

"Funnily enough, I don't think it is for my benefit. Still, I could definitely use some extra hours to work on the house," Harry shrugged, giving it a deep thought. "We have to do something about that wall of heads."

"I'll try to talk to Kreacher about it," Hermione said her eyes sparkling with the new knowledge she gained over the past few weeks. "I think I might be able to convince him this time."

"You're more than welcome to try," Harry said. "Regardless, you're still coming with me to this meeting. I can't handle two Malfoys all by myself. Besides, according to the Prophet, aren't you and the ferret currently engaged in a steamy love affair?"

"Not you too, Harry. And stop calling him ferret. He's really not so bad," Hermione said shrugging her shoulders.

Harry Potter narrowed his eyes, a question lingering in his eyes, but Hermione unaware of his doubts guided them to the door.

"Where are you meeting them?" Hermione asked getting ready to apparate.

"Let me see," Harry said picking out a small parchment from his pockets. "Some brunch place with an incomprehensible name. Apparently, meeting at the ministry was unacceptable. So instead, we get stuck with a brunch meeting in a place that's probably way too fancy."

"Tell me about it," Hermione muttered thinking about the drama their restaurant stint had created. "Come on, I'll side apparate you. I know the place."

"Let me do the honors, this time," Harry offered his arm.

"Brings back memories," Hermione joined her best friend, taking his arm as he apparated both of them.

Once they had arrived, it didn't take long to find the Malfoys. Even in this posh little restaurant, the two Malfoys managed to stand out from the fancy cups, tiny cakes, and the upper-class ladies with their gaudy hats and flashy bags.

Hermione rolled her eyes at the ostentatious ambiance of the place and turned to the two people who made it seem like their surroundings were beneath them. She smiled at Draco who stood up from his place, brow raised with an unasked question.

"Granger, Potter," Draco greeted as they approached the table. He took a step forward and pulled a chair out for Hermione, while Harry gave a curt nod to both the Malfoys.

"Thank you," Hermione said as Draco went back to his place, at the same time throwing a withering glare at Harry who was looking at her with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

"Mrs. Malfoy," Hermione greeted.

"Ms. Granger, how lovely to see you. I wasn't aware you were also affiliated with the Auror department." Although she was addressing Hermione, her focus was on Harry. "The subject matter of this meeting is hardly appropriate for a young lady like yourself. I struggle to understand why Mr. Potter did not mention that you would be accompanying him beforehand "

"Potter might have conveniently forgotten. Wouldn't be the first time," Draco shot a sharp look at his former nemesis.

"She was a last minute addition. After all, she is partially responsible for arranging this meeting," Harry said leaning back in his chair and raised his chin at Draco.

Hermione squirmed in her chair, while Narcissa and Draco exchanged glances. "Forgive me, but your words elude me, Mr. Potter. It was my understanding that this meeting was arranged by your department, not Ms. Granger."

Harry started to speak, but Hermione cut him off. "Harry gives me too much credit, I recently spoke with the minister about the need to assure that all wizards are given the same protections regardless of beliefs or blood status. I had no idea, you were being threatened Mrs. Malfoy."

Narcissa remained skeptical, but Hermione could feel the uncomfortable scrutiny of Draco's eyes. He knew she had just lied about not knowing that Narcissa was being threatened, and he likely knew this meeting was only happening because of Hermione.

"Now let's start from the beginning," Harry Potter said taking out a pad and a quill from his pockets.

"Of course, in a moment Mr. Potter," said Narcissa. She looked at her son and spoke, "We have already ordered the tea, but why don't you and Ms. Granger go and select a few items from the display case, while I discuss the details with Mr. Potter. I'm sure Ms. Granger would love to know about all those delicacies you love."

"Oh, that's not necessary," Hermione said. "I'm happy with whatever you choose."

"Nonsense, knowledge of this kind is more useful than you might believe," Narcissa dismissed Hermione's arguments in a demure way and turned towards her son. "Draco,"

While Harry Potter looked at the situation with a shocked expression, Draco got up from his chair in resignation. "Let's go, Granger."

Hermione gave an apologetic smile at Harry that clearly said, 'you're on your own' and joined Draco. While they started walking away from the table, Narcissa cleared her throat. Draco gritted his teeth and extended his elbow to her.

"It all started that summer," Narcissa's voice wafted over Hermione's ears as they took steps toward the glass case that displayed an assortment of lovely shortcakes.

"I see Potter still can't function without you at his side," Draco said as Hermione bent her neck to look at one sweet that was being displayed at the back of the case.

"For your information, Harry's the best at what he does. You are lucky that he's handling this case. Once he's through with this, your mother will be free to wander around without looking over her shoulder," she said without looking up.

"Any notes from Davis', since our meeting?"

"No. But I'm expecting one soon. She might've hinted about some changes when I chanced her in the Atrium." Hermione's eyes brightened up suddenly. "Ooh, that Dacquoise looks lovely," she pointed to a tiny one with intricate layers.

"I don't think a Dacquoise would be an appropriate choice this early in the day unless you plan to forego lunch," Draco said coming closer. A part of Hermione yearned to lecture him about presuming to dictate what she ate, while another part had to fight the blush that started to show on her cheeks because of his sudden proximity. "I might suggest the Baklava, not only is it made in the traditional manner by a Pureblood Chef of Ottoman descent, but it's also less likely to spoil your appetite."

Hermione's eyes studied Draco, as he started to explain the origin and ingredients in some of the other suitable sweets. She was having a hard time reconciling the cruel boy from her past and the man she'd come to know. There was no doubt in her mind that Draco Malfoy should not be trusted, but his recent actions and her own body's traitorous reactions told a different story. She needed to figure this out, she needed a plan.

"Time to choose, Granger." Her silent musing was interrupted as Draco suddenly addressed her directly.

"I would like to try the Baklava," Hermione said looking back at the glass case.

While Draco placed the orders Hermione fought to regain her composure, "How do you know so much about them?" she asked pointing to the glass case.

"Dessert making requires precision, Granger. Not so different from Potions. There is an order to it. To create the perfect product, you must add the proper ingredients at the right time and follow a proper procedure. People can be unpredictable, but desserts and potions are beautiful in their simplicity."

"That's a rather dreary way of looking at it," Hermione folded her hands. " What about experimentation? Even making small changes could create something amazing."

"Or create something horrible," he added.

"My point Malfoy is that if you're not open to making changes you risk missing out on so much, there's beauty in unpredictableness too."

"If this is your attitude, I shudder to think of what culinary abominations you've managed to create," Draco smirked.

"I don't claim I'm an excellent cook, but I can make some very tasty dishes," she said with a triumphant smile.

"I find it hard to believe, Granger. When do you have time to even experiment? Most of the time, your posterior is glued to your office chair and from what I've heard, you're handling most of the things for Potter's wedding."

"Cooking's my hobby and I do make time in my schedule for my hobbies. My friends have said they rather love my creations."

"You're friends are hardly a ringing endorsement. I'm quite confident Weasley could eat pretty much anything and say it was delicious. You need more proof than just your friends." Draco said taking the offered dessert tray into his hands.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at his words. "I don't need to prove myself to you."

"Rather meek for a lion, I thought Gryffindors liked to face challenges, head-on," he taunted as he smiled smugly looking at the fire in her eyes as they narrowed at him.

"I'll show you, then. Once you taste my cooking, you'll be eating your own words." Hermione challenged walking towards their table.

"I can't wait," Draco added sarcastically as he followed.

"What are these?" Harry asked giving a cautious glance at the plate of sweets, as Hermione took her seat. "They look different."

"They are called Baklava, Draco recommended them. According to him, they are best suited for this time of the day," Hermione said slicing a small sliver of the layered sweet suddenly realizing her slip of the tongue. Her eyes widened to find that her mistake hadn't gone unnoticed. "It's delicious. You all should try it," she mumbled diverting every eye back to the table.

Breaking the uncomfortable silence, Narcissa spoke. "How are your wedding preparations progressing, Mr. Potter?"

"Um, good. I haven't had much to do. Ginny and Hermione are handling it," Harry said scratching the neck.

"Then I presume you've already prepared your gift of devotion?" Narcissa said gently wiping her mouth with the napkin.

Harry looked at Hermione, silently begging her to help. "I'm helping Harry," Hermione said trying to dig into the situation.

"That's very kind of you, Ms. Granger. However, according to the pureblood customs, it is the groom's duty to prepare a gift of devotion for his future wife. Traditionally, a gift of devotion is the groom's answer to his bride's dowry. It is a gift that signifies the strength of the couple's bond and is an expression of love that is to be remembered and passed down to the future generations. In olden days, the grooms from esteemed families employed councils to help them decide on the perfect gift."

"Mother, I seriously doubt any of the Weasleys care about Pureblood customs," Draco said sipping his tea.

Hermione knew Draco was right, Ginny was the last person on earth who would give a thought about what gift would Harry give. Yet, Hermione was puzzled by Harry's suddenly pensive expression. Her best friend seemed to be giving Narcissa's words serious thought. Harry met Hermione's confused glance and slowly nodded his head.

"So, giving a gift of devotion holds a lot of importance?" Harry asked.

"Absolutely. Malfoy Manor itself was Armand Malfoy's gift of devotion to his wife, and almost every gift of devotion since can either be found in the Malfoy family vault or on the manor grounds. Those who married into the Malfoy family were often given unique or priceless gifts that made them the envy of the whole wizarding world." Narcissa gave a sly glance around the table and made her a tone a tad bit lower. "If you'd like I could suggest a few places that might assist you in creating a magnificent gift."

"Creating?" Hermione asked.

"Gifts of devotion are traditionally handcrafted. Although, Septimus Malfoy persuaded the Minister at the time to officiate his wedding, showing the lengths to which he would go for his bride." Draco answered.

"Draco's grandfather Abraxas did the same," Narcissa added, "However, he also had a beautiful statue commissioned for his bride that still adorns our garden."

Harry's eyes lit up and even Hermione agreed that wasn't a bad idea.

Brunch carried on with some more suggestions from Narcissa, indented by Gryffindors' questions sometimes accompanied by Draco's remarks. As it came to an end, Narcissa thanked Harry for his help while Draco gave a polite handshake.

"Thank you for your time and the information Mrs. Malfoy. Hopefully, we'll soon catch the people responsible for your attacks," said Harry.

Narcissa then turned to Hermione and smiled. "We hope to see you soon at the Manor, Ms. Granger. Hopefully, after your meeting with Lucius, we can have some tea."

"What?" Hermione asked with furrowed eyebrows. "I don't understand." Her questioning eyes turned to Draco. "I don't recollect scheduling any meetings with your father?"

Draco silently cursed his mother's carelessness. He hadn't wanted to broach that topic because he knew Hemione would react poorly, and one look at the stricken woman in front of him only confirmed his presumption. Draco needed a solution before Granger either exploded or shattered.

"Malfoy, what on earth is she talking about?" Harry draped a hand over Hermione's shoulder, his tone becoming aggressive.

Narcissa glanced at Draco. "I presumed Draco had already made a mention."

"There was no need to make mention of any meeting." Draco cut in, "As I told father, he needs to be patient and trust in my judgment. I will arrange a meeting when I deem it necessary. I see no point in wasting anyone's time when the project is still being refined."

Narcissa noticing Draco's protectiveness and also sensing his deception, arched an eyebrow. "Your father is not a patient man, and I doubt he will want to continue funding a project that is not producing results."

"I am aware, Mother. Granger and I will meet with him when we are ready."

Draco looked over at Hermione who looked like she wanted answers, immediately. He was silently thankful when he realized that Potter's hand on her shoulder wasn't only a gesture of comfort but a means of restraining her fury. His parents' unreasonable expectations had earned him a lioness' wrath and it was going to take a great deal of cunning just to survive.

Chapter Text

"I can't believe this," Hermione muttered, hands moving through her now wild tresses as she paced across the narrow alley. "I can't begin to comprehend your motives for hiding such an important thing from me."

Draco didn't spare her a glance as he lazily checked his nails. His feigned disinterest in her ranting was nothing more than a façade while his mind attempted to plan his escape. For all her beauty and intelligence, a life with Hermione Granger would certainly take a toll on his sanity unless he found a way to manage her fierce Gryffindor nature. Previous concerns about her wellbeing seemed rather meaningless when he was the target of her fury. He should have fled the moment brunch with Potter had ended; He should have seen what was to come the moment she asked to speak with him, and he should have known that his mother would ask Potter to escort her home and force him to deal with Granger alone.

"Tell me, Draco. Did you somehow forget to tell me about the meeting with your father?"

Draco cringed as his name effortlessly flew from her lips. "Will you stop that!"

She stopped her pacing and shot him a look that could've easily rivaled Professor McGonagall's glare. "Stop what?" she hissed as she folded her arms across her chest,

Letting out a frustrated growl, he gestured wildly towards her and said, "Being so you!"

"Ugghh," she groaned and stomped towards him. "You're utterly impossible! First of all, you have the audacity to not inform me that your father has requested a meeting with me and now you have an issue with me being myself." She narrowed her eyes at him and asked, "I'd thought that over the past few months, we'd built a cordial working relationship and we might be able to genuinely try to become friends. Are you not comfortable becoming my friend?"

"I didn't say that," Draco looked at a black spot on the wall, beyond her shoulder. Blatantly lying to her seemed all the more difficult a task, considering it felt like she was trying to look into his soul. Desperate to keep his eyes away from her fiery gaze and gloriously reddened cheeks, Draco decided on a different tactic. He sighed deeply, "I have very little issue with establishing a friendship. Just don't ever expect me to call you by your ridiculously twisty name."

"That's rich coming from a person, who himself has a funny name?"

Draco slowly took a step forward, slightly stepping into her personal space, testing the waters. "You seem rather focused on my name as of late Granger. Is there any particular reason for that?"

Hermione's eyes slowly widened but she didn't step back. She lifted her chin in defiance and spoke in a whisper, "I just happen to think it's a rather, brazen name for such a timid man."

"Timid? Are you sure about that?" he murmured seductively, as he met her gaze. He saw a moment of hesitation in her eyes and wondered how she was going to react to his proximity. It seemed that seduction was an effective tool to quell Granger's fury. She didn't relent but her expression faded into a less volatile fury with a hint of something neither of them wanted to address.

"What kind of game are you trying to play?" Hermione asked, her voice hitching slightly higher than normal. "and why didn't you tell me about this meeting?"

Her swift return to the matter at hand forced Draco to take a step back and told him that he wouldn't be able to distract her again. His frustration mounting, he turned away and sighed, "Don't get your knickers in a twist, Granger. As I said earlier, I didn't think it was the right time. The project is going forward smoothly and I didn't want to derail any progress with a pointless meeting. Informing you wasn't necessary, and you're hardly in a position to dictate how I choose to carry out my father's wishes."

Hermione took a deep breath and spoke in a dangerously low voice, "Let me make one thing clear, Draco Malfoy. This is my project and I intend to do everything in my power to make it a success. It has not even been a week since we dealt with Tracey Davis. Merlin forbid, if your father decides to intervene and compromise everything we have accomplished so far; I promise, I'll give you a fresh reminder of our third year." Her eyes narrowed as her finger poked his chest.

Draco had to curb a sudden urge to reach for his nose. "For Salazar's sake, Granger. Did you drag me into this alley, to fight?" He tried to dislodge the finger that was still pressed against his chest and said in a frustrated tone, "Do you think I forgot what happened to you in that house?"

Hermione's eyes widened and she drew back her hand from his clutches. Her lip quivered as she spoke, "I'm not some damsel in distress for you to save. I'm well aware of my past and I'm not afraid to face it."

"Well then, forgive me for presuming you'd find it unpleasant," Draco spat harshly turning his face away from her. "Really Granger, can you not identify courtesy when it's staring you in the face? Has your association with Weasley and Potter hampered your ability to understand human civilities to this extent?"

"How dare you!" Hermione was fuming.

Draco pinched his brow and exhaled harshly before turning towards her. For the first time in his life, he had completely contradicted his beliefs and disgraced everything he had been taught since birth. He was concerned for a mud... Mm… Muggleborn. He couldn't even say that blasted word anymore when it came to her; and what did he get in return for his concern, more accusations. He bit back all those things and donned a mask to conceal his feelings from the feisty Gryffindor standing in front of him. "If you're so sure of yourself, I don't see any point in waiting any longer," Draco folded his arms and stared into her eyes. "Are you free tomorrow?"

"What are you trying to say?" Hermione's heart started to thud.

"I'm talking about the meeting with my father. He wishes to know what sort of progress has been made thanks to our substantial investment. Given that the ministry has placed him under house arrest, the meeting will have to take place at the Manor."

As she stood there looking into his probing eyes, she started to realize the depth of the situation. Never in her life had she thought she would return to that ghastly place again. She unconsciously brushed the scar on her neck, where Bellatrix's dagger had bit into her skin, an action that was duly noted by Draco's cold gaze. The very thought of going back to that place made her shiver; but if that's what it took to ensure her project's survival, she wouldn't let that stop her. Bellatrix may have made Hermione endure the greatest of pains in that hall, but she didn't break her. If anything, that pain made her stronger and gave her hope that so long as she kept on fighting, success would never be out of reach.

Beyond the fear of returning to Malfoy Manor, Hemione was confused. Draco's earlier words had suggested that he was worried about her. There was a time, not long ago, that she might've been able to dismiss such an absurd idea without a second thought. After all, who in their right mind would ever believe that the pureblood snob in front of her could genuinely care about her. The whisper of a little voice in her agitated mind told her that he might have had another motive in insinuating himself into her project and life. Blood rushed to her cheeks as she tried to control the overwhelming emotions that started to manifest within her. "Alright," the word spilled out of her mouth before she could decide.

Draco remained silent, taking care that his face never betrayed the conflict of his mind. "I would've offered to pick you up; but since you're not a damsel in distress, I don't see any point in troubling myself." Throwing her a look from over his shoulder he said. "I'm sure you know where Malfoy Manor is. The fireplace will be open for you, from noon onward. Until tomorrow, Granger." Without giving her a chance to speak he swiftly walked out of the alley, leaving Hermione to her tempestuous thoughts.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"It is a lovely dress," Luna said running her hands on the dress, she was trying on. "But I would've preferred it in yellow, a sunny color is much more suited to a wedding."

Hermione absentmindedly nodded her head, tucking a stray curl behind her ears.

"Although red is more of a Harry and Ginny color," Luna continued as she twirled around looking at herself in the mirror. "Do you think Ginny would mind if I add few Sunflowers to the dress?"

"Mm hm."

"How about a necklace of radishes and Butterbeer corks?" Luna said giving a strange look at Hermione.

"I guess."

"You should wear one too. To keep away those Wrackspurts that are troubling your brain."

"Okay," Hermione said rubbing her temples. Suddenly, Luna's words reached her addled mind. "What? No! No sunflowers or butterbeer cork necklaces. Those accessories are always lovely, but they won't fit into the theme of their wedding. Why don't we stick to what Ginny picked?"

"Oh! such a shame," Luna said without any change in her serene expression. "Red seems fine too, especially, on you."

"Um, thank you" Hermione smiled uncomfortably. "It looks great on you too, Luna."

"You wore red to Ron's brother's wedding and Ron couldn't keep his eyes off you. I'm sad that it ended so badly."

"Yes, that was a troubling day for all of us," Hermione said fixing the large bow that hung to the side of the dress.

"I was talking about you and Ron."

"Oh," Hermione bit her lip. "We just wanted different things. Even if the results of Magical Matching were positive, I don't think we could've lived happily with each other. I can completely understand his wish to have a magical child and I sincerely hope he finds his perfect match." Hermione said lowering the zipper on the back of her dress and carefully stepped out of her dress while Luna continued twirling in hers.

"I can understand Ronald's perspective as well. Pureblood families are more similar than they care to acknowledge." Hermione furrowed her eyebrows as Luna continued. "For all of them, magic guides their every action. If you really ponder there is not much of a difference between the Weasleys and the Malfoys."

"I'm sorry to say, but you are quite wrong. They despise each other," scoffed Hermione moving around to pick up her clothes that were draped over the chair.

"I don't deny that," said Luna. "But their ideals, outlook, and upbringing aren't entirely different. The Malfoys place a great deal of value on those with a strong magical lineage, while the Weasleys act as if it is their responsibility to look after and help those who do not to come from a wizarding background. Do you see the similarity?"

Hermione paused buttoning up her shirt. In a weird way, Luna's words made sense. Both families placed a very high value on magic; one as a symbol of power to be coveted, and the other as a gift to be shared. Hermione's practical mind struggled with this revelation but didn't quite agree, as it flashed glimpses of how the Weasleys had become her surrogate family in the Wizarding world. She wanted to list out various way in which they were different, but looking at the clock she stopped herself. Once done with their dress fittings, she had to head to her dreaded meeting and an argument with the quirky Ravenclaw could easily consume her entire day. She bit back her words and looked at Luna, "Then, what about you Luna? What do you think?"

"Magic is everywhere, Hermione. It doesn't belong to anyone and couldn't be held inside anybody. We just have to learn how to see it," Luna closed her eyes and sighed with a serene expression on her face. "Are you getting back to the ministry? I thought you didn't work on Sundays anymore." Luna opened one of her eyes and asked Hermione as she started to put on her robes.

"Not exactly. I have a meeting with the Malfoys at the Manor," Hermione gulped trying to hold on to the tiny wisps of courage that were dangling in her heart. She had hardly had any sleep last night and the lack of rest started to weigh on her. She started to wonder if the mere thought of visiting that dreary place induced her panic or was the unease related to the fact that she would be meeting with the Malfoy patriarch. Harry had been livid, but he didn't object or try to stop her; he simply offered to accompany her if needed. Although she appreciated his help, this was something she had to alone. Only after shoving Harry out of the house after giving him enough assurance that she'll be fine and downing the entire vial of calming draught, she was able to prepare herself for her impending visit.

"You both are good together," Luna said with a smile. "The article in those papers didn't do justice to the growing bond between you."

"There is no bond between us, Luna," Hermione sputtered. "I mean, except for the project we are working on together." As the words escaped her mouth, she noticed the hesitation in her claim. Pulling her shoes onto her feet, she tried to ignore Luna's curious gaze.

"Are you asking me or telling me?" Luna said slumping down into the armchair beside Hermione. As Hermione's mouth opened, Luna chuckled. "I definitely think there is more, seeing that you've accepted to go to his house."

"No, it's not like that. It's just an official meeting with his father," Hermione grimaced.

"Oh!" Luna's expression became thoughtful. "Still, it's good to accept the past in order to move into the future."

"Yes. I'm not going to let Lucius Malfoy stop my project," Hermione said standing straight. "I'm going to prove to him that all those elves need a better life. I appreciate Draco's concern about me, but I'm not going to let a tiny thing like that stop me."

"I'm glad you have his support. If anyone can understand the pain of stepping into a place where they were tortured, it would be him. He lived with Voldemort under the same roof for two years and we all know how Voldemort punished those who failed him. I used to wonder how he managed it when I would hear cries of anguish while I lived in their dungeons."

The new understanding hit her like a blast. While she was struggling with how to face her own past, she had been completely ignorant of the weight of reality. Draco had survived living under Voldemort's rule in his own home and had somehow been able to reclaim his home from the horrors that likely took place within its walls. Unlike his father, Draco had never been forced to return to Malfoy Manor. He had chosen to return and conquer the nightmares that resided within. A new respect bloomed in her heart for Draco, and she felt warm as she understood why he'd been concerned for her.

"Eep," a sudden scream from outside the dressing room dragged Hermione out of her stupor. "It's poking me in the eye." the screams continued and Hermione reached for her wand, heading towards the door that led them outside. "I think it came from the dressing room."

"Oh, the tiny rascals," Luna chuckled lifting her bag that lay strewn open on the floor. "They must've escaped."

Hermione turned towards her with a horror-struck expression. "Who are they?"

"Not to worry, Hermione. They're practically harmless," Luna explained looking under the armchair. "Most of the time. Ah, there you are," she said dragging a reluctant stick from under there.

"Luna, why did you bring a Bowtruckle to a dress fitting?" Hermione said placing a hand on her hip.

"They are for Neville's new breed of Mimbulus Mimbletonia. Since he and Ron are already coming here for their dress fittings today, I thought of giving it to him." Luna stated and turned her attention back to the Bowtruckle in her hand. "Where are your brothers?" Luna cooed coaxing the tiny stick like thing back into her bag. "There should be five in total. They are from Scandinavian forests and have a special affinity towards Mimbulus. I guess they are the ones outside causing all the ruckus. I'll check," Luna said opening the door.

"No, Luna. Why don't you check in the room? Since I'm already dressed I'll go outside and see," Hermione said rushing out of the door without giving Luna a chance to respond. "I'm so sorry," Hermione said moving to the woman who was screaming at the top of her lungs, Bowtruckle partially tangled in her hair attacking the side of her face.

"Get this blasted thing off my face," the offended person yelled again giving Hermione a good look at her face.

"Parkinson," Hermione said and moved forward, making her way towards her. "It's nothing to be worried about. It's just a Bowtruckle," she said gently taking the fragile thing into her hands. Her eyes narrowed in concern looking at one of the arms of the Bowtruckle that seemed to be twisted at an odd angle.

"Granger?" Pansy hissed. "Does that thing belong to you? Not surprising at all. I guess you need to be reminded, this place is for people and not for the creatures from the Forbidden Forest."

Hermione threw her a scathing glare, "I see you haven't changed. Didn't you learn anything from our last encounter? How can you hurt a poor little thing?"

Pansy responded by raising her chin in defiance. "Little thing? That pest almost gouged out my eye. It doesn't belong here any more than you do."

"Bowtruckles are gentle creatures. Until they feel threatened they won't attack anybody," said Hermione, ignoring Pansy's insult while searching around the room for the others.

"Whatever," Pansy flipped her hair and turned to the assistant who stood around awkwardly looking at the exchange between them. "If you have my dresses ready, I would like to get out of this place immediately," Pansy said scrunching her nose at Hermione who was now joined by Luna who had gathered all the Bowtruckles into her bag. "Just so you know, no one from a respectable pureblood family would ever shop here if they knew you are hoarding creatures instead of fabrics," she said glaring at Hermione and Luna.

"Why you," Hermione advanced towards Pansy still holding the injured Bowtruckle.

"Neville, Ron," Luna's chime stopped Hermione's gait.

"Luna," Neville's kind voice reached her ears and Hermione's interest piqued as she observed the weird changes in Pansy. Gone was the snobbish expression on her face and in place stood a coy smile. "You brought them?" Neville excitedly took the Bowtruckles into his arms and thanked Luna. "They are just what those plants need. Do you have the woodlice?"

"Yes, right in my bag," Luna offered the bag, while Neville carefully lowered all the tiny creatures back into the bag while she held it open for him. "It should keep them occupied. Ron, would you mind holding the bag, there is one more with Hermione."

Before Hermione could react, Pansy snatched the injured Bowtruckle from her and glided towards Neville. "Oh, Neville! It's so nice to see you again."

Neville's eyes widened and the bag slowly started to slip from his hands. Thankfully, Ron was there to hold it. Although, Ron cringed a bit as the woodlice crawled up his hand, but held his grip. He shot a pitiful look at Hermione and begged for help. Mercifully, a glare from his ex-girlfriend kept him in place and silent.

"You forgot this little one," Pansy dangled the injured one in front of Neville, who gasped and gently took it into his hands. "Adorable aren't they?" she said batting her eyelashes. "They're almost as interesting as you."

Hermione was left in a state of shock trying to decipher Pansy's sudden change in demeanor. This wasn't the first time she'd seen Pansy behaving in such a way towards Neville and she couldn't help but wonder what exactly was happening.

"Let me help," Luna said lifting her wand trying to fix the injured arm of the Bowtruckle.

"Oh, please. I'm very good at healing charms," Pansy said pushing Luna out of the way and turned her own wand at the creature in Neville's arms.

"No, not you," Neville put his hands behind his back. "Anyone but you."

Ron slowly scooted towards Hermione and sniggered. "Bloody hell! Just look at his face."

"Honestly Ron," Hermione shrugged. "How can you laugh at his struggles. Besides what worries me most is why Pansy Parkinson is suddenly interested in Neville."

"Beats me," Ron said. "I don't remember her sparing a glance at him at Hogwarts."

"Didn't you know, they're supposedly a strong magical match. It really is fascinating to see how Magical Matching brings two people with completely different interests together," Luna said extracting the last Bowtruckle into her hands, while Neville unsuccessfully dodged Pansy's attempts.

"What?" Hermione gasped while Ron was reduced to a sniggering mess.

"Seriously? Neville and the Slytherin Ice queen? That's the most outrageous thing I ever heard. Who are they going to pair up next? `Mione and Malfoy?" Ron guffawed.

Ron was the only one who remained laughing at the apparent ridiculousness of his own words. As for Hermione, she shot a withering glare at Ron making him choke on his own laughter. "Think before you speak Ron."

"What are you glaring at me for? Seriously, was I the only one who laughed at the absurd article. As if you would spare the ferret even a minute of your life," Ron continued as Hermione dragged him into a corner, gesturing Luna to follow them.

Hermione shook her head at Ron's absurdity and turned to Luna. "Is it true?"

"Neville told me, the Parkinsons had approached his Grandmother regarding an alliance. Since Augusta dismissed them, Pansy has been running mysteriously into him everywhere he went. It's kind of cute," she said looking at Pansy who was laughing at something Neville had mumbled, making him turn red in embarrassment.

"This is outrageous. Just look at them. I've never seen two people more ill-suited. Just for the sake of a powerful magical child, she's ready to sabotage both of their lives," Hermione said shaking her head.

"I mean I understand their desire for a strong magical child," Ron said scratching the back of his neck. "But she's too feisty and Neville's just plain boring. I don't think they can be happy together," Ron said shrugging his shoulders.

"Come on, Ron. Neville's wonderful. I just don't want Parkinson to take advantage of him making his life miserable," Hermione said folding her arms.

"Don't you see, Hermione. The wizarding world revolves around Magic. Pansy isn't to blame; it's hardly her fault that since childhood she was taught that magical strength was essential for survival. The belief in blood purity was born from that." she said with a pitiful glance at Pansy and Neville. "It's really not that surprising."

"Well then, I'm going to put an end to it," Hermione wanted nothing but to stomp over and rescue them from their impending disaster.

"Wait, aren't you getting a little late, for your meeting at Malfoy Manor?" Luna stopped her by her arm.

"What? Have you gone completely mental?"

"Ron," Hermione said pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Why are you going back to that blasted place?" Ron's voice exploded attracting the attention of the people gathered. "Did you forget you were tortured in that bloody house?"

Hermione pursed her lips. "Thanks for the reminder Ronald; but this is something I have to do for the success of my project."

"I won't let you, I won't let you do this to yourself," Ron said moving into her personal space, creating a human barricade. "I saw the pain you went through, Hermione."

Hermione looked at the protectiveness in his eyes and reached out to his shoulder. "I appreciate your concern, but If I don't go, everything I've done to help others would be completely wasted." Her eyes wandered to the gaping people around them and she gritted her teeth. "And if you ever act like this, I won't hesitate to introduce you to my own version of a Bat-Bogey Hex."

Most of the people turned their heads away at Hermione's words, but Pansy's gaze remained glued to them with a sudden curiosity.

"Hermione, please. Think about it. Is that program really worth your sanity?"

"If you think that, I don't know if you ever really understood me, Ron," Hermione said in a dejected voice.

"Fine. Have it your way. If thinking about the safety of a friend is a mistake, then go and do whatever you want," Ron seethed. "I held you when you were hurting, Hermione. I can never forget the image of you broken and huddled in my arms."

Before Hermione could reach out to him, Ron stormed away. Neville who was standing near placed his hand on Hermione's shoulder. "He means well, Hermione."

"I know," Hermione said placing her hand on her chest, as she tried to control her erratic breathing. "But I have to do this."

"Yes, we understand," Luna said gently squeezing Hermione's hand. "We'll take care of it from here, you go."

"Are you sure?" Hermione said throwing a glance in the direction Ron had rushed off.

"Absolutely," Neville assured as he left dragging Luna with him.

"Well, isn't that interesting," Pansy said as she approached with a predatory gleam in her eyes. "Are you planning on testing the limits of your Gryffindor courage?"

Frustrated and angry, Hermione unleashed her torrent of emotions on Pansy. "You listen to me, Parkinson. I'm trying my best to control my urge to hex you. You would do well to remember that it's really not that hard for me to make your life miserable. I'm certain you remember what happened with Pippy. So think hard before commenting on my Gryffindor sensibilities." Pansy backed up a bit, at the anger that was shining in Hermione's eyes. Gathering all her belongings, Hermione asked the assistant who was still hovering in the background. "May I use your floo?" The young girl nodded her head and pointed in the direction of the fireplace. The fierce Gryffindor stomped her way towards it and grabbed a handful of Floo powder. She shot one last look at Pansy and hissed, "I suggest you stay away from Neville."

Pansy watched in shocked silence as Hermione threw the powder into the fireplace. As the green flames rose, Hermione took a deep breath readying her mind to face the challenge that awaited just beyond the verdant flames. Ron's words echoed in her mind as she found her resolve, and stepping into the roaring flames she called out, "Malfoy Manor."

Chapter Text

"Oh dear, it seems a rather dashing gargoyle has taken it upon himself to brood on my balcony. Whatever will I do?" Narcissa drawled as she strolled onto the balcony of her suite, watching her husband who was gazing into the gardens below. Lucius seemed to ignore his wife's attempt a humor as she settled into the patio chair. "I presume everything's in order for that Granger girl's visit?"

Lucius' hands remained clasped behind him as he gave a subtle nod. "It appears that our son is finally prepared to accept his duty."

Narcissa pursed her lips. "Draco accepted his duty the day you were taken to that awful prison. I had hoped with your return, we might spare him the burden a little longer."

"It is regrettable, but sacrifices must be made if we are to survive," Lucius said curling his lip, his gaze lingering on a statue surrounded by blooming Daffodils on the terrace.

Narcissa chose to ignore her husband but followed his eyes. "I saw her yesterday."

Lucius raised an eyebrow in a mild interest.

"She's rather disappointing, I expected better of someone of her acclaim. Such lack of elegance and grace is simply abhorrent. Her parents should be ashamed; that creature doesn't deserve my Draco."

"I find such revelations hardly surprising. Although her sharp mind is a valuable asset; her muggle heritage and a willingness to associate with blood traitors are indignities we must endure."

Narcissa sighed as Lucius strolled towards her taking a seat in the patio chair next to her. "I'll admit, I was quite puzzled to see her accompanying yesterday. It's rather unseemly for a lady to attend such a meeting. Particularly given that Ms. Granger is not employed as an Auror. Although, if Mr. Potter is to be believed, our meeting only took place as a result of Ms. Granger's dissatisfaction with the Ministry's choice to ignore a threat against one of its citizens."

"What do you make of it?" asked Lucius quirking an eyebrow.

"Her intent seemed genuine; it's possible her view of the Malfoy family has changed," said Narcissa.

"No doubt due to her Gryffindor nature, dear. Sanctimonious fools the lot of them. Pity, I had hoped such a celebrated mind would be immune to such heroics. She will need to learn to control her impulsive urges if she is to become a Malfoy." Narcissa scowled at her husband's words. "However, her actions have provided us with a unique opportunity that could be used to our advantage."

"If you're thinking about Mr. Potter's wedding, then I couldn't agree more," Narcissa smirked.

"Although Draco is not fond of either party, it would be remiss of us to not assure that the Malfoys maintained a presence at such an auspicious social event."

"Don't worry Lucius. The seed has already been planted. I expect it will not be long before young Potter will be handing us the invitation himself." Narcissa said adjusting the huge emerald ring on her finger. "You needn't worry about such trivial things, my love."

Lucius appraised his wife and her resourcefulness. She was the perfect example of a Malfoy bride. Her devotion to her family and husband compelled her to go to any length to preserve their family's honor and future. By comparison, his own flesh and blood seemed lacking in devotion to their family. Since his return, the Malfoy patriarch had observed that Draco had become rather passive, choosing to tinker with rather than work to restore the Malfoy name.

"I am disappointed in Draco," Lucius said in a stoic voice. "The duty of a pureblood heir is to his family. Our son is lacking in ambition. He should learn something from young Nott. Rumors of his marriage contract with Ms. Davis, are already circulating within the community."

"You don't give Draco enough credit, Lucius," Narcissa gently took her husband's hand into hers. As her fingers brushed the chain tattoo on his arm that restricted his magic, Narcissa felt his body stiffen. She removed her fingers and gave a concerned look. "His task is not as easy as you make it seem. Theodore was matched to a half-blood and to my understanding Ms. Davis was rather amenable to their union. However, Draco has not been so fortunate. Unlike the younger Greengrass girl, our son must now court a woman he was raised to loathe."

Lucius pinched the bridge of his nose. "Your interference has no doubt been instrumental thus far Cissa, but Draco must take a more active role if we are to use Ms. Granger to secure our future."

"He's trying. Tinky has prepared an elaborate tea service, and he was in the Library seeking a rather specific manuscript."

"A Manuscript?" Lucius questioned. "The boy's study contains copies of all but the rarest books in our collection."

"He was looking for the manuscript of 'Hogwarts, A History' your father left to him. I don't understand why he thinks the girl would be interested in that book. Their time at Hogwarts has long since passed, but perhaps Draco has his reasons."

Lucius stood up from his chair and walked towards the door. Before stepping into the house, he said over his shoulder. "I'll give Draco sometime before I meet with the girl, let him do whatever he wants with an old book. Is everything ready for our plan?"

"I asked the elves to take care of it," Narcissa said with a smug smile.

"Good." With a contented smile, he exited the balcony, his mind getting ready to put all his plans into action.


Draco's eyes roved across the room as he made sure everything was in its place. The clock on his mantle showed that it was just after midday and he could hear the faint chimes of church bells in the distance. Granger was too studious to ever miss an appointment or risk being late, which meant that the fireplace could roar with verdant flames at any moment. Leaving his room, traveled down the stairs to await Hermione's arrival.

As he descended, he heard the sharp roar of the fireplace and cursed his luck. Quickly donning a stoic mask, Draco let out a drawl trying to ignore the hazy form in the flames. "I didn't think you'd actually be early."

"Expecting someone else?" The taunting reply made Draco snap his eyes towards the newcomer.

"Blaise? What are you doing here?" Draco hissed as Blaise smiled. "Nevermind, it doesn't matter and I don't care. Leave."

"Hold on for a minute," Blaise stopped him. "What's going on? Why all the fuss?"

"I am expecting Granger, and I want you gone."

"I'm disappointed Draco, I never thought I'd live to see the day you preferred the company of a Mudblood to yours truly. Are you ashamed of me, Malfoy?"

"What the hell are you barking?" Draco said his eyes darting towards the fireplace. "Look, Granger's going to be here soon, and it's very likely she'll find your presence as unpalatable as I do at the moment. I'll deal with whatever brought you here later. I need you gone."

"Oh, so the Gryffindor swot is making house visits? That means you've loosened that stick up her arse. Well done," Blaise said placing a hand on his chest. "Didn't think you'd manage it this quickly, and I didn't expect the article in the Daily Prophet to be accurate. Will wonders never cease."

"Shut up, you wanker. It's not like that. My father is meeting with her regarding her project. The fact that I'm being forced to deal with Granger is bad enough, but I don't have the patience to put up with your nonsense as well." Draco said pinching the bridge of his nose.

"So you've finally been given the perfect chance to defame her in the eyes of your parents." Zabini mused. "In that case, I won't be long. I can't have you blaming me if you go and muck it up. "

Draco felt uneasy as Blaise's words echoed in his mind. His former housemate was right; this was likely the best opportunity to allow his father to see the folly in trying to woo Granger. This visit would ultimately determine Granger's worth. If she could endure Lucius Malfoy's scrutiny, she would be deemed a worthy bridal candidate; but if she faltered, Draco would be freed from the burden of courting her. It was in his best interest to sabotage Granger's visit, yet he found himself securing an aged manuscript and preparing an elaborate tea service for her. His actions did not match his desire, and he struggled to tell himself that it didn't matter. Azkaban had only sharpened his father's fangs. Draco's caring would only lure her into a false sense of security, and his father would finish it, or so he told himself.

"You look a bit off, are you alright, mate?" Blaise asked quirking up an eyebrow.

Draco shook his head, trying to rid himself of the latent desire to care for Hermione Granger. "I'm fine. Why are you here?"

"I'll be out of your hair in a moment, so I don't sabotage your perfect plans to besmirch Granger's reputation," he smirked as he placed his hands into his pockets. " I came to tell you I'm seeing the youngest Greengrass sister. Since she was your ex, I thought it best to let you know."

"Oh," Draco dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "Fine by me. Just treat her well, okay?" Draco smirked inwardly, His arrogant friend was in for a rude awakening. Astoria only seemed sweet and demure. The youngest Greengrass daughter was a woman whose vindictiveness was beyond measure and whose fierceness was only surpassed by Hermione Granger. If not for the poor results of their matching she would have been the ideal Lady Malfoy. Unfortunately, fate conspired to saddle Draco with the muggle-born princess of Gryffindor's house.

"We'll meet up in the evening for drinks to celebrate your success. The party is on me," Blaise said in a sing-song way as he disappeared into the green flames.

All he wanted to do was run back to his study and vanish all of the things he had prepared for Granger, but Draco didn't get a chance as the fireplace roared once again and out stepped the object of his thoughts.

It took a moment for him to gather his wits to recognize her presence. "Granger," he said moving closer to her. Looking at her tense stance and widened eyes, he could feel her anxiety as he used his wand to siphon the dust from her clothes.

"Thanks," she muttered as the specks of dirt vanished.

She looked identical to the day, they had their meeting with Davis. Ensconced in a cloak of professionalism with minor elegant touches to reflect her femininity. As her hands tightly clutched her small beaded bag, she wore a determined expression. She looked eerily like a woman prepared for war.

"Shall we?" Draco asked offering his arm.

"Yes, let's get over with it." She said taking his arm as her eyes wandered around the room. Draco followed her gaze as she took in the sight of the room that haunted her. "Is this the same room?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"Yes," Draco said in a cold, almost clinical voice.

"It looks so different," Hermione said looking at the roof that once hosted a far different chandelier.

"We went through a series of stringent renovations after the war. Many things were changed," Draco said giving an appraising glance around the room.

"It looks like an entirely different place," Hermione's thudding heart started to slow down. "I wouldn't have recognized it at all if you hadn't said."

"The Manor has undergone countless changes since it was built. Each generation leaves behind a history within these walls; some are simply easier to see than others." Draco said, silently hoping that the small remnants of Voldemort's residency would one day fade into the building's foundations like forgotten memories.

"This is beautiful," Hermione's voice brought his attention to the rather large painting that covered a significant portion of the wall on which it was hung. Draco watched as her eyes traced the image of an elegant silver eyed dragon, with wings stretched across a moonlit sky.

"It's the work of a rather renowned French artist. I had commissioned him to create something for my mother while she was under house arrest. She forced him to revise it countless times until she was satisfied, and before you say anything; the artist was handsomely compensated for his efforts." Draco said with a proud smile. He still remembered his mother's smile when she saw the finished product.

"It's brilliant," Hermione said, as she noticed an oddly familiar serpent crushed under the dragon's claws. This made her realize that they were standing in a place where Voldemort once resided and many people like her were tortured and killed.

Draco noticing a change in her demeanor spoke softly. "We won't be meeting my father until later. Tinky will inform us when he is ready for our meeting. Until then, would you like a tour of the gardens?" Hermione's body stiffened at his proposal. She didn't want to spend any more time than needed in this haunted place. A tour around the gardens sounded lovely, but Hermione doubted she would have the courage to return if she was given the chance to explore the manor grounds.

"That sounds nice, but can't we wait, someplace else. I just want to finish this meeting as quickly as possible."

Draco nodded. "Sure. If you're amenable, we can wait, in my study."

"That sounds good," Hermione said with a relieved smile. As Draco turned towards the stairs, she stopped him by his shoulder. "Wait." Draco raised an eyebrow at her. "I guess I should apologize for storming at you, yesterday."

Draco's eyebrows scrunched up. "I've come to expect your fiery nature, Granger. While I find it rather unpleasant, I also find it rather pointless for you to apologize. Your aversion to returning here is not unfounded."

Hermione paused by his side and looked at him. "True, it's not easy for me, but it is important for our venture. Besides, I didn't realize you also went through the same pain in your very own house. If you can learn to love this place, perhaps I can borrow some of your courage."

"Do not presume to understand me." Draco snapped, "I don't know what delusions you might be under, there is no other place in the world I could imagine myself living," His glacial tone brooked no argument.

"Exactly, my point," Hermione replied unfazed by his words as she met his stare. "Even if you deny it, that's what led me to believe that I could endure coming back to this place." Her eyes darted to the steps. "You promised to show your study."


"This is your study?" She said brushing her fingertips on the mahogany mantel as Draco led her into the room. His eyes darted to the manuscript lying on the tea table and his breathing hitched remembering Blaise's words. Without allowing a second thought, he moved discreetly and tucked the book into one of the shelves. He cast a look at the tea service resting under a stasis charm but was resigned to the fact that nothing could be done without looking suspicious.

"Yes," he said joining her as she examined some trinkets on the mantel. He was amazed to witness her change in demeanor. She seemed so at ease within the safety of this study compared to the tension that plagued her from the moment she'd arrived. He tried to ignore the small pang of guilt he felt knowing what awaited her. His father would show no mercy.

"Interesting," she said looking back at him. With a smile, she said, "Why did I think it would all be covered in Slytherin green."

"We're not children anymore, Granger. There is no point in sticking to pointless displays of loyalty to our Hogwarts house," he said following her as she strolled through the room. "I fail to understand the unending fascination with house colors so long after graduation. I suppose Potter's wedding colors are red and gold." She shot him a look and Draco sniggered, "Seriously? Am I right? Red and gold are Potter's wedding colors?"

"I think it is very sweet. Hogwarts was Harry's first home and Ginny and Harry are both Gryffindors."

"So if by any chance you wed someone from a different house, are you going to stick to the same tradition as Potter?" Draco wanted to smack himself at those words.

Hermione quirked up an eyebrow and gave a puzzled glance. When Draco continued to stare, she shrugged her shoulders, "Perhaps." She moved on leaving Draco in a state of confusion. What exactly did she mean by that? What is this with this girl, that turned him into a halfwit?

With a small still smile dancing on her lips, she moved to the bookcase and started perusing each title. Draco's eyes widened as she approached the shelf on which he'd hidden his ill-conceived gift. Before she could reach the hidden manuscript, he hurried towards her. "Can I interest you in a cup of tea?"

"Yes, thank you," she answered, as she picked a book off the shelf seemingly at random. "Just a splash of milk and one sugar," she added as she seated herself in a chair by the tea table.

Draco silently followed her instructions and handed her cup. Subtly, he watched with rapt attention as she lost herself in the chosen tome. The tension of returning to Malfoy Manor slowly melted away to be replaced by a serene expression. It was oddly captivating how she was able to find peace so easily within the pages of some book. As she mindlessly reached for a biscuit, he quickly stole a glance to see what book she'd chosen. He had to struggle to suppress a laugh. Against all odds, or perhaps very fittingly, she'd chosen the most difficult Arithmancy book in his collection. There seemed to be no end to Hermione Granger's absurdity.

As he lazily sipped his tea, his eyes traced the contours of her face. She wasn't a conventional beauty in any sense; but lost in a book, with her lips pursed, and brow slightly creased, he couldn't deny that she was captivating. He couldn't help but marvel at the little expressions that would appear as she read. For lack of a better word, she looked adorable, and he was left to wonder why he hadn't seen it before. Granger hadn't changed much since their time at Hogwarts. She was still a stubborn muggle-born and irritating swot who drove him barmy, but somehow, he found himself admiring her unquenchable thirst for knowledge and desire for proficiency to the point of actually wanting to spend time with her.

As if catching on his thoughts, her eyes rose to meet him and she blushed. "I'm sorry, I just got carried away." She gently closed the book and placed it on an adjacent table. "Those are quite lovely," she said gesturing to the tray of assorted biscuits and cakes. Draco nodded his thanks and a moment of uncomfortable silence fell upon them.

"I realized," she said breaking the silence. "We've never talked about what you do?"

He put his cup down on the table and spoke. "I help my father attend some of our business ventures."

His vague answer piqued her interest. "What kind of ventures?"

"Rather mundane things, bribery, blackmail, smuggling Dark artifacts, and the occasional political assassination." He answered with obvious sardonic flair.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Seriously, what do you do? From what I see," she pointed to the bookshelf, "you are interested in Arithmancy and Potions."

"Go on," Draco said leaning back into his chair.

"Advanced Arithmancy is not something we were taught at Hogwarts and I've always been intrigued by it." Hermione started. "Which brings me to my second question? I don't see how Potions and Arithmancy are related."

"It's not that complicated. Arithmancy deals with numbers, while Potions is all about quantities and procedures. For every potion created, the strength is determined by using the number we associate with it. For example, the number of Lavender sprigs added to a sleeping draught determines the nature of Sleeping draught. The number four is significant for every potion related to sleep. If you change the number of sprigs, you're not ruining the potion, but turning it into something else."

"Wow, that's really interesting," said Hermione, her face gleaming with joy.

"Yes, so much so that I built my own lab to conduct experiments. Professor Snape introduced me to these kinds of ventures, and Slughorn has privately expressed interest in some of my more unorthodox creations."

"Unorthodox experimentation? What happened to following a 'proper' procedure?" She smirked as started to gnaw her lip.

Draco let out a small chuckle, "A certain degree of flexibility is required to innovate. If you would you like to see it, It's adjacent to my study." He said walking to a small door that was at one of the corners.

"I would love to," Hermione agreed instantly and followed him.


"Wow, it's gloomy as Snape's dungeons," Hermione exclaimed hugging herself as they entered the Potions' lab.

Draco gave her a sideward look, turning his wand to light up the candles. "It's supposed to be maintained in these conditions to maintain the potency of the potions. I thought you knew."

"Well, I did know. It just skipped my mind," she moved to a bubbling cauldron on the desk. She leaned closer to take a peek.

"Careful there, Granger. That may look like a normal antidote for common poisons, but there is a slight change. Instead of adding two mistletoe berries and I added four mistletoe berries."

"I don't see why there is a problem. According to your theory, it should lull the person into sleep, while the antidote works." Hermione stepped closer to the cauldron.

"That is the theory, but mistletoe has its own side effects. The fumes, if inhaled for a few seconds, push the person into a trance that compels them to kiss the nearest person," Draco said stepping closer to the cauldron his hand on the lid. "Seeing as it's only the two of us, I think it best we keep our distance."

The beautiful blush appeared and she promptly stepped away. Moving to the nearby table she said. "So, you brew all your potions at home?"

"Most of them, yes. Many of the herbs needed for potions grow in our gardens. Mother and Father have gone to great lengths to make sure our garden is the envy of the wizarding world."

She nodded her head in contemplation. She noticed a peculiarity in the Daffodils Draco had given to her. Even though many days had passed there was no sign of wilting in the petals. She meant to ask, but her attention was drawn to a simmering cauldron. Her eyes narrowed as she perused the entirety of the container.

Draco's eyes widened and he saw her interest in the unusual vessel. How did he forget about that?!

"This doesn't look like a normal cauldron. I was sure I would find solid gold Cauldrons in here, but this is new. Is it some kind of wood?" She placed her hand near the cauldron but didn't touch it. "I can't even feel the heat radiating from it."

Draco never bothered about those specific cauldrons, before. There is a reason that the potions brewed in those vessels were potent, but considering their project and Hermione's compassion it wouldn't be a wise thing to divulge the nature of that particular cauldron.

"There's no need to concern yourself with that thing." Draco tried to drag her attention back to him. "Let me show you some very interesting potions we never got to experience at Hogwarts."

"Sure, but there is something intriguing about this piece," she said looking closer.

"Leave that thing alone, Granger. It's just some meager material." Draco hurried over to her as she lifted an empty cauldron that was put away. Before he reached her, a pop sounded nearby making Hermione shriek, in the process dropping the cauldron to ground shattering into pieces.

"NO," Tinky's cries echoed in the gloomy lab and Hermione's stood frozen.

Draco clutched his head at the sudden turn of events, while it took a minute for Hermione to gather her wits. "Oh Godric, what happened?" she rushed to the elf, who was letting out high-pitched sobs and crouched down to his height.

"M-mother," Tinky cried trying to gather broken pieces into his tiny arms.

"Tinky, stop," Draco yelled in a louder voice, he rarely used in front of Hermione. Catching her glare, he paused. He approached the elf and spoke gently this time. "There is no point in crying. You know it can be fixed."

Tinky brushed his eyes clearing his tears. "Of course, master. Tinky forgot. After all, it is Tinky's mo-"

"Yes, we know," Draco cut him off, in the fear of the elf revealing everything about the cauldron. "Now tell me, why are you here?"

"Is he going to be alright?" Hermione asked as the elf's cries reduced into hiccups.

"Yes, Ms. Granger. It's just that, this was made thanks to my mother…"

"Tinky, you didn't tell us, why you're here." Draco stopped the elf again this time placing himself directly in front of Hermione.

"Master's ready to meet Ms. Granger."

"Oh, I guess it's time." There was an immediate change in Hermione. Her stance became alert and she marched towards the door that led to Draco's study.

As soon as Hermione disappeared from view, Draco bent down to the elf and spoke in a harsh whisper. "Ms. Granger should never know what that cauldron is made from. We understand how the elf's bones can make the cauldron special, but she doesn't. So stop crying and fix it."

"Yes, young master. Tinky will take care of it."

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Draco left the lab and trudged back to his study to escort a righteous Lioness into the serpent's den.


The door creaked open as Draco gave it a tiny nudge. Hermione spared him one last glance as he moved aside to grant her entry.

She didn't know what to expect from the Malfoy Patriarch. The last time she had seen him, was after the battle. Broken down, battered, and beaten, the Malfoys remained huddled together as everyone else celebrated Harry Potter's victory. She expected to see the same pathetic man, who was lost in his own insanity. Unfortunately, reality had decided not to conform to her expectations.

Dressed in elegant black robes and with his long hair pulled back, he reminded her of the same person, who mocked Arthur Weasley in Flourish and Blotts and attacked a group of teenagers in the Department of Mysteries. If anything he appeared more formidable than ever. It was as if the sealing of his magic and his time spent his Azkaban only made him stronger. Magicless, and caged in his own home it was unnerving that this man could still display such power. A chill traveled down her spine as Lucius Malfoy lifted his eyes from the ancient looking tome in his hands to the two of them.

"Mr. Malfoy," Hermione said as she approached the table. "Thank you for having me."

"Ms. Granger," Lucius said in a curt tone and turned his gaze towards his son, "Draco."

"Father," Draco said pulling a chair out for Hermione while Lucius watched the exchange with a cold and calculated indifference.

"Thank you," she said to Draco. She wasn't sure if she was thanking him for pulling out a chair for her or for just being there.

"Mr. Malfoy. First, let me begin by conveying my gratitude for your investment in my project." Lucius' face remained impassive as Hermione spoke. "It was during my school years I was first exposed to house elves."

Lucius raised his palm to stop her. "I'm not interested in what drives you; the genesis of this idea is of little importance to me. Receiving an investment from the Malfoy family is the most coveted thing in our society. Each and every project that was graced by our generosity has flourished beyond its scope. I don't want that name tarnished. With that in mind, you may continue enlightening us to the intents and purposes of our funds in the successful execution of your project and thus prove your project worthy of our investment."

Draco squirmed uncomfortably in his seat as Hermione struggled with her bag to extract needed documentation and parchments out. He met her incredulous gaze and gave her a subtle nod.

"I'm not unfamiliar with the concept of binding a being to servitude. I understand the pain they go through and that is my main reason for starting SPEW."

"Let me rephrase my previous statement, I have no intention of listening to why you've taken an interest in house elves. You are here so that I may assess the worthiness of your pursuits," said Lucius moving his gaze to the parchment on the table.

"I understood your request Mr. Malfoy; however, it would be negligent for me to not inform you about the foundation of this project. Understanding why this project began is integral to understanding it's worth. I cannot in good conscience allow you to remain ignorant of how much a Malfoy's influence has ameliorated this project thus far." she replied directly meeting Lucius' gaze. Draco saw the gleam in her eyes that reminded him the recklessness she displayed in Pansy's house, where she used every tactic she knew to free Pansy's elf. "Draco's contributions have refined my initial plans considerably, which has significantly improved my approach and I'm positive that things will continue to improve going forward."

Draco's heart sped up the moment she said his name aloud, and again when he noticed that the veiled disclosure of her lack of knowledge had not been missed by his father's keen eye. Lucius Malfoy's gaze remained stern but as he lightly brushed his fingers on his knuckles, Draco knew his father was preparing his first vicious strike.

"You claim my son has been instrumental in expanding the scope of your project, which is not surprising. We Malfoys are well-versed in all important aspects of Magical education. However, your only action of note has been relieving the Parkinson's of an elf, that hardly seems like a worthy investment," Lucius said raising his chin.

Hermione narrowed her eyes and Draco could see the anger that started to creep up in her demeanor. "The Parkinsons mistreated their elf and providing a new home to that poor creature was our first important success. That was just the beginning. It was important to show the world that kind of treatment would land them in serious trouble. Pureblood families who took advantage of the bonds that were established for the benefit of both the elves and wizards, need these reminders."

Draco didn't miss her subtle hint to his father's ill-treatment of Dobby and he cringed inwardly knowing his father would come back with greater force.

"Is that your only notable achievement?" Lucius asked, derision evident in his tone.

"No," Hermione's voice grew louder. "There are many plans, underway. Draco has shared many important books regarding elves and their relationship with witches and wizards. It's really fascinating to know and realize how powerful a relationship between an elf and its master could be. Honestly, I wonder why it wasn't included in our Hogwarts curriculum. Nevertheless, I have now gained considerable knowledge about them and I'm very hopeful about our future endeavors."

Lucius leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands together on the table. "I have no doubt your heritage contributes to a great deal of ignorance regarding our world; however, I have no interest in personally funding your education. I am interested in results Ms. Granger, if you cannot provide them I shall simply ask Ms. Davis find a more suitable project for the Malfoys to fund."

"I don't think Davis would be much help in that matter," Draco weighed in for the first time since he entered his Father's study. "She seemed very taken by Granger's project last time we met."

"You would do well to not underestimate the allure that comes from being associated with the Malfoy name. Our prestigiousness alone is enough, that even a measly project is bound to garner more interest than it deserves." Lucius shook his head in disappointment. "Is there anything else you would like to add to your argument? Until now, you've been unable to provide a single point as to why you deserve our support."

Hermione shot up from her place. "Argument? You're hardly letting me talk. If you requested this meeting to learn about your investment, then you should pay attention to what I'm trying to say."

"Granger, what are you doing?" Draco hissed under his breath.

"I caution you, you're trudging down a dangerous path that could cost you our funding. In spite of the rumors that your project was neglected because of lack of value, we generously offered our donation. If not for our change of heart, I needn't make it clear, your project would've died a pitiable death."

Hermione's trembling hands held the edge of the table in a tight grip. She didn't deter in her stance and said. "What's changed then? Tell me, Mr. Malfoy. Why is a blood purist like yourself willing to associate with a mudblood to help fund a project you don't believe in? Has your family has gotten so desperate as to abandon the ideals for which you were willing to kill innocent people?!"

Draco gulped looking at his father. Granger's anger was crossing boundaries and his desire to see her discredited as a potential bride was quickly replaced with a fear that she may not survive this encounter. Invoking the wrath of Lucius Malfoy was a very dangerous game. Draco knew all too well, that those who dared to cross the elder Malfoy did not meet with a pleasant end, and were often not even granted the mercy of death.

The eerie calmness of the Malfoy patriarch in the face of Hermione's assault sent a chill through her spine. He leaned back in his chair and said, "I'm curious Ms. Granger, did you misplace this righteous indignation when my son came to offer you funding, or have you simply had a change of heart?" With a sigh, he continued, "It was my understanding that you had chosen to overlook past improprieties to bring about changes to the wizarding world. If you wish to terminate this association, you need only ask."

"You're using me and my project to ingratiate yourself with the public!" Her chair screeched as it slid back with the force of her magic.

"Such obvious motives are easily seen through if insincere. I have allowed Draco to participate in your project to preserve wizarding tradition, and prevent your unrefined muggle beliefs from poisoning our culture. How that action is perceived is of little concern to me," he replied, completely unfazed by Hermione's unrestrained magic.

The argument between his father and the feisty Gryffindor was becoming too volatile. She was stating her points and his father would twist them to make her feel that her project was worthless without the Malfoys' involvement. Draco's mind began to ponder, why his father seemed so intent on breaking Granger's will with such a brutal conversation bordering on interrogation.

Her unrelenting determination and stubbornness were her most admired qualities, but Draco could only watch as her carefully constructed mask slowly started to slip away. Playing with her insecurities was needlessly cruel, even for a cunning Slytherin. He couldn't understand why his father, who wanted Draco to woo this stubborn, self-righteous, Muggleborn was sabotaging everything. This was more than a test of her worthiness to become the next Lady Malfoy; this was a vengeful and systematic attempt to destroy her. Draco could not in good conscience stand by and watch as Lucius tried to destroy Granger as some foolish retribution for her role in destroying the utopia the Dark Lord had promised. While he knew she didn't need any help from him, Draco found himself making plans to sail the conversation into safer waters.

Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Let me make one thing very clear, Mr. Malfoy. You can try all you'd like, but you're not going to make me feel unwelcome in the Wizarding world. This world belongs to me as much as it belongs to you."

"That's hardly the point of discussion here," he replied coldly.

Hermione just shook her head and with a heavy sigh, she dropped into the chair. Draco's eyes scrunched up in concern and he tentatively reached out to her, "You alright, Granger?" He didn't miss his father's keen gaze from his peripherals, but he couldn't draw his hand back.

She shook her head and gave a troubled smile. "I'm okay."

Draco's gaze met his father's raised eyebrow and he began a new approach. "Granger's a muggle-born and so her way of thinking is definitely different from ours. I don't deny that." Hermione shot a glare at Draco and he lamented that he was now the target of her rage. "But there's an advantage to it. In her research, she had uncovered many facts that were long forgotten."

"Draco, if you're doing all the work, there is no point if she takes all the acclaim." His father calmly interjected.

"That's..." Draco started, but Hermione caught his fingers and said in a softer tone, "Draco, thank you. I can handle him."

"Have you finally decided to stop wasting my time, Ms. Granger?"

"Oh, Mr. Malfoy," Hermione started with an unnatural coldness in her voice. "We've been doing this wrong since I came here. Let me explain everything, in a way that's better suited to Slytherins."

"What on earth do you mean?" For the first time, Draco noticed a slight change in his father.

"Everything will be clear in a moment," she said extracting a parchment with a detailed depiction in the form of a tree. "Here on the top we have the very first elf bond by Helga Hufflepuff and immediately below, is the elf that was bound to Armand Malfoy. Which means that the elf Malfoys were bonded to, is none other than the offspring of the elf of Helga Hufflepuff."

"Malfoys were pioneers in many things. This hardly surprises me."

"You couldn't be more right, Mr. Malfoy." Hermione curled her lip and extracted the wand from her pocket. She trailed her wand down the tree, and as her wand passed a new date, a small projection of an incident lightly danced on top of it.

"That's impressive, Granger," Draco couldn't help himself.

"Thank you," she said looking at him. "Ah, yes. According to my research and the journals shared by Draco, there were no records of any abuse towards the elves in your family, until Dobby."

Lucius' eyes narrowed and after shooting a glare at Draco, he turned to Hermione. "Choose your words wisely, Ms. Granger. I'd rather not be reminded of that insolent elf."

"He was a kind elf," Hermione said in a sad tone. "Regardless, that's not what I'm talking about. Very few families are able to maintain that kind of clean record. the Notts were one of them too, but other than them, all the families who had ever owned an elf, have subjected them of some kind of torture at some point in their history or simply stopped creating new bonds."

"What's your point?" Lucius leaned forward folding his hands on the desk.

"I haven't made it, Mr. Malfoy. Have some patience will you? My plans and I are going nowhere until I've given you a detailed description of everything." This version of Hermione wasn't new to Draco. He had been subjected to this particular set of quirks countless times since they started collaborating on her project. "My theory and Draco agrees," Hermione said pointing to Draco, who had pinched the bridge of his nose. "Is that all the abuse could've been prevented if all the families were given a proper knowledge about these bonds."

"So, you're saying Malfoys are a reason for all that abuse." Lucius narrowed his eyes, but Draco could see the tension on the back of his hand as he clutched his cane tightly.

"At least, partially," Hermione said folding her hands defensively. "You said Dobby was an insolent elf. You may be right, in thinking that he deserved that kind of treatment; but ultimately, that's what led him to run away from you. That made both of you suffer."

Draco liked the way Hermione was talking. She was appealing to resourceful nature of his Slytherin mind. Looking at his father's restrained reactions, he knew it was working. He was trying to find faults and disagree, but he was failing.

"You don't know anything about Dobby so I caution to keep him out of these discussions."

"I understand," Hermione smiled. "I'm just trying to say, elves are an important part of wizarding society and their knowledge should be shared with everyone. So Mr. Malfoy, that will be our primary objective. Merlin forbid, but if the abuse continues, it may well create more and more Dobbys who would give anything to leave their bonded masters. Now, we wouldn't want that. We want our children, grandchildren and all future generations to benefit from this association."

At the world grandchildren, Lucius slightly curled his lip and turned his rapt attention to Draco. "No, I want my grandchildren to experience all the benefits of these bonds. They are going to be the finest of all the witches and wizards of our society."

"I'm sure they'll be," Hermione said shrugging her shoulders, completely ignorant of the non-verbal conversation happening between father and son.

"So, that settles it. You indeed know how much investment goes into this kind of ventures and I appreciate if you don't cease your funds."

Lucius raked his eyes through the parchment in front of Hermione and said, "Leave all the copies of your plans and actions here. You'll receive my owl, tomorrow."

A spark of joy that shined in her eyes was brief but Draco caught it, just before she replied, gritting her teeth, "I'll wait for it."

"Ms. Granger, Draco," Lucius nodded, dismissing both of them.


"Your father hasn't changed at all," Hermione whispered as they began to walk back to the living room. Draco was again surprised to see the change in her demeanor. As soon as she got out of his father's study she stood rooted to the ground, her head leaning back on the door. When he offered his arm, she clutched it tightly as he escorted her to the living room.

"Your father is just as vile as I remember him, maybe even worse."

"There are a great many things you don't understand about my father. A pureblood's duty is to his family. His choices, misguided as they might have been, have all been for the betterment of our family, and his failures weigh on him more than anyone else."

"That still doesn't give him a right to be that rude," she said to herself more than to Draco. As they descended the stairs, Tinky popped up beside them, making Hermione reach for her wand.

"Mistress sends Ms. Granger this," Tinky pushed a covered basket into Hermione's hands. "She wishes that you could visit more often."

"I can't take this," Hermione said in a squeaky voice, pushing back the basket into Draco's hands.

"Oh, Ms. Granger doesn't like Tinky," the elf's sobs echoed in the Manor.

"Knowing my mother, its probably some sweets, Granger. Take it, before the elf destroys our ears."

"Thank you, Tinky," Hermione said taking the basket. "Please tell Mrs. Malfoy I'm grateful for her gift." The elf vanished with a pop and a smile on his face. Letting the basket slide down towards her elbow, she turned to Draco and caught his hands with hers. "And thank you," she squeezed his fingers. "For the funding, for thinking about how hard it was to come back here, and last but not the least, supporting me in there."

Draco's heart became heavy at her open expression of honesty. She looked tired and worn out, and his mind rushed to the one thing he could think of, to bring a smile on to her face.

"Just stay here. I'll be back in a minute," he said as they approached the fireplace in the main room.

Hermione's eyes wandered entirety of the living room and gave a tentative nod. Draco disapparated from there and appeared back within a moment before her thoughts wandered to the past.

"If my memory serves, you were rather fond of this book," he said slipping the manuscript of her beloved book into her hands. "I forgot to give it to you when we were in there," he said scratching the back of his neck.

Hermione couldn't believe her eyes. "Is it really?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"Hogwarts, A History? Why yes, Granger. With Bathilda Bagshot's handwritten notes." Draco smirked looking at the myriad of expressions that crossed over her face. "For you."

"This is incredible," she gasped tracing her fingers across the title. "Thank you so much," she said encircling her arms around him and placing her head on his chest.

"It's a copy of the original manuscript, that was given to my grandfather by Bagshot herself." He spoke uncomfortably as her hair tickled his chin while the scent of vanilla and Orange blossoms slightly tingled his nose and the basket poked him in the ribs.

She extracted herself from him and looked at his eyes. "I know the value of it, Draco. I'll handle it with extreme care."

"Obviously, I'd expect no less from a bookworm," he said melding his gaze with hers.

"I should go," she whispered as her eyes traveled to his lips and lingered there.

Draco stood there mesmerized. With her body so close and her eyes looking at his lips, he feared that one of them might decide to take that extra step and claim the others' lips.

Mercifully, the moment faded as she stepped back and her hand reached for the floo powder. Draco had to control his heavy breathing as she threw the powder into the fireplace. With a shy smile on her face, and a quick glance at the basket, the manuscript and her beaded bag in her hands, she disappeared into the flames. Leaving Draco alone to wonder what kind of future awaited him.

 

 

Chapter Text

A novel and innovative approach awards a new hope to all the people who have been fighting Lycanthropy. Wolfsbane Potion invented by the celebrated Potioneer, Damocles Belby had been affording a mild comfort to the blinding pain the affected people were forced to experience during the full moon. This improved version by Gemma Farley is being investigated by the healers at St. Mungo's and the results have been very hopeful, thus far. Gemma, the only survivor of the Farley family claims her determination to enhance the impact of the potion, had born from directly witnessing the pain inflicted on the Werewolves by Voldemort. Early testing has yielded very promising results, some going so far as to call it miraculous. We here at the Daily Prophet look forward to bringing you the good news once the testing is completed.

Theo furrowed his eyebrows. Something didn't seem quite right. Dipping the quill in the inkwell, he read the whole paragraph once again. He knew what exactly had to be changed to make it more effective and more impactful.

A new innovative approach promises help to people who suffer from Lycanthropy. For years, Wolfsbane Potion developed by Potioneer Damocles Belby has been the only solution affording mild comfort to those among us forced to suffer during the full moon. However, thanks to the efforts of former Slytherin prefect Gemma Farley and the healers at St. Mungo's, an improved version of Damocles' concoction is being developed. During the war, Ms. Farley and her pureblood family were forcibly inducted into the ranks of Voldemort's Death Eaters, watching as innocent people were infected to become weapons for Greyback's army. Her family's unwillingness to participate in such evil cost them their lives, but Ms. Farley survived and has dedicated her life and family's wealth to potions in the hopes of helping werewolves and wizards all over the world. According to multiple sources, the results of preliminary testing of Farley's refined Wolfsbane brew have been called miraculous. We here at the Daily Prophet hope Ms. Farley's efforts succeed and look forward to bringing you the good news once testing is complete.

A contented smile graced his lips as he dropped the edited script on the table. The emphasis on Gemma's heritage was a much-needed change. His eyes darted to the clock that chimed ten bells, indicating that he had spent almost an hour in editing the article. He sighed and stood from the chair. Flexing his fingers, he proceeded to his bedroom, on his way turning off the lights in his study.

A smirk danced on his lips looking at the sight that greeted him in his bedroom. Bending over the small table in one of the corners of his room stood Tracey Davis. Draped in a silk robe with her back to the door, Theo had to admit she looked extremely inviting with her delectable curves on display.

"Tracey," he breathed encircling her waist. "What are you doing?" He buried his face into her neck breathing in the intoxicating scent.

"Theo," she said tilting her neck, letting him pepper the whole expanse with kisses. "Just a moment."

He stopped for a minute to take a peek over her shoulder, to see what it was that occupied her attention. Seeing the name Granger written on the parchment, he let out a heavy sigh.

"Another letter to Granger?" He said moving his hand to the knot that kept the robe together on her body. "Come on, Tracey. You can finish it tomorrow."

"Theo," she moaned as his other hand found its way to a sensitive spot on her hip. "You're distracting me. I need to get this to Hermione before I forget this new idea for her program." She gently pried his fingers from her body and turned towards him. Pressing a gentle kiss to his lips, she spoke, "I'm almost done. Just a few more minutes, okay?"

"What's this new idea you want to discuss with her?"

"You really want to know?"

"Not really, I just love to hear your voice." He smirked and cocked his eyebrow at her.

"I was thinking, perhaps we should invite her to have a chat with the Nott elves," she said biting her lip. "You know to give her a better idea. What do you think?"

"Brilliant," Theo said brushing his lips against hers. "They already adore you, Tracey. They'll agree to anything you say."

"Still, you're their master. Have a chat with them, will you?" She said giving him a gentle push towards the bed.

"As you say, beloved," he said with an exasperated look. Moving backward until the back of his knees hit the bed, he said, "I might as well have gone with Draco and Blaise if I knew you'll be doing this."

"Don't worry, I plan to reward you for choosing me very soon," Tracey winked at him. "Patience, love. Good things come to people who wait." She turned back to the parchment she was working on.

"So, how's working with her?" Theo asked lying back on the bed. "All I hear from Draco is she's too Gryffindor-ish."

Tracey chuckled. "Gryffindorish? Is that even a word?" she said without lifting her gaze from the paper. "If Malfoy is to be believed, Gryffindors are nothing but brash, reckless fools who wear their hearts on their sleeves for the world to see."

"Careful there, Ms. Davis. Are you suggesting that my best friend is wrong?" he said tilting his body to face her.

She placed the quill back into the inkpot and strolled towards him. "Maybe," she said lying down beside him. Turning to face him, "Hermione Granger is really something. I don't deny her 'Gryffindorish' qualities," she said threading her fingers through his hair, making Theo close his eyes. "But, she's not called the brightest witch of her age for nothing. I started to find these conversations with her, rather interesting."

"Interesting?" Theo said catching hold of her fingers and bringing them to his lips. Starting with the tips of her fingers he placed kisses inching towards her elbow. "Tell me, is it more interesting than this?" He whispered as he reached her shoulders.

"No, definitely not." She sighed moving her slightly damp hair to a side, for better access. Before they were swept off into the moment, the fireplace roared green, interrupting their amorous activity.

"Theo, I need you here, immediately," Blaise Zabini's voice boomed from the living room.

"Blaise?" Tracey asked, drawing her lips back.

Theo nodded, biting his lip. "He was supposed to be with Draco."

"Theo, it's urgent," Blaise's alarming tone resounded again. Theo and Tracey's eyes widened as they heard a loud crash immediately followed by a harsh Italian curse before the Floo call got cut off. Theo sighed and fell back into the bed. "What have they got up to?"

"It looks like they could use your help," Tracey said getting up from the bed as her fingers fastened the tie of her robe. She offered her hand to Theo as he reluctantly got up from the bed. Looking at his pouty lips, she placed a kiss on them and said. "I'll be waiting for you. Don't be too long."

Giving a longing look at the bed and his witch, Theo changed sighing wistfully. He couldn't catch a break.

Blaise was pacing in front of the fireplace of the Leaky Cauldron, as Theo stepped out of the flames. "This better be important, Zabini."

"Decide for yourself," Blaise seethed pointing to the barstools at the counter.

Theo shook his head and muttered. "You should've called me sooner. How could you let him do this, Blaise?" Throwing an angry glare at his Italian friend after noticing the number of onlookers, he proceeded forward. "At least you could've chosen a low profile pub."

"Hey! Divination was never my thing. How could I have possibly foreseen this?"

"Any news involving Draco Malfoy is headline worthy. Get that into your brain."

As he approached, Theo cringed looking at his best friend who had his tongue down a strange girl's throat, while a bunch of girls cheered them on. Theo pinched the bridge of his nose and tapped Draco on his shoulder. "Draco!"

Draco shrugged off Theo's hand and pulled the girl further into his lap. The girl giggled and looped her hands around his neck as Draco finally extracted his tongue out of her mouth and started attacking her neck.

Theo took a deep breath and leaned down to Draco's ear. "Mate, Granger just walked in."

Draco rushed to stand as a reflex, almost launching the girl to the floor in the process. "Where?" he asked looking anxiously around the pub. "Where is she?"

Theo clasped Draco's wrist and dragged him to a corner table, away from the inquisitive eyes. "Hopefully, very far from here. What the hell are you doing, Draco?" He pointed to the girl who was now being helped to stand on her feet by Blaise and a couple of her friends, who were now glaring at Theo.

"Excuse us," Theo mumbled as Draco slumped in the chair. "Who the hell is she?"

"A very nice girl, who isn't reckless or brash and who doesn't contradict everything I say." His hands blindly searched for a glass on the table, but finding an empty one, Draco yelled, "Where is my drink?"

"Draco," Theo hissed. "What's gotten into you? Come on, let's get you out of here."

"Good idea," Draco stood up from his chair. "I've to get back to that girl, whose hair is nothing like the tumbling currents of a chocolate waterfall."

Theo suppressed a snigger at Draco's description while struggling to push him back to the chair. A quick glance towards Blaise and the gaggle of giggling girls showed him that those girls were no better off than Draco, completely drunk.

A sudden realization hit Theo and he threw a cautious glance at the landlady.

"No, it's not the Hufflepuff girl. It's someone else," Blaise said taking a seat at their table. "If you'd come with us, the situation would've been under control." He pushed two glasses filled with golden liquid to the brim, towards each of them.

As Draco reached for the glass, Theo stopped him. "No. You already had enough." He threw a scathing glare at Blaise, "No more alcohol, Blaise."

"Not fair," Draco whined struggling to keep his grasp on the glass.

"You've already created enough drama, Draco. No more drinking," Theo said looking around receiving glances from several nosy patrons. "Time for some damage control." He said in a heavy tone. "First of all, who are they?"

"Just a bunch of Beauxbatons' graduates on a European tour, looking for some fun," Blaise said with a smirk, leaning back in his chair.

Theo breathed a sigh of relief, at least they weren't local, "Second, I didn't think I would need to remind the two of you to be careful. None of us can afford a scandal right now. If one of them decided to go public, things would get messy, especially for Draco."

"They'll be taken care of," Blaise said with a lustful drawl.

"Oh no, you're coming with me to the Manor," Theo said sharply. "I can't take him alone to Malfoy Manor in this condition and undergo the scrutiny of Narcissa Malfoy. You're responsible for this, so you're coming with me."

Blaise's eyes widened. "Then it's definitely a no. She makes Severus Snape seem like a pygmy puff, if she sees Draco in this condition she'll hex my bits off. Besides, who'll take care of that distressed girl?"

Theo furrowed eyebrows. "I thought you were seeing Astoria Greengrass?"

"We're not exclusive, besides I value my freedom too much."

"She dumped him, two days ago," Draco slurred with an air of smug satisfaction. "When was that Blaise? Ah! Yes, that same day when Hermione Granger and my father decided to wreck my entire life."

"Keep it down, Draco." Theo threw a wary glance around. "I can't take him to Malfoy Manor in this condition. That leaves only one place." He sighed trying to gauge Tracey's reaction. Once he gets a Sober-up potion in Draco Malfoy's gut, he can drop him back at the Manor. A plan forming in mind he gestured Blaise to come closer. "They all look drunk enough to forget this matter and the fact that they are not from around here could be used to our advantage, but we can't take any chance."

"I can take care of one or two, but it's going to be a challenge if I have to take care of all of them," Blaise said tapping his chin, but one look at Theo and he understood to shut his mouth. "Tell me what to do."

"We are taking Draco back to my place, and I'm going to give you a vial of forgetfulness potion," Theo said draping a hand around Draco's waist and dragged him to his feet. "You know what to do with it right?"

Blaise sighed looking at the drunken girls still determined to enjoy themselves. "Yes offer them one last drink and escort them back to their place like a gentleman. Come on, Theo. You're a spoilsport."

"Do you know, who else is a spoilsport? The former resident bookworm of Gryffindor tower." Draco said leaning his head on Theo's shoulder. "It's over, Theo. My life's finished."

Theo held his grip on Draco's waist carrying him to the fireplace while Blaise went for the Floo powder. Stepping into the green flames, the three Slytherins were whisked off to Theodore Nott's home.

Casting a glance at the tiny beam of light peeking from his bedroom, Theo maneuvered Draco to the couch. He glanced at Blaise and asked him to hold Draco. He disapparated, only to apparate in the next moment with a small vial in his hand. He pushed it into Blaise's hand gestured to his fireplace.

Blaise scrutinized the small vial and raised an eyebrow. "I wonder about your reasons for keeping forgetfulness potion at home."

"I'm not in a mood to discuss work. Anyway, a drop in each of their glasses and the whole thing will become a hazy memory. This news shouldn't get out. Can I trust you, Blaise?"

"Yes," Blaise said with a reluctant nod. "Then what about the others. The other people at the pub?"

"I'll take care of it on my end. The absence of Hannah Abbott helps us a lot." Theo said giving Blaise a shove to the fireplace.

As soon as Blaise disappeared into the green flames, Theo sighed and turned to Draco who was lying awkwardly on the sofa. Theo trudged towards his friend and tapped on his shoulder. "Come on, Draco. Let's get you some Sober-up potion."

Draco who was lying on the sofa with his face stuffed into the cushions flipped over at Theo's words. "No. Be a good boy and get me a glass of Fire Whiskey. My mouth has gone dry."

Theo pinched the bridge of his nose. "Do you even know where you are?"

"Looking at the girl behind you, I'm guessing your house," Draco said squinting his eye. "Davis, Good to see you." Raising an eyebrow at the state of her dress, he smirked. "It seems I've interrupted some interesting activities. My apologies." Draco said throwing a wink at her.

Theo turned around to look at his girlfriend and gave a troubled smile. She rolled her eyes and pulled the robe close to her body.

"Do you know who else rolls their eyes in that same manner?" Draco said with a snigger.

"Let me guess. Granger?" Theo asked with a smile. When Draco nodded his head lost in a deep thought, Theo moved closer to Tracey and whispered in her ear. "Is that where you learned it? Rather sexy, might I say."

With a small smile tugging at her lips, she moved past Theo towards the brooding blond. "Malfoy, your drink."

As she placed the drink in Draco's hand, Theo bit his lip trying to anticipate her motive. "Tracey," he touched her elbow. "What are you doing?"

Tracey turned to Theo and smiled at him. "Giving him his drink."

"Ah, Davis!" Draco took the glass into his hands inhaled the subtle vapors coming out of it.

Tracey stepped back and whispered to Theo, "That's how you get him to drink the Sober up."

Theo scratched his neck, thinking how was he going to explain to his girlfriend, the man in front of them, can sniff out a potion even in his sleep and her grand plan was going to fail.

"Your girlfriend certainly belongs in Slytherin," Draco said throwing his head back on the sofa. "But she needs to hone her skills."

"Well, I never said it is the drink you asked for," Tracey said with a frown. "It's the drink you need." Draco groaned and clutched his head. Tracey turned to Theo and quirked her eyebrow. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing important. You don't need to worry, I'll take care of it," Theo said giving her a tender smile.

"Yes Theodore Nott will take care of everything," Draco said with a scoff. "Tell me, Theo, will you take care of my life too. Will you help me get out of this?"

Tracey and Theo exchanged glances. While Tracey's gaze remained puzzled, Theo sighed and shook his head.

"I thought so," Draco sighed. "Everything's over. I have to spend my entire life with that Gryffindor mudb.., mud… Aah!" He banged his fist on the table. "That muggleborn swot has ruined my future."

"Hermione Granger? Is this about her?" Tracey incredulously asked Theo. "I thought Malfoy was interested in her? At least that's what I got from watching them interact."

"Draco was magically matched with Granger and his father has made courting her a top priority," Theo interjected. "Unlike me, he wasn't matched with someone easy to love. It's really taking a toll on his sanity." Tracey couldn't help but smile at Theo's sweet words.

"You're talking about sanity," Draco tried to get up from the sofa, but his legs didn't comply as he stumbled back into it. "Try spending some time with her," Draco said his voice gone suddenly soft. "She's so ardent and meticulous. Her zeal is bloody contagious, and do you know something, Theo. She has so many hidden traits, that would've made her an excellent Slytherin. She came back to a place where she was tortured by my psychotic aunt and beat my father, Lucius Malfoy, a master of cunning mind games, at his own game."

Tracey looked amused at Draco's words and Theo nodded in contemplation. Did Draco realize that he was praising Hermione Granger?

"Do you know what else she did?" He started fumbling with his pockets and extracted a note. "She bloody invited me to her home," he said waving the note in his hand. "For dinner, as a thank you for all the help I've given since the project had started." Draco laughed out loud at his own words. "Yes, my dear father was impressed with her project and owled her that the donations would be doubled and she thinks I'm responsible for that."

"Is that what led to this?" Theo said slightly shaking his head. "Your work is done, Draco. You had to woo her and make her fall in love with you. I say you've got a very good start."

"No," Draco yelled. "She was supposed to hate me. She was supposed to loathe my presence, not enjoy my company. She's really insane if she thinks she could be happy being my wife or the lady of Malfoy Manor."

"What are you trying to say, Malfoy? Not a moment ago, you were singing her praises and now you're saying she's insane." Tracey said placing a hand on her hip. "You're not making much sense."

"Tracey," Theo gently coaxed her to look at him. "He's not in a position to understand."

"Oh, I can understand everything," Draco interrupted their conversation.

"Then understand this Malfoy. In our current world, there is no place for pureblood prejudices. If you refuse to adapt and change holding on to those twisted ideals, you'll be pushed to the bottom of the food chain. If you want to survive here, you have to start making amends." Tracey spoke in a sharp tone, that brought an immediate change in Draco. He started to say something, but Tracey cut him off. "We are not children anymore, Malfoy."

"Do you think I don't know?! We all stopped being children a long time ago."

She took a deep breath and placed her hand on Theo's shoulder. "I've seen the burdens of a pureblood heir, but Hermione Granger is a brilliant and wonderful girl. By some miraculous happenstance, you've managed to acquire her interest. So you have a choice to make, are you going to do your duty as an heir or abandon your family's legacy? Whether you realize it or not, you're lucky you were matched with Hermione. I suggest you make up your mind quickly because girls like her won't wait."

With those final words, Tracey stepped back. As she headed towards the bedroom, Theo asked, "Wasn't that a bit harsh, darling?"

Tracey gave a look at Draco, who had his head in his hands. "At least that got him thinking." She placed a kiss on Theo's cheek and said, "Now you do the rest." With that said, she vanished into his room.

"I don't think Davis likes me," said Draco looking at Theo who took the armchair beside the sofa.

"She doesn't, but in her defense, I don't think anyone but your mother and I actually like you. That's just how Slytherins work, we protect each other but never at the cost of our own ambition or desires."

"Which leaves me to wonder just when you'll abandon me," Draco questioned.

"You're arrogant, egotistical, quick to anger and your family is disgraced. I should have abandoned you ages ago."

"So, never?" Draco countered.

"Precisely," Theo said with a smirk.

"Looking at the way she was talking about Granger, it's hard to imagine that not long ago she was determined to undermine Granger's house elf project by any means necessary."

"Tracey's passionate about things that matter to her and you've got to agree Hermione Granger could be very intimidating." Theo said with a wistful smile "I love Tracey in mind, body, and soul. However, thanks to your Lioness' influence; I've spent more nights debating house elf regulatory systems than I have enjoying the carnal pleasures of her body."

"Oh, don't pretend you don't enjoy exploring Davis' intellect just as much as you enjoy her body." Draco cut in.

"Yes, but exploring her intellect used to lead to exploring her body in my bed, now it leads to Tracey owling Granger."

Draco howled with laughter.

"Laugh it up, it's not like your future is going to be much different with Granger once you finally accept your duty."

Draco instantly sobered at Theo's words. His worried eyes turned to his friend and Theo saw the same fear that lingered in his eyes when he found out about his father after their fifth year. Theo picked up the neglected Sober up potion and handed it to Draco. When Draco adamantly shook his head, Theo pushed it into his hand. "It's for the best, Draco. We need to talk." Draco's fingers shook as he lifted the potion to his lips. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and tipped the entire contents of the glass down his throat. Theo could see the fog lift and the tension fade slowly, as Draco's eyes remained closed and the potion started to work.

"What's your problem with her, Draco. I doubt it's something like you don't find her physically attractive. If that where the case, I'd begin to wonder if you were attracted to women at all." Theo began as the worry lines on Draco's forehead began to disappear.

Draco scoffed. "You know it's not that."

"Then I don't understand why you're fighting this so much. Clearly, you don't see her as a lowly Muggleborn anymore."

"For years, I believed she wasn't worthy of my attention. I was taught that a pureblood like me should avoid being associated or even talking to her." Draco ran his fingers through his mussed hair. "But everything's changed now. Her blood status doesn't matter, my father is willing to throw away centuries Malfoy of history because our union produces a child more powerful than any other in either the Malfoy or Black bloodlines."

"Isn't that a good enough reason for you?" Theo said raising an eyebrow.

"Come on, Theo. How can I forget everything that has happened between us and accept her?" Draco's gaze lowered to his clasped hands.

"The world is not as it was before. We have to take care of our own. That said, you've got the better part of the deal. You were matched to one of the best options available." Theo said shrugging his shoulders.

"Yes, the most stubborn Muggleborn ever and Potter's secret to success is my best option."

Theo stood up from his armchair and came to sit beside Draco. "Yes and stop seeing her in that light. She's the brightest and most powerful witch of our age. Rumors say the minister has a special interest in her."

"Still, she's the girl who punched me in the nose," Draco whined. "Every time she's near me, there is this gnawing sensation in my gut. Unbecoming words slip out of my mouth and the worst part is she seems to enjoy them. That evening, after that horrid meeting with my father, she looked so vulnerable and all I wanted to do was comfort her, hold her, and…" He stopped abruptly with a scowl. Draco turned his head away before his friend saw the truth hidden in his eyes. The fear about their almost kiss, that had been eating him since that day, had almost spilled out of his mouth.

Theo took a deep breath and said. "Let me give you a new perspective. Weasley and Granger's catastrophe of a relationship was doomed to fail since the beginning, and it's your good fortune that it happened at this time. Even with this grumpy attitude you somehow managed to step into her good graces. The difficult part is over, Draco." Draco groaned at Theo's words. "You are the only one standing between you and victory."

"Victory?" Draco gave an incredulous look.

"Yes. You may not see it right away, but when you see your family in that top position, you'll remember my words. When you see yourself holding your child, with Hermione Granger at your side, you'll realize how much of a fool you've been."

"But..." Draco trailed off.

"Don't try to find reasons, mate. Don't deny yourself this chance. Push those gnawing feelings aside and see the opportunity in front of you."

"Well, if you're quite done talking," The sudden presence of girlfriend caught Theo's attention and his eye went wide looking at the seductive creature leaning on the wall. Her silk robe had slipped off one of her shoulders and showed just enough cleavage to be considered immodest and reveal her lack of brassiere. Tracey bent forward and laced her arms around Theo's neck from behind. "Theo and I have plans."

Draco sputtered at her bold approach and stumbled to his feet.

"While I don't mind having an audience, I'm afraid Theo is very possessive," she looked up to meet Draco's horrified gaze.

"I'll be on my way," Draco hurried to the fireplace. "Don't let my presence hinder your umm.. activities." As his fist closed on the Floo powder, he gave a glance at Theo over his shoulder. "Thanks, Nott,"

"Anytime, Malfoy," Theo said giving him a nod. "This is the least I could do. After all the things you've done for me since the war."

Draco chuckled. "Don't think you'll be let off, so easily. There is so much more I intend to gain from you." His gaze slowly turned to Tracey. "I apologize for the intrusion, Davis."

"Tracey," she said, settling herself in Theo's lap. "After all, I'm not going to be a Davis much longer, and don't you think it's high time we call each other by our first names, Draco."

"I suppose so," Draco said giving a longing look at his best friend who was so utterly captivated by the woman in their midst. "Good night." Draco pushed out the words that stuck in his throat and stepped into the roaring flames.

Seeing his friend leave in a distressed state Theo let out a sigh and leaned his forehead on Tracey's shoulder.

"You've done everything you could, Theodore. Now it's his turn to take that next step," Tracey said rubbing between his shoulder blades. "I'm sure, he'll soon see reason. Just give him some time."

Theo knew she was right. Draco needed time to accept things, but he wondered if his friend had any. They understood each other more than they cared to acknowledge. If not for Draco and his friendship, Theo's life wouldn't have been the same. After his father's demise, Draco was the only one who was able to drag him out of the pain. Even though he used manipulative techniques to accomplish it, Theo believed his heart was in the right place. Theo did what was needed and he only hoped Draco find happiness, just like he did with the witch in his lap, who was looking at him with love.

"So, where were we, my serpentine seductress?" Theo caught her lips with his, letting the tenderness overtake him, drifting both of them into the tides of emotion, passion, and devotion.

 

Chapter Text

 

"I'm starting to have doubts," Ginny said carelessly dangling a pair of champagne-colored pumps from her fingers. "Should we have gone with those silver ones?"

Hermione paused tossing an incredulous look at her friend who was sitting on the counter top with her shoes in hand. "Careful Gin," she said putting the tray in her hands on the unlit stovetop and walking over towards Ginny. She took the shoes and gave them a thorough scan. "These were the last ones in the store in your size, remember? Also, try to be more careful. The spellwork on these shoes is very intricate and if you damage the delicate beading we won't be able to fix it with magic." She stopped in her rant and noticed the pensive look on the bride-to-be. "They're beautiful and perfectly go with the shade of your dress; but if you want those silver ones, I could get them for you."

Ginny nodded absentmindedly, but her gaze remained on the shoes as Hermione placed them in their bag.

"Something tells me, it's not the shoes you're worried about," Hermione asked taking Ginny's hand into hers. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Ginny shook her head and slid herself off from the countertop. "Everything's fine."

"Ginny, you know you can tell me anything. Did something happen between you and Harry?"

Ginny bit her lip and looked at Hermione. "I don't know, Hermione. There's something wrong with Harry."

"What do you mean? That man is over the moon. This is the happiest I've ever seen him," Hermione stopped Ginny as she tried to move past her.

"I know, and I'm happy but..." Ginny's voice lowered to a whisper.

Hermione's heart started to thud. "Ginny these are just nerves. Let me get you some tea. It'll help you think clearly. This is Harry we're talking about."

Ginny kept her face averted. "He's hiding something from me, something important." Ginny's voice whimpered. "Do you think we are rushing into this?"

"No, you're not rushing into anything, Ginny." Hermione's heart sank into her stomach listening to her friend's whimper. "Unless it's for work, that man shares everything with you. He loves you."

"I-I know his work is important, but this is different. Did you know, he visited Paris yesterday?" Ginny was still facing away from her, but Hermione picked up on the quivering uncertainty in her friend's voice and clutched her head. The Malfoys had been too much of a distraction lately, and Harry's attempts to secure a perfect gift of devotion in secrecy was costing him his Fiancée's trust. Hermione felt like a failure as the Maid of Honor.

"Your fears are unfounded, Ginny. Harry is just trying to…" she trailed off trying to rethink her words. Wait a minute, since when did Ginny Weasley whimper like a delicate flower? As a matter of fact, even the idea that she could ever doubt Harry's intentions was completely absurd. Hermione narrowed her eyes and gave the redhead's shoulder a harsh tug.

"Yes? What's Harry trying to do?" Ginny's twinkling eyes were dancing in mirth as she looked into glowering amber eyes of her friend.

"For a minute there, you had me," Hermione narrowed her eyes. "You being the bride is the only thing protecting you." She got back to the tray she left on the stove top. "How is it that you're the one picking up Slytherin traits when I'm the one spending time with them? You're playing a dangerous game, Ginevra Molly Weasley. My lips are sealed."

"Oh, come on `Mione. Harry won't tell me anything and I'm dying to know. I'm sure it's related to the wedding. I've tried to persuade him, but he's being so stubborn." The youngest Weasley groused. "Could you at least give me a little clue and put me out of my misery. Is it about our Honeymoon?" Ginny asked following Hermione, fluttering her eyes at her. "There's no harm in giving me a hint. Aren't I one of your best friends?"

"Nice try," Hermione swatted at Ginny's hand as she snagged a treat from the tray. "Ginny, let me bake them first."

Ginny quickly popped the raw biscuit into her mouth with a smirk. "Mm, it's delicious. Are you going to be serving these to your Slytherin prince charming?"

"I don't know." Hermione bit her lip. "He might have insinuated that my cooking experiments weren't very good and I don't want to lose." She turned to the giggling girl behind her with a hand on her hip. "Also, calling him my prince charming couldn't be more wrong. If anything, he's more like my frustrating and sarcastic git."

"Whatever he is, serve him some of those and he'll be licking your fingers, all sarcasm forgotten," Ginny said with a wink.

"Ginny," Hermione gasped, fighting off the blush that was threatening to spread to her cheeks. Closing the oven door, she nudged the laughing girl to her bedroom. "Now, let's get back to work. There are so many things to do and such little time," she said pushing Ginny to an empty spot on the bed, which was otherwise cramped with a plethora of things, ranging from samples of tablecloths to the designs of centerpieces.

"Of course, I know why you want to hurry and push me out of here," Ginny said lounging back on the pillows. "Don't worry I'm not going to interrupt your romantic dinner."

"Will you stop that?! It's just a dinner. I wouldn't have even bothered to include him in my celebrating if he weren't at least partially responsible for the fact that my project finally cleared the two hurdles that have troubled it since the beginning. Besides that, he doubted my abilities as a cook and I just want to prove him wrong." Hermione shook her head picking up a picture of centerpiece that was set apart from the rest. "Did we finalize on this?"

"Is that the one with snitches?" Ginny asked quirking her eyebrow.

"Yes," Hermione said with a smile looking at the golden snitch hovering with a tiny bluebell flame inside. "I can't understand Harry's and your fixation with Quidditch."

"Don't worry, sweetie. For your wedding we'll make sure everything is related to books, we'll even hold the reception in some dusty old library."

"So, another thing done," Hermione said checking off centerpieces from her master list pointedly ignoring the smirking girl. "Do you still have doubts about your wedding shoes? Or was that just part of your plan to annoy me?"

"Definitely to annoy you," Ginny said strolling to Hermione. "I love those shoes, and I didn't come here to deal with this." She plucked the pen and the parchment from Hermione's hands and directed her towards the bathroom. "I'm here to help you get ready for your special," when Hermione started to object, "but not romantic dinner. Happy?"

"Very much, but you don't really need to help, everything is almost ready anyway. I've only got a few details left and we're good to go. Besides, I need to get those biscuits out of the oven," she turned to the clock and said, "in exactly seven minutes."

"I'll take care of them," she nudged Hermione towards the bathroom, with a swat on her arse. "You take care of this."

Before Hermione could object any further, Ginny closed the bathroom door and merrily hopped over to the kitchen with an extra skip in her step. It had been a while she'd seen Hermione in such a positive mood. It wasn't very long ago that Hermione had seemed to be distancing herself emotionally, but as of late Ginny found some of the fire back in her friend's eyes. Whether it was due to the success of her muggle-born friend's project or the ferret behind it, she didn't want to wager.

After taking the biscuits out of the oven and letting them cool down on the cooling rack, Ginny laughed out loud when she noticed what Hermione had set up for dinner. Remembering Ron's reaction to that particular dish, she said, "Oh my, the ferret's in for a huge surprise."

As she returned to the living room, the young Weasely had to stifle a snort. With a quick swish and flick of her wand, she tidied up the clutter, leaving the room more inviting for Hermione's future guest.

With a small smile dancing on her lips, Ginny summoned a small diary from her clutch. Keeping an eye on the bedroom door, she moved to one of the locked cupboards in the kitchen and slipped her diary into it. She then turned to the vase near the fridge with the idea of emptying the dried up flowers, but the vase still sported a fresh bunch of Daffodils. As a clattering noise sounded from the bedroom, she turned her gaze away from the flowers with a shrug and headed to her maid of honor.

"Why did you bother with all that cooking?" Ginny said with a raised eyebrow at Hermione who was looking into her wardrobe with a hand on her hip, in nothing but her underwear. "You serve that and you're golden."

"If you're quite finished Ginevra. Zip me up, will you?" Hermione said throwing a look over her shoulder, as she extracted a little black dress out of its hanger. Ginny didn't miss the fleeting smile in her friend's amber eyes.

As she stepped into the dress, Ginny smirked at the color of her underwear. "Is there any reason you've chosen this particular color? Malachite is a rather bold choice don't you think?" she asked pulling up the zip.

"This is the only pair I had that matched." Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "Besides, who says I'm planning to show this to him?"

"Are you sure?" Ginny said giving Hermione a twirl. "Something tells me he wouldn't mind."

"I assure you, any delusions of a torrid love affair between Draco and I are all in here," she said giving Ginny's temple a little tap. "I'm ready. So, how about we get back to what we were doing?"

"Ready?!" Ginny said in an incredulous voice. "Don't tell me you plan on leaving 'that' as is," She said gesturing to Hermione's unruly mane.

"Not to worry," Hermione said with a smile. Grabbing her wand that was lying on the dresser, Hermione gave a complicated twirl and twist accompanied by a muttered incantation. "Lo and behold," she said with a dramatic flair as her short hair turned into a small bun at the nape of her neck.

"Impressive," Ginny said folding her hands. "Was that a lesson from the Slytherin Prince himself?"

"Not exactly, although I suppose he helped," Hermione said checking hair in the mirror. "It's a little trick Tracey taught me."

"Well, this is news," Ginny said scrunching her eyebrows. "When did she turn into Tracey? Last I'd heard, she was still that annoying girl from the finance department."

With a final touch of lipstick to her lips, Hermione turned towards the bed. Joining Ginny as she gathered the samples of tablecloths with her wand. "It was all a big misunderstanding. As it turns out, we both were fighting for the same cause, albeit with different techniques, and were too stubborn to realize it. Thanks to Draco, we were able to work out our differences."

"That's great, Hermione," Ginny said with a warm smile. "I'm glad 'Draco' was there to help you," she said batting her eyelids as she emphasized the use of his given name.

"I'm going to ignore that." Hermione rolled her eyes and extracted the bag from Ginny's hands. "On the topic of Tracey, she suggested a nice solution to your publicity problem."

"Oh," Ginny said suddenly a thoughtful expression clouding her features. "Harry is freaked out with the hype, the press is creating. No matter how many measures we may take, I think someone's going to sneak in, take pictures, and trade them for hundreds of Galleons."

"Exactly," Hermione said placing everything back into the special bag she had allocated for Harry's wedding. "There's every chance that wedding pictures are going to be leaked to the press. So what if we gave rights to one paper and let them deal with those hassles."

"Meaning?" Ginny said sprawling on the now empty bed.

"Tracey's boyfriend, Theodore Nott is with Daily Prophet. From what I've been told from Tracey, he had a lot of things under control there. So if we let him cover the entire wedding, we can avoid some of the exploitation that could happen."

Ginny nodded, "I trust you, Hermione. If you think it would solve the issue, go ahead. Harry trusts your judgment and I doubt he'll take issue with your suggestion in including Nott."

"I know. Before broaching this topic with Harry, I wanted to talk to you," Hermione bit her lip. Ginny quirked up an eyebrow. "Theodore Nott's father was a Death Eater."

Ginny burst out laughing at Hermione's words. "Oh, poor Hermione. Why would I have an issue with that, when I've agreed to send a wedding invitation to Narcissa Malfoy?"

"What?" Hermione shot up from her place. "When did that happen?"

"This morning," Ginny said fixing a strand that came loose from Hermione's bun. "Harry said she'd been helping him with work and I couldn't deny his request when he asked with those puppy eyes. Merlin, if our kids have those eyes, I'm doomed." She mused wistfully. "Jokes aside, if Harry could push aside his prejudices, why can't I?" Hermione was mesmerized by the serene expression of trust in her friend's eyes.

"Wow," Hermione said slumping down. "I didn't expect this. Do you think everyone will be okay with this?"

"Mum's going to throw a fit, that's for sure. Luckily, this is Harry's idea so she won't be fighting it for long. She just loves him too much." Catching her thoughtful stare Ginny nudged her shoulder. "So are you wondering if you should ask your snake to be your date?"

"Speaking of snakes," Hermione said sprinting to the kitchen with a gentle shake of her head. "I need to check something." She stopped looking at her living room and its state. "Thanks, Gin," she called over her shoulder letting a feeling of gratefulness wash over her. She bit her lip looking at the kitchen and the arrangements she had made for the evening. She told her troubled mind that she was simply thanking Draco for everything he had done until now, but a gnawing feeling somewhere in the recesses of her brain didn't stop whispering that she might want something else.

"Anything for you, sweetie," Ginny said hugging Hermione from behind. Noticing Hermione's tense stance, she squeezed her shoulder. "It's going to be okay. Just trust your instincts, everything would be alright." She picked up the cat that was snoozing in the warmth of the sofa. "Come on, Crookshanks. Let's have some fun at Grimmauld Place today," she said as the cat squirmed in her hands.

"Ginny," Hermione narrowed her eyes, but Ginny vanished into the roaring flames, throwing a wink over her shoulder, pushing Hermione into a train of thoughts about what else her fiery friend had conspired.

Ginny's departure allowed Hermione's attention to return to the matter at hand. Taking a deep breath to quiet down her racing heart. "It's just a dinner," she muttered and headed to the kitchen to give one last once over on the things she prepared for the evening. She stopped, in her step noticing the strategically placed candles around the house, no doubt it was Ginny's attempt at mood lighting. With a groan she vanished them, slightly chiding the forwardness of her friend's efforts.

She heard the knock on her door, as she applied the final touches to her settee. She smiled, silently appraising the fact he chose the traditional way, instead of using her floo, though she hinted it would be open. Dusting her hands on the apron as she removed it, she moved to the door. With one last look at her attire, she unlocked the door welcoming the last person she ever thought she would be hosting.

"Draco," Hermione smiled. He stood dressed in a dark green button-down shirt sporting a distinct muggle sports jacket and a bottle of wine held in his hands. This was certainly the first time Hermione had ever seen Draco in muggle style clothing and it was almost insulting how well those clothes suited him. She tried unsuccessfully to stop an unladylike snort, suddenly attracting the attention of his appraising yet subtly wandering eyes. "Come in," she said stifling her laugh by clamping her hand over her mouth.

"Granger," he stepped into the house with a cautious gait, his eyes slowly moving to the interiors of her flat.

"You look quite, umm different," she mumbled. As he raised an eyebrow, she immediately corrected. "What I mean is, you look quite dashing."

"Thank you," he extended the wine towards her. "I would say you look rather radiant as well, but I feel it out of place after your expression of derision just a moment ago."

"Well," Hermione said taking the bottle into her hands. "Forgive me, I have never seen you in muggle clothing."

"Another questionable suggestion courtesy of Theo Nott," Draco muttered as Hermione moved to place the bottle on the table, unaware of his gaze that rested on the slight sway of her hips.

"It was a nice gesture, thank you," she said gesturing Draco to the sofa. "Can I get you anything?"

"A glass of wi… water would be lovely," Draco said joining her at the table. He wasn't going to risk too much alcohol, lest it loosens his venomous tongue or worse lead to more amorous endeavors. Hermione's hands hesitated on the wine bottle for a moment and then shifted to the water beside it.

"Would you care to explain why you're five minutes late, Malfoy?" Hermione asked handing him the glass.

"It's called courtesy, Granger. I arrived fashionably late, to give the hostess additional time to get ready while still being punctual enough to not be an inconvenience." he sipped the water. "I suppose that it was unnecessary. Doubtless, I could have arrived early and you'd still be ready." he finished with a smirk, placing the glass back on the table. His eyes roved over her cozy room brightened with warm lighting.

"It's not much, but it's mine," Hermione said with a contented smile, relishing the warmth that spread to her fingers at his appraisal. "I would've offered you to give you a tour, but it's just these three rooms."

"This room isn't without its charms," Draco said moving to a wall, that housed a lot of pictures, both moving and still ones. "We could save the tour for a later day, perhaps." He said lingering his gaze on a large picture in the middle. "This was our graduation." A waft of her scent invaded his nostrils as she came closer to stand by him; he had to curb the urge to close his eyes relish the delicate aroma. "I don't seem to remember Potter and Weasley being a part of our final school year. I take it this was another privilege given to the boy-who-saved the world."

"No, Harry and Ron were in the middle of Auror training. They just came by to surprise me." Hermione said obviously lost in nostalgic memories.

Draco was intrigued by the plethora of the pictures that adorned her wall. For all his life, he was taught one should never revel in mediocrity but should aim higher. The portraits that were hung on the Manor's walls were hand painted portraits and reminders of Malfoy achievements. Looking at these pictures, he couldn't understand the Gryffindor's fixation with ordinary and mundane things. A sideward look told him Hermione's gaze was mirroring his as it traveled from picture to picture.

"Interesting," his eyes turned back to Hermione after perusing a particular picture of a young girl with dirty blonde curls, seated in a man's lap, the pair laughing and dancing their fingers along the keys of a piano. Seeing their frozen mirth in the picture, he knew it was a reminder of her muggle heritage. Draco paused when as he saw a clear layer of sheen in her eyes as they remained glued to the pure innocence in the picture. "So, when did your hair decide to strike out to find a life of its own?"

Blinking off her unshed tears she quickly turned to him. With a playful smack on his arm, she rolled her eyes. "Will you ever stop being such a git?" she asked taking a seat on the other end of the sofa, while Draco settled at one end. "I'm curious as to why you didn't use the Floo."

"For the same reason I arrived five minutes late, to avoid unplanned surprises," Draco said with a smug smile as she narrowed her eyes. "I didn't realize intimate dinners alone with project sponsors were ministry approved. If you're not careful this might lead to notions of impropriety Ms. Granger. You wouldn't want Ms. Davis finding out about this and taking your funding away, would you? Or is the pleasure of my company too hard to resist."

"Oh dear, it seems I've been exposed. You see Mr. Malfoy this evening has all been an elaborate attempt to seduce you in the hope that you'll further increase the funding for my project. You see, the ludicrous amount you're providing already is hard enough to sate my lust for your galleons." Hermione said with a mischievous smile. "Besides, Tracey already knows about this dinner and private dinners with sponsors are deemed perfectly acceptable if approved in advance, according to the ministry's regulations. You really should've read the guidelines more closely Draco, you'd be surprised what we could get away with." Hermione finished with a playful wink.

"Well played, Granger," Draco said with a satisfied smirk. He wasn't expecting such a bold counterattack from her. Granger was certainly in rare form this evening. "Let me warn you though if you attempt to feed me any of your culinary abominations this evening, your lust for my galleons may well go unsated."

"We'll see about that," Hermione said tucking her feet under her legs while turning her body sideways. "Anyway, contrary to what I just said; I'm extremely happy with the way things are proceeding. I've been talking with Tracey and the increase in funding is going to allow us to expand the scope of the project even more than expected. We'll be able to make really significant changes for house elves not only here but abroad as well."

"I'm sure. Who could've guessed that Muggleborn Hermione Granger would be able to persuade notoriously stubborn Pureblood Lucius Malfoy into supporting her efforts."

"That's my charm, you know," Hermione said with a smug smile, but her expression soon softened, "Still, it couldn't have happened without you. Thank you so much."

Draco squirmed under her open and honest gaze. "I'm glad you recognize the value of my contribution," Draco said averting his eyes, before he did something stupid like praise her ability, or reveal the dark truth. "An interesting thing happened today," he said slowly turning his body to face her. "The Malfoys were extended an invitation to Harry Potter's wedding. Am I to presume, this was your doing?"

"No," Hermione said with an incredulous expression. "Why would you think so?"

"Just a hunch, past experiences and your involvement in the wedding seemed to suggest you had a hand in it. Although, I can't imagine why you or Potter would want us included." He said raising an eyebrow.

"Well, you can be assured. It's not my doing this time. In fact, I came to know about it not long ago. Ginny told me earlier today," Hermione said unconsciously leaning forward. "Are you planning to attend?"

Before an answer formed on his lips, the fireplace roared green.

"Hermione," her best friend's voice brought her back to reality and her posture suddenly became very rigid. "Ginny sent me to…" Harry's voice trailed off looking at the least expected person to be found in Hermione's home. "Malfoy?"

"Harry," Hermione quickly bounded towards the newcomer. "What are you doing here?"

"Umm," Harry said scratching the back of his neck. "Ginny forgot her diary and she needed it. Hermione, what is Malfoy doing here?"

"Harry," Hermione dragged Harry to the sofa by his hand. "We are just meeting to discuss few things." She said giving a sly glance at Draco. "Now before you say anything, let me get you Ginny's diary."

"Hermione, wait. I'll come with you," Harry called after Hermione as she dashed towards her bedroom.

"No, you stay here and talk to Draco. I'll be out in just a minute," she said with a hand on her hip, pointing to the sofa with her eyes.

With a grumble Harry perched on the armrest of the sofa, keeping as much distance as possible between his former nemesis and himself. Other than an occasional clattering noise from the bedroom, a pin-drop silence pervaded the room.

Draco kept his gaze casual but he never ignored the Auror as he observed him from his peripherals. Harry kept on grinding his palms together, a sentence slipping almost threateningly from his lips.

"Malfoy, what are...,"

Draco never gave him a chance to finish. "Before you start worrying your scarhead about my intentions with respect to Granger, I'm here because it was impolite to refuse the invitation. Our relationship is strictly professional, and any effort to change that will not be coming from me."

Never one to back down Harry continued. "Then why are you..."

Hermione stopped her search abruptly as she heard the raised voices. She pressed her back against the wall and tried to listen to what her business partner had to say.

"The funding was my father's idea, Potter. I'm just overseeing our investment, nothing more than that." Unlike Harry, Draco's tone remained impassive.

"So there is really no motive behind gifting Hermione that manuscript?" Harry's lowered tone, barely reaching Hermione's ears.

Draco sighed, "I'm under no obligation to explain myself to you, Potter. Granger is perfectly capable of determining my intentions. Besides, I don't think you can argue that such a rare manuscript would be better cared for, and appreciated in her hands."

"I still don't think..."

"Then it's a good thing she's the brightest witch of our sodding age and doesn't need you to think for her." Draco snapped. "If you're quite finished, I'm tired of these pointless questions. I don't find interrogations to be very amusing unless I'm the one conducting them."

Hermione let out a relieved breath as the silence reigned back in after Draco's statement. A part of her had been worried a duel would break out in her living room. Thankfully, it seemed both men had become less hot-headed with age. She waited for a moment to see if they'd start again, but neither of them seemed too intent on disturbing the temporary silence. Hermione returned to her search, contemplating where exactly the forgotten diary was hidden.

"Any leads in my mother's case?" Draco asked breaking the silence this time.

"It shouldn't be too long. We lost valuable information since it wasn't reported properly, but we're narrowing it down." Harry said looking towards the bedroom Hermione vanished into.

"It's no secret I don't think very highly of you Potter, but both Granger and my mother tell me you are quite adept at handling these cases. So, I advise you against letting them down."

"These things take time, Malfoy," Harry impatiently replied looking at his friend who just re-entered the room. "If you found it, I'll be on my way."

"No, it's not in here," Hermione said tapping her chin with her finger. "I wonder where she kept it. Maybe in there?" she turned towards her kitchen.

"Wait, let me help you," Harry lunged towards the smaller room before Hermione could object.

"Harry, wait," she called ignoring Draco's chuckle.

"Hermione, is everything alright? Do you want me to stay with you?" Harry asked as soon as both of them were out of his sight. "It's not that I don't trust your judgment, but it's Malfoy."

"Not deaf, and I'm sitting within bloody earshot Potter." Draco's grumbling went unheard.

"Harry, I've told you. There's nothing to worry about," Hermione said searching her cupboard. "If you really want to worry, worry about your little firecracker who set this up?"

"Ginny set up your meeting with Malfoy?" Harry incredulously asked.

"No," Hermione extracted the diary from the least used cupboard and placed in Harry's hand. "She planted this in the least expected place and had you sent looking for it."

The two best friends looked at each other and then at the diary in their hands and burst out laughing.

"Yes, that does sound like her," Harry said affectionately. "But it did work out in my favor. I was able to find out Malfoy's intentions about you," Harry said taking a few backward steps, sensing the anger in her amber eyes as they narrowed at him.

"Harry Potter, what do you think you're doing?" She narrowed her eyes at him.

"Nothing, just looking out for you," Harry said with a concerned smile. "After all, I did promise them, right?"

"Oh," Hermione's voice became softer.

The change in her tone caught Draco's interest. Just with a tilt of his head, he was able to get a glimpse at the corner where they were standing. These Gryffindors were not as quiet as they might've thought. What could bring about such a change in the resident bookworm's demeanor?

"When did you visit them?" Hermione asked as her shoulders slightly slumped.

"Not two days ago," Harry said proudly. "Well everything was going really well," his expression dropped and that piqued Draco's interest. "until Ron's name popped up."

"Oh," Hermione let out a sigh of relief. "It's nothing to worry about. A small amount of hostility is expected when it comes to their daughter's ex-boyfriend."

So, the discussion was about her parents, but why was she worried about them, Draco couldn't understand.

"Since my job here is done. I'll be on my way, and don't worry I'll give Gin an earful for you." Harry smiled as he exited the kitchen with Hermione on his heels.

Draco saw the slightly pensive look in Hermione's eyes as she followed Harry Potter to the floo. "Malfoy," the boy-who-lived nodded and stepped into the green flames that brightened up her entire flat.

Draco moved towards Hermione after Harry's departure. "Was forcing me to endure small talk with Potter really necessary? We both know you could have easily used a summoning charm." He said taking two wine glasses from her hands. He moved to the table and uncorked the bottle with his wand.

"Is there something wrong with me wanting the men in my life to become friends?" She replied, strolling to her dining table with a tray containing a strange assortment of foods in her hand.

"Friends with Potter? Why don't you just Avada me, Granger." Draco said sighing wistfully. "What are those? I already made my opinions clear regarding your culinary experiments." His hand stalled in confusion as he poured the wine into the glasses.

"I left so you both could talk, hoping that he would stop telling me not to trust you," Hermione said placing the tray on the table. She grabbed her wand that was tucked into the concealed side pocket of her dress and lifted off the stasis charm on it.

"Only fools trust Slytherins," Draco said eyeing the newly revealed contents of her dinner.

"Yes, well, I suppose I'm becoming a fool then," she said taking a chair gesturing Draco to another.

"Careful Granger, if the brightest witch of the age is a fool we're all doomed," Draco said with a smug smile, handing her the glass of wine.

"Maybe I should stop trusting you," she said taking a slow sip as her cheeks glowed red in the warmth of the burgundy liquid in her hands. "But for now I'll indulge my foolishness a bit longer. Since you expressed a fondness for flexibility and experimentation, I decided to have you try something a little different," she said, completely unaware of the double entendre. "I know this is a little out there, but given your affinity to potions I thought you might actually enjoy it."

Draco's eyes stayed on the contents of the tray, trying to determine the nature of her culinary experimentation. Her smug smile went completely ignored, as he got caught up in the delicate aroma of spices that invaded his senses.

"And I'm right," Hermione chuckled folding her hands.

Draco's eyes riveted back to her beaming eyes and he gave a devilish smirk. "Saffron? Surely, you're not using it for its aphrodisiac qualities Ms. Granger."

"Trust you to focus on that particular trait." She raised an eyebrow at him. "However, I'm quite confident that I don't need the help of a spice." Amused at Draco's stunned expression, she didn't hide her cryptic smile as she served him.

Draco turned his attention to the plate, determined to regain the upper hand. His brow creased as he picked up his fork studying the golden glittering rice. "I must admit, you've accomplished the first two tasks of the dining experience. The meal you've prepared is visually appealing and it certainly has an enticing aroma, but I'm afraid I'm going to need a few more particulars before I risk sampling your dish."

"Ever the skeptic," Hermione rolled her eyes, but Draco had to suppress a snigger as he saw the same enthusiasm in her eyes that appeared when she knew an answer to a question that no one else knew. "This is Basmati Rice infused with the exquisite flavors of Mongra Saffron and further accentuated with caramelized onions, almonds, and apricots."

"I'm familiar with this spice, Granger," Draco asked with a creased brow. "Although, I'm slightly confused by your attempt. The floral and fragrant flavors of Saffron are more suited for a sweet dish."

"This particular variety comes from the Himalayan valleys. The dark red strands are separated from the flowers manually, preserving all the natural flavors, making them very potent." Hermione explained ardently. "Besides, it has a slightly astringent quality, that makes it excellent for a savory dish."

"I'm sure," Draco mumbled. "But don't you think it would be too bland just to eat the rice without any accompaniments?"

"I'm glad you asked," Hermione said with a smile. "Although the rice is one of my favorites, I'm particularly proud of this." With a flourish, she opened the lid of the adjacent dish and Draco's eyes went wide at the reveal. "I present you, the Palak Paneer. A dish originated from the Indian subcontinent, known to be one of the best vegetarian dishes in the world."

"I don't know," Draco said giving a wary look at the innocent looking dish in the bowl. "I'll stick to the rice. Forget what I said," he said reaching for his fork. "That definitely looks intimidating."

"Oh, come on, Draco," Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Trust me, it's truly one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. Even Ron and Harry couldn't stop themselves from third helpings."

Draco stopped a repulsive remark about her friends, that was ready to slip out of his tongue. "Forgive me, but Potter and Weasely's opinions and dietary proclivities aren't exactly something a sensible person would use to make decisions."

"Then make them yourself," Hermione said pointing to the bowl. "Let me break it down for you. This is Paneer," she pointed to the blocks of cheese glistening amidst a thick green paste. "A kind of farmer's cheese from northern parts of India, that has a layered depth and a mellow flavor, that perfectly complements the Palak," she said pointing to the green curry. "Or more commonly known as Spinach."

"So, basically it's Spinach and Cheese?"

"Yes, although that's a rather simple interpretation," Hermione said in an exasperated voice. "The secret is in the way the Spinach is prepared."

Under normal circumstances, Draco would have been bored by Granger's explanations of their meal and yet there was something oddly captivating about the muggle-born as she prattled on about food ensconced in a tight black dress. "Please, continue," Draco said with a quirk of his lip.

Using the serving spoon, she scooped up a spoonful into her plate and skipped back into her lecture mode. "It's also worth mentioning that the dish combines the flavors of onion, tomato, ginger, and garlic, with the addition of spices like Coriander, Cumin, and Cinnamon to give the curry a unique taste. Add a dash of cream at the end, and it becomes a culinary masterpiece."

"Cinnamon? Your liberal use of aphrodisiac spices might lead me to wonder if you had other activities planned for this evening," he said moving to take spoon in her hands, accidentally caressing her fingers in the process. "That said, thanks to your informative lecture I'm willing to brave death and sample your cooking. Well-done Ms. Granger." With a devilishly smug smile dancing on his lips, he served a tiny portion to himself.

Giving his meal one final inspection, he scooped up a piece of cheese coated with the green curry along with a few grains of golden rice and transferred it to his lips.

It took a moment for Draco to process the flavors as they rolled on his tongue. The subtle hint of spices blended with the creamy spinach was the first thing that hit him. Before his palette adjusted to it, the bite into the delicious cheese sent a mellow sensation to his taste buds, while the subtle sweetness of the Saffron showed its evidence, all the while. He couldn't stop as a tiny hum of approval vibrated from the back of his throat. Hoping she hadn't noticed his momentary loss of focus, he relished and analyzed the amalgamation of the flavors, as they caressed his senses.

"What do you think?" Her apprehension was evident in her voice.

Draco didn't open his eyes until he gulped the entire bite down his throat. "Well, it's interesting," he said wiping his mouth with an impassive expression.

"Interesting, my arse. You loved it," Hermione laughed. "Come on, Draco."

Draco couldn't help but smile looking at the playfulness in her eyes. It was frustrating, she was the muggle-born swot that always seemed to best him. At Hogwarts, she made it so his efforts were always second best, and even now he could not overcome her charming allure. Hermione Granger was the beautiful affliction that tormented him, a sweet torture he didn't want to endure, but he didn't have a choice. The prosperity of the Malfoy family was reliant on having powerful offspring. Thus far, she'd proven too easy to persuade, and perhaps too easy to love. Pushing those thoughts aside, he attended to the rest of their dinner making light conversation and trying to limit his intake of alcohol.

"With great regret, I'm forced to admit, your cooking skills are rather impressive," Draco said biting into the buttery crumbling biscuit Hermione brought out as dessert.

"Thanks," she said with a proud smile. "I'm really glad you enjoyed it."

Draco's mind slowly wandered back to the conspicuous nature of the conversation she'd had with Potter, and why she turned teary-eyed at the sight of a mere picture of the man he presumed to be her father. "If may I ask, where did you acquire your culinary adventurousness? I know it's not a trait common to Gryffindors. After all, Longbottom seems to eat every meal at the Leaky." Draco hoped this tactic would lead her to reveal more about herself so he could understand what had transpired earlier that evening.

"Neville has his reasons," she answered with a curious smile. "And my parents always encouraged me to try new things. Even when it came to food, we used to try a new cuisine every year on my Dad's birthday," she finished with a wistful sigh.

"So, what cuisine did you try this year?" Draco asked pushing further into her defenses.

"It's been a while since we've done something like that," Hermione said with a sad smile. "But hopefully soon."

Draco waited to see if she would continue, but Hermione suddenly became very aware of who she was talking to. With her stance becoming alert, she offered another biscuit.

"Thanks," Draco didn't prod the topic any further. He dipped the biscuit into his glass of chocolate wine and brought to his lips. "Very delicious. Although, these are traditional Biscotti, Granger. These hardly qualify as a culinary experimentation."

"Actually, I didn't want to overwhelm you. Our main course was inventive enough for our first try, so for dessert, I decided to give you something little more familiar," she said twirling her biscotti in her dessert wine. "But I did give an experimental twist to it. As to what it is, I'll let you figure it out."

Draco curled his lip at her challenge, but this time poured his thoughts into the taste. No one challenged him when it came to desserts. He didn't need more time as he found a crumb of her secret ingredient hung to the corner of her mouth, fluttering against the pink of her lips. He didn't know what pushed him to that next action and he leaned forwards the brushed his fingers on the lower lip catching the crumb. "Coconut," Draco whispered.

Hermione's eyes went wide at his touch and a tiny gasp escaped her lips. Draco catching his mistake calmly withdrew his fingers.

"Yes, coconut it is," he said fixing his gaze on the wine, as he dipped the last bit of his biscuit into it.

"Excuse me," Hermione quickly stood up from her chair and taking her empty plate she fled into the kitchen. It took a minute for her to control her breathing as her lower lip still tingled at his touch. Dropping the plate on the counter, she closed her eyes. Even though her breathing evened out, her heart still seemed to thud. Her mind wandered to that moment and some part of her senses wouldn't have minded if his lips replaced his fingers.

"Something wrong, Granger," Draco strode into the kitchen with his plate in his hand.

Hermione's eyes shot open and her eyes darted to his occupied hands. "No, it's alright. I can take the plates." Without giving him a chance to reply, she grabbed his plate and placed it on the counter. "Shall we?" she passed him directing both of them back to her sofa.

"Would you like some more wine?" Hermione asked as Draco headed towards the place she directed.

"Actually, I should be going," Draco said checking the time. Based on his previous actions, he couldn't trust himself when he was around her with alcohol in his system. It was best he got the hell out of there before he did something Gryffindorish. A small look of disappointment washed over her eyes. "Dinner was delightful, Granger. Thank you for the invitation."

"The pleasure's all mine."

"Of course. You've been blessed with my company and my approval of your creations."

Hermione's expression softened at his articulations and muttered, "Prat." He gathered his coat from the chair and headed towards the door. "You can use the floo," Hermione said pointing to the fireplace. "I'm sure there won't be any surprises for you on the other end."

"One can never guess," Draco said thoughtfully. "For now I'll use the door. Why, are you worried someone going to see me exiting your house?"

Hermione opened the door and raised her head. With a hand on her hip, she said. "Hardly, that kind of worry would never come from me." Looking at the playful confidence in her eyes, Theo's words flashed in his memory. Hermione Granger would be his key to victory.

"Good to know," Draco said taking two steps towards her. He could hear her heart thud loudly as he lifted her hand that was resting on her hip and brought it closer to his lips. Without breaking their eye contact, he brushed his lips on her knuckles. "Goodnight," lingering a moment there, he whispered, "Ms. Granger."

He left swiftly towards the steps that led outside without looking back and before Hermione had a chance to process what had just transpired.


 

Chapter Text

"What do you think?" Narcissa expectantly raised an eyebrow at her son.

Draco took a step closer to his mother with a scrutinizing eye. "The craftsmanship is certainly exquisite, but the design is rather inelegant." Tucking his hands into his pockets, he bent down to examine the intricacies of the object. "I can appreciate the intricate details, but I can't help but think that this piece is rather uninspired," Draco said with a thoughtful frown.

"I agree, but Mr. Potter was quite adamant about the design. For whatever reason, he wished for a gift of devotion that was simplistic above all else." Narcissa said with a smirk. Draco turned to look at his mother completely perplexed. "Yes, it would seem he misunderstood," she said with a light chuckle. "Tradition demands a grand expression of love, and yet Mr. Potter decided to choose something so simplistic. I almost pity the Weasley girl."

"No doubt it was Granger's influence. Merlin knows what gaudy creation Potter might have created if left to his own devices," Draco said with a snort of derision. "Gryffindors aren't known for their restraint or subtlety."

Narcissa chuckled, with a few flicks of her wand the gift was quickly wrapped. Draco couldn't help but marvel at his mother's aesthetic skill. She had wrapped the gift for Potter's bride in such a way that it completely concealed the object but did still showcased its importance. "With this I have fulfilled my promise to assist Mr. Potter. I do hope this motivates the boy to increase his efforts in investigating those who would dare to threaten the Malfoys."

"He's a Gryffindor, his self-righteous sense of justice needs no motivation. Besides, your gift to Granger may have already accomplished that goal." Draco said walking back to his desk. "When is the-boy-who-would-not-die coming to pick up this 'Gift of Devotion'. The wedding is in two days."

"Actually, I assured him that you would deliver it to the Maid of Honor personally."

"You mean to say, I'm going to have to deliver this thing to Granger myself?" Draco sighed as he put on his glasses and reached for the Arithmancy equation he was working on before his mother interrupted.

"Yes," Narcissa said with a sigh. "Your father may be pleased that Ms. Granger's project will be of use to us, but your progress in wooing the girl must remain your focus," she said in a kind but stern tone. "I realize how unpleasant courting such a girl must be, but she is key to our family's survival." She reached for his cheek and lightly brushed against the frames of his glasses.

"Consider it done," Draco said in a casual tone without any hesitation in his voice. Narcissa swallowed her surprise at Draco's easy acceptance of meeting with Hermione Granger. " Before you say anything, Theo suggested that I look at this situation from a different perspective. Loathe as I am to admit it, he was right. It may take some time but I should be able to overcome my aversion to her and accomplish my duty." Although he sounded as if he was resigned to his fate, Narcissa felt as if her son wasn't being completely honest.

"I leave it to you then," said Narcissa. "I trust I needn't remind you to treat the girl as if she were of noble birth."

"No," Draco said his gaze completely fixed on the parchment on the table. "I remember the lessons you taught me as a boy. Despite being matched with a muggleborn, I intend to uphold our traditions and observe proper decorum." Even though Draco's eyes were fixed on the paper, Narcissa noticed a slight quirk of his lip. "Perhaps you've been spending too much time with Potter," Draco added, "I needn't be reminded to behave like a civilized wizard. I can only imagine how taxing dealing with him must have been."

"Certainly Mr. Potter's ignorance of our traditions and rather uncouth behavior at times, has been troubling," Narcissa said with a teasing smile. " But you my dear boy, have been holding that parchment upside down in an effort to avoid looking at me ever since I brought up you visiting Ms. Granger."

With a triumphant smile dancing on her lips, she exited her son's room leaving him along and rather embarrassed. Draco's behavior reminded her of when he was a precocious child, so open and easy to read. Recently, Narcissa had begun to see more of the boy she raised and less of the hardened shell created by war. Perhaps this regretable matching might yet yield further benefits for her family, she thought idly.

Back in the room, Draco's eyes remained on the parchment. Seriously, was he holding it upside down the entire time? He just wanted to roll the parchment up in his hand and hit himself with it. When did he become so easy to read. Granger was changing him more than he liked to admit, she was a force of nature and apparently, he wasn't prepared enough to deal with the tempest that was Hermione Granger.

"Temptress is more like it" he muttered. Suddenly realizing what he'd said aloud, he let out a frustrated groan and combed his fingers through his hair. He was becoming too soft, a Slytherin needed to be cold and ruthless. Granger's influence felt like it was turning him into a sodding Hufflepuff. If he wasn't careful, next thing he knew, he'd be working for Abbott at the Leaky Cauldron instead of being behind the scenes pulling the strings of the wizarding world.

His thoughts were interrupted by a beam of bright light that entered his room. His eyes narrowed and his fingers reached for the wand. As he looked on, the tiny beam started to inch closer and within seconds, a radiant otter was skittering around him.

Draco slowly withdrew his hand as a familiar voice spoke to him. "Malfoy, as much as it pains me to say this, I could really use your help with something. In return, I'll owe you one favor, within reason. Meet me at 12 Grimmauld place. Aah!" Her sentence was interrupted by a loud crash, "I'll be waiting outside." Another crash indented her speech. "Now!" her voice ricocheted in his study as the otter disintegrated into the air leaving behind a set coordinates that quickly faded.

Draco mulled the situation over in his head. Based on the sounds he heard, whatever was going on with Granger might be more trouble than it was worth. However, having Gryffindor's Golden Girl owe him a favor wasn't a chance he was likely to pass up, he was a Slytherin at heart after all. 12 Grimmauld Place sounded familiar, but he ignored the familiarity as it probably wasn't important anyway. He didn't want to waste time, this was a good chance to gain an advantage over Granger. Grabbing the robes that were draped on the back of the chair, he looked at Potter's gift of devotion that had been left on the table by his mother. It would have to wait, he sighed and disapparated to go meet Hermione.

As soon as he landed and took stock of the surroundings Draco let out an inelegant curse. Granger had summoned him to a muggle neighborhood in broad daylight! Apparently, her addled mind couldn't process that a man suddenly appearing in the middle of the street in dark robes might create problems. Thankfully, Draco had mastered his mother's talent for near silent apparition; which meant that at least there hadn't been a thundering crack to announce his arrival. The absence of any kind of alarm being sounded seemed to suggest that he'd managed to go unnoticed.

Scanning the surroundings, he quickly spotted Hermione Granger pacing frantically in front of a pair of muggle homes. Her eyes brightened as she rushed towards him. Draco's brow furrowed looking at her state. There were Dark circles under her eyes, burnt pieces of wood in her disheveled hair, parts of her clothing seemed to be singed and there were bruises on her cheek.

"Thank Merlin, you're here," she took his hand and started dragging him off before he could speak.

"Granger? What in Merlin's name is going on!?" Draco asked in a serious voice, "What happened to you?" He couldn't help but ask since her disheveled state was bringing back unpleasant memories.

"I'll tell you in a minute," she said moving to a spot somewhere in the middle of two muggle homes.

"Uhm, do you realize we are walking into a wall?" Draco asked as he reluctantly followed her.

"Really? I didn't think I'd need to explain magic to a pureblood." Hermione said taking her wand out. "Here we go," she said tapping the wall with her wand.

To Draco's bewilderment, the wall transformed into a door, with number 12 on it. "Come in." She gave a tug with her hand pulling him out of his stupor. A look inside the house and Draco knew the reason for Hermione's apparent distressed state.

"I take it this isn't some form of muggle redecorating," he said carefully trudging through the rubble and debris. "Did a Cyclone hit this place?"

Hermione's answer was interrupted as high pitched wail deafened their ears and a glass vase on the side table burst into shards. Shielding his head with one hand, he Involuntarily pulled her closer to his larger frame. "What in the name of bloody hell is happening here? Are you trying to get both of us killed?"

She grabbed his hand and pulled him to mildly guarded place, behind the sofa. As they both slid down against the back of the sofa, Draco reached for his wand the cleared the hanging pieces of wood from her hair. "It's a long story," she said with a sigh. "I thought I could do it, I really did. I've been trying for days but he won't listen to reason. Now he's having a fit and won't let me near him."

"Focus, Granger. First of all, where exactly are we?" Draco asked, carefully watching for more falling or exploding debris.

"It's Harry's home. It was left to him by Sirius Black."

"Oh!" Draco's expression softened as recognition dawned on him. "Then this place is the ancestral home of the Blacks. Why would Potter choose to live here?"

"It's very important to him," Hermione defended. "Sirius was family to him. In fact…"

"Granger, I can't be bothered to care about Potter under normal circumstances. Do you honestly expect that to change when things are exploding around me?!" Draco interrupted. "Why did you call me here?"

"Right," Hermione said in a dejected voice. "It's their house-elf, Kreacher."

"What about him?"

"Well, he's rather old and let's say he's still very dedicated to Blacks."

"Brilliant," Draco sighed, quickly understanding Hermione's meaning. "Let me guess, he's already unhappy with serving a half-blood, and you said something foolish that upset him. Then I suppose you summoned me here because despite having a deep understanding house elves, you lack experience actually being a master to them." he finished.

Hermione was either very distracted by a spot on the wall, or she was choosing to ignore Draco.

"So, what's your plan here Granger? I am descendent of the house of Black, so my commands might hold some sway but that's one hell of a gamble. Under normal circumstances, you could just leave and wait until he calms down. Instead, you called me with the promise of owing me a favor. You do remember who I am, don't you?" With a sideward look, his smirk grew and he couldn't help but nudge her now dropped jaw with his finger. "I look forward to exploiting your generosity."

The lines of tension that marred her face, slowly disappeared as she caught his flirtatious wink. She slowly shook her head and laughed. "For a minute there, I thought you'd gone bonkers. You should be careful, you're talking to a ministry employee and that kind of talk could get you into trouble with Davis." She said with a sly grin.

"Don't be absurd, my galleons are just too valuable for you to let any trouble befall me. Besides, you've already fallen victim to my charms."

Hermione narrowed her eyes but her expression quickly turned into one of smug fascination. "Oh, yes. You are quite the spectacles."

Draco's momentary confusion dissipated as the realization hit him. "Shite," he cursed and snatched the glasses from his face and pushed them into his pockets. "Don't you dare make a comment about comparing them to Potter's."

Hermione's laugh was quickly followed by another blast of noise, as a piece of wood snapped from the wall and got lodged in the sofa. "Maybe we should move this conversation to a room that isn't exploding at random," Hermione said gesturing for Draco to follow her lead.

As they moved through the debris towards a set of stairs Draco couldn't help but muse about his current situation. He had heard stories about house elves having magical tantrums, but this was the first time he'd actually seen the devastation that could be caused by elf magic. It was almost terrifying that the normally servile elves held this much power. It quickly became apparent why Helga Hufflepuff created the bonds between wizards and house elves. The elves' explosive power needed to be controlled, magic this powerful left unrestrained was deadly to both the target and the user. Binding them to a wizard would extend their lifespan significantly by limiting that flow of magic, and the ambient magical power of the bond would create stability for both the master and servant.

Hermione suddenly dove into a room adjacent to the stairs and Draco quickly followed.

"Facing down a rampaging demonic elf was not what I had planned for today." He groused as he entered the oddly quiet room.

"I know," Hermione said quickly closing the door behind him. "And he's not demonic. He's just emotional. He's been in this house for ages. He's old and doesn't like the idea that his new master wants to change certain things left behind by his old pureblood Mistress."

As she turned to look at Draco she noticed he wasn't even looking at her but was distracted by something in the room. "Draco, have you even listened to a word I've said?"

"Forgive me, I'm still processing the fact that I've been pulled into this war zone and then you suddenly dragged me into a bedroom."

"What?" Hermione said looking around her. "Sorry, didn't notice. I just wanted to find a quiet place." Hermione took note of the fact that despite Kreacher's rampage this room was left untouched. "This must have been Regulus' bedroom," she muttered mostly to herself. "Anyway, I didn't bring you into a bedroom on purpose."

"Good, because next time we find ourselves alone in a bedroom with you looking disheveled, I would much rather be the cause of it than some rampaging elf," he replied angrily.

It took them both a little longer than normal to realize the implications of Draco's words, at which point both of them struggled to hide a blush. "Anyway, clean yourself up, Granger. We're going to need a plan, so start with explaining why that old house elf is destroying the place. I'd like to take care of that elf before Potter shows up and you need to explain why you gave away the location of his Fidelius charm protected home to me."

"What?!," Hermione said as she realized her mistake. Although she'd become comfortable enough to have Draco in her own home the same could not be said for Harry and Ginny. 12 Grimmauld Place was supposed to be a safe place protected by the Fidelius charm, and she just gave everything away. How could she have been so irresponsible, Harry was going to have a fit.

Lost in her own thoughts, she didn't notice Draco getting uncomfortably close. "Focus, Granger." He whispered in her ear. Surprised, she took a deep breath and simultaneously pushed Draco with her hands.

"This house contains a very unpleasant feature," Hermione started.

"I presume you're referring to the portrait of my great Aunt Walburga. My grandfather Abraxas thought she was rather undignified, and blood traitors or muggleborns were unworthy of such vocal contempt from a Black."

Hermione closed her eyes as her body gave out a tiny shudder. "I forgot that hideous thing used to be here; but no, I'm not talking about it. It took months of work, but Harry and Bill got rid of that awful thing after the war. Kreacher was heartbroken afterward and became hellbent on protecting other things." When Draco raised an eyebrow she continued. "Anyway, I'm talking about a wall covered with severed elf heads."

Draco scrunched his nose. "Ugh, how utterly unpleasant. I'd heard mention that my great aunt had poor taste, but severed heads mounted on the wall is beyond even what I expected. Although I fail to see the issue. If this house belongs to Potter he could've easily evanescoed them himself."

"Well, we hoped to give them a proper resting place," Hermione said with a grimace at Draco's words. "But Kreacher placed some powerful elf magic to protect his Mistress' legacy. When someone even approaches that wall, he just pops in and bursts into a fit of sobs. Due to his age, his magic isn't very stable anymore, and upsetting him becomes dangerous."

"I see," Draco said tapping his chin. He could definitely see the magnitude of the problem.

"Since I've learned so much from the books you've shared, I thought that I might be able to persuade him into letting go of those ghastly things but instead he started throwing a tantrum," she said with a dejected sigh. "I just wanted to help Harry and Ginny. It would be a nice thing for them to come home to a house, free of severed elf heads."

"I see, am I to understand that you called me here so Potter and his soon to be bride don't come back to find their home in ruins because you thought you could persuade an old elf?" Hermione let out a huff at Draco's assertion.

"I used everything in my arsenal. I tried to talk to him, I tried offering compensation. As a last resort, I even threatened him, and he didn't budge. Actually, that's what pushed him into this fit. Now he won't even move from that place. I should have known better, but he wouldn't listen, I spent days trying to reason with him, I was frustrated!" She furrowed her eyebrows. "Maybe, I didn't do enough research. Surely, I might have missed something."

"Granger, you're rambling." Draco interrupted. "Take a calm breath and let me think." He slowly guided her to the bed and seated her on it. As he moved away, his gaze landed on the bruise on her cheek. "You might want to do something about that," he said poking her cheek.

Hermione winced. "Later," she said shrugging her shoulders. "There are far more important things to be taken care of."

Draco rolled his eyes and started to take notes mentally. Thanks to the degree of familiarity he'd developed with the meticulous bookworm over the past few months, and his knowledge of the contents of her readings. He presumed she had already tried every possibility a Gryffindor might think of, which meant he'd need to use Slytherin tactics to accomplish this task.

Giving her a pointed look, he tucked his hands into his pockets. "Persuasion is an art, Granger. There are many steps to follow if you're attempting to persuade someone into taking the desired action."

Hermione gave an exasperated look. "I didn't call you here to give me a theoretical lesson on persuasion. I'm more than familiar with the concept."

"I don't doubt that. I'd expect no less from the woman who was determined to consume the entire Library at Hogwarts before the end of her third year." Ignoring Hermione's glare, Draco continued. "You said, you tried to reason with him, offered him compensation and finally threatened him." Hermione looked on with confusion. "Those are all good methods of persuading someone but I'd wager you forgot something very important. If you had remembered to use it, I doubt you would have needed to call me or risk owing me a favor."

"Stop speaking in riddles, Draco," Hermione said shooting up from the bed.

"Fear. Threats and intimidation only work when your target is afraid. If they aren't afraid they will be more likely to resist. We both know how powerful an emotion like fear is, but I doubt you're willing to use it on an old house elf whose only trying to protect his memories."

"No! He's frightened enough, I'm not going to let you do something like that to him." Hermione roared.

"Calm down Granger, I'm not going to threaten to kill the pathetic old creature. Threats without fear of them becoming a reality are meaningless." He countered.

"I know," Hermione replied angrily as she gritted her teeth. "But it felt wrong, Kreacher doesn't deserve that kind of treatment. He's just trying to protect something that's important to him. I hoped just threatening him would be enough."

"You were being naive, so instead you called me here to be the villain on your behalf," Draco said.

"I didn't mean," Hermione said defensively before cutting herself off. "You're right, I did call you here for that, just promise me you won't be too cruel."

"Of course, but in addition to you owing me one favor within reason, there is one more condition," Draco stopped Hermione as she tried to go past him.

"What?" She folded her arms.

"Potter is never to know that I was responsible for this," Draco said seriously. "If the news about this becomes known to him, you'll be owing me an unrestricted favor instead."

"You seem awfully confident about your success," Hermione replied angrily to his new condition.

"Regretfully, I bear the burden of too many successes on my shoulders," Draco sighed dramatically. "Do we have a deal?" he said offering his elbow to her.

Hermione didn't have much of a choice. She was consumed with guilt after threatening the poor elf and she had promised Harry a solution to this problem. Draco had more experience with house elves, he was willing to help and just promised not to be too cruel. The new condition was dangerous, but as long as she was careful not to let Harry find out, she'd be fine. Hermione knew this was just another deal with the devil, but it seemed worth the price. Besides, this particular devil had been rather good to her lately.

They cautiously walked out of the room, making sure not to make any noise to disturb the transitory peace. "Where are Potter and his bride, today? Did they leave this for you to handle?"

"They don't even know that I'm here. They're at Burrow getting things ready for the wedding. I just wanted to get this sorted for them before the wedding." she answered.

Tiny whimpers reached their ears, as they headed closer to the steps. Hermione's concern for the elf made her rush towards him, but Draco gave her hand a tug and stopped her. He shook his head and gestured her to stay behind him. "Trust me," he mouthed giving her an assuring nod.

"Who is this coming to the noble house of Black, now?" The elf said in a squeaky voice hearing the thud of Draco's boots on the wooden staircase.

"It's a pity, you don't recognize me," Draco stood proudly in front of the cowering elf.

"The pushy mudblood has brought another to help her. What would poor Kreacher do?" The elf burst into another fit of sobs breaking another glass frame.

"Hasn't your master forbidden the use of that word?" Draco asked sharply. "What would Miss Cissy say; not only have you failed to recognize her son, but you disgrace the House of Black by not following your Master's direct order."

"Stop it, Malfoy," Hermione burst forward. "I told Harry not to forbid him."

Kreacher's eyes widened. "Miss Cissy's son, the last pure heir of the Blacks and Malfoys. Kreacher is honored to be in your presence. What can I do for you?"

"Granger, if you want this to work I expect you to be silent, listen to me, and try to keep that bleeding heart in check," Draco hissed quietly. Hermione threw a glare but remained silent as Draco turned his attention to the elf in front of him. "You will begin with not calling her that derogatory word," Draco said folding his hands.

"There's no need for that. I don't really mind," Hermione shrugged her shoulders, earning an almost hateful glare from Draco.

"Of course, anything for Miss Cissy's son," Kreacher spoke in a polite voice. "The young master is so like kind Master Regulus. He cared for poor Kreacher. What brings you to Kreacher? Are you here to protect my poor Mistress' legacy?"

"Aww, look at him," Hermione said from Draco's side. "Poor thing is hurting so much."

Draco rolled his eyes and continued. "No, you will restore honor to the House of Black yourself."

"Kreacher will do anything," the elf struggled to bow and Draco had to stop Hermione as she tried to lunge for the tiny elf to help him.

"Good. Your old Mistress would be proud of your devotion to her kin." Draco's eyes traveled to the gruesome display of the skulls above Kreacher. "Clear that wall."

"Master, surely you won't ask me to do that. It's my mistress' legacy," Kreacher retreated back to his sanctuary. "That mudblood girl poisoned your mind," he wailed in an even louder voice causing the ceiling to creak.

"Oh so much for your grand plan. We're back to the beginning," Hermione spat.

"An heir to the House of Black has given you an order!" Draco yelled at the cowering elf. "I gave you an opportunity and you didn't use it. Now your Mistress' legacy will be blasted into oblivion. Go ahead, Granger."

"What the hell are you doing?" Hermione asked with widened eyes. "I'm not..."

Draco looked at her and said in a soft voice. "For once, just follow my lead. Shoot a blasting curse exactly at the edge." Catching her pensive glance. "His protection is on the heads not on the wall. It'll work."

"Confringo," Hermione said pointing the wand at corner, taking extreme care that it didn't hit any of the skulls. The bit of the wall broke and one of the mounted skulls toppled down. The elf lunged and caught it before it hit the ground.

Ignoring the elf wails, as he cried clutching the skull to his heart, Draco scooted closer to him. "This is the price of disobedience, I only asked that you clear the wall, not to dispose of those heads. Now your mistress' legacy will be destroyed because of you."

"Stop, stop, stop, STOP!," the elf yelled. "Make her stop." His cries caused an explosion downstairs making them wince at the noise.

Draco turned to look at a very conflicted Hermione and discreetly gestured to do one more curse.

"Draco, I really hope you know what you're doing," Hermione whispered clearly uncomfortable with his request and fired another Confringo, this time on the other side.

"Perhaps you should visit Miss Cissy, She would love to hear that you've sullied my great aunt's legacy with your disobedience," Draco said with his trademark sneer.

"Please, make it stop. Kreacher would die of shame. Mistress would never forgive Kreacher. Kreacher needs to protect Mistress' legacy." The elf's sobs turned into horrifying hiccups.

"Your loyalty to your Mistress earns you one more chance," Draco said pointing his finger at the tearful elf. "But you will comply,"

He quickly threw a cautious glance at Hermione, who was looking at the elf with tearful eyes clearly upset.

"I'll do anything," Kreacher said taking deep breaths. "I'll do anything to protect Mistress' wishes just like Master Regulus."

"Very well then," Draco took a step back and dragged Hermione with him. "Tinky."

Tinky popped into Grimmauld Place with a loud pop. "Young master called?"

"Yes. This is Kreacher," Draco said. "Take him to the House-elf Ossuary at Malfoy Manor and show him a place to preserve his ancestors' remains."

"You have an Ossuary built for the elves?" Hermione asked with wide eyes. "Then why didn't you tell him that directly. What was the need to subject him to such trauma?"

"No other place is worthy to house them other than the noble house of Black," Kreacher grumbled giving Tinky scathing glances.

"If that is your choice. Go ahead, Granger. Blast off the whole wall," Draco said lazily checking his nails.

"No! Thank you for your kindness, Master Malfoy. Kreacher will take them right away," Kreacher whimpered snapping its fingers, removing the protections he had put in place. "Guide me, young one," he muttered as he trudged towards the younger elf extending his hand.

"With this, your problem has been solved," Draco smirked at furious Granger. "Don't give me that look, those hideous things have found a suitable resting place, and he's stopped wailing. It was a bitter lesson, but he needed to be reminded that he is the one who carries the legacy of his forebears, not those severed heads."

"It was needlessly cruel," Hermione said looking at the elves as they gathered all their belongings. "I should help."

"I advise against that unless you want to have him screaming again," Draco drawled.

Tinky had disapparated as Kreacher carefully lowered all of the skulls to the ground. When Tinky reappeared he carried a large empty chest and both the elves transferred everything into it.

"The last heir of the Blacks and Malfoys is kind to offer a home to Kreacher's family, but not as kind as Master Regulus," Kreacher grumbled as Tinky gathered the chest.

"Never insult the heir of the Malfoy family," Tinky said protectively. "Apologize."

"Yes, yes. Kreacher is very sorry."

"Aren't you going to stop him?" Hermione asked as Draco looked on with amusement.

"It's Tinky's nature to be protective of his master. He is an elf of the House of Malfoy and wants to protect its dignity, just as Kreacher does for the House of Black. If I stopped him, I'd be insulting him," Draco said shrugging his shoulders.

"I still don't understand," Hermione grumbled, leaning her head on his shoulder and he couldn't help but notice how emotionally and physically exhausted she looked.

"There are centuries of history and tradition, these things take time. It's wrong to assume every elf is like Dobby. Some value loyalty and legacy above anything else." He replied softly.

"We'll be on our way, young master," Tinky stood proudly holding one end of the chest, while Kreacher wobbled on the weight of the other end. Kreacher scowled at Hermione then turned away before both elves disappeared.

The silence in the room following the elves' departure stood in stark contrast to the thunderous clamor of Kreacher's tantrum and only lasted a few moments before it was broken once again.

"You did it," Hermione said, "I'm not exactly happy with how you did it, but you actually got rid of those heads and the house is still standing."

"As if there was any doubt." Draco said proudly."Although, I do wonder if that elf is going to come back and clean this mess up."

"I doubt it, he seems rather cross with me at the moment. Luckily, it shouldn't be a big deal to get this place back to its original condition with the two of us." She gave him the most contented smile he had ever seen on her face as she looked at the now empty wall lost in her thoughts.

Draco was completely blown away that she could find happiness in such a simple thing. Helping her friends in a way that didn't end up hurting that troublesome elf seemed to have pushed her into a state of tranquility. The childlike innocence in her expression completely took him by surprise. His heart thudded loudly and he started to feel suffocated.

"It's a shame that only one of us will be cleaning this mess up," Draco declared abruptly turning to leave.

"What!" she said as she reached to stop him.

"You're on your own for clean up, I don't want Potter to find me here. Who knows what he'd start accusing me of once he sees this mess."

"Draco Malfoy!" Hermione yelled folding her arms in front of her as she turned to look at him.

Draco gulped looking at the suddenly fiery expression on Hermione's face. "Look, as much as I'd love to spend the rest of my day with you, struggling to clean up this mess, and I truly wouldn't. I did drop everything to come and help you. So I rather think I've more than fulfilled my good deed quota for the month, and it's time I get back before father realizes I've not done an ounce of work all day." He said flashing her his boyish smile as he slowly backed away. A traitorous part of Draco did want to stay with Hermione, but he knew if he spent much more time with her today that he might do something stupid like snog her or find a way to put Regulus' bedroom to proper use.

"Draco," She called to him as he once again turned to leave,"Thank you again for coming, and helping me out."

In that moment the smile she gave was absolutely stunning and Draco realized just how dangerous Hermione Granger was. If he wasn't careful she'd have him wrapped around her finger in no time at all. Her feminine charms weren't virtues they were deadly weapons designed to melt even the coldest of hearts. He needed to establish dominance in this relationship soon, or his future would be full of bending to her whims.

"No problem Granger, and I look forward to taking full advantage of that favor you owe me," he said pecking her on the cheek and flashing her his most devilish smirk as he quickly bolted for the door.

Completely stunned by his actions, it took Hermione a few moments to realize what had just happened.

"Malfoy!" she shouted as she chased after him. Just as she reached the front door, Hermione saw him turn around in the middle of the street to look at her.

"I'll see you at Potter's wedding." He shouted back just before disapparating.

Hermione was left speechless. What in Merlin's name had gotten into him, and why did he kiss her then run away? She couldn't fathom how much he'd changed since Hogwarts. In the past, there would have been no way that he would have dropped everything to show up and help her deal with a troublesome house elf, or eaten dinner with her, or defend her to his father, or fund S.P.E.W., or flirt with her so brazenly, and the old Draco would have never dreamed of kissing her. Would he? Hermione didn't have an answer, but she was going to pry one from him at Harry and Ginny's wedding by any means necessary.

Chapter Text

 

Hermione sighed as she puttered around her small home. Yesterday had been more eventful than she'd expected. She knew getting rid of that wall of severed heads wasn't going to be a simple task, but she hadn't expected to need to call Malfoy to come to her rescue, nor did she actually expect him to show up. Thankfully, they had been successful and all it had cost was owing Draco Malfoy one favor, within reason.

Within reason, those two words were Hermione's saving grace. Thus far, Draco had been unusually kind to her, but she wasn't about to let her guard down that quickly. That kiss he planted on her before running away was proof positive that giving him a carte blanche favor would have been amazingly stupid. Thank Merlin she didn't...

"Bugger," she said aloud as she remembered Draco's condition. She'd been so busy fixing the chaos left in Kreacher's wake that she'd almost forgotten that if she ever allowed Harry to find out that Draco helped, she would owe the cunning Slytherin one unrestricted favor instead.

"Why in Merlin's name did I ever agree to that?" she muttered, a traitorous voice in her head reminding her that at the time she'd been desperate, full of adrenaline, and alone in a bedroom with Draco Malfoy after he'd made a rather suggestive declaration. At the time, his condition seemed irrelevant weighed against the value of his success. Unfortunately, the only solution now was to make sure Harry and Ginny never found out that she had help dealing with Walburga's wall of heads.

A sudden knock at her front door shook Hermione from her musing.

"Delivery for Hermione Granger." A distinctly male voice called through the door.

Hermione drew her wand immediately. Deliveries always came by owl, and her parents didn't know her current address. She cautiously approached the door and peek through the peephole to see a man standing outside her front door with a package in one hand and a broom in the other.

"Come on Granger, I know you're home." The man's voice called out.

"What are you doing here Nott?" Hermione said as she opened the door.

"Didn't you know, I moonlight as a delivery boy in my spare time. I figured Tracey would have mentioned that I'm often pulled into helping an ungrateful Malfoy every now and again." replied a very windswept looking Theodore Nott. "I've got Potter's gift courtesy of Narcissa Malfoy by way of Draco, who was too sodding lazy to deliver it himself. May I come in?"

"Oh, sorry" Hermione moved aside to let the former Slytherin in. Observing him closely as his eyes took in the modest decor of her home.

"Very minimalist decor. Is it wrong that I was expecting wall to wall bookshelves?" He said with a half smile while placing his broom against the wall near the front door.

"Enough cheek Nott," She ground out. If it wasn't for the fact that Davis thought so highly of Theo, she wouldn't have let him in. "Why are you delivering Harry's gift of devotion personally, and why do you have a broom?"

Theo sighed, threading his free hand through his hair mussing it up even more than it had been.

"The Lady Malfoy is quite good a charms. In fact, the anti-magic charm she placed on the wrapping makes this gift immune most magic until opened. Which means that it can't be shrunk or levitated; weightless charms don't work on it, and you can't examine it with magic. Which means, since it's too heavy for an owl, I had to carry the bloody thing all the way from Wiltshire." Theo groused.

"Alright, but why are you the one doing this? "

"Don't ever owe Draco Malfoy a favor. He's an opportunistic prat." He replied, perching himself on her sofa after depositing the gift of devotion on her dining table next to the vase of pristine daffodils.

Hermione's blood ran cold. Theo Nott was one of Draco's best friends and had just been made to fly a package all the way from Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire. If Draco treated one of his best friends like this, what horrors would she be made to endure? She was going to need to find a way to make it so Malfoy never collected in that favor.

"You're looking a little pale. Sorry if mentioning Wiltshire brought up bad memories." Theo said, looking at his hands.

In that moment, Hermione realized why Tracey was so fond of Theodore Nott. He might have a bit of a cheeky mouth on him, but he was thoughtful. It seemed like he'd thought that by just mentioning Wiltshire it reminded her of the Manor and brought up bad memories. Hermione couldn't help but chuckle at the absurdity of it.

"Davis is right, you are a very sweet man."

Theo groaned, "Great, do I need to add you to the list of people who regularly exploit my kindheartedness? Draco's been doing it for years, and in less than half a year Tracey's got me at her beck and call."

Hermione couldn't help but laugh. "No, I don't plan on exploiting you, Nott. At least not regularly."

Theo smiled back at her, "Thanks, that means a lot Ms. Granger." he replied with a sarcastic drawl.

A comfortable silence fell between the two and Hermione decided that she should be a proper hostess and headed into the kitchen to fix them both a cup of tea. When Hermione returned to the living room she saw Theo that taken the time to fix his disheveled appearance and now looked like the Pureblood aristocrat he was. It was truly amazing how both he and Draco switched so quickly and seamlessly from regular wizard to pureblood scion.

"Not to be rude Theodore, but why are you still here? Shouldn't you be at work at this time of day?" The former Gryffindor asked as she handed her unexpected guest a cup of tea.

"You see, I was supposed to go to the Weasley home today to check out the security measures and to finalize some last minute things before the wedding. Unfortunately, Potter never gave me directions on how to get there."

"You're joking, just use the Floo Network."

"That's rather rude, proper pureblood decorum requires that I arrive with a gift for my hosts and use the front door. Traditionally, the Floo network should only be used to travel to the home o the immediate family, or a public place. Anything else is seen as uncouth."

"Well, that certainly explained why had Draco refused to use the Floo when he came by for dinner. Apparently, there were more pureblood traditions that just racism and genocide. Perhaps this would merit a little bit of research," Hermione thought to herself.

"Anyway," Theo continued, "I was visiting Draco earlier today and he mentioned he was supposed to deliver Potter's gift so I offered to do it for him. I figured it would be easy, I pop in on you, deliver the gift and get directions to the Weasley residence."

"Let me guess," Hermione cut in, "He didn't tell you about the anti-magic charms until after you agreed."

Suddenly, Theo burst out laughing and the illusion of 'Theodore Nott, Pureblood Aristocrat' was broken once again as he devolved into a chuckling mess.

"What, what's so funny Nott?" She asked, becoming a little annoyed at her guest's sudden descent into a fit of giggles.

It took a moment for Theo's breathing to become stable enough to finally able to speak in full sentences. When he was finally calm enough to talk, he flashed Hermione the sweetest smile.

"Sorry, it's just that you guessed correctly, and you even cut me off just like he does," Theo said when he finally spoke. "I know that the more time you spend with someone, the more likely you are to pick up some of their mannerisms, but I never expected to see you imitate my best mate."

Hermione didn't exactly know how to reply to that statement. It was true she'd been spending a lot of time with Malfoy lately, but was she really picking up some of his mannerisms? Was this a good or bad thing? Apparently, Theo Nott thought it was funny, but what would Harry or the Weasleys think?

Noticing her conflicted emotions, the heir to the Nott family spoke up. "Don't worry your frizzy head about it, Granger. Most people will think you're just being your know-it-all self. Only Draco's friends and family might notice, and there's only about four or five of us not including you, so you'll be fine."

Hermione rolled her eyes at Theo's attempt to make her feel better and managed a soft smile. Yup, Davis was right, it was hard not to fall in love with Theo Nott. He had the ambitious cunning of a Slytherin and the heart of a Hufflepuff.

"Bugger," Theo said suddenly " Draco was right, Tracey picked up that sexy eye roll from you."

Now it was Hermione's turn to devolve into a fit of giggles.

"Alright Nott," she said, after calming down, "I guess we should both be heading to the Burrow now. I'm actually a little late, I was planning on heading over before you showed up."

"Okay, but how do you suppose we deal with that," He said pointing to the elegantly wrapped gift sitting on the dining table. "It's magic proof, which means one of us is going to have to fly that thing there."

"Actually, the Floo should work," Hermione answered. "I doubt Draco's mum put anti-Floo restrictions on it. Anti-apparition wards would be more than enough to prevent it from being stolen. So, we can both just Floo over to the Burrow."

"Slight problem with that idea Granger. First of all, the wards around the Weasley family home aren't going to let me pass since I'm not family. Second, the Weasley's might be seen as blood traitors but they are still purebloods, which means I still need to show traditional pureblood decorum, which means no Floo for me."

Hermione let out an exhausted sigh. As charming and sweet as he could be. Theo was also a pain in the arse, just like Draco.

"You're on the guest list for the wedding so the wards will let you pass, and you'll be escorting me. If anything you're showing the Weasleys respect by escorting their surrogate daughter home." She finished, donning a self-satisfied smirk worthy of a Slytherin.

"Fair enough, let's get a move on Granger," he said grabbing Harry's gift of devotion from the dining table as they made their way to her fireplace. Both disappearing in a flash of verdant flames.


Hermione sighed and slid into a nearby chair as her legs gave out. She reached for her shoe and unbuckled it, letting out a loud breath of relief. She leaned into the back of the chair and let her eyes rove around the spectacle in front of her eyes.

The golden marquee shone with brilliant radiance against the purple evening sky, its edge twinkling with fairy lights that glowed like stars in the night sky. Without a doubt, it would look beautiful once the entrance arch was adorned with the Ruby Mokara Orchids that Ginny had chosen. Hermione snorted remembering a certain Slytherin's words about house colors. Despite what he said, red and gold made the entire scene almost breathtaking. However, in the former Gryffindor's opinion, nothing was more beautiful and breathtaking that the image of the soon to be wed couple engaged in their final dance practice before the big event. They looked so in love the scene was almost magical.

With a chuckle, she reached for her wand that was tucked away in the pocket of her Jeans. Surreptitiously, Hermione moved a chair out of their way with her wand. It was the third or fourth time she'd had to magic something out of their dancing path. Hermione presumed it was because they were so focused on each other and dancing that the world simply fell away. They had improved a great deal since their first practice session, and Hermione had no doubt they would look beautiful tomorrow enjoying their first dance as husband and wife.

A sharp hiss caught her ears as Ginny's shoe clad foot dug into Harry's. Giving a quick look around, Hermione performed the same spell again silently moving several more chairs creating a larger space for the stumbling dancers.

Although they hadn't mastered the waltz, the pair were totally lost in their arrhythmic bliss. Their conjoined hands stayed together as Harry tried to lead the girl who was laughing merrily. Her vision turned watery and her throat became parched, looking at the pair.

"Ms. Granger, how delightful to see you here."

Hermione spun around with a smile on her face, "George." Taking the glass of pumpkin juice from his hands, she said, "Thank you."

"My pleasure," George said with a flourish. "Are you finally catching a break?"

She sipped her drink and nodded. Looking at the overwhelming number of boxes that were hovering behind him and she raised an eyebrow. "Looks like you're not. Are we to expect a spectacular performance tomorrow?"

"Of course, the best ever," George said with a proud smile. "A big surprise for the little sis and the boy-who-saved us all."

"Try to keep everything legal. After all, it's the wedding of an Auror. Can't have him stall his own wedding to arrest his new brother-in-law for illegal pranks." Hermione said after draining almost half the drink down her throat.

"I'm not worried about The Auror or his spitfire bride," he said giving her a wink. "The one I really need to keep an eye out for his swotty friend, I hear she's vicious with a flock of canaries."

"I think I can turn a blind eye, for Harry and Ginny's sake," she said gulping down the rest of her drink. "Do you need help?"

"I think you're taking care of the most important job," George tilted his head towards his sister and her groom as they stumbled into a small table. "Don't worry your pretty little head about me. I got help," George winked at Hermione and called over his shoulder. "Oi, you! Be quick on your feet. Don't make me fire you on your first day."

"George Weasley," Hermione gasped. "That's not how you talk to your employees."

"Relax, Ms. Granger. You got to have a firm hand over your employees," George said waving his wand. A small gap was created between the hovering boxes and Hermione got a clear view of the person who was staggering under the weight of heavier boxes.

"Ron?" Hermione stifled her laugh and rushed to her ex-boyfriend, after putting her shoe back on. "Why didn't you just levitate them?" she said trying to take some off Ron's hands.

"He said they have to be handled carefully," Ron mumbled flexing his shoulders. "Thanks."

"No problem," Hermione said falling in step behind the Weasley brothers.

"Little Ronniekins tells me a certain Slytherin was seen slithering into your vicinity?" George said quirking up an eyebrow.

"I didn't say that," Ron grumbled when Hermione shot a glare. "Just asked her to be careful with them."

"Yes you did, little brother," George said lowering all the boxes into a pile by the broom shed. He then proceeded to Hermione and took the boxes from her hands and added them to the pile on the floor. When Ron expectantly pushed the ones into his hands towards George, he shook his head. "Come on Ron, be a good boy and put all of them out of the way."

"I'm doing this only for Ginny," Ron said pushing the boxes into the shed.

"Yes, of course. We all know how she sat you down and explained everything in a kind and gentle manner," George said pointing to his single ear. "With a powerful ear twist."

"She's scarier than mum, sometimes," Ron's grumble reached Hermione's ears and she couldn't help but agree. Every Weasely woman regardless of whether by birth or marriage seemed to be unstoppable forces of nature.

"Okay, folks. There are few more boxes to bring in," George said with a bow and whisked off towards the entrance.

"It seems Weasley Wizard Wheezes is putting on their best for the wedding. Its really nice to see George smile again," Hermione joined Ron. When Ron kept silent, she nudged him in his back with the box in her hands.

"Bloody hell, woman," Ron squealed, trying to balance the box in his hands. "What did you do that for?"

"You didn't answer me," Hermione said narrowing her eyes at him.

"I'm still mad at you," Ron said avoiding her gaze. "You went to that wretched house."

"What are you talking about?" Then their last interaction flashed her mind and her expression softened. "It was fine, Ron. I'm here standing in front of you safe and sound, aren't I?" Hermione said pointedly. When Ron still didn't budge, Hermione scooted closer and spoke in a whisper. "Although you weren't entirely wrong about Lucius Malfoy."

Ron whipped around at those words. "I told you, rotten snakes, the whole lot. What did he do?" His eyes were glowing and his nostrils were flaring.

"The usual nonsense," Hermione said fidgeting with the box in her hands. "But not for long."

Ron's brow relaxed at her words. "Did you show him who exactly he was dealing with?"

"You know I did," Hermione smiled folding her hands, after placing the box in her hands on the floor.

"That's our Hermione," Ron said with a wry grin. "I know you could handle them easily, but I was just worried about you." He then moved to the door passing Hermione to gather few more boxes into his hands. "So, what did the ferret do? Just sit aside cowardly and let his father talk all kinds of rubbish?"

Before Hermione could answer, a sharp voice answered from outside, "What he did, or didn't do is exactly none of your business, dear brother."

Hermione strolled to the doorframe just in time to catch Ron's frustrated eye roll, while Ginny glared at him with a hand on her hip. Hermione didn't miss his subtle maneuver to place himself in front of the boxes, in order to maintain George's promise of surprise. "Why not? She's my best friend."

"Because I say so," Ginny said raising her chin. "I'm the bride and I get to decide."

"Only until tomorrow," Ron said toning down his voice a tiny bit. "What're you doing here anyway? Don't you have bride things to do?"

"I'm not here for you," she turned to Hermione and entwined her hand with hers. "Harry and Dad are looking for you. Bye bye, Ronniekins. Be careful with those fireworks. I want a spectacular show."

"You knew?" Hermione asked as Ginny's chuckles slowly died down, after listening to Ron's grumbling about how nothing stays secret in their home.

"Of course I knew. None of my brothers could hide a secret from me." Ginny said with a smirk.

"Well, if you already know, you may as well come and help me," Ron said with an exasperated sigh.

"Fine," Ginny sighed with a mock resignation. "Only because I'm the stronger one."

Hermione smiled at the squabbling siblings as they loitered around the boxes. Dismissing herself from them she looked for Harry and Arthur Weasley. Her eyes wandered over the expanse to spot them. As her glance landed on the chairs near the door that led into their home, she understood the reason why she was needed.

"Theodore Nott," Hermione smiled approaching the small group. "Are you still here?"

Arthur gave a kind smile, while Harry patted the empty chair beside him with a troubled expression.

"Unlike a certain shiftless friend of ours, I'm quite studious, Granger," Theo stood up from his chair and gave her a humble nod. "The wards here are impressive and I'd suggest they are second only to the wards of Hogwarts and perhaps Malfoy Manor, although both of those places have had centuries worth of magical fortification. Which means that my quick survey of the wedding site turned into a lot more work than I expected." Theo added with a cheeky smile as he sat back down.

"I don't think Tracey will appreciate that you called her shiftless, Nott," Hermione said with a smirk as she tucked a stray curl behind her ear.

"Tracey's fine. She only looks shiftless if I compare her to a workaholic like you. By the way, she's looking forward to tomorrow and feels honored for the invitation." Theo said turning to Harry and Arthur with a grateful smile. "Even though I'm here for official reasons, both of us appreciate that you chose to allow us to join you. So, thank you again Potter, and you as well Mr. Weasley for welcoming me into your home despite your history with the Nott family. The Daily Prophet won't leave a stone unturned in assuaging your worries about the unsolicited press."

"I'm not very fond of the Daily Prophet, but I trust you not to make the same mistakes your father did," Arthur said folding his hands defensively.

Harry and Hermione looked at each other. Theo remained unfazed at Arthur's words as he replied, "I understand Mr. Weasley. I've added some of my family's own privacy wards, so you can rest easy knowing that no one will disturb your daughter's wedding day."

"Sure, we thank you for your support. Harry discussed using the Nott wards with us beforehand and we don't have a problem with them. After all, the happiness of our children is the only thing we want." He said patting on Harry's shoulder while looking concernedly at Hermione at the same time. His subtle implication that he considered Harry and Hermione as his children, was evident in his actions. "Feel free to use our Floo once you're done for the night, Mr. Nott."

"Thank you, Mr. Weasley. I should probably be getting to the ministry. I was supposed to pick up Tracey over an hour ago." Theo said biting his bottom lip. "Oh, and don't worry about the broom Granger. I borrowed one of Malfoy's and he's got plenty." He finished giving her a nod of farewell.

"Take care, Nott," Harry said as both he and Mr. Weasley stood to bid farewell to their guest.

Hermione took note that Harry looked unusually pensive. Something was off about her best friend, he'd seemed so carefree when he was dancing with Ginny not long ago and now he looked like he did shortly after Headmaster Dumbledore had been killed.

"Hermione," Arthur called, making her stop before she had a chance to approach Harry about what troubled him. "Walk with me, dear?" Arthur said extending his hand to her.

"Sure," Hermione replied, giving a warm smile to the man who had been like a surrogate father since she entered this world. "Harry, I want to talk with you before you head home for the night," she told him, as she took Arthur's extended hand.

Twilight was fading into the night as the elder Weasely and the young Muggleborn walked the grounds. "I haven't seen Molly, since this afternoon," Hermione remarked, remembering the elder Weasley woman passing out strict orders to everyone, who didn't help with the decorations.

"Aunt Muriel said she wouldn't be coming here until Molly personally came and invited her," Arthur said with a thoughtful nod. "Bill was always her favorite, but Molly wants her here since this might be the last Weasely wedding she'll get to attend. I don't know how good an idea it is with the Daily Prophet being around, but that Nott boy is a lot more reasonable than his father ever was. Anyway, it's rather pointless now, Molly and Charlie went to her place. They should be back soon."

Hermione chuckled and said, "Muriel does add her own quirky charm to the wedding. I'm sure she'll behave with Theo around, she wouldn't want to look foolish in front of the press."

"It's been a while since we talked. How are your parents, my dear?" Arthur asked with a kind smile.

"Things have been better," Hermione didn't elaborate.

"It's a shame Harry and Ginny won't be getting their blessings on the most important day of their lives."

Hermione bit her lip and gave her words a second thought. It didn't seem wise to let Arthur know that they don't remember any of the Weasleys except for Ron. "Their blessings are always with them," she said with a troubled smile.

"I heard your project has picked up its pace," Arthur nodded as they continued their walk towards the farther boundaries of their home.

"Yes, Mr. Weasley. The underlying issue about the House-elf treatment is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves. I'm sure with proper direction, we'll soon accomplish our goals. I must admit, the funding did help a lot."

"Didn't I ask you to call me Arthur, Hermione?" Arthur spoke in a slight admonishing tone but still very gentle. "And about that," they stopped and Arthur guided both of them to a bench near the flower bushes on the other side of the marquee. "I heard the Malfoys, in particular, the younger Malfoy is the one behind that funding."

Hermione fidgeted uncomfortably and furrowed her eyebrow, thinking about her pointless restlessness. With a reassuring nod, she replied with confidence, "Yes. Draco has been very instrumental in the success of this project. Sure, the Malfoys were generous with their funding, but the knowledge Draco has shared was the most important contribution. Honestly, without that information, I don't think my project would have progressed this far. It finally looks like we'll be able to make the lives of house elves better not just here but throughout the Wizarding world."

Arthur listened intently. "Don't sell yourself short, Hermione. You are the brightest witch of your age. You would've easily succeeded in your efforts with or without the Malfoys' help." Hermione's brow creased at Arthur's words.

"Thank you for your confidence, Arthur. As regrettable as it may be, my work didn't get the needed recognition until they stepped in."

"Malfoys have never been known to be generous, Hermione. Old Lucius never wasted an opportunity to flaunt his wealth and status at others." Arthur said with a slight shake of his head. "He always stated his affiliations and notions quite clearly."

Hermione started to understand the hidden implications of this conversation and realized she'd need to make things clearer. "I've met Lucius just once since this association has started. I agree he hasn't changed much, but in the end, he was quite happy with my plans. He seemed so impressed that he further increased the Malfoys' donation."

"I've seen how these people work, up close, Hermione. They don't do anything until there is something for them in it."

"Thank you, Arthur. I'm sure Lucius has his own reasons, but in the end, don't you think it's an improvement that a pureblood like a Lucius Malfoy is willing to help a Muggleborn like me. Isn't that the change we all worked for?"

"If that is the truth, no one would be happier than me. You're like my own daughter, Hermione. I'm just looking out for you." Arthur said with a concerned look.

"I really appreciate that, but I just want this project to succeed and help as many elves as I can. Besides, my association is mostly with Draco," Hermione said with a smile. "I don't think I'll ever meet Lucius Malfoy again."

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, Hermione," Arthur said getting up from the bench. When Hermione started to speak, he said, "I think I'll head inside. There's still plenty to do before tomorrow." He looked over near one of the pillars of the Marquee to seeing Harry leaning against it looking at the spot where he had been dancing earlier. "I think Harry's going to be heading home soon, best talk to him before he leaves."

Hermione's eyes were fixed on Arthur as he slowly trudged his way back into their home. Many changes were made to the Weasley's home and it eerily reminded the day of Bill and Fleur's wedding. As Arthur's words still rang in her head, she clutched her knees close to her chest. With thoughts about Harry laid forgotten as she wondered, if the change Dumbledore fought for, would ever see light?

"It's just one of those thinking days, isn't it 'Mione." Harry's words reached Hermione's ears disturbing her silent musings. As her best friend approached the bench with a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes.

"Is something the matter?" Hermione asked, trying to keep her voice as neutral as possible.

"Nott's family's wards sure are something," Harry said sliding onto the bench, next to Hermione. "He spent at least fifteen minutes explaining them to me. Hopefully, they work."

"Of course they will," The Muggleborn witch replied. "By the way, the Malfoys are planning to attend."

She had expected some sort of comment on the Malfoys from the groom, but he seemed completely lost in thought. "Harry?"

"Mm?" he said without meeting her eyes.

"Are you going to tell me what's on your mind?"

"Ginny," Harry said leaning his head back on the back of the bench and closed his eyes.

"Did Nott leave already?" Ron's voice caught Hermione's attention as he strolled to the place where Harry and Hermione sat.

"Yes," she said and looked behind him. "Where's Ginny?"

"Luna is here with Neville and Hannah." Ron perched on the other side of Harry. "Mum and Charlie are back too, with Aunt Muriel," Ron sniggered.

"Oh," Hermione said leaning back, dismissing all her thoughts of going inside the house, at least for now.

"Mate, I understand why you would invite Davis and Nott, but why the Malfoys?" Ron said with a dejected voice.

"Harry and Ginny can invite whoever they want, it's their wedding."

"But the Malfoys are Death Ea…," Ron cut himself off noticing Hermione's disapproving stare. The tension between the former was broken when they both realized Harry hadn't spoken. Ron met her worried gaze and raised an eyebrow. "Harry? You alright?" Ron asked gently clutching Harry's shoulder.

"I'm worried," Harry whispered without opening his eyes. "I think this might be a big mistake."

"Inviting the Malfoys? I could've told you that if you'd have just asked me." Ron's replied with an air of condescension.

"No, the whole wedding."

"What are you saying, Harry?" Ron's raised voice echoed.

"Calm down, Ronald." Hermione admonished him. "Harry, what's the matter. Earlier when you were dancing you looked the happiest I'd ever seen you. I saw it in your eyes."

"I know, and I love Ginny. I want to spend the rest of my life with her." Harry said, his voice barely above a whisper. "But being an Auror is dangerous. There has always been some kind of threat hanging over my head since I was little. I had to watch as people fell to protect me, I don't know if it's right to drag her into this. Going over security just reminded me, I'm risking that someone might try to take her away just to hurt me."

"Bloody hell! Did you just realize that, mate?" Ron said with a chuckle making an attempt to lighten the situation.

"Ron? Don't dismiss his fears," Hermione snapped.

"I will because they're rubbish," Ron said standing up from his spot. "This is Ginny we're talking about. She's crazy about you, and I know the feeling is mutual. I don't like saying this, but my little sister is tougher than me. She can deal with threats, and if she heard you talking this kind of rubbish, she'd hex your bollocks."

"Ron's right, Harry. Ginny's tough, and this is something you've both been dreaming about." Hermione said taking his hand in hers. "You need to trust in Ginny and the love you have for each other. Don't do this to yourself. Don't let a noble idea rob you both of the happiness you both deserve."

Harry Potter sat there twiddling his thumbs. "You don't understand."

"Then help us to," Hermione said giving a sharp swat to his shoulder.

"Yeah mate," Ron spoke in a harsh voice. "What brought this sudden change? If you had these doubts why the bloody hell did you propose to her?"

Harry finally looked up at his friends, "I was talking to Nott, and I realized we've got a lot in common."

"See, no good comes from talking to a Slytherin," Ron said folding his arms defensively.

"Did he say something?" Hermione piped in.

"No, not really. It's just that when we talked about Tracey I could see how much he loves her. So I asked him when he was going to propose. He said it was too dangerous for Tracey to become a Nott right now. That reminded me of the threats against Malfoy's Mum, and about the last wedding that happened here." Harry said as a dejected look clouded his features.

Enough was enough, Hermione wasn't going to let her best friend make a misguided sacrifice that would break Ginny's heart. He needed a reminder of what love means. Looking at the dejected face of the boy who lived, she made her decision. "Stand up, both of you," she said extending her hands to them.

Ron took her hand with a confused look while Harry reluctantly joined them. Before another thought flashed through their minds, she dragged them to the disapparating point and whisked them away.

They stood staring at the kissing gate as the bells chimed in the background. The Golden Trio had visited Godric's Hollow together a few times since the end of the war. At first, it had been to celebrate Voldemort's fall, then with Ginny for Harry's twenty-first birthday. Hermione knew that Harry had made the decision to spend the rest of his life with Ginny Weasley when they had visited together, and she hoped that bringing him here would remind him.

Silently, Hermione conjured a beautiful wreath and handed it to Harry. "Go on, you'll find the answer you're looking for. Ron and I will be here waiting for you when you're done."

Harry didn't say anything, he just nodded to his best friends and quietly entered the graveyard where Lily and James Potter were laid to rest. Hermione hoped that visiting his parents' grave would remind the Boy-who-lived that love was always worth the risk. It wasn't a prophecy that defeated Voldemort, it was love.

"Bloody hell 'Mione, I hope you know what you're doing," Ron whispered as they both moved to sit on a nearby bench to wait for their friend's return.

Harry's eyes traced the names of the people that brought him into this world. He lifted his fingers and gently cleared the fallen leaves that cluttered on the top of the marble tombstone. Harry struggled to transform his fears into words. "I don't know what I'm worried about. I know there is no looming threat, but it feels like I'm pulling Ginny with me into something dangerous."

Asking for advice from his parents seemed childish, after all, Harry already knew what they would tell him to do. His parents were two people, who came together in the darkest of times. They didn't let Voldemort or any other person for that matter, dictate their happiness.

Hermione squirmed in her place as minutes rolled by and their shared bench started to numb their bottoms. She looked at her palm that was resting on the bench, very close to Ron's hand. If things were different, it wouldn't have taken much thought before Hermione entwined her fingers with Ron's. With a sigh, she tucked her hands into the pockets of her jeans and looked at his face, that was engrossed into the spot Harry was supposed to be. "So, you've finally started chasing your dream?"

"What?" Ron said with a creased brow. "Oh, that," his expression relaxed into a smile. "George needed some help and you always said no time better than the present. Well what do you know, you are right again 'Mione."

"You always sound surprised," Hermione said rolling her eyes.

"Well, sometimes you do make me think otherwise. For example," Ron started turning to her side.

"If you say Malfoy, I might need to show you how much better I've gotten with the Oppugno spell," she said narrowing her eyes.

"You can't threaten me with that anymore," Ron said smugly. "I'm a lot better at dodging now," he added with a wink.

Hermione's expression softened and she said with a smile, "I just need you to trust me, Ron. No matter what happens, you'll always be one of my best friends."

"I know," he said doodling in the fallen leaves with his shoe. "Just be careful, okay? I know you're the brightest witch of our age, but I just don't trust him." His gaze remained on the leaves as an uncomfortable silence fell as Hermione bit back a retort. She knew he was just being a friend. Before Hermione could answer Ron continued, "You think Harry's okay?" he said diverting her attention to their best friend. "I hope he doesn't pull a runner on us like he did before Bill's wedding."

As an unspoken answer to Ron's question, they caught sight of the boy-who-lived leaving the cemetery, his hands in his pockets and his face unreadable. Hermione rushed to him while Ron nervously followed her.

"Brightest witch of her age," Harry declared as he pulled Hermione into a hug. "Thank you, Hermione." He whispered kissing her hair.

"You alright mate?" Ron asked still unsure of the nature of his best friend's graveyard revelation.

"Yeah, I'm fine Ron. I'm marrying the love of my life tomorrow."

Both Ron and Hermione let out a sigh of relief until Ron spoke up again. "You mean Ginny, right?"

"Yes," his best friend replied chuckling while still holding Hermione in his arms. "I'm going to marry your sister tomorrow, Ron."

"Good, because if you weren't she'd hex our bollocks off"

Unable to contain her inquisitive nature, Hermione pried herself out of Harry's arms and asked, "What changed your mind?"

"My parents love protected me for years. They were strong, and chased their happily ever after together. There is no happily ever anything for me without Ginny in my life. She makes me stronger and a better man. I owe it to her, and to our love for each other to make sure that our time together, however long that is, is the happiest time of our lives."

Hermione was overcome with emotion, it seemed that bringing Harry to visit his parents was the right choice, Thankfully, he had realized that he needed to embrace his inner Gryffindor and not let his fears control his actions. She looked over at Ron and saw her other best friend was nodding in approval of Harry's words.

"You are a wonderful man, Harry Potter," Hermione said pressing a kiss to her best friend's cheek. "Ginny is a very lucky woman."

"Bugger," Ron exclaimed, drawing attention to his now rather pallid complexion. "We didn't tell Ginny we were leaving. she's got to be going mental."

Hermione couldn't help but roll her eyes at Ron's overdramatic until she saw that Harry had turned similarly pale.

"Come on, let's get you back to your bride before she finds about this," Hermione said looping her right hand through Harry's. "I'll take the blame for this little excursion if it comes to that."

"Good, I'm no mood to receive another ear twist," Ron mumbled as he took hold of Hermione's free hand, and they vanished back to the Burrow.

Chapter Text

Draco let out an angry sigh as he stood in front of the mirror, staring at his own reflection. Something was missing, some minor detail he was overlooking and it was driving him crazy. "Focus," he commanded, as tried to set his mind on the task. He picked a lone strand that remained out of place and pushed it back into the stream of slicked back hair.

It was oddly soothing to once again cloak himself in the familiar and once beloved guise of a Pureblood aristocrat. Looking like his fifteen-year-old self, was a good start. The perfectly tailored black robes accompanied by his slicked-back hair was a reminder of days gone by when his family held influence and before the dark days of Voldemort's reign. Yet, this reproduction of his former self was lacking something, some key aspect that would complete the transformation. Then it clicked, as his face took on the condescending sneer typical of a much younger Draco Malfoy. Simply looking like his former self wasn't going to be enough. The war and his dealings with a certain righteous Gryffindor had blunted his edge making him forget his pride as a Malfoy and Pureblood. If he was to endure Lion's den that was Potter's wedding, he needed to be ready to wield every weapon in his arsenal; even if that meant donning a façade that Granger once saw as vile and loathsome.

A glance at the ancient clock sitting on the mantle, revealed that it would soon be time to test the strength of this façade, and whether or not it could endure the disapproval and judgement of those gathered for Potter's wedding, Draco's trademark sneer would likely dissuade most attendees from direct confrontation with either him or his mother. As for Granger, dealing with the troublesome bookworm was going to be far more complicated due to recent events.

Unable to delay it any longer, Draco headed off towards his mother's parlor.

"Lucius," Narcissa's soft voice slowed Draco's approach. "The elves have been assigned their tasks for the day. However, Tinky is available should you need anything." Feeling as though he was intruding on a private moment Draco stopped just outside of the room staying out of sight. "Regardless, I expect to return at a reasonable hour. I don't plan to stay for much of the post-wedding festivities. Theodore will see to it that the Malfoy's attendance at the event be a matter of public record so I see little value in staying longer than is necessary. Besides, I doubt anyone beyond Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger intend to be very welcoming."

"Andromeda would be there." Lucius cut in.

"I still say the same," Narcissa continued. "If anything she would be among the first of many, wishing we weren't invited. "

"The desires of lesser wizards have never been a concern, Cissa. There is no need to trouble yourself; stay as long as you desire, if only to remind them of your superiority." His mother's dainty chuckle floated over to Draco's ears, making his heart a tad bit lighter, but the momentary happiness faded with his father's next words. "My concern is our son."

"Your worries are misplaced, my love. Draco understands how important this is to the family." Narcissa said in a soothing voice.

"His failure to acquire the girl's affection after so many months is problematic. To say nothing of her superior intellect, the power of their union is our only chance to reclaim our lost influence. I am not blind to the difficulty of his task, but unlike killing that old fool, we can't allow this opportunity to slip from our grasp."

Draco's heart dropped into his stomach at his father's words.

"I once again say the same. You underestimate him, Lucius. Our son is closer than even he realizes to achieving his goal." Draco eyes went wide hearing his mother's words. "Have patience. Love is like a Devil's Snare, the more you struggle the faster it will claim you. Enough for now, Draco will be here soon."

Hearing those words, he wondered if his mother's unusual perception had picked up his presence. The Malfoy heir couldn't help but find his mother's earlier metaphor unnerving. Draco doubted Granger was resisting falling in love with him and while he did feel some minor attraction to the bookworm, it was completely absurd to suggest he was falling in love with Hermione Granger.

"Mother?" he said, as he gently knocked on the partially opened door.

"Come in Draco," his mother's reply came after a moment and Draco quickly took note of his father seated in an armchair, completely engrossed in some ancient tome. He approached his mother seated elegantly in the chair across from her husband and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. "You look beautiful, mother."

"My darling." She rose to her feet, taking Draco's offered hand. "Those robes look fantastic on you." She said appraising her son's attire with a raised brow.

"Umm, thank you," Draco said with reluctance as his gaze wandered to his father's. "Father."

Lucius' stern nod was the only answer he got in reply. Draco tried to look for any sign of concern from his father, but he found none.

"Will Theodore and Ms. Davis not be joining us?" Narcissa asked, taking a small clutch into her hands as they ventured out of the room, their feet gliding towards the porch.

"His professional duties required that he arrive at the venue much earlier than many of the guests, and it's my understanding that Ms. Davis chose to accompany him," Draco said narrowing his eyes on the purse in her hands. "I do wish you and father would have told me what manner of wedding gift the Malfoys will be presenting to the boy-who-lived. Your usual extravagance may not be well appreciated."

"Need I remind you that I've spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Potter recently. I'm quite confident that the Malfoy family's wedding gift will be appreciated by both the bride and groom. It will also serve to remind everyone gathered there, of our superiority in all things." Narcissa said with a smug smile. "Don't you worry about it, darling. You've taken care of the most important duty and I'm proud of you." She turned to face him as they stood on the open porch of her parlor. "Shall we?"

"Of course," Draco said with a smile, offering his hand to her and whisking both of them to a place they never thought they would go.

As they landed on the hillside, Draco felt overcome with a sense of anxiety. The Malfoys had not been among those handpicked by the Dark Lord to participate in the attack on Weasley's home back in his seventh year, but for some reason simply being here disturbed him. Draco shuddered thinking he wouldn't have been able to stomach standing here had he been a part of that mission. Looking at his clammy palms, he bit back a curse.

As they crossed the wards bordering the property, Draco began to feel an odd sense of warmth replace his anxiety. He quickly realized that someone must have had the foresight to embed a cheering charm in the wards to prevent guests from becoming unruly. This kind of subtle manipulation was a hallmark of Theo Nott and likely explained why Davis had joined him. For as clever as Theo was at creating hexes, curses, and potions, he wasn't very good at charms.

"What a rather simple and mundane setting," Narcissa's words brought Draco's attention back to the wedding venue. He couldn't help but agree with his mother's assessment, but he also couldn't argue that there was something to be said for simplicity. "Much as it pains me to say, Mr. Potter is the most celebrated person of his generation. His wedding demands an expression of grandeur." Draco nodded as they moved further down the path that led to the entrance that was swarming with attendees.

"That's to be expected, Potter never did much like the spotlight," Draco said in a lowered voice. Captivated by the beautiful landscape accentuated by the colors of the fall, that loomed over the entire setting, Draco had to quickly suppress a remark of appreciation that threatened to slip out of his tongue. Despite his acknowledgment of his mother's statement, the beauty of the venue could not be denied.

"This is rather interesting," Narcissa mused demurely glancing at the dangling balls of light, that adorned the sidelines of the pathway that led to the golden marquee.

Draco scoffed immediately noticing the familiarity of the little bluebell flames ensconced in a light crystal layer, that diffracted the orange golden rays of the sunset, illuminating the entire pathway into a colorful palette. "Granger's trademark," he said with a nostalgic smirk. "She used to conjure them while reading for hours into the night at Hogwarts' Library."

"Ah! I vaguely remember. Although, I've never imagined they would be this elegant, considering your expressions of derision at their mention," Narcissa said brushing ever so lightly at one of the crystals, making the flame flicker. When Draco didn't reply, she turned to her son. Reading Draco's hardened expression, her eyes followed her son's, stalling on the group of Weasleys who stood at the entrance of a golden marquee, receiving the guests. She gave Draco's hand a gentle but reassuring pat. "Let's go."

Loud guffaws reached Draco's ears, and he got a glimpse of his former head of the house, as they neared the receiving line.

"This is magnificent." Horace Slughorn said picking up a chocolate cauldron from a bowl on the receiving table, that contained welcome packets. "Such a beautiful day for a wedding, I suppose I should have expected as much from Lily's son, or is this your skill in divination at work William? Fillius, Minerva, and Sybill still speak quite highly of you. It's a shame I'd left Hogwarts before your first year."

"It's Bill sir, and thank you for coming. It's nice of you to make time to attend the wedding." replied the eldest Weasley.

"Oh, no. It's a pleasure to be able to witness the wedding of two former members of my Slug Club. I still expect great things from both Young Mr. Potter and Ginevra."

Bill shook his head knowing what the Slytherin was thinking. "I'll be satisfied so long as they're both happy and healthy."

"No, no, no. It's a father's greatest joy to see his children surpass him. You'll learn that being a father yourself, as I'm sure Arthur was overjoyed the day you surpassed him."

Bill could only smirk at the absurdity of the Hogwarts Potion Master. He was neither Harry's, nor Ginny's father, but seemed to have deluded himself into thinking so.

"If you'll excuse me Professor Slughorn, I should get back to my wife. I fear I've left her alone too long." Bill said as he noticed the swarm of people crowding around his Quarter Veela wife.

As The professor took a step back, his gaze fell on Draco. "Draco Malfoy, what a surprise! Come closer my boy," he gestured with a boisterous expression.

"Professor Slughorn," Draco greeted his former professor with an unsteady smile. He wasn't sure if the excited professor's attention was appropriate given that the scars on the face of the eldest Weasley with whom he ha been speaking were a result of Draco's own actions.

"I've told you countless times my boy, it's Horace, There's no need to stand on ceremony," Slughorn chided.

Truthfully, the Malfoy heir wasn't paying attention. Instead, he was focused on the interaction between his mother and Bill Weasley. "Thank you for coming, Mrs. Mafloy," Bill greeted her with the grace expected of a pureblood, handing her a welcome packet, as he stood next to his wife, then turned to acknowledge Draco with a simple nod. Percy Weasley who was standing on the other side of Bill looked completely stunned at the Malfoys' presence and his elder brother's oddly cordial behavior.

"Any new developments, I may be interested in." Slughorn cut in as he pulled Draco away from the receiving line and into the marquee. Not wanting to abandon his mother amidst a sea of ginger wizards, Draco quickly checked his peripherals only to find his mother now engaged in a discussion with none other than Fleur Weasley nee Delacour, mostly choosing to ignore the other Weasleys' presence. She really did know how to pick the perfect audience, Draco mused. He could only imagine the surprise, at seeing Narcissa Malfoy converse with the former Beauxbatons champion in the girl's own native tongue with a practiced ease.

Knowing she wouldn't be needing him, Draco let Slughorn lead him into the decorated aisles. "Where are you on that antidote for common potions? Any luck on the mistletoe berries? Have you managed to steal any kisses from a certain witch?" Slughorn laughed loudly, patting Draco on the back. Draco squirmed at the unwanted attention. Slughorn had shown an interest in the unorthodox concoctions created by the Malfoy heir, but he'd never expressed his appreciation in public. Draco couldn't fathom what exactly brought this change. "You've been quite the talk amongst Hogwarts' Professors lately."

"I've identified the root. Once I've completed more rigorous testing it will only be a matter of proper refinement to obtain the desired results."

"I've no doubt, young man. I can see a bright future for you in this marvelous field. Ah! Professor McGonagall, Professor Sprout. I believe I'm right on time." He said taking an empty seat, adjacent to the current headmistress of Hogwarts, on the aisle end. Just next to her was Professor Sprout engaged in an enthusiastic discussion with Neville. "Mr. Longbottom, I trust you had a wonderful trip."

"Professor, it indeed has been. I managed to collect those samples you asked for." Neville then moved his gaze to Draco. "Malfoy."

Draco gulped looking at the people now surrounding him. Manners kicking in him immediately, he conveyed his greetings to the gathered people.

"That's wonderful. We can't wait to have young people like you join us at Hogwarts." Draco furrowed his brows in confusion as Slughorn's eyes darted towards him.

Minerva shot a stern glare at Slughorn. "Are you implying any of us are old, Horace? I assure you, I've plenty enough youth left in me to best any of these so-called young people in a duel, with stamina to spare."

Draco's heart slowly started to feel lighter, as a wave of laughter swept over them. Perhaps the evening wouldn't go as bad as he imagined.

"Mr. Malfoy, our Potions' master recently shared details of your adventures in the field of potions," McGonagall began. "They certainly sound interesting. Am I to presume that these endeavors are a continuation of Severus' own unique studies?"

"Yes." Draco didn't understand the sudden interest in his hobby. Old Sluggy knew about this for quite a long time, but he'd never made mention of sharing Draco's developments with others. Looking at the surprised on Neville's face, he inferred this was news to him as well.

"Ms. Granger," the headmistress started and Draco smiled as everything started to fall into place. "Used to volunteer at Hogwarts on her free time. She's quite adept at Transfiguration. I've offered her an apprenticeship, but she always said, she could never accept such a position until her efforts on behalf of house-elves were recognized for their worth. What a waste of talent!" She scrunched her face. "Since her SPEW has taken a leap forward, I'm hoping she would consider it." She raised an eyebrow at Draco. "She was the one who told me about your research and development when she came last time to have a discussion with the elves working at Hogwarts."

"Hm," Draco found himself trying to find proper words to form a reply.

"Some of his ideas are truly revolutionary, Minerva!" Slughorn cut in, "Integrating Arithmancy into Potions was something I haven't seen before. Even Septima was surprised when I explained his ability to blend both disciplines. Having witnessed so many notable potioneers bloom under my tutelage, I can, with conviction say, Young Malfoy might revolutionize the discipline."

"It's decided then. Mr. Longbottom's all set to start his apprenticeship with Professor Sprout, at Hogwarts. Should you be willing, you can begin yours as well, under Professor Slughorn's instruction. He certainly seems quite content with your capabilities," McGonagall said in a firm tone. "We'll meet up at Hogwarts to discuss further negotiations." Draco's brow creased at the sudden turn of the events. His career was the last thing on his mind when he made plans to attend Potter's wedding. "What do you say Mr. Malfoy? Does next week work for you?"

Catching the confusion on Draco's face Professor Sprout piped in. "You cannot overwhelm the boy and expect him to have an answer for you, Minerva. It seems as if Horace hasn't even discussed this with him. Let him get used to the idea first and then he can get back to you. Neville can help you on this regard, Mr. Malfoy."

Draco couldn't help but toss a glare towards the old Potion master, who was trying to look as completely innocent as possible. "Thank you for the opportunity Headmistress, I agree, it's very interesting. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I'll need some time to think it over."

"You seem to have quite a lot to think about, Mr. Malfoy," Minerva dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Get back to us as soon as possible. I needn't remind you that these kind of opportunities are very rare."

Draco nodded his thanks and turned around to get back to his mother. To his shock, there was a sea of people among them now, trying to find their spots. He heard Neville's throaty chuckle over his shoulder. "I know, there are a lot of them."

"Yes. I guess that wasn't exactly surprising. It is chosen one's wedding after all."

"Give me a minute. I'll take you to your seat, I know the way around. I also need to get back to Harry. The ceremony's going to begin soon." Neville said trudging towards one of the front rows. Draco saw an older woman with a vulture hat, he presumed to be Neville's Grandmother and Hannah Abbott. Draco saw Neville bending forward and having an affectionate talk with both the women. Pecking Abbott's cheek, he zoomed back towards Draco and signaled him to follow.

Neville maneuvered their way out of the crowded chairs, with Draco following with extreme caution. This was not how he imagined a wedding would be. From what he had seen all his life, it consisted of people dressed to the nines, adorning chairs, with dainty smiles pasted to their faces and minimal chatter.

As soon as they exited the marquee, Draco took a relieved breath. Looking at Neville who still sported a sheepish smile, he asked, "So you've finally managed to outrun Pansy?"

Neville's smile morphed into a look of horror. "Look Malfoy. I understand she's your friend and I don't have anything against her. It's just that she's a bit…"

Draco cut him off. "Overwhelming, infuriating, suffocating, believe me, I know."

"So, we're alright?"

"Why wouldn't we be? You being brainless, while very familiar, doesn't suit you anymore, Longbottom. Don't you know how Slytherins work? I respect her and as a friend of mine and I care about her as if she was my sister, but her business is her own. I have no interest in becoming involved in her personal affairs, and if I ever dared to intrude without her approval she'd hex me."

Neville nodded his head thoughtfully. "Hermione's pretty happy with the advancement of her project. She says you're very instrumental."

"I'm glad Granger appreciates the Malfoys' involvement." Draco didn't expand further.

"She's been working on that project since our fourth year. In the beginning, she only had three members. She forced Harry and Ron to join but when she asked I accepted gladly. She was my only friend during most of my early Hogwarts years. Everyone talks about her book smarts and her thirst for knowledge, but she's also an exceptionally kind woman." Neville said with a genuine smile.

"I've had the opportunity to witness her bleeding heart from time to time." Draco raised an eyebrow, as his feet stopped moving. "I don't need to be reminded."

"Maybe he's trying to tell you in a subtle way to stop taking advantage of her kindness."

"Ron," Neville said turning around. "What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be with Harry."

It took a moment for Draco control his anger. "No one asked you for your opinion, Weasley. At our age, I wouldn't think I'd need to remind you not to stick your nose where it doesn't belong." Draco sneered looking directly at Ron's narrowed eyes.

"This is my home and this is where I belong, with all my friends and family or what is left of 'em, thanks to people like you." Ron stepped forward, looking directly into Draco's face.

"Bugger, Calm down both of you. We're at a wedding for Godric's sake," Neville tried to intervene.

"I'm not the one who needs to be reminded that, Longbottom," Malfoy said raising his chin. "My mother and I are here by invitation, but I suppose I should have expected you to be a poor host, Weasel."

"Ron, please let's go. What would Hermione say, if she saw both of you like this."

"Let her see, then at least she'll understand, he's still a conceited snake. Harry invited you just for the sake of formality, but you were waiting for such an opportunity, right? Ron was almost shouting "How dare you, disrupt the peace of this occasion."

"That's enough, Ronald Billius Weasley! You step back this instant. Is that how you treat your sister's guests?"

Draco looked past Ron's shoulder meeting the stern gaze of the Weasley Matriarch. If it was only her, Draco might not have hesitated to give Ron a piece of his mind. Unfortunately, His eyes met the flaring amber eyes of the Hermione Granger.

"Get back to Harry. He's waiting for you." When Ron didn't move from his place, she continued. "I won't be repeating myself."

Without sparing a glance at his mother, Ron sped off towards the crooked building in the background, with Neville following behind with an apologetic glance. Draco stood there in momentary shock, his eyes still locked on Hermione. He didn't notice Mrs. Weasley approach him, as he tried to decipher the conflicting emotions dancing in Hermione's eyes.

"I want to apologize for my son's actions." Draco dragged his eyes back to the intimidating woman in front of him. "But as much as I want to deny, he's not entirely wrong." Draco's lip quivered as he tried to control the firestorm of anger that began to rise in his chest. "We cannot truly welcome anyone with that mark you bear on your arm."

Hermione stood frozen in her spot, her eyes completely wide. Draco saw red. The manners his mother taught him since he was a child, were the only thing stopping him from lashing out. As a child, he was more than willing to ignore proper decorum but now, with Granger watching, as much as he wanted to insult his host and storm off it wasn't an option.

"Harry's a wonderful boy and he has a very big heart. We won't object to any of his actions. We also understand you were just a child and not as guilty as your parents, but you're a living reminder of what we lost." Molly harshly scrubbed away her tears. "And that is not something we wanted on this happy day." Hermione slowly stepped forward and placed her hand and Molly's shoulder, at the same time looking concernedly at Draco.

"I have to go." Molly squeezed Hermione's hand on her shoulder and exited the place.

Draco and Hermione stood there trying to look anywhere but into each other's eyes. As expected, Hermione broke silence reaching for his hand.

"Don't you dare, Granger." He harshly pulled his hand back, before her fingers made contact with his left arm.

"Draco, please try to understand."

"No, I've never been more humiliated, in my entire life."

"Really? I feel I should bring up a specific instance in our fourth year," she tried to lighten the situation. "But something tells me you wouldn't appreciate it." She sighed, as his angry glare told her, her attempt at humor did nothing to assuage the tense situation. "I understand how you feel. I truly do."

"No, you don't Granger. You can't possibly understand how insulting it is to be told you're unwanted by lesser people." Draco ground out.

"Really? I can't help but find that statement ironic coming from you Malfoy; and what do you mean lesser people?!" Hermione raged, "The Weasley's are some of the kindest and most thoughtful people I've ever known and I won't have you insult them, no matter how angry you are!"

Sick of the confrontation Draco let out a dejected sigh and rolled up his sleeve to reveal the faded brand on his arm. "It doesn't matter Granger; it doesn't matter how hard I work to change. This mark of my arm reminds people of the only two words that matter to them. Death Eater."

"Draco," Hermione said softly, realizing that Draco's anger and hurt had led him to lash out.

"Please inform those kind people and your dear friend, why Malfoys left. Goodbye Granger." He whipped around and started his trek towards the entrance, that led inside.

"Where do you think you're going?!" She shouted with a hand on her hip. "I'm not above petrifying you and making you listen to me." Her words instantly halted him. He heard her pattering steps, as she hurried towards. Giving him a twirl she looked into his eyes. "What Ron did was wrong and deep down he knows that."

"Brilliant, and how many centuries do we need to wait before he figures that out himself?" A sarcastic retort slipped from his lips as he fixed his sleeve.

"And as for Molly, please understand I'm not supporting what she said. She lost her son, two brothers, and most of their friends to war. That kind of pain is not easy to forget, and they're reminded of it at every happy occasion when they realize who's missing, and why."

"If that was the situation, why even bother to invite us. The Weasleys should've expressed their doubts to Potter himself. Why involves us if our mere presence is repugnant?" Draco countered.

"Because Harry knows how much the Malfoys have changed. He wanted to show his gratitude for all the help he'd received from your mother. It's a shame that Molly can't see beyond her pain, but I really don't expect her to." Hermione replied sadly. "You have a choice to make Draco. If you leave angry and bitter thinking the Weasleys are Lesser wizards, you'll have proven that the Malfoy's haven't changed and that the mark on your arm does define you. I'd like to think better of you, but after what you've said today, I'm not sure if I should."

A conflict for the first time started in his mind. Looking at the hopeful glimmering in her eyes, he bit back a retort. Despite his father's and Theo's words ringing his ears, as much as this was about the Malfoy name and legacy, this was also his choice. The choice Voldemort never gave him before he was branded. Did he want to be old Draco Malfoy whose façade he donned to attend this event, Did he want to be whatever Granger was turning him into, or did he want to be something else? He wouldn't find the answer staring into this beautiful witch's eyes.

"I have to leave," he grumbled pulling back from her proximity. "Tell Potter, my mother and I offer our sincere regrets at not being able to attend his wedding."

"If you left now, Harry and Ginny would be very disappointed."

"As if I cared." His mumbling went unheard.

"It's really a shame you've decided to leave." Her steps towards him were cautious. "Harry really thought you'd changed, he was impressed with the gift of devotion; he thought your mother might be interested to know how he planned to present it to his bride and to see Ginny's reaction."

Draco suppressed a snort at Hermione's words. How deluded she was if she thought his mother cared about Potter, all this was nothing but a part of their plan to secure the golden girl's affections and restore the Malfoy name.

When Draco remained silent. She rose on her toes and pecked his cheek. Draco closed his eyes as her untamed hair tickled his chin and her unique and oddly comforting scent, greeted him gently. "If that's your decision, I'll see to it that Tracey keeps you informed about S.P.E.W.'s progress going forward, as I'd rather not meet unless it's necessary. I for one hoped to share a dance with you at the reception, but it seems I was mistaken about you. Goodbye, Draco."

Ignoring the tingling sensation where her lips brushed him, Draco left not sparing a glance at the witch behind him.

Standing before the bright arch, he felt each and every eye on him, looking at him with same distrust. Some part of his brain knew it was all in his mind, but at that moment he didn't want to wager. It was insulting to be looked down on by a bunch of Muggleborns, Halfbloods, and Blood Traitors. Granger was clearly deluded if she'd ever thought he would stay.

His eyes looked for his mother among the sea of people gathered for the chosen one's wedding. "This is the most bizarre thing I've ever witnessed in my whole life," a very boisterous voice reached Draco's ears as he entered the marquee. He cringed at the loud and scratchy voice of a batty old woman who was clinging on to the shoulder of a stocky redhead.

Draco didn't know who exactly he was, but his hair was an immediate giveaway that he was another Weasley. His nostrils flared at the thought of his mother being subjected to a similar kind of humiliation. "A Malfoy at a Weasley wedding. We already had Muggle-borns, half-breeds, and some godforsaken giants. Who are they going to invite next? Merpeople, centaurs. That'll be the day, I would've seen everything and finally be ready to leave this world." Draco threw a scathing look at chattering old woman and strode towards them. Thankfully, his destination was far less crowded compared to the other parts of the tent.

"Actually, I've seen a centaur galloping its way through here. Perhaps you should start packing," Narcissa said with a sneer, avoiding her scrutinizing gaze.

Draco smirked at her words. No one messes with Narcissa Malfoy. Rather than be put off by the venomous tongue of the Lady Malfoy the batty old woman started guffawing at Narcissa's words. "I like this one. You were a Black, weren't you darling? Pity, Arthur didn't inherit any of the Black traits. Could've earned the family a better reputation if he was more like your lot. Not that it matters now that Ginevra has managed to snag Harry Potter himself."

Draco noted the rigid posture and the pinched expression on his mother's face. Some of the anxiety left him, as he recognized the expression of annoyance rather than indignation.

"Did you see the Muggle-born?" The boisterous woman spoke again and Narcissa shot her a sharp glare. "Always hovering around the Weasleys. I already told Ronald to consider other options. She has no grace and with those skinny ankles and a bad posture…"

"I rather think Ms. Granger holds some promise. Although she is of unfortunate birth, she is perhaps the most accomplished witch of her age. In time, you may regret giving him such poor advice." Narcissa said with a smirk.

The stocky Weasley squirmed uncomfortably at the conversation, but immediately the uncomfortable expression turned into a sigh of relief, as he saw Draco approach. "Come on, Aunt Muriel. Let's find you a good spot." He then bowed to Narcissa. "A pleasure, Mrs. Malfoy."

With a curt nod to the departing duo, she turned to her son. Her expression tightened looking at her son's eyes. "Where have you been gone this long?"

"Who was that unpleasant woman? I thought you were with that French girl." Draco gestured to the retreating Weasleys with a raised brow.

"It would seem her little girl was a part of the bridal party so she had to leave. I was perfectly content until that batty old woman dropped by with the Weasley boy. I suppose he's the one who works with dragons or hippogriffs. I didn't pay attention." Narcissa dismissed with a wave of her hand. "You didn't answer my question. Where were you?" She narrowed her eyes at her son.

Draco gulped and as the entire conversation with Granger surfaced again. He tried to avert his gaze looking forward. "I was speaking with Hogwarts' Headmistress. It would appear that Professor Slughorn has convinced her into offering me an apprenticeship. I presume he's looking to retire again soon and wishes to have me succeed him."

"You are a rather accomplished Potioneer," Narcissa's eyes gleamed. "Still, a position as a Hogwarts Professor is rather beneath you. I presume you politely declined."

"Not yet, I told them I need time to consider the offer. While I have little need of the position as our finances are well in hand; the prestige of the position may well be of value to us."

"Quite right, then tell me why you look so troubled," Narcissa asked, her concern for her son only visible in her eyes as the rest of her face remained a mask of indifference.

"I had a rather unpleasant encounter with the Weasley Matriarch and one of her more disagreeable children," Draco answered, carefully avoiding mentioning his interaction with Hermione. It would do him no good to tell his mother the details of what happened. If he did, she would force him to endure the humiliation to acquire Granger's affection.

"I must say, that old woman was correct in one regard; there is little value for Ms. Granger in associating with the Weasleys to this extent. Her ignorance of our traditions will not be remedied if she stays in this environment." Narcissa said scrunching her face. "Have you seen Theodore or Ms. Davis? At least she might provide some good company. I've grown quite weary of dealing with these loud and uncultured people," she continued.

Before an answer formed on his lips, Draco felt the sharp sting of a hex strike his back, making him twirl around wondering who would dare to attack a Malfoy. Meeting the twinkling blue eyes of his best friend, who had a mischevious smirk on his face.

"Nott, we were wondering where you were lurking,"

"You know me Malfoy, I like the shadows. We don't all enjoy being the center of attention." Theo replied giving Draco a light shove and pushing the blond towards a chair. "You look radiant as always, Lady Malfoy," he said greeting her with a kiss on the back of her hand.

"Draco mentioned you had to arrive earlier. I presume everything is in order," Narcissa said taking a chair Draco had offered. "I was under the assumption Ms. Davis was accompanying you."

"I was invited into the bridal suite," Tracey chimed from behind Theo. "Mrs. Malfoy, it's finally an honor and pleasure to meet you. Theo speaks very highly of you." Tracey said titling Theo's head to peck him affectionately on the cheek.

"It's lovely to meet you too, Ms. Davis" Narcissa replied in a regal voice, taking her seat, her keen gaze not missing Tracey's forward gesture. "What may I ask were you doing in the bridal suite? I wasn't aware of you being friends with Ms. Weasley,"

"Hermione invited me to the bridal suite while Theo made his final inspection of the Nott wards. Which reminds me," she turned to Draco and said, "May I speak to you in private Draco? There's something I'd like to discuss with you." Both Theo and Draco turned to face the half-blood girl wearing almost identical looks of confusion. "It's related to Hermione and the project," Tracey added.

Theo seemed satisfied with that answer and turned to speak with Narcissa, while Draco's confusion swiftly turned into anxiety. Something about the look in Davis' eyes unsettled him and he wondered just what Granger could have told her.

While Theo engaged Narcissa in a discussion, Draco reluctantly followed Tracey to the other end of the aisle. "What is it you want to talk about?"

"You very well know what I want to talk about. What did you do Malfoy?"

"It's none of your business, Davis."

"I believe I asked you to call me Tracey, but I suppose turnabout is fair play," Tracey said advancing towards him. "Hermione didn't exactly react well when I asked her if she'd spotted you yet, and from the flock of canaries I saw relentlessly pecking at Ron Weasley, I presume he had something to do with that."

"Canaries?" A slight curiosity piqued Draco's mind. When Tracey smirked at his reaction, he quickly donned an evasive sneer. "Actually, I really don't care. What happens to the Weasel is hardly worth my time. Now, unless you have something important to discuss I'd like to collect my mother and leave."

"Don't deflect Draco," Tracey cut in, "You're going to explain what happened, right now."

Draco couldn't help but notice the change in Tracey Davis. In their earlier encounters, she wasn't this pushy, strong-willed to be certain, but she was a Slytherin, not a Gryffindor. He supposed this was a side effect of spending so much time with Granger and Nott. Davis was becoming more assertive and learning how to disarm him from two people skilled in doing just that. Draco couldn't help but make a mental note to never let Theo and Hermione spend time together.

Knowing there was no escaping his best friend's future wife Draco sighed, "Let me put it this way, Potter seems to have failed to acquire his future in-laws' approval with regards to the guest list. Suffice it to say my reaction to such a revelation was perfectly reasonable, and rather displeasing to others."

Tracey scoffed at Draco's words earning a very hateful glare from the Pureblood heir. "That's a very eloquent way of saying that you felt insulted and lashed out at the one person you shouldn't have." Tracey's voice turned soft as she took a step closer. "Why are you here Draco? Is it to court Hermione or to restore respect to the Malfoy name, because I promise you, if you leave, you're throwing away your best chance at both. Now, you might not want to court Hermione but she was looking forward to you coming to this wedding. Theo tells me that despite the arrogant and harsh façade, deep down you're a good man and that you try to do the right thing. Until today, I believed him. I'm not going to tell you what to do, you know what needs to be done for your family and for Hermione. The question is, are you prepared to move past your own pain and indignation to be a good man, or are you going to be what everyone expects of a pureblood bigot."

Tracey's words combined with the look on Granger's face from earlier left Draco little choice. Yes, he would stay, if only to show the Weasel and his family that the Malfoys could swallow their indignation to rise above lesser wizards. As for Hermione Granger, it seemed that the universe wasn't going to let her be completely wrong about him and as much as it pained him to admit it, she just might get the dance she'd hoped for.

"I really don't like you, Davis," Draco groused.

"Good, I might feel guilty about yelling at you if you did," she replied, with a smirk extending her arm to take them both back to their seats.

Theo approached the pair with a tensed brow. "What's wrong?"

"Marry this witch before you cock it up, Nott," Draco grumbled.

Theo chuckled and smiled at his beloved companion.

Tracey's eyes glimmered in the next instant and she looped her arms through Theo's and guided them both back to the chairs. "Come on, you won't regret it Malfoy."

"Do I want to know?" Theo asked meeting Draco's eyes over Tracey's shoulder.

"No," Draco dismissed his friend, following the couple to their places.

"Well, I suppose I'll just have to persuade this witch instead." Theo winked listening to Tracey's chuckle.

Ignoring Theo's words, Draco met Narcissa's pensive gaze and gave an uncomfortable nod. "Ms. Davis seems to be quite progressive in her thinking." Her eyes narrowed in concern. "Is everything alright?"

"It's nothing, just minor issue, and you needn't worry about Theo. Tracey Davis is exactly what he deserves, She'll make a fine Lady Nott." He answered with a smirk.

Narcissa continued to look at her son with a skeptical eye as Theo and Tracey settled in the chairs adjacent to them.

"Shouldn't the ceremony have started by now? How much longer are we going to be made to wait? Really, it's an embarrassment," Draco opined.

As an answer to his statement, a sudden hush fell over the gathered audience. Draco turned to see the Minister of Magic who stood in front of the marquee, to preside over the upcoming ceremony.

Chapter Text

"That complete arse!" Hermione shouted while she paced back and forth within the silenced bathroom. Her quick spellwork was the only barrier between her frustration and the rest of the wedding party. Shouting in a room under the effects of a silencing spell seemed a more suitable way of venting about her former flame, and the blond haired idiot she'd begun to foolishly fancy. Regrettably, she hadn't thought of secluding herself in the bathroom before she'd wordlessly cast a rather powerful Oppugno at her ex-boyfriend for his serious lack of judgment. Calming her raging emotions was taking more effort than expected and the sudden knocking on the door certainly wasn't making the whole process any simpler.

"Just a minute," Hermione shouted as she removed the silencing spells.

"Do you need some help, Hermione?" Luna's voice echoed through the door. "Molly says it's time."

"No, I'm alright." She replied trying to fix any visual reminders of her recent outburst that might have affected her makeup. Her thoughts continued to dwell on both men. "More like immature boys," she muttered. Thankfully, there were far more meaningful things to focus on today. It was the most important day for two of her dearest friends, and Hermione wasn't about to risk ruining this special day because she was distracted by the actions of those two imbeciles. Filling herself with the bravery for which her Hogwarts house was known, Hermione flung open the door to the bathroom and declared "Alright, I'm ready. Let's get this show on road,"

The exuberant act was met with a mildly disapproving look from Molly, who was fussing over the bride to be; a light chuckle from Luna, who was absentmindedly looking about, and a simple cocked eyebrow from Ginny as she tried to persuade her mother to leave her be.

"Look at you." Molly affectionately ran her fingers down her daughter's arms. "I can't believe you're getting married today." Her choking voice diverted the bride's attention back to her mother. "I still think white would've been much more beautiful." Molly brushed her tears looking at her wedding gown.

"A white dress showcases the purity or rather virginity the bride brings to the union," Luna began, perching on the table in the middle of the room. Before Hermione could stop her quirky friend, Luna continued, swinging her legs as she spoke. "Given how amorous Ginny and Harry have been, it's oddly fitting that she wore an ivory dress which clearly displays a tainted purity."

Ginny broke into a fit of laughter at her friend's words and glancing at the look of horror on her mother's face, her laugh only intensified. "Don't worry Mum, I didn't pick it for that reason. I was also thinking that a white dress might clash with my hair. I'm a bit too pale and I didn't want to risk it."

Hermione slipped into her Maid of honor's role seamlessly. "Molly, come on. Everyone's waiting. I'll handle them."

"Thank you, dear. These two girls will be the death of me." Her eyes briefly met Hermione's and the tension in them resurfaced. "I just hope everything goes according to the schedule. I don't want anyone or anything to taint today's happiness."

Hermione nodded with pursed lips, words of assurance failing to cross the barrier of her lips. She tried to smile despite her conflicted emotions, but Molly's subtle insinuation was upsetting. As understanding as Hermione was about Molly's position on the Malfoys. Holding on to those feelings would only lead to trouble and just end up hurting her more in the future. If the Weasley Matriarch wasn't willing to move beyond her pain, she'd just end up trapped in the past.

A sudden knock pulled everyone's attention to the door.

"Mollywobbles, is it appropriate for me to come in?" The Weasley patriarch asked, shyly peeking his head into the room.

"Arthur," Molly Weasley bustled. "Yes, of course."

"Such beautiful women," Arthur declared as his eyes swept across the room. His eyes were bursting with contentment, as he pulled his wife into his arms and looked at their daughter. "Ready, Ginevra?"

Hermione noticed that her firecracker friend had suddenly become mute as she looked at her parents holding on to each other gazing back lovingly at their youngest child. Hermione slowly sidled up to the soon to be Mrs. Potter and took the younger woman's hand in hers. "Your marriage will be just as strong as theirs, I know it."

Ginny nodded with a tight smile. Her smile suddenly turned into a sigh. "Is it too late for me to knock this thing off my head?" She pointed to Aunt Muriel's famous Goblin-made tiara.

"It looks beautiful, Ginny." Hermione touched the edges of the tiara making sure it wasn't causing too much strain on Ginny's flowing hair. "If it's too heavy, you can get rid off it, after the ceremony. I tried applying charms to it, but you know goblin-made items are notoriously difficult to enchant."

The maid of honor's thoughts then wandered to Harry's gift of devotion. It was made with same goblin craftsmanship as the tiara, and she couldn't help but wonder about the goblin artisans who crafted it. Would it be as resistant to charms? Perhaps it wasn't Narcissa's spells that had made it difficult for Theo to transport, but the goblin crafted silver of the gift itself.

"Harry's already waiting to walk you out," Arthur said pecking Molly's cheek bringing Hermione's attention back reality. He then turned towards Luna and Hermione and said, "And the boys are waiting for you two at the door."

"Oh, that lovely boy. His parents would've been so proud." Molly said, dabbing her eyes with the small handkerchief Arthur had offered. "Girls, let's go. We'll see you soon, Ginny." Molly skittered to the other side of the door grabbing Luna's hand as she approached them. While Arthur bade them goodbye, Hermione took a moment to talk to the bride.

"Harry won't be able to take his eyes off you, not that he ever has." Her fingers remained busy in straightening the flaming red strands of Ginny's hair, as they tumbled down her bare shoulders. "As a matter of fact, we could probably replace Harry with a shrub and nobody would be the wiser because they were so focused the bride."

Ginny chuckled throwing a sideward look at her maid of honor. "I don't think I'd fancy marrying a shrub Hermione, and I think there might be at least one pair of eyes more focused on my maid of honor."

Hermione's brow tensed as Ginny's not so subtle reference towards a particular brooding blond who might've already left the venue. Suppressing her remark under the bite of her lip, she shook her head. "Not today. Today is all about you and Harry."

"Aren't you going to do your little trick?" Ginny pointed to her untamed hair.

"Oh, I forgot!" Hermione reached for the wand that was tucked under her dress, going for the usual hairstyle she'd adopted these days. "Enough about me," Hermione took a step back and appraised her friend. She pulled Ginny into a hug, taking extreme caution to avoid disturbing the bride's dress, makeup, or hair. Seeing Arthur approach, she quickly grabbed the special flower bouquet designed for the bride from the gardens of her home. Giving a last-minute once-over to the flowers, she transferred them to Ginny's waiting hands. "See you soon." Leaving the bride's hand in her father's, Hermione hurried out the door, grabbing a similar but smaller bunch of flowers.

With Hermione's departure, Ginny found herself alone in the room with her father and let out an anxious breath. As happy as she was to finally be marrying Harry a part of her wondered if it might have been less stressful to just elope. She loved her family dearly but the whole wedding seemed like such a fuss. She would have been happy marrying Harry in her Quidditch gear on the pitch at Hogwarts. In fact, she might have preferred it that way. Her musing was interrupted as Arthur suddenly began to speak.

"For a while, I was worried I wouldn't be here to see this day," Arthur began,

"Dad," Ginny whispered, squeezing her father's hand.

"Now that it's here, I couldn't be more thankful and proud of the woman you've become. After today your name won't be Weasley, but you'll always be my precious daughter. I love you, Ginevra," he said, as he lovingly kissed his only daughter's temple.

"I love you too, Dad," she replied looking at her father. At that moment, Ginny realized how much this day meant, not only to her and Harry but to everyone they loved. So many people had been lost to war, friends, and family alike. This wedding was the beginning of a new chapter for everyone, and Ginny was never more thankful she hadn't chosen to elope.

"Now, let's get to it. We wouldn't want to keep everyone waiting for much longer would we?" Arthur said, breaking Ginny out of her thoughts

"No dad, we wouldn't. "

Meanwhile, as Hermione descended the steps to join the rest of the wedding party. She caught sight of the man with whom she would soon be walking down the aisle. She couldn't help but notice the sour look on the best man's face as she came to a stop beside him.

"Canaries, Hermione. Today, of all days; you know I was just trying to …"

"Not now, Ron," Hermione whispered, effectively stopping Ron in his rant at the same time her eyes noticed the nips and cuts on his hands. She quickly averted her gaze to the front just in time to see her best friend and his future mother-in-law disappear into the marquee. With a deep breath, she turned to the pair of children who were getting ready for walking towards the marquee. Teddy, as the ringbearer was managing a pillow with the wedding rings tied to it, on one hand, and with the other guiding Victorie not to spray the flower petals until they reach the aisles. She saw Fleur and Bill hovering on the sidelines, but not too closely.

As they started their little trek, Ron's words reached her ears. "You know I had to lie to Harry and say it was a gnome in a rose bush," Ron's grumbling voice made Luna chuckle, while Neville threw a concerned glance at the pair standing behind them.

"Those two are going to be okay, right?" Neville said offering his hand to Luna, seeing the children now entering the marquee.

"Come on, Neville. If anyone can manage this, it's them." She threw a wink over her shoulder at Ron. "Do let me know if you suddenly feel the urge to sing opera or give a speech in Mermish."

Ron turned red at Luna's words, while Neville smiled uncomfortably at Hermione. "You know it was a complicated situation."

"I know Neville, it's not your fault. I just wish some people remembered words they said only yesterday." She shot a sharp glare at Ron. She then turned to Luna. "Thanks for not telling Ginny."

"Of course, Hermione. We don't any Wrackspurts hoarding her brain today," Luna waved off. "It looks like it's our turn now, Neville."

As Luna and Neville started towards the marquee, Ron fidgeted with his hands. "Listen, Hermione. I didn't want to do anything to disturb Harry and Ginny's special day, but seeing him here and behaving as if nothing had happened, I couldn't take it." Hermione closed her eyes as Ron took her hand.

Hearing Ginny and Arthur's hushed words behind them, she knew it's time for them to go and meet their best friend. "Leave it be, there are more important things to focus on right now." She dragged her hand from his grip and tapped at his elbow. "But we're going to have a very serious discussion later."

"Because of that ferret? I can't beli…" he trailed off looking behind Hermione. His face immediately morphed, changing from anger and disgust to something almost reverent. "Ginny," he said in a choking voice looking at his sister. "You look amazing."

For the first time, Ginny didn't say anything but gladly accepted her brother's words as she leaned into her father's shoulder.

"We should move," Hermione prodded, tilting her head towards the marquee seeing that Luna and Neville were almost inside.

As the two friends approached the golden marquee that contained their best friend and savior of the Wizarding World, they were met with the gentle waves of music from charmed hovering snitches. Unfortunately, the true beauty of the scene was lost to Hermione, whose mind had wandered back to the mysterious Slytherin who had charmed his way into her life. There was no point in thinking about him. He was the one who chose to leave and she wasn't going to waste another thought on someone who didn't care. Even if she wanted to give a quick glance towards the seats allocated for the Malfoys, she focused on the Groom.

Hermione smiled trying to ignore everything else, except for the boy-who-lived ready to start another chapter in his life. He looked so different from the young boy she met at the tender age of eleven. He looked resolved now as if he knew for certain that the red-headed girl waiting just outside the golden marquee was the family he sought his entire life. For as much as he loved the Weasleys; it was obvious to everyone that Ginny was Harry's family. She was the fire that brightened his path and kept him warm. Hermione had said that Ginny and Harry's marriage would be just as strong as Molly and Arthur's but that was wrong. Harry and Ginny would be stronger, theirs was the love of fairytales, and of happily ever afters.

Giving Harry a teary smile, she moved to stand beside Luna, after accepting a customary kiss on the cheek from Ron. As the gentle waves of music turned into the Bridal March, Hermione could barely resist a furtive look through the audience, looking for the pair of grey eyes that always seemed to call out to her.

Adjusting the flowers in her hand, she looked towards Harry, who was grinning with a complete abandon at his bride who had just entered the marquee. Knowing that the Malfoys were supposed to be seated on Harry's side, she swept her eyes across the guests hoping to spot him. A glimmer of hope flared in her heart, as her eyes caught the knowing smile of Tracey Davis next to Theo who was photographing the bride's march down the aisle.

It took only a moment before Hermione caught sight of him, his grey gaze focused solely on her. Realizing he'd been caught staring at her, his face quickly morphed into an impassive mask and his focus shifted to the Minister of Magic who would be performing the ceremony in mere moments.

The frizzy-haired witch's heart suddenly felt lighter, as the weight of the earlier squabble was lifted. Despite his sudden desire to ignore her, and pretend as if he hadn't been staring. Hermione couldn't help but notice a very faint smirk on the lips of the handsome blond. Draco had chosen to stay. He'd had unknowingly shown that the unnamed feelings she was developing for the Malfoy heir weren't misplaced. This revelation only added to the joy she felt as she saw the bride and groom standing together about to be wed.

"Honorable Guests! We've gathered here to witness the union of two beautiful and faithful souls." Kingsley began. "I'm honored today to have been given the gift of uniting these two dear friends together in the bonds of matrimony."

Luna and Hermione held hands, as the Minister spoke and their visions turned teary. Hermione could see through her blurred sight, Mrs. Weasley sniffling into a handkerchief along with many others in the front row, but what shocked her most was seeing the normally emotionless, Narcissa Malfoy wipe away a single tear, as Harry and Ginny read their vows.

"Do you Harry James, take Ginevra Molly as your wife to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, in good times and woe, for richer and poorer, keeping yourself solely unto her for as long as you both shall live?"

"I DO," Harry replied, his eyes full of determination as if those words were the most important words he would ever say.

"Do you Ginevra Molly…" Hermione let her tears freely, looking at the joy on her best friends' faces.

"I DO," Ginny said, mirroring Harry's determination.

"I declare you bonded for life." Kingsley twirled his wand over the heads of Harry and Ginny showering with silver stars on their entwined forms. With a tiny wave of Hermione's wand, the mass of conjured fireflies slowly began to swirl around the kissing couple and then flew out into the evening sky bathing the guests in their faint glow.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, It is my great honor to introduce to you, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Potter." As the guests stood up to share the jubilation of the couple, Hermione found herself looking towards the Malfoys, only to see an oddly contemplative look on the face of the Malfoy heir.

Placing an empty goblet on the passing tray, Hermione smiled as she, along with the other guests, watched an overly emotional Half-giant gather both the bride and groom into a crushing hug. "Only a baby when I first held you, Harry. An' look at you, both o' you! Reminds me o' your Mum an' Dad. I'm so happy fer yeh both." Ginny squirmed under Hagrid's intense hug, but Harry happily accepted the love from the man, who welcomed him into the Wizarding world. Scrubbing the fat tears that disappeared into his bushy beard, Hagrid finally released them.

With Hagrid's emotional display over, it was time to deliver the customary toast to the bride and groom. Hermione had spent most of her free time trying to think of the perfect words to accompany the toast but now, in front of a crowd of expectant eyes all focused on her, it all seemed so much more difficult. It wasn't that she didn't have the words, It was that those words seemed so insignificant, how could she adequately express her love for Harry and Ginny in the right way? How do you wish happiness on people that you know that have already found happiness? Is it enough to say that you hope their love endures forever when you already know it will?

Realizing she'd not yet said a word, Hermione quickly righted her posture and grabbed a flute of champagne from a nearby hovering tray. "Right, Umm, the toast." After taking one final steadying breath Hermione tapped the edge of the flute with her wand to call the attention of the those gathered to celebrate. Her gaze traveled towards the newlyweds. While Ginny cocked an eyebrow at her, leaning on her new husband's shoulder, Harry looked at her with a look of pure bliss. Blinking away the tears at the happiness the newlywed pair exuded, she turned towards the crowd. She stood mutely trying to give the toast she prepared so ardently for her friends on the most important day of their lives and yet she couldn't say a word.

Everyone stared and Hermione began to feel tendrils of panic overwhelm her, her eyes widened as the words still seemed to evade her. As if sensing her distress, a comforting voice wafted over to her. "Since 'Mione's done so much already, I suppose I'll take the responsibility of proposing the toast to my best friend and my little sister."

As she heard those words, she bit her lip. Although she was still rather cross with him, she couldn't help but appreciate Ron's willingness to try and save the day. Ron slightly bent towards her. "You're worried I'm going to botch it." When Hermione continued to nibble on her lower lip, Ron sighed. "Trust me. It may not be as good as yours but I can deliver a few good words." She finally looked at him and nodded, shooting an appreciative glance. "Come on Teddy, I'll need your help so I don't muck this up." Ron stepped up, pulling the young ringbearer into his arms.

Teddy laughed, as Ron bounced him forward, morphing the messy black hair he sported into a red, to match Ron's. Hermione blinked her eyes, something tugging at her heart as she looked wistfully at the picture the pair made. If only things had gone differently, if only magical matching hadn't ruined it all, her happily ever after might not seem so far away. Looking out at the friends and family gathered Hermione noticed a pair of familiar grey eyes focused solely on her.

The moment their eyes met the rest of the world seemed to fall away. Draco tilted his head towards Ron making a face that told her he thought she was barmy for letting Ron attempt to deliver a speech, but she knew despite his moodiness and temper, Ronald Weasley could be counted on when he needed to rise to the occasion.

The wordless conversation she seemed to be having with the blond man standing halfway across the marquee seemed to soothe the knot in her gut. She had been worried he and his mother would have left after the ceremony, but it seemed that he'd chosen to stay a least a little longer. It was strange that he'd somehow become such an important figure in her life. Truthfully, Hermione was hesitant to analyze her feelings about the former Slytherin, but she couldn't deny there was something there. She knew he didn't want to be here, he'd said as much earlier, and yet here he was. Which begged the question; what exactly brought on this change in Draco Malfoy?

Realizing she hadn't paid any attention to Ron's toast, she quickly averted her gaze from her fair-haired enigma. "Hopefully, our beloved chosen one survives her long enough to be able to get a few grey hairs before she finishes him off." Ron had to dodge a sharp blow from his sister. "Blimey! Did you need to give everyone a live example?" With his sister's hand safely tucked in his, she pulled her closer and kissed her temple. "Ignoring my sister's temper, I've never seen two people more suited to each other and so blissfully in love," he said draping his other hand over Harry's shoulders. "Here's to many more years of love. The Potters, Everyone!" He released Ginny and pulled Harry into a hug, "You're up mate," he said patting Harry on his back. Then with little Teddy in tow, Ron strode back to Hermione, joining in her joy, as Harry got ready to declare his depth of devotion.

As the cheer morphed into a pleasant silence, Harry Potter stepped forward, with his new bride's fingers in his hand. "I never thought in my entire life I would live to see this day," he began with a stoic voice. Ginny looked at him with a creased brow. "But as I stand here with my beautiful bride," he turned to look at Ginny with adoration filled eyes. "I feel like I'm the happiest and luckiest person on Earth." Ginny who always had sharp retort on the tip of her tongue, mutely stared at her husband as he poured his heart out.

Harry wordlessly summoned an empty chair from the front aisle and seated Ginny on it. Standing in front of her, he took her palm into his and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. "What're you doing Harry Potter?" she asked with teasing smile.

"I didn't know what family meant, until I met you, all of you," he said extending his gaze to the place where Molly and Arthur Weasley, stood. Arthur had his arm around Molly's shoulders, while Molly had tears flowing down her eyes. "You showed me the true meaning of a family and I cannot thank you enough for that," he said as a teardrop rolled down his cheek.

"Oh, Harry!" Ginny said squeezing his palm, moving her fingers to brush off the tear, before Harry stopped her holding her fingers tightly.

"You were my light during the darkest times of my life," Harry continued looking into her tear filled eyes, remembering the nights he spent looking at her dot on the Marauder's map. "Even though you were away from me, I continued hanging onto that little hope that you were safe, Gin. I'm sorry I wasn't able to give you the same hope you gave me back then. So now, I'm going to make it up to you."

Hermione unknowingly leaned onto Ron's shoulder trying to gain control over the overwhelming emotions. Holding Teddy in one arm, Ron awkwardly patted Hermione's shoulder. Their previous squabble remained entirely forgotten as they witnessed together the chosen one's heartfelt display.

"I'm told it's an old wizarding tradition that a man expresses his devotion to the woman who agrees to share everything in his life, henceforth," his eyes slowly trailed off to the Malfoys. Hermione found Narcissa giving a genuine smile, while Draco looked rather smug at Harry's declaration. With a slight smile on her face, Hermione turned as Harry stood from his place, and walked towards the elder Weasleys. "Some of you might know about a slightly unusual item in the Weasley household." He approached Arthur and spoke, "This kind and wonderful man, expressed his love and devotion to his bride by giving her a clock that always showed the safety and location of her family. So that she'd know when her family might need her and where they were. For me, there couldn't be anything more precious than that."

Ginny was looking at him in confusion, as Harry walked over to the part of the marquee where they had said their vows, only to suddenly remove his invisibility cloak from a beautifully wrapped object. He picked it up with utmost care and walked back towards Ginny.

His wife shot him a questioning look, with mirth dancing in her eyes, "Hiding something right under my nose. Harry Potter, when did you get so sneaky?"

Harry didn't answer and only smiled as he kneeled down on one knee in front of her, placing the wrapped object on her lap.

"Don't you think it's too late for a proposal, Mr. Potter? You've already married me, and that thing is too big for a ring," Ginny tried to lighten the situation, but it was clear by her choking voice, how hard she was trying to hold her tears.

"This is my promise to you, Ginny," Harry answered. He pried the wand from his pockets and tapped the wrappings over the gift with a murmured incantation. The anticipation was overwhelming, as everyone gathered around the couple to get a look at Harry's declaration of devotion. Harry's fingers were shaking but the wrappings didn't move, just as he was about to try the incantation again, the wrappings started to glow with a warm golden light.

Hermione couldn't help but notice that not far from Harry stood Narcissa Malfoy, wand drawn and a knowing smirk on her face. It seemed she'd chosen to step in on Harry's behalf and undo her own charms since he seemed to be having trouble. Harry chuckled as the wrappings started to fade from around the gift, seemingly unaware of the witch behind it.

As the light faded, a gasp of wonderment was heard from the bride. "Harry," her lip quivered as she took the gift into her hands. "It's beautiful." Her fingers reverently traced over the silver frame and across the crystal panels. Looking at the emotion pouring out of Harry's eyes, she leaned in closer. "It's lovely Harry," her whispers weren't completely unheard, at least by Hermione and Ron. "But, what is it?" Ron broke into a fit of snickers earning a sharp kick to his shins from Hermione.

Harry's focus remained on his bride. "It's a promise," he replied placing his hands on top of hers on the silver frame. "As long as the flame in this lantern is burning, you'll know I'm alive, and that I'll always come back to you."

The tears that had been threatening to fall, began to flow freely down Ginny's cheeks. Through her teary gaze, she took in the grace of his gift of devotion. It was a simple silver lantern with crystal panes, designed to look like a forest scene, with roots carved into the base, and four trees in each corner supporting the top. Inside stood a lone silver stag with emerald eyes and between its horns was a glowing white flame that seemed to sway to a rhythm that matched Harry's heartbeat.

Hermione was utterly captivated by his idea when Harry first discussed with her. She still remembered his apprehension as he explained the simple idea. Being an Auror was dangerous and he never wanted Ginny to live her life worried about him. His initial idea had been a simple glowing snitch, but Narcissa had recommended something that could be expanded to include their future family as the Weasley clock had been. In the end, Harry decided on a lantern with his Patronus inside. This gift was subtle and simple but held a kind of thoughtfulness unique to Harry Potter. Hermione didn't bother to stop her tears, looking at the beautiful scene playing out in front of her.

As the first stars of the evening started to adorn the sky, Ginny summoned Kreacher to take the lantern back to Grimmauld Place, telling her husband she wouldn't need it since she planned to stay in his arms all night. Harry then guided Ginny onto the dance floor for their first dance as husband and wife.

The golden chairs that were readied for the ceremony were quickly vanished, morphing the marquee into a beautiful ballroom under the starlight. Sets of tables and chairs appeared at the edges, with a delectable range of foods, that could only be rivaled by the opening feast at Hogwarts. Everyone cheered their savior and his new wife and Hermione's heart fluttered looking at the sheer happiness the pair exuded. The couple's combined mirth brightened everything in its path and within no time, many others started to join them on the dance floor.

As Ron wandered off to talk to a group of former Gryffindor housemates; Hermione caught sight of Bill dancing with his mother while Fleur and Arthur looked on with contented smiles. Hermione couldn't help but feel a sense of longing when she noticed Neville and Hannah Abbot had taken to the dance floor as well. They looked like such a happy couple. In all the years that she'd known him, never had she seen Neville Longbottom look so content, and going by the look on Hannah's face, those two would likely be the next to wed.

Not wanting to dwell on her melancholy, Hermione picked up a champagne flute from a nearby floating tray and ventured off to extract some answers from the enigmatic snake in her life.

A zooming ball of excitement collided into Hermione before she reached her destination, tangling in her legs. "Aunt 'Mione, save me." Teddy squealed as Hermione tried to pry off the young boy clutching on to her legs. "Vicky says she wants to lead." He pointed to the little blonde girl, who was currently jabbering away in French with her aunt. "But gran says a boy needs to lead."

Hermione laughed raising the boy onto her hip and handed over her champagne flute to Luna, who just strolled by dancing to her own merry tune. Letting the little boy have the satisfaction of leading her, Hermione twirled both of them around, eliciting a bubbling laughter from him. Catching Draco's eyes, she paused her dance, giving the young Lupin a smacking kiss on the cheek. While the boy scrubbed the place she kissed, she whispered to him, "Come on Teddy, I'll introduce you to someone."

As she approached the table, she saw the Malfoys were alone. Noticing Theo covertly capturing pictures and Tracey in a deep discussion with an Auror from the Ministry, her gaze turned to Narcissa Malfoy, "Mrs. Malfoy, It's nice to see you again. I must admit, I was worried I wouldn't get the opportunity to speak to you." Hermione said, noticing a flash of tension in Draco's jaw.

"Yes, it would have been rather rude to refuse Mr. Potter's invitation, and I'll admit, I was curious to see how the newly minted Mrs. Potter would respond to the gift," Narcissa said in a dainty voice, as her eyes narrowed on the boy on Hermione's hip.

"Harry's over the moon. The gift of devotion was just perfect. He wasn't sure how the finished product would look, but it was breathtaking. You were very kind to offer your help, and guide Harry through Paris to find a craftsman" Hermione said with a smile.

"Of course. The Malfoys have had connections with some of the most skilled artisans in our world for centuries. My only regret is that I couldn't persuade Mr. Potter in choosing a more elegant design."

Hermione bit her lip. There was no doubt in her mind, the smirking blond standing beside his mother, had inherited his narcissism and sense of superiority from both halves of his family tree. Turning to him, Hermione continued, "Before I forget, thank you for having Theo deliver the gift yesterday, Draco."

"Theodore?" Narcissa raised an eyebrow. "I do believe I asked that you deliver it personally, Draco." Even Hermione raised an eyebrow at Narcissa's statement.

Draco fidgeted as both the women pinned him with pointed gazes. "Sadly, I was behind in my work thanks to an unexpected event earlier this week." He said looking pointedly at Hermione "So when Theo visited yesterday asking for Granger's address, I asked if he could deliver the gift in my place. Theo didn't seem troubled at the prospect and I thought him a suitable proxy."

"Need I remind you, darling, that certain tasks cannot be left to a proxy," Narcissa added in a cold tone to which Draco only nodded apologetically.

Hermione couldn't help but think that the Malfoy mother and son seemed to be having two conversations at once, and she wondered if all Slytherin conversations were so laden with subtext.

"Do I want to know which ginger menace is responsible for that little urchin?" Draco said, changing the topic and addressing the young boy in Hermione's arms.

Hermione scowled at Draco but took note of the lack of malice in the Slytherin's statement. "Actually…" she began, giving the little boy a head rub.

"You look a bit like my gran," Hermione's answer went completely unheard as the boy burst out, pointing his finger at Narcissa, grabbing the attention of the nearby onlookers. "She makes that same face when she's angry with me." He tilted his little head as if trying to decipher what exactly was the difference. "You're just as pretty too."

Narcissa's carefully placed mask faltered for a tiny bit as she whispered, "Oh my," Draco's scrutinizing gaze gave a once-over to the little boy still perched on Hermione's hip.

"Where are my manners?" Hermione chided herself and introduced the boy. "Teddy this is Narcissa Malfoy, your Grandmother's sister and this is Draco Malfoy. He would be your first cousin once removed."

"Nice to meet you, Ma'am." the boy extended his hand.

"Your grandmother has taught you well. It is indeed very nice to meet you, young man." Narcissa supplied, managing to grace the young boy with a half smile and shake his hand.

"Draco Malfoy." The boy spoke brightly, "Aunt 'Mione talks about you," he continued the last part in a whisper, "a lot."

A devilish smirk appeared on Draco's face, looking at the beautiful blush that suddenly appeared on Hermione's cheeks at the little boy's innocent chatter. "Well, that is a rather interesting revelation, I must say. Is that true, Granger?"

"Yup. Harry says we need to listen to her, because she's smart and knows about everything, and if we don't listen to her, she'll bring out more books," Teddy continued in an exasperated fashion making Hermione very uncomfortable.

"I suppose Potter is right about that. Your Aunt Hermione is rather smart, and does have a rather unreasonable fondness for books," Draco said with a smirk. Hermione's heart skipped a beat at hearing him say her given name for the first time, while at the same time she wanted to smack the smug Slytherin. Her love of books was perfectly reasonable. Yet he hadn't even realized he had called her Hermione.

Watching the exchange between the muggle-born witch and her son. Narcissa was surprised at how easily the young woman could strip away Draco's carefully constructed public mask. During their time at Hogwarts, the lady Malfoy had witnessed the girl's ability to bring out the worst in her son, and yet now it seemed that their association served to bring out the parts of her son that she had thought lost forever.

"I think that's enough from both of you," Hermione lightly admonished the two boys, "Let me take you back to your Grandmother. They're going to bring out the cake soon."

"Yay! It's the most colorful cake in the whole wide world. You want to know, how it looks?" Teddy said wiggling his head without waiting for an answer. In the next moment, his hair turned into a mashup of different colors.

"A Metamorphagus," Draco's regarded the changes in the boy with an appreciative glance. "That's quite the rare talent at his age."

"No doubt due to his strong maternal bloodline," Narcissa supplied, looking rather uncomfortable.

"And I'm very good," Teddy said with a pride only a child could manage. "Look," With another vigorous shake of his head, he adapted a platinum blond slicked back hairstyle, just like Draco's.

Narcissa gasped placing a hand over her mouth. "Oh, dear." Her eyes roved between her son and the little boy and something stirred in her heart.

"I can do Aunt 'Mione's hair too." The boy declared, shaking his head once again.

Surprisingly, the young boy's attempt was a failure and he only succeeded in changing his hair to a wavy shoulder length platinum blond, but the change was enough to shock all three adults into silence.

"Bugger!" The boy exclaimed, only to be surprised when he was not admonished for his outburst.

Hermione was the first to recover from her shock. "That's lovely, Teddy. But maybe it's best you turn your hair back to normal before you tire yourself out." The boy sheepishly nodded turning his hair back to a shade of light brown that matched his late father.

"Teddy! What are you doing there? Come here this instant," Andromeda's voice boomed in their proximity. Narcissa's eyes turned to meet the angry gaze of her sister, standing not far from the table.

"Gran! Is it time for cake?" Teddy asked trying to wriggle out of Hermione's hold to run towards his grandmother.

Hermione couldn't help but notice Draco give his mother's hand a comforting squeeze as she handed the young boy over to his grandmother.

"Mrs. Tonks," Narcissa said, greeting her estranged sister. "Your grandchild is a delight."

"I have no time for your false pleasantries, " Andromeda protectively pushed Teddy behind her. "What's someone like you, doing here?"

"Regardless of your feelings for me Mrs. Tonks, I'd prefer if you did not impugn Mr. Potter's character for extending an Invitation to my family and I," Narcissa replied tersely.

"Harry is a kind and sweet boy, but don't you dare use his kindness to try and wipe the stain from your family's name."

At that moment, Draco looked like he was about to lash out at the older witch before his mother placed a soothing hand on his arm. Hermione marveled at how easily Narcissa could calm her son. It was easy now to understand why Draco had said that was going to leave earlier, he'd hoped to protect his mother from a scene exactly like this one.

Giving a reassuring smile to Draco, Narcissa continued, "Mr. Potter is capable of making his own judgments. My family has made some rather regrettable choices in the past, however, we are striving to rise above them. In that spirit, allow me to extend my condolences on the loss of your husband, and daughter."

"Far too late, and crocodile tears do not become you Lady Malfoy. Nor does that come close to absolve you of you and your family's complicity."

"Perhaps not, but Nymphadora was your daughter and Edward was the man you chose over family." Andromeda's lip quivered as she detected a hint of bitterness in her sister's words at the mention of Ted. "I know I could not survive losing Lucius or Draco. Think of my words what you will, but I assure you my sympathy is genuine." Narcissa continued.

Andromeda turned to Teddy and said in a controlled tone, trying to mask her anger in front of a little boy, who knew nothing about the horrors that consumed the lives of his parents. "'Teddy, dear. Why don't you go find George? I'm sure he's got some little trinket or toy to show you."

"But Gran, I want to stay here," the little boy grumbled, changing his hair to a bluish shade. "I want to dance with Aunt 'Mione, she let me lead."

"Aunt Hermione is busy." Andromeda's eyes narrowed at Hermione. "I'm sure she'll dance with you once she's done with the Malfoys." Her sharp tone failing to hide her dislike for Hermione choice of company.

"Promise, Aunt Mione?" The innocent boy asked.

"I'll save you the last dance of the night. Is that alright with you Teddy?"

"Okay," The young Metamorphagus nodded, tottering off in search of George Weasley.

With the innocent boy gone, the atmosphere around the two Black sisters quickly became suffocating.

"I hope you haven't forgotten that, although your hands may not be as stained as Bella's or the monsters that took my Ted away; you are just as guilty. Did you come here looking for forgiveness Narcissa?"

Hermione remained entirely mute watching the scene in front of her with a morbid fascination. Given what she knew about the family, she was expecting a rather harsh retort from the youngest Black sister, but the Malfoy matriarch remained unfazed.

"No, I have no need of such things. I don't intend to trouble you further Mrs. Tonks, I simply wished to extend my condolences on behalf of the Malfoy family. I apologize if I've upset you and I hope that you find comfort in knowing that those directly responsible for Edward's death met with a most unpleasant end." The faint smirk on Narcissa's lips was all anyone would need to realize that Ted Tonks' death had likely been brutally avenged thanks to Andromeda's youngest sister.

With no more words needing to be said, the two Black sisters parted ways with Andromeda only acknowledging Hermione with a subdued tilt of her head before she left not sparing a glance to her estranged sister and nephew.

"Are you alright Mrs. Malfoy?" Hermione's voice made Narcissa turn her attention to the matter at hand. While Draco disguised his fury behind his perfectly masked face, Hermione couldn't help but ask.

"Yes, Ms. Granger. It has been many years since I've spoken to her and I must admit I was unprepared." Narcissa took a steadying breath, then added "Andromeda made her choice years ago, just as I made mine." as she took her clutch into her hands.

Uncomfortable, and unwilling to comment on the obviously complex relationship between the two estranged sisters. Hermione watched in muted silence as Narcissa extracted the most beautiful bouquet of lilies Hermione had ever seen from the small clutch.

"Oh my, those flowers are beautiful."

The red and gold lilies shimmered in the night light, and Hemione remembered the daffodils Draco given her so long ago that were still as fresh as the day they bloomed. She couldn't help but wonder if both flowers were a product of Narcissa's gift at complex charms or some secret Pureblood horticultural artistry.

"Although our family has little interest in herbology, these flowers are the pride of the Malfoy Family. Lucius and I cultivated them as our family's wedding gift to the Potters." Narcissa brushed a knuckle against one of the glimmering petals. "Now, if you'll forgive me, I must retire for the evening before Lucius begins to worry. Draco, I trust you to see to it that Ms. Granger arrives home safely once the festivities are finished."

Draco dutifully nodded, as Narcissa ventured off to deliver the flowers and bid farewell to both Potters.

After a few moments of silence, Draco began to feel Hermione's questioning stare boring into the side of his head. Knowing that she'd never give up he let out a weary sigh. "My mother loved both her sisters deeply. Andromeda was cast out for her betrayal of the family, and you know what kind of monster Aunt Bella became. I think my mother foolishly hoped to repair those bonds, but it seems as though too much has passed between them."

"I'll admit I was rather shocked, from all our interactions, Andromeda has never been anything but kind and gentle."

"She's a Black and a Slytherin, Granger. Neither is known to be particularly meek. I have no doubt she is the kind and gentle person you know, but I also have little doubt she's capable of a vicious cunning that would scare you witless. She knew exactly how to unsettle someone, and did so ruthlessly. It's an admirable talent worthy of a Black, and it's one of the few things she and my mother seem to still have in common." Draco's gaze remained on his mother, as she conveyed her wishes to the newlyweds. Wanting to avoid further questions, Draco added. "I should escort my mother to the apparition point. Also, I feel it necessary to say that I've no intention of seeing you home safely. You're perfectly capable of doing that without me, and given that the attendees to this event are your friends and a bunch of Aurors, the notion that you need me to escort you is utterly absurd."

"Oh, no! You don't get to run away from me today. I'm not letting you leave until I get some answers." Draco looked at her as if she had sprouted another head. "Don't give me that look. Harry's already assigned an Auror to escort your mother."

To Draco's horror, her words were indeed true. Narcissa Malfoy was already at the exits, with an Auror trailing after her at a distance of fewer than two feet. She nodded at her son and disappeared out of the tent.

Before Draco could react, he found Hermione reaching for his hand and guiding him to the dance floor. "You owe me a dance, Malfoy."

"I don't recall ever making that kind of promise. Furthermore, don't expect me to answer any of your questions, Granger." Draco's eyes darted forward, sneering at the group of Gryffindors, with Ronald Weasley standing amongst them. Giving the group a hateful glare, he dragged his gaze back to the witch holding his hand.

"Why did you stay?" Hermione blurted out as they reached the edge of the dance floor.

"I have my reasons, Granger. You're supposedly bright, why don't you try and figure out what could have changed my mind, and do try to remember I'm not some noble Gryffindor."

"While we're on the topic of you changing your mind," she said standing in front of him, her fingers still in his. "Why did you change Malfoy? The war changed all of us, but you're nothing like that hateful boy from Hogwarts." Hermione wasn't going to play their little game today. She needed answers and this was the only way she could extract from the sneaky Slytherin.

"I thought you wanted to dance. If I was informed this evening was going to include an interrogation, I would've reconsidered my decision." Draco said, trying to avoid the probing eyes of the feisty witch in front of him. Unfortunately, it seemed as though she meant business and he wouldn't be able to charm her into distraction.

"Come on, Draco. You can't run away from me."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Draco whispered. His free hand found its way to a spot between her waist and left shoulder blade as he continued. "I changed because I had to, I am the sole heir of the Malfoy family. When my father was imprisoned it fell to me to protect our legacy. As a boy, I used the power of my father's name without understanding the cost. Father made getting that Hippogriff put to death look effortless."

There was an unspoken calmness as their feet effortlessly glided to the soft Waltz. Draco couldn't understand why being honest was so easy with this woman in his arms. Perhaps it was because he'd already said far worse things to her and yet she still chose to be in his proximity. It didn't make sense, he was cruelest to her and yet she seemed to want to spend time with him. At least Potter and Longbottom had the good sense to at least be wary of him, and it was obvious that Weasley still hated him. Had Bella tortured the good sense out of Hermione Granger, or was this simply a manifestation of their magical compatibility? Perhaps magical matching could help Draco understand this odd muggle-born witch.

"Buckbeak," she whispered, interrupting Draco's musing as he gave her a twirl. Draco tried to mask the sharp intake of breath, as she stood even closer now. "Go on."

"I never realized that it wasn't the Malfoy name that achieved it," Draco continued. "But my father's skillful bribes, threats, and manipulations. I carry the future of the Malfoy family on my shoulders, I can't afford to be the foolish and naive boy you knew. I have to do whatever it takes to restore our legacy. From helping house elves to tolerating Potter." It was too easy to lose himself in the trust she showed. If he wasn't careful he'd reveal the whole truth and that was simply unacceptable.

"Regardless of your reasons," She chuckled, "I'm happy to get to know the new you."

Somehow they had managed to seclude themselves from the crowd of dancers, choosing an empty corner of the dancefloor. The light breeze sweeping into the marquee blinded his senses with her intoxicating scent, as her warm body and sparkling eyes continued to pull him down into the abyss of her. Truly, this association with Hermione Granger was quickly becoming the prison from which he would never escape.

"Don't be an idiot Granger, it's unbecoming. I'm a Malfoy, no one is 'happy' to know us." He tried his best to urge the girl remember that there was no 'New' Draco Malfoy. He was still the same person who debased her, and would do anything to keep himself safe; if only she realized her own foolishness and released him from his duty to woo her. They weren't supposed to fall in love, she wasn't supposed to have been rendered speechless holding a boy with wavy blond hair. None of this was natural.

Despite his inner turmoil, Draco couldn't help but notice the cheerful atmosphere that permeated their surroundings. Potter happily dancing with his bride, Theo sharing a dance with his future bride and many more couples savoring their special moments. He wondered if it was right for him to be here amongst these couples in love. His pursuit of Granger wasn't out of love, it was selfish, it was not for her but the child she could give him. It wasn't fair, she deserved better than him.

"You're right, 'happy' might be overstating it a bit." She replied with a small smile and with her trademark eye roll. Her expression of amusement turned into a sweet laughter as the light music changed to a faster beat.

Draco was surprised at the agility with which she followed his lead. She smiled as they waltzed gracefully to the music. It was unnerving that after just a few minutes of dancing it felt like he was powerless to resist her. If she were to ask why he approached her, he didn't have the confidence to lie effectively and that would be the end of this.

He collected a tendril of hair that rested on her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. Warning bells began to ring in his brain, as he unconsciously leaned forward his eyes moving lower to her lips.

"Malfoy!"

A wave of relief combined with an unexplainable rage, washed over him as he twisted away from Hermione to see Theo and Tracey pacing towards them. From her sudden and sharp intake of breath, it was obvious Granger was equally shocked at the sudden interruption.

Before Hermione could jump forward, Theo and Tracey reached them. Looking at the gleaming smile on his best friend's face, Draco cocked an eyebrow trying to don his unreadable mask. "What is it, Nott? What is so important you needed to rudely Interrupt our dance."

"Oh, sorry mate. Still, this is worth it. In fact, I dare say this will be the highlight of your night." Theo supplied with a satisfied smirk.

"Out with it, Theo." Draco groused, unsure if he was angry at being interrupted or Theo's needless theatrics.

"Well, let's just say I caught a rather troublesome pest trying to sneak into this event, a certain beetle we've wanted to be rid of for quite a while."

"That horrid cow. How did she get in?" Hermione raged at the word beetle. Draco chanced a sideward look at Hermione, who seemed to have immediately stepped into her duties as a Maid of honor.

"Would someone explain what's going on. One minute, I'm having a romantic walk on the grounds, the next Theo's running off, over the moon about some silly beetle." Tracey asked with a hand on her hip.

"Wait, Granger. You know about Skeeter?" Theo asked with a shock filled voice.

"Of course, where the hell is she? If we let her escape, she's going to make a horrendous article out of this event."

"Oh, I doubt that," Theo said folding his hands. "You can relax Granger. I don't think she can use a quill as a beetle." The malevolent smile in her boyfriend's eyes made Tracey even more irritated.

"What on Earth are you two talking about. You mentioned Skeeter, as in Rita Skeeter?"

"Oh, sorry Tracey." Hermione chewed on her lip. "Yes, it's Rita Skeeter. She's an unregistered Animagus, a beetle. I kept her in an unbreakable jar for the better part of our fourth year at school. I let her go only on the promise of not interfering in Harry's life. I suppose she needs another reminder."

"That's quite Impressive." echoed Theo and Draco. Both men looked rather pleased with Hermione's use of Slytherin-esque tactics to deal with Rita, leaving both women to realize why the two men were friends.

"As I was saying, Granger. You don't really need to worry about Skeeter writing much of anything. I don't know if Draco or Tracey have told you but I'm pretty good at creating curses, and I hid one of my favorites in with the Nott wards. Right now, Skeeter's trapped in her Animagus form permanently or until I use the counter-curse. Being trapped as a fragile little beetle is sure to make Rita reevaluate her methods," Theo added with a sinister flair.

"You put a curse in the Weasley wards?!" Hermione's eyes flared. "Harry and the Weasleys would throw a fit if they found out about this. Your wards were supposed to keep people out of this event not curse them!"

"Granger," Draco piped in. "You need to understand how Slytherins work. Nott promised them that no one would disturb this event. Look around, do you see anyone notice her presence?" When Hermione shook her head, throwing a skeptic glance around her. To her relief, no one seemed to have been disturbed. "So, that's one of your questions answered. Coming to catching that nosy reporter."

"The Nott wards are designed to prevent anyone from sneaking in as a transfigured object or creature. So a Ferret Draco couldn't be snuck in, but an Animagus could. So I added a special curse that would lock an Animagus in their transformed state." Theo explained. " The only concern I had was if the Headmistress decided to show up as a cat. Otherwise, the curse is harmless to anyone who's not an Animagus."

"Theodore Nott, how could you put something like that in the wards without telling the Property owner. If the Ministry found out you could end up in Azkaban! For Merlin's sake, the Minister himself is here!" Tracey said with a scorching glare.

Theo bent forward and affectionately pecked her cheek, "Says the woman who a few hours ago added a cheering charm to the wards without letting the property owner know. You, my love, would end up in a cell right along with me."

Tracey huffed at Theo's revelation, then leaned over to whisper something in the dark-haired Slytherin's ear that left the man fighting not to blush.

Hermione and Draco looked at each other uncomfortably, as the two Slytherin lovers seemed to be having a conversation with only their eyes.

"Upon sage advice from my lovely companion, I think it's time we both retire for the evening." Theo said with a smirk, "Don't give me that look, Granger. Skeeter will be dealt with non-violently, and the Nott wards, my curse, and Tracey's charm will all disappear the moment the marquee is taken down. Now if you'll excuse us, we need to bid farewell to the Potters so I can enjoy an amorous night with my witch." He added, earning a fierce slap on the arm from Tracey Davis.

As Theo and Tracey stepped off into the crowd of dancers, Draco turned to Hermione with fidgeting hands. "I should be going too," he said in a resigned tone, purposefully ignoring the eyes of the witch at his side.

"Won't you stay for the Fireworks? George promised a spectacular show," Hermione asked with hopeful eyes.

"Afraid not, with Davis and Nott leaving, this event has become a bit too Gryffindor for my taste." He slowly stepped towards her. "Goodnight, Granger. I'll admit, enduring the Chosen one's wedding was mildly less unpleasant than I expected, and I suppose I have you to thank for that." Draco leaned in to place a chaste kiss on Hermione's cheek and angled his body towards the exits.

Then a sharp tug on his wrist had him snapped back to his original place with a sweet assault being waged against his lips. Closing his eyes instinctively, his lips welcomed the sweet sensation. Bursts of gold flashed in his peripheral vision as her arms surrounded his neck. His arms holding her for balance and pulling her even closer, as he slowly began to understand what exactly was happening. Hermione Granger was kissing him and his eyes shot open when he realized he was kissing her back.

"Bloody hell! What in the name of Merlin are you doing Granger?" He took a step back looking at her flushed face.

"Making a rather bold declaration, I would think," she said as if challenging him to disagree. "Don't worry, I asked Tracey before the wedding. Apparently, since you're only a proxy on behalf of the Malfoy family's interests, anything between us won't interfere with the project. Besides, I've rather enjoyed our time together and I'd very much like to see where it goes if you're interested."

"Have you gone mad? The project is hardly the issue at hand! I'd ask if you were drunk, or under some spell, but I know you're sober since you've either been with me, the Lupin boy or the Potters all night."

"You're calling me mad." Her voice started to raise and even though they were out of sight Draco knew there is every chance that someone could've heard them. "I'll have you know that project is far more important to me than you are Malfoy!"

"What? I don't...," Draco started off looking at Hermione suddenly realizing she was focused on the wrong thing. "Are you kidding me?! You snogged me out of nowhere you daft bint! I'm still trying to figure that out." He reverted back to his sneering self.

"A simple 'I'm not interested' would have been enough Malfoy."

"Did I say I wasn't interested?! I'm still processing this, Granger! Ugh, I'll see you for our meeting with Davis next week."

He ignored the worry line on her forehead and turned away. Only to suddenly spin back around, grab her face, and plant a passionate kiss on the lips of the infuriating witch. Storming off before those amber eyes of hers could open and those lips could prod him with questions, he didn't have the answer to.

Chapter Text

As the Ministry lift moved taking him ever closer towards the lioness' den, Draco mused at how quickly his fortunes seemed to be changing. It wasn't long ago, that news of his fated matching with the feisty Gryffindor filled him with dread. In the beginning, he had hoped to escape, to find some way to get his father to reconsider this plan. Ultimately, Draco failed or rather Hermione Granger succeeded. He should have realized the inevitable sooner, there was no winning against her. Her virtues were countless, and her ability unquestionable. The prospect of spending the rest of his life with her seemed far less repugnant in light of that. There was also something else, an unexplainable magnetism that compelled him to desire her for more than the golden future promised by magical matching.

Ignoring the annoying voice that announced the floor, Draco began his walk towards her office. As he stood in front of the door that separated him from the righteous Gryffindor, he thought of the rather bold declaration she had made a few days ago. It seemed as though she was ready to begin their courtship, but was he? She'd challenged his feelings and even with a few days to reflect he wasn't sure what those feelings actually were.

"It's open. Unless you'd like to admire the craftsmanship of my door. I don't mind waiting, either way." Her voice wafted over to him as he finally lifted his hand knocked on the closed door.

"Feeling a bit cheeky today, are we Granger?" Draco sauntered into the brightly lit cabin, taking in her cheerful appearance. He raised an eyebrow appreciatively as she beamed at him, no doubt pleased with her opening quip. At that moment, his mind quickly noted the subtle changes she had made to her normally professional wardrobe. She was obviously trying to accentuate her feminine charms. In their previous meetings, Granger had always chosen to exude an air of professionalism and power. Today, she seemed to have made an effort to add allure to the mix. Previously, he wouldn't have hesitated to dole out a sarcastic remark to mock her efforts, but for whatever reason, he gave an honest reply. "You look rather fetching today, Ms. Granger," he said taking the chair she offered.

She narrowed her eyes at him and smirked. "Was that an honest compliment from Draco Malfoy? That's rather unexpected."

"Don't get used to it," he quickly cut off. "I'm simply shocked that you've managed to tame that nest of yours without relying on some elaborate style or twist." He couldn't stop his gaze as it wandered to her swaying curls as they danced on her neck "I wonder what you'd look like if I decided to cast Finite Incantatem".

She gave a predatory smile. "Try it and I'll hex you. Did you get my owl about the minor changes I've made to our project?"

"You mean the fifteen pages of parchment, explaining each and every letter you've modified? Yes."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Did you get properly acquainted with them? I need your approval before I present them to Tracey."

"Of course, but before I give you my approval. There is something I think we should discuss." Draco said leaning back in his chair.

"Oh!" The cheer on her face suddenly changed into a pensive look. "If it's about what happened at Harry's wedding, I think I'd like to talk about that after the meeting with Tracey. It was a bit hasty of me to do that considering all the work that still needs to be done. I suppose the setting simply got the best of me."

"Not what I meant, Granger. For now, let's focus on the project. There will be time later to address your sudden desire to snog me senseless." He chuckled as a beautiful blush crept up her cheeks. "Although, I'll admit your rash actions weren't entirely unwelcome."

She covered her blush immediately and raised her chin. "Quite right, tell me Mr. Malfoy what did you wish to talk about?"

It was amusing to watch her squirm in embarrassment, but as he'd said, there would be time for that later. "After wasting the better part of an evening studying the 'minor' changes you've made, I've come to the conclusion that I agree with almost all of your amendments."

Embarrassment forgotten, Hermione Granger slipped into her professional mode instantly. "Almost?"

"As a sponsor, Ministry regulations forbid me from exerting any executive control to dictate the course of action of this project. However, as the chief financier, I believe it is my duty to assure that you're made aware of areas in which you've been negligent."

Hermione's brow creased. "I don't understand. Is something the matter? All the points I've included in this final draft have already been discussed with you." The calm and composed expression she had donned, shifted into the feisty one that Draco enjoyed a bit too much.

Reveling in the challenging glare the fiery witch was throwing at him, Draco continued. "Calm down, Granger. You've done great work on the final draft. I'm particularly fond of the idea of introducing an official front for House-elf legislation efforts. If nothing else, that should be the end goal of this project."

"You still haven't made clear the problem you're having." She huffed.

"The name you've chosen for that office," Draco said getting up from the chair. "E.W.W."

"What's wrong with the office of Elvish Workplace Welfare? I think it perfectly suits the nature of activities that would be handled by the office." Hermione pulled out a parchment from the neatly arranged stack and skimmed the contents, halting at the point where the concerned name flashed. "In fact, it perfectly complements my S.P.E.W."

Draco slowly got up from his chair and moved to stand by her side. "Your sense in naming things, while perfectly acceptable for a fifteen-year-old, is lacking in this instance. If I may," he slowly took the parchment from her hand and reached for the quill. Giving a smirk at her angry expression, he quickly scribbled a line and passed it to her. "A good name holds more influence than you realize, Granger. This name is merely a suggestion, and I cannot compel you to take it. However, I will remind you that this office could be the only legacy you leave behind at the ministry. For all your noble goals S.P.E.W. is nothing more than the foolish efforts of a little girl trying to help beings she didn't fully understand. This office is going to be the legacy of the woman you've become, so make sure it has a name befitting its stature."

"E.L.F," Hermione whispered and looked at him. "The office of Elvish Licensing and Freedom."

"It's up to you what legacy you leave behind. I've said what needed to be said, and let's face it, E.W.W. makes a dreadful acronym."

Hermione bit her lip. Draco watching as she began to debate with her own ideas and vision. "I'll think about it." She finally conceded tucking the parchment back into the stack. "Now if there's nothing else, shall we head to Tracey's office? Or would you like to spend more time discussing my choice in names?" She added giving Draco a mild glare as he stood by her side.

"I believe I've done my duty. Still, if you thought E.W.W. was a good name I dread to think what you'd name a child." He moved back letting her get up from the chair. Seeing her robes draped over her chair, he involuntarily picked them up and offered to her. Her eyes went wide at his sudden actions, but quickly recovered and accepted his gesture.

"Am I to expect any more surprises from Draco Malfoy? Or just more cutting remarks." She asked with a teasing smile.

He chuckled "Granger, you should trust that I've no shortage of cutting remarks, and as for surprises. I do happen to have at least one more for today." Draco slowly pulled out what seemed to be a copy of a newspaper from inside his robes. When Hermione quirked up an eyebrow. "It's not today's version, Granger. This is the draft version of the coming Sunday's Prophet."

Hermione's eyes flashed in surprise. "The article?"

"Yes, Nott's already got the Potters' approval, but they asked that you give it a once-over." He offered it to her. "Theo sends it with his regards by the way."

"It's good to see Theo has such a dedicated messenger boy, but you should be careful he doesn't replace you with an owl, Draco." She teased as she snagged the paper from his hands and roved her eyes through the paper taking all the details. "I admit Theodore Nott deserves an outstanding for this." Hermione's eyes sparkled.

"The Sunday edition of the Daily Prophet will feature this pictorial article of Potter's wedding as its centerspread."

She traced the happiness of her friends with her fingers and smiled. "This is exactly what Harry and Ginny wanted. It's perfect."

"What can I say," Draco said with a smirk. "There's a reason Theo has written every Malfoy press release since we left Hogwarts, he's very good at what he does."

"I might consider using his services myself. I'm glad Tracey talked me into it." Hermione moved to the literary article that highlighted the events of that evening. "Theo's a skilled wordsmith, I cannot help but appreciate how he explains the subtle beauty of the wedding. There's very little in this about Harry's stature in the Wizarding world, but he focuses on the meaningfulness of the event. He does seem to focus quite a bit on your family's attendance, particularly your mother." Hermione quirked an eyebrow at him. "Although, I suppose that was to be expected."

"Need I remind you, our attendance at Potter's wedding is a newsworthy event in and of itself. Also, I'd like to point out that the only time my mother was mentioned by name was with regards to Potter's Gift of Devotion." Draco said leaning forward, joining Hermione in perusing the article. "Theo is a master of subtlety, the Malfoys were mentioned enough to reflect the importance of our attendance, but not so much as to take away focus from the event itself." Draco raised an eyebrow at Hermione, challenging her to deny the truth of his statement.

"I never said it was a bad thing." Hermione chuckled. "In fact, I think articles like this might just help us all heal old wounds. It might even reduce the threats against your Mum, which I suppose is why Theo mentioned her by name." She narrowed her eyes at him and fired off a playful jab. "I also noticed you're rather protective of Theo."

"We're Slytherins, we take care our own," Draco whispered in her ear.

Suddenly becoming aware of the distance or lack of it, between them, Hermione's breathing hitched. Tearing herself away from him, she turned her attention back to the paper. "Is there going to be a mention of Skeeter?"

"No, Nott's far more insidious than his outward demeanor would have you believe," Draco said moving forward to her door and holding it open for her. "Rita's been a troublesome pest since Theo took up his position at the Prophet. She'll be dealt with discreetly, but I'd wager her time as a so-called journalist is likely over."

Hermione nodded her head, quickly swapping the newspaper for the parchments neatly stacked on her desk and strolled towards the door. "Good, maybe now she'll learn her lesson," Hermione muttered.

As they waited in silence for the lift to arrive, Hermione began to speak, "Do you remember the last time we headed to the Accounting Department together? I was ready to give Tracey a piece of my mind." she said, following him into the lift. "I still can't believe, I'm friends with her now."

Tucking his hands into his pockets, The Malfoy heir let out a snort of derision as he watched the floors flash by in front of their eyes. "Trust me, Granger, with everything that's happened recently, your friendship with Tracey Davis is the least surprising occurrence."

"What makes you say that?" She asked turning to him with a cheeky smile. " Personally, I can't think of anything that's happened that's more surprising than that." She added her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Don't be deliberately obtuse, Granger. Our... whatever this is, was born of necessity, and a certain compatibility. Your friendship with Davis should have happened years ago, but you were both too bloody stubborn to realize it."

It was the truth, in both cases, Malfoy thought. His association with Granger only started because of magical matching, and whereas her friendship with Davis was born from something else. It was almost funny to realize that the Gryffindor bookworm seemed to have tailored her female friendships to collect people who would expand the aspects of herself she found lacking. Davis was devious, Lovegood was oddly insightful and Weasley-Now-Potter was adventurous. If she became friends with Abbott, Granger would have collected a full Hogwarts set.

"Should I tell Tracey, that you think she's stubborn?" Hermione asked playfully.

"I'd tell you to do as you like, but I know you've got a little problem with that regardless," Draco said, moving forward to stand near the door, as the lift came to a halt. "After you." He added as he stepped aside to let her pass.

"One of these days, you're going to need to explain the random manifestations of chivalry, Malfoy."

"Chivalry?" He said joining her as they walked towards Tracey's office. "That you would mistake proper decorum for chivalry is troubling. Although, given your romantic history, it's not too surprising. A relationship with Ronald Weasley surely lowers expectations."

"I'll have you know, Ron was a perfect gentleman," Hermione raised her chin, standing in front of Tracey's office.

"He's an oaf, no sensible wizard lets a witch like you get away without exhausting every option." Draco instantly regretted his choice of words. Buggering hell, Granger's cheerful mood had been too disarming. He needed to get control over the situation before something unexpected happened.

"Ron will always be a part of my life, Draco. You'd best get used to that idea because I will not tolerate you mocking him at each and every opportunity," she said carefully as she simultaneously addressed and avoided the subtext of Draco's claim by tucking a strand behind her ear.

"I'll agree to your terms if you hold him to the same standard."

Hermione huffed at the cunning Slytherin. He knew Ron Weasley wasn't very good at controlling his emotions, and in a battle of wills between the two wizards Draco Malfoy would almost always be victorious.

"I must be barmy for fancying a git like him" Hermione muttered to herself as she knocked on the door and vanished into the room.

Having overheard her muttering Draco remained rooted just outside Tracey's office. Apparently, Granger was farther along in this than he thought. He had presumed she'd kissed him at Potter's wedding reception because of the romantic ambiance. She'd said as much just minutes ago, but it seemed as though the Gryffindor witch decided to try and hide the truth of her feelings from him. The question was, did he want to take advantage of this revelation? A true Slytherin would exploit her weakness without a second thought, but at this stage, the risk was too high. Regardless of his personal feelings on the matter, the courtship of Hermione Granger could not be rushed. Unable to delay it any longer, Draco entered the office shutting the door behind him.

"Don't you two look like quite the pair." Tracey's choice of welcome caught him by surprise, and judging by Granger's face; she wasn't expecting that either. It was only then that he noticed Granger was wearing a dark green blouse and silver jewelry. Bloody Hell, she dressed like a Slytherin for this meeting. How had he not noticed sooner?

"Tracey, I trust everything's going well," Hermione took the chair, stepping back into her professional self.

"Never better," Tracey said with a knowing smile, causing Draco to raise an eyebrow at her actions. "Draco! Surprised you chose to join us."

"The Malfoys are funding this project, my being here shouldn't be a surprise, particularly since I was under the impression that this meeting was one of importance," Draco said meeting Hermione's questioning gaze. Tracey was fishing, she wanted to know something and she was trying to get it out of him. "The better question is, why do both you and Granger seem so bloody cheerful today? I know Granger's happy about her project, but the only reason I can think of for you to seem so pleased with yourself is that either Nott proposed, or he's been shagging you senseless since the Potters' wedding.

Tracey blushed, as she fiddled with her empty ring finger. "Speaking of the Potters' wedding. Did you enjoy the fireworks, Draco?"

Hermione smiled shyly and went back to arranging the stack of the parchments in her hands. Suddenly, it became all too clear what information Davis was fishing for. Granger mentioned that she had checked with Tracey about notions of impropriety before the bold Muggleborn had kissed him. Which meant Davis knew quite a bit more than it seemed when she tried to persuade him from leaving after his unpleasant Weasley encounter. Draco eyes became almost predatory, Nott should have told his witch not to play these kinds of games with a Malfoy.

"Unfortunately, I left not long after you and Theodore. After an unpleasant interaction with my estranged Aunt and the Weasley Matriarch; I thought it best to leave quickly and quietly. As shameful as it is to admit, I even neglected to give my regards to the happy couple."

"Oh, right. I'm sorry, we should have been more considerate." Tracey replied looking at Hermione with an apologetic expression.

Hermione threw the pureblood heir a knowing look. "It was quite the finale, to a lovely evening." She supplied, picking up on what Draco was trying to get the other witch to assume about that evening. Seemingly content to participate in Draco's harmless mind games with his fellow snake.

Draco smirked at the bookworms eagerness to play along, "If you're quite finished delaying this meeting, Davis. We all have places to be, and I have a particular matter that needs to be addressed." Both the women looked at him with different expressions, one looking apologetic, while the other seemed to be rife with anticipation. "Granger's made a thousand minor edits, and if we don't get to them soon we'll be here forever."

"Quite Right, I suppose that explains why you two are so well matched. You balance each other out marvelously, it's really magical." Tracey said taking the stack Hermione offered.

"Tracey," Draco interrupted in a voice louder than usual, knowing what exactly Tracey had alluded to. "Focus on House-elves. I'm sure you and Granger will have time to gossip some other day when I'm not here."

Perplexed, Tracey caught Draco's cautious stare realizing for the first time as he'd used her first name. At that moment, Tracey's cheerfulness vanished instantly to be replaced by suspicion. Noticing Draco's tense brow, Tracey figured it out. Hermione Granger didn't know that she'd been magically matched. For whatever reason Draco was keeping the muggle-born in the dark. Masking her anger towards the pale prince, she turned to Hermione. "Sorry, since Ginny's wedding my mind's been a bit scattered. Let's get to work." With a fake smile, she reached for an envelope in front of her and transferred it to Hermione's hands. "I know you're already in a good mood today, but I bet this would just add that extra spring to your step."

"Is this what I think it is?" Hermione's eyes sparkled as she fumbled with the flap of the envelope.

"See for yourself."

Draco kept his entire concentration on Hermione's fingers as she opened the envelope, avoiding Tracey's gaze. His mind was in a whirlwind, Davis almost ruined everything. Although he had tried to surreptitiously convey to Hermione, that she shouldn't trust him. If the dark truths that led to their fledgling relationship came out, he would face Hermione Granger's wrath.

"I can't believe it," Hermione's spoke in a squeaky voice. "You did it, Tracey."

"It would be much appreciated if you chose to enlighten the rest of us." Draco directed his question at Tracey.

"The Wizenagamot has released a tentative date for our hearing. The initial acceptance passed and now Hermione gets to present her ideas." Tracey replied with a smile, seemingly ignoring the previous moment of tension.

"It's such great news, Tracey. I knew you were working on it, but I never thought you would get us a date in such a short span. How did you convince those old fools?"

"You just need to push the right buttons."

Draco smirked noticing a slightly not-so-innocent look in the eyes of the Future Lady Nott.

"Oh, I hope you haven't got into any trouble."

"I'm sure Davis knows how to be tactful in these situations. Your worries are likely misplaced." Draco said smiling at the excitement in Hermione's eyes. "Careful, Granger, if you get any happier you might thoughtlessly cast a wordless Confrinigo on yourself, or worse me."

"So, when is it?" Hermione adjusted herself, rolling her eyes. Her excitement slowly turning into anxiety as the impact of this news hit her. "I just hope we've got enough time for everything. I mean we've worked out all the details, but they've been against this bill since its genesis."

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves." The Blond haired wizard cut in, "Details would be much appreciated, Davis."

"Don't worry Hermione, we have four fortnights." Tracey summoned a large bundle of parchments from her back shelves to the table. "I've submitted all the documentation you've provided me with and a few additional comments from me."

Hermione picked up the topmost parchment and gestured Draco to move closer. "The Wizengamot requests estimates from various departments before the hearing to understand how exactly it's going to affect the ministry." Draco nodded his head, joining her in its perusal. "I must admit, getting financial support from a pureblood family like yours gives us a lot of leverage." Hermione continued.

"Unfortunately, the Malfoy finances alone aren't going to be enough." Draco added, "And that's going to be one of the main reasons for them to try to shelve it."

"Not to mention most families with house elves have a rather rigid view on the matters we'll be addressing," Tracey said with a pensive look.

"Now that we have cleared our initial hurdle, I'm worried if our efforts will be enough to get this reform passed?" Hermione said with a dejected look, her initial anticipation quickly taking a back seat.

"It's a bit late for doubt," Draco said lazily throwing the parchment back onto the bundle. "Aren't you a Gryffindor? Where's your courage? You helped defeat the Dark Lord and somehow convinced my father this project was worthy of investment. You're heralded as the brightest witch of our age, you've got the support of the Malfoys, and Davis' handling the accounts. You've no reason to be worried about convincing a bunch of fools in plum-colored robes."

"Draco's right, Hermione." Tracey clasped Hermione's hand. "There's no need to worry. We've gotten past the hard part. Present your facts and let the work you've done speak for itself. They won't be able to find a single fault in them."

Hermione nodded her head and shot an appreciative glance at the girl in front of her. She then turned to the smirking snake, who recently seemed to have developed a knack for calming her nerves. Nibbling on her lower lip, she said, "Well, I have already formulated an idea to overcome the problem regarding the finances. If everything goes according to the plan it can turn into a self-funding operation, negating any use for outside funding."

"Brilliant, let's hear it. Hopefully, it can satisfy the heads of the Department of Treasury, and then that's a massive step forward."

Draco leaned back letting Hermione explain the particulars of her proposal with an appreciative smile. The thorough approach hadn't really surprised him, but the way she'd understood the history of House-elves within such a short span of time, and the manner in which she imbued the concepts to her original idea that could be appealed to the Wizengamot, was rather impressive.

Casting a sideward look at Draco, she continued. "Basically, the office of E.L.F…"

"Sorry elf?" Tracey interrupted.

"No. It's E.L.F. The office of Elf Licensing and Freedom, the person who suggested this name was rather persuasive and I've grown to like it." Hermione chuckled as Draco gave a smirk gesturing her to continue. "It would be the end goal of house elf legislation efforts, a semi-autonomous and self-funding department within the Beings Divison of the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. The groundwork already exists with the Office for House-Elf Relocation, it just means we need to reform and restructure it. I'm still working out the details, but this is the outline of my program."

"Impressive," Tracey's said in an appreciative tone. "You're adapting preexisting infrastructure, and minimizing the cost to the ministry by making the office self-funding. This could be a huge success, Hermione."

"Well, I'm hoping it would be," Hermione bit her lip. "Although, I'm still missing some important points. A different perspective maybe." She looked Draco and scrunched her brow. "Dealing with Kreacher is exhausting and Hogwarts elves are a different story altogether."

"Granger, need I remind you of your recent friendship with the future Lord and Lady Nott?" Draco smiled turning to look pointedly at Tracey reminding the half-blood witch of her future title."Also, should the Nott elves be insufficient to meet your needs, the Malfoy elves can be made available to you."

Hermione smiled openly. If anyone would have ever told her that Theo Nott, Tracey Davis, and Draco Malfoy would become instrumental in her fight for House-elf rights she would have had them admitted to the Janus Thickey Ward with Gilderoy Lockhart. It was amazing that in a few short years people who had ranged from dismissive to antagonistic of her could become her allies. It felt like this project was a microcosm of the world the members of Order of The Phoenix had hoped to create, one where wizards could cooperate regardless of blood purity.

"Malfoy's right, Hermione. I'll help however I can, and I'll persuade Theo if need be." Tracey added.

"Thanks. Um, I have some free time tomorrow with Harry and Ginny still away on their honeymoon. Do you think you could accommodate me on such short notice?" Hermione asked with a troubled smile. "I don't want to be a bother."

"It shouldn't be a problem." Tracey beamed. "Are you going to come along as well Draco?"

"I can't be certain, managing Malfoy affairs on my father's behalf takes up most of my time. However, at the very least I'll escort Granger to the Nott residence."

Hermione chimed in. "You don't need to do that. Tracey can just owl me directions, and I'll apparate over."

"I'll take you," Draco replied in a firm voice. If news somehow traveled to his mother, that he hadn't offered to escort her, he'd never hear the end of it. Truthfully, it was more than likely that he could make time to spend a boring afternoon with Granger and the Nott elves, but Draco didn't think it safe to spend that much time around the muggle-born witch especially if Theo was around. Hermione Granger had an odd knack for bypassing Draco's defenses, and the temptation of her natural allure was too great.

After spending another hour discussing all of Hermione's revisions, Draco and Hermione were ready to return to her office and have the rather important discussion of what exactly was going on between them. Just as Draco reached the threshold of Davis' office she called out to him.

"Malfoy, I'd like a word in private, before you leave. It's about Theodore."

Draco heaved a heavy sigh, knowing that it was unlikely Davis actually wanted to discuss anything related to Theo Nott. "You go on ahead, Granger. I'll drop by your office before I leave."

Hermione nodded and left wondering why Tracey needed to talk about Theo. Surely, there wasn't something wrong.

Tracey closed the door to her office and waved her wand casting all manner of privacy charms.

"Speak," she commanded.

"So, I take it this conversation isn't about Nott's unwillingness to officially propose to you." Draco joked attempting to diffuse the tense atmosphere that had descended on the room. He didn't expect it to work, but Tracey seemed uncharacteristically overprotective of Granger. Probably because she knew more about the depths of Granger's interest in him than he did for the moment.

"No, I know Theo's reasons, and I aim to wear him down eventually. I'm talking about Granger and magical matching. Explain yourself."

Draco sighed again, "I'm sure you've deduced that Granger has no idea we're matched and that I'd like to keep it that way."

"Yes Draco, I managed to figure that out from your reaction to my saying you two are well matched for each other. The question is, why? If you have any hope of keeping her affections you need to tell her. She'll never forgive you if she finds out on her own."

"I'm aware. and I needn't be reminded" Draco groused.

"Are you?!" Tracey challenged, "Hermione's my friend, and what you're doing to her isn't fair. In fact, I've half a mind to tell her myself."

"You'll do no such thing!" Draco suddenly raged, "Listen well, Davis. Granger and I have a complicated history, one that cannot be overcome without some deception. She is a Gryffindor, not a Hufflepuff, do you think she'd give me time to explain? Do you think she'd trust a single word from my lips after I told her that the only reason I've pretended to care about the plight of sodding house elves was to curry her favor?"

Tracey looked uncomfortable. She knew it was unlikely that Draco had been given a choice in his approach. He was likely forced into this situation by his parents and was simply trying to make the best of it. Granger didn't seem like a fan of magical matching and likely wouldn't appreciate Draco's less than pure motives for approaching her. To Tracey, it looked like Draco was doomed to fail, and yet he seemed intent on succeeding.

"I will tell her, once I'm certain she cares enough about me to actually listen. Until then, it's best she doesn't know my motives."

Tracey sighed. Draco was right, her own misunderstanding with Hermione was proof of that. If anything, Draco's motives weren't much worse than those of anyone else who might vie for Hermione's affections. Hermione Granger was a beautiful, intelligent, War Hero. At least the Malfoy heir seemed genuine in his pursuit. He was taking his time despite the fact that his parents were likely pushing him to progress faster. Theodore trusted Draco, so she supposed she should at least try to do the same. Besides, according to Theo; Malfoy Marriage bonds included an unbreakable vow if Draco managed to get that far with Hermione he'd need to be willing to submit to an unbreakable vow of her choosing.

"Fine, I won't tell her, for now." She started, as Draco sighed in relief, "But I should remind you Draco, I'm not Theodore. Not only do I think you're making a mistake, but if you step out of line or do something I disagree with, I'll tell her and bring your whole world crashing down around you."

"Seems fair," the blond replied, "Although, I should remind you of the concept of mutually assured destruction. Choosing to destroy my world just might cost you your own."

"Then it's best we both behave," Tracey added.

"Agreed."

As he left Tracey's office, Draco felt oddly at peace. It had been a long time since he'd had a truly Slytherin conversation. It was unlikely that Tracey would take direct action against his aims, but their conversation held more than just empty threats. The half-blood witch was prepared to defend her muggle-born friend's heart. Truthfully, the blond-haired wizard didn't hate his muggle-born match mate. In fact, Draco found it comforting to know that should his attempt a courtship fail, Granger would likely still have Tracey Davis on her side. As much as he wished otherwise, his choice was made for him, Granger was his destiny, she was the only hope for a better future for the Malfoys, simply letting her go wasn't an option.

Stepping into the lift, and pressing the button for Granger's floor. Draco's face broke into a half smile, as he sighed, "Once more unto the breach... once more."

Chapter Text

"I've heard enough, you've given me the information I need to make my next move." Lucius Malfoy silenced Theo with a wave, making small notes on the parchment in front of him.

These monthly meetings with the elder Malfoy were never easy. After his release from Azkaban, the Malfoy Patriarch had made it clear that despite his confinement to the Manor and the sealing of his magic, he had every intention of restoring his family to their rightful place in society. This meant that Theo's unique position at the Daily Prophet and ability to acquire information easily was valuable to Lucius' aims. Unfortunately, the elder man's meticulous nature and attention to detail made it so that the simple act of sharing information felt more like an interrogation. It was almost frightening how quickly Lucius seized at the reins of power; using Theo and Draco as tools for acquiring information and executing his vision.

Theo remembered the days when the name Lucius Malfoy exuded power and command. He had seen that power and influence fall under the Dark Lord's reign and disappear in the aftermath of the war. For the past few years, the Malfoy name held only a negative stigma, and yet this inalienable truth did nothing to restrain the ambition of the once regal man seated in front of him. The Ministry's imposed isolation did nothing to curb Lucius' exploits. If anything, it made him more devious and powerful. The world itself was a chess game, and Lucius Malfoy played to win. The most important question was who or what was to be sacrificed to obtain that victory.

"I heard from a source in the Ministry's finance department that the Malfoy contribution to Ms. Granger's project has been increased rather substantially. Am I to presume that was an attempt to curry favor for the sake of your son."

"No, I chose to increase our funding because I was presented with a project worthy of investment. Were it not for her detestable heritage, I suspect I might have offered half of the Malfoy vault to secure a witch of her caliber as an addition to the Malfoy family." The head of the Malfoys spoke without lifting his eyes from the parchment.

Theo was shocked, "High praise, Lord Malfoy. I admit, Hermione Granger is exceptional, but her knowledge of Pureblood traditions beyond that of our natural magical superiority is rather limited, and her ties to the muggle world may prove more problematic than you expect." Theo supplied as he further pushed into Lucius' defenses trying to understand how far the older wizard would go in his quest.

"Her ties to the muggle world are of little concern to me, young Nott. Ms. Granger chose the life of a witch, she suffered a war yet chose to remain amongst us. Once she's been inculcated with our traditions, I have little doubt that she will become a worthy bride for my son and a suitable Lady Malfoy."

Theo couldn't believe it. The old Lucius would have killed Hermione before he ever considered allowing her to become a Malfoy, and now it seemed as though he was looking forward to it. It had been obvious that the elder Malfoy's time in Azkaban had changed him, but Granger's performance during that meeting must have been something else. The only question that remained was what the current Lady Malfoy thought of her intended successor.

As Theo prepared to leave Lucius' study, his exit was halted by the baritone voice of the Lord of the Manor. "Theodore, do remember your position at the Daily Prophet is not simply to supply me with information but to affect the necessary social change for the betterment of our kind."

Theo sighed turning back. "Proper social change requires time, Lord Malfoy. There are certain individuals within our community that have been resistant to adapting to this new world. As a result, Pureblood families that were associated with the Dark Lord are still being seen in an unflattering light."

Lucius pinched the bridge of his nose. "See to it that those fools are reminded that the world has changed, that we must all make sacrifices and adapt."

Theo suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at the older man. Unfortunately, many of those people who proudly shared the house of Salazar failed to see the benefit of such an outlook. "I see, and if they should ignore that advice?"

"Discard them, if our traditions are to survive we cannot allow fools to sully what it means to be a true wizard," Lucius replied in a clipped tone, dismissing the entire argument.

"Understood." He exited the elder Malfoy's study taking his leave wondering how much longer he could survive these meetings with the cunning Slytherin without being driven to the brink of insanity.

Theo wasn't surprised to see an elf waiting for him in Draco's study with a steaming cup of coffee. "Just the thing I need." Theo sighed, taking the cup into his hands.

"Master Draco had ordered Tinky to serve his friend this hot beverage after every meeting with Master Lucius." Tinky brought forward the bowl of sugar, his eyes wide in anticipation.

Theo shook his head. "No thanks, I don't have the same fondness for sweets as Draco."

"Master Draco enjoys sweets as much as is proper." The small elf huffed, "Master would be here soon. If you be needing anything else, please call Tinky. " The elf added before he vanished with a pop from Draco's study leaving Theo alone with this cup of coffee.

Theo relaxed into the chair chuckling at the elf's defense of Draco's sweet tooth while trying not to focus on the details of his meeting with the elder Malfoy. Interrupting his musings, a high pitched laughter reached his ears. He groaned, sinking into the chair as he recognized its owner. He didn't have the will or energy to deal with her right now. His quick mind began to contemplate if he could rush to the fireplace in time to avoid meeting her. Unfortunately, he didn't get the chance to try. As the door creaked open, Theo offered a greeting in a dejected voice. "Hello, Pansy."

"You've either gone blind, or meeting with my father must have taken a toll on you." His best friend's unmistaken drawl made Theo's eyes snap towards the open doorway.

"Draco." Theo resumed his relaxed stance. "Thank Merlin, for a minute I thought you were Pansy."

"No. I'm not our favorite screeching harpy." Draco joined him near the small table. " Although, the Parkinsons are indeed here. They're having morning tea with my mother." Draco raised an eyebrow at Theo's discomfort. "I seriously doubt it's Pansy's presence that's bothering you." At Theo's glare, Draco chuckled. "It was my understanding you planned to give my father mostly good news today."

"Have I told you how much I hate meetings with your father?"

"Yes, you make it a point to tell me after every single meeting, Nott"

"Of course I do! It's your sodding fault I'm in this damn position. You manipulated me into taking that job at the Prophet by telling me I'd be able to help our friends after the war."

Theo sighed.

"Well, do you deny any of those claims? If not for your efforts, half of the people we know would have lost a family member to the Dementors Kiss."

"We got lucky, thankfully Minister Shacklebolt wasn't fond of the idea of giving so many people, 'The Kiss'. I doubt my petition had much to do with it." Theo cut in.

"Say what you will Nott, but you're doing good work."

"Hardly, do you know how many times I've needed to cover up unflattering information? Between Pansy and your mother's snobbish attitude, I'm having to cut sweetheart advertising deals for every shop on Diagon Alley, just to make sure they keep their mouths shut. Greg keeps getting into fights, and Zabini's libido is a menace." Theo huffed gulping down the entire cup of coffee.

"We'll need to do something about Goyle. He's only gotten worse since Crabbe died." Draco said as he looked at Theo, but his friend seemed to have missed the comment as he ranted about how hard it was to cover for his fellow Slytherins.

"Honestly, the only Purebloods setting a good example are the Greengrass Girls, Gemma Farley, and Graham Montague! It's pathetic, Daphne and Astoria only behave because their father would literally kill them if they didn't. Gemma's so damaged after losing her family, she's content to work herself into an early grave to help people, and Montague's never been the same since the vanishing cabinet incident. Everyone else seems to delight in pushing social boundaries past a respectable limit."

"If you're done ranting," Draco threw a glance at the door. "Get ready for another volley. I hear Pansy." Draco got up from his chair and trudged towards the hall. "As for me, I'm off to Granger's. I'm already late and I don't want to be on the receiving end of her canaries." When Theo scrunched his brow, Draco continued. "She's meeting Nott elves today and I offered to escort her since she'd never been there. I presumed Davis mentioned."

"I guess she did at some point," Theo said with a nostalgic smile, his mood transitioning into a merry one. "I might have been distracting myself with her at the time."

"Disgusting Nott. The last thing we want to hear are sordid details of your love life." Pansy said in a horrified tone dragging the attention of the two friends as she entered the room. "That Halfblood has got you in the palm of her hand."

Draco smirked looking at the sinister gleam in Theodore Nott's eyes. His mind obviously replaying the scene from the Leaky Cauldron where Tracey Davis made Pansy eat her own words.

"I can't even begin to talk about you." She said leaning on Draco's shoulder. "I pity you, Drakey-poo," Pansy said adding a wink, earning a glare from the blond Slytherin.

"I don't mind being in the palm of Tracey's hand, Pansy. She's quite dexterous." Theo added with a smirk causing Pansy recoil. "But if you'd like, I'm sure I could persuade her to best you intellectually while she's at it." Theo narrowed his eyes.

Pansy looked utterly repulsed. "Sometimes, I can't stand to be around you, Theodore." Turning her back to the Nott Heir; She gave Draco a once-over and smirked. "I've heard a rumor that you've finally charmed yourself onto Granger's lips. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!"

"What the hell are you barking, Parkinson?" Draco snapped.

"Oh? I thought it was just me hallucinating when I heard the news." Pansy leaned into the armchair. "Seems like this calls for a celebration."

"What are you talking about?" Theo said meeting Draco's tense glance.

Pansy's eyes roved between her housemates. "It seems he and Granger have gotten rather 'affectionate' with each other as of late." She raised an eyebrow at Draco. "You didn't tell Nott?"

"Keep your rumors to yourself." Draco glared. "My personal affairs are my own and I'd advise you to stay out of them."

"As you wish." Pansy winked with a knowing smile. "Nevertheless, I still need a drink. Listening to our mothers, prattle on about how important Magical Matching is to our families and how I managed to let Neville Bigbottom slip through my fingers, has been very taxing."

Noticing Draco's tense jaw, Theo chimed in trying to guide the topic into different waters. "So it's true then? I should've guessed when I saw Longbottom happily waltzing away with the landlady of Leaky Cauldron at Potter's wedding. Does that mean…"

Pansy ignored Theo's question and addressed Draco. "Where are you on that drink, Malfoy?"

Draco rolled his eyes and summoned Tinky to fetch a glass of wine for Pansy.

"Despite what you might think about me, I'm not a home wrecker." The elf reappeared with a sparkling wine glass in his bony hand and transferred it to Pansy's waiting hand and disappeared. "Abbott snagged him before I could, and fair play to the girl. I know when to back off." Pansy sipped the drink with a wistful look on her face.

"That's surprisingly mature of you, Pansy." Draco quipped looking at the thoughtful expression on Pansy's face.

"Well that, and Augusta told me she'd hex her own grandson's bits off before she let me have a go at them." Pansy gulped down the rest of the wine.

"That's too much information." Draco scrunched his face.

"Besides, I'm not the one to dwell on the past. I've already got my next mission." Pansy said with a shrug of her shoulders. "True, he's not as good a prospect as Longbottom, but at least my mother should be happy that he's a pureblood."

"Merlin bless the poor sod who manages to fall into your trap, but I wish you luck in your quest." Draco nodded. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I have an appointment."

"I'll join you, mate. Tracey wouldn't be too happy if I wasn't there when Granger comes to visit and I don't want to spend the night on the sofa."

"Shame on you," Pansy glared at them. "Both of you. What would your mother say Draco, if she came to know that you left a guest unattended?"

"Pansy, with that attitude you're going to make some unlucky wizard utterly miserable." Theo smiled at her as he patted Draco and trudged towards the fireplace. Meanwhile, Draco stood in his spot as he caught Pansy looking at him with an unreadable expression.

"I remember the days when the thought of just seeing her would've driven you barmy." She walked towards him. "I don't think she's worth it, but I know you don't have much choice. Honestly, I thought you'd find a clever way out of this mess. I can't help but pity you for having to put up with her. At least, Longbottom was a pureblood." She pecked him on his cheek affectionately as she used to do when they went to school together.

Draco squirmed at Pansy's proximity. "If you need anything, just call for Tinky." Without giving her a second glance he swiftly left towards the main hall, dismissing Pansy's words. He couldn't afford to pretend to live in the delusions they held during their school days. Things weren't the same and adaptation was the only way any of them were going to survive this new reality.

As he approached the fireplace he spotted Theo with Floo powder in his hand and a cheeky smile on his face. "What're you waiting for Nott? I was under the assumption you were trying to escape Pansy."

"She didn't follow you, so it's fine," Theo said, ignoring Draco's glare. "I take it Potter's wedding help things progress? I wonder if Tracey knows about this new development."

"She does, and your girlfriend is not overly pleased that I'm keeping being magically matched a secret from Granger." Draco's eyes were fixed on the dancing flames, recalling Tracy's words. "She threatened that if I didn't behave she wouldn't hesitate in making Granger aware of it."

Theo bit the inside of his cheek. "Since the time they've started working on this project together, Tracey's grown quite fond of Granger."

"I understood she's looking out for Granger as a friend, but for a minute there I thought the hat wrongly sorted her into Slytherin."

"Tracey is not Granger, mate. She understands how Pureblood families work and how important it is for us to get a powerful magical heir. Regardless, I'd be careful. She might love me, but she'd pick Granger over you every time." Theo offered with a half smile. "It's up to you to show Granger and Tracey how serious and sincere you can be."

"You say it as if it was a simple task." Draco huffed pulling his wand out.

"I know it's not, but I also know if anyone could accomplish this, it would be you. Shall we expect you immediately or I will I have some time to be alone with my witch?" Theo winked suggestively.

"This is Granger we're talking about. She would already be spitting mad for this delay. I don't want to do anything that would prompt her to hex my bits off." Draco said readying his wand, with her home as his destination. "However, I'll try my best to give you some time alone with Davis." The last thing he heard was Theo's laughter before the squeezing sensation took over his body.

He tapped on the brass knocker, standing in front of Granger's home only to be startled by the sheer force with which she pulled the door open.

"You're late, and before you say you're fashionably late, that was ten minutes ago, even by your standard." Hermione huffed standing at the door. "Do you know how much precious time I've lost?"

"I was busy with other things, don't get your knickers in a twist." Draco glared pulling himself together after her admittedly unorthodox greeting.

"Didn't we agree to meet early and discuss our situation, before heading over to Theo's?" Hermione wrung her palms,4 pacing frantically as Draco stepped in. "Now we may have to postpone it or risk insulting Tracey and Theodore by arriving late."

Draco looked at her with an amused expression. Yesterday, when he went back to Hermione's office for their much-awaited discussion, she'd been called in by the Minister and apologized to him saying she'd make it up to him. His eyes darted to some document perched precariously on her coffee table. Mostly ignoring her rant, he stepped deeper into her home to examine the oddity.

"By all means, come in," She muttered sarcastically, as she closed the door.

For whatever reason, Draco wanted to know what was written on that parchment. In all likelihood, it was just questions for the Nott elves, but something about the anxiety radiating off Granger told him things might not be as he expected. Wasting no time, trudged towards it and took it into his hands.

"Theo and Tracey have been so accommodating to me, I can't believe we're arriving late." Hermione continued until she was rudely interrupted by a fit of laughter.

"What kind of absurd thing is this?" Draco asked incredulously. "Are you evaluating me, Granger?"

Before he finished the parchment, Hermione snatched it from his hands. "That's personal. Don't your gentlemanly manners demand you respect a lady's privacy?"

"If it was private, you wouldn't have left it in plain sight, especially when you're expecting guests. Besides, I hardly got to read anything except for my name on the top and the words 'handsome' and 'infuriating git'." Draco offered. "Also, I've already told Theo we wouldn't be joining them until quite a bit later than expected. So we've plenty of time do discuss whatever you'd like for as long as you'd like." He smirked at her shocked expression. Apparently, she'd thought he was completely ignoring her ranting. "Shall we begin? I presume given the amount of writing on that piece of parchment your swotty nature has produced an exhausting amount of questions for me." He added as made himself comfortable on the sofa and gestured her join him.

"This is an important meeting, Draco," Hermione slumped into the sofa. "I don't want to compromise my time with the project with extracurricular activities."

"Extracurricular? I'd presumed this was all just an elaborate way for you to mix business with pleasure. I don't know if I should be offended or feel proud." Draco said with a wistful sigh.

"Grow up Draco, how long do we have before they're expecting us?" She settled on the other side of her sofa tucking her legs underneath her.

"However long it takes Nott to have lunch and shag Davis." Draco chuckled at the scandalized look on Hermione's face. "Speaking of lunch, your skills as a hostess seem to be deteriorating drastically."

"What?!" She scrunched her eyebrow together. "Oh, would you like some tea?" she asked sheepishly asked realization dawning on her face.

Draco smirked thinking about Theo's words. "I suppose I wouldn't mind a sampling of what you have to offer."

She rolled her eyes quickly catching his innuendo. "I don't think so. It's plain boring tea for you for the foreseeable future." With a flick of her wand the sounds of tea being made began to echo from her kitchen "If we are done with pleasantries and innuendo, I'd like to begin."

"And here I thought I would get to finally ask Hermione Granger what made her snog me senseless," Draco chuckled raising his eyebrow.

"As I recall, you weren't exactly a passive participant," Hermione countered. "My reasons as already stated are pretty simple. I find you intriguing, your company enjoyable and just want to explore how far we can go down this path before we hex each other into oblivion. Trust me, there is every chance of that happening. Still, I'm rather curious about you and I'm not about to back down." The fire in her eyes turned into a contemplative expression. "The 'old' you would've run away screaming. Instead of doing that, you reciprocated quite passionately before you ran away. There's something about you that's bothering me and I won't be satisfied until I've figured it out."

"I'm sure there's a great deal about me that bothers you, Granger. In fact, I expect that list to grow ever longer."

"Don't be a prat, I'm curious as to why you're even considering this. Why in Merlin's name would 'You' ever consider it?" Her eyes flared and chest heaved as she spoke passionately.

"That's a fair question, but let me ask you something first. Why did you kiss me? It's fair to say we've had, for lack of a better word, a troubled history. I doubt it's because you're starved for affection since it's my understanding you've no shortage of prospective suitors seeking your attention." Draco looked everywhere but her.

"We are not our history Draco. Over the past few months, working with you, you've proven that you're not the boy from my memories. Well, at least not completely. I kissed you because there is something going on between us, some force that seems to draw me to you, and I'm not about to resist it. I'm a Gryffindor, so I'm going to explore that feeling and see where it leads me. What surprises me was your reaction."

Draco sighed, this was the moment of truth. All he needed to do was tell her about their magical matching and she'd toss him aside. However, is that what he wanted? Hermione Granger was beautiful, intelligent, and cunning. If not for their history and her heritage he'd have few objections to romancing the spirited Gryffindor. The truth would set him free, but that freedom came at the cost of his family.

Resolving himself to his choice Draco finally answered. "First of all, no man with an ounce of sense would spurn your advances, Granger. Second, as much as it pains me to admit it, the boy from your memories was foolish."

"I quite agree," her eyes sparkled. "In fact, I have a few colorful words to describe him. I wouldn't mind giving you a reminder if you further delay our meeting with Nott elves."

"My memory is quite sharp, and I'm sure you'll find I'm still quite foolish. I have every confidence you'll end up using at least some of those words again, so there's no need to remind me." Draco turned towards her and perched himself on her coffee table and looked into her eyes preparing to use his most devious skill. "You need to realize, there is no 'new' me, Hermione. My heritage is as much a part of me as yours is a part of you. I may have changed, but don't be foolish. I may recognize our compatibility, as well as, your beauty and brilliance in a way I refused to as a younger man, but I am and will always be a Malfoy." Draco had spoken the truth, he revealed everything to her in a devious way so she would be none the wiser. He'd used her given name to distract her, he hadn't lied, simply obscured his motives by exalting her other virtues. For now, that would be enough, his conscience was clear. If she didn't see the truth, it was hardly his fault.

"I'm not foolish, Malfoy." She slowly leaned towards him with an unladylike snort. "I know this is weird." She put forward the parchment in front of him. "I debated with myself, looking for any or all of the reasons why I should ignore whatever is going on between us."

"Really, one hundred and fourteen reasons? You wound me, Granger." Draco said placing a hand on his heart.

Hermione chuckled shaking her head. "Then I realized they were all just reasons." She pointed to the space that was separating them. "I like this and I'm not afraid to take that chance with you." She reached for his fingers and took them into hers. Looking at the conflict in his eyes, she continued. "If I hadn't taken my chance when Professor McGonagall came to my home when I was an eleven-year-old girl, I wouldn't even have known about magic."

"And, you're sure this is all worth the effort? I don't come alone. You might like Theo and Davis, but I bring our history and the name Malfoy with me. Are you sure your friends are going to be okay with this?" Draco tried to remind her.

"If they see you as I see you, they shouldn't have any problem with it. If they do, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve."

"That loving heart of yours is going to get you into trouble one day, Granger," Draco whispered in a dejected voice. She made it sound easy as if the future was full of hope. Unfortunately, he knew better than to hope. Hope alone rarely achieved anything. With a deep breath, he asked. "Shall we seal it with a kiss then?"

"I would like that," she said with a shy smile.

This time, when their lips met, Draco didn't feel the same spark as last time. Instead, he was consumed by the feeling of her soft lips pressed against his, the sweet assault of her unique scent, and the caress of her nimble fingers on his arm. It wasn't like the hurried declaration Hermione Granger gave him at the end of Potter's wedding nor was it passionate. It was simple, sweet, and held a strong promise of greater things for him in the future, and dare he think it, hope.

Chapter Text

Hermione let out a breath of relief, as soon as the squeezing sensation left her. Her eyes darted to their clasped hands and with a smile, she extracted her hand. "Thanks." Her gaze moved to the small but cheerful looking manor house in front of her. "Is it wrong that I half expected another dreary manor guarded by white peacocks?"

Draco snorted, "As I remember, you were quite enamored with our recent renovations." he said offering his elbow.

"Odd, that doesn't sound like me. I would think I'd know better than to feed your ego. " Hermione smiled, taking his hand and donning a not-so-convincing ignorant expression.

"It's a bit late to try and play the fool with me. I imagine there's very little information that manages to escape from this nest of hair." He said tugging on a stray curl that came loose from her elegant twist and earning him a fierce glare. "In fact, It wouldn't surprise me if you remembered even the most boring details from Binns' class." He added, unbothered by her obvious irritation.

Hermione then turned to him with a hand on her hip. "I'd argue History of Magic is one of the most informative subjects we ever had. Regardless of Professor Binns' monotonous tone, the information he shared with us is important. I'd pick History of Magic over Divination anytime. To quote the muggle philosopher George Santayana, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Although, I suppose you'd be more familiar with; My subject is History of Magic. I deal with facts..."

"Not myths and legends," Draco smirked, completing the sentence for her. "Yes, Miss Grant, I did pay some attention to that old ghost; and thank you for proving my point. Not only did you remember something insignificant from our time at Hogwarts, but you chose to quote some muggle just to defend your position. Which Illustrates beyond doubt that you've got an excellent memory. The only thing that seems to be missing from that exquisite memory is your recent visit to my home. Perhaps we should try visiting my bedroom next time to see if that helps you remember stroking my ego. What do you think, Granger?"

Hermione looked at him with reddened cheeks. She didn't want to wager if the blush that crept up her cheeks was because of his bold declaration or because of her ire at his audacity. "You keep dreaming, Malfoy," she said suddenly realizing she was standing in front of an ornate door. "I've got work to do." She reached up to rap her knuckles on the wooden door.

"What do you think you're doing?" He asked trying not to look irritated.

"Knocking, I thought that much would be obvious."

Draco let out a pained sigh, "Given the recent developments in our relationship; I dread to inform you that I should be the one to knock and that you should also be standing behind me."

"Excuse me?!" She raged, turning to face her blond-haired companion. "Draco Malfoy, don't you dare think for one second that I'm going to let..."

"Hermione, shut up a moment would you?" he said placing his finger over her lips, only for it to be slapped away. Noticing she'd gone silent, but continued to glare fiercely, he continued, "Pureblood customs demand that I stand in front of you. You're my girlfriend, which suggests that you are precious to me, so it's expected that I stand in front of you to face any danger first," he tried, knowing it was pointless.

"That's absurd, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself! It's insulting! I don't need protection Draco! I'm not a delicate flower!" She shouted.

"No, you're a bloody Lioness who causes me unending grief." He muttered barely audibly. "Just let me have this."

Hermione ignored his request and reached to knock on the ornate wooden door only for it to suddenly open. As the door creaked open a small elf head peeked out. Averting his big bulgy eyes from Hermione, the elf looked at Draco and mumbled. "Master Malfoy and a guest, please come in."

Chuckling at the frustration evident on Hermione's face, Draco led Hermione down the long corridor that led deeper into the Nott home. "Come on, Granger."

Walking side by side, Hermione unconsciously moved closer to Draco, as they followed the little elf. The dimly lit hallway housed several portraits, vaguely reminding the former Gryffindor of her infamous trip to the department of mysteries. Clutching her trusted beaded bag tightly, she hastened her pace ever so slightly.

"Master Nott will be joining his guests, shortly." The elf guided them to the sofa and disapparated with a loud pop.

The elf's words flew over Hermione's head as she remained rooted to her spot, her eyes remained affixed to one portrait, that seemed to stand out amongst the others. The regal man in the portrait almost seemed immobile, making her wonder if it was a muggle portrait, but the slight flutter on his robes told her otherwise.

"Cantankerous Nott," Draco's voice brought her attention back to the home they were currently in.

"The person who penned that awful Pure-blood directory." Hermione's voice was barely above a whisper. "If not for his dark hair, I would've pegged him for a Malfoy looking at his impeccable appearance and obvious arrogance."

"Make no mistake, little bookworm." Hermione frowned at his unflattering term of endearment. "Although the House of Nott was never quite as affluent as the House of Malfoy. Theo's status as Lord Nott reflects a genuine noble rank. Honestly, I'm amazed Theo keeps this place looking so pristine." He said looking around the tidy sitting room "The burden of witnessing his mother's death, then living with his father's disgraceful descent into fanaticism would have broken lesser wizards."

Hermione nodded her head taking in Draco's unusually reverent tone and the weight of this revelation. She knew Theo lost his mother at a young age since the first time they encountered Thestrals. "Theo was one of the few who was able to see Thestrals, along with Harry and Luna."

"Yes, and I would have rather gone my entire life without seeing those hideous creatures. Unfortunately, I doubt there are many people our age who don't know what a Thestral looks like."

Hermione bit her lip and looked at the blond haired man, who seemed to be lost in thought. "Theo isn't marked, right?" Hermione knew she was wandering to dangerous uncharted waters, but the question always danced on her tongue and made her wonder if the two Slytherins shared more than just a friendship, a Hogwarts house and being a part of the so-called 'Sacred Twenty-Eight'.

"No." Draco tucked his hands into his pockets and avoided her gaze. "His father told the Dark Lord that Theo was insignificant and unworthy to bear the responsibility of a Death Eater." This wasn't the answer she was expecting. Why would any father declare his heir incapable of carrying a mark he considered to be the ultimate honor? Draco turned around to look at her shocked expression. "Theo is all that was left of his late wife, and being a Death Eater was a dangerous and bloody business." Draco sighed, offering an explanation. "Theo was fortunate his father kept him at a distance, not all of us were so lucky."

Hermione furrowed her eyebrows and looked at the Malfoy heir as he thoughtlessly gripped his branded arm. "I'm ashamed to admit, but I used to think they were all monsters," she muttered, as she took a quiet breath, trying to steady her thoughts. She came to this house to learn about house elves, but as she stood there with her enigmatic snake, things far beyond her imagination were coming to light.

"And you were right, Granger. Everyone who carries 'his' mark is a monster. Some of us were just less evil than others."

Hermione reached for his hand, only to find him moving towards the portrait of Cantankerous Nott again. The immobile man now looked at Draco and gave him a nod. "He seems to acknowledge your presence," Hermione said with a contemplative look.

"I'm a Malfoy, Granger. Our presence demands to be acknowledged," Draco smirked and Hermione immediately felt lighter at the return of his trademark arrogance. "Why even the great Hermione Granger has fallen victim to my natural charisma."

Hermione rolled her eyes and walked towards the sofa. "I'll admit, after spending time with you and Theodore, I've become a bit curious about the Pure-blood directory." Draco strolled to her taking a seat beside her. "I don't care about the families listed in it, but I do wonder what criteria were considered by the author when he made it. From what I've understood, Weasleys were included, despite their love of Muggles. While the Potters, even being one of the strong families, weren't given that privilege."

"While every family listed in that book is without a doubt pure. Pureblood society values influence, pedigree, and power. The Weasleys, despite their views, have a very strong magical pedigree, whereas the Potters were in a state of decline at the time. Nothing is more important to a Pureblood than a strong magical bloodline. There is no wizard alive who wishes for their child to be born without the gift of magic." At that statement, Hermione felt a twinge of pain in her heart. "In fact, Magical Matching was originally outlawed due to abuse by purebloods. Amortentia, kidnapping, and far more despicable things have been done by fools in pursuit of creating a superior magical bloodline."

"I think I'd rather not discuss Magical Matching at the moment." Hermione blurted out, "However, I would be curious to know a bit more about old pureblood customs. Ever since your mother explained the concept of a Gift of Devotion, I've been wanting to learn more about the less bigoted part of pureblood traditions." She said folding her hands, trying to distract herself from her own history with Magical Matching.

"Whatever you say, Granger. Nott's seldom late, so I'd wager Davis has him otherwise occupied." Draco smirked, noticing Hermione flush at his insinuation about what had been keeping Theo and Tracey. "I suspect we've quite a bit of time before Theo or Davis arrive so let's start your first lesson on Pureblood society."

Hermione leaned forward, with a hand to her cheek.

"As you know, we value influence, magical pedigree, and power. We have our own rules of decorum and behavior not only as a sign of mutual respect for one another, but to show ourselves to be civilized beings." Hermione rolled her eyes at her Slytherin boyfriends' words "These values create certain expectations, and it becomes the duty of every generation to preserve their family's status." Draco paused for a moment considering his next words.

"Since we're here, let's begin with the Notts." He started, "The previous Lord Nott, Theo's father, married a witch supposedly a descendant of Morgana's bloodline. Marrying a witch of such a storied bloodline encouraged others to overlook his association with the Dark Lord prior to the First War. Unfortunately, his later imprisonment in Azkaban and revelation of his status as a Death Eater severely damaged the family's status. As the only heir to the House of Nott, Theo carries his father's disgrace and the duty to restore his family's name."

Hermione bit her lip and looked at him with a creased brow. Her immediate thoughts were; "Why would anyone struggle to earn the respect and recognition of a few prejudiced and pompous people?" and "Wouldn't it be simpler just to try and be happy?" No sooner than she finished asking herself those questions did she realize her own hypocrisy. Ever since she set foot into the unknown and strange wizarding world at the age of eleven, she had been doing the same thing. She fought to earn respect and to be recognized, not only for herself but for muggleborns, house elves, and anyone who was viewed as lesser. She devoured each and every book she could get her hands on, just to understand the world around her and who she was dealing with. It seemed that life in pureblood circles wasn't so different, and now Hermione couldn't help but feel a certain degree of kinship with Theo and the blond-haired wizard sitting next to her.

"So Theo wants to make up for his father's mistakes." She looked at the contemplative look on Draco's face and prodded.

"In a manner of speaking, yes. Theo is the current head of the House of Nott; so it's his responsibility to restore his family's status by exalting pureblood values." Draco turned his eyes away from her sharp gaze.

"So he's using his job at Daily Prophet, to show that he has power and ability to influence people."

"To some extent, yes. Words have the power to influence people and few understand that better than Theo Nott." His voice dropped to a whisper and his eyes moved towards his clasped hands. Hermione had to scoot closer to understand his next words. "If only influence alone was enough."

Hermione's gaze locked onto the pensive expression on his face, trying to understand his words. There was a subtext to his choice of words as if he was trying to explain something without saying it. It wasn't long before a realization struck and the muggle-born witch realized Draco Malfoy wasn't as clever as he thought.

"Well, that certainly explains you and your father's interest in my house elf project." She said, enjoying his sudden shocked expression. "I'm not naïve, you told me from the beginning that you had a reason for funding my project. I always doubted it was because you deeply cared about house elves, and now I know. Your father's head of the Malfoy family so he needs the prestige of funding a successful project. Let me guess, the reason he doubled the funding was that you explained, the project wouldn't harm Pureblood families without just cause." Hermione said smirking triumphantly.

Draco's blood ran cold. He should have been more careful. He should have known better than to tell Hermione anything even closely resembling the truth about how pureblood society worked. A few thoughtless words and somehow she'd figured out why his father was interested in her house elf project. How many more missteps until he accidentally revealed the whole truth of their association? Worse than that, the captivating witch had somehow loosened his tongue to the point of revealing Theo's personal circumstances. While Theo would no doubt forgive such a betrayal, it was truly terrifying to see just how much influence Hermione Granger held over his thoughts.

"Hermione Granger. It's a bit late, but welcome to my home. Apologies for interrupting what seems to be a rather intimate moment." Theo's voice chimed drawing both their attention.

Hermione pushed herself away from her boyfriend, as her cheeks turned red, while Draco was merely thankful for the distraction. "It's quite alright this was all so last minute, I could hardly hold it against you. By the way, you have a lovely home, Theo."

"Expected better from you, Nott. It's been an hour since we arrived. Granger might be a decent company, but you of all people know; I despise waiting."The Malfoy heir declared with no venom, and a telltale smirk on his lips.

"Unfortunately, I've been caught up in an unforeseen task from the Prophet. Its kept me busy since I returned from Malfoy Manor this morning." Theo sighed. "Although from what I've seen, it seems that my presence wasn't missed. You both seemed rather cozy snuggled up on my couch." The Lord of the Manor said smirking. "In fact, neither of you seemed to notice my presence until I declared it. " He winked at Hermione giving out an amusing chuckle. When Hermione's eyes went wide, he turned to his friend. "I trust you've enjoyed explaining the intricacies of Pureblood society to your lovely girlfriend."

Hermione couldn't help but marvel at the interaction between the two pureblood heirs. Theodore Nott was hardly on her radar during her time at Hogwarts, while Draco had always been surrounded by Crabbe and Goyle. The insight Draco had shared into Nott's life, had not only been enlightening but also gave her an idea of the dynamics between the proud members of the Salazar's house. Status was everything to them, which was probably why the younger Draco reveled in his own arrogance and perceived superiority.

"Actually, it's been quite informative. I feel like I understand not only part of the wizarding world a little better, but also the both of you. There is so much more depth than I would have ever thought." She gave an appreciative smile at Draco, making him fidget in the seat. "Sorry, before I say anything else I want to thank you for accommodating me on such a short notice, Theodore. I know Tracey said you wouldn't mind, but I appreciate it."

"It's nothing, Tracey has gone over your plans with me at length, and it's a noble goal. Honestly, it's a bit more realistic of a plan than I expected from you, Granger." Theo said with a cheeky but entirely genuine smile. "As for Tracey, she believes in your goal wholeheartedly. Which means she was wonderfully eager to 'persuade' me into helping. Although, she may have gotten a bit overzealous. I'm a bit worried I might need Murtlap essence for my nethers."

"Nott!" Draco interjected sternly trying to hide his smirk, while Hemione fought a fierce blush. "We're here so Granger can talk to your sodding elves, not to listen to you talk about Davis' lovemaking prowess. Stop being a git. I'd very much like if this visit could be done at a decent hour."

Being with Ginny and Luna made Hermione quite immune to abrupt declarations of debaucherous activities, but Theo's candor about his girlfriend and their intimate activities made Hermione feel out of place. "Where's Tracey?"

Theo sighed, "She was called into the ministry just before you two arrived with an urgent task. Apparently, the person replacing her today wasn't up to the task. She returned just a few minutes ago. I presume, given that she's not here, she's preparing the elves for your questions. They've grown quite fond of Tracey, and I've been a bit too busy to handle it myself."

"I thought the elves only listened to the Master of the house. Seeing that Tracy is not legally bound to you," Theo lifted a single eyebrow at her wording and Hermione immediately added, "Yet. I'm surprised, your house elves are listening to her at all."

"You're not completely wrong," Theo said leaning forward. "House elves are indeed bound to the master and mistress of the house. As both my parents passed on, technically they should only listen to me." When Hermione tried to interject, Theo chuckled, holding up a single finger to silence the inquisitive muggle-born. "I'm not finished, just thinking how to construct my next words."

"I don't like the sound of that." Hermione narrowed her eyes.

"Do bear in mind, that she has a mean right hook before you give your answer, Theo," Draco said distancing himself from her. Hermione smiled noticing a small wave of regard in his words.

"Tell me, you didn't deserve it." She raised an eyebrow challengingly.

"Third year?" Theo burst out into laughter. "Granger, you're a treasure, and I'd like to take this moment to thank you. That wasn't my best year, but watching Draco those few days are probably some of my best memories from Hogwarts."

"Choose your next words carefully, Nott," Draco groused.

"He spent time every night and morning in front of a mirror applying healing paste to his face muttering to himself. He looked barmy and nobody knew why. It wasn't until I dragged the reason out of Vincent and Greg that it all made sense. It was brilliant! Not only were you besting him in academics, but you'd beaten him physically too."

Hermione joined Theo's laughter, as Draco rose in his chair. "House-elves! She's here to talk to your bloody elves Theodore, not listen to your fond memories at Hogwarts!" He turned to Hermione and glared. "As for you Granger, I can't believe you're content to waste time on this mindless chatter."

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Draco, " I'm perfectly capable of doing my job, and holding a polite conversation with my host at the same time. Furthermore, since Theo's elves don't seem to be ready yet, I don't see any problem talking to the person who was kind enough grant me the privilege to talk with his family's house elves."

"Fine," Draco gritted his teeth, "I've better things to do than listen to Theodore Nott's greatest hits from Hogwarts."

"Sorry Malfoy, but I'm pretty sure that honor goes your girlfriend. Did she rattle your brain so much that you can't remember?" Theo replied with a devilish smirk, as Hermione burst into a fit of chuckles.

"Alright Theo, I think Draco's suffered enough. Let's move on to the next embarrassing story." Hermione said with mirth in her eyes twirling a lock of hair. "My memories of him from back then are mostly him being an awful prat and hearing him say 'My father will hear 'bout this'."

Draco dragged his glare between his newly minted girlfriend and his oldest best friend who was now laughing uncontrollably.

"I'm done," Draco huffed. "I offered to escort you here and I've done that." He turned to Hermione and spoke. "If you both are intent on humiliating me, I'll retire to my work. I haven't got a single thing done today anyway."

Hermione was sure if it had been any other person in Theo's place, Draco would've hexed them senseless without any feeling of remorse and she would the say the same for Theo. From their previous interactions with either of the Slytherins, she'd seen how protective they were of each other. Even when the joke was at his expense, Draco Malfoy seemed almost happy to see Theo Nott laughing.

Disturbing her musings, Draco bent down and pressed a kiss to Hermione's cheek. He then turned to his best friend and spoke in a stern voice. "Nott, make sure that Granger is actually supplied with useful information, rather than these pointless and idiotic stories." Theo nodded with a mischievous smile. "I'll return when it's time for me to escort you home," Draco added talking directly to Hermione.

"You don't need to do that. I can manage on my own." Hermione huffed.

"I'm well aware, and yet you're still going to let me do it." With a wink he strode towards the exit, leaving the muggle-born witch in a flustered state.

"Well, if you're done gaping at the Pale Pureblood Prince of Slytherin, shall we begin?"

She rolled her eyes stepped back into her professional self, dismissing all the thoughts, the blond had left in his wake. "You were talking about elves and their duty towards the Master and Mistress of the home before we were sidetracked."

"Oh yes, house elves are mostly bound to the duties of the home. In the olden days, these domestic duties were considered a Lady's responsibility and it was natural for the elves to develop a stronger bond with the Mistress of the house. The inherent kind and motherly nature of a woman is very conducive to the strengthening of the symbiotic bond."

Hermione snorted. "I'm well aware of how things used to work in the 'olden' days," she said with air quotes. "But my question still remains unanswered. Tracey is neither bound to you nor is she the Lady of the house."

"True, but the Nott elves just seem to like me better. It's almost like they know something I don't." Hermione swirled around to, greet Tracey with a hug. "I'm sorry, there was an urgent meeting I had to attend to at the last minute." She then moved to sit beside her boyfriend, pecking him on his cheek. "I see you're being a good host."

"Only the best. Have you warned the elves about the nature of this interrogation?"

"That's not fair. I want them to talk to me in their natural unburdened state. I want them to approach me without any kind of intimidation." Hermione's brow pinched together as the concern for the elves surfaced on her face.

"Mipsy is neither forced nor intimidated, Miss Hermione." A squeaky voice sounded nearby, making Hermione jerk in her seat. "Master worries about Mipsy too much." The elf fussed looking at her master. "Miss Tracey was just making sure that Mipsy and her family were comfortable talking to Miss Hermione."

Hermione's eyes went wide looking at the unusual elf in front of her. Unlike all the other elves she had met until then, Mipsy was clearly unique. In a tailored dress fitted to her size, she looked like a small girl getting ready for school. Her pointy ears peeking out through the holes in her hat, twitching as she spoke enthusiastically. Hermione bent down and sat down on her knees meeting the house elf eye to eye. "It's a pleasure to meet you," she extended her hand.

The elf curtsied holding the ends of her skirt. "Mipsy is delighted to meet you too." Hermione could tell from her appearance and the slight quiver in her voice that the elf was as almost as old as Kreacher, but she couldn't help but marvel at the vast difference in their demeanors.

"Would Miss Hermione like some tea and biscuits? Mipsy doesn't want to boast, but she makes the tastiest biscuits."

"Oh, no! Please don't trouble yourself," Hermione politely declined, ignoring Tracey's chuckle.

Her words went completely ignored as the elf snapped its fingers and out of thin air appeared a beautiful platter of biscuits, accompanied by various assorted teas, that hovered around them for a minute and settled on the tea table. Tracey met Hermione's confused glance and took the initiative. "They're delicious. Mipsy is definitely the best," she picked up a biscuit and transferred it to her lips to take a bite before feeding the rest to Theo.

"It's polite to offer them to the guest first, Miss Tracey," the elf admonished Tracey, then turned to Hermione. "The young miss has so much to learn," she bustled fixing the cups. "But under Mipsy's guidance, I'm sure she'll make a fine Lady Nott, one day."

Theo stifled his laughter, appearing to be hurt by Tracy's glare.

Ignoring her hosts' squabble, the muggle-born turned her attention back to the elf. It was amazing how the little creature managed multiple tasks with a degree of finesse that Hermione had never seen from the Malfoy elves, nor at Hogwarts. "These are very delicious," Hermione acknowledged as she sampled a biscuit from the offered tray. "Mipsy, do you mind if I ask you some questions?" She asked extracting a parchment and a quill from her bad.

"Not at all. Mipsy is very happy to help. She's here to talk on behalf of all the elves that take care of the Nott household." Mipsy bowed elegantly. "Mipsy belonged to the young master's mother. She came to this home with her. Mipsy served her beautiful and kind mistress until she passed on." She wiped the tears that started to fall, with a bony finger. When Hermione hurried over to help the fragile elf, Tracey stopped her shaking her head.

"I'm sorry to hear about your loss, Mipsy."

"Mipsy has heard stories about Miss Hermione." The small elf said, with a hint of suspicion in her voice.

"Ms. Granger has been working to help elves live a better life for quite a while, Mipsy. She really has the best of intentions, even if you dislike her methods." Theo supplied, pulling Tracey closer to him. "I'm sure your opinions will be respected, and no matter what you say to her, I will not break the bonds that tie you to the House of Nott. So don't acquiesce to any fear about sharing your honest views."

The small elf nodded, "Mipsy is very thankful for Master Nott." Then the elderly creature turned her scrutinizing eyes back towards Hermione. "Mipsy can tell, the fierce powerful magic lives inside Miss Hermione, Master Nott. If Miss Tracey weren't such a good match Mipsy would ask her master to check his compatibility with Miss Hermione."

Hermione missed the concerned looks traded between Theo and Tracey as she chuckled uncomfortably at the elf's words. "Oh no, I'm certain I'd be a dreadful match for your Master, Mipsy. I'm just here to talk, I want to make sure that elves understand the importance of freedom and that they are worthy of the same respect as any being, be they wizard or not."

"Mipsy and her kin know and understand that, Miss Hermione." Then the elf did the strangest thing Hermione had ever witnessed in her life. She summoned a small stool and sat on it. Hermione's heart soared in an unspoken victory. She hasn't witnessed this kind of thing even from the elves at Hogwarts. Her inquisitive mind ran freely trying to deduce what made this elf so confident. "Freedom is silly. Miss Tracey and Miss Hermione work, just like Mipsy. What makes you more free than Mipsy? Can Miss disobey the Ministry's orders without being punished? Miss works for the ministry, Mipsy works for Master Nott. Mipsy receives benefits from Master Nott, the Miss' receives them from the ministry."

Hermione was puzzled. For a moment, she believed she'd finally met that one elf, who would burst the norms of servitude with which these beings were still being enslaved. "I beg to differ. I have the freedom to choose what I want. If I want to quit, I can do that without thinking about the consequences. I can speak my mind without wanting someone's permission, I'm free to raise my voice If I'm being treated unjustly. Without freedom, we're just slaves, and no being should be enslaved to another."

She completely forgot the presence of the master of the house as she continued her discussion with the elf, who seemed to be supplying an unfamiliar perspective to Hermione's arguments and the muggle-born seemed to be having trouble refuting the elf's position.

"What makes you think Mipsy can't do those things, Miss Hermione?" The elf challenged raising her chin. "Thanks to the bond with Master Nott, Mipsy lives longer, Mipsy's family lives longer. All Master asks in return is that we serve the House of Nott. We are precious to master because we make master's life easy, and master values us because we care for Master Nott and Miss Tracey. Mipsy is as free as she wants to be, Master doesn't stop Mipsy from living the life she wants. Master gives us a better life than if Mipsy was free."

Hermione turned her gaze to Theo and Tracy who shrugged acknowledging the harsh truth. Hermione scrunched her brow and turned her attention back to the elf. She could see the weight of experience on her bony shoulders as she crouched low, but her head was held high, forcing Hermione to rethink her own deeply held views. Slavery was abhorrent, but what happened when someone chose the life of a servant? The positive atmosphere the Notts had created for their elves, nurtured their inherent nature, and kept them happy and healthy. If they were free would thier lives be as pleasant?.

"Miss Hermione is wrong thinking freedom is the most important thing." the elderly elf supplied. "If silly elves want freedom, fine, but Mipsy is happy to serve, to make master's life better and to have master make Mipsy's life better and to give Mipsy's life meaning. Mipsy is doing what she wants. Why would she want more? Mipsy isn't greedy or selfish, she is proud to be an elf of the House of Nott."

Hermione realized the problem was choice, forcing freedom on the elves wasn't good for them, what was important was that they are given the freedom to choose. The Nott elves chose to serve Theo because he was good to them. That wasn't true for everyone, so she needed to make sure that there were standards of treatment, that no one could abuse an elf freely and that all elves knew they could choose something else if they wanted. Equality for House-elves only meant that they treated fairly and be offered the choice, anything more than that would be forcing her beliefs on beings that were perfectly capable of making thier own choices.

She immediately reached for a parchment and started penning down the arguments, the elf had made. It seems many open ends in her arguments had found their closure. Her eyes sparkled with a new vigor as she found the solution almost within reach.

"I think it's fair to say, the meeting had been successful," Theo said pressing his lips to Tracey's cheek. "Are you happy, my love? Is this what you wanted?"

"Among other things," Tracey said with a beatific smile, reminding Theo that his beloved was an ever-ambitious Slytherin. "I'm just happy I was able to contribute to her project, given how I thwarted all her efforts in the beginning. I guess this was my way of offering an apology." She fiddled with the hem of her top.

"I'm sure she's beyond delighted," Theo said looking at Hermione who was back to her investigative mode. "I'm sure you can manage from here. I need to check something in my study."

With a nod to Hermione, the Nott heir stepped towards his study to pacify the doubt that'd been nagging him since his friend's departure.

As soon as he opened the door to his study, his face broke into a huge smile, as his doubts manifested into reality. "Why am I not surprised?"

"You very well know, why I'm here Theo," Draco grumbled, closing the book he'd been perusing. "She's my girlfriend now, I can't leave her alone in the house of an unwed wizard."

"You could've stayed with us," Theo said moving to the cupboard that housed various types of alcohol.

"And listen to all your nonsense. No, thank you." Theo rolled his eyes and picked up an empty glass from the neatly stacked set.

"What're you reading?" Theo asked looking at the book in his hands.

"A different take on numbers. I found this in your library when I was here the last time. I couldn't find it on the front shelves, so I asked one of your elves for it. An interesting read."

"You can take it with you if you want. I've probably already read it anyway."

"Some other time," Draco said closing the book and turning his complete attention to his friend. "How did it go?"

"She really seems to be closing in on something rather obvious," Theo said pouring in the dark liquid. "Honestly, as long as my elves are happy I'm satisfied. I can't be bothered to care about anyone else's. Still, I do see her point."

"None for me, thank you." Draco shook his head, as Theo extended the drink to his friend. "I wonder if we could get Granger's Bleeding Heart declared an official infectious disease by St. Mungo's. Can you believe I sincerely thanked Tinky for getting me a drink the other night? It scared the crap out of him. He disapparated screaming loudly, exclaiming I might have been confounded."

Theo chuckled and looked at him, taking a sip. "I know, Tracey's been a bit too nice to Mipsy lately too. I'm expecting the old thing to hex her again any day now. Still, I can admit this association with Granger has had a rather positive effect on all of us, and it's nice to see you with someone who is your equal. Astoria was good for you, but there's something about Granger."

"It's madness. She's driving me mad, she makes everything seem so easy and hopeful, but the reality is far from that," Draco spoke without any hesitation. Theo was the only one who could completely understand what he was going through. "If, or rather when, she discovers the truth, I have no doubt you'll find me in Mungo's either with festering boils on my face, or living it up with Lockhart and the Longbottoms in the Thickey ward."

"Are you sure about that? Honestly, from looking at the two of you earlier, I'd say a flock of canaries is about the worst you'd get."

Draco looked at him incredulously. "For a minute I thought I was talking to your girlfriend."

"Hardly, Tracey's breasts are exquisite; and she would be casually threatening you. Me, I'm content to let you make your own mistakes. Also, If you end up in the Thickey Ward, I'll visit. I might even bring Tracey to give you lectures you won't remember how it was your own fault." Theo smiled taking a sip of his firewhiskey, "In fact, you're only being saved from getting one of those right now since she's currently busy helping Granger." Draco groaned placing his head in his hands. "I'm kidding mate," Theo started before downing the rest of his drink. "Granger seemed rather accepting of pureblood customs while you were outing all of my family secrets to her," Theo said with a mild hint of bitterness.

Draco bit the inside of his cheek. "Sorry, it was just easier to talk about you." He raised an eyebrow at his friend. "Wait, how did you know what we were discussing?!"

"Lower your voice, mate. I doubt Granger will take kindly to the fact that you never actually left." Theo gestured to Draco to remain silent. "As for how I know what you two were talking about, let's just say the walls or more accurately, my elves have ears. A guest can only say the name Nott in this house so many times before my elves inform me of it."

Draco nodded his head with a deep sigh. "Right, how did I bloody forget that? If you're here it means Granger shouldn't be much longer. I best be leaving before she comes looking for you." He reached for his wand gripping it tightly. "Nott."

"See you at the front door in a minute, Malfoy." As his friend disapparated, Theo took a deep sigh, placed the empty glass on the table, and ventured back to the living room just in time to see, Tracey and Hermione hunched over a few documents and immersed in a deep discussion.

"Trust you've learned enough for one day?" Theo asked catching the girls' attention.

"Never, but I don't think I'll impose on the two of you any longer. Thank you so much for allowing me into your home today, Theodore." Hermione beamed.

"Anytime, Granger." He replied while he took in the happiness that danced on Tracey's face. He understood she'd felt guilty for being an obstacle to Hermione Granger's noble mission and that she'd been using everything in her arsenal to make up for that. Looking at Tracey Davis at that moment, he knew he could face anything in the world if she stood by his side. It would only be a matter of time until everything was ready, he just hoped he didn't cock it up before that time arrived.

Theo was jolted back to reality by the arrival of his blond friend. "Draco, Impeccable timing!" Hermione said with a surprised expression. "How did you know we would be done by now?"

"Good to see you Malfoy, I was wondering where you'd been," Tracey added jubilantly, as she bounced towards Theo and draped her arms around his neck. "Mipsy didn't hex either of us and even offered a unique perspective on how Hermione could convince other elves. We should celebrate this moment."

"Of course, my beloved witch," Theo said already summoning an elf. "One of our better wines, if you would."

"Oh, no. I should go. I've already taken up a lot of your time." Hermione said collecting everything, as the elf disapparated with a pop.

"It's rude to refuse their kindness, Granger," Draco said joining them, guiding her back to the sofa. "Besides, I don't think Davis would let you leave yet anyway."

"Of course I wouldn't. This is a massive step forward, E.L.F. is a great idea but now it's more viable than ever. If we actually start convincing elves that this is a good idea, the ministry loses another reason to reject the proposal." Tracey said with a proud smirk.

Another elf popped in with a tray balancing four wine-filled goblets. Hermione accepted the drink and thanked the creature gracefully. As Draco reached out to grab a goblet for him, the elf asked enthusiastically, "Master Malfoy, was the book in Master Nott's study helpful to you?"

All the chatter hushed, as the elf's words, echoed in the room. Draco pinched the bridge of his nose giving a terse nod, claiming a goblet for himself.

"Theo's office?" Tracey asked with an incredulous expression. "Didn't you just arrive, Draco?."

"Master Malfoy was in the Master's Study. He never left since he arrived with his guest." The elf said proudly handing the remaining goblets to Theo and Tracey.

"I thought you said you were leaving to work?" Hermione said narrowing her gaze as the elf popped away. "Or at least that's what you lead us to believe."

Theo tensed at her words, he knew Draco was in trouble. Unfortunately, the stern look Hermione was giving the Malfoy heir, suggested that no attempts at distracting the fierce Gryffindor would work. Malfoy was on his own and there wasn't anything either of his two fellow Slytherins could do to help.

Tracey felt Theo's sudden tension, and her Slytherin senses told her something very bad was about to happen. "What's the problem?" Her eyes fell on Draco. "Yesterday, you said you were going to escort Hermione, but I didn't see you here so I assumed something important came up, and Hermione came by herself."

"What kind of person says they're leaving only to sneak back inside and then pretend to arrive again to escort me home?" The former Gryffindor questioned, ignoring the half-blood girl's questions, glaring daggers at her blond boyfriend.

Draco immediately adopted a defensive tone. "If you recall, I said I was retiring to my work, and that I'd return to escort you home. At any point, did I say I was going to leave the grounds?"

"Well, you certainly implied it!" Hermione shouted standing and stomping her foot.

Tracy suddenly snorted. "Sorry, it's not funny." She moved to Hermione and nudged her to take a seat. "I've figured out what's going on and it's just too absurd. Draco's an idiot and you have every right to be upset, but there's something you don't understand. Draco was just following pureblood tradition. You see, it's a rule among purebloods to not leave one's girlfriend unaccompanied in the house of an unwed wizard. Malfoy couldn't actually leave because Theo hasn't proposed to me yet. Draco was duty bound to stay nearby in case he needed to defend your virtue."

"T-That's preposterous!" Hermione's voice raised.

"Unfortunately, that's the truth." Theo joined Tracey. "I know you're not fond of Pureblood ideals, but Draco and I were raised with them. It's not that Draco doesn't trust you, or me for that matter, but if he left it would be the same as making a declaration to everyone that you aren't precious enough to him to be protected. It's not Draco's fault."

Hermione looked at the blond whose glance was fixed on the wine goblet in his hands. She placed her goblet on the table and approached him.

"Except it is his fault, he had every opportunity to explain the situation to me; to say that he was just going into your study to work, but he didn't. Instead, he lied, or at least he misled me into believing one thing while he did another. You should have told me the truth Draco, instead you undermined my trust in you."

Draco lifted his eyes and met her gaze. "Look, Granger, if you want me to admit I made a mistake, and that I should have explained pureblood decorum to you at length, I'll do it. Unfortunately, I don't know what's normal for you. We're different people, your muggle upbringing is obviously quite different from what I'm used to," he said with a mirthless chuckle.

"But you didn't even try to explain?" She cut in. "I'm a quick learner when I don't understand something I ask questions, or I do research. You didn't even give me the chance, Draco. Instead, you left me ignorant." she said, angry tears burning in her eyes.

An uncomfortable silence fell on the room, leaving Theo and Tracey feeling very out of place. Just as the Nott heir was about to excuse himself and Tracey, his blond-haired best friend turned away from the teary-eyed woman in front of him and looked at his fellow Slytherins. "Granger," he sighed, "Would you allow me to escort you home, so we can discuss how to get past this in private?"

"No, you may not, and there is nothing more to discuss today." She huffed, "I understand you value your traditions, but I will not tolerate being misled. If any relationship is going to work out between us, it cannot be based on you telling me one thing and then doing another. If I can't trust you to tell me things, we have no future." Draco could see the gears in her head spinning, trying to make a decision before she let out a frustrated growl. "I can't think anymore right now, and I'm too unfocused to apparate. Theodore, may I use your Floo to get home?"

"Of course," Theo replied gesturing to a box of floo powder on the mantle.

"Thank you both for having me, I'm sorry this afternoon is ending on such an unpleasant note, Tracey I'll owl you later, and Malfoy, it's in your best interest to leave me alone for a little while."

Without any fanfare or words said, the three Slytherins watched as Hermione Granger marched off towards the fireplace and disappeared in a flash of verdant flames. The silence that loomed in her wake was almost suffocating. It really seemed as if Draco's hope for a future with Hermione Granger had ended only a few hours after it had begun.

The silence continued until it was disturbed by a long whistle from Theo. "I'll admit, Granger was far more upset about you not actually leaving than I expected," Theo muttered,

"Of course she was Theodore, she doesn't know pureblood customs. Merlin, if you'd ever pulled something like that on me early in our relationship I'd have hexed you, and I know about Pureblood customs. What's surprising me is Draco isn't being pelted by canaries."

"Me too, Davis," Draco said, as he took a seat in a high-backed chair. "There's no way this is going to work. Merlin, even if she somehow forgives me this time and ends up falling in love with me. Once she finds out about the matching she'll bloody Avada me."

As much as Tracey and Theo wanted to try and comfort the Malfoy heir, they knew Hermione was right. He hadn't explained anything, and now he was paying the price for his thoughtlessness.

Chapter Text

 

"This is beautiful, Gin." Hermione smiled pulling her friend into an embrace. "I didn't expect that you'd decide to take time out of your Honeymoon to buy me a gift. Actually, I'm more surprised you left your hotel suite at all. Did you somehow shag Harry into such a stupor that he decided to let you go shopping?" She chuckled when the fiery redhead raised an eyebrow at her, pulling out of her hug.

"Maybe. But right now, I'm worried he shagged my brain loose." Ginny perused her friend. "I could have sworn I heard Hermione Granger make a suggestive joke."

"Oh hush, Ginny." Hermione moved past with a smile and her trademark eye roll. "All jokes aside, I love it. Griffin-feather quills are supposed to be one of the rarest and best quill feathers in the wizarding world. I want you to know I'm going to cherish it, and promise to use it to change the world for the better," she said, sliding her fingers along the length of the quill admiring its unique properties.

Ginny gave out a relieved sigh. "I honestly thought you were going to think it was silly. Even Ron made fun of it. It's just you gave Harry that eagle-feather quill in his second year and I thought it would be the best 'thank you' for helping us with the wedding."

"It's not silly, and considering the gifts Ron gave me while we were together, he's in no position to judge." Hermione smiled remembering the odd gifts she'd received from Ronald Weasley over the years. "Anyway, how was the trip?" She said taking a step down the staircase. Noticing Ginny's mischievous smile, she immediately added. "You have my permission to censor all the explicit details, of course."

"And here I thought, you'd finally started succumbing to your naughty desires." Giving a dejected sigh, Ginny joined her only to come to a stop in front of the wall that once housed the gruesome display of severed heads. "It still amazes me that you were able to get rid of those ghastly things."

The red head's words reminded Hermione of the problematic descendant of the noble house of Black in her life. She hadn't spoken to him since the incident at Theo's, but mercifully Harry and Ginny's return had pulled her out of her melancholic mood and prompted her to spend the entire day with her beloved friends.

Joining Ginny, as they both admired the head-free wall in front of them. Hermione thoughts wandered back to the events of the day Walburga's elf heads were shipped off to Malfoys' elf ossuary. She nodded curtly remembering her promise to the cunning Slytherin to not reveal his involvement or pay the price by owing him an unrestricted favor. Her memory of him as her savior clashed with the memory of their disastrous fight. There was an unmistakable ache in her heart that he hadn't initiated any type of reconciliation after that incident. It seemed as if Draco Malfoy had given up. Shaking her head as if to dismiss all thoughts of the blond wizard, Hermione asked, "How's Kreacher these days?"

"I'm pleased to say his visits to Grimmauld Place have been reduced considerably," Ginny said resuming her descent down the stairs. "Harry, bless him, thinks Kreacher doesn't like being here now that all of the memories of his former mistress are gone, but for me, I'm just glad the old elf isn't always reminding me that I don't act like a 'proper' pureblood."

Hermione winced at her friend's words. In making Grimmauld Place a better home for the Potters, they'd removed all traces of the house of Black to which Kreacher was still deeply devoted. Although maybe that was for the best, Kreacher likely needed to find a way to move on, and with him not around there was less of a chance he'd reveal that the Malfoy heir had facilitated the removal of Walburga's wall of heads.

"Then it's best he stays at Hogwarts instead of here, right?" Hermione said rapidly, hoping to end the conversation.

"I completely agree. It's better he spends time with fellow elves, he's probably only got a few years left in him anyway. I'd feel awful if he spent them here cleaning up after us." Ginny said guiding both of them to the dining table. "By the way, my mum's given us enough food to feed an entire Quidditch team for weeks. So you're more than welcome to take some home with you. If Harry and I try to eat it all, we'll both end up the size of Hagrid."

"Thanks," Hermione chuckled before her attention shifted to a bouquet of elegant flowers in a lovely vase that stood on a stool in one of the corners. "Those flowers were from Narcissa Malfoy."

Ginny cocked an eyebrow, following Hermione's gaze. "Oh, yes. Lovely, aren't they? Who would've expected the Malfoys to give such a nice gift? I'm a bit curious, though." She joined Hermione and added, "They haven't wilted even a bit. Mum was completely in love with them until I told her who gave them to us." Hermione could perfectly imagine how Molly would've reacted. It was clear what she thought of the Malfoys by her actions at the wedding. "She cast so many detection spells to find out if it was dark magic that was keeping those flowers so pristine, by the end she even said we should send one of them off to Neville to check if there might be something harmful about them that spells couldn't find."

"That's not the worse idea, Neville's great at Herbology and if anyone can figure out the mystery behind these flowers it's him." Hermione reverently ran her finger on one of the delicate petals. "They're quite unique, aren't they? Draco gave me a beautiful bunch of daffodils when we first had dinner at The Gilded Grove that haven't wilted yet either. At first, I thought they were under a stasis charm, given how good Mrs. Malfoy was at charms." Ignoring Ginny's smirk Hermione continued. "But there weren't any. I would love to know how they did it."

"Couldn't you just ask? You and the ferret get on quite well now. You could just ask him at one of your 'meetings'." Ginny said with an added air quotes at the end, giving a mischievous wink.

"Yes Ginny, because Draco Malfoy just loves to share," Hermione snarked, "At first, I thought the daffodils symbolized new beginnings, but they obviously mean more than just that since Narcissa gave you unwilting lilies as a wedding present." She mused, making her wonder if the flowers were yet another tradition he had deliberately obfuscated.

"Hm, well aren't daffodils also called narcissus? Maybe he wants you to replace his mum as the next Lady Malfoy." Ginny gave a mischievous smile.

Hermione groaned, "Ginny don't even joke about something like that. Merlin, I don't even want to think of how I'd have to deal with something like that." Clearing her throat she continued. "Getting back to the flowers, the only thing I know for certain is that your lilies were cultivated by Lucius and Narcissa specifically as a wedding present for you two."

"I'm not trying to be rude, but that's really weird, isn't it? I can't believe I live in a world where the Malfoys would actually do something like this, and it not be an evil scheme." Ginny frowned. " What's worse, is I kind of feel guilty for being suspicious of them. Bill, Charlie, and Fleur all said Narcissa was surprisingly polite to them at my wedding."

"The wizarding world is filled with prejudices, Ginny," Hermione said with a thoughtful look. "Some are well earned, but others suffer because of it." Her visit to Nott's house had taken a toll on Hermione's emotions. It gave answers to many of the nagging questions regarding House elves, but the same meeting had saddled her with so many thoughts regarding Pureblood responsibilities and her brain hadn't let her have even one night of peaceful sleep since. That constant itch to assuage her inquisitiveness was driving her crazy. "Honestly, I wish there was a book for understanding people."

"Well, the Black Library is at your disposal. I doubt it will have all the answers you're looking for, but it might help you with your elf project, Frankly, I don't know why you waited this long. You know Harry and I are useless when it comes to research." Ginny said with a grimace. "Besides, that murky old place gives me the creeps."

"I know." Hermione sighed. If not for her job at the ministry, she would've just holed up there researching pureblood traditions. She wasn't about to be caught unawares again, and luckily the return of Harry and Ginny provided her with the perfect excuse to avoid thoughts of Malfoy and get some research done.

"Now let's get back to business. What's up with you and the ferret. Last I'd seen, you two were waltzing the night away at my wedding." Ginny said wagging her eyebrows suggestively. "Have you shagged him yet? Or are you two still at the snog you breathless stage."

"Ginny!" The muggle-born witch shouted. "You should know I'm not that kind of witch." Hermione dismissed her friend's suggestions immediately. While Hemione certainly wasn't opposed to eventually enjoying more carnal delights with the blond haired Slytherin, Draco had rather made a mess of things between them by choosing to live in his own little world without giving her a proper invitation.

"This might be your last chance to discuss those juicy details with me today. Harry will be here soon." the redhead offered, as she cast a cautious glance towards the fireplace, before scooting closer to the curly-haired witch. "I'm all ears, well figuratively at least."

Hermione let out a weary sigh. Talking to Ginny was usually so simple. Her adventurous nature always provided Hermione a unique and needed perspective. She wasn't impulsive like Ron or paranoid like Harry, but she was also the daughter of the witch who had put an end to Bellatrix Lestrange. Leaving Draco at the mercy of Ginny Potter would just be too cruel.

She cocked an eyebrow at her. "I know that look, what did the ferret do this time?" Ginny narrowed her gaze, reminding Hermione that her friend was as powerful with her mind as she was with her wand. "I might be a bit out of practice, but if you wanted, I could give him another demonstration of what a Bat-Bogey hex feels like."

Hermione laughed at her friend's antics and relaxed into the couch. "I appreciate it, Mrs. Potter. Unfortunately for you, he hasn't done anything that deserves your vicious Bat bogeys yet. I'm just a little bit cross with him. Besides, I've found that some conjured canaries and a good Oppugno work just as well." she added smiling at her friend.

The clock chimed three bells, drawing their attention. "Bugger. I've to go and meet the team." Ginny groaned sinking low into the sofa.

"You've been back from your honeymoon less than two days. Why are both of you in such a rush to work? Harry's already back at the ministry and you're off to practice? I took the day off for Godric's sake!"

"Hermione, please tell me you see the irony in that statement." Ginny poked into Hermione's shoulder and laughed. "Don't worry, Harry and I know how rare it is to get you to take time off and we're not about to waste it. I'll be back in no time and Harry said he'd be home soon." She suddenly sighed and looked longingly at the calendar. "Although you were right, we should have planned to spend more time in Wizarding Dalmatia before visiting Charlie in Romania."

"I told you, a week-long honeymoon was too short." Hermione chuckled looking at her friend. "If anyone needs a good long holiday it's you two."

"Oh? Would you care to tell me how many holidays you've been on in the last few years? The only one I can remember was when Ron took you to Barcelona for three days for your anniversary and he came home complaining that you were still working two of those days. If anyone needs a long holiday it's you!" Hermione had the decency to look bashful at Ginny's reminder of her and Ron's last anniversary. In fairness, Hermione had just been given the permission to start her project to help house elves and she didn't want to waste a moment. "Don't get me wrong," Ginny continued, "I'm really happy that your project's going great and that you're back to your old self, but once you've saved the elves, you should consider going on a holiday."

Hermione's retort was cut off as verdant flames brightened the room and Harry Potter stepped out. "Plans for another holiday, Gin? I love you to death, but I don't think I have that kind of stamina. I swear with your libido the way it is, I'll be dead before thirty." His eyes went wide at the presence of Hermione. "Hermione, how've you been?" he smiled awkwardly stepping towards her.

Hermione accepted his hug, darting her eyes over his shoulders, as the fireplace roared again, spitting out Ron. "Bugger." He stumbled forward, dusting the soot. "Bloody hell, I swear this floo hates me. I've never seen it pushing anyone else like that." His glance stilled on Hermione who was looking at him with an amused expression. "Hermione." He gave an uncomfortable nod and turned his attention to Ginny before she could respond. "You said food. Well, I'm here and bloody starving."

"Help yourself," Ginny waved her hand towards the kitchen and rushed to Harry, giving him a peck on the lips. "I'm running late. I've to go and grab my Quidditch gear."

As the Weasley siblings each tottered off to opposite ends of the room, Harry and Hermione settled into the sofa. "Back to work to save the world, Mr. Potter?" Hermione mussed his hair, as Harry leaned his head on the back of the sofa.

"Nope. Saved it a few years ago, or so I'm told. Now, I'm just trying to keep it safe. I did happen to run into Malfoy at the ministry." Harry said without opening his eyes. "Saw him walking back from your office, I take it you didn't tell him you'd be out today."

Tuning out the clattering noise coming from the kitchen, Hermione fidgeted in her seat. "Oh," she muttered as she squirmed under Harry's watchful and all too knowing gaze. "Did he mention why he was there?"

"From what he told me, he came in looking for you during Lunch time. I told him he should've owled you in advance."

"He should've," Hermione said looking at Ginny, who was now helping her feet into her shoes complaining that she shouldn't have eaten so much food over the last few days and that bending over shouldn't make her feel so nauseous. Hermione chuckled dismissing Draco's face from her thoughts.

Tugging at her shoulder, Harry prodded Hermione to look at him. "Hermione, what's going on?"

"What do you mean?" She asked averting her gaze away. "You might want to help your wife, there." She tried a subtle way of diverting his attention.

"I got it." Ginny smiled at her husband as he gave a concerned look. "You saw Draco Malfoy coming from Mione's office?" Grabbing the broom with one hand she tottered back to her husband. "Did you miss out on a surprise lunch date? It would be adorable if it wasn't Malfoy."

"Not that git, again." This was from Ron who settled in the armchair with a plateful of food and disgusted expression on his face. "I'm sick of hearing about him. Draco this, and Draco that; at least let me have my food in peace," he said digging into his food.

"Draco? Who are you talking to that calls him that? I thought our bookworm's the only one currently floating in Malfoyland."

"I-It's... ah, Nott's fault! Yeah, that article got people curious why Malfoy was invited to your wedding and you and Harry weren't around to explain it!" Ron suddenly got defensive and shot a sharp look at Hermione. "I don't know why they were bothering me. If anybody could explain it, it's Hermione. She's the one who was snogging that bloody git at the reception."

Ginny who was almost near the fireplace, stopped midstep and turned to Hermione, who was now glaring daggers at Ron. "Wait a minute, how did I miss that? Better yet, why am I just finding this out now after spending the entire morning with you?! Is that the reason you were extra cheerful during the fireworks?"

"Cheerful? She's gone round the bend, it's probably the dumbest thing Hermione's ever done in her life." Ron's words echoed in the old house.

"No, the dumbest thing she's ever done was you, my dear brother," Ginny said giving a sharp swat to her brother after her Malfoy-esqe insult. "She's finally living her life again. Don't you dare take that away from her."

"What I do with my life is none of your business, Ronald." Hermione hissed under her breath. "You will do well to remember that."

"Forgive me for thinking that cozying up to that git is an awful idea. I hoped I wouldn't need to wait until he tosses you away for you to realize that I'm right about him."

"Grow up, Ron. Get over your prejudices. Stop looking at Slytherins in that light. Using someone's past against them is really low. You might want to give yourself a chance to see that not everything is black and white." Hermione stood facing Ron, with her chin high, ignoring everything else in the room.

"I wasn't talking about Slytherins. Only Malfoy," Ron sputtered. "I like Davis just fine, Nott's a bit of a tosser, but even he's not too bad, and then there's... yeah. Slytherins are mostly fine, a couple of them are even pretty great. It's Malfoy I don't like."

"Really?" Hermione advanced, anger flaring like waves around her. Ron stumbled back as she poked her finger into his chest. "And how did you become an expert on Slytherins without actually talking to them? Trust is a two-way street, Mr. Weasley. You're not going to get anywhere by waiting on the sidewalk."

Neither of them noticed, Ginny reaching for her wand and erecting a 'Protego' between Ron and Hermione pushing them apart.

"Enough of this." Harry who'd kept quiet until then, suddenly burst up. "Thanks, Gin," Harry strode up to his wife and spoke on both of their behalf. "Ron, Hermione's right. You've absolutely no right to judge her for how she lives her life." The chosen one turned to Hermione and spoke in the same stern voice. "Hermione, you know Ron cares and he has every right to worry about you. You're his friend and you can't take that away from him."

Ron and Hermione stood facing each other, trying to comprehend the chosen one's words and how best to react to them.

Ginny clutched her husband and looked into his eyes. "Take care of them, will you? I would love to stay and give them both a nice Weasley thrashing, but I'm running unbelievably late."

"Take care. I'll come by to pick you up when you're done." Harry placed a gentle kiss on her cheek and guided Ginny to the fireplace, bidding her goodbye. Stepping back into the room, he looked at his friends. "Ron, you finish your lunch in the kitchen. 'Mione, you mentioned you wanted to check for something in the Library. Why don't you get on with that?" When his friends didn't move from their places, he folded his hands and said in a stern voice. "Don't make me use my Auror's voice."

Ron walked off towards the kitchen grumbling that Harry was a bit young to sound so much like a father, while Hermione remained still, conflict constricting her. Her mind was so volatile at that moment she just wanted to run back to her place and shut herself off. Interrupting her thought process, she felt Harry's hand on her shoulder. "You told me not to run away and now you're thinking of doing the same." He gave out a wry chuckle and nudged her towards the Black Library. "Go on with your research. I'll meet you soon. I got something for you once you've calmed down."

Looking at the concern in his emerald eyes, Hermione conceded. She feebly stepped into the Library, closing the door behind her. She sighed looking at the state of the Library. The absence of Kreacher was very apparent in the house. Though Ginny might've been happy without the elf, the young Mrs. Potter's cleaning skills obviously didn't match up to Molly's.

Standing amongst the old tomes, Hermione felt at home. The tension in her body slowly faded, as she got accustomed to the familiar sight of shelves lined with books. It wasn't her first time in this Library, but it definitely felt foreign looking at the layer of dust that settled on the tomes. She knew she couldn't risk using her wand as she remembered Kreacher used special elf magic to keep the rare tomes pristine since certain items in the Black collection required precise magic to be cleaned without damaging them.

She stepped towards the aisles looking for any title that was remotely related to Pureblood traditions. Given the existence of books like the Pureblood directory; Hermione reasoned that there ought to be something the older generations might've created to guide the younger ones, to carry out the traditions dear to Pureblood families.

If she hadn't been in the midst of a fight with her pureblood prince, she would've had little hesitation in asking either the Malfoy or Nott heirs for that kind of knowledge. Unfortunately, she didn't feel like talking to Draco quite yet, and she was too embarrassed for causing a scene at Theo's to ask him or Tracey for help. So she decided that she'd conduct this research into purebloods on her own without anyone's help.

Her eyes brightened at the sight of what looked like a hand-penned journal squished among two large bound books. She carefully extracted it and strode to the armchair. Clearing the dust on top of it, she settled into the chair, cringing when it creaked.

Sirius' Rebelliousness and his morbid fascination with that filth continue to cause problems. Bad enough that he was sorted into Gryffindor, yet Orion refuses to put that boy in his place! It was high time I reminded my husband that my views are not to be ignored. With Sirius and Regulus back at Hogwarts, it was time to put my plan into action. I slowly opened the door to Orion's dimly lit study only to see him deeply engrossed with the parchment in his hand. I pulled the knife that was hidden under my robe and crept toward him. It was rare for him to be so unguarded, and I was not about to waste such an opportunity. I lifted the knife and in a swift motion cut off the binds that kept my nightgown together and bared my body before his hungry eyes...

Hermione snapped the book shut. Not the kind of pureblood tradition she was looking for. She gave out a loud squeak as the Library door opened and Harry walked in with a tray in his hands. She groaned putting her head in her hands, as the journal unceremoniously dropped to the floor.

"Hermione Granger, disrespecting a book. That's one sight I never thought I would see." Harry propped the tray on the table and reached for the dropped book. "What exactly is in this dusty old journal that's got you all flustered?" Before she could reach for him, he opened the book.

She broke into a fit of giggles catching the shock on Harry's face. She extracted it from Harry's hands and placed it on the table, pushing him into a chair. "Unexpected?"

"What the bloody hell is that?" Harry said in a horrified voice.

Hearing Ron's infamous catchphrase, Hermione sobered up immediately. "Something we could've easily gone without." Picking up Walbruga's journal she strolled back to the aisles in search of another one.

As she perused the collections, she heard Harry's voice nearby. "You know, I've always considered you my family, right?" She turned towards him and raised an eyebrow. "You're like a sister to me."

"Where are you going with this, Harry?" Hermione asked with an impatient huff. "Don't you start with me, like Ron. I know what I'm doing."

"I have complete faith in you." He said with a dejected sigh. "But you deserve so much better than him."

"Let me be the judge of that, Harry." She cut him off. Why did all the men in her life have to be this irritating?

"Would you just listen," Harry said with a slight edge to his tone. When Hermione shot him a glare, he shook his head and reached for her hand. "Come here." He dragged her back to the chair and sat her on it. Propping himself on one of the arms of the chair. "Look, Hermione, whether you'll admit it or not, your break up with Ron changed things. You lost yourself in your work, I didn't know what to do. You'd always helped me, but I didn't know how to help you." He draped a hand over her shoulder pulling Hermione into his embrace. "Now you've got this thing going on with Malfoy and I don't know what to think. I'm not saying I still think he's the same boy from Hogwarts. Trust me, I've seen the change in him, but at the same time, I know how fantastic you are and I don't see how Malfoy could ever be worthy of you."

"Don't you trust me, Harry?" she asked as tears started to sting her eyes. She can lash out at Ron without any remorse, but the doubt in Harry's eyes made her heart clench.

"I trust your judgment, more than any other, even my own. Without you, I wouldn't have found the courage to marry Ginny, and without you by my side, I'd have died a long time ago."

"Don't say that." Hermione gave a sharp pinch to the hand on her shoulder, making him wince. "You're a great wizard and one of the greatest men I've ever known. Of course, you have your own stupid moments, but who doesn't."

She felt his lips press against her temple gently. "That's the Hermione we all love. I know I'm risking a flock of canaries here, but are you sure about him? This is Malfoy we're talking about. He might have changed but he's still a Malfoy. He never does anything without a reason. Did you consider that he might just be using you?"

"I'm not naïve, Harry." She pushed herself out of his embrace and stood facing him. "And I'm sure Draco knows that it's not wise to deceive me." She muttered the last words turning her face away from her friend.

Harry still looked unconvinced, as he adjusted his glasses. "I'm not Ron, Hermione. I'm willing to accept that Malfoy's changed, but this all seems like a scheme. To me, it looks like he took advantage of your vulnerability and is just using you to help himself. You deserve better than that. You're my best friend and I don't want someone like Malfoy to hurt you. Merlin knows, he's done enough of that already."

Hermione smiled at the worry written on Harry's face. "You're right, but if I let myself be closed off to the possibility that he's changed and actually wants to be with me, I may be losing a chance to experience something that would've been really great."

"Is that what you want Hermione? A happily ever after with Draco Malfoy?"

"I don't know, but if I'm not open to the possibility, I might never find one."

Harry nodded resigning himself to the fact that Hermione was determined to explore a romantic relationship with her former bully. "You win. I'm not going to argue with you about this anymore. I'll respect your choice, and if this all blows up in your face, I'll be ready to pick you up and help you move forward just like you've always done for me. Although, I can't promise I won't say I told you so."

"Prat," Hermione said as she smacked her best friend's arm, only to cuddle up into his side.

"Thanks for understanding Harry."

"Anytime, Hermione, anytime." They remained in that position, while Hermione mused on her own words. She might've defended her decision in front of her friends, but the sting of his trickery was still crisp in her memory.

"Now that I've done that, I suppose it's time to give you this." He reached into his pockets and pulled out a letter and placed it in Hermione's hands.

"A letter?" Hermione asked with a slight smile. "Harry Potter, are you turning into an owl?"

"Merlin, I hope not. Open it." Harry smiled, as he scratched the back of his neck, inching away from her. "I just wanted to make sure I knew where you stand and how clear your head was before giving it to you."

"Harry," She creased her brow, as her tone took a threatening edge.

"Malfoy asked me to pass it to you. I thought it was something related to your project, but after seeing what had happened a few minutes ago, I wager it's something else. I just wanted to make sure, you know what you're getting into and tell you I'll always be there for you, regardless of your choice."

She smiled at the boy-who-lived who was looking at her with a boyish smile. At that time, she knew, Harry Potter would be on her side no matter what happened.

"Go on. I know you're dying to know what's inside it. I'll give you some privacy and don't worry about Ron, he'll come around eventually." With a cheeky wink, he slipped out of the door, leaving Hermione to her thoughts.

Biting her lip, she opened the letter wondering what kind of letter Draco Malfoy would trust Harry Potter to deliver. An apology maybe, or a step towards admitting how foolish he was for misleading her. She slipped the small slip of parchment out and after reading the first sentence, her slowly abating anger flared, once again.

Granger,

If you're expecting this letter to be one of apology in which I ask for your forgiveness, you are mistaken.

She wanted to scrunch up the parchment and throw it away, but she didn't know what made her continue to read.

I acted in accordance with my beliefs, and with the rules of decorum with which I was raised. It would be foolish of me to promise that events like this won't happen again, because I know they will. However, I will say that should you wish to continue our courtship, I will willingly submit myself to whatever questions you may have about myself and the traditions I hold dear. For now, this is as far as I am willing to go for you Hermione, and I can only hope this gesture is enough. Please reply at your earliest opportunity.

Regards,

-Draco Lucius Malfoy

P.S. Use of Veritaserum is forbidden! I may care enough to willingly submit myself to your interrogation, but I'm not stupid.

Hermione couldn't stop a chuckle as she read the Slytherin's postscript. While this certainly wasn't the response she wanted, Hermione couldn't deny that at least it seemed like Draco Malfoy was trying. She knew dating him wasn't going to be easy, and she'd expected difficulties, but she didn't realize how invested she already was. She cared about this relationship, it made her feel alive in a way she hadn't in a long time. Draco Malfoy was an arrogant, and cold-hearted prat, but he seemed to want this relationship to work out. He seemed to genuinely care about her and even if it was clumsy, this letter proved that he was willing to try.

Hermione scanned the dusty library looking around for a parchment and found a few off in a corner. Siphoning off the dust from the top of them, she took out her new Griffin-feather quill, summoned an inkpot and started her letter to him.

Draco,

You're right, I should have known better to expect an apology from you, and I knew this relationship wasn't going to be easy. I appreciate how important your traditions are to you. I'm also glad you're willing to share more about them and yourself with me. Honestly, I'd like to continue seeing you in a romantic capacity. I'm not one to give up easily, so I'm sure you'll come to regret promising to answer my questions. That said, I do expect an apology in person and that you not mislead me in the future. I'm going to Hogwarts tomorrow morning, and it would be nice if you could join me.

Warm Regards,

-Hermione Jean Granger

P.S. I don't need Veritaserum to get whatever I want from you, just the right set of knickers.

Chapter Text

 

 

Draco Malfoy awoke, feeling exhausted, at best he'd only managed a few meager hours of fitful sleep. Looking towards the window, he longed to see the purple glow that heralded the dawn. Unfortunately, it seemed as though his tempestuous night was not yet at an end. He kicked the sheets away, and sat up on the bed, trying to drive away the agitation that had haunted his mind. Dutiful Potter had delivered his message, but her reply wasn't what he'd expected. Draco groaned dropping his head into his hands, as his eyes fell on the fluttering sheet on his side table while his mind recited the words she'd written.

I'd like to continue seeing you in a romantic capacity. I'm not one to give up easily, so I'm sure you'll come to regret promising to answer my questions.

He rubbed the sleep from his tired eyes and got up from his bed. Walking to the window, to gaze into the dark sky, he thought over his actions. He swallowed the lump that settled in his throat as he contemplated the future of his relationship with Hermione Granger. The letter had been a gamble, the feisty Gryffindor was still too much of an enigma. She was definitely interesting, but the huge difference in their upbringing was a far more daunting hurdle than he'd expected. They needed to find balance, this relationship was built on an unstable foundation and carelessness would mean the end. He sighed as the scene at Theo's house replayed in his mind. She'd walked away over a miscommunication, and hadn't allowed him to offer any explanation. She'd given him ample reason to deceive her given how she'd reacted to his earlier display of etiquette, and yet he was somehow still to blame.

His eyes darted to the horizon, as a weak orange glow started to appear. He took a deep breath allowing the cool air of his bedroom to soothe the tension in him. He focused on the dawn and the promise of a new day. Understanding the witch had already proven harder than expected, and trying to tame this wild lioness was definitely going to be a challenge. Yet the value of success was immeasurable. Not only was she best suited to produce a superior Malfoy heir, but she was a beautiful woman, with a sharp mind that could keep him on his toes. For better or worse, a life with Hermione Granger wasn't destined to be a boring one, and perhaps he might even manage to enjoy such a life.

The Malfoy heir couldn't restrain the mirthless chuckle that escaped his lips at his most recent musing. Enjoying a life with Hermione Granger? The very idea of it was absurd, and yet it somehow seemed almost plausible given how close they had become in recent months. In the back of his mind, Draco refused to acknowledge that this past week without her had felt rather lonesome. There had been no form of communication from the muggleborn after the incident. A wry smile took up residence on his lips, as the young Malfoy thought about how he had sacrificed his pride and taken the first step towards reconciliation. It left him wondering how much more of his Malfoy pride would he need to sacrifice to the Goddess of Gryffindor. It was odd that his pride had felt like such an insignificant price to pay for the chance to once again be in her good graces.

Draco continued musing on the nature of his relationship with the bookworm until he reached a surprising revelation. Over the last few months, he had managed to earn her trust just by being himself. There had been no threats, no prostration, no bribes, no begging. It was puzzling that Hermione Granger had chosen to enter into a romantic relationship with him of her own free will. Granted, she was still ignorant of the fact that they had been magically matched, but that seemed rather insignificant when compared to the fact that she had chosen to date the Heir of Malfoy. It seemed surreal to Draco that his true personality, or at least a close approximation, had somehow earned the muggleborn witch's affection.

He quickly began to wonder if Magical Matching somehow played into this; could their magical compatibility be facilitating a natural attraction? It seemed oddly plausible, the Malfoy heir had been resisting something, and even Granger had mentioned an unexplainable attraction. Perhaps the ancient matching rituals held more secrets than he'd first thought. His father's adamant response to this match with Granger had been suspicious, but Draco had been too shocked at the time to give it much thought. Until now, Draco had never bothered to look deeply into Magical Matching, but it seemed that a deeper understanding of process might at least provide insight into this strange connection or explain these odd feelings they'd both seemed to be experiencing.

With the orange hues of dawn fading, it was time for Draco to prepare to face his fearsome Lioness.

Hermione felt oddly at peace as she organized her notes for her day at Hogwarts. Armed with the knowledge she'd gained from the Nott elves, she was already devising different ways to negotiate with the elves working at her former school. Although house elves traditionally eschewed the notion of freedom; thanks to Mipsy and Tracey, Hermione felt like she might be able to persuade a few to desire a life of more than indentured servitude. Having put on her blouse, the young witch started looking for a particular pair of boots that were ideal for the cold Scottish weather, when her hands came into contact with a bunch of twigs.

The shoes forgotten, she reached for the polished handle and extracted the broom out of the closet. "How on Earth did this get in here?"

She brushed her fingers on the length of it examining the make. This one definitely looked different. While it wasn't as stylish or sophisticated as Harry's Firebolt, but it was clear even to Hermione's untrained eyes that this broomstick was likely very expensive. With the idea of returning it to his owner, she went to her living room. Picking up Crookshanks with her free hand, on her way, she nuzzled his sleepy face trying to wake up the snoozing half-kneazle.

The loud knock on her door startled the old cat in her hand and he let out angry hisses at the intrusion. "Oh, you poor thing!" Hermione held him tightly and turned to her door with an impatient little huff. Forgetting her half-dressed state, she unceremoniously opened the door, ready to give a piece of her mind. "Draco, It's hardly necessary to knock so loudly. You scared Crooks."

"Hello, Hermione." Luna smiled stepping into the house. "Hello Crookshanks," she gently brushed her pads of fingers behind the feline's ears, earning a soft purr. "You might prowl like a big cat, but you're such a big softie aren't you?"

Hermione slowly recovering from the sudden appearance of her friend, closed the door and followed her inside. "This is certainly a surprise, Luna. I wasn't expecting you, is everything alright?." She transferred her pet into Luna's waiting hands, but still held on to the broom with her other hand.

"Yes, Ginny mentioned you were planning to visit Hogwarts today. I was hoping you could take these root samples to Neville." Her dreamy eyes moved to Hermione's fingers and she gave a beatific smile. "I see you're planning to fly. Just take care those little things don't drift away with the wind. I could've easily owled these roots to Neville, but there is a chance that carrier owls could mistake them for treats and end up munching on them."

"Fly?" Hermione furrowed her brow, turning to the broom in her hand. "Oh, no. You know I never quite liked flying, nor do I own a broom. This one belongs to Draco. I was just getting it ready to return it to him when he arrives." She propped the broom against the wall and turned to Luna. "As, for your samples, I'd be happy to take them with me, safely in my purse."

"Thank you, Hermione." Luna settled on the couch and gave Hermione a curious look. "Is Draco escorting you to Hogwarts?"

"No," Hermione said with a creased brow. " I don't need an escort, Luna. We're just meeting up and going together, that's all," she quickly averted her face, as the curious look on Luna's face turned into a knowing smile.

"Interesting." Luna's gaze drifted off, lost in thought. "I thought that given his family and their regard for pureblood values, he might still follow some of the old traditions," Luna said letting Crookshanks snooze in her lap.

"He does," Hermione sighed and settled beside Luna on the sofa. "And I'm rather frustrated that I don't know enough about them. I spent hours researching and barely found anything useful."

Luna giggled as a loud grumble sounded from Hermione's stomach. "Would you like to try some of my Plimpy soup?" Luna said reaching for her bag. "I'm heading to the Fairy Forest today and packed some for my journey. My dad always said the soup boosted our intuitions, guiding us towards their habitats."

Hermione jerked forward stopping Luna. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure you'll need it for your journey and I don't want you to trouble yourself." The memory of Xenophiliius Lovegood's recipe was still fresh in her memory and she didn't want to subject herself to it, again. "Anyway, I'm heading to Hogwarts and the house-elves always offer plenty of food every time I visit." In reality, the elves often shoved plates of food in front of her just to stop her from talking.

"The food at Hogwarts was tasty, I've always loved pudding. Make sure to ask the house elves to share some. They were very generous, whenever I missed my meals."

Hermione nodded with a contemplative smile thinking about the elves who worked hard to provide a good variety of quality food for every meal. While they were likely happy as servants, she was determined to make sure that each and every elf understood that it was always their choice. Making sure no one took advantage of them and their innate kindness.

Watching Luna as she played with the half-kneazle familiar, Hermione remembered her guest's words. Despite her quirkiness, Luna was unusually perceptive and her unique understanding of the inner workings of wizarding society always gave Hermione a different and unique perspective. The former Ravenclaw's mention of traditions had definitely piqued the muggleborn's curiosity. Finally, someone who had knowledge about the traditions that the snake in her life seemed to care for so much. "Luna, would you mind helping me understand something?" The airy blond simply nodded "You see, the other day something came up about a pureblood not being able to leave his girlfriend in the company of an unwed wizard. I felt it was weird, given I was with his best friend who's madly in love with another woman."

"Oh, that's really an old one. I didn't think anyone still did that." Luna transferred the cat into the sofa gently. "Hm, if he's done that, then his family must have taught him to follow some of the more ancient traditions. Has he given you a charm yet?"

"A charm?" Hermione bit her lip wondering what was this new puzzle about. "No, He hasn't given me anything but a headache. Besides, it's a bit early in our relationship for him to be giving me gifts, Luna."

"No, I don't think so, if you're dating Draco and he's as old-fashioned as you say, you should have gotten a charmed item almost immediately."

"What are you talking about Luna? Why would he give me a charmed item?" Hermione's frustration rose to new levels. Everyone around her seemed to be well versed in all these traditions, while she was in the dark. Why wasn't there a book about all these things?

"It's an old pureblood custom. Male wizards used to give a charmed item to the person they cared about, which had a variant of the Taboo curse on it."

"A Taboo? why would anyone give that as a gift!?" Hermione gasped at the horrific notion of carrying such an item.

"You should calm down Hermione. Best you don't let Wrackspurts get the best of you." The blond Ravenclaw soothed, "Normally, the item has a set phrase that if said, immediately informs the item-giver that they are needed and allows them to apparate through most wards."

"I see, it's kind of like a panic alarm that takes advantage of the Taboo curse's unique properties." Hermione nodded perceiving the underlying intentions of such an item. "But what about the magic weakening effect of that curse?"

"The item is enchanted to negate it. My father himself gifted a tooth of Crumple-horned Snorkack to my mother in his initial days of courting her. Although he only placed a disillusionment charm on it so she could hide anytime she wanted to." Luna said with an amusing expression. Hermione knew better than to correct her. Her adventure at Lovegood home wasn't an easy one to forget, nor was Xenophilius' stubborn arguments about the Erumpent horn. She was sure Luna's dad gifted her mother some kind of absurd and most likely explosive thing. Interrupting her musings Luna continued, "Some pureblood families are quite skilled at using the dark arts for all manner of clever things." Luna spoke casually as she was talking about something mundane.

Hermione bit her lip thinking about her dreamy friend's words. Every step further into their relationship seem to saddle her with more questions. "Slytherins should come with a guidebook," she groaned thinking about having to deal with something she couldn't completely understand. Draco had better have answers to all her questions, or it was going to be a long day.

"Don't worry. If anyone can figure them out, it's you." Luna's gaze moved to the small side table. "It seems like you've made quite a bit of progress already."

Hermione followed her gaze to the small table with a vase of Daffodils. "Draco gave me those flowers…"

"I'm not talking about the flowers." Luna cut her off. "The doily on the table is very unique. Did you know that?"

Hermione looked at the beautiful lace doily she placed on the table. "Oh? Narcissa Malfoy put it in a basket of sweets, I was given last time I was at the Manor. I ate the sweets but I wasn't quite sure what to do with the doily. It seemed too elegant to throw away and I didn't know if it would be proper to return it. I suppose I just presumed it was a gift."

"It was. Did you notice the pattern? It's quite intricate." Hermione never paid any attention to it, but as she saw it now, she couldn't help but notice the lacework included designs that looked oddly like daffodils. "It's quite common for pureblood witches of Mrs. Malfoy's generation to be quite skilled at knitting or sewing. It was generous of her to give you something like that."

Hermione snorted dismissing Luna's statement. "I'm sure it's just another ostentatious thing the Malfoys had lying around."

"Maybe, but do you know what makes Weasley jumpers so special? I know Molly knits them, but the weaving method is special and unique to the Weasleys. Although I haven't seen it in years, my mother even made her own wedding dress with the Lovegood family's lacework. It's locked away now, but I might wear it on my wedding day, or I might make my own."

Hemione marveled at her friend, sometimes Luna Lovegood seemed completely unmoored by social convention. Although Luna's argument seemed plausible, the image of Narcissa Malfoy knitting a doily seemed completely absurd, causing the muggle-born witch to chuckle.

"The Weasleys may forgo some pureblood customs, but they don't forsake them all. They've just chosen to be guided by their hearts instead of traditions. It's what makes them unique." The blond girl added absentmindedly.

Hermione sat there with so many tempestuous thoughts plaguing her mind. If what Luna had suggested was true; why did Narcissa Malfoy give her something so unique? Was it simply a kind gesture, or was there any subtext to it? Luna's perception was amazing and she loved her friend, but Hermione couldn't deny the fact that when it came to logic, the quirky girl had some outrageous theories.

The doorbell rang again dragging Hermione out of her stupor and looking at the clock she knew it was Draco. "Just a minute. That should be Draco."

"I'm glad you decided to show off your legs, Hermione. I've always thought they were quite nice. I'm sure Draco would appreciate your gesture," Luna said pointing to her half-dressed state.

"What?" She asked with a creased brow looking at herself and realized she was wearing only her blouse, while her skirt remained on her bed. "One moment," she hollered at the door and rushed into her bedroom.

Listening to the clattering sounds coming from the bedroom, Luna strode forward and opened the door inviting Draco inside. "Hermione's getting ready. Would you like to come inside?" She asked looking at the shocked expression in Draco's eyes. "I have interrupted a deep thought, haven't I? I can see it getting smaller in your eyes."

Draco took a moment to adjust to the abrupt appearance of Hermione's quirky friend. "Lovegood," he nodded curtly, feeling uncomfortable in her presence. "I presume your presence and the distinct lack of Granger answering her own front door means she's running late. What's keeping her this time?" Draco refused to meet her gaze, as the memories of her unfortunate stay in his home floated through his mind, and he tried hard to push them away.

"She forgot to wear her skirt, so she's rectifying that."

First, Draco thought it was a joke, but there was no hint of humor on Luna's face. Dismissing thoughts of his lioness without a skirt, Draco turned to Luna. "How have you been, Loony? Any new adventures chasing down creatures that don't really exist?"

"It's quite difficult to find out if something exists unless you're willing to look for it, and it's Luna by the way Draco." She twirled one of her locks and pinned Draco with a curious glance. "Hermione tells me you're courting her in an old-fashioned pureblood way."

Draco's was shocked for the second time in less than five minutes. He was hoping to keep their relationship under wraps at least for now, but it would seem his bold Gryffindor had already spilled the beans. He quirked an eyebrow at her. "I'm expressing my interest in her respectfully, as I was taught. Just because most people have forgotten how to behave like a civilized wizard doesn't mean I'm about to. Also, is someone with such unique hobbies as yourself in any position to judge what is old-fashioned?"

Luna continued to give him a curious glance, ignoring his barb. "It's odd that you would be so concerned about being judged by others to be old-fashioned. I didn't think the opinion of 'lesser' wizards mattered to you." She stunned Draco into silence with her words. "It seems difficult for you to understand. Here, you can try my freshwater Plimpy soup to increase your intuition." She said offering a flask, without any change in her calm demeanor. "If anything, it might definitely improve your chances of understanding the pride you've stumbled into. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of you in the future, so it's better to be prepared."

Draco's brow creased, looking at the odd liquid that was squishing around in the glass flask. Just by looking at it, he could feel an unpleasant stirring in his stomach. He immediately shook his head making his intentions very clear.

"It's strange and yet so obvious at the same time." Luna put the flask in her bag and extracted another parcel and placed it beside her. A new worry surfaced in Draco's mind looking at the odd-looking things in the transparent bag. "Oh, would you like try these root samples. I'm not sure if they are suitable to a human palate. I asked Hermione to take them to Neville, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you took one for yourself for a little taste."

Draco's eyes widened and he found himself searching for an answer. When none was found, he opted for diversion. "What were you on about when you said something was strange, yet obvious?"

"Magical compatibility." She said with a casual shrug of her shoulders and Draco's heart dropped into his stomach. "It was never about blood, now was it?" She leaned forward and looked at his face as if she was reading something that only she could see. "You've figured it out, but still don't know what you want to do."

Draco's eyes immediately went wide, understanding the fact that Luna Lovegood was dangerous to keep around when you had a secret to hide. He had been quite foolishly worried of Davis, but she was a pygmy puff in comparison to the people in his bookworm's female friend circle. Ginny Potter's bat bogey was still crisp in his memory, and he knew if he stayed in the quirky Ravenclaw's company much longer, she would be listing out each and every thought currently swirling in his brain. He looked towards the door, where Hermione would be, and shouted. "Ms. Granger, if you take much longer we'll be late for school. How long are you planning..."

The door burst open before he finished his sentence. "I'm ready. It just that one of my shoes didn't seem to want to be found." She stood there panting, adjusting her hair.

Draco gulped looking at a flustered Hermione and Lovegood's previous mention of her walking around the house without a skirt surfaced. Catching the dreamy girl's smile, he quickly spat out a remark. "If your shoes are running away, perhaps they're trying to tell you something."

Hermione narrowed her eyes, but her friend chimed in interrupting her. "Oh, don't be angry, Hermione. I think Draco's just embarrassed that I caught him looking at you. He must've been thinking about you moving about the house without a skirt."

Draco dropped his head into his hands, while Hermione broke into a fit of giggles, her anger completely dissipated. Taking in Draco's expression, she finally took pity on her boyfriend and turned to Luna, effectively diverting her friend's attention. "Are these the samples?"

"Yes. Thanks, Hermione." She moved from the couch, and Crookshanks let out a loud growl at the loss of contact. "I must be going. If I don't arrive in the next five minutes, I'll be missing the beginnings of fairies' winter ceremony."

"Come here, Crooks. I know you love Luna, but she has to leave." Draco shot up from his spot, looking at the ginger menace, that he had somehow failed to notice until now. The half-kneazle seemed to have met Draco's eyes at the same time and let out an angry hiss at the blond. "Crooks, calm down. It's just Draco."

"What is that thing?" Draco's eyes went wide as the hisses became louder. "Granger put that thing down, or better yet, give it back to Lovegood. It seemed to be fine in her company."

"Crooks is a big ol' softie. He's simply misunderstood. Watch." Luna reached out to his soft ears and brushed the fur with her finger pads. Before Draco took a relieved breath, she grabbed his fingers and dragged him to Hermione.

"Luna, I don't think this is wise. Crooks doesn't trust anyone easily. Even after all these years, he never really warmed up to Ron." Hermione maintained her soft grip on her pet.

Ignoring Hermione's words and Draco's reluctance, Luna brought Draco's fingers closer to Crookshanks, letting the beast make the first move. The half kneazle let out a menacing growl, but Draco remained there trying to prove to his girlfriend that he was a better person than the Weasel. A smile quirked up his lips, as the kneazle gave a tentative brush against his knuckles with his nose, only for the finicky creature to reach out and leave behind an angry looking red mark.

"I told you. All you need is trust, a few scratches every now and then are worth it for love." Luna gave a warm smile to the pair and walked out of the door waving them a goodbye.

Draco and Hermione remained quiet for few moments, as Crookshanks settled into a series of soft purrs, letting Draco rub his palm on the place behind his whiskers.

"He seems to like you," Hermione said with a contemplative smile.

"Yet, he never liked the Weasel?" Draco smirked relishing in his victory. "You know, Kneazles are amazing judges of character."

"I'm afraid Crooks only a half-kneazle, and I believe old age has also started to take a toll on him. I love him dearly, but I wouldn't trust his judgment quite as much as I used to." Hermione took a step back and transferred Crookshanks in a spot closer to the bowl of food she kept ready for him. Settling him on the rug, she turned to Draco. "Shall we?"

"I'm impressed, Granger. I expected you to bombard me with questions, as soon as I arrived." Draco said tucking his hands into his pockets.

"Luna's presence saved you just a bit. I have every intention of bombarding you with questions today." Hermione stopped him with a smirk of her own. "Before you make a snide comment about my being a poor host, I thought it would be better if we had breakfast with the house elves at Hogwarts."

"Don't worry about it, Granger." Her cheerful attitude was encouraging, perhaps his day wouldn't go as bad as he assumed. "Are you all set?" Draco asked as she gathered all the needed stuff in her hands.

"Yes. Oh, I forgot." She rushed to grab the broomstick she'd kept aside and handed it to Draco. "I guess this belongs to you. Theo left this here after he was tricked into carrying a rather beautiful enchanted lantern by a certain prat."

Draco gave an amusing smile. "Odd that you didn't return it to me sooner. Did you keep it because it reminded you of me?" When Hermione chuckled shaking her head. "If you'd like a memento or gift, I'm certain I could give you something better than a broomstick."

"Like a charm," Hermione asked folding her hands. "Something that lets you know when I'm in trouble."

Draco remained impassive. This wasn't a surprise. Research was her specialty and he'd assumed she might've gotten her hands on few of those traditions. "Well not exactly. Although I suppose that's an option. I was thinking something more akin to your recent postscript. I do have a particular taste in lingerie."

Her eyes widened and she struggled to hide the blush that spread across her cheeks as she tried to redirect the conversation. "Just for the record, I don't need any such gifts or charms. However, if you intend to follow that tradition, I would appreciate that you made me aware of everything related to it. The set phrase, wards that could be vulnerable to it, the kind of dark magic used. I need all the details." She slowly turned to face him. "I can't bear to be kept in the dark, Draco. If we are really doing this, I want to know everything."

"I don't think all that detail is necessary to explain a set of knickers, but I suppose that's only fair." Draco smiled rakishly, his eyes reflecting the sincerity his words did not. "I can't say I completely understand your position. However, I'll tell you anything. If you ask me the right question." Issuing this kind of challenge to his fiery lioness was a gamble, but it would do him no good if she misunderstood his true nature. "Our upbringings are very different and I'm still trying to adjust to the fact that you've developed a romantic interest in me."

Hermione was disarmed by his challenge, she looked for a hint of mockery in his voice, but he sounded sincere. "We're the perfect ingredients for a disaster in making, aren't we?"

"We've definitely proved that," Draco said with a wry smile. "I'm sure there will be many moments in our lives for our differences in perspective to create a rift between us, should we choose to continue down this path."

Hermione bit her lip and looked at him through her eyelashes. "I know, but I think I'm willing to take that risk. So long as you promised to never keep me in the dark."

"I was raised to follow certain principles and rules of decorum, sharing simply isn't in my nature." He spoke with the same sincerity that his eyes held. "Deception and secrets are a part of who I am, Hermione, and I don't expect that to ever change. At the same time, I know that honesty is important to you so here is my compromise. I vow to never deny you an answer or an explanation when you ask."

Hermione bit her lip, realizing that the soft pulse of magic she felt was Draco establishing a magical contract with her. Although the terms were loosely defined, and probably open to exploitation, Draco had just bound himself to his word. She hadn't expected him to go so far. It seemed as if he was committed to making this relationship work despite her reservations about his duplicitous nature. It seemed like dating Draco Malfoy was still worth the risk.

"And I'll admit it was foolish to think that you would be aware of my traditions. I should've told you, instead of assuming things. In my defense, you didn't give me the opportunity to explain. You just stormed off."

Hermione winced. She hadn't even bothered to check with Tracey after that day. She mentally added another item to her checklist. "I hope they weren't too upset. They've already been so generous and accommodated me on such a short notice, insulting them would be the last thing I wanted."

"Granger, don't be an idiot. You could Avada me in a fit of rage and I'm certain Davis would defend you. In fact, she hasn't wasted a single opportunity to tell me how foolish I was to make you upset." Draco said with a deep sigh. "And Theo's so besotted with her, he just stood aside letting Davis take her ire out on me, for ruining such an important day for you."

"Remind me to send some lovely cauldron cakes to Tracey," Hermione said with a smile. The interesting Slytherin girl had definitely become one of her close friends since they patched up their differences over house-elves. She began to see why Harry always said Tracey was a delightful person to work with.

"Try sending a bottle of that chocolate wine as well. It's my understanding that Davis enjoys a bit of adventure in the bedroom, and Theo could get far more creative with chocolate wine than using it for coconut biscotti." Draco said with a wink.

"I don't need to know about their carnal activities, Draco. I'm already trying to flush out images of Harry and Ginny from my mind since yesterday."

Draco looked at the muggle-born with horrified eyes that led her to smile. "No, we are not discussing Potter's love life." he ground out.

"But Theo and Tracey's love life is just fine?" She raised an eyebrow reminding him, that she would always defend her friends which now included Tracey and Theo.

"I'd rather discuss the potential of our own," he said with a mischievous smile.

Hermione dismissed him with a hint of a smile. "Before we get sidetracked, I had every right to leave after that incident and you didn't contact me until yesterday."

"I offered to discuss it with you in private, but you asked that I leave you alone for a while. I was simply respecting your wishes."

"At least you could've tried." Her voice got reduced to a whisper and Draco had to scoot closer to listen.

"I'm certain I could have, but I think we both know you would have had a flock of conjured canaries waiting for me."

She let out a deep sigh and looked into his eyes. "I don't like being deceived, I hate not knowing something, and I will absolutely hex you senseless next time," she finished.

"Granger, you've added Davis, Nott, and myself to your list of associates. At this point, you should always expect to be deceived. Still, if you don't like being deceived, be more clever than the person trying to deceive you. If you wish to know something ask me, and I will help you find answers; and if you want to render me senseless, I'd prefer you did it with a shag."

She chuckled at his absurdity, giving him a sly smile and took a step back. With a hand on her hip, she raised an eyebrow. "Well?"

"What?" Draco said feigning an innocent expression.

"Playing the fool isn't going to work, Draco. Where's my apology?"

"I thought that was what I was doing until now?"

"Nice try." Hermione didn't budge. "There's no moving forward until I hear an apology from your lips."

"My lips you say? That's oddly specific, have you been dreaming about my lips, Ms. Granger?" Draco said with a wink.

"Perhaps," Hermione smirked back. "I've had this odd recurring dream where Draco Malfoy acknowledges he was wrong with those lips, then I happen to kiss him passionately, but who knows what would happen now."

Draco knew there was no swaying the Gryffindor. The unfortunate event that had brought them to his point wasn't yet resolved, and he knew she deserved an apology for far more than just the incident at Theo's. She knew nothing about these customs, as her suitor it was his duty to make her aware and he had laxed on it. "I apologize for my deception, Hermione. In return, you can ask me anything you'd like, at any time. There, I said it."

Her eyes turned towards him and she gave a beatific smile. "You really said it." Draco rolled his eyes. "I'm still not able to believe, you actually apologized. I never thought I would see a day, where Draco Malfoy said sorry to a Muggleborn and accepted he indeed had made a mistake."

"Yes, yes. I said I was sorry. You can kiss me now, so stop making a big deal of it, alright?"

"Why shouldn't I? It's a momentous occasion. The historical significance is without equal. The press should be notified. If we contact Theo, do you think we could make today's evening edition? Also, this isn't one of my dreams so I don't really need to kiss you now do I?" Hermione said with a wink.

"Hermione," Draco's eyes took on a predatory gleam as he sauntered towards her. "I'm warning you. Don't push it."

"What're you gonna do?" She asked wagging her eyebrows.

"Oh, you can't imagine the possibilities." the Malfoy heir supplied letting a sinister tone infect his every word. Hermione stopped her laughter and gave him a questioning glare. "Don't forget you still owe me a favor."

Hermione suddenly realized that the cunning Slytherin had closed the distance between them and now stood too close. Something about that gleam in his eyes made her gulp.

"You see, Granger. I've been dreaming about something myself, collecting a favor."

"What do you have in mind?" The proximity of him turned her into a puddle, as coherent thinking took a sudden vacation.

"Fly with me?"

Hermione's eyes went wide and she instinctively pushed herself back. "No. Absolutely not."

Draco smirked. "To quote your own famous words, 'A favor within reason', I believe this is something that meets that criteria."

"First of all, we don't have enough time for…this," she waved her hands frantically pointing in the general direction of the broom. "We've got to be at Hogwarts, in half an hour. Secondly, I don't see how exactly flying with you is a favor to you. Even if you argue it is, it doesn't qualify to be one 'within reason'. When I said favor, I meant something like offering my help with Potions or Arithmancy or something else entirely," she gasped completely losing control over the topic at hand. Noticing the smirk on his lips, she tried to gain her wits back. She crossed her hands over her chest and spoke in a composed manner. "And last but not the least, I don't own a broom. So, I can't fly with you."

Draco was amused looking at her flustered expression and his determination grew strong. "Are you telling me you don't fly? Aren't you best friends with the Holyhead Harpies' famed chaser? Is it that you're afraid of heights? or afraid of brooms?" he asked cocking an eyebrow at her.

"I'm perfectly capable of managing myself at heights with a solid support, but brooms are just too unstable," she supplied. "That thing," she said gesturing to Draco's broom."Regardless of how well it's made is simply unreliable. It's absurd that such a small and a fragile stick could be considered a sensible way of traveling." Hermione tried her best to explain her perfectly rational theories. It was already disconcerting to see Harry, Ginny, and Ron doing life-threatening stunts on those feeble sticks and it had taken years for her to stop them from convincing her to try this amazing equipment that could help a person soar into the sky. She quickly needed to come up with something solid, the look in Draco's eyes was trouble.

"Fine, then you can ride with me. I've been riding for years and I've never fallen off once, not counting Quidditch." Draco advanced, his arrogance pushing Hermione into a state of panic.

"What?! There's no way you're going to get me on that broom of yours."

"Get you onto my broom? Granger, there will be time for that later." Draco said throwing a suggestive smirk at her. "Right now, I'm just asking you to fly with me."

"Buh… wha… DRACO!" she said as she viciously smacked his shoulder. "You know full well we weren't talking about... That!"

Draco chuckled manically rubbing his now likely bruised shoulder. "Yes, yes, but your reaction was too priceless, I couldn't resist. Come on, Granger. It's a small trip from here to Hogwarts. I promise to make it as enjoyable as possible."

"Draco just drop it." Hermione groaned.

"Not a chance! I'm not going to let this slide. Granger, you owe me one favor 'within reason' for dealing with My great aunt's collection of severed heads. How is asking you to fly with me unreasonable?!"

"I've never liked flying. It's needlessly dangerous and I've seen you and Harry chase after a snitch. When you're on a broom Draco, you're positively reckless!" She shouted at her troublesome boyfriend.

"It's pronounced 'dashing' Granger. What you mean to say is I look dashing when I'm on a broom," he snarked, looking mildly pleased with the kind of frustration he was causing.

"R-e-c-k-l-e-s-s, you're reckless on a broom and you know it!" She countered.

Draco knew his bookworm had a point. He loved chasing the thrill of danger when he was on a broom. Astoria has flown with him only once, then hexed senseless afterwards. Apparently, weaving between trees at top speed while upside down supposedly considered suicidal, Draco disagreed.

"Ugh, fine! Then I demand a list of every single unreasonable favor."

"What?!" Hermione's eyes went wide.

"You heard me, Granger, I want a list of everything you deem an unacceptable favor. I don't like being told the word 'no' and I'm not going to give you the opportunity to turn down all my requests by claiming they're unreasonable!" Draco said raising an eyebrow in challenge.

"That's..." The brightest witch of her age struggled to find words to counter his argument.

"Perfectly fair and you know it," Draco said cutting her off.

Hermione huffed. He had a point, there was every chance she'd reject his suggestions, so this did seem fair, but it was also dangerous. Draco was a Slytherin to the core if she forgot something from that list he'd exploit it to the fullest. Still, she owed him a favor and it would be cruel to turn him down over and over again.

"Fine, I'll make a list," Hermione said through gritted teeth.

Draco could imagine the gears in her head working to come up with ways to avoid ever having to grant any favor, but he was quite confident that his Machiavellian nature could definitely find a loophole in her list. With a victorious smile, he reached for his broom and offered his other hand to her.

"What're you so happy about?" She asked grabbing her bag, as she gave a once-over to the place to check everything was in place. "Shouldn't you be whining that I rejected your request?"

"Why would I be whining over a minor set back? You still owe me a favor, and I know you're too noble to take that away." Before she could process it he whisked them both off to Hogwarts.

He chuckled loudly at the shocked and angry expression on her face as they appeared near their old school. Noticing the Headmistress standing just outside the gates, Draco took a few quick steps and stopped in front of Hermione.

"You can yell at me for apparating you without consent later, Granger," he said with a smirk. "I've got a meeting with Slughorn, so I'll join you once I've finished." Draco leaned in a pressed a soft kiss to her cheek before whispering, "Do be careful writing that list, Hermione. I'm a Slytherin after all."

Hermione stood still, her mouth slightly agape in shock as the Malfoy heir trotted off to greet the headmistress of Hogwarts and disappear into the confines of the old school. These moments of sudden intimacy were going to be the death of her. Her heart was racing not just from his kiss, or her anger, but from the warning or rather veiled threat held in the mention of his Slytherin nature.

Chapter Text

 

"Pay close attention to the steadiness of his hands, my dear students. Notice the purposeful movement, that is the standard you've got to aim for. Carelessness while brewing or preparing your materials can be the difference between brewing a notoriously difficult potion like Draught of Living Death and making a lethal poison."

Draco's irritation grew as his former professor continued to brag about his 'Remarkable Former Student' while ignoring the obvious discomfort Draco's mere presence was creating in the classroom.

"Only a few potioneers ever develop the kind of skills Mr. Malfoy has cultivated. Potion making requires great discipline, but it is also an art. Although his performance didn't reflect it at the time; I'm proud to say Draco has grown into one of the most talented potioneers I've ever had the pleasure to teach." Slughorn spoke with pride, but still acknowledged the difficulties Draco had after Snape had left the position of potions professor.

"What about Hermione Granger?" a student suddenly asked causing Draco's eye to twitch involuntarily. Why was it that he was always compared to Granger when it came to academic performance?

"Yes, Ms. Granger is quite the exceptional muggle-born. Unfortunately, it's my understanding that she's chosen a different path; but, I'm sure she'll find success regardless of what path she's chosen to follow." It was obvious in the aged professor's tone that he believed that Hermione Granger hadn't yet achieved the kind of notoriety and influence expected of Slug Club alumni. Perhaps once her house elf legislation was approved by the Wizengamot that would change.

"I'm sure you've all read about Gemma Farley's efforts with Wolfsbane potion," Slughorn continued, "You see, before she began work at St. Mungo's she consulted with both Mr. Malfoy and myself to better to help understand how she could refine her brewing methods."

As the Malfoy heir transferred leech juice into smaller phials for the students to use later, he couldn't help rolling his eyes at his former professor's assertion. In truth, Draco hadn't intended to help Farley but had simply stumbled into her consultation meeting with the old Potions Master and offered his insight. It was ironic that his former professor spoke so fondly of two people whose families had been so closely associated with the Dark Lord's regime. It wasn't that long ago that both Theo and Draco had been denied an invitation to the Slug Club for such familial affiliations, despite both being more talented than Zabini and better connected than McLaggen.

Draco couldn't help but wonder if even this offer of an apprenticeship was only because of the interference of his Gryffindor girlfriend. Before his association with the meddlesome bookworm, Slughorn had always maintained a level of professional detachment. Now it seemed as if old Sluggy was more than happy to praise his accomplishments publicly, pretending as if they had been close for years.

"Using preserved leech juice instead of fresh juice is actually one of Mr. Malfoy's more recent discoveries, you know. I was quite surprised that such a simple substitution, nearly doubled the time it takes before the potion spoils."

The young Malfoy mostly ignored the students in Slughorn's class who unabashedly stared, focusing instead on prepping the potion ingredients in front of him. He should've realized that the old professor would drag him into class to perform a demonstration. After the abrupt offer from the Headmistress at Potter's wedding, Slughorn had taken every opportunity to try to convince Draco to take up the apprenticeship.

"Chop chop everyone. The instructions are on the board and the ingredients are on the table."

As the students scampered to the front to grab the ingredients Draco had prepared, his thoughts ran back towards Hermione and their unusual meeting in the morning. Perhaps he should've stayed with her instead of heading here to give Slughorn samples of his latest experiments. It certainly would have been more enjoyable than being paraded around in front of children. His eyes fell on the carefully snipped wormwood and Draco lifted one of the sprigs with his fingers and examined the oddly familiar tool marks.

"What is it, my boy? What's got you so puzzled about that herb." Slughorn asked infusing the same herb into the simmering concoction in the small cauldron on his desk.

"It's nothing Professor, I just realized Longbottom collected them," Draco said placing the herb back down.

"How could you know that? It could have been any of Professor Sprout's students." Slughorn raised an eyebrow in obvious appreciation.

"No, I spent seven years with Longbottom. He's got a unique quirk in how he uses his shears. There's a slight twist to his wrist that leaves a barely noticeable mark behind. Honestly, it's probably why he was able to use the Sword of Gryffindor so effectively," Draco said with a smirk. Since the end of the war, the Malfoy and Longbottom heirs had developed a professional understanding. While they would likely never become friends, Neville's talent for Herbology had proven surprisingly helpful in acquiring high-quality herbs not kept in the Manor's greenhouse.

"Amazing Draco, it's no wonder you're such a skilled potioneer."

"Awareness of one's surroundings is key to survival, every Slytherin knows that." Draco subtly dismissed the boastful professor's words, as a wave of hushed whispers reached his ears.

"Yes, but not every Slytherin chooses to be so meticulous. It's a particular trait you seem to share with young Mr. Nott."

"I wasn't aware you held an interest in Theo, Professor," Draco asked raising one eyebrow. It was indeed a surprise that Slughorn not only claimed Draco as one of his prized pupils, but he also acknowledged Theo's abilities.

"Interest?! No, no. I simply appreciate uniquely skilled people, you know."

"...Should be in Azkaban, Death Eater scum." Draco's ears picked up the hushed whispers of a few students and cast a questioning eye towards the group. The old professor either had chosen to ignore it or might've been too hard of hearing to pick up the student's insult.

"I'll leave you to it then, Draco." The Malfoy heir nodded as the professor cleared his throat and excused himself into his stores leaving Draco to oversee the students.

It wasn't until the elder wizard cleared his throat that Draco realized the truth. Slughorn hadn't ignored the student's barb, and he wasn't deaf; he was a Slytherin. The clever professor had left the classroom to allow Draco to handle the situation, without risking a confrontation or needing to use any of his authority to deduct house points.

Draco eyes quickly scanned the students gathered, most of them were busy with their potion, except for a group seated in the front. His gaze fell on a boy in red and gold robes who raised his chin as a challenge. It was easy to guess who was behind those whispers.

Slughorn had given him the freedom to act, however, the boy in front of him was only a third year. The difference in age made things more problematic and limited Draco's options. If the circumstances were different, the Malfoy Heir would have systematically, destroyed the young man's confidence with a mixture of veiled threats, insults, and manipulations. Unfortunately, putting the young mouthy Gryffindor in his place would require a bit of effort. With a cursory glance at the boy's cauldron and the ingredients set out on the table; Draco realized how best to teach this 'lesson'. He would make sure the boy would never dream of insulting a Malfoy again.

He waited with patience as the end of the hour approached. Most of the students were able to produce the expected results, except perhaps for the foolish group of Gryffindors. While instructing the students to bottle up their results, he addressed the class directly. "I'm curious, has Professor Slughorn taught you lot about some of the unique properties of Wormwood?"

There were murmurs of 'bitter' and 'ancient herb', and Draco couldn't help but smirk as he noted a pair of Ravenclaw girls with hands eagerly raised ready to answer. It reminded him of a time not so long ago, when Hermione Granger would never miss a chance to show off her knowledge. Were it not for his Lioness' temperament, she'd have roosted quite comfortably amongst the eagles of Ravenclaw.

"Some of you obviously know," Draco said throwing an appreciative look towards the Ravenclaw girls who remained far more respectful than Granger ever managed to be. "However, if you expect a brew an effective potion it helps to know as much about the ingredients as possible. For example," he picked up the herb and walked towards the tables. "What would happen if you dropped wormwood into a finished potion?" he gently lowered the sprig into an almost perfect shrinking solution. "Nothing," he said theatrically,"It remains unchanged." He then moved to the group of Gryffindors who were looking at him with a look of apprehension. "But when you drop it into an unfinished one," he said and looked at the boy who made the comment. "Do you know what's going to happen?"

There were murmurs of explosion from the other side of the class.

"Mine's not unfinished!" The Gryffindor boy said defensively, flaring his nostrils. "I think you don't know anything about potions. I bet a Death Eater like you, is as worthless as a flobberworm," the boy said in a shaky tone. The whole class fell into a pin drop silence.

"Careful boy, if your professor hadn't left this class in my care; Gryffindor might have lost quite a few house points for that." There was an unmistakable sinister edge to his tone, as he rolled up his sleeves exposing his faded mark. Although Draco didn't delight in reminding others of his dark past, sometimes it had its uses. Fear was sometimes just as effective at controlling people as respect.

Amidst all the chaos, Draco's expression remained unchanged. "Are you sure you've brewed this potion properly? Well, let's find out if that confidence is misplaced shall we?" Without giving him a chance to react, Draco dropped the leaf into the solution. The boy's eyes went wide in a comical fashion, but nothing happened. "It would seem I don't know quite as much as I thought," Draco added before walking back to the front of the classroom.

The young Gryffindor's sense of self-satisfaction ended the moment his cauldron suddenly started to bubble violently. The potion's sudden explosion covered the young third year in the evidence of his own failure. Once the smoke cleared, the young man's skin, hair, and clothes were stained acid green.

"Are you alright boy? You look a bit green." Draco drawled, causing the whole class to burst into laughter. "Let that be a lesson to you all. Self-discipline is important not only when brewing potions but also in preventing oneself from looking like an utter fool."

Draco stepped out of the dungeons with a skip in his step after bidding farewell to Professor Slughorn. The look on that little git's face was worth it, he'd underestimated Draco thinking that the Malfoy heir was ashamed of the brand on his arm. Although Draco hated that he would bear the stigma of the Dark Lord's mark for the rest of his days, he wasn't ashamed. He'd taken it to protect his family, the mark did not dictate who he was, it only told the tale of who he had been.

Walking the halls of his former school again felt odd. This place held many memories, some to be treasured, while others were best forgotten. Potions, Quidditch, Granger...

"Bugger me," Draco ground out as he checked his pocket watch. Dealing with Slughorn had taken far more time than it should have. He was supposed to be courting Granger today, not teaching a bloody class then debating the value of using crushed knarl quills to substitute for daisies as a potion ingredient. The old fool was too set in his ways and they'd argued for over an hour on the merits of such a substitution. The time to head down to the kitchens to have breakfast with Granger had long since passed, which begged the question. Where in Hogwarts would he find his ever righteous Gryffindor? It was unlikely that she'd be troubling the elves, as they were likely hard at work preparing for lunch. This left only one place; the one place in the entirety of Hogwarts where one could reliably find Hermione Granger.

He wasn't surprised when he found her in the Library, occupying the same table she'd used during their time as students.

"You know when I asked you to accompany me today. I was expecting that we'd actually spend some time together," she said without lifting her head from the tome in front of her.

"You were a member of his 'Slug Club', you should know better than most that we're lucky I managed to escape at all."

Hermione could only snicker at Draco's assertion. "I suppose that means you've done a good job at redeeming your family name, doesn't it? Professor Slughorn isn't known to bother associating with people who lack influence or at least potential."

"I see you're putting extra effort in composing that list of unacceptable favors you promised me," he drawled changing the subject and taking the chair beside her. "Be sure to give it some serious thought, Granger. Wouldn't want to leave something out and give me an opportunity to ask for something uncharacteristically lecherous."

"You wish!" She said raising her chin, with a mischievous smile dancing on her lips.

When Draco tried to sneak a peek at Hermione's list, she shifted to obstruct his view. "Nice try, Draco. I'm afraid you'll have to be a good boy and wait until I'm finished."

"Oh, Granger that's no fun," he tutted slightly shaking his head. "Besides, you can't hide anything from me."

"Really? Should I just walk around starkers then?" She said, making Draco blush.

"Someone's being rather cheeky today," Draco offered, as he relaxed into his chair. "What's with all these books? Did the Hogwarts elves assign you school work after breakfast or have you decided to enroll as a student again?" He said glancing at the plethora of books spread out in front of her.

"Just a bit of a light reading," she said with a casual shrug of her shoulders. "I couldn't get much done with the elves this morning, they were rather busy." She bit her lip, giving a thoughtful look at the quill and parchment in her hand. "So I thought it best to prepare a bit more before meeting them. There is this one particular elf, I've been trying to talk to."

Amongst the pile of books Hermione had taken out, one particular tome caught Draco's eye. Reaching out to pick it up he took note of the title. "Pureblood Praxis: for Muggles and Muggle-borns" he read the odd title and quirked an eyebrow at her. "By Phineas Black," said Draco trying to recollect the name that sounded vaguely familiar. "Where did you find this? I doubt something like this would have come from the Black Library," Draco added as he continued to examine the book.

"In the corners of the restricted section. I was looking for anything that would help me in constructing stronger arguments to persuade the Wizengamot. That's when I came across this. It was lying completely unattended in one of the corners with layers of dust piled on it. Honestly, I wouldn't have bothered, but you've gotten me curious about pureblood customs." She looked at the book with a thoughtful gaze. "At first, I thought it was written by former headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black, but based on my experiences with his portrait I doubt that's the case."

"You're right, this book must have been written by his son," Draco said finally remembering the name. "No wonder he was disowned. It's bad enough that he supported muggle rights but writing this would have been unforgivable back then."

"Oh, well that just makes me want to read it all the more. It might actually help me understand more about pureblood traditions," she said reaching out for the book.

"Is my knowledge not good enough for you?" Draco asked getting apprehensive and holding the book beyond her reach. "At least let me read it first to see if the information is accurate." He knew this book could likely cause more problems that he was prepared to deal with at the moment. The only reason a book like this would be kept in the restricted section was that it dealt with topics that were controversial. If Phineas had felt vindictive over being disowned by his pureblood family, then this book would likely contain the kind of information that might prevent Granger from seeing any value in Pureblood traditions.

"Fine, I'm still making notes on interesting cases handled by the Wizenagamot, but once I'm done with that, I'm going to want to read that book," she said moving to last of the pages of the book in front of her.

"I suppose that's reasonable. Although, I'll admit I'm a bit saddened to learn that your idea of spending time with me involves the two of us silently reading. Aren't you Gryffindors supposed to be more adventurous?" Draco hoped this indirect challenge would keep Hermione from focusing on his disowned relative's book.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading," she argued. "How would you rather we spend the afternoon, Mr. Malfoy? Perhaps, a walk around the Black Lake?" Draco shrugged his shoulders lazily. "Maybe a drink at three broomsticks?" Looking at his bored expression she leaned closer and whispered. "Or perhaps some debaucherous activity in the Library?"

Draco raised an eyebrow at her and spoke with a devilish smirk dancing on his lips. "Debauchery without question. However, something tells me that even a brave Gryffindor such as you Ms. Granger isn't that bold."

"Why? Do you think I'm afraid of a little exhibitionism?" She challenged, stunning the Malfoy heir.

"Enough. As much as you're willing to pretend, I doubt you'd want me ravishing you here and now." Draco was shocked by just how far Hermione was willing to escalate things. "What exactly did you eat in the kitchens this morning? I have to wonder if one of the elves slipped something into your food," she rolled her eyes and reached for the book in his hands.

Draco quickly slammed the book down on the table pinning it underneath his hand. "Nice try Hermione. Unfortunately, you're forgetting that I'm a Slytherin who endured tales of Zabini's lustful exploits for years. It takes more than a little salaciousness to distract me. Perhaps next time you should try a bit harder." Despite his words, Draco hadn't been expecting Hermione's bold attempt. He was scared by how easily she distracted him. Thankfully, his seeker skills had prevented his distraction from being far more costly, but the thought of her pressed against this table moaning his name in ecstasy between the shelves filled with books lingered.

"You win this time Draco. Perhaps next time I'll try it without a skirt on," she offered cheekily.

After a few moments of silence, Hermione returned to work and Draco began perusing the contents of Pureblood Praxis. Overall, the book's contents weren't as dangerous as Draco predicted. Mostly just explanations of the origin of certain pureblood customs tailored for muggle and muggle-born readers. The chapter on the dark and bloody history of Magical Matching was problematic, but it could also be useful in case Granger discovered the hidden purpose of this relationship. After all, Draco's methods thus far weren't even close to being as repugnant as those recorded by history.

"So, what took you this long?" She suddenly asked breaking the companionable silence that had descended upon them.

"I was meeting with Slughorn to follow up on an apprenticeship offered to me by the Headmistress," he said, simply glad his girlfriend's attention seemed to have moved on from Phineas' book.

"Apprenticeship?!" Hermione asked with sudden enthusiasm. As he narrowed his eyes, she tried to cover her enthusiasm with a hurried answer. "Isn't that wonderful, this is certainly a rare opportunity."

"Give it up, Granger. McGonagall already sold you out. It was a bit too suspicious that the Headmistress of Hogwarts would offer 'me' an apprenticeship, on the same day you suddenly kissed me," he said with a smile, tucking the disgraced Black's book safely into his robes. Draco still hadn't read enough to be sure it was safe to let his muggleborn girlfriend read it. Some old pureblood traditions were quite closely related to the Dark Arts and given her dislike of Magical Matching it was better to err on the side of caution.

"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked still feigning ignorance.

"The headmistress might have made certain allusions to an open Transfiguration apprenticeship and her fondness for a former student to claim the position," the blond offered with a knowing look.

"Bugger," she grumbled. "Regardless, I for one think it's a brilliant idea. What you've accomplished by combining Arithmancy and Potions is beyond innovative, and after working together these past few months, I'd rather think your well suited to teaching," she said with a beatific smile. "Although, I will admit to having a selfish motive. As you know, the Headmistress has been pushing me to take up an apprenticeship in Transfiguration but I can't abandon E.L.F. until it can stand on its own without me. I was hoping your apprenticeship give me an idea of if I could manage to do both."

"I see, very clever Granger. Although, I am curious why didn't you just ask Longbottom? Isn't he going to be taking over for Professor Sprout?"

"Yes, he is. The problem with Neville is that he's a bit of an odd duck. It takes him time to develop confidence, but once he has it, he's brilliant and makes everything look easy. If I asked him I wouldn't get an accurate picture of the difficulty," the former Gryffindor offered sheepishly. She loved Neville dearly, but Malfoy was simply a better test subject. His managing of his family's business ventures was comparable to her work at the ministry, so his struggles would help predict any struggles she might experience if she chose the same path.

"Sometimes, you make wonder if the sorting hat made a mistake." Before Hermione could answer his eyes strayed to an interesting thing peeking out of her bag. "Granger, are you carrying a flower in your bag?"

Hermione reached for the daffodil and gently pulled it out. "I'm trying to uncover the mystery behind these unwilting flowers."

"So that's one of the flowers from our first date," Draco said, trying to hide his admiration for the beautiful flower. They were his mother's most prized possession and had been part of his family's history since before he was born. In fact, a small vase of them had been in his bedroom since infancy. The Malfoy heir had been completely befuddled when his proud pureblood mother insisted he give a bouquet of these precious flowers to a muggle-born. It became evident that day that both of his parents saw value in adding Hermione to the Malfoy family. Ironically, he'd come to the same conclusion, albeit much later.

"I haven't seen anything like this before. No stasis charms to keep them in that pristine condition or any other magic that kept them from decaying. I thought Neville could help me figure it out." Her gaze moved from the delicate Narcissus to the blond. "Or you could save me some trouble and tell me all about it. After all, you did promise me answer my questions."

Draco could see the strength in her argument, but the secret of the flowers wasn't his to share. Draco bit the inside of his cheek and looked at her, trying to steer in a different direction. "I see you're not denying it was a date. Is that why you kissed me that night?"

"Don't try to distract me from the topic, Draco. I thought you promised me answers."

Draco sighed. "Unfortunately, the story behind those flowers isn't mine to share. That said, you're more than welcome to discuss it with either of my parents." When a look of frustration clouded her face, he chuckled. "Fine, I'll tell you a few things about them. That flower can only be found on the grounds of Malfoy Manor, and it's most likely older than either of us." Draco chuckled at Hermione's shocked expression, it was adorable how expressive she could be. "Oh, and the longevity has nothing to do with the Dark Arts."

"I know it's not dark magic. I've run some tests." Hermione said with a bashful look. "Still, I'd rather ask Neville than your parents about them."

"You're dating a Malfoy, Granger. I warned you that I don't come alone." Draco's tone was uncharacteristically stern, "You're going to meet them again at some point. Don't think you can avoid them forever. Attendance to family dinners and social events is compulsory."

"I'll cross that bridge when I get there. For now, I'm happy to unsettle and confound just one Malfoy."

"Unsettle? I'd like to see you try," he smirked.

She opened her mouth with a sharp retort dancing on her lips but trailed off looking over his shoulder. Draco followed her gaze to see two students hovering at the next table, with apprehensive looks on their faces.

"Brilliant must be fans of yours." Draco quipped with amusement. "If your fame becomes a constant irritation for me, I might need to practice casting the Disillusionment Charm. It might end up being the only way we get any privacy."

"We could always transfigure ourselves to look like other people, it works for Harry and Ginny," Hermione offered.

"Don't be absurd, one doesn't tamper with Malfoy perfection."

Ignoring her boyfriend's ego, Hermione noticed that the pair of girls sporting blue and bronze were focused solely on Draco. "Although I doubt your ego needs it, I think they're here for you."

"Mr. Malfoy." One of the girls scampered towards them to the utter surprise of Draco. "My friend and I were wondering if you could help us understand the alterations you made to the shrinking solution. We'd like to understand the concept better."

"No," Draco dismissed coldly. "If you wish to learn, ask Professor Slughorn. It's his job to teach you not mine."

"There's no need to be rude, Draco," Hermione hissed in his ear. "It's just a shrinking potion, for Godric's sake." Draco sneered, trying to ignore Hermione's warm tickling breath near his neck, as she leaned closer to whisper. "If you do it, I might consider rewarding you."

She gave a naughty smirk as Draco narrowed his eyes at her taunting words. "Bribery? How the mighty have fallen. Don't regret this later Granger." Noticing the smirk still in place on her lips, he turned to the apprehensive students and said in a condescending tone, "The theory is pretty much self-explanatory. If you don't understand it, I doubt you're even qualified to attend the class."

The girls looked terrified and took a few steps back and Hermione took the matter into her own hands. "What Mr. Malfoy is trying to say is," she said giving a hard pinch to the outside of Draco's thigh making him wince. "While he'd rather not explain the basic points of the theory. He's happy to explain the finer points with the both of you."

The girls looked at each other and finally glanced at the Malfoy heir who nodded, trying to control his trademark sneer. "Just make it quick," he said beckoning them to come closer. Leaning towards Hermione he whispered, "Ms. Granger, what do you think you're doing?" He tapped on the back of her hand that was resting on his thigh massaging it gently.

"Rewarding you, unless you'd rather I didn't," she whispered so that only he could hear, resuming her research, with the hand still in place.

Draco took a deep breath and took a parchment from one of the students, trying his best to ignore the warmth of Granger's hand, that was slowly spreading to other problematic parts of his anatomy. "What is it you're having difficulty with?"

"Why did the leech juice substitution improve our results? Last time we were asked to brewed it the color was off, but this time it was perfect," the girl spoke with a beaming smile.

"The preservation process filters out the more volatile components of leech juice without affecting the potency. It's the same reason why distilling certain potions can double their potency." Draco tried his best to keep his calm, as Hermione's fingers now began to draw circles on his thigh. "If that was all, you can leave now."

"Well, we were wondering if there is a particular amount of time the juice has to be preserved to be this effective?"

"Yes," he said with a slight tremor in voice. "The optimum number of days required for preservation is deduced using Arithmancy." A side glance towards the temptress beside him told Draco she was very much enjoying his trouble.

"Professor Slughorn told us you're integrating both the subjects and …." The rest of the sentence went over his head as Granger's lithe fingers flirted with danger and he instinctively clamped his hand down to halt the movement. "We've only started Arithmancy this year and frankly it's a very fascinating subject."

"Well, my work here is done," Hermione said rising from her spot with a triumphant smile, effectively having pulled her hand from Draco's grip. "If you'll excuse me I need to check something in the restricted section." She turned to the girls and gave a beaming smile. "Mr. Malfoy's very skilled, and he doesn't often offer his help to others. I'd advise both of you not to waste the opportunity to learn from him."

"Thank you, Ms. Granger." Both girls echoed dreamily.

Draco seethed, as his mischievous muggleborn disappeared into the aisles of the restricted section. This lioness definitely liked to play with fire, but she seemed to have forgotten that he was a serpent, constricting and venomous.

After dispensing with the two Ravenclaw girls with a series of curt answers and allowing his physical response to his girlfriend's ministrations to fade. Draco followed the path into the restricted section that Hermione'd taken only a few moments before. His brow creased when he didn't find her in a place where he expected she would be. Instead, he was greeted by two students in green robes with wide eyes. Thankfully, his sneer was enough to drive them off. With his hands tucked in his pockets; Draco continued to explore the aisles in search of his wayward lioness when suddenly a hand tapped his shoulder from behind.

"You're playing a dangerous game, Granger." He kept his voice seductively low, as he turned around to meet her twinkling eyes, accompanied by a beautiful and satisfied smile on her lips. "I take it your earlier actions were revenge for apparating you without asking this morning and then making you wait?" He asked as he started backing her up towards the bookshelves.

"Maybe, but it was also quite a bit of fun." she breathed as her back was now pressed against the bookshelves.

"Minx." Draco took in a sharp breath and trailed his hands to her waist, pulling her closer. Brushing his nose against her cheek, he relished in the scent that was uniquely hers. Without letting her offer a reply, he pressed his lips against hers.

As soon as her lips opened to his ministrations, he was treated to a passionate assault that could only belong to the fierce Gryffindor. She slowly sucked in his bottom lip, letting him explore the indents of her skillful mouth. Her fingers played with the fine hair at the nape of his neck, earning a low growl from him. His mouth descended to her throat and his fingers trailed along the length of her arms. The young Malfoy smirked at the deep moan that came from the back of her throat when his hand accidentally grazed the side of her breast.

Draco's eyes widened when he suddenly heard a buzzing sound. He immediately withdrew and quirked an eyebrow at her, noticing the sound was indeed coming from her. "Do all Muggleborns buzz when aroused?" He said narrowing his eyes at her heaving chest, trying to restrain himself from ravishing her here. "Or is it just you?"

Hermione rolled her eyes, giving a sharp swat to his arm."It's an alarm. To keep myself from getting lost in books or other activities," she teased, "I set a reminder for when the elves would be finished with lunch so I could meet with them."

"Is there any chance I could persuade you to delay it?" Draco asked already knowing her answer.

"Not a chance." She said tapping his lips and turning to move down the aisles. Draco looked at her retreating form and sighed. Hermione Granger was sexual frustration personified. He chided himself for being reduced to his fifteen-year-old self, who hadn't hesitated to make out in the back corners of a Library, but one thing was certain; he would have his revenge. He wouldn't be satisfied until his lioness was left writhing, shrieking his name deliriously lost in a perpetual orgasmic haze.

 

Chapter Text

Draco Malfoy had never cared for Hogwarts' kitchens or the elves that worked in them. For him, Malfoy elves were inherently superior, and the food offered during meals in the Great Hall would always be inferior to the food prepared in his ancestral home. Yet, as the young wizard descended towards the school's kitchens that afternoon, he couldn't help but marvel at the vastness of the parts of Hogwarts he'd never truly explored. Surely, feeding the student body was more of an enterprise than he'd ever realized.

Hermione's chuckle brought him back to the reality. "I can't believe you have never stepped into the kitchens before. I thought Slytherins were supposed to be cunning. How can you exploit something without first seeing it for yourself? Where was your sense of exploration?"

"Granger, you're acting as if I didn't know Hogwarts had kitchens at all." Draco rolled his eyes as they strolled toward the kitchens. "Do I strike you as the adventurous type? I knew it was located under the Great Hall, and that the food was prepared by elf labor. That's more than enough information for innumerable cunning schemes; and to answer your question as to why I never visited, there was never a need. Mother would often send parcels, and in the rare case that my mother failed to anticipate my needs; I would simply send Crabbe and Goyle to fetch what I desired. More often than not, my concern was simply that those idiots would get lost, or get themselves killed and I'd be to blame." There was a sad nostalgia evident in his words.

"I remember, you received parcels almost every day. Your mother certainly spoiled you." Hermione offered trying to steer the conversation away from Vincent Crabbe.

"Calling me spoiled presumes I was undeserving, which is obviously false. After all, Malfoys deserve only the best."

Hermione couldn't help but roll her eyes at her boyfriend's ego. "Is that why you're dating me, Draco?" Hermione asked with a cheeky grin.

"Well, it certainly helps."

"One thing still puzzles me about your sweet tooth. How have you've managed to avoid your teeth rotting away or weighing at least fifty stone."

"The answer is simple, superior breeding. It's time you realize just how fortunate you are to be on my arm, Granger. I'm a highly desirable specimen." When Hermione rolled her eyes and continued down the path, Draco smirked. "Although I must say, it's quite interesting to learn that you fancied me during our school days, Hermione. Were you always so interested in my package, or was it simply my parcels.". It was blatant and obvious teasing but the blond couldn't help himself. The Malfoy heir truly enjoyed watching Hermione Granger get flustered. It made those amber eyes of hers sparkle with a desire to fight back and only encouraged him to find new ways of unsettling her.

She stopped in her step and spun back with a surprised look much to his confusion. "Really? That's not nearly as funny as you think it is Draco. I don't deny having some interest during the sixth year, mostly because of Harry, but that isn't something to joke about." she said slowly walking backward with a thoughtful look on her face. She immediately shook her head trying to get rid of unpleasant memories. "Let's talk about something else, alright."

Draco nodded apologetically understanding he'd made a considerable miscalculation. Dredging up the past for the sake of humor required a more tactful approach. "Do you have anything in mind, or shall I keep putting my foot in my mouth?" His muggleborn girlfriend seemed to appreciate the mild act of self-deprecation.

"Well, if you must know; I can't help but wonder what a young Draco would think of our relationship," she asked with a sudden curiosity.

"How young?" Draco quirked an eyebrow at her. "Anytime before the Yule Ball, a younger version of myself would be repulsed and furious." There was little need to ask how Hermione had felt about him as a young girl. The memory of a staggering slap to the face was a clear display of the feelings she'd held as a young girl. Hermione quickly averted her gaze and Draco wondered why the mention of the Yule Ball seemed significant to her.

"And after?"

"He'd ask if the sex was as wild and heated as he imagined it." He didn't bother to hide his smile as she looked at him with wide eyes. Honestly, he never thought his pubescent fantasies from that time would ever come to light. Not a single living soul knew, how his thoughts strayed whenever he looked at her chewing on her bottom lip or when she passionately argued to state her views.

"What?!" Hermione's eyes were popping out in a very comical fashion as she stood looking at him incredulously, making Draco chuckle.

"What can I say, you made quite the impression. Don't get me wrong the notion of a loving relationship or marriage would've turned his stomach, but shagging you in every dark alcove of Hogwarts or bending you over a table in the potions classroom would have been perfectly fine for him." His joy at recalling those fantasies came to an end, as his mind was bombarded with the images of what happened in his life after that. With a sigh, he continued, "Unfortunately, the Dark Lord's return put a stop to those fantasies quite quickly, by the end the only girl I spoke to was Myrtle."

"Wait, Myrtle? As in Moaning Myrtle the ghost?"

"Was there another Myrtle at Hogwarts?" He asked, "Talking to her was easy. She liked me well enough and I didn't need to worry that she'd die in front of me."

Hermione reached for his hand and gave a gentle squeeze. "That period was..." She paused, "Testing, for all of us. We all did whatever we could, to keep our families safe."

Draco hadn't expected this kind of response from her. Over the years, he'd become so used to dealing with Slytherins that his girlfriend's open display of emotion and kindness felt out of place. If he was being honest, he expected a tiny bit of venom from her, instead, he was receiving sympathy from someone who had every right to deny him such a thing. Her gesture told him that she understood his pain, but he was confused by the mention of families. Her tone suggested she wasn't talking about the Weasleys, but of a sadder, more personal experience. It was likely related to the uncomfortable conversation she'd had with Potter about her parents a few weeks before the wedding.

"It's unfortunate that people don't understand just how far some of us had to go." Hermione's voice was so low when she uttered those words that Draco had to stop for a minute to process what she said. It seemed his girlfriend felt a great deal of guilt when it came to her parents. A sudden exclamation dragged him from his thoughts, "Neville! How are you?" His girlfriend's mood reverted back to being cheery at the sight of her former housemate. She skipped off and hugged Longbottom, as he got up from one of the kitchen tables, clearly seeming to have just finished his meal.

"Hermione." Neville returned her gesture with a smile. His gaze moved towards Draco and he gave a nod.

"Longbottom," Draco greeted. "Did the Headmistress send you down here to learn proper table manners from the elves? If so, I'd wager it'll be a few years before she'll let you sit at the High Table with the rest of the staff."

"Draco!" Hermione said with a gasp.

"It's okay, Hermione." Neville waved it off and turned to Draco. "The word around the castle is you're going to join us soon and I guess they figured you might need some company. Wouldn't want you rolling up your sleeves and scaring the kids witless now would we?"

Draco feigned innocence, knowing that his little display in the potions classroom was probably more effective than intended. The dark mark inspired fear just as much as it did hatred and based on Longbottom's choice of words the young Malfoy had misjudged just how powerful the image of the skull and snake tattoo could be.

"That lesson about having self-discipline when making potions must have been quite something," Neville continued, "Madame Pomfrey said she hadn't seen a healthy student that was traumatized since Snape was teaching potions."

Hermione roved her eyes between both men, waiting for Draco's reply and trying to figure out if there was a fight brewing between the two wizards. Draco simply smirked at the revelation without his trademark snark. "Glad to hear it, those brats seemed to have totally forgotten the importance of displaying proper decorum and respect in a classroom."

"What did you do?" Hermione questioned with wide eyes. "They're just students for Godric's sake."

"It's alright, Malfoy actually did us a favor. That student was more of a menace than Draco ever was, and he needed to learn that lesson. As much as I didn't like him and I still don't, students knew better than to talk back to Professor Snape. Well, most of them." Neville chuckled turning to look at Hermione who simply smiled back. "By the way, what brings you back to Hogwarts? Malfoy's with you, so I'm guessing it's house elf related and not that you're taking up the Transfiguration Apprenticeship."

"Merlin, help me. I asked the Headmistress to give me time! Next thing you know, Harry's going to be bringing it up. It's as if she wants me to become the next Headmistress before Thirty!" Hermione groused. "Honestly, I'm not going to simply abandon helping house elves to become a teacher. Kingsley too, he just keeps going on about opportunities at the Ministry. Yes, I want to change the world for the better, but I'd also like to find a husband and be a mother, and I won't have the time to find someone if I'm the bloody Headmistress of Hogwarts or the Minister for Magic!"

Both men chuckled at Hermione's ranting, knowing full well the young witch would want to do all of it if she could.

"Yes, yes, we know Granger. Only a few more left and you'll have troubled every house elf on the British Isles with your notions of freedom." Draco supplied, ignoring his muggleborn girlfriend's sharp glare.

"Speaking of the elves," Neville cut in before Hermione could lash out at Malfoy's remark "Is it time to renew my S.P.E.W. Membership? It's still two sickles a year, Yeah?"

Hermione smiled at Neville all her frustration forgotten. It had become a bit of a tradition between them that every year since the war ended Neville would pay Hermione two sickles to renew his S.P.E.W. membership. At first, Hermione hadn't liked the idea, but the Longbottom heir had explained that since she supported him at Hogwarts, the least he could do was pay a membership fee to support her project.

"Two sickles a year? Merlin, I'm spending two hundred and fifty Galleons a month." Draco groused with no real bite to his words.

"You're right Draco, I should be asking for much more given that I have to put up with you. Besides, you've no right to complain since I'm only charging Neville the same rate I did when he first joined the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. You simply missed out on a better rate because you were a prat." Hermione countered with a flirtatious smile.

"I knew you'd succeed eventually, Hermione. You're definitely best at what you do and I'm proud to be your friend." Neville said, a little uncomfortable with the odd atmosphere surrounding his friend and the Malfoy heir.

"Before I forget, Luna asked me to pass these to you," Hermione said, quickly accio-ing the root samples from her beaded bag and passing them off into Neville's waiting hands. Neville reverently looked at them and shot a gratified look at Hermione, while Draco rolled his eyes at the emotional display going on between the Gryffindors.

"Although I might understand why; is it really necessary to get weepy over a bunch of roots, Longbottom? Also, I'd advise you examine them carefully to make sure they aren't something unexpected. It would be problematic to my research if you become a victim of Lovegood's quirks." Draco said casting a skeptic look at the bundle in the young herbology apprentice's hands.

Neville snorted at Draco's words as he transferred the roots into his pockets. "Can't help being a git, eh, Malfoy? Luna knows how important these roots are." Neville didn't elaborate further, and Malfoy seemed content with the former Gryffindor's answer, but Hermione's eyes narrowed in concentration.

"Wait, I've seen roots like those before. Neville! Those are roots from the wild bluebells in the Forest of Dean! Harvesting them is illegal, according to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. You and Luna could get into trouble if you're found out." her brow furrowed wondering why he needed those roots.

The Muggleborn's outburst confirmed Draco's suspicions, "Bluebells have many superstitions associated with them, Granger. The most common being that they can be used to summon fairies or bestow bad luck." He cast an amusing look at Neville. "Planning to spread some bad luck to someone on the grounds of Hogwarts, Longbottom?"

"Draco!" Hermione hissed looking at the uncomfortable look on Neville's face. "Neville would never do something like that!" Hermione tried to support her friend, but her eyes told a different story. It was clear she wanted to interrogate Neville as to why he and Luna would break the law and why he needed the roots of flowers that brought bad luck.

Draco laughed loudly. "If you don't tell her what you're going to do with those roots, she's going to likely end up in the forest herself trying to get acquainted with every single fact about them."

Neville tried to look anywhere but at them.

"No, I trust Neville," Hermione said staring down her boyfriend with her hands on her hips. "If it were you or Theodore then it would be a different story, but Neville is a sweet kindhearted man and a Gryffindor who wouldn't use underhanded tactics. Besides, you seemed to have already figured out why he needs them. So If I really wanted to know; all I'd need to do is persuade you to give me the answer." she added with a discreet wink at the blond.

"Persuade me, will you? I can't wait," Draco snarked while silently musing about their earlier activities in the Library.

Neville let out a relieved sigh ignorant to the subtext of Draco and Hermione's words, while the latter extracted a beautiful Daffodil from her bag and placed it in Neville's hands. "In return for not asking why you need those bluebell roots, I need your assistance in figuring out the mystery behind this flower."

"Fascinating." Neville took into his hands and twirled it in his fingers. "Delicate, yet strong. There is an unmistakable vitality that's emanating from it. Where did you find it?"

"It's from the Manor's gardens," Draco supplied. "I suggested she discuss it with my parents as they're the ones who hold its secrets. Unfortunately, this little lioness seems to be a bit too shy for that." Draco teased, pointing to a now scowling Hermione.

"Neville has a natural talent when it comes to Herbology. I'm sure he can crack the code much faster than it would take me to get honest answers from your Slytherin parents."

"You give me too much credit, Hermione. I'll see what I can manage, but no promises. Professor Sprout has me working hard so I might not be able to find the time." Neville smiled uncomfortably, holding the flower carefully, he pointed to the now empty table. "I'm guessing you're here for Lunch. The steak and kidney pie is just as good as you remember it. You should try it." He headed off to the exits bidding them goodbye.

"First things, first." Hermione tried to skip off to the front, while Draco looked at the assortment of dishes on the table. "I need to talk to the elves."

"Food first," he tugged her back. "The elves can wait." When Hermione tried to argue, he gently tapped at her temple with his finger and poked at the side of her stomach with his other hand. "The brain tends to work better if you feed it. Also, I can't stand listening to your stomach making those growling noises a moment longer."

"Actually, digestion directs blood flow to the digestive system. So I might not be as sharp after eating," Hermione said with a cheeky smile.

"I don't care. I've had dinner with you twice, and afterward, you were just as annoyingly brilliant as always. Let's just eat now so you can enjoy an afternoon of pestering elves until dinner."

"Your compliments still need work, but you're right." The muggleborn smiled before giving him a peck on the cheek and taking a seat at the table.

Draco had been completely caught off guard by the sudden kiss from his girlfriend. Between their encounter in the Library and this most recent surprise attack; it was becoming obvious that Hermione Granger was far more playful and affectionate than he'd ever expected. As he took his seat next to her, he couldn't help but wonder how she'd choose to surprise him next.

"It's nostalgic being here, don't you think?" Hermione said digging into a pie. "I forgot how hungry I was."

"As I told you, I never visited the kitchens; but yes, I share the sentiment." Draco agreed taking a hearty bite for himself. He hadn't expected that handling a bunch of third years and spending a few heated moments with his lioness would cause him to work up such an appetite.

"Are those bluebell roots related to another pureblood custom?" She began almost immediately after they started with their lunch.

"The direct approach, I see. What happened to persuading me?" Draco said taking a sip of the warm butterbeer.

"Oh, there will be time for that later. I don't have time to play around with you right now; so out with it. All I know is that they are a rare breed of wild bluebells found only in ancient forests, where trees have reached an age of at least four-hundred years." She said as if reciting a line from a Herbology text.

"My word, aren't you the pushy little bookworm today. Those roots are a rare ingredient for a certain kind of enslavement ritual"

Hermione stopped mid-bite. "WHAT?!" she shouted, "Neville would never!"

Draco struggled to maintain his stonefaced façade, but Hermione immediately caught on to his ruse.

"DRACO!" she said slapping his arm harshly. "That wasn't funny, I thought you were serious for a moment."

"I am being serious, Granger," he replied with a smirk. "It's just this particular type of enslavement involves mutual consent from both parties, and is commonly referred to as a union."

"Union?." Hermione questioned before a giant smile appeared on her face. "He's going to propose. Oh, I'm so happy for them." Draco chuckled at Hermione's ecstatic reaction. It wasn't a surprise for anyone who'd seen Longbottom and Abbott during Potter's wedding and Draco expected this was to happen soon. "But what do the Bluebells have to do with Neville proposing? Didn't you say that bluebells brought bad luck?" She asked her inquisitive mind still wanting to understand why Neville and Luna would illegally collect wild bluebells.

"Bluebells bringing bad luck is an old superstition that only applies to Muggles since they lack the proper knowledge of fairies. As to why Longbottom would have Lovegood collect them; I suspect it's because he's aiming to follow an old pureblood tradition and Lovegood knows enough about fairies to collect the roots without upsetting the forest fairies.

Hermione nodded, "Could you explain the tradition?"

Draco sighed, "It's an old custom amongst some pureblood families to present your betrothed with a crown of flowers upon the proposal of marriage. Each flower in the crown symbolizes a promise being made to the future bride. Bluebells are traditionally used as the base to symbolize undying love and unfailing devotion. I'm not sure if the Longbottom family follows that tradition, I know the Parkinsons do, and I think the Abbott family might as well."

"Wait, but Neville only has the roots," Hermione cut in.

"It's too cold out to find bluebells in bloom, Granger. Luckily, Longbottom is quite adept at Herbology. He'll have those roots turned into a garden before the day is out."

Hermione smiled at Draco's praise of her friend. She still didn't understand how the young Malfoy and Longbottom heirs seemed to somewhat get along despite their awful history but gathered that the Malfoy heir's potions research probably required a skilled herbologist to acquire certain rare plants. Neville had a big heart, and a disgraced family like the Malfoy's likely didn't have many people willing to associate with them, so it kind of made sense.

"Do the Malfoys follow that tradition?"

"No, and neither do the Notts. We have our own traditions." Draco's thoughts inadvertently shifted to Pansy and he let out a sigh.

Hermione ignorant to his wistful mood continued, "I'm glad Neville's proposing to Hannah. I was so worried when Parkinson started chasing after him. She was definitely not the right person to make Neville happy."

"I'll agree they weren't suited to each other. Pansy would have been utterly miserable with a wizard like him," Draco offered in support of his friend.

"Another reason this bloody Magical Matching should be banned," she grumbled into her pie. "Forcing people together, who're clearly not meant to be together for the sake of a child, is completely barbaric. Imagine the toxicity the prospective child would be exposed to."

Draco cleared his throat and cast a cautious glance at the muggleborn. One moment they were talking about the relationship between Longbottom and his prospective bride and in the next she began openly decrying Magical Matching. Unprepared for this conversational shift, Draco gave a placating but noncommittal nod. He wouldn't make the mistake of offering his opinion before he had a more complete grasp of the situation, and his fiery Gryffindor's emotions on the topic. Hermione Granger was clever and a single misstep at this stage could prove fatal for his ambitions.

"Anyway, I'm very happy that he's following his heart." She smiled slipping back into a cheerful mood.

It became clear that Hermione hadn't realized that this particular shift of topics was ill-advised. Draco had expected that his bookworm's dislike of Magical Matching would keep the potentially explosive topic far away from their conversations. Her open avoidance of the subject had worked to his advantage. After all, he wouldn't need to hide anything if she willingly avoided the topic; but this sudden willingness to address the controversial subject also allowed Draco to probe deeper into her views and opinions. If he was careful enough, he might discover something in her outlook that could be exploited for his own gain. It was a dangerous gamble, all things considered. However, if he didn't take advantage of the opportunity now, he might come to regret it later.

"Barbaric? If you find the Ministry's Magical Matching program to be barbaric; then it would seem you don't understand true barbarism." Draco challenged. "For some purebloods, magical matching is their best option. The Parkinsons are disgraced, which means that no respectable pureblood wizard is going to marry Pansy. Without magical matching, all she would have to look forward to is a future as a spinster. At least now, she has a chance."

Hermione shot him an incredulous look. "I can't believe you just said that. I know she's your friend, but even someone as unpleasant as Pansy Parkinson deserves a better future than being a nothing more than a broodmare."

"And if she should wish to become a mother? Who are you to question her methods? It's not as if she's using Amorentia or the Imperius curse. Magical Matching is simply the most effective means of getting what she wants. Merlin knows she didn't actually want to marry Longbottom."

"Which is my point!" Hermione cut in, "You agreed that Pansy and Neville would have been an awful match! Just because Neville had the presence of mind to refuse Pansy doesn't mean other people won't enter into loveless marriages just to have powerful children. No child deserves to be born into a loveless marriage."

Draco sighed, "On that, we agree, but no one is being forced to use Magical Matching. It's the Ministry's way of encouraging people to have children, to replace those lost in the war. It's not a perfect solution, but for people like Parkinson, Goyle, Nott, Farley, and even me, it might be the only way we ever find someone." The Malfoy heir could see a retort ready on his girlfriend's face but pressed on. "Furthermore, Magical Matching reduces the chance of a union producing a squib. Trust me, there is no greater pain than having a child born without the gift of magic. To purebloods magic isn't only a birthright, but it binds us together as a family in a way that blood alone never could. I'm not saying the child would be unloved, but regardless of how much a child is loved and cherished they would carry the burden of being different."

Hurt flashed across Hermione's face, if only for a moment, "I know, and I understand probably better than I ever wanted to." She paused to take a breath, "But Magical Matching could just as easily destroy a happy relationship. I'm pretty sure you didn't break up with Astoria Greengrass because you wanted to."

Draco winced at the mention of Astoria, it was easy to forget how sharp Hermione Granger could be. If she hadn't hated the subject so much, she'd have likely been brilliant at divination. After all, what was divination if not reading the signs and predicting the likely outcome. "You're right, I have no love for Magical Matching. It denied me the future I expected, but I suspect the same was true for you and Weasley wasn't it?"

The look on her face was all the confirmation Draco would need. It was ironic that Magical Matching would put them together only after taking away someone else. Draco mused, chewing on a piece of meat. "So you and Weasley were that poor a match? I can't say I'm shocked, but I was under the impression the both of you didn't care about such things." The blond questioned, trying to dig further into her defenses. Knowledge was power, and he couldn't afford to waste an opportunity like this.

"I didn't care, and for the most part, I still don't." She sighed and reached for a glass of warm butterbeer. "Ginny and I did it just for fun. Her and Harry's results came out in their favor, ours didn't. It never bothered me, but Ron... Well, let's just say the two of you are alike in at least one way," she finished with a humorless smile.

Draco's face scrunched up in disgust at the comparison, but at the same time, he needn't guess as to how his father managed to procure Hermione Granger's magical sample. Her harmless fun with Potter's wife had landed them in this mess. If not for that test, would she still be with Weasley? For that matter, who was the next best match next to Granger? Would he have had to try and steal Davis from Nott, marry Pansy, or worse still, court someone like Millicent Bulstrode? Shaking his head to get rid of all those thoughts, he said, "Then is it fair to assume your disdain for Magical Matching because it took away your happily ever after with that ginger oaf."

Hermione shook her head ignoring the insult aimed at Ron. "Not exactly. My problem is it takes away choice. I'd wager that your compatibility with Astoria was such that neither of you had much of a choice. If I'm honest with myself, Ron and I probably wouldn't have worked out, but we never got the chance to try." She paused for a brief moment as if she was considering something before she began again. "Truthfully, I've considered checking our compatibility." Draco tensed at her words. "But I realized it would be a mistake. I'd rather we explore this relationship without that kind of pressure. If things get serious between us, then maybe we get tested and go from there. Until then, I'm content with enjoying your company. I'm not about to let Magical Matching dictate my life like Ron and Pansy; it seems to have only brought them misery."

Draco could appreciate Granger's approach, she didn't want Magical Matching results tainting or ending their relationship prematurely. It was an admirable desire. Unfortunately, Hermione's innocent wish was already impossible. Their relationship was born of impure motives; Theo, Tracey, Lucius, Narcissa, and Draco himself, were all burdened with the knowledge that the muggleborn was a near-perfect match. Draco didn't have the option to explore this relationship willfully ignorant of the truth. Once again, life chose to deny him much of a choice.

As if somehow reading his thoughts, Hermione continued to speak. "Mipsy was right; choice is the most important thing. Nothing makes sense if it takes away the most important part of our freedom. It doesn't matter how noble your intentions are if they tamper with the very essence of what makes us human." Hermione said with lowered eyes. The joy that danced in her eyes at with the news of Longbottom's coming engagement seemed to have completely vanished, and a somber expression took its place.

Draco's brow creased but he remained silent. It was clear from her words, that she was talking about something beyond Magical Matching.

"I had to learn that lesson the hard way." With a sigh, she plastered a determined smile on her face. "So, I have to make sure every being out there is given that choice." She looked at her wristwatch and exclaimed. "Oh my, it's time I get to work. I didn't think we'd get so caught up in conversation. You'll have to enjoy dessert alone, I need to find a certain elf before it gets too late in the day." She pushed her plate of sweets towards the blond and pressed her lips to his cheek. "You can join me once you're done." She walked towards an abandoned corner of the kitchen where a small elf sat amidst the litter of empty butterbeer jars.

As Draco watched her kneel down next to the elf, he mused on all he had learned. The knowledge alone was intimidating, but he still couldn't believe she'd chosen to trust him, despite knowing about his Slytherin nature. Unbeknownst to her, she altered the nature of their relationship. The notion of choice was important to her; meaning that this relationship needed to be more than just manipulations to gain her affection there needed to be trust in this relationship from both sides. She'd unknowingly saddled him with the responsibility of trying to make sure that once the truth of their matching came to light that she would still choose him. Learning to trust this maddening muggleborn wasn't going to be easy.


"What an exhausting day." Hermione flopped down onto her sofa, as soon as they entered her home. Looking at Draco who was still standing at the door with his arms folded, she quirked an eyebrow. "Draco? Why are you still standing in the doorway?"

"It's impolite to enter a lady's home without her express permission or that of a suitable proxy," he said with a weary shrug of his shoulder.

"Would you please enlighten my home with your heavenly presence?" She rolled her eyes and kicked her shoes off, rubbing her sore ankles. It indeed had been a long day for both of them, but it was productive.

"Gladly." Draco strolled in and claimed the spot beside her. To her surprise, he took her feet into his hands and applied gentle pressure with his thumbs at the spot she was rubbing. He smirked at the dumbfounded look on her face. "Not a word to anyone about this, Granger." Sensing a barrage of questions coming he continued, "House-elf hands are too boney, so my mother would force my father to rub her feet after a long day. I thought you'd appreciate a similar treatment."

Hermione barely repressed an almost erotic moan as Draco's hands continued to ease the tension in her feet. She smiled demurely and bit her lip. "Do you know what would make this much better?"

"I've got an idea or two if you're feeling bold." Draco's voice was seductively low as his fingers traveled up to massage her calves.

"A nice hot..." She whispered, seductively matching Draco's tone "Cup of tea." She broke into a fit of giggles the moment Draco's fingers attacked a ticklish spot on her legs as revenge. "Stop, stop, I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist. As penance, make yourself comfortable and I'll get the tea.

She tried to get up, but Draco stopped her. "I'll take care of it, Granger."

"Who are you, and what have you done with my selfish, egotistical and lazy boyfriend?" She questioned, noticing Draco was holding her legs firmly in his lap and staring at her. "Fine, you win, I'm too tired to argue right now." She pointed to the kitchen and waved her hands, pointing to the things. "The kettle's just beside the stove. The tea bags and sugar…" She trailed off the moment she noticed Draco's devilish smirk.

"Hermione, don't be silly." Draco waved her off and snapped his fingers calling out. "Tinky."

"Master, what is it that you need of Tinky." The elf popped in out of nowhere.

Hermione looked scandalized at the sudden appearance of the elf, and quickly assumed a more dignified sitting position, with Draco mostly ignoring her reaction. "Do you have any special requests for tea, darling? Or will the usual do?"

"If you wanted to get revenge, you didn't need to bring your house elf into it. I just spent all afternoon trying to explain that house elves deserve a better life than being servants." She grumbled, she should have known better than to ever expect Draco Malfoy to prepare the tea when he could simply call Tinky for it.

"The usual it is." Draco turned to the elf. "Some snacks would be lovely too."

"Of course Master Draco. Tinky will be back in a tick." As the elf popped out, as quickly as he came in, Draco turned towards a glaring Hermione. "Come on, Granger. You know full well that Tinky loves what he does, and he wouldn't want to miss an opportunity to impress you. So, relax and enjoy the perks of house elf affection." He leaned his head on the back of her sofa, but it shot back up immediately. "That beast of yours, where is it?"

"Crooks must be snoozing somewhere else, likely on my bed; but I might just go fetch him so he could attack you for summoning Tinky without good reason," Hermione grumbled.

"Tinky is a Malfoy elf, it's his duty to care for us. Denying him would only make him feel unneeded." Before Hermione could reply, Draco continued. "Furthermore, you're in no position to judge my actions. I watched you manipulate an elf into servitude just a few hours ago, Granger. I'm afraid you can't claim the moral high ground, on the same day that you put Theo Nott's machinations to shame."

Hermione sunk low into the sofa with a defeated sigh. "I know, it felt horrible, but I realized it was necessary to help Winky and make her understand." She looked at him through her lashes. "Did you know she was the one behind S.P.E.W."

"I presumed that spew thing was created because you enjoy being meddlesome. At least that's what the elves who cleaned our common room used to complain about."

She inadvertently leaned into his shoulder. "No, Winky was why I started the society for the promotion of elvish welfare. She was bonded to the Crouch Family until Crouch Sr. fired her over something that wasn't her fault. She'd done her best for them, only to be thrown away. If it were up to me, Crouch would've ended up in Azkaban for the way he treated her." Draco's hand closed around her shoulder and he pulled her in, letting her rest her head on his shoulder, while she continued with her story. "Dumbledore brought her to Hogwarts, after that. To forget her pain, she started drinking butterbeer. It soon became an addiction due to her fragile state, deteriorating her health and trapping her in misery. She needed something strong and solid to get out of that misery, so I had to use Slytherin tactics to motivate her even though I didn't want to."

"I had always wondered why Mother banned butterbeer in the Manor. At first, I'd thought it was because such a drink was beneath the Malfoy family, but now it all makes sense." Draco mused. "You see, it's a tradition amongst our elves that once the masters have gone to bed on Hallowe'en, the elves gather in the ossuary to mourn and celebrate their ancestors. Elves can't tolerate stronger drinks like Firewhiskey so there's no risk of them drinking themselves into a stupor or becoming addicted to it."

"That's actually quite clever, but I'd wager your mother just wanted to avoid the inconvenience of drunken or hungover elves." Hermione's fingers started to thoughtlessly play with the buttons of his coat, but Draco couldn't ignore the unease in her voice when she'd explained her actions towards Winky.

"Manipulations can be a necessary evil, Hermione. That elf is lost in her pain, but your manipulations just might save her. The Crouch family is dead, her beloved masters are gone, but Crouch Jr. was behind the tragedy of the Longbottoms. Suggesting that Winky could atone for the crimes of her late master by serving the heir of the family he had wronged is a viable idea."

She looked at him with gleaming eyes and whispered. "Thank you. I'll be honest, I wasn't sure if this was the right thing to do, but reflecting on what you did for Kreacher; I realized this might be the only way to help Winky move on from her old masters and a start a new life. Neville is a very kind man and he believes in S.P.E.W. so I know he can help Winky. I just wish I didn't need to manipulate her feelings for her old masters to do it."

Draco thought on her words. He saw the strength in her solution but he couldn't deny that it held a certain naïveté unbecoming of a true Slytherin solution. Doubtless, there would be awkward moments between the elf and Longbottom due to this situation; but before he could share his two cents on the matter, a loud pop sounded and Hermione sprung back into an upright position.

"Tinky apologizes for intruding on Master's privacy with his beloved mate. Tinky was bringing Master his tea." The tiny form of the elf wobbled under the pressure of holding a large tray.

"Mate?!" Hermione's eyes widened and she jumped forward to snatch the heavy laden tray away from the struggling elf. Deftly placing it on her coffee table, the muggleborn witch thanked the elf. "Thank you so much, Tinky. Everything looks perfect."

"Master's mate likes Tinky. Tinky's very happy." The tiny elf jumped in joy. "Tinky makes sure he brings Master's mate lots and lots of tasty goodies."

Hermione winced every time the tiny being said mate. Draco chuckled at her discomfort and turned to the elf. "That'll be all. Thank you, Tinky."

Tinky's eyes went wide at Draco's words of gratitude. "Master Draco's gone mad again!" The elf let out a scream and vanished from the spot.

"Bugger. He'll be sobbing until tomorrow," Draco groused reaching for the tea.

"That was a good thing you did, Draco Malfoy," Hermione beamed at him.

"My house elf just left screaming I'd gone mad, Granger. Evidently, you and I have very different opinions on what qualifies as a good thing."

"Deny it all you want, but little 'mistakes' like that are what I've been working for. If I was able to get a pureblood like you to thoughtlessly thank a house elf, I'm very confident that I could get everyone in the wizarding world to respect them."

Draco failed to counter her claim with a snarky retort. Chiefly, because it was true. She'd charmed him into changing his habits just enough, and it didn't seem absurd to think that she could create these kinds of changes in weaker, more easily influenced people. Hermione Granger seemed to be an embodiment of the goddesses, Minerva, Venus, and Victoria. She had the knowledge and power to change the world.

"Perhaps," she reached for his cup with her fingers and placed it back on the tray. Scooting closer to him, she whispered. "I should reward you, for this change. What do you say?"

"Come here, witch," Draco said, pulling Hermione into his lap. "You might think that being a brave and bold lioness gives you an advantage, but it doesn't." She giggled as he breathed in her scent and playfully prodded his nose against the sensitive skin of her neck. Then without giving her a moment to think, he claimed her lips and she slowly began to sink into him. Their slow kiss progressed into a heated snogging session, as they tumbled onto her sofa with Draco landing on top of her.

As their lips parted, she looked at him with dazed eyes, reaching for his lips to drag her finger across them. He pressed a kiss to the pad of her finger, his gaze wandering downward. She followed his gaze to notice that the top two buttons of her blouse had come apart, his gaze darkened at the sight of revealed skin.

He licked his lips and dragged his eyes back to hers, the question dancing on his lips. "May I?" His fingers inched upwards, tracing the contours of her body. Her eyes fluttered shut as he brushed his fingers across the dip of her waist, where her shirt had ridden up and she nodded, completely giving into her instincts.

Draco never thought Hermione was a traditional beauty, but as she lay there, looking at him with slightly parted lips, Draco made a mental note to kill or at least obliviate Ronald Weasley, and perhaps Victor Krum. Since no other wizard but him should have the privilege of keeping the memory of such a radiant beauty. He pressed his lips to her neck and began his descent towards the swell of her breasts. Hearing her moans, he darted his tongue out to sneak a taste, all the while working his fingers to get rid of the next few buttons.

The whooshing sound of the fireplace was enough to pull them apart, and they tumbled to the floor in a tangled heap as laughter permeated the flat.

"Oh, this is brilliant!" Ginny Potter's voice made their heads snap towards the newcomer. "Hermione, I didn't think you were that kind of witch!" She stood with a hand on her hip, as Hermione and Draco struggled to stand.

"Ginny! What're you doing here?" Hermione fumbled to pull her blouse together, while Draco glared at the red-haired witch. "Wait. Is Harry coming?" Hermione asked suddenly with wide eyes.

"Oh, Bugger me!" Ginny stuck her head into the floo and called. "Harry! Don't come here yet, Hermione was being a naughty girl and you shouldn't see her like this."

"For Merlin's sake, Ginny!" Hermione tugged her back and glared at her friend. "Just what are you implying!?"

Ginny giggled and regarded Draco with a raised brow. "Malfoy, nice to see that you know how to show our girl a good time."

"Are all of you Gryffindors bereft of manners?" Draco lashed out, trying to fix his mussed up hair. "For Salazar's sake, I'm left to wonder if Granger's the only one of you blessed with an actual brain."

Ginny remained unfazed at his sharp tone. She gave an amusing smile at her flustered friend and took a seat straight across them. "Well, this is a good reminder that Hermione doesn't come alone, and I can't speak for my husband or my brother, but I assure you I'm not someone you should underestimate."

Draco raised an eyebrow at Ginny's challenge and let a small smirk grace his lips. "I suppose so, I recall some rather unpleasant memories of Ginevra Weasley's Bat-bogey Hex."

Ginny narrowed her eyes. "And yet, you can't seem to remember my name or being at my wedding. Odd, but then again you did spend most of the time staring at Hermione. A lesser bride might have been upset about not being the center of attention on her wedding day."

He raised his hands in surrender, hoping she would stop before the Boy-Who-Lived decided to show up. "My apologies, Mrs. Potter."

"That's better. I didn't expect that a snogging session with our bookworm could cause memory loss, I expected better from the 'Pale Prince of Slytherin'."

"Ginny!" Hermione finally gained her senses and stopped her friend before the married woman could damage any more of her pureblood boyfriend's fragile pride. "I think that's enough. You've had your fun, it's time to stop."

"Yes, it would appear that I'm just in the way." the blond muttered, glaring at Hermione reaching for his coat.

"Ooh! These look delicious." Ginny said as she helped herself to some of the elf-made biscuits. "Are they some of yours, Hermione?" She closed her eyes savoring the taste as they melted in her mouth. Draco and Hermione were now standing very close to each other with Hermione adjusting the lapels of his coat. "Oh, don't mind me. I'll be in the kitchen indulging myself." She rushed to the kitchen with the plate in her hands. "By the way, Malfoy, your trouser snake is in need of an adjustment."

"Bloody Gryffindors," Draco muttered threading his hand through his hair. "I should leave before any more friends of yours start to pop in out of nowhere. Lovegood, Longbottom, and now Potter's wife, I deserve a medal for putting with so many of your friends in a single day."

Hermione gave a demure smile and reached to clear away a small smudge of her lipstick near his lip. "They're not so bad, you know." When Draco rolled his eyes, she continued. "I really had a great time, and I promise next time, I'll reward you properly."

"I'm counting on it." Draco winked reaching for his wand. "There was a reason I left my broom at Hogwarts. Work on that list of yours, Granger. I can't wait to collect that favor from you and claim a proper reward." He stole another kiss from her lips and disapparated with a faint crack.

Hermione stood there wistfully looking at the spot where Draco had vanished into. A wave of heat caused her to flush, as she realized the implications of her words just now and how they related to the activities on her sofa. She closed her eyes with a smile and pondered for a second, what would've happened if Ginny hadn't walked in.

She strolled into her kitchen and looked at Ginny who looked like she was training to best Ron in a pie eating competition. "You better have a good reason for ruining my evening with my boyfriend and eating my food, Ginny."

Ginny lifted her eyes from the plate and gulped down the food from her chipmunk cheeks. Her vibrant eyes slightly widened. "I do. I'm pregnant, Hermione!"

Chapter Text

"Your pointless hesitating is becoming an embarrassment."

Theodore Nott ignored the barb thrown his way keeping his gaze focused on the tumbler in front of him. Beads of condensation started to drip down the edges settling at the bottom, but he didn't make any move to claim the cold beverage.

Draco gave out an impatient huff and claimed it for himself. "Don't pour a drink if you're only planning to stare at it."

Theo threw his head back and groaned. "What am I doing?"

"Being uncertain and rather pathetic, but you tend to become so when making important personal decisions," Draco said leaning forward in his chair. "Beyond simply being your duty as an heir of the House of Nott, we both know that this is something you want. Besides, you freely chose to trap yourself in this choice the day you sought permission from Davis' parents."

"I did," Theo said giving a longing look at the innocent box sitting at the center of the table. "And you're right, Malfoy. It's rare for wizards like us to have our duty as heirs, and our heart's desire be one and the same. At the same time, is it fair to pull an innocent into our dark legacy? I love Tracey, but there's still so much hatred for people like us, Draco. Too many people hurt by my father's choices wanting revenge against me and to hurt the ones I love. She deserves better than that."

Draco snorted into his glass while Theo shot a sharp glare. "You already sounded pathetic, there's little need to add stupid to it." Cutting off Theo's remarks with a wave of his hand, he continued. "She's a Slytherin Theodore. Have you forgotten how well your witch is connected? She got you an invite to Potter's wedding, she's beloved by the Auror Department, and she's practically running the ministry's treasury. The weight of your family name is insignificant compared to the power and influence of Tracey Davis. To say nothing of the fact that this union will produce a child with considerable magical prowess. On top of all of that, for some inexplicable reason, the witch is completely besotted with you."

"You make it sound simple, Draco."

"It is. With your position at Daily Prophet and Davis' influence at the ministry; I'm sure no one would dare to earn the wrath of the Notts."

Theo sighed, acknowledging the truth of his friend's words. He stayed silent for a moment before asking, "What about your future with Granger? Is it going to be equally as simple?"

"If my father is to be believed, yes," Draco said giving a contemplative look. His research into Magical Matching hadn't yet reached the stage where he could provide a viable opinion, but Draco started to believe Lucius' faith in the ancient process wasn't misplaced. Taking in the tense mood, he added. "My match with Granger isn't the same as you and Davis. Yes, both will produce superior magical children, but Granger and I have to contend with a rather messy personal history, as well as, my family's legacy. Your relationship with Davis will always be more simple because you lack history and you weren't branded by a genocidal madman." Draco said, turning his arm to show the faded mark branded on to his skin. Seeing traces of doubt still etched on his friend's face, the young Malfoy rolled his eyes and reached into the insides of his pockets. "That's not saying such problems cannot be overcome. Take a look at this; Potter sent it to me this morning," he said pulling a note from his pocket. "It's an update on the threats against my mother. They're actually doing something about it, they're protecting us. Things have changed, Theo. So stop living in fear."

Theo took the note from Draco's hands and roved his eyes through it. "Well, it certainly seems brighter days are not too far off."

"If you're finished wasting my time, go and be done with it."

Theo smiled, even though Draco now sported a look of irritation. "You know, I came here hoping you'd dissuade me, but I forgot you're a prat. Well, either that or a great friend."

"I'll accept your gratitude in the form of going out for drinks. Seeing as I'd rather avoid running into Abbott at the Leaky, I think the pub on Knockturn should do. You can head there once you've finished with your witch. I'll owl Zabini too. It's been a while we did something together." Draco said with a smirk dancing on his lips, looking forward to an evening with his Slytherin friends.

"Can't make it, mate. If everything goes according to the plan, I'll be a happily engaged man; and I have every intention of rewarding my fiancée by shagging her to the point of delirium." Theo said with a smile. "Also, I'll advise you against calling Zabini. Blaise got dragged into a pub brawl a few days back, courtesy of Greg. It would be best to avoid both of them for a while."

"Brawling, again? If Goyle keeps this up, we're going to have to cut him loose." Draco said with a sigh. "He needs to learn to behave. We can't keep pulling strings; we're risking too much for him as it is."

Putting his coat, Theo added, "Agreed. I managed to keep the matter out of the papers this time, but I'm not sure how long I can keep that up. By the way, In case you're wondering, Pansy's gone away for the weekend. I met her two days ago and the strangest thing happened; I didn't hear a single complaint from her."

Draco raised an eyebrow in amusement. "Did you check that she wasn't Imperiused?"

"Of course I did. Got hexed for doing it, thank you very much. Apparently, she's just enjoying this new relationship of hers too much to be herself. So when she gets back expect her usual 'I just got shagged' bravado."

"Typical Parkison, losing herself in emotion." Draco nodded his head before he continued. "By the way, Longbottom is likely going to be proposing to Abbott soon, so be careful about when you and Davis set the date. I expect Granger's going to drag me to that as her plus one."

"Are you asking that I make sure your best man duties, conflict with Longbottom's wedding?" Draco didn't reply to Theo's question, but simply smirked knowingly at his friend. "Fair enough, I'll see what I can manage. It's the least I can do considering the problems I'm going to be causing you." Theo said smiling apologetically. "Lucius is going to be on your case again about courting Granger." He took a glance at the sky through the window and spoke. "Speaking of your muggleborn girlfriend; where is she on this lovely day, and why aren't you with her?"

"No idea, she said she had personal matters to attend to. I presume she's with the Potters or Weasleys, and I'd rather not deal with either of those two if I can avoid it anyway." A smile quirked the blond wizard's lips, as he remembered her elegant handwriting and the risqué comment she'd made in the note that arrived earlier in the morning. Catching Theo's knowing smile with his eye, Draco sneered. "What're you smiling at?"

"Granger seems to be putting quite a few cracks in your stonefaced façade. I haven't seen you this openly emotive in years. Next thing you know, I'll come in here one day to find you giggling to yourself."

"Malfoys don't giggle, and shouldn't you be leaving?"

"No. They strut like peacocks and look down on everyone." Theo said moving towards the door. "Still, for all your flaws, I'm glad to have you in my corner. Don't worry about your father and just enjoy courting Granger, I'll back you up if you need it. Besides, I suspect you're farther along with her than you think." With those words the Nott heir slipped out of the room, leaving Draco to ponder his relationship with his troublesome bookworm and the prospect of finding a balance between fulfilling his duty and enjoying the moment.


"I think we're still missing something, Dad." Hermione popped a piece of raw biscuit dough into her mouth and mused. "Perhaps a spice."

"Let's see." Her father mimicked her actions and nodded his head. "You're right, something's off. It's not some 'magical' spice is it?"

Hermione knew her father's words held no malice, but she couldn't help but wince at his tone. The magical world was still alien to her family and Hermione's decision to keep her parents safe at all costs had changed how open they were to the wizarding world. Magic had seemed to become an unspoken barrier between them. The Grangers accepted their daughter for who and what she was but wanted nothing to do with wizard-kind anymore. She took care that her eyes didn't show her discomfort and shook her head with a smile. "No, magical and muggle cooking use the same spices for the most part. Well, I suppose potions are an exception, but a biscuit is a biscuit regardless of magic."

Her father laughed loudly at her words and turned towards the cupboard. "Of course. What was I thinking? Just imagine walking to a shop and asking for the magical Cinnamon bark that makes frogs turn into chocolate and hop around."

Hermione bit her lip and reached for her beaded bag resting on the countertop. "Actually, chocolate frogs are very real and they do hop around if you don't trick them with a spell, immediately." She chuckled looking at the troubled expression on her father's face.

Her father looked at the bag, skeptically. "That's… interesting, but I think it best frogs stay near ponds, or at the very least in posh French restaurants." He pointed to her bag encouraging Hermione to tuck it away. "I think we need a bit of nutmeg or... could it be mace?"

Rolling another small piece of dough on her tongue, she mused. "It has got a slightly stronger taste."

"Then it must be mace." He reached for the spices in the cupboard and worked it into the dough.

"It's perfect." Hermione beamed helping her father shape the finished dough into biscuits. "Did you know Dad, that nutmeg and mace are basically siblings. They both come from the fruit of the 'Myristica Frangrans' tree. Mace is the outer webbing of the seed, but nutmeg is found inside the seed itself, with a less intense taste but with a sweetness similar to cinnamon."

Transferring the biscuit-laden tray into the oven, her father chuckled at her words. "I'm glad you still remember our trip to the Banda Islands. It's tough for me to remember, but I think you were six. I could never forget, you argued with that vendor who had his boy working in the kitchens."

Hermione beamed listening to her father recollecting some of their memories together. Reversing the memory modifying charm had left some memories fuzzy, and left him a bit absent-minded. It would get better with time, but Hermione preferred to be proactive about it. "What else do you remember from that trip?"

"I think your mum caught us sneaking out for a late night snack?"

"No. That was our trip to France after my fourth year at Hogwarts" Hermione gave a soft smile remembering her nightly adventures with her dad. "But she did give us a stern lecture about the amount of spices we tried to bring back. Apparently, a whole suitcase full of them was going to cause a bit of a problem at customs." She bent down to take a look at the biscuits in the oven. "These look just like the ones I brought."

"Trust me, sweetheart. These ones are going to be better than the ones you brought here."

"I know, Dad." Hermione smiled following her father to the dining table, as they set the timer. "Ginny was so taken by them and I thought I'd try to make a batch for her, but my attempts weren't successful." Hermione flopped into a chair and smiled, remembering her evening two days ago, when the Potters gave her the most amazing news of their lives. Her eyes turned misty with happiness at the memory of the boy-who-lived receiving what he wanted his entire life, a true family.

Determined by Ginny's enthusiasm for the biscuits Tinky brought, Hermione wanted to help her redheaded friend satisfy her cravings. Copying the recipe by taste alone seemed simple enough, but batch after batch failed to meet expectations. A first she'd thought to simply ask the Malfoy elf for help, knowing that the small creature would be overjoyed to be of assistance to her. Unfortunately, she also knew her Slytherin boyfriend would tease her incessantly if she sought out that option. Draco was a prat, and there was no way she was going to give him ammunition to openly question her culinary skills.

"So, Harry's going to be a father. Didn't he get married just a few weeks back?" When Hermione nodded with a smile, he continued. "Good for him. So this wife of his, did we meet her before?"

"Yes, You've met her before, Dad. Ginny's amazing and she's going to be a wonderful mother." She said with a smile. Looking at the confused expression on her father's face, she added in a tentative voice. "She's Ron's sister."

"Oh? Then let's hope for Harry's sake she's not much like Ronald." She should've expected her father wouldn't hide his disdain at the mention of Ron's name. Her parents never really understood what exactly had driven them apart, but both knew enough to know it wasn't their daughter's fault.

"Ron's not so bad." Hermione smiled setting up the plates. "Just a little misguided. We're both mature enough to accept that it didn't work out between us, but we can still friends. Anyway, when's Mum coming back?"

"Soon." Her dad replied without looking at the clock. "She's attending to an emergency."

"Emergency?" Hermione asked in confusion. "Weren't you the one who usually handled those? I seem to remember you came home with ten stitches in your hand after that boy Robbie Fenwick bit you during an extraction," Hermione said with a chuckle.

"Not a boy anymore, and sad to say he still doesn't take proper care of his teeth." Her father nodded with a slight look of aversion on his face. "Anyway, You mother forbid me from handling emergencies for a while. I forgot the anesthetic while doing an emergency extraction on a patient a few weeks back. There's nothing for it, an absent-minded mistake could have happened to anyone." Hermione winced and felt a bit guilty at her father's words. "The tooth was infected, and the patient was already moaning in pain, I was in such a rush to take it out I forgot proper procedure."

"You were lucky the patient was already in pain and didn't realize, or you might have lost your license, darling." Hermione looked at the doorway to the kitchen where her mother stood with her hands on her hips. The older lady's gaze softened and her smile widened, as her eyes fell on her daughter. "Hermione, welcome home!"

Hermione welcomed her mother's hug, closing her eyes relishing the warmth and comfort that could only be found in a mother's hug. "So you've been filling in for dad?"

"Wouldn't be the first time, sweetheart." Her mother drew back and regarded Hermione with a pointed look. "It's been a while since you came by for a visit."

"Sorry, Mum. Things have been a bit busy." She took a deep breath and nodded with a smile. "But, my work is finally getting the recognition it deserves."

"That's lovely." Her mum took a step back with a knowing smile. "It's about time, I must say."

"Lovely?" Her father exclaimed. "She works so much we barely see her. Just look at her. When was the last time you had a thorough health checkup? Does that silly magical world of yours even have proper dental care? Its been quite a while since you came in for a cleaning."

"Stop it, will you?" Her mother turned around to lightly admonish her father with a chuckle. "She's a grown woman. We don't need to remind her about anything." She sighed looking at the state of the kitchen. "So what did you two miscreants cook up in my kitchen?" She shook her head looking at used pans and bowls on the counter. "Perhaps I shouldn't complain since it smells heavenly, but I wish you two wouldn't make such a mess."

"We'll clean it up later. We were just waiting until the biscuits were finished baking. No sense in cleaning up twice." Her father said proudly. "Hermione wanted to surprise a friend of hers, so naturally she came to the best person for help."

"A friend? I see." Her mother's eyes sparkled, while Hermione fidgeted in her seat under the scrutinizing eye of her mother. "When are you bringing him to meet us, then?"

"Him? I was talking about Harry and his wife." Hermione's dad looked at his daughter with a quizzical expression.

"Oh, come on." Her mother beamed looking at Hermione's reddened cheeks. "I'm her mother. I know that look; our Hermione has a new man in her life."

"Dad's right, Mum. These are for Harry and Ginny." When her father threw a proud smirk, she added. "And I wouldn't exactly call the man I'm seeing 'new' exactly."

"Oh?" Her mother dragged her father by his hand, as he opened his mouth to interject and flopped down in the chairs across her. "Is he like you and your friends?" Her mother asked with a doubt flickering in her eyes.

Hermione licked her lips and thought about her next words. She was pretty sure she'd mentioned Malfoy to her parents during her school years. Unfortunately, Hermione couldn't remember if she'd ever mentioned Draco by name. The main problem was that even with her parents' imperfectly restored memories, they likely remembered the unpleasant interaction between Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy in Flourish and Blotts before her second year.

"Yes, he's a wizard if that's what you're wondering." She could see a hint of disappointment in her father's eyes, but her mother encouraged her to continue. "He comes from a, um, distinguished background and his family is rather well off."

"So, better than Ronald, right?" Her father quirked an eyebrow in question, ignoring a harsh jab in the shoulder from his wife.

"Honestly, Dad. Ron's not so bad and the Weasleys are lovely." She got up from her chair and moved closer to them, taking a seat on the floor right in front of them. "We wanted different things and grew apart, that's all. Draco and Ron are different; neither is objectively better than the other."

While her dad seems to nod his head in contemplation, this time it was her mother who raised an eyebrow. "Why does that name sound familiar?"

"We went to school together, mum."

Her mother contemplated for a few more moments as if trying to remember then shook her head in resignation. "So long as he makes you happy, that's all that matters." She said placing a kiss on her daughter's forehead. "Still, I suppose we should meet the young man, who has stolen our little girl's heart."

"Mum!"

Her father gazed at the two women in his life and shook his head with a mild look of frustration. "I don't like it; and not because he's a wizard. I'm worried because you look so apprehensive about us meeting him." He sighed as his wife gave him a stern look. "What? When it came to Ronald or Harry she couldn't keep quiet about them. I spent the better part of the afternoon with our daughter and I'm just now finding out she's got a new boyfriend?"

"She's a grown woman, and she's entitled to her privacy. It's not our place to interfere in her relationships." Mrs. Granger countered.

Hermione's father scooted over to his wife and daughter and wrapped a hand around Hermione's shoulders. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. You know neither your mum or I are fond of that world you live in, but we care about you. You're a part of us, Hermione and we almost lost you. If you hadn't come back and found us, we would've moved on without a single memory of your existence. I understand you live in a different world to ours, but that doesn't mean you can't share it with us. I can't promise I'll care about potions or chocolate frogs, but if something is happening in your life, I don't want you feeling you need to hide it from us."

Hermione looked at her mother, who laid her hand on her husband's shoulder, as tears started to swim in her eyes. "I'm sure she knows that, but I she doesn't need to tell us anything she doesn't want to."

"Last time she didn't tell us something; we ended up in Australia with no memory of our daughter!" Hermione's father shouted. "I know you did it to protect us, Hermione, and we don't blame you, but you didn't give us a choice. You ended up hurting yourself trying to protect us, but it's our job as parents to protect you." He sighed, "I'm sorry, I just want you to understand that we're a team, even if you live in a world of magic and we don't."

Hermione stood there mutely, overwhelmed by emotion, her words failed her. She understood that it was largely her fault that her parents didn't like the wizarding world, but despite that, they were still trying to be a part of her life, to repair the bonds broken to protect them from Voldemort's Death Eaters. The least she could do was oblige their wishes. "Of course, Dad." Hermione nodded resting her head on her mother's shoulder. The question was, how could she tell her parents that the man she was dating and his family were the same people she feared so much that she sent her parents off to Australia with false memories?


"Not to belabor the point, or impugn your work ethic, but are you going to be finished anytime soon?" Theodore Nott asked leaning on the doorframe of Tracey's office.

Tucking her work into a few folders, Tracey rolled her eyes at her boyfriend's theatrics. "Yes, Theodore. I'm meeting with Hermione tomorrow, so I wanted to have all the preliminary Wizengamot details ready. After receiving her explanation and apology for storming out on us, this is the least I could do."

"Of course, I just wish you hadn't made me cancel our dinner reservation just so you could come into work on a Sunday evening Ms. Davis." He groused playfully. It wasn't as if he didn't understand Tracey's motivations. Hermione's apology letter had been filled with such genuine emotion that both Slytherins had been at a loss for how to respond. Unfortunately, Tracey's decision to respond with professionalism had thrown a spanner in the works with regards to Theo's plans for the evening.

"I do feel a bit bad about that, but I wouldn't have been sorted into Slytherin if I wasn't willing to exploit your love for me every once and a while," she said flashing him a clever smile.

Merlin, he loved this witch. She was the perfect blend of loving and mischievous; with a brilliant mind and a body built for sin. Being magically matched with Tracey Davis had been a blessing. Not only because she could provide his family with a strong magical lineage, but because she hadn't forced him out of the shadows. Rather she'd chosen to join him accepting his imperfections and loving him all the same. "Have I told you that I find you unimaginably frustrating?"

"Lately? No, I don't believe so. Why? Would you like me to try harder to 'frustrate' you?" she offered with a naughty smirk.

"Careful Ms. Davis, don't forget I was sorted into Salazar's house as well." There was a clear note of mischievousness in Theo's voice as he stepped inside the office wordlessly locking the door behind him.

Tracey smirked while stuffing the last of her paperwork into the folder. "Oh? Does that mean you're planning on 'frustrating' me all night Mr. Nott? Unfortunately, I planned to spend a few more hours tonight finalizing things for my meeting tomorrow, and I don't know if I should allow such a distraction." She picked out her wand and compressed the entire folder into a tiny one and tucked it into her bag.

"Distraction?" Theo said with a hand on his heart. "It sounds as if you think I'll be giving you a say in this matter." Theo reached for her hand as he came closer and pressed a soft kiss to her knuckles. Tracey barely caught sight of his devilish smirk before Theo pulled her to him and apparated them both away

"Theo!" she shouted, "What have I told you about apparating suddenly like that!" It took a few moments for Tracey to register they were now standing in a bedroom that wasn't Theo's. "Where are we?" Looking around she realized they were in a large elegant bedroom. Next to the window stood a massive vanity, not far from that was stood a matching pinewood bed with an embroidered dark blue silk canopy. The clever half-blood witch quickly realized she was standing in the only room of the Nott residence with a magical seal. The room that once belonged to Theo's late mother.

"Welcome home, Tracey," Theo said with a wistful smile.

"Theodore?"

"Oh right, you'll need this too," he said handing her a beautifully ornate sapphire ring. "The wards on this room are unbreakable. Only the owner of that ring and the Nott house elves can enter this room. It was warded like that to protect the Ladies of the House of Nott for centuries, even from their husbands." he added as if he were reciting a historical fact.

Tracey burst out laughing. "I've waited months, and this is how you propose?! Only you Theodore, only you would think to propose like this."

Theo smirked back, "Well, this was supposed to be your birthday present later this year, but you scheduled Granger's appearance before the Wizengamot too soon. If I formally propose after you and Granger change the world, people might doubt my intentions and think I'm an opportunist."

"You are an opportunist Theodore," she managed between chuckles.

"That's fair, but I refuse to allow anyone to doubt my love for you." He said pulling her into an embrace placing a soft kiss into her hair. "I love you, Tracy Davis and I want to spend the rest of my days with you as my wife."

Tears were streaming down Tracey's cheeks as she smiled looking up at the absurd man she loved. "I suppose, I should say yes to your proposal then, shouldn't I?"

"Only if you promise to love me forever," the young Nott replied.

"Forever?" Tracey questioned biting her lip "I think I can manage that. Theodore Nott, my answer is yes, I will marry you."

Chapter Text

Hermione stepped out of the lift, with a box of biscuits safely tucked away in her bag. Trudging towards the Auror office in search of Harry, she was confident Ginny would be delighted by this little surprise, especially when the expectant mother would receive them from her husband. As she walked, Hermione's thoughts started to wander towards the grey-eyed Slytherin who'd charmed his way into her life. It was troubling how often her mind wandered towards the platinum-haired wizard. It had only been a few days since their last encounter and even the biscuits in her hands intended for Ginny evoked thoughts of Draco. She supposed it was rational given that the recipe was of Malfoy origin, but it was still troubling. Hermione couldn't help but wonder if her Slytherin boyfriend was similarly afflicted with such intrusive thoughts; the muggleborn blushed at the memory of their most recent encounter. Before she got carried away, she stopped in her step as her eyes fell on an unusual sight, right in front of Harry's office. Cautiously approaching the pair, she listened to the uncharacteristically kind words coming from an unexpected source.

"I'd like to thank you for having welcomed my mother and I into your home, Mr. Weasely. My father also expresses his regrets that he was unable to attend the ceremony after reading about it in the Daily Prophet." Draco's tone was polite and professional but his body language was closed off as he conversed with the Weasley Patriarch. Hermione couldn't help but narrow her eyes wondering what her boyfriend was up to. As far as she remembered his father had made his opinions regarding the Weasleys and their associates, very clear.

"Something tells me old Lucius wouldn't have wanted to come anyway. He never much liked us and I can't say the feeling wasn't mutual," the elder wizard replied firmly.

Having yet to be discovered by either of them, Hermione waited just out of sight trying to understand the nature of the conversation that was happening in front of her. Finding Arthur in the Auror Department wasn't unusual as he often visited Harry, but Draco was another story. The Malfoys weren't exactly popular here, which made this entire scene all the more, odd. One thing was clear; Arthur Weasley didn't seem to want to converse with the Malfoy heir. The elder Weasley's posture was far more rigid and his face was far more stern than Hermione was used to seeing. Conversely, she wondered why Draco would willingly engage in conversation with a person he didn't care for until she realized the truth. Arthur was the patriarch; the backbone of the Weasley family and by extension all the members who'd fought for the light side regarded his opinion.

"Be that as it may, I hope that you will not hold my mother and I responsible for our family's past transgressions against you and yours."

"I suppose I can manage that, but I'll have none of that bigoted nonsense. If you don't want to be judged for your family's mistakes, best not repeat them, I'd think."

"I've every intention to hold myself to such a standard, Mr. Weasley."

Arthur nodded, his eyes darting past Draco's shoulder, meeting Hermione's gaze and bringing her out of her thoughts. "A very good morning, Hermione. What're you doing over there?" Draco turned and smirked at his girlfriend with a knowing look on his face. "I was having a little talk with young Malfoy over here."

"Arthur," Hermione crossed the last few steps and greeted the older wizard."It's lovely to see you." Turning towards her boyfriend, she said cheekily. "And fancy seeing you here, Draco. I was under the impression you were always terribly busy with work."

"I AM busy, Ms. Granger. What surprises me more is to find you here, instead of hard at work in your office. If you're this prone to distraction, I'm surprised our project is moving forward at all. I wonder if it might be better to sit you on my lap and watch over you myself."

The young witch scowled at Draco, upset at his comments about her work ethic and embarrassed by his double entendre. Shaking her head, Hermione turned back towards Arthur. "How is Molly? I'm sure she must be feeling over the moon at the news."

"Indeed. It's a bit sooner than we all expected, but we couldn't be more chuffed about it. What's more beautiful than a life?" Arthur said with a proud smile. "Haven't seen my Molly this happy in years, must have been when she held little Ginevra in her arms for the first time." The joy in Arthur's eyes turned into sadness as he continued. "She lost Fabian and Gideon to war soon after Ginny was born, you know, and I've always been worried I'd never see her this happy again."

Hermione inadvertently cast a glance at Draco as Arthur mentioned the war. She expected at least a slight hint of discomfort, but there was no indication that Draco was troubled by the mention of such personal loss. Just how much had Draco been made to endure that he was unaffected by Arthur's revelations, she wondered.

"So much was lost. Family, friends, and even hope, at least for a little while; but Ginny and Harry bless them, keep showing us the way forward." Shifting back to his joyous mood, Arthur smiled at Hermione, who echoed the same emotion. "Molly's been making their favorites since she found out. She tried sending it all, but it was a bit too much for Errol," He said, moving to shift the previously unseen package into view. "I would have just left it with Kreacher, but he's at Hogwarts, and Harry's tripled the wards around Grimmauld Place since he found out." Arthur trailed off looking at the closed doors of Harry's office. "I hoped Harry would be here, but it seems he's out in the field. I'll wait a bit longer, then check back later."

Hermione followed Arthur's gaze and couldn't help but feel guilty. She'd helped Harry and Ginny with the new wards, but permissions needed to be granted individually, which meant the only people with access to Grimmauld Place at the moment were Harry, Ginny, and Hermione. "Don't trouble yourself, Arthur. I'd be happy to pass them to Harry. Why don't you go ahead." Hermione said shoving her own parcel into Draco's empty hands to his shock and reached for Arthur's.

"What in the name of Salazar did you pack in this Granger?" Draco said trying to balance the seemingly innocent parcel in his hands. Frustrated at suddenly being turned into a beast of burden, the Malfoy heir fired off a retort he knew would unsettle the Muggleborn. "Need I remind you, Elves and Feather-light charms exist for a reason, Granger."

"Summon an elf and you'll regret it," Hermione replied with a glare sharp enough to turn the Malfoy heir into a pile ashes. However, instead of the immediate surrender she was accustomed to from Harry or Ron, she received a devilish and self-satisfied smirk in return. His words had been deliberate! It was obvious that Draco enjoyed causing trouble, especially when it came to her. One thing was clear to Hermione, her boyfriend was very capable of expertly masking his emotions and it would certainly take some time for her to understand the truth of his heart. She got lost in her own musings until Arthur cleared his throat, clearly sensing the atmosphere was changing around him.

"Thank you, Hermione. I'm getting rather late to a meeting with the Minister and I was a bit worried about it. Kingsley would understand, but it's just not good to be tardy." Hermione accepted the package from Arthur with a slight pink tinting her cheeks, as the older man transferred it to her with a paternal smile. "Well, must be off. Do visit us sometime, Hermione. You know Molly and I both miss our chats with you." Hermione nodded with a smile while Arthur's gaze traveled towards the blond and nodded. "Draco."

"Good day, Sir," Draco said politely to the utter surprise of Hermione, while Arthur Weasley walked on with a disconcerted smile.

"Draco Malfoy, what are you scheming?" Hermione asked with a stern look that would've put Professor McGonagall to shame.

"Scheming?" Draco smirked, adjusting the parcel Hermione had shoved into his hands. "I was merely offering my greetings." Cutting off Hermione's retort, he added. "You're much too suspicious of me, Hermione. While I might not care much for Weasley Sr. and his ginger-haired brood, being openly hostile does neither of our families any good. Which reminds me, what was that about a life? Given the context, I'd guess it's got something to do with Potter's wife, but I can't be sure."

"Unfortunately, I'm under no obligation to explain it to you," she smiled at her unimpressed boyfriend. If he wasn't going to explain his true reasons for approaching Arthur, she had no reason to talk about Ginny's news with him. Besides, Harry and Ginny had hoped to keep things limited to family and Draco Malfoy just didn't qualify. Hermione narrowed her gaze towards the locked door of Harry Potter's office. "Somethings off about that," she muttered barely audibly.

"What? The old Weasley said it was locked, what's suspicious about that Granger?"

"The light, Malfoy. Harry and I grew up with muggles. They don't use magical lighting, they use electricity."

"Your point?"

"My point Draco, is muggles tend to switch off the lights when they leave a room to save money. It becomes a habit, yet the lights in Harry's office are obviously still on." Hermione handed off Arthur's parcel to Draco and pulled her wand casting detection spells. Biting her lip, she drew back. "Strange, this never happened. Harry had never warded his office against me before, at least not this strongly."

"And, I've never been relegated to the position of a pack horse. New experiences all around, Granger," Draco snarked.

"Hush, let's see if I can get past it. You can whine all you want later."

"Are you telling me you can take down the wards erected by an Auror?!" he questioned. "You've never been more attractive to me than you are right now, Hermione," Draco added, causing Hermione to blush.

"Shush!" Hermione admonished as she started weaving her wand in an intricate pattern. One glance at the determined look in his girlfriend's eyes told Draco to keep quiet about his theories as to why the chosen one might have erected such strong wards.

The door flew open as soon as Hermione took a step back, having finished with her charm. "Harry, are you in here?" She carefully entered the cold room, wand drawn, concern bubbling in her heart. Knowing Harry's penchant for noble recklessness, she expected to find him in some kind of trouble, and that was the reason for the wards was to keep the trouble locked inside with him. Hermione stopped mid-step and her eyes narrowed, when they fell on the savior of the world, seated in his chair looking more disheveled than usual.

"Hermione?! Malfoy?!" Harry choked, as he saw Hermione followed by Draco enter his office. Before they could take another step inside he yelled, "Stop."

"Harry James Potter. What in the name of Merlin are you doing in a heavily warded office?! I worried you'd gone and done something reckless again!." Hermione stopped in her step, but her concerned eyes never left her best friend.

"Bugger," Harry muttered as he rubbed away the sweat from his forehead. "I'm fine, I just didn't want to be disturbed. Everything's fine." He discretely moved his chair closer to his desk and plastered an uncomfortable smile on his face. "So, what brings you to my office, Hermione? Is it urgent? Or could it wait until lunchtime."

Hermione creased her brow concerned about Harry's behavior. She knew he was over the moon about Ginny's news, but something wasn't right. "Who is Barny Weasley?"

"What? Why are your bringing that up?"

"Answer the question. For all, I know you're someone Polyjuiced to look like Harry and you were rummaging around in his office."

The man seated at the desk sighed nervously, "Constant vigilance even now, yeah? Fine, I'm Barny, or at least that's who I was for Bill and Fleur's wedding."

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. "Merlin, you scared me for a moment. Arthur was here looking for you. He just wanted to give you a parcel of sweets and you locked yourself up in your own office. He would've kept waiting and been late for a meeting if I hadn't offered to deliver them," she chastised the savior of the wizarding world.

Harry dropped his head on the table and murmured under his breath, as soon as he heard Hermione's words.

"Don't forget, he also kept me waiting, Granger. Very unprofessional of you, Potter. Sending an owl, with a so-called urgent message, then making yourself unavailable. I've half a mind to lodge a formal complaint." Draco groused drawing the chosen one's attention to him.

"Bugger, I forgot about the owl," he muttered under his breath. "Could you come back a bit later?" the former Gryffindor offered awkwardly.

"Oh, hush Draco. I'm sure Harry has a perfectly valid reason." Hermione spoke in support of her best friend, completely ignoring Harry's request to postpone the meeting. "Honestly, you're in no position to complain, Harry is the best at what he does, and when it comes to professionalism, he's second to none." She spoke with pride turning face to a blushing Harry. "Harry, are you alright?" The boy-who-lived fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat at her words of praise.

"If you're done praising Saint Potter, I'd like to be done with this visit and be on with my way. I have places to be. So, why am I here Potter? What was it that couldn't have simply been dealt with via owl correspondence?" Draco said sporting an expression of irritation, all the while extracting a chair for Hermione.

Hermione smiled at the gentlemanly gesture but refused the seat. "Sorry, I won't be intruding on you boys. I just wanted to leave Arthur's parcel and these biscuits with you, since Ginny liked them so much." Hermione reached for the parcels in her boyfriend's hand and placed them on Harry's empty desk. "Make sure to tell her these are a Granger family improvement on a Malfoy recipe." She threw a wink at her boyfriend, who raised an eyebrow in question.

"I... uh, okay, yeah, why not." Harry threading his hands through his hair nervously.

Draco looked at Hermione in confusion, who in turn was doing the same both questioning her best friend's unusual behavior. Potter had always been a bit strange and uncultured, but the Malfoy heir found today to be particularly odd.

"Actually, you might as well stay Hermione. This shouldn't take too long and it's better for me if I have you take Malfoy with you when you leave." He began, words slipping out of his mouth faster than usual as Hermione took her seat. "I'd like your insight into our current list of suspects in your mother's case."

"Harry, shouldn't you bring this up with Mrs. Malfoy instead?"

"I couldn't agree more, Granger," Draco chimed in. "My mother should be far better equipped to answer you."

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose and spoke hurriedly with a hint of frustration lacing his voice. "We've already done that, Malfoy. Unfortunately, it's just as likely someone is targeting her to get back at YOU for something. You didn't make too many friends at Hogwarts, and those you did aren't above tactics like this."

Draco's nostrils flared at Harry's words and before he could bark a sharp retort, Hermione interrupted. "Harry Potter," She admonished, "There is no need to be rude, regardless of your reasoning," Draco smirked at Harry's reaction as the Auror looked unsettled at Hermione's sharp jab. Perhaps, letting his girlfriend handle the boy-who-lived wasn't such a bad idea. "Just because Draco's friends are all Slytherins doesn't mean they should be considered suspects. It's that kind of prejudicial thinking that causes more problems than it solves." Draco loved the way she fiercely argued against Potter's anti-Slytherin sentiments. Granted, Potter was completely correct in being suspicious, but there was no need to tell Hermione Granger that. Besides, Draco wondered if this fierceness might also translate to other aspects of their relationship.

"I'll be sure to tell Nott and Zabini you defended their honor, Granger," Draco said, cutting off Hermione's rant about equality. "Sadly, Potter does have a point when it comes to my business dealings. I haven't exactly been careful with certain disagreeable parties; it's at least worth a look." Draco continued with an aristocratic drawl. Although, he didn't openly acknowledge it; Draco knew how instrumental his girlfriend was in the initiation of this inquiry, and it seemed reasonable to have her included with everything that's going on with the case. To his own surprise, accepting her presence seemed to be the most uncomplicated thing to do. Hermione Granger was the epitome of justice and he was sure she could be trusted to help them solve this issue.

"Why am I not surprised," Hermione sighed wearily lamenting her boyfriend's abrasive nature.

"In my defense, many of the people in question are in Azkaban now, and those that aren't probably should be."

"It hasn't been what? Two minutes? And you're already making me regret defending you and your friends."

The couple's argument was interrupted by an unmistakable snort that echoed in through the office. Harry suddenly turned white as a sheet, while Draco casually covered his mouth to mask his knowing smile. Hermione, however, was more focused on her best friend who's entire demeanor had changed to panic instead of the unexpected sound.

"Harry? Is everything alright, you were flushed when we came in and now you've gone pale. You're worrying me, not acting like yourself, warding your office, and you've been awkward this entire time. I thought you were happy about the new changes in your life?" Hermione said standing up and moving around the desk to step closer to her best friend.

"Stop!" Harry Potter shouted, trying his best to stop his friend approach. The fact that he didn't move from his chair only confirmed Draco's earlier suspicions. "Everything's fine." He spoke with false exuberance, "I couldn't be happier about the news. I'm the happiest I've ever been!"

"So 'happy' that you couldn't be bothered to stand up to greet Granger properly?" Draco questioned adding to Hermione's suspicion. "What're you hiding there, Potter? Or a better question, who're you hiding there? I should hope it's not the suspects in my mother's case."

Harry dropped his head on the table with a groan, before Hermione rushed to him, there was an unmistakable shuffling from under the table. Hermione stopped in step, the entire situation unfolding in front of her eyes.

"Malfoy, you're merciless. How long did you suspect I was under there?" Ginny Potter's head appeared from beneath her husband's desk.

"When we arrived, Potter was sweating, despite the fact that this office is frigid. He looks too unkempt even for him, and a wizard only wards an office heavily when he's trying to protect something precious." Draco drawled looking as if he'd found the most captivating spot on the ceiling.

"Hmm, we'll have to be more careful about that next time," the fiery redhead replied.

"I don't care, the less I think about what you two were doing the better off I'll be. Just make sure that next time, you remind your dullard of a husband to cancel his sodding meetings!"

"Ginny, what's..." Hermione finally started to say before she was interrupted.

"Don't be naïve, Granger. They were obviously in the middle of a shag." Draco cut in, sharply.

"You're just jealous that you're not getting any Mal... Ow!" Ginny stopped mid-word and rubbed her shoulder, where Hermione's hand hit her.

"Avada me or Obliviate me, whichever you choose, just get me out of here, Granger. I'll even double your funding if you can manage to completely erase the mental image of this entire affair." Draco turned to Hermione, his face showcasing the unease that was caused by the sudden appearance of the Ginny Potter. Evidently, having his suspicions confirmed did not settle well with the young Malfoy.

The Potters both looked concerned, as his girlfriend took a deep an steadying breath. "I don't kill people, Draco. Furthermore, obliviators require extensive training for a reason." Hermione lectured, "A single miscalculation and a person might end up with permanent memory impairments. Memory charms require a great deal of skill to master they should only be used when absolutely necessary."

If the judgemental looks the Chosen One and his wife were giving the blond-haired wizard were any indication; memory charms were an unpleasant topic with this particular group. "I'm not so thick-headed as to think 'Obliviate' is the solution to every problem, Granger. Merlin, if that were true, I've at least a dozen memories I'd rather be without." Draco paused allowing his words to set in. "Still, I'd trust your wandwork over either of the Potters or any of the Ministry's Obliviators. If the 'Brightest Witch of her age' can't alter a memory without sending someone to Mungo's Thickey Ward, we're all doomed anyway."

An uncomfortable silence fell over the small office. Harry was solely focused on Hermione, who was pointedly ignoring Draco; while Ginny Potter was scowling at the former Slytherin.

"Not so thick headed? Merlin, he's putting Ron to shame." The redhead muttered in a voice obviously intended for her husband alone.

Unfortunately, Draco's hearing was just good enough to make out the dig. He couldn't help but lament the fact that he seemed to keep making miscalculations when it came to Hermione Granger, every step forward was undermined by his own lack of knowledge about her. Honestly, it was frustrating that his lioness always seemed to be the one to escalate the terms of their relationship while his efforts to woo the stubborn witch always seemed to be fruitless. "You know, I think I've wasted enough time here," Draco huffed. "Potter unless you're still planning on following through with whatever debaucherous things you and your wife had planned, best send her home so we can deal with that list of suspects and I can leave. I've got a lunch meeting with Nott in twenty, and I'd prefer he not wait."

"Don't you dare think you can order me around, Malfoy," Ginny countered without getting up from her spot, wand at the ready. Meanwhile, Harry still remained staring concernedly at Hermione, letting his wife continue with her threats. "That is unless you wish to relive the experience of humungous bat-sized bogeys flying out of your nose."

Ginny's words seemed to finally snap the boy-who-lived back to reality, as he swiftly placed his hand on Ginny's lowering her wand. "Stop Gin, Malfoy's not wrong. I'm supposed to be working, and before you showed up to surprise me, which I loved, by the way, I did owl him." The Auror smiled warmly, at his wife's pout. "Go home for now. I promise to come home for lunch and make it up to you."

Hermione finally seemed to have gotten her senses back. "No. Draco and I will leave and he can come back at a later time. I'm sorry I didn't realize sooner what we'd barged into. I'm sure Tracey wouldn't mind if I'm a tad bit early for our meeting. "

"It's alright, Hermione," Ginny said slowly walking towards Hermione, fixing her mussed up hair. "I don't want to get in the way of Harry's job. I know I can't keep him away from work when there are people to be saved," she added with a proud smile. "Besides, you bought such wonderful biscuits for me. The least you can do is keep me company while I eat them or at least until your meeting. To be honest, I'm starving."

Hermione smiled warmly, at the redheaded woman's claim.

"By the way, did you know Ron buggered off for the weekend without telling anyone!? We still haven't had the chance to tell him the good news. I suppose it's just as well, at least now I don't need to feel guilty for not sharing these biscuits," Ginny said opening the box Hermione brought and immediately digging in.

Draco furrowed his brow in thought but dismissed the idea nearly immediately.

"Where did he go?" Hermione's questioned, obviously surprised by Ron's actions. "Why didn't he tell anyone?"

"No Idea, but George thinks he's found himself a girlfriend and doesn't want to tell us. Which I suppose is something you two have in common since you didn't tell any of us that you started seeing Malfoy," Ginny said with a mischievous wink, stunning Hermione into silence. Although the mischievousness of the younger girl's actions was lessened by the biscuit crumbs on her lips.

"Gin," Harry admonished lovingly, "Head home. I'll be there once I've finished with Malfoy, and I'll take a long lunch, just for you."

"I Love you, Harry Potter." the young witch said pecking her husband on the lips, leaving behind a few crumbs.

"Enough with the disgusting displays or I'll Avada myself," Draco groused.

"Hush, Draco. It's sweet; we'd be lucky to have a love like theirs."

"Granger, if we ever have a love like theirs it'll be because one or both of us have been Imperiused."

Hermione rolled her eyes at her boyfriend's theatrics, "Oh would you grow up. Let's go, Ginny. I'll walk you to the Floo and we'll let these two sort themselves out," she said picking up the parcel Arthur had entrusted to her and opening the door to Harry's office. "Remember Draco, once you've finished here with Harry and had lunch with Theo, we have to meet with Tracey to discuss the particulars of the Wizengamot hearing. It's coming up soon," she added as she walked out into the Auror Department.

"I'm not Potter or Weasley, Hermione. I remember, and don't need you acting like a mother hen." Draco called out over his shoulder at his girlfriend's retreating form.

"Personally, I think you'd make a marvelous henpecked husband, Malfoy," Ginny added cheekily before scampering off after her friend closing the door behind her.

Following the departure of their respective witches, an uncomfortable silence descended on the office.

"So..."

"Not a word, Potter. Don't say a sodding word, just show me the list of suspects."


"It's beautiful, Tracey." Hermione hugged the Slytherin girl. "I'm so happy for you." She drew back to look at the joy in her friend's eyes that were as bright as the beautiful sapphire on her finger. If not for her eyes and the ring on her finger, Hermione might have never guessed the monumental change in the Slytherin witch's life.

"Thanks, Hermione. It took him a while, but I knew Theodore would get around to formally asking me eventually."

"Still, I can't help but wonder, what're you doing here, a day after your engagement? Aren't you supposed to be wearing out your fiancé? I didn't see Ginny or Harry for a few days after he proposed." Hermione mused with a smile, remembering Ginny's chatter as she dropped Mrs. Potter at the Floos. Hermione could've easily spent all her afternoon with Ginny, but there were more important things at hand.

Tracey raised her eyebrow while Hermione moved to claim a chair. "You've spent too much time around Slytherins and Mrs. Potter. You're starting to speak openly about such 'debaucherous' things, Hermione. Still, if you'd like to know how I wore my fiancé out." As Hermione's eyes widened, Tracey's smirk grew more. "Theo likes to be very 'meticulous' with me. Actually, you might be able to help with something. He's recently taken to using the Leviosa charm to..."

"Tracey," Hermione jerked from her place. "I... um, don't mind, but this…"

"Relax." Tracey burst out laughing looking at Hermione's discomfort. "I'm teasing." Hermione let out not so subtle relieved sigh and Tracey's brow furrowed. She bit her lip and asked the Gryffindor in a tentative voice. "Is something the matter?" Tracey couldn't dismiss that flicker of doubt that passed through her mind looking at Hermione's unusually tentative expression. In all the time she'd known the brave Gryffindor, she'd never seen her look so hesitant. In the back of her mind, the future Mrs. Nott wondered if her friend has somehow chanced upon some part of the Malfoy heir's motives, but dismissed the thought. If that were the case, Theo would be out identifying what was left of Draco at St Mungo's.

"Bit of a strange morning," The muggleborn witch admitted. "Aside from that, things have never been better." Hermione's face lit up almost instantly. "Great things are happening. Ginny and Harry have wonderful news, Neville's planning to propose," she gave a warm smile. "And you and Theo are engaged." Under the happiness dancing in Hermione's eyes, Tracey didn't fail to miss a flicker of something the other witch was trying to keep hidden.

"What about you? Certainly, your friends are happy; but is making the lives of every house elf on the British Isles better, and dating a stunningly handsome and rich man not good enough for Hermione Granger?" Tracey countered. "Don't get me wrong, I love Theo to death do us part and after, but I'm not blind to the virtues of the man intent on courting you. There were certainly some interesting rumors amongst the girls back at Hogwarts."

Hermione looked at her with a scandalous look in her eyes. When Tracey broke into a fit of giggles, Hermione averted her gaze mumbling under her breath. "I'll never understand you Slytherins." Her eyes inadvertently fell on the tiny raven hanging from Tracey's neck, which was shining as brilliantly as the rock on her finger. Hermione needed only a second to notice the sapphire was nothing but the Raven's eye and raven itself was hanging from a delicate silver chain. "Oh, my! That's beautiful. Is that the pendant Theo gave you? Does it carry the modified taboo curse that lets Theo know if or when you're in danger? What exactly are the trigger words?" The muggleborn girl's eyes were now alight with curiosity.

Tracey's eyes followed Hermione's and she smiled fondly looking at the fixture that had taken permanent placement near her heart. Tracey knew how important the gesture was to Theo and she gracefully accepted it when he presented it to her, during their initial days of courtship. The piece of jewelry had become a part of her daily accessories and to be frank, the presence of the raven had become a part of herself. "Yes, it's so like Theodore to give a bird of ill-omen to someone he loves," Tracey chuckled, as she traced it.

Catching Tracey's contented expression Hermione drew back. "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry. It just caught my eye." Hermione bit her lip and looked at the Slytherin girl with a bashful look. "I'd heard about pendants usually being given as a part of the courting process, I merely got curious."

"I'm surprised you didn't ask until now; I was under the impression you'd already pried the knowledge from Malfoy." Tracey let out a hearty chuckle. "Pureblood family traditions differ from family to family, but most have them; be they sewing techniques, customary gifts, or rituals. The general idea is to strengthen the bonds between a couple and thier children. I still remember the day, he gave me this pendant. He said that ravens mated for life, and so long as I kept this pendant with me he'd fly to my side whenever I called," Tracey smiled, wiping away a small tear from the corner of her eye. "But that's not enough of an answer to sate your curious mind, is it Hermione? So ask away, although I might not provide satisfying answers."

"Yes, I know. I need to ask the right questions to get the right answers." She leaned forward and ran her finger on the beautifully carved raven that was now resting on Tracey's palm. Though Hermione's initial thoughts wandered towards Theo's choice of a raven, she was more interested in the practical aspect of the pendant. "Have you tested it?"

"Well…," Tracey started but trailed off hearing a knock on her door. "Oh dear, It seems there's a dragon at my door. Shall we let him in?" She offered theatrically, knowing the person on the other side of the door would hear it. "Come on in, Malfoy." Hermione bit her lip looking back over her shoulder, wondering how to deal with a grumpy boyfriend.

The door creaked open letting the Malfoy heir in, who sported his trademark smirk as he greeted them, much to Hermione's shock. She was expecting a grumpy Draco Malfoy, who wouldn't stop complaining about the time he had to spend with Harry but instead found herself looking into the eyes of a smirking Malfoy. "You're not even married yet and you're picking up your future husband's sense of humor, soon to be Lady Nott, for shame. I trust you enjoyed your post-engagement activities."

"Draco!" Hermione gasped and reached out to give her a boyfriend a sharp swat at his unusual greeting. Unfortunately for her, he was quick to grab her hand and pulled her towards him. Placing a kiss on her knuckles. "Always a pleasure, darling." Leaning closer he proceeded to whisper in a flirty yet dangerous tone, "Granger, it's time you remember I was a seeker and that every time you've hit me; I've been letting you. As for that business this morning with the Potters, the consequences for dragging me into that mess will be severe."

"We'll see about that." Hermione pulled back her hand.

Tracey who looked at them with an amused smile, spoke. "I take it my husband-to-be annoyed you a bit too much during your lunch? Also, I'd advise against challenging your girlfriend, history suggests you'll lose."

"Tell me something I don't know. Still, there are a few physical activities where I'm quite confident." Draco smiled at Hermione making her glare even more intense. Ignoring Hermione's stabbing glare, he continued, "But to answer your question Davis; yes, he did. I simply loved hearing about Theo's innovative use of the Leviosa charm or your amazing flexibility." Draco sneered sarcasm dripping from his words. "In fact, it's exactly what I needed after walking in on the Potters' debaucherous office antics this morning."

The Slytherin witch blushed at Draco's revelations before the Muggleborn witch cut in to defend her friends. "Shame on you, Draco. They're celebrating wonderful news. Yes, they shouldn't have been doing that while Harry's supposed to be working but..."

"The fact that Potter's wife is pregnant is no reason for me to know what his 'I just shagged my wife' face looks like." Draco cut in. "It's hard enough for me to look Davis in the eye after everything Theo's told me." Draco grimaced and turned towards a slightly embarrassed Tracey. "Standing Splits, Davis. At this point, you'll have to marry him since you've ruined him for other women."

Tracey blushed fiercely, "Stop Malfoy, just stop. I'll get him to stop oversharing with you, just don't say another word."

"I'm glad you understand," he replied with a smirk.

"So Tracey, about that pendant." Hermione's awkward query completely broke the tension in the small office, and the look of appreciation on her female friend's face made it all worth it. Draco's sour mood had made him take things too far, but on some level, Hermione couldn't completely blame him since she'd tried a similar tactic with Ginny's oversharing. Sadly, in Ginny's case, it hadn't worked. "Have you had the chance to test if it works as intended? "

Draco furrowed his brow and looked at the two women, bent over a small pendant. "Really? Am I the only person who actually wants to work today? I thought we were meeting to discuss the Wizengamot, not silly trinkets." He sighed heavily taking the seat next to Hermione. "Nevermind, the two of you are too professional to continue this for too long anyway. Proceed."

"Thank you for the permission Lord Malfoy," Tracey and Hermione snarked in unison.

"Truthfully, there hasn't been a need to test it. Most purebloods only follow the tradition out of habit. The actual importance is given to the intent, not it's practicality. Besides, the wizarding world is a lot safer than when this became a tradition so it doesn't really matter if it works." Tracey answered with a pondering look.

"Aren't you a tiny bit curious, about how the taboo curse manifests?" Hermione prodded, her eyes fixated on the raven.

"Granger, do you realize you're dealing with Slytherins here, not reckless Gryffindors. We don't test theories ourselves unless there is an absolute need for it." Draco said draping one ankle over the other, while he leaned back in his chair. "Theo's meticulous and a bit more paranoid than is strictly healthy. I'd wager that thing could bypass Hogwarts and Azkaban's wards put together."

"Really, Draco? We both know Theo's awful at charms." the Slytherin witch countered.

"Yes, but that pendant isn't charmed." he threw back at his former fellow housemate.

Tracey gave Draco a contemplative look and bit her lip. "Now you got me all curious." Draco nodded his head casually, but Hermione didn't miss the slight malicious smile that was lying just there underneath his cool façade. "Theo said he didn't need to turn in for work. Maybe we should check if to see if it works. "

"No Tracey, it's quite alright. Besides the Ministry's wards would keep Theo out anyway." Hermione said with a wary glance at the smirking blond, who now had the audacity to lean closer to her and drape a hand over her shoulders.

"Careful Granger, you're making it sound like you think Davis' future husband is incapable of bypassing the Ministry's wards." He turned towards Tracey and gave an encouraging nod. "Care to show us just how much faith you have in your husband-to-be's magical ability." Draco politely taunted, "He's probably lounging around playing wizard's chess with his elves again, so it's not as if you'll be troubling him. Besides, you know he's happy to use any excuse to spend more time with you."

"You're right Malfoy, last time he spent the afternoon playing chess with them his speech pattern shifted. I do not want him slipping into calling me 'Miss Tracey' again." Tracey sighed, completely missing the mischievous glint in Draco's eyes. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, her lips uttering words inaudible to both Draco and Hermione.

"What's your scheme this time?" While Tracey remained completely unaware of the communication between Draco and Hermione, Hermione pinned Draco with her question.

He gave her a genuine smile and pointed his wand towards them. "You know me so well," he chuckled and her eyes went wide hearing his next words. "Protego."

Hermione gasped as soon as the charm engulfed them. Before she could retort, there was a thunderous crack of magic and a sudden burst of steam filled the small office. Tracey's shriek resonated in the office, while Draco secured the paperwork with a water repellant charm, all the while trying to contain his laughter. Amidst the messy scene stood a mostly naked Theodore Nott, his eyes wild, one hand holding a wand, while the other held a towel providing at least some modesty.

"Tracey, are you alright?!" As soon as he found his fiancé in a mortified state his anger turned into concern, he moved towards her in a swift motion and engulfed her in his embrace. He held her face in his palms and whispered. "Thank Merlin. I was so worried."

"Oh, Theo. I didn't think you'd be taking a shower in the middle of the day or I wouldn't have tested it." Tracey secured his hastily wrapped towel looking at him with apologetic eyes.

Theo let out a relieved sigh and chuckled. "In my defense, I'm still sore after last night." His brow suddenly furrowed. "Wait a minute, did you say a test?"

"I'm so sorry, Theo. I wasn't sure, but Malfoy…" Tracey trailed off and looked towards Draco. In one swift and fluid motion, a spell burst forth from Theo's wand striking Draco's previously cast shield, then another breaking the shield and causing a laughing Draco Malfoy to wince in pain, while a stunned Hermione looked on.

Theo's eyes narrowed at his best friend. "You knew!" The Nott heir ground out. "He bloody knew I was in the shower. For Salazar's sake, you're lucky I had the presence of mind to grab a towel or Granger there would have been in for a show." The brown haired Slytherin sighed letting his anger fade, rubbing his face giving everyone in the room a good look at his half-naked body. At that moment Hermione couldn't help but think Tracey hadn't done too badly in for herself in the handsome wizard department. A bit too thin for Hermione's taste, but still quite the specimen. "You're going to pay for this later Malfoy, but for now just take Granger and leave. Despite your ill intentions you've given me some quality time with my witch and I'm not about to waste it."

Hermione immediately pulled a still wincing Draco to his feet and dragged him outside, all the while yelling over her shoulder, "Umm Tracey, just send an interdepartmental memo when you're ready for the meeting. Oh, and congratulations Nott." The door shut on their backs, cutting off the response from Tracey. Only then Hermione managed to let out the giggle she'd managed to stifle during the absurdity of the last few minutes. Her giggles stopped immediately when she noticed her smirking boyfriend. One thing became very clear at that moment, Draco Malfoy was devious and her heart jumped into her throat understanding she was his next victim.

Chapter Text

His fingers twitched nervously as they reached for the zipper of her dress. He could see her silhouette against the wall with a rigid posture and tensed shoulders. He moved his fingers to gently brush over the stiff muscles, trying to relieve some of the tension. "You're sure?" He asked, his lips hovering near her left ear.

She gave him a sideward glance with a smile and nodded. "No, but I'm not going to let a little fear stop me. It's still a risk, but I'm ready."

If her smile was any indication Draco knew he had to push aside his own fears. The moment was finally here, he wasn't ready, he never would be, but his pride would see him through.

He nudged the offending garment away from her shoulder and bent his head to press his lips to the tender skin, slamming it on the top of his desk with a harsh thud.

Wincing at the sharp pain that shot through his skull and still slightly dazed, the Malfoy heir took in his surroundings. "What in the?" he muttered barely audibly. One moment he was about to lay claim to Hermione Granger, and the next he was in his lab feeling the after-effects of a minor head trauma.

Blinking his eyes to adjust to the light, he realized what he had experienced was nothing more than a rather realistic dream courtesy of his own imagination. Summoning a glass of water and gulping it down, he tried to rationalize the dream. Willfully ignoring the obvious, the young wizard concluded that Potter and Nott were to blame. The pain in his skull fading, Draco was finally able to take in his surroundings to realize he'd fallen asleep in his potions' lab again. Such occurrences weren't unheard of, especially when trying to keep track of a new or demanding experiment, but it was rare that his dreams weren't bloodstained nightmares. Shaking off the grim reminder, Draco turned his eyes to the clock and cursed when he noticed it was almost midday.

He reached for the cauldron to check the potion he'd left simmering over the night. If the purple fumes were to be believed, the potion was ready. The young Malfoy sighed contentedly looking at the ripples created by the wave of his wand on the surface of the potion. After scooping up a tiny portion of the brew into a small vial on the table, he leaned back in his chair looking at the swirling potion in the unique cauldron. Brewing potions like this, was rare because bone vessels became brittle after being exposed to direct heat and the cauldrons were easily ruined. It required a master's skill, and even then, the large improvements in potency weren't enough to be deemed worth it to most potioneers. Draco wondered if a certain meddlesome witch would be able to recognize the value in using the remains of a magical creature or would it simply be abhorrent to her sensibilities. Would she'd be willing to see things from his perspective in this instance? If it had been any other creature, maybe, but Hermione Granger was too devoted to her cause to listen to reason. Thankfully, the chances of her learning about these cauldrons were slim. His muggleborn wasn't very fond of the Manor, and he'd tripled the wards after watching the brilliant witch break into Potter's office with minimal effort. Draco wasn't taking any chances.

He moved to give his slumped body a good stretch, groaning when the bones near his neck cracked rather loudly. As various neglected bodily urges set upon him, he realized he'd been in this lab for far too long, and summoned his faithful elf. "Tinky!"

"Master Draco." He looked at the tiny elf hovering over him with large bulging eyes. Draco cautiously took a step back knowing the diminutive creature was likely moments away from clinging to his master's leg and bursting into sobs. "Tinky is here for whatever Master needs. Tinky worried for Master when he locked himself in the lab. Mistress was so distressed, young master hasn't eaten dinner for two days."

Draco grimaced trying to tune out the high pitched squealing. Yes, that was another reason for locking himself in his lab. It wasn't simply that he was avoiding an unpleasant dinner conversation with his meddling parents after the topic of Theo's engagement had been brought up. No, he'd simply been struck by a desire to conduct his research without being bothered. It was a cowardly excuse, but it seemed to have worked thus far. "I'm fine. Just run me a hot bath and bring a light meal to my room, and don't let mother know," he added in a warning tone.

"But Mistress' so worried. She doesn't like it when Master Draco misses meals, she worries for your health," the elf begged with wide eyes, scooting closer.

"I doubt she's overly concerned for my health, Tinky. No, I'd wager she wishes to remind me of my duty or wants to interrogate me." He uttered the last part under his breath. Looking at Tinky's worried eyes he took a deep breath. "Once you've done what I've asked; you can tell Mother I've gone to Hogwarts for a meeting, but am in the picture of health and do not expect to be back until after she has retired for the evening."

"That explanation is mediocre at best, and I would advise against it, Draco." Narcissa's voice sounded from a chair in the dark corner of his lab and Draco shot up from his spot. "Better to have quick lunch with your doting mother than to answer to your father upon your return," the lady of the Manor offered with a knowing and slightly sinister smile. "Tinky, prepare Draco's bath, but he will be having lunch in the dining hall with me." The elf nodded then apparated away.

"Mother, I apologize. Fatigue got the better of me and I didn't notice your arrival," Draco said fixing his clothing.

Narcissa approached taking a peek into the cauldron "A new and ambitious project I presume?" she asked raising an eyebrow.

"A refinement, I've had to temper my ambition as of late; expectations have become rather burdensome and hinder innovation." Draco offered pointedly. "Regardless, this refinement has proven temperamental and has left me little time for trivial things."

Narcissa scowled at his flippant reply, while Draco cast a wary look at his mother. "While I understand your commitment to your work; skipping dinner with your father and I, not once but twice, is simply unconscionable, Draco. I've raised you better than that."

"I promise, it won't happen again."

"If this potion is all that has kept you away from us, then your father and I have no reason to be concerned." Narcissa walked closer to her son, and gave a smile, "However, if these absences are due to a misplaced desire to avoid your duty as our heir, then..." She trailed off.

Draco schooled his expression, not wanting to fall into Narcissa's trap. "No mother, there's nothing else. I know what must be done, and I'll do my duty, as I always have. I was just focused on this potion and Slughorn suggested that my success with it could be very advantageous for us. Since I doubt the Headmistress would allow me to consult with Severus' portrait, he's the only Potioneer with the sufficient knowledge that I can afford to trust."

"I suppose so, Abraxas and Lucius both seemed to place value on Horace's skills and trustworthiness. Very well then," Narcissa donned a look of disinterest. "I still think these ventures are below your capabilities, but you're free to pursue your interests, so long as they do not bring us shame. Anyway, the elf should have everything ready for you now."

"Yes, mother. I'll see you in a few minutes." Draco didn't miss his mother's lack of apparent insistence on his duties to the family.

Before a sigh of relief escaped Draco's lips, Narcissa spoke over her shoulder from the doors. "It's regrettable that you failed to join your father and I for breakfast," Draco closed his eyes waiting for the inevitable slight. "We've arranged to celebrate Theodore's engagement here at the Manor."

That was unexpected. He knew his parents had a soft spot for Theo, but this was beyond his expectations. Malfoys were not so kind; they tended to be quite miserly with favors unless there was something to be gained. As to what his parents wished to gain, the answer came swiftly with a devastating impact.

"Just a small gathering. Friends and close acquaintances." Draco narrowed his eyes as she placed an elegant envelope on the table near the door. "Ms. Granger's invitation; I trust you to deliver it to her in a proper fashion. Despite your claims of courting her, she has yet to make a proper debut on your arm and your father and I both believe there is no better occasion than celebrating your dear friend's engagement." Without a word she left the room, leaving Draco no other choice.

In foolishly avoiding his parents, the elder Malfoys had outwitted their son and cornered him in an inescapable trap. Now it seemed, that Theo's engagement celebration was going to be Hermione Granger's official debut as his girlfriend. He should have known better, he should have embarrassed Theo more, he should have fled the country when he had the chance.

Dragging his sluggish body towards the table, he took the dainty note into his hands. It was quite a hefty envelope and Draco couldn't help but wonder what else his mother packed in the missive. Pondering on the utter disaster that was soon to happen, Draco grabbed the potion vial and apparated back to his room, already dreading the conversation he was going to have with his lioness.

After a troublesome morning and an uncomfortable lunch with his mother, Draco stood on the balcony of his room, his trusted broom in his hands. With the vial and the invitation safely tucked in his pockets, he kicked off and began the flight to Hogwarts. Once he dealt with old Sluggy, all that remained would be breaking the unpleasant news to his girlfriend and handing her the dreaded invitation. It was obvious that Granger wouldn't likely respond well to what amounted to a summons to a Pureblood social event courtesy of Lady Malfoy, but it's not as if it was his choice. He'd need to be diplomatic about this, or risk a flock of canaries. Thankfully, Draco did some of his best thinking while in the air, and the journey from Wiltshire to Scotland would provide him plenty of time to think.

His thoughts ran towards his fiery girlfriend and their last encounter. A small part of Draco hoped that they would continue what had started on her couch, but the unfortunate encounter with the Potters and his desire to embarrass the future Notts had derailed things more than he'd expected.

Following both events, Hermione's mood had seemed uneasy, and uncharacteristically sullen for the normally cheery muggleborn. It didn't take long for him to deduce it had something to do with the mention of memory charms earlier in the day, but he hadn't expected such a vehement denial the moment he'd made a minor request. Draco sighed as the conversation that happened between them, resurfaced his mind.

"No!"

"Pardon?" Draco raised an eyebrow.

"There's no 'Need' for you to meet my parents at all." Her tone denoting a sense of finality.

"You're mistaken, Granger. There's not only a need, but it's my duty." Draco pushing into defenses, unwilling to bend on the issue.

"Too bad, it's not going to happen."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want it to." She turned away trying to hide her emotions.

"There are limits to your wilfulness Granger, this is non-negotiable," he said in a stern tone. "Tradition demands that I introduce myself to them to declare my intentions with respect to their daughter. It's important that I present myself as a man worthy of caring for you." He soothed placing his hands on her shoulders.

"They're Muggles Draco, why bother displaying pureblood traditions to muggles."

He struggled to understand her perspective; as far as he knew, such things were common, even amongst muggles, and yet, Hermione's mood had shifted dramatically. "It doesn't matter that they're muggles. I don't delight in visiting muggles, but your parents deserve the peace of mind that I am a man who is capable of supporting you. It's important that they understand what kind of man I am."

"Just drop it Draco, I don't want to have this conversation and neither do you." She warned pulling herself out of his embrace.

"I wouldn't have proposed it if I didn't think it necessary, Hermione."

"Really?! You want them to know what kind of man you are?!" She whirled at him and shouted. "Draco, you're the kind of man who just a few years ago would have kidnapped them and handed them over to VOLDEMORT! You're the man who was the little boy who made my first few years at Hogwarts miserable. The moment they find out any of that, they'll hate you!"

Draco winced, the truth of his girlfriend's words cut no different than Potter's Sectumsempra. "And I presume it would be asking too much of you to simply omit my past mistakes."

"I can't, I've hurt them too much already." Her eyes softened and her gaze moved downward.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he tried to keep his frustration to himself. "Then where does this leave us, Hermione? Is your forgiveness merely empty words?"

"No, it's not." She took a deep breath and looked at him with a troubled expression. "I-I don't know. I've been avoiding this because I didn't know what to do about it!" Draco closed his eyes and sighed angrily, but didn't lash out. "I just need to think about it, alright? I need some time." She persuaded him to look at her and pressed her lips to his. "I do forgive you Draco, I mean it. I'm not asking you to forsake tradition, but when it comes to my parents I need you to trust me." she whispered softly, "I'm not saying never, just not now, okay?" Her words held a firmness to which Draco couldn't help but acquiesce.

That was their last conversation of the evening, after which they had bid each other goodnight. Draco wondered how he could overcome this new hurdle. It seemed as if the courtship of Hermione Granger was just one more impossible task after another; there were too many dangers that could easily destroy this relationship. Memory Charms, Gryffindors, Magical Matching, and his lies just to name a few. Everything seemed so much more simple under the Dark Lord, comply or die.

"Salazar, save me." He muttered under his breath at the dark thought that had assailed him. No, Courting Hermione Granger wasn't that bad. It might be troublesome, periodically filling him with fear, anger, and anxiety, but there were also perks; the gift of a strong heir; the soft caress of her lips; the kindness of her words; and the sinful promise of her body. Yes, courting Hermione Granger wasn't too bad all things considered.

He took a deep breath, as the wards that protected Hogwarts brushed against him, bringing him out of his thoughts. Getting down near the Quidditch stands, he quickly moved out of the way of few students on their brooms and proceeded inside the castle with his broom safely tucked under his arm, unaware that the object of thoughts, apparated just outside of the grounds.

Stepping out of dungeons he let out a disgruntled groan. The aged Professor had managed to eat up most of the afternoon, and Draco had somehow let him! With a sneer thrown over his shoulder, he walked towards the grounds where he'd stowed his broom. He lost so much time, with the old fool answering questions. Apparently, the refinement was beyond expectations to such a degree that Slughorn wouldn't let the Malfoy heir leave without providing a detailed explanation. According to the Slytherin Head of House, Draco's penchant for fragile bone cauldrons and application of Arithmancy had contributed to unbelievable refinements to age-old potion practices.

Draco was on the verge of exhaustion but was at least thankful that the Potion Master's exuberance had distracted from the lingering apprenticeship offer. Draco has still yet to make a firm decision on the matter. The Headmistress wasn't pleased, but that was hardly anything new for her; particularly when a Malfoy was involved. Still, she kept the offer on the table, saying that the position would remain open until Slughorn declared his formal intent to retire. It was more than Draco had expected, and he couldn't help wonder if his muggleborn had something to do with it.

The young Malfoy groaned at the thought of his girlfriend since it reminded him of the task given to him by his mother earlier today. If he tried to avoid it or postpone it, he wouldn't hear the end of it from his mother. It wasn't as if he could avoid dinner with his parents this evening, at least not without a more valid reason than brewing a potion. It wasn't that the thought of meeting with his lioness wasn't appetizing, but the burden of proposing their public debut as a couple was more daunting than expected. There were pureblood traditions and rules of decorum that Granger didn't know, and some that she'd likely resist, getting her to the event and getting a Gryffindor like her to behave just didn't seem possible, to say nothing of Draco's own feelings on the matter.

Until now, he could just pretend that this wasn't real, that it was a dream, one of his pubescent fantasies run amok. Delivering this invitation was nothing but a burden; it made it real, and Draco didn't know if they, or rather he, was ready for it.

He saw the approaching darkness of a purple sky through the castle windows as he stepped towards the Quidditch grounds. Handling potions was so much more simple than dealing with people. How was he expected to make his stubborn bookworm girlfriend see the benefits of attending a party at the Manor?

Draco's sluggish gait ground to a halt the moment he heard a distinctive lecturing voice echoing from a nearby room. He smirked, as the voice tried to speak with authority about Quidditch and what constituted a foul. "Never played a serious game of it in her life, yet she's lecturing as if she's a foremost authority on it," he muttered to himself. Still, based on what he could hear, her theoretical knowledge was spot on. If he did end up taking Slughorn's apprenticeship, it might be worth trying to persuade her to coach the Slytherin team. After all, her knowledge with a bit of Slytherin deviousness could go a long way towards putting the inter-house cup into Slytherin hands permanently.

With a conspiratorial smile in place, he proceeded towards his lioness only to stop again. If Granger's here and talking about Quidditch, that clearly means she's here with one of her annoying friends. "Brilliant," Draco cursed wondering which dunderhead it would be today. Hopefully, not one of the ginger weasels or Potter.

The answer came as he heard her next words, "You need to cover these fouls in your tutoring sessions, Oliver. It's not enough to cover the eleven common fouls when there are seven hundred! Every one of them was committed at the first Quidditch World Cup in 1473, and the last thing you want is some student thinking their clever and getting penalized for committing a foul."

The young Malfoy rolled his eyes at her suggestion. Until recently, Wood played for Puddlemere and was the often mocked Captain of Gryffindor's Quidditch team for most of Draco's time at Hogwarts. His girlfriend's suggestions and recommendations seemed rather pointless weighed against Wood's experience.

"Oh, I plan to Hermione. McGonagall told me how the teams are lacking in spirit this year and I will do my best to rectify that. Between us, I should say I'll see to it that Gryffindor will again win the Quidditch cup. Given the team's not as good as we had during our school, but with proper guidance, they'll have a chance."

"You can be fired for that Oliver. Everyone deserves similar training and to be meticulous you have to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team and teach them to use them to their advantage." Hermione replied in a slightly louder voice, making Draco proud for a moment. She was the person most bullied for being an outsider among them and still champions for equality of opportunity even in Quidditch.

"I'm only just saying, Hermione. I know well enough not to cross Professor McGonagall, but it's not like those Slytherins will listen to me anyway."

"So, McGonagall's letting you play favorites?" Draco drawled announcing his presence as he stood in the doorway. "Considering she's the Headmistress, it hardly seems fair."

"Draco," Hermione beamed at his sudden appearance. Draco smirked at the shock on Wood's face and wagered if the apparent shock was at his presence or at the knowledge that Draco had heard his not so professional remark. "I was hoping to run into you. Oh, by the way, you remember Oliver Wood right?"

"Of course, the infamous Puddlemere Keeper who mysteriously retired just before the match with the Harpies."

"It was an injury, didn't think I could do right by my team so I stepped down. What are you implying?" Oliver asked in a menacing tone.

"Don't play innocent, Wood. I was at the match, your replacement was pathetic. Even the Weasel King could have played better. Add to that Potter's proposal at the end of the match and even the most ardent Puddlemere supporter might just start to wonder. As a fan of 'good' Quidditch, and a now-former Puddlemere supporter, watching that match was painful."

"Are you insinuating, Harpies' victory was not hard-earned?! Ginny's one of the top Quidditch players in the country and was chiefly responsible for that win." Hermione jumped in support of her friend.

"Not saying Potter's wife isn't talented on a broom, just musing on why Wood retired so suddenly."

"Bet against the Harpies, did you Malfoy?" Oliver asked with an amusing smile, capturing Draco's attention. "Poor judgment there, but didn't your father buy the whole Slytherin team Nimbus 2001s to secure your place as a Seeker; only for you to lose to Harry?"

"I earned that position on merit," Draco growled. "Unlike Potter, I wasn't given any privilege or special training. I had to work to earn my position on the team. Those broomsticks, were a generous gift to the team from my father days after I'd been unofficially named Seeker. I don't need to prove myself to the likes of you."

"Hurts doesn't it?" Oliver calmly got down from the table he was perched on. "Being accused of not respecting the true spirit of the game. Not that Flint's Slytherin team was known for respecting the rules. Still, the Harpies won fair and square and I couldn't be happier for them; but my loyalties are always to the team I'm playing for." Oliver came closer and patted on Draco's shoulder. "I respect Harry, Ginny, and Quidditch too much to ever throw a match. Also, don't give up on Puddlemere just yet. I might not be playing anymore, but I have it on good authority they're undertaking intensive training to be ready for next season. There'll be 'good' Quidditch to be had next season I promise, so don't forget to cheer for Puddlemere." Draco took a step back to shake off Oliver Wood's hand as the former Gryffindor transfigured a small wooden stick lying in the corner into an outrageous hat, that carried Puddlemere United's Logo. Thrusting the absurd thing into Draco's reluctant hands, the older wizard added, "do wear it to our next game."

Hermione snapped her hand on her mouth trying to stop her giggles, ignoring Draco's glare.

"See you later Hermione. Do give my best to Harry, Ginny, and Ron." Oliver stepped out of the room leaving Draco and Hermione to deal with the consequences of their unusual conversation.

"How dare he, treating me like a child. As if I'd ever be caught dead in this vile thing." Draco threw the hideous hat on the ground and set it alight it with his wand. Hermione burst into laughter unable to hold it in anymore. "Enough, Granger."

"It's your own fault, Draco." She spoke in between peals of her laughter, picking up the now-scorched hat and restoring it with a flick of her wand. "Oliver's a professional and you insulted him first by suggesting he threw a Quidditch match."

"Can't you just let me destroy that thing." Draco harshly pointed towards the hat.

"No, I rather like it, and I think I'll wear it if you ever try to drag me to a Quidditch match." the Muggleborn witch smirked triumphantly stowing the hat in her trusty beaded bag.

"Plenty of loyalty for your dear friend and former housemate, but none for your boyfriend?"

"Oliver isn't my dear-anything, and I'm perfectly happy to show you loyalty when you're not being a colossal prat. You're the one who came here like a pouting child who lost his favorite toy." When Draco started to say something, she placed her finger on his lips. "While I'm happy to argue with you as long as it takes for you to admit you're wrong, but I think there are other things we could be doing right now, don't you?"

Draco smirked and raised an eyebrow at her, marveling at her skills of guiding them away from troubled waters.

"Yes, but you'd need to be wearing considerably less for what I've got in mind," he winked. "Wait a minute, what are you doing here? I was planning on dropping by your office to invite you out for an impromptu dinner."

"I needed to borrow some books from the library and check on Winky. Neville told me he saw you going towards the dungeons, so I thought I could wait and we could head back to London together."

"You're aware I didn't apparate, right?" Draco folded his hands, a plan already shaping up in his mind, that included an agile broomstick and an enticing witch.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yes, Neville mentioned you zoomed in on your broom." Draco chuckled at her articulation. "And now I can see the insidious plan forming in your head. So, before it can take shape, shall we head out?"

"An insidious plan? You know me too well, Hermione. Unfortunately, my plan this time is a touch more romantic," he said advancing towards her. She scampered as he backed her to the wall with a predatory gleam in his eyes.

She stopped him pressing her palms into his chest. "Romantic, that's not a word I ever thought I'd hear from you."

"Our lives are full of things we never thought would happen." He brushed his lips against her cheek and said, "and yet here we are."

"Yes, but before we get carried away," she gave him a nudge, pushing him away from her. "Why don't we take this someplace else."

"Fine by me. An abandoned classroom is hardly a good place to ravish you."

Hermione rolled her eyes and stepped past him hurriedly, but couldn't hide the blush that crept up her cheeks at his words.

"Wrong way, Granger," Draco sing-songed.

"Hardly, this is the way to the front gate. May I remind you, you cannot apparate in and out of Hogwarts. Unless you're going to trouble the Headmistress for Floo access, we need to walk to an apparition point," she said in a slightly frustrated voice.

"Granger, don't be silly. There's no better feeling than the rush of cold wind in your hair with a warm body pressed against you."

"Looks like I've got quite a bit to teach you about what feels good Draco; but for now, I'll humor you. Let's go flying."

Draco was stunned into silence as she looked at him with a smirk rivaling his own. Chuckling at his dumbfounded expression, she came closer and picked up his dropped jaw. "I've been practicing for quite some time. Although my skills are still basic, I can proudly say I can ride a broomstick from here to London." When Draco narrowed his eyes, knowing there still more to her plan. "But we'll be going on separate brooms. I still stand by what I said before. You're reckless on a broom and I don't have a death wish."

"Seems to me you're omitting the part about warm bodies being pressed together." Draco's annoyance was clear in his eyes.

"Oh hush, Draco!" She quickly threw a wary glance around. "It's separate brooms or no brooms at all."

"Really, where's the fun in that?" Suddenly his eyes lit up. "Which reminds me, I do believe I'm owed a list of acceptable favors. I've been waiting for quite some time, and it has yet to be delivered. I think you're abusing my generosity, Hermione."

"I was hoping you would forget about that," she mumbled under her breath. Looking at the cautionary glance she added with a sigh. "I want to be thorough. I can't let you take advantage of me! I need to think about every possibility. If I forget to mention my clothing in detail, you could ask for something completely ridiculous like I shouldn't wear any underthings at work, or even worse, that I wear only my underthings at work!"

Draco chuckled at her scandalized look on her face. "Didn't know you were secretly an exhibitionist, Granger." She shot a glare but Draco furrowed his brow in contemplation. "You should know that I don't share, Hermione. I would've limited such requests to our private meetings. In fact, I do have some suggestions while we're on the topic."

"Draco! That was just an example."

Chuckling loudly at her scandalized expression, he continued. "Anyway, since you've expressed the desire to ride with me."

"Ride beside you; on a separate broom," she clarified.

"So, am I to understand you have no objections?" He raised an eyebrow.

"I suppose," Hermione asked in confusion.

"Then, shall we?." He offered his elbow with a sudden cheery mood.

Hermione skeptically took his arm as he guided both of them towards the Quidditch lockers where he'd stored his broom.

"By the way; where are you keeping this supposed broomstick you plan on riding?" He came to a stop as they approached the lockers. Hermione still suspicious extracted it out of her bag. After a cursory examination, the Malfoy heir remarked, "A bit underwhelming, but I'm guessing it's a spare you borrowed from Mrs. Potter." Hermione frowned at her boyfriend's dismissive attitude as he continued. "Maybe that's for the best. If it were more valuable, I'd be worried about leaving it here until your next visit." He opened the locker door and placed it into it.

"What do you think you're doing?! I'm supposed to ride that broomstick!"

"You didn't really trust me, did you? I feel like sometimes you forget I'm a Slytherin, Hermione." Draco said casually pulling out his broom from an adjacent locker. "Surely, you knew I'd pull a stunt like this, and were playing along."

"I don't play games, Draco." Hermione shoved him away and tried to take her broom.

"Neither do I, at least not ones I don't intend to win," Draco said effectively stopping her from pulling it out. "Did I mention I ran into Potter's elf? Kreacher was certainly surprised to see a noble descendant of the House of Black in the kitchens." Hermione's eyes widened at the mention. "The old thing was oddly chatty."

"You. Did. Not." Hermione shouted.

"Did not, what?" Draco said calmly. "Suggest he visit his masters to discuss suitable replacements for wall decor?" Hermione turned pale. "No, I haven't." Hearing her relieved sigh, he immediately added, "However, I was tempted to. I wonder how that temptation could be curbed?"

"You're going to pay for this Draco Malfoy." Hermione glared at him.

"I look forward to discussing it while we fly back to London together. After all, that's what we agreed on, right?" Draco knew he was pushing too hard, but if she couldn't tolerate this much mischief they'd kill each other before she ever bore him an heir. "Consider this request payment for delaying that list of yours." He offered as a rationalization, "I'm not a patient man and not too long ago you agreed flying was a reasonable request. So, I'd think this is a fair repayment for making me wait."

Draco could see the reluctant acceptance on her face as she remained mute, but her eyes were alight as her brilliant mind sought to undermine him. Hermione Granger wasn't afraid to challenge him or be challenged herself. These kind of games were dangerous, but that was the thrill of it. How far could he push? This wasn't Gryffindor recklessness, this was a self-imposed test of cunning, and Draco Malfoy played to win.

"This counts as your favor," she muttered resigned to her fate.

Before Draco realized, the broom was in her hands and she was walking towards the open field. He watched his lioness mount the broom and start hovering slightly above the ground. Her form was a bit sloppy but she was well-balanced and her hand placement was good. It was obvious she'd been practicing, and she certainly looked like a vision in the twilight with her hair flowing in the breeze.

"I'm the one who's in control, or I leave you here."

The Malfoy heir smirked at her declaration. If Granger wanted to set the terms fine, but he'd set some of his own. "I've got a better idea; I fly, and if you don't enjoy yourself we consider this my favor. Conversely, if our flight isn't the most fun you've had outside of a library or bedroom, I retain my right to ask you any single favor within reason."

Hermione bit her lip musing on his proposal, and for a split second Draco considered scrapping the whole thing, tackling her off the broom, and ravishing her in the middle of Hogwarts' Quidditch pitch instead. Unfortunately, her confident acquiescence came too quickly and pushed him into action. Stepping towards her with a genuine smile, he mounted the broomstick causing it to dip suddenly. They both heard her audible gasp as his hands settled on her hips, but neither addressed it.

"It's a shame you're wasting your favor on this," a slight tremor in her voice. "I'll have you know I've had quite a bit of fun outside of a library or bedroom."

"I'd expect no less from you, Granger. Still, I'm confident that flying with me can top anything."

"Overconfident as always; I doubt you can top breaking out of Gringotts or riding a dragon."

"That's a rather advanced maneuver. Let's try a bed first, then you can try riding your dragon on a broom."

In the split second of Hermione's shock at her boyfriend's risqué comment, he shifted his hands from her hips to the broom handle and kicked off with full force. Hermione's blood-curdling scream echoed out into the coming night as they took off into the sky, followed by her boyfriend's hysterical laughter.

Chapter Text

 

 

"HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?! YOU AWFUL, APPALLING, ATROCIOUS…."

Draco tilted the broom towards the right and shot forward in a slicing motion, laughing. Moving his hand from the broom, he clamped it over her mouth cutting off her tirade. "Hermione, shut it would you. If your screeching turns me deaf, I won't be able to listen to you lecture me about this moment for the rest of my natural life."

Hermione's muffled words were punctuated by the sensation of her teeth trying to bite the inside of his palm. "Two hands on the broom," she yelled, forcing his hand away from her lips back towards the broom handle. "If you ever do that again," she continued menacingly while sinking her fingernails deep into the soft flesh of his forearm. "I swear I'll…AAAH."

Draco pulled the broom inward to sharply decelerate, wincing as a sharp pain shot up through his arm. "Careful with those talons of yours. While I'm not averse to a bit of pain, I'd rather it happen when we're in the throes of passion and not when I'm trying to focus. We wouldn't want to ruin this spectacular view by dying." Her lack of retort and the increased pain from his arm prompted the blond to take peek at her face, only to find her eyes tightly shut. Chuckling at the obvious look of discomfort on her face, he moved his right hand to wrap around her waist, balancing the broom with his left. Pulling her closer to him, he coaxed, "Come on Granger, open your eyes. The view is truly breathtaking."

"Two Hands!" she shouted, struggling and failing to guide his hand back to the broom handle. "I refuse to open my eyes. I don't care if there are dancing dragons and hopping hippogriffs in front of me, my eyes are going to remain shut for the rest of our journey."

"Stubborn witch," Draco said under his breath.

"No, it's simply that I don't like being in situations that rely on instinct over logic." she tried to reason with an unsteady voice, and her eyes shut. "Flying at these heights on nothing more than a twig? It's positively mental! What logical reason is there to fly like this when there are perfectly suitable alternatives? To say nothing of your blatant disregard of safety standards. There are rules to flying safely, such as keeping both hands on the broomstick, and you're deliberately ignoring them."

The Malfoy heir smirked as he carefully pulled her body even closer to his. "I've been flying for close to twenty years, Granger. I assure you, there's no safer place in the sky than in my arms; even if I choose to ignore your so-called safety standards. Also, did you expect me to pass up the opportunity to make you scream? I suppose there are other ways I could have gone about it, but my bedroom, as spectacular as it is, doesn't offer this kind of a view."

"I'm in no mood for your innuendo, and it's fair to say you've ruined any chance of me enjoying this ride the moment you pulled this childish stunt!" Hermione lectured, but Draco knew better. The moment he'd declared that she was safe in his arms; her vice grip had loosened considerably. Yes, it was fair to say Granger wasn't pleased with him, but at the same time, her claim that he'd ruined his chances wasn't entirely true either.

"Careful, Hermione." Draco shifted himself in a casual way without changing the brooms course to sneak another peek at her face. "I'm confident you might yet enjoy this trip, and you'll look quite the fool if I do manage to prove you wrong."

"Then would you care to mention a time when I was wrong about something?" She challenged.

"Goading me into a fight won't work, Granger. Now if you'd open your eyes; you'll see that you're wrong, and we could enjoy the rest of this trip together."

"Sorry, but no. As I said earlier, my eyes are staying closed. You'll just have to be clever if you want to win so badly."

Draco let out a frustrated sigh resting his forehead on his girlfriend's shoulder. This witch was impossibly stubborn and frustrating. Unbeknownst to his companion, rushing their take off hadn't been without reason. Sunset didn't last long at this time of year, and they had limited time to reach the perfect spot before the sky faded into night. Unfortunately, that required haste and flying at a speed and elevation that wasn't appreciated by his lioness. Still, he needed to find a way to open her eyes to the beauty that was before them, literally.

"I've brought the broom down to a more acceptable height, and I'm sure you can tell that we're traveling much slower now, so can you open your eyes, Hermione." He hoped that using a calm tone and her given name would sound persuasive.

"Nice try, we might be going slower, but I can tell we're still too high. I can feel the pressure in my ears. I'd guess we're well over one thousand feet above the ground when we only need be a little above five hundred feet to avoid the majority of birds."

"Insufferable know-it-all" Draco muttered. "Fine if you're determined to take issue with my flying let's see you do better."

Hermione fell into a panic the moment she felt Draco's left arm wrap around her waist joining his right. In the few moments, it took her mind to process what was going on they had begun a sharp descent towards the ground. Her eyes snapped open immediately as she fumbled to grab the broomstick, letting out a shriek as they plummeted while trying to regain control of the broom.

They finally stopped a few hundred feet above the tree line. Hermione's breathing was heavy and her heart was racing faster than it ever had. "HAVE YOU GONE MENTAL?!" she screeched over her shoulder to look her prat of a boyfriend. "You could have gotten us killed! What were you thinking?!" she raged.

"That the only way to overcome your stubbornness was with fear, and given that I can now see those beautiful eyes of yours I'd say my scheme worked brilliantly. We were never in danger anyway. That kind of freefall is nothing compared to when I'd dive for a snitch, and you had everything under control long before I would have needed to step in," he replied with a genuine smile. "Honestly, I didn't expect you to be able to handle the situation that quickly. Very well done, Ms. Granger. You've certainly earned at least an 'E'. "

"I-I can't believe you; of all the arrogant, idiotic..."

"Hermione," he interrupted, "I worked sodding hard to get us here, and I'm tired of your nonsense. So could you just look." He gestured out toward the horizon.

"Draco Malfoy, what are you... oh," she trailed off the moment she took in the beautiful scene before her. It was truly breathtaking, the sun was setting into the ocean bathing everything in rays of golden light. The trees and old ruins below them cast long shadows as the sky shifted slowly from a golden to purple hue. While the sound of the ocean lapping leisurely at the shoreline provided a sense of all-encompassing serenity. In a world with magic, even this scene was beyond imagination.

As the young witch slowly turned back to face her companion she was taken aback once again. The golden sunlight reflecting off his pale skin and hair gave him the appearance of one of those godly creatures from myth, leading Hermione to wonder if somewhere in his bloodline there was a half or a quarter veela. Thinking that it might explain why his sneer contrasted so starkly with the self-satisfied smile he was currently wearing. Still, what shocked her most wasn't the beautiful scene before her, but the sun reflected in his grey eyes. It felt as if they were on fire boring into the core of her being setting the place alight with uncontrollable fire.

"I look forward to using that favor," he said softly, causing Hermione to snap back to reality.

"Pardon?"

"You've been gaping for a few minutes now, so I thought it a fair assumption." He said with confidence, cleverly omitting the fact that he'd just used a form of Legilimency to pry into her thoughts. He wasn't very good at it, but Bellatrix's training in Occlumency had helped him learn a few tricks. His trick wasn't technically Legilimency, but rather discreetly reading a person's emotional state. He'd been hesitant to use it before now, given the dangers of being discovered, but it seemed she was unsettled enough for him to get away with it this time.

"Nice try," she countered with unexpected confidence. "As beautiful as this is, and it truly is; it only brings you back to zero. I was very upset with you for suddenly taking off, and if you're trying to get me to enjoy this little trip so you can keep that favor; you have a long way to go."

Draco huffed, leaning back on the broomstick taking note of his lioness' determined and rigid posture. All this work to woo her, and yet her defenses remained unbroken. How was he supposed to secure his family's future if his best attempts were ineffective? Frustrated with this obstinate woman, he tried to plan his next attack. He put that sodding favor on the line to get this far; for Salazar's sake, and yet the task before him still seemed impossible. It was clear from her actions that she was adamantly trying to not enjoy this trip. Meaning that the only way to win would be to have her willingly drop her guard. He just needed to find a way to make her do it.

"Fine, I know better than to try and force you to change your mind. So, let's just get on with it." he said placing his chin on top of her shoulder and returning both hands to the broom's handle to join hers "Ready?"

He saw the struggle on her face, as she bit her lip trying to maintain her advantage. "Not too fast, or I'm ending this right now."

Draco smirked at her words, and let out a dramatic sigh. "Yes, Darling, Of course, Darling, I wouldn't dream of anything else, Darling," he snarked as the broom set off at a swift, but manageable speed.

"Call me 'Darling' one more time and I'm pushing you off into the ocean."

"Whatever my lioness wishes," he whispered softly into her ear. Smirking when he saw her blush and felt her entire body shudder against his.

They continued to fly in silence for a few minutes before Draco decided he'd let his comment linger just enough and moved on to the next step. "You know, I'll admit with your aversion to flying I didn't think you'd be so calm about this; let alone be able to pull us out of that freefall so smoothly. I thought it would take tricking you into an unrestricted favor before I'd get you to ride a broom with me." A bit of honest conversation seemed essential if his plan to have her drop her guard was going to work.

"Well, the Burrow has plenty of open space and the Weasleys were kind enough to let me practice there after work. Ginny was happy to have the excuse to fly again. She's been missing Quidditch and the only way her mother would let her touch a broom now that she's pregnant was to teach me. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if her and Harry's little one is flying before he or she is out of nappies."

"Neither would I, it's quite common after all. I wasn't exaggerating when I said I have about twenty years experience on a broom." Pride was evident in the Malfoy heir's voice reflecting his love of flying.

He wasn't even thirty years old and had been flying for such a long time. Hermione couldn't help but wonder at what other unique experiences children had grown up in a magical world. She'd seen some of them with the Weasleys and watching Teddy grow, but given everything, she'd learned in the past few months courtesy of her pureblood prat of a boyfriend. Hermione couldn't help but realize just how incomplete her knowledge of the magical world was.

Ever the cunning Slytherin, Draco realized she was lost in thought and slowly dipped his head towards the nape of her neck. Brushing his nose along the sensitive skin he took a deep breath in tickling her and causing her body to shudder.

"Draco, what're you doing?" Her voice trembled as his lips pressed against her collarbone.

"It's been a long day, Granger. I'm resting my head," his muffled voice replied as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "Don't worry, if I start to get tired I'll let you take over flying. Until then, go on; tell me about training with the Harpies' famed chaser. Was she draconian with you, or did she play nice because you're her friend?" He could feel her tremble as his lips moved against her skin.

"Have you met Ginny? The idea that she'd go easy on me is silly," she supplied in an unsteady voice.

He smirked at the reaction his actions were evoking in her. "Are you cold, Hermione? You're trembling."

"You very well know it's not because of the cold. I cast a warming charm before we got on the broom." Her attempts at keeping her composure failed as his lips still rested on her skin. "If this is your plan to get me to enjoy this trip, it won't work. In fact, I'm more worried about us falling off this thing than before."

"You're a terrible liar, Granger. Also, we're not going to fall unless one of us decides to do something naughty."

Hermione didn't realize what he was doing until she felt the broom yaw slightly left, followed by a pressure against her chest. "DRACO!" Her shout echoed into the swiftly approaching night as the broom wobbled dangerously. A quick check confirmed her suspicions; hers were the only hands on the broom's handle, while his were resting comfortably on her breasts.

"What do you think you're doing!" her voice cracking as he kneaded his hands causing the broom to wobble even more fiercely.

"Something naughty."

"Well stop it!" she said swinging her elbow back into his chest with a heavy thud. The broom wobbled and Hermione realized that the warm presence behind her was now gone.

Panicking she quickly scanned the waters below to see where exactly her idiotic boyfriend had fallen, she flew the broom downward to get a better view of the ocean below, all the while calling out his name, and completely missing the feeling of a hand tapping at her ankle.

"Although you did almost kill me, it's touching to know you care so much, Hermione."

There hanging upside down from the broom in what looked like the starfish and stick maneuver was Draco Malfoy. The relief on Hermione's face was just as clear as the anger that soon replaced it. "You, PRAT!" she shouted looking at the mischievous smile dancing on his lips. "Don't scare me like that! I thought you toppled off."

"Seeker reflexes." He smiled up at her, "A non-verbal sticking charm on your boots and you can get away with all manner of inversions with no fear of falling." Chuckling at her glare, he smirked. "I am debating if I should be angry or not. On one hand, I'm furious that you almost killed me for touching your breasts, but on the other; it was nostalgic to experience a Hermione Granger who doesn't hesitate to knock me down for being a bit of a prat."

"You keep scaring me like this, and you'll get nothing but the Hermione Granger who knocks you down." Hermione gritted her teeth, holding the broom with her two hands. "I ought to just leave you hanging there upside down until we reach London." However, much to Draco's surprise, she instead reached down with one hand to pull him up. As he pulled himself back up on to the broom, he heard her mutter almost inaudibly to herself "I don't understand. He's an absolute prat, why do I like it?"

Draco felt an odd sting in his chest as his lioness resumed their flight towards London. His plan to breach her defenses was working, but he couldn't help feeling a bit guilty about how he'd gone about it. Hearing Hermione Granger call out his name in a panic didn't feel right. Her desperate voice revealed an unpleasant truth, she fancied him. Although that was good for his family's ambitions, it would only cause her pain if she ever came to learn the truth. Magical Matching provided hope and false hope in equal measure. Theo and Tracey were likely to enjoy the future promised to them by their matching but the same wasn't necessarily true for Draco and Hermione. Shaking his head to dismiss the dark thoughts, the Malfoy heir decided to press on.

"I wasn't sure before, but it's quite obvious now. You're still awful at flying, Granger."

"Excuse me?! I already had plenty of theoretical knowledge, and I spent hours practicing with Ginny." Hermione became very defensive at the Malfoy heir's criticism. "I could tell you that wizards riding broomsticks, dates back as far as 962 A.D., or I could explain how absurd it is that Flying Carpets are classified as a Muggle Artefact by the Registry of Proscribed Charmable Objects and I could list every charm and bewitchment that allows broomsticks to fly."

"I never claimed you weren't a know-it-all" he snarked, "Just that your practical ability is lacking."

"Oh? Can I assume that you think you could teach me better than a Professional Quidditch player and current league champion?" Hermione's challenge was exactly what the young Malfoy had been expecting. Gryffindors were too predictable; insult one of them and watch the others bravely run in to defend each other like utter fools.

"Yes, the broom has been shuttering lightly ever since you took control of it. At first, I assumed it was your nerves getting the best of you, but now I'm starting to think either Potter's wife is a horrible teacher or you're a poor student."

"A POOR STUDENT?! How..."

"Then prove it," he interrupted. "If Ginny Potter is such a fantastic teacher and you're such a brilliant student; show me." He gently bumped his chest against her back. "Go on; let's see what you can do."

"I know what you're up to, and it won't work. You can't goad me, because I don't need to prove anything to you, Draco." She smiled back triumphantly causing her broom-mate to frown. It seemed she'd rightly deduced what her Slytherin boyfriend was scheming. As if she'd fall for such an obvious and childish trick. He needed to be taught a lesson for trying to prey on her insecurities and the best way to do that was to give him exactly what he asked for. Her eyes narrowed and her grip tightened on the broom.

The broom sped up in an instant, causing the Malfoy heir to let out a surprised yelp. Hermione felt the arms bracketing her body tense, as he pulled his body closer to hers. Pulling the broomstick's handle towards her body the broom began a swift and almost vertical ascent at high speed. She continued to pull the handle towards her chest as they continued to accelerate pulling off a large loop and flying down towards a line of trees alongside a country lane.

"Slow down Granger," The fear was evident in the blond-haired wizard's voice, "Weaving between those trees at this speed is foolish. Are you planning on killing us both just to prove a point?!" The unease in his voice intensifying, but Hermione ignored him and focused on the fast-approaching trees.

At first, Hermione had wanted to ask Harry to help her become a better flyer, but the boy-who-lived had too much raw natural talent. Ginny, on the other hand, had become accomplished not only because of raw talent but tenacity. Ginny had spent hours explaining that good spatial awareness was key to flying. Pushing Hermione to practice by weaving between the trees in the orchard outside of the Burrow to gain experience and hone her reaction time. The only downside to asking Ginny Potter for help was that the younger girl's forcefulness paired with Hermione's perfectionist nature had often kept them practicing late into the night earning an earful from Molly every time.

Weaving between the line of trees was easy, far easier than Hermione expected it to be at this speed. They were far enough apart and Ginny focus on developing good reaction times and being aware of your surroundings almost made Hermione want to try it again but a bit faster. Sadly, her cowardly snake had seemed to have had enough.

"Granger, you've made your point," he said into her ear to avoid being drowned out by the wind. "I should have known better than to doubt the brightest witch of her age. Potter's wife did a passable job teaching you." He leaned over pecking her on the cheek "Still, your lack of comfort is obvious. While you might have the requisite skills, we'll need to wait a bit before we attempt any airborne lovemaking. I wouldn't want you practicing 'that' with someone else."

"DRACO!" Hermione cried as a beautiful blush took up residence on her face.

He laughed openly at her embarrassment, pressing yet another kiss to her cheek. "Well, it's true. I'm quite possessive of you, and it's not in my nature to share. Although Potter's wife is quite fetching; I suppose we could come to some sort of understanding if you'd like."

"Must you be such a prat," Hermione scolded over her shoulder glaring at him.

After enduring her withering glare for a brief moment, he finally relented. "I apologize, I couldn't resist, I promise to be on my best behavior until we reach London. However, if you'll allow me, I'd like the chance to demonstrate my skills on a broom if only to prove that I would have been a better teacher than anyone else especially Potter or Weasley."

Hermione chuckled softly at her boyfriend's obvious insecurities. It seemed that even now, Malfoy was obsessed with the idea of being superior to Harry and Ron, and for whatever reason, he wanted her to acknowledge that. It wasn't going to happen, she loved Harry and Ron too much to ever let Draco replace or supplant them. Still, wasn't protecting her boyfriend's fragile ego now part of her duty as his partner? Not really, but the muggle-born witch supposed that humoring him this time couldn't hurt too much.

"Alright, Draco. You'll never replace Harry and Ron, but you're welcome to try and find a place beside them in my heart."

"I don't like sharing, Hermione." He slowly placed his hands on top of hers on the broom's shaft "So, I promise an unforgettable ride from now onward." He gently maneuvered the broom to a lower altitude but kept their speed swift. Feeling her shoulders relax, Draco smiled. His plan had worked; she had dropped her guard, and now was his chance. Lust, fear, anger, embarrassment; this flight had offered everything necessary to build a deep emotional connection, and it was now time to seal it with romance.

The Malfoy heir was quite proud of himself when his bookworm's lips quirked up, as he began weaving left and right softly along the ground. This was supposedly the trick his parents had used to lull him to sleep as an infant. While Lucius was often busy with other matters, Narcissa would take her son flying about the Manor grounds before putting him to bed in an effort to help him sleep. It worked brilliantly, or so his parents and a few older house elves claimed.

"This is lovely, If only you'd done this from the start," she spoke, swapping their hands so his rested on the broom and hers upon his.

Draco shook his head lightly. "Come on, Granger. If I'd done this from the start, you wouldn't appreciate it as much, and you wouldn't have had the opportunity to show me just how brilliant you are on a broom. Just imagine what pleasures are yet to come."

Her sharp intake of breath was easily picked up by his ears. "Why don't we take things one step at a time, there's no reason to rush things."

His witch had subtlety drawn a very clear line and he needed to tread carefully. "While I'm quite happy to take a measured approach in most things; I also prefer to sate my ambitions. I'm sure a bold lioness like you understands." He whispered, pressing his nose into her hair and nuzzling the sensitive skin of her neck. "There's so much to come," he kept his voice dangerously low as he moved her hair to a side and pressed his lips. Hermione tilted her face, granting him access as his arms encircled her waist pulling her closer. He applied a little bit of pressure on her pulse point as she barely repressed a moan. "And so much pleasure to be had."

Hermione closed her eyes enjoying the feeling of his warm body behind her. It felt safe, 'he' felt safe. It was a curious thing, given their history. The Hermione Granger of a few months ago would have suspected Amortentia, but the truth was she didn't see Draco often enough and they seldom drank together. Besides, her friends would have said something if that were somehow the case. It wasn't logical to feel safe in his arms, and certainly not while flying a few hundred feet above the ground on a stick. Yet, Hermione had never felt more protected than she did at this moment.

In many ways, Draco hadn't changed much. He was still spoiled, arrogant, and thought himself superior to most, but his cruelty had been tempered by war. He was still a colossal prat, but he was also quick-witted, intelligent and challenged her in ways no one else could. What made her hesitant was his emotions. Draco seemed to have an unnatural control over them sometimes; as if he compartmentalized them by habit and did it so often he blinded himself to his own feelings. Suddenly, the young muggleborn witch understood why she only danced on the edge of true physical intimacy with Draco. What if he's compartmentalized his feelings too well? What if he wakes up the morning after disgusted at having slept with a Mudblood? What if this entire relationship is just Draco lying to himself?

Hermione was shaken from her thoughts by the chime of bells and the lights of a large muggle city or town glowing off in the distance. "Where are we? We're too far inland for that to be London."

"Somewhere in the East Midlands, Near Rockingham, I think. I didn't want to bother with disillusionment charms to hide us from muggles so I thought it best to take a more rural route, but it's getting late enough that we shouldn't be spotted regardless."

"Birmingham or Leicester then," She nodded, pleased that he hadn't tried to unnaturally extend this trip by avoiding a direct route from Hogwarts to London. "Still, how did we get here so quickly? It should be at least a four-hour trip."

"It's not as if we've been flying slowly, Granger. If I pushed this broom hard enough, we could have made it in two." Draco said with pride.

"I didn't realize," Hermione said in a genuinely surprised tone. Draco realized she'd checked out for a bit and only now realized how close they were from London. He'd thought she was simply enjoying the flight with him in companionable silence for the last twenty minutes. Evidently, she was lost in thought and completely ignoring him. Frustrated at this new bruise to his ego; the blond haired Slytherin focused on pushing his hurt feelings aside to be dealt with later. He still hadn't secured the safety of that favor and needed to focus on making the final minutes of flight before London unforgettable. "Although, I'm rather thankful we didn't try for two hours." She added smiling.

"I'm not an idiot, Granger. Astoria had me in a Leg-locker curse so strong it took Theo two hours to fully unbind them. I wasn't about to risk whatever you might do to me after that."

Hermione burst into laughter, "Y-you d-didn't! Draco, are you telling me you flew two hundred miles an hour with Astoria?!"

"In my defense..."

"There is no defense for that, Draco," she said cutting him off. "Merlin help me, I didn't realize this was you being thoughtful. I really should be thankful you've been so sweet."

He raised an eyebrow. "Careful Hermione, you wouldn't want that to sound like genuine praise would you?"

"I give genuine praise when it's truly deserved." She replied in a haughty tone.

"Salazar save the poor sod that ends up with you... Bugger, that's me isn't it," he frowned. "How did Potter and Weasley put up with you for all those years?" he kept his tone light lest she misunderstands his attempt at humor.

"Oh, hush. I don't understand this fixation of yours with Harry and Ron. Honestly, you are different people, with your own merits and faults." Hermione looked over her shoulder and continued in a lecturing tone. "I love them dearly, but they can be too reckless or thoughtless at times. It makes me feel as if I'm not their friend, but their mother. If I'm honest, I like that you're so measured in your approach to things. You might not plan everything out flawlessly, but you always adapt quickly because you try to understand how things work before you rush in. You care about the consequences before taking action."

Draco was taken aback for a moment at her words. This witch was full of surprises; such kindness was the last thing he expected to hear in that lecturing and judgmental tone of hers. It would be a lie to say that her words hadn't filled him with a feeling of pride he hadn't felt in quite a while. Slytherins were not so open in their praise of one another so hearing it from Hermione, who was a symbol of righteousness, meant a lot. The thought of his fellow Slytherins reminded him of the weighty invitation lying innocently between the folds of his robes. He couldn't shake the lingering concern of her reaction. Despite her kind words just now; would she be willing to endure a den of serpents to be with him? Would he have the courage to protect her heart in the face of his own deception?

"What's wrong?" She asked over her shoulder as he got lost in his own thoughts.

Before the clever bookworm caught on, he schooled his expression. "Nothing, I'm just puzzled as to why it's taken you this long to realize my natural superiority to Potter and Weasley. I would have thought for the 'Brightest Witch of her age' such things would be obvious."

"Should have known better than to feed that ego of yours," she muttered under her breath. "I never said you were superior, just different. The fact that I might prefer some of your unique qualities doesn't make you superior, nor diminish my love for Harry and Ron." She said moving her shoulder to shake off his resting head. Laughing as he narrowed his eyes at her. "Draco?"

"It's as if you don't realize you've just challenged me to claim all of your heart for myself, as a testament to my superiority," he supplied with a devilish smirk that both visibly aroused and terrified his lioness.

Hermione's eyes went wide as they passed over the muggle town and she spotted the time on the town's granite clock tower. She immediately turned and pressed her lips to Draco's and whispered. "You're welcome to try, but I've got quite the big heart." Draco had no idea when she took hold of her wand, but the next thing he knew he felt a telltale squeezing sensation and a worrying creak from the handle of the broom.

"Granger," he ground out from the middle of Hermione's living room. "Care to explain why I currently find myself lying on your floor?"

"Turnabout is fair play. You made us take off without warning or explanation; I did the same only in reverse." Hermione replied, looking slightly bashful and nervously chewing on her bottom lip.

Draco took a deep breath, trying to contain the scathing retort that was just dancing on the tip of his tongue. "How very Slytherin of you," he said evenly, using his former house as a derogatory term. "However, I'd like to point out that my haste was ultimately for your sake after you'd given tacit consent. So unless you intend for us to retire to your bedroom, I believe I'm owed an explanation."

"There's no need for you to have a fit, Draco," Hermione huffed matching his level of emotion. "I'm trying to explain."

"You better make it good, Granger. My patience is in short supply at the moment." He said seating himself on her sofa, looking at his broom left discarded on the floor. In truth, Draco thought he was showing unimaginable restraint and patience considering that their unexpected apparition had likely damaged his high-performance broom. Creating what amounted to a frighteningly expensive piece of firewood.

"While I've been thinking of flying with you for quite some time, I didn't think it would happen this soon and you caught me off-guard."

"I wasn't exactly expecting to run into you at Hogwarts, Hermione. I altered my plans out of courtesy, and I don't appreciate being openly rebuffed."

"I didn't ask you to change any plans! I just thought it would be nice to apparate back together." When Draco narrowed his eyes, she said sheepishly. "Oh, you mentioned dinner... Well, it's no big deal; I'd have had to turn you down anyway." Hermione brushed off the comment nonchalantly, earning a glare from the Malfoy heir. "We could always go out some other time." Her eyes were locked on the mantle clock and her wand was still in her hands. Clearly, there was something else going on, that Draco wasn't aware of.

"Granger..."

"Right, sorry. I don't have time Draco. That silly broom ride took too long and now I'm going to be late! I told them I'll be there by half six. Merlin, I hope they aren't too upset I'm almost never late for anything," she suddenly burst out.

"So you're tossing me aside because you made plans with your sodding friends," Draco seethed. If it had been work related he might have been more willing to forgive it, but the idea that she brought their impromptu date to an end because of her friends bothered him a great deal more.

Her shoulders shrugged and she approached him with an apologetic smile. "I promise to make it up to you, but I promised Harry and Ginny I'd fix their wards to allow more people to visit." She perched on his knees and pecked him on his lips.

"Big heart, my arse. Between the Potters, your family, other friends, house elves, and any other downtrodden group that strikes your fancy; it's a wonder there's room for me at all," Draco groused, pushing away her advances.

"Says the man who can manipulate me into forgetting my own plans. Until I saw that clock I didn't even realize it was is late in the evening. I've let you get away with quite a bit already Draco Malfoy, so stop complaining. Next time I have time to spare, I'll give it to you."

Draco knew better than to argue with the headstrong woman in front of him. "At this point, I'll take what I can get." He placed his hands on her hips and gave her a tug towards him, only to have her jerk back.

"Sorry, Draco. I've got to go." She gave a hurried once over around her flat.

Draco snuffed his frustration and reached for the hefty envelope inside his robes. "Granger?" he said brandishing the invitation to Nott and Davis' engagement party.

"A letter?" She furrowed her eyebrows. "Odd, I wasn't expecting any owls."

"Actually…"

"Just put it on the table, I'll deal with it later," she dismissed with a wave of his hand. "Oh my, I'm more than fifteen minutes late! I'll have to apologize. You can let yourself out, bye." Her last words were muffled by the crack of an apparition, leaving Draco alone in her home.

Had he still been the Draco Malfoy of his youth, he would have made an absolute mess of her home as a form of revenge. Unfortunately, he couldn't, for a myriad of reasons, even though he really wished he could. Her quick dismissal had made him feel worthless and pathetic. He'd earnestly tried to woo her by sharing something he loved, but she brought everything to a crashing halt. Perhaps having romance in a relationship with Hermione Granger was simply asking for too much. Apparently, Potter and a family of poor, pathetic blood traitors were more worthy of her time. Too angry to collect the now useless broom, and barely able to repress his desire to destroy something. Draco let out an angry roar and apparated away with a thunderous crack that shook the home's foundations.

 

Chapter Text

The soles of his dragon hide shoes scraped against the cobblestone path, echoing out into the quiet muggle neighborhood. Draco's steps were slow and deliberate as he ventured deeper into uncharted waters. He needed to be cautious and aware of his surroundings. Gryffindor recklessness wasn't in his nature, but he was too stubborn to back down now, merely steps away from his destination. She would have only herself to blame; she'd forced him to do this. Granger had been unreasonable, leaving him no choice but to take such drastic measures.

Looking at the simple home with its understated wooden door, he tried to contain the feeling of dread of that which lay beyond. Fleeing was still technically an option, but at this point, it was a matter of pride. Schooling his emotions and locking them behind a mask of indifference, Draco took the final step and tapped the brass knocker, not caring that his actions would likely call down the wrath of his lioness.

It wasn't long before he heard a response from the other side of the door prompting Draco to take a final deep breath, and ready his opening gambit. After a few moments, the door opened just a bit and out peeked an older looking muggle man. Draco noticed a few familiar traits immediately, and in a rare moment of absentmindedness, he simply stared.

"Yes, can I help you?" the muggle offered from his position still partially obscured by the door.

Draco cleared his throat. "Good day, you are Mr. Granger, I presume," Hermione's father nodded, still eyeing Draco with suspicion. "If possible, I'd like to request you and your wife's assistance regarding a certain matter."

"Well then, you best call our office and leave a message." Hermione's father replied tersely before slamming the door in Draco's face.

Things were not going as the young Malfoy expected; it seemed that muggles were more lacking in social graces than he'd first thought. If Lucius were ever to hear of how his son had just been rebuffed, the Grangers' dental practice would likely burn to the ground, 'mysteriously'. While a petty and prideful part of Draco welcomed such an outcome, it would just make it harder for Draco to fulfill his duty to secure the dentists' daughter.

Theoretically, a quick memory charm could solve this problem, but tampering with memories was risky. A minor mistake would leave him either in Azkaban or murdered by Hermione. Given that neither of those options was particularly appealing, he sighed and knocked again, "Mr. Granger? I still need to have a word with you."

"I said leave a message at our office, it's a bloody Sunday! Now, get off my property or I'll call the police to have you removed," a voice boomed from beyond the closed door.

Draco's jaw tensed at the older man's words. Apparently, Granger's insufferableness was hereditary. Once again Draco debated the use of magic. What could it hurt, an Alohomora here, an Obliviate there, would solve everything, wouldn't it? If Draco's last name had been Goyle, Crabbe or perhaps even Weasley that solution might have seemed brilliant. Unfortunately, Draco knew better, so instead of using magic he sat down on the concrete step outside of the Granger's home and waited.

It hadn't been easy for Draco to acquire this address. His troublesome Gryffindor had taken elaborate precautions to hide her family from prying eyes. Thankfully, Draco wasn't one without connections. It had taken time, but Nott's information network was second to none. The only issue was that Theo didn't like when his resources and connections were tapped without his explicit consent, and the dark-haired Slytherin had withheld the information until Draco had explained himself.

Nott hadn't exactly taken it well but obliged his friend on condition that his role in the acquisition of that information not be revealed. Slytherins had a strong sense of self-preservation, and Theodore Nott wasn't stupid enough to risk the wrath of Hermione Granger by uncovering something she'd obviously tried to hide. Theo warned Draco that he was letting his pride get the best of him and that the muggleborn witch wouldn't be pleased, but Draco chose to ignore his friend's sage advice.

Pulling himself from his thoughts, Draco threw an irritated look at the closed door over his shoulder. Sitting outside the Granger home, in the cold, for what was now almost ten minutes was neither a pleasant, nor welcome experience. What use was his charisma or his family's immense wealth when his presence wasn't even being acknowledged by the man on whose doorstep he sat?

"I should have picked a warmer day to do this," the Malfoy heir muttered to himself, discreetly pulling his wand from his coat to cast a quick non-verbal warming and cushioning charm; all the while taking great care to avoid being noticed by any muggles. Draco truly disliked being in the muggle world, not simply because its residents were inferior to him, but because wizards needed to be paranoid casting even the most mundane of spells lest they inadvertently violate the International Statute of Secrecy.

While the law had protected wizarding traditions from muggle influence for over three hundred years, it was a millstone around a wizard's neck at times like these when a simple transfiguration spell would've at least provided a chair to sit in. Draco chuckled darkly to himself. The irony that pureblood traditions and Magical Matching had left him sitting outside of a muggle's home trying to declare his romantic intentions towards that muggle's magical daughter wasn't lost on the Malfoy heir. At no point in his life did Draco Malfoy ever think he'd find himself sitting outside Granger's family home trying to impress her parents and hoping that they weren't as stubborn as their daughter.

Visiting the Grangers unexpectedly wasn't the best idea, given Hermione's earlier refusal, and his current position sitting on their front step; but it was perhaps the best way to show his girlfriend that Draco Malfoy hadn't suddenly become docile. He had tried to be reasonable, but after three days waiting for an apology after their ill-fated flight, his patience had run out. Her lack of respect for him earned her this disregard. Theo had it called childish and petty, and perhaps that was true, but Draco reasoned that this visit was necessary, and would show his lioness that he would not accept being treated as an afterthought. A husband's duty was to his spouse and hers was to him and their children, nothing else was acceptable to Draco and Hermione needed to learn that.

A voice called out from behind the Grangers' door, pulling him away from his thoughts. "I'm quite certain I told you to be on your way. I wasn't joking about the police, you know."

Draco gave a relieved smile; he hadn't expected the older man to engage with him again. It seemed that being considerate was another Granger trait alongside being frustratingly stubborn. "I've no doubt, sir. Unfortunately, for both of us, your daughter can be a right pain in the arse," he replied turning to talk to the man hidden beyond the still mostly closed door.

"What are you on about? Is she all right?" Hermione's father said opening the door a crack to look at the blond wizard.

"I presume she's as fine as the last time I'd seen her. However, knowing her as I do; your concern would be best reserved for those in her way." Perhaps his reply was a bit more snarky than it needed to be, but Draco had known Hermione too long and had experienced too much of the young woman's fury to ever waste time being concerned about her. Calling her a lioness wasn't simply a term of endearment; it was a reminder of just how fearsome she could be.

The older man chuckled, "Yes, that sounds about right, doesn't it? So are you one of 'those' too?"

Draco didn't miss the hint of fear in Hermione's father's voice. "If by 'those' you mean someone qualified to be a Hogwarts alumnus. Then yes, I am one of 'those'." He answered brandishing his wand in the least threatening manner possible.

"Great, he's got one of those stupid sticks too," Hermione's dad muttered to himself. "What are you doing here? What do you want with us?!" The previous hint of fear was now painfully obvious as Hermione's father questioned the pale-haired wizard sitting on his front step.

Draco sighed heavily, "Proper decorum demands that I pay you a visit to formally declare my romantic intentions regarding your daughter. Hermione disagreed. So, I've had to improvise."

The tension lines around the elder man's eyes started to vanish if only slightly, but he nodded his head with an uneasy smile. "She's not going to like that," he replied sounding calmer, but still partially hidden behind the front door.

"I'm aware, but I feel this meeting is long overdue." Draco's lips quirked up, sensing his opportunity. After Voldemort, Draco had stopped emulating his father's coercive tactics and opted for charm. After all, victory was so much easier when your opponents never tried to defend themselves. Hermione's concerns about this meeting, whatever they might have been, were irrelevant. He was going to charm her parents, forcing his insufferable lioness to recognize his worth and apologize for treating him as an afterthought.

As Draco stood, he noticed that Mr. Granger's eyes lingered on the hawthorn wand in his hand. "Not fond of magic are you; here, catch!" The door swung open as Hermione's father reached out to catch Draco's wand. "Now that I've disarmed myself, you don't need to look so skittish." Draco's Slytherin and pureblood instincts screamed at him for having just willingly disarmed himself by handing his precious wand over to a muggle, but he was confident enough in his wandless magic to risk it. J