Hermione Granger let her head rest on the back of the uncomfortable chair, closing her eyes and sighing in resignation. “There’s no way I can avoid this, is there?”
Harry Potter ducked his head to hide his smile. “Nope.” He shifted around several pieces of parchment and plucked an artfully decorated card from the pile. “You can read it for yourself.”
She opened her eyes and leaned over to snag the thick invitation, glancing over the flowing script.
The Ministry for Magic
London, Great Britain
Most Honored Colleagues,
It is with great anticipation that we, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, do invite you to join us in a grand celebration as we welcome our new president, Samuel G. Quahog.
We would greatly appreciate your presence, as it would show solidarity in our trouble times. You will also have the opportunity to interact with a number of wizarding world leaders, so that you may further create alliances within other wizarding societies while in attendance. Accommodations will be provided for one week, so that all may participate in the various activities.
Please RSVP via the portkey attached to this invitation. Simply list the attendees and any special requirements that are necessary. Once done, the portkey will activate and you will receive an international portkey within a week’s time for transportation to the event. This will be the only means of entrance; any evidence of tampering will be subject to a most painful death.
We look forward to the pleasure of your company!
Vice President, MACUSA
Hermione snorted and threw the invitation back on Harry’s desk. “I don’t trust a society that would so casually mention ‘a painful death’ if we accidently did something with their missive.”
“The US does seem quite focused on security and defending what they see as theirs,” Harry agreed. “But the Muggle president sounds a bit more tolerable.”
“Tolerance is definitely lacking in the world today,” Hermione muttered. As Lieutenant Minister for Magic, she was responsible for all the tasks that Kingsley could not devote his attention to, which were quite numerous. She had seen her fair share of despicable acts, during the war and even now, so many years later.
Harry gave her a pained grimace. “Speaking of tolerance…”
Hermione stiffened. “I don’t like your implications, Harry.”
A red flush made its way up his neck. “I can’t go with you this time.”
She blinked. “Why not?”
“Ginny’s not doing too well with this pregnancy.” His gaze told Hermione everything; Harry’s fear was a palpable thing in the room. “Her morning sickness is worse this time around.”
Without hesitation, Hermione grabbed his hands and held tight. “You stay close to Ginny and give her all the love and support she needs. Get that prat of a brother to help you,” she said, referring to Ron. “Take her to the Burrow if you need to. Don’t worry about this inauguration. I’ll deal with whomever you choose as my second.”
Harry’s eyes widened, but before he could say a word a voice from behind Hermione filled her with trepidation.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Granger. I’m always first.”
She let go of Harry’s hands and slowly turned around. “First at being an arse, I’m sure.”
Draco Malfoy smirked as he waltzed in and sat in the chair next to her. “Granger, are you checking out my arse?” He tsked. “Naughty.”
Hermione swiftly turned to Harry. “No.”
“Neville and Luna are on their honeymoon. In the Amazon rainforest, mind you. He’s put off his honeymoon for five months. I’m not about to bring the poor man back from what might be certain death if they run into that tribe that Luna’s hell-bent on finding. Plus, Neville himself is determined to find something called a Rafflesia Flower. He showed me a picture of it once. It was disturbing.” Harry eyed them both. “If I can be scarred for life by Neville and Luna, then you two can deal with each other for a week.”
Draco sat back and crossed his arms. “I never said I had a problem with it.”
Harry looked at Hermione. “As Head Auror, I’ve trusted Draco as my partner for years. Next to me, he’s the best.”
“I’m far better than you, Potter,” Draco interjected, earning himself a glare from Harry.
“As I was saying, if I can’t be there with you, Hermione, I want the next best thing. He’s saved my arse numerous times. Since this is an international affair, you’d have to have security going with you regardless. This solves that problem and then some. You know I’d never entrust your welfare to just anyone. You’re too important to me.”
Draco yawned. “Think I might drown in sentimentality before I actually—”
“Shut it, Malfoy!” Harry stared at them. “To be honest, there’s another reason I want you both to go.”
Hermione relaxed a little, her curiosity piqued. “Does it have something to do with their statement of in our troubled times? Because it’s all quiet on the UK front right now.”
Harry rubbed the back of his neck and nodded. “The reason for this new president is because the previous one, Jackson Fontaine, was found splinched over a several mile radius.”
Hermione drew in a shaky breath, remembering having to heal Ron after they had Apparated while on the run. “I take it President Fontaine had never had any problems before while Apparating?”
“He was known to be quite proficient,” Harry said with a shake of his head.
“Isn’t MACUSA investigating possible foul play already?” Draco asked.
Harry bit his bottom lip. “I’m not sure.”
“Harry, what aren’t you telling us?” Hermione urged, knowing Harry always became hesitant when he was unsure of himself.
“It… it’s more of a gut feeling, really,” Harry offered quietly. “The details I was able to obtain don’t sound like an Apparition gone wrong. I mean, I’ve seen people that have died from being splinched, and while it was horrible, it was never this brutal. We only got a couple of photographs, and while they weren’t the clearest, instead of the neat cuts that are a result of splinching, it was more jagged, like he’d been… hacked apart.”
“What the hell are you sending us into?” Draco asked with an intense edge.
“Whatever happened to Fontaine feels Dark. I don’t know if it was a Muggle assailant or if its origins were in the wizarding world. If it’s magic, I don’t want to make the same mistakes prior generations made. Too many wizards and witches turned a blind eye when it came to Riddle. If that’s happening again, but somewhere else, I want to be prepared. I’m asking you two to investigate on your own. Quietly.”
Draco and Hermione glanced at each other. She nodded slightly, grabbed the invitation on Harry’s desk, signed her name on the RSVP line and then handed it to Draco. He signed with a distinct flourish and gave it back to Harry.
“I’m actually looking forward to this,” Draco mused.
“What, investigating a mysterious, grisly death? Of course you would be,” Hermione said in resignation.
Draco leaned over and whispered in her ear, “That’s just a bonus. What I’m really excited about is getting to annoy you for a week, without retaliation.”
Hermione felt an arm steady her once the spinning had stopped.
“I hate international portkeys,” Draco muttered, still holding on to her.
“Likewise,” she whispered, trying to catch her breath and from both the dizziness and the closeness of Draco. Once she regained her balance, she lost her breath for another reason altogether. “Wow.”
The opulence of the Lotte New York Palace Hotel was quite grand. A massive master staircase was off to their right, while a tall monolith shaped the area on the left. Everything was gilt inlay; gold was infused into the decorative banisters, the main chandelier and even threaded through the marble floor.
“Malfoy Manor was never this ostentatious,” Draco snorted.
“Well it was decidedly gloomier,” Hermione agreed, remembering her short time in the mansion.
Draco arched a brow. “You should revisit. Mother redecorated after Father died.”
Hermione stared at him, nonplussed. “Returning to the scene of where I got this,” she showed him her right forearm, the scarred flesh still slightly visible, “is not my idea of a social call.”
He took her arm, studied it and then sighed after letting go. “Bella was…”
“Insane? Unhinged? Should have been sectioned the moment she was born?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“May I help you?”
They turned to see a formally dressed concierge looking at them expectantly.
Draco withdrew the invitation from his pocket and handed it to the man. “Delegation from the UK, here for the ceremony.”
The concierge, who looked like a healthier version of Professor Lupin, glanced over the card. “Ah, yes. Follow me, please”
They followed the concierge to a marble and wood counter. The man handed over the invitation to a woman behind the counter, who took it and waved her wand over it. She then handed it back to the concierge and smiled at Hermione and Draco. “Welcome to the Lotte Palace Hotel. We hope you enjoy your stay.”
Hermione returned her smile as they waited for a porter to arrive to show them to their room. When the boy arrived, he grabbed their luggage and indicated they were to follow him.
Curious, she asked, “Why don’t you use a spell to transport our bags?”
The man smiled nervously. “We try to blend in as best we can, ma’am. Since the hotel is housed within a No-Maj location, we try not to draw attention to ourselves if it can be avoided. The Tower and Corner rooms are for magical folk. The rest is designated for the No-Maj population.”
They stopped before a lift, waited for the doors to open, then piled inside to ascend to their floor.
“No-Maj,” Draco snorted under his breath. “Decidedly unimaginative moniker.”
The porter narrowed his eyes. “And what do you call non-magical persons, sir?”
“Muggles,” Hermione said, before Draco could issue the retort she knew was waiting on his tongue. She may have kicked Draco in the shin. Just a little.
This time the porter laughed. “Muggles? Sounds like a No-Maj disease.”
“Being a Muggle isn’t a disease,” Hermione said, affronted.
Draco elbowed her. “What about Muggle-borns, then?” His tone was humorous, but she didn’t appreciate it.
“What are Muggle-borns?” the porter asked, shifting with the weight of his burden.
Draco opened his mouth to comment, but Hermione sent him a quelling look. “They’re not a disease. Muggle-borns inherit magic from a distant ancestor; they are descended from Squibs who have married Muggles and whose families had lost the knowledge of their wizarding legacy. The magic resurfaces unexpectedly many generations later. In fact, they sometimes produce witches and wizards that have greater power than Pure-bloods.”
“Really?” the porter said, looking highly sceptical. “We don’t have anything like that here.”
“You don’t have Muggle-born, er, I mean No-Maj-born magical folk?” Draco asked, incredulous.
Draco’s tone caught her off guard, as if instead of wishing that Muggle-borns were not in existence, he thought they were an integral part of the wizarding society.
“You mean Majbobs?” The porter shrugged. “Haven’t ever seen one.”
“Wait a few years,” Hermione muttered, noting just how young the boy was. He couldn’t have been older than seventeen.
The lift door opened onto a long corridor with lush carpeting and heavy wooden doors every twenty feet. The porter hefted their luggage in his arms and stepped out. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your room.”
He turned to his left and made his way to the furthest corner of the hall. Setting down one case before a door that looked like all the others, he took their card from his pocket and waved it over the antique doorknob. “You must use your invitation to gain access to your rooms. It’s keyed only for your use. If you wish to permit a guest to visit while you are here, you must add them to the list at the front desk. Otherwise, they won’t be able to enter the room due to the master spell protecting it. Also, No-Maj’s are not allowed above the 40th floor.”
“But what if we need to—”
“If you need to meet with a No-Maj, though I have no idea why you might want to, you may make an appointment to rendezvous with them at Trouble’s Trust, the lounge located beneath the Grand Staircase.” The porter pushed the door open and walked in, Draco and Hermione close behind.
“Beautiful,” Hermione whispered as she made her way into the living area, focusing on the view from the windows that made up the entire corner of the suite.
“It is, isn’t it?” the porter agreed, as if he were responsible for the sweeping view of Manhattan. “It’s even better at night.”
She heard Draco speaking with the porter, but she paid them no mind. The expanse of steel and glass before her eyes was breath-taking, the buildings so much taller than those in London, and more closely packed together. The sound of Muggle car horns could barely be heard, along with sirens from Muggle police. Clouds drifted by, a more pleasant version of the occasional (unenjoyable) ride on Harry’s broom.
“How far are we from the Woolworth building?” Hermione asked as she searched the horizon.
“About thirty minutes on foot,” the porter said. “However, you have a private elevator that can take you there within a matter of minutes.”
“Well, that’s interesting,” Draco said.
Hermione turned at the slight tension in his voice. “Is something wrong?”
Draco pinched the bridge of his nose. “Depends on your point of view.”
Draco waved his hand at a doorway to his right. “Check the bedroom.”
“You mean bedrooms, right?”
Draco shook his head. “That’s what’s wrong.”
She hurried down the marble hallway to a door on her left, only to see a massive bed, bedecked in sumptuous linens. One bed. No. Oh, no no no.
“Draco…” she warned loudly.
“I know!” he shouted from the other room.
“I don’t understand,” the porter was saying as Hermione re-entered the living area. “The invitation specifically stated that only one bedroom was needed.”
“Harry,” Hermione groaned. She rubbed her temples in frustration. Of course Harry would only choose one bedroom; they’d lived out of their pockets while on the run during the war, so they never thought anything of it if they had to bunk down together. And since he’d originally planned to go with Hermione, he probably hadn’t changed the room before sending off the RSVP with her and Draco’s names on it. Harry was totally faithful to Ginny and Hermione thought of Harry as her brother, so it wouldn’t have been an issue. Now, however...
“Are there no other rooms available?” Draco asked tightly.
The porter paled. “I’m sorry, sir! Due to the inauguration, there aren’t any more rooms left in the city, let alone this hotel.”
“Damn,” Draco grunted.
Hermione steeled her spine and inhaled deeply. She could do this, she could be professional. Right? “Draco, it’s… it’s fine.”
He stared at her. “You’re willing to sleep on the sofa?”
Her mouth dropped open. Arrogant arse. “No one has ever accused you of chivalry, have they?” she deadpanned.
“Hardly,” he said with a smirk. “The sheets are 1600 thread-count Egyptian cotton. It’ll be like sleeping at home.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and gave a disgusted snort. “You’re such a—”
“Ah, ah, ah,” Draco chided, stopping her rant. “We must present a professional, unified front in the presence of others. Right, Granger?”
She took in his sly grin and huffed a stray curl away from her face. “Of course, Malfoy,” she drawled, sickeningly sweet. “I’m just here to provide everyone with a day full of outward smiles and inward screams.”
The porter choked back a laugh. “My apologies, sir, madam. If there is nothing else?” The boy didn’t wait for an answer and quickly slipped out the door.
“Daft sod,” Draco muttered, retrieving his belongings while Hermione grabbed hers. “Majbobs,” he added with a derisive laugh. “Whoever heard of such a thing?”
Hermione left him to his ramblings and made her way to the bedroom. She stood at the foot of the bed and stared, wondering if her thoughts could somehow split it in two. It was large enough that if she were to manage such a feat, each bed would be at least double-wide.
“I promise not to bite,” Draco purred into her right ear.
Her reaction was instantaneous. She swiftly shoved her elbow into his chest, relishing the sound of his pained grunt. She glanced over her shoulder and gave him an evil smile. “You may not bite, but I do.”
He raised his brows in disbelief, rubbing at his chest. “I’ll remember that.”
“See that you do.”
Hermione was grateful that, while there was one bedroom, at least there were two bathrooms. As she wiped away the fog on the mirror from her shower, she took in her appearance. Long strands of honey-brown hair that still refused to be tamed, no matter what spell or potion she used, hung in wet clumps over her shoulders. Freckles dotted the bridge of her nose and along her collarbone. She was somewhat thin, though she had curves where it counted, she supposed. No doubt Draco would make incessant flippant comments meant to wear down her feeling of self-worth, though, as he’d had a habit of doing in the past.
Now, stop it, she reprimanded herself. There were here on double duty: finding out what happened to the past president, and attending the inauguration of the next. She didn’t have time to worry about any petty jabs or slings that Draco Malfoy would hurl at her. She had a job to do.
After styling her hair in an elegant chignon, she pulled on dark blue stockings and donned one of the elegant dresses that she’d brought along especially for the opening ceremonies. This one was an Elie Saab midnight blue chiffon, with pearls and gemstones decorating the bodice and spangling down the right side of the floor-length skirt. A high slit on the left reached mid-thigh, while a sheer cape covered her shoulders and upper arms. Matching heels complemented the stunning gown.
Makeup completed, she took a last look at the figure staring at her from the mirror… and smiled. She knew it took more than just a good looking body.
One had to have the heart and soul to go with it.
Hermione took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before entering the sitting area, ready to fend off anything nasty Draco had to say. Instead, she halted in her tracks when she spied him buttoning the top of his formal coat.
The slim jacket was tailored to suit, moulding Draco’s every line. The expense was apparent in the perfect stylistic proportions and pure craftsmanship. Navy blue satin and wool trousers sculpted his long legs and… backside. He turned slightly and she saw a grey silk brocade cravat, covering a slightly darker grey jacquard vest fastened with tiny silver pearls on a deep blue backdrop. A smooth, silky milk-white dress shirt completed the ensemble, which left Hermione’s mouth quite dry.
No wizard should look that good.
“It’s a Cleofe Finati,” Draco said quietly, slim fingers brushing invisible specks from the immaculate vest.
Why was he being so...courteous? It unnerved her. She blinked, about to offer some blasé comment about men’s fashion designers fit only for a Malfoy, when Draco looked up and she noticed his eyes widen and his mouth grow slack.
She patted her hair, nervous. “What?”
She narrowed her eyes, bracing for his obnoxious remark.
Draco visibly swallowed. “Magnificent.” His eyes roamed her figure.
She could feel the blush making its way across her chest. “Thank you,” she murmured. “You cut quite a dashing figure yourself.”
“Did you plan this?”
Hermione frowned. “I’m not sure what you’re… oh!” She glanced from her dress to his suit. Unbeknownst to either of them, they had dressed to match, the hues meshing perfectly with each other. Her fingers tightened on her beaded bag, her wand safely within. “Actually, no, though I won’t complain.”
“Shall we go?” Draco asked, holding out his arm for her to take.
Hesitantly, she accepted it and cleared her throat. “You’ve got your wand?”
He patted his right thigh. “Always on me.”
“Then let’s do this.”
The moment the lift carriage’s art deco gate swung open, Hermione took in all the splendour of her surroundings.
The Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway was a neo-Gothic masterpiece that had just turned one hundred years old the year before. Entering visitors were immediately confronted by the palatial lobby with vaulted ceilings and the carved grand staircase framed in marble. Archways sported detailed sculptural gargoyles, perched here and there, while the curved ceilings were a glittering galaxy of thousands of individual tiles, some coated in gold leaf.
Several wizards and witches were milling about, the Muggles having long departed earlier in the day, taking in the same awe-inspiring view.
“Miss Granger? Mr Malfoy?”
They turned to find a petite woman with hair of a colour that rivalled the Weasleys. Her face was like a porcelain doll, haunting in its stillness. Her eyes were yellowish-green, neither too little nor too much of one colour, fringed by auburn lashes that highlighted the unusual shade. Hermione immediately felt there was something off about the woman, as if she were presenting them with a façade. But Hermione could play the same game; having been Minister Shacklebolt’s lieutenant for the last five years, she could schmooze with Tom Riddle and he would never gain the full of her character.
She held out her hand with a somewhat genuine smile. “Yes?”
A slight twitch of her eye and the woman returned the gesture. “Vice President Victoria Waterhouse.”
“You’re the one who sent out the invitations,” Draco added, shaking her hand as well.
Victoria gave him a wry smirk. “Well, not me personally. I do have staff for mundane tasks.” She arched a brow and gave them a look that Hermione was sure was intended to make her feel inferior. “Do you not have minions to whom you delegate such responsibilities?”
Hermione clenched her fist and was about to respond, when Draco beat her to it.
“If by ‘minions’ you mean house elves, then no,” he said smoothly. “Lieutenant Minister Granger introduced the House Elf Freedom Act several years ago, freeing a majority of our house elf population. Those that chose to stay in their positions are now paid a fair sum for their work. Gone are the days where they were made to perform tasks that wizard-kind can easily accomplish. If they’re not lazy.”
“I never took you as someone so… altruistic, Mr Malfoy,” Victoria said with a barely-concealed sneer. “Did you not, yourself, have several house elves? In fact, was not your family one of the most egregious transgressors of such legislation?”
“That was over sixteen years ago,” Hermione answered heatedly on Draco’s behalf. “There have been drastic changes since then. Our wizarding society has learned harsh, deadly lessons from our mistakes, ones we don’t plan on repeating. The Malfoy family paid a near unsurmountable debt to our world. It wouldn’t be very forward-thinking if we, as a society, assumed that we were not a fault as well, when Voldemort took over. There was pain and suffering for many years. Peace was hard-won. Other wizarding societies could learn from our complacency, if they have the strength to do so.”
Victoria’s porcelain features smoothed over, leaving a cold stare. “Well, we can certainly see why you’re in government, Miss Granger. Such impassioned speeches are the mainstay of bureaucrats.” She sniffed. “There are those who would see peaceful measures as weakness. We must be strong, to withstand those that wish to oppose us.”
Draco tightened his hold on Hermione’s arm, sensing that she was about to lunge for the Vice President. “You see Miss Granger as weak?” He shook his head. “The harshest lesson I personally learned, after the dust had settled, was that in order to create a lasting future, I needed the help of those whose strengths compensated for my weaknesses. Admitting I even had any weaknesses was damn near impossible.” He glanced at Hermione. “Then, the one person who had the most cause to hate me actually helped my family to thrive after the war. I would not be here, had it not been for her appeal for leniency on my family’s behalf.”
Hermione was speechless. Yes, she had lobbied for clemency on behalf of many people after the war, knowing that too often they had been coerced or forced to do the Dark Lord’s bidding—kill or be killed. But she’d never imagined that Draco and his family were grateful for her intervention, though admittedly she’d had little reason to speak to him during her uni years and later as she worked at the Ministry. She had only known of his activities through Harry being his partner. Draco’s feelings on the matter were a revelation.
Victoria laced her fingers together and gave them a snide look. “How ironic. The Majbob’s harshest critic is her staunchest supporter.” She sighed and turned, waving a beckoning arm. “This way to the festivities.”
Draco did not move a centimetre. “Miss Waterhouse, a little piece of diplomatic advice.” She turned back towards them, and he leaned into Victoria’s space. “Be mindful whom you slander or upon whom you heap passive aggressive rhetoric. Miss Granger has survived the Dark Lord and been subject to torture from more soulless beings than he. They are gone, and she is not. That should be testament enough to her tenacity.”
Victoria gave Hermione a passing glance and shrugged. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The gathering of diplomats, dignitaries and all manner of politicians was on the thirty-first floor, on a private terrace framed by terra-cotta tiles and copper façade details. It offered breathtaking views of the surrounding cityscape, with twinkling lights spread out across the horizon. The autumn chill was almost non-existent thanks to the soft Warming Charm blanketing the entire area, for which Hermione was grateful, seeing as her gown was made from a gauzy fabric and she had no wish to cast spells unless absolutely required.
They followed Miss Waterhouse until they lost her within the growing crowd, having no wish to know where she disappeared to. Draco snagged two champagne flutes from a rather tall house elf and passed one to Hermione.
She sipped it, at a loss for words. She wanted desperately to address Draco’s display of, dare she think it… loyalty? But old doubts kept creeping up, causing her to remain mute.
“Sorry about earlier,” Draco muttered after swallowing a healthy portion of his drink.
He was sorry about defending her? She sighed, her emotions on a roller coaster. “I—”
“I mean, what kind of dignitary instigates arguments the moment they’re introduced? Bloody MACUSA, no sense of propriety or decorum,” Draco continued. “It was like she didn’t want us here. How dare we show up when they issued the invitation?” He downed the rest of his drink. “I swear, if I could go back and find out what they really…” He trailed off suddenly, looking uncomfortable.
Hermione pulled him to a relatively secluded corner. “What are you talking about, Draco?”
His face went completely blank. “I said nothing, Granger. Leave it.”
Not giving him a chance to dismiss her, or the topic, Hermione discreetly withdrew her wand and pressed it against his ribs. “While I appreciate your earlier defence of me, we’ll only get through this thing if we’re both honest with each other. Tell me what you know.”
“You’d make a shit Legilimens,” he spat under his breath.
“Good thing I left that sort of thing to Harry and Snape.” She pressed harder. “Work with me, Draco. I won’t betray you.”
He turned swiftly to study her. “How did you…”
She returned her wand to her beaded bag, knowing she had guessed correctly the reason why he was hesitant to reveal information. “I can’t imagine the vigilance, the constant guard you had to be on for you and your family’s safety. But I do know the power of betrayal. It changes you, like nothing else. You fear to allow your vulnerabilities to be seen, to have them exposed to those who would exploit them? Yes, I know that all too well.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Weasley?”
She grimaced. “Yes.” She wouldn’t divulge to Draco the manner of Ron’s various infidelities; some were already too public. It was the main reason she’d ended things shortly after Ron became a Keeper for the Chudley Cannons. He had consoled himself with a myriad of fangirls.
Draco sighed heavily. He opened his mouth, closed it, then looked around. “Not here,” he whispered, grabbing her elbow and leading her away from the crowd.
They made their way into one of the chambers that lined either side of the long terrace. Once there, he checked several rooms until he found a spacious storage closet. He sealed the door with a spell, then waved his wand to make sure that everything was silenced except the conversation that was about to occur.
“What I’m about to show you, Granger, no one knows about. Not even Potter.”
Her eyes widened. “Should Harry know about it?”
“There’s absolutely no reason for him to know. I’ve never used it.”
She gave him a dubious look. “This is all very cryptic. Just show me what—”
“Promise me you won’t say a word about it to anyone.”
She blinked, taken aback. “What?”
“Swear it!” he implored. “I need to know it’s safe.”
Whatever he wanted to show her was clearly important to him. Her instincts, for once, told her to trust him. She nodded. “Go ahead.”
He sighed heavily. “Close your eyes.”
“Just do it, Granger.”
“You’re such an infant,” she groused. She closed her eyes. Fabric rustled. She was not prepared for him to take her hand and gently place something round and flat on her palm. “Can I open my eyes now?”
She slowly opened them to stare at what looked like a gold Muggle pocket watch with a long matching chain. “Is this some family heirloom? Is it cursed? Did you give me something that—”
“Give it back!” He reached to take it, but she closed her fingers around it and held it to her chest.
“No! Tell me what it does.”
“It’s…” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s a Time-Turner.”
“No it’s not,” she said with a huff. “And I should know. The Ministry’s entire stock of Time-Turners was destroyed during the battle with your father and other Death Eaters.” She frowned. “Well, not destroyed, per se. They were rendered useless when a stray spell knocked over a counter containing hundreds of them, and the entire stock was trapped in an endless loop of falling over, un-falling, and then re-falling, in an endless cycle for all eternity.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Of course you’d know about that. But this one is different.” He took it from her and pressed the button at the top of the device. The front plate slowly opened to show an intricately detailed gearbox with several sets of numbers, dials and cogs. “This is a true Time-Turner, the Tempus Fugit Machina.”
“And the one I had was a fake?” she snorted.
His eyes widened. “You’ve used a Time-Turner?”
“Third year,” she said primly. “I wanted to take a few advanced courses, but the class times overlapped with my main coursework. Professor McGonagall gave me a Time-Turner so I could take more classes. I had to undergo some serious screening processes and follow the most stringent set of rules, such as not abusing its powers nor letting anyone know about it.”
“Harry happened,” she admitted grimly. “I helped him save Buckbeak and Sirius, along with evading Professor Lupin while he was a werewolf.”
“Damn!” He traced the outer rim of the watch. “Were there any… repercussions?”
“Well, according to Professor Croaker’s law, the furthest one can travel back in time without serious chance of harm to the traveller, or time itself, is five hours. Luckily, that was about the right length of time that we needed to prevent certain things from happening.” She rubbed the back of her neck, remembering the odd ache of her joints whenever she had used the Time-Turner.
“So, no backlash, then?”
She shook her head. “Since we hadn’t witnessed Buckbeak’s execution, Harry and I going back obeyed Novikov’s Self-Consistency Principle: Nothing can be changed because anything a traveller does merely produces the circumstances they had noted before travelling. It was basically a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“But someone must have done something in the past at some point, otherwise why would the Ministry have so many regulations about Time-Turner use?”
Hermione took the watch from him and held it lightly in her hand. “Time-related magic has always been unstable, and serious breaches in the laws of time have resulted in catastrophic events. The only one I know of, though there may be more, is Alexander Lakeside. He travelled to the past and was killed by his past self. I also heard of a witch that altered her life path in such a drastic fashion that it resulted in temporal anomalies such as un-births. I don’t know if that’s a credible story, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. That’s why the Ministry of Magic seeks the strictest guarantees before it permits the use of Time-Turners: Time-Turner possession is hedged around with literally hundreds of restrictions, and the most stringent laws and penalties are in place to prevent their misuse.”
Draco looked so solemn, Hermione place her hand on his shoulder and squeezed. He bowed his head. “Do you think…” He took a deep breath. “Do you think if you’d had access to a Time-Turner, you or Potter could’ve saved Snape?”
She bit her bottom lip. Snape’s death had been brutal, horrific and bloody. Given what Harry had told her of all that Snape had done to help them over the years, she truly wished she could have had the opportunity to warn the professor before he met with Voldemort. And he’d been Draco’s head of house, protector, and godfather—it wasn’t surprising Draco would wonder about it, as well.
She gave Draco a small smile. “I don’t know whether he would’ve listened to any of us at the time, but I do regret that he was lost. But meddling with time could have severe consequences, even creating an alternate timeline in which Lord Voldemort was never defeated and still ruled. If I had used the Time-Turner then, and saved Snape from his demise, I might have altered the timeline irreparably. I would still have my memory of the events of the uncorrupted timeline, but I’d have to learn second-hand the nature of the changes which had been made.”
“You’re such a know-it-all, Granger,” he mused.
“You could call me Hermione, you know. It wouldn’t kill you.”
“It might sting, though.”
“You’d deserve it, prat.” She examined the device more closely. “So, why do you call this a ‘true’ Time-Turner?”
Draco sat on one of the stools edging the interior of the closet, watching as Hermione took another. “You remember Theo Nott?” At her nod, he loosened his cravat. “Sorry, this thing is choking me. Well, what you may not know is that he was extremely smart. Smarter than you in some respects.”
“I seriously doubt it,” she countered heatedly. “Anyone with two brain cells could’ve seen how toxic Voldemort was.”
“Theo never joined the Dark Lord. He certainly never received the Dark Mark, like his father. He knew when to keep his head down and cultivate obscurity.”
“He’s definitely obscure. I haven’t heard of him in years.” She narrowed her eyes. “What does Nott have to do with this?”
Draco snagged the watch from her. “He’s the one that made it… and why you haven’t heard about him in years.”
“Are you serious?” she gasped.
“No, I’m Draco,” he said, trying to bring some levity into the discussion.
She rolled her eyes. “Focus, Draco. What’s happened to Nott?”
Draco smoothed his left hand over the material on his thigh. “He made two of these, and they were not restricted by an Hour-Reversal Charm. He kept the prototype until the Ministry found out about it. It was made of inexpensive metal and was not the final version—it only allowed the user to stay in the past for five minutes before being sent back to the present.” He lifted the watch and let it dangle. “This one? It’s not retrained by a five-minute duration.”
“What are the restraints, then?” she asked nervously.
“There are none.”
She stared at him. “Impossible.”
“Not impossible. Nothing is truly impossible, only improbable. Nott knew that if the Ministry found out about this one, he would be immediately imprisoned in Azkaban. So, he promised to give the Time-Turner to my father in exchange for a secure location where he could live out his life, undisturbed. He and my father went back to a certain period in time, and a different location altogether, and only my father returned, leaving Nott to live out his life where he wouldn’t be caught and prosecuted.”
“That’s…” She covered her mouth, her hand shaking. “Something that has no limits… Draco, there’s a reason for the saying Absolute power corrupts absolutely!”
“Hermione, I know! How do you think my father died?” he snarled. “I watched as he was consumed with greed, lust for power, and an obsession with Dark artefacts. He travelled through the ages to collect them, and every time he returned from those time trips, his face would be thinner, paler. One night he returned and he was almost skeletal. I resolved to take the Time-Turner from him. When he couldn’t find it, he went into a tirade; mother was frightened for the first time in her life, and this was a woman who had lied to the Dark Lord in order to save me.” Tears fringed Draco’s lashes. “The man who was my father had long ceased to be. The day he died, I found him searching through his wardrobes like Mad-Eye Moody searching for his glass eye. When he turned around and saw me, he didn’t look human. Before I could say anything, his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.” He gripped the watch until Hermione feared it would break. “I didn’t call for help. I watched that... that thing convulse and then grow still. It was the kindest thing I could offer him in that moment.”
Hermione wasn’t sure if Draco was aware of the tear that had made its way down his cheek, but she gently wiped it away, regardless. “I’m so sorry, Draco,” she whispered.
He gave her a watery smile. “No, you’re not, Granger. You’re sane. That thing that wore my father’s face was not. That’s why I trust you with this Time-Turner—the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse. You were wrong about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Nearly everyone can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power. It’s said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by things other than power.” He took her hand, placed the Time-Turner on her palm, then closed her fingers over it, squeezing hard. “You’re sane. Keep it that way.”
She stared at him. “Draco… you can’t mean to give me this.”
He smiled, though it never reached his eyes. “I admit, you having that makes me uncomfortable. You could exact all sorts of revenge, you know. But growth and comfort don’t coexist, so I think I’d rather grow and spare myself the fate of my father.”
Without consciously thinking about it, she leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Draco’s forehead. “You’re stronger than you know, Draco Malfoy.”
A sudden twist of the doorknob and then a pounding on the door shook them. “Hey, whoever’s in there, I gotta get some supplies!”
“Merlin,” Draco spat. “We can’t be seen in here—too many questions.”
Hermione opened the device and studied the dials. “Do you know how to adjust the settings?”
“Not a clue. I’ve never used it.”
“Great,” she groaned. There was nothing for it, however, as the knocking became more insistent. Making a quick decision based on her previous Time-Turner use, she looped the chain around Draco’s neck, moved one cog and then twisted something that looked like a compass. “Here goes nothing.”
She pressed the button on top, and she and Draco disappeared before the person could pry open the door.
“Granger, what did you do?” Draco asked as quietly as possible.
“What do you mean? I tried to—”
“What manner of witchcraft is this?”
The two of them stood near a rocky ledge at the base of a hill, surrounded by dozens of men and women dressed in plain black and grey homespun. The men wore dark breeches and doublets, with black felt hats and buckled shoes, while the women wore brown or black skirts with white aprons and caps. The crowd had obviously witnessed Draco’s and Hermione’s arrival, and now sported shocked and fearful looks upon their faces.
“Do you not see?” one man proclaimed loudly, pointing at them. “Proof of Susannah Martin’s traffic with Satan!” He waved his hand towards a gallows situated on the rocky outcropping, where the body of a woman could be seen swinging from a rope. “She hangs, yet she summons the Devil himself to retrieve her soul! He has even brought his consort!”
The crowd muttered its agreement, and Hermione felt a flutter of panic. “Draco, is there a recovery period for this Time-Turner?” she asked as she flipped open the pocket watch.
Draco backed slowly away from the advancing mob, tugging her with him, the gold chain still looped around both their necks. “I don’t know. I haven’t used it before, remember? But I don’t think so. I mean, my father would sometimes take two or three trips within an hour.”
She fiddled with the dials, not caring what the actual setting was, as long as it wasn’t here, in this moment. “Hold on…”
The menacing crowd faded, replaced by the feeling of being squeezed through a tube and spat out the other end, and they stood in front of a large, three-story clapboard house, candlelight shining from within. “What is this place?” Draco asked, his voice hoarse.
“I don’t know,” Hermione admitted uneasily. “I just moved one of the dials and we were here.” She tried to stifle the sob clogging her throat. “I… I don’t know how this Time-Turner works, so I could be sending us anywhere in the world with a flick of my finger. I need to figure out the settings before we travel again.”
“Can you even see it in this light?”
She brushed away a stray tear and sniffed. “Not really. Could you conjure some sort of illumination for me, please?”
Draco withdrew his wand. “Lumos.”
Soft, pulsing blue light shone in their immediate area, allowing her to focus on the time piece. “Thank you,” she murmured.
“Just hurry, if you can,” he said nervously. “I think we’re in the same time period, just a different location.” He must have noticed her shaking hands, for he took one and held tight. “Slow and steady, Hermione. You can figure this out.”
She inhaled quickly and nodded. “Right. So, I didn’t move what looks like the time portion, but I did move this compass dial.” She twisted the piece to the side. “These are actual compass settings,” she muttered, spying an almost invisible sliver of a button on the bottom. “Magnify that area, Draco.”
“Magnificare,” he whispered. The pulsing light wavered somewhat, then returned full force. “There’s a word on that button. It says Revocāre. What does that mean?”
“To recall.” She slid her thumb over it, causing the device to whir. “Oh, no!”
Her response was lost in the rushing wind of their travel… and then both were panting, breathless, gazing around at the closet where they had started their journey.
“I... I thought we were going to end up back in Salem,” Hermione offered with a nervous laugh.
“That would’ve been a disaster.” Draco looked over their clothes, noting the mud clinging to the bottom of her gown and his trouser legs. “Purgare,” he intoned, swirling the dirt away.
And just in time, too, as they heard once more the loud banging knock of someone trying to gain entrance. “Hey, whoever’s in there, I gotta get some supplies!”
To Hermione’s complete surprise, Draco pulled her to him and pressed his lips to hers just as the door swung open.
“Oh, my god! I’m so sorry, I thought you were one of the servers!” the waiter squeaked. “My apologies!” The door slammed shut.
But Draco did not stop kissing her. In fact, one of his hands made its way into her hair and tugged on her chignon, releasing it from its confines. The other grasped her waist and held her against him. Dear Merlin, the wizard could kiss. His lips caressed her jaw, making their way to just below her right ear and then down her neck. She felt dizzy and clutched at his shoulders to remain grounded. The heady feeling coursing through her drowned all her senses.
That thrilling feeling ended abruptly when Draco took a step back. “It was the only thing I could think of so they wouldn’t see our faces.”
She had closed her eyes during the snog but now promptly opened them. “Oh.” She refused to acknowledge the disappointment settling in the pit of her stomach. “Right.” She withdrew her wand and returned her hair to its previous state. “I’m sure they noticed our absence. We should… we should leave.”
Draco nodded without looking at her and removed the chain from around his neck. “Let’s go.”
The rest of the evening was a blur.
Half of Hermione’s attention was on the guests at the soirée before the opening ceremonies; the rest was on Draco and the death grip she had on the Time-Turner. She was afraid to place it in her beaded bag; knowing how sensitive the device was, she could have sent the entire crowd to the Middle Ages with the slightest bump, even without wrapping the chain around everyone.
Then there was Draco, who was both distant and vigilant. His eyes constantly scanned the crowd, as any Auror worth their weight in Galleons would be doing in a high security situation.
It was both irksome and a relief that his gaze would conveniently skip over her.
Hermione’s focus should have been on Sensei Yashimoto from Mahoutokoro, Japan’s equivalent of Hogwarts, as he discussed differences in teaching styles between the two nations. Instead, it was on the prolonged kiss that had taken place in the secluded room just as she and Draco were discovered. Once they had emerged, she had floundered as she tried to rein in her scattered thoughts, her mind still firmly on the feel of Draco’s lips on hers.
“I’m sorry, Master Yashimoto,” Draco said with a slight bow to the ancient wizard. “But Minister Granger and I have had a trying day, and we must excuse ourselves.” Not giving Yashimoto a chance to respond, Draco gently pulled on Hermione’s elbow to lead her to the exit. “We should go back to the hotel for tonight.”
She stopped him just short of the door. “We need to stay until—”
“The inauguration isn’t until Friday. You know these functions are for taking the measure of the international colleagues and vapid gossip. I’m surprised you’ve lasted this long without reducing some dunderhead to tears with how uninformed the lot of them are when it comes to atrocities around the world.” He suddenly tucked a stray curl behind her ear. “I’ve already made our excuses to Bitch Waterhouse.”
“Draco!” Hermione hissed, though she couldn’t fight her smile. “And I think you missed the look of devastation in François Pierre’s eyes when he asked me if I was single, repeatedly, and I said that I was trying to ignore him, repeatedly.”
Draco snorted with laughter. “There’s the Granger I know.” He sobered. “But we’re both exhausted and we need to regroup before tomorrow.”
She sighed. “Remind me what’s on the agenda tomorrow?”
“Sight-seeing expedition—all the great locations in MACUSA’s history,” he deadpanned.
“Joy.” She nodded. “All right, let’s go.”
After a long shower, Hermione donned her comfiest pyjamas and sat down at the table in the bedroom to study the Time-Turner. Draco, having showered as well, was sprawled out on the bed in a dark blue set of sleep trousers… and nothing else. She was trying to ignore him, but he was messing about with the Muggle telly remote, flipping through channels in quick succession.
He paused on one and sat up. “Oi, look at this. It’s a bloody Scot hosting a late night program!”
Hermione glanced at the screen. “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” She watched for a few minutes, amused, then returned her attention to the Time-Turner.
The device was unlike any she had ever seen, or used, before. The one she’d used in third year was a simple hourglass, the limit already set. This particular device sported settings that allowed the user to change location, time and date. She recognised the location setting from their last visit: 42° 31′ 10″ N, 70° 53′ 50″ W—longitude and latitude for Salem, Massachusetts. She also noted the time references: ante meridiem and post meridiem. Apparently, one could only choose day or evening, not a specific time. But the most puzzling was a number that referred to the date: 2339250.5. She was used to seeing dates being transcribed in a different format in the US compared to the UK and Europe, but this was odd.
“Is joint pain a normal side effect?”
She grimaced as she watched him rub at his left shoulder. “Unfortunately.” She gave him a sad look. “As much as you said your father used the Time-Turner, I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did.” Taking a deep breath, she moved to sit next to Draco, turned off the telly and showed him her hands. “I wasn’t concerned with the side-effects back in third year; I was just trying to finish all my courses and keep Harry and Ron alive.” She startled a little when Draco began stroking her fingers. “It’s more noticeable now that I’m older.”
Thin, barely visible striations ran the length of the tendons of her hands. They faded as they progressed up her forearm, but the minute pain that accompanied them never did. With the recent trips she and Draco had made, they ached significantly.
“Time travelling is not for the faint of heart.”
“What happened to my father, then?”
She could only speculate, but based on what Draco had told her earlier, it seemed the most plausible. “Do you know what a Muggle fax machine is?”
He frowned. “Something that spews out random facts about Muggles?”
“No,” she laughed lightly. “It’s a duplicator, or copier of sorts. Instead of interdepartmental memos, like at the Ministry, Muggles can use a machine that processes the contents, be it text or images, as a single fixed graphic image. The facsimile machine then converts it into a bitmap and transmits it through the telephone system in the form of audio-frequency tones. The receiving machine interprets the tones and reconstructs the image, printing a paper copy.”
“So the copy is exactly the same as the original?”
“No, it’s never as precise or clear as the original; something is always lost in transmission.”
“All right. So what does that have to do with what happened to my father?”
She hesitated, not wanting to be gruesome. “Before he used the device the last time, did Lucius look odd? Like his features had shifted?”
Draco closed his eyes, swallowing heavily. “Several months before I took the Time-Turner, I spied him in one of the bathrooms, pushing at the skin on his face. He didn’t see me, but I was able to get a good look at him. It was like half of his face was pulled impossibly tight, while the other half drooped and sagged, like it was melting off his head. He must have applied some sort of glamour, because when I saw him later that evening, he looked like he always did: a bit haggard, but in somewhat good health.”
She nodded. “I got these marks on my hands with just a five hour time shift. Imagine what kind of havoc a hundred years’ time shift could create. Each use of a Time-Turner alters your age and your basic DNA, like the reproduced images on fax machine paper. The image, or person, looks the same, but there are subtle shifts that, were you to repeatedly send the same image over and over, it would become distorted beyond recognition. Your father travelled so much, the flaws and shifts of each journey took their toll. You were probably lucky that you saw him at all that last day; I suspect he had mangled his body so severely by that point that no magic could have kept him alive for long. His body simply gave out.”
“So if you used it during the entirety of our third year, how come you aren’t… well…”
“Discombobulated?” At his nod, she continued. “I haven’t gone unscathed, by any means. But I used it in short bursts, like a sprint. Your father used his in long sessions, like a marathon. My device was also restrained by a time limit, and I didn’t have to contend with location or year. By the calendar, I am about nine months older than you. In reality, I’m probably about two years older because of all of the travelling I did. My joints ache every time I Apparate or use a portkey. I suspect I have marks on my upper back because it’s stiff and inflamed.”
He moved her hair aside and tugged at her pyjama top, gasping. “Hermione, there are lines of red welts!” His fingers drifted across her skin.
She hissed from the intense pain triggered even by his light touch. “I have some dittany in my bag, if you could get it,” she gritted through her teeth.
He quickly retrieved the bottle and applied the unction. “Is this a result of earlier this evening?”
She nodded, not sure of her voice with Draco’s breath blowing gently on the nape of her neck.
“I’m sorry.” He pulled the fabric back over her shoulders. “Will you be able to sleep?”
“I have to. I’m exhausted, honestly.” She looked at the expanse of the bed, suddenly feeling awkward. “Which side do you want?”
“I’ll take the left,” Draco said as he stood up. “I’m going to check the rest of the suite before we settle in for the night, place some heavier wards than they already have.” He left, giving her a few moments to collect herself.
She moved gingerly, the skin at her back tingling from the dittany, and pulled back the thick duvet. She slid underneath and it was definitely a study in luxury, the cool, crisp sheets helping ease her pain. Her defences tended to falter when she was uncomfortable and sleepy; Harry knew to never ask her anything when she was on the verge of sleep, as she would spill secrets that she longed to keep. Draco had no such restraint, however, and she fought slumber as she heard him go from room to room, murmuring under his breath. The magic that washed over the suite was powerful; Harry must have taught him a few undisclosed spells that even the Ministry didn’t know about.
Her eyes were closed by the time she felt the bed dip with Draco’s weight, and she had to remind herself that they were there for a reason other than the new president’s inauguration. We’re adults, we can be professional. Right?
“Whatever you say, Granger,” he said with a soft laugh. “I can keep to my own side. Can you?”
Damn, she must said that aloud. She pointedly ignored him and turned over.
“Nothing to say? I’m disappointed, Granger.”
She looked over her shoulder a little. “Never mistake my silence for weakness, Malfoy. No one plans a murder out loud.”
He burst out laughing. “Touché.” He shifted around until he was apparently comfortable. “Goodnight, Hermione.”
She grunted, her voice stuck in her throat from how soft his voice sounded. She waited, quietly, listening to Draco’s breathing. Once it evened out, she sighed in relief. The mattress contoured to her body, so she felt as if she were being cradled all around. It occurred to her that it was dangerous, this lull between them. Of course she trusted Draco with her life; he might as well write his own death sentence were anything to happen to her. Harry would see to his disposal personally.
As she finally drifted off, she contemplated if she could trust Draco with anything else.
She awakened around five in the morning, not used to the early sunrise on the eastern coast of the U.S. Her arm was draped across Draco’s stomach, her nose buried at the base of his neck. She blinked, not quite cognizant of how she ended up in this position with such a large amount of space on either side of them. She thought about turning and moving away, but Draco was so warm… and she was still exhausted. Her eyes closed again and she slipped back into slumber within seconds.
When the alarm spell on her wand vibrated half an hour later, Hermione’s eyes shot open and she noticed that their positions had switched. Draco was pressed to her back.
He groaned, then mumbled, “Turn it off,” before burying his nose in her curls.
She should move. She wanted to, but his grip around her middle tightened. When he groaned again and shifted his legs, she quickly extricated herself and stood, grabbing her wand. “Time for breakfast, I think,” she rasped.
She didn’t look at him as she got up and headed to the bathroom. She didn’t need to be tempted to stay.
“Welcome to the Brooklyn Bazar, home to the Oddities Flea Market!” the tour guide touted in an annoyingly cheerful voice. “Inside, you'll find a wonderful assemblage of vendors bringing you all sorts of peculiar items. Feast your eyes on medical history ephemera, anatomical curiosities, natural history freaks, osteological specimens, taxidermy, jewellery, one-of-a-kind art, bizarre flair, and much more. The most popular merchants are Obscura Antiques and the Forgotten Boneyard.”
The contingent of ambassadors, dignitaries and esteemed fellows were seated on an overlarge bus called the SkyRide. Instead of the seats facing the front of the bus, they faced out towards the street on either side. Hermione and Draco were at the front, slightly to the right, staring out the windows at the expansive market bustling with magical folk. She subconsciously gripped her beaded bag, where the Time-Turner was located, a spell surrounding the device so that it wouldn’t accidently activate if it was jostled around. She tried to quell the panic at the thought of the proprietor of Obscura Antiques wishing to exchange an oddity for the timepiece.
“We’re not stopping,” Draco murmured in her ear, placing a hand over her fist. “Even if we did, we wouldn’t get off.”
She relaxed fractionally. She was still keyed up from that morning, waking up in Draco’s arms. It was a fluke, she knew; bodies migrate in sleep. Ron had accused her multiple times of being a relative of the Giant Squid with how she wound her way around him when they slept together. She vowed to place a barrier of some sort that evening.
The bus meandered for about half an hour, easily avoiding the traffic and congestion of the Muggle cars and crowd, just like the Knight Bus did back in London. They were nearing a tall, stone building that looked like a narrow Muggle church, when the tour guide increased the volume of her voice once again.
“An example of Jacobean architecture, the Explorers Club was founded by Britain’s very own Newt Scamander for his wife, Porpentina Goldstein, before they retired to England. Behind impressive heavy doors and ornate turn-of-the-century stained glass windows lie many chambers dedicated to adventure and animal husbandry.”
“Isn’t Rolf Scamander Lovegood’s boss?” Draco whispered as the guide droned on.
Hermione nodded. “They dated for a while, actually. Well, until Neville finally got off the fence and properly asked her out.”
They moved on to another landmark. “Tannen’s Magic Store is for the mischievous wizard or witch in all of us!” the guide said with a laugh. “Just a few of the items you can expect to find at Tannen’s: invisible paint, multiplying billiard balls, pure smoke, the Emperor’s Orange Box, and hundreds of versions of common, everyday children’s magic.”
“George Weasley would love this place,” Hermione observed with a smile.
“Probably best that he doesn’t know about it,” Draco retorted.
“Merlin’s balls, he’ll be insufferable if you tell him about it.” Draco leaned back and crossed his arms. “Did you know that a quarter of the cases Potter and I get assigned to are as a result of his shop’s products?”
“Really? That few?” She grimaced. “I probably won’t say anything. It’s just, sometimes the poor man gets stuck in his head, thinking he can hear his brother’s voice telling him how the business should be run, and I try to distract him if I can.”
Draco turned to stare at the passing scenery. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry he died.”
The bus parked along the kerb in front of a modest sky rise. The tour guide became solemn. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Travelling Museum of Interesting Things. And while it is quite spectacular in its own right, it is the location where President Jackson Fontaine died.” The guide produced tears—real or not, Hermione was unsure. “He visited the travelling museum during one of its infrequent stops to procure an item to commemorate the Salem Witch Trials, though we don’t know if he actually made it to the exhibits. It was a terrible accident, one that won’t be forgotten.”
“Did Harry ever tell you any of the details from the reports he obtained?” Hermione asked quietly.
Draco leaned closer. “From the pictures that Potter showed me, his body was torn to pieces. They never found his left foot. Now that I think about it, the wounds look a lot like…” He paused, his eyes growing wide. “Shit!” he hissed.
He made to rise, but Hermione restrained him. “What is wrong with you?”
He glared but stayed seated. “We need to return here later this evening.”
She scanned the area. “Why?”
He looked around at the people on the bus and shook his head. “Not here. Wait until we get back to the hotel.”
She nodded and waited for the tour to end, keeping her hand on Draco’s thigh.
They were seated at the kitchen table in their suite when Draco withdrew the photos that Harry had given him and placed them in front of Hermione. “Look closely at the shoulder and hip areas, and tell me what you see.”
She waved her wand over them to magnify the images. At first, she didn’t understand what she was looking for, other than the gore of detached limbs. But then she spied it: long, deep red striations traversing the mottled flesh… a harsher version of what had appeared on her hands and back from use of the Time-Turner.
Her hands shook as she traced the lines. “Are you sure Nott only made one true Time-Turner?”
“That’s what my father said.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I suppose my father could have lied, but I don’t think so, not about this. In an odd sort of familial duty, he would’ve given one to me while he would’ve kept the other.”
“But these wounds are clearly the result of an abuse of a Time-Turner!”
“That why I said we needed to return to that museum. Maybe he purchased something like it and didn’t know how to use it.”
“All right.” She checked her watch. “The guide said the museum was open from six until midnight, yes?” At his nod, she donned her heavy coat, grabbed her beaded bag and they headed for the door. The moment they opened it, they were confronted by two men and a woman wearing black cloaks.
“Can we help you?” Draco intoned darkly.
All three had their wands at the ready. “Your presence is requested by Vice President Waterhouse,” the witch said, brooking no argument.
“For what purpose?” Hermione asked haughtily. “We are ambassadors from Great Britain, you cannot unlawfully detain—”
“The night of your arrival, there was a magic signature present in the vicinity. Due to the number of guests arriving near or at the same time, we could not be certain to whom the signature belonged. However, in the past twenty-four hours, this signature has increased, and all attempts at tracking it have led here.”
“Why would it lead you here?” Draco snarled. “If you’re tracking us, that’s in direct violation of the international code of—”
“Sir, you are in direct violation of Code 24: section C, which states that there is to be no unauthorised magic in times of crisis.” The witch moved closer. “Now please, Miss Granger and Mr Malfoy. Come quietly.”
Hermione knew the contingent couldn’t enter the room, but that was little comfort. “May I please retrieve something from my luggage first?”
One of the wizards narrowed his eyes. “Such as?”
“If I’m to be detained,” Hermione huffed, “then I wish to take my glasses, so that I can clearly comprehend, in great detail, how I’m going to sue your government for unlawful detention!”
The three looked at one another then shrugged. “Quickly, then.”
Draco had a thoroughly confused look on his face. “Since when do you—”
“Help me find them, Draco,” she said pointedly.
He followed her to where their luggage was stowed, watching as she unlocked the case and pretended to root around in the contents. She placed her beaded bag on top of the pile she had made, opened it, and withdrew the Time-Turner.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
“Be quiet and do as I say!”
“What about the consequences?” he fumed.
She unfurled the chain and held it out to him, but he refused to place it around his neck. She stared at him. “Do you trust me?”
Not bothering to think about why she was doing it, she stopped his words with a hard kiss. “Then help me!”
“What are you doing?” the witch at the door spluttered as she watched Hermione throw the chain over both of them.
Draco pressed his forehead to hers. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“So do I.”
“Well, at least there aren’t any fanatics trying to hang us.”
Hermione gripped Draco’s wrist to keep the pulsing blue light from his wand steady so she could study the Time-Turner. “We’re in the same time period we visited before because I haven’t figured out the way to adjust it yet. I’m not sure of the exact unit of measurement.” She looked around at the wooded area. “But I was able to change the location coordinates—we’re supposed to be in New York, at least.”
Draco looked glumly at the device. “I hate that bloody thing!”
“I won’t argue with you there.” Her teeth chattered from the throbbing pain in her ankles. “I have the compass aligned correctly, but look here.” She showed him the date dial. “This series of numbers is confusing, and I don’t honestly want to chance another trip unless it’s to the correct time and place.”
Draco rubbed his temple with his free hand. “Nott liked obscure references…”
“That could mean any number of things, Draco.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “He also liked maths and astronomy. Does that help, Princess?”
“Don’t snap at me! I’m doing the best I can with limited resources. If your friend wasn’t such an arse—”
“Genius arse, let’s remember.”
“Right,” she snorted with contempt. “If he was so smart, then why didn’t he work for the Ministry or in some other field?”
Draco shrugged. “If you’re good at something, never do it for free. My father had the means to pay him what the Ministry couldn’t.”
“Great. A genius arse with mercenary tendencies. I’m surprised he lived long enough to create the device, what with all the wizards and witches that would’ve betrayed him the moment he finished.”
“What do you mean?”
She shook her head. “Draco, please don’t take this the wrong way, but your father… well, he was a cunning and sly wizard. He escaped prosecution multiple times, and when he was in Azkaban, I’m sure he had other plans unfolding to prepare for when he was free. Ever read any Shakespeare? Et tu, Lucius? Do you honestly think he just left Nott in a safe place, in some other time? To insure he was the only one who knew about the true Time-Turner, Lucius probably removed Nott from the equation. Permanently.”
“Exactly.” She stared at the device again. “Wait… wait a moment. You said Nott liked maths and astronomy, right?” At Draco’s nod, she groaned. “Merlin! How could I be so thick?”
She turned the Time-Turner around so that Draco could see the date stamp. “This series of numbers? It’s a computation for a Julian calendar!”
“Julian… like Julius Caesar?”
“Yes! Julian dates are simply a continuous count of days and fractions since noon Universal Time on January 1, 4713 BC. Julian dates are widely used as time variables within astronomy. Typically, a variable can represent an epoch expressed as a Julian date to about one millisecond precision. It’s assumed that seven-day weeks have formed an uninterrupted sequence since ancient times. Thus, the day of the week can be obtained from the remainder of the division of the Julian date by seven.”
Draco looked completely lost. “That shouldn’t sound as arousing as it did, Granger, but… damn.”
“Are you sapiosexual, then?”
“A person who is sexually attracted to intelligence in others.”
Draco ducked his head, probably to hide a blush. “I didn’t think so, but I’m going to have to defer to your know-it-all moniker and just agree with you on that.”
She rolled her eyes. “I just need a date so that I can work the computations to get the Julian equivalent.”
“Well, we were going to go back to the museum, right? President Fontaine died on October 8th, 2014, so let’s start there.”
She ran through the mental computations, shifted the compass dial until it read 40° 43' 49.7964'' N 73° 59' 35.2752'' W and then rolled the number on the date dial to 2456938.5. She glanced up. “Are you ready?”
He blew out a breath. “This is going to hurt, isn’t it?”
“You have no idea.”
Hermione had to stifle the scream that wanted to escape when they materialised near the front of the bustling square that led to the building housing the museum. Her ankles were on fire and now her knees threatened to buckle. Draco didn’t look like he was faring much better.
“Fuck!” he spat, cradling his elbows. “We can’t do that much more.”
“Once more, after we find out what happened to President Fontaine.” Though, to be honest, she would probably need a month in St Mungo’s just for recovery alone after they returned home.
Draco moved his hand away from his left elbow and grimaced at the red welts that ran from his forearm to his shoulder. “Are these permanent?”
She touched them lightly. “I can put some dittany on them for now. Maybe they won’t scar.” She retrieved the bottle and let a few drops coat his skin, watching as the wounds scabbed over.
He clenched his teeth and bore the pain she knew he was going through. “What about you?” he panted.
She needed more than dittany. “I’m okay, for now,” she lied. She led him from the alleyway where they had arrived and walked slowly towards the building. “Do we know what Fontaine looks like?”
As they made their way up the concrete steps, Draco stopped just before the final one. “No, but I’m going to say that’s him,” he said, pointing at a couple that was making their way towards the entrance.
Though the man in the dark wizard robes was unfamiliar, the witch was none other than Victoria Waterhouse.
“We can’t be seen,” Hermione whispered harshly, and pulled Draco behind a crowd moving in a different direction.
“Where are we going? I thought the whole point was to follow him and find out what happened to him?”
“It’s obvious that Waterhouse had something to do with it, but we can’t risk running into them. It creates a paradox of sorts, although I’m going to say we successfully avoid them because she would’ve recognised us when we arrived at the festivities.” She slipped behind another building next to the museum, one where they still had a view of the entrance. “We need to wait until they leave and then follow them. Discreetly.”
Draco grumbled as he flexed his elbows. “I hate waiting.”
Hermione laughed a little. He’d sounded like the petulant boy she had met at Hogwarts, and though those years had been some of the bitterest in her life, his whinging brought a sort of comfort to her, as if there were some things that would never change.
“When we get back home, Granger, we’re destroying that cursed thing.”
She couldn’t agree more.
They waited for almost an hour before Fontaine and Waterhouse reappeared. Fontaine seemed to be mesmerised by something in his hand, with Waterhouse sporting a smug look. They moved off past the nightly crowds, rather quickly, in Hermione’s opinion.
“What do you think it is?” Draco asked low, following behind her.
She ignored the shiver his voice sent down her spine. “I don’t know. But if I were to speculate, I would say it’s another Time-Turner, one like Nott made.”
Draco shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense. He only made two; one was destroyed and we have the other.”
Hermione arched a brow. “Are you sure the other one was destroyed?”
“Yes, the Ministry confiscated…” He sucked in a breath. “Damn it!”
“Vincent Donovan,” Draco growled. “He was one of the Aurors during the raid on Nott’s property. He was suspended about two years ago because I caught him selling some of the artefacts we had confiscated during prior raids.” He smacked the side of a building they were near. “Donovan probably took the damn thing and sold it to a collector who had dealings in international antiquities, having no idea what it really was.”
“It looks like Waterhouse knew where to find it, though.”
Draco grimaced. “After Donovan was dismissed from the Aurors, he must have realised what it was that he’d taken from Nott’s home and sold, because he travelled to the US to find the wizard he’d sold several relics to. We always keep tabs on former employees, especially ones that leave with tarnished records.”
“Once an Auror, always an Auror, is it?”
“Seems that way,” Draco grunted as he hit the wall again. “He probably couldn’t retrieve the device from the collector, so he must have followed, waiting for the opportunity to snatch it.”
“And Waterhouse provided that opportunity,” Hermione surmised. “I thought the original device Nott made was from inferior material?”
“It was. That doesn’t mean it didn’t work. Five minutes at a time doesn’t seem like much, until you spin the dial like a wheel, and then you have bursts of time loops that don’t stop until the dial comes to a halt.” Draco paled. “I have a feeling I know what is going to happen.”
They followed the pair from a sizable distance. “You know, when it happens, we can’t interfere.”
Draco stopped abruptly. “Shit.”
A feeling of anticipation swelled within Hermione, one like the time she and Harry had rescued Buckbeak, one that signalled something momentous was about to happen. She waved her wand over her and Draco, creating a Glamour that made them invisible. “Come on, we need to get as close as possible.”
They resumed their journey until they found the couple again, standing in a secluded area on the edge of a seldom used field that abutted the busy metropolis, conversing in low voices.
“Just imagine all the sights you’ll see, Jackson! All the disasters you can help our society avoid,” Waterhouse cooed as she spun the dials on the device.
“If it works, Victoria. I’m still sceptical.”
She nodded. “As well you should be. But I have it on good authority it will. My source was… quite forthcoming.”
“I bet she killed Donovan as well,” Hermione whispered.
“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead,” Draco agreed.
Waterhouse slipped the chain around Fontaine’s neck and placed the device in his hands, the mechanism primed and ready. “All you need to do it press the button at the top and away you go!”
Hermione cringed and backed into Draco, his hands wrapping around her from behind. “Close your eyes,” he murmured.
She did as he bade, having seen too much death already during the war and the intervening years, and buried her face in his neck. She shuddered when she heard the sharp yelp of Fontaine as he disappeared… and then a short blood-curdling scream as he reappeared five minutes later, his body being torn apart. The process repeated three more times before there were no more reappearances.
Tears fringed Hermione’s lashes as she gulped and raised her head to take in the scene. Victoria looked like a viscera-splattered mess, which she promptly cleaned herself with a quick spell. She had a very self-satisfied look on her face. She then began searching amongst the body remnants, a scowl increasing on her features the longer it took to find whatever she was looking for. When she found Fontaine’s head, Victoria searched it over frantically, only to shout in frustration as she threw it in a shallow ditch.
“I think the device was destroyed during Fontaine’s journeys,” Draco offered. “She must have cued the Time-Turner to loop, thinking to take the device once he died.”
Hermione silently agreed. Her mouth was dry and her throat closed. She had seen the worst of wizard-kind throughout her years, and she had thought she’d seen it all, but there was always something new to surprise her. She watched as Waterhouse snarled and Apparated away.
“Can we go now?” Draco asked quietly. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
For some reason, this caused another surge of tears. She clung tighter to him until they eased. When she was sure they had stopped, she withdrew, sniffed and cleared her throat. “I don’t think we can go back to the time we originally left from.”
“What do you mean?”
“Waterhouse sent those three Aurors to retrieve us. They said they’d been tracking a certain type of magic. We’ve disappeared several times now, and it’s probably a safe bet that she knows we have a Time-Turner.”
“She’d get her hands what she was denied before. We’d be returning right into her trap.”
“Exactly.” Hermione waved her wand and the Glamour disappeared. “We can’t travel to the future, only to points in our past.”
“Well, then. Let’s do that.”
They arrived at the soiree right at the time when their past selves had secreted themselves in the locked closet. Of course, they looked out of place, being dressed in casual wizarding clothes, but they were determined to find President Quahog. They received less-than-friendly gazes as they moved through the crowd, their hands clasped tightly. Draco’s hand holding hers was the only thing that kept Hermione from collapsing to the ground in a knot of pain. If she looked at her legs, she could only imagine what the damage would be.
Just before they reached the middle of the gathering, Hermione tugged on Draco to stop. “We need to send Harry a message before we meet with the president. That way, he knows what’s going on and can intervene if he needs to.”
Draco shook his head. “I’m here in Potter’s stead, remember? If I say there’s foul play, he’ll issue the arrests without hesitation.”
She gave him a measured look, but then nodded. As they approached a group of dignitaries, the Aurors stepped forward and pressed wands threateningly against their chests, forcing them to halt.
“I’m sorry, sir and madam, but you’ll have to step back.” One bulky Auror blocked their way forward.
“I’m Lieutenant Minister Hermione Granger, and it’s urgent that I speak with President Quahog.”
The Auror shook his head. “The President is indisposed at the moment. You’ll have to—”
“Anthony?” came an overly sweet voice, and Victoria Waterhouse appeared at the Auror’s side. She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Is everything all right?”
Anthony nodded at Hermione and Draco. “These two want to see President Quahog.”
Waterhouse looked them over with a frown, evidently noting their clothing was different from earlier in the evening when they had met. “My, you’ve changed.” She narrowed her eyes. “I’m afraid the president had to leave early. But I’m sure I can answer any questions you may have.”
“In private, please,” Draco said gruffly before Hermione could respond.
She stared at Draco, hoping he knew what he was doing.
Waterhouse led them to a rather sparse chamber, one that was still under construction from all the renovations that seemed to be constantly going on. No Aurors followed them, and Hermione didn’t like it.
“Tell me why you’ve changed your clothes, Mr Malfoy,” Waterhouse demanded when they came to a halt.
“Many people may not know it, but Granger can be a wonky widget when she has a few too many Fire Whiskeys in her. She ruined my suit.”
Hermione wanted to roll her eyes at the blatant lie, but she didn’t dare take her gaze from the coiled viper.
Waterhouse smirked and crossed her arms. “You’re a terrible liar. Your father should have taught you better. I must say, I’m disappointed. Lucius Malfoy was the stuff of legends.”
“He became the puppet of a deranged megalomaniac and died a withered husk of a wizard,” Draco sneered. “Be my guest if that’s your idea of an idol.”
“Tsk tsk,” Victoria chided and withdrew her wand to point it at Draco. “You must learn better manners. Now, tell me why you’re really here.”
In the blink of an eye, Hermione had her wand trained on Waterhouse. “Whatever you’re thinking of doing would be very unwise.”
Waterhouse spared her a glance. “It would be quite unfortunate if I had to inform the British Ministry of the apprehension and incarceration of two of its most famous persons. Crimes against a foreign government, I believe?” She cocked her head to the side. “Yes, I do believe that carries a minimum sentence of having your mind wiped. We couldn’t have you causing trouble again, could we?”
Draco bared his teeth. “You won’t touch her!”
“Ah ah ah,” Waterhouse warned. “Tell your lapdog to stand down, Miss Granger, or he’ll be living the rest of his very short life as an opossum.”
“Draco,” Hermione pleaded. “Don’t do anything stupid.” At his glare, she gave him a sad smile. “I’m the one who has what she wants anyway.”
Waterhouse immediately turned her attention to Hermione. “What do you mean, what I want?”
With her wand still trained on Waterhouse, Hermione slowly withdrew the chain that held the Time-Tuner from beneath her blouse. “Isn’t this what you were looking for when you killed President Fontaine?”
Waterhouse’s only visible reaction was a twitch in the witch’s eye. Then Waterhouse swung her wand and pointed it Hermione, giving her a malicious smile. “Imperio!”
“No!” Draco screamed, rushing at Waterhouse, his wand at the ready.
“Crucio!” Waterhouse shouted, turning on him.
Draco dropped to his knees and curled into a ball, screaming.
“The boy really does need to listen,” Waterhouse mused. She pointed her wand at Hermione again. “Give me that device.”
Hermione tried to resist, but between the backlash from the time travel and the spell itself, she had no choice. She pulled the chain over her head, fiddling with the dials as she approached Waterhouse. Once she was within grabbing distance, the woman yanked the device from her hands.
Waterhouse studied the Time-Turner with a fanatical light in her eyes. “Donovan never said there was another one.”
Hermione tried to move, but the Imperius held fast. Draco was another story. In her peripheral vision she saw the Cruciatus ease up, though he remained huddled on the floor. Then she saw him grip his wand and stand.
Waterhouse smirked at him. “Too late, Mr Malfoy,” she said casually, and pressed the button on the top of the Time-Turner.
“Sectumsempra!” Draco hurled at her just as Waterhouse began to disappear. The spell hit home, judging from the screams that issued from the swirl of light, then abruptly stopped as she vanished.
The Imperius faded and Hermione dropped to the floor in agony. The curse had inflamed her already battered body, and moving was too much of an ordeal. Tears edged her lashes and she took deep gulps of air, feeling like she was drowning. After what felt like ages, she was pulled into Draco’s arms and held tightly as he rocked her back and forth.
“Shhh,” he murmured against her forehead. “I’ll send for help.” He conjured his Patronus and sent the ferret sailing out the chamber door. “Stay with me, Hermione. I haven’t lost anyone yet on my watch, I’m not about to now.”
She closed her eyes, hoping she wouldn’t break his record.
The soft, light feeling surrounding her was too good to be true.
Hermione pried her left eye open and saw that she was in a sterile white room with windows spanning the length of one side. It was dark out and raining, the rivulets of water making their way down the panes of glass. An occasional flash of lightning, following by mild thunder, lulled her into sleep once more, barely cognizant of the hand holding hers.
When she awoke again, sunlight was creeping through the lingering clouds. A few songbirds sounded through the pre-dawn hours, reminding the rest of the world to wake up.
Harry Potter was sitting off to her left with a stern look on his face.
“Harry!” she croaked. She felt like she had an elephant sitting on her chest. “What’re you doing here?”
He crossed his arms and glared. “Well, let’s see. My best Auror—and good friend mind you—sends me an urgent Floo call in the middle of the night to tell me that my best friend is dying. Dying, Hermione. Do you know what kind of panic that sent me into?”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. I’m just glad you’re okay. Draco and I have been at MACUSA all night, trying to explain to President Quahog why he needs a new Vice President.”
Hermione grimaced and sunk further under the covers. “Where’s Draco, then?”
“He’s giving testimony at the moment. When you feel up to it, they’ll need yours as well.”
She nodded and tried to turn on her side, only to be met with gentle resistance.
“They have a stationary spell on you for right now, at least until the worst of it heals.”
“How bad is it?” she asked dreading the answer.
His lips thinned. “You were lucky; the dittany Draco used on you before you were brought here ensured that your limbs could be saved.” Harry looked down at this lap. “But you have extensive scarring.”
She refused to give into the bleak feeling rising in her chest. “Well, I didn’t have many suitors after Ron, so I guess that solves my curiosity about whether I’ll become a crazy cat-witch when I get older.” She gave him a tremulous smile.
Harry gave her a lopsided grin. “I don’t think so. I think you’ll find you have several options.”
She yawned and shook her head. “You’re biased.” Her eyes began to close again.
“I’m not the only one,” Harry whispered.
Even though she had only talked to the MACUSA officials for a half hour at most, she was beyond exhausted.
Draco sat next to her bed the entire time, mostly silent. Harry stood on the other side of the bed like a watchdog, scrutinising everything the Aurors did. When the officials were satisfied with their findings they left, promising that once she was well enough to travel, she would be free to return home.
Once the three of them were alone, Harry sat on the bed next to Hermione. “So what did Waterhouse hope to gain? She removed Fontaine, only for Quahog to take his place.”
“Donovan probably didn’t tell her the time limit on the device. I imagine she thought once she had got rid of Fontaine that she could ‘remove’ anyone that stood in her way to becoming the president of MACUSA,” Draco offered. “She hadn’t counted on the device being destroyed the one time she used it on someone.”
“Some people never learn,” Harry posed. “So, I’ll ask the question MACUSA didn’t ask: how do we know Waterhouse died? We know that she used the Time-Turner to disappear. But how do we know she’s truly gone?”
“I cast Sectumsempra on her before she disappeared,” Draco muttered. “It struck her just before she faded away.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “Ah.”
“Without Snape, there’s no cure, is there?” Hermione asked. “Not that we could track down where—or when—she went, anyway.”
“No,” Harry answered, blushing. “The cuts won’t heal without his counter-spell.” He cleared his throat as he glanced briefly at Draco. “And we know this Time-Turner has been destroyed?”
“I spun the dials before I was forced to give it to her,” Hermione said quietly. “Either way, she and that thing were not coming back in one piece.”
Harry’s lips thinned as he stared at Draco. “I should report you for this shit storm. I should fire your arse for being in possession of such a—”
“I know!” Draco growled. “If it comes down to it, I can take a stint in Azkaban.” He ran his hands through his dishevelled strands, gripping them tight.
Panic swelled in Hermione’s chest. She clasped onto Harry’s wrist. “Don’t, Harry. He protected me and we completed our mission—everything you said he would do because you trust him.”
“Hermione, I can’t—”
“You can,” Hermione intoned, brooking no argument. “I know where you hide your Invisibility Cloak, mister.”
Harry grimaced, nodded and scrubbed at his eyes under his glasses. “You’re both a pain in my arse!” he grumbled. “I’ll… just go and check on our portkey.” He beat a hasty retreat.
“Potter has an Invisibility Cloak?” Draco whispered.
“Among other things,” she assured, sitting up to swing her legs over the edge of the bed.
Awkward silence filled the room as Hermione slid her feet into her shoes. When she tried to stand and her knees faltered, Draco was there to make sure she didn’t fall.
“Are you sure you’re well enough to travel?” he asked, his look grave.
She patted her hair and gave him a small smile. “What, don’t I look healthy?” When he didn’t respond to her jest, she grew concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“I… I thought you were gone, Hermione,” Draco whispered, swallowing heavily. “And all I could think about was if I had that damn Time-Turner, I could go back to our Hogwarts years and treat you differently, so that maybe if you were gone when I returned, at least I would’ve been able to see you smile.”
Hermione was certain she was dying now; she couldn’t breathe. She trailed her fingers over his red cheeks. “Draco, our past is just that… past. I would rather be concerned with our future. Wouldn’t you?”
He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to hers. “I just don’t want you to be hurt anymore.”
She sighed. “Everyone and everything will eventually hurt you. You just have to find the ones worth the suffering.”
He tilted her chin until their lips met. “And am I worth that suffering?”
“Ask me next week, when I don’t ache all over.”
He laughed. “I’ll remember to do that.”