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Isn't It About Time?

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When Arden Vox, head of the Department of Mysteries, learned that Draco Malfoy had applied to apprentice as an Unspeakable, she promptly said, “No!” She changed her mind upon learning that his apprenticeship would be accompanied by a generous, never-ending stream of Malfoy cash, to be used in the furtherance of research with no strings attached.

When Draco Malfoy, apprentice Unspeakable, learned that he had been assigned to partner with Hermione Granger in the Time Division of the DOM, he promptly said, “Hell no!” He changed his mind when he saw that Granger had grown up to be quite good-looking, yet remained as easy to torment as ever.

When Hermione Granger learned that she and Draco Malfoy would be apprentice Unspeakable partners, she not only said, “Hell no!” but “Fuck no!” as well, though not to her new boss’ face. She changed her mind when, upon further consideration, she realized that a Malfoy working in the Department of Mysteries would require close supervision. Who better than she to take on such an onerous yet important task?

When Apprentices Granger and Malfoy stood before the assembled Ministry heads to take their Oaths of Service, they had no trouble swearing to never become romantically involved. The oath was part of the vow of secrecy required of all Department of Mysteries employees. Their jobs were far too highly classified to allow for any type of fraternizing beyond that of co-workers— for the safety of all concerned, and more importantly, for protection of the Mysteries themselves.

Since Apprentices Granger and Malfoy had always hated one another, this portion of the oath seemed laughably unnecessary. The humor in it was one of the first things they agreed on, followed almost daily by new revelations of Assorted Shite We Have In Common.

Before six months of working together could pass, Apprentices Granger and Malfoy had secretly fallen for each other.

Because of the solemn oath they had sworn, both of them were royally screwed.

*

The Autumn Equinox, One Year Later

Work in the Time Division consisted mainly of studying the nature of time and creating theoretical ways to travel about in it. Building actual devices was forbidden by a world-wide accord, following the Unfortunate Incident of 1899.

But spying on other countries’ secret research was totally encouraged.

Hermione sat among the clocks of the Time Chamber attempting to monitor, via Shadow Floo, a meeting taking place overseas. Shadow Floo was damnably hard to set up and rarely worked, but today she’d felt it was worth a shot.

Until Draco Malfoy appeared at her side, his grin cheeky, his hair perfect. As usual.

“Granger, isn’t it about time…” he began.

“Dammit, Malfoy, I’m busy.” Hermione fiddled with a bank of glowing gemstones, the tip of her tongue peeking from the corner of her mouth. “And after a solid year, your time jokes are as stale as old biscuits.”

“Wrong, Granger. There’s not a single thing about me that can be categorized as stale or old. Especially not my biscuits.”

Hermione smiled in spite of her interrupted work. “Maybe not, but you’re incorrigible. There’s no denying that.”

“Feel free to add it to the list of things you admire about me. I know you’re making one, because you like lists. You also like working with me.”

Their eyes met, their gazes bouncing off each other and quickly away. ‘Working together’ was a perfectly acceptable given. ‘Liking it’ strayed a bit too close to forbidden territory.

Draco shoved his hands into his pockets as Hermione sighed. “What was it you wanted to know that required your interrupting me with another terrible time joke?”

“Tonight’s the Autumn Equinox Ball, remember? The one we’ve been talking about all month? I was just wondering who you’d decided to go with.”

Hermione looked away. “Anthony,” she replied. Because you aren’t allowed to ask me to be your date.

“Goldstein? You two were over six months ago. Thinking of getting back together with him, are you.?”

“Maybe.” She still didn’t look up, afraid of what she might see in those mercurial, grey eyes. “I could do worse. He’s bright…”

“So’s an arse-hole if you paint it gold and shine a light on it,” Draco muttered. “I’m just saying— you broke it off for a reason, Granger. It’s my experience that if you end a relationship, it’s usually because your gut is telling you to. You shouldn’t pick it up again. Things will never work out.”

“Says the man whose date was chosen for him by his parents.”

Spots of pink appeared on Draco’s normally pale cheeks. “Someone told you.”

“That you asked Astoria, yes. Even though you confided to me months ago that you could never be with a girl your parents had hand-selected.”

“It’s just for the one evening, to keep the peace.” As I’m not allowed to ask you, due to the forever-fucked oath we swore.

Hermione watched the play of light across the winking gems. “We each know who the other’s date will be. So… isn’t it about time you got on with your work and let me get on with mine?”

She kept her voice light, repeating Draco’s joke. It wasn’t good for their eyes to meet. They were too full of questions that could never be answered or even asked aloud. Do you…? Is this…? Are we…?

Draco pulled up a chair beside hers. Their shoulders bumped as he pointed at the bank of gems. “Right now, my work is helping my partner with the Shadow Floo monitor. Your sardonyx needs a stronger magical signal, and your garnet’s gone dark.”

He was close enough that his breath could tickle her ear and her hair could touch his cheek. It was the sort of thing they’d been surreptitiously doing for months, pleasure and torment all rolled into one.

If he hadn’t been so near, she would never have heard his whispered words: “Save a dance for me tonight, Hermione.”

“Count on it,” she whispered back, casting a translation spell as voices from the other side of the world crackled to life via the sparkling stones.

*

Hermione’s gown rustled as she moved about the dance floor of the Ministry’s vast ballroom. She loved her gown’s amethyst color, the fact that the changeable taffeta took on a green shimmer in the right cast of light.

At her side Anthony looked very handsome. He was handsome, an ambitious young wizard on the rise. They could have been the perfect power couple. The fact that Anthony only made her laugh in the most perfunctory way shouldn’t matter.

But it did matter, dammit. She longed for a soul mate, the sort of lightning strike that only happened in fairy tales or Shakespeare’s more romantic plays. She wanted…

The crowd on the dance floor parted. Draco Malfoy strolled toward them with Astoria Greengrass on his arm, her gown the sapphire hue of a September sky. Astoria was adorable; Hermione had to give her that. Light brown hair, big blue eyes, cute-as-a bunny nose. Sweet as well. According to Draco, there was never an interesting moment when he was with her.

Hermione almost laughed, remembering his words. She turned it quickly into a smile of greeting.

As if ordered by the gods, or requested by a Malfoy, the lights dimmed. The orchestra struck up a slow tune. Anthony and Astoria found themselves dancing together, since Draco had politely claimed his Unspeakable partner for a co-workers’ turn around the dance floor.

“Do you think we’ll end up with them?” Draco asked, jerking his head toward their dates, swaying in each other’s arms. He guided Hermione further into the crowd. Anthony and Astoria disappeared from view.

“Hmm.” Hermione pretended to ponder his question. “Both their names begin with ‘A.’ We’d at least be able to add that to the list of Assorted Shite We Have In Common.”

“Which would be about as satisfying as sex with a Muggle condom,” Draco muttered.

“How do you know about con—”

“Never mind.” Draco’s arms suddenly tightened around Hermione and he spoke softly into her hair. “The truth is I don’t want to end up with Astoria. I don’t want to end up with anyone but you.”

He’d succeeded in guiding them toward a less-crowded corner of the ballroom. Hermione leaned back in the circle of his arms, so she could gaze into his eyes. No more pretending, no more glancing away.

“Draco,” she said softly. “I feel the same. But you know we can’t.”

“I do know. But… I think I may love you, Hermione.”

“I think I may love you, too.”

Draco’s arms tightened even further, and in the dark Hermione felt the press of his lips on the top of her head.

An acknowledgement of feelings. A single dance at the yearly ball. A kiss in which lips never touched lips. It was all they could reasonably expect, wasn’t it. Not a question, a statement of DOM fact.

The alternative involved resigning and having their memories wiped, another consequence of agreeing to work with the Mysteries. It was why no one ever quit once they’d signed on.

By then they were dancing past the conservatory, a huge space set up to simulate the gardens of a fine estate. Fairy lights twinkled. The whole landscape lay under a faux night sky pricked by a thousand enchanted stars that could only grant faux wishes.

Draco dropped his arms and linked their fingers, pulling Hermione until they were hidden among the lush greenery. He led her down a path that ended at an onyx bench in the shape of matching swans.

The exact sort of place where one might hear the words, “Run away with me. Sleep with me. Be with me.” Words meant for those who hadn’t sworn Unspeakable oaths to never, ever do that.

Instead, “Please sit.”

Hermione did, and Draco sat beside her, still holding her hand. His thumb brushed back and forth over her skin. A tiny way to touch each other, for a tiny amount of time.

“There’s another reason I needed to speak to you tonight, away from the DOM.” His voice was low and intense. “I found a time machine.”

“You found a what?” she blurted. Of all the things he might have said, she hadn’t been expecting that.

“Granger, shhh! A time machine.”

“But … but how? We aren’t allowed to actually build one, only to develop plans!”

“I know that! The clues were in Malcolm Mackelroy’s office.”

“Ohhh.”

Unspeakable Mackelroy had worked at the Time Division for so long, everyone speculated that he’d been born before time itself. Or before Dumbledore, at least the very least.

Malcolm had died suddenly, with Draco landing the unenviable task of cleaning out decades’ worth of accumulation from the elderly wizard’s work space.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first. There were scrolls and scrolls of plans, and attached to the very last one, a key to door E9. I sneaked in late one night after everyone had gone and that’s when I found the machine. Fully built. Complete. Perfect!” Draco’s eyes gleamed with so much enthusiasm that Hermione had no doubt he’d always been meant for life as an Unspeakable.

“How did he keep a secret like that from everyone else?”

“It’s called the Department of Mysteries for a reason, isn’t it? You know as well as I do that there are locked doors we all take for granted, never stopping to even wonder what’s on the other side.”

“Malcolm was likely here for a hundred years,” Hermione mused. “Everyone must have assumed that made him one hundred per cent trustworthy, too.” Then, “Does the time machine work?”

Draco laughed and caught her in his arms. “And that’s why it is a fuck-filled shame we can’t be together. In each person’s life, they probably encounter only one genuine partner in crime.”

“Malfoy, I didn’t say we should try the machine out!”

“No. But you thought it so hard.”

He pulled back and grinned down at her. Hermione’s lips parted and they reached for each other, twining and tangling, pressing closer and closer. Their first kiss, lit by long denial and forever forbidden, burned white hot. It quickly jumped from being one kiss to many kisses, the kinds that led to even more enjoyable, off-limits things.

Draco’s mouth travelled, warm and hungry, down her neck, tracking across her bare shoulder as he shifted her body to straddle him. Hermione hiked her skirts to thigh level and did what he wanted, pressing hard against him, allowing him to peel away her tiny straps and lower the top of her gown.

“Gods. Gods. I have wanted this for so long,” he moaned.

“Me?” she breathed. “Or the time machine?”

“What time machine?” His smile, in the dim light, was the best sort of dangerous. Then he lowered his head to her breast.

Hermione gasped as Draco’s mouth closed over her nipple. She felt an odd tingle from the soles of her feet to her scalp. All her nerve endings fired. It felt so similar to an imminent orgasm, except everywhere at once, that she almost cried out. A quick burst of bright light and they were blown apart and into the air, both crashing down in a hedge ten feet away.

“…the hell just happened?” Draco yelped.

Hermione struggled to rise, untangling her skirts from the grasp of hedge-y branches. “It must be some sort of spell, meant to separate us if we got too involved,” she murmured.

“Then why has no one ever bothered to mention it? And why did they have to make it feel so bloody sexy?” Draco jumped to his feet, stamping out sparks where the grass was starting to smolder. “When we joined the DOM, when we took our oaths— that would have been a good time to say, “Oh, by the way…”

“I don’t have any answers. But as you wisely noted, the Department of Mysteries is called that for a reason. Are you all right?”

Draco nodded. “You?”

“Just scratched.” Hermione peeked beneath her bodice. Nothing quite like flying into a hedge with one’s breasts exposed.

“Granger.” Draco took a step toward her. “I’m sorry.”

“No, you aren’t.” She smiled ruefully. “And neither am I. We needed to know about… everything.”

He grinned back. “Do you want to see the time machine?”

She nodded eagerly.

“Then meet me in the DOM in a quarter hour. I’m going to tell our dates we had an emergency of the Most Mysterious Sort. No one can argue with that.”

Hermione watched him go. Her pragmatic side recognized that they were signed, sealed, and screwed as far as ever being together. But just for tonight, she was going to pretend it wasn’t so.

Just for tonight, she had a date to see a time machine— with someone who’d be forever perfect for her. Even if she couldn’t touch him beyond a kiss or two without causing a powerful explosion.

*

The chamber behind door E9 was far larger than the space it seemed to occupy from the hall. Almost a given in the DOM.

Hermione stood hand in hand with Draco, admiring the play of lavender, silver, and pale blue light on the walls, like dawn shifting to twilight and back again. She wondered what the room had been used for in the long-ago past.

But only for a moment, because the time machine sat in the very center.

It riveted her attention like nothing else ever had, except for Hogwarts itself on her very first day. And of course, Unspeakable Malfoy.

Still holding hands, they circled it together. The machine was small, copper-plated, and reminded Hermione of a retro, steam punk contraption. Trust the wizarding world to skew Victorian, not high tech. It had a bullet shape, like a tiny submarine, with port holes and piping and fins.

It was absolutely beautiful.

Hermione dropped Draco’s hand and stepped forward to touch it. “May I look inside?” she breathed.

In answer, Draco pressed a switch and a narrow door lowered. Hermione shinnied through for a peek at the interior. There was a single, leather seat. Gemstones marched in rows across the control panel, reminiscent of the bank of jewels that made up the Shadow Floo device. Silver bands with odd, rune-like markings surrounded the gems. Hermione sighed happily and ducked her head back out.

“Isn’t it magnificent?” Draco ran his hands along the machine’s sleek frame.

“So you think it’s yours already, do you? ‘Finders keepers’ probably doesn’t apply to time machines.”

“Oh, but it does.” Draco teased. “And I see the way you’re looking at it. I’m willing to bet you feel like it’s ‘ours,’ not just ‘mine.’”

“It is, if just for tonight. So … what are we going to do with it?”

“Let’s talk about that.”

He took her hand and led her to a wide platform possibly meant for launching the time machine. Her ball gown rustled as they walked. This night was magical and illuminating and so perfect that Hermione did not want it to ever end.

“Malfoy? Why did you choose the DOM?” she asked as they sat. “You’ve never said.”

“The work intrigued me. After the war I just wanted a quiet, less-noticeable place to build a career. One where I could excel but also disappear for a while. You?”

“Basically, the very same.”

“Quick! Where’s the ‘Assorted Shite’ list? We need to add this latest.”

They laughed, shoulders bumping against each other.

Then their heads turned and they gazed into each other’s eyes. Draco reached out to brush back a curl that had escaped from Hermione’s elegant chignon.

Risking another explosion, they kissed. Slowly and thoroughly, exploring and searching, sharing things beyond the scope of words. Their hands stayed chastely away from each other’s more interesting bits.

When they broke apart Hermione murmured, “Maybe we could use the time machine to figure out a way to be together.”

“If only. Now that we know how we feel about each other, I don’t want to ever lose you. ‘Co-workers’ is not enough. I want you in my life for real, Hermione.”

“We can’t just run away into the past,” she said softly. “What if we’d never existed in this time? It would affect our families, and the outcome of the war!”

“Hermione, that’s not how…”

“There’s another option,” she continued. “Maybe we could use the machine to go back just far enough to not take our Oaths of Service? We could seek different careers, start a life together.”

“That’s not how it works,” Draco finished his thought. “Mackelroy’s time machine is meant for two people, but not traveling together. One operates the machine. The other stands on the platform and gets sent into the past.”

“Oh.” Then, “I could do it. I’d be willing to take the risk.”

“What are you talking about?”

She stood up and began to pace, her gown swishing as her mind formulated a daring plan. “The time machine,” she replied. “I could use it to go back one year and not take my Oath of Service.”

“Granger, that’s fucking insane!” Draco exploded, leaping up to stand beside her. “It’s far too dangerous! I’m not letting you take that kind of chance.”

“I work here, Malfoy! I can decide for myself what time experiments I might want to perform!”

“Not if they would put your life in jeopardy! Besides, you love your job as much as I do. I couldn’t ask you to give it up.”

“I do love it. You’re right. But I love you more! It’s not worth having to spend my life as your platonic ‘friend.’”

At the look of pleading in her eyes, Draco stepped forward and pulled her into his arms. “We can’t, Hermione. We just can’t! What if I lost you?”

“You don’t have me now, do you? And you never will, if we don’t give this a try!”

“No. If anyone does it, it should be me.”

“Think again. Who already has experience with time travel? That would be me.”

“You used a Time Turner to go back a few hours. We’re talking about an entire year!”

“It couldn’t be that much different. Some, I would imagine. But it’s not like I’m suggesting going a hundred years into the past.”

“The answer is no.”

“You’ll end up with Astoria.”

“Still no.”

“I’ll end up with Anthony. In my bed, every night. While you and I sit side by side, each day for the rest of our lives, and wonder what might have been.”

“The time machine’s illegal.”

“Partners in crime, Draco. You said it yourself!”

He sighed and shoved his fingers through his hair. “You’d really be willing to risk it? For us?”

Hermione grinned and nodded. “As well as the research potential.”

“Damn,” he laughed shakily. “Now I wonder which means the most— me or the Big R?”

“If you have to ask, Unspeakable Malfoy, then you don’t deserve one bit of my bold, Gryffindor courage.” She reached for his hand. “Let’s go to your office and plot.”

In the end, they decided on a theoretical method of time travel known as the Belteshazzar Principle.

It involved magically casting the astrological star chart for a single hour of the time traveler’s past, overlaid with a star chart for the current hour. The two were aligned using a spell known only within of the Department of Mysteries.

The time machine fine-tuned the spell, sending it into the space time continuum— along with the traveler, who would encounter and meld with his or her past self.

Because of the blended star charts, some memories should be preserved. At least in theory. But it was still a one-way trip.

‘Risky’ did not begin to cover it.

*

Draco sat in the time machine, looking through its oval, front portal to the platform where Hermione stood alone.

“I can’t let you do this, Granger. I’m the one who has to operate the bloody machine, and I bloody, fucking refuse. I’ve changed my mind.”

“Well, I haven’t,” she replied. “It’s simple. Just take a deep breath, clear your thoughts, and cast the spell. Everything’s in place. The notes we took, my star charts for then and now, my…”

“… bloody obstinate determination,” he finished.

“I love you, Draco!” She stood tall for someone who was only medium height, elegant and beautiful in her amethyst gown. “Send me into the past, so we can have a future.”

“I love you, too, Hermione.” Draco held her gaze, then took a deep breath and cast the spell.

The gemstones inside the time machine glowed. The lights in the chamber coalesced into a swirl of color, darkening Hermione’s gown to indigo. Silver rays played over her face, her hair, her body. The whole chamber hummed as the spell took hold.

Draco suddenly leaped from the time machine. “Hermione!” he yelled. “We won’t ever be Unspeakable partners! What if we don’t remember what we feel for each other?”

“We will!” she yelled back. “The time turner never affected my memory in any way! Stop worrying!”

She vanished in that instant, her glowing smile the last thing Draco saw.

Five seconds later, he didn’t remember that she’d ever been there.

Locking the chamber door and pocketing the key, he headed back to the ballroom.

*

Draco pushed through the crowd on the dance floor, puzzled as to why he hadn’t brought a date. He didn’t want to end up like one of the reclusive old hermits who worked alongside him in the DOM, devoted to the Mysteries and little else. Maybe it was time to find someone to get serious about.

The next second, he was glad of his dateless-ness. Because Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic, quieted the crowd for an interesting announcement. To honor the turn of the season and the change it brought to the earth, Kingsley asked that everyone seek out a new dance partner.

“As a symbol of embracing change,” the Minister called out, “Please choose someone with whom you have never danced. Let this moment be a time of personal harvest, of bringing a new acquaintance into your storehouse of friends.”

Draco knew exactly whom he wanted to ask.

As he looked around, he saw her making her way toward him through the couples pairing up across the floor, beautiful in her amethyst-colored gown. Two like minds, finding one another. Or maybe two partners in crime, his memory whispered.

He opened his arms and she floated into them. It must have been the magic of the Equinox, the sense of mystery that arrived with the autumn season, for neither stopped to question their impulse to be close.

“Hermione Granger. I’ve noticed you around the Ministry the last couple of months, but I don’t believe we’ve spoken since just after the war.” The lights dimmed. They began to sway in each other’s arms. “Where are you working?”

“Hullo, Draco Malfoy. Magical Archeology since July 15th. The department’s small; I had to wait awhile for an opening. You’re with the Department of Mysteries, right?”

“I am.”

“Do you like it?”

“I do.”

“Such a secretive place, though.” She smiled up at him, a smile that held a bit of puzzlement, as if something light as a butterfly had flitted through her thoughts. “Do you know, I almost went to work in the DOM. In fact, I was accepted as an Unspeakable apprentice.”

“What changed your mind?”

“To this day, I’m not sure. I came in to take my Oath of Service with the rest of the new apprentices. I guess that would have included you.” Another pretty smile, and Draco’s arms tightened around her the tiniest fraction.

It felt perfectly natural, even though he barely knew her. When he first noticed that she’d joined the Ministry, it was like a lightning strike in a dry forest. He’d been plotting ever since how to approach her. The chance to dance with her now was better than anything he could have hoped for.

“You were here, for the Oath?” he asked.

“Yes. But at the last minute, I had the oddest feeling that something wasn’t right. The feeling was so strong that I felt ill. Dizzy, light-headed, a cold sweat. So I applied to be an Archeologist instead.”

“That sounds like some sort of magical intervention. Fate, chance, an alignment of stars? Oh, that’s right,” he teased. “You hated Divination in school.”

“Yes, and you loved it. I always figured you faked some of your results.”

“Guilty. I seem to recall you got caught out once doing the same thing, before you dropped the class. We should have paired up. ‘Devious minds make great partners in crime.’” That thought again.

Draco guided her through the darkest corner of the ballroom and then past the vast conservatory, where an odd little breeze shivered over their skin. “Funny. I just had the weirdest sense of déjà vu.”

“So did I! A splinter from your mysterious, Unspeakable life?” Hermione laughed. “Or maybe one from the odd story I was telling you.”

He was enjoying the feel of her in his arms. Almost like she belonged there. Or, even stranger, had been there before.

“Malfoy?” she asked, her brow wrinkling just the slightest. “We’ve never danced together. Have we?”

“I don’t think so. For certain not at any Yule Ball.” They both laughed. “It’s a nice fit, though.”

They swayed in silence, relishing each other’s nearness.

Then, “Think how many similar points we’ve uncovered with just one dance, Granger. Cheating at Divination. Mutual déjà vu. Almost joining the DOM together. We should start a list of assorted shite we have in common.”

Hermione grinned. “We’re both here solo. Let’s add that. “

“Done.”

“Oh, one other thing for the list. You used to date Astoria Greengrass, right? And I was with Anthony Goldstein for a while. Did you know they got engaged tonight?”

Draco threw back his head and laughed. “Fuck all. Why does that make me feel ridiculously free?”

“No idea. But it made me feel the same way.”

“I have a suggestion. Go for a drink with me, Granger. We can toast our exes and work on the assorted shite list. Have a feeling there’s a lot more to add.”

Eyes sparkling, Hermione nodded yes. “I think there must be a bit of extra magic in the air now that it’s autumn. Can you feel it? Because I can. And isn’t it about time?”

Hand in hand, they ran for the stairs.

FIN