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“You can’t possibly be serious,” Hermione said.

“I’m very serious,” Harry said. “There aren’t any other options.”

“Absolutely not,” Malfoy said. “You can put me on Azkaban cases for the entire winter, I don’t care. But I’m not doing that.”

“I’m not spending months on polyjuice,” Hermione said. “It’s terrible for you, as evidenced by the complete disaster that happened fourth year.”

“We’re actually banking on the media attention,” Harry said, mildly. “I don’t want you going as someone else.”

“She’s going to have to go with someone else,” Malfoy said. “End of story.”

“In the interest of intradepartmental cooperation –“ Harry said.

“Fuck intradepartmental cooperation,” Malfoy said.

“I really think –“ Harry said.

“I’m with him,” Hermione said. “There is absolutely no way I’m going undercover on an assignment with no end date with Malfoy.”

“Okay, let’s try this one,” Harry said. He was starting to sound aggravated. “I’m your boss, I said so, and your choices are doing it or getting fired.”

“I’ll take fired,” Draco said.

“Let me rephrase. Your choices are stepping up and getting enough evidence to prosecute a fucking illicit ingredient smuggling ring that’s killing people,” Harry said. “Or you can still get fired, but I would think very hard about the reasons you agreed to become an Auror.”

“Are we counting mermen and centaurs as people now?” Malfoy said. “Funny, I thought they adamantly declined that designation.”

“You’d better be careful or Harry’s going to think you’re prejudiced and awful,” Hermione said. “Oh, wait.”

“Great start,” Harry said. “There’s also a vampire and a veela on the missing persons list associated with this mess. If you want to debate the merits of veela personhood with Gabrielle Delacour, you know where her desk is. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to oblige you. Try not to get set on fire.”

“You can find someone else,” Malfoy said.

“Actually,” Harry said, “you are dead last on my list. But Selwyn’s married, so that’s not going to work, and Parker doesn’t speak French, nor does his family conveniently have a history of vacationing in the south of France. I’d send Gabrielle, but no one’s going to buy Hermione being a lesbian.”

“I actually think they’re more likely to believe that than that I’ve been having some sort of sordid affair with Malfoy and that, while not under Imperius, I decided to marry him.”

“They are, because you’re going to sell it,” Harry said.

“I’d ask for further concerns, but they’re utterly unwelcome,” Harry continued. “Are you in, in the interest of catching people who killed a six-year old merrow, or are you going to make me fill out termination paperwork?”

“I’m in,” Hermione said, after an uncomfortably long silence. “I’m stating for the record that I loathe this entire premise with every fiber of my being, but I can’t do nothing about people who are murdering children.”

“Brilliant, good choice,” Harry said. “Malfoy?”

“Just give me the bloody dossier,” he said, finally. “Contrary to Granger’s esteemed opinion, I’m not here for the terrible pay and bad coffee.”

“Thank you for your overwhelming dedication to actually doing your job,” Harry said. “I’ll make arrangements. You can leave in the morning. Go pack.”

It was a ridiculous assignment, and a truly excellent example of why putting Harry in charge of tactics was a terrible idea. The smuggling ring was operating out of a number of safe houses, but the most active seemed to be in a beach town in the south of France, presumably because shipping horrible potion ingredients was easier near a water front. Even though they were operating in France, the people involved seemed to be British. And all of the missing and dead magical beings were too, which put it squarely in their jurisdiction. But the people involved were so jumpy – understandably, since they were committing about ten Azkaban-worthy felonies simultaneously – that the Aurors hadn’t been able to get anyone close enough to document anything.

That was where Harry’s idiotic plan had come into play. There wasn’t any way to sneak anyone in, and it was likely that the smugglers would pack up and move if they thought they were being watched. But Harry had apparently decided to take “hiding in plain sight” to new extremes. She and Malfoy, at least in terms of the European wizarding press, were big enough names that they’d never have been sent undercover without polyjuice. The idea of conducting any sort of surveillance as themselves was utterly laughable – so laughable, in Harry’s opinion, that they weren’t likely to spook anyone who was conducting evil business next door, because they were just too overwhelmingly obvious to be trying anything.

That had left the problem of figuring out a reason for them to be staying in a stupid beach town in the south of France, although they’d gotten lucky with the fact that the Malfoys had a cottage – a cottage that was probably bigger than most respectable wizarding houses – up the road in the next town, which wasn’t on the water. There weren’t a lot of good explanations for suddenly packing off to France for a few months; unless, of course, you were interested in avoiding the press and most of wizarding Britain. Romantic relationships made for exactly the kind of scandalous headlines the Ministry thought would work, and if they could simultaneously aggravate both the pureblood houses and the people who still hated the pureblood houses for their role in the war, well…

The idea of Hermione pretending to be married to Malfoy was, in fact, the stupidest plan Harry had ever come up with, bar none. But she also had to admit that staying away until a scandal died down was a reasonable excuse for jetting off to France.

One of the Ministry’s real estate contacts had convinced the beach rental next door to the safe house to give them a month-to-month lease, and then someone at Gringotts had rather convincingly routed the whole thing through Malfoy’s account.

If she had to take an assignment that was going to be absolute hell, at least she’d be on a beach.

Harry and Malfoy met her outside her flat the next morning with the flying car; they were taking enough things for at least a few months, which meant Hermione didn’t want to Apparate. The car was shiny and black and very far from the usual Ministry issue, which probably meant Harry intended for it to be noticed. Draco was lounging up against the side of it, looking vaguely annoyed. Harry looked significantly more than vaguely annoyed.

“It’s been fifteen minutes,” Hermione said, lightly. “Do you really expect me to do this for months?”

“Sorry,” Harry said, taking her aside. “I really, really am. But you’re the best I’ve got, and I need this done. They can’t just get away with killing sentient creatures and using them for potions ingredients.”

“I know,” Hermione said, standing to kiss his cheek. “We’ll… be okay. Maybe.”

“That was very nearly convincing, Granger,” Malfoy said. “Although I hope your acting skills are significantly better than that under pressure.”

The likelihood of Malfoy surviving four hours in the confines of a car with her was low, but it was probably wrong to wreck all of Harry’s expectations off the bat.

“Right,” Harry said. “We have the photos from yesterday, Parker’s going to leak them in an hour, and your very convincing fake marriage certificate went on file with the Ministry last night.”

Harry had make them take a number of suspicious photos; Malfoy had managed to be neutral instead of horrible, so they’d largely looked nervous instead of furious with one another. They’d apparently seemed very convincing for two people who were having a clandestine affair, so Harry was happy with them.

“Oh, good,” Malfoy said. “I’m so profoundly excited about this entire endeavor.”

“We really can’t tell how heavily they’re monitoring the street or how much attention they’re going to pay to you,” Harry said. “So you may have to fake it in the house for a while.”

“Really, I can’t tell you how much better that makes it,” Malfoy said. “I assume we’ll be safe if we want to discuss how much we hate each other in the shower or the pantry.”

“Probably,” Harry said. “There’s a muggle post office, you might be able to send reports back that way, but I wouldn’t count on it. You can owl me, but I’m supposed to be very angry with both of you at the moment, so I probably can’t respond. Make sure you’ve encrypted everything.”

“Hating me isn’t new,” Malfoy said. “But you should send some angry and convincing Howlers to make Granger’s life difficult.”

Hermione briefly entertained the fantasy of punching him in the face again, then sighed. “We should probably get going.”

“Malfoy?” Harry said. “Your stupidly ostentatious rings?”

“Oh, right,” Malfoy said, digging in his pocket and tossing a box at her. “It’ll resize. Probably. I don’t think anyone muggleborn has ever tried putting it on.”

“This is garish,” Hermione said. The diamond on the engagement ring was probably large enough to purchase half of wizarding London. The wedding band was slightly better, but when she slid it on, it went warm. “And is this one about to kill me?”

“No, it’s just made of alchemical gold,” Malfoy said. “So’s mine. It might settle in once it gets to know you.”

“Couldn’t we have gone with something a little more… traditional?” Hermione said.

“No,” Malfoy said. “There are things I might be willing to compromise on if I were theoretically marrying you, which I feel obligated to remind everyone would never happen. The rings aren’t one of them. And they’re as traditional as it’s possible for rings to be.”

Harry lifted her luggage into the trunk. “Have fun,” he said. “Don’t kill him.”

“That’s going to be hard,” Hermione muttered, but she pulled Harry in for a hug.

“I’ll be in the backseat,” she informed Malfoy. “Reading.”

“No, you won’t,” Malfoy said. “Hypothetically, do you really think I’d let you ride in the back if we’re meant to be – I don’t know, going on a ridiculous French extended honeymoon?”

“Who said anything about let?” Hermione said. “Just so we’re clear, we’re not having one of those arranged pureblood marriages where I turn into a mouse and my entire goal in life is to produce an heir.”

“Good to know how much you know about pureblood marriage,” Malfoy said, shortly. “Fine. Ride in the back if you want.”

“I’ll… climb up front when we get closer,” Hermione conceded.

He had an incredibly stupid point; if they were meant to be madly in love and eloping, she’d probably want to stay close.

“I’m just going to go,” Harry said. “Er, enjoy the trip.”

Hermione climbed in the back, which had more room than she was expecting. “Don’t try to talk to me until we get there.”

“My pleasure,” Draco said.

Once they got over southern France, she got into the front seat. Malfoy looked even more annoyed than usual and gave her a look that made her rethink her plan of changing the radio station just to bother him. It probably wasn’t exactly a pleasant assignment for him either.

When he pulled up in front of the house, she was still reading, but she’d learned a long time ago that the best lies were closest to the truth. Even being disgustingly in love wasn’t going to make her less likely to stop paying attention to everything else if a book was involved.

“All right,” Malfoy said, finally. “I hate this assignment and I can’t stand you, but obviously the reason we’re stuck with it warrants doing it well.”

“I know,” Hermione said, shortly. “I’m not going to fuck it up just to annoy you.”

“I think we can probably get away with privacy charms in the bedroom,” Malfoy said. “No one’s going to think twice about that. I won’t…” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “I’m willing to call that room neutral. I can’t do this without anywhere to take a break, and I think that’s going to be it, so I won’t start anything if you don’t.”

“Deal,” Hermione said. “I think we can talk about the assignment if we’ve got the shower running. Or in the car.”

“I think so. And we don’t have anyone else,” Malfoy said. “So don’t do anything stupid, I won’t do anything stupid, and we back each other in the event this all goes to hell.”

“That should have been obvious,” Hermione said. Even if she couldn’t stand Malfoy, it wasn’t like she was going to let him get killed by dark wizards.

“You and Potter do joke about offing me a lot,” Malfoy said. He sounded, for a few seconds, like it bothered him.

“Emphasis on joke,” Hermione said. “I don’t actually want you dead.”

“That’s comforting,” he said. “Anything else?”

“We can always talk about it in the shower,” Hermione said, lightly.

“Thank god we’re basically contractually obligated to be having excessive amounts of fake sex,” Draco said, dryly. “No one’s going to notice if we spend an hour in the pantry.”

Hermione hadn’t entirely figured out how they were going to play that yet, but at least no one would be able to tell what they were doing in the actual bedroom. Snogging Malfoy was presumably going to be unpleasant, but there wasn’t any getting out of that one.

“Minor victories,” she said, taking a breath. “Let’s do this.”

“I’ll get the door for you,” Malfoy said.

She wanted to object, but she couldn’t argue with him about every little thing.

And when he pulled open the car door and she looked up at him, he suddenly didn’t look anything like Malfoy.

“Hi,” he said, looking happy and overly pleased with himself. “Ten seconds was obviously too long, I had to get you before I could get the luggage.”

“You’re insane,” Hermione said, but she changed her tone, making it fond and slightly exasperated instead of actually annoyed.

“You like me that way,” Malfoy said, holding out a hand. He pulled her up, staying close. “What do you think?”

“I think it looks amazing,” Hermione said. “And there’s not a single person with a camera, which makes it a thousand times better.”

“I thought so,” Malfoy agreed. “The town is a little bigger than when I was a kid, but I don’t think we’re going to have anyone knocking down our door.”

“I’m glad we decided to come down here,” Hermione said, sliding her hands into the back pockets of his jeans. “Don’t get me wrong –“

Malfoy laughed. “Were you about to lie and say you liked the cottage? You hate the cottage.”

“It’s nice,” Hermione said. “It’s just sort of… drafty and damp and full of marble statues. Who puts marble statues in a beach house?”

“Malfoys,” he said. “Hey, you’re one of those these days, are you feeling any urges to decorate with stone columns and topiaries?”

“I’m still a Granger,” Hermione said, but she realized didn’t have to resist the urge to laugh at his awful sense of humor. “Which means I’m going to decorate with books. You have to bring them inside first, though. I’ll help.”

“I think I should carry you across the doorway,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “It’s traditional.”

“You can carry the groceries instead,” Hermione said, leaning up to kiss him. He didn’t even look startled. She was definitely going to be very annoyed by his overly talented acting.

“That’s no fun,” Malfoy said. “That kiss wasn’t any fun either.”

He leaned to kiss her again, but she ducked. “Don’t start,” she said. “We’re not going to get anything in the house.”

“Oh, all right,” Malfoy said. He looked very put upon. “I’ll get your books if you get the… whatever all that is.”

Malfoy had seemed confused when she’d said they ought to stop by the corner store. She was counting on him having to pretend to like her to get through any complaints about having a mostly muggle kitchen.

“I could like this place,” Malfoy said, a moment later. She’d gotten the front door open and he was levitating their trunks through. “I’m going to have to check the size of the shower and how close it is to the water before I decide.”

“It’s definitely got a lot of light,” Hermione said. The back wall looking out onto the ocean was nearly all windows, and the kitchen had a row of them too. The ones in the kitchen appeared to provide a straight view into the kitchen across the way, and she went to open them. “It needs airing out, though.”

“You grew up in a tower and you like that kind of thing,” Malfoy said. “I grew up with better architecture.” He went to look out the back windows. “It’s not the dungeons, but it might do.”

“You’re comparing the Mediterranean to the Hogwarts lake and the Mediterranean is losing?” Hermione said, amused. This version of Malfoy was almost… charming.

“I can’t have everything,” Malfoy said, coming back over. He wrapped an arm around her waist, and she saw his gaze go to the open kitchen windows for a moment. Then he started to back her up towards the counter. “On the other hand, if I play my cards right, I can probably have you. That’s almost as good.”

“I have to put the food away,” Hermione said, laughing. “Quit being shameless.”

“You know,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “This house’s house elf isn’t very welcoming.”

“That’s because it doesn’t have one,” Hermione said, cheerfully. “Why do you think I got groceries?”

“What?” Malfoy said, then looked over her shoulder at the rest of the kitchen.

He suddenly sounded horrified, and she realized it wasn’t all pretend. She decided she was allowed to consider it a moral victory.

“Not every house has a house elf,” she said. “This one didn’t. My flat doesn’t.”

“We could have brought one,” Malfoy said. He’d gone to examine the counter. “I could have found a defective one for you that wanted to be paid. I already let you make sure none of the ones in my building wanted a salary.”

“There are only two of us,” Hermione said. “We talked about this.”

“We did, and I said you were welcome to find one that wanted clothes,” Malfoy said. He leaned down. “What is this?”

“A toaster,” Hermione said.

“I don’t think it works,” Malfoy said. “It’s not toasting anything.”

“You have to put bread in first,” Hermione said. She was trying not to laugh this time, because Malfoy would probably hold it against her later.

“We could get an elf from the cottage,” Malfoy said. “I’m sure one would be happy to come down here.”

“Not happening,” Hermione said, going to wrap her arms around his waist. “If we were living at the cottage, I’d let you have a house elf, because the cottage has kitchens that aren’t one room over from our bedroom.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Malfoy said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Hermione said, drawing him in. She kissed him again, because he still looked very annoyed. “What if I want some privacy?”

“House elves don’t care about that sort of thing,” Malfoy said.

“Well, I care,” Hermione said.

“We could go live at the cottage,” Malfoy suggested, brightening.

“Yes, but then you can’t have that,” Hermione said, pointing out the back window. “Ocean or house elf?”

It looked as if it had taken Malfoy a minute to realize that they couldn’t actually move.

“Ocean,” he said, finally. “But you have to make sure I don’t starve.”

“Fortunately, I can cook,” Hermione said. “Which you know, since I feed you on a regular basis.”

“Oh, all right,” Malfoy said. “The things I do for you.”

“I do plenty of things for you,” Hermione said, holding her hand up. “This, for one. My hand is starting to feel like it’s going to fall off.”

“I think it looks good on you,” Malfoy said. “Although you definitely have a few things on that would look better off of you.”

She wasn’t sure if Malfoy was this annoying in real relationships, but if you liked that kind of thing, it was probably nice to be with someone who felt comfortable enough not to hide the fact that he wanted you all the time.

“You should be careful,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I’m going to get the idea that you want to have sex, and then where are we going to be?”

“In the bedroom?” Malfoy said, brightening. “Or on the couch? I could probably even work with this counter if you moved that toasting thing.”

“One of us has to unpack and make lunch,” Hermione said, but she leaned back against the counter and looked up at him. “But I’m open to convincing later.”

“I suppose I can wait that long,” Malfoy said, looking her over. “Maybe.”

“For the record, I’d much rather be doing things on the counter that aren’t making sandwiches,” she said, leaning up to kiss him like she meant it.

“Then why are you making sandwiches?” Malfoy said.

“We can’t have so much sex we don’t eat,” Hermione said. “One of us has to be practical, and it’s not going to be you.”

“I really,” Malfoy said, kissing her again, deeper this time, “hate it when you decide to be reasonable.”

“Go see the beach or something,” Hermione said. “Maybe an outside something where you aren’t sneaking in here to distract me every two minutes.”

“I think I’m going to drive up the road and see what’s down that way,” Malfoy said. “There might be somewhere that does take out. Since I’m not allowed to have a house elf and I’m being kicked out of our new house.”

“I obviously hate you,” Hermione agreed.

Malfoy levitated the rest of their things inside and then left, presumably to get a feel for the area. Hermione was a little relieved to be left alone to put away clothes and make sandwiches. Malfoy’s weren’t the overly formal button downs she was used to, and she was almost surprised to find that he’d packed normal clothes like jeans and t-shirts. Frankly, she was almost surprised that he owned them. She was trying not to think too hard about Malfoy; she wasn’t entirely sure what she was expecting, but it really hadn’t been… this.

She heard the front door half an hour later.

“I’m back,” he said, somewhat unnecessarily. “We might not starve, there are restaurants.”

“Oh, good,” Hermione said. “I need you to get a jar of mustard in the pantry, it’s too high for me. Then I can finish the sandwiches.”

“Couldn’t you just summon it?” Malfoy said.

“I should probably show you where it is,” Hermione said. “It might be tight, but I think we can manage.”

“Oh,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “I think I see the problem. I’m very happy to help.”

“I appreciate it,” Hermione said, holding open the door. “You’re very helpful.”

It was, in fact, very tight, which felt a lot worse when Malfoy dropped the act.

“I drove up to the end and walked back down,” he said. “They’re bringing new meaning to paranoia.”

“I thought we weren’t doing anything stupid,” Hermione said.

“Oh, come on, it’s not as if I was just strolling in there,” Malfoy said. “I changed.”

“Foxes are nocturnal, someone’s going to think you’re rabid,” Hermione said. “It was stupid.”

Malfoy was - to her overwhelming annoyance – an unregistered Animagus; Harry felt the strategic advantages outweighed the benefits of the Ministry registry. Hermione would have accused him of being sentimental about it if the Animagus in question hadn’t been Malfoy. Malfoy seemed to enjoy rubbing it in her face that he’d gone off and mastered a form of magic she hadn’t. Hermione had to resist the urge to point out that it was only because she hadn’t tried every time he brought it up, mostly because he considered that response a victory.

“There was plenty of cover,” Malfoy said. “And we needed to know.”

“And?” Hermione said.

“The number of perimeter spells is astounding,” Malfoy said. “We ought to be sure to run into the ones closer to the beach and behind the house so they know we aren’t looking for them. But they’re definitely interested.” He paused. “It might not have been the worst idea in the world to open the windows, they’ve fallen for that one already. There was someone listening in their kitchen. And someone else was definitely looking at the car. I think they’ve even got some monitoring charms up.”

“Well,” Hermione said. “I guess we’re just going to have to keep convincing them that we’re innocuous. Anyone you recognized from the recon photos?”

“Not in the slightest,” Malfoy said. “I’m going to be very annoyed if they’re so suspicious they’re using polyjuice or disguise charms. Presumably they’re decent at potions since they’re making all sorts of horrifically illegal black-market ones.”

“Well, their buyers are, anyway,” Hermione said. “Polyjuice isn’t exactly convenient, though. And they’ve got absolutely no reason to think anyone’s on to them.”

“I’ll go see what else I can find tonight,” Malfoy said.

“That’s probably safer,” Hermione said. She reached for the door.

“Hang on,” Malfoy said, reaching to undo the top button on her blouse. He made his hair significantly more of a mess than it had been.

“I think we may have to limit the pantry to fake snogging,” Hermione said. “There’s no way to have fake sex in here without being killed by canned goods.”

Malfoy actually looked as if he wanted to laugh. “It wouldn’t be an issue if we had a house elf,” he said. “A fact which you and Potter neglected to mention.”

“Malfoy,” she said, impatiently. “It would have to be a house elf Auror, and there aren’t any of those. Besides which, it would probably be in a lot more danger than we are.”

“They’re not going to chop up the house elf from next door,” Malfoy said. “No one’s that stupid.”

He opened the door.

“Really, sandwiches,” Hermione said, a little out of breath.

“You started that,” Malfoy said, sounding smug. “I just finished it.”

“No, you didn’t,” Hermione said, mildly. “Although you’d better after we eat.”

“You just say things like that,” Draco said, summoning plates. At least he didn’t seem to find that too strenuous and beneath him. “And then you expect me to eat lunch.”

“I do,” Hermione said. “Oops, we forgot the mustard.”

Malfoy summoned that too. “Are you going to make me act civilized and eat at the table?”

“No, that’s going to take too long,” Hermione said, putting his sandwich on a plate. She’d read his stupid personnel file for ideas, since it didn’t seem very likely that they’d be getting married without knowing a single thing about one another. He ordered turkey and swiss from the deli down the street a lot, so she assumed he liked it.

“Oh, hey,” Malfoy said, after he’d taken a bite. He actually sounded startled. “My favorite.” He stopped to take another bite, then managed to play off being surprised: “You always forget.”

“I never forget,” Hermione said. “I’m just usually making breakfast or dinner.”

“Well,” Malfoy said, looking pleased. “I like when you remember my favorite sandwich.”

People who were supposedly in love were completely mental. Malfoy was also completely mental, but at least it meant he was very convincing.

“I even put on extra tomatoes,” she said, taking a bite of her own sandwich, which was definitely tomato free. “That’s how much I love you.”

“Hey, look,” Malfoy said, a moment later. “No more sandwich. Counter or bedroom?”

Hermione laughed. “There are blinds in there,” she said. “And I soundproofed it. Our new neighbors would probably appreciate not having to hear us.”

“They’re probably at work,” Malfoy said.

“Probably, but you’ve already seen the counter,” Hermione said. “You should let me show you the bed.”

“Well, if you insist,” Malfoy said.

When she shut the bedroom door behind them, Malfoy sprawled backwards on the bed. “You’re sure the privacy charms are working?” he said. “You might have a point about not annoying the neighbors too much to start.”

“Very sure, you can stop faking it,” she said. “There are three layers. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary if they look. I think they’ll just think we’re loud.”

“Speaking of sex,” Malfoy said. “Where am I drawing the line when we’re not in here?”

“You don’t seem to be drawing any lines,” Hermione said, coming to sit on the other side of the bed.

“Don’t be stupid,” Malfoy said, suddenly cold. “Talking about sex isn’t the same thing as shoving a hand up your skirt. I’m not doing anything you’re not comfortable with.”

She’d never really thought of how Malfoy would feel about it, but she had to admit that she hadn’t thought he would be insistent about boundaries. It had probably been wrong of her not to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I’m okay,” she said, after a moment. “I can tell you to stop if I don’t like something.”

“Actually, I’m not sure you can,” Malfoy said. “At least not the way you normally would. I don’t like not knowing.”

“I don’t think we can get away with being really careful about it,” she said. “We wouldn’t be, if we were married.”

“No,” Malfoy admitted. “But clothes stay on?”

“My shirt can come off,” she said. “I mean, I’m against seeing criminals seeing me topless, but that’s probably a job hazard. And I’ll just suggest we go in here if something’s too much for me.”

“We can probably make things look more risqué than they actually are,” Malfoy mused. “They’re paying attention, but it’s not like they’re looking into the sitting room with binoculars.”

“I sincerely hope not,” Hermione said. “But where am I drawing the line when we’re not in here?”

“You don’t need to,” Malfoy said. “I’m fine.”

“I might not like you, but I’m not buying that,” Hermione said. “We’re stuck here for who knows how long, you have to be honest with me.”

“No actual sex,” Malfoy said, finally. “And don’t touch me when I’m a fox unless it’s an emergency or I initiate it. It’s… personal.”

“You probably shouldn’t start walking around the house as a fox,” Hermione said, dryly. “I think they’ll probably notice a wild animal in the foyer.”

“No, but I might do it in here,” Malfoy said. “I think differently when I’m shifted. I’m going to need the break.”

“I get it,” Hermione said, then paused. She couldn’t stand him, but at least they were sort of in it together. “It’s a lot, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Malfoy said. “I think I’m going to get some sleep since I have to go poke around the bushes in the middle of the night.”

Hermione glanced at her watch. “I’ll stay for ten more minutes and then go read. You can have some privacy.”

“Thanks,” Malfoy said. He almost sounded as if he meant it.

Malfoy slept for a few hours – long enough for Hermione to finish unpacking and to get halfway through a book. She managed not to jump when he leaned over the back of the sofa and brushed a kiss to her neck.

“Thanks for letting me sleep,” he said, still sounding drowsy.

“We got up really early,” Hermione said, reaching up to comb her fingers through his hair with a smile. It was still a mess. “I slept in the car, I thought you probably needed some rest.”

“I did,” Malfoy admitted.

He was less animated than he’d been that morning, but he also seemed less nervous.

“Want to go see the beach?” Hermione said. “We could take a walk.”

“Yes, please,” Malfoy said. “I like beaches.”

Hermione smiled. “I would never, ever have guessed based on you talking me into running away with you to one.”

Malfoy nuzzled her neck a little. “I’m not sure I’d call it running away, exactly. More like paparazzi-dodging.”

“We could have slipped photographers anywhere,” Hermione said, amused. “We picked a beach because you love them.”

“I mean,” Malfoy said. “I do, but the idea of getting to see you in a bikini on a daily basis is a serious draw.”

“I don’t know, I wouldn’t want to get tan lines,” Hermione said, thoughtfully. “I’m sure I could get away with half a bikini, it’s France.”

“I was also thinking,” Malfoy continued, “that you’re very cute when you get freckles on your nose in summer. I thought maybe we could see if those go further down.”

She didn’t know how Malfoy had noticed any freckles, but they did work in the same office.

“Here I thought you liked me for my excellent reasoning skills,” Hermione teased. “Now I find out it’s just freckles?”

“I like all of it a lot,” Malfoy said, leaning further over the back of the couch to tilt her face up with one hand. He smiled, and she blinked; she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him smile like that. “Actually, I love all of it a lot.” He leaned to kiss her. “You’re good for me. And you make me happy.”

“You make me happy too,” Hermione murmured. “Want to go see your beach?”

The water was beautiful. If they were going to be stuck undercover, there were significantly worse locations. And Malfoy relaxed more the further they got from the house, presumably because he didn’t need to try as hard. He’d held her hand for a few minutes, but then he went to walk in the water, then explored along the tide line. She could remember trips to the beach when she was little, mostly how her sand castles had never washed away like everyone else’s when she really wanted them to stay.

It was going to be hard, but Malfoy hadn’t really gone in the direction she’d anticipated. He was funny and a little anxious to please, and she wondered again what he’d decided to work from. But this version of Malfoy was certainly easier to live with than the one she’d been imagining. He waved from up the beach as if he was just checking in, and it seemed more real than acted. He’d faded back into being calm and collected, but that was probably closer to what he was like when he was comfortable with someone. She didn’t really have the energy to be actively hostile, and she suspected he didn’t either. And she had to admit that it was starting to seem possible that Malfoy had been deliberately pushing her buttons the entire time they’d worked together. If he’d stopped trying to make her mad, it probably explained why she hadn’t had a single negative thought about him all afternoon.

Malfoy eventually turned around and came back, catching up to her.

“At least there’s some compensation for the reason we’re stuck here,” he said.

“How are you doing?” she said, quietly. “I know this isn’t ideal.”

“It’s not,” he said. “But it’s not great for you either, really.”

“It could probably be worse,” Hermione said. “I could have married Parker. That would have made for a fabulous few months of lying low avoiding the press.”

Malfoy actually laughed. “Are you telling me there’s someone who would have been a worse marital choice than me?”

“Oh, come on,” Hermione said. “I don’t think he’s ever picked up a book in his life. The Auror training manual is completely beyond him. I’m not even sure how he got admitted.”

“I would definitely rather be married to you than Parker,” Malfoy agreed. “You’re not overwhelmingly boring.”

“I bet snogging me isn’t quite as bad as snogging Parker,” Hermione said.

“There’s that too,” Malfoy said. “You’re, you know, attractive in a Gryffindor sort of way. Parker’s terrible.”

“I was more thinking about the fact that he’s a man,” Hermione said. “But thanks for just admitting you think I’m attractive.”

“Damn, you’re never going to let me hear the end of that one,” Malfoy said, but he sounded more amused than anything.

“Just…” Hermione looked at him for a long moment. “I think we’re in this together. So I’m here if you need anything. I wanted you to know that.”

“I am too,” Malfoy said, quietly. “I’ll even try to get along if you want.”

“Thanks,” Hermione said.

“Although at the moment I mostly need dinner,” Malfoy said. They were getting closer to the house. “Which is on you, since you’ve deprived me of a house elf.”

“You have to at least cut up the vegetables,” Hermione said. “I know you’re capable, you make potions all the time.”

“That’s different,” Malfoy said.

“How, exactly?” Hermione said.

“It just is,” Malfoy said.

“You know,” Hermione said, “I was thinking I might just go to bed with a book after we eat. I’m very tired.”

“That’s not very feminist of you,” Malfoy said, looking as if he was trying really hard not to laugh.

Hermione stopped to stare. “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”

“I read things,” Malfoy said, straight-faced. “You like sex too, so you shouldn’t punish yourself just because I don’t want to dice carrots.”

“I’m not going to do all the cooking for the rest of time,” Hermione said.

“Obviously not,” Malfoy said. “Sometimes we can get takeout. And when we decide to go back, we’ll have a house elf.”

“Says you,” Hermione said. “You might want to start practicing.”

“You’re so mean to me,” Malfoy said, taking her hand again with a sigh. “But I can do the vegetables if you really want.”

Malfoy also willingly dried the dishes, even if his strategy was lining them all up on the kitchen table and casting drying charms, then spelling them back to their original places.

“What?” he said, when he caught her laughing at him. “It’s efficient.”

“You’re talking to the dishes,” Hermione said, going to kiss him. “It’s cute.”

“Shut it,” Malfoy said. “Did you notice we have a fireplace?”

“I did,” Hermione said, with a smile. “Let me guess, you want to start a fire and cuddle next to it even though it’s not actually cold?”

“Someone left the windows open, and now it’s dark,” Malfoy said. “I’m cold.”

“You’re always cold,” Hermione said, but she kissed him again. It was true; there was some sort of ongoing war between Malfoy and Harry about the office ambient temperature spells. Malfoy was always changing them to make it warmer.

She shut the windows, and it felt like an enormous relief to not have to choose every single word so carefully.

“Thanks for helping with dinner,” Hermione said, going over to where Malfoy was levitating wood over to start a fire.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “But I still think you could have warned me about the muggle kitchen.” He gestured over his shoulder to the kitchen appliances. “I can’t figure out what at least five of those things are. And I really don’t understand why there’s something whose entire purpose is making toast. Couldn’t you just use the oven if you don’t want to spell it?”

“That’s actually a decent point,” Hermione said, coming to sit next to him. “Especially since we appear to also have a toaster oven.”

“Muggles are completely and utterly insane,” Malfoy said. “There. Now we won’t freeze.”

“That seemed really likely in south France,” Hermione said, amused.

Malfoy levitated the couch closer, then got onto it and summoned a book from the bedroom. The one she’d been reading appeared a moment later.

“If you stop making fun of me, you can come enjoy the fruits of my labor,” he said, stretching out and moving over so there was a space for her between him and the back of the couch.

Hermione took her book and climbed over him to settle against his side.

“What are you reading?” she said, ducking her head to look at the spine. “I didn’t know you liked to re –“ She paused, correcting herself. “To read that author?”

Malfoy snorted. “You don’t have the market considered on reading, darling,” he said. “Fortunately for you, I’m not Parker.”

“I might want to borrow that when you’re done,” Hermione said, thoughtfully. “I didn’t know it was out yet.”

“You can have it when I’m done, but you can’t steal it while I’m still reading it,” Malfoy said. “I know you. You won’t give it back until you’ve finished.”

It was, on reflection, probably true.

“I want to finish this one first anyway,” she said.

“Nice cover,” Malfoy said. “You just don’t want to let on that you’re disappointed now that I’ve figured out your book thieving ways.”

It was almost too easy, reading tucked up against Malfoy’s side with his arm around her shoulders. She’d never read so close to someone else, mostly because she didn’t really like the idea of letting her guard down so far while anyone was watching her, but – strangely – Malfoy didn’t really feel like a threat. He seemed absorbed in his own book, although he’d used a spell to hold it up. She watched for a moment, and the page turned when his eyes hit the end of it. It was vaguely ridiculous that Malfoy knew a spell about reading that she didn’t. It might have come in handy any one of the thousands of times she’d been trying to eat breakfast and read at the same time.

“Could you show me that spell again?” she said. “I forgot it.”

“That’s the least convincing thing you’ve said all day,” Malfoy murmured, turning so his mouth was close enough that no one could possibly hear.

“Well,” Hermione said, sliding a hand up his side. “I’ll just have to be more convincing for the next five minutes to make up for it.”

She lifted a hand to cup his face, drawing him in for a warm kiss. If anyone was looking in through the window, they’d get the idea.

“Oh,” Malfoy said. She noticed that he’d gone very faintly pink along his cheekbones.

“What, now you’re shy?” Hermione teased.

“I’m not sure how I feel about you going rogue and start things,” Malfoy said, almost thoughtfully.

He looked like she’d actually startled him, even past the roles they were playing. But it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that he wasn’t used to women being forward.

“You know,” she said, sliding a hand under his shirt as she leaned to kiss him again, “you can stop acting surprised that I want you.”

“Maybe someday,” Malfoy said. “For now, I just think I’m very lucky that you like this.”

“Sometimes you’re an idiot,” Hermione murmured, against his mouth. She reached to close his book and sent it back to the bedroom.

“Often, actually,” Malfoy said. She couldn’t figure out the look on his face, but it didn’t seem particularly rehearsed.

“Not always, though,” Hermione said. She kissed him again, deeper this time.

“Do you want to go to bed?” Malfoy said. “We could go to bed.”

“Later,” Hermione said. She grinned. “I’m being convincing for a while.”

Malfoy looked vaguely uncertain, which was nothing like him at all. It really was entirely possible he’d had enough of faking it with her for one day.

“Well, I should probably ask,” she said, running her fingers through his hair. “Bed and sex or snogging on the couch for a while and then bed and sex?” She nudged her nose against his temple. “Or bed and sex at some point in the near future if you’re still tired.”

“Let’s go to bed,” Malfoy said. “That requires less waiting.”

Hermione laughed. “You are really the most impatient person I know,” she said, affectionately, climbing back over him. She held out a hand to pull him up.

“Sorry,” she said, once they’d gone into the bedroom and she’d recast the soundproofing charms. “I didn’t mean to push. I’m sure it’s normal for two people who are worried about press photographs to only want to do things behind closed doors, we can stick to in here.”

“It’s not really that,” Malfoy said.

“Okay,” Hermione said, carefully. “Do you want to talk about whatever it is?”

“I’m not great at casual,” he said, finally. “I wouldn’t say I had much experience kissing people that I didn’t feel anything for. And we’ve successfully gotten along for a record twelve hours, but it’s not like that’s real. You don’t like me.”

“I get it,” Hermione said. “And I know you don’t want to. I’ll… we can keep it to a believable minimum, all right?”

“I just think I might not be exceptionally good at pretending to enjoy kissing you all the time without – I don’t know, actually enjoying it,” Malfoy said.

“What do you mean?” Hermione said.

“If I pretend to be that physically interested all the time,” Malfoy said, “I’m… probably not going to be able to keep myself from –“ He looked vaguely frustrated. “I don’t know. I can’t stand being around you under normal circumstances, but I don’t want to start to like that side of things and back you into a corner.”

“You can quit pacing around over there,” Hermione said. It would probably have been funny if Malfoy hadn’t seemed legitimately worried about it. “We’re human. I’d be incredibly surprised if we could manage half an hour of kissing without getting turned on.”

Malfoy stopped to look at her. “I’m so glad you think of everything,” he said, looking really irritated. “It’s just such a winning quality.”

He was spending a vaguely excessive amount of time trying to respect her boundaries, and she wasn’t sure what the hell to make of it. She’d never thought of Malfoy as the kind of person who worried about that.

“I’ve had plenty of casual sex,” she said, after she’d thought about it. “You sort of figure out after a while that sometimes your body can be very interested in something even when your brain isn’t. And honestly, I don’t think we can do this without ending up with some blurred lines somewhere.”

Malfoy was still effectively glaring at her, so she sat down on the edge of the bed. “I have absolutely no issues with you liking it. I even have no issues if you like it enough to want to do it even if it’s not for the benefit of the neighbors, it’s not like it’s going to hurt our cover.”

“That seems very unlikely,” Malfoy said. “And probably excessive.”

“I am going to have issues if you don’t like something and don’t tell me about it, though,” Hermione said.

“I don’t like this entire assignment,” Malfoy said, darkly, but he came and sat down next to her.

“It’s a really terrible assignment,” Hermione agreed. “But on the bright side there’s a beach and a very well stocked liquor cabinet and all the snogging you could possibly want with the last person on earth you’d want to be shacking up with?”

Malfoy actually laughed. “I wouldn’t say you’re last,” he said. “Actually, you’re somewhere in the middle in terms of people who were theoretically capable of doing this assignment.”

“At least I’m not Parker,” Hermione agreed.

“He’s also not on the bottom,” Malfoy said. “At least you’re not Potter.”

“Actually, he’s dead last by a long shot on my list too,” Hermione said. “Probably for different reasons, admittedly.”

“You’re a lot better than Potter,” Malfoy agreed.

“Sorry I’m not Gabrielle, though,” Hermione said.

“Actually, no,” Malfoy said. “She’s third to last. Veela like sex too much. There wouldn’t be any way we could stick to fake sex. Then I’d have to seriously edit all my reports.”

“Oh, sex with Gabrielle,” Hermione said, amused. “That seems like a terrible outcome.”

“I’m not even remotely interested in her, so yes, it does,” Malfoy said.

“Who’s at the top of your list?” Hermione said. “Just out of curiosity.”

There was a very long pause.

“Patil isn’t too bad,” Malfoy said. “She’s smart and I don’t hate her.”

“I think I’d have gone with Gabrielle,” Hermione said, laughing too. “I’m mostly straight, but it doesn’t seem to matter that much once you get the veela thing involved. I wouldn’t really have said no to spending the next few months having ridiculously good sex. I’d be happy to fake the reports instead.”

“Who says it’s ridiculously good?” Malfoy said.

“You clearly have not spent enough time around Fleur and Bill,” Hermione said.

“They’re Weasleys,” Malfoy said. “I enjoy my current level of time spent with them, which is absolutely none.”

“I’m just saying,” Hermione said. “Harry was totally wrong that we couldn’t have sold it. The problem would more have been selling it too hard.”

“You know,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “Maybe we could invite her down here. Three Aurors are better than two, right?”

Hermione nudged her shoulder against his. “You just said you didn’t want to have sex with her.”

I don’t,” Malfoy said. “That doesn’t mean I’d be put out if you were so overcome by veela allure you had sex in front of me. That wouldn’t be terrible.”

“Maybe at next year’s holiday party,” Hermione said. “I’m sure you could strategically arrange some mistletoe.”

“I like the way you think,” Malfoy said, then went to look out the bedroom window. “Do you think it’s late enough for me to leave yet?”

“Probably, if I go shut the lights off,” Hermione said. “Give me your shirt.”

“What?” Malfoy said.

“Your shirt,” Hermione said, unbuttoning her blouse and tossing it vaguely in the direction of the wardrobe.

“Why –“ Malfoy said, as she undid her jeans and kicked them off.

“Quit looking scandalized,” Hermione said. “I’m going to be a lot less covered if I go spend tomorrow on the beach in a bathing suit.”

Malfoy was definitely staring. At least he was likely to be convincing if she started walking around without clothes on.

“There’s absolutely no way I’d get completely dressed again just to go turn off the kitchen lights,” she said, trying to keep a straight face. “I don’t really want to go in just my knickers, so give me your shirt. It’s not like you’re using it.”

“Er, okay,” Malfoy said, unbuttoning it and handing it over. He still had a t-shirt on underneath.

Hermione did a few buttons, considered, and then undid them again to fasten the middle three off center.

“You’re a terrible Auror,” she informed him, finally laughing. “What if the sexy female criminals take their clothes off in front of you?”

“It’s just, I didn’t think,” Malfoy said, then paused. “Suddenly naked women aren’t… really a strong suit. Of mine. You know.”

Hermione snorted. “I’m sure you’ve seen at least a few,” she said. “Do something with my hair.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Malfoy said, reaching to run his fingers through it. “Who just takes their clothes off in ten seconds with all the lights on?”

“You appear to have had a lot of very boring sex,” Hermione informed him. “As your fake wife, you should know that I would very happily take all my clothes off in ten seconds and leave the lights on. You’re welcome to get fake used to it.”

Malfoy, apparently, was easy to mess with.

“I do not have boring sex, I –“ he started.

“Yeah, yeah,” Hermione said, and went to turn off the lights. People were definitely still awake next door, which was probably a good sign that it was a decent time for Malfoy to see if he could pick anything up. She opened the back door, making sure the screen door behind it was shut but not latched.

“Okay,” she said, coming back into the bedroom. She turned down those lights too. “Want me to wait up?”

“It might be a couple hours,” Malfoy said.

“I think that was a yes,” Hermione said, summoning her book from the living room. “Try not to require rescuing.”

She wouldn’t have thought that foxes were capable of particularly withering looks, but Malfoy definitely gave her one after he’d changed. He looked over his shoulder for a moment, then crept out the bedroom door.

Malfoy came back a few hours later, slipping through the bedroom door so quietly she didn’t notice until he jumped up on the bed.

“Well?” she said. It was a little strange trying to talk to a fox.

He blinked at her a few times, then curled up in a ball near the foot of the bed.

“I guess that means no news,” she said. “Are you sleeping like that?”

He just looked at her.

“That’s weird, Malfoy,” she said.

He flicked an ear at her, then pointedly stuck his nose into his tail and closed his eyes.

“Do you want a blanket or –“ Hermione paused. “Never mind, that was a stupid question.”

He didn’t respond, which she assumed meant that he agreed with her. It at least solved the problem of awkward sleeping arrangements.

She woke once, in the dim light just before dawn, and discovered that Malfoy had moved close enough that she could feel the weight of him against her calves. It had gotten chilly, and he was curled up tightly enough that he seemed cold. Hermione summoned a blanket out of the chest at the foot of the bed, waiting in case he woke up, but he didn’t, so she spread it over him, being careful not to touch.

When she woke up again, it was much later and Malfoy was nowhere to be seen.

“There you are,” he said, when she finally stumbled out of the bedroom. “I figured out how to use the toasting thing, but I can’t figure out how to make tea.”

“What time is it?” she said, rubbing a hand over her face.

“Just before ten,” Malfoy said. “I’ve been up since six. I deserve an award for not waking you up.”

“Thanks,” she said, going over to kiss him. “I guess I needed the sleep.”

“I’m sure you needed the sleep,” Malfoy corrected, pressing a kiss to the inside of her wrist. “But I’m happy you’re up.”

“You just want tea,” she said, amused.

“That’s definitely a factor,” Malfoy said. “And the fact that you look good in my clothes is also a factor. But mostly I’m just happy to see you.”

“You’re very charming,” Hermione said, going to look in one of the cabinets for a kettle. She thought she’d seen it the night before.

“Maybe in that lower cupboard,” Malfoy said, and she bent to check before she realized he’d tricked her.

“That view would be so much better if you weren’t wearing anything under my shirt,” he said. “Just so you’re aware for future reference.”

“Are you ever going to stop flirting shamelessly?” she said, after she’d found the kettle and started to fill it at the sink.

“No,” Malfoy said. “You like it.”

“I do,” Hermione said, putting the kettle on and going back over to him. She slid into his lap. “But you could probably relax a little.”

“Well, now I definitely can’t,” he said. “You shouldn’t have climbed in my lap if that’s what you wanted.”

“You’re keyed up,” she murmured, stroking her fingers through his hair. Malfoy still seemed more anxious than playful, although she didn’t think anyone who wasn’t seeing the shift between public and private would have noticed. “Can I fix that?”

“No,” Malfoy said, but he wrapped an arm around her waist.

“I was thinking maybe we should take some pictures of the house for my mother and then go lie around on the beach for the rest of the day,” Hermione said.

“Oh, your mother,” Malfoy said. “The one relative or friend who’s still speaking to us.”

“Hey, my dad is included,” Hermione said. “They like you.”

She highly doubted anyone was about to ring her mother and check.

“They’re… nice,” Malfoy said. “For muggles. Not that I know a lot of those.”

Hermione laughed. “She won you over when she started sending packages of baked goods just for you, admit it.”

“That may have influenced my opinion on the matter,” Malfoy agreed.

“Everyone else will come around,” Hermione said. “I promise. It just takes time. And, well, we did sort of surprise them.”

“I wonder if anyone’s helpful enough to provide The Prophet to people in Azkaban,” Malfoy said, dryly. “My father would be so thrilled.”

He sounded bitter. She wasn’t surprised, but it was strange to realize that she didn’t like that he was upset.

“I know that’s hard,” she said, setting her head on his shoulder and reaching to tangle her fingers with his.

Malfoy looked startled again. “You can’t stand him.”

“I can’t,” Hermione agreed, softly. “You know I’m not sorry he’s there. But I’m sorry you’re caught in the middle. I’m sorry you have to deal with it. People aren’t always just one thing, he meant different things to you than he did to me.”

“I don’t forgive him,” Malfoy said. “If that’s what you’re asking.”

“I wasn’t asking, actually,” Hermione said, squeezing his hand. “I’m just here.”

“Do you mean that?” Malfoy said. “The rest of it?”

“I do,” Hermione said. “I would mean it even if…” She paused. “I’d even have said it earlier in the bedroom if someone hadn’t woken up four hours before me and come out here and worried about whether everyone was going to be mad forever.” She smiled. “Pretty sure that’s what you were doing while you were being incapable of making tea.”

“Oh,” Malfoy said. He was looking at her almost thoughtfully. The kettle went off.

“I’m just saying,” Hermione said, going to find mugs, “that I’m happy with you and that we’re here. Everyone else can just deal with it if they don’t like it, it’s my life. Okay, our life.”

“I know,” Malfoy said. “I worry sometimes, though. That you won’t think this is worth it.”

There was something else there, and Hermione didn’t entirely know what it was. It was hard to try to have two conversations at exactly the same time.

She brought over his mug of tea. “Draco, I’m not going anywhere.” She kissed his temple. “I have a ridiculously stupid diamond ring to prove it. You should probably start trusting that at some point.”

“I’m probably too good at worrying,” Malfoy said, ruefully.

“You are, and I’m going to get dressed,” she said. “Then you get to learn how to use a muggle camera.”

Malfoy actually knew perfectly well how to use a muggle camera, since occasionally still images were better proof than moving ones. The Ministry considered them less prone to tampering, since you could get people in a wizarding photograph to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

“Okay,” Hermione said. “You just hold down the button and –“

“Like that?” Malfoy said. He’d pointed the lens at the house next door – you could barely see them, but there were definitely people in the kitchen.

“No, not yet, you –“ Hermione said.

“Oh, this button,” Malfoy said.

“You have to point it at me,” Hermione said. “Look through the little window. It’s just like a wizarding one.”

“Okay,” Malfoy said. “Go look happy on the porch or something.”

“Got it,” Hermione said, going to lean over the railing. She smiled.

Malfoy took quite a few pictures.

“If there isn’t anything for your mother in there, I give up,” he said.

“Oh, that one’s nice,” Hermione said, going to look over his shoulder. He’d managed to get a few shots directly into the kitchen with a pretty good view of faces. “And that one’s good of the house.” She leaned up to kiss his cheek. “Thanks, I’ll send them later.”

“If this were a wizarding camera, we could get a photo of both of us,” Malfoy said.

“My mum can’t show off moving pictures to her book club,” Hermione said. “Beach?”

“I hope we packed about eight bottles of Sun Stop potion and an umbrella,” Malfoy said, dryly.

“Of course we did,” Hermione said. “You can even help put it all over me, I don’t want to miss anywhere.”

“I’m going to go dig around in the boot, I can’t find this book I thought I packed,” Malfoy said. He kissed her. “But I’ll meet you down there.”

“That’s an excuse so you don’t have to carry anything down,” Hermione said.

“Tell you what,” Malfoy said. “You take the towels and umbrella, I’ll bring alcohol and sandwiches.” He grinned. “I was watching very closely yesterday, I think I can make them.”

“Should we be drinking before noon?” Hermione said.

“People drink mimosas before noon all the time,” Malfoy said. “That’s alcohol. We can have those. And then later I know how to make beach drinks with umbrellas in them.”

“Did I know you were that into daiquiris?” Hermione teased.

“I have hidden depths,” Malfoy said, looking amused.

She levitated everything down, then carefully staged a gust of wind to blow her hat into the yard next door.

“Damn it,” she said, loudly, sending the rest of it toward the beach and walking through the middle of their protection spells. Someone appeared on the porch looking alarmed, but she waved cheerfully, pointed to her sun hat, and then went back toward the blankets and umbrella. Whomever it had been went back in the house looking vaguely annoyed, presumably at the false alarm.

Malfoy took forever, so she was very happily sprawled out on one of the beach towels with her book when he finally came down with a plate of sandwiches and drinks.

“Sorry,” he said. “I really can’t find it. Maybe it ended up in with the rest of the books.”

“Did you try summoning it?” Hermione said.

“I did, but you know that won’t work if it’s stuck in a trunk somewhere,” Malfoy said.

She put a hand up to shade her eyes and sat up. Malfoy paused.

“You’re…” he said. He was definitely trying to focus on the beach umbrella and failing.

“I did warn you I didn’t want tan lines,” Hermione said, cheerfully.

Malfoy seemed extremely easy to fluster with when it came to her getting naked. She’d thought about keeping her top on, but it had seemed like a sadly wasted opportunity.

“Now I’m not going to be able to focus on my book,” he muttered.

“Too bad,” Hermione said. “Come put this on my back so I don’t burn.” She did her best to keep a straight face. “If you’re really nice, I might let you do my front too.”

“Not happening,” Malfoy said. “That’s going to lead to us having sex, and we can’t have sex on a beach.”

“You have no sense of adventure,” Hermione informed him.

“My sense of adventure has limits,” Malfoy said. “Those limits include sand.”

“What was I saying about you and boring sex?” Hermione said.

“You weren’t, because we obviously don’t have boring sex,” Malfoy said, sitting next to her. She handed the bottle of potion over.

“I guess it’s okay,” Hermione agreed. “So-so, even. We might need more practice.”

“I’m going to get you back later if you keep teasing me,” Malfoy said, starting to cover her shoulders.

“Yes, please,” Hermione said, leaning into his touch.

“No beach sex,” he said, firmly. “Hold still, I’m going to miss spots.”

“Oh, so you can come on to me, but I can’t come on to you?” she teased. “What’s the matter?”

“Maybe I’m not used to this not being a giant secret yet,” Malfoy said. “It’s a little different inside the house. We’d notice if someone showed up with a camera in our bedroom.”

She couldn’t quite get a feel for where Malfoy was acting and where he wasn’t, but he still seemed off. Which was a stupid thing to be concerned about, given that she didn’t actually like him and that he probably needed more than a day to get used to pretending to be married to her, but it wasn’t like she actually wanted him to be unhappy.

“I know,” she said, leaning over to kiss him. “Finish that, then I’ll do you. Then I can put a cushioning charm on this towel and we can –“

“Not have sex?” Malfoy said.

“I was going to say read and eat sandwiches,” Hermione said, laughing. “I’m going to wear you down on that eventually, though.”

“I mean, if you keep looking like that, I’m going to do whatever you want,” Malfoy said. “But my way is sand-free and involves a bed.”

“Well, sometimes it involves a bed,” Hermione teased. “Sometimes it’s the couch. Or your desk. Or –“

“Oh, look, you’re all done,” Malfoy said, lightly. “My turn. I’ve been out here for five minutes and that’s five minutes too long.”

“Should I be harboring concerns that you’re a vampire?” Hermione said. She started spreading the potion over his back.

“No, just British,” he said. “I’m not sure where you came from, but it obviously wasn’t England.”

“It helps when your pedigree isn’t the same ten families marrying each other repeatedly,” Hermione said, but she pressed a kiss to the curve of his jaw to show that she was joking.

“Look at me, destroying centuries of traditions,” Malfoy said.

“Hey, our kids might be able to stay outside for longer than thirty seconds,” Hermione said. “There are upsides.”

Malfoy went very still, and Hermione resisted the urge to remind him that he didn’t actually have to harbor concerns about having less-than-pedigreed children. She focused on making sure his back was covered, since he really hadn’t been kidding about getting burned.

“Do you?” he said. “Want them, I mean?”

“We’ve talked about this,” Hermione said, because she figured that conversation was sort of a prerequisite to getting married if you weren’t being phenomenally stupid about it. “You know I do.”

“Really, or hypothetically?” Malfoy said.

“Both,” Hermione said. “Someday. It’s not like there’s any rush. Would you quit worrying about everything?”

“Sorry,” Malfoy said, quietly. “I think I saw –“ He glanced up the beach, back toward the houses. “I had a… nightmare. It wasn’t very pleasant.”

“You know you can wake me up,” Hermione said, reaching to brush his hair out of his face. “You don’t have to do things alone these days. You shouldn’t try.”

She was a little annoyed that Malfoy had apparently seen things and neglected to tell her, but he also rarely teamed up with anyone else. She always worked with Harry, and they were good at talking to each other. Malfoy probably was still getting used to the idea of working with her, and the circumstances weren’t exactly ideal.

“I didn’t want to bother you with it,” Malfoy said, shortly. “I thought it would be better if I didn’t.”

“It’s my job,” Hermione said, firmly. “To be your partner. No more not talking to me.”

“Okay,” Malfoy said, leaning in to rest his forehead against her shoulder. “You’re right. I’ll tell you later. But can we just enjoy the beach for right now?”

“Of course we can,” Hermione said, reaching to smear potion on his nose. “You’d better do the rest of yourself.”

“Why would I do that when I have you to help with it?” he said.

“Because you know exactly what’s going to happen if I put my hands all over you,” Hermione said, reaching for a sandwich. “You don’t want to cave on the whole beach sex thing after fifteen minutes. It would be sad.”

Malfoy made an irritated noise, but he eventually finished making sure he wasn’t going to burn and stretched out beside her. The sandwich she’d picked had too much mustard and required flinging an excessive amount of tomatoes off toward the water, but it wasn’t bad for a first attempt.

He still hadn’t moved by the time she finished eating, so she nudged his side.

“Don’t tell me you’re sleeping,” she said, amused. His eyes were definitely closed.

“I’m getting warm,” Malfoy said, drowsily. “Don’t bother me.”

“I’m going to move the umbrella if you’re going to fall asleep,” she said. “You can get warm out of direct sunlight.”

“You ruin everything,” Malfoy said, but he didn’t move to stop her when she flicked her wand at the umbrella and it rearranged itself.

“I do,” Hermione agreed, rolling over onto her stomach and propping herself up so she could open her book.

Malfoy definitely fell asleep, but since he wasn’t actually in the sun, it was a much better idea than freezing all night as a fox. He didn’t even wake up when she went back to the house for more drinks and another book. She was perfectly happy to read on the beach all afternoon, but even Malfoy probably needed to get out of the heat and to find water and something to eat. She’d eaten his sandwich too since he hadn’t seemed interested.

“Hey, sweetheart,” Hermione murmured, carefully rubbing a thumb over his shoulder. The last thing she wanted to do was startle him. “Draco. Time to go back in.”

He blinked at her for a moment, looking a little out of it.

“You put a shirt on,” he said, finally. He definitely wasn’t very awake.

Hermione laughed. “Now I know what kind of dreams you’ve been having,” she teased.

“You really have no idea,” Draco said, then sat up and rubbed his face.

“I think we probably shouldn’t repeat last night’s sleeping arrangements,” she said. “I’m judging by the four-hour nap that you didn’t get enough. I’ll make the bed bigger like the one in your flat.”

“I’m okay,” Malfoy said. “I think my body doesn’t know what to do when I’m not pulling sixteen hour days.”

“It’s strange not to be at work,” she agreed. “But I think you might need the rest.”

“Since I keep passing out in the middle of the afternoon, I’m going to side with you,” Malfoy said, yawning.

“You can go back to sleep if you want,” Hermione said. “I just thought you should get out of the heat.”

“I like when you worry about me,” Malfoy said, reaching an arm out to pull her in.

“I love you,” she said. “I always worry. Although I’m a little happier worrying about too much sun than you working yourself to death.”

“This is definitely better,” Malfoy agreed.

She stood up, offering him her hands to pull him up, then sent all the beach things back to the patio.

“I think you’re okay if you want to lie down again,” Hermione said. “I’ll even come with you.”

“I’m not going to get any sleep if you do that,” Malfoy said, with an easy grin. “That’s the opposite of helpful.”

“Knocking you out first doesn’t seem like the worst idea,” Hermione teased. “You can even fall asleep in the middle if you want, I’m happy to do all the work.”

“Have I mentioned lately that you’re my favorite person?” Malfoy said. “You’re my favorite person.”

Hermione made him drink a glass of water in the kitchen, then pulled him into the bedroom and shut the door. She had to remind herself that the bedroom was off limits for yelling, because the idea was tempting.

“Can I ask a question?” Malfoy said, almost thoughtfully.

“Is it about you coming home from recon and finding things and not sharing?” Hermione said, pointedly.

“No,” Malfoy said. “I’ll table it.” He looked exhausted. “It was horrifying and I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I was going to bring it up this morning, but I couldn’t think of a good reason to drag you back into the bedroom. And I’m not sure I can explain. I didn’t see much.”

“Okay,” Hermione said. “I get that.”

She actually did, and she was annoyed that he’d found the one thing to say to make her less angry. If there wasn’t any active danger, she was going to have to give Malfoy room to process things. And he was probably going to have to extend the same courtesy.

“There’s this big row of bushes on the other side of the house,” Malfoy said. “And they’re stupid about the windows, I think because there isn’t a house on that side. So they left the lights on, I could see everything.”

“Okay,” Hermione said. “How bad was it?”

“Visually, it wasn’t,” Malfoy said. “They were just sorting and packing things. But when I’m changed, I don’t really see with my eyes, it’s scent. And what they’re working with smells completely and totally wrong.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t explain it. A couple of times when we’ve hit dead ends, Potter’s sent me to see if I could turn up evidence or a body. My magical senses and physical senses get tangled up, it’s almost like you smell magic on top of the scent. Dead things don’t really smell badly to me, foxes sort of like them because it means food, but there’s usually a lot of fear if someone’s been chased and killed. That whole house smells like that, only a few hundred times worse.”

“What a mess,” Hermione said, softly.

“Sorry I’ve been jumpy,” Malfoy said. “I know I need to get it together. I just can’t get it out of my head.”

“I wasn’t trying to get you to calm down,” Hermione said. “I was trying to tell you that it was okay to back off some.” She sat down on the edge of the bed. “We have to lie about our relationship. But it’s not like we aren’t real people who have bad days and get tired. I think we’re both going to go crazy if we have to be dialed up to eleven every minute of every day.”

“I know,” Malfoy said. He came to sit next to her. “I just don’t want to tip them off. I’m really starting to hate these people.”

“I think you should act like you, only married to me,” Hermione said. “You don’t always have to act like you’re incredibly happy. No one can keep that up forever.”

“I’d probably be incredibly happy if I liked someone enough to want to elope and go live in a beach house with them,” Malfoy said, wryly. “But I’ll take your point.”

It was a little hard not to touch him; she was starting to get used to it.

“We should probably spend the next few days getting photographs when we can and seeing if we can identify anyone,” Hermione said. “But I also think we should probably sleep as much as we need to. We’ve both been burning the candle at both ends.”

“I’m really tired,” Malfoy admitted.

“You can sleep as a fox if you want to,” Hermione said. “But –“ She thought it over. “I mean, given the rest of it, I can understand why you’d want to draw a line in here. But this bed is huge. We can share.”

“I didn’t feel up to going human again,” Malfoy said.

“And that’s okay,” Hermione said. “Really. But if you want to sleep like that, you’re doing it up here under some blankets. You don’t have to cram yourself into the tiniest corner of the foot of the bed.”

“You’re different than I thought,” Malfoy said, finally. “I was really expecting for us to spend the whole time shouting at each other in private.”

“I can’t do that much of a swing between out there and in here,” Hermione said. “I’m not that good. I guess I have to try to like you even when I’m not pretending to be married to you.”

“I guess I do too,” Malfoy said. “I’m not used to this.” He smiled, a little wryly. “Maybe you’ve done more of it, but I’ve never really had the type of relationship we’re pretending to have.”

“Do you want it to be like this?” Hermione said, after a moment. “We probably should have talked about that. We both know it’s a lot easier to lie when you’re only stretching the truth instead of completely making things up.”

“I don’t know,” Malfoy said. “I don’t think I’d ever thought about what it would look like for me.”

“I might have gotten closer, but if I’d had this kind of thing with a boyfriend, I’d probably have married him,” Hermione said. “So, I don’t know, do what you need to. I can follow your lead. Mostly.” She paused. “I don’t think I can do particularly passive, though, if that’s your ideal.”

Draco snorted. “You really do have all the wrong ideas about me,” he said.

“I guess you did date Pansy,” Hermione said, dryly. “Pansy is the opposite of passive.”

“We didn’t, actually,” Malfoy said. “Well, okay, we said we did, but she just didn’t want to deal with declining arranged marriage proposals.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you really liked fake relationships,” Hermione said, lightly.

“They’re really great on the lack of commitment front,” Malfoy said, sounding amused. “What more could you want?”

“Fake sex probably gets really boring after a while,” Hermione said.

“There’s that,” Malfoy said.

“What did you want to ask, by the way?” Hermione said. “Before.”

“Oh,” he said, then paused. “I didn’t think you’d be…” He laughed. “I don’t know, you’re the opposite of self-conscious and reserved. Maybe I should have been expecting that. I think I might have to recalibrate.”

“I can probably stop taking my clothes off in front of you if you want,” Hermione said.

“Is that what you normally do?” Malfoy said. “Throwing clothes everywhere and talking about sex?”

“Pretty much,” Hermione said. “Trust me, Harry’s gotten significantly more traumatized than you every time we’ve gone on vacations together.”

“So that’s real,” Malfoy said.

“Yeah,” Hermione said, laughing too. “I mean – I’m faking it, but not about all that. You can probably take it at face value. Or I can dial it back if I’m actually making you uncomfortable.”

She probably shouldn’t have been entirely surprised that Malfoy was a little uptight about her being open about sex. Even if she was definitely pretending. It seemed sort of stupid to hash out rules for a fake relationship, but it was probably necessary.

“You’re not,” Malfoy said. “Or, all right, not anything I can’t handle. I don’t think you should try to be someone you’re not either. We might have to keep this up for a while.”

“That’s what I meant, earlier,” Hermione said. “I think we should just try to be ourselves and see where that gets us.”

“I think so too,” Malfoy said. “Did you actually want a nap? I guess we can practice not elbowing each other in the kidneys.”

“I do,” Hermione said. “This whole no work thing is exhausting.”

Chapter Text

Malfoy wasn’t there when she woke up, but he’d left a note about going for a walk on the beach. It wasn’t entirely clear whether he was doing more investigating, but Hermione vaguely hoped he’d gone back to poking around for seashells. She started the grill and put the chicken on, and was half way through cutting up things for the salad when he came back.

“Hi,” he said, coming behind her to wrap an arm around her waist. “I found interesting beach glass.”

Hermione smiled, leaning back against him. “Feeling less jumpy about this whole being married thing?”

“I think so,” Draco said, quietly. “Thank you for being understanding about it.”

“I love you,” Hermione said. “I want you to be okay and not incredibly stressed.” She finished cutting up the onion and turned around to wrap her arms around his neck. “Don’t make me tell you that you don’t have to be perfect for the four thousandth time.”

“I’ll get it eventually,” Malfoy said, kissing her. “I brought you beach glass and a nice shell. You should make me dinner in exchange. I think that’s fair.”

Hermione ruffled his hair. “You can have food if you set the table,” she said. “How’s that?”

“I’ll make that deal,” Malfoy said. “I’ll even help with the dishes again.”

“Don’t go too crazy,” Hermione said. “I’ll start thinking we can live without a house elf.”

“Never mind, I can’t do any of this,” Malfoy said, but he’d already started summoning plates.

After dinner, Malfoy made another fire – Hermione had a feeling she was going to need to figure out how to order firewood - and moved the couch again so they could stretch out together. She finally finished the second book and thought about summoning another, but someone kept going in and out of the kitchen next door. It seemed like a shame to waste a perfectly good opportunity. And maybe it would help Malfoy… loosen up.

“Hey,” she said, sliding a hand under Malfoy’s shirt. “Want to do something better than reading books?”

“That’s a trick question,” Malfoy said, without looking up. “You don’t think there’s anything better than reading books.”

“Okay, there might be a few things,” she said, laughing.

“There really aren’t,” Malfoy said. “If you had to choose between giving up sex and giving up books, you’d absolutely pick giving up sex.”

“Fortunately, we don’t live in a world where I have to choose,” Hermione said. “Want to do something that’s occasionally better than reading books?”

“I’m not sure what to think of that ‘occasionally,’” Malfoy said, but he reached to put his book on the coffee table. “Do you want to go to bed?”

“If you want,” Hermione said. “It’s still early, though.”

“I wasn’t implying we should go to bed and sleep,” Malfoy said, sounding amused.

Hermione stuck her head over the back of the couch for a few seconds. They’d left the windows open.

“Well, they’re still up,” she said. “That probably means we shouldn’t do anything really scandalous out here.”

“So, bed?” Malfoy said. He grinned. “We haven’t had sex since last night. It’s almost like we’re terrible at this honeymoon thing.”

“We were sleeping,” Hermione said. “Besides, you definitely thought about having sex with me all afternoon, that counts for something.”

“I did,” Malfoy agreed. “I’m even thinking about it right now.”

Hermione slid a leg over his. “I think we should stay here,” she said, lowering her voice a little. “You’re more fun if you have to wait for it.”

Malfoy was looking at her, but he hadn’t gone tense again.

“I’d be okay with that,” he said, after a minute. “If you’re sure about…”

“What, winding you up?” Hermione said, with a grin. “I’m sure. I like the idea, actually. Come over here.”

Malfoy was very obviously overthinking it, so Hermione stretched out in invitation. He’d probably be happier about the fake kissing if she wasn’t the one on top. She watched him glance into the kitchen, still not making a move.

“Your paranoia about photographers is getting slightly ridiculous,” she said. “This isn’t a secret anymore.” She paused, leaning to kiss his temple. “Honestly, it shouldn’t have been one in the first place.”

“I’m happy it’s not, but that doesn’t mean I suddenly like the press,” Malfoy said.

“There is no one hiding in the bushes,” she said, moving so she could reach to nuzzle his neck. “I just want to kiss you. I’m not very picky about where. If you’re that concerned, we can go in the bedroom.”

“I miss my flat,” Malfoy said, but he’d stopped looking into the kitchen. “The top floor was nice, there weren’t any bushes. You could keep an eye out for people on broomsticks.”

“There also wasn’t a beach,” Hermione said. “Or me full time.”

“Sorry,” Malfoy said, quietly. “You’re right. We should have told people a long time ago. That’s probably on me.”

“Draco, that was a bad decision we made together,” she said. “No more worrying about your parents or Harry or the neighbors seeing us snogging or newspapers.” She nuzzled his neck. “The only things you’re allowed to think about from here out are alcohol, the beach, and sex.” She grinned. “Maybe books.”

“I just want you to know that I have spent literally no time worrying about Potter whatsoever,” Malfoy informed her, but he’d started to smile.

“Yes, but you used up his share of worrying on newspapers,” Hermione said, nudging his side. “Would you roll over? I’m lying here looking exceptionally fetching and kissable, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I got distracted by thinking about sex,” Malfoy said, and shifted so he could slide over on top of her.

“I guess that’s allowed,” Hermione said, wrapping a leg around him and lifting a hand to cup his jaw, drawing him in. “But I happen to know you like this too.”

“I really do,” Malfoy agreed, and then kissed her.

He was almost tentative at first, and he kept pausing a little every time she moved until she finally nudged her nose against his.

“Stop or keep going?” she murmured.

“I –“ Malfoy said, looking at her very closely. “What do you think?”

“I like it,” she said. “You can like it too.” She tilted her head to kiss his neck. “But I’d like it more if you decided to like it and stop worrying about whatever you’re worrying about. You’re breaking the beach vacation rules again.”

She wasn’t entirely surprised to find that it was mostly true; she didn’t have to feel strongly about someone to enjoy fooling around with them, and apparently her opinion of Malfoy had moved to neutral. And when she wasn’t spending all her time wanting to throw things at him, it was a lot harder to ignore the fact that he was, in fact, relatively attractive. She actually had to admit that she’d maybe have liked it even if she still couldn’t stand him.

“I’m slightly concerned you’re going to change your mind halfway through this and then be very annoyed with me,” Malfoy said.

“You know what, stop talking,” Hermione said, pulling him down to kiss him again.

It took a while, but it turned out that it really wasn’t that hard to get him interested. She could tell when Malfoy finally stopped messing around with the fake kissing and actually went for it, and then it only took about thirty seconds before he got incredibly distracted and stopped thinking about the entire thing. He even seemed willing to get slightly pushy.

“Mm,” she said, a while later, realizing they’d gotten very tangled up together and that she’d completely lost track of time. “We should probably call the whole on the couch thing before we get completely carried away.” Malfoy had stopped keeping his hands to himself, which was a plus, but she had a feeling he’d start being against snogging on the couch if he got overly embarrassed about it. And she’d already had her legs wrapped around him for long enough that there wasn’t any getting around the fact that he definitely liked it.

“I’m currently not seeing the downside there,” Malfoy said, almost thoughtfully.

“If you didn’t want sex with Gabrielle Delacour on this couch, you really don’t want sex with me on it,” Hermione said.

“I’m not married to her,” Malfoy said, laughing. “Of course I’d rather have sex on the couch with you.”

“Let’s not completely traumatize the neighbors,” Hermione said, nudging him until she could sit up.

“Well,” Malfoy said. He looked flushed and vaguely pleased with himself. “You made me forget about photographers.”

“I can keep making you forget about photographers,” Hermione suggested, kissing him one more time and standing up. “I’m very in favor of that. You just have to come in the bedroom.”

She took his hand and lead him in, shutting the door behind them.

“So that wasn’t completely awful,” Malfoy said. He still sounded almost thoughtful.

Hermione laughed. “That’s just what every woman wants to hear.”

“I didn’t mean –“ Malfoy said, then paused. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, amused. “That was fun. Don’t overthink it. Besides, we’re doing a good job of convincing them we’re not paying any attention to them.”

“Definitely good for our cover,” Malfoy said. “Maybe we should do it again tomorrow just to be sure, though.”

“Good idea,” Hermione said. “I was going to vote for reading on the beach again, but I guess we could mix up our beach activities.”

“I’m in,” Malfoy said, then paused. “Are you going to refuse to put on clothes again?”

“If you’re okay with the idea,” Hermione said. “Or I can borrow one of your shirts as a cover up.”

She couldn’t quite tell what he was thinking.

“You know,” he said, after a moment. “This really isn’t how I was expecting this whole thing to go.”

“I take my beach vacation assignments very seriously,” Hermione said, straight-faced.

“I’d rather handle this quickly,” Malfoy said. “But I think they’re dangerous, so honestly, working on establishing our cover is probably better than rushing it.”

“I thought so too,” Hermione said. “So I figure I might as well enjoy my fake honeymoon.”

“I’m strangely okay with that plan,” Malfoy said. He laughed. “Which I also really wasn’t expecting.”

“You’re full of surprises,” Hermione said.

“Apparently,” Malfoy said, then laughed again, a little ruefully. “I also need an extremely long cold shower. I should probably go do that.”

“Or a regular temperature one,” Hermione said. “I don’t care what you do in it as long as you leave me some hot water.”

Malfoy stopped, looked like he was about to say something, and then shook his head and disappeared into the other room. She decided that the whole thing was probably good for him.

The next few weeks were significantly less terrible than Hermione had expected them to be. She took up amateur photography, which mostly involved taking photos of everyone coming or going to the house next door while pretending to be focusing on sunsets and artfully arranged plates of food. Malfoy spent a lot of time skulking around in their bushes at night and wrote up reports. He could usually leave notes on her photographs. She packed everything up every few days and mailed it to her mother in London, except her mother’s address went directly to Harry’s office.

It also started to become exceptionally obvious why Malfoy almost always had the top case clearance rate and why he worked more than even Harry did. As far as Hermione could tell, he never stopped moving. She was happy to lie around and read books all day, but lounging on the beach turned into her reading and occasionally throwing a Snitch into the air while Malfoy chased it around for hours. He liked to walk a mile up the beach and then change – Hermione wasn’t entirely sure how far he ran every morning, but he was usually gone for at least an hour or two.

Malfoy really only settled down in the evenings, when Hermione made dinner and he pretended to complain about helping. They did so much reading that Hermione was starting to suspect she was going to have to figure out a way to order new books.

They also… did a lot of kissing. Hermione wasn’t entirely sure what it was about, especially since it was fairly clear that after about a week, everyone involved with the operation next door had decided they weren’t worth bothering with, but it seemed to make Malfoy happy. It also kept him from pacing all over the house and driving her crazy when it rained. He never seemed to want to take it any further, although he was perfectly willing to put his hands all over her on the beach.

She was starting to wonder if she needed to bring the whole thing up, because even if Malfoy was happy to call it at excessive amounts of snogging, she was starting to feel like she was eighteen again. There was really only so much fooling around you could do before it turned into sex or you went insane, and Hermione was starting to feel a little crazy.

It also didn’t really feel like they were getting anywhere with the case, which she could tell was starting to get under Malfoy’s skin. He’d started spending most of the time they were in the bedroom as a fox.

So she was very relieved when Harry’s owl showed up.

“Hmm,” Malfoy said, looking up from the dishes when they heard the tap on the window. “Isn’t that Potter’s?”

“It’s definitely Freya,” Hermione said, going to open the door for her. She landed on Hermione’s shoulder, shaking water off. It was pouring down rain.

“Hi, yes, I missed you too,” Hermione said, when Freya started preening her hair. She reached up to rub the feathers under her head.

“I swear she got bigger in the last month,” Malfoy said.

“I think she did,” Hermione said.

Harry had finally – with exceptional reluctance – gotten another owl a few months after he’d been promoted, but he hadn’t really been able to pick one, so he’d spent a month with an egg in his desk drawer under an incubation spell instead of starting with a chick. He’d even made Hermione pick out the egg without him. She’d asked for something big but definitely not a snowy owl, which seemed to have worked out nicely. Great horned owls were supposed to be smaller, but Freya seemed to be working on getting even bigger than Hedwig had been. It was probably from spending her entire adolescence begging for snacks from all the Aurors. And the fact that she was cute enough that everyone brought in mice for her.

“Will you let me take that?” Malfoy said, gesturing for the scroll she was carrying. Freya considered him for a moment, then whistled at him in a tone that Hermione knew very well.

“We don’t have any mice,” he said. “We didn’t know you were coming.”

She whistled again, and it sounded slightly more pathetic. Hermione tried not to laugh. Freya was shameless, and even Malfoy liked her.

“We don’t have any lizards either,” Malfoy said. “I’ll go look for a tin of sardines if you let me take your letter.”

Freya held out her leg, leaning against Hermione’s head to balance – she still hadn’t quite gotten the trick of readjusting her weight – and Malfoy took it.

“Definitely for you,” he said, then passed it over and went to rummage in a cupboard.

“Hmm,” Hermione said, and broke the seal.

“You can’t get mad if we don’t have anything,” Malfoy said, moving around some cans. “But if you’re going to come back, I’ll catch you some mice for next time.”

There was a letter and what looked like a half-done crossword puzzle. She unrolled the scroll.


I miss you. I’m sorry. Christmas together?


PS. We started this one together before you left, but I’m stuck on 4-down. Think you could finish it for me? If you do half of another one, Freya can pick it up next week.

“What’s that?” Malfoy said, coming back. He’d opened a tin of sardines over the sink, and Freya flew over to gulp them down. “Why is Potter sending you a crossword?”

“It’s just one of our things,” she said, thoughtfully. She was fairly certain Harry had never done a crossword in his life, and it certainly hadn’t been with her. “We usually work the one from the Prophet on our lunch break. He wants me to finish this one for him.”

Malfoy knew that the idea of Auror lunch breaks was laughable, so she caught his glance.

“Well,” Malfoy said, reading over her shoulder. “Maybe that’s a good sign.” He wrapped an arm around her waist, heaving a very put-upon sigh. “I guess this means I’m going to have to put up with him on Christmas, doesn’t it?”

“I hope it does,” Hermione said, leaning back against him. “I know you still don’t like him.”

“He’s your family,” Malfoy said. “I guess if I can be in-laws with muggles, I can put up with Potter for an entire holiday without exchanging Unforgiveables.” He nuzzled her neck. “You’d better be exceedingly grateful, though.”

Freya flew back to Hermione’s shoulder, fast enough that Malfoy had to step back to avoid getting hit in the face by her wings.

“I gave you fish,” he informed her. “That means you can’t steal my spot with Hermione.”

“I think she agrees you’re not allowed to ask for sexual favors in exchange for putting up with Harry,” Hermione said, thoughtfully.

“Who said I was asking for sexual favors?” Malfoy said. “I might have been thinking about baked goods.”

“Were you?” Hermione said, amused.

“Well, no,” Malfoy said. “But she doesn’t know that.”

“That’s what you think,” Hermione said. “Freya, are you staying tonight or flying back?”

Freya looked pointedly toward the door, so Hermione found a pen to write a fast note back.

“Be safe,” she said, going to open the door. “Draco will have some mice for you next time.”

“Do I really have to catch mice for her?” Malfoy said, with a sigh.

“You’re the one who offered,” Hermione pointed out. “And I know what you get up to in the Ministry basements for her.”

“All right, caught me,” Malfoy said, coming to set his chin on the top of her head. “I’ll… set some traps next time I walk up the beach.”

“Want to read in our room tonight?” Hermione said, nuzzling his throat. “Maybe we could even look over some dessert recipes, as long you keep being reasonable about Harry.”

“I don’t mind the couch,” Malfoy said, glancing down at her mouth.

There was sort of an unspoken rule that they never did anything in the bedroom. It was getting a little stupid, but then again, Malfoy had started to go vaguely tense every single time she brought up sex. It was entirely possible he needed the pretense to feel okay about it. And Hermione didn’t really feel like arguing about fake snogging.

“I have a headache, and I want to see if I can finish this crossword,” she said, leaning in against him. “The headache doesn’t mean I’m not up for sex, don’t worry.”

Malfoy tugged her closer. “Do you want something for that?”

“Yes, actually, endorphins,” Hermione murmured, laughing. She kissed him. “I was hoping you might have some ideas on how to make that happen.”

“I could probably come up with something,” Malfoy agreed. “Go lie down, I’ll finish up in here. Someone got sardine bits all over the counter.”

Malfoy came into the bedroom a few minutes later.

“Well?” he said. “I’m going to go out on a limb and assume Potter didn’t actually sent a crossword.”

“It’s actually a crossword,” Hermione said. “Four down is ‘Azkaban.’ I don’t why he says he couldn’t get it, it’s already filled in.”

“Am I actually going to have to interpret Potter for you?” Malfoy said, leaning over her shoulder. “That’s the first and only time that’s ever going to happen. He means they had enough to get four cases down. And they’ve been prosecuted. I doubt they’re all going to Azkaban, but there’s only so much you can do with a crossword.”

“Oh,” Hermione said, staring at it. “Really? But there isn’t anyone missing next door.”

“Yes, but we see different people buying every week,” Malfoy pointed out. “And if they’re building a case, they’re going to try to get buyers to flip on the distributor. Potter’s probably making deals.”

“But that means they got four people because of us,” Hermione said, finally, then leaned to hug him before she could stop herself.

“I’m only letting you be all touchy-feely Gryffindor in the bedroom for two minutes,” Malfoy said, but he hugged her back.

“You like when I’m all touchy-feely Gryffindor in the rest of the house,” Hermione said, with a grin. “In fact, I could totally accuse you of being all touchy-feely Slytherin.”

“I meant with your weird emotional attachment to catching criminals,” Malfoy said, solemnly. “It’s very strange for someone in your line of work.”

“I’m happy,” Hermione said. “I was starting to feel useless. I hate that.”

“Me too,” Malfoy said. “But it’s good to know this is working.”

“Do you think they’re going to notice?” Hermione said. “Their buyers disappearing, I mean.”

“Probably not,” Malfoy said. “Potter’s not that stupid. He’ll send them back. Then they can do what we haven’t been able to, which is document what in the hell it is they’re buying.”

“I’m glad not to know, honestly,” Hermione said.

“It smells horrible enough even without being able to tell who they’ve cut up,” Malfoy said. “Speaking of that, I should probably go soon. It’s dark enough.”

“You could take the night off,” Hermione suggested. “The weather’s horrible.”

“Not happening,” he said. “We’d be stuck in here. If I’m taking the night off, I want alcohol and the fireplace. Maybe tomorrow.”

Hermione thought it was probably prudent not to mention that Malfoy was definitely implying he also wanted something else.

“I’ll wait up,” she said.

“You always do,” Malfoy said, but he looked sort of pleased about it. “Can you go turn off the lights?”

“Sure,” Hermione said. “If anyone asks, I was finishing the crossword instead of having sex with you, since I’m not changing yet.”

“I’ll be sure to owl the neighbors,” Malfoy said. “They seem very suspicious, really.”

“Maybe we should be more dedicated to our cover,” Hermione mused.

“Very funny,” Malfoy said.

She turned the lights out, and Malfoy slipped out the cracked door.

A few hours later, Hermione was – unsuccessfully – trying not to check the patio repeatedly. Malfoy never stayed out so late, and even if something interesting had been happening, every light in the house next door had gone off an hour before. It seemed stupid to worry, he could take care of himself, but he was never late getting back. She was sitting in the dark considering thinking of a stupid pretense for going and poking around the neighbor’s bushes when she heard the screen door.

“What were you doing?” Hermione said, going to turn on a light. Everyone was definitely asleep next door, and all their blinds were drawn, so it wasn’t like there was much risk of exposing him.

“I was worried,” she said, then paused when she turned back toward the door.

Malfoy was still a fox, dripping wet and completely covered in sand and mud. He tried to shake off, didn’t get anywhere, and went back to shivering next to the coat rack. He wasn’t using one of his paws.

“I knew you should have stayed home,” Hermione said, under her breath, going over to kneel next to him. “Did something happen?”

He stared at her for a long moment, and Hermione remembered something Harry had said about how Animagi couldn’t change under certain circumstances; they could get something like splinched if they tried when they couldn’t focus. She sighed, because it was obvious Malfoy wasn’t going to be giving her any answers any time soon. And he looked utterly miserable.

“Is that hurt?” she said, looking at his paw. Malfoy drew back when she leaned in.

“I won’t touch,” she said, firmly. “I just want to see.”

He finally held out his paw; there was a very large hawthorn spine going almost straight through one of the pads, and it looked as if he’d made the whole thing much worse by trying to pull it out. Hermione had to resist a sigh of relief. It wasn’t great, especially since she didn’t have the first idea about healing foxes, but it seemed unlikely anyone had hit Malfoy with a spell or put him in real danger. But he was definitely too cold, and probably not big enough to handle being chilled.

“Okay,” she said, carefully. “I won’t do anything you don’t want, but we need to get you warm. And you need to soak that so I can get it out.”

Malfoy drew back again, looking very unhappy.

“Sorry,” she said, softly. “I’ll see what I can do to make it hurt less. But you probably want to be a human again at some point.”

Hermione got up and went to start the water for a bath. She found some antiseptic, and it wasn’t like Malfoy was going to stay a fox permanently, so human medicine was probably fine. It took her a few minutes to realize Malfoy hadn’t followed.

He was lying in the front hallway in exactly the same place she’d left him, and he looked exhausted. Hermione went to sit next to him.

“I know getting back was probably awful,” she said, softly. “And I’m sure that hurts. Do you want me to carry you in?”

She’d sort of expected him to bolt down the hall at the slightest threat of her touching him, but he startled her a moment later by turning and putting his head in her lap.

“I’ll be very careful,” she said, getting to her feet and then bending to lift him.

He was heavier than she’d expected, but he also wasn’t resisting at all. Malfoy settled his head against her shoulder, leaning in against her chest.

“If you’re not thinking inappropriate things about me in mediwitch outfits, I’m going to be really disappointed,” she informed him.

He shoved his freezing cold nose hard against her neck, which made her laugh, but he was otherwise relatively well behaved until she set him down in the bath and his paw touched the water. Then he backed up quickly with a growl, shaking it off as he held it up.

“It would have been easier if you hadn’t gone and chewed on it,” Hermione said. She’d gotten a tweezers out of the medicine cabinet. The spine definitely looked like it was in deep, but Malfoy was just going to have to live with her pulling it free – she didn’t know enough about canine anatomy to want to risk summoning it out.

“It’ll be a lot easier to fix your hand, but I don’t think you can change back with a giant spine in there,” Hermione said. She summoned a pot from the kitchen, then added hot water and the antiseptic.

Malfoy put his ears back.

“Too bad,” Hermione said, putting the pot in the bath. She’d only filled the bath part way, so there wasn’t any danger of the muddy bath water getting involved. “This is what happens when you go out in the rain and can’t see anything. It needs to soak.”

Malfoy kept his ears back, but he gingerly lowered his paw into the water. He put them up again when he realized it wasn’t going to hurt. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

“I have to at least rinse you off,” she said, pulling the shower head down and sitting next to the tub. “I don’t have to touch you for that. But if you want soap, I do.”

Malfoy leaned to shove the bottle of his shampoo over with his muzzle.

“You know, this is why I like cats,” Hermione said, making sure the water was warm enough before she started to rinse the sand and mud off. He looked more brown than red. “You never have to give them baths.”

It took more than one rinse to get the majority of the dirt off – she really wasn’t sure how, exactly, he’d gotten covered in it, but it looked like he’d rolled around on the beach and then added an extra layer under the bushes – but by the time she started in with the shampoo, he’d at least stopped shivering. He leaned into her touch, the exact same way he always did if she ran her fingers through his hair. She was a little surprised at how obvious it was that it was him.

“Good enough,” she said, since she was less worried about him being filthy than being able to turn back into a human.

She found a towel to wrap him in, although he wriggled and seemed very unhappy about it, and carried him into the bedroom.

“I have to get that out,” Hermione said, firmly. “And I don’t care if you’re not going to like it.”

Malfoy sighed, then held out his paw reluctantly.

She sat down on the floor with the tweezers and lit her wand.

“If you bite me, I’m going to murder you,” she told Malfoy, and then went to pull it out. On the upside, it was a lot easier to manage than a splinter would have been, but when she pulled it out, Malfoy yelped and then bolted to the far side of the bed, getting bloody paw prints all over everything.

“You’re cleaning that up tomorrow,” Hermione informed him, then went to rinse the rest of the mud out of the shower.

She found another towel for him and a bandage for his paw, which required cornering him behind the pillows and holding him so he couldn’t leap under the bed, because he was utterly useless at absolutely everything. She finally got him mostly dry between the towel and drying charms, and then went to take off her pajamas. Malfoy was going to have to deal with those too. She stole a shirt out of his side of the closet, mostly on the grounds that if he was going to get blood on anything else, it was definitely going to be his clothes, and went back to bed.

He was sulking under the bed, but when she laid down and waited, he crept out again.

“Come up here,” she said. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

Malfoy gave her a look that implied that she’d just said she was going to make him into a fur coat, which was, well, accurate, but she hadn’t meant it.

“You can come stay warm until you can turn back,” she offered. Malfoy came closer, considered, and then jumped up and laid down next to her chest, tucking his face against her shoulder. She pulled the blankets up around him so he wouldn’t get cold again and wrapped an arm around him.

Hermione had meant to stay awake to make sure he was all right, but it had been a long night. She wasn’t entirely surprised when she woke up a few hours later tangled up with Draco. He had a leg over hers and she still had her arm around him. He was definitely still sleeping on her shoulder. She assumed he’d woken up at some point, since you couldn’t exactly focus enough to turn back into a person in your sleep, but he clearly hadn’t felt the need to move. He’d also lost his shirt and jeans; they’d ended up somewhere in the vicinity of his nightstand, which presumably meant he’d been awake enough to get undressed.

She didn’t want to wake him, but she also really hadn’t been able to do anything about his paw before they went to sleep. Letting a puncture wound get infected seemed like a bad plan.

“Hey,” she murmured, softly. “Draco.”

“I’m sleeping,” he said.

“But now you’re awake,” she said. “I need to look at your hand.”

“I don’t have to be awake for that,” he said, actually getting closer.

“It’ll only take a minute,” Hermione murmured. “Then you can go back to sleep again if you want.”

Draco lifted his head, assessed their current position, and, shockingly, didn’t even move.

“Have I mentioned I don’t like when you’re persistent?” he said, but he pulled his arm back from where he’d thrown it over her and held out his hand. “Also, we’re going to have to talk about how you’re never allowed to give me a bath again.”

“Don’t stay out late until I’m really worried and then come home as a total disaster,” Hermione countered, taking her wand off the nightstand. It didn’t actually look particularly bad, but she spelled it clean and started to heal it anyway. “What happened?”

“There was an owl,” Draco said, darkly. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m sorry I had to, you know,” Hermione said. “Touch you.”

Draco laughed, lower and warmer than usual. “I wouldn’t let most people,” he said. “But I’m not sure I’d say it’s more intimate than being all over each other on the beach with next to no clothes on.”

“Oh, so I could have been cuddling with you more often to warm you up after all the surveillance,” she teased.

“Probably,” Draco agreed. “That doesn’t sound terrible. I might start doing it.”

He still hadn’t moved off of her at all.

“All fixed,” she said, letting Draco take his hand back. “You’re staying home tonight. I can’t handle any more of you almost giving me heart attacks.”

“I don’t know, you’re cute when you’re mad,” Draco said, with a grin. He wrapped his arm around her again.

“Quit flirting,” Hermione said, amused. “What’s gotten into you?”

He yawned. “You started it,” he said. “You can’t invite me to fall asleep on you and change the bedroom rules then change them back again.”

Hermione considered pointing out that it had been different offering to let him sleep on her when he was a fox, but it occurred to her that it probably wasn’t all that different from his point of view. And she was glad that he wasn’t bothering to be standoffish about being touched.

“That would be unsportsmanlike,” Hermione agreed, solemnly. “I guess you’re allowed to flirt if you want to.”

“I want to be asleep,” Draco said. “But someone ruined it for me.”

“You could be,” Hermione said. “No one’s stopping you.”

“You’re stopping me a little bit,” Draco said. “I’m less interested in sleeping when I’m on your side of the bed.”

“Whose fault is that?” Hermione said.

“Definitely yours,” Draco said. “I’d have the same problem if you came over to my side, so I’m pretty sure it’s you.”

“You’re being very friendly for someone who hid from me under the bed last night,” Hermione said. “I’m just saying.”

“I’d say I was grateful for the help,” Draco said, “but you were mean and bossy and made me do things I didn’t like for my own good.”

“I know, I’m awful,” Hermione agreed. “I should have spent a lot more time fussing over you and making sure your pillows were fluffed.”

“Oh, now you have the right idea,” Draco said. “Where was that side of you last night?”

“If you don’t want me to be mean and bossy, don’t get in altercations with owls at one in the morning and then bleed all over my duvet,” Hermione said, laughing.

“I was off being brave and cunning in pursuit of justice,” Draco informed her. “And now you’re making fun of my valor.”

“You got chased home by an owl,” Hermione said.

“No, I had to hide in a thorn bush from an owl, and then I was wounded in the line of duty and barely made it home to you,” Draco said. “Obviously.”

“Oh, well, if I’d known that part,” Hermione said. “I would definitely still have thrown you in the bath and held you down so I could get you dry.”

“Sorry I hid under the bed,” Draco said. “Maybe you should try that whole holding me down thing again.”

He just kept getting closer. Hermione was starting to wonder whether he was just playing around or if he actually wanted something.

“Maybe tonight,” Hermione said. “While you’re staying home and not getting eaten by owls.”

“Or, you know, now,” Draco said. “Since I’m already awake. We might as well make the best of it.”

“Draco,” Hermione said, trying for patiently. “We’re actually in a bed. There might be a limit to how much we can change the rules before that goes somewhere you don’t want it to.”

Draco sighed, sounding very put-upon. “Oh, all right,” he said. “I’ll stop.”

Hermione really wanted to point out that stopping wasn’t exactly what she had in mind, but Draco had already backed off. He didn’t seem particularly unhappy about any of it, at least.

“I’m going back to sleep,” she said. “You can either go back to sleep too or find something to do that’s not keeping me awake.”

“I can be quiet,” Draco said, reaching to pull the blankets back up.

When she woke up again, he was still asleep and still mostly on top of her, although she managed to get out from underneath him without waking him up. It was at least another two hours before he finally emerged from the bedroom.

“How’s your hand?” she said. “I still can’t believe you managed to cut yourself that badly shaving.”

“Perfectly fine,” Draco said, actually climbing over the back of the sofa onto her. Apparently, the going around would have taken too long. “You should know, you healed it.”

“Hi,” she said. “Good morning to you too.”

“It’s very good,” Draco agreed, kissing her. He tasted like mint toothpaste. “It would be better if you’d come back to bed with me.”

“Do you need me to come back to bed with you?” Hermione said, a little cautiously. She didn’t entirely think she needed further debriefing on whatever misadventure he’d gotten into with the owl, but there could have been something else.

“No,” Draco said. “But I thought I’d try. Is there breakfast?”

“We slept through breakfast,” Hermione said, amused. “I could probably make lunch.”

“Maybe we can have breakfast for lunch,” Draco suggested. “Then go to the beach.”

“You just want to go play fake Quidditch,” Hermione said.

“It’s an activity where I can both play Quidditch and look at you mostly naked,” Draco said. “I happen to like it.”

He really was being overly affectionate for anything before breakfast, but Hermione was still mostly glad he was speaking to her after the night they’d had.

“Beach it is,” she said, reaching to rub the back of his neck. “It’ll be really different from every other day.”

“It is,” Draco said. “I have plans. We’re going to go to the beach, and then I’m going to make an entire side dish at dinner.”

“In that case, you’d better plan to spend the entire night after making said side dish collecting sexual favors,” Hermione teased. “You know how I feel about you being helpful in the kitchen.”

“I was going to make a salad,” Draco said, thoughtfully. “But if that’s the response I get, I might have to up my game. Maybe I can bake some potatoes. That didn’t seem very hard.”

Hermione laughed, nudging him off so she could get up. “I’ll go make some eggs,” she said. “You keep planning sides.”

“Now I’m planning after dinner activities,” Draco said. “That’s your fault, you should have just said it would get me out of drying dishes.”

“Nothing’s getting you out of drying dishes,” Hermione said. “But nice try.”

Draco was at least marginally more normal for the rest of the day, although he turned out to have meant it on his offer of helping with dinner. He spent what Hermione considered to be a slightly excessive amount of time consulting a cookbook, but the potatoes came out well and he seemed happy about it.

“Okay,” he said, once he’d put away the last of the plates. “I’m taking alcohol to the couch, making a fire, and then doing indecent things to you on said couch.” He glanced over his shoulder at her. “You should shut the windows and put up privacy charms, I’m not moving for the rest of the night.”

“The whole not moving thing might make the third part of that a little difficult,” Hermione said, but she did what he asked, then went to sit next to him.

“Is everything okay?” she said.

“I’m fine,” Draco said, with a sudden smile, the kind that still surprised her. “I just wanted an actual night off that I didn’t have to spend stuck in the bedroom.”

“That seems fair to me,” she said. “We could get in the car and drive somewhere if you really want to get away from here.”

“I’m happy with the couch, honestly,” Draco said. “And I can’t exactly drink if I’m driving. Besides, there might not be a fireplace.”

“Staying in sounds good,” Hermione said. She looked at him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I think so,” Draco said, finally. “This whole thing is just getting to me. It just feels like I’m not doing anything. I spend more time sleeping on the beach and playing Quidditch than I do working.”

“I think sleeping on the beach and playing Quidditch actually count as working,” Hermione said. “But I know. I’m sort of happy to not have seven cases to juggle and to not have to fill out twenty authorization forms a day. Then I just end up feeling guilty about it.”

“That’s against the beach vacation rules,” Draco said. “It’s not alcohol, the beach, sex, or a book. That means worrying about not working enough is breaking a rule, and you hate that.”

“I used to hate it a lot more,” Hermione said, dryly. “After this long with Harry, I’m ambivalent.”

“I’m very ambivalent,” Draco said, considering. “Are we applying couch rules or bedroom rules to our suddenly very private living room?”

“You know what,” Hermione said. “Let’s go crazy and not worry about it for the night.”

“I could go for that if you mean it,” Draco said.

“You have this thing,” Hermione said, poking his side. “I say something, and then you act like if you take me up on it, I’m going to change the rules halfway through it and be mad. Do I do that?”

“No,” Draco said, slowly. “You don’t, actually.”

“See?” Hermione said. “If I tell you to whatever you want, you should do whatever you want. I can always tell you to stop if I don’t like it. Like how you’re not allowed to dive at me even if the Snitch is on top of the umbrella.”

“I’m not sure that’s exactly the same thing,” Draco said.

“Would you just relax already?” Hermione said. “I haven’t actually been mad at you for over a month.”

She was a little surprised to realize that it was true. Apparently, making an effort to be friendly was working.

“So it’s okay if I… touch you?” Draco said, still sounding hesitant.

“Better than okay, I’m going to be very disappointed if you don’t,” Hermione said.

“I guess you don’t really seem to mind,” Draco said, after a pause.

“You’re hopeless,” Hermione informed him, then leaned over to kiss him. She felt like it was probably better to get it out of the way before he tied himself into a knot over the non-existent rules.

“I like to think I’m not a completely lost cause,” he said, when she finally pulled back. He looked happy. “I do learn things occasionally.”

“One of those things needs to be that I don’t do bait and switch,” Hermione murmured. “You might also want to pick up on the fact that there’s no way I’d spend so much time underneath you on beach towels if I didn’t like this.”

“I thought you were mostly doing that for our cover,” Draco said, after another pause.

“You know what, I’m finding wine,” Hermione said, leaning over the back of the sofa toward the sideboard. “Your level of hopelessness has officially moved over into me needing alcohol to cope.”

“Do you want help?” Draco said.

“For a glass of wine and a glass of whiskey for you?” Hermione said. “Not so much, I’m summoning everything.”

“I can’t pour with magic,” Draco said. “I always forget you’re better at it.”

“Lucky for you,” Hermione said. The bottles filled the glasses and set themselves down on the end table. “Start drinking.” She reached up to run a hand through his hair, and he leaned into it just like he did the rest of the time. “You weren’t so jumpy this morning. Even in the bedroom with rules.”

“Oh, that,” Draco said. “It’s part of why I don’t like letting anyone touch me. Fox logic and human logic are different. If a fox trusts someone enough to touch them, it’s kind of an all-in thing. And it doesn’t really go away for a while just because I’m back to being a person.”

“You being less stupidly anxious was good,” Hermione said. “Maybe you should try being a fox again.”

“And this morning was your idea,” Draco said. “You never talk about any of it, and you’re impossible to read. It’s hard to know what you like and what you’re just pretending to like.”

“You don’t seem to like when I start things,” Hermione said, carefully. “And you get pretty standoffish if I do something you’re not expecting or that you think is, I don’t know, out of line.”

“I meant it when I said I wasn’t used to it,” Draco said, taking his glass when she held it out. “I haven’t dated anyone who was as… open about being interested in things. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just new.”

“Do you actually have a preference for that?” Hermione said. She settled in on the other side of the couch, turning so she could face him. “The way the women you were dating acted, I mean.”

“I don’t think so,” Draco said. “Is it terrible if I said I didn’t know there was an alternative?”

“Not really,” Hermione said. “Some women like sex a lot. Some don’t. Or they pretend they don’t.”

“You know,” Draco said, sounding amused. “I know what you’re thinking, but contrary to popular belief, I haven’t only dated purebloods. And Pansy’s one and she seems to like it.”

“That’s kind of a thing in general,” Hermione said. “Women not thinking they should like sex. Or thinking they’re not allowed to say what they want.”

“I’m not actually as clueless as you’re currently implying,” Draco said, wryly. “It just feels slightly different in practice than in theory. And I meant it that it’s hard to know what you mean and what you’re pretending to mean.”

“I’m not actually faking any of the fooling around,” Hermione said. “I like it. And I like you not being totally stuck in your own head.”

“I also occasionally like not being totally stuck in my own head, but that’s easier said than done,” Draco said.

Hermione finished the rest of her glass. “I’ve got like four chapters left of the book I’m reading,” she said, thoughtfully. “Come be a fox while I finish it and have another glass of wine, then you can be yourself again and we can do whatever you want.”

She leaned in to kiss him again, at least a little because she wanted to make a point. “You need some down time where you’re not worrying about the case or worrying about rules with me or trying to overanalyze our fake relationship.”

“You seem to worry about me a lot for someone who claims not to like me very much,” Draco said, but he’d stayed close.

“I haven’t made that claim in at least three weeks,” Hermione murmured, teasing. “Maybe you’re less aggravating than I was expecting.”

“Am I?” Draco said.

“I’m not faking the part where we get along,” Hermione said. “And I’m not making up the part where I worry about you either, so come over here.”

Draco actually looked startled, but it didn’t last; he shifted, shook himself off, and then curled up on the other end of the sofa.

“Okay, no,” Hermione said, a little amused. “If it’s not beneath you, I actually meant that you should get in my lap while I read. Or at least come be next to me. It’s probably not very warm all the way over there.”

Draco lifted his head and looked at her again, but after a moment he stood up and came closer. He looked at the piece of sofa to the right of her, then finally climbed over a throw pillow to settle on top of her. He curled up again, but she was starting to think he liked being that way.

Hermione summoned her book and refilled her wine glass, then held a hand out toward him.

“Do you want me to touch you, yes or no?” she said. “Yes means you touch me first.”

Draco looked at her for a moment, then nudged his head against her hand.

“Let me know if you don’t like something,” Hermione said.

Draco’s spell for propping a book in front of you was, apparently, useful for something other than reading during breakfast, since she could bury both hands in his fur. It was much softer than it had been when he was wet and muddy. He really didn’t feel anything like a dog, or even like a cat curled up in her lap – somehow, it still just felt like Draco. He didn’t seem to mind being petted – at least, he hadn’t tried to bite her – so she settled in with her book. She noticed after a few minutes that he’d stretched out more and his eyes were closed, although he definitely wasn’t asleep.

“Don’t read this one, it has a stupid ending,” Hermione said, when she’d gotten to the end. She sent it to the shelf of bad books she’d been putting aside, just so she made sure not to read any of them again.

Draco opened his eyes to look at her.

“Want to be a person again?” Hermione offered. “Or if you like this better, I can find another book.”

He yawned, got up, and went back to the other side of the couch. He probably didn’t want to squash her.

“I don’t know why I never let anyone do that,” he said, thoughtfully. “It’s nice.”

Hermione laughed. “For one thing, barely anyone knows you can turn into a fox. For another, I’m not sure you like being touched by anyone until you get used to them.”

“Quit making logical arguments,” Draco said, coming back to settle over her. It was possibly accurate to say that he hadn’t wanted to suddenly squash her.

“Better?” Hermione said.

“Much,” Draco said. “It’s easier like that. If you’re touching me, I just assume you want to be or you wouldn’t do it. Foxes aren’t very into shades of grey.”

“Me either,” she said, wrapping a leg around him so she could rub up against him a little. “You can assume that the rest of the time, it’s true.”

“Don’t start that, I’m not going to want to say no,” Draco said, laughing.

“Does the fox thing change that?” she said.

“Not really,” Draco said. “I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do.” He finally kissed her. “Don’t worry, you can’t be coercive about snogging, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Just checking,” Hermione said. “Why can’t I start anything?”

“You’re going to derail my goals of drinking and being directly in front of the fireplace,” Draco said. “But you should come be with me in front of the fireplace and pour drinks.”

“You’re useless,” Hermione said, but she pushed him aside carefully and went to sit near the fireplace. She poured another glass of wine by hand. “Maybe you can do indecent things to me on the rug instead. Not that you ever actually get that indecent about it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Draco said, coming over. As per usual, he took the spot that was as close to the fireplace as you could get without actually lying in it.

“That you have a really excessive amount of self-control,” Hermione said. “And that you’re driving me crazy.”

“I don’t think it’s excessive, exactly,” Draco said. “Although I’m still not sure I’m following.”

“The last time I spent a month just snogging someone while mostly keeping my clothes on was – oh, never,” Hermione said.

Draco had stretched out, but he propped himself up on his elbows to look at her. “Your shirt comes off all the time,” he said. “You said that was fine, but no further.”

“Oh my god,” Hermione said, faintly. “That was for fake kissing!”

“You look mad all of a sudden,” Draco said, thoughtfully. “Do I need to consider going and hiding under the bed again?”

“I’m not mad,” Hermione said. “Just annoyed that you’re apparently much better about not wanting sex than I am.”

“I know this is an obnoxious assignment and you want to get back to London,” Draco said.

“What?” Hermione said.

“I know your options for people to… date are limited short of the weird smuggling cartel next door,” he said.

“I –“ Hermione said, then finally threw the wine cork at him. She was starting to wonder if she could kill him and blame evil criminals. “That’s not remotely what this conversation is about.”

“Under the bed is starting to seem more appealing by the second,” Draco said.

“We could be having a really ridiculous amount of sex, and we’re not because – I don’t know, you’re weird about case reports or something,” Hermione said. “Or you don’t want to, but that seems a little unlikely given the amount of time you spend getting really turned on around me.”

“Wait, what?” Draco said, sitting up further.

“I like sex,” Hermione said. “I think you probably also like sex. I could definitely make you less ambivalent about sex if you’re not sure, I’m good in bed. I will delightedly write all the fake reports you want me to.”

“No, not that part,” Draco said. “You – do you want to?”

“I’m about ready to kill someone if we spend another two hours fooling around on the couch and there aren’t orgasms involved,” Hermione said. “That someone is likely to be you.”

“You want to have sex with me?” Draco said. He looked very confused. “Is this some – I mean, do you feel like there’s something wrong with our cover?”

“No!” Hermione said. There weren’t any other convenient objects to throw at him, which was sort of a disappointment. “I don’t want to have sex in front of the neighbors, I just want to have sex. With you. Here is fine. The bed is fine. The shower would be fine. The kitchen floor would be fine.”

“But you –“ Draco said, after a moment. He was studying her. “Do you actually mean that?”

“Yes,” Hermione said. “Do you not want to? Because I can live with that, but if it’s because of Auror rules or something, I’m going to lobby heavily that we break them.”

“I hadn’t actually thought about it,” Draco said, then presumably caught the look on her face. “Not like that. I didn’t think… I wouldn’t have thought you’d be interested.”

It occurred to Hermione that she was probably being unreasonable for someone who hadn’t actually brought it up.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” she said, going to sit next to him.

“You don’t actually like me,” Draco said. “And I think I might not… really be the kind of person you usually sleep with.”

“That’s not true, we seem to be getting along just fine,” Hermione said. “And there isn’t a type of person I sleep with. It’s just sex. It’s not like you have to marry me for real if we have some.”

“That wasn’t what I meant,” Draco said. “And you could maybe stop being condescending.”

“Sorry,” Hermione said, after a moment. “You’re right. That wasn’t fair of me.”

“Acting like I’m weird about sex isn’t a particularly good strategy for getting me to sleep with you,” Draco said.

“I don’t think you’re weird about sex,” Hermione said, after a minute, then carefully went to sit next to him. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. I just genuinely thought you knew I was interested.”

“I didn’t,” Draco said. He was looking at her again. “I meant it when I said you were hard to read. And I really can’t tell when you’re acting.”

“I know,” Hermione said, moving in against his side. “And I know I’m horrible at talking about things sometimes. But I’m interested if you’re interested.” She nudged him with her elbow. “And trust me, after this much fooling around, I want you so much it isn’t funny. I don’t have a type, but even if I did, my type would currently pretty much be you.”

Draco had gone still for a moment. “So all the things you’ve been saying you want to do with me while we’ve been pretending for our cover,” he said. “You actually meant them?”

“I did,” Hermione said. “But we can do absolutely anything you want.”

“I think I’m going to take a pass on the kitchen floor,” Draco said, finally. “But everything else has sounded good.”

“Yeah?” Hermione said, sliding a leg over his so she could press close. “Anything in particular?”

“I wasn’t memorizing specifics,” Draco said, dryly. “I thought you were acting.”

“I am so interested that I don’t care how we do this,” Hermione said, laughing softly. “I would even go for in bed with the lights out if you really like that sort of thing.”

“I think I’m going to take advantage of your thing for adventurous sex,” Draco said, thoughtfully. “I’m pretty sure I’ll like it.”

“I’m good with basically anything at this point,” Hermione said. “You tell me what you like, we’ll do that.”

She sat up so she could straddle him, stopping so she could pull her shirt off. Draco was staring, so she leaned to kiss him.

“We’ve done a lot of this in less clothes,” she said, amused. “It’s not exactly adventurous yet.”

“It’s a little different when I know you actually want it,” Draco said, sliding his hands up her back.

“Sorry,” Hermione said, kissing him again. “For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have gotten mad about not having sex if I didn’t really like the rest of it.”

“Do you?” Draco said. “Or is it just that you’re stuck in a house with me?” He propped himself up so he could kiss her. “It’s not a loaded question. I’m just curious.”

“If you’re asking if I’d have initiated anything if I hadn’t gotten sent on a ridiculous assignment with you, probably not,” Hermione said. “But if you’re asking if I’d be offering this to anyone I’d been sent on said ridiculous assignment with, also probably not.” She grinned. “I like the way you kiss. And you’re not exactly bad with your hands.”

“You know that from the overwhelming amount of time you spend making me dice vegetables,” Draco said. “I’m on to you.”

“That’s definitely it,” Hermione agreed. “Not that you have a tendency to get overly grabby or anything.”

“Just to ask before we really want to stop talking,” Draco said. “Is this like the rest of it, only we take it further?”

“I think it’s going to be harder to miss that I like it,” Hermione said. “But yeah, that’s pretty much what I was thinking.”

“And you don’t care if it’s not perfect?” Draco said.

“Who has perfect sex?” Hermione said, laughing softly. “Try not to knock the coffee table over onto me. If it’s anything else, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we have plenty of free time to work on it.” She reached to run her fingers through his hair, since he usually liked it. “I’m going to be really put out if I have to go read another book with you in my lap to get you relaxed enough for sex.”

Draco caught her mouth in a kiss. “That’s what you get for yelling at me,” he said. “I got all wound up again. You might have to do something about it.”

“I really might,” Hermione said. “Although I can think of much better ways of getting you to relax.”

“I’m not exceptionally good at thinking about anything with you all over me,” Draco agreed. “We should try that.”

“I was thinking we could just do the usual thing,” Hermione murmured, “except maybe instead of us calling it and you getting off in the shower, you could stay here and get off with me.”

“You’re not going to make me any better at thinking if you keep saying things like that,” Draco said.

Hermione moved for a minute so she could kick off her jeans and undo her bra. Draco was terrible with clasps.

“I could say a lot of things like that,” Hermione said. “Or you could take some clothes off and come fool around with me until you’re ready for me to do better things with my mouth.”

“Sure, I could go for –“ Draco said, then stopped. He’d only gotten halfway out of his shirt, so she laughed and reached to pull it the rest of the way over his head.

“Problem?” she said, amused.

“That’s not going to be one of those special occasion things with you, is it,” Draco said, after another minute.

“God, no,” Hermione said, reaching to undo his belt for him. His hands didn’t seem particularly steady, so she thought a little help probably wouldn’t hurt. “The only thing I save for special occasions is cake. I’ll go down on you as much as you want, I like it.” She grinned. “Actually, you can probably talk me into doing pretty much anything as much as you want, there’s not a lot I don’t like.”

“I was just going to fake it like I usually do and pretend I’m used to you talking like that,” Draco said. “But apparently I’ve been seriously underestimating what I thought I was used to, I’m going to have to rethink the whole acting bit.”

Hermione stretched out in front of the fireplace. “That made absolutely no sense,” she said. “Just get down here.”

“I guess I might be willing to do that,” Draco said. He looked like he was overthinking settling on top of her, but she stroked her palms up his back and felt him relax when it got familiar. “Still okay?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione said, solemnly. “I’m wondering if maybe we should move out to the beach.”

“You do realize you just implied I could have anything I wanted and started things in front of the fireplace,” Draco said, dryly. “Are you actually operating under the impression we’re having sex somewhere else if I can help it?”

“No, but we don’t usually sleep out here,” Hermione said. “You might have to concede to my side of the bed in the morning. Then your side of the bed.” She arched up underneath him, getting him to rest more of his weight on her. “Then maybe the shower. But I might be open to coming back over here after lunch if you’re really set on it.”

She saw Draco swallow. “That’s a lot of sex,” he said.

“I like sex,” Hermione said. “And I’m really going to like sex with you.”

“You seem very sure of that for someone who hasn’t had any with me yet,” Draco said, although he sounded more comfortable than he had before.

Hermione nudged her nose against his before she kissed him. “This may be a surprise, but I actually do like you,” she murmured. “And I want you. So maybe go along with me on this one?”

“I guess I haven’t had anything with you either,” Draco said. He was smiling. “Maybe you just talk a good game.”

“You’re welcome to test that theory,” Hermione said.

Draco kissed her, then settled in closer and kissed her harder, and even if she’d been annoyed with it earlier, there was a reason she’d really wanted more. He relaxed again once they got back into familiar territory, and all the kissing was significantly more enjoyable when she knew she wasn’t just going to end up completely frustrated later. And she was a little surprised to realize exactly how much he’d been holding back.

“Do you think –“ he murmured against her mouth. They’d been kissing for so long the fire had started to burn down low.

“Less of this, more sex?” Hermione said.

“Something like that,” Draco said. His breathing was uneven. “I can – I mean –“ He finally laughed. “Please just tell me what you want, I can’t think.”

“I really don’t need any more warm-up,” Hermione said, amused. “I’m very on board if you do, though.”

“No,” Draco said. “Really, really no.”

“We can try more exciting foreplay later,” Hermione said. “Or after this, really.”

“Quit distracting me with good ideas,” Draco said, kissing her. “And please don’t ask me to be coherent.”

“As long as you don’t expect me to,” she said, pushing him off carefully so she could finish undressing. She reached to brush her thumb over his lower lip before she kissed him again. “Don’t worry about getting off before I do, I don’t care.” She let him go so he could get out of his jeans. “No pressure. Seriously.”

“The low key thing is kind of –“ Draco spelled the fire back up, then settled back down next to her, tilting her face up so he could kiss her. “Hot? I might like it.”

“And if I tell you what to do, don’t think you’re doing something wrong,” Hermione said.

“No, instructions are great,” Draco said. He sounded happy. “I can work with those. And it’d be weird if you didn’t, you seem to like getting me to do what you want.”

“Are you calling me bossy?” Hermione teased. “Because you can tell me what to do too. I’m equal opportunity.”

“I promise not to worry about literally anything if you’ll stop laying things out and have sex with me,” Draco said. “And I had to read your pre-assignment physical and I’m assuming you had to read mine, so we don’t have to have that conversation. We can just have sex. Five minutes ago.”

Hermione kissed him again, arching her back as an invitation. “In that case, come over here,” she said. “I’m guessing you want to be on top.”

“No?” Draco said, kissing her. “Not if I can have it the other way around. And you said you liked everything, so if you don’t care…” He grinned. “I lied, I was paying attention to some of what you’ve said about our fake sex life, I’m taking you up on that one.” He trailed his fingertips down her spine. “It sounds fun.”

It hadn’t been what she was expecting, but then again, she had a feeling that some of the things she’d been assuming about Draco had been very wrong.

“It’s very fun,” she said, sitting up and pushing him onto his back with a hand on his shoulder. “You’re good?”

“I’m great, quit asking and fuck me,” Draco said. “Really.”

Hermione laughed, because he apparently hadn’t had any trouble catching up with her on wanting sex. She leaned to nip at his lower lip as she got a leg over him and slid down onto his cock. He kissed her back hard, settling his hands on her hips.

“Maybe give me a little room to move,” he said, breathlessly. “I can’t.”

“That’s currently the point,” she said, amused. “Want to see why I like this?”

“Oh,” Draco said, then she shifted her hips and felt his grip tighten against her skin. “Oh.”

“Yeah, it’s about that good from here too,” Hermione said. “You can get in on it in a minute.”

“I’m just going to, ah,” Draco said. He was staring. “You should – do things? And I can just…”

“You can stop thinking,” Hermione said. “I’m about to stop thinking.”

“Oh thank god,” Draco said, faintly.

The first round didn’t last that long, which wasn’t exactly a surprise given the fact that she’d been wanting it for a month, but he rolled her over after and made very good on all the times he’d pinned her against the couch and hadn’t followed through. Draco kissed like he meant it, which apparently was a philosophy he applied to everything else, and she vaguely considered taking down all the silencing charms so she could justify the amount of noise they were making. He was a little unfamiliar with some of it, but he was also a lot better than she’d expected at being willing to admit when he was in over his head. And he was good enough at taking directions that she eventually had to admit that her enthusiasm had absolutely nothing to do with the build-up.

“Okay, okay,” she said, finally, completely out of breath, her hands still buried in his hair. “No more orgasms, you’re going to kill me, I need air.”

“You said that ten minutes ago, but then you said keep going,” Draco said, but he shifted to kiss the inside of her thigh, then her hip, then rolled over to sprawl out next to her. He was breathing hard too.

“My lungs are kind of sorry I didn’t call it there,” Hermione said. “Nothing else is, though.”

“I’m not sorry either,” Draco agreed, rolling over to kiss her.

“Damn it, stop that,” she said, shoving at his shoulder. She felt a little giddy. “You’re going to make me want more.”

“That’s a really bad argument if you want me to stop,” Draco said, nuzzling under her jaw.

Hermione gave in and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’m good,” she said. “I don’t know how that’s possible, but I think I need some sleep before we do that about ten more times.”

“Hey,” Draco said, poking her side. “Don’t sound so surprised.”

“I meant based on how badly I wanted you a couple hours ago,” Hermione said. “I still do. I just don’t feel like I’m going to go insane if I don’t fuck you in the next five minutes.” She kissed him. “In the next five hours, maybe, but that’s enough time for a nap.”

“You might have to wait longer, I think I’m going to sleep like the dead,” Draco said. “It’s possible I shouldn’t have skipped from being used to having sex once to having sex about five times in a row.”

“Actually, you definitely should have done that,” Hermione said, kissing him. “That was an excellent call. Although I don’t know how anyone stopped at once.”

Draco laughed. “Their loss is apparently your gain,” he said. “Or at least you seem to think so.”

“You’re great in bed,” Hermione said. “I’m not saying I didn’t think that, I’m just saying I didn’t really think we were going to get there tonight.” She tangled their legs together. “You get a little too in your head. Occasionally.”

“You make it very hard to get nervous,” Draco said, dryly. “You’re too busy telling me you like everything and bossing me around.”

Hermione grinned. “How am I supposed to get you to keep doing things if I don’t tell you?”

“That definitely wasn’t me complaining,” Draco said. “I like it. It’s easy to make you happy.”

“I’m going to get you to ask for everything you want in the morning,” Hermione said, with a grin. “You might need more convincing that you like sex.”

“I liked sex before you showed up,” he said, dryly. “But I really like sex with you too, don’t worry.”

“Shh,” Hermione said. “You’re supposed to say you’re still on the fence.”

“You’re the one who decided I was on the fence,” Draco said. “But I’m very willing to let you do anything you want with me.”

“I’m going to really regret it in the morning if I fall asleep here,” Hermione said, yawning.

“Probably,” Draco said. “I, on the other hand, have a neat trick for when I’m too exhausted to move.”

“Really, Draco?” Hermione said, after he’d turned into a fox, although it was sort of funny. “That’s cheating.”

He disappeared into the bedroom, and by the time she’d found a glass of water and gone in, there was a distinctly fox-shaped ball under the duvet on Draco’s side of the bed.

“What happened to cuddling?” she said, amused. “You’re not allowed to cuddle me while I’m naked if you’re a fox.”

Draco turned back into a human, which was sort of impressive given all the blankets.

“You might have to get used to it,” he said. “You started that, I didn’t like being touched and now I do. And my brain isn’t in eighty places at once when I’m changed.” He burrowed deeper into the blankets. “I can’t overthink anything.”

“It’s very weird if we just finished having sex,” Hermione said, climbing in.

“Foxes don’t think about sex,” Draco said, dryly. “There’s the occasional distraction of making baby foxes, which is very out for me considering I’m actually a human, but honestly, I care significantly more about you being a heat source than you being naked if I’m a fox.”

He reached to pull her closer. “Although that seems like a downside at the moment, admittedly. I like you being naked.”

“Oh, no,” Hermione said, laughing. “Quick, change back before we start having more sex and I can’t move tomorrow.”

“Now I can’t tell if you want me to start something or not,” Draco said, nuzzling the back of her neck. “No sending mixed signals.”

“We should probably sleep,” Hermione said.

“Okay, good plan,” Draco said.

“Emphasis on probably,” Hermione said. “Want to make bad decisions with me?”

“I definitely like that plan better,” Draco said, sliding a hand down her stomach.

Chapter Text

They didn’t really get out of bed all weekend – mostly, since Draco’s fondness for the fireplace and the couch definitely extended to sex – but the weather was awful, so it wasn’t like Draco was missing out on much surveillance. And they’d spent so much time pretending to disappear into the bedroom that actually disappearing to have sex probably didn’t seem any different from next door, although Hermione was glad no one was keeping track of how much reading she suddenly wasn’t doing.

After two weeks, they’d stopped jumping each other every time they’d ended up in the same room, but it really wasn’t so much that Hermione was tired of it than that she’d started missing actually cooking dinner together and reading on the couch at night. Draco seemed happier, too, and even if he still found surveillance stressful, he definitely liked coming in and getting warm with her after.

“You’re watching me read,” Hermione said, when they’d curled up together on the couch one evening. Draco had an arm around her shoulders. “You’d better not be planning on stealing my book.”

“I wasn’t actually looking at the book,” Draco said.

“Oh?” Hermione said, glancing up at him.

“Just thinking that I like this,” Draco said. “You’re good for me.”

“Damn, I was enjoying being a bad influence,” Hermione said, with a smile. They’d just left up the privacy charms in the living room, since at this point the neighbors didn’t actually seem to care. And Draco definitely liked sex on the couch.

“You are,” Draco said. “I might miss being stressed. I had enough motivation to actually get work done.”

“I’m very sorry,” Hermione said. “Maybe we should go back to not having sex.”

“Hmm, finishing reports early or seeing you naked on a regular basis,” Draco said. “It’s a toss-up, really.”

“That’s a really hard choice,” Hermione agreed, laughing. “You can let me know what you decide in a few hours when you get back from stalking the targets.”

“You might have to convince me,” Draco said, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “I really like case files.”

“I like case files too,” Hermione said. “Case files don’t steal all the blankets or turn into foxes in the middle of the night and dig their tiny paws underneath your ribs to poke your liver.”

“That’s a very specific complaint,” Draco said, mildly.

“I’m going to become an Animagus just so you have to share the bed with an otter,” Hermione said. “I’ll be able to whack you with my tail.”

“That’s going to be a lot less useful for scouting,” Draco said. “Unless we’re exploring a smuggling ring up the Thames or something, I guess you never know when you’ll need to do aquatic surveillance. Besides, I’ll still have done it first.”

“Note that my goal wasn’t to show you up,” Hermione said, and kissed him. “Just to keep you from sleeping.”

“You know, I can think of much easier ways to do that,” Draco said, mildly.

“I hate hard work and challenging things,” Hermione said. “I guess I’ll stick to sex.”

“Good choice,” Draco said. “Let me know how that works out.”

“It’s been going pretty well so far,” Hermione said.

“You know I have to go out in half an hour,” Draco said. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“That’s totally enough time to have sex,” Hermione said. “Want to?”

“I lied, you’re actually terrible for me,” Draco said, starting to unbutton her shirt.

“Just stop talking,” Hermione murmured.

Another week passed, and even if she hadn’t actually expected to be there through Christmas, Draco was surprisingly enthusiastic about decorating a tree and spelling tiny, glowing lights all over the front of the house. He even spent an afternoon carefully consulting a cookbook and produced some decent gingerbread. Still, as nice as the whole thing was, she was really looking forward to Christmas for a reason that had nothing to do with Draco or the assignment.

Hermione did her level best not to get overly excited about Harry on Christmas morning – Draco was definitely helping dampen her enthusiasm, since he’d been refusing to come inside all afternoon – but it was the longest amount of time they’d spent apart since the first few summers in school, and she’d missed him. She didn’t actually climb over the back of the couch and run to the door when she heard the doorbell, but it was a close thing.

“Harry!” she said, opening the door and flinging her arms around him.

“Merry Christmas to you too,” Harry said, laughing. “Stop it, you’re going to make me drop the wine.”

“We have plenty, I don’t care,” Hermione said, then paused.

“It’s probably a good thing you weren’t carrying the pie,” Pansy said, because Pansy Parkinson was definitely coming up the front stairs behind Harry. “Granger. I suppose I’d better say Merry Christmas lest you refuse to let me inside.”

“Did we know you were coming?” Hermione said, after a pause.

“No, because someone couldn’t be bothered to leave a forwarding address,” Pansy said.

“So you came with… Harry?” Hermione said.

“We’re having a lot of sex, I used it as leverage to make Potter bring me so I could see Draco since he’s refusing to return any of my fucking owls,” Pansy said.

“You know what, I wasn’t going to lead with that,” Harry said. “In fact, I was sincerely hoping not to tell them at all.”

“I’m only willing to be a dirty little secret inside the bedroom,” Pansy said. “Where is Draco, anyway?”

“Er, pretending to do something out back to avoid Harry,” Hermione said. “I’ll just… go find him.”

“Great, we’ll help ourselves to the alcohol,” Pansy said.

“Make yourselves at home,” Hermione said, finally, heading for the back door.

Draco had apparently ignored her instructions not to go too far and was out on the beach with a book.

“I said you should get me when dinner was ready,” he said. “There’s no way the roast is done.”

“It’s not,” Hermione said. “But apparently Pansy tagged along, if you want to come up and see her.”

Pansy?” Draco said. “Did she put Potter under Imperius or something to get him to give up where we’re staying?”

“Worse, apparently they’re sleeping together,” Hermione said, trying not to laugh. It wasn’t as if she could really judge Harry over the whole thing.

“What?” Draco said. “Tell me you’re kidding.”

“Sadly, no,” Hermione said. “Come on, now we’re all going to have to drink heavily to get through dinner. It’ll be festive.”

“I’ll bring up the umbrella,” Draco said. She wasn’t entirely sure why he was stalling, but she figured she probably wasn’t going to talk him out of it.

When she got back to the house, Harry had already eaten half of the cheese plate. Pansy was rummaging around in the liquor cabinet. “How do they not have vodka? Who doesn’t have vodka?”

“It’s in the freezer,” Hermione said.

“Is that some sort of extremely weird muggle storage thing?” Pansy said. “Explain to me again why you people live like this. I think you broke Draco, Potter says you don’t even have a house elf.”

“I have a freezer,” Harry said. “You interact with it on a regular basis. It’s where the ice is.”

“Oh, that,” Pansy said, going over to it. “I thought it was called an ice holder. You didn’t tell me it had more than one name.”

“It doesn’t. You started calling it that, and I thought it was cute,” Harry said, taking another bite of cheese. “So I didn’t actually bother to correct you.”

“If you ever refer to anything I do as cute again, I will end you,” Pansy said. “I know the dark arts. I’m completely willing to use them.”

“If only I were good at defense against those,” Harry said. “I mean, it’s not like I’m in charge of an entire magical law division or anything, really. Shame.”

Draco pushed open the back door, and Pansy abandoned the freezer to go over him.

“Hi,” Draco said.

Pansy punched him in the face.

“Ow,” Draco said, faintly.

“I definitely didn’t know she was going to do that when I brought her,” Harry said, thoughtfully. “Although to be honest it probably would have helped her case.”

“I can’t believe you,” Pansy said. “First you have this whole secret relationship with Granger that you don’t say anything about, and then you get married without even telling me, I found out from the bloody newspaper, and then you run off to France and can’t even be bothered to write me back. I only know where you’re living because I’m fucking Potter!”

“I’m sorry, I would have, but I –“ Draco started. He had both hands pressed to his nose.

“Sorry isn’t going to cut it,” Pansy said.

“Wait for it,” Harry said.

She reached behind her and threw a cocktail glass at Draco, but Harry summoned it back before it could go anywhere.

“I was using that,” Pansy said. She was still glaring at Draco.

“Not for its intended purpose, which was a vodka cranberry,” Harry said. “Come finish making it.”

“I’m not healing that,” Pansy said, coming back over to the counter. “Get your wife to do it.”

“Nope,” Hermione said. “I didn’t know he wasn’t owling you. It’s officially his problem.”

Hermione,” Draco said. He sounded vaguely pathetic. “You’re not even going to help a little?”

“I think you’ll be okay,” Hermione said. “You should have at least told her where we were.”

Pansy paused. “You might not be quite as horrible as I originally expected,” she said.

“I think he might view getting punched in the face as some sort of long game foreplay, though,” Hermione said. “Maybe try kicking next time.”

“Don’t drink my whiskey, Pansy,” Harry said. “Come on, Malfoy. The light’s better outside, we should probably figure out if it’s broken before I try anything.”

“I hate all of you,” Draco said, but he followed Harry out onto the patio.

Pansy promptly stole Harry’s glass.

“So,” she said. “How’s married life with my traitor best friend? What does anyone even do in a stupid beach house in France, anyway?”

“Have excessive amounts of sex and make a lot of fruity drinks with umbrellas in them,” Hermione said, pouring herself a glass of wine. “The usual.”

“He’s not terrible at making horrible tropical drinks,” Pansy said. “Insufficient evidence to weigh in on the rest of it.”

“I think the ‘excessive’ part probably tells you everything you need to know about what I think about that,” Hermione said. “So, you and Harry…”

“Also having excessive amounts of sex,” Pansy said. “No umbrella drinks, though.”

“I was more wondering how that happened,” Hermione said, dryly.

“She showed up and threatened to eviscerate me in front of the entire department if I didn’t tell her where Malfoy went, we commiserated about how terrible you both were over drinks, and after that, I have no idea. There were a lot of drinks,” Harry said, coming back in. “Damn it, Pansy, what did I just say?”

“That we could share if I poured more?” Pansy said.

“That is definitely not what I said,” Harry said, but he wrapped an arm around her waist as he summoned the bottle from the cabinet.

“Is it safe to come back inside?” Draco said.

“I think I’m done throwing things,” Pansy said. “You can come grovel.”

“So, Harry, want to come see the duvet and my nightstand?” Hermione said. “It’s got a lot of books on it.”

“Brilliant, absolutely,” Harry said, letting go of Pansy. “Let’s do it. Have fun, make sure to get rid of the body if you kill him.”

“Thanks,” Draco said, dryly. “I really appreciate the vote of confidence.”

Hermione shut the bedroom door behind them. “Really?” she said. “Pansy?”

“Yeah, I know,” Harry said, lifting a hand to the back of his neck sheepishly. “But she doesn’t care at all about the whole… boy hero thing. And everyone’s stopped trying to get stupid photos of us to publish because she keeps transfiguring their cameras into sex toys.” He laughed. “Plus she’s convinced that my coffee maker only works because she talks it into making coffee the night before. It’s weirdly charming.”

“It’s mostly just weird,” Hermione said. “But I guess I’m happy if you’re happy.”

“I don’t know if it’s going anywhere,” Harry said. “But I might like her.”

“We’re okay to talk in here and in the living room, by the way,” Hermione said. “We figured we could get away with soundproofing those. Although they mostly ignore us at this point.”

“Then I guess you’re doing a good job of being convincing,” Harry said. “It shouldn’t be much longer. Most of the buyers have been willing to flip. I know you’d probably like to come home, but everything we’re getting from you is making the case.”

“I’m getting paid to be on a beach vacation,” Hermione said, amused. “I miss you, but I’m not sure I miss you that much. You can visit.”

“I’m not sure the whole beach vacation thing is compensation for Malfoy,” Harry said. “I promise you’re getting an enormous holiday bonus for what it’s worth.”

“He’s okay,” Hermione said. “Trust me, it could be worse. At least he’s never boring.”

“You were always good at making the best of bad situations,” Harry said, coming to hug her. “But I do in fact miss you that much.”

“What, the crossword puzzles aren’t enough?” Hermione said, lightly, but she hugged him back. “I miss you too.”

“If it makes you feel better, trying to solve crimes without you is terrible,” Harry said, then paused. “Also, I think Malfoy might actually have been pulling his weight without letting on. I can’t seem to get anything done without him. Please don’t tell him I said so.”

“I know he was, he’s aggravatingly competent,” Hermione said.

“You could have stopped at aggravating,” Harry said. “Think it’s safe to go back out?”

“Probably,” Hermione said. “They’re Slytherins. It’s either done in three minutes or a lifelong feud.”

True to form, Pansy and Draco had their heads bent over something together on the counter.

“Well?” Hermione said.

“Look, Pansy got me a Snitch,” Draco said. “It’s a really nice one. Firebolt put out a new line of them, they’re a lot faster.”

“I might actually be jealous,” Harry said.

“That’s a nice present,” Hermione said, going to duck under Draco’s arm, which he slid around her shoulders. “The one you brought is starting to list to the right when it flies.”

“I do use it a lot,” he said, looking down at her.

Harry was staring when Hermione looked up, but he went to get another glass of whiskey.

“Your present’s in London,” he said. “Freya’s teaching her bad habits. You can have her when you get home.”

“My present is a her?” Hermione said.

“I got you an owl,” Harry said. “I know you said you weren’t ready for another cat, but she’s different. And I thought you could use her for work. Besides, Freya gets lonely in the office. I would have brought her, but we took a portkey.”

“Freya gets lonely in the office because you won’t make her go to the owlery where she belongs,” Pansy said, but she was definitely teasing. “The new one’s sort of cute, Granger. She’s still fluffy.”

“Your present is also in London,” Draco said, ruefully. “I didn’t know you were coming, so I sent it.”

“Oh, good, one piece of mail in months,” Pansy said, but she didn’t sound overly put out about it anymore.

“Our beach village doesn’t exactly have a lot of excellent shopping,” Hermione said, trying not to laugh. “So I had to mail order something.”

She went to get the box from under the tree. “You have to act surprised when you see it.”

“Er, okay,” Harry said. “I don’t know what it is, so I think I’m probably –“ He started to laugh when he got the wrapping paper open.

“Pansy and I apparently have good taste in gifts,” Hermione said, because she’d gotten him the same Snitch.

“I guess we’d better go out after dinner and see whose is faster,” Harry said. “You know. Quality control for the Games and Sports division.”

“Speaking of dinner,” Hermione said, going to check the roast. “I think this is about done.”

Dinner went a lot better than she was expecting; Draco was happy enough to have Pansy around that he apparently forgot how annoyed he’d been about Harry’s visit, and Harry seemed to have developed a much higher tolerance for Slytherin baiting. She had apparently done the same thing, because Pansy’s smart remarks seemed almost affectionate.

“I’m not actually sure you’re going to have any leftovers,” Harry said. “Although I guess I’m not that sorry for bringing along an extra person.”

“Careful, Potter, she’ll start to think you’re in it for more than just sex,” Draco said, sounding amused.

“He’d better not,” Pansy said, but she glanced at Harry a little too quickly. “We can’t all marry horrible Gryffindors.”

“Who said anything about marriage?” Harry said. “You won’t even let me buy you dinner.”

“We eat things in the same place all the time,” Pansy said. “That counts.”

“That’s a slippery slope,” Hermione said. “You’re going to be exchanging terrifying Slytherin rings in no time.”

“I guess my mother does nearly like him,” Pansy said, thoughtfully.

Harry looked like he was trying not to laugh. “Don’t worry, she hasn’t met me. I promise I’ll ruin it immediately if I get the chance.”

“Your mother likes him?” Draco said. “Since when does she like anyone you’re dating? She barely even put up with me.”

“He’s perfectly respectable on one side,” Pansy said. “It’s not like you can complain about his dad. And even the Malfoys don’t care about half-bloods anymore. Besides, he’s famous and has a really excessive amount of gold. She’s willing to overlook mediocre breeding for that. I’ve been informed at length.”

Hermione was a little startled to realize that Harry, apparently, found it funny.

“You talked to your mother about me,” he said. “Now you have to let me buy you dinner.”

“Her owl showed up at your flat while I was asleep and you wrote her back,” Pansy said. “I’m not sure how you thought that wasn’t going to come up.”

“Don’t fail to owl your mum and then come infect my bed with magic-resistant flu or whatever the hell that was,” Harry said. “You didn’t wake up for two days, I didn’t want her to turn up demanding proof of life or something.”

“How are you this bad at subterfuge?” Pansy said.

“Take it from us, you should probably be glad he’s horrible,” Draco said. “People get mad if you don’t tell anyone.”

“At least you got Granger,” Pansy said. “I mean, if I’d known we were divvying up Gryffindors, I’d have called dibs.”

“I got there first,” Draco said, and Hermione blinked; there was the smallest bit of an edge to it.

“Yes, I’m aware,” Pansy said. “I guess I’ll have to make do with him.”

“Thanks,” Harry said. “I think I’d go with you over Malfoy, though. He’s not exactly the right gender.”

You got lucky,” she said. “I’m obviously the superior choice here. Poor Granger.”

“I’m just going to go with that,” Harry said. “Want to go chase Snitches?”

“After I help with the dishes, sure,” Draco said.

“No, go ahead,” Hermione said, with a smile. “I think I can handle it this once. Pansy can manage making me a cocktail while I clean up.”

“Why not?” Pansy said. “Vodka for everyone. Except you two, falling off a broomstick into the ocean probably wouldn’t be advisable.”

“So vodka for us, basically,” Hermione said.

“Vodka for everyone of any importance,” Pansy amended.

“Are you sure?” Draco said. “She’ll probably break all our plates.”

“On the bright side, I’m a witch,” Hermione said. “I can handle any broken dishware.”

“All right,” Draco said, getting up. He leaned over to kiss her. “No dueling.”

“No dueling out there either,” Hermione said, with a grin. “I’d like both of you in one piece.”

Harry looked vaguely scandalized at the kissing, but he held open the door for Draco. Hermione wasn’t exactly sympathetic since he’d gotten them into the whole thing.

“He’s in over his head with you,” Pansy remarked. “But then again, that’s nothing new.”

“Not really, no,” Hermione said, standing up to start sending the plates into the kitchen. “I’m genuinely sorry we surprised everyone. We probably should have been a little more functional about the whole thing.”

She wasn’t entirely sure what the plan was for when they got back, but it didn’t seem like a terrible idea to work on mending fences with Pansy before Draco inevitably had to break them again.

“Oh, please,” Pansy said, going over to the sideboard. “I wasn’t surprised. I was just mad that he didn’t tell me and then took off to France for months. It was stupid. He knows me better than that.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione said. “Harry was definitely surprised.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m shocked Draco managed to get it together for long enough to ask you out,” Pansy said, pouring the drinks. “Or whatever it is that people do when they’re not getting drunk and having inadvisable sex. And I’m very surprised he talked you into it. But you and him? That’s not news.”

Hermione suddenly wasn’t having a lot of success getting the plates into the kitchen, although Pansy didn’t seem to notice.

“I didn’t really get the impression he liked me,” she said. “I – you know. Before we… got drunk and had inadvisable sex.”

“Damn, I was hoping that wasn’t how it went, Harry’s going to get ideas,” Pansy said. She glanced up. “Of course he liked you. He’s been head over heels for years. Don’t pretend like you didn’t know it, he’s terrible at secrets.”

Hermione lost focus and dropped all four of the plates she’d had in the air.

“Do I need to keep you away from the vodka too?” Pansy said. “And Draco says I’m bad about breaking things. At least I do it on purpose.”

“Sorry,” Hermione managed. “I’m… not great at this spell.”

“I didn’t mean I was actually going to cut you off,” Pansy said. “You don’t have to lie about it.” She looked amused. “You claiming to be bad at magic is about the least believable thing I’ve ever heard. You should really just admit you’re getting drunk. It’s not like I’m going to judge.”

“I think – maybe that was too much wine,” Hermione said, vaguely.

“No such thing,” Pansy said, flicking her wand at the plates, which repaired themselves and settled in the sink. “Come drink this, then we’ll have a perfectly good excuse to make them clean up.”

“That’s really not enough vodka,” Hermione said. “Maybe double that.”

“Hah, maybe you do know how to have fun,” Pansy said. “They’re going to be out there all night. We might have to pretend to get along until we’re drunk enough to actually get along.”

“I think I’ve got a deck of Bestiary cards around here somewhere,” Hermione said. “You’re right, they can do the dishes.”

“You rebel,” Pansy said. “I’m much better than Draco, he can’t win without cheating.”

By the time Harry and Draco came back in, looking cold and wind-swept, she was very drunk. Although she was definitely beating Pansy at the game, which was a minor consolation. Apparently focusing very hard on it in an attempt not to think about anything else was paying off.

“Sorry, I decided to be a bad influence,” Pansy said. “We didn’t get to the dishes. If you had a house elf, it wouldn’t matter.”

“I’ve made this point repeatedly,” Draco said, but he looked really happy.

“The Snitches are brilliant, by the way,” Harry said. “Thanks, Hermione.”

“Two chimeras beat that lethifold,” Hermione said. “Give it here.”

“I’m blocking with a second lethifold,” Pansy said. “It’s cute that you think I’m going to let you win.”

Draco came over, summoning a few logs into the fireplace and lighting them. He leaned down to kiss her before she could think about stopping him.

“Having fun?” he said, looking at her cards. He laughed. “How many drinks has Pansy made you, exactly? You’ve got another one of those, just take her lethifolds.”

“Oh, I do,” Hermione said, playing it. “Give them here, they can go in my menagerie.”

“That’s cheating,” Pansy said. “No fair interfering, Malfoy.”

“I’d come help you, but you’re better off alone,” Harry said, coming to sit on the sofa with a piece of pie. They’d left it out on the counter. “I always end up with an entire hand of mismatched dragons.”

“Do you want me to do the dishes, or are we leaving them for tomorrow?” Draco said.

“You pick,” Hermione said. “But I’m not helping.”

“Thanks, Pansy,” Draco said. “You gave her ideas.”

“Hey, she was drunk before I got to her,” Pansy said. “She broke plates the first time we tried.”

“Everything okay?” Draco said. He actually looked concerned, and she really wanted to hate it. “You barely had any wine with dinner.”

“I’m fine,” Hermione said. She didn’t like lying, but then again, she hadn’t started it. “I had some while you were sulking on the beach. I thought dinner was going to be horrible.”

“Oh, thanks,” Harry said. He’d gone to sit next to Pansy. “That hand is terrible.”

“I was going to bluff my way through the buy round, and now you’ve ruined it,” Pansy said.

“Well,” Hermione said. “You can pour more drinks while they pick up the kitchen. We can do pairs.”

“I don’t want Harry, he’s going to be bad luck,” Pansy said.

“Let’s make them play together so we can win by hundreds of points,” Hermione said. She had absolutely no desire to share anything with Draco. “Maybe more. A really excessive amount of points.”

“Done,” Pansy said. “I’m also not helping with the kitchen.”

“I guess we’re doing dishes, Malfoy,” Harry said.

She and Pansy did, in fact, win every hand by at least a few hundred points, but it was almost fun, or it probably would have been if she hadn’t suddenly started to notice all the glances Draco kept stealing when he thought she wasn’t looking. He seemed happy even though he’d gotten stuck with Harry.

When they finally packed Harry and Pansy off to the guest room and went to bed, Hermione briefly considered bringing it up, but it seemed like a bad idea to have an enormous fight when there were other people one room over.

“Let me get that,” Draco said, after she’d been struggling with the zipper on the back of her dress for a few minutes. He came over and wrapped an arm around her waist, drawing her back against him as he undid it.

“I was working on it,” Hermione said, but she couldn’t really focus with the way he was kissing the curve of her neck.

“I know,” Draco said. “Maybe I just wanted to undress you faster.”

“I think I just, you know, maybe – we could just go to bed,” she said, closing her eyes.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Draco said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you turn down sex.”

“I’m just kind of… really drunk,” she said. “Pansy makes things about twice as strong as you do.”

“I know, she’s terrible,” Draco agreed, then turned her around. He still looked overly happy with everything. “Are you sure? It’s Christmas. I bet I can get away with doing nice things to you. Then you don’t have to worry about being coordinated.”

“Harry’s one wall over,” she pointed out.

“Come to think of it, the idea of having sex in the same house as Potter is somewhat horrifying,” Draco said, although he was definitely teasing. “Get in bed. I’ll find you some water.”

“I can get it,” Hermione said, but Draco kissed her temple and nudged her toward the bed.

When he settled in behind her a few minutes later, she couldn’t really bring herself to argue with him about it, because it was just going to lead to the exact same shouting match she’d been trying to avoid in the first place.

“Merry Christmas,” he murmured, against her shoulder.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, and then pretended very hard to be asleep.

When she woke up the next morning, she briefly considered hiding in bed for the rest of the day, but if Draco came in to find her, she didn’t really have an excuse not to talk to him, and her head definitely hurt too much to deal with any of it.

“Remind me never to let Pansy near me again,” Hermione said, going to put the kettle on. Even tea seemed like a questionable decision.

Draco was reading on the couch, and he sat up.

“Potter said he’s sorry he missed you but that we’d all probably regret it if we woke you up,” he said. “Pansy said a lot of uncharitable things about mornings.”

“I’m not sorry she had to get up at seven to take a portkey,” Hermione said. “Except for how I just thought about portkeys, and now there’s a significant chance I’m going to be sick.”

“Is that a thing I should have seen coming?” Draco said, sounding amused. “I thought I was the one getting utterly wasted to deal with Potter’s presence.”

“It was a long night,” Hermione said, finally.

“I know,” Draco said. He came to rub her shoulders, then pressed his thumbs against the back of her neck. “I get it. You miss him. Maybe we can go home soon. The press has to be bored by now.”

“Maybe,” Hermione said. “I’m going to go lie in front of the fireplace until the room stops spinning. I don’t even want to read.”

“Should I be concerned that you’re dying?” Draco said.

“Just indescribably hungover,” Hermione said. “You might not want to bother me, there’s a decent chance that I’ll hex you for breathing too loudly.”

“I’d ask if I can do anything, but I think the answer to that is getting out of the house,” Draco said. “You can go back to bed if you want. It’s not like we’ve got somewhere to be.”

“You’ve made me dependent on the stupid fireplace,” Hermione said, after a minute. “Just keep it down.”

She didn’t really feel better by lunch, and by dinner she had to admit the general problem probably wasn’t so much being hungover as dreading the inevitable conversation they were going to have to have. She briefly considered not having it, but she was fairly sure she couldn’t keep faking it for however long they were going to be stuck in France.

“I’m going to bed,” she said, after she’d finished the soup that Draco had somehow managed to make without any help. “You can come if you want.”

“Let me finish drying these,” Draco said, since he was being annoyingly considerate and not leaving them until morning.

Hermione sat on the edge of the bed, since pacing around seemed unlikely to help the situation, and Draco came in a minute later with a cup of tea.

“Hey, are you okay?” he said. “This seems bad even for how much you had to drink last night.”

“Not really,” Hermione said, looking up at him. “When were you planning on telling me that you’re in love with me?”

Draco stopped half way between her and the door. She watched him turn and very carefully put the tea on her dresser.

“I wasn’t,” he said, shortly. “It’s not relevant to anything.”

“Of course it’s relevant!” Hermione said. “What kind of person do you think I am? I wouldn’t have put you through any of this. I would have… figured something out.”

“Figured what out, exactly?” Draco said. His voice had gone cold. “How to make this miserable assignment even worse?”

“How – I don’t know, how not to hurt you,” Hermione said. “How not to be awful. How not to take advantage.”

“You didn’t take advantage of anything,” Draco said. “I’m perfectly capable of making decisions for myself. You don’t get to judge them.”

“Did you ever stop to consider that maybe you weren’t letting me make decisions for myself?” Hermione said. “I probably would have made some really different choices if I’d had that piece of information.”

“What, like not sleeping with me?” Draco said. “You keep telling me it’s just sex. I haven’t expected anything else or asked for more. You’ve been pretty clear about your terms, I took them, end of story.”

“No, it’s not,” Hermione said. “Why didn’t you tell me? I didn’t even – I thought you couldn’t stand me. You don’t even like me.”

“I don’t think you need that information,” Draco said. “I don’t actually think you need any of this information. Pansy shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Sorry, it came up in conversation given that we’re fucking pretending to be married,” Hermione said. “I shouldn’t have had to hear it from Pansy. You should have told me.”

“Let’s think about how that would have gone,” Draco said. “I could have said something off the bat, to someone who gave every indication that she’d use it against me, and then we could have played house while you felt sorry for me. How does that sound to you? Because it’s really my idea of an ideal assignment, let me tell you.”

“Of course I wouldn’t have used it against you,” Hermione said. “I’d have been completely and totally fucking baffled, maybe, but I’m not cruel. You don’t get to use me to make yourself miserable without my consent.”

“Who says I’m miserable?” Draco said. “Don’t give yourself so much credit.”

“Are you seriously claiming this isn’t doing anything to you?” Hermione said. “Is that really what you’re trying to say to me?”

“I know you’ve had a really ridiculous amount of sex with who knows how many people,” Draco said. “And I really get, at this point, that you’ve never cared about any of them. But it’s a little incomprehensible to me that you didn’t even consider that this might happen. Sex actually means something to some of us.”

“You do not get to judge me for liking sex,” Hermione said. “And you also don’t get to pretend like you came into this from exactly the same place I did but ended up somewhere else. That would be a completely different conversation.”

“It’s the exact same outcome,” Draco said. “It’s me standing here and you feeling sorry for me. I don’t want to have that fucking conversation, except apparently we’re having it because you can’t leave anything alone.”

“Why did you do this?” Hermione said. “You wouldn’t have had to say anything. You could have just played it safe and kept pretending to hate me.”

“Maybe I wanted to pretend for five minutes that this was something I could have,” he said, finally. “Maybe I wanted to entertain the briefest possibility that you would actually want to be with me.”

“I –“ Hermione said.

“I’m done with talking about this,” Draco said. “I have absolutely no expectation of anything from you, I know that we’re not… anything. Presumably you hate me for using you. If you want to go home, go home. Potter isn’t going to hold it against you.”

“Draco –“ Hermione said, but before she could finish, he’d turned into a fox and disappeared under the bed.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Hermione said. “You can’t just disappear in the middle of trying to talk about this.” She looked under the bed. He was in a ball at the very top, as far as possible from either side so she couldn’t possibly do anything about it. “You can’t literally make it impossible for me to have a conversation with you!”

There was absolutely no response, which was vaguely infuriating. She couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than yelling at each other. At least Draco had been participating in the yelling.

“This is stupid,” Hermione said. She finally went to sit on the floor, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes. Her headache wasn’t exactly improving. “You’re being childish and awful and you assumed about a hundred things about me without even giving me a chance. You didn’t even try to see what I’d do, you just played me into a corner.”

“I should be furious with you,” she said. “I am, actually, I’m livid, I almost want to punch you in the face again.” She tipped her head back against the side of the bed, closing her eyes. “But the thing that makes me the maddest is that you just think I’d run off and go back to England and never talk to you again.”

She slid a hand under the bed, closer, but she still couldn’t reach him.

“And if you make me sit here all night before you come out, I’m going to be significantly angrier than I already am,” Hermione said. “You can’t just run from everything you don’t like or that’s hard. That’s not how it works.”

She could hear the clock ticking, and somehow, she knew he wasn’t moving. It felt like she was talking to herself.

“You didn’t love me before,” she said, quietly. “Maybe you thought you did. But you didn’t know me. You loved an idea, not a real person, and I think you’re still making me out to be something I’m not. I’m not that good, Draco. I’m not perfect. I’m bad at a hundred different things and astronomically terrible at a few of them.”

She leaned down again, then gave up and laid on the floor next to the bed. “You’re going to have to have enough faith in me to come out,” she said. “Real me, the person you’ve been living with and sleeping with and sharing a bed with for the last few months. You have to trust me not to hurt you.”

Draco lifted his head to look at her, and it wasn’t much, but it was enough.

“Come on,” she said, softly. “You don’t have to be a person. I know –“ She held out her hand again. “I’m not okay about you thinking phenomenally stupid things about me without my permission. But I’m not going to let you hate yourself for being human.”

She closed her eyes, but opened them a minute later when she felt whiskers against her hand. Draco’s ears were still flat, but he’d at least crept out from under the bed.

“I probably shouldn’t have gotten mad and ambushed you with this,” Hermione said, a little ruefully. “You’re not very good with being caught off guard.”

He blinked at her slowly, and she got the impression that if she moved too quickly, he was likely to disappear under the bed again.

“I know you might need room,” she said, carefully. “I’m going to get up and find something for my head and start a fire. I’ll turn off the lights in the kitchen so no one can see inside, you can stay here or come out with me if you want.”

She found a potion in the medicine cabinet – they didn’t work on hangovers, but she had a feeling it was less being hung over and more having spent the entire day being incredibly stressed. Draco was still a fox when she left the bedroom, and he didn’t follow when she went to make a cup of tea and start the fire. Her headache was better, at least, so she found one of the books Draco had given her for Christmas. It was strange to be reading on the couch without him.

She finally heard the bedroom door and turned. Draco was sort of hovering in the doorway.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have left like that. I’m… you know I’m really bad with fighting.”

“It’s okay,” Hermione said. “I mean, I’m not happy about it, but I shouldn’t have cornered you.”

Draco went into the kitchen. He was staring at the kettle as if he didn’t quite know what to do with it.

“I was kind of hoping you’d come out,” she said. “There’s a cup of tea over here for you if you want it.”

“I –“ Draco said, then came into the living room, looking unsure.

“Come here,” Hermione said, holding out his tea. “I even moved the sofa so you wouldn’t freeze to death. And we can actually talk in here.”

“Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, yelling at me some more?” Draco said, after a minute. “I deserve it.”

“I think you made some mistakes,” Hermione said. “And I made some mistakes. I’m mad, but I can be mad later. I think you need me to not be angry right now.”

“I don’t think that’s how that works,” Draco said, but he sat on the far end of the sofa.

“I’m probably going to totally fuck up this conversation,” Hermione said, softly. “But I really need you to stop assuming the worst of me. I wouldn’t have thrown it in your face if I’d known you were interested, although I get why you thought so.”

“I was hoping you’d be terrible,” Draco said, leaning his head back against the couch. He shut his eyes. “I don’t know what Pansy said, she can be a little overly dramatic, but I just –“ He stopped. “I liked you. That’s all. But I thought maybe if I had to live with you for a few months, you’d be awful and I could go back to not being able to stand you.”

Hermione laughed. “Sorry to disappoint you,” she said.

“You’re not actually awful,” Draco said. “Which really made the whole thing significantly worse. Now I’m… you know. I more than like you.”

“I feel like all the sex probably didn’t help either,” Hermione said, dryly.

“Not particularly, no,” Draco said. “But I’m not all that sorry for saying yes to that.”

“You shouldn’t have said what you said about me and sex,” Hermione said. “But you were sort of right, I’m not actually in the habit of having a lot of sex with just one person. I think it’s a lot easier to get in over your head.”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have – implied things.”

“I didn’t know you, and I don’t think you knew me,” Hermione said. “But it’s hard to spend twenty-four hours a day with someone for months and not get to know them.”

“I was trying to make that point,” Draco said. “Or… I think I was, anyway.”

“How much are you faking it, at this point?” Hermione said.

“Not very much,” Draco said, finally. “I’ve been doing a lot more of trying to convince myself I was acting.”

“I’ve been thinking about it since last night,” Hermione said. “I think part of why I was so upset is that I’m mad at myself. Because this got so easy that I stopped pretending too. I feel like I probably should have noticed that.”

“Oh,” Draco said, after a minute.

“We work,” Hermione said. “I like being around you. The sex is, you know, actually the best I’ve ever had.” She nudged her knee against his. “Apparently sleeping together for long enough to figure out what the other person likes in bed improves the whole thing, who would have thought?”

“Don’t ask me,” Draco said, although he sounded more amused than unhappy. “You’re willing to have sex in front of the fireplace and you actually tell me you like it, that puts you ahead by a lot.”

“I’m just saying,” Hermione said. “It’s kind of weird to get married before you’ve done any dating. But apparently I like being with you.” She reached to run her fingers through his hair. “I’d be okay with sticking with it when we go back, if you want. We might have to go with your flat, though, I don’t have a fireplace.”

“Did you just ask me to move in with you?” Draco said, sitting up.

“No, I asked you to keep living with me in a new location,” Hermione said. “Because it turns out I’m actually kind of in love with you too.”

“You could have lead with that,” Draco said, finally. “I wouldn’t have needed to hide under the bed. We could have completely avoided the whole fight.”

“I realized while I was yelling at you,” Hermione admitted. “You’re –“ She gave in and moved closer. “You apparently have absolutely no idea how much I care about you, I figured maybe I should make it clear.” She took his face in her hands, looked at him, and kissed him. “And I want to keep making it clear until you’re very sure I’d never disappear to another continent just because I’m mad at you.”

“That’s going to take some getting used to,” Draco said.

“I know,” Hermione said. “Here too.” She kissed him again. “But no more thinking you’re not good enough for me, though. We’re on a pretty level playing field in terms of fighting evil wizards these days. And you’re about to realize that I’m categorically awful at relationships, I hate letting anyone in.”

“I’m allowed to think you’re a little out of my league,” Draco said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. He suddenly looked happy. “That’s normal. You look too good naked for me not to think that.”

“I can live with that,” Hermione said. “Maybe like five percent out of your league. But it’s only because I can make pies without burning them, you can still catch up if you try.”

“My flat has house elves, they can make pies,” Draco said. “Except I’m already used to doing dishes. And I like making dinner with you. Plus, how are the house elves going to know exactly how much you hate tomatoes?”

“See?” Hermione said. “I’m bad at commitment and tomatoes. You’d better know what you’re getting into.”

“You also use up all the toothpaste and forget to put it on the grocery list,” Draco said. “And you take up the entire bed, that’s why I’m always sleeping as a fox. I don’t have room otherwise.”

“I mean it, though,” Hermione said. “I’m not great at the whole serious relationship thing. I think my record is three weeks with the same person.”

Draco smiled. “We’ve been at this longer than three weeks,” he said. “I don’t actually think we’re suddenly going to turn into different people.”

“You might have a point,” Hermione said, after a minute. “You’ve already seen the bad parts, I wasn’t bothering to try to hide them.”

“I like you a lot better in reality than the version I had in my head,” Draco admitted. “You’re different than I thought you’d be.”

“I have no idea what you thought before,” Hermione said, laughing softly. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“Good,” Draco said, leaning in to kiss her. “You’re a lot more stubborn than I was expecting, but I like it. And we don’t have boring sex.”

“I think I’m offended if you ever had boring sex fantasies about me,” Hermione said.

“I revised them once I heard you talk about fake sex and you threw a lot of clothes at me, don’t worry,” Draco said, dryly. “They weren’t boring for very long.”

“Are we supposed to, I don’t know, wait on having more sex or something?” Hermione said. “Do you need time to get used to it?”

“No,” Draco said, mildly. “I want to have sex where I don’t have to pretend it’s just sex. I can get used to it while we’re having it.”

“I hear good things about make up sex,” Hermione said, thoughtfully. “We could try it.”

She heard a tap, but Draco beat her to turning around. Freya was at the kitchen window.

“Even Potter’s owl enjoys ruining good things for me,” Draco said, with a sigh. He went to open the door so she could fly through. “Let’s go put on a show in the kitchen, shall we?”

“I don’t think anything’s ruined,” Hermione said, amused. “More like postponed for ten minutes.”

“Yes, I caught you mice,” Draco said, going over to the freezer. Freya had landed on the back of a chair and was already making begging noises. She held out her leg, letting Draco untie the letter. He passed it over to Hermione, then tossed Freya a mouse.

“You’re getting much better at catching them,” he said. “What does he want?”

“To come for New Year’s,” Hermione said.

“Only if he brings Pansy,” Draco said. “No exclusively Gryffindor holidays. Not that she was particularly helpful last time.”

“What, do you have other pressing secrets for us to fight about?” Hermione teased. “Do you want to share those with the class?”

“Not really,” Draco said, then stopped halfway to giving Freya another mouse. “Actually, while we’re coming clean, I really hate scallops. I just didn’t want to tell you since you were going to the trouble of making dinner. You never made those in London.”

“That’s because you can’t get good ones in London, but there are about four hundred other things I can make,” Hermione said, scanning the rest of the letter. “Hang on, he wants to know if he can bring Gabrielle and Padma too.”

“What, is he building a harem or something?” Draco said. “And bringing them to holidays at our house? We should tell him no.”

“Maybe I can get really drunk and snog Gabby,” Hermione said, thoughtfully. “I know how you feel about that idea. She’s probably game.”

“On second thought, he can absolutely bring them, we’ll get champagne,” Draco said, with a grin. “I’m changing my vote.”

“I’m telling him it’s okay,” Hermione said, scribbling a letter and tying it. “Freya, don’t eat so many mice you can’t fly home, I need you to take this back.”

She held out her leg again, somehow managing to look insulted, presumably at the implication she wouldn’t be fit for flying back to England. Hermione opened the door, and she took off and disappeared without a backwards glance.

“I guess if everyone’s getting desperate enough to come all the way to France to see us, we should start thinking about going home,” Draco said, coming over to her.

He reached up to brush her hair out of her eyes, then tilted her face up so he could kiss her. She stepped in close.

“Let’s talk about it tomorrow,” she murmured, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I want to go to bed.”

“We can definitely save the talking,” Draco said, kissing her again, a little deeper. “It’s overrated.”

“Let’s go have boring, committed relationship sex,” Hermione said, with a smile against his mouth.

She’d thought that the rest of the week might be hard, between changing things with Draco and the fact that Harry was apparently going to show up and close the case so they could go home, but it wasn’t. Draco had apparently gotten good at noticing when she started to worry, and he’d apparently also gotten good at heading her off at the pass. The whole being in love with another person thing should have been a lot worse too, except it really wasn’t very different. Hermione mostly felt incredibly happy that it wasn’t ending when they went back to London. She actually didn’t want it to end at all.

Harry knocked on the door on New Year’s Eve, an hour before midnight.

“Hi, I’m here to arrest all your neighbors,” he said, kissing her cheek.

“Want some help?” Hermione said. “I think Draco wouldn’t mind if they resisted arrest and he got to curse them.”

“You’re our back up,” Harry said. “You can watch from over here.” He grinned. “I’d appreciate an assist if it looks like anyone’s going to hit me with a particularly lethal curse, but I didn’t want to deal with the paperwork for two more people. Sorry.”

“Oh, thanks,” Draco said, dryly. “We spend months getting you information, and now having us around is too much of a hassle to be worth it?”

“Do you know the amount of time you have to spend in the international magic office when you want to arrest people in France?” Harry said. “You can let me arrest them or you can stay another month.”

“Bet Delacour and Patil are really happy with your timing,” Draco said.

“That was on purpose,” Harry said. “I’m not dealing with a case spanning two calendar years, but we needed this week to wrap up the warrants and testimony.”

“I used to think that I’d spend my time at work fighting evil,” Draco mused. “But now I know it’s actually about dodging every possible promotion so I never have to do your job.”

“Actually, I’m on to you,” Harry said. “Were you secretly solving cases and closing them out without telling anyone before you left?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Draco said.

“Your case clearance rate is still higher than anyone else’s in the department even though you’ve been gone for months,” Harry said. “And I’m about to need a deputy.”

“You can’t punish me for being competent, Potter,” Draco said. “I’ll just start doing things badly.”

“He won’t,” Hermione said, laughing. “He likes showing everyone else up.”

Draco came and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, looking amused. “Quit telling all my secrets.”

“You can stop touching each other now,” Harry said, making a face. “I’m about to serve a bunch of warrants and haul the lot of them back to England, you don’t need to stick with the cover.”

“So, about that,” Draco said.

“Yeah, yeah, enormous Christmas bonuses, hazard pay, stationing you on opposite ends of the continent when you get back, I’ve got it,” Harry said. “I’m going to go arrest terrible people. You can bother me when you get back. Keep an eye on it from the porch, will you?”

He disappeared out the door again, and Draco sighed and handed over a glass of wine.

“The other two people on this could really have been us,” Draco said. “He’s terrible.”

“They’d probably be much more inclined to kill us on principle,” Hermione said. “Actually, we’d probably be much more inclined to kill them.”

“Quit being sensible, I’m trying to be annoyed with Potter,” Draco said, but he went and held open the door to the porch. “I guess we ought to go look at the fireworks.”

Hermione went to lean against the porch railing. There was a lot of yelling, and Gabrielle had already stunned someone in their kitchen.

“It might not be the worst way to close out the year,” Draco said, finally. He was leaning against the door frame. “Putting away truly evil people.”

“It feels weird that it’s over,” Hermione said. “I mean, aside from the judicial side of things. I’ll be happy to ship all of them off to Azkaban.”

“I know,” Draco said. “But I’m starting to miss London. And we’re running out of books.”

“I miss libraries,” Hermione agreed. “And Chinese takeout.”

“Doing actual work is going to be a little weird,” Draco said. “On the other hand, I’m really looking forward to not skulking around in bushes every single night.”

“I’ve been thinking,” Hermione said, after a moment.

“That’s a very novel pastime for you,” Draco said. “What about?”

“You know, about five people know we’re not actually married, and the only one of them who isn’t under oath not to say anything is Harry.”

“Meaning?” Draco said.

“Meaning it seems sort of stupid to get fake divorced,” Hermione said. “How are we going to explain it if we break it off and then keep living in the same place?”

“Er, tell the truth?” Draco said.

“Well,” Hermione said, slowly. “I want to keep living together and reading on the couch and having a ridiculous amount of sex. And I might have realized this week that I don’t want you to go anywhere. I’m willing to keep wearing your stupidly oversized Malfoy diamond ring if it means I can have that.”

“Hang on,” Draco said. “Was that a proposal?”

“It was a proposal to stay fake married,” Hermione said. “I guess we can switch out our forged certificate someday if it goes well. So… maybe?”

“What happened to you being terrible at commitment?” Draco said, but he was laughing.

“It’s a pre-existing commitment,” Hermione said, with a grin. “I’m just extending it. I think that’s a loophole.” She held out a hand. “Plus, you know, the whole commitment thing doesn’t seem so bad with you. I already know what it looks like.”

“It might be different in London,” Draco said.

“It might, but it’s still you,” Hermione said. “We’ll just have to spend significantly more time around our obnoxious friends.”

“This plan might reduce the risk of Pansy killing me,” Draco said, thoughtfully. “I mean, it also might reduce the risk of her killing Potter too, but I can live with that. We can tell her in a few years.”

“I think we should use our hazard pay for putting up with each other to get a house with two fireplaces,” Hermione suggested. “Bet I can find one where there’s a second in the bedroom.”

“You might have to actually marry me if you can pull that off,” Draco said, drawing her in. She saw Harry wave from the porch next door. It looked like they’d gotten everyone.

“I think we’re about to ruin his life,” Hermione said.

“I’m suddenly happy we stayed over here, now I can do this,” Draco said, then dipped her into a long and overly dramatic kiss.

“Seriously, you can stop,” Harry said, coming back up the stairs. Padma was putting the last person into one of the cars. “It’s almost midnight, want to do drinks or something before we haul them to Paris to get extradited?”

“So, Potter, I’ve thought of an excellent reason why you can’t promote me,” Draco said. “I’ve been falsifying reports for over a month.”

“We didn’t actually falsify anything,” Hermione said, mildly. “We just… left a few things out.”

“What do you mean?” Harry said.

Draco gave him a look, then kissed her again, rather pointedly.

“Are you just trying to annoy me at this point?” Harry said. “It’s working.”

“No, it’s just a nice bonus,” Draco said. “You know that whole tradition where you ring in the New Year doing something you want to do for the rest of the year?”

“Yeah, why?” Harry said.

“We’re going to go have sex in front of the fireplace,” Draco said. “But I bet you can go find some last-minute paperwork to do.”

Draco,” Hermione said, trying to hide the fact that she actually thought it was funny.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Harry said, then stared. “Oh my god, you’re not.”

“On the bright side, you don’t have to give any press conferences about our fake divorce?” Hermione said.

“And Pansy probably won’t break up with you,” Draco said. “At least not over this.”

“I –“ Harry said. “But –“

“Oh, all right, you can come in and have a glass of champagne or something,” Draco said, holding open the door. “I can kiss her instead.”

“Oh my god,” Harry said again, faintly.

“Happy New Year’s?” Hermione said, with a grin.