Work Header

Cultural Exchange

Chapter Text

“When I was a kid, I believed the theatre to be magical.”

“Me too.”

“Well, that’s ironic,” Hermione laughed.

“It is, isn’t it?” Draco conceded.

“I am not sure that this should count, you know.  Muggles and wizards both have theatre,” he recognized the sound her voice got right before she would pull out parchment and a quill and make a pros and cons list, or some such nonsense, so Draco quickly cut her off.

“The point is the themes are completely different, and there is actual magic used, not just visual effects, like in Muggle plays.  The Malfoys have held the same private box for hundreds of years.  Although my parents would often go alone on dates during my youth, when allowed to come along, I felt so special.  You know what my childhood was like and this is one of my happiest memories of my family just enjoying ourselves, all three together. That’s part of what I want to share with you.” His childhood sob stories worked on her, he thought as he tried to keep the smirk off of his face.  Not that he was lying… just manipulating the truth.  He, by no means, remained as bothered by the idea of being a “poor little rich boy” as he sometimes let on.

“Ok, what are we seeing?” He knew it would work!

“It’s a production about a phoenix who loses his mate in a tragedy and then, due to his despair, he no longer possesses the power to burn up and be reborn.  But, he can’t die either, so he is just stuck, growing older and lonelier every year.  It has been getting rave reviews,” he said with a perfectly straight face.  She waited for him to crack, she knew which eyelid twitched when he tried to pull one over on her.  The twitch didn’t happen.  He just kept on looking at her, expecting her to say something.


“Well, phoenixes mate for life, so he can’t find another one.  And I think that he tries to commit suicide, but physically can’t, because, he’s a phoenix, you know.  It’s a musical too, so there will be singing!” Draco looked so excited.

Hermione quickly glanced around, wondering if George would suddenly pop out and declare this to be a prank.  It appeared that was a no.  So, she did the only thing she could think of and asked,

“How do I look?  Are you sure this gown isn’t too fancy?” She asked with a true touch of self-doubt.  She wore a princess style silver gown with a fitted bodice, off the shoulder cap sleeves that were made of wispy silver feathers, and there were thick silver vines embroidered across the edge of her bust with one vine trailing down her side towards her waist.  The skirt was constructed out of what she suspected were hundreds of yards of silver tulle.

Draco shook his head and told her, “Actually, I don’t think it is quite fancy enough,” as he pulled a box out of his pocket.  He opened it to reveal a necklace with a cascade of diamonds that would fall perfectly into her cleavage.  As he placed it around her neck, he whispered in her ear, “Now you look exquisite.”

Then he apparated them to the designated room within the grand old theatre.  As they stepped away from the area, he steered them towards the bar.  Along the way, he saw people he knew, and felt obligated to chat with certain ones briefly for business or political reasons.  She suffered no such compulsion and just wanted to take it all in.  With a glass of champagne in hand, she proceeded to people-watch.  She felt surprised to see Daphne Greengrass across the room.  They had never spoken more than a few words to each other over the years, so Hermione supposed she shouldn’t be surprised to see her in any particular setting, since she really didn’t know the woman at all.  They both politely nodded at each other in mutual recognition and broke eye contact.  Hermione turned to Draco, asking, “Do we have time for one more drink before heading to our seats?”

They ran into Daphne outside of their box - Daphne readying to enter the one next to it.  Draco, ever the gentleman, introduced the women to each other like they may not know one another.  The house lights flashed, warning patrons that the start of the play grew imminent.

“Let’s have a cocktail together during the intermission and catch up,” Daphne said as they entered their separate boxes.  Draco agreed with Daphne, but Hermione experienced uncertainity regarding what they could possibly have in common to talk about, and silently lamented that it would ruin her people watching time.

The first act of the play turned out to be worse than Hermione ever imagined possible.  Way worse.  The plot proved to be as awful as the description that Draco had given her sounded.  The female phoenix died within the first five minutes.  Why the female proved able to die, but the male couldn’t, apparently warranted no explanation.  Like everyone was just supposed to ignore that major plot hole.  Hermione wondered if the playwright had seen the movie “Groundhog Day”.  The male phoenix tried everything he could think of to kill himself, but every morning, he just woke back up, whole again.  And the dialog, oh Merlin, the dialog.  Thank the gods that Draco turned out to be incorrect and it wasn’t a musical after all.  Hermione did admit to herself that the use of magic in place of special effects excited her.  The wizard playing the lead role boasted what appeared to be real phoenix feathers growing out of him, some in interesting places…

Near the end of the first act, a husband and wife team of wand makers appeared in the phoenixes’ land looking to gather feathers.  The wizard fell to his death while climbing up to a nest.  The witch also fell, seriously injuring herself and became stranded; luckily the protagonist found her.  ‘Wonder what is going to happen?’ Hermione’s sarcastic inner voice asked.  With a sigh, she exited the box with Draco, noting that he seemed to be enjoying it.

This level of the theatre contained a separate bar for the private use of the occupants of the boxes.  As they walked towards it to meet with Daphne, Hermione couldn’t help but overhear other patrons gushing about the first half.  Two witches stood together, actually crying a little about the “tragedy of it all”.  Draco spotted Daphne waiting near a bar height table, saving them a handy spot to stand comfortably.  “I’ll get us all some wine, if want to head over to Daph,” he motioned Hermione towards the other witch.

“So, what do you think of it so far?” Daphne immediately inquired.

“Ummm…  The transfiguration on the lead actor is an amazing bit of magic, isn’t it?”

“Oh, thank Circe, it isn’t just me!  It’s awful isn’t it?!” Daphne stated in a quiet undertone, with obvious relief.  “I thought that I might be the only one!  Stori saw it last weekend and was just gushing about it.  My sister is such a twit.”

“Is all wizarding theatre this bad?” Hermione discovered herself quickly taking a liking to Daphne.

“Pretty much.  There is an occasional diamond in the rough.”

“Muggle theatre is infinitely better.”

“I’ve never been.”

“Why not?”

“No one to go with, and I am too nervous to try it alone.”

“Want to go see a play with me?  Well, me and Hannah Abbot.  Her grandparents on her mother’s side were Muggles and took her to plays sometimes when she was growing up.  My parents did the same.  Now she and I try to see a play together once a month.  We plan to see Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in a few weeks.  Have you ever read anything by Shakespeare?”

“I would very much like to see a play with you.  Should I read something by Shakespeare before we go?”

“Holy shit!  Sorry.  You’ve never read anything by Shakespeare?!  Sorry, again.  I am not trying to be rude here.  I am just thinking about what the curriculum for Muggle Studies at Hogwarts should contain.” Hermione took a deep breath and started over with, “What I mean to say is that I would be happy to lend you a copy of a few of Shakespeare’s plays, including the one that we will be seeing.  I will owl them to you tomorrow.  My name actually came from a character in one of his plays, “The Winter’s Tale.””  Draco walked up with three glasses of red wine right at this point.

“I thought that you were named after the daughter of Helen of Troy,” he said as he handed a glass to each witch.

“My parents said that both Hermiones were inspiration for my name, but in the end, they always possessed a desire to name their child after a Shakespearean character.  So, that is the one that I usually refer to.”

“Pretty good production, don’t you think?” Daphne asked Draco without a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

“I am excited to see if the second act is as good as the first,” Draco answered.  He turned to look at Hermione and Hermione caught the smirk on Daphne’s lips behind his back.

 In a totally predictable storyline, the second act proceeded with the witch and phoenix trying not fall in love with each other, because that would be wrong (as if this entire play wasn’t wrong!), as the phoenix nursed the witch back to health.  The phoenix grew too old and weak to be able to fly her to safety, like Fawkes had done with Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets.  The two fought against the inevitable in formulaic fashion, until they could no longer deny their love.

The play concluded with the phoenix bursting into flames to be reborn, and then flying into the sunset with the witch holding tight to his tail.

The entire theater came to their feet with a standing ovation.

Hermione suspected that she needed to stand and clap along; people may actually notice if she didn’t, and that was not something with which she really wanted to deal.  As she limply brought her hands together the minimum number of times she thought she could get away with, she realized she could see Daphne around the divide between their boxes doing the same.  Daphne turned to look at her and when their eyes met, both hid their small smiles.

Back outside in the hallway, they all met up again.  Someone called out Draco’s name and he moved away for a moment to say a word.  Hermione thought that she recognized the wizard as a Wizengamot member.  Daphne inclined her head towards the bar that remained open and Hermione nodded.  Both were busy eavesdropping on snippets of conversations around them that seemed to only contain complimentary reviews of the play.

“…when he cried tears onto her ankle to heal it, I nearly cried too…”

“…and how she collected ten tail feathers from ten different birds to create ten wands to honor the ten years she had been married…”

“…my favorite playwright, he never disappoints…”

“…never expected that ending…”

The women quickly got wine and proceeded to use the glasses held against their lips to hide their giggles.

The next morning, Hermione owled over some of Shakespeare’s plays to Daphne; her owl returned with a perfunctory thank you note tied to its leg.  Two days later, Hermione received an effusive thank you note from Daphne with a request for more plays, if possible.  Hermione discovered that Daphne’s appetite for the written word may rival her own.

Three weeks later, when Hannah, Daphne, and Hermione attended the performance of “Much Ado About Nothing”, Daphne left speechless.  Afterwards, the three went out for drinks, Daphne regained the use of words, and they talked about theatre until the bar closed, forcing them to part.  Hannah had trouble believing the other two witches when they tried to explain how awful wizarding plays were.  Daphne offered to host them in her family’s box for the next production that the theatre put on.

And so was born a secret society with just three members, an unlikely trio of a Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, who met up twice per month.  One time, to get tipsy at the wizard theatre and lambast the tripe that it produced, always being careful to not be overheard and to keep up the appearance of being true patrons of the arts.  The other time, to attend exceptional theatre in Muggle London, waiting until afterwards to drink a bottle, or two, of wine and debate the finer points of the production.  None of Daphne’s other friends knew that she snuck out to Muggle London with the other two women on a regular basis.

When Hannah read that there were going to be open try-outs for a Shakespearean Festival with “The Winter’s Tale” on the playbill, she and Daphne talked Hermione into auditioning for the part of her namesake.  Although Hermione made it through the first round for a call back, she knew that her acting abilities truthfully were not good enough to even be an understudy.  She did think of the experience as unforgettable.

Draco liked to brag that he introduced Hermione to the wonders of magical theatre.  He never really understood what the three women got up to on the nights they went out to plays.

Chapter Text

Hermione was very excited to take Draco to a painting class.  She first tried it out with Luna a few months back, and the experience proved so entertaining, Hermione found herself already looking forward to going back again.  When she went with Luna, the instruction encompassed vines covered with flowers.  Luna, unsurprisingly, created something unique with light brush-strokes radiating outwards from a central point in each bloom, making her flowers appear to be blue and purple fireworks bursting out from the vines.  Hermione secretly suspected her own attempt, which she created by following the instruction to a “T”, looked sort of sad in comparison.

The studio offered plenty of wine during the class, and after a sufficient amount, Hermione found she really didn’t give a rat’s arse.  She instead found satisfaction in her flowers being better than the woman’s whose contained faces in the middle and looked like clowns.  Very frightening clowns reminiscent of It.  Shudder.  

Luna’s open mind and fun-loving nature made her perfect for that particular Muggle experience.  She was willing to get a little dirty and she did not get frustrated at imperfection.  Exactly the opposite, in fact.  Hermione couldn’t decide if Draco would appreciate it in the same way as Luna.  What if he got paint on some his overly expensive clothes?  He couldn’t very well scourgify them in front of Muggles.

Which left Hermione feeling unsure of what she should think when he quickly acquiesced to her suggestion at this first Muggle-experience date.  Had he seemed relieved?  She chose a night when the class would be for something she hoped Draco would enjoy – van Gogh’s The Starry Night.  (Hello, the wizard’s name came from a constellation!)  She explained to him who Vincent van Gogh was, and told him a bit about this particular painting.  The artist painted it while peering out the window of his room at an insane asylum.  The window would have had bars; he took a bit of license in leaving those out.  She revealed that historians were of the opinion that van Gogh created the painting during a time when Venus would have been very bright, so one of the stars in the painting was in fact a planet.  Her brow furrowed with slight worry when she realized the blonde now looked quite bored.  Perhaps she droned on a bit too long?  Well, she knew he liked wine, so the night wouldn’t be a total shite show, right?

She asked Draco if he owned appropriate Muggle clothes to wear.  She explained his outfit should be casual and something he wouldn’t mind getting dirty.  Her plan included eating a light dinner at her flat before they went out.  They would then take the tube from her place to a stop just a block’s walk to the class.  Which led to an in-depth talk of what to expect and how to act while riding on an underground train which was nothing like riding the Hogwarts Express.

Draco floo’ed into her flat wearing designer jeans that fell low on his hips and showed off his delectable arse, a vintage Siouxsie and the Banshees t-shirt tucked in above his belt, and on his feet were trainers.  Muggle trainers.  She froze and stared at the wizard.

“Trying to catch flies in your mouth, Granger?” he smirked at her, obviously proud of his perfect outfit.

“How do you know who Siouxsie and the Banshees even are?” tumbled out of her mouth in a disbelieving tone.

“I don’t,” he shrugged with indifference, “I just liked that there are banshees involved.”

Oh, this was rich, Hermione thought with an audible snort, as she tried to formulate a way to explain punk rock and the advent of the gothic scene led by Siouxsie Sioux’s menacing make-up and penchant for wearing dark clothing to someone whose teenage years epitomized the same persona.  Wait!  Did he in fact think there were real banshees in the group?

“Uh, you know there aren’t real banshees in the band, yeah?”

“There aren’t?  Oh, I am going to kill Potter.  Should I also assume that They Might Be Giants isn’t a band made up of half-breeds?”

Hermione wanted to reply, but was laughing so hard, she couldn’t form words.

“You realize that git also told me The Beastie Boys are animagi.”

Hermione was doubled over with laughter by this point and desperately hoping to not wet her knickers.  When she finally caught her breath, she cast a Patronus and mirthfully intoned, “I’m disappointed you forgot The Pixies.”  Then she directed her playful little otter to deliver the message to Harry Potter.

She turned to find Draco’s mercurial eyes assessing her.  “Merlin.  Do you know how few people in the world can cast a Patronus capable of carrying messages?  You act like it’s nothing.  Just sending a sarcastic little bon mot to your best friend.”

Of course, his invective coincided with Harry’s stag returning the message, “Well, I got distracted while trying to make the difficult decision between The Beastie Boys and The Beatles for the anamagi group.  Because he doesn’t know that we know that he knew that Rita Skeeter was a beetle, does he?  Oh shite, he’s there right now isn’t he?”  There was a very pregnant pause, followed by, “No wait, I wasn’t done yet…” in a fading tone as Harry’s Patronus already began bounding away to deliver its message to the intended recipient.

Hermione looked back to Draco ready to point out the lesson showing why you made sure you always told your message in full to the Patronus before you told it the name of the intended recipient.  A long enough pause may be enough for the charm to decide the message to be complete and ready for delivery.  It became a failsafe in dire circumstances.  She found Draco’s cheeks to be an interesting shade of pink.

“About that…” he slowly drawled.

Hermione didn’t remember her first ride on the underground.  She’d grown up thinking it was normal to get on it with her Muggle parents to go places.  Everyone in London used it.  Even as a teenager, she rode it with Muggle friends over the summer and during holidays when they went out into the city.  However, she felt sure Draco would never forget his first time.

He admitted his family always apparated straight onto Platform 9¾, so he remained ignorant of the Muggle side of King’s Cross.  Meaning, he was understandably distracted from the moment they started down the steps of the stop by her place, and as they went through the turnstile, and up until they stood on the platform waiting for the next train to pull up.  At least that part was a little familiar to him.  Then the shock was back on his face when they stepped inside and she quickly reminded him to grab the pole as the train took off.  As much as she tried to properly prepare, his imagination only took him so far.

Luckily, anyone who noticed didn’t care.  Mostly people were staring at newspapers, books, or their phones.  If anyone possessed a thought at all on the situation, it was probably something along the lines of pitying the country bumpkin on his first trip into the big city.  Technically, Draco grew up in the country, and while he may not lack worldly experience, it was nothing like the experiences of the Muggles around them.  And so she wasn’t embarrassed in the least by his blatant staring at their surroundings.

“It smelled awful in there,” was his first observation when they disembarked.

“You get used to it.”

“Why would you want to?” he genuinely wanted to know.

“Most people who live in the city don’t own cars, same as me.  It’s for a variety of reasons.  Parking near your flat is difficult to find and can be prohibitively expensive for many people.  Traffic is almost always a pain in the arse.  And then you have to find a place to park at your destination and probably pay again for that daily privilege.  If the tube doesn’t have a route to your destination, there are buses and cabs.  In the end, it turns out to be more inconvenient for most people to have a car than it is to take public transportation.  So, you take the good with the bad.  My parents own cars because they live far enough out in the suburbs for it to be impractical not to.  Plus, they don’t have to pay to park at their own businesses.  Even so, they ride the tube too when it is convenient.”

“Look, I need to tell you something.”

Draco suddenly stopped walking and just stood in the middle of the sidewalk, talking to her hair.  She turned around and came back to him, saying nothing, waiting for him to continue.  He was wearing his blank face.  He put on that face for various reasons, and she was still trying to learn all of them.  In this case, Hermione would guess it signaled nervousness.


“Excuse me?”

“I know how to paint.  I am actually a fair artist.  I devised a cockamamie plan to pretend I don’t know how, and then show off my skills and embarrass you for making assumptions about me.  But, I suddenly find myself in a position where this isn’t a template for how I should act,” the entire time Draco spoke, he was staring at a point in space just above her left ear; he went on with, “I am fairly certain a passive aggressive attack on my girlfriend for an honest mistake wouldn’t have been one of my finer moments.  So… yeah.  I know very well who Vincent van Gogh is.  My parents hired various private tutors as part of a well-rounded pureblood education, including an art instructor.  I should have told you sooner than on the sidewalk outside our destination.”

“Does this mean you don’t want to go to this class with me?  Do you think I picked something stupid?”  Hermione was unsure of all the connotations behind his revelation.  Why would he want to embarrass her?  What would he gain from making her feel inferior?  Did he still, in some small way, feel her to be second-rate to him?  Her self-esteem didn’t seem up to getting those answers right now, so the easiest questions centered on whether they were going to continue walking towards their destination, or if they should turn around.

Draco observed the emotions flitting across her face as he surreptitiously studied her out of the corner of his eye.  It was safer to look at the lamppost just behind the brunette than to look directly at her, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t watching her.  Maybe he should have just pretended to be a novice, neither enacting his previous plan, nor spilling the truth to her.  Bloody Gryffindor Princess.  Rubbing off on him after three months of dating, making him believe in the power of the truth, or some such bollocks.  He was about to turn on his heel and head back towards the tube, sure she wouldn’t want to continue their night out, when her face rested upon uncertainty.

“No, you didn’t pick something stupid.  I’ve never painted like this before.  I was looking forward to it,” which wasn’t a lie, even if he sort of tried to sabotage the venture.  “Do you still want to go?”

“Only if you want to.”

Draco grabbed his girlfriend’s hand and pulled her towards the door to the studio.

Hermione’s first glass of wine disappeared in three successive gulps.  She felt herself relaxing as she sipped on her second glass in a far more sedate manner.  Draco mirrored her actions and she recognized they were on even footing.  Both were unsure of where this night should go.  This wasn’t the first time they inadvertently fell back into their previously customary roles in each other’s lives.  Establishing trust was an ongoing effort for the two of them.

They remained quiet until about 15 minutes into the class.

“Amateur,” Draco huffed, barely discernable.

“Well, we can’t all be as privileged as you,” she hissed out of the corner of her mouth, barely holding back on adding tosser to the end.

“Not you, witch,” he replied in an undertone with a roll of his eyes.  “The instructor is a complete amateur.”

“Oh.  Sorry,” she whispered, feeling properly chastised.  “And don’t call me a witch.  You know Muggles equate it with bitch, yeah?”

“Well, then the instructor is a right witch,” Draco informed, careful to make sure only Hermione heard him.  She let out a giggle at his astute assessment.  Really, the woman taught painting like a drill sergeant.

After that, Draco kept a steady stream of quips only Hermione was privy to in order to keep her amused.  Even with his attention split between dropping sarcasm bombs into her ear and the canvas, Draco’s painting was turning out a million times better than hers.  It really wasn’t fair.  The play between light and shadows and the sense of a warm summer breeze were all there on display.

By her third glass of wine, Hermione started to become mesmerized by his fingers holding the paint brush.  He was so sure of himself.  She quickly looked away, pretending to study anything and everything else, each time he almost caught her staring.  The words running through her mind centered around synonyms for stroke, such as caress, touch, finger, and stroke.  Her inner monologue became quite obscene.

Draco smirked at how adorable Hermione was.  She really believed he didn’t know where her dirty little brain was wandering off to.  She kept licking her lips while watching him paint.  And then she would look away with a small blush.  The Slytherin paid her no mind; the situation played nicely into the plan forming in his head.  After nearly ruining the first date she arranged, he wanted to make it up to her.  If she wondered what else his fingers could be doing, he fashioned an idea to show her something unexpected.

Neither Hermione nor Draco missed the covetous looks sent Hermione’s way by most of the women in the room as the night wrapped up.  Draco’s picture was flawless (he persisted in contrarily pointing out the tiniest imperfections), he managed to stay immaculately clean, and he only had eyes for his date.  They both overheard one woman exclaim in a not-as-quiet-as-she-thought voice to her friend, “Where do I get me one of those?”  Draco raised an eyebrow at Hermione’s ensuing giggles.

“No, just wait here.  I am going to floo to my place for two minutes and be right back,” he commanded the curly-haired vixen as he stopped the fingers deftly working on his belt buckle.  Late night snogging on a subway train didn’t garner many stares; indulgences taken in public led to both of them feeling worked up by the time they made it back to the privacy of Hermione’s flat.  His shirt was already on the floor.

“What could you possibly need from there right this instant?” she whinged.

Draco moaned low in his throat as she snuck one hand back down to front of his trousers, giving the prominent bulge a squeeze through the rugged cotton material.  She rubbed the heel of her hand against his length and he sucked in his breath, calling upon his willpower to pull back and walk away.

“Two minutes.  I promise.”

True to his word, he immediately returned to her living room with a sketchpad and small tin with “Faber-Castell” printed on the cover in hand.

“I want to draw you.”


“Yes.”  He paused a beat before adding, “Naked.”

“Ohhh…  Ummm…”  Hermione faltered in discomfiture before she really examined the Adonis in front her, hair mussed from her fingers, lips slightly swollen from her teeth, bare chested, a hard cock evident in his tight jeans, staring at her with undisguised lust.  Her knickers dampened in response.  “Ok,” the Gryffindor let out in a husky voice.

Draco’s face lit up at her acquiescence and he moved towards her bedroom, confident she would follow him.  He quickly conjured a comfortable chair which he faced towards the bed.  He adjusted the lighting to his preferences and turned back towards his witch.  She reminded him of a skittish kitten, watching him to decide if she should be prepared to be treated like the Queen of Sheba, or if maybe she needed to hiss and bring out her claws in an act of dominance.

Teenage Draco may have abhorred a certain bossy little swot, but he now found certain acts became infinitely more pleasurable with the witch’s smart tongue and nails added into the mix.  However, he required the Queen of Sheba tonight.  He set down his supplies and stalked towards her.  Hermione’s lips parted and her pupils dilated noticeably as he came to a stop directly in front of her, inches away, but not touching her yet.

“I’m going to slowly strip you, taking my time to trail every inch of your body with my fingertips.  I expect you to be a good girl and stand perfectly still, unless I otherwise direct you to move.  You will not touch me in return.  Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Hermione purred in a tone causing Draco’s cock to pulse.

Draco slid her shirt over her head and admired the black lace bra he found underneath it.  He skimmed his hands down her arms, commencing at the shoulders and making their way to her fingertips, then back up again.  He followed the curve of her collarbone, ghosting his fingers along her neck.  One thumb came up and traced the bottom lip currently pushed out in a small pout.  Both hands tangled themselves into her riotous curls before he dipped his head down for the briefest of kisses.  She groaned in slight protest when he broke apart from the small taste.  His hands wandered down her back, swirling around, dancing across her skin.  When she arched towards him, he unlatched her bra.

“You’re doing excellent, kitten,” he commended Hermione on the restraint it took to keep her arms down at her sides as he stepped back to relieve her of the lace covering.  Her eyes lit up with a small bit of triumph.  Hermione Granger enjoyed excelling in any endeavor.  His mind raced ahead to where he wanted this night to go.  He grounded himself with an inner chastisement to take this slowly.  He wanted his witch to remember this apology and know that she could trust him.

Hermione’s disbelief of the current situation explained part of the reason she managed to stand so still.  She never imagined being worshipped in quite this manner before.  Because what else would you call the way Draco reverently stroked her ribs, the turn of her waist, the dip of her navel?  His hums of pleasure when he cupped her breasts, his fingers brushing her nipples until they pebbled, caused her own little noises in response.

Draco dropped to his knees and looked up at Hermione, keeping eye contact as unbuttoned her jeans and slid down the zipper.  His fingers charted the lace edge of her knickers from front to rear, meeting in the back and then dipping into her jeans to cup her arse over the top of the fabric that matched the discarded bra.  He proceeded to slide the trousers down her legs using his wrists, keeping the palms of his hands against the skin of her legs the entire time.

“You may place your hands on my shoulders for balance,” he allowed as he helped her out of her shoes, socks, and jeans.  “Now back to the no touching,” he commanded with a smirk.

Even before dropping his eyes, Draco knew he would find the front of Hermione’s knickers dampened.  He had been breathing in the scent of her arousal since coming to his knees.  The heady aroma intoxicated him.  He trailed a finger along the wet mark in front of him, feeling her clit and the outline of her labia.  He kept going and brought up his other hand to meet it, then made his way down her legs to her ankles.

“Draco…” she moaned in protest as he took away the brief contact he barely allowed at the place she craved it.

“We’ll get there, Hermione.  I promise to reward you for your outstanding behavior.”

“How much longer do you plan to tease me?”

“Long enough to draw you.”

He moved his hands back up her legs and crooked his fingers over the top edges of her knickers, pulling them down and baring her trimmed pussy to his hungry eyes.

“Exquisite.  Let’s get you up on the bed, love.”

Draco arranged her body in the pose he wanted before he spoke again, “You’ve been perfect for me.  I’m going to give you a little bit of a taste of your reward now.  But, still no moving.  Can you continue to do that for me, kitten?”


He cupped the juncture between her legs with one hand, then slowly slid a finger between her wet folds, teasing her entrance without dipping in.  He slid upwards, using the moisture to allow his finger to easily circle around her clit.  Her body vibrated with a want to move, to push her hips forward, to arch her neck backwards, to grab on to him.  Hermione panted with longing.  A small part of her considered the possibility of this situation being debasing.  Mostly though, she desired to be Draco’s good girl, to earn her boyfriend’s praise, to see the approval in his eyes when she continued to perform as he commanded.

Draco stepped back from her, taking in the tableau he had created.  Hermione oozed sex appeal and unfulfilled lust.  He would have to be quick to capture it.  He shucked his shoes and socks and pulled his belt off, tossing it aside.  Her eyes tracked his movements, obviously turned on by even this small amount of disrobing on his part.  His dick ached to be freed from the confines of his trousers, but that wouldn’t help him keep on track with the sketching.

“I want to capture this look.  This wanton look where all you can think about is me taking off the rest of my clothing and finishing what I’ve started.  Because you do want me to come back and finish what my fingers were doing just now don’t you?  You want your reward, Hermione.”

“Oh gods, yes, Draco.”

Draco efficiently used his time, even while talking.  The drawing began at nearly the same moment his belt made a soft thud on her bedroom carpet.  He fell into a rhythm as he selected a pencil to outline her shape, switching to another to shadow, and yet another to define.  The wizard’s wand-hand contained small callouses which didn’t come from spell casting, but rather from holding pencils.  Draco’s earlier admission regarding art instruction left out that his true passion belonged to drawing.

“I can’t wait to be back on that bed with you, head between those thighs, mouth locked onto your sweet little clit, fingers buried in your tight pussy.  I am going to stroke them in and out until you come all over them.  Then I am going to fill you up with my cock and make you come all over it.  Is that what you want?  I know it’s what I want.”

Draco kept up the dirty talk hoping it would keep Hermione as turned on as possible.  It apparently worked, if the parting of her lips, the continued hardness of her nipples, and the way she incrementally moved her thighs in search of friction gave any indication.  He thought about chastising her for the minute movement, but deemed the perceived criticism a surefire way to ruin the moment.

He finished the sketch in record time.  It was still slightly rough; he would refine small bits of it later.  Now though, her reward was to be his reward too.  His jeans and boxer briefs disappeared in record time and he practically dove between her legs, only pausing to declare, “Outstanding.”

Hermione nearly crowed at the praise.  Who knew it could feel so goddamn good to receive top marks from Draco Malfoy?  And the incentive to go along with his grade proved much better than house points.  He made good on his promises, quickly bringing her to a loud orgasm with two fingers curled inside of her and his mouth and tongue working her swollen nub.  She forgot to ask if she could touch him now, she realized as her hands grabbed either side of his head while waves of bliss crashed over her.  He made no move to stop her.  Her hands dropped back to the bed as her body came down from its peak.  Then he rose up on his knees, placing her legs up on his shoulders, surging into her all of the way to the hilt.

Draco paused as Hermione’s tight, wet heat enveloped him.  The teasing had inevitably gone both ways over the past hour.  He had worked himself up along with her and was hard as steel; he’d been dripping precum.  They’d had enough sex to be comfortable with each other, but this night turned into the first truly adventurous moment they’d shared.  Did this still count as an apology?  Or had it morphed into his reward for daring to change the dynamic in the bedroom?  Why the hell was he asking himself these questions now?  He pulled out and slammed back in, telling himself that there would be time to think later.  His brain wasn’t currently getting enough blood for these deep thoughts.  He started up a hard, fast pace.  His left hand found its way between Hermione’s legs, furiously rubbing her clit, needing to get her there fast.  He could already feel his balls tightening up.

“Play with your nipples.”  Hermione quickly complied.  He felt her walls begin to flutter around him.  It triggered a tingling in his balls.  “Oh fuck.  Oh shite.  Hermione!”  He pushed deep in, pausing as the first shot of cum left him.  He concentrated on keeping his finger moving on her clit, willing her to follow him over the edge.  On the next stroke out, then back in, he felt it happen, her walls clamping down, milking his cock of the subsequent spurts.

“Oh sweet Circe,” Hermione sighed in absolute bliss.  Draco allowed her legs down off his shoulders, running his hands gently down them as they fell.

Draco looked down at her debauched body as he pulled out.  “Don’t move,” he told her with a laugh.

“Why would I want to?” she laughed back at him.

Draco jumped back out of bed, energized by the thought of getting this picture recorded.  Turning to a fresh page, Draco started a new sketch.

Chapter Text

“What did the Sorting Hat say to you when you were sorted?”

She wasn’t the first person to ask him this question.  Everyone present saw how quickly the hat made the decision made for him.  He found a sick sense of satisfaction in giving the fictitious answer of ‘Easiest one this year’; people never questioned a lie when it perfectly met their expectation of what the truth ought to be.  The truth remained a little more complex.  The hat asked him one simple question and Draco answered ‘No’.  He now felt sure the question contained layers of complexity his 11-year-old-self couldn’t have guessed at.

Until today, only two people knew the true answer.  On their first night together in the Slytherin dorms, Theo shared his secret of the hat suggesting Ravenclaw.  Theo gave Draco a shrewd look after Draco divulged the truth of his sorting, and suggested maybe Draco shouldn’t tell anyone else.  ‘There can’t be any doubt for a Malfoy, can there?’ he asked Draco.  No, no there couldn’t be.  Lucius’ indoctrination of Draco into believing what a Malfoy should be began at a young age.  He chose to reveal the truth of his own accord to his mother the day after his father’s funeral.

“It asked ‘Are you ready to break tradition?’ and I arrogantly answered ‘No’, before it yelled out Slytherin.  What did I know at eleven?  I knew to do what my father told me.  I was so proud to arrive at Hogwarts with my first real mission.  My assigned task, which I only learned about a month prior, was to befriend Harry Potter and determine if he was to be the next Dark Lord.  It was obvious, even before we walked into the Great Hall - he was not what my father hoped for.  As the hat slipped over my head, my thoughts may have been still lingering on what I planned to tell my father regarding Harry Potter when I owled him later.  Nearly 20 years have passed, and I still wish I could ask that blasted hat what it meant by the word ‘ready’.”  The entire story came tumbling out now, leaving him strangely relieved, even as a raw and vulnerable crept in.

Hermione looked at Draco with sad eyes.  She was slowly meeting the demons who continued to haunt this wizard.  Just when he allowed her to dismantle a ward, she discovered yet another set of complex wards behind it.  Hermione knew firsthand the destruction an out-of-control Gemino Curse could cause.  Draco’s demons weren’t all created by Voldemort, his parents, or even the other Death Eaters.  Some he piled up all on his own.

“What house would you have selected, if not Slytherin?”

“I’d like to think I could have carved a niche for myself in Ravenclaw.  And yet, in my heart, I am a Slytherin.  I don’t think the hat sorted me incorrectly.  Does that make any sense?  I’m agonizing over what I believe, in the end, to be the right answer.  Was the hat giving me a choice?  What if I had been given a choice and the hat still put me in Slytherin?  I see it as my first non-choice in an ever-widening river rushing over rapids towards a waterfall of not having a fucking choice.”  Draco took a breath.  “Or not understanding there was a choice,” he whispered the last sentence.

They were sitting on the couch in her flat, popcorn in the microwave (long-since forgotten) and a movie queued up for a quiet night in.  Hermione originally thought her question made for interesting chit chat during the five minutes or so before they were munching on popcorn and watching the film.  She couldn’t decide if her selection of The Breakfast Club was apropos given the turn in conversation.

The options flitting through Hermione’s mind all seemed wrong.  Offer up a platitude by reminding him he was a kid and it wasn’t really his fault?  Placate him with hollow words regarding his choice not to kill Dumbledore or to positively identify her, Harry, and Ron in his home?  Maybe congratulate him on his superior choice in girlfriends – namely her?  She knew now would not be the appropriate time to tell him her sorting hat story.

Alternatively, she chose to pull his head down into her lap and run her fingers through his hair over and over, just holding him quietly.  Draco knew it took a lot for Hermione to not say a word.  And so he said the only thing which came to mind,

“I love you.”

Well there was something new.  Was it awful that the first thing which popped into her mind was, “I know”?  At least she managed to not say it aloud.

“I love you, too.”

In the end, they skipped the movie (maybe it had something to do with Hermione grabbing the remote to turn off the tele at the same time as she told Draco, “I’d rather have your cock in my mouth right now”) and it wasn’t until three days later when she opened her microwave and discovered the stale popcorn.  Instead, she led him to her bedroom as he murmured, “I love you,” over and over between kisses on her lips, her jaw, behind her ear, down her neck, then up her stomach as he pulled up her shirt.  She returned each word with equal ardor.

When Hermione made her way down his body to take his warm silky length into her mouth, she kept her eyes locked on his.  She wrapped her hand around the base, gripping tightly.  She darted the tip of her tongue out to lick around the head, flattening her tongue out as she trailed down the underside, then back up, still keeping it broad against him, with her hand following her mouth.  She swiped her thumb over the top and then moved her hand back down, giving a little twisting motion at the same time.  Her tongue traced around the head again, flicking with a bit more pressure on the frenulum.

Draco watched Hermione’s lips slowly work their way over the broad head of his cock.  The way she kept eye contact with him the entire time was so fucking hot.  He concentrated on not bucking his hips as she ever so slowly worked her mouth down to meet the hand still wrapped around him.  At the moment she had him fully engulfed within her hand and mouth, she let out a moan, the vibrations going straight to his bollocks.  Merlin, he really loved this woman.

She set up a steady rhythm, using a combination of hand, lips, and tongue to stimulate his shaft.  With her other hand, she began to lightly roll his bollocks around while continuing to suck his dick. She gave the whole sack a few soft tugs.  She then very gently used her thumb and forefinger to pinch the skin between the two balls, sliding her fingers from the base of his scrotum to the tips of his testicles. Draco let out a loud, “Yes!” when she moved her mouth’s focus from his dick to his bollocks. Hermione’s hand kept going up and down on his penis, with a delicious little wrist twist and thumb swipe across the top, as she licked all around his testicles with a broad, flat tongue. Taking each ball in her mouth for a minute and sucking sent him over the edge.  With no need to worry about gagging her, he began to thrust into her wet, tight hand, allowing his hands to grip her head.  All the while, watching her.

Hermione felt his sack tighten up as his hips moved back and forth and knew his orgasm was imminent.  She managed to get her mouth back over the head just in time to start swallowing.  As she gave one final firm suck to make sure nothing was left behind, Draco avowed, “Hermione Jean Granger, I love you.”

“I want you to come with me to an event.”  They were lying in her bed an hour later, she on her stomach with her head facing towards him, Draco on his side, head cupped in his hand with elbow underneath as he looked down on her and seemingly stated this out of nowhere.  “The Malfoy family is bestowing a number of ancient books to the American Wizard Library of Congress.  Some will become a part of their permanent collection, while others are only on loan.  It won’t be a large event and it won’t be a gala fundraiser such as you have become accustomed to over the past few years.  It will be a small, private affair with special access granted to special guests.”

“You want me to come with you to the largest library in the world as your guest to a backstage access event?  Only death would keep me away.”

“That’s about what I figured you’d say,” he smirked down at her, then leaned in to kiss her nose.  “It’s funny the small things you sometimes remember, yeah?  Well, I remember a certain potions class where you admitted aloud how Amortentia smells like parchment for you.  Along with fresh cut grass and… something else.”

“I don’t think the last one would apply anymore,” she said evasively.  How could she tell her current lover that the love potion’s third scent could best be described as her first love’s hair?  “What did you smell?” 

Draco considered his girlfriend’s lack of guile to be adorable.  Well, she had more cunning than most other non-Slytherins he knew, but really, who did she think she was fooling?  Luckily for her, he was mature enough to let her have her privacy.  Most of the time.  This time.  “Peonies – my mother is partial to them and grows a large number of varieties in our gardens, a combination of wood and leather – Quidditch gear, and chocolate.  I wonder if mine would still be the same?” he idly pondered before getting back on track.  “The event is in two weeks.  We can spend a weekend there, if you like.  Have you been there before?”

When she shook her head in the negative, Draco continued, “Washington D.C. has a slightly stuffy magical district.  I am under the impression the designers were trying to build the diametric opposite of Diagon Alley when it was constructed soon after the end of the American War of Independence.  However, they do have a grand hotel we can stay in.  There shouldn’t be any need for us to go into the Muggle part of the city, unless you want to.”

“Is this going to count as one of your dates?” she asked while simultaneously wondering what a Malfoy considered stuffy.  Would everyone be walking around with actual sticks up their arses?

“I guess it is.”

Draco arranged for a 4:00pm International Portkey to The States on a Friday, with a return set for noon local time on Sunday.  International Portkey travel was still strictly regulated and as such, most of it originated from and concluded in Ministry buildings.  Exceptions were made for certain large scale events, when pre-set portkeys would be sent out with instructions to the travelers.  Today there were a few others traveling to various destinations in North America, as this was a popular time due to the time difference.

They were handed an empty picture frame, it no longer contained the glass, and told to queue up.  Hermione carried only her handbag, but Draco was already privy to how much his witch could fit into that thing.  Draco held a small trunk under his arm; it was in actuality quite a bit larger when unshrunk.  Inside of it were two additional trunks.  One contained his personal items, the other his books.  All of the books being donated undertook a careful inspection and vetting process months ago by experts who came to the Manor.  The wizard and witch team spent a week in England, staying in Manor guest rooms, rarely seen outside of the library there.  Now, it was just a matter of formality in presenting the books.  Their turn came up, and both held on to the rectangular piece of wood as they were pulled away.

The witch who welcomed them to Washington D.C. executed the typical Americanism of “Hi!  How are you?” with a cheery voice.  Hermione ruminated on this little oddity.  Americans asked this question without much thought, and basically expected a response of, “Fine, thank you.  How are you?”  The little dance then called for the first person to reply, “Excellent!  Well, have a nice day!”  A few years ago, Hermione began a test, whereas, she chose to not answer as expected.  What happened next was completely unexpected for a British citizen.  When Hermione gave a truthful response along the lines of “It’s been a long week.  I’m knackered,” she received commiseration.  If she said, “I’m having a shite day”, the inquirer tended to offer sympathy, usually without prying.  And on the occasions when Hermione voiced a particular complaint, they tried to make it better.  Americans with their sincerity in caring about complete strangers was so weird.  Draco was obviously familiar with the social conventions, as he answered, “We’re well, thank you.  How has your day been so far?” while depositing the used portkey in the basket provided.

He apparated them into the lobby of the hotel, having stayed there before on business.  Hermione grew up wondering if all wizard accommodations were as dismal as The Leaky Cauldron’s.  It wasn’t until she began her Masterships in Charms and Transfiguration after Hogwarts when she happily discovered the inaccuracy of her assumption.  The beautiful little boutique hotel in Rome situated a block from her flat during the year she lived there opened her eyes to the possibilities of magical accommodations.  And the Renaissance-era hotel, originally built as a private residence, on the La Rue Magique in Paris became a favorite upon her first visit.  Yet, neither could hold a candle to the lobby she now stood in.

In older European cities, the magical areas were often built haphazardly.  When the ICW first signed the Statute of Secrecy, the wizarding world suddenly needed to go underground in pre-existing cities.  They used alleys and streets already containing wizard residences or businesses mixed in with Muggle, and basically forced the Muggles out.  Most accounts were murky on how the Muggles were moved, and what, if any, compensation they were given.  Mass obliviations were common place.  Once the districts were established, they became hemmed in quickly, with existing structures undergoing conversions to meet changing needs.  The few new structures constructed often ended up very strangely-shaped in order to find room.

Magical Washington D.C. began construction congruent with Muggle (or No-Maj, as the Americans preferred) Washington D.C.  The benefits of purposeful city planning were evident.  Hermione was looking forward to exploring everything she had only read about.  For now, she was just in awe of the lobby.  The atrium boasted a domed stained glass ceiling three stories above them.  The brightly colored glass shifted patterns every few minutes.  The scenes varied between a herd of centaurs under a star-filled night sky, two male Chinese Fireballs fighting for dominance in flight with a female watching off to the side, a nymph bathing in a sun-dappled forest pool, along with others Hermione didn’t catch.  Draco pointed out the pair of floos with a list of restaurants next to the fireplace labeled ‘exit’, complete with menus.

“The concierge also is able to recommend shops based upon whatever you are looking for.  Every single wizard business in D.C. has both an entrance and exit floo built in,” Draco told her as they walked to the front desk.  “After we check in, we’ll floo somewhere for lunch, then wander around the streets.  It’s probably chilly out, but at least it isn’t snowing.”

“Welcome back, Mr. Malfoy,” the wizard at the desk recognized Draco as they stepped up.  “We have your room ready – the presidential suite you requested.  Will you be requiring anything immediately?”

“Yes, can you please have the concierge make a reservation for a table for two at The Southern Belle for 30 minutes from now?” Draco inquired.

“Of course.  I will have her call up to the room with confirmation.  Here are your room cards.”  Hermione was impressed to find the establishment was up-to-date with the Muggle practice of using disposable cards, albeit with charms set on them rather than a magnetic strip.

Draco glanced at Hermione and noted the way she curiously stared at the card, quickly analyzing the charm on it, most likely jealous of the witch or wizard who thought of the idea before her.  One of the things which attracted Draco to Hermione in the first place was her business acumen.  Draco’s combined business ventures, under the parent company of Malfoy Inc., dwarfed most wizard-run companies in the world.  But, Hermione’s charms-based powerhouse swiftly grew to one of the top five companies in Britain.  She rivaled only George Weasley for patents filed every year.

Hermione had yet to let Draco watch her while working, but Salazar, he itched to do it.  She claimed no one was allowed in the inner sanctuary within her offices while she invented and tested new charms, but George was known to be invited in upon occasion.  Granted, those instances were specifically for collaborations between their two companies, which rarely took place.  The knowledge did little to ease Draco’s jealousy.  Hermione offered a balm for his wounded pride in the form of watching her employees test before-market charms either of her making after the initial phase, or of their own making during presentations.  He hadn’t blinked when she handed him a magically binding non-disclosure agreement to sign first.  The next morning, he sent her the same form for his company and invited her to visit his Potions lab.

“What’s The Southern Belle?” Hermione asked, giving up her study of the room card.

“The cuisine is from the Southern United States.  You’ll love it,” Draco explained as they walked towards the lift.

When they entered the lift, Hermione was confused to see only one button on the wall, marked ‘lobby’.  Below the button was a slot; Draco slid the room card into it and the doors shut.  The movement felt was minimum, and over before Hermione had much time to think.  The doors slid open to reveal the reception area of their suite.

“This is some impressive magic!” she gushed.  “It’s the same for every room, right?  Are there any hallways at all?  How does the staff move things about and clean the rooms?”  Draco cut her off before she could rattle off any more questions.

“Yes, it is the same for every room.  I have no idea how the hotel staff operates,” he stopped before revealing he really didn’t care how staff accomplished their duties, as long as it didn’t affect him.  Seriously, did his witch ever draw the line at needing to know too much?  And no, it didn’t escape his inner monologue that mere minutes ago he had been silently appreciating her sense of curiosity.

Hermione heard the small note of exasperation in Draco’s voice and rolled her eyes.  Times like these reminded her that her boyfriend was basically a prince (or a ponce, depending on your point of view), born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and the magic of how “servants” waited on you was beneath his notice.

Draco moved into the office, set down his trunk on the floor, and returned it to full size.  Hermione stood behind it as he opened it to check on the contents.  She let out a little sigh of longing.  Draco hadn’t dared to invite her to the Manor yet, so this was the first small taste for her of his vast library there.  He planned to offer her the opportunity at the end of the weekend.  The contents of this chest would serve as an enticement.  Hermione ran the tip of a finger along the spine of one book.

“You can fondle the books to your heart’s content later tonight.  Or me.  Your call.  Let’s get ready for lunch.”  He waited a beat to see if he would need to forcibly drag her away from the ancient and rare tomes.

They floo’ed into the restaurant and were shown to a table next to a window overlooking the street.  There were plenty of people walking about on a sunny afternoon, in spite of the chill.  It would be tea time back home, so Hermione was feeling a bit knackered.  She perused the menu and realized there were many items she did not recognize.

“Maybe you should order for the both of us?  We could share,” she suggested.

The first time Hermione tried to share food with him off her plate with the obvious expectation that he would return the favor, well, his reaction could best be described as bewilderment.  Who would even do that?  Hermione, of course.  He discovered it was not necessarily a Muggle thing to trade food at restaurants, just a thing some people did, and she was one of them.  Luckily, she possessed impeccable table manners otherwise, so he overlooked this faux pas.  And now he had come to enjoy the intimacy of it.  Did he sometimes also take advantage of the knowledge that he could eat half of her plate if he chose?  Maybe.

Nothing prepared Hermione for their appetizer of delectable little fried cakes made out of grits (something she had never heard of before today), shrimp, cheese, jalapenos, and a variety of spices.  They were slightly crisp on the outside due to being fried, but creamy and full of flavor on the inside.  There were four on the plate and when Draco went to have a second one, she nearly stabbed his hand with her fork.

“Hands off, buddy.  I’m eating that,” she said, while quickly moving it to her side of the table.

“Should I even tell you how many calories are in that little delight?”

“Nice try.  I don’t care, because shrimp and grits is my new favorite thing,” she smirked.

“Mmmm…” Hermione moaned with an evil grin on her face as she refused to share the last bite with him.

Hermione stared out the window, really noticing the nearby buildings for the first time, as she took a sip of her wine.  The street was straight and the buildings were all brick and rose with straight lines.  Most contained businesses on both the ground and second floors.  Some included apartments above the establishments.  Trees lined the sidewalks, their branches bare now, but they would offer sufficient shade when full of leaves for the benches interspersed among them.  Directly across from the restaurant was an apothecary; it was doing a brisk business.  To one side of it sat a stationary store, with a candle shop above it.  On the other side was antique and collectibles store – it took up two floors.  Hermione was curious to go in there.  Draco’s idea of stuffiness appeared to be Hermione’s idea of orderliness.

Hermione’s entrée included fried green tomatoes.  She’d eaten fried tomatoes with breakfast more times than she could remember, but these were decidedly different.  The British variety were simply naked red tomatoes cooked in the leftover sausage grease.  American fried green tomatoes were breaded, although these particular ones were done with a light hand.  She thought maybe there were only egg whites in the batter?  She detected a hint of cayenne and paprika.  A cool, creamy sauce drizzled atop proved the perfect accompaniment.

“Yum,” Hermione hummed.

“You haven’t even gotten to mine yet.  Just wait,” Draco pushed his bowl towards her, inviting her to take a taste.

“Oh sweet Circe!”  She took a second bit just to confirm the first bite wasn’t a hallucination.  Draco’s seeker reflexes had the bowl back in front of him in a heartbeat.  He wrapped a protective arm around it to shield it from her as he brought another bite to his mouth.  He considered the fact his behavior was bordering on uncouth.

“I thought we were sharing,” Hermione said petulantly.  Crawfish Etouffee was her new favorite thing.  Never mind she had already thought the same thing about shrimp and grits and fried green tomatoes within the past few minutes. 

Draco ordered Strawberry Shortcake for dessert.  The slightly sweet biscuits with the shortcake were so light and fluffy, Hermione wondered if they were infused with a modified feather-light charm while baking.

“I am a huge fan of American Southern food!” Hermione declared in a giddy voice as they exited the restaurant.  Draco chuckled at her exuberance.  He linked her arm with his as they strolled down the street.

Hermione dragged Draco into more stores than he would normally go to in a single day.  The bookstore was a given; she purchased three books on the magical practices of Native Americans.  She came across peony scented card-stock at the stationary store and handed it to Draco thinking he would like to purchase it for his mother.  The scent was set with a stasis charm, so it would not wear down over time.  They both found items in the antique store to purchase.  At the Quidditch shop, Hermione bought United States National Team jerseys for Ron and Harry.  She collected jerseys on all of her travels for them.  Strangely enough, they reciprocated with snow globes for her.  Draco’s favorite was one Harry picked up in Amsterdam with three people smoking joints in it and charmed smoke that swirled around when shook up, instead of snow.

She found a thrift store which sold second hand clothing.  Draco didn’t care how many times she used the word “vintage” – the idea of wearing other people’s old cast-offs disgusted him.  He spent the majority of time they were in the shop sporting a sneer.

“Stop looking like you expect doxies to jump out at you from the coat rack,” she hissed at him in embarrassment.

“It’s difficult to do that when I’m sure it’s exactly what is going to happen,” he hissed back, being careful to ensure even the cuffs of his cloak didn’t brush against a single thread of what hung around him.

“You are such a spoiled brat,” she told him.

“Of course I am.  That will never change.  Can we please leave before I get fleas?”

“Stop being such a toddler.  I want to try on a few things,” she said, pulling two dresses from a rack.

“No!  You can’t!  I won’t be able to touch you afterwards until you shower and Scourgify everything you have on.  Ugh.  Who am I kidding?  I am going to have to Scourgify everything I have on anyway.”

“Are you fucking serious, Draco?”

Of course he was.

Undeterred, she grabbed her wizard’s hand and dragged him towards the dressing rooms.  She stationed him in a chair outside, with the command to wait.  The first dress was from the flapper era and made entirely of a see-through fabric with beads sewn.  When she came out of the dressing room to show it off to Draco he asked, “Are you naked underneath the dress?”  She nodded.  “Too bad the beads are covering the best bits,” he sighed.  “Watch this,” she said in a sultry voice.  Draco watched his curly-haired witch execute a slightly clumsy pirouette.  The skirt flared out as she went around.  When she faced him again the beading on the bodice had moved to allow him a view of her nipples.  She watched his eyes widen.  She spun around again and saw the lust in his eyes when he caught sight of her trimmed pubic hair.

“Maybe vintage isn’t all bad,” he said in a husky voice.  Draco tried to follow her into the dressing room, the bulge forming in his pants pulling him to her like a magnet.  She laughingly pushed him out.  He willed his half-hard cock to stop thinking about forcing his way back in.

She bought the dress, plus another, with a promise to him to model the peek-a-boo one again later.  He also made her promise to Scourgify it first.  And shower.  She’d allowed it to touch her naked skin, after all.

Dinner that night was on the roof top of the hotel; Draco had made the reservations at booking.  Draco suggested forgoing what would have been afternoon tea time locally and instead to eat a slightly early dinner than they would have at home to adjust to the time difference.  They were not the only ones dining up there, but the tables were few and placed far apart, so only a faint murmur carried to them.  A plethora of warming charms were placed around the area, allowing for comfortable al fresco dining on a winter night when the temperature fell below freezing level.  There was a dance floor off to the side and a small string band struck up just as dessert was being served.

They danced under the stars and Hermione was ready to swoon with the romance of it all.  She reminded herself this part wasn’t even the real “date”.  That would come tomorrow at the library.  Which reminded her…

“What will the presentation be like tomorrow?” she asked as they swayed together gently.

“There will be about 25 witches and wizards there, I would guess.  That’s the usual size of these things.  The director of the library will be on hand, along with their board of trustees.  The two staff members who came to England are a part of the official presentation, they will receive the trunk on behalf of the facility.  Then, there will be a handful of other top donators who are invited to these events whenever they occur.  Maybe a dignitary or two.  There will be hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, then a tour will be offered.  I expect there will be a private photographer present the entire time to document the event.”  He dipped her with a sexy smirk as the song ended.

Draco made deal with Hermione.  She could fondle and otherwise use his books to her hearts content, if she did it while wearing the used dress he would never admit he fancied.  She sighed in delight as her fingers ran all over the spines of the tomes in the chest, taking delight in the magic she could feel radiating from them.

“Twirl, kitten,” he told her from the large leather chair he lounged in nearby, glass of scotch in hand.

He watched the way her nipples pebbled when they became visible to his gaze.  Her lips parted seductively as she pulled the oldest book from the group and opened it reverently.  She had cast a protective charm over her hands before they began so no dirt or oil would be transferred.  He heard a small breathy moan escape from between her lips as she turned the pages and soaked in the ancient knowledge.  It was his cock’s favorite sound.  Well, one of them at least.  It also responded to mewls, groans, panting, the word yes, purrs, expletives, certain noises of a wet nature, and his name being shouted.  Ok, let’s face it, Draco’s dick didn’t discriminate.

Hermione picked up her wand to try out something she read.

“Practicing spells will require another twirl, love,” a husky voice interrupted her casting.  She looked up to see Draco feigning nonchalance.  Her inner lioness purred when she noticed his hooded eyes and the slight tightening of his trousers.  He wasn’t fully hard yet, but he was getting there.  She twirled and went back to the spell.  She heard, rather than saw, him take a rather large swallow from his tumbler.  She tried out two more spells in the book before she replaced it to pick up a rather rare book she knew would most likely be the prized one of the bunch for the library.

“Hmmm…  You want to look through another book?  You did clean that dress, correct?”  At her nod, he continued with, “I want to test out a theory on friction.  Come here, kitten.”  He beckoned her to him with a curled finger.  Using a combination of his mouth and fingers on her nipples, he worked them through the fabric of the dress until she said, “Please,” in a small voice.  His now completely hard length twitched a reminder at him that it also enjoyed hearing their witch beg.  He allowed her to step back to the books.

She went to grab a notebook and pen from her bag to take notes or copy down text she found interesting.  He chuckled because the reason he agreed to donate this particularly rare book was due to the fact he discovered two copies of it in his library.  He would be happy to lend the copy he retained to her whenever she wanted.  She didn’t need to know this information now though.

“Tsk, tsk.  That will cost you, pet.  I think it is time for your secondhand garment to come off.”  He watched as her pupils dilated at his command.  She slowly slid down the hidden side zipper and then shimmied out of, sending it via spell to hang in the closet in the bedroom.  She stood unabashedly before him in nothing at all, while she copied down numerous pages quickly via a spell.

The minx dared to give him a sultry look as she asked, “What will it cost me to read one more book?”

He stood up and let the tent in his trousers show the price.  Hermione’s tongue darted out to moisten her lips as she sauntered over and went to work on his belt and then the clasp and zipper on his slacks.

The night proceeded until Hermione had a chance to delve into each book she desired, while Draco also found many opportunities to satiate his desires.

Before walking outside the next moring, Hermione stopped to look over the posted menus to help decide on lunch.  She was intrigued by the Southwestern one.  Draco asked the concierge to set up a reservation for lunch today and another for Sunday brunch at 10:30 at the Northwoods Supper Club.

“I have a bad habit of eating my way through trips,” Draco confessed.

“Have you really not noticed I’m doing the same thing?” Hermione asked.

“Are you daft woman?  I have no idea what you are talking about,” Draco said, lacing his fingers through hers and pulling her outside.  She rolled her eyes at him.

Washington D.C.’s joke shop was a total dud.  The products were dull and the two Brits were part of mere handful of customers on a late Saturday morning.  WWW would be packed at this point.  Hermione would tell George if he ever considered expanding to The States, Washington D.C. was not the place to do it.

“Did you notice the only good gag in the place seemed to be a blatant copy of Weasley’s Headless Hat?” Draco commented as they exited without purchasing anything.  “And everything else was shite I used to buy at Zonkos as a third year.”

Lunch served as a reaffirmation that this city definitely got some things right.  The food was fantastic.

“Green chile is my new favorite thing!” Hermione enthused as they continued their explorations.

Soon enough it was time for the main event.  Hermione decided to wear the second dress purchased yesterday rather than the one she’d brought along from home.  It wasn’t a magical dress, which meant some other witches probably disregarded it.  Hermione couldn’t believe her luck in acquiring a vintage Dior cocktail dress from the 1950’s in perfect condition.  Typical of the times, it hugged her tightly on top, accentuating her bust.  There was a wide belt at the waist, and then a flared skirt with plenty of tulle underneath, causing it to flare out before ending above her knees.  The dress was white; the top portion was heavily covered with clear crystals in varying sizes.  The belt contained the same crystals in a zigzag pattern.  The skirt’s crystal coverage slowly tapered off towards the hemline.  The skirt reminded her of heavy snowfall, the flakes melting as they neared the warm ground.

When she walked out into the main room, where Draco had lounged, waiting for the past half hour, she found him reading one of the books he’d purchased here – A Guide to Indigenous Potions Ingredients of the Northwestern United States and Canada.  She felt a bit foolish at how turned on it made her to see her perfectly groomed boyfriend in black wool slacks and a forest green cashmere jumper, reading a book.  A book she wanted to read when he finished, none-the-less.  Circe, how could someone so sexy even exist?  And he loved her.

Draco glanced up, thinking he’d use the cliché of “See something you like?” – but the words got stuck in his throat.  His first thought was that he wondered how crow tasted, because he may be forced to eat it after seeing her in the vintage dress.  “You look gorgeous,” he admitted softly.  “I don’t think I’ve seen your hair up like this before.”

“I took some inspiration from Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Figured it would go well with the dress.  Even transfigured this little tiara out of a bracelet,” her hand nervously fluttering near her up-do, wondering if she’d gone a little too thematic, “And, judging by your blank look, you’ve never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” she surmised.  He shook his head.

“You look pretty handsome yourself,” she told him a bit belatedly.

He knew he looked good, but it was in a very calculated way.  Hermione looked beautiful in her artless way; she could be so unpredictable, doing what she wanted without a care of what others may think.  And she pulled it off with aplomb.

When they reached the lobby, Hermione paused at the concierge desk, where a wizard stood.  “We’d like to be able to watch a movie when we return.  I didn’t notice a tele in our room.”

“No, ma’am.  Our manager said we may start offering it soon, but the company who charms the tv’s and dvd players to be magic compatible is out of England and the hotel owner is on some sort of wait list with them.  Sorry for the inconvenience,” he told her sincerely.

“Would it be possible for you to procure a television and dvd player for us and have them waiting in the room?  We’ll also need a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, if you can find one?” Hermione asked with a hint of a smile and a twinkle in her brown eyes.  Draco loved a good show and there was an excellent one unfolding in front of him.

“Ma’am, I can do that, but I don’t understand what your plan is.  I can send up one of the spare charmed portable outlets we have available for charging charmed cell phones, but even with power, the tv won’t work.  In fact, you take the risk of it exploding on you,” the poor bastard was toeing the line of professionally letting a customer know they were stupid.

“Is your manager in?” she asked, ignoring everything he’d just said.

“Yes, ma’am.  He’s always here on the weekends until about eight,” he said with a practiced blank look.  Draco was impressed.  No eye rolls or sighs, and definitely no sign of discomfort from the concierge.  This was another reason Draco liked this hotel - excellent staff was hard to come by.

“No need to get him now, we have an appointment.  Here’s my card,” she pulled a business card out of her clutch and slid it to him.  “I would be willing to negotiate the cost of my services in order to leave the tele and dvd player behind after our departure in return for your services this evening.  Please do send an outlet up, as Mr. Malfoy and I are currently charging our mobiles with the one I carry in my purse,” she finished by pulling the very outlet in question, with two mobile phones attached to it, out of the seemingly endless purse to show him. 

The wizard glanced down at the electronics, then the business card, and then looked back up, eyes widening in awe.  Even the best training couldn’t hide the mix of embarrassment and excitement flitting over his features.  His lapse didn’t last long as he said, “Of course, Miss Granger.  I know he would extremely interested in talking with you upon your check-out tomorrow.  I will get right on acquiring the tv, dvd player, and movie you requested.  Can I get you anything else?  Perhaps popcorn or ice cream to go with your movie?”  Now the bloke was just fawning.

As they walked away, Draco noticed a smidgeon of swagger in his witch’s step.  She’d had a bit too much fun with that one.  He smirked at her, “Had to pull the outlet out, with the brand new iPhones plugged in to it, didn’t you?  The ones no one else has charmed yet.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice touch.”  He’d been watching this powerhouse next to him show off her magical prowess for nearly 20 years, some things really didn’t ever change.  Well, except for he really enjoyed watching her show off these days, as compared to his feelings on it back at school.

“Stop staring at me like that,” she said in an undertone.

“Staring at you like what?” he asked.

“Like you expect me to have a spontaneous orgasm any moment now due to my proximity to so many books,” she hissed in his ear.

Draco snorted, earning a couple of questioning looks from the people nearest them.  “Your Amortentia did smell like parchment,” he murmured.  She took in the scent of his cologne, realizing she also had a strong visceral reaction to the mix of bergamot, vanilla, and sandalwood, for which he assuredly paid a hefty sum.

“Ah, Mr. Malfoy, our guest of honor this evening.  We are so excited to be hosting this event in appreciation of your generosity,” a wizard exclaimed with a wide smile on his face, walking up with his hand held out.

Draco took the elder wizard’s hand in his and gave a firm shake.  He turned to his girlfriend, “Hermione, may I introduce you to the library’s director, Thomas Andrews.  Director Andrews, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Miss Hermione Granger.”

The other wizard’s smile grew impossibly wider, “The Hermione Granger?  Oh, this is a pleasure indeed!”

Hermione was pleasantly surprised at the immediate recognition and obvious delight from the American Wizard.  Was it for her war heroine status or for her current endeavors?  Turns out it was a mix of both.

“Well, you know, living in our nation’s capital, many here keep abreast of current world events.  Nasty business, everything that happened with Voldemort.  We Americans love nothing so much as a good revolutionary.  And you know, I can tell you, I wasn’t the only one of my friends shocked when you, one of our current favorite revolutionaries, didn’t chose to go into government work.  My wife lamented when you didn’t lead a fiery crusade, like Jeanne d’Arc.  When your name started to come up in scholarly journals, authoring trail-blazing ideas, well, I became even more if a fan,” the man was seriously gushing.  He wasn’t at all quiet about it, and soon all of the people present had gathered to listen.  Since there were less than a ten, it didn’t feel claustrophobic.

The witch whom Draco remembered from her visit to his English Manor unobtrusively came up and took him aside to relieve him of the trunk full of books he’d been holding for quite some time, putting it on a table near a podium.  She began the task of unpacking it for him, occasionally asking his opinion on the placement of each book being displayed.  Hermione’s name was being murmured around him, everyone excited at the unexpected surprise of her attendance.  Draco was used to being the center of attention.  His natural inclination was to insinuate himself back at his witch’s side, taking the spotlight back upon himself.  In the past, witches he dated were there to make him look good.  Being in an equal partnership was a novel idea.

He continued to watch Hermione be the center of attention.  Director Andrews introduced her to each other attendee in turn.  There wasn’t a one who didn’t know of her.  She’d grown into an accomplished conversationalist, naturally finding topics of shared interest.  Draco’s existence was soon remembered, when Hermione glanced back towards him with a radiant smile, putting her hand out ever so slightly, looking for him to step into her personal space.  He came up to her side with his own genuine smile, taking her hand.  She then introduced him to each person in the room, doing the amazing feat of remembering every name.

Together, they continued to chat with various witches and wizards, even as more people arrived.  Hermione liked seeing Draco’s real smile.  So often his expressions were more on the scale of sardonic.  She’d momentarily been nervous about his reaction to the group’s response to her presence.  That thought fled when she turned to find him staring at her with pride.  He’d then come up to stand beside her, acting like this night shouldn’t have been all about him.  He liked that it was about them.

The ceremony was nice, but slightly forgettable in Hermione’s opinion.  She’d paid attention for Draco’s sake, although the lure of the books around her was like a siren’s call.  Over martinis and finger foods, she’d found herself discussing possible uses of electricity in the library with three members of the board of trustees, Director Andrews, and the two other library employees present.  They all agreed the first installment should be electric lights.  She pulled out her phone to set an appointment for a teleconference the following week.  Draco kept his face impassive when he saw more than one look of envy pass over the faces of these extremely wealthy, influential people upon the sight of the latest model iPhone, charms in place to be used in magical premises.  It was with great internal glee, none of which showed on the outside, that he asked her for his phone, not caring if it looked emasculating to have it carried in her purse, slipping it into his own pocket after a cursory glance at the screen.

Draco moved amongst the crowd, answering questions about the books he was gifting, along with the ones being lent.  He found himself describing the Manor’s library.  He was pleasantly surprised when one patron pulled him aside to discuss an article Draco had penned two years ago for an alchemical journal.  It was the sole time the blonde-haired wizard had been published for his own original academic research.  He enjoyed alchemy as a hobby, one he did not have enough free time to pursue as he wished.

Draco snickered at the way he could see Hermione’s impatience grow when the evening didn’t move to the final phase fast enough for her liking.  She was itching to be allowed into the stacks, the research rooms, the very depths of the building.  Finally, those who wished to take a tour were being welcomed to do so.  The crowd dropped by half when the food and booze were taken away.  Typical.

Hermione was a little miffed so many people left just when things were really going to get good.  Where was their respect?  The written word, and the wonders of discovering it, deserved reverence.  If Hermione could ever be considered a religious person, then a library would be her place of worship.  The early departures tonight were like the mass-goers who snuck out after receiving communion, not understanding the importance of the final prayer.

She would be leaving tonight with the painful knowledge that there just wasn’t enough time.  But, she made the best of it.  She practically jogged from section to section, looking for certain books she had only heard about through reading other references to them. 

She was ecstatic to be allowed to look through a one-of-a-kind book from the early 1600’s showing painstakingly created, full color sketches of a Samhain Ball in London.  The costumes worn were drawn, page upon page, in full detail, the decorations were recreated across many pages as well.  Even the ghosts present at the event were drawn in amongst the living.  And it all moved!  She watched a rendition of an allemande on page, and then turning the page, found a minuet on the next.  She was vastly amused to notice an amorous couple sneaking out onto a balcony in the background of a scene, the man stealing kissing as the woman giggled.

Draco was impressed the with the experimental potions labs available on a suburban level.  Those wishing to research, using recipes from books housed within the library, needed to sign waivers, but were encouraged to test as much as they wanted onsite.  There were cauldrons made of pewter, bronze, iron, and gold.  Stirring rods were typically glass, as it was non-reactive with most ingredients.  This lab offered bronze and even wooden rods so as to allow for recreation of period-correct environments. 

The same went for using charms on premise.  There were separate practice rooms.  The general idea was a sharing of knowledge – the public gained from each other’s successes and failures being noted within these walls.  Hermione, or course, could not resist grabbing a book and using one of the testing rooms.  She picked up a cup and a pillow.  She transfigured the cup into a rat.  She transfigured the pillow into a terrier.  She then tried out a charm from an old hunting book that could be cast upon a dog to immediately teach it to find and kill rats, no training necessary.  Bloody useful during the times of plague.  The rat didn’t stand a chance.

Ancient scrolls of parchment and velum were kept in dimly lit rooms with heavy stasis charms in place.  There were even ancient clay tablets in still another room.

The employee research facilities were top-notch.  There were two curse-breakers kept on staff.  Translators of many modern languages, as well as experts in dead languages, were needed for this type of facility to insure no one would mispronounce a spoken word from a text.  The results could be catastrophic.  And just as at Hogwarts, there was a “restricted” section to this library.  The books would be freely available for perusal, but were kept secure until needed.  A patron could present themselves to the librarian posted to care for these titles and be allowed one book at a time, to be read in a managed environment.  Director Andrews noted that occasionally accidents still happened.  The most common was hexes being enacted by books with spells placed on them which determined whether the reader was worthy of the knowledge within.  It seemed some wizards and witches would overestimate their self-worth.

They went back to the main level and one trustee asked if Hermione would like to hold a book which once belonged to Morgana herself.  In many cases, the library owned more than one copy of an item, in fact, it was their mission to acquire at least two copies, whenever possible.  However, if only one copy could be procured, then it did not matter the provenance, it was still made available to the public.  The book felt warm in her hands, even before she opened it.  When she turned to the first page, a glow emitted from it.  It was the happiest little book she had ever held.

Hermione said good-bye to the handful of people left at the end of the evening.  She was really looking forward to her call the next week with the board of the library.  She planned to be very hands on with this project.  It would be a great excuse to return and explore the building more.

When the returned to their room that night, everything they had asked for was in place.  Hermione set the charms upon the tele and dvd player and hooked them up after she and Draco changed into pajamas.  They snuggled up together on the sofa under a blanket and enjoyed the hot, buttery popcorn and cold, creamy ice cream, kept under stasis charms. 

Draco didn’t really understand the appeal of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Something was lost in translation between the fact that the piece took place in 1958 Muggle New York City and Draco’s only life exposure up until after his 8th year at Hogwarts had been Wizarding Europe.  He’d been 20 the first time he travelled further than the continent, to Japan.  Magical Japan, of course.  He’d seen Magical Tokyo before he’d seen Muggle London.

Hermione knew Draco was humoring her by watching the movie, but she couldn’t get past how much she loved Audrey Hepburn.  Pretending to be her for a night felt fun.  She sighed as she licked mint chocolate chip ice cream from a spoon.  Draco dozed off before the movie ended.  She woke him up to move to bed.

The next morning, the two packed up, placing Draco’s trunk into Hermione’s bag so they could easily check out before leaving for brunch.  They met with the manager at the front desk and came to an agreement to rebate the cost of their stay versus the cost of Hermione’s services.  One charmed tele and dvd player was in no way equal to their bill, but it took a bit off.  She also agreed to check on the hotel’s spot on her waiting list when she returned to the office tomorrow.  She told the manager she hoped to see him again soon, as she may have work coming up in the city.

“Well, what did you think of the experience?” Draco asked over Bloody Marys at brunch.

“The revolutionary in me wants to shake my fist and yell “pay for play!”, but it’s easy to push that voice away when I remember the books,” she sighed in a dreamy tone, tossing an olive in her mouth.

“I’m not going to disagree with you on the backroom deals that can come out of these things.  It’s difficult to when you kind of did one while there,” he reminded her with a raised eyebrow.

She waved her hand dismissively, “Doesn’t count.  I’ve a monopoly on the field.  They would have come to me eventually anyway.”

“Really, that’s how you see it?”

“Mmm-hmm,” she said while taking a dainty sip of her drink.  It was very spicy, just the way she liked it.

“Interesting,” he drawled.


“Your moral expediency.  It still surprises me at times,” he said in an admiring tone.

She preened under the compliment.  Not at his insinuation of her loose morals.  At the fact she could surprise him and he enjoyed it.

“All right, how does this particular American institution work?” she asked, eyeing the giant buffet. 

They’d consumed a total of three Bloody Marys each by the time they finished gorging themselves, and they were strong.

“Ministry of Magic.  Ministry of Magic.  Ministry of Magic.”

“What are you doing, Hermione?”

“Making sure I’m still good to floo.”

Chapter Text

What the fuck was Draco wearing?  Why the hell did Hermione allow him to go to Cotswold Outdoor alone?  Draco pretty much had two truisms in life – “more is better” and “the most expensive is always the best”.  Well, and “Malfoys always get what they want”.  Which she pointed out plainly wasn’t a truism, because once upon a time the Malfoys hoped for the Dark Lord to win.  To which Draco replied, “What my father really wanted was power; Voldemort was simply a means to an end.”  Semantics.  But, seriously, what was Draco wearing?

Wait, maybe a modeling scout discovered Draco while shopping and signed him to a contract with North Face to wear their product line?  She congratulated herself for hitting the nail on the head.  Any other explanation beyond that as to why it appeared he was currently wearing £10,000 worth of their clothing and accessories was unfathomable.  At this point, Hermione was willing to bet he was even wearing North Face underwear.

“I think you misunderstood.  We aren’t scaling Mount Everest.”

“I know that.  Do you see a Sherpa behind me?”  Draco turned his head, looking behind his shoulder mockingly.

“Well, with the amount of gear you appear to be carrying in your backpack, I’m kind of surprised there isn’t one.”  Oh gods, he wasn’t thinking about bringing a disillusioned house elf along, was he?

“Isn’t there some kind of Muggle saying about always being prepared?”

“Only because Muggles can’t disapparate themselves out of situations.”

“Am I allowed to disapparate myself out of this adventure?” he asked scathingly.

Hermione didn’t really want to answer, because then she might have to concede a point to him.  Unfortunately, a non-answer was as good as an answer.

“That’s what I thought.”

Hermione sighed.  Could the man be any more smug?  Well, yes.  He could.  She sighed again, deciding it would be best to just ignore the fact that no one needed so much stuff for an afternoon of ice fishing.

Hermione was very excited to take Draco ice fishing up in Scotland.  It wasn’t often a winter was cold enough for a lake to freeze over long and hard, so as to make the sport safe anywhere within the British Isles.  Hermione remembered her dad and his fishing buddies gossiping and trading information year after year, in search of a spot to go out on the ice.  Like all fishermen, they guarded their secrets carefully and maintained a network of people who were “in the know”.  There were many winters where an excursion never panned out.  It was like they found the Holy Grail on the years when it happened.

Hermione’s dad called her up a few days ago, excited to report he had just gotten back from a weekend trip up north, catching several good-sized fish while there.  Did she want to come to dinner to partake in his bounty?  Would Draco be joining her?

Somehow, dinner at her parents’ home with Draco turned into Hermione and Draco going ice fishing on the same lake her father and his cronies fished last weekend.  She borrowed her dad’s shack, auger, tip ups, and other assorted gear.  She had felt prepared until Draco appeared at her flat.  She looked down at herself, feeling a little worried about being judged inadequate.

Wait.  What?  Hermione squared her shoulders with the realization it would be her boyfriend who would be judged absurd by anyone on the lake actually taking the time to look at them.  Which probably wouldn’t happen anyway.

Hermione made a quick plan that night after finishing dinner at her mum and dad’s house.  If they were really going to do this as just a day trip, then the best idea would be to apparate into a spot in the woods surrounding the lake, emerging out on the lake from a walking trail, pretending to hiked in.  Hermione’s dad had invested in a collapsible, tent-like shelter a few years back - it was infinitely better than his old wooden shed which needed to be hauled in on a sled.  Now it really would be possible to hike in, carrying everything on their backs.  A pile of items sat waiting to put in Draco’s new backpack and then they could be on their way.

“Draco, you have six days’ worth of dehydrated food in your backpack.”

“No, I have three days’ worth of food for two people.  I wouldn’t leave you without food.”

“This is the biggest first-aid kit I have ever seen.”

“I know!  Isn’t it great?”

“Bigger isn’t always better.”

“I remember you singing a different tune last night.”

Hermione rolled her eyes at him as she unpacked his backpack and then repacked it, leaving about half of the crap it contained on the floor.

“You don’t have any water in here, where is your water?”

He unzipped more than one of the multiple Gortex, fleece, moisture-wicking cotton, who-knows-why-he-needs-so-many layers, to finally get to hidden platypus containers strapped against his body.  There was water, and there was firewhiskey too, judging by the color of one of them.

“The man who helped me warned me about liquids freezing easily at low temperatures.  My body heat will make sure they don’t turn to ice.”

“Firewhiskey might go well with the thermos of hot chocolate I packed,” she diplomatically said.

After that, Hermione kept her mouth shut while she shifted items around and finished packing what Draco would carry.  Better to just get on the proverbial road.

The apparition idea worked perfectly; they landed just far enough away from the lake so the sound of their arrival wouldn’t be noticed and no one would accidentally spot them using magic.  They walked on the trail for less than five minutes before coming out of the trees at the edge of the lake.  There were three other shacks on the lake, but it was large enough for everyone to spread out.  Hermione didn’t know if any of them were her dad’s friends, back to try their luck for another weekend.  She did not plan on finding out.

She and Draco walked to a spot far enough away from the others where they couldn’t even hear them once they finished drilling their holes.  While setting everything up, Draco complained about the manual labor.  While drilling the holes, he complained he was too hot.  And as soon as 10 minutes went by without any fish taking a nibble at their bait, he complained of boredom.  At least he hadn’t started to complain about being cold.

“Tell me again what the point of this is?”

“The satisfaction of obtaining your own food.  The thrill of the hunt.  Practicing patience.  Communing with nature.  Just hanging out with your friends.”

“I have the means to obtain food that doesn’t entail sitting on ice.  There is nothing thrilling about this, nor are we really hunting.  Patience isn’t something I need to practice.  I am not a hippy.  However, I do like to hang out with you.”

“We are doing something ancient in nature, Draco.  We are practicing survival against the odds.”  Draco opened his mouth to say something, Hermione was pretty sure she could guess his line of thought, so she cut him off, pointing a finger at him, “No, don’t try to tell me that you and I have plenty of practice surviving against the odds.  That isn’t what I mean, and you know it.  I just want to be two people, enjoying the ability to sit and do something people were sitting doing ten thousand years ago.  There aren’t many opportunities in today’s world to do this.”

Draco thought about the little ways this witch in front of him wove pieces of herself into pieces of him without even knowing she was doing it.  How she was slowly changing him at his core.  Did she feel it?  Was he slowly changing her, too?  Was there still a defined place where he ended and she began?  Could he take those pieces back out if he needed to?  Did he even want to?  Should he say these thoughts out loud?  Did ice fishing require a certain type of tête-à-tête?  Ever since he professed his love to her a few weeks ago, he found himself becoming a sap.

“Care for a shot of firewhiskey?”  That seemed like an easier conversation.

“Want to try something a little more Muggle?  I have beer or I have peppermint schnapps to mix with the hot chocolate.”

“Why would we drink cold beer while sitting outside in the freezing cold?” he asked.

“I honestly don’t know, it’s what people do,” she shrugged.

“Were people doing it ten thousand years ago?”

“Just answer the question, Draco.”

“Sure, I’ll have a beer.”

And so, they drank beer and talked.

“…No, I don’t think she waxes in the shape of a lightning bolt for Harry…”

“…The most Slytherin thing a friend has done?  Besides me dating you?  Definitely Pansy rescuing Richard from that awful orphanage.  She took care producing a male Parkinson heir to stop her family name from dying out, and she circumvented her mother’s match-making in one fell swoop…  She is a surprisingly wonderful mum…”

Another beer opened.

“…The most Gryffindor thing I have done?  Besides riding a dragon up out of the bank I was robbing?  Starting my business when everyone expected me to take a ministry job.  There was a time when Harry was the only one who stood by me.  When everyone else was telling me I was squandering my fame on selfish pursuits rather than making changes for the betterment of other creatures, or that I should be using my skills gained during the war to work in the DMLE, Harry was the only one who asked me what my long game was.  It was so hard to keep on being doubted, after so many years of being disbelieved.  To choose the road less travelled once again…”

The second beer was finished quickly.

“…Theo had a crush on you for years.  Ever since you two swots were partnered up in both Arithmancy and Runes during fifth year.  He had a plan worked out to finally ask you out on the day you both took your apparition tests in sixth year.  He didn’t count on Ron taking the test that same day and he chickened out…”

A third beer.

“…Ugh, let’s not talk about Divination…”

“…I have an autographed Chocolate Frog card of you hidden in my desk.  I bought it off of some bloke in Diagon Alley…  How do you know it’s a fake if you haven’t even seen it?...  Well, then I will be the first person to ever have you sign one...”

“…Yes, I have kissed a girl and no, I am not telling you who.  It wasn’t even very good…”

“I think I have a bite!” Draco cut Hermione off.  It was probably the only thing able to stop him from exploring that conversation further.

When they pulled up the line from the ice, there was a tiny fish on the hook.  “You have to let me keep it, it’s the first one I ever caught,” Draco declared imperiously.

“No, there are rules about what size you are allowed to keep,” Hermione was exacerbated.

“Please…” he whinged.  “You can’t deny me my first kill.  Can we take a picture?”

“Only if you want to be laughed at.”

“Hey, it isn’t moving.  Should it be moving?” Draco asked with some concern.

“Great, we argued about it long enough with the fish out of the water that we killed it.  Well, I guess we can use it as bait and hope for a bigger fish,” Hermione offered.  Draco still took a picture of it before he allowed her to lower it back down.

“I’m getting kind of cold.  Can we stop being martyrs and go inside that tent thingy and have some hot chocolate now?” Draco asked.

Hermione turned on the little heater inside the shelter.  She really wished she could have put an extension charm onto the tent, but there hadn’t been the time.  She picked up the tent yesterday, they were using it today, and she planned to return it tomorrow, so putting one on only to have to take it right back off seemed like too much work when there was plenty more to do with getting ready.  She could see Draco looking around with a touch of disdain. 

Hermione thought it was cozy and they had everything they would need for the next couple of hours.  They brought their two chairs in from outside and Hermione opened a small collapsible tripod table.  There were hooks on the walls so they could hang up some items.  She took off her outermost coat.  She glanced out the window to make sure it was easy to see their outdoor tip ups.  She had two holes in the corners in here too; she quickly baited the lines now that they would be spending time inside.

Hermione pulled out the thermos of soup and the sandwiches she had packed along with the hot chocolate and the schnapps.  She offered some of everything to Draco and he happily started to eat.  He took a sip of the drink and paused, exploring the unknown flavor.

“This isn’t bad, but it reminds me a bit of toothpaste with the mint taste.  And why would I want to swallow toothpaste?  I’ll have the next one with firewhiskey,” Draco let her know as he lowered enough zippers to get at his hidden pouches.  It was already getting warm enough inside that he didn’t zip any back up.  He also took off the outer coat and hung it up.

Draco was drinking his second hot chocolate, this one with the firewhiskey, when they started to talk about more than the mundane of “would you like another sandwich” and “please pass the soup” again.  “So, about that witch you kissed…” he started out not at all subtly.  Hermione threw her head back as she let out a loud laugh.

“I should have just lied and said no.  Is this a fantasy of yours?”

“Possibly,” he hedged.

“Have you ever seen two women kissing?”

“Possibly,” he answered slowly.

“Have you seen two women do more than kiss?”

“Possibly,” he offered up a third time.

“Were you involved in the “more than” part of that interaction?”

“Quite possibly,” he affirmed.

Hermione licked her lips.  She may not have really enjoyed kissing Ginny very much, but it probably had to do with their lack of experience in kissing more than anything else.  Which is exactly why they decided to kiss in the first place, to practice on each other before they started kissing boys.  But now, the thought of kissing Ginny with Draco watching, well, the thought was a bit of a turn on. 

Did Hermione realize her lips were parted and she was breathing a little bit faster as she stared at him?  Draco stared at her pink cheeks and didn’t think the sudden change in color had anything to do with the amount of alcohol they’d drank.  Although, it was definitely loosening Hermione up.  They were delving into uncharted territory here.

“Did you enjoy it?” Hermione asked quietly.

“Very much, but my girlfriend wasn’t good at sharing, so it was just the once,” he said, his voice taking on a husky quality.

That gave Hermione pause.  Would she be good at sharing?  She would never say it out loud to anyone, but she’d fantasized about being in bed together with two different Weasley men over the years.  The realities of jealousy never factored into those daydreams.  How would the dynamics of a threesome work if it happened more than once?

Draco could practically see the wheels turning in Hermione’s head. Where was she going off to inside of there?  Only one way to find out, “What are you thinking?”

“As much as I might enjoy you watching me kiss another woman, I think I would have trouble with the jealousy, too, if we were all together in a threesome,” as it came out, she realized she had said more than she meant to.  And from the way Draco’s eyebrows immediately shot up, he knew it too.

Now her cheeks were definitely pink.  He couldn’t help but smirk at her as he innocently queried, “You want me to watch you with another woman?”  She pursed her lips and shook her head no.  “Do you just want me to watch you do something?”  She grabbed his firewhiskey and took a large gulp as she shook her head in the negative again.  She cocked her head to the side, silently waiting for him to continue with his guessing.  “Do you want someone to watch us?”

She opened her mouth, like she was going to answer, but then snapped it shut again.  Her face was red and the blush was spreading downwards along her neck to disappear beneath her shirt.  He figured he was close enough to the truth.  He took a big swig of his firewhiskey before he stood up and grabbed her hand to pull her up to him.  His erection wasn’t evident through the four layers covering it, but he could feel it pulsing.  Judging by her dilated pupils, she was feeling as turned on as him by this conversation.

He pulled her body tight against his, cursing the amount of clothing they were both wearing as he kissed her soundly.  He could taste the firewhiskey on her lips with a hint of chocolate left behind as he delved further into her mouth with his tongue.  He moaned at the delicious taste.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and her fingers from one hand were alternating between gently dragging the nails along the base of his skull and lightly tugging on his hair.  She groaned when he managed to untuck enough top layers to find some skin.

Suddenly, he whipped her around so her back was pressed against his front.  He leaned down to put his lips behind the shell of her ear, “Look out that window.  The people in the next shelter aren’t too far away.  Think I could make you scream loud enough so they would hear?  Would you make me stop when they started running this way?”  As he murmured these questions to her, one hand snaked up under her shirt and along her stomach until he cupped a breast.  The other hand managed to get down into her pants to start rubbing at her.

“Uuuggghhhh…” Hermione strangled out, knowing Draco could now feel her arousal as his fingers circled around her wet clit.  He tried to move his hand more, to get his fingers inside of her, but the amount of clothing was restrictive.  She pushed her arse back against the steel rod in his pants and he let out a moan.

“Do you want to get caught?  Do you want someone to see us?” he let out a frustrated sound as he couldn’t get the angle he wanted with his hand.  “You better not be too loud unless you want someone to come barging in right as you are coming,” he told her as he pulled his hand out of her pants and spun her around to face him once again.  He started to work on getting her pants down with the intent to use his tongue to draw the letters of his name across her clit over and over until she yelled it out loud.

“Draco, you have a bite!”

“What, you want me to bite you?”

“No, you have bite from a fish, you twit!”

Hermione noticed a flag up when Draco spun her back around; they had both previously missed it due to their backs being turned.  Draco quickly forgot what he planned for Hermione when her words made it through the fog of his lust and the alcohol.  He rushed over to the hole and started to work on reeling in his catch.

The fish was putting up a fight. “It’s much bigger than my first one!” he gleefully exclaimed.

“Do you need help?” she asked.

“No, I remember what you told me about the give and take.  I can do this,” he told her, just a hint of haughtiness in his voice.

Up through the ice came a huge brown trout.  Eyeballing it, Hermione would guess it weighed 4 or even 4.5kg.  Draco wore a look of awe on his face.  Until Hermione said,

“It’s a keeper!  Get it off the hook and we’ll lay it out on the ice until we’re ready to go.”

“You get it off the hook,” Draco seemed nervous now.  He was holding the line away from his body and eyeing the fish like it might attack him.  Hermione laughed.  Which was the wrong thing to do.  Draco’s nervousness was quickly covered by a nearly blank face with a small sneer and a cold tone, “This was your idea and if you want the fish off of the hook, you can bloody well do it.”

Hermione watched the change come over his face as he reverted back into his safe persona.  The one that had allowed him to survive for so many years.  It was disconcerting for various reasons when he did it.  The foremost in her mind was that she was sure he wasn’t always consciously aware it happened.  Next was the stark reminder of their childhoods.  And then there was the niggling question of whether he would ever fully trust her with his emotions.  Alone in a tent with his girlfriend and a fish and he was scared to been seen as scared.  Admittedly, the trout did have teeth.

Hermione made the split second decision to go with some gentle goading to knock him out of it.  “What kind of fish story am I going to tell my dad about you being scared of a trout?”

“Oh, Draco wanted to take it off, but it was too slimy.”

“Well, I had to help Draco out because he didn’t like the way the fish stared at him.”

“’If you do doubt your courage or your strength, come no further, for death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth.’”

The last one was the one that did it.  Alluding to his fear of being bitten by something that wasn’t scary at all, something like a fluffy little bunny.  His sneer turned into a smirk and he deftly grabbed the fish under its gills and slid the hook out.  They walked outside, laid it near the door, and he looked at her with a triumphant grin on his face.  The sun was getting closer to the horizon and it occurred to Hermione that this was the magical hour photographers loved.  Draco glowed.

Chapter Text

They arrived in the Sahara Desert in the middle of the night.  It made sense that the International Portkey Office was open 24 hours; for the first time, Hermione found herself using it at 2:30 in the morning.  The day before, the dilemma arose regarding whether she should just try to stay up all night or take a nap.  Draco suggested a nap.  Hermione said she didn’t really feel tired.

He devised an excellent way to tire her out.  It started with her on the couch.  He wasn’t the least bit gentle with his teeth as he sucked and bit at her nipples, going back and forth between her breasts.  All while three fingers pumped relentlessly in and out of her, crooked just right to rub against the perfect spot inside of her.  Hermione was bucking her hips madly while her fingers dug into his shoulders.  Later on, she would recall strings of words, profanities, Draco’s name, and entreaties, leaving her lips, even though she couldn’t recall exactly what they were.  She reached over, trying to get a grip on his cock as he knelt beside the couch, driving her to insanity.  She managed to grab it and swipe her hand up and down a few times before he wiggled his hips away from her reach.  She had already orgasmed twice when she found it in her hand again and declared,

“Oh gods, you’re so hard.  I want your hard cock inside of me instead of your fingers.  Please, please Draco,” thinking her words, in conjunction with her hand, would get her what she desired.  Instead he stood up and walked away.  The curly-haired witch’s first thought was, ‘What the fuck just happened?’  Meanwhile, Draco decided to try something he had been thinking about for the past few weeks, ever since their ice fishing trip.

After telling her that he had been with two witches, he tried to imagine asking another witch to join them in bed.  The thing was, he couldn’t imagine wanting to take his attention off of Hermione.  He reflected back on how selfish he had been in his youth.  Sure, he liked to make sure anyone in his bed enjoyed herself.  Although in the end, his pleasure was always the most important factor.  With a start, he realized that wasn’t how he felt about Hermione.  Which led him to imagining a way to increase her pleasure.  It was an intriguing idea to contemplate another man helping him.

“Come here,” Draco commanded.  He was kneeling on the wood floor next to the couch, with a dildo he conjured up suctioned to the floor in front of him.  He said a lubricating charm onto it, while his hand was holding it by the base.  “You’re going to ride this while you suck me off.”  Hermione wasted no time in squatting over it and working her way down while she took something slightly bigger than Draco deep inside of her.  Draco helping to guide another cock into Hermione had him on the edge of release without being touched.  Precum dripped onto the floor as he watched the phallus disappear into her.  Once she was seated on it, he knelt up straight, she gripped the backs of his thighs for balance, and opened her mouth to pull his hard length deep into her throat.  He wanted to watch it all forever, the way she was bouncing up and down on someone else, her mouth working him in time with her body’s motions, her eyes staring up at him…

Instead, he came nearly immediately, shouting something unintelligible.  She bobbed her head a few more times, making sure she swallowed every drop out of him.  When he pulled his softening member out of her mouth, she fell forward onto her hands and knees, disengaging herself from the toy on the floor.  Hermione had never felt so worked over in her life, she was shaking a bit and couldn’t help laughing as she said,

“I don’t think I can move.”

Draco was sprawled upon the couch, facing her with his head on one of the armrests.  “Now it’s my turn to be inside you, witch,” he beckoned her towards him, not caring how tired she thought she was.  She crawled across the floor and then up between his legs.  She drew his flaccid member into her mouth, willing it back to life.  She moved her mouth down to lick and suck at it.  “Use your teeth,” he moaned.  She moved her mouth further down and scraped her teeth against the skin as she pulled a bollock into her mouth, while her hand moved up and down his semi-hard shaft.  “Yes, just like that.  Don’t stop.” Hermione was kneeling with her arse up in the air and was feeling deliciously exposed.  She wished there was someone behind her, touching her.  The dual penetration earlier left her wanting more.

She continued in her endeavors until he stood fully engorged again.  “Get up,” Draco directed.  He turned to sit facing forward on the sofa and ordered, “Turn around and ride me backwards.”  She sat on his lap, taking him in with no resistance.  He slapped her arse roughly and demanded in a husky voice, “Touch yourself while you ride me fast and hard.”  He didn’t hit her arse on every down stroke; he varied the timing and the side to keep her on edge.  It was merely minutes before she was startled to find herself in the longest orgasm of her life.  There was an ebb and flow to it, but it didn’t seem to stop.  Sweat dripped down between her breasts and her hair was stuck to her back.  Draco’s upwards thrusts were coming harder, without any real rhythm.  They both panted.  And then his entire body went rigid as he whispered, “Hermione,” like her name was a prayer.

Yes, that all led to a nice four hour nap on the couch, because now she really couldn’t move, before his wand sounded an alarm at 1:30.  They floo’ed to the Ministry, where they were handed a badly dented pewter goblet.  Moments later, they stood in the middle of nowhere; the night sky to the East ablaze with firelight.  Dragon fire.

Hermione had never been in a desert before.  Even now, when it was nearing the coolest hour of a day, she could still feel the remnants of heat radiating up from the sand under her.  The air around her smelled of dust and sulfur.  The portkey arrival/departure sight was under an open-side tent at the edge of a small oasis.  There were two platforms, one for each direction of travel and three employees working.  One wizard to check in departures and hand them their appropriately charmed object, one who was taking the used portkeys from the arrivals and reading through a list of future departures to recycle the items as needed using the Portus Charm, and a final witch with whom Draco began to converse as Hermione was assessing their surroundings. 

Hermione was wearing a vintage 1960’s royal purple sleeveless sundress with a square neck and a skirt falling just above her knees.  At Draco’s suggestion, she wore easily transfigurable shoes – trainers for walking around the sand, changed to kitten heels once in the grandstand.  And to top it all off, a fabulous hat.  The base of the hat comprised of three layers of sheer white material with purple feathers printed on it.  Each layer was created by stretching the material over a metal hoop measuring approximately a half meter in diameter, with the bases of the feathers all in the middle of the circle and the tips radiating out to the edges of the circles.  The three flat layers were loosely stacked on top of each other.  Coming out of the center of the hat was a full bouquet of feathers; there were ring-necked pheasant feathers, gyrfalcon feathers, wild turkey feathers, and Hermione’s favorite, snowy-owl feathers.  They were all wing feathers, some as long as a meter.  The feathers were all dyed various shades of purple and orange.  You could still see the natural striations of each feather through the dye, and with the different types of birds and mixed lengths, the overall effect was stunning.

Draco presented the credentials Astoria Greengrass owled him to the welcome witch, and she in turn gave him directions on where they would need to go.  Although Draco had come here before to watch races, the all-access passes he and Hermione would enjoy today were a first for him.  He was looking forward to spending a little bit of time behind the scenes both before and after the races.  Draco was the one to introduce Astoria to the sport of dragon racing.

As a student, Astoria’s favorite class at Hogwarts happened to be Care of Magical Creatures.  Astoria once told Draco she secretly started to admire Hermione Granger that infamous day when Draco found himself with a broken nose because of what he said about Hagrid.  Astoria’s parents raised her to be a perfect pureblood housewife.  Draco’s parents been raised him to believe he wanted, no needed, a perfect pureblood wife.  Thank Merlin they both realized in time it wasn’t what either of them wanted.

The first time they visited the desert together to watch dragons fly across the sky as the sun rose, Draco was trying to impress his new girlfriend.  In his typical smug manner, he showed off what money and influence could buy a wizard – the best seats at the only dragon races in the world.  These legal races, just introduced the prior month, were the culmination of over three years of work within ICW to come to an agreement and iron out all of the little details after a proposal from an international group of investors.  The influential wizards and witches around them, the freely flowing champagne and firewhiskey, the caviar and foie gras and wagyu beef; Astoria ignored it all.  They could have been standing alone in the sand drinking tepid water and eating a chicken sandwich for all Astoria cared.  She stared at the dragons with her mouth agape the entire time, not uttering a word to anyone.

Afterwards she told Draco that the only other time she had seen a dragon was at the Tri-Wizard Tournament.  And then she begged to go back again.

The next time was similar to the first, except she actually drank some of the champagne.  The third time, she deigned to speak to Draco, pointing out differences in the ways the jockeys handled their dragons.  The fourth time, she didn’t shut up the entire time, critiquing the riders.  On the fifth, sixth, and seventh times, she started to get to know other people in the VIP section.  By the eighth time, she gained a contact who knew one of the owners and would set it up so she could meet a jockey or two, and see the winning dragon as well, after the race.

It would be a great disservice to compare dragon jockeys to racehorse jockeys.  You didn’t need to be small and light, but not all of the jockeys were burly men either.  It came down to your affinity for dragons.  When they met their first jockey, the wizard explained that there are very few witches or wizards in the world who can truly speak to dragons.  It is an uncommon ability to be able to meld a small piece of their magic to the magic of the dragon, allowing the person and beast to communicate through a temporary bond.

When the first dragon they met sat on her haunches, the tip of its tail swishing back and forth like a cat’s, and stared Astoria straight in the eye, there was a series of gasps from those around them.  The owner showing them around told Astoria that the dragon was recognizing her as a witch who could bond with dragons.  He asked her on the spot if she would be interested in training to work with them in some capacity.

Even before Astoria’s obsession took hold, Draco realized she wasn’t the one for him.  He didn’t dislike her; she was a sweet witch.  However, besides her knowledge of a few different creatures, she was kind of an airhead.  Draco tried not to show his boredom when he was parading around such a sought-after beauty on his arm.  When she decided to run away to join the circus also known as professional dragon racing, well, that was the nail in the coffin of their relationship.  Up until the day she left, they managed to keep up a façade of a relationship to protect her, and no one else knew where she was going until it was too late.  She was convinced her parents would attempt to force her to marry someone else.  To this day, Astoria insisted that Draco was her savior.

Hermione wasn’t sure how she felt about Draco taking her to see the woman he was supposed to have married.  He was nonchalant about his past relationship with Astoria Greengrass, referring to it as “dating”.  She knew he had, in fact, severed a marriage contract.  Granted, it was one he negotiated on his own behalf, rather than the completely outdated version where parents created nonconsenting betrothals, sometimes at birth.  What Draco did was the wizarding world’s equivalent of a prenuptial agreement.  Hermione herself had a broken engagement in her past, and Draco was on civil terms with her ex.  She was sure she didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Hermione didn’t remember Astoria at all from Hogwarts.  Unlike some of her friends, Hermione didn’t tend to read the society pages (aka the gossip section) of The Prophet.  Which meant the curly haired witch could only admit to seeing a single picture of Astoria in the past.  It became front page news, sadly, when “The Malfoy heir was left high and dry”.  Now that Hermione was friends with Daphne, she’d heard some tales about the little sister who escaped marriage on the back of a dragon.

It wasn’t like Astoria escaped goblins during a bank robbery on the back of a dragon or anything.  But, whatever.  Hermione straightened her back in preparation as they entered something called a staging tent.  They barely made their way through the doorway when a blur came running towards them and flung itself into Draco’s arms.

Draco laughed at the woman who nearly bowled him over.  She looked good.  Her long dark hair was woven into twin Dutch braids to keep it securely out of her face.  While hugging her, he couldn’t help noticing how fit she was.  She was wearing all leather - a snug vest on top, fitted trousers, and knee high boots over them.  When she stepped back, he noticed her skin was very tan, but that wasn’t all he noticed.  There were scars from her time with the dragons.  A small one on her left cheek, a large one from being burnt which ran nearly the entire length of her right clavicle, her left forearm appeared to be missing a couple of knut-sized chunks, and her hands would never pass as lady-like again.  Nonetheless, she appeared to be indescribably happy.

He turned to Hermione, “I’d like you to meet Astoria Greengrass.  Astoria, this is Hermione Granger.”  Astoria rolled her eyes.

“Always so formal, Drake.  As if I didn’t know who she was.”  Astoria smiled at Hermione, “I’m sure you get this all of the time…  You know you’re one of my heroes, yeah?  When you punched Drake while I was still a little firstie and I found out it was because you were defending Hagrid, well that was bloody brilliant!  And then, you liberated a dragon and flew away on it!”

Hermione’s brain was awhirl.  Drake?  And being someone’s hero for sticking up for Hagrid?  Did anyone else even remember the reason why she hit Drake?  Unlikely.  And only one other person Hermione knew had ever referred to the trio’s flight on a dragon as a liberation before.  And don’t think Hermione didn’t notice Drake’s quick perusal of Astoria’s body, even if it was probably chaste.  How should she even respond to this little tornado of a woman?

“Did Drake,” she arched an eyebrow at him, “ever tell you about the time when he and I were still little firsties and he tried to get Hagrid sacked because Hagrid wanted to illegally raise a dragon in his hut?  Ron, Harry, and I were there for the hatching, as was Drake, hiding outside a window.”

“No, he never shared that with me, but I’ve heard about it from Charlie.”

Charlie?  Astoria knew Charlie Weasley?  What other Charlie could she be referring to in conjunction with Hagrid’s dragon, Norbert?  Or rather, Norberta.  She was just about to ask further questions when Astoria broke into her chaotic thoughts,

“We better floo over to the starting zone.  I’m the last jockey left here and I don’t want my handlers to be getting worried about me.  The floo here only connects to two places, the start line tent and the finish line tent.  Same with the floos in both of those tents.  You just need to say ‘start’, ‘staging’ or ‘finish’ to get around to where you need to be,” she explained as she held out the pot of floo powder to them.  Astoria went first, followed by Hermione, with Draco taking the rear.

Today’s race featured four dragons.  Astoria was riding an Antipodean Opaleye.  There were also two Swedish Short-Snouts and a Common Welsh Green.  All of them were kept far enough away from the other three so they couldn’t start fights or catch each other with their flames.  They were in pens surrounded by their handlers, and the Short-Snouts and the Green already had their jockeys nearby them as well.  Astoria led Hermione and Draco towards the Opaleye.

He was the most beautiful dragon Draco had ever seen.  Antipodean Opaleyes are the most docile of dragons, which Draco supposed could be the dictionary definition of a “relative term”.  He was standing fairly still, one leg nervously pawing at the ground in a lazy manner.  There were torches lit around his enclosure, and the light they created bounced back off of his pearly scales.  He looked like an enormous glowing apparition.  His eyes were mesmerizing, every color of the spectrum staring back at Astoria as she made her way towards him.  The dragon stopped scratching at the earth in front of him and cocked his head to the side.  Astoria bowed her head at him.  Draco knew they were communicating using their bond.

Hermione glanced at the Swedish Short-Snout closest to the tent when they exited it.  A Short-Snout was the breed of dragon Cedric Diggory had faced in his first task.  Hermione realized sadly that Cedric’s visage was fuzzy in her mind.  What she did remember was that dragon’s agility.  No wonder there were two of them racing here.  Its silvery blue scales weren’t easily discernable in the torch light.  When it let out a small puff of flame, the vibrant blue color was astonishing. 

Hermione watched Astoria link her mind with the Opaleye.  It looked a bit like the dragon Hermione rode all of those years ago.  Gringotts’ goblins imprisoned the Ukrainian Ironbelly in the bank’s depths for so long it had paled in color and was stunted in its growth.  Now that she was seeing an Antipodean Opaleye up close, she knew there was a world of difference.  Astoria turned to Draco and Hermione,

“This is as close as you are allowed to come.  His wizard-given name is Fabian.  However, his kind would never refer to him by that name.  In my mind, his true name roughly translates to “Swiftness of the Wind”.  I told him about both of you.  He finds it amusing that you are also a dragon, Draco,” she smirked at her ex.

“And he wants me to ask you if saving your current dragon is as exciting as the first one?” Astoria asked Hermione, with a raised eyebrow.

“I…  I don’t think that I know…  How does Fabian…  Tell him…  Uhhh…” Hermione never imagined she would be having such an embarrassing conversation with a dragon.  What exactly did Astoria tell him?  Why would Astoria be talking about such personal things with a dragon?  How much did dragons understand about human thoughts and emotions?  Did they learn about humans through the bond and the people they could communicate with?  Did they end up only reflecting the minds of the handful of people they could talk to?  Or, did dragons share some emotional traits with wizards?  Surely their thoughts weren’t anything humanoid in nature.  She doubted that a dragon ever felt guilty.  She knew they protected their young fiercely.  And it appeared they may also have a sense of humor??  How long had she been standing here staring into space thinking a hundred different thoughts about dragons?

“Tell Fabian that riding this dragon is much more exciting than the first one.”  Oh. My. God.  Did Draco really just say that?  Hermione wanted to run away and hide.  Or die.  Yes, death would be preferable to what was happening right now.

Fabian’s tail batted the ground repeatedly and puffs of smoke came out of his snout.

“Fabian likes you Draco.  He thinks you’re funny,” Astoria smiled.

And now Hermione knew she had officially seen everything worth seeing in the world.  Dragons could laugh.

They arrived at the bottom of the grandstand and Draco paused to allow Hermione to transfigure her shoes.  She held onto his muscular arm to keep her balance as the shoes changed from flats to small heels.  She liked the simple style of clothing he had chosen to wear today - light khaki-colored trousers and a short-sleeved white linen button-down, his shoes and belt a medium brown leather.  His aviator sunglasses were pushed up into his tousled hair, ready for when the sun came up.  He looked so relaxed.  They climbed the stairs to the top, where the VIP seating area resided.

He went to grab mimosas for them; she stopped him with a hand on his arm, and she turned to the attendant and asked if it would be possible to get a Bloody Mary instead?  When she found that she could, she asked for it to be extra spicy and to contain a salad’s worth of garnishes.  Her drink arrived in a tall, celery salt rimmed glass, accompanied by pickled asparagus, a celery stalk, spicy pickled green beans, bleu cheese stuffed olives, cocktail onions, and a crispy slice of bacon.  ‘Breakfast of champions’, she thought to herself with a smirk.  She was savoring the unique flavor of the pickled asparagus when she heard,

“Hermione?!”  Turning around she found Charlie Weasley looking at her quizzically.

“Charlie!”  Hermione handed her drink to Draco and then went to hug one of her favorite Weasleys.  He picked her up easily and gave her a swing around.  Hermione tipped her head back, laughing at him, and almost lost her hat.  She adjusted the hat and smoothed her dress when he set her back down.

Draco looked at Hermione’s flushed cheeks and silly grin as she talked to the Weasley man.  He tried to remember again how many Weasleys there were.  Six?  He hadn’t met this one before.  Draco knew he was one of the two oldest brothers.  There was the other one (what was his name?), married to Fleur, whom he used to see around Gringotts from time to time; it now occurred to Draco it had been years since the last time he saw him there.  Did he even work there anymore?

Draco momentarily zoned out, was drawn back in as Hermione moved next to him to take her drink as she said, “Draco, this is Charlie Weasley.  Charlie, I don’t know if you have ever met Draco Malfoy before?”

Charlie held out his hand and shook Draco’s with a firm grip.  Draco was taller than the redhead by three, maybe four, inches, although by the way the man’s muscles rippled beneath his fitted shirt, it was obvious who would win in a fight.

“Hermione told me you’re here as Astoria’s guests.  When Astoria first told me the story of how she came to be a jockey, I had a tough time believing it, Malfoy.  Coincidentally, I started to hear more flattering stories about you from George, Ron, and Harry recently too.  It’s nice to meet you.”  Draco, who was often circumspect, found he strangely liked this wizard’s bluntness.

“Charlie came over here to tell you all of this in an attempt to avoid telling me what he’s doing here,” Hermione teased, winding her arm around Draco’s waist.  Although she pulled Draco’s hip as close to hers as she could while he avoided her large hat, Draco still got the distinct impression she was mildly flirting with the other man.  Her head was tilted in an advantageous way, showing the side of her neck, her eyes were bright, and her mouth was quirked up.  Draco found the situation amusing.  He wondered what Charlie was thinking.

“Well, since I rarely make it home to England, and it isn’t like you’re hanging around the Burrow when I do, I guess you can be forgiven for not keeping up on my life.”  Charlie huffed a smidgeon dramatically, definitely teasing the witch back.  Charlie’s eye flicked Draco over and his grin incrementally widened.  Did the ginger just check him out?  Holy shite.  With a glance Charlie had managed to gauge Draco’s reaction to the flirting and…  Maybe something else as well?  Draco didn’t imagine that, did he?  This was one of the times in Draco’s life where he thanked Salazar for his ability to keep a completely straight face.  Before Draco could even process what maybe just happened, Charlie’s attention was focused back on Hermione.  Oh, this wizard was good - Draco realized he could take lessons from the man.  The word ‘interesting’ popped into Draco’s head.  Draco realized it was the message he’d seen in Charlie’s eyes.  The exotic wizard found the blond wizard ‘interesting’.

It had been years since Hermione last saw Charlie.  Yet, here they were falling right back into their little dance of seemingly harmless flirting.  Well, harmless up until their final interaction.  The last time she saw him, she and Ron were still together, although Ron wasn’t at George’s flat that particular evening.  Ron was out of town on an Auror mission, as was Harry.  Hermione found herself at a small gathering with a mixture of George and Charlie’s friends, really only knowing Lee Jordan and Katie Bell at the beginning.  By the end of the night, Oliver wood was promising to owl her, but she was mentally digressing now.  She drank a couple of drinks during the party, choosing to not get past a nice buzz.  Near the end of the evening, she found herself out on the secret back balcony, smoking a joint with George, while Charlie said goodbye to the last couple leaving.  Charlie came out to join them, immediately pouted upon seeing Hermione smoking, and without a word, flipped George a Galleon from his pocket.  George passed him the joint with a smirk, Charlie took a drag, blowing out the smoke with a smirk of his own.

The three of them giggled for the next hour out there, the men still continuing to drink firewhiskey, Hermione happy just to be stoned.  Their conversation slowly took a turn from slightly suggestive to downright risqué.  She was sitting in between them looking out over the alley, when in tandem they each placed a hand high up on her thighs.  Hermione nearly hyperventilated over a situation which fell within the realm of years’ worth of masturbation material for her.  She had imagined various situations similar to this, starting just months after the war was over, when Charlie spent so much time at home.  She didn’t really regret her reaction of jumping up from them.  She was engaged to their brother.  That didn’t mean she didn’t fantasize about what could have happened.

Charlie returned to Romania days after the incident, and Hermione never heard anything from him or even about him.  The next time she saw George at a Sunday family brunch two weeks later, he nearly acted as if nothing happened.  He treated her the same as he had for years.  Hermione had been nervous to go, and probably acted a bit weird to start.  As the day passed on without so much as an awkward glance her way, she hadn’t been quite sure what to think.  She went inside to get dessert ready to take back outside to the table set up in the backyard, where everyone was waiting after the main meal.  She was the only one in the kitchen.  George walked in and asked, ‘I heard you’re looking for office space in Diagon Alley?  If you need any help looking at properties, let me know.’  He had glanced around making sure they were alone, moved right next to her, and quickly whispered, ‘Are we ok?’  She had looked up into an uncharacteristically worried face and answered truthfully, ‘Yeah,’ in a quiet voice before responding to his initial statement at normal volume, ‘That would be great, George.  I have an agent showing me some properties this week.  I’ll run any I like by you before making a final decision, since you know the area.’  ‘Let me help you carry this out,’ he said with his usual smile, picking up a platter of cookies, while she grabbed the cake.  And that was it.

“I manage this facility on behalf of its investors,” Charlie surprised both Draco and Hermione with his declaration.  “I wasn’t happy at the reserve anymore.  I believed in what we did there…” he paused as if to gather his thoughts, “I felt that rather than being reactive to dragons in need, I wanted to work in something more proactive.  Illegal dragon breeding and racing were two of the three main reasons why dragons needed to be rescued.  Habitat encroachment being the other.  Working here, I can make a difference by seeing how dragons raised in captivity are treated before it becomes an issue.  While getting to know the breeders over the years, I’ve gained their trust enough to help weed out some of the shady ones.”

Charlie stopped speaking for a moment to grab a sparkling water off the table just a few feet behind him.  Draco’s eyes flicked down the wizard’s backside, noting the way dragonhide pants could really show off someone’s assets.  Hermione took a sip of her drink and murmured, “Yum.”  Draco was pretty sure she wasn’t talking about the Bloody Mary.  Blood started to travel south as Draco flashed back to what he and Hermione had been doing in his flat a mere 8 hours ago.

Hermione watched Draco quickly down his mimosa; he shifted away from her to set down the empty glass, and slid his hands into his pockets.  “Do you still have opportunities to work hands-on with the dragons?” he asked as Charlie faced them again.

“Yes, when new competitors shift from their owner’s training areas to here.  On average, that means about once a week.  We don’t have set line-ups, dragons tend to be too temperamental to actually schedule them for races.  As long as we have three dragons, we can race.  The most we will allow is seven.  My help isn’t required when competitors return home, they’re more… docile… for that move.”  Draco was genuinely interested in what Charlie was telling him.

He had heard from a reliable source that the racetrack investors were considering a second venture to be built in either Mongolia or Eastern Russia.  Draco was thinking about investing in a dragon.  One that could be raced for a few of years and then studded out for breeding.  He thought of it as a gentleman’s venture.  Between Astoria, and now Charlie, he should be able to get reliable advice and have an in.  He got the sense he wouldn’t be able to tempt Charlie away from his current endeavor; pragmatically it occurred to Draco that it would be better to know probably the most trusted employee within the enterprise.

“It’s a perfect mix for me.  I’m not a fool; I was already one of the oldest tamers on the reserve when I quit.  Being forced to spend the rest of my life behind a desk would kill me, though,” Charlie continued.  “Don’t get me wrong, I have a desk.  I just try to limit myself to less than three hours a day sitting at it.”

Being a titan of industry gave Draco a metaphorical hard-on, but he was now focused enough on business to forget his earlier discomfiture.  He smoothly pulled one of his business cards out and handed it the wizard.  “If you are permitted by your employers to take on consulting roles, I would happily compensate you for your time in assisting me with an idea I have.  If not, at least let me take you out to dinner and pick your brain for names of people I could trust to advise me.”

Charlie took the card, “I’ll contact you this week to set up dinner.”  He looked around, the room had filled up while they spoke.  “I have other people I should greet.  Will you save me a seat next to you for the race?”

“Of course,” Hermione agreed.

Draco directed her towards the tables of food where they both filled up plates.  As they moved to sit in seats near the back and off-center, an attendant inquired if they would like another drink.  Hermione requested another Bloody Mary, while Draco stuck with a mimosa.  Draco filled in Hermione on his thoughts on dragon ownership as they enjoyed the fare.  Hermione shrugged and wished him luck.  Although she was still passionate about the treatment and rights of magical creatures, Hermione didn’t see the allure of owning a race dragon.  Even as an investment opportunity.  She knew Draco well enough to not worry about the venture being anything besides ethical.

Charlie came and sat next to Hermione, with Draco on the other side of her, just as a projection appeared in front of the stands, slightly below where they were seated, yet still large enough to be clear to them.  It showed the four dragons lining up at the starting line, riders on their backs, and a single handler on the ground for each dragon holding a magical muzzle on a leash.  It reminded Hermione of going to a Muggle concert and being far enough away that you would watch the band up on a screen, rather than looking at the stage.  She would bet whomever designed this had exactly that experience in mind, however this screen was conjured temporarily; it hadn’t been there a minute before the live feed began.

Draco was leaning forward in excitement, with his elbows on his knees.  Charlie slung an arm around her shoulders and subtly angled his body towards hers.  “The screen will only be there until the dragons are in the air.  You will be able to see them on the edge of the horizon within a minute of the race’s start.  The screen will reappear again just before the end of the race, with the image trained on the finish line.  The two most dangerous times in these races for the humans are moments before take-off, and after the finish, up until all dragons are again secured.

“When the trainers drop the leashes just before the start, the muzzles disappear.  Dragons have been known to choose to fight each other on the ground, taking out their competitive aggression, before taking flight.  We also have dragons who react violently to the results of the race.  Just as with wizards, you see dragons who win and want to rub it in, in addition to sore losers.  We also have now had two instances where winning male dragons wanted to show their dominance in a more sexual way and another time, one female champion whose endorphin-high mimicked being in heat, causing all three of the males she had beat to fight over the right to mount her.  Getting in the way of dragons fucking is a sure way to get killed.”

“What do you do in those situations?”

“Apparate to a safe distance until it’s over,” he responded dryly.

“Do the riders stay linked to them through everything, trying to talk them down?”

“For the run of the mill fights?  Yeah.  For mating?  No.  Would you want someone in your mind during a shag?”

Draco chose that moment to snort and look over at them.  He opened his mouth to say something, probably snarky, when an announcer spoke up.

“Welcome witches and wizards to today’s competition!”  He went on to introduce the dragons, mentioning the respective beast’s owner’s names in tandem, and their jockeys.  His demeanor reminded Hermione a bit of going to a Quidditch match.  In a perfectly pitched, friendly voice, the wizard threw out little educational snippets about each dragon breed, told anecdotes about the riders, and let first-time attendees know what to expect.  He wasn’t quite as graphic as Charlie, while he did still allude to the implied danger inherent in this sport.

Draco perked up when he heard the dragon owners’ names mentioned.  He had not been to these races in a couple of years, but he noticed there was still not any advertising present anywhere.  He was impressed that the group of investors who owned all of this either made plenty of money off of the spectators, or owned sufficiently deep pockets, allowing them not to care - either way leaving them completely self-sufficient.  The only names really reaching this crowd were the investors themselves and the dragon owners.  The name exposure would just be a bonus on top of the money he hoped to make from his plan.

He leaned back in his chair and grabbed Hermione’s hand, holding it atop her thigh.  Charlie didn’t move his arm.  Draco could not figure this man out.  Maybe he really just had no personal space.  Astoria was the same way.  Could it be related to their unique brand of magic?  Did it somehow make you slightly more like a dragon in some way?  What an interesting theory.  Draco wondered if anyone had ever studied it.

‘Oh, Merlin’s saggy arse’, he bemoaned in his head, imagining what Hermione would say if he asked Charlie about the research possibilities.

There were times Draco was sure he was almost as big of a swot as Hermione.  The difference between the two laid in Draco having the sense to not open his mouth and expound on every idea that occurred to him.  Wait, what if she also had a similar sense?  What if, like him, she only voiced a small fraction of her thoughts?  How much went on in her head at any given time?

Right then, Hermione did not have much of anything going on in her head.  She was focused on the sound of her heartbeat in her ears.  She came out of her little moment of shock, induced by the amount of male surrounding her, only because she realized people were starting to yell and stand up around her.  Draco gave her hand a squeeze, then winked at her as she looked to him, when she stood up a little slower than others around them.

On the magic screen in front of them she saw the handlers release their ropes and step back.  All four dragons crouched.  Hermione saw Astoria touch her flying goggles one last time, probably a nervous habit bred of wanting to make sure they were secure.  There was a loud gong, and the dragons were all air-bound.  It coincided with the first sliver of the new morning’s sun breaking the horizon.  Hermione couldn’t help the gasp from escaping her lips.

The magical video relay of the beasts lasted almost no time at all.  When the screen blinked out, the crowd as a whole turned their heads to the left, catching sight of the miniscule figures on the horizon, heading for them.  The dragons would fly directly in front of the stands, as they made their way across the sky.  The finish line was just beyond their view on the horizon to their right.  From start to finish, it would last only about 10 minutes.

When they were first ascending, the two Short-Snouts shot flames towards each other.  Otherwise, no other dragon-fire occurred as the dragons seemed to put all of their energy into flying aerodynamically and quickly.  Draco knew on an intellectual level there were differences between the four jockeys in the way they held themselves and directed their dragons.  Hell if he could see it.  He could just make out four human forms lying prone on the backs of four sleek dragons.  The dark-scaled Common Welsh Green stood out against the other three with their much lighter colored scales.  It was also the dragon in the lead at the half-way point as they passed in front of the spectators.

Hermione would later swear to Draco that the air felt slighter hotter as the beasts flew by.  Like the naturally raised temperature of the breath expelled by four dragons was enough to be felt.  Maybe it was.  They created their own wind as they went by, wings beating firmly.  Hermione could feel the thumping vibrations created by their wings run up her spine. Hermione’s hat was caught by a gust, and when it flew off her head, Charlie was the one who snagged it, quick as lightening.

Harry once told Draco a story about playing Quidditch in the fields behind the Burrow with the Weasleys.  Usually they played three on three with Ginny and Harry the Seekers and the four brothers, minus Charlie, rotating positions.  When Charlie was there, Ginny lost her position as Seeker and they would coax Fleur up to play to make it four on four.  Harry had been a little in awe of Charlie’s skill as a Seeker.  Harry insisted that Charlie Weasley was a better Seeker than Victor Krum!  Harry made up an obvious lie detailing how George liked to lay odds on the number of times Charlie could catch the snitch before Harry caught it once.

Draco didn’t want to discount Charlie’s fast reflexes, but he once again wondered if it was related to what Draco wanted to call “dragon magic”.  While these thoughts flitted through his head, he watched the other wizard carefully adjust Hermione’s hat back onto her head for her.  Draco turned back to the skies, wanting to see how the race ended.

The screen came back up, showing large as life what were now just specks in the sky.  The Green still held the lead and managed to not give it up in the last minute.  Astoria and Fabian came in second, with the two Short-Snouts once again snarling at each other as they came down towards the ground behind her.  They were calmed as they landed, so no fight would be witnessed today.  All of the dragons allowed themselves to be roped and led to their enclosures.

“Your passes allow you to go out to the finish line area, if you’d like.  The dragons and their riders will all remain out there for about 30 minutes, cooling down.  The winning dragon will be given a sheep to eat as his prize.  Once he’s finished, his jockey will fly him back here for the award presentation.  The other jockeys will also make their way back via floo at the same time.  There is a mix and mingle down on the ground at the end, I hope to see you there.  For now, I’m off.”  Draco nodded to acknowledge Charlie’s helpful information.

“We’ll find you on the ground before we leave,” Hermione assured Charlie.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to witness a dragon devouring a sheep, but if Draco really wanted to go to the finish line, she would also.  She decided to voice this aloud.

“You can just avert your eyes,” Draco reasoned with her.

“Yes, however, closing my eyes will not shut out the sounds or smells,” she replied smartly.

“By the time we get out there, I bet there won’t be any pieces of the sheep left.”

“Right, because blood splattered all over the sand won’t make it obvious what occurred.”

“Yes, but the few minutes delay will negate your sound problem,” Draco pointed out, grey eyes full of mirth.

“Oh, well, when you put it that way,” she drawled.

“You just informed me that if I really wanted to go, you would follow me.  Well, I do.  So, let’s go.”

Hermione rolled her eyes at him.

“Rolling your eyes at me doesn’t get you out of what you told me.”

She rolled her eyes a second time as she followed him to the staging tent.

It wasn’t as bad as she feared.  There was a scorch mark on the ground from the dragon cooking its prize before eating it.  There really wasn’t much blood.  And the overwhelming smell around them was just sulfur in general.  The Green was looking rather smug, if Hermione was reading the situation correctly.  From Charlie’s stories, Hermione knew dragons understood that there was a definite winner, with the spoils going to the victor.

On the other hand, Astoria looked glum.  There was no prize for second place in this race.  She beckoned Draco and Hermione closer to her and Fabian than allowed pre-flight.  Draco was idly wondering about how quick Astoria’s reflexes may have been before she came here to work.  He couldn’t think of an instance that stood out to him.  He was sure her current reaction time was honed by her circumstances.  Maybe Daphne would know?

“We have about 15 more minutes here, staying linked with our partners.  In addition to me, one handler is also linked up to Fabian.  The three of us were just discussing going home today.  Fabian has been here for two weeks and is feeling frustrated - he hasn’t won a single race in that time.  The last time we were here, he won 3 out of 5.  We might go home and work on a few different techniques we have seen lately.”

“Then I’m glad we got to see you before you weren’t here to race.  We ran into Charlie Weasley in the grandstand; actually I should say Hermione introduced me to him.  Neither of us had any idea he worked here,” Draco raised an eyebrow in a silent question.

“Oh yes, I thought the surprise would be more fun.”

“Hmph,” was all the response Draco could muster.

Hermione decided now was a good time to ask some questions she had thought of.  “How do you learn to communicate with a dragon?  Is it just one dragon you can talk to, or some, or all?  Do you have better rapport with some than others?  Can you talk to more than one at the same time?”  She said all of these in one breath and felt quite silly when she took a big gulp of air.

Astoria laughed, “Wow.  You don’t mess around do you?  Well, the linking is always led by a dragon.  Something in them allows the recognition of a witch or wizard containing the correct magic.  It takes months of meditation for the person to access that piece of magic the first time.  I have been told it is similar to Animagus training, although I have never tried that particular magic before.”

Hermione let out an, “Oh!” as if she was going to interrupt; a stern look from Draco drew her lips tightly back together.

“It is different for each of us, though in general, we can communicate with any of the dragons to some degree.  However, we tend to fit better with some than others.  I think it is due in part to our personalities.  Charlie is one of the few I have seen who can instantly communicate easily with any dragon.  I think it is because he is so easy-going.  Beatrice, Fabian’s owner, once told me it is because Charlie’s magical core is amazingly strong,” Astoria shrugged at that last bit, evidently dismissing the theory.  Draco wasn’t sure if it was because she doubted the theory itself or if she doubted Charlie’s magic.  Draco really couldn’t stop thinking about the research possibilities presenting themselves.

“As for linking with more than one dragon at once, no, that is not possible.  The dragons can chose to link to more than one human at once.  That doesn’t mean the humans are linked to each other,” Astoria glanced over at the wizard standing next to Fabian, “So I can’t hear what is going on inside Brett’s head.  Thank the gods.”

Brett smirked, “It’s more than is going on in yours, I bet.”

Astoria looked at Fabian and started to giggle.  Then she turned back to Brett with a smirk of her own, “You should probably guard your thoughts better next time we’re both linked together.  Fabian has no shame in sharing what you are thinking.”  Brett blushed.

“Come, we can go back to the staging area.  Brett can finish up here for me,” Astoria said as she wove her arm through Hermione’s and started to lead her back to the floo.  Hermione looked back over her shoulder to Draco in a bit of confusion at this seemingly friendly gesture.

Once they walked over to the presentation area on the field for the meet and greet, Draco and Hermione quickly found themselves alone without Astoria.  She was pulled aside to meet other witches and wizards.  Hermione noticed that with the larger crowd around, the one dragon present had an increased number of handlers with him.  It appeared all four of them were linked up with the Common Welsh Green.  None of the crowd could get closer than a fence set up about 50 meters from the beast, yet they still weren’t taking any chances.

The sun was now climbing into the sky far enough to begin giving off heat.  Hermione pulled her wand out of her thigh holster and cast a cooling charm on herself, as well as Draco.


“How about we find both Astoria and Charlie to say good-bye before we leave?” she asked, as she slid her wand away.

The walked over to where Astoria was chatting with an elderly couple and Draco caught her eye.  She excused herself when she was able to politely break off her conversation.  She hugged Draco and whispered something in his ear, to which he blushed.  Then she turned to Hermione and hugged her as well.  Draco watched as she whispered something to Hermione which caused a slight frown to appear on the witch’s face.  Hermione turned to Draco and the frown turned into a brilliant smile.  She reached for his hand and led him towards Charlie Weasley.

Charlie walked them away from the crowd so they could have a word in private.  Draco cast a wandless Muffliato.  “I just want to be clear on what we will be discussing at dinner this week.  It’s no secret that you took your family company from near bankruptcy to a multi-national success.  If you plan to start up something that is in anyway a competition with this establishment, I can not be a part of it.  If, however, you are planning something else dragon-related, then I would be delighted to consult,” Charlie said.

Yes, Draco could see himself enjoying spending time with the blunt wizard.  “Well, then I guess we are still on for dinner this week,” he drawled.  Charlie smiled as he held out his hand to Draco.

Charlie turned and swept Hermione up into a very tight hug.  He pulled back slightly, lingering within her personal space, with his hands holding her shoulders.  “It really has been too long, love.  If I am to be working with Malfoy, hopefully I will see more of you?”

Hermione couldn’t believe how brazen he was being.  She glanced at Draco who was giving her an appraising look.  She kept eye contact with Draco as she replied to Charlie, “Yes, I’d like that.”

Draco couldn’t seem to get home fast enough.  He’d been half hard since witnessing the innuendo between Charlie and Hermione.  Damn portkey line to get out of the blasted desert.  Bloody customs wizard at the Ministry making sure they hadn’t tried to smuggle in anything dragon-related.  Then another long line of idiots at the Ministry floos.  And Hermione wasn’t making it any easier on him.  He could feel the tension radiating off of her.  He purposefully was not looking at her flushed cheeks, parted lips, or wide eyes.  When they finally stepped out of the floo in his flat, she barely took the time to take off her hat and toss it on a chair before she ran towards his bedroom, calling over her shoulder, “Where’s that toy from last night?”

Chapter Text


When Hermione was little, her parents often took three day weekends off to just get in their car and get out of the city.  They owned more than one dental practice and their employees took appointments on Fridays, although they seldom did.  They did still take patients in one or another of their offices Monday through Thursday, although as time went on, it tended to be only long-time patients, rather than new ones.  This allowed them to take on charity work, often times for disadvantaged children, throughout London, but they also rotated in to work occasionally at a refugee center, filling a need many didn’t even know existed.  (This work with refugees came in handy when Hermione felt forced to obliviate her parents; she led the other dentists under them to believe her parents were taking a year-long sabbatical to work with Dentists Without Borders, and therefore couldn’t receive mail or phone calls.)

And so, when Thursday night rolled around, Hermione’s parents were often tired and disillusioned with events they had witnessed outside of their office.  Which resulted in some quick packing on her mother’s part as her father took the car to fill up on petrol and snacks.  They would get everything ready that night, so they could depart very early in the morning before the rush of traffic created by everyone else going to work could begin.

Sometimes they planned a definite destination, other times they just went wherever the winds carried them.  Hermione loved this time with her parents more than any other time she spent with them.  They played car games, like “I Spy” and “Bingo”.  In her earliest memories, the car would have a tape deck; as she got older, a CD player.  Her parents’ music tastes varied, but tended more towards classic rock.  Hermione could sing along to Freddie Mercury at a young age.  When Hermione was a teenager, in those rare times she found herself enjoying carefree weekends at home, she would mix in some of her music with theirs.  Trying to explain the appeal of The Spice Girls to her parents seemed laughable, in retrospect.  And the conversations they would have…

Politics, religion, sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and off course, magic.  Nothing was off the table as a topic of discussion.  Debates could last for hours, ideas bouncing around inside the vehicle, like bullets ricocheting in an enclosed place.  Only once or twice did one of them truly get upset.  One of those times occured about three months ago when Hermione chose a road trip as the best time to break the news to her parents regarding her relationship with dating Draco.

The first of many incredulous questions: “The Draco Malfoy we heard you cry over being bullied by when you came home on breaks?”  Which led to: “The same Draco Malfoy who watched you be tortured in his own home?”  In a hissing voice, Mr. Granger asked, “Are you sleeping with him?”  When she meekly nodded, he followed it up by nearly bellowing, “Have you lost your mind?!”  That was a bit much.  She snapped, “No, thank you very much!”  “Well, then are you on drugs?” he demanded.  “No, I’m not on drugs.  And before you ask, no, he isn’t using magic to make me do anything I don’t want to do,” she replied in a terse tone.  Her dad actually pulled over the vehicle on the side of the road to get out and pace along the shoulder, muttering to himself, waving his arms in the air madly.  She and her mum just looked on in silence.

When he got back in the car, he immediately turned around in his seat to face her.  “Does he make you happy?” he demanded to know.  She told him yes.  “Well, then you better bring him round to dinner to meet us.”  And that was that.  Well, it wasn’t perfect; she would generously describe their first dinner as awkward, and she could tell her dad and mum were still hesitant about the whole situation, even now, months after her car confession, but her happiness meant a lot to them.  At least no one (meaning Draco) left with a black eye.

Draco had heard of these wonderful car trips almost from the moment they got together.  It was hard not to know about them when they sometimes meant he didn’t get to take her out on the weekend, when she left town with her parents.  At least he didn’t need to be jealous about the little jaunts into the countryside.  Early on, her parents made a strict rule about it being family only, so no friends or past boyfriends ever went on one.  Which is exactly why Hermione knew she needed to plan a trip just for her and Draco.

Hermione settled on a two-night trip, the first night being spent at Seaham Hall and the second night in Haltwhistle, at a lovely little B&B – The Ashcroft Guesthouse.  She made reservations at both places with plenty of time to get the best rooms and the little add-ons she knew Draco would appreciate.  And then, she started to map out the sights to see along the way.  Out of the three days, the last contained the most time behind the wheel – about five and a half hours, depending on traffic- still leaving plenty of time for planned stops.

Draco was formulating his own plan for their trip.  He planned on learning to operate an automobile.  He’d only ridden in one a handful of times; he found his curiosity growing steadily on the subject.  He thought up his approach to Hermione, figuring if it didn’t work, he would settle on just asking over and over and eventually wear her down.  Yes, that seemed like the most reasonable way to go about it.

Start with a trust-worthy posture, he thought, she needs to know you can be counted on to take this seriously.  Sitting at dinner the Monday before their trip, he smiled, leaned towards her, with one hand palm up, holding her hand and the other one in plain sight on the table.  “I’ve been thinking it would the perfect opportunity to learn to drive this weekend…”


Ask open-ended questions to uncover her hesitations, then address them.  “Tell me why you think that wouldn’t be a good idea.”


Huh, open-ended questions aren’t supposed to allow the other person to answer with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.  “Why do you specifically think teaching me to drive would be a bad idea?”

“Because it would be.”

Well, that is more of an answer.  Stay open and positive.  “Automobiles are an amazing Muggle invention and I really want to learn more about them.”

“Read a book.”

Try to emphasize with her.  Yes, that is the next step, although it is tough when you aren’t really sure what you are emphasizing with.  “You sound reluctant to teach me to drive…”

“Actually, it is a disinclination to be in an automobile over which you have control.  I’ve seen the way you fly a broom.  A car has much more potential for causing injury to me, you, and others.”

Ahhhh…  Now he had to show her he heard her fears and understood them.  Then he could work on countering her argument!  “What you are saying is that you feel I am reckless when flying a broom and I wouldn’t take the proper care to keep you safe while driving a car?”

“Will you please stop using some horribly clichéd salesman tactics on me?  You’re coming off as a slimy git.”

Well, since she saw right through plan A, it was time to enact plan B - asking over and over again.  “Please, Hermione?  I will take excellent care and listen to every single thing you tell me to do,” he started in with the pleading and promises.  Which he kept up for the next three days, even owling her Wednesday night to let her know that he had gone into Muggle London to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency earlier that afternoon to pick up literature regarding motor vehicle operation rules and regulations, and to acquire a provisional license.

When they met up in person at her parents’ home on Thursday night to pack the car, she finally caved, after inspecting his provisional license.  She even cast revealing spells on it to make sure it wasn’t a conjured fake.  As if.  He tried not to gloat too much.  No need to be a total ponce.

“You know that you’re acting like a ponce, yeah?” she asked with a hand on her hip as she handed him back the license.

“Hmph,” he answered, noncommittedly.

Hermione’s parents owned four vehicles, while she did not own any.  She’d gotten her provisional license the summer between 4th and 5th year, and then obtained her regular license over Christmas break during 6th year.  She never found any reason to own a car.  The few times she wanted or needed to drive somewhere, she would just floo to her parents’ place and borrow one of theirs.  For this weekend they would be borrowing the black Aston Martin convertible.  If the weather held, she planned to have the top down for parts of the trip.  The decent-sized back seat was helpful for items they would want access to while driving.

Prior to Draco’s arrival, Hermione filled up the car’s tank and purchased some Muggle snacks to have handy.  She also had two thermoses of water, a map, a book of crossword puzzles, a book of riddles, foliage and fauna books, two pairs of omnioculars, a camera, a blanket, two umbrellas, and sunscreen arranged strategically in the backseat ready to go before Draco appeared.  The omnioculars were going to be the only magic permitted.  Originally packing field glasses, Hermione later changed her mind for this small allowance.

They embarked on their road trip date early on Friday morning.  They drove north on the M11 to Cambridge.  After Hermione helped him buckle his seatbelt properly, Draco spent the entire time fiddling with the nobs, turning on the heater, then blasting the air conditioner; he constantly changed the radio station, he rummaged through the glove box, he inspected his pores in the mirror on the visor; in other words, he acted like an annoying child.  Luckily, only an hour transpired before Hermione parked at St. Mary’s Church.  The sun was just rising and the church itself would still be locked, but she didn’t want to go inside.  She chose this first stop for an extremely pertinent historical marker.

On the wall outside of the church was the Great St. Mary’s Datum.  It read “This disk marks the datum point from which in 1725 William Warren, Fellow of Trinity Hall, began to measure the one mile points along the roads from Cambridge at which were then set up the first true milestones in Britain since Roman times.”  She started in on what this meant for not only travelers like them, but also for the military, government agencies, the postal service, and everyone who needed more exact locations, routes, and distances to do their jobs.  She was so excited to start Draco’s first road trip with this piece of history!  Draco yawned at her.  Then his stomach growled, causing him to look sheepish.  She took him out for breakfast.

Once back in the car, he started to demand his turn to drive.  She told him that she wanted to get a bit farther away from the heavy traffic, and then he could have a lesson.  In the meantime, Hermione quizzed Draco on each rule or law she could think of about driving.  She managed to keep it up a detailed interrogation until they were out in the country, heading north on the A1.

“Stop procrastinating Hermione, pull off at the next service station and let me behind the wheel.”

Hermione insisted that first she wanted to fill up the petrol and put the top down.  She quickly pulled her hair back into a tight braid so it wouldn’t be a complete disaster from the wind.  Then she put on sun block, asserting that Draco do the same.  When she felt satisfied, she pulled the vehicle over to a corner of the lot.  She got out and permitted Draco to get into the driver’s seat.  She allowed him to shut the door and get himself comfortable with where he wanted the seat and helped him figure out how to adjust all of the mirrors.  Then she opened the car door again and knelt down on the ground next to his feet.

“See this one here?  It’s the brake.  That one will stop the car.  And this one farthest inside?  It is the gas pedal.  Remember that you need to give the engine gas in order for it to propel the car forward.  I don’t suppose you read up on combustible engines?  No?  Well then.  This third pedal is the clutch.  It allows the engine to shift gears.  Think of it as a Lumos spell.  You can add more power behind the spell in order for your wand to give off increasingly brighter light.  You push the clutch in to put the engine in neutral, then you can change the gear and the speed at which we move.  The “R” is for reverse. The slowest forward-moving speed starts out when you are in first gear and goes up from there.  I know you were watching what I did with my hands earlier very carefully, but I figured it might be tough to see my feet.  Do you at least feel like you have the basics down?”  She was feeling anxious.  Part of her didn’t want to get in the car with him.  Too bad he couldn’t drive around the building a few times without her.

“Yes, I watched carefully the past hour and I think I understand the steering wheel, the blinkers, and the shifter thing.  And I know that I need to obey the speed limit.  Just, how do I know when or what to do with my feet?”  He said all of this hoping if he slipped the speed limit bit in the middle, she would trust him on that point.

“Well, the secret to you using your feet is that one is just for the clutch and the other foot is used for both the gas and the brake.  That way it can only be on one or the other pedal so you don’t make the accident of trying to do both at once.  When you step on the clutch, it needs to go all of the way down.  Then you ease it up, trying to even it out with the gas pedal.  I’ll get in and you can give it a try.”

Draco was mortified as the car bucked around the lot, stalling out over and over.  People snickered at him.  One guy walked up to the passenger’s side door to berate Hermione for allowing a beginner to grind the transmission like that and treat an expensive automobile like a piece of shite.  Draco wanted to hex him; instead he decided to give the wanker his best aristocratic sneer.  After the areshole walked away, Draco asked Hermione how much an Aston Martin cost.  She explained that there were more expensive cars out there, but even he thought it a bit much when she gave him a ballpark figure.  Which was saying something coming from a man who treated his 800-thread-count, hand-embroidered handkerchiefs like disposable tissues. 

Draco felt frustrated and tried his best to remain civil with his girlfriend.  Hermione made it difficult when she just kept on saying, “Even out the clutch and gas!” over and over in an exasperated tone, getting a bit shriller with each reiteration.

Draco thought he was getting the pedals as even as possible - maybe they should both be closer to the floor?

“What the bloody hell are you doing revving the engine like that Malfoy?” she berated him.

“What the fuck?  I am doing exactly what you say, Granger, but you haven’t told me how far up or down to have the pedals while I keep them even.”

“Why are you trying to keep the pedals even?  Are you trying to use the brake at the same time as the gas?”

“No!  For fuck’s sake!  I am trying to keep the clutch and the gas pedal even, just like you keep on fucking yelling at me.”

“I don’t mean literally even, I mean that as you are easing up on the clutch as you are pushing down on the gas.  You are evening out what you are doing with the engine.  Maybe it would be better explained by saying that the two pedals should always be used in opposition to each other?  Does that make more sense?  The car doesn’t need fuel while in neutral, so foot off the gas pedal while shifting.  Not all of the way off, leave your foot lightly resting on top of it, not exuding any pressure.  Once the vehicle is in gear again, the clutch can come all of the way up, and the gas pedal can be pushed down.”  Hermione said all of this in her best ‘I’m sorry’ voice without really apologizing.

Once they figured out that Hermione wasn’t explaining the intricacies of shifting in a normal way, Draco felt confident he could do this; which meant that the car still stalled out on the very next try.  And on the one after.  On the third try to get somewhere in first gear and then shift into second gear, a miracle happened.  The car responded to him.  From there, it all came together.

Until he started driving on the actual streets, that is.  “Hermione, the light just switched to yellow!  What do I do?” he yelled at her as he came up to an intersection, still going full speed.

“Keep going, you are close and you will make it through before it turns to red.”

A few blocks later, it happened again.  Only this time, Draco wasn’t quite as close to the cross street when the light turned.  “Should I keep on going?  How do you decide?” he looked so flustered as he asked her.

“Give it a little more gas, you can make it!”

The third time he had to make a decision, he did it without asking, which, of course, meant that he ran a red light and found himself on the receiving end of the two finger salute from an octogenarian.

“Did you see that little old lady?  Oh Merlin, that was bloody hilarious!”  Draco was dying.

Hermione?  Not so much.  “What were you thinking?  We could have died!  You have to stop for red lights!”

“Yellow lights make no sense.  Instead of a light, there should be a countdown between the green and red light.  That way you know exactly how much time is left to make it through the intersection,” Draco informed her.

“Well, that is, surprisingly, an erudite suggestion.”  Although Hermione had no idea whom she should pass the suggestion on to.

Hermione made Draco stay on this side road for a few miles, until they came to a market and Hermione purchased a few items appropriate for a picnic lunch.  Draco felt confident, and asked if he could drive for a while on the main road.  When they got up to speed, he couldn’t get over how similar the feeling was to flying when the top was down.  He didn’t feel like he wielded the same control over the automobile as he did over his broom, but he admitted (only to himself) that he felt safer.  He had read all about the airbags in the owner’s manual in the glove box.

Hermione sat very still in the passenger seat.  She was practicing her “Draco façade” and refused to show her emotions to him.  She was scared shiteless.  Sure, he was driving carefully now and going the proper speed.  How long would that last?  Had Draco been content to ride a training broom as a child for more than an hour?  Adult Draco still possessed little to no will-power when he wanted something.  Any minute now he would have the confidence to go as fast as she knew he wanted to.

She had never tried to cast a Protego Totalum around a moving motor vehicle before.  The academic side of her wanted to know what the results of such a spell would be.  Would it protect the car in the case of a crash?  Or would an Impervious Charm work better?  Oh wait, maybe she should try the Horton-Keitch Braking Charm?  Hermione had never had an opportunity to use that particular spell before, it was just something she’d read about.  Doesn’t mean she didn’t know the incantation and proper wand movements, did it?  Whatever she chose, she probably shouldn’t do it while Draco drove for the first time.  It would be distracting.  Plus, it may hurt his feelings.  Hey, if they were dead, there wouldn’t be any feelings to hurt.  There was still the distraction factor to consider.  Maybe she could quietly do it while turning around and pretending to look for something in the back seat?

Shield charms were something Hermione had worked very hard at doing both wandlessly and non-verbally during the year on the run with Harry and Ron.  First because it seemed like a smart thing to do, and later when Ron left, and she and Harry were sharing a single wand between them, it could mean life or death if you were the one standing wandless.  Harry didn’t disagree, and they both practiced it continuously until Ron returned.  They reached a point where either one could cast a strong enough shield to cover the both of them while the other person wielded the wand to throw spells.

The concentration needed to cast a large shield and attach it to a moving object seemed like something she would want to channel through her wand, at least the first time.  So, she let it slip down her sleeve into her hand as she turned around to rummage in the back.  She whispered, “Protego Totalum,” and turned back around holding the thermos, wand already back up her sleeve.  “Water?” she asked Draco.

“Don’t think I didn’t notice what you were doing,” he responded, never taking his eyes off of the road.

They pulled into a turn-off soon after and found themselves parked 50 meters or so from the top of a knoll, looking down at a field full of heather.  Hermione handed Draco the omnioculars and the blanket to spread out on the grass, while she brought over the food for a lovely little repast.

“Admit it.  I am a better driver than you expected,” the wizard demanded with righteous arrogance.

“I admit that you’re not as dangerous of a driver as I feared,” her brown eyes not quite meeting his silver ones.

“Same thing,” he let out a genuine chortle, grabbing her hand and giving it a squeeze, an acknowledgement of her reluctance to admit she was wrong twice in the same day.

There were times Hermione didn’t understand Slytherins at all.  Why not just come out and say what you meant - it was quicker and easier.  She didn’t have time for the machinations, and the energy needed to sustain it all gave her a headache.  Then came moments like this, when she couldn’t help but appreciate more subtle forms of communication than most of her other friends seemed capable of sustaining. 

When they got up to walk back to the car, Hermione surprised them both by offering to let him drive again.  The weather held and they kept the top down all the way to Seaham Hall.  Hermione forced Draco to stop twice more when they passed historical markers along the way.

She read them aloud to him, like he was bloody illiterate.  Then she would explain the history of the site in more depth then the plaque.  Draco had been duped into an educational trip.  With a sigh, he realized he should have known.


After their numerous stops, they arrived at Seaham Hall just past tea time.  Hermione had booked the penthouse suite and set up something for them called The Evening Package.  She explained that they would receive 45-minute-long massages, and could eat a two course dinner on the terrace in their spa robes afterwards. 

“Since there’s a little time to spare, I challenge you to a game of billiards.  There’s a table down the way, in the Tattinger Lounge,” Hermione flounced down hall, not waiting for his answer.  Draco was ready for anything more fun than a dry history lesson.

“You know I grew up with a table in my home, yeah?” she tossed back over her shoulder at him as he followed at a more sedate stroll, enjoying the way her pert arse bounced when she skipped like that.

Draco ignored the curly-haired witch’s challenge.  He’d grown up with a table too, and he’d used it to win plenty of money off of his friends.

Later on, when they were sitting down for dinner, Draco thought that maybe all of the stress of the day, with the constant stopping, and even the yelling during his driving lesson, were mitigated by the pleasure of staring at Hermione’s arse constantly as she leaned over the billiards table.  He had managed to slide down one shoulder of her robe for a moment to roll a nipple with his fingers before they started their massages.  Between that, and the actual massage, he was horny as hell.

Hermione opted to start with the Onion Bhaji, followed by the Beef Panaeng Curry.  Draco decided to try the Duck Pancake for his first course.  He was truly excited over the Pork Belly with stir fry vegetables for second course.  Pork Belly was most definitely a Muggle food.  They found they had a bit of room left to share an order of Banana Spring Rolls for dessert.

Hermione’s robe dropped the moment their room door shut behind them and Draco had a fleeting thought regarding her masseuse and what teasing may have occurred.  By the time he could have formulated anything aloud, his mouth was otherwise occupied.  The first time, he took her from behind.

From Seaham Hall, they were going to take a leisurely drive through the Lake District.  Hermione had talked about the sites she wanted to visit that day, the amazing views to come, and the twisting roads they would travel.  Draco was thinking less about the views, and not at all about the “sites”, but rather about getting the car up to top speed on some of these roads Hermione was describing.  He’d done an admirable job of reining himself in yesterday.  Now it’s time to see what this car could really do, he thought with a smirk.  Which Hermione saw.  Damn.

She saw Draco’s smirk as they walked out to the car.  She had a pretty good idea what was going on in his scheming mind.

He tried to be pre-emptive with, “Don’t you know that one of the first lessons a Slytherin learns is ‘Don’t get caught’?”

Hermione smirked in return.  She knew people often underestimated her as a rule-follower.  Hermione definitely liked rules.  She liked knowing the rules forwards and backwards.  Then, she liked to find the grey areas within the rules to exploit them.  She handed Draco the keys without a word.

Draco felt afraid, very afraid.  Along with cars keys, he wondered if he had also been handed just enough rope.

Hermione directed Draco to the A688 and Barnard Castle.

Draco couldn’t believe they had traipsed around the ruins of a castle.  Actual castle ruins.  Not just charmed ruins, like Hogwarts, with something interesting which only wizards could see.  The only good thing about their stop was the bakery with delectable scones he decided made an excellent second breakfast.  Yes, second breakfast became a real thing after to Hermione introduced him to Lord of the Rings.

And then it all just fell away.  All of the stress of waiting for the other shoe to drop, all of his boredom, all of it.  He was driving on the most amazing stretch of road with the top down and the wind in his hair.  “It’s called Kirkstone Pass,” she informed him over the sound of the wind.  “Some locals also call it the The Struggle.” He let the other shoe drop then, quite literally.  Hermione didn’t say a word about how much over the speed limit he was going, however he felt sure that the car now had four separate charms on it.  Three cast by Hermione and one by him.  He surreptitiously cast a Confundus Charm to keep away police officers while Hermione wasn’t looking.

Hermione decided there was no time like the present for trying out a new charm.  She would need to make sure she told Ron and Ginny about it, since the Horton-Keitch Braking Charm was originally developed for Quidditch, after all.  She breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the shores of Lake Windermere.  They parked and admired the view of the road that Draco had attempted to use as a means of killing them.  She stood convinced of this, no talking her out of the fact of the matter.

Draco loved driving.  Maybe as much as flying.  Could it be possible?  He was on such a high right now.  He contemplated casting a Notice Me Not charm and shagging Hermione on the blanket still in the backseat.  Draped over the hood of the car.  He wondered how that would fit into her perfect little schedule for their day.  He leaned over and kissed her deeply to test the waters.  She pulled away and he couldn’t help but pout.

“Uh uh,” Hermione wagged a finger at him.  “Keep it in your trousers.  We are going to get some lunch and then head to Birdoswald Roman Fort.”  Draco groaned, realizing his fun time was over before it even started.  Well, not completely.  She still allowed him to drive the car.

The drive through the rest of the Lake District was just as exhilarating and beautiful.  In less than two hours, they were parking at the fort.  As it happened to be a Saturday, the place was busy.  Hermione suggested a walk along Hadrian’s Wall first, and then tea after.  Once they finished tea, they could explore the ruins of the fort itself.

Hermione was beside herself.  There were otters in the River Irthing!  They frolicked around and if it wouldn’t have broken the Statute of Secrecy, she would have cast her Patronus to see if it would have played with them.  It felt inadequate to merely have Draco snap her picture with a muggle camera while standing with the otters visible in the background.  They walked through an apple orchard in bloom, blossoms falling around them in the spring breeze, the journey transpiring into a romantic enough experience to cover the ache left by the otters.  As they walked along the wall, Hermione read aloud from site literature.

“Hadrian's Wall formed the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire for most of the period AD 122-410. The empire's frontiers extended over 5,000 km from the Atlantic coast of Britain through Europe, the Middle East and across North Africa to the Atlantic.  Today, Birdoswald Fort has the longest intact continuous stretch of wall.  This incredible sight makes you appreciate the feat of Roman Engineering.  You will be transported back in time, imagining yourself as a Roman soldier, guarding your empire and keeping a watchful eye out for invading troops.”

“I would have never been a mere soldier, stationed at some gods-forsaken outpost,” Draco snorted, lifting his chin with patrician haughtiness.

Hermione snorted right back at him.  Malfoys styled themselves as the creators of political maneuverings.  The man behind the curtain.  Off on a tangent in her head she asked, “Have you seen the Wizard of Oz?”

Draco looked rightfully confused, “Who?  What is Oz?”

“Where.  Somewhere over the rainbow,” she giggled.

“Have you gone barmy on me?”

She still giggled a little madly.  “It’s a movie about a girl who finds herself in a magical land, called Oz, which can only be found by traveling to the other side of a rainbow.  The witches in the movie are real, but the wizard who rules the land is a charlatan who uses electricity to fool everyone into thinking he has magic.”

“What does that have to do with me being a Roman Senator?”

“A Senator, but not the Emperor, right?”

“Never an Emperor.  Better to be the influence behind the face of power,” stating what Hermione already knew about him.  Malfoys learned the lessons of cunningly wielding authority at their mother’s breast.  Although Draco didn’t crave the same type of power as his father, he still enjoyed the rush when he exerted himself in successful business transactions.

“There’s a muggle saying for people like that – the man behind the curtain.  In the Wizard of Oz, the “wizard” hides behind a curtain while performing his tricks in the throne room.  So you see, I was about five steps into a tangent-” Draco cut Hermione off by pulling her against him and putting his mouth over hers in a scorching kiss.  He bit her bottom lip and then swept his tongue into her mouth when she opened it with a gasp.  She could only imagine where this would go if they weren’t standing on a walking path with people coming up behind them.

She pulled back with a content little hum.  “What was that for?”

“You. Are. Perfect,” he stated, his hands cupping her face while he stared into her eyes, “The way your mind works.  How genuine you are.  Your acceptance of who I am.  Just… everything.”  Draco remained at a loss for words, so he grabbed her hand and continued on the path back to the fort for some tea.

After tea, he let her drag him around the inside of the fort, nattering on about the excavations and such, for an hour before he finally admitted to her that he was bored to tears.

They spent the night just up the way in Haltwhistle, at the place Hermione had reserved.  Hermione talked to the owners of the guesthouse about taking a sunrise ramble and they said they would pack a hamper with some fruit, pastries, and a thermos of coffee.  The wife asked Draco how they took their coffee and Hermione sighed, feeling something between exasperation and adoration, when, like a walking cliché, he quipped, “Black.  Like my soul.” 

It was foggy the next morning, but not enough to deter them when they started out before dawn.  On the contrary, Draco enjoyed the peace the damp air imparted.  As the sun rose, the fog began to lift.  The quiet they previously enjoyed broken by the sound of birds.  They hiked for a few hours before starting the drive home.

Hermione got behind the wheel to get them back to London.  They would stop for lunch, but she didn’t have any other stops planned.  She filled up with petrol before they embarked.  You know what they say about the best laid plans…

“Oooh!  We have to stop to see what the sign said!  Do you see a good place to turn around?”

“No!  No more historical markers!  Do you have any idea how bloody boring they are?  What is your obsession with them?”

“Boring?  History is never boring!”


Hermione thought about admitting defeat.  It wasn’t technically true that the history of magic was boring, just the professor teaching it was.  She knew countless witches and wizards ended up turned off of the subject because of him.  She felt the need to prove it to Draco.  Which meant she turned the car around to go back to the marker.

“Let’s just see what this one is.  Maybe you’ll really like it!”  Ever the optimist.

It turned out to be about the 303rd Bombardment Group, also known as the “Hells Angels”, from World War II.  Draco hated it and did not stay quiet about it.

They arrived back at her parents’ home in the early evening.  The Grangers came out to the garage when she pulled the Aston Martin back into its stall.  Her mum asked if they were hungry – they were.  She headed inside to put something together.  Her dad asked Draco about the trip.  Draco almost launched into how much he hated being dragged all over the countryside for history lessons when it occurred to him that at least one of her parents must have imparted a love of history to Hermione, and she’d spent the weekend showing him something special.  She had taken him on a little tour of her childhood.  She hadn’t shared this with any friends or ex-lovers before the Slytherin.

She may be a swot, but he was a complete arse.  He didn’t want to be a complete arse.  He had told her with words that he loved her for the first time less than two months ago.  He wasn’t afraid to declare it privately, both in words and actions.  He considered that the time now came to prove it with words and actions in public.

“I learned about the “Hell’s Angels” when we stopped at a roadside memorial.  Do you know they don’t teach anything about World War II in the wizarding world?”

“What the hell do you they teach you?” Hermione’s dad asked as the two men walked towards the house together.  Hermione heard Draco start to tell her dad about Grindelwald and how as a child his tutor taught him there’d been some disturbances with Muggles in Europe that were merely fallout from the wizard war of the same era.

Hermione smiled at the men’s backs.  She knew Draco didn’t suddenly change his mind.  He really had been bored as all get out.  That didn’t mean the knowledge wasn’t being absorbed.  His intelligence was sexy as sin to her.

Hermione removed all four charms from her parents’ car, the three she placed and the one her sneaky boyfriend put on.  It occurred to her that the three she placed could be legal, since they would only protect the car and the occupants.  Draco’s, on the other hand…  Well, best not to think about it too hard.  Could there be a market aimed at wizards or witches looking to learn to integrate more into Muggle life which would include a package of her three charms from this weekend?  Tomorrow she would pop into the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office at the Ministry to see about getting the proper forms.  It shouldn’t be too tough to convince Perkins, since the Ministry already added undetectable extension charms to their cars for official use.  Her set of spells would be less of a risk under the Statute of Secrecy than those already in use.  She could stop to see Arthur Weasley while she was in the building.  He still hung pictures of automobiles up in his new (much larger) office as the head of The Office of Muggle Relations; he was sure to be enthusiastic about this idea.

Chapter Text

“Have you ever been to Japan?” Draco asked out of seemingly nowhere upon their return to her flat after their fishing trip.


“Would you like to go with me?  I think I could get us a one-day spot on a potion ingredient gathering excursion. We’d spend the morning harvesting ingredients, the afternoon preparing them for the use of students, and the evening in a cooking class.  I’d love to show you the school I attended there.”

Hermione’s head whirled.  Draco went to school in Japan?  When?  Why?

In what appeared to be a tangent, Draco continued with, “Did I ever tell you the little-known fact of Severus Snape being my godfather?  Goes back to when he was still a Hogwarts student and assigned to my father in a sort of mentorship.  Oh, right, I suppose you don’t want to hear about Death Eater initiation shite.  Bollocks.  So yeah… they went way back… close friends.  My parents named him godfather upon my birth,” this constituted the worst verbal diarrhea of Draco’s life and he couldn’t get it to stop.  Merlin’s beard, why couldn’t he just stop talking?

“And Severus always looked out for me.  Pledged an Unbreakable Vow once to protect me.  Not that it did any good in the end.  I’ve often wondered how much guilt one person can handle.  Probably part of the reason why he signed me up for a potions class on the other side of the world.”  It was getting ridiculous now.  He pictured turned his own wand onto himself to cast a Silencio.

Hermione considered Draco acting so… verbose.  She felt disconcerted, to say the least.  She just wanted her usual quiet, calm Draco back; the one who thought raising both eyebrows at the same time too much communication.

“So, will you go to Japan with me?”  There, he took a breath, feeling he could stop now.

“I’d love to.  Just an overnighter, right?  I can be in my office on both Friday and Monday?  I have a huge project I’m working on right now.  I can’t say anything about it yet…  But, I’ll need your help on it too.”  Everything about Hermione’s statement perked Draco back up.  She agreed to go.  He hadn’t scared her off.  And she wanted his help with her work!  He’d tried to push her for more information on the work bit; she just kept pushing back to get him to tell her more about Japan.

Draco undertook his eighth year at Hogwarts in as quiet of a manner as possible.  After spending an oppressive summer with his mother barely able to look him in the eye without either tears or pity, or a mixture of both, and his father’s unending speeches about needing a plan.  Malfoys always had a fucking plan.  School turned into the young wizard’s plan - an escape.  He spoke only when spoken to.  So what if that primarily consisted of talking to professors?  His fellow students ignored him, looking right through him.  He kept his head down, working hard to be prepared for his N.E.W.T.’s.  The following summer, not long after receiving his test results, another owl arrived with an unexpected missive.  It seemed that before his death, Severus Snape signed his godson up for a prestigious potions class in Japan.  They’d received a copy of his N.E.W.T. scores and wanted to extend an invitation to their fall 2000 session, a little bit more than a year in the future.  Severus already paid for the class; all they needed was a confirmation.  With nothing better to do with his life, he’d quickly replied yes, relieved to have something to look forward to.

A year later, Draco left England unsure of what the future held for him, but he knew without a doubt he didn’t want to sit around his manor all day long staring at knick-knacks while sipping expensive alcohol.  The only good to come out of his year of self-exile between Hogwarts and Japan became the decision to pursue the field of Alchemy.  Even before leaving home, he found a mentor willing to take him on for an Alchemical Mastership following completion of the potions class.  The Japanese program didn’t grant a full Potions Mastership, but rather a three-month-long supplemental focus on oceanic and ancient Orient ingredients.  The class stood as a stepping-stone to acceptance into Mastership programs world-wide, boasting a 100% acceptance rate; Draco wondered if he’d have found a mentor without it.

Hermione knew the term “life-changing” could become cliché faster than a snitch.  She also knew from Draco that his time spent in Japan could only be described thus.  Even beyond what he learned from the war.  Everyone in the program was there on merit, not because of their name, status, money, or influence.  In fact, he told her, no one in the class knew the last name Malfoy.  After having been brought up to believe his last name meant everything, imagine the shock when it meant nothing.  Severus Snape bestowed upon Draco more than a classroom education with this last gift, he’d given him a new lease on life.  Japan came to pass as the place where Draco shed his snake skin.  Kind of.  As much as a Malfoy could.

Hermione remembered thinking Draco fell off the face of the earth after Hogwarts.  For a while she didn’t even notice, being too wrapped up in her own life.  She lived in Rome for a year after graduation, then returned to England to begin working on building her own business.  When she spotted him at a Ministry Gala almost five years later, the whiskey-eyed witch realized the last time she saw him was while they both sat their Charms N.E.W.T. in the Great Hall.  She found herself instantly curious about where he’d been, but didn’t know whom to ask.  Over the intervening years, she’d discovered he had attained a Mastership.  It was hard to miss after he’d published multiple studies in one of her favorite journals.  Finally, Draco revealed the full story.

They arrived in Japan early in the morning local time, wearing swimsuits under casual wear, with knapsacks thrown over their shoulders.  Draco spoke a small amount of Japanese from his time spent there.  He kept up with the courtesy phrases - anything for an edge in business deals.  He knew he’d won a contract or two over other international competitors due it.

“Ohayō gozaimasu,” he greeted the witch in the international travel receiving office as they handed off their used portkey – an empty flower pot.  Hermione couldn’t help but wonder why ministry offices all over the world used junk for portkeys.  Obviously, you wanted to use inconspicuous items for travel originating privately – most Muggles weren’t in the habit of picking up random pieces of rubbish.  But, couldn’t they use nicer items when the portkeys never left the inside of government offices?  She cataloged the thought for later investigation.

Draco grabbed his witch’s hand, and apparated to the school, landing just outside the gates.  It was situated on a bay, with an incline on one side leading to some small cliffs, and woods on the other two sides.  In front lay the ocean; two boats tied up and swaying on either side of the dock going out into the sea.  The water appeared peaceful.  All around the school, inside of the wards, were greenhouses.

Draco saw Hermione inspecting the greenhouses as they walked in that direction.  “We grew many of the items we needed for our classes ourselves.  Herbology lessons occurred interspersed with the potions lessons every day.  There are staff members whose job it is just to care for the plants grown on site, but the students were still expected to help with harvesting.  We also went on rambles, searching for native items, learning to recognize them.  Mostly around here, but also other places on the Japanese islands.  Right there is where I saw my first Kappa,” he pointed to where the forest opened up a bit, allowing the sun to dapple the earth beneath.  “We rarely went out on the boats.  Just a handful of times during the term.  Fishing was left up to the day-trippers.  People like us today,” he explained.  Draco had, in fact, already told most of this to Hermione over dinner a few days ago, but gestured to the areas in front of them as he spoke, making it tangible.

The school itself was not large.  A mere 12 students were accepted per term.  A small dormitory with individual rooms containing en suites for each boarder, along with accommodations for staff, took up one wing.  Students mingled directly with instructors and staff at meal times in a cafeteria type setting.  There were six class blocks during the day, six days a week, one for Herbology activities, four with different professors specializing in various aspects of potioneering, and one for independent study.  The building also contained a small library.  In all, that meant only about ten rooms, not counting the dorms.

As they walked up to the main door of the building, a man stepped out.  “O hisashiburi desu ne,” he said with a small bow to Draco.  Draco bowed back, a bit deeper, returning the greeting.  He introduced Hermione to the school’s chief administrator, Hayato Ito, switching to English.  Hermione remembered to also bow at a bit more of an angle than the older wizard, as a sign of respect.

“We will wait here for the other two couples joining you today to arrive.  We’ll head out on the boat immediately, where I will teach you the spells needed to attract today’s catch.  We have three areas to fish; when we drop anchor at the third one, there will be time for lunch before you dive.  There are facilities on the boat, but you are welcome to use the ones here now before we board.”  Hermione listened to him give basically the same speech to both of the other couples when they arrived.

While traipsing down to the dock, Draco reached into an outer pocket of his knapsack and pulled out two vials of a sunshiny yellow potion.  “Anti-nausea,” he offered one to Hermione.  She pulled the cork out and quickly tipped it back.

The two other couples on the trip turned out to be from South Korea and somewhere in the Middle East; Draco didn’t pay attention to where they said.  Everyone spoke English, but mostly kept to themselves.  Draco felt completely comfortable on the boat.  It was a fairly simple fishing vessel – mostly operating by Muggle means.  It kept sticking to the Statue of Secrecy while out in International Waters easy; the school could never be sure of who may come upon them while fishing in the middle of the ocean.

Hermione watched her perceptions of Draco crumble over the past few years.  Recognizing and acknowledging her own prejudices did not come easy.  Being righteous, always believing her answers to be the correct answers – those came naturally to the witch.  Harry accepted Draco first, and slowly others began to follow.  In a shocking role reversal, Harry prodded and nagged and rolled his eyes at her for months.  Not that Hermione was being outright rude to Draco; she liked to think of her pattern of ignoring his existence as more of a “live and let live” attitude.  Until the day Harry said in a familiar undertone, which he liked to pretend you weren’t meant to hear, but he pitched it perfectly for you to hear him, “More like ‘Live and let die’.”  It took Sir Paul to make Hermione sit up and realize the seriousness of the situation.

How embarrassing, in retrospect.  And not just because Harry took further pleasure in mocking her with horrible nasally imitations of her voice from ten years ago saying things like, “I’m not sure, Harry…” and “Oh Harry, not that again,” behind Draco’s back whenever the blonde was around.  The git who masqueraded as her best friend managed to time it just right, making sure Draco found Hermione flustered and blushing when he looked her way, while the Man Who Lived To Torture Her nonchalantly sipped a drink, looking completely innocent.  The Sorting Hat really should have put him in Slytherin.  Yet, trust Harry to effectively get his point across by reminding Hermione that once upon a time Harry himself had been obsessed with seeing the worst in Draco, while Hermione had been willing to give the Slytherin a chance.

Obviously, Hermione finally gave Draco a chance, and found a man still working on bettering himself, not perfect, but not the boy she remembered from her first six years of school, nor even the shell of a person she vaguely remembered from their Eighth Year.  And now she stared at him as he stood near the prow of the boat as it made its way out to sea, the wind tousling his hair, the rising sun lighting up his face.  Had she ever seen him look so carefree?  Even when playing Quidditch, the look on his face was different from now; the pressure to find the snitch as he concentrated on the win.  She attributed the transformation she witnessed today to the lack of any constraints set upon him by the outside world.  No press or photographers watching him, no one on the boat but her knowing what the last name Malfoy meant, no three-piece suit subconsciously dictating his actions.  It’s amazing what wearing a pair of swim trunks could do for the psyche.

Draco felt Hermione’s hand slide into his and out of the corner of his eye he watched the wind whip her curls around her head in a beguiling fashion.  He continued to drink in the sun rise and the scent of the salty waves as she cast a spell to plait her hair and secure it.  Draco adored the times when Hermione’s hair got as wild as he knew his witch could be.  As the sun shone down on both their faces, Draco began to daydream of ways to liberate her locks.

“The first fishing excursion occurred during my second week of school here.  I’d ridden on a yacht off the coast of Italy before, but you can imagine how Blaise’s boat differed from this experience.  We spent the first two hours learning how to operate the motor, the navigation system, and the sonar as a precaution for emergencies.  I was secretly aghast at the completely Muggle contraption.  I was scared,” he confided quietly, so no one besides Hermione heard him.  “Only a week had passed, but already every day here held something drastically different than anything I understood in my life until that point.  There was the comfort in all of it still being within the magical realm.  Now I was being told we would spend a day basically being Muggle peasants.”

Hermione’s brow furrowed with thought.  “You acted like you never fished a day in your life when we went ice fishing.  Explain,” she quizzed him.

“You’ll see once you learn the spells.  This is experience is fairly hands-off after all is said and done,” he answered.

Two wizards crewed the boat, in addition to the school head being aboard.  The wizard in question, Mr. Ito, walked up them now, holding out two cups of steaming coffee.  “Please join me in the cabin, I will teach you the incantations we will be using today,” he advised them.

The first stop promised the capture of Maguro (Tuna).  The people of Japan began eating tuna over 10,000 years ago; learning that wizards developed a spell specific to attracting tuna left Hermione unsurprised.  Mr. Ito tasked each couple with reciting the incantation together until they landed a fish, insuring three caught today.  He taught incantations to butcher the fish, with the eyes, gills, spinal cord, swim bladder, and pyloric caeca set aside for potion making.  The Kama O Toro (the cheeks) would specifically be separated out for their dinner later in the evening, the rest of the edible pieces saved for the students and staff.  Mr. Ito assured the participants the cheeks were a delicacy rarely served outside of Japan.

The second stop was planned for a spot where Fugu (blowfish) could be caught.  Blowfish were famed for their deadly poison, which is exactly why they were needed.  Healers sought the poison contained in the liver and ovaries for its ability to counter Dark Curses when carefully brewed in the correct potions.  Draco obsessively spent the first two years after finishing his Alchemical Mastership working specifically with blowfish poison in the hopes of removing the Dark Mark from his arm.  His hope of purifying his body (and, he secretly felt, his soul) never yielded the outcome he desperately wanted.  By the third year of his experiments, he fell tired of what he perceived as failure.  His results and similar follow-up experiments were published in scholarly journals beginning just three years ago.  He kept a private lab to tinker with new ideas as they struck him, but he moved on to more successful ventures with his company.  Today, in addition to collecting the poison, they were also tasked with setting aside the flat bones of the fish – prized for their high concentration of gelatin.  Culling of the fish was achieved by sending a sonic wave into ocean.  When the fish puffed up rather than hightailing it, Accio summoned them into the boat.

The final destination entailed modified scuba diving.  The participants wore wetsuits, however, they’d cast bubble head charms, rather than dealing with oxygen tanks.  If all went well, they would return to the surface with Ika (squid), Aka-gai (red clams), and Anago (conger eel).  From the squid, the chromatophores, ink, beak, eyes, all three of its hearts, and suckers needed to be set aside.  In addition, if they caught a male squid, its penis was valuable for use in infertility potions.  Giant squids boasted the second longest penis in the world - prized for the success rate of the potions created with the organ.  Draco couldn’t resist stage whispering to Hermione something about comparing sizes.  She promptly allowed her brain to forget whatever predictable tripe he spouted as she rolled her eyes at him.  The clams donated their shells to be ground up later, and the eels were wanted for their oil.

The first two catches went off without a hitch.  The ease with which they caught their prey and harvested the needed items showed Hermione exactly why Draco came to her a fishing novice.  The witches and wizards accomplished the entire endeavor with magic; nary a hand got dirty.  The enormous tuna had been a sight to behold – they utilized Leviosa to transfer the fish out of the ocean and onto the vessel.  The blowfish elicited a giggle and a remark on how strangely cute they were from the Middle Eastern witch.  The crew dropped anchor at the diving spot just as the sun climbed directly overhead.  One of the Japanese wizards offered a light lunch of miso soup, nimono, and green tea.

Draco once again talked quietly to Hermione, sitting a bit separate from the others.  They both sat on the deck of boat, cleaned of any fish remains with a Scourgify.  Draco leaned his back against the rail, his left leg stretched out before him, with his right knee bent up and his right arm draped casually atop it.  His finished food was set aside and he slowly sipped his tea.  He picked up almost where he’d left off earlier in the morning, “I’d never really seen Muggle technology before that day.  Sure, I was aware of airplanes occasionally flying high over our estate from a young age.  However, a sharp rap on my knuckles from my father’s cane assured I never spoke of their existence with anyone after the first time.  I didn’t realize the Hogwarts Express started out as a Muggle train – my parents kept that fact from me.”  Hermione rolled her eyes, but didn’t interrupt.  It never ceased to amaze her when she rediscovered over and over she may be the only person in the world who read Hogwarts, A History.  Draco continued, not even noticing, “To suddenly be told I may have to work a motor, and to be shown a two-way radio for emergency communication was a shock.”  He laughed sardonically, shaking his head as he thought of the near boy he’d still been eight years prior.  “I thought about quitting.  As much as I hated the seclusion I’d felt at home the prior year, it was comfortable.  Mr. Ito doesn’t even know it, but he became the deciding factor for me to stay.  As we motored back to the school grounds, he took a moment to smile at me and clap a hand on my shoulder.  He told me how proud he was of me.  Proud of me.  My own father wasn’t proud of me for nearly giving up my life to his cause, yet an almost stranger voiced pride in me for a bit of fishing?  I refused to let the man down.”  A call to return their plates and prepare to dive interrupted further conversation.

Hermione never tried scuba diving before.  Sure, she’d been underwater in the Black Lake for almost two hours during the TriWizard Tournament (counting the time the four prisoners spent there before the task officially began), but she’d been put in a magical stasis for it, so she remembered nothing.  Draco remained next to her to talk her through it, calming her nervousness.  The six participants practiced their spells one last time before going in.  They would use a modification of a revealing charm once they reached the sea floor, inserting the Japanese name for each creature they sought.  They’d be deep enough to become chilly, so each placed a warming charm on their partner.  The depth also meant filtered light, not true darkness, necessitating wands lit with Lumos.  They were instructed to find the clams first, followed by the eels, finishing with the squid.  The clams went in a sack tied to each of their waists.  Eels needed to be placed in a separate container, and then floated to the top.  The squid would be the tricky one; suggested spells included stunners and Incarcerous, while spells like Bombarda were ruled out - no need to worry about damaging the creature.  Once they subdued the squid, the entire team worked in tandem to bring it up to the surface.  It should not be dispatched until everyone exited the water as a precaution against attracting sharks.  The chances of them finding more than one squid was low, as the larger species tended to be solitary.

Once in the water, Draco held Hermione’s hand as they descended.  It looked nothing like the tropical documentaries she’d watched on the tele.  No schools of brightly colored fish flitting about, nor did she see any coral.  When they came to the bottom, Draco, the Arab wizard, and the Korean witch led the way, familiar with the protocol, if not this exact spot, from their time at school.  The clams were scooped up and the bags tied tight once full.  Four eels were found and trapped into the crate before sending it up to the waiting boat.

Then all hell broke loose.

The squid saw them coming before any fired off a single spell.  It shot ink, and then swam straight at them through the murk.  Draco knew they needed to worry about both the tentacles and the sharp beak.  He also knew Hermione would put up the Protego.  The unknown factor was how the other four might react.  They fled.  Successfully.  Thanks to Hermione’s powerful shield and Draco’s well aimed offensive.  He’d quickly rejected Difindio as an option, although it may have protected them from the legs and tentacles.  As fast as lightening, Draco’s mind cataloged and dismissed spells until he settled on Deprimo.  His aim need not be exact while trying to create a powerful blast of wind underwater, just in the general direction of the beast.  He cast it and the squid was blown back from its advance.  It gave him time to cast a Confundo and Incarcerous in quick succession.  The large creature was now effectively tied up and confused long enough for Draco to turn back to Hermione.

He observed her heaving chest and dilated pupils.  Her wand hand began to shake.  ‘Shite,’ he thought, ‘she’s having a panic attack 100 meters underwater.’  In the Muggle world, this would be classified as a technical dive and necessitate a special gas mixture, but the bubble head charm took care of the issue.  ‘Thank Merlin decompression won’t be necessary,’ Draco thought.  Draco grabbed Hermione around the waist, reached over and took hold of a rope end hanging from the trussed-up beast, and started towards the surface.  Halfway up he felt a tug behind him; he paused to recast the Confundo.  With about a quarter of the way left to go, he observed Mr. Ito and the South Korean witch heading back down towards them.  ‘About fucking time,’ he wanted to scream.  He handed off the rope to the wizard and continued up with his girlfriend at a faster pace.

They broke surface and he countered the spell for the bubble over her head before his.  Her panting was now audible.  “Look at me, Hermione.  Look at me,” he begged her to focus her vacant stare on him.  He treaded water, she did same, seemingly on autopilot.  She kept looking around, what she searched for, he couldn’t fathom.  He put his hands on either side of her face, forcing her swiveling head to still.  “Please, Hermione, just look at me.  I’m right here, with you.  I promise you’re safe.  I promise I won’t let anything hurt you.  I promise, love.  Let’s breathe together.  Focus on me,” he murmured to her.  He was familiar with panic attacks, having his own for the first time at age 16.  He’d suffered them frequently, starting the summer before his Sixth Year, continuing for many years after.  Draco knew on some level that some witches and wizards his age might endure them also; he’d never witnessed Hermione in the throes of one.  He continued with his soft words to her, while working with her to sync up her breathing with his controlled breaths in and out, until she no longer gasped, and her pupils returned to their previous size, even as he gently guided them to the side of the boat.

“Let’s get up there, and get you in a towel and maybe have a cuppa,” he soothingly told her when they maneuvered themselves next to the boat’s ladder.  She nodded and turned to grasp a rung to begin pulling herself up.

“I’m so embarrassed,” was the first thing she told him when they stood topside together.

Draco wanted to laugh, not at her, but at the idea her actions contained anything to be embarrassed about.  Instead he calmly said, “Not a single person on this boat is judging you for saving lives today.  Your shield gave the others time to escape, and gave me the ability to take care of the attacker.  If anything, the other four should be ashamed.”  He whispered the last sentence to her, not wanting the others to hear it.

Hermione stood with a large warm towel wrapped around her shoulders and a steaming mug of tea cupped between both hands.  She still shivered, whether it was from the cold or possibly from a mild case of shock.  Analytically, she recognized her own irrationality.  Fear is irrational, though.  She felt a desire to explain herself to Draco, to prove she wasn’t crazy.

“The ink.  It was the fucking ink.  It reminded me of Death Eaters, of the way Voldemort, Snape, and some others turned themselves into wisps of black smoke, flew through the air, and then materialized again.”  Draco knew exactly what she meant, he’d seen his own father do that particular trick, and couldn’t believe he hadn’t made the connection himself.  Bloody hell.  “Seeing the squid come at us out of the ink,” a shudder tore through her body, “It brought forward memories from the war.  Suddenly I thought I was on the back of a thestral, hanging onto Kingsley for dear life - Voldemort coming straight at me.  But then he wasn’t, he veered off, where did he go, would he return for me?”  Hermione lost Draco when she started in on the bit with the thestral, and oh yeah, calling her good friend, the Minister for Magic, by his first name, but it didn’t take a genius to know this wasn’t the time to ask her to elaborate.  She continued, “I’m not even sure how I managed to cast my shield.  I barely remember anything after the ink,” she relayed this in a quiet tone – no reason to let the people around them in on it.  Draco put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest in a sideways hug, putting his chin on her soaked curls.  There was nothing else he could say to her.  He felt a bit of tension escape her body at his touch.  She let out a large sigh.  Draco let go of the breath he hadn’t realized he held.

As the boat set course for the school, the other passengers took turns coming up to Hermione and Draco to thank them.  This was, admittedly, new territory for Draco.  He wanted someone to announce, “Thanks to Mr. Draco Malfoy’s cunning use of spells, 50 points for Slytherin.”  Alas.

Only Mr. Ito alluded to Hermione’s evident panic attack, when he offered, “We have calming draughts onboard.”  She shook her head in the negative, politely saying, “Thanks.”

The guests were responsible for carrying the potions ingredients inside to the proper storage areas, while the three school employees took the edible portions to the kitchen.  Any pieces not needed for brewing potions, or parts which couldn’t be eaten, were summarily tossed overboard in the ocean on their return trip.  Hermione followed Draco, feeling better already as her feet traversed solid land.  The storage facilities for the ingredients amazed Hermione.  She noted many rare ingredients, some she’d never heard of before today.

“Your labs are cataloged in similar fashion to this,” Hermione noted to Draco, regarding the full tour the brunette recently enjoyed of his business.

The blonde smirked, “Well, you already realized my labs were not patterned on Hogwarts, yeah?”

She had noticed the difference, although it wasn’t something she’d articulated to him while there.  At the time, she assumed he came up with the changes.  After already spending most of the day appreciatively oohing and ahhing over his company headquarters, she let some things slide.  His ego was inflated enough as it was.  Knowing him, he would have taken the praise and not let on the true source, Slytherin nature winning out.  Two could play at that game.

“Yes, I congratulated Theo on his superior organization skills later that very same day,” she said with a wink.  Hermione honestly had wondered if, as Draco’s COO, Theo Nott was responsible for the high level of orderliness present, along with the overall design.

Draco scoffed, “That wanker would take credit for my ideas.”

Hermione decided it was far too much fun not to correct him on his assumption she was telling the truth rather than teasing.  Playing the long game on this one may yield interesting results when Draco remembered to confront Theo.  She hoped she was present for that conversation.

To Draco’s relief, Hermione seemed recovered from her earlier shock.  The two Brits, plus the four others with them, moved about the storage areas, working carefully to correctly preserve and label the items for the students’ use.

The visitors were shown to their overnight accommodations and given time to freshen up before dinner.  Hermione still felt tension sitting in her shoulders and neck – the perfect solution proved to be a hot shower, with the water beating down on her as she held tight to Draco’s silky hair while his mouth was buried between her thighs.  He refused her offer to return the favor, telling her he could wait until after dinner.  With a final kiss to his lips before she exited the shower, she promised to make it up to him.

When they met up in the kitchens with the other two couples, they found a chef prepping for their dinner.  An informal sushi bar and cooking area were set up with six chairs and various beverages.  The guests were encouraged to participate in the making of the food, if they wanted.

The first offering turned out to be the Maguro O toro, served as sashimi, with soy sauce for dipping.  Draco moaned when the first buttery-textured piece practically melted in his mouth.  “Oh sweet Circe,” Hermione joined in when the tuna hit her tongue.  Next came thinly sliced squid in miso sauce with rape blossoms.  When served, the clams resembled flower blossoms, starting out white at the base and turning bright red at the pointed tip.  Hermione tended to shy away from eel when eating sushi; she found it too oily.  Knowing the excess oil was already removed, she sampled the roasted Anago set before her.  The sweet sauce paired with it was divine.  The final dish, called Tetchiri, consisted of a hot pot with Fugu, tofu, and vegetables which simmered on the table as they sampled the other seafood.  The chef offered the Tetchiri with ponzu sauce.  Hermione feared she was ruined for life in regards to eating Japanese cuisine elsewhere.

In between the heavenly fare, Draco kept up with conversing about himself, Hermione was enthralled.

“I couldn’t help but think about Severus time and again while studying here.  Some days it drove me round the twist, wondering why he’d gifted this to me.  Was it merely a gesture one should expect from a godfather upon matriculation?  Did he intend to mentor me in the field some day?  He was qualified to grant Masterships.  Or was it as I suspected – a guilt-driven idea to try one last effort to save me?  Eventually I had to let it go and accept what I chose to get out of the experience was more than enough, no matter his agenda.  And yes, the man always had an agenda,” he finished, agreeing with Hermione’s unvoiced rumination.

“I inquired and was told Severus also attended this program.  Not straight out of school, as I did, but rather about five years into his teaching position.  He took a sabbatical for a term to travel here.  My thoughts turned to what that would have been like for him.  A reprieve, perhaps?  Possibly the only one he ever received?  I vowed to make the most of my gift and better the world with it.  I tried, I really did.  Do you think Severus can see me from the other side of the veil?  Is he disappointed in me?”  Draco’s voice was steady, but his eyes belied a moment of vulnerability.

“I promise you that the only thing Severus Snape would find disappointing about you is that you stopped imitating his penchant for wearing all black,” Hermione dryly assured him.

When Hermione and Draco returned to their room later in the evening, Hermione reminded Draco that she “owed him one”.  As if he would forget her earlier promise.  She commanded him to sit in a chair and shut his eyes.  No peaking.  He heard rustling before he detected a change in his clothing.  She had transfigured his outfit.  Without his eyes open, he guessed that he may be wearing a suit with robes over it.  What in name of Salazar was she up to?  He heard furniture being moved around before she bade him to open his eyes.  His chair was facing a desk and before him perched his goddess on the edge of it, attired as a Hogwarts professor.  He looked to down to find his estimate at his own clothing close to the truth – he sported a replica of his old school uniform, complete with the Slytherin green tie.

“I believe some Slytherin house points and a reward are required after your heroic actions today, Mr. Malfoy,” the goddess he called his girlfriend purred.  He briefly wondered if she were a Legilimens before his other head took over thinking for him.