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My Face Is A Lie

Chapter Text

His creativity was unlimited, or so it would seem.

Well, the world has certainly known of it , Draco thought, a small, satisfied smirk appearing on his lips as he read over The Daily Prophet’s front-page feature on the recent success of what he shall perhaps call the Greatest Malfoy Inventions - the Anima Tria and Anima serum. Those shites of a concoction took him five years to hone into perfection, mind . Nothing wrong with a bit of celebration. Taking a breath before he drank in a cup of firewhiskey, he sat more comfortably on the large lounge chaise in the Manor’s library and skipped to the passage that has made him proud of himself for the past week:

The Minister of Magic, Mr Kingsley Shacklebolt, has since greatly commended Mr Malfoy’s efforts in increasing the visibility of mental illnesses in the community, especially in the post-War era. Together with the Wizengamot, and Madame Antiochis Bonham, the Chief Mediwitch of St. Mungo’s, they awarded the young potioneer with a First Class, Order of Merlin for his extraordinary endeavours earlier this May at the Ministry’s Fountain of Magical Brethren….

Draco finished reading the article feeling pleased with himself and gave his wand a whirl to tidy the breakfast nook he made for himself at the Manor Library. Quickly, he took the pocket watch from his trousers and surveyed the time. 9h45. Still early.

He stood up straighter, willing all the confidence he can muster to feel - well, an Order of Merlin, First Class can do that - and went out of the library to head towards the West wing of their home. The fair-haired youth was a few steps away from approaching the door to his mother’s room when he ceased abruptly, and irately called for Narcissa’s elf. A quick POP! soon resounded in the hallway.  

“Alcyone here, Master Draco, what need Alcyone do?” The aged elf stared up at him sternly with pursed lips, a gesture not unlike his mother’s usual manner of greeting. It unnerved him a little. The creature’s dark, beady eyes peered at him patiently.

He requested with a wave of his hand to the door, “Make sure she remembers to eat and get her usual medicine at the precise hours I told you to administer them while I am away. If you find supplies lacking, you know where to acquire them, correct?”

The fair-haired youth watched as the elf, though hearing this many a time, bobbed her head in agreement and promptly disappeared. Draco shot one last glance at the door of his mother’s chamber and gradually stepped away. He eyed his pocket watch again. 9h52. Not good enough.

Biting the inside of his cheeks, he apparated to the front door of Les Bressins.

Upon entering, the fair-haired potioneer saw Theo, who was writing on a scroll determinedly in the front desk, and asked him, “Think we’ve got a light load today?”

His dark-haired friend’s brows rose a little. Pouting, he said, “I think Nott, Draco.”

Snorting, Malfoy knocked him on the head with a trio of transfigured paper cranes lightly. Well, not too lightly , Draco thought, smirking as Theo swatted away at the objects, cursing and raising a middle finger at him before threatening to incendio them into bits. 

Pressing a hand on the front of his sable robes, the paper cranes returned to hover by his shoulder. “Next time, Theo,” he sniffed, “it’ll be paper dragons spitting fire if your puns go an inch lower than that pitiful attempt you just made.”

Removing imaginary dirt on his dark navy suit, Theo eyed him pointedly with a shite-eating grin. “If you can’t handle me at my worst, do you think you can even handle me at my best, huh ?”

Rolling his eyes at this, Draco decided he should just get straight to business with Theo before he spotted another opportunity to hiss a sass. “You’re my best friend, so of course, I can’t handle you.”

Nott crossed his arms petulantly, and Malfoy sighed heavily before shrugging. “Anyway, Theo, who made appointments with us today?”

Theo returned the shrug, lazily picking up their records and flipping through the pages, before pausing for the entry under May 17th 2005, Tuesday. He then drew a finger on the page before announcing, “It appears that we have Zabini’s mother at 10h30 at the earliest. And then another health appointment with Hannah Abbott at around 11h00. Not for Anima Experience, though, so it’s probably got to do with general health concerns, which is my purview. Then we have bulk orders to fulfill for Sleeping Draught, Essence of Dittany, WiggenWeld potions et cetera, et cetera. First AE for the day is at 14h00 with… oh, would you look at that!”

Draco glared at him. “Salazar’s balls , would you just spit it out?” he was rightly vexed, pondering whether he should let the paper cranes attack him again. But then he thought that he can find a more lucrative time to retaliate, and let the arsewipe be.

All right, all right , no need to have Salazar hitting on me,” Theo mockingly cooed in a singsong voice, which annoyed Draco so much that he wordlessly made the paper cranes aim threateningly at his friend. At this, the dark-haired Healer put his hands up in reticence with a laugh. “It’s Professor Flitwick, okay?”

“Ah, him.”

“Yes, him.”

Draco shrugged, heading towards his office, and commented in a blasé tone,  “Well, it’s his third and last, anyway. We better follow up on the progress report from the mediwitch that has been attending to him in the ward.”

Definitely ,” Theo agreed too excitedly that the fair-haired youth halted his steps to stare at him curiously. That was too exuberant a tone , Draco thought, arching a brow.

“Don’t tell me you bonked Flitwick’s mediwitch?”

“Do you consider me a fool?”

“Normally, no, but then I trust that you made sure it was discreet, at least?”

Theo rolled his eyes. “Of course, Draco, I made sure . I know how important it will be in our partnership with St. Mungo’s that there be no personal engagements ‘with members of the partner entities’, especially when it’s finalised next month.

“Very well,” Malfoy appeased, motioning for the paper cranes to move near his shoulder once more, “I shall leave you to prepare for the morning shift. Hide me from Blase’s mum, will you? I don’t want to face her again. You know why .” Theo snorted at this while Draco began to pace himself more briskly to go to his office, which was further in the back of Les Bressins .

“You can trust me to charm her away, you know?” his friend called out, cackling, from the short hallway as he headed to his laboratory/office. He decided not to dignify Nott with a reply. Again, the lesser opportunities to hiss a sass, the better.

He entered his office and looked around for a second for anything that might be out of order. His eyes scanned over the medium-sized room, taking in the picture frames holding his licenses as a Healer and Potioneer resting below the shelves that carried a selection of tomes discussing his practice. The top of his desk was still immaculate, and the stack of papers on the right corner of the table was still adjacent the file case which sorted his weekly tasks.

A quaint hourglass, with emerald spirals for its handles, was still situated in the middle of the table. Draco tapped it twice with his wand and carefully watched the sands inside the glass project images around him. Satisfied that nothing of concern had happened to his documents in the past few days, he tapped it again, and the visual report faded. 

Malfoy then lit up the candles in the ceiling of the room before inspecting the neat stack of papers he wrote from last week on his desk. Humming, he gestured for the paper cranes to fly and rest next to his books on the shelves above him before reading his notes.

He was to expect deliveries for pearl dust (I don’t really understand why Theo agreed to brew love potions for Zonko’s, but Weaselbee must’ve been lacking an extra pair of hand, and anyway, I could always stock up on it for A.S.), two large-sized copper cauldrons (to replace the ineffective brass cauldrons that Theo kept breaking, Salazar’s balls) , and a box of glass vials by Friday ( Well, it was my fault this time, but let’s turn a blind eye on that, yes? No one need ever know ), so he immediately levitated the purchase orders for that towards the Equipments & Ingredients file case. Draco then spent the next few minutes or so sorting his deliverables before hearing a soft TING from the hourglass, thus signifying the end of his usual housekeeping time.

Afterwards, he removed his outer robe and donned the gray lab coat hanging behind his chair before striding to the left of his desk and used his wand to reveal the doorway leading to the laboratory. Before Draco set himself to work, he whirled his wand towards the radio to select the classical station. Soon enough, a soft, gentle song from Vivaldi’s il Giustino started playing, and gradually, all became a blur of copper, silver mist, and the whisper of the song around him.

Vedrò con mio diletto
L'alma dell'alma mia
Il core del mio cor
Pien di contento..
.


A few hours later, Draco found himself rather livid at one rather pathetic professor pleading by his feet.

“Professor, you signed the waiver. I cannot treat you with the Anima Experience again,” he insisted, resisting to Flippendo the fuck out of one Filius Flitwick. “I have to uphold this, or else, the Ministry will ban our operations!”

Please, Draco,” Filius begged, as tears pooled in his eyes.

Malfoy blinked slowly, taking a deep breath.There was a reason why he set the limit of AE to only three. He cannot allow other people to suffer needlessly. He promised . He made an oath.

Gradually, he too kneeled down to sit on the carpeted floor of his office beside his former Charms professor.

“Sir,” he started, not really knowing what to say, but at his placating tone, Flitwick looked at him hopefully. Draco shook his head, feeling genuinely sorry for the old wizard. “There are consequences, consequences so terrible, that will follow should I ever do as you requested. Please understand that I am only doing my job. I am bound by the Law and my oath, and I cannot give you anything that has the potential to harm you.”

Flitwick sighed, his once-confident demeanour betrayed by the way his fingers shook. The Charms professor closed his fists, and did not look at him as he spoke defeatedly.

“I just want to see my wife again, Draco. To feel her again . I thought I would not get another chance, you see. She had been killed in the first Wizarding War, and it had been so long since then that I have nearly forgotten the sound of her voice and the touch of her hand.”

Draco heard his voice catch, and he realised that the professor was trying to still his tears. “A-and it was so real .”

Draco closed his eyes, nodding, and it was a while before he replied, “It was , sir. And I understand, sir. I really do.”

He then thought back to the times of the horror that he felt when he had difficulties recalling memories of his father - coward, that he was , but he had long stopped denying the fact that Lucius still mattered to him.

He gritted his teeth as he reminded himself of the disastrous mistake that followed after his botched attempts at extending the limits of AE. Swallowing hardly, he gazed at his professor, continuing, “But I cannot risk the harm that will befall you should you pursue it.”

Seeing that the Professor can no longer persuade Malfoy, Flitwick nodded sadly, fixing his glasses upon his nose once more. Standing up, he rose to extend a hand to the Potioneer. Draco’s eyes widened a little before he accepted it, understanding and thanking Merlin’s glorious beard for the miracle.

“Thank you, Draco, I wish you well.”

“Thank you, too, sir, and please do not forget to go to St. Mungo’s. I will have Nott assist you, if you need it.”

The Charms professor shook his head. “I can do it myself, but thank you for the offer.”

Draco stood, nodding, and showed him to the door. A few seconds later, he found himself alone.

Again. Shite.

He was grateful that Theo had not chosen to badger him with questions as he usually did after AEs. It was at times like these that he was thankful for Theo’s intuitiveness and sensitivity.

The distraught on Flitwick’s normally calm, patient mien after realising the Anima Experience can no longer be availed to him will haunt him for a while.

For a while, he just closed his eyes and breathed, a hollow feeling taking root in his chest.

I can’t give up. I made a promise. I made an oath.


The next two days then found Draco Malfoy gritting his teeth with a sour expression as he fixed his deliverables for the day. He was lucky not to have had AEs scheduled then. He didn’t feel up to task after his… - sod it , he has to admit it - his blasted failure to help Flitwick get over the death of his wife.

 He didn’t want to say it out loud, but a singular thought kept running through his head. Blast it. They’re bloody plural is what they are.

What was I supposed to do, really? Mix the Serum with an Everlasting Potion? Of course, that did aid the Serum a little longer before, but at what cost? My patients? I can’t! And I mustn’t. I have lost too much in trying to do that. I do not want to hurt more.

Until a nebulous, malevolent voice in his head whispered like a shiver in the silver sky, You will have renown unlike your father before you and this generation shall venerate you, if you extend it. You will be able to restore the Malfoy vault to its height once more, if you extend it. You need not vex yourself over the sorrows of others. You can have mo-

Draco gritted his teeth harder, and then he felt his vision go blurry, as if the objects’ shapes before him made no sense. It had all become a haze, or did it look like the little dashes in the paintings of Pissaro? He was no longer sure, but he wanted to stop those dark, dark thoughts. He put a hand over his mouth. But it makes so much sense, I want it, I want it.

He grasped his tie tersely, and tried to loosen it, shaking his head. No, I can’t . I know what happened. I promised. I took an oath. I must not want it. It’s not right. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.

SALAZAR’S BALLS!

All around him made no sense, and he closed his eyes determinedly, holding onto the edge of the table. He needed to remember where he was. Who he was.

An onslaught of memories began rushing through - enjoying his first ride on a toy broom alongside Theo, standing proudly with Crabbe, Goyle, and Zabini at the Hogwarts Express, getting beaten by Saint Potter in Quidditch, feeling the force of the punch by Granger, bullying first years as a Prefect, stoically sitting by his parents, burning , burning, his cursed arm forever burning, forever watching the slow, putrid death of Charity Burbage under Nagini, drowning in fear at Dumbledore’s fall, and sinking, sighing in defeat, at the awkward, dangerous embrace of the Dark Lord.

I have no name, and my face is a lie.

A strangled sob tore out of him.

And he suddenly couldn’t breathe, fuck. His lungs hurt, what the actual shite . He glanced at his hands and found them shaking again, so he balled them into fists, trying to fucking stop it. Merlin’s saggy balls , holy shite. I really buggered the AE didn’t I? I truly did! That’s why Flitwick fucking got depressed even more! SHITE! I fucking failed! Shite, shite, SHITEEEEE!!!

He was still doing his housekeeping then, so when he screamed in his head, his fucking paper cranes EXPLODED behind him, and HOLY SHITE, FUCK, why did I do that? Shite, shite, shite, and fucking tears, fuck, fuck, these aren’t mine. Fuck. I need to breathe, but fuck, the air doesn’t taste so sweet, shite. I don’t want it, fuck. I DON’T NEED IT, FUCK.

He was drowning, drowning, and he desperately wanted to drown. He wanted no part of this any longer. SHITE. His hands won’t stop shaking. His lips kept quivering. His lungs won’t cooperate, FUCK!!!

“DRACO!”  

Draco gasped, and he realised that everything except the seat he was in was floating, suspended in the air until Theo barged in, and he remembered how to breathe. Slowly, so very slowly, everything began to go down, and slowly, so very slowly , Draco learned to calm the frantic beating of his heart. He swept the tears falling from his eyes angrily. 

Theo didn’t approach him yet. He just stood there, and stared at him questioningly. Draco shook his head, and his friend nodded, understanding.

“Just fucking go, Nott,” he urged tersely, letting his lids fall as he bit the insides of his cheeks. He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to breathe slowly. When he heard no footsteps leaving, Draco opened his eyes and glared at him.

Nott a chance,” Theo said with a straight face. Or at least, he tried to say it with a straight face. He absolutely fucking failed, and Draco couldn’t help it.

He lost it.

A few seconds later, both of them were cackling and laughing just like the time when they were still little boys, just like the time when they were still not Slytherins and playing on the Manor grounds and poking fun at Blaise were good times, just like the time when all that mattered was whether or not Tornadoes would win the Quidditch world cup. Just like drinking firewhiskey during Potions when Snape didn’t look. Just like kissing people they didn’t care about at Three Broomsticks during Fifth Year. Just like passing notes to survive Professor Binn’s History exams while piss-faced as fuck and trying not to puke at Pansy and Daphne in front of them. Just  like changing the ending of the The Peverell Brothers each time more hilarious than the other as their mothers rolled their eyes fondly before.

Before a mark decided that their lives were easily trifled with. Where the horizon was narrow, and blood rushed through the silver waters. When everyone was a woolen plaything under the strings plucked by a deranged, old man.

Yet in spite of it all, it felt just like before.

Draco breathed more easily, and he didn’t look at Theo, but he did manage to say, “Good one, that.”

Theo snorted, but a genuine curl on his lips did appear at seeing his best friend gradually relax. “I was just breaking the tension , man. And also because I didn’t know how to tell you that a certain Gryffindor princess booked for AE tomorrow at 13h00, but whoever told you that, I can’t really remember, you know? So I’m merely trying to read what was written in the record book that was clearly not written by my hand, so do what you will with that infor-”

“Is it Granger?”

His friend rolled his eyes, crossing his arms. “Unless you’ve drunk up a Forgetfulness potion accidentally, and determinedly chose to not remember -actually, you know what, it would be better if you did, at least, you wouldn’t know I took the dark chocolates and a few bottles of firewhiskey you hid under your desk, and oops, it totally wasn’t me, man, but yeah, someone else dark-haired and dashing stole only a quarter of your stock to-”

Draco quickly transfigured another group of paper cranes from his Resolved pile and aimed them threateningly at Theo, who incendiod them quickly and shouted, “Fine , it’s Granger!”

“Oh, fuck!”

“Oh, fuck! indeed,” Theo mimicked him exaggeratedly, striking a dramatic pose with his hands over his forehead and chest. Draco felt like he would burst from all the madness, but he stopped himself in time. He knew what Nott was doing, cocky bastard, that, so he just settled for a ferocious glare towards him. Nott simply snorted, breaking his stance.

Draco sighed deeply, letting his back rest on the chair languidly. “Sorry,” he muttered, clutching his wand tightly, and then added more kindly, “Thank you.”

Theo smirked. “Cheers, brother dearest.”

A few seconds later, Theo found himself swearing profusely and swatting more paper cranes than he knew how to handle.

“Kindly fuck off ,” Draco sneered, shooing him away.

“Fuck you too, man,” Nott blurted playfully, raising two middle fingers. 

Once Theo left, Draco shut the door listlessly with a flick of his wand, and served himself a cup of firewhiskey. He made a mental note to create a particularly nefarious spell for his desk the next time Theo tried to do something witty. Then he remembered what the arse just said.

Fine, it’s Granger!

Granger, he thought, cringing as he recalled the last time he saw her.

It was just after passing N.E.W.T.s at Hogwarts, and she had nearly knocked him over at the Courtyard, carrying a pile of tomes in her arms. She was already inducted into the Wizengamot then, and she was about to reduce the items to fit in her bag so she wasn’t completely aware of him. Neither was he. He was busy looking up at the Astronomy Tower because he couldn’t help think about the memories that had resurfaced, and inevitably so, they had collided.

Her bag fell to the ground, and he was hit on the nose by her outrageously-sized forehead, but at least he got ahold of her before they could even fall unceremoniously. She had whispered, “ Git ”, and then Draco recalled who it was he bumped on, and found himself staring into golden eyes glaring at him. He apologised irritatedly (“ Sorry I didn’t use eyes, Granger, it was completely an accident between two blind people ”) and bolted away from her quickly.

It didn’t matter then what she would have thought, it never really mattered, but he was sure as hell not waiting to be hexed by one feisty Gryffindor, and a member of the Golden Trio at that.

And that was the last time he ever saw her in person. Of course, he heard of her through the Daily Prophet and through other Hogwarts alumni, but that was definitely… that.

He weaved a still shaking hand through his hair uncomfortably.

I’m going to get fucked royally. Salazar’s balls.

Shite.

Chapter Text

One day earlier…

 

“Ms Granger, kindly remember to have these cases sorted out for all of the Wizengamot’s to review. It’s needed by 13h00.”

 

I’ve it sorted already, if those buggers just checked their desks last week!

 

Also Mr Groundhorn expects the summary of the Mermaid Maladies case 11h00 of today, if you would please accomplish it promptly.”

 

Just a minute, will you? I’m still finalising the statistical report and merging it with the interviews my interns have transcribed carefully!

 

And one last thing, you have an urgent mes-”

 

“Mr Cormoran Harfleur,” Hermione articulated perfectly, her pitch higher than normal as she bit the insides of her cheek. The wizard fixed his frames nervously and stared apprehensively at her, waiting for her to speak. She gestured to the seat by her desk.

 

Sit ,” she ordered with a flick of her hand.

 

The auburn-haired wizard promptly followed and sat, gripping the sides of his chair. “Yes, Ms Granger?”

 

“Listen well and listen once, yes, Mr Harfleur?”

 

Cormoran, still nervous, only nodded quietly.

 

“First, you will tell the rest of the Wizengamot circle that I’ve sent the sorted cases from last month already. It has been stamped with a big red URGENT: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY , and delivered to their desks since last week . Whether or not their respective secretaries have followed it up with them, I do not know. You follow?” Hermione asked tersely, eyeing Groundhorn’s intern.

 

When Harfleur bobbed his head in assent, the witch locked her fingers tightly above the mess of papers that were scattered across the plane of her desk. “Second,” she continued, “you will tell Gilbert Groundhorn that he cannot expect it at 11h00 of today . He will, however, find it stamped red with MUST SEE URGENTLY by 11h00 of tomorrow. I am still organising the files, and I have a court matter to attend to with the Wizengamot after lunch. You, perhaps, understand the delay?”  

 

“Y-yes, Ms Granger,” Cormoran replied caustically, his eyes now locked on to the floor of her office.

 

Hermione nodded, and said more kindly this time, “Now, what was that urgent message you were saying?”

 

At this, the auburn-haired intern looked up confidently at her. “Minister Shacklebolt said he had to meet you right away.”

 

She arched her brow, searching Harfleur’s face for any trace of a joke, but there was none. “You couldn’t have told me that first?” she asked incredulously, trying not to panic, but out of habit, a trio of birds began to take form from her pile of scrolls.

 

“I-er, well, Ms Granger, sorry, I-”

 

Hermione looked at him warily, waving a hand to reverse transfigure the birds back into paper. “ Save it . Did the Minister even tell what for?”

 

Cormoran shook his head, and Hermione sighed. “All right, all right. I’ll run there,” she said, as she tapped at her desk to quickly re-assemble the mess of papers on her table into a neat pile. Then she spared the secretary a glance. “You can leave now, but don’t you forget what I told you, yes?”

 

“Yes,” he affirmed, and then hurriedly left her office.

 

Hermione sighed once more, and summoned her bag before reducing it to fit in her pocket. She stood, casting protective charms to safeguard her work, and then giving one last survey around her room, departed to meet the Minister of Magic in his office at the end of Basement Level One, which was just below their floor.

 

Upon arriving, Hermione knocked once before entering the threshold. She found Kingsley Shacklebolt, who had not minded her yet, haunched over scrolls. It looked as if he was busy making corrections, that is, if his frown and scrunched up brows were any indication.

 

Hermione Granger appreciated Kingsley Shacklebolt’s attention to detail, really. At least, when she would need feedback for her draft policy papers and case studies, she would receive plenty of pragmatic and logical suggestions. Which, if she was being honest, was more than she could ever get out of the Wizengamot circle.

 

The only flaw she could see with Shacklebolt was that the Minister was a little inclined to tradition with certain things, like, say, strategising for intra-departmental cooperation. She had once remarked that it was, perhaps, needed for team-buildings to occur between the Wizengamot and the Aurors to inspire more camaraderie and lessen animosity between staff members. Shacklebolt had agreed that it would be a good idea, and then had proceeded to slaughter her fanciful suggestion of office unity with a simple, “It’s not what they are used to, Hermione, as both Procter and Reignhook think it would disrupt the very careful lines that have been constructed between the Wizengamot and Aurors.”

 

When it appeared that Hermione could not persuade Kingsley to even table the discussion in the department meeting that followed, the witch decided to just give it up. She had simply gritted her teeth and kept her thoughts of camaraderie-building to herself since then. This is why communication in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is so, so terrible and horribly inefficient.

 

It’s ‘not what they’re used to’, she thought tersely, her hands balling into fists behind her. Please. It’s anything helpful to the greater good that they’re not used to. Merlin’s beard, these corrupt and imbecilic gits, this is why Voldemort succeeded in infiltrating this sacred office years ago-

 

Ah, Ms Granger, you’ve come at an opportune time,” Kingsley somberly greeted her, his deep voice interrupting her treason-worthy thoughts.

 

Hermione looked up, trying to contain the incarnadine rush across her face. She coughed awkwardly as the Minister bade her to sit. The witch sat down, interlocking her fingers on her lap. “Minister, you said you needed to meet with me right away?”

 

“Yes, Ms Granger.” Shacklebolt nodded, studying her for a few seconds. She did her best to maintain an impassive mien, and the Minister hmmed, casting a spell over the mountain of scrolls to be bound and marked with the Ministry of Magic’s insignia. He then levitated the pile to sit neatly on top of a table near a window. It was a few moments later when he asked, “Are you enjoying your work, so far?”

 

Safe to say, Hermione was taken aback.

 

She really did not know how to answer that question without sounding bitter and giving him an itemised list - and Morgana bless the list, it was indeed a very long list - of all the grievances she found unresolved within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. But she really didn’t want to think that it was just his fault that she has started to hate every minute of her job.

 

It wasn’t.

 

It was the long hours spent on mostly paperwork. It’s being disrespected and harrassed by the Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries and interns of other department heads in ministry parties and ministry meetings. It’s being belittled every chance by the other elder Wizengamot members could get because of her age , and if truth be told, her Muggleborn status. The war may have ended, but prejudice will always exist where money, power, and status reside.

 

Case in point, the Ministry .

 

She can’t even blame Harry for not being able to do anything because even if he was basically being moulded to become the next head of the Auror Department, Reignhook still treated him like a kid. If her friend hadn’t been charming and steadfast enough and treated with quite the celebrity status, she was sure the mousy-haired git would have done all he could to hex his way in ordering Potter around. Basically, he was threatened by the Boy Who Lived, and Percival Reignhook could do no harm against the Golden Boy of the British Wizarding World.

 

But that is neither here nor there. At the end of the day, although she and Harry and Ron achieved renown for their wartime efforts in ending that no-nose skinhead git of a wizard , they were still treated as ministry fodder. She will blast their head, Morgana help me!

 

She took a deep breath. Perhaps, she shouldn’t be so unfair.

 

I mean, I’ve learnt so much in terms of political maneuvering, and managerial leadership. I have health insurance with St. Mungo’s. And I’ve been earning more than most people my age ever since I got a raise upon my promotion a year ago, and I have 14 days of vacation leave and sick leave, so I really, really shouldn’t be so resentful of MLE.

 

Hermione felt a migraine coming. No, not felt. She was experiencing one.

 

She bit the inside of her cheeks, trying to still her magic from conjuring the crystals on the Minister’s desk into something. Probably birds. Or whatever. “Well, I-,” she started, trying to construct a polite reply, but before she could, the Minister grinned, shaking his head.

 

“Ms Granger, I’ve invited you here because someone wanted to see you,” Shacklebolt said, gesturing for someone - or something? - to move away from the shadows and into the light.

 

Arching a brow, she heard a soft purr until the unmistakable sound of someone performing a full reverse human transfiguration finally revealed a face she has not seen in months after she passed her N.E.W.T.s at Hogwarts.

 

“Professor McGonagall?” she said, astounded.

 


 

“Thank you, Minister Shacklebolt, for speaking with me today,” McGonagall said respectfully, and she eyed Hermione, who had still yet to cease her amazement at seeing her old head of house. “Good day, Ms Granger. I hear you have done quite well for yourself at the ministry. Would you care for a walk?”

 

Hermione cast a nervous glance at Kingsley, who made a shooing gesture at her. “Go, Ms Granger, I’ve instructed W.A.S . to not disturb you for the rest of the day, at least until 15h00,” he explained with a tight smile. “You will be allowed to have a discussion with the Headmistress. It is quite urgent.”

 

She nodded, and although she wondered why the Minister looked weird, she strode towards the door with McGonagall, who watched the scene impassively.

 

It must have been the trick of her eye, but when they left Kingsley’s office, the Headmistress of Hogwarts and the Minister of Magic eyed each other sternly. It was as if they were at a stalemate, a silent game of chess where both awaited the other to make a mistake, so the other can advance to the end. Hermione found it unnerving yet enthralling, to see authorities she has admired for so long become tense around each other.

 

There’s something amiss , and Hermione Jean Granger shall find out about it.

 

She decided to go for the difficult route, and stayed quiet, walking along in silence with the Headmistress of Hogwarts as they went to the lift and headed to the Atrium where the lifts and Floo stations were. They chose the one nearest the Fountain of Magical Brethren in Basement Level Eight and McGonagall took a fistful of powder and articulated clearly for “Three Broomsticks”.

 

Upon arriving at the location, Hermione and Professor McGonagall found the place teeming with students, who all stilled and became quiet at the sight of the two witches. The Headmistress of Hogwarts arched a lofty brow. “Well?” she asked.  “Don’t let me keep you from merry-making. You are out of school grounds. Carry on.”

 

The students promptly minded their own business again, drinking their butterbeers but Hermione felt the curiosity in their stares nonetheless. She had never felt comfortable being branded as one of the “Golden Trio”, or as a war heroine. She gritted her teeth, and balled her fists.

 

It didn’t matter anymore. She didn’t feel golden. She didn’t feel like she has left the war. She was still living it in the Ministry. Every day. And nothing was heroic about it. Her scar was a literal imprint of that. Everyone fibbed, and everything was a lie.

 

There was nothing golden about living in a minefield of society’s design.

 

A morally inept and eternally corrupt society, that.

 

“Ms Granger, I recall you have a particular proclivity for pumpkin pasties and butterbeer, yes?”

 

Once again, her thoughts were interrupted, and she glanced at her former Transfigurations professor. She nodded weakly, choosing not to speak. This time, she just really did not want to.

 

McGonagall cast a glance at her from the edge of her glasses, and it seemed as if she understood that Hermione was experiencing some sort of inner turmoil. “Madame,” she called the landlady, “if you could please wrap our packages, it would be much appreciated.”

 

Madame Rosmerta gave her a jovial smile, and tapped her wand over the meals to provide a heating charm and carefully concealed it with brown paper and poured their drinks in copper flasks before handing it to them. Hermione carried it, and muttered her thanks. McGonagall then led her out of the pub, and they started walking towards Hogwarts.

 

The sight of the restored castle in front of her in person made her heart feel light, and for a second, the world seemed soft and warm, and she was home again.

 

Home again , she thought, her lips curling fondly.

 


 

“You have been looking rather pale, Ms Granger,” Professor McGonagall noted, eyeing her as she sipped her butterbeer.

 

Hermione shrugged, putting down her cup and taking a slice of the pumpkin pastie. There were so many ways she could spin an answer to the question that the Headmistress did not ask. So many interesting tales she could tell.

 

But it had struck her, then, that the professor was trying to help her, and that this was not the Ministry. She had almost forgotten that no veneer had ever passed through undemolished by McGonagall’s frank stare.

 

And the words from a well-loved book flit by across her mind.

 

That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.

 

And the truth has always been about healing. And that was what she needed and that was what she denied herself at work. Truth .

 

So she let the wall crack, just a bit, and glanced at Professor McGonagall. “I have been very unhappy at work, that’s why,” she said simply, and the Headmistress nodded, understanding.  

 

“Have a biscuit, Ms Granger,” the professor offered kindly. She accepted it gratefully, and bit on one as she waited for the Headmistress to continue.

 

Professor McGonagall sipped her cup a little, eyeing the portrait of the previous headmaster, who was snoring contentedly. Finally at peace beyond the realm of this world.

 

Git got lucky.

 

Frowning, Hermione stilled her thoughts and tried not to envy the sleeping wizard. She then directed her focus to  the other portraits of the previous heads of Hogwarts before resuming to stare at the witch across her.

 

“It is no surprise that you have found the Ministry extremely lacking in finesse. They never have inclined to provide what they never had, and I hazard to think that that was precisely what was in the mind of Kingsley Shacklebolt when he hired you. Because you possessed it, and they did not ,” McGonagall surmised, and Hermione finally realised what the tension was about in the room earlier.

 

Professor McGonagall was gravely disappointed at how Shacklebolt has let old blood (or rather, old prejudices ) remain at one of the highest branches of the British Wizard government. Most particularly in the Wizengamot. Her office.

 

She hastened to agree, but guilt ceased her from assenting outrightly. She may hate the obvious corruption in the Ministry, but she could at least perform professional courtesy by keeping her thoughts in private. After all, she still represented the Ministry in name through the Wizengamot.

 

She decided then, that although she will be honest with the Headmistress about her personal feelings at work, she will still keep her mouth shut at detailing too much on the ongoings around there.

 

“It’s just like at school, except that this time, there are more consequences, consequences that could affect people very terribly in a wider scale,” she admitted that at least, transfiguring her copper flask into a small dove between her hands.

 

Hermione watched the little dove flap its wings between her hands before setting it free and continuing. “It’s as if people dislike progress,” she said tersely, her brows scrunching up in frustration.

 

McGonagall nodded, and then stood to beckon her to do the same. “You are truly one of the brightest this institution has ever had. If not the brightest,” she replied with a faint curl on her lips, walking away from her desk and leading them out of the office.

 

Hermione felt exuberant with the praise, but just the same, she found herself discombobulated. She had not uttered some wise adage or anything, had she? She was merely stating an observation. Shaking her head, she decided not to devalue the weight of McGonagall’s compliment to her. It would be the worst thing to do.

 

They then walked towards the Astronomy tower, and it was there that McGonagall began to speak again.

 

The Headmistress eyed her, saying as she laced her fingers together in front of her emerald robes, “You sound lost, it appears, Ms Granger, at finding this world you clearly are very devoted to run by blood and bonds. I’ve noticed it in the way you have become apprehensive at arriving to decisions, back in the Minister’s abode.”

 

For the second time this day, Hermione found herself taken aback and at a loss to respond.

 

At least, just for a second.

 

Truth is what her professor gave, and so too should truth be what she received.

 

“It feels like I’ve forgotten myself, Professor,” she said weakly, gripping the handle in front of her. “I feel like I never really survived it. I feel like it’s always within me, the war.”

 

The copper flask-turned-bird sat by her shoulder comfortably, and the sight of it made the two witches smile a little.

 

“I understand,” the Professor nodded, gazing at the expanse of the courtyard below them. McGonagall let her lids fall briefly, and a respectful silence fell between them.

 

For a while, it was like that, just the whole world becoming a whirl of the overture of trees, golden light, and the soft caress of the wind.

 

And Hermione remembered how it felt like to have a family.

 


 

“I presume, Ms Granger, that you have perhaps read of Mr Malfoy’s Anima Experience?” McGonagall arched a brow, after the moment of peace had passed.

 

Hermione has definitely heard of Draco Malfoy’s Anima Experience. For weeks, it had seemed all that Kingsley could talk about in the working luncheons they had at the Ministry. And the papers , oh dear, the Papers. She’s seen the very thorough feature by The Daily Prophet , the interview at sodding Witch Weekly , and the brief yet respectful column by Luna in Quibbler .

 

Then Harry had even mentioned it to her and Ron in passing one dinner at the Burrow. Their oldest friend had said, “It was a unique experience, and I’m glad I’ve tried it, even if I wasn’t assured by Malfoy’s presence at first.” And that was   a fortnight ago. Plus! She even received an owl from Viktor essaying his wonder and gratitude for “the Tornadoes fan brat”. And that was just last week. She suspected, however, that it would have arrived earlier, had the wizard not lived so far in Bulgaria. She was even supposed to be present at his awarding ceremony, but wasn’t able to because her desk was bloody piled up with case files. Blast Procter, really.

 

She had been sceptical at first, and a little… envious that Malfoy had created something so marvellous, especially when she read the Prophet on Sunday, but it really, really stung that he had achieved something so worthwhile whereas she was… basically doing Ministry fodder, in spite of being the youngest member of the Wizengamot. And he… what he did was so worthy of note that even the Headmistress mentioned it now . She clearly recalled that the professor had been amongst the ones who have commented on it.

 

“Proudly praised ”, she thought, remembering the wording from the feature.

 

“Yes, just a bit,” she replied, fidgeting with the buttons on her gray blazer, trying very hard not to sound bitter at the elder witch’s amazement of Draco’s work. The transfigured dove flew away behind them. “But what of it, Professor?”

 

“It’s a remarkable creation, and I’m greatly satisfied to see how Mr Malfoy has coped and done well for himself in spite of the war,” she remarked. “He has always been a talented wizard, not unlike you, Ms Granger.”

 

This was something that Hermione knew to be true, as she remembered being bullied by Malfoy for always falling in second behind her. Ah, the irony , she thought, her lips faintly curling at the memory of beating the most Pureblood kid back in their time. Literally and figuratively .

 

“I also recall that he was second after you in N.E.W.T.s after the war, and that was when I’ve read his essay. A brilliant composition, a very equal match for your treatise on the Schisms Beyond the Wars: A Comprehensive Study on the Impact of Blood Politics in British Muggle and Wizarding Societies After Two Wizarding Wars, ” McGonagall recalled, eyeing the fountain at the courtyard pensively.

 

“Thank you,” Hermione said awkwardly, wrinkling her nose, thankful for the praise yet feeling horribly inept given the impact of their respective essays today. Whether she liked it or not, Draco Malfoy had been able to do something concretely with his treatise while she had not.

 

It was times like these that she regretted not taking the offer to be part of the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. It was still an entry-level position in the Beasts Division, but it would have probably been more satisfying. She even got invited to join the International Magical Office of Law in the International Magical Cooperation.

 

What a life that might’ve been , she pouted, rubbing her cheek out of frustration.

 

The Headmistress of Hogwarts arched a brow, perhaps unused to her discomfort at being given praise. McGonagall chose not to comment on it, however, and hmmed. This time, she looked particularly morose as she gazed below again. “When Dumbledore died, and so did many others in these very halls, it had been hard to forgive anyone that had previously adhered to Pureblood supremacy,” she began.

 

Hermione glanced at her old head of house curiously. She had not used the term Death Eaters .

 

Interesting , and yet… it made so much sense.

 

After all, it was the root of all the horrid Wizarding Wars, and the discrimination against people of her status. That kind of ideology, as the trends revealed in her research had even extended to the discrimination of Half-bloods at school, the maltreatment of magical creatures, and oh, this pureblood hullabaloo , coupled with the desire for power and human inclination towards greed were what made up the bedrock of corruption in this very established society. It was systematically embedded, long before they were even born, and it dismayed her that she was well and truly paid to play along.

 

It disgusted her.

 

It incensed her that she thought she could change things.

 

How childish. How naive. How wrong of her to hope.

 

“...but it was wrong, frighteningly wrong to pin this on the innocent ones like you, and Harry, and even Mr Malfoy,” the Headmistress continued, and Hermione hastened to pay more attention, even as she felt the incarnadine rush across her face.

 

Professor McGonagall was in a sharing mood, and that happened quite so rare a time. She should focus, seriously. Damn it, that was embarrassing. Thankful that the Headmistress hadn’t chastised her for her divided attention, she turned her head to hear more clearly.

 

“Mr Malfoy was in a very unique situation, as I’m sure you’ve always known,” the Headmistress said, pausing to glance at her.

 

Hermione nodded, recalling the events that had occurred in Malfoy Manor. She had been in a daze then, greatly desperate to leave yet so weakened from being tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange. The mad witch had just carved the word Mudblood on her limb.

 

But it was clear to her that day that in spite of the images swimming in her vision, that Malfoy’s eternally sneering visage had grown disturbed and scared, and that he had tried to plead with his aunt to stop, even for a fleeting, sacred moment.   

 

And for that, since then, she had found it in herself a place for forgiveness. For how he used to be.

 

“Yes,” she replied softly, letting her lids fall for a bit and trying to remember how it felt to be destroyed so thoroughly beneath a moonless sky. She felt tears prickle within her, but she shook her head. “Yes, I’ve always known.”

 

“Harry and Ron never really understood it, why I fought vehemently against his sentencing to the Dementor’s Kiss at the Wizengamot,” Hermione continued, watching as the little dove approached her and landed on her open palm.

 

A faint curl rose on her lips, and she waved her hand to reverse transfigure the bird into a copper flask again. “It was too cruel and vindictive and just senseless . I felt like they hadn’t learned how the war came to be. They were too blinded then, so I made a plea to Reignhook, who was Acting Chief Warlock for Kingsley before Winston Procter took over, and he told me that he will see things first.”

 

At this, McGonagall nodded. “I may have had a hand in the matter,” the Headmistress confessed. At Hermione’s curious stare, the Professor explained. “One does not simply stand in the way of a mother’s love, Ms Granger. Mrs Malfoy had come to my office then, and had pleaded me to be in defense of her son.”

 

“And so you did.”

 

“And so I did, discreetly .”

 

Hermione distinctly remembered how formidable McGonagall could be as an enemy, once moved, and shuddered at imagining how Reignhook must have fared against the Headmistress of Hogwarts. The memory of her and Dolores Umbridge trading insults at the staircase in 5th Year made her lips curl into a smirk.

 

Totally demolished, that.

 

“But let us return to course,” McGonagall backtracked. “Mr Malfoy’s Anima Experience has been very helpful in furthering the progress of recently reformed Death Eaters. And a couple of patients in the Intensive Care Unit of St. Mungo’s. It has been a most successful experiment. I imagine it would achieve more in a few years, now that the Ministry has shown their support.”

 

“Professor, I’ve read that you’ve gone through it once,” Hermione said, trying to curb the envy that she felt. She know she should not be like this, especially since Malfoy had done a lot of good this time, if McGonagall’s praise of it were any indication. She bit the insides of her cheeks. Perhaps, she should learn more of it so she can understand it. “How was it like?”

 

She watched how the usually austere visage of the Headmistress softened, just a bit. “It was comforting.”

 

If Hermione was envious before, now , she wasn’t .

 

Instead, a furtive sense of admiration for Malfoy’s work grew, and with that, a newfound respect for him.

 

Hermione waited for the elder witch to continue, and stared at her old professor expectantly. McGonagall had a morose, faraway look in her eyes. The younger witch decided she’ll wait for a few moments and held the copper flask on her hand more tightly, studying the intricate swirls and glint of light that appeared as the sun hit the cool metal surface.

 

But the elder witch didn’t speak anymore, so Hermione surmised that her old head of house probably wasn’t prepared to discuss what she had seen in the AE.

 

“Professor,” she began slowly to move their conversation to another route, hoping to levy the sudden dip and austerity in the moment, “what was it you really wanted to talk to me about today?”

 

McGonagall gazed at her this time. “I hoped to have you as my Deputy Headmistress here, Miss Granger,” she replied plainly.

 

Hermione nearly blanched, gripping the hand railing tersely.

 

“I am getting old, as you can see, and although Mr Longbottom is doing well as House Head of Gryffindor, I need your vision and your spirit to run Hogwarts,” the elder witch said, pausing to eye her if she would respond.

 

Hermione swallowed hardly, and found her voice as she whispered, “In short, Professor, you need-”

 

“I need a dreamer ,” McGonagall nodded, pleased at her perceptiveness and turned towards her more fully.

 

Hermione gasped faintly, and stammered, “Erm, professor, but wha-”

 

“The Ministre? He is aware, and he has no power over you. It is yours to decide, and he and I have agreed to give you a month to choose which one you wish to pursue,” McGonagall supplied preemptively.

 

Hermione felt like she would burst. From indecision . She is gravely confused which one she really wanted to do.

 

“You have time, Miss Granger,” the Headmistress of Hogwarts said. “No one will be bitter from both sides, should you finally arrive at a conclusion. You need not worry.”

 

The younger witch nodded, not trusting herself to speak yet.

 

McGonagall bobbed her head in silent assurance, and Hermione realised that their meeting today had finally come to an end.

 

“Thank you, Professor,” she bid farewell, walking away slowly, lost in her thoughts.

 

Upon returning to her office at W.A.S. , she hurried to dress in the purple and sable court robes before going to the courtroom and join the proceedings with the rest of the Wizengamot.

 

Instinctively, she knew what to do as they went on with the legal protocols as the case whizzed by quickly ( it was a minor case on a young witch accidentally using magic in Muggle London ), but she strangely felt out of focus.

 

When the court matter had reached a lacklustre conclusion, Hermione  lifelessly strode back to her office to return her robes. She hurriedly arranged her files on her desk, and when she was done, she eyed the room around her.

 

Her office was quaint and contained the basic supplies she would require as she worked at the Wizengamot Administration Services. Her desk a simple mahogany table, and it was accompanied by a plush chair where she sat, and another seat in front for possible visitors. Behind her were glass boxes capturing her time in Hogwarts, and around it were shelves filled with various legal tomes.

 

She had tried to make it… livable .

 

To be a sort of refuge in the Ministry. To be somewhere she could breathe in spite of the precarious deadlines she had every day. To help her overcome the shell she had become after the war.

 

But it didn’t feel like that. It had never been like that.

 

She strode towards one of the glass boxes where it featured herself, Harry, and Ron back in Third Year. They were all smiling and hugging then. They had all looked hopeful and bright.

 

Hermione touched the edge of the picture hesitantly, not wanting to think about how she ended her relationship with Ron. She had told him that she was still unsure about settling down after the Battle because she was still hurting.

 

Ron said that he understood, but told her that it will feel terrible  for quite a time. She had said it was only fair, and that had been it. Two years later, he was busy with being part of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and just recently rekindled his intimacy with Lavender Brown.

 

He was at his peak while Hermione, well, she was nowhere .

 

Because although she told him how she wasn’t prepared for him, she hadn’t been honest about why she was hurting.

 

The truth was… well, when she looked at herself in the mirror, she no longer knew who was staring back.

 

And it had carried on and on and on.

 

It had been six years, and she just didn’t know who she was anymore.

 

It was still the same plain visage, her eyes were still the same boring shade of brown, and she still wore the same comfortable clothes as she had when they were teenagers. Only now, during weekdays, she opted for sleek business robes. In the colours of hickory, mauve, and rosewood. In that order.

 

She bit the insides of her cheeks and moved away from the frame, deflated.

 

I no longer know who I’ve become , she thought acridly, her hands balling into fists.

 

Then her eyes fell on the top of her desk, where the page featured the image of a person she had never considered asking help from before.

 

Draco Malfoy’s Anima Experience Aid In Magical Healing Progress Towards Mental Illness... , she held the newspaper, reading the headline silently.

 

An idea began to take root in her head, and before she could doubt herself, she ran to Level 8, and from there, flooed into her apartment at the heart of Muggle London.

 

Once she was settled, she hastily wrote a note down, and called for her owl. The barn owl chirped as it perched on her dinner table, and she gave it a treat she took from the cupboard before securing her letter on its left leg.

 

“Enjolras, take this to Les Bressins please,” she instructed, and the owl nipped at her finger fondly. She scratched its face softly, and with Enjolras appeased, it bowed and flew away to the open window in her kitchen.

 

Hermione tried not to fidget, but she found herself doing so, anyway.

 

If Professor McGonagall said it was good, I suppose there was no trouble in trying it…

 


 

Today…

 

Morning, Granger!” Theo Nott greeted her gregariously.

 

Hermione’s lips curled awkwardly, not entirely sure at how to respond to one of her former tormentors at school. But he seemed rather friendly enough, so she chose to do that as a well. “A pleasant morning to you, as well, Nott.”

 

“A morning it is, pleasant it is Nott ,” the Healer tutted, gesturing wildly over the mess on his desk. Hermione arched a brow at the pun he made, and seeing that he failed to elicit a laugh from her, shrugged.

 

“Ah well, I tried,” he huffed, standing up. “I suppose you’re here for AE, yes?”

 

Hermione nodded, waiting for him to lead the way.

 

Theo regarded her curiously, placing a fist below his chin. “You seem… less talkative these days, Granger.”

 

This time, Hermione shrugged. He was being a little nosy, and it irritated her a bit, but he wasn’t wrong, so never mind .

 

“Just tired from work,” she replied politely, giving him an awkward smile, and when he nodded like he understood, she eyed him more seriously. “Are you going to be the one to administer it?”

 

“Nah, but I’m training for it, in case Draco needs to be out for a while,” Theo explained conversationally as he gestured for her to follow him across the hallway. “It’s his specialty, so it’s our agreement that he be the one to do it for patients.”

 

“I see,” Hermione replied, and she observed how the walls leading to Malfoy’s office seemed bare except for the soft yellow lamps that lit the hallway.

 

When they reached the end, Theo knocked on the door thrice before shouting, “Oi, pissface, you’re patient is here!”

 

Hermione rolled her eyes at this. How particular.

 

A muffled reply that only the Healer seemed to understand made the former Slytherin nod his head. He turned to Hermione, and said, gesturing to the seat behind her, “Well, he’s in his lab, but he’ll be present shortly. I’ll leave you here to attend to my other duties, I hope you don’t mind.”

 

Hermione bobbed her head in assent, and watched him depart to the front of their office. She sat primly, drawing circles over the expanse of her gray cotton skirt, and tried not to fidget at the aspect of meeting her old en- schoolmate.

 

Yes, schoolmate. After all, they had been children together. Children who attended the same school, children who faced the same war from opposite sides, children who were launched into adulthood because the adults asked too much of them, children who were just scared and did what they only knew they could do, children who-

 

The door opened, and she looked up, her eyes taking in the distinctive visage of a person she previously thought nothing of before.  

 

“Granger,” he remarked breathlessly, his hand on the edge of the doorway.

 

“Malfoy,” she greeted, a catch in her voice.

 

His eyes traveled over her face, searching for something she could not discern, and for some reason, her mouth went a little dry.

 

Everything had become a haze of golden light meeting a silver sky.