“Go home and get some sleep.”
Her eyes blinked open, and she sat straighter on the wooden stool. “Don’t be silly. It’s only—” She glanced at the clock on the wall and stifled a groan. “—two-fifteen in the morning. Or—gods—is it afternoon?”
Hermione was as proud of her laboratory as a mother would be with her exceptionally bright child. Workbenches segmented the long, rectangular space. The most advanced scientific tools, both Muggle and magical, lined the immaculate countertops. Her office was situated at one end, directly opposite a storage space for their potions and ingredients.
The lab was bright, cool, and clean; the only thing it lacked was a window. She would often become disoriented, as she spent hours—sometimes even days—at a time in the laboratory facilities, never seeing sunlight.
“It’s an ungodly hour of the morning,” Draco admonished. “Go home.”
She held up a finger. “I think I’ve got it—almost,” she said, jumping off the stool to peek into the cauldron. “Just a few more minutes.”
Draco sauntered to her side. He leaned back against the workbench and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Do you think it will work?” he asked, sounding bored. His face was carefully blank—eyes lidded and lips set in a straight line. To the layman, he looked wholly uninvested in the brewing concoction.
Hermione had never been considered a layman, and after working for Draco—with, he always insisted—at his pharmaceutical company for six years, she knew better than to believe this display of nonchalance.
The knot of his tie hung loosely at his neck, and the top buttons of his shirt were undone, exposing the hollow between his collarbones. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. His hair was tousled as if he had been running his long fingers through it for hours. And his grey eyes snuck furtive glances at the potion’s curling steam.
“It will work,” Hermione said, infusing as much confidence in her tone as she could muster.
Draco released a drawn-out sigh. “I know,” he said quietly. “I just—I’m worried—”
She laid a hand on his forearm. “Me too. Both our careers are hanging on this. I won’t let us down.”
His gaze flicked to her. He gave her a brief nod before glancing at the clock. “But how are you going to test it? It’s Friday night—er, Saturday morning. We don’t have any volunteer test subjects—”
“I’ll do it,” she announced.
“The preliminary potions have all been cleared for safe ingestion,” Hermione reasoned. “We just need to test its efficacy.”
A bell chimed, and the fire under the pewter cauldron disappeared. They peeked at its contents. The fluid was as green and bright as shoots of grass in early spring; it smelled of mint and fresh, wet earth.
Hermione paced to the storage room. She grabbed a stoppered flask filled with a different potion, its mother-of-pearl sheen gleaming in the harsh light. Quickly, she returned to Draco’s side, thrusting the flask in his hand.
He immediately identified the potion; his eyes widened. “What are you doing?” His voice pitched with alarm.
“You need to prepare that so I can take it,” she said.
A hard and adamant emotion—irritation, or perhaps even anger—flashed in his eyes. “I’m not dosing you with Amortentia!”
“Well, one of us has to take it!” Her right hand planted itself on her hip and her left hand pointed at the cauldron. “How else are we going to test if the antidote works?!”
“I never thought I would say this, but,”—he shoved the flask of Amortentia in her hand—"Granger, that’s a stupid idea! We should test this potion on a willing subject—not on the head researcher!”
She pushed the flask against his abdomen—he complained with a soft ‘oofph!’—and said, “There’s no time. We don’t have volunteers scheduled until Monday morning, and the board of directors’ meeting is that afternoon. We can’t cut it that close—not with the board threatening to push you out and replace you with another CEO!” She sighed. “The only other potion in storage is Draught of Living Death—I suppose we can use that, instead—”
“No!” Draco grabbed her hand before she could retrieve it. His skin took on a sickly shade of pale. “I—I don’t think I can stand to—” He turned his face away, lips entrenched in a frown. His shoulders sagged, just a fraction, but enough that Hermione knew she was wearing him down.
“You’ve done a lot of good with this company,” she pressed.
Draco scoffed. “According to the board, I’m running this company into the ground.”
“Oh, no, don’t get me wrong. You’re definitely bad for this company,” she said with a teasing smile. “But you’re doing a lot of good with it. There aren’t many pharmaceutical companies willing to sell their products at razor-thin margins to keep healing potions accessible to the masses.”
A stubborn smile formed on his lips. “I should be raising prices,” he said. “The company is hardly turning a profit, and I can barely afford to keep you on the payroll.”
“You can’t afford me,” she said. “I’m worth way more than you’re actually paying me!” She stepped towards him and took the flask of Amortentia from his hands. “But I like working here, and we make a good team.” She held the flask between them. “So, if this is going to be our last project together—let’s make it count.”
Draco reached for the container, pausing before he took it from her grasp. He bit his lip. “I really don’t want to give you Amortentia.”
She shrugged. “Fine. Then you take it.”
A sardonic chuckle rose from his chest. “It’s not going to work on me,” he said coolly.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s a strong love potion. It works on everybody.”
“You shouldn’t prepare it for me,” he insisted. “It won’t work. I promise.”
She huffed, tamping down the bubble of irritation and disappointment welling up in her chest. “Then there’s no other choice,” she said. “Get the Amortentia ready for me while I take a baseline scan with the MRI.”
Before Draco could protest, Hermione marched to the far side of the laboratory where the tungsten cap gleamed under the fluorescent lights. Much like its Muggle counterpart, the Magical Resonance Imaging cap provided a visual of the subject’s brain, highlighting the most active parts.
Hermione waved her wand over the MRI, stating her name and the date. She placed the heavy cap on her head. It beeped, and a hologram of her brain began to form in front of her.
“Bollocks!” Draco hissed.
Hermione turned her head to where Draco was preparing the Amortentia. “What?”
“Bloody stopper won’t come out,” he muttered.
She chuckled. The cap beeped again, signaling the end of the scan. She heaved the MRI off her head and made her way back to Draco.
“Is it ready?” she asked, peering around his shoulder. The flask of Amortentia shimmered in the light; beside it, Draco had poured a vial of test-antidote. As she reached for the flask, his hand came down on her arm.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
She pulled her hand out of his grasp and raised the flask in the air. “Cheers,” she said with a saucy wink and then downed the contents in three gulps.
When she returned the flask to the bench, nothing seemed different. The light was a bit brighter, maybe—and there was a feeling of lightness—and then she simply felt wonderful.
Amortentia’s effect on her levels of dopamine, said the pragmatic voice in her head. A feel-good chemical, priming her brain to be susceptible to—
Draco cleared his throat. She zoned in on him like an eagle hunting a mouse through an open field. The corners of his lips turned down, and a dent marred the skin between his eyebrows.
Hermione hated that indentation—how dare it tarnish his perfect skin? She reached up and pressed her thumb against the offending wrinkle, smoothing it down as she traced over a pale eyebrow.
Draco’s mouth fell open, and he inhaled sharply. The movement drew her eyes to his lips—pink and moist and simply inviting.
She promptly accepted the invitation.
A surprised, unmanly squeak escaped his lips. Hermione felt it more than she heard it, as her lips pressed firmly against his. She stepped closer, narrowing the distance between them. His soft lips made her heady—the way his hands traced up her arms and over her shoulders—
With resolution, Draco pressed her shoulders away from him. A whimper absconded from her lips as he broke contact and stepped back.
She reached for him, but he kept her at arm’s length. “No,” he said, breathy but determined.
Hermione moaned. She folded her arms across her chest and stamped her foot. “Why?” she whined. With her mental faculties intact, Hermione was fully aware that she, an adult woman of many years, was acting like a petulant child—but, damn it, she was really enjoying herself! And, she could swear that he didn’t hate what they were doing—
Draco shook his head. “It’s just the potion,” he said, pushing her further away. “It’s messing with your head.”
“So?” Hermione admittedly knew balls about the art of seduction, but she hoped the smile she gave him was more coquettish and less…manic. “It’ll end after I take that antidote. So, why don’t we have a bit of fun while it’s still working? I feel so good right now—so relaxed.” She wiggled from his grasp and stepped towards him. Her eager palms explored the planes of his chest. “I could help you feel good, too. Merlin knows we both deserve it—”
Draco puffed air through his nose. With one hand, he grabbed the antidote vial from the workbench; his other hand wrapped around her wrist. He strode towards the MRI, dragging her in his wake. “Here,” he snapped, shoving the tungsten cap in her hands. “Take the bloody scan so I give you the fucking antidote.”
As she gazed down at the MRI, she blinked back hot tears that came in the heels of rejection. She swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded.
The MRI cap beeped and drew a holographic picture of her brain. Parts of it lit up like a torch. A cursory glance told her which ones were the most active—the ventral tegmental area, the amygdala, the hippocampus—the brain’s reward circuit. The parts that triggered in the presence of pleasure and affection and—
“Love,” Draco murmured, sounding awed as he gazed at the hologram. “This is your brain on love.” He frowned. “Well, the synthetic version of it—your brain on Amortentia.”
“It’s the same thing, chemically speaking,” she said. The cap beeped again, and the hologram faded away. She placed the MRI on the workbench and held a hand out. “Well?”
He handed her the vial. “Bottoms up,” he said.
With a frown, she released the cork stopper and drank the antidote.
Draco peered at her curiously. “How long until its full effect?”
Hermione glanced at the clock. “Should be about four to six hours.”
His gaze fell to the floor, and he fidgeted with the knot of his tie. “Do you really think it will work?”
She quirked an eyebrow in response. After rummaging through the nearest cabinet, she took out an empty flask and poured in the rest of the green fluid. Producing a label and quill from a drawer, she wrote ‘All-Purpose Antidote by Dr. Hermione Granger’ and plastered it on the glass. “There,” she said, beaming. “I’m so confident that this antidote works that I give it the Granger Stamp of Approval.”
Draco laughed. “Good. Let’s hope it works. Now go home and get some sleep.” A smirk pulled up his expression. “I’d offer to escort you to your flat, but I’m afraid you might jump me.”
“Har har,” she said, rolling her eyes and slapping his chest with the back of her hand as she walked past him. “Don’t worry, Amortentia didn’t make me stupid. I still remember how to use the Floo.”
“’Love makes fools of us all,’ Granger.” Draco caught up to her as she entered her office. “Or are you saying Shakespeare was wrong?”
“He wasn’t wrong,” she replied, “but he wasn’t dealing with Amortentia, either—that we know of.”
“Right,” Draco muttered. He cleared his throat. “Should I come by in the morning?”
Hermione nodded. “Should be safe for you to stop by around half-eight.” She threw Floo powder in the hearth and gave him a wink. “Unless you want to come by earlier if you’re feeling frisky in the morning?”
He rolled his eyes, lightly propelling her towards the Floo. “Get your arse to bed, Granger.”
“Oh, see?” she said. “Now, I’ve got you thinking about my arse!” She stepped into the green flames, sashaying her hips theatrically.
His laughter stayed with her as she Floo’ed home.
When she returned to the land of the conscious that Saturday morning, the sun was fast approaching its zenith. The light hit the blinds at a sharp angle, and she stared at the resulting parallel patterns on the floor as she assessed herself.
Nothing felt different. She pictured Draco as she usually saw him, dressed in a charcoal suit, striding through the hallway as he rushed from meetings to conferences. Feelings surged through her chest—pride and respect at the tireless way he ran his company.
Whenever he could get away, he hid in the laboratories to indulge in his first love—potions. He would often seek refuge at her side, hiding from his assistants and secretaries to fiddle with the newest gadgets and consult in the latest projects. While he kept up appearances at the executive offices, down in the labs, he took his jacket off and rolled up his sleeves. He would often remove his tie and loosen his collar, and whenever he worked at a station, peering into a cauldron to think through a problem, he would bite his bottom lip and—
The Floo roared downstairs, and she shot out of bed. As she hurried down the stairs, he stepped out of the fireplace. His hair was still damp from the shower, and his slate shirt clung to his broad shoulders and lean, toned biceps. When he saw her, his grey eyes warmed, and a lazy morning smile grew on his lips.
Her steps slowed down—and her heart raced. Heat spread from the center of her chest to her bare toes. She was so distracted by the sight of him that her foot missed the edge of the last step. She reached out for the banister, stopping herself from falling face-first on the ground.
“Granger!” Draco hurried over and steadied her. “Are you okay?”
She took a deep breath and was immediately overcome with an enticing mix of fragrance—the crispness of Draco’s spearmint toothpaste and faint citrus and spice undertones of his cologne. She fought the urge to lean into him for another whiff.
She glanced up at his worried face. “Fuck,” she muttered, a frown tugging her lips down. “I don’t think it worked.”
Hermione avoided the clock on the wall, focused as she was on the fifth batch of antidote for the day. She mixed the contents slowly, counting the number of counterclockwise strokes under her breath.
Slumped beside her on a stool, Draco groaned. “I shouldn’t have let you take that potion,” he muttered. His elbows were planted on the workbench, and his temples were cradled in his hands.
Hermione snorted. “’Let me?’” she grumbled.
“I should have stopped you, then,” Draco amended as his eyes rolled heavenward. “Bloody stubborn witch! The antidote doesn’t work and now you’re all hopped up on Amortentia!”
She paused and rooted a fist on her hip as she glared at him. “I’m hardly mooning over you, am I? Which means that the antidote is somewhat effective—it just needs to be tweaked. So calm the hell down and make yourself useful while I finish this batch.” She pointed to the MRI. “Print a report of my scans, will you? I need to compile the data.”
With a defeated sigh, he got up and tampered with the MRI. After a few minutes, Draco shuffled over and tossed down a stack of papers on the workbench.
“Thanks,” she murmured. She adjusted the heat under the cauldron, letting it simmer as she picked through the reports. The topmost data, taken as soon as they came back to the laboratory that morning, indicated increased activity levels in the prefrontal cortex and the caudate nucleus—a pattern suggesting that the Amortentia was still active in her system.
She flipped over to the scan right after she ingested Amortentia. The brain activity followed a similar pattern as the scan from this morning, although at more intense resonance. She turned to the last report, which showed her baseline scan.
“Wait a minute,” she said. She rifled through the report again to compare the first and last scans. “You must have printed this morning’s scan twice. I need a copy of the baseline from last night.”
Draco groaned. “I can’t make heads or tails of that thing.” Once again, he wilted on the seat, planting his elbows on his thighs. He combed his fingers through his hair, tousling his blond locks in an appealing mess she both envied and adored.
When he sat on the stool like this, their heads were level; without thinking, she reached over and swept a lock off his forehead. Her adventurous fingers traced along the side of his face.
“Hermione,” he whispered, capturing her hand as she cupped his cheek. Lightly, his thumb caressed her knuckles.
She was drawn to his gaze like a magnet to steel, and there was something in his eyes—something hot and tantalizing and overwhelming. Then it was quickly buried under an expression she was all too familiar with—disappointment.
Her hand fell to her side.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” she said, taking a shaky step back. “It’s just the potion. I’m sorry.”
His lips parted, and his shoulders sagged like a deflating balloon. The stool’s legs squealed as he pushed back and stood up. “Not your fault,” he said. He gathered his paperwork and shoved them in his briefcase. “I think I’ll work up in my office for a while. Will you be all right?” he asked as he avoided her eyes.
“Y—yeah,” she said. She bit her lip as he wordlessly packed up his belongings and strode out of the lab.
It was Sunday evening by the time Hermione saw him again.
She knocked on the door to his office. She opened it and peeked inside. “Hey,” she said quietly.
He sat on the leather chair behind his desk, his arm propped up on an armrest. He held a crystal tumbler in his hand, filled with two fingers of amber liquid. The room was dark, save for the single lamp on his desk. The soft yellow light bathed Draco’s face in golden hues, and he looked like a Renaissance painting done by the hand of a master—a poignant and somber work of art.
Hermione stepped inside and closed the door. His eyes followed her as she crossed his spacious office, her heels clicking on the Italian tile. The smell of Firewhisky grew stronger as she neared him.
“Any luck?” he asked flatly.
She pressed her lips in a melancholy smile and shook her head.
He released a heavy sigh. “The journals I marked up didn’t help?”
Hermione reached his side of the desk, leaning back against the hard edge as she faced him. “Not really,” she admitted.
He nodded once. He brought the crystal to his lips and knocked the contents back in one gulp. As he slammed the tumbler on the wooden surface, his gaze wandered the expansive office. “You know, this is the first room I ever decorated on my own,” he said. “Everything at the Manor has been there for generations—just moved around or switched out with other things from storage. Anything from this century had been bought by Mother. This,”—he tapped his fingers on the desk—"I chose this. This lamp. This chair. That leather sofa by the door. Each little piece, I chose with care, and I found a place for it in this room. I built this company up from the ground—without help from my father or his connections. It’s mine.” His tone sharpened, and fire burned behind his eyes. “It’s the first good thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it’s mine.” He steepled his fingers in front of his lips. “Until tomorrow, when the board of directors meets, and I have to tell them I couldn’t deliver on this antidote.”
Unable to stand his wretched expression, Hermione glanced away. “I’ve failed you,” she whispered.
His fingers wrapped around her wrist, pulling her slowly towards him. She gave him a questioning look, then let herself be guided to stand in front of him. There was a tingle up her spine as she gazed down, tenderness written on his handsome features. “Never,” he whispered back. He turned her wrist over, exposing its pale underside. His lips pressed against her skin where her pulse bounded.
It wasn’t until he gently pulled her down to his lap that she was aware she stopped breathing. She forced air into her lungs—it must not have been enough because she felt faint. She let her weight settle on his thighs.
“Do you want to know what I was thinking about before you came in?” he asked. “Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll likely be kicked out of my own company. But tomorrow night…I could start over. This office, the labs, this building,”—as he spoke, his thumb traced along her cheekbone, then down her cheek and over her jawline until it rested lightly on her bottom lip—"As long as you’re with me, I’d do it all over again.”
She felt incredibly lightheaded—whether from his words or the feel of his skin on her lips or the way he stared at her, his eyes filled with hope and longing.
Hermione wanted to say that she would do it—that she would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him as they rebuilt his company. She wanted to say that she wouldn’t rest until he got it all back, his own little kingdom where knowledge and advancement and good intentions ruled.
She couldn’t say anything, though—not while her lips were pressed against his, her tongue too busy tasting him to form any coherent sound.
His fingers plunged into her curls, his blunt nails lightly scratching her scalp. His hand trailed languorously to the back of her neck and down her spine until it reached her hip. Then, his hands caressed the curve of her arse.
He stood up, lifting her with him. He placed her on the edge of the desk, and he stepped into the space between her thighs.
Finally, he released her lips, and she had a moment of clarity—but his lips found a sensitive spot just under her earlobe, and she plunged back into a pleasure-filled haze.
She might have moaned his name or whimpered, ‘Yes, gods, yes.’ It was all unclear. She was merely a bundle of receptors, writhing at the velvety touch of his lips, the sharp graze of his teeth, and the broad strokes of his tongue. All she could do was bunch her fingers in the fabric over his shoulder blades and succumb to the pleasure of his ministrations.
“Hermione,” he growled as he nuzzled her neck just under her jawline. “I want you so much.” To prove his point, he pressed forward—and she felt the evidence of his desire against her own arousal. “But we can’t do this. Not while you’re still under Amortentia.”
She groaned. “But, I want you, too—”
He moaned as though in pain. “Gods, I really hope you feel the same way when that blasted potion’s out of your system.” With a heavy sigh, he took a step back and put a cushion of space between them. He took her hand and kissed the top of her knuckles. “I promise you, when it’s completely flushed out, I’ll make it up to you.”
She worked to steady her breathing. “Promise?”
Draco leaned down, planting a soft kiss on her cheek before whispering in her ear, “By the time I’m done, I’m going to make Amortentia feel like a dime-store love potion.”
Her heart raced in anticipation.
Hermione arrived at the laboratory much later than she usually would on a Monday. She glanced at the clock—ten-thirty in the morning. The board meeting would begin in a few hours.
She ambled towards her office, her mind busy drafting her letter of resignation.
“Dr. Granger!” Gordon, a bright-eyed, young researcher waved her over. “Congratulations!”
Her mouth fell open, surprised that word about her and Draco’s possible new enterprise had already reached others. With trepidation, she approached Gordon. “Congratulations on what?” she asked.
Astonishment grew on Gordon’ face. “On making the All-Purpose Antidote, of course! Mr. Malfoy must be chuffed!” Hermione raised an eyebrow as Gordon continued. “I came in early this morning and found the potion you labeled. I used it on our volunteer subjects—with one hundred percent efficacy on Amortentia and Draught of Living Death! I’m brewing other potions to test, but I’m confident your antidote will work as a cure-all!”
Hermione shook her head. “No. No,” she said as she took the flask she marked as ‘All-Purpose Antidote’ from the workbench. “I tested this on myself over the weekend. It doesn’t work—”
Gordon looked at her incredulously. “I saw your report! It does work, your brain scan returned to baseline—” He handed her the report she had tossed at the end of the bench.
Hermione flipped through the pages. “No, there’s a mistake—“ She flipped to the report of her baseline scan, which was identical to the one taken the morning after she took the antidote. “See?” She pointed to the baseline report. “This is a duplicate—” Her eyes caught the faint, minuscule print along the edge of the report—the date and time the scan had been taken.
“Oh, gods,” she said faintly as she felt the blood drain from her face. “I’m an idiot.” She grabbed Gordon by the shoulder. “Show me the rest of your results.”
With a bang, she burst into the conference room. Thirteen pairs of eyes turned in her direction; she ignored all but the pair of grey eyes on the other side of the room.
Draco stood at the head of the conference table, his face a stoic mask. “Dr. Granger,” he said. “I was just about to inform the board of our results on the cure-all.”
“Oh, good,” she breathed, rushing to his side. “I wanted to be here to tell them myself how successful we were.”
The corner of his lips twitched. “Right,” he murmured. She gave him an encouraging nod, so he continued. “Yes,” he boasted, turning to the board directors. “We were able to concoct the potion with significant efficacy.” He glanced at her and raised an eyebrow. “And, if the board permits, our head researcher Dr. Granger will take over and tell you more about it.”
Without missing a beat, Hermione launched into a lecture, handing out reports of the volunteer subjects from that morning. Draco sat back and listened silently as she expounded on the potion that would put their company ahead of the field.
She entered his office later that evening.
Draco’s back was to the door as he gazed out the window. He turned around at the sound of her footsteps. “My hero,” he said, offering her a lopsided smile.
Hermione chuckled. “What can I say? I’m a sucker for a damoiseau in distress.”
His gaze stayed on her as she stopped at his side and peeked through the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Diagon Alley. “Thank you,” he murmured.
She shrugged. “You don’t have to thank me. You’re an important part of this company.”
“No, Granger,” he said. His earnest tone caught her attention, and she glanced at him. “Thank you for staying by my side through all of this.”
Hermione gave him a shy smile. Together, they gazed out of the window, admiring the mild sunset over the busy street.
“I read over the report,” he said after several minutes of silence. When she didn’t respond, he prodded. “Your baseline scan…shows the same activity patterns as someone under the influence of Amortentia.”
A blush crept over her cheeks. “It would seem so.” She corrected, “At least, when you’re around.”
“Hmm.” He reached over and grabbed her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers. “So, that’s what that swotty brain looks like,” he teased, “when it’s high on Draco Malfoy.”
She opened her mouth to gripe—but he tugged on her hand and pulled her into his arms. She felt lightheaded, once again, as he leaned down and captured her lips in a kiss—but she certain, this time, that it was a natural high.