A Return of Wolves
"Miss Granger!" Professor Slughorn was equally pleased and surprised to find the Gryffindor witch still toiling away in the potions laboratory. But it was getting rather late; he really hoped the poor thing had returned here after dinner, rather than having worked straight through the meal. With Hermione Granger, it could quite easily be the latter.
"Oh." She glanced up from her work for only a moment, speaking as she returned her attention to the beaker before her. "I'm sorry, Professor. I didn't mean to startle you."
The young woman was so absorbed in her efforts, he could not help but think back on the question he'd asked her upon first learning her name—if she might not be related to Hector Dagworth-Granger, founder of The Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers. Of course, she hadn't the foggiest idea if she were and dismissed the notion. As most Muggle-borns weren't familiar with the long-forgotten Wizarding ancestry, Horace couldn't say he was much surprised at her denial of the possibility.
"Whatever are you toiling away at so very early in the year?"
"Oh, well, it's mostly just calculations, now, with a few experimental concoctions, of course," she said with a shrug as the stout man crossed the room the stand beside her workstation. "But, I suppose I won't have to explain to you what you're looking at."
Nodding, he scanned her scrolls spread across the table with his gaze. For several moments, he chewed at his lower lip in thought. The longer he examined her work, the higher his brows climbed his forehead.
"An all-purpose rejuvenating potion? This is an extraordinary idea, Miss Granger." Straightening up, he scratched his head. "Though, I have to tell you, you'd not be the first to consider creating such a thing. But, I dare say, there's a fairly good chance you might be the first one to get it to work."
"Well, yes, yes," she said, her tone breathless in her excitement. "I'm aware. You see, logic would dictate that in order to create a potion that would heal any sort of injury—burns, broken bones, bruises, cuts—one would need to simply combine the individual potions which treat those individual injuries."
The professor shrugged. "The problem with combining fully-realized potions is that some of the ingredients may counteract one another, or worse, catalyze one another into some combustible effect."
"Exactly!" Hermione held up a finger, grinning. "So, the obvious answer is to establish which ingredients don't counteract, or catalyze, one another, and to either alter the amounts necessary to still be effective without causing a negative reaction, or find non-reactive ingredients that can substitute for the problematic ones."
Horace's face fell in shock. Of course she was correct, and it was so simple! "My word."
She found it incredibly difficult to control her excitement, now. "So you think I could really be on to something?"
"Yes, yes I do!" However, just watching her expression brighten with her currently bubbly demeanor reminded him how tired he was. Luckily, he knew he could trust her, of allstudents, not to blow up his laboratory if left unattended. "I'll not keep you from your research, then, Miss Granger. I'll be honored to look over your notes, should you ever have questions and, of course, you're welcome to use this room, or my potions stores when you have need. Though, I would prefer if you let Professor McGonagall know of your . . . project, as well."
"Of course, I'll try to speak to her tomorrow about it. Thank you, Professor. Goodnight."
As she returned to her work, the professor bid her goodnight and headed off to his quarters. Given what he'd just witnessed, he'd be damned surprised to learn she didn'thave some of Hector Dagworth-Granger's blood in her veins.
Hermione gave her head a shake. The words before her were beginning to run together. Damn, what she wouldn't give for a cup of coffee, right now. A strong one.
But, she knew better. She could feel how late it was, despite that this was a basement room, with no windows to allow her to see just how high the moon was in the sky. She desperately wanted to keep working, but she understood that if she kept on like this, she might make a mistake.
And it was hardly as though there was a rush on this self-assigned project.
Allowing herself a yawn, she stretched and stood from her stool. There was all of eighth year for her to perfect this potion. She had something, now, the last seven years had not always afforded her—time.
She carefully cleared her work station, shuffling her scrolls into her bag and replacing her unused potions ingredients in their proper containers. Exiting the dungeon laboratory as quietly as she could, she withdrew her wand, igniting the tip to help her along the darker corridors.
When she spoke to Professor McGonagall tomorrow, she would also have to thank her for allowing 'War Heroes,' such as herself, greater freedom of movement on the school grounds. She'd never have the time or freedom to work on her potion if she had to worry about keeping to curfew.
She started up the staircase that led to the ground floor of the castle from the Slytherin dungeons. Honestly, she felt relieved as she noticed the first strains of moonlight slicing across the night-darkened Main Hall when she reached the top step.
Even in the bright, airy illumination of morning, she would've found herself unsettled being down there alone. Uttering a scoffing sound, she shook her head. "Afraid of the dungeons? Oh, yes! Some War Hero you are, Hermione."
Snickering at herself, she started across the floor toward the landing of the central staircase.
That was when she heard it. The sound raised the fine hairs on the back of her neck and caused a tight coil of unease to wind in the pit of her stomach.
Swallowing hard, she looked toward the nearest of the Main Hall's enormous windows. It hadn't been her imagination. The light pouring through had been bright . . . because a full moon hung in the sky.
Hearing the sound, once more, she blinked hard, ignoring the stinging in the tip of her nose.
Howling . . . . She'd not been fearful of werewolves—at least not anymore than anyone else, she supposed—before the War, but now? After Fenrir Greyback's attempts to claim her as his during the War, the sound of a werewolf's howl splitting the night filled her with dread.
But all the werewolves inhabiting the Forbidden Forest had either died in the War, or fled out of fear of being captured and sent to Azkaban for siding with Voldemort. There were no more of them residing in the woods on the school grounds—Firenze had assured the school staff of that.
She waited, listening. Not just for more noises from the Forest, but from any within the castle. For anyone whose sleep might've been disturbed by the howls.
If there were no resident werewolves, then . . . . Forcing a gulp down her throat, she could not seem to stop herself from drawing closer to the window. Peering out into the distant treeline, she exhaled sharply.
If there were no resident werewolves, then that howling could only mean the werewolf she was hearing was someone from the school. And she was the only one awake to hear it.
Hermione tightened her grip on her wand. She'd been through too bloody much to let fear rule her. She was going to take control of this situation by finding out who the werewolf in their midst was. She was going to see their face by the cold light of morning, and prove to herself there wasn't anything to fear. This didn't have to be another Fenrir Greyback.
Nodding to herself, she swallowed hard. This might be another Remus Lupin, and she could not let her fright rule her while someone might need help.
There were a few hours, still, until sunrise, but she wouldn't be able to sleep, now, anyway. No. Now was the time to set a trap, and catch herself a werewolf.
He was weary, beaten-feeling, as he dragged himself back to the castle. He knew this was the alternative that would keep him from getting sickly, as Remus Lupin had been. Not that he could see much difference between himself and the one-time professor, now. Lean and scarred and tired.
He dearly hoped this . . . other route was worth feeling like this level of hell the next morning.
Drained as he was, he didn't notice the flicker of energy surrounding the boundary of the school grounds. It was still early enough that he could crawl into bed and manage an hour of sleep before faculty and students woke up and started their day, and that was all he could think about—letting his exhausted body rest.
A blissful hour of nothingness . . . . He was so distracted with the pretty daydream of slumber, he didn't feel the faint crackle as he stepped through the muted line of energy—the magical equivalent of a tripwire, the caster would later tell him.
He whirled so fast to face the distinct popping sound of someone coming out of Apparition right behind him that it made his weary head spin.
Swallowing down a wave of nausea that accompanied the dizziness, he squeezed his eyes shut. In an attempt to steady himself, he pressed the heel of one palm against his forehead.
Merlin's greying fucking beard! This was worse than the morning after he—a mere eight years old at the time—had sneaked some of his mother's Fairy Draught Wine.
Oh, God, no! He recognized that voice—especially when shrieked at him in an accusatory tone. "Granger?" Giving his head a shake, he forced open his eyes.
She stared at him, her chestnut eyes wide in disbelief as her wandarm fell limp at her side.
With another gulp, he scrambled for something to say. "I—I don't know what you think I was up to last night, but it's not—"
"You're a werewolf?!" she asked in a shouted whisper.
Draco's entire frame seemed to slump as he blinked down at her. "Oh." He gave wobbly nod as he processed her question. "It . . . it is what you think. How did you—?"
"I was working late last night and I heard you howling," as she spoke, she looked him over. Now that she knew who the werewolf was, her fear had all but vanished; he was a mess, appearing as though he'd spent the entire evening wrestling with a bramble bush. "You look terrible."
His face draining of what little color had been there, he glanced down at himself. "I think I don't look half-bad, all things considered."
"Don't be ridiculous, you're a mess." Quite without thought, she stepped up beside him and looped her arm through his. "I'm taking you to the hospital wing."
He pulled out of her loose grip with a sudden, unexpected burst of energy. "No. No, you can't! Madame Pomfrey will—she'll figure out what I am and I'll be thrown out of school. All of Wizarding Britain will know by tomorrow morning!"
"Draco, you're not in any condition to—"
Hermione drew in a deep breath through her nostrils and exhaled slow. Maybe . . . maybe they could help one another. He needed patching up before breakfast, and she wanted to know how this had happened to him. Maybe, if she patched him up, he'd be willing to share his story.
"All right, c'mon."
His brows shot up into the fringe of pale hair hanging over his forehead as the witch started off, and thoughtlessly reached back, slipping her hand into his. Tugged along behind her on sluggish footfalls, Draco shook his head, mildly confused. "Where are we going? It'd better not be the hospital wing. I just said—"
"No, no. You've made your stance on that quite clear." She trooped him back into the Main Hall, pausing to listen for any sounds from the other levels of the castle. Assured they were the only ones awake—aside from Peeves snickering somewhere, no doubt over some minor calamity, timed to happen when the corridors filled with students in a little while—she continued dragging him toward the staircase that led to the dungeons.
She sighed. "Yes, Malfoy?"
"Where are we going?"
"The potions laboratory. I was . . . working on something that might help you. At least with the superficial injuries."
"Well," he said under his breath as they descended the staircase, "that's strangely convenient."
"Don't be snarky, Malfoy. In fact, just be quiet. Let's try not to wake the professor. Can't think of how to explain to him why you nearly look as though you ran face-first into the Whomping Willow."
Draco paused as they reached the dungeon floor. Their hands still clasped, his sudden halt inadvertently forced Hermione to turn and face him.
"What?" she asked, her eyebrows pinching together.
"Why don't we?"
Her pinched brows raised. "Why don't we what?"
"Blame it on the Whomping Willow."
Sighing, she turned back around, tugging him along once more. "If you're going to do this to yourself every full moon, then perhaps we should save that excuse for when you actually do look like you've run into it, not just nearly."
Watching the back of her head as they continued down the corridor, he nodded. "Fair point."
"I got in Greyback's way at some point during the Battle of Hogwarts. It's all a bit fuzzy in hindsight." Draco sighed, shrugging. "I think that's enough said on that. I've been putting up with this ever since. I think he's the only werewolf who can bite someone when it's not a full moon, and still pass along his curse."
"I'm pretty sure you're right. He does seem a special case; more beast than man on a regular basis, that one. Open your robes, please."
Hermione glanced over her shoulder at him and rolled her eyes. "So I can see how bad it is? And no doubt, you'll have some scrapes and bruises where you can't reach, anyway."
"Oh, o'course. Sorry." His words were followed by the rustling of fabric.
"I still don't understand," she said, shaking her head as she finished mixing an upgraded version of the Weasley brothers' bruise paste. The essence of dittany was already prepared, cuts first, bruises second she'd decided. "Why aren't you simply taking a wolfsbane potion to stop the transformations?"
"Well . . . that was Mother's research into the matter. Father doesn't know, but my mother came to understand the difference between Greyback and . . . ." Realizing the man he was about to mention was her friend—her dead friend—he rerouted. "And some other werewolves, was that Greyback was so strong because he embraced what he was. Those who fight it, well, you've seen how the curse beats them up. Whittling away their health and their life."
Hermione's shoulders slumped as she thought of Remus. Always so exhausted, always seeming as though he was just on the edge of coming down with some illness or another. Swallowing hard, she nodded. She wouldn't comment that she recognized his leaving Remus' name out of the discussion. There was too much to wrap her head around with him simply being that kind that she couldn't think of what to say about it, anyway.
"So, we devised a way for me to embrace the wolf without endangering anyone. Before the moon rises, I just . . . go into the Forest, ward the area around me and hide my wand. When the change comes, I'm trapped. Once I'm myself in the morning, I find my wand, dispel the ward, and stumble back. I didn't expect I'd be such a mess. The Forbidden Forest is far more dangerous ground than the woods behind my family's manor, apparently."
She snickered, uncapping the essence of dittany and taking up the dropper in her free hand. "That hadn't occurred to you beforehand?"
Draco actually laughed. "I know it seems it should've, but I suppose I simply wasn't thinking beyond this being the first full moon of the school year."
"That's strangely commendable, especially given the source."
When she turned to examine him for injuries, she couldn't help but pause. Draco Malfoy was . . . . Was . . . .
His grey eyes shot wide as he dropped his gaze to look himself over. "Dear Merlin, is it that bad?"
"No, no." I just wasn't expecting you to look like that. She'd always thought he'd be thin beneath his robes, given his slender stature, but he was wiry. Long, lean muscles that had her forcing a gulp down her throat. "I just don't think I was ever expecting to be in the same room with you while you're in any state of undress. It's kind of funny."
He laughed, nodding. "I'll say it. Knowing you has been a strange time in my life, Granger."
"I could say the same about you, Malfoy. Turn 'round, we'll start with your back."
Nodding again, he pivoted, putting his back to her. Hermione swallowed hard, once more, her gaze trailing over the lines of his shoulder blades before she started applying the dittany.
He let out a hissing breath. "That stings."
"You're a werewolf, and you're complaining about a little dittany?"
"To be fair, I am still new at this." Draco winced, but kept any further sounds of discomfort to himself. "Listen, Granger?"
"Hmm?" Finishing up with the cuts, she set down the vial and dropper and picked the bruise paste.
"You're not going to tell anyone about me, are you?"
"I don't see why I should. Your first priority seems to be protecting others from your curse, so . . . . As long as you don't pose a danger to anyone, I've no reason to tell." She could only think of Sirius and James, going so far as to become illegal Animagi to keep up with Remus, to keep his secret.
She and Draco were hardly friends, but he was trying to do the right thing, and that had to count for something.
"Thank you. But, um . . . ."
Leaning around his shoulder, she met his gaze. "Um . . . ?"
"Do you think . . . if I need your help like this again . . . ?"
"Turn around, please," she said, her tone mildly exasperated.
He did as instructed holding up his arms so she could easily spot any bruises or scrapes that might run along his sides. His gaze averted, he tried very hard not to look at her as she leaned close to his bare chest, administering the healing concoctions.
There was the strangest inclination to hold his breath. He knew he must be imagining the unfamiliar flicker of warm energy between them.
"You haven't answered me, Granger."
Hermione chewed at her lower lip a moment, trying not to think too much on his closeness. There was something odd going on right now, but she told herself it was an effect of the restless night they'd both had.
"I suppose this isn't really the sort of thing you can tell your friends."
Draco snorted a chuckle. "Don't really have those these days."
Swallowing hard, she forced herself to look up, meeting his gaze. "Your mum's really the only one who knows?"
He only stared at her for a few heartbeats. Sparing a moment to search her face, he returned his attention to her eyes as he nodded.
She let out a sigh. "Suppose I can hardly continue thinking of myself as a compassionate person if I turned you away. Fine. I'll help you."
A tension he hadn't realized he'd held drained out of him, then. "Thank you, Granger! You're a lifesaver."
The witch shook her head. "Don't I know it."
Silence fell between them as she worked the last of the paste into a particularly nasty bruise just over his solar plexus. She tried to ignore the feel of his skin pressed beneath her fingertips.
There was nothing strange, or . . . pulse-quickening about this. Nothing at all.
"Last thing," she said, switching the paste for the dittany, once more. "You've got some scrapes on your face. Shut your eyes, please." The scrapes were nowhere nearhis eyes, but for some strange reason, she didn't think she'd be able to focus with him looking at her so close.
"I think this idea your mother came up with—to embrace your inner-wolf, so to speak, so you don't suffer ill-effects of fighting the curse, but in a way that safeguards those around you—is a brilliant approach, actually. But it is something that might not be easy to manage here at school, under so many watchful eyes. You're going to need my help if you're to keep anyone from figuring you out. And . . . one hand washes another."
He cracked open one eye, meeting her gaze with a quizzical expression. "Which means what, in this context?"
Arching a brow, she paused as she was about to apply the dittany to the last scrape. "Didn't you wonder why I knew precisely where to find all the ingredients to make healing concoctions?"
Her shoulders slumping at the shock in his voice, she nodded.
"Of course, I didn't. It's you, Granger."
As his words sank in, she could not help a smirk curving a corner of her mouth upward. "Is that a compliment?"
He shrugged, rolling his eyes as she finally treated that last scrape. "Don't make a fuss, probably won't happen again."
Giggling, she turned away to start closing up containers. "Okay, we're finished." Again, there was the rustling of fabric behind her as he pulled his robes back up over his shoulders and closed them.
After she had everything squared away, she pivoted on her heel, facing him, once more. She was unspeakably relieved to see him fully clothed, again. "You're looking better, already. No doubt, you'll be all cleared up by breakfast. Anyway, what I meant to tell you is I'm working on an all-purpose rejuvenating potion. I'll help you keep this a secret . . . you help me by being the test subject for potion trials."
His brows shot up. "Sure, that doesn't sound precisely as dangerous as running into the Forbidden Forest and changing into a mindless beast once a month."
She laughed, a strange moment of camaraderie passing between them as she slapped his arm. "I'm serious."
"So am I." Draco shook his head, an uncertain half-grin playing on his lips. "But fine. Which means we've got a month's time to look up all the antidotes for any possible side effects I might suffer from whatever you could posssibly whip up."
Casting her gaze toward the ceiling as she thought that over, she nodded. "That sounds fair enough. So, now? How do you feel?"
The pale-haired young man stood pin-straight. Squaring his shoulders, he inhaled, long and deep. "Actually, I feel pretty good. I'm even a bit less tired, I think. This is . . . ." His voice trailed off as he flared his nostrils.
Hermione frowned. "What is it?"
Blinking hard, he caught her gaze. "Is that you?"
She arched a brow. "I am the only other person in the room, so I'd assume so."
"No, no. I mean . . . ." Against his better judgement, he stepped closer to her. There was some scent winding off her . . . . Something he'd never have noticed, had he not become this thing he was, now.
The sudden closeness of him forced her to backpedal, trapping her between his body and the table of the workstation behind her. The witch's heart hammered against her ribcage and she was acutely aware of the warmth of him as he pressed nearer. Her breath caught in her throat as she tried to will the rapid thudding of her pulse to steady.
Bracing his hands on either side of her, he dipped his head, taking a long sniff of the skin below her ear.
Her eyes drifted closed, unable to help a sweet little shiver coursing through her at the feel of his breath against her throat. "Draco?" she asked, her voice a barely audible thread of sound. "What are you—?"
The way he pulled back—only enough to meet her gaze, his body still too close to hers—cut off her question.
She thought her heart might actually stop in her chest at the words that fell from his lips as they stared at one another.
"Granger . . . . What are you?"