The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods,
away from home, to a dark, tangled, thorny place
lit by the eyes of owls.
–Carol Ann Duffy
Once upon a time…
It began with a rumour.
And then, not surprisingly, human nature being the fickle creature that it is, the rumour gained currency and eventually became two, and then those gave birth to more, ranging from the ridiculous to the wildly fantastic. Some folk dismissed the most outlandish of the stories as nonsense, pure and simple. Others were just as eager to embrace the wildest and strangest of the rumours as fact; they were titillated by the more sensational aspects of the stories and delighted to find anything that might further discredit any member of such an old, powerful, pure-blooded family. It didn’t matter, particularly, that the one in question was the son and heir. It was all grist for a voracious gossip mill.
After the war, the young man had vanished. The reason for his disappearance was a source of endless speculation. Some believed that he now suffered some sort of debilitating physical malady. Others were certain that he’d had a curse-generated mental breakdown, damaging his mind beyond repair.
Regardless of where he was– whether cloistered in his ancestral home or gone from the country altogether– and whether a terrible illness now ravaged his body or afflicted his mind, one thing seemed certain: the young scion of a very ancient family had turned his back on the world.
The walk home from her job as a research assistant in the Ministry’s historical archives was a pleasant one, especially on an early autumn evening like this one, and ordinarily, Hermione Granger would have enjoyed the trees’ blazing display of colour. None of this registered, however; instead, she walked along almost unseeing, her brow furrowed in thought. There was a problem that needed solving, and it had occupied her thoughts more and more often of late.
The problem was Draco Malfoy. Or rather, his mysterious disappearance. She found herself thinking about it far too often– mulling it over, trying to understand it in the face of precious little information– and the lack of answers that made any sense frustrated her. Worse still, the attitudes of everyone around her, both at work and outside the Ministry, only served to deepen her curiosity and a growing sense of anger and disgust with the cavalier and rather base behaviour most people displayed if the subject came up. She’d never liked Malfoy– had never had the slightest reason to, given the shoddy treatment she’d suffered at his hands during their years at school together. And yet, towards the close of the war, when he’d held back from identifying a bruised and severely beaten Harry and had seemed genuinely torn and shaken when pressed to identify her to his aunt Bellatrix, there had been something… fear, certainly, a deep-rooted horror of what was happening all around him and what he was being asked to do, but also… regret. She was as sure of that as of anything in her life. There had been genuine regret in his eyes in that moment when Bellatrix Lestrange had insisted on his answer, Hermione lying captive on the floor before him. Sorry, his frightened eyes had seemed to say.
Casting her thoughts back even further, she remembered what she’d observed of him in their sixth year, well before the war had begun in earnest. Even then, he’d seemed to grow ever more distant and withdrawn, wan and sunken-eyed, perpetually exhausted, preoccupied. The thing that had held him in its terrible sway had only come out much later, and it was a grim revelation indeed.
Residing, ghost-like, on the fringes of her thoughts, these memories had been perversely kept alive by the continuing, often mean-spirited gossip that cropped up from time to time, tongues wagging spitefully and with obvious relish.
Was there even a shred of truth to the rumours? Hermione couldn’t help wondering. Then, too, the prospect of a desperately ill Malfoy pricked at her conscience, in the face of the often smug, insensitive pronouncements of those who entertained themselves by speculating about him. Surely, something could be done to help Malfoy, if indeed he were in the dreadful state the rumours suggested. Nobody, not even he, should be abandoned so callously. She resolved to uncover the truth of his situation and help him if she could.
Thus, the determined young woman undertook to journey back to a place that had once been the scene of horrific personal suffering for her. She arrived on the outskirts of a dense wood bordering the grounds of the grand manor house, just as twilight’s rosy fingers released the clouds and dusk gathered them beneath its darkening mantle. Pulling her scarlet travelling cloak more tightly around her, she began walking, hoping the path would not lead her astray.
A chill breeze ruffled her hair, and Hermione shivered slightly, tugging at the hood of her cloak. She glanced at her watch. Nearly half five. It would be dark before long. Not well planned, she chided herself. Impulsive and poorly thought out, that’s what her decision to leave on the spur of the moment had been. Not only that, but she’d got the coordinates a bit skewed and had not arrived just outside the Manor itself, as she’d expected. She hadn’t counted on having to navigate this thickly wooded stretch. Despite herself, a tiny thrill of fear raised the fine hairs on the back of her neck.
‘Don’t be a ninny,’ she scolded herself. ‘Nothing’s going to happen. You’ll be there before you know it.’
‘And if he turns you away?’ a small, insistent voice in her head challenged.
Well, then, she would just leave. Apparate home. No harm done. And at least she’d have tried. Nodding her head with renewed determination, Hermione continued on.
The path had gradually narrowed as she walked, and suddenly, she noticed that it had nearly vanished altogether. The vegetation was lush and high, becoming nearly impenetrable in spots. Tall trees seemed to be closing in all around her: copper beeches, their thick, pale trunks scored with circular lines like the markings of finger joints, a rich crown of fire-bright leaves overhead; silver birches, tall and slender, their russet leaves fluttering gently; rowans and hornbeams and yews, the massive girths of their trunks bespeaking their great ages and their dense canopy blotting out the sky. Hermione took out her wand with a whispered “Lumos!”
Fallen leaves, brown and desiccated, crunched underfoot, and the way became even more tangled and difficult, branches stretching out before her as if to deliberately impede her movements. Now, as shadows deepened, the wood came alive with a chorus of sounds. A high-pitched scream, snuffling and low grunts, growling noises in the underbrush, eerie whines and moans, soft chittering noises, rustlings– what were they? Hermione thought for a moment. Hedgehogs, possibly, or badgers… an owl’s screech, squirrels in the branches overhead, a rabbit scrambling desperately into its burrow, a startled deer calling an alarm, voles scurrying…
A sudden bark rang out sharply. It had come from somewhere to the right and not very far off. Slowly, she turned her head, training her eyes on a small clearing bathed in the light of the newly risen moon. There, in its centre, stood a fox… or an animal that looked very like a fox, and yet… just a little bit larger and more solidly muscled, the legs slightly longer, but with the characteristically long, luxuriant tail of the fox and the large, sharply pointed ears. Its coat was a brilliant flame-red, its cheeks, throat and belly creamy white, and its slender legs black stocking-clad. It seemed to be gazing directly at her, bright eyes shining with native intelligence.
For several seconds– an interval of time that felt far longer, somehow– they looked at each other. Mesmerised by the arresting luminosity of the large, round eyes shining in the wand’s light, Hermione couldn’t look away. And then the animal cocked its head, listening intently for something Hermione could not hear. A moment later, it sprang into the air, landing a few feet away to pounce on a small rodent. The finely shaped head came up, the newly won prize dangling from its jaws, and it looked for a final moment at Hermione, seeming to study her intently. Then it turned and trotted away, vanishing into the shadows beyond the clearing.
Still shaken by the encounter and yet awed by the beauty of such a creature, Hermione walked on. There was an opening in the trees just ahead, she observed. Malfoy Manor couldn’t be too much further. She picked up her pace and hurried on. The first stars were winking down from the deepening blue of the evening sky, and she was anxious to be where there was light and safety and the inviting warmth of a good hearth fire. A part of her hoped she had indeed come on a fool’s errand, that none of the rumours would turn out to be true, and that Malfoy would send her packing. And as the sprawling, 14th-century manor house loomed on the distant horizon, there was a part of her, too, that insisted on reminding her of certain painful memories– memories she’d thought were successfully put behind her as she’d moved on after the war’s end. As she drew ever nearer the house, Hermione felt a sense of foreboding that she couldn’t shake, partly a product of those terrible memories, but not only that. There was something about the house itself– perhaps the rows of darkened windows like blank, lifeless eyes, only a scant handful illuminated by faint, flickering candlelight– that seemed to speak of sadness and loss.
Taking a deep breath, she strode resolutely up to the massive wooden door, raising and releasing the iron knocker once, twice. Within a few minutes, latches were undone, the bolt withdrawn, and the ponderous, old door swung slowly open. A diminutive house-elf, wizened and bent over with age, bowed deferentially to her and beckoned her in without a word. As she stepped into the cavernous entry hall, there was a voice from halfway up the carved oak staircase.
“Granger.” His tone was detached, controlled, albeit faintly amused. And not at all surprised, Hermione realised with a start. “Fancy you turning up here. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
The owner of the voice made his way down the remainder of the stairs and approached Hermione. His gaze moved languidly from her face down the length of her body and back up again, with an intensity that made her feel curiously exposed, naked. It was disconcerting, and she could feel her face growing warm.
It was Draco Malfoy, of that there was no doubt. The voice, the sardonic facial expression… they were all his and so familiar to her. And yet, what a change time had wrought in him. His body had matured from a schoolboy’s into that of a grown man. Still lean and rangy, it had become harder, more muscular. He seemed taller and moved with a fluid grace, a sort of coiled energy. His skin was perhaps even paler than she’d remembered, and his hair… he wore it differently now, brushed back off his face and falling softly about his forehead in short, rakish layers. But it was the colour that caught Hermione’s attention most: a much darker blond now, a tawny red-gold, like honey or amber. It rather suited him, but the transformation was startling.
“Your hair,” she murmured, suddenly at a loss for words and feeling a bit stupid for it. “It’s…”
“Yes,” he cut in bluntly. “Your powers of perception are truly staggering. Exactly why are you here, Granger?” As he spoke, he continued to stare at her, eyes glittering, the tip of his tongue dancing lightly over his lips.
“I… well…” Hermione faltered. Why was he looking at her that way? She found herself strangely confused and distracted. And irritated, too, suddenly. How dare he speak to her so rudely when the only reason she was there at all was his welfare! Her chin came up defiantly. “I’ll tell you why. There’s been talk. About you. Rather a lot over the past five years, and I wanted to find out for myself if any of it were true. People have been saying–”
He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “I don’t give a damn what people have been saying. They can talk all they like.” He paused, his mouth tightening. “Shit for brains, the lot of them!” He gave a short, harsh laugh. “Go on, then, tell me. You will anyway. What have they been saying?”
“It’s just that nobody’s seen you for years. Some people think you’ve got a fatal disease. Something horribly disfiguring. That’s the most popular one. Oh!” She clapped a hand over her mouth, flushing slightly. “I didn’t mean–”
Draco’s smile was grim. “S’okay. Reckon people really get a bang out of that one. What else?”
“Well,” she went on, “others say you’ve gone completely round the bend. That you were cursed years ago and went mad.”
There was a long moment of complete silence. Then he began to laugh. The sound of it was strange to her, almost jarring. She realised that she’d never heard that sort of unrestrained, genuine laughter from Malfoy before.
“Merlin,” he gasped finally. “That’s bloody marvellous!” Sighing, he motioned to her to follow him and then turned and walked into the adjacent drawing room.
“Sit,” he muttered, indicating a comfortable-looking sofa facing the hearth. The fire had died back and now burned low, its flames producing occasional hisses and cracklings as they lapped at logs now fragmented and charred white.
He settled himself in an adjacent armchair, long legs stretched out in front of him, and laced his fingers together, his expression thoughtful as he gazed into the dying fire. Then he turned his gaze on Hermione, eyes gleaming in the flickering light and the planes of his face thrown partially into shadow.
Funny. There was something… she couldn’t place it. Something about his eyes…
“My family has always been the subject of gossip,” he remarked flatly. “That’s nothing new. The fact that I’ve been… away… well, yeah, I expect that’s added fuel to the fire, but so what?” He studied her intently for a moment. “You didn’t actually believe all that rubbish…”
Hermione shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked down at her hands, folded in her lap.
“You did, didn’t you!” He shook his head, incredulous. “Then… you came here tonight because you… you were…” The conclusion he had suddenly arrived at seemed almost more than he could credit, considering this was Hermione Granger, and his voice trailed off into a surprised silence.
He was staring at her again, in that way of his that made her feel like a specimen, his gaze pinning her to the sofa. Only this time, there was something else in his eyes as well, something she couldn’t quite define. Confused, she struggled to collect her thoughts.
Clearly, the more dire presumptions were completely untrue. Anybody looking at Malfoy could see that he was hardly wasting away, nor was he insane. Suddenly, she felt rather foolish. She’d allowed an over-active imagination to cloud her judgement, well meant or no. Clearly, he didn’t need her or anybody else riding to his rescue.
“Curious, that’s all!” Hermione declared, flushing slightly. “I told you before. I wanted to know if any of it was really true. And I still do.” She frowned, narrowing her eyes. “Where have you been the past five years, anyway?”
Draco didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he stood, moving to the fire to prod the crumbling logs with an iron poker and add a fresh one. Brushing his hands off, he turned, regarding her with an expression that had abruptly turned distant, remote. His eyes never left her face.
“Not that it’s any of your business, of course, but I have been travelling. There are matters that often take me out of the country. I’ve chosen not to publicise my movements. In the circumstances, I expect that a certain amount of speculative talk is inevitable.”
His smile– more a grimace than a smile– was now hard as stone.
“I am relieved,” he continued coldly, “that it was merely curiosity and not worry that brought you here tonight. I trust I’ve answered your questions?”
She nodded slowly, held in the thrall of lucent, grey eyes that continued to pinion her, take her apart.
“Good. Then you can be on your way. I’ll see you out.”
Hermione blinked for a moment, then realised he was actually waiting for her to get up and leave. She’d been dismissed.
Gathering up her cloak, she rose from her seat.
One hand firmly on her elbow, Draco ushered her towards the door in the narrow, arched vestibule. Sliding back the heavy iron bolt, he pulled the door open on the chill October night air.
“Thank you for your interest. Please do not trouble yourself further on my account. Goodnight.”
And with that, the door swung shut in Hermione’s face.
None of it made any sense.
Hermione frowned, bringing a mug of tea to her lips. Steam wafted up, curling about her nose and mouth, and she inhaled its fragrance appreciatively before returning to the puzzle she was trying to sort out.
First off, she reflected, there was the business about his travels abroad. It was true, the family business was known to have had many international connections. The idea that Lucius Malfoy might have put his son in charge of that end of the business was entirely plausible, particularly as the senior Malfoys began to spend increasing amounts of time in their summer home in the south of France after the war ended. However, nobody travelled so much that he virtually disappeared for five years straight, the rest of the world seeing neither hide nor hair of him the entire time. It just wasn’t possible.
Second, she thought, mentally ticking off the things that had troubled her, there was the change in his appearance, specifically the colour of his hair. Though Malfoy had always been known as a bit of a peacock regarding his appearance while they were at school, he’d never struck her as the sort who would change himself radically. First off, he was too conceited to even consider that he should alter anything about himself. Then, too, it was well known that he’d always been rather proud of the fine, white-blond hair he’d inherited from his father. It was a badge of identification as a Malfoy. Everyone knew who he was instantly, and that recognition afforded him a certain automatic respect and deference from others that he’d always enjoyed and expected as his due. That being the case, why on earth would he voluntarily change his hair colour? Was he trying to disguise himself for some reason? Had he got himself into some sort of trouble either during or after the war? Even now, he might be running from an enemy looking to exact revenge for something Malfoy might have done. For all she knew, he might be a marked man. Had he gone to ground in that draughty old castle?
Hermione put down her empty mug at last and wandered over to the window seat. The view from the bay window– a small courtyard, sheltered on three sides by blocks of low-rise flats– was a bit bleak at this time of the year. The trees had shed most of their leaves. They now littered the ground, most of them brown and shrivelled. The few that remained on the branches fluttered forlornly in the chill breezes that periodically kicked up small eddies of fallen ones. They rose in whirlpools of brown, red and gold, only to settle once again on the grass or pavement.
She looked up at the sky, a solid, iron-grey mass of clouds, and sighed. Malfoy Manor must be especially dreary and depressing in weather like this, with its vast stretches of lawn surrounded by dense forest. What must it be like in the dead of winter? Stark and austere, she imagined, surely a gloomy, unwelcoming place.
She’d certainly felt unwelcome that night. He’d been quite noticeably eager to be rid of her, in fact, after she’d explained the reason for her visit– or more accurately, the reason she’d chosen to give him. The whole truth would have been too embarrassing to admit after she’d seen for herself that there really had been no foundation to any of the rumours. He’d rather abruptly rushed her out of the house almost before she’d had a chance to catch her breath. And before that? He’d been cagey, evasive, never really giving her a straight answer about anything.
She pursed her lips in sudden frustration. How had she allowed herself to be so easily manipulated? She wasn’t the passive, gullible sort ordinarily. She considered for a moment, and then she remembered. It hadn’t been charm and sweet talk that had got her to ignore all her instincts, the very instincts that would normally have prodded her to ask more questions, remain sceptical until she’d had answers she could believe. It had been the almost greedy way he’d looked at her, his eyes taking her in as if to devour her whole, the state of disequilibrium into which these attentions had thrown her, the surrender he’d silently demanded and received.
A leaf detached itself from a branch hanging close to the window and Hermione watched as it drifted lazily, riding small currents of air until it dropped down to join its fellows in a still-colourful mound on the grass. Splashes of water spattered the windowpane, heralding the storm that would continue throughout the afternoon.
Hermione continued to watch the rain for a few moments, but her thoughts remained at the Manor and the dark wood surrounding it. Every instinct she possessed was telling her that something was wrong with Draco Malfoy. That much was clear.
She would go back. There were questions that needed answering. And this time, she wouldn’t be so easily dissuaded.
Once again, the young woman travelled to the centuries-old manor house sequestered within its vast tracts of open lands and thickly tangled forest. It was early in the morning when she arrived on the outskirts of the wood.
Hermione glanced around, noting the dark wood behind her and the wide expanse of open meadow before her. Malfoy Manor could be seen beyond the meadow, its crenellated battlements and gabled roofline marking the sky above the trees.
She checked her watch. Good. The sun had risen only an hour before. By the time she traversed the distance from the wood’s edge to the house, it would be nearly nine o’clock– relatively early still, but late enough that she needn’t worry about waking anybody up.
She had taken only a step or two when there was a soft rustling in the wood behind her. She froze, listening, waiting, and then she heard it again, only this time, it was slightly closer and more pronounced. Turning slowly, she squinted, a hand over her eyes, peering in the direction of the sound. She saw nothing. Then– a flash of red and white.
Cautiously, Hermione took a step closer, staring at the place where, a moment before, there had been a blur of movement. And then she spotted it: the sleek, red canine she’d seen the first time. A larger–than-average fox or possibly a small wolf, she still couldn’t be absolutely certain. The white of its slender muzzle was flecked with blood– quite fresh, by the look of it– and a long, pink tongue darted out, licking the creamy fur clean. The animal’s teeth, when she caught a brief glimpse of them, were impressive, the canines long and very sharp. Standing stock still now, its large, pointed ears pricked and its nose raised to sniff the air, it was staring directly at her. Stealthily observing, locating and learning her scent, listening…
Hermione was unable to look away. She stood there, rooted to the spot, her own eyes locked with those of the fox, lustrous and round and quicksilver grey.
One heart-stopping moment later, the fox dropped its head and disappeared silently into the underbrush. Hermione let out a pent-up breath, feeling all the muscles in her body relax. After one final, lingering glance in the direction of the forest, she turned towards the manor house.
Stalked in the forest, too close to hide
I’ll be upon you by the moonlight side…
The same house-elf opened the door to her after several knocks. He looked rather weary as he pulled open the door, poking his head partway out.
“Master is not at home.”
Hermione stood there, not sure what to do next. She hadn’t really considered the possibility that he might not be there fairly early on a weekday morning. And there had been a certain logic to turning up unexpectedly. Without forewarning, one’s quarry would have less of a chance to disappear. She’d thought surely she’d covered all the bases. But apparently, Malfoy had found a way to elude her, intentionally or not.
“Oh,” she murmured. “Well… have you any idea when he’ll be back, then?”
The house-elf, painfully stooped over and gnarled with age, shook his head slowly, lifting his bony shoulders in a shrug. “Scabwort is very sorry, miss. Master did not tell me.”
Hmm. “I see,” Hermione said slowly. “All right. Then will you please tell-”
“Back again so soon, Granger?”
The voice came this time from the long, circular drive that led up to the front entrance. Startled, Hermione discovered Malfoy striding briskly up the drive in a heavy, woollen jumper and jeans, his hair damp and tiny droplets of water beading on his face and neck.
Startled, she could do nothing for the moment but stare. What in the name of all the gods had he just been doing, taking a swim in this chill weather?
She stood there, completely nonplussed, as he approached. At last, he halted, only inches away.
“You’re wet,” she observed lamely.
Malfoy moved a step closer. She could feel the heat from his body. His voice was low, silken, his eyes hooded, a faint smile curling his lips. “Brilliant deduction. Points to you. Is that what you came all this way to tell me?”
His nearness was disturbing, yet Hermione found herself unable to step back. Instead, she found herself transfixed, caught by the mercurial grey eyes that bore into her own.
Eyes like quicksilver. Eyes like…
She opened her mouth to speak, but the thing that had been about to come out was so fantastic that she could not bring herself to give voice to it.
Her sudden confusion had not escaped Malfoy’s attention.
“Come inside,” he said abruptly.
Without waiting for her reply, he strode into the house, peeling the damp jumper off over his head as he did so and tossing it to little Scabwort, who scurried away with it.
Beneath the jumper, his pullover was dry, yet he seemed suddenly chilled. Ignoring Hermione, he walked quickly into the drawing room, raking a hand through hair that was still fairly damp and then rubbing both hands together before the fire. For several minutes, there was no sound but the occasional pop and hiss of the fire, and then he sighed deeply, turning to face her at last, as if he’d suddenly remembered her presence.
“Sit,” he told her, gesturing towards the nearby armchair. “I could do with a drink. You?”
Obediently, she sat, but his words barely registered. She was still haunted by the image of those eyes. Knowing, watchful eyes, staring… penetrating her defences… seeing all the way through her… rendering her helpless… consuming her. They had been–
“I asked if you wanted something to drink.”
“Oh! Sorry!” Hermione mumbled, colouring slightly. At nine in the morning? “Thank you, no. Bit early for me.”
He shrugged, then helped himself to a generous amount of whisky from a bottle waiting on a silver tray. Stretching out on the sofa, he slowly swirled it around the glass, watching the play of light from the fire as it turned the amber liquid a molten gold. Despite the sunshine outside, the heavy drapes remained drawn and the room was quite dark. His face was cast partially in shadows, flickering firelight reflected in his eyes. He seemed tired, drained of all energy suddenly.
“Tell me.” There was no emotion in his voice, but instead, an odd sort of resignation, as if her reply would necessarily be a fait accompli.
“Tell you…?” Hermione echoed, mystified. “Tell you what? I don’t understand.”
Taking a swallow of whisky, he shuddered involuntarily as the fiery liquid coursed down his throat. He laughed then, but it was more of a growl, raw and humourless. “Don’t be disingenuous, Granger. It doesn’t suit you. I saw something in your face before. I want to know what you are thinking.” He put the glass down and snared her gaze with his own.
And there it was once again. In his quicksilver eyes, shining in the firelight, there was something feral, intuitive… hungry.
She’d seen it before, in the forest. Twice, to be exact. A creature she’d taken to be a fox had gazed at her in precisely that way. She had come upon the animal unawares, surprising it while it hunted, and then again, just after it had devoured a kill. Both times, it had watched her closely, silently, taking her measure, marking her scent, gauging its chances. At the last, it had slipped silently away, leaving her with the memory of those large, intelligent eyes, fluid silver in a field of soft, red-gold fur.
“It’s just… “ Hermione replied hesitantly, aware of the embarrassed blush heating her cheeks. “When I got here earlier, there was a fox in the wood… at least, I think it was a fox, it seemed bigger… and its eyes were exactly like yours. I mean to say, it looked at me just the way you’re looking at me right now, and its eyes… they were your eyes. And when I came the first time… I had to walk through the wood and that same fox was there, watching me… Your eyes look just like his.”
Draco raised an eyebrow and there was a chill in the faint smile lifting the corners of his mouth. He remained silent and very still, slowly swirling the whisky in the glass and watching her intently.
“But… but that’s silly, of course, isn’t it! I must have imagined it. Forget I said anything.” She hurried her words together, laughing self-consciously and feeling a complete fool. All this was perfectly ridiculous, and it was distracting her from her true purpose in coming.
Foxes don’t have grey eyes, not adult foxes anyway. Their eyes are yellow or amber.
She sucked in a sharp breath, opening her mouth to speak, but Draco raised a hand. The effect of the gesture was immediate, and she sank back into the chair, her eyes wide.
“What is it you think you saw?” he asked. He spoke quietly, but there was a steely edge to his voice. He seemed determined to force her to articulate something that was completely outlandish, utterly incredible.
“I think…” Hermione began slowly, incredulously. “I think I saw you. In the wood. It was you, wasn’t it…”
Draco closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply, and then focused his gaze on Hermione once again.
The revelation rendered the silence that fell over the room thick with sudden tension. It hung between them almost like a wall.
Suddenly, the very reason she’d come– all those unanswered questions– seemed to shift into rapier-sharp focus. This thing– whatever it was– must be at the heart of all of it. But how? Why?
At last, Hermione could contain herself no longer. Surprise and confusion had given way to intense curiosity.
“You knew I’d be coming to your house both times, didn’t you! You’d seen me in the wood. And that’s why you were a bit wet when you came up the drive before! You’d been hunting and you…”
“Yes. There’s a stream in the wood not far from here. Couldn’t arrive home all bloody, now could I?” He lounged further back amongst the sofa cushions, his smile genuinely amused now.
“No, of course you couldn’t,” she sputtered impatiently. There was a peculiar logic to all of this, bizarre as it was. “But you still haven’t explained! What in Merlin’s name is all this about, Malfoy? What’s happened to you? Are you an Animagus?”
“Swotty little Gryffindor, surely you remember our studies,” he drawled, taking a sip of his drink. “Of magical creatures, I mean. I am not an Animagus. I wish it were that simple. No, I am Renou de l'homme. A Métamorphe involontaires. Translation?”
Hermione frowned. “Métamorphe… a shapeshifter, a were-creature,” she murmured. “Involuntary…” He nodded, and she thought a moment longer. “Renou… ‘ren’ from the French for fox, renard, and… and ‘ou’… oh, I see! It’s a hybrid, isn’t it, a combination of fox and wolf! Renard and loup together become renou. Renou de l'homme: ‘fox/wolf from man.’ But…” She shook her head, confused. “I don’t understand. We never learnt about a fox/wolf hybrid. I didn’t know such a thing existed!”
Draco sighed heavily. “It didn’t. Not until the Dark Lord dreamed it up. The cleverness, cunning and quickness of the fox, combined with the ruthlessness and brute strength of the wolf, and the intelligence and loyalty of both. The Renou is a special type of werefox: larger, stronger, and more dangerous than ordinary foxes.”
Hermione drew her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin on her knees. “But why? And why you?”
“Hah. Well. That was the beauty of it.” Draco’s laughter was caustic as he tossed back the remainder of his drink. “He gave me this ‘gift,’ you see, the power to transform into a killing machine, the better to destroy Muggles. Or so he said.”
“Oh, but surely, the Order would have known–”
“I reckon they probably suspected. They would have done for sure, if there had been others. It was just me, though. Because this so-called ‘gift’ was really his way of punishing me for my failures, the sadistic bastard. He knew I hated what he was making me do. He wanted to rub my nose in it, really make me feel each murder. Force me to enjoy it. Turn me into an animal, make me desire it, revel in it, feel the bloodlust, be unable to resist.”
“He cursed you.” The horror of it was unavoidable, but Hermione felt a terrible sadness too, suddenly. “Gods, Malfoy. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he said curtly. “There’s nothing anyone can do. Not even you. I’ve learnt to live with it.”
“How? What…” Hermione hesitated. “What happens to you, exactly? Is it the same as a werewolf? Like Professor Lupin?”
“No. Different animal, as it were, so different conditions. During the war, when the urge came over me, I was helpless. I had to give in to it and turn. I expect I was being controlled to a large degree by Voldemort himself. Rather like being a puppet on strings. Animagi have total control. I didn’t and still don’t.”
He rose and moved to the sideboard, pouring himself another drink, and then returned to the sofa, stretching his long legs out. Noticing that she was staring, transfixed, at his hair, he touched fleeting fingertips to a lock of it and his mouth twisted wryly.
“Yeah. Side effect of the curse. It happened gradually. After the war, I dropped out of sight, as of course you know. I couldn’t risk anybody finding out. And… and I loathed what I’d become. Hated the killing, the loss of control. I wanted more than anything to find a way out, a cure. I read and researched, secretly consulted the most powerful and knowledgeable wizards and witches I could find. Over the years, I’ve tried everything, but it seems nothing can break this curse.” He gave a bark of laughter, raw and bitter, then pulled up his left sleeve, sticking out his arm for her to see. “The Dark Mark has begun to fade, but this fucking curse continues. Wherever he is, in whatever stratum of Hell he resides, Voldemort is probably having a bloody good laugh.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do? No way to stop it happening? Surely there must be something!” Eyes wide, Hermione gazed at him fiercely. This was why she had come. Just maybe she could help somehow.
Draco set the empty glass down on a mahogany end table and then sank back wearily amongst the soft cushions. His earlier fatigue had deepened, the alcohol and the night’s hunt having done their work; his limbs were splayed out and seemed nearly boneless, their muscles totally relaxed. One hand trailed along the floor and his head was thrown back. He turned his head to regard Hermione, his eyelids beginning to droop just slightly as he mustered the energy to continue.
“There is, yeah. I feel the urge almost every night. I’ve worked out how to control it to a degree, though sometimes… sometimes I don’t even want to anymore. That’s when it fucking scares me the most, when I find myself wanting it to happen.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “I don’t attack people anymore, thank Merlin. And most times, I can resist, though it damn near kills me to do it. Only time I really can’t help myself is if I’m asleep when it starts. That’s how it happens most often these days, when I’m unconscious. Or in a state. Or piss-drunk.” He chuckled to himself. “Or when...”
He smiled at her languidly, and as the smile deepened, it turned feral, his gaze darkening.
“Why did you come back, anyway?” he asked softly, his eyes devouring her.
“I… I wanted answers. I wanted to help. I thought…” she stammered, a flush of answering heat coursing through her, frightening her. “Look, if I’m intruding, I’ll leave–”
“No. Stay.” His teeth gleamed in the firelight as he smiled. “I feel sure that you can help me after all… Hermione.”
And so, the young woman remained. Provided with a comfortable room adjacent to the young master’s own, she prepared herself for the possibility of a lengthy stay, determined to find the means to break the curse and cure him of this terrible affliction and certain she would eventually succeed.
Third Week of November
The piles of fraying parchment scrolls and heavy, dusty, old books had grown and multiplied exponentially, so that the floor space surrounding the ponderous, ornately carved cherry wood desk, as well as the desk itself, had all but vanished. Hermione had been at the Manor for just over two weeks. Draco had given her free range in the vast library, and most of her time thus far had been spent there. He’d given her a wide berth as well– so wide, in fact, that sometimes, she wouldn’t see him for days. In the very beginning, Hermione had hardly been aware of his absences. She had been far too busy tracking down potential sources of information and then combing exhaustively through them.
“Granger, I’ve gone through all this lot myself. More than once,” Draco had remarked one afternoon not long after she’d arrived. He’d wandered in and found her nearly buried behind a stack of leather-bound volumes, some of them dating back several centuries. He’d come up very quietly behind her and stood there, peering over her shoulder at the pages she was reading. The scents of jasmine and vanilla had wafted up from her luxuriantly unruly hair, twisted impatiently into a messy bun, loose tendrils hanging, and he’d leaned in a bit closer, closing his eyes for a moment as he breathed her in.
“It’s possible you missed something. I’m just being thorough,” she had replied, attempting to keep her voice steady and matter-of-fact even as she felt him very close behind her now, the warm, pleasant whisper of his breath caressing her neck, just behind her ear.
She’d turned her head just enough to eye him over her shoulder. At that, he’d given her a slow, heart-stopping smile and a nod, moving silently away and leaving her to her own devices once again.
That evening at dinner, ready to share the day’s findings, she had discovered that he was nowhere to be found. It was just past seven and dark had long since fallen. He must be out in the wood somewhere, she’d realised, on the hunt.
Why? He’d told her he was able to resist the urge to turn, except when it came upon him during sleep or in moments of intensely felt emotion. Or intoxication, she remembered wryly. So, then, why give in to it now, particularly after telling her that he thought she could help? He would surely have known that the challenge of helping him would prove irresistible to her. Had he meant any part of that, or had it really just been a way to entice her into staying? And for what purpose, if that was the case? To complicate matters even further, he had already admitted that there were times he didn’t even want to resist. What was she to make of all this?
Draco Malfoy and his curse were a conundrum, a puzzle far more complex than a relatively brief amount of time under the same roof could possibly reveal. But perhaps she could use the situation to her advantage after all. Just maybe, if she watched him carefully enough, observed his movements closely, she might discover how the curse actually worked its will upon him and find a way to break it at last.
She would need to be patient, bide her time.
Not long after that, finding herself alone at dinner yet again, she slipped out of the dining room and up the massive oak staircase, moving quickly and silently down the corridor and only stopping once she reached the door to his room. Testing the door by pushing very lightly with her fingertips, she poked her head inside, hardly daring to breathe.
Empty. He was gone, and she knew she would not see him again until the following afternoon at the earliest.
Four times more in the next ten days, the same thing occurred. Frustrated and now impossibly curious as well, Hermione decided she would no longer wait until dark before trying to track her quarry. Her fifth attempt fell on a Thursday, marking precisely sixteen days since she’d returned to the Manor.
The sun would set just before four in the afternoon, she knew. The blue of the afternoon sky was already deepening as the sun dropped towards the horizon. The last rays streamed like liquid gold across the meadows, the bare trees in the forest beyond casting long, thin shadows over the open, gently rolling land that lay closest to the manor house. From her place at the bedroom window, Hermione could see that the snow-covered meadows between the house and the wood were dotted with tracks of several kinds, large and small: pheasants, surely, badgers and voles, squirrels, rabbits, deer, and yes… foxes.
Cautiously, she made her way to Draco’s door. Holding her breath, she turned the knob, praying there would be no sound. Thankfully, there was none, and, with the tip of one finger, she pushed the door open one inch, and then a bit more, until she was able to see inside.
The bedroom was darkened as before, a fire burning low in the grate, but this time, she could make out a tall, lean figure in silhouette standing before tall French doors that opened out onto a small balcony. They were wide open now, and cold air filled the room. He stood ramrod straight, his arms at his sides and slightly extended, palms up, as if to welcome and take into himself the last rays of daylight as they poured in through the open doors.
Suddenly, he seemed to stiffen. There was a tension, an acute alertness, in every muscle. Slowly, he turned until he was facing Hermione, who still watched, breathless, from behind the door.
He was stark naked, his eyes were wide open, and he was staring straight at her.
He saw, and yet, he seemed to sleep, fully in the grip of the Turning now. He saw, but no longer just with the eyes of a man. His eyes– indeed, all his senses– seemed keenly, almost preternaturally, alive: primal, searching… ravenous.
Despite herself, Hermione’s breath caught in her throat and she stepped back, stumbling a little. Yet she could not tear her gaze away from the impossibly beautiful man who stood before her as still as death, his eyes burning into her like molten silver. And then, with a low growl deep in his throat, he vanished.
Stunned, Hermione found herself frozen in place for several seconds, and then she ran to the balcony, straining to see out over the open meadows beyond the house. There, in the deepening twilight, moving swiftly and silently over the frozen ground, was a magnificent fox, his crimson coat and luxuriant, white-tipped tail bright against the blue-white of the snow. In a matter of moments, he disappeared amongst the trees.
High blood drumming on your skin, it's so tight.
You feel my heat, I'm just a moment behind…
The following morning–
He’d seen her. Merlin, those eyes had flayed her open, or so it had seemed during those long seconds of keenest scrutiny. He had marked her, his gaze that of a powerful predator, and not for the first time. But this time was different, and the awareness had left her shaken. Seeing those feral hunter’s eyes– emboldened, voracious – staring at her from the face of a man was particularly disturbing.
It was still early. The sun had risen only an hour before, and now pale winter light filtered into the room through sheer voile curtains that hung to the floor between the heavier drapes. She’d been drowsing comfortably, half in and half out of sleep, until the sudden, stark memory of what had taken place the evening before had flooded her mind. For the first time in the two and a half weeks she had been staying at the Manor, she felt truly frightened.
Because she knew that if he had stayed even a minute longer, holding her captive with his eyes, she’d have been lost.
Rolling over and yanking the coverlet up to her chin, she squeezed her eyes shut. For several seconds, she remained very still, and then she slowly opened them again, staring sightlessly at the bed hangings and the patterned wallpaper.
What had he wanted of her, that he would stare at her in that predatory way? Her very orderly mind insisted that there must be something other than the obvious, something she was still missing in the equation. He had been in the throes of the Turning, only moments from being fully an animal and embarking on the hunt. It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that the look in his eyes had been openly ravenous.
There had been more, though. He had looked at her as if he’d wanted to consume her in every possible sense of the word. Gods above, he had been aroused. The evidence of it had not only been in his eyes and in the way that his tongue had traced a slow, sinuous path over his lips… It had been elsewhere as well, she remembered suddenly, her cheeks flaming at the recollection of his really rather breathtaking erection.
The memory left her flushed and squirming, pressing her thighs together to quell the sudden, coiling heat that had flared between her legs. Momentarily dizzy with it, she fought to clear her thoughts and return to a calmer consideration of what she had witnessed.
The Turning itself had not taken place in her presence. But he had been preparing for the change by discarding his clothing, approaching his metamorphosis naked, free of everything that tied him to his life as a man. And then he had simply disappeared, reappearing again outside as a Renou. Clearly, he had some control over the process when he was conscious, at least regarding when and where he would transform. That same control must extend, she reasoned, to the way he reverted to human form afterwards.
Her thoughts drifted a bit, and she found herself abruptly wondering why, if he did have at least that much control, he had elected to return to himself in the woods, rather than in the privacy and safety of his home, on the day she’d arrived at the Manor for the second time. Had he chosen to appear out of the blue, as it were? Had he wanted to further pique her curiosity, for some perverse reason? And if so, why? She must remember to ask him about that when next she saw him.
When would that be, she wondered now. And what must he be thinking? If he had seen her, then– just as surely, from his perspective– she had seen him. She had taken him by surprise; he had been unprepared for such sudden and complete exposure.
Wrapped in the coverlet, Hermione sat up in bed now, hugging her knees to her chest and pensively looking out through the large panes of the French doors to the gardens immediately below and beyond them, the meadows and dense woodland.
So many questions. More questions than answers, now that she’d actually seen a part of the process for herself. There was so much she didn’t know, so much she didn’t understand. And quite a lot that she wasn’t at all certain she was even ready to understand. It felt like falling down the rabbit hole, this sense she had that certain things had been set in motion– she had set them in motion herself!– and now, she was going to learn a great deal more, whether she wanted to or not.
A lone candle positioned precariously on the tub’s edge guttered slightly in a current of chill air that found its way through cracks in the ancient windowpanes. The large, high-ceilinged en-suite adjoining Draco’s bedroom tended to be markedly chilly when winter set in, something he had always disliked and yet had never bothered to address.
The late-afternoon sun had begun its descent, casting long, orange rays over the snow. He had only just returned from his night in the wood, and he was tired. Tired, chilled, and in sore need of a good, hot, relaxing soak. Every muscle ached. It had been a long night, and a cold one. The pads of his feet had hurt from shards of ice, frozen stones and sharp twigs. He glanced balefully at the bottoms of his feet now and was not surprised to see that they were bruised and bloodied. But he’d needed to keep moving, run himself to exhaustion, or else explode with what had been raging in his chest, his brain, his genitals.
Shock and then anger, initially, at this breach of his private space. Amazement, that she’d had the nerve. Feeling utterly exposed, a vulnerability far more intense than mere physical nakedness could ever produce. And something else, something more.
He stuck a gingerly toe into the water to test it. Finding it comfortably warm, he eased his aching body into the tub, closing his eyes with a groan of pleasure and relief as he immersed himself, chin-deep.
For a few blissful seconds, there was no thought, just the deliciously therapeutic water soothing tired muscles and joints and erasing pain. And then images from the previous night came back to him full-force.
Even before he’d seen her, he had known she was there. He’d smelled her, tasted her on the currents of air, felt her presence on the other side of the door. He’d begun to salivate at the very femaleness of her, warm and spicy and pungent. And when he’d turned and found her looking back at him with huge, startled eyes, he’d tasted her fear, too, and it had set off a powerful, electric thrumming coursing through his veins. She’d seemed delicate, vulnerable, even more beautiful for being suddenly helpless in his sight.
And there had been something else as well, something in her eyes, in the way the very smell of her had gradually changed, deepened. It had ripened the air between them, rich with want and need. She had desired him too. Powerful as any aphrodisiac, this realisation had excited him beyond all reason.
There had been women, many of them over the years, women he’d taken and discarded afterwards, once his appetites had been sated. The curse had driven him to uncontrollable sexual excesses, to a voracious consumption of women, and for a time, he’d felt vague prickings of regret afterwards. But eventually, he’d stopped berating himself for behaviour he knew he couldn’t control once it took hold of him. Ultimately, his solution had been to stay away from people altogether, avoiding entanglements and instead, pouring his powerful predatory impulses into hunting small animals he could consume without overwhelming guilt. If the urges became too great, he would exorcise them by giving in to them as a fox, not as a man.
This, however… this was uncharted territory. He had allowed a woman into his home, into his private, protected space, and not just any woman. It was somebody he had grown up resenting, fearing– because he knew she posed a threat, intellectually and magically gifted as she was– and feeling curiously drawn to in secret. In truth, she fascinated him. She always had done, really– at first, like something he’d been keen to examine and dissect, work out how she was what she was: a tremendously talented Muggleborn witch, a walking, talking oxymoron according to what he’d always been taught to believe. Later, as she’d grown and changed, he’d felt a disturbingly powerful physical attraction. When he’d thought back on it in the past, he’d written it off as over-active adolescent hormones and nothing more. He hadn’t expected he’d ever see her again in any case, and, his situation being what it was, this was just as well.
And yet, here she was, insinuating herself into his life. And bugger if he hadn’t actually opened the door to her even wider, giving her a reason to stay. Actually asking her to stay. Why in the name of all the gods had he done something like that?
He covered his eyes, water dripping from his hand in small rivulets down his face, and let out an explosive sigh. Stupid, reckless, absurd… it had been all of that and more. He’d been so careful the past five years to avoid detection and exposure. And now, he’d allowed a nosy do-gooder inside, actually spilling the whole sorry, pathetic mess to her. What the hell had he been thinking?
He’d been weak, that had been it. She’d been there, he’d found himself drawn to her, and in a moment of weakness, he’d grabbed onto a small shard of hope that just maybe, something could be done. That maybe she could actually help him somehow. She certainly had the will and the brains, if anyone did. And there had been relief in finally telling someone what had befallen him. She had been kind; he’d seen it in her eyes. She hadn’t judged him. At least she hadn’t at first. What must she be thinking, now that she’d actually witnessed a larger part of what he had become? Would she run away? If she did, it would be no more than he deserved. He should have expected her curious nature to prompt a more active search for answers beyond what she might find in books. He ought to have been more careful, taken precautions, not allowed her to see.
He sighed again and then slid beneath the water, coming up with a gasp, his hair and face streaming. Rising to his feet, he stepped carefully out of the tub and stood there for a moment, shivering, water dripping and pooling on the cold stone floor.
He wouldn’t be at all surprised if he found himself alone by the time he dressed and went downstairs for dinner. He was certain that had he been in her shoes, he’d have been long gone by now. Any sane person would be. Grimly, he draped a towel around his slim hips and padded into the bedroom to dress. Scabwort would need to be notified. From here on, it would be dinner for one once again.
Woman, you want me, give me a sign
And catch my breathing even closer behind…
Hermione was already sitting at the table when Draco wandered into the dining room. He’d come late, not seeing any particular reason to hurry when he’d fully expected to be dining alone, a particularly joyless activity. He’d arrived in loose pyjama trousers and a dressing gown carelessly belted over them, intending to instruct Scabwort to prepare a tray that he’d take in the solitude of his bedroom.
There was a moment of singular surprise on both their parts when he walked in and they saw each other.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he exclaimed, without thinking.
Startled, Hermione’s eyebrows shot up and she opened her mouth to reply, but nothing came out for a long moment. “Having dinner?” she finally managed, thoroughly confused.
“Oh. Yes. Right. Of course. Stupid of me. What was I thinking…” Draco muttered, a light flush colouring his pale cheeks. And then, as he pulled his chair out, he remembered something. “Sorry I didn’t dress. I’m…” He thought quickly. “ … not feeling entirely myself tonight, you know, and…”
He was rambling and he knew it. Shut up and sit down, before you make an even bigger arse of yourself! With a small, apologetic shrug, he seated himself, watching Hermione intently.
“You were surprised to see me,” she said, breaking the silence at last. “Why?”
“I thought… I expected you’d be gone. After… well, after last night… I was fairly certain you’d have left by now. But you haven’t, have you,” he replied, faint surprise still etched on his face.
Hermione shook her head, and a tiny smile blossomed. “Do you really think I scare that easily?”
Draco grinned and shook his head, his slight embarrassment disarming. Suddenly, he looked very young indeed. “No, I reckon you don’t. I should have known better.”
“Yes, you should. Besides…” She paused, collecting herself. “There’s so much I still don’t understand. If I’m going to help you, I need to understand, to learn. But look… about last night… are you angry with me? Honestly, Malfoy, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean–”
“Yes, you did. You know you did. Otherwise, why sneak about like that? You were hoping to catch me in the act, weren’t you. Weren’t you?” He was looking at her very directly, a challenge in his eyes.
Now it was Hermione’s turn to be embarrassed. A dark flush crept over her cheeks and she nodded, mortified. “All right, yes. But I had to know–”
“How it happens. The Turning. You wanted to see it for yourself. My account of it wasn’t enough for you, I suppose. And just
what,” he continued softly, moving his chair a bit closer to hers, “did you learn?”
Suddenly, the tone of the conversation had shifted. “I…” she stammered, finding that she could not bring herself to put into words the lessons that had stood out most powerfully of all. I learnt what pure, animal desire really looks like. What it feels like. How you looking at me the way you did made me feel like I couldn’t breathe, and it frightened me. That you are beautiful. And an enigma. That I really don’t understand any of it. “You… you were naked. You’d taken off your clothes,” she faltered.
“Was that all you noticed?” Draco’s smile was lazy. “Really? Come now, Granger. Surely your powers of observation are keener than that.”
There was a spot of colour high on both her cheeks now, and he sensed that her breathing had grown slightly more rapid and shallow. His own pulse had begun to race. A small inner voice was warning him to stop. But he couldn’t seem to help himself.
He moved closer still.
“Would you like me to tell you what I learnt?” he asked, his voice low and silken. “I learnt, Hermione Granger, that you are a woman for whom still waters run very deep indeed. You got more than you’d bargained for, didn’t you, spying on me that way. But you took it all in. You saw. You know. And I think you understand far more than you care to let on.”
His chair was flush against hers now, their shoulders nearly touching. He smelled of soap and a delightfully musky aroma all his own, and his eyes glittered dangerously as he gazed at her.
“Tell me, Hermione. Tell me what you saw.”
She was finding it difficult to catch a proper breath now, and she tried moving back, but his hand shot out and caught her arm, holding her in place, his eyes never leaving hers. He leaned closer still, so that his mouth hovered very near her own. She could feel his warm breath fanning her face.
His gaze was relentless, those quicksilver eyes burning into her now just as they had the night before. She had to escape them somehow. And so she closed her own eyes, tried to shut him out, draw down a wall, if only an illusory one.
The attempt proved futile, for in the next moment, his mouth was on hers and Merlin above, she was falling into him and returning his kiss. His lips were so very soft, the kiss tender and slow and intoxicating. At long last, both of them breathless, he gave her mouth a final, playful nip and drew back.
“That,” he murmured, “is what I saw in your eyes last night. And just the beginning of what I know you saw in mine.”
The sweetness of that voluptuous mouth and the scent of his hair and skin– his very nearness– had been dizzying, and Hermione’s eyes had remained closed as he spoke, and then a moment longer. At last, they fluttered open again. Draco was calmly eating dinner. Catching her eye, he inclined his head with a small, amused smile and raised a glass of wine in her direction.
The food on the table might have been just so much sawdust as far as Hermione was concerned. Eating was the last thing on her mind at the moment, though her dining companion’s appetite seemed, on the contrary, to have been greatly whetted by what had just transpired between them. His concerns, if he’d had any, had apparently been satisfied. She only wished she could even remember her own. But her many questions had slipped blithely away, elusive and surprisingly insubstantial, suddenly, in the face of something that had proven far more potent.
She had come with the best of intentions. But this… this arrangement she had chosen to enter into with Malfoy… it was becoming a very dangerous game. If she stayed, saw it through, she might lose far more than just time out of her life.
The young woman felt certain that no matter how obscure and powerful the curse, there must be a way to Unmake it. Even more importantly, she knew that she might very well be the only person willing to help the afflicted young man, though she did so at her own peril. Despite the risk, she decided to stay.
The next several days saw a curious reversal of events, in which the hunted simultaneously became the hunter and vice versa.
Whereas earlier, Draco’s periodic absences and questions regarding his whereabouts had driven Hermione to extreme measures, now he discovered that more often than not, her own whereabouts were confounding him.
For the first two days following the kiss, she failed to turn up at dinner, which was when Draco was accustomed to seeing her without fail. On the third evening, as Scabwort finished magicking the meal in place on the long, ornately carved table, Draco cleared his throat.
“Scabwort, a word. Have you… er… seen Miss Granger about anywhere?”
The little house-elf shook his head and shrugged. “Scabwort is very sorry, Sir. I has not seen her since early this morning.”
Draco found himself growing impatient, but he managed to rein in his annoyance. “Where was she then?”
“Oh!” The house-elf looked like he’d had an epiphany. “I is most dreadfully sorry, Sir. She was in the library. At eight o’clock,” he added helpfully, clearly pleased with himself for anticipating his master’s next question. “She asked Scabwort for cocoa and a biscuit. I–”
“Thank you, Scabwort. I don’t need to know what she ate for breakfast,” Draco cut in. “Was that the last time you saw her?”
The house-elf nodded vigourously, his large, pointed ears flapping.
“What about yesterday? And the day before that?”
Again, the house-elf shrugged apologetically. He hadn’t seen the young lady, he assured his young master, past breakfast on any given morning lately. He did not know where she had been spending her time.
“All right, Scabwort. You may go.” Distractedly, Draco waved him away, his brow furrowed. Where had Granger been the past three days? Was she hiding, and if she was, why? Could she be avoiding him?
If so, it certainly wasn’t the reaction he’d hoped to elicit by giving her that kiss. Well, kisses, to be precise. One had led to several, and they’d become heated very quickly. She had been utterly delicious, her mouth so very pliant and supple and warm. Drunk on the taste, feel and smell of her, he’d found himself craving more and then more still, the tantalising intimacy of their joined mouths never quite enough. Surely, the encounter had affected her in the same way. He remembered with considerable satisfaction how virtually spellbound she’d looked after they’d separated at last. And yet now, she seemed to be doing all she could to keep her distance.
Draco remained at the dinner table a while longer, trying to make sense of it all. Whenever he’d kissed women before, they’d always been wildly responsive, even though he hadn’t been anywhere near as engaged with any of them as he’d found himself with Granger. Truth to tell, he’d never before been so gloriously swept away by a snog, to the point that his experience of other women now paled by comparison. The irony of it all was really rather funny. He’d had his fair share of sex appeal even before the curse, which had only served to intensify it a hundredfold. Had he but crooked his little finger, any number of women would have handed him the key to the vault along with the one to the boudoir. Now the shoe was on the other foot; his animal magnetism, hitherto irresistible, had actually driven the woman he desired away, leaving him frustrated and confused and almost painfully wanting more. Much more.
Male pride was one thing. His had been bruised, it was true. But that was nothing to the annoying knowledge that Hermione Granger was now leading him a merry chase.
And then Draco smiled as he reminded himself of something fairly elementary. No woman kisses a man like that and then walks away, not seriously. Let her play her little games. He had always rather enjoyed the intrigues and challenges of the hunt. Moreover, he could smell desire a mile off. Hers for him still hung in the air, rich and ripe and laced with just a hint of fear. He could practically taste it, his balls tightening at the thought.
He ran his tongue over his lips and smiled again, teeth flashing in a slow, broad grin. Clever though she was, Hermione Granger would discover that she had met her match in him. In no great hurry now, he forked up a bite of tender roast chicken, savouring it. Wherever and whatever she was hiding, he would flush her out.
In the end, finding Hermione proved far simpler than Draco had expected.
The following evening, she simply appeared at dinner as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Draco was already seated, and he glanced up as she entered the room, delicately arching an eyebrow but saying nothing.
For several minutes, both of them attended to their meal, the only sound being cutlery clinking against china. Hermione seemed particularly intent on rearranging the peas on her plate.
Eventually, Draco stopped eating and leaned back in his chair. He waited a moment or two, long enough that Hermione noticed, finally, and put down her fork as well.
“What?” she asked warily.
“Been dieting lately, have you?” he drawled. “Scabwort has really outdone himself the past few nights– in your honour, I believe– and he was quite put out that you weren’t here to enjoy any of it.”
“Oh, no,” she began hastily. “See, I asked him to bring a tray to my room. I… um… well, I was quite busy with my research. Loads of reading to do, you know…” She gave a light, nervous laugh.
“Right. Of course.” Draco nodded sagely. “So much, in fact, that for the past three days, you didn’t have even half an hour to stop for a civilised meal.” He paused and when he spoke again, his voice had grown soft, but there was an edge to it. “With me.”
Hermione looked away, unable for the moment to meet the eyes of the man whose clear, grey gaze pinioned her where she sat.
It was true. What she’d said had sounded rather thin. Of course, it was also true that three days earlier, she’d been on the verge of running away like a frightened little rabbit, away from this house and from Draco Malfoy just as fast as she could manage, and banishing him from her thoughts. Or attempting to, at least.
Because he’d touched something in her, something wild and unpredictable and hungry. She hadn’t known it was there, hadn’t realised she was capable of such an intensely primal response to a man. The sudden awareness had shocked her, made her feel… exposed, vulnerable. He was capable of moving her to emotions she wasn’t sure she could control. Perhaps she wouldn’t even want to control them in the end, and that scared her even more.
There followed a fairly sleepless night. As darkness dissolved into the milky light of early morning, she had tossed and turned in bed and then got up to pace. Finally, she’d come to a decision of sorts, one she could live with and still honour her purpose in coming to Malfoy Manor in the first place. She would strenuously focus all her energies on working to solve the puzzle of the curse, closing herself off to any sort of dalliance with Malfoy himself.
Because a dalliance was all it could ever be. To him, she’d be just another conquest that he’d forget about before too long. But for her, it would be different. She sensed that she could easily lose herself in him, and he would hurt her in the end. Altruism had been a good enough motive to bring her here, and helping him was still worthy of her time and efforts. She might even learn something in the process that could strengthen her magical abilities. She would just have to make certain not to let him get too close again.
To that end, she’d chosen the privacy and solitude of her room, Spelling it to appear empty to the naked eye, so that it would offer her genuine sanctuary against interruptions and unsolicited attentions. Scabwort had become an ally, keeping his knowledge of her whereabouts a secret and bringing her meals up on a tray twice a day for the previous three days. She’d assured him that her seclusion was essential to finding a way to break the curse. She needed quiet and time spent strictly alone in order to do the necessary research to help his master. To this, Scabwort had agreed, though not without some trepidation about the consequences of being caught out. His master’s temper was not something he’d wanted to provoke.
Now, she raised her eyes to meet his, her chin lifted defensively. “Look, I… I came here to help you, and that’s what I intend to do. It’s the reason you asked me to stay. Anything else… well, it’s just pointless, really, isn’t it. It won’t go anywhere. It can’t.”
“Why? Why can’t it?” Draco asked softly, eyes lucent, his gaze unwavering. “Are you really so sure of that, Hermione? What are you afraid of?”
She remained silent, looking away instead, cheeks lightly flushed. And then, deep in his gut, he intuited the answer to his final question, a possibility he hadn’t seriously considered before. He had misjudged her actions, chalking them up to feminine coyness, to game-playing. No. Something deeper and far more profound had caused her to run. And even as sudden understanding and compassion washed over him, the fire deep in his belly flared hotter than before, the hunger rekindled.
Straddle the line in discord and rhyme.
I’m on the hunt, I’m after you …
The following days became an ongoing dance of small evasions and quiet, methodical, very careful pursuit. Mostly, Hermione spent time in the library. Sometimes, Draco joined her, infrequently at first. But very gradually, he appeared more and more often, until it was not uncommon for them to be sitting quietly together at the massive old desk, poring through the many volumes on traditional spellwork and the Dark Arts that the Malfoy family had collected over centuries.
“What’s it really like to be a Renou?” she asked abruptly one evening, looking up from the page she was reading and fixing Draco with large, curious eyes. It was a question she’d wanted to put to him for some time. “Is it all right for me to ask you that? I don’t mean to pry...”
She looked almost... shy. It was strangely endearing. Carefully suppressing a smile, Draco leaned back in his chair and studied Hermione thoughtfully for a moment before answering.
“Do you really want to know?” he asked at last. “Because it’s far from a simple answer, and I doubt it’s what you’re expecting to hear.”
Hermione nodded. “Please,” she said simply, and settled back to listen.
“This could take a while,” he murmured, moving to the sofa that faced the large, open hearth and beckoning to her to join him by the fire. For several moments, he sat very still, watching the fire crackle merrily as it consumed several large logs, and then he sighed, lying back against the cushions. “Right. Where shall I begin?”
“At the beginning,” she replied firmly, perching on a nearby hassock. “Tell me what the change feels like.”
“See... it starts in your belly. A sort of hunger. You feel restless, excited, nervous... you don’t know what to do with yourself. And suddenly you’re starving, but it’s not just a basic desire for food. It’s... well… the need to satisfy a much more powerful drive. Instinct, you know? It’s very strong. The urges are the same as for any ordinary fox or wolf.”
Hermione looked at him thoughtfully, leaning forward so that her elbows rested on her knees, her chin in the palm of one hand. “The urge to hunt down prey and–”
“Kill it. Sink my teeth into its flesh and shred it. Tear off chunks of bloody meat, gnaw on the bones and then suck the marrow from them until there’s nothing left.” Draco paused, shuddering involuntarily. “It isn’t pretty.”
“No,” she murmured. “It must be awful…”
“Awful, yes.” He nodded, and there was an odd, almost dreamy expression on his face now. “But… I love it, too.” He paused, smiling a little at the look on her face. “Surprised you, did I?”
She nodded wordlessly.
“You have to understand… It’s… exhilarating,” he continued, shaking his head in wonderment. “I feel this tremendous energy propelling me forward. And when I get really close, there’s a rush… the blood is singing in my head and I’m salivating. And then… then, at the moment I make the kill, when I close my jaws around my prey, feel it stop struggling finally and go limp, I feel… invincible.”
Hermione had been listening, spellbound and horrified in equal measures. Her mouth had fallen open slightly. “Was it like that when you killed people as well?” she whispered, her eyes huge.
Draco squeezed his own eyes shut for a moment, wincing at her words. When at last he opened them again, his gaze was clear-eyed and unwavering.
“Yes. Exactly like that.”
A moment passed in which neither of them spoke.
“Oh…” Hermione murmured at last, in a very small voice. “I see.” She swallowed hard and looked down at her hands. “Do you… do you miss it?”
“What? The urge to kill humans? No,” he replied shortly. “I don’t, thank Merlin. Well… I reckon that’s not entirely true. I did at first, right after the war ended. It took all my self-restraint not to.”
“But… how did you stop yourself?”
Draco gave a short, harsh bark of laughter. “No different to kicking a filthy drug habit. I went cold turkey. Locked myself up here, Spelled all the doors and windows so that I couldn’t get out when the Turning took me. Instructed Scabwort to stop me however he had to if I managed to get round my own spells. It was… pretty bad for a while. Scabwort would leave me chunks of raw meat just to satisfy the most basic cravings, but… it didn’t stop the killing urge. That was something I had to kick on my own, over time. A long time. Eventually, I found I could satisfy myself sufficiently well with small animals… mice, rabbits, voles, sometimes birds.” He laughed again, and it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Did a fair bit of damage to the furniture before that, though.”
He sank back against the cushions again, his eyes trained on the ceiling. The pain was evident in the lines around his eyes and mouth.
“I hated myself, you know?” he said softly, his voice so low that Hermione had to strain to hear him. “Hated what I’d become. An animal. A killing machine. I told you this before, but perhaps now you really see. The Dark Lord fixed me good and proper. Made it so I was a slave to my instincts as an animal, except that he twisted those instincts, made them far more dangerous.”
Hermione hesitated. “Did you… did you kill many people?”
He nodded, passing a hand over his eyes briefly and then pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “I did, yes. Far too many to count.”
“Draco, listen to me.” Hermione looked at him earnestly. “That’s been over and done with for a long time now, you said so yourself. You are ever so much stronger than those instincts! You’ve learnt to control them. And just maybe we can find a way to stop them altogether!”
Draco raised himself up on his elbows so that he could look directly at her. This he did for several long seconds, his brow furrowed and his eyes suddenly unreadable. He appeared to be on the verge of saying something more. Then, abruptly, he hauled himself up from the sofa.
“I’m feeling rather tired tonight. Please excuse me.”
And with that, he turned on his heel and left the library. Hermione watched him go, nonplussed. What had just happened? Had her questions gone too far? Stupid, stupid, she berated herself. How could I have been so insensitive? Of course he’d be upset now!
Meanwhile, up in his room, Draco was behind a locked door and pacing, stopping every once in a while to stare out the window at a night sky blanketed with clouds and a scant handful of glittering stars. He’d had to escape, hadn’t he, because that feeling had been growing again, squeezing his chest and crowding out everything else. She’d been so sincere, so hopeful, and… damn it all, her dark eyes had been so warm, her mouth so delectably inviting…
She truly wanted to help him, and, the gods knew, nobody else was ever likely to feel that way. Well, with the exception of his parents, and try as they had, they’d been no help. No, Granger was it, dubious as the possibility of her breaking the curse was.
But… what if his admissions proved to be just a bit too candid, too raw? What if the graphic realities of his life proved too appalling when she’d had time to really think about what he’d told her? He’d certainly felt that way himself often enough over the years. What then?
He wanted her to stay. Merlin above, he wanted her. Even more now than before. And it would be so easy, so fucking easy, to have her… except that things were no longer simple. They’d changed, become… complicated. He’d complicated them by dragging out his private feelings for public consumption, opening himself to this girl who had found a way to touch him somehow. If he took her now, yes, he would have had her, but she would never really be his. And suddenly, he knew that he wanted the chance for something more, just the possibility at least.
If it weren’t so painful and confusing, this would actually be almost funny, finding himself caught by a conscience that hadn’t seriously stung him in years, not since that last Muggle whose throat he had ripped out. And as for the women he’d had in the interim, they had been forgotten, but then, they’d expected nothing from him in the first place, or so he’d always reassured himself. Now he wondered whether even that had ever been true.
The moon was high in the sky now, a sliver as delicate as a lady’s slipper and partially veiled by clouds. A perfect hunting sky. Silent and invisible, he could slip through the tangled underbrush, a swift and lethal shadow.
Methodically, he removed his clothing, folding each piece and laying it carefully on the bed, until he stood naked and shivering before the doors opening onto the balcony.
Release waited for him like a kind mistress in the darkened wood, and with it, a fleeting peace. Stepping out into the cold night air, he spread his arms wide to embrace the fox.
In touch with the ground,
I’m on the hunt, I’m after you.
Mouth is alive, all running inside,
And I’m hungry like the wolf …
The note was intriguingly cryptic.
In the game of cat and mouse that had mysteriously resumed following this last, most revealing conversation, Hermione had seen nothing of her host for two whole days. ‘He regrets what he told me,’ she’d anguished, waiting in vain for Draco to make an appearance in the library or at meals. ‘He regrets trusting me with something so personal. I’ve intruded.’
Then, suddenly, on the third morning, there was a note, the small square of parchment left in a sealed envelope on the open page she’d been reading most recently.
There is a Pensieve in the lower portion of the cabinet that holds the bronze astrolabe. You will find a memory vial there as well.
The unlocking spell is Déverrouiller. My family has certain little eccentricities, you won’t be surprised to learn. The astrolabe cabinet is eight hundred years old and came with my ancestors from France. The unlocking spell came with it. Touch the tip of your wand to the spell word for the correct pronunciation. Without that, the cabinet will not open.
Please use the Pensieve. You need to know everything.
A surge of excitement shot through Hermione, and eagerly, she ran up to her room and retrieved her wand. Returning to the library, she hurried to the cabinet in question, parchment and wand in hand.
The cabinet sat in a corner of the room between two massive bookcases. Resting on top was a large, bronze astrolabe, easily two feet in diameter, very old and ornately carved with a series of numbers, pictures, and other mathematical and astrological markings. On its own, it was a mechanism that would ordinarily have fascinated Hermione, but there was no time to examine it just now. What was locked away in the cabinet beneath it was far more important.
She touched the tip of her wand to the parchment. Instantly, a man’s voice– Draco’s voice– was heard, its tone crisp and clear. Déverrouiller.
“Day-vay-ROO-yay,” she repeated, tapping the ancient lock with her wand tip.
She tried again a bit more forcefully. This time, a series of clicks, knocks, and metal scrapings could be heard from inside the cabinet, and suddenly, the door swung open. Hermione crouched down, peering inside the darkened interior.
“Lumos!” she murmured, and the tip of her wand flared into a small halo of bright light.
A very old Pensieve waited, its exterior carved with ancient runic symbols and a whitish liquid bubbling gently inside. Beside it lay a slender vial slightly larger than a human finger, filled with a pale, amber fluid.
With fingers that trembled slightly, Hermione carefully withdrew the stone basin and set it on the desk, then went back for the vial. This she unstoppered with a gingerly, nervous tug. As the cork came away with a tiny pop, a snake-like trail of wispy smoke rose from the vial, leaving a faint, vapourous cloud above the Pensieve as she poured Draco’s memory in.
What did he want her to see, she wondered, her heart racing and her mouth suddenly bone dry. Taking a deep breath, she lowered her face to the liquid…
Crouching low to the ground, she sees the world through feral, intuitive eyes… Cold night air sharp as cut glass searing her lungs… Darkness so dense and pervasive, it can almost be touched… Twigs underfoot, and rocks… sharp… painful… Patches of snow mixed with mud, hard as stone… Path… narrow, but it can be seen clearly enough… Moving carefully, quietly through the underbrush… Brambles tugging at fur, snagging it painfully… Wait… stop… sounds… listen… Listen!... Breathing slowed, quieted, ears erect… straining... Ah, there!... Small feet scurrying, moving through dead leaves snow-sodden and muddied… Listen, listen… Carefully now… One slim black paw placed stealthily in front of the other, padding silently… slowly… stopping… Close… So close… Heart racing, mouth filling with juices… Wait… A moment more… And… NOW! A leap! High in the frostbitten air, muscles bunching and flexing, stretching in something like flight, heart bursting… One sublime moment caught and frozen in time, mid-air… and… THERE! YES! It squeaks, twisting… sharp teeth clamp down on its small neck, closing the airway, nearly decapitating it… struggles cease… shuddering… twitching at the last… and then it’s still… It is hers now, will become a part of her, its small life absorbed and subsumed by her own… Emerging, temporarily sated, from the wood into open fields under a bright crescent moon… a million stars wink overhead… Trotting… Picking up the pace, running now for the sheer joy of it… frigid air rushing past, singeing eyes and nostrils like frozen fire… Must dance… a joyful leaping, twisting, and turning… the hunter’s dance… An exuberant cry bursts from her throat… and there are others too… One by one, voices rise up and echo over the expanse of fields and meadows… They join and swell, their song an offering to the stars…
With a convulsive gasp, Hermione jerked upright, grasping the edge of the desk for support, and then fell back into the nearby chair, a hand pressed to her heart. Exhausted and shaken, she shut her eyes and fought to steady her breathing.
Behind her eyes, recollected images and fragmented impressions flashed rapidly by. As her breathing calmed, she sat forward at the desk, grabbed a quill and some blank parchment, and began to write.
Scent and a sound, I’m lost and I’m found…
Draco was waiting for her in the dining room when she arrived there that evening. Sitting in his usual place, he watched her calmly as she came in and seated herself, his long, elegant fingers idly toying with a fork.
When their meal materialised on the table, he tucked in immediately, eating silently but watching her all the while. Hermione could feel his furtive glances as she ate, though he tried to hide them, looking away quickly whenever she raised her eyes to meet his.
At last the meal came to an end. Draco carefully folded his napkin, laid it on the table by his plate, and stood.
“Come,” he said simply, and walked out of the room.
Hermione remained for a moment longer. Small tendrils of nerves had begun coiling and fluttering in her stomach, suddenly, as she guessed what it was he wanted from her. She was eager to share her experiences and yet apprehensive, somehow. Why? she asked herself, as she stood, reluctance still plucking at her, and followed him into the drawing room.
He knew very well what was in the thread of memory he’d left her. Her recounting of the basic facts would be no surprise. But if she were to be completely truthful… well, that would be something else altogether. Because it would complicate things. Even now, she hadn’t completely worked out how she really felt about what she’d seen and done and what all of it meant.
However, he had asked her– implored her, really– to view a memory that was clearly emblematic of his cursed life as a Renou. She’d done as he had asked, and now she was obliged to describe her experience of it to him, face to face.
She found Draco sitting in the high-backed wing chair that faced the drawing room’s mammoth stone hearth, where a robust fire was throwing flickering skeins of orange light across the room. He looked up as she approached, gesturing in the direction of the nearby sofa. She seated herself, and for a time, the two of them were silent, watching the flames greedily devour several hickory logs.
She raised her eyes to look at him at last, unsure of what to expect. What she saw in his eyes stopped her cold.
His gaze did not falter, his wide, grey eyes luminous in the firelight. In them, a myriad of emotions warred with each other: fear (of what, she could only guess), loss, regrets, a deep and quite naked longing that made her shiver despite herself, and above all, questions. Do you understand? Do you judge me? Am I anathema to you now? He was holding nothing back.
“Tell me,” he said impatiently, almost brusquely. “I know you used the Pensieve as I asked. Please… tell me what it meant for you. I need to know.”
Hermione swallowed hard and nodded, drawing her knees up and hugging them tightly to her chest. “Did you know that I would experience your memory as if it were my own?”
He nodded. “I knew it was a possibility. I hoped you would, anyway.”
“I was… I was hunting in the wood,” she began then, “moving ever so quietly, low to the ground. It was night, pitch black and really cold, though I felt warm… my fur was lovely, thick, so very soft… The silence was unearthly, except… except it wasn’t really silent at all. There were all sorts of small sounds; I could hear things that I don’t think humans ever hear…”
“That’s true. Go on. Tell me what you heard.”
“The wind in the treetops… it was such a mournful sound, but beautiful too, you know? And… and I could hear small rustlings in the brush, things moving about… I wanted to follow the sounds, find what was making them…”
He smiled wryly. “Curiosity?”
Hermione shook her head with a tiny smile of her own. “No. Hunger. Of course you knew that, didn’t you. I wanted that animal, whatever it was. I craved it. I can’t ever remember feeling hunger that intense. For food, I mean,” she added and then blushed fiercely, looking away as she realised how her words must have sounded. How much implicit truth they actually contained.
The sudden, high colour washing over her cheeks was so beautiful. He felt his throat constrict, and he sucked in a deep, calming breath to steady himself, his hands clenching into fists by his sides.
“Go on,” he breathed.
“There was no thought,” she continued, her voice full of wonder. “It was just… just feeling, being there in that moment: the snow and mud under my feet, the smell and taste of the wind and the snow and the earth, the rabbit I hunted and killed– it was like I could smell its blood on the wind, and its fear!– the night sounds, small things moving. The wood was full of life. I could feel it humming all round me. Everything seemed connected, purposeful. Stripped down to essentials. I’ve never known anything like that. It was…” She paused and looked, wide-eyed, at Draco, who was watching her intently. “Glorious. I felt so incredibly alive.”
She knew. She knew and she understood. The relief was almost more than Draco could bear. He could feel all his muscles going slack and the pent-up breath finally escaping his lungs in a deep sigh.
He nodded. “Yes. Exactly.” It’s what I hoped you would see.
A moment’s silence passed, the only sound that of the fire as a log broke in half and slipped down deeper into the burning embers.
“Draco…” She hesitated, feeling almost shy. “Forgive me. I know this is going to sound absolutely mad, but… I need to ask… Are you sure you really want to break the curse?
“I mean,” she rushed on, mindful of just how insane her question must have seemed. “I know it’s controlled your life for years, and the things it made you do in the past were dreadful, but that was Voldemort, not you. I think… I think that in a way, it really is a kind of gift as well. Are you sure you want to give that up?”
There. She had said it. Now she darted a quick glance at him, hoping to gauge his reaction to her words.
Draco stood and then moved to the fire to prod it with the iron poker. Satisfied that it was burning properly, he faced Hermione, the light from the hearth turning his hair into a halo of fiery gold while casting his face into shadows. There was something about his eyes, all liquid brilliance in the darkness, that was arresting. Breathtaking. She couldn’t look away.
“I am a pariah,” he whispered raggedly. “I dare not move in the circles of ordinary society for fear of exposure. I’m forced to be alone because no woman in possession of her sanity would consent to share such a life with me. That’s true, isn’t it?” He moved closer so that now he stood directly over her, his eyes never leaving hers. “Isn’t it?”
Her mouth had gone to dust as she looked up at him, his gaze searing hers. She had no words at all, suddenly.
He dropped down to his knees before her, his voice trembling with barely contained anger and sorrow. “Would you really condemn me to a life of unrelieved loneliness, Hermione? All for the sake of a ‘gift’ I never asked for, never wanted? Could you really be that cruel?”
He held out his hands to her, palms up, in a gesture resembling supplication, and impulsively, she took them in hers, clasping them tightly. There was so much pain in those eyes, so much need, a fundamental, all-too-human need that had been denied for so long.
“Draco,” she breathed, not even knowing where the moment was leading them both– or rather, knowing full well but not thinking for once, just feeling, and not stopping it. “Draco…”
Their fingers still threaded together, he tugged her forward so that she slid from the sofa down to the floor. There was a moment, breathless and heady, in which neither spoke or moved, and then arms wound around waists and they held each other close.
“Oh gods!” he murmured brokenly, pressing his forehead to hers. I want you. I want you so much, it’s killing me…
His breathing had grown shallow, and she could smell his arousal now, the scent of his skin and his breath and his soft hair mixing to create an intoxicatingly masculine perfume. Thrilled by it, she drew him closer, twining her arms around his neck, bringing his mouth so near to hers now that she could feel his softly exhaled breaths warming her lips.
“Kiss me, Hermione. Please,” he said huskily, and those few, simple words were all it took.
Fervently, she pressed a multitude of kisses to his mouth, revelling in the sweetness of it. She felt him sigh with pleasure, opening his mouth to the shy probing of her tongue and drawing her in even more deeply.
And then, abruptly and unaccountably, he pulled away.
“No… No, I… I can’t. I’m sorry,” he muttered, though she could have sworn his eyes were saying something altogether different. “I’m sorry!” he said again. “Goodnight.” And with that, he strode quickly out of the room and disappeared up the stairs.
She watched him go, her fingertips grazing lips still swollen from his kisses, and then she sank down into his chair by the fire, staring numbly at the flames and wondering what on earth had just happened. Nothing was making sense. Given her earlier resolution, it should have been she who had pulled away, instead of which she had been ready for more, far more, and he had been the one to call a halt. The only conclusion she could come up with made as little sense as the rest of it and was hell on her ego, to boot.
Swallowing down tears of humiliation, she ran up the stairs and locked herself in her room. Drawing the curtains against the chill night air, she failed to notice a flash of red far below, streaking across the snowy meadow.
Focus. Find a solution. Once and for all, forget this on-again, off-again dance they’d been doing. Her original decision had been the prudent one. It would be enough if she could actually find a way to break the curse. Why risk her heart in the process?
And it would be a risk, a huge one, more even than she’d originally imagined. Clearly, Draco Malfoy was a complex man with many secrets he still chose to hide. If he couldn’t decide what he wanted from her, perhaps it really was best that things remain strictly platonic between them. All these mixed signals were bound to end badly.
Still, she couldn’t help wondering what had turned him off so suddenly. Had he been put off by the actual physical contact? Had she repulsed him in some way? She didn’t really believe that, not seriously. He’d seemed too aroused. Had that been an act? Or had something else got in the way, something ugly and twisted that cut far deeper?
Could it be that “Mudblood” was a word still lurking at the edges of his vocabulary, even if he no longer used it and would not readily admit even to thinking it?
She closed the volume she’d been searching through, feeling vaguely sickened at the thought and no longer remotely productive.
The dark heart of winter arrived, and still, there was no solution to the problem, no help the girl could offer the cursed young man. The days grew markedly shorter and night came early, the moon and stars gleaming coldly in a vast, blackened sky.
Third Week of December
Snow was falling steadily, and Hermione laid down her quill to watch the flakes as they danced and swirled, lifted by small gusts of wind. The afternoon’s wan light had already faded into early evening. Dinner would be served before long.
She had been sitting in the library for the better part of the afternoon, staring at the parchment in front of her and ruminating. Her research was finished at last, and it had been an exhaustive effort. But at the end of it, she’d found that she had very little to show, apart from a lot of useless information. Draco had been right. He’d been over all of it before, countless times. What had made her think she could uncover something that he hadn’t been able to find himself?
One thing she’d always known about Malfoy was that beneath the sarcasm and laissez faire attitude, he had a keen intellect. She’d seen evidence of it in the classes they’d shared. That aside, his quick wit made it a dead give-away. She’d always suspected that if ever he bothered to put his whole mind and heart into something, he would succeed brilliantly. So if even he, the one with the most to gain, had been unable to find the means to break the curse, then perhaps there really was no way to do it after all and she would have to admit defeat. She’d been arrogant, and in the process, she’d raised his hopes unfairly.
And if she were to be completely honest with herself, she had to admit that she’d prolonged her search for an answer– even after she knew in her heart of hearts that it was probably futile– because she had wanted a reason to stay. Now that reason had been stretched rather too thin. She had no choice but to leave. Somehow, she would have to find a way to apologise and explain.
At her request, Scabwort had obediently gone in search of his master, and before long, Draco appeared on the library’s threshold. He moved quickly to her side.
“Have you found something?” he asked, his voice underscoring the tension in his eyes and in the cast of his mouth.
“Well,” Hermione began awkwardly, casting about for the right words. “I’ve finished going through all the books in your family’s collection that I thought might be of use, and I’ve made a list of traditional and alternative methods of curse-breaking and cures for therianthropy.”
Draco had dropped into a chair, folding his arms and looking at her apprehensively.
“And?” His voice had an unmistakable edge to it now.
“And… well…” Hermione girded herself. Just say it. “Nothing’s added up to much of anything so far. You were right. The information’s far too antiquated, and in some cases, it’s positively ridiculous. Here, listen.” She plucked the parchment she’d been perusing from the desk and cleared her throat. “The ancient Greeks and Romans thought that you could cure somebody of being a were-creature by exercising it out of them. Supposedly, if the afflicted person were completely knackered, the disease would be purged. Sicilians thought that you could cure a were-creature by hitting him on the head with a knife. They also thought that they could effect a cure by driving sharp nails into the person’s hands.”
“Lovely!” Draco snorted. “Yeah, I remember seeing that. Reckon I’ll steer clear of Sicily.”
“And the Middle East as well,” she replied. ‘Those particular beliefs have Arabic roots.”
“What else?” he asked dismally. “That can’t have been the only thing you dug up after all this time.”
“No, of course not. Altogether, I found loads of counter-spells and alleged cures, but the problem is, those that aren’t just plain silly have never been proven to really work, and the rest are spotty at best. Far more myth than real magic. It seems therianthropy is a condition that’s very hard to reverse, and the most that’s ever been achieved is a temporary measure of control over it. Like that potion Professor Snape used to brew for Professor Lupin. That’s all it did, really.”
She paused and he nodded wearily. This was all old news. Despite what he’d allowed himself to hope for, it was the reality he’d expected.
“And on top of that,” she continued, gritting her teeth and soldiering on, “you’re a special case. You were cursed by the most powerful dark wizard who ever lived. I expect he’d have made sure that ordinary magic would be useless against his curse. I know you’ve gone over all this stuff before. I… I suppose,” she admitted in a smaller voice, “I’d been hoping to unearth something, I’m not even sure what, but something really obscure that could reverse what he’d done.” She heaved a sigh and frowned. “But there’s really nothing. I’m so sorry. Could you… could you tell me just one more time whatever you can remember about the night Voldemort cast the curse?” At this point, she was clutching at straws and she knew it. But she didn’t care.
Draco’s mouth tightened into a thin line, disappointment etched in his face. He’d told her the story many times before. What the fuck, though. What was one more? At this point, he had nothing to lose.
“Yeah, all right. I told you before, it was very late at night. I’d been in bed, asleep. Suddenly, I woke up in agony; my left arm felt like it was on fire. He was Summoning me and you didn’t ignore a summons from him. I went downstairs. He was waiting for me in the dining room. Nobody else was about, it was just him and me. The room was dark and cold, just a few candles burning and the fire going down low. I remember… I remember feeling nervous, more and more as the minutes passed, because… fucking hell… there was this really creepy smile on his face, like he was enjoying a private joke that somehow I knew I wouldn’t like at all. Bugger if he wasn’t going to share it with me anyway, though, and the thought of it pleased that depraved piece of shit no end, I could tell.”
Ah, Draco. I have interrupted your sleep. Apologies. I have not had the pleasure of your company in some time. And as it happens, I wish to give you something of great value.
He shuddered involuntarily at the memory and fell silent.
“Go on,” Hermione urged him, moving nearer and laying a gentle hand on his arm. Her face was quite close to his now, and she gazed intently into his grey eyes, now clouded with the pain of memories he’d striven for years to push out of striking range. “Please, Draco!”
He gave a small shake of his head, as if to clear the haunting cobwebs away. Swallowing hard, he continued. “His skin was cold, did you know that? I reckon his body temperature must have been a lot lower than normal for a human being, because…” Draco grimaced, shivering again. “… he reached out and pulled me close, forcing me against his chest, and his hands… they were scaly and dry and very cold.”
“Go on. What happened then?” Hermione asked softly. Without realising it, she had tightened her hold on his arm.
“He was hugging me hard, crushing me against him, and then… then he started whispering. I couldn’t make out what he was saying at first, and then I realised why. It was Parseltongue.”
“He was casting the curse,” Hermione murmured. “Right. What else? What happened after that?”
“Well, then he let me go, thank Merlin, and smiled that ghastly smile of his. I had no idea what he’d just done and frankly, at that moment, I didn’t give a shit. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there and back to my room.”
“Okay…” Hermione said slowly, disappointed. “So… that’s it, then, right?” So far, there were no new details, nothing he hadn’t already told her.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Draco replied, shrugging. He fell silent for a couple of moments, staring glumly into the fire.
Hermione felt her heart drop. This really was it, then. She had nothing to offer him. She’d have to leave, walk out of his life forever. And he would have no further part in hers. She rose to her feet with a small, resigned sigh.
Hermione turned back. “What? Did you remember something else?”
Draco nodded, surprised. “Yeah, I did actually. Though I can’t see how it could be very important. It’s just… after that, he went to the sideboard and came back with two glasses of my father’s best brandy. He handed one to me and said ‘Cheers,’ as if we were old friends having a drink together. Gods. What a joke! The whole thing was bizarre, but I have to admit, a drink was exactly what I wanted just then. Needed, really, by that time. I tossed it back, and I remember it burned like the very devil all the way down, which surprised me, because that brandy is generally pretty smooth. I remember wondering briefly if maybe he’d put something in it, but then I decided I’d probably just drunk it down too fast. I mean, I’d been watching him the whole time and I’d seen nothing. Well, anyway,” he went on, “then he walked over to the hearth and waved an arm at me, dismissing me. I went back to my room and locked the door and fell asleep right away. The brandy knocked me out, which was fine with me. I slept very soundly, no nightmares for once. No dreams at all.”
“You had no idea what he’d just done, had you…”
Draco looked at her. Her eyes had grown soft with a tender sympathy the depth of which he had not experienced before from anyone apart from his mother. There had been occasional, brief hints of it in his father’s agonised eyes, especially in the days after the curse had begun manifesting itself, but it had always been over-ridden by a cowering fear, guilt and shame.
Then there was Hermione. Even now, five years after the war’s end, she had every reason to despise him, or at the very least, to be indifferent to his plight. And yet…
“I hadn’t, no,” he said at last, looking away again. “I mean, I realised that he’d done something, but it wasn’t until several days later that I found out what it was. At that point, the Dark Lord deigned to tell me about the great ‘gift’ he’d conferred upon me and how it would make my service to him that much more productive. Oh, and meaningful. I forgot to mention that bit. Yeah.” Draco bit out a harsh laugh. “As if. Bloody lunatic. He wanted to own his followers, body, mind and soul. Yeah, I killed for him. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. But I swear, I never belonged to him. Not here.”
He touched a clenched fist to his heart, his eyes fierce now.
“Didn’t you?” Hermione asked softly, her gaze sorrowful.
“No!” Draco rose abruptly and began pacing, his movements clearly agitated. He raked a hand through his hair and began talking, almost as if he were alone in the room.
“You can’t know… I was a child, for fuck’s sake! What did I know beyond what I’d been taught? ‘Taught,’ hell– it was more like genteel, well-mannered brainwashing! ‘This is what it means to be a Malfoy, this is what it means to be a pure-blood, can’t let the old families down, now can we,’ ” he mimicked with a sneer. “ ‘Mustn’t let those Mudblood interlopers worm their way in, they’re not our sort… Must keep wizarding bloodlines pure, uphold tradition at all costs… Don’t disgrace the family name, Draco… Protect what’s ours by right, Draco… Family honour, Draco… Be a man, Draco’…”
He sniggered, and the sound of it grated. Hermione shut her eyes for a moment, cringing. The pain in his words was clear, its unfortunate genesis dating back many years to when they’d been mere children. She remembered the pale, blond boy who had come across so superior and untouchable but who had been utterly crushed at the last-minute loss of the house cup in their first year. Very much a child who could still be hurt, no matter what scathing, insufferable remarks he’d made about others and often right to their faces as well. Right to her face.
She remembered, too, the ashen-faced teenager tasked on pain of death– his parents' and his own– with the betrayal of his school and the murder of its headmaster. She hadn’t known at the time what must have been eating him alive– nobody had– but it was evident to everyone that something was seriously wrong with Draco Malfoy, something that tortured him without respite. He had seemed haunted, his face increasingly gaunt and hollow-eyed.
It seemed to Hermione that Draco was very nearly oblivious to her presence now. He sat with his back to her, hunched over and staring morosely into the fire, his mouth a thin, bitter line. Hermione moved closer, reaching out hesitantly and resting a hand on his shoulder. When he didn’t move, she sat down beside him and with gentle, tentative fingers smoothed a lock of hair away from his face.
He turned his head slowly, gazing at her with eyes full of remorse. “I hated what she did to you. My aunt. But I was scared. Scared of what would happen to me if I tried to stop her.”
“She’d have Crucio’d you as well.”
He nodded dejectedly. “Still. I should have said something. I should have tried.”
“But… in a way, you did. Remember? Before she… before she did what she did to me… you had the chance to tell her straight out that it was me, and you didn’t. I mean, you knew. I know you did. You recognised me and Harry right off. But you tried very hard not to answer. I remember that.” Hermione gently turned his face toward hers. “Why, Draco? I’ve always wondered about that.”
Draco’s fleeting smile was twisted, dark. “Have you? Hah. Reckon you must have been shocked that somebody like me could have even an ounce of decency.” Shaking her head, she opened her mouth to reply but he cut her off. “Don’t lie, Hermione. I don’t blame you for thinking that way. It’s my own fault that you did. The truth is, I was in way over my head, and it scared the living shit out of me.
“I saw and did things that will haunt me for the rest of my life. By the time you, Potter, and Weasley got here, I was fairly choking with it. When I saw my aunt torturing you… gods, your screams… it was more than I could stomach. And I knew I should have tried to stop her, except… except that if I had done, I’d have been next. I tried, yeah, but not nearly hard enough. I was a coward. Don’t think for one moment that I don’t know that.”
He turned his head away miserably, a muscle pulsing in his jaw.
“ ‘You cannot be a hero without being a coward,’ ” Hermione murmured.
“What?” Draco asked sharply, turning to look at her.
“George Bernard Shaw said that.” At his look of confusion, she added, “Famous Muggle playwright. I think it’s true.”
“How d’you reckon?” he scoffed. “Sounds like a load of bollocks to me.”
“Well,” she began, “what does it really mean to be a hero? Harry didn’t want to be one. Most of the time, he hated it. He used to get really angry sometimes. He felt burdened by everybody’s expectations, and what he really wanted was to just escape from all of it. A lot of the time, he was scared shitless too. That’s really what I think Shaw meant. You can’t be truly brave without making mistakes and running away sometimes too.”
Draco had been listening, his expression cryptic. Now he smirked. “Load of bollocks. I was right. Did Potter ever actually run?”
She shook her head slowly. “No. He never felt he had the choice to do what he really wanted.”
“Thought not. See, there’s the difference. I’d have said fuck the obligations and done what I wanted. I wouldn’t have cared about all that nobility shit.”
“Ah, but that’s not true,” Hermione countered softly. “You totally cared about all that ‘nobility shit,’ as you put it, in trying to protect your parents. You carried that burden on your own all of sixth year. As awful as what you did actually was– and you knew it was awful– you put your parents before everything. Nothing could have been more noble, in a way.”
“Couldn’t kill Dumbledore when it came down to it, though. So much for protecting my parents. Coward again!”
“No! You just weren’t a murderer! Voldemort tied murder to family loyalty. That’s how he trapped you. It was the most vicious, evil, insidious sort of blackmail and manipulation, and a total win-win situation for him. If he actually got you to kill Dumbledore, he’d have been happy. And if you couldn’t do it, it was one more thing he could hold over your head. And he got the pleasure of torturing you that whole year, knowing you’d be agonising over it and then feeling a failure when you couldn’t go through with it. See? Insidious.” Hermione shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself.
“I wasn’t a murderer then,” Draco said quietly. “He did that to me.” He sat back, shutting his eyes for a moment, and then opened them slowly to look at her. Suddenly, he seemed quite drained. “Look, Granger, I appreciate everything you’ve done. I mean that. I didn’t really expect you’d find some miracle cure. I just… I just hoped you might. S’okay. Life goes on, yeah?” He gave a short, mirthless laugh. “No different to the way it’s been the last five years. I’ve managed up to now. I’ll be all right.”
He stood then, glancing away in the direction of the hearth, where the fire was burning low, flames flickering in a field of ash-rimed embers. “I expect you’ll be leaving soon.” His tone was matter-of-fact.
He wanted her to go. And “Granger” again. Merlin. She shouldn’t be surprised, but somehow she was, nevertheless.
“Yes, expect so.” No time like the present. Hermione swallowed hard and forced a cheery smile in return. “I’ll… I’ll just go and pack my things, shall I? Then I’ll be out of your way. Look, Malfoy,” she blurted suddenly, reluctant to leave things as they were. Reluctant to leave at all. “I know what you said, and it was really gracious of you, considering, but… I really am very sorry. I honestly thought I could help. I wish I’d been able to.”
“So do I, believe me,” Draco replied, his voice so low that Hermione wasn’t sure she’d even heard him speak. More than you can possibly know.
The young woman returned to her home in London. Her flat seemed particularly small and empty, and so very quiet. The winter holidays were fast approaching, and like everyone else, she went about the business of shopping and making plans with friends, but the effort felt mechanical and joyless, somehow, as if a piece of herself had gone missing. Friends and relations noticed, but they chalked it up to winter doldrums that would pass. She was far less certain of that.
One afternoon at the end of December, several days after she’d returned home, Hermione found she was missing a pair of earrings she was certain she’d returned to the safety of her jewellery box. After several minutes of fruitless searching, she suddenly remembered something and hurried to find the small satchel she’d used for her toiletries while at Malfoy Manor. Maybe the earrings had got caught in the fabric of the satchel, and she’d inadvertently neglected to unpack them.
The satchel was in the top drawer of her chest. Eagerly, she pulled it out and untied the drawstring. Rooting about inside, she discovered no earrings, but something else was there– something she hadn’t put there herself, she realised with a small thrill of surprise. Her fingers closed around a small box; bewildered, she drew it out and looked at it.
The box was black and rectangular in shape. Intrigued, Hermione opened it.
There, on a bed of cotton wool, lay a round silver locket, its surface worked in exceedingly delicate filigree. Fingers shaking slightly, she pried it open. Inside, she found a small, twisted loop of red-gold fur tinged with purest white. It was extraordinarily soft and fine. Lifting it to her face, she breathed in its scent. It was strangely familiar. Smiling sadly, she fastened the locket around her neck. Then she noticed something else, a piece of paper that had been folded several times and carefully tucked beneath the locket. She unfolded it and felt her heart constrict in her chest.
Burning the ground, I break from the crowd.
I’m on the hunt, I’m after you…
The dreams started a week later, just a few days into the new year. Always, they began in the same way. She was running, running… fleet of foot and lighter than thistle, the wind in her fur and a bright moon finding its way through tangles of trees to light the leaf-strewn path. Her brain and belly urged her on, large, sensitive ears pricked for the smallest sounds in the underbrush, her nose tracking the telltale scent of mouse or squirrel or rabbit, saliva pooling in her mouth as she anticipated the meal she would have before long.
At first, she would awaken, heart pounding, just before the kill was made. But as the nights passed and the dreams became ever more frequent and vivid, she would make the kill and consume it, savouring the rich, pulpy flesh and tangy blood, the bones and their sweet, soft marrow. Afterwards, she would lick her lips and carefully clean herself, returning to her den to curl up, bushy tail covering her slender muzzle for warmth. Sleep would overtake her in the dream, and she would wake in the morning with the bedclothes in disarray around her.
On the seventh night, she snuggled down beneath the covers, a hand resting lightly on the locket nestled between her breasts. But sleep eluded her, and for a long time, she lay there, listening to the wind in the trees and watching the shadowy, skeletal dance of bare branches swaying gently outside the bedroom window.
When The Dream finally found her, it began as before, only this time, there was a very light snow falling, tiny white stars dropping from the twilight sky and dotting her russet fur…
Something is causing every muscle in her body to tense. Her head is erect, nose high, ears straining and eyes darting left and right. Something is different. She moves towards a clump of bushes ringing the base of an ancient yew tree. From the leaves, there arises a pungent odour, musky and provocative. Cautiously, she dips her nose lower and tastes the air. It is intriguing, irresistible. She wonders if there are more places that have been marked in this way and continues on, nose to the ground, sniffing. There is a nearby tree tagged with the same musky scent, and further on, a large boulder. The path she follows is narrow, steadily winding through dense copses of trees and brush, but eventually, it opens onto a small clearing.
There, just ahead, is another fox.
Larger and more powerfully muscled than she, with a fine, proud head and sharp, grey eyes, he stands very still, alert and wary. Spotting her, he sniffs the air, seeming to find the smell of her interesting too, for he watches her without apparent hostility, only curiosity.
They eye each other cautiously for a few moments, and then the male melts back into the trees, leaving behind his many fragrant calling cards for her to inspect and consider.
Hermione awoke from the dream with her heart beating crazily and a fine sheen of perspiration over her entire body. Unaccountably hot in a room that was quite chilly in winter as a rule– the cause of multiple complaints to her landlord– she threw back the covers and stripped off her sleep shirt, lying naked in the middle of the rumpled bedclothes, the silver locket warm against her bare skin. Absently, she fingered it, feeling strangely agitated, restless.
The sun has just dipped below the horizon and the air is noticeably colder, long purple shadows reaching like slender fingers across the broad expanse of snowy ground beyond the wood. The snow is but a thin crust newly fallen and has already begun to melt in the denser, more thickly covered parts of the forest.
More and more often lately, she has found numerous, highly potent reminders of the male’s presence in a distinctly circumscribed territory that overlaps her own, and she has been increasingly drawn to these spots, overcome by the urge to add a spray of her own urine to his. This she has begun to do with regularity, and as she follows the scent-marked trail he’s set for her, she feels his presence. His eyes are on her; she can feel him even when she can’t see him behind thickly overgrown stands of trees.
But more and more often now, she does see him. He follows after her sometimes and leads her a chase at others, until eventually, they find themselves side by side, resting beneath trees, playfully cuffing each other, nuzzling affectionately. The Joining time will be soon, very soon. She will come into oestrus before long. She can feel her growing fertility singing in her blood, and he senses it too, drawing ever closer to her, ready and eager to complete her and father her kits.
Stretching, she shivers pleasurably, her stomach rumbling. The cold air has sharpened her senses, readying her for the night’s hunt. He will be nearby, she knows, calling to her as each of them goes about tracking down their prey. And she will answer, their voices echoing amongst the trees and mingling in a timeless song.
It had been nearly two weeks of dreams with no foreseeable end in sight. Hermione found herself exhausted, distraught, and thoroughly confused. She needed answers desperately. Because at the heart of these dreams, there was a flesh-and-blood man whose hold on her was far more compelling than she’d imagined. And she wasn’t sure how to extricate herself, or if she even wanted to.
Nigella Farqhuar was a virtual legend at St Mungo’s, and as a result, nearly impossible to track down in the flesh. Her fame had preceded her to the extent that Hermione knew she’d have to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops in order to even secure an appointment with her assistant, preparatory to an actual meeting with the healer herself.
Said legend possessed a particularly impressive and unusual set of credentials: first and foremost, she was a healer of extraordinary skill. She’d done special training in medicinal potions, her area of singular interest and expertise being the healing of spell-induced illnesses, most specifically those brought about by curses. The more obscure and powerful the curse, the better she liked the challenge it presented. Finally, as an adjunct to her healing skills, Nigella Farqhuar was gifted at divination, particularly as such an art might potentially pertain to maladies that were especially tricky to diagnose or treat.
Hermione had waited more than a week for an appointment with the esteemed witch, and finally she found herself in an anteroom outside the healer’s office on a bright, cold Tuesday morning. She was apprehensive, unsure of what to expect, tempted to flee and rooted to the spot at the same time. She would have to swallow her pride and disclose things she would much rather have kept private, but it was really the only way.
Eventually, the secretary looked up at Hermione with a bright smile. “You may go in now, Miss…” She glanced down at her appointment book. “Miss Granger. Just down the hall, first door on your right.”
Hermione nodded and made her way to the designated door, knocking twice.
“Come!” a voice from inside called.
Poking her head around the door, Hermione caught sight of a small, plain, middle-aged woman sitting at the desk. She glanced up and smiled, beckoning Hermione inside.
Healer Farqhuar took the spectacles from the tip of her nose and carefully folded them. Her eyes were kind as she gazed at Hermione.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you at last, Miss Granger. Don’t be embarrassed, my dear; the whole of our world knows about your exploits during the war. You are a very brave young lady and we are all in your debt. Perhaps I can repay that debt in some small part today. How might I be of help?”
Hermione blinked, her eyes suddenly bright with tears. Swallowing hard, she dashed them away with the heel of her hand.
“Thank you for seeing me, first off. I know how busy you must be. I’m here because… well… I meddled where I oughtn’t, and now I’m involved in something that is scaring me to death.”
The healer regarded Hermione thoughtfully, sitting back and bringing the tips of her fingers together. “Heavens,” she murmured. “That sounds rather serious.”
She fell silent then, waiting for Hermione to explain.
Hermione took a deep breath and began. Ten minutes later, she fell back in her chair with a sigh, awaiting the healer’s reaction.
Healer Farqhuar said nothing at first. Her eyes were trained on Hermione’s face, her gaze penetrating and shrewd. “You’re in love with him, aren’t you,” she remarked at last.
Hermione flushed and looked down at her hands. They’d grown unaccountably clammy, and now she pressed them to her lap, fingers digging into the fabric of her skirt. Slowly she nodded, her gaze still averted, and then she looked up, naked anguish in her eyes.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen, truly I didn’t!” she wailed. “I don’t even know quite how or when it started. No, that’s not true. I do know. It was when I went back the second time. It was the way he looked at me… like he could turn me inside out. As if I were completely transparent and he could see into my head and… and… gods, I couldn’t even think straight when he looked at me that way. I couldn’t even remember my own name half the time!”
The healer sat back, threading one arm through the other, and chuckled knowingly. “That sounds more like lust, my dear. I assume there is more to it than that?”
Hermione’s cheeks were burning now. Lust? Yes. Gods, yes. Never before had she experienced anything as powerful as the hunger Draco Malfoy had stirred in her. The sheer force of the attraction between them– visceral, electrifying, and completely irresistible– had been almost alarming. But it had been more than just animal lust. She’d found herself inexplicably drawn to him, moved by more than just his plight, enjoying both the quiet conversations and the silences, touched by his honesty, the way he’d bravely stripped away all pretenses and revealed himself to her.
“Yes,” she said simply. “Much more.”
“And are the feelings mutual?”
“That’s just it, you see!” Hermione threw up her hands in frustration. “I don’t know for sure. Sometimes, it seemed as if he were feeling very much the same, and then… then he would pull back! I’m so confused!”
The healer smiled gently. “Have you never wondered why he pulled back? It may not be for the reasons you suppose. Perhaps in doing so, he was trying to protect you.”
“From himself. Consider, Miss Granger. Here is a young man who is enslaved by a curse that he cannot escape. In the past, he committed violent acts because of it. Often, too, one of the effects of this sort of curse is an insatiable sexual appetite, so it’s quite likely he’s had many women, probably too many to remember. However, for some time now, he has hidden himself away at his family’s country estate to keep from having any contact with people, so as to stop the cycle of killing he hates so much and keep his predicament a secret. He told you as much. I believe it’s also safe to assume that in choosing to do this, he no longer wanted any part of those random affairs.
“Then you came along,” Healer Farqhuar continued, “and suddenly, there was a reason to hope and a woman who was not after his wealth or social position, but instead, genuinely wanted to help him end his suffering. You affected him in a way that nobody else ever has– plus, he found himself attracted to you. That’s a very powerful combination. He is feeling things he hasn’t allowed himself to feel for a long time, and one of those is a keen conscience, I’m willing to bet. I suspect that as much as he wants you, he is afraid of hurting you. Every instinct I have tells me that this is very likely the truth of it.”
There was much to think about, suddenly, and Hermione fell back in her chair, dumbfounded. She shook her head slowly. “I never even considered that. I thought… I thought he was just toying with me… or that he couldn’t quite work out how he felt about me. About us.” She didn’t mention the third possibility she’d considered, the one that had hurt the most.
“Oh, I suspect he has a pretty fair idea of how he feels about you. If not, he wouldn’t have tried so hard to keep his distance. I imagine he feels quite torn. Or… ‘felt.’ By now, I expect he’s dealing with a different set of emotions altogether.”
The healer had no need to put names to those feelings. Hermione knew them only too well. Heartbreak. Disappointment. Loss. All had pricked at her sharply since she’d left Malfoy Manor.
“Now then,” the healer remarked briskly, interrupting Hermione’s reverie. “Let us discuss your dreams. What do they mean to you?”
“Well,” Hermione began tentatively, “I believe they mean that I’m not over him. That he is still very much in my thoughts.”
“Yes,” the healer persisted, “but why do you suppose you took the form of a vixen in your dreams?”
Hermione shrugged. “I don’t know, really. I’ve thought about that a lot, and I still have no idea. That’s why I’m here.”
“All right,” Healer Farqhuar replied patiently. “I will tell you what I believe. First off, the way you perceive yourself in a dream indicates something about your internal life, the life of your mind and even more importantly, your soul. The fact that you experienced dreams in which you ran free as a fox tells me that you not only found the experience of it in Mr. Malfoy’s Pensieve exhilarating, you connected with it all on your own, on a very primal level. It spoke to you, touched you profoundly. But there is more. You saw not only yourself in the later dreams, but Mr. Malfoy as well, yes?”
Hermione nodded, silent and very still. Suddenly, she felt as if she couldn’t breathe.
“Think back to what you told me earlier. Do you recall just what it was that the two of you were doing?”
“We were…” Hermione frowned, thinking back. Suddenly, her eyes opened very wide. “Oh gods, we were courting, weren’t we…”
“Indeed you were. Dreams do not lie, Miss Granger. You and he are meant to be together, a mated pair. Each of your souls is half of one whole. The intensity of what you felt for each other was an early indicator. The dreams merely confirm it. By the way…” The healer paused, scrutinising Hermione carefully. “I’ve noticed that you keep touching that locket you’re wearing.”
The younger woman’s face had paled considerably, her eyes now huge. Overwhelmed by the momentous information she’d just received, she hadn’t even noticed her hand creeping up to her chest, the tips of her fingers lingering on the locket that rested between her breasts. Self-consciously, she dropped her hand into her lap. “Sorry, I–”
“No, no, don’t apologise. I just wondered about it, because it is very beautiful and appears to be quite old as well. A family heirloom, I assume? Is there something inside? I don’t mean to intrude, but it could be important.”
“Yes…” Hermione faltered. “There’s… there’s a lock of his hair… well, fur, actually…”
“Ah. And how often have you worn it?”
“All the time, really, for the past month. Since I found it. He must have slipped it into my bag before I left the Manor. Having it… well, it’s meant a lot to me. Why? Is it significant?”
“Combined with what we know of the dreams, yes. I believe it’s working as a talisman of sorts. You would have had the dreams anyway, but the locket and its contents have clarified them, made them that much more powerful. I don’t believe he knew any of this would happen when he gave it to you. I expect he simply wanted to give you something of himself.”
Hermione nodded, her eyes welling up again. Swallowing hard, she turned her head away, gratefully accepting the tissue offered her.
Healer Farqhuar waited until Hermione had composed herself and then leaned forward, her palms flat against the desk and a curious gleam in her eyes.
“Right. Now that you know my take on your dreams, what is it you want to do with the information? Because if I were to advise you, I’d say to go back straightaway. He needs you. You need each other.”
“I want to,” Hermione said very quietly. “But if what you say is true, I don’t think he’ll have me. If only I could go back with a way of helping, then maybe …”
“And what makes you think you can’t?” The gleam was impossible to miss now. The healer looked almost gleeful.
“What are you saying?” Hermione asked slowly.
“Two things. One: You, my dear, are his best hope. You are the cure, to the extent that there can be one. If you give yourself to him fully and without reservation or fear, the act of love you share will mitigate the curse. Thereafter, all his most primal animal urges as a Renou will be redirected into acts of true mating, and thus, the power of the curse will be significantly diminished. But–”
Of course. There was always a “but.” Hermione’s heart sank just a little, even as it had taken a tiny, hopeful leap a moment before.
“There might be even more that we can do. You told me that you suspect he might unwittingly have ingested some sort of potion right after Voldemort cast the curse. A sort of chaser, if you will, in the brandy, unbeknownst to Mr. Malfoy. Voldemort would have used it to seal the spell.”
Hermione nodded, eyes wide. She held her breath.
“I believe your suspicion may well be correct. If there was a potion, and if we can find out what its ingredients were, I may be able to formulate something that will counteract the original one and weaken the power of the curse even further.”
“But how on earth can we do that?” Hermione cried, all hope suddenly exploded before her eyes. Whatever could the healer have been thinking, even to suggest such a thing?
Now the healer’s smile grew almost smug. “As a Muggleborn, you are no doubt familiar with DNA testing. Well, we have a process that works in much the same way. All I will need are a few strands of fur from that locket of yours. They will tell me everything I need to know.”
Third week of February
The wait seemed interminable. Two weeks passed, and then a third. England was locked in the frigid grip of temperatures that never rose above freezing and often dipped well below; ice sheeted over pavements and roads, limned tree branches and shrubs, hung in long, crystal wands from rooflines and power lines and the undersides of bridges. Occasionally snow would fall and dust the ground, but most often, the air was too cold even for that. The sky would alternate between a sharp, bright blue and a threatening, overcast grey, and all the while, ice crept over every surface, trapping the world in its frozen embrace.
Hermione travelled to and from work by Floo, the warmest and safest method of travel while conditions outside remained so treacherous. Gradually, her world shrank to the narrow path between office and home; all the while, her thoughts were drawn back to St Mungo’s, to the healer who had given her a thread of hope– something tangible, at last, in the face of her own failures.
Early one Thursday morning, as she was sipping the last of her breakfast coffee, there was a voice calling from her fireplace. Hermione put down the mug so abruptly that a bit of coffee sloshed over onto the table as she hurried out of the kitchen.
There in the sitting room hearth, Healer Farqhuar’s face hovered eerily amidst the green flames.
“Good morning, Miss Granger! Can you come to my office sometime this morning? It’s most urgent that I speak with you as soon as possible!”
“Yes! Of… of course! I can be there straightaway. Have you–” Hermione began, her heart suddenly lodged in her throat.
But the healer had already vanished, the green flames around her evaporating without a trace.
Hands damp with sudden nerves, Hermione snatched up her bag and cloak and hastily sprinkled some Floo powder into her palm from a ceramic jar on the mantel.
“Healer Farqhuar’s office, St Mungo’s!” she exclaimed, stepping into the hearth, her eyes squeezed shut, and dashing the powder down as she did so.
Dusting herself down, she emerged from the corresponding hearth in the healer’s office. Healer Farqhuar was sitting at her desk. She gestured for the younger woman to take a seat.
“Have you found something?” Hermione blurted out, unable to contain herself.
The healer’s face relaxed into an amused smile. “Calm yourself, my dear. Can I give you some tea? There is much to discuss and I expect it will take some time.”
“Oh my gosh, really? I mean yes, thanks! That would be lovely.” The words were coming out of Hermione’s mouth like so much mechanical babbling. Breathe, Hermione.
The healer had left the office momentarily and now returned with a tea tray, on it a pair of steaming ceramic mugs and a plate of Garibaldi biscuits. She set it down carefully on the desk between herself and Hermione.
“Milk or lemon?”
“Milk, please, no sugar,” Hermione murmured and gratefully accepted the mug of aromatic tea. She took a large first sip and the liquid burned a scalding path down her throat.
“Oh!” she spluttered and began to cough, tears springing to her eyes.
“Anapneo!” the healer exclaimed instantly and then smiled. “Better? Good. Now then. I have news. There was, in fact, a potion hidden in the brandy Mr. Malfoy was given. I found minute traces of it in the strands of fur he put into the locket, just as I would do in a scraping of his skin or a sample of his saliva. I have managed to isolate the ingredients Voldemort used in making the potion, and I must tell you, Miss Granger… the key ingredient is very rare and quite potent. So potent that its properties are essentially irreversible.”
“But…” Hermione faltered. “But then… that means…”
“Allow me to finish, please. It’s true, the curse cannot be reversed completely. But I believe it’s possible, as I told you several weeks ago, to contain the curse, minimise it significantly, so that a near-normal life will be possible.”
“What was in the original potion?” Hermione set her mug down and leaned forward curiously.
Healer Farqhuar chuckled. “I was wondering when you’d ask. Not surprisingly, the primary ingredient, the one we’re most concerned with, was Aconite. Not the garden-variety sort, however. This particular species, Aconitum lycoctonum, or Northern Blue Wolfsbane, is especially toxic and nearly impossible to find, so I can only assume that Voldemort must have cultivated it himself. Using wolfsbane of this sort would most certainly have sealed the curse, ensuring that it could not be broken except on pain of death, and possibly not even then.”
“But you said… you said that…”
The healer nodded patiently. “I did indeed. I believe I’ve found a likely antidote. Let me be quite clear: it cannot completely reverse the effects of the original potion– nothing can, I’m afraid– but it can be a means of counteracting it, so that the curse is neutralised to a great extent. However, its efficacy depends upon two conditions, and both must be observed faithfully.”
“What are they?” Hermione asked in a small voice. Suddenly, her world had dwindled down to a single conversation in a small office, everything else around her just so much white noise.
“First, you must brew the potion yourself. This is vital to its success, as it ties in with the role that your free will plays in the ‘cure,’ to the extent that it can be effected. Second, you must give it to Mr. Malfoy just prior to the first time you are intimate with him. This will enhance and strengthen the innate power that consummation will have to redirect the energies of the curse away from the therianthropic state and into the physical and spiritual bond the two of you will form as mates. The potion will also ensure that any Turnings that do occur thereafter will be confined to dreams and that these dreams will always be shared experiences.
“Oh, and one other thing,” she added. “I neglected to mention it earlier. It is crucial that your first sexual experience together be timed so that he chooses you instead of the metamorphosis into a Renou. In other words, he must be feeling the urge to transform and resist it, consciously turning to you instead. That choice must be his and made freely, just as yours must be.”
Hermione sat back, letting out a long, pent-up breath. As potentially dangerous as brewing the potion might turn out to be, that was the easy bit, relatively speaking. The much more difficult part was actually being prepared to wholly commit herself to a man and an entire future that she had only thought about in the vaguest of terms up to now. It would be quite a leap of faith– for both of them. What if he didn’t want to jump after all? Was she supposed to turn up at Malfoy Manor out of the blue, potion in hand, announce that they were meant to be together, and hope for the best? Throw herself at him, possibly humiliating herself in the process? One of the last things he’d said to her was that he’d managed up to now and that he’d be “all right.” Such a slippery pair of words! What did they mean, exactly? Once again, she found herself unprepared for the cold, hard reality of what she’d taken on. Could she really go through with this?
Three parts Aconitum vulparia to neutralise the highly toxic, blue-flowering variety Voldemort had used. Two parts Arnica montana, good for its anti-inflammatory properties. One part Hydrastis canadensis to boost the favourable medicinal properties of the other two. The leaves, flowers and seeds of Yellow Aconite, Mountain Arnica, and Goldenseal, dried and crushed, then mixed and heated in a liquid suspension to bind them. Three, two, one. Easy.
Hermione paused, regarding everything that was spread out before her on the kitchen table. To her left, there was a mortar and pestle, and to her right, her potions cauldron. Between them were three empty bowls, into which quantities of each plant would be set aside prior to being crushed. Bunches of each one had hung upside down from a string stretched taut across the space above the sink for the past two weeks, drying. Now they were finally ready.
Healer Farqhuar had provided her with enough of each raw ingredient that she could ruin one batch before achieving success, but only one. The potion, if brewed correctly, should eventually turn a bright, buttercup yellow. However, a mistake could prove fatal– either for her, if she accidentally came into direct contact with either the Aconite or the Arnica, or for Draco, if she got the proportions wrong or mucked up the timing. There really was no room for error at all. She thought of her old potions professor, dead these five and a half years. If only Severus Snape could be looking over her shoulder tonight. As curt and even nasty as he’d often been towards her, she would give anything for his guidance and expertise just now. The future of the student he’d tried so hard to protect was in her hands, and she was scared.
Right. Being scared was a luxury she could not afford. Frowning, she pulled on a pair of protective gloves and set to work.
The young woman worked diligently. Eventually, her task completed, she prepared to journey back to the ancestral home of the man whose fate now seemed inextricably bound to her own.
In the end, after much anxious deliberation, Hermione decided that a carefully worded letter would best pave the way for her return to Malfoy Manor. She’d finished preparing the potion, stoppering the vial securely and then storing it in a dark cupboard where it would continue to gain in potency. Now, on a Sunday afternoon a week later, she sat down at her writing desk, uncorked a bottle of ink, and sharpened the nib of her quill. Then she sat quietly for a while, chewing absently on the quill’s tip and ruminating.
Dear Draco, she finally wrote, her quill making erratic scratching sounds on the surface of the parchment.
I hope you are well.
I have some news. It concerns the curse. I think you will want to hear what I have to say. At least, I hope you will. May I come and see you sometime very soon?
There. Brief and to the point.
Her heartbeat a sudden, nervous flutter in her chest, Hermione folded the parchment, sealing it carefully with a drop of ruby-coloured wax. Then she fetched her owl out of its cage; the small, brown and white spotted bird hopped out and perched companionably on her outstretched arm.
“All right, Athena. You’re to take this to Malfoy Manor, in Wiltshire. Here, love,” she murmured then, taking a small packet of Athena’s favourite dried treats out of the desk drawer. Sprinkling a handful into her palm, she offered them to the little bird, who pecked eagerly at her hand, consuming them all in a matter of moments. Smiling fondly, Hermione moved over to the window and cranked open the casement. “Right, then,” she whispered near to the owl’s ear. “Off you go.”
Giving her arm a slight shake, Hermione sent the tiny owl rocketing off into the overcast, late-winter sky. She drew the window closed, shivering slightly in a sudden gust of chill air, and then sat down in an overstuffed armchair, quickly calculating how long it would take Athena to reach Wiltshire. Draco should have her letter by sometime that evening. Athena would surely rest in the Manor’s owlery overnight and be on her way back home by morning, so that would mean there might possibly be a reply by the following afternoon.
Just over twenty-four hours to wait. Suddenly, it seemed a lifetime.
The reply, when Athena returned with it the next afternoon, was succinct, its brevity utterly breathtaking.
An hour later, Hermione stood outside the centuries-old oak door bound with ornate, wrought-iron hinges, her travel satchel in hand and the all-important vial tucked safely inside. Heart racing, she raised a hand to knock, but the door swung open just as her fist was about to connect with the wood.
Draco stood silhouetted in the doorway, the light from the cavernous entry-hall hearth illuminating the room behind him.
“I…” she stammered, her mouth as dry as dust suddenly.
“Come in,” he said simply, stepping back to allow her to pass. His face was in shadow, its expression unreadable.
Hermione took a few tentative steps into the entry foyer and turned to look at Draco. Now she could see his face clearly; it remained as cryptic as before, his expression carefully veiled.
“You have something to tell me?” was all he said.
“Yes… quite a lot, actually. Could we… could we sit down?”
Gods, her heart was in her throat now and threatening to choke her words as they tried to escape her mouth with a semblance of coherence.
“Yes, of course. Sorry, that was rude of me. We can talk in the drawing room,” he replied, turning quickly and striding away, Hermione in his wake.
His formal demeanour and the distance he seemed to be putting quite deliberately between them came as a vague surprise, though Hermione understood that it really ought not be, given the way they had parted. She had let him down. He’d probably still not got over that, blaming her for wasting his time and unreasonably raising his hopes for a cure. That, and the fact that they hadn’t seen each other for close to three months. Whatever might have been between them, whatever small spark had been ignited, had had more than enough time to extinguish itself to ashes. His eyes were a cool, guarded grey as he gazed at her from the wing chair in which he sat quite straight, unmoving.
Hermione realised that she still hadn’t uttered a word, but had instead been staring back at him dumbly. She blinked and cleared her throat.
“May I… may I have something to drink?” A bit of Dutch courage would be welcome just now.
Silently, Draco nodded and went to the sideboard, where a large tray containing various decanters and glasses waited. Pouring two snifters of brandy, he handed one to her and then resumed his seat.
“Cheers,” he said drily, raising his glass. “Now what is it you have to tell me?” His voice was all business.
He was fully aware of how extremely uncomfortable he was making her, with his air of stiff formality. But what choice did he have now, after all that had passed between them? Would it not be easier in the long run for both of them, maintaining a healthy distance? For his part, he could not risk having those tumultuous feelings raked up again. There would be no cure, no matter what she might now believe. Not now, not ever. Of this he had no doubt. Far easier to live without the stirrings of hope and… and other feelings… getting in the way and complicating his life. Such as it was.
It would have been far better for her, too, had she stayed away. She was much better off without him. He could only bring heartache into her life, his being what it was. He would politely hear her out and then nip this current nonsense in the bud.
If only he could avoid actually looking at her, though… the firelight glinting on her luxuriant hair and turning her skin to gold and cream… her eyes so dark and deep, so very warm…
Turning away, he took a generous swallow of his brandy, staring mutely into the flames as they danced. He flinched ever so slightly at the sound of her voice.
“Since I’ve been back in London… well… see, it all started just after the New Year. I’ve been having these strange dreams… In the dreams, I’m a… a vixen. And I’m here, in your wood, hunting. At first… well… at first, I would wake up just when I was about to make a kill. My heart would be pounding and… all of it seemed so real! But then, the dreams changed. They were much more detailed, and I didn’t wake up before making a kill anymore. I made lots of kills and ate them all, and… and I relished it. It was wonderful.”
She paused and glanced up at Draco. He was regarding her with the queerest expression on his face, his brows drawn down in a quizzical frown. “Is that all of it?” he asked, his voice close to a whisper.
She shook her head. “No. Actually… well… after that, the dreams got even longer and more vivid. I dreamt about another fox too, a male. It was…” She dropped her eyes before continuing. “It was you. You were following me, finding my scent, investigating, and leaving scent markers of your own. I found them irresistible. We… well, eventually, we began to…”
Her voice trailed off, her cheeks flushing prettily. Perhaps it was a trick of the firelight, that glow.
“Court,” he finished, forcing himself to look directly at her. “I know.”
Her head snapped up in surprise and she stared at him, stunned.
“I’ve had the same dreams,” he admitted. “Almost every night. For weeks now. Lately, they’ve become more and more… intense. I didn’t know what to make of them except…”
No. He would not say that.
“Well, suffice it to say I didn’t know what to make of them. But… you’ve had them as well, have you? That’s extraordinary…” His voice died away and he found himself momentarily tongue-tied.
Hermione nodded. “Yes! It’s incredible, really. Merlin!” She exhaled sharply. “I had no idea what to make of them either, so… so I went to see a healer at St Mungo’s, somebody who specialises in dream analysis and treatments for especially difficult and obscure curses. Her name is Nigella Farqhuar. She’s quite highly regarded in her field.”
“No doubt. Go on,” Draco said evenly. His eyes had a rather cryptic glint in them now.
“Yes, well… I told her all about the dreams, about being here with you before that, your situation, everything. She asked me about the locket too. Thank you for that, by the way! I’ve… I’ve worn it all the time.” Hermione dropped her gaze and smiled shyly, drawing it out from inside her jumper and casting a quick glance at him from under her lashes.
A tiny, effervescent bubble of elation burst inside Draco’s chest but he forced it back down and simply nodded. “I’m glad you like it. But… you told her about that? Why should she give a toss about a locket?”
“Because of what’s inside it. Me wearing a part of you this way, close to my… my heart… She said it acted like a talisman, sort of, that it intensified the dreams many times over. She said I’d have had them anyway, though, no matter what.”
There was a weighty pause, during which Draco’s mouth went unaccountably dry. He took a fortifying swallow of brandy. “Why?”
Hermione took a deep breath, her words tumbling out in an embarrassed rush. “Because… because we’re a mated pair and we’re meant to be together. That’s what she said. And… and because of that, there are two things only I can do to mitigate the curse.”
Draco’s face had gone ashen, his mouth falling open slightly in shock. “What are they, these things?” he whispered.
“She said… she said I must give myself to you freely and without fear, in the moments right before you transform…”
Gods. Oh gods. He swallowed hard, squeezing his eyes shut.
“… and that you must freely choose me over the transformation. Because we’re truly mated, our coming together… that way… will mitigate the curse, so that from then on, all your energies as a Renou will go towards our…” She swallowed, her cheeks flaming now. “…our matings instead of any more transformations.”
Draco fell back in his chair, feeling as if he’d been thoroughly sucker-punched. “What… what’s the other thing?”
The most acutely embarrassing part of what she had to say now behind her, Hermione felt herself relax just a little. “Well, remember what you told me about the night Voldemort cast the curse on you? You said he poured both of you a brandy right after speaking in Parseltongue. You wondered at the time if your drink had been spiked, right?”
Draco shrugged. “Well, yeah, ‘course I did, at first. I told you that. But I’d seen nothing. And at that point, I reckoned that whatever he’d done was already done and what the fuck could I do about it?”
“I understand.” Hermione nodded sympathetically. “Well, anyway, after you told me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And Healer Farqhuar suspected the same thing– that Voldemort had probably given you some sort of potion. In order to seal the curse, she said.”
Draco’s laugh was derisive. “Brilliant. Come on, Granger. Even if he did, all that was years ago. Ancient history. Can’t possibly matter now.”
“You’re wrong! She was actually able to figure out exactly what it was by analysing some bits of fur from the locket! See, traces of the potion will remain in your body forever, and it can be found in hair and skin and saliva even years later. So it was really lucky that you gave me that locket! Because once she’d worked out what Voldemort put into the potion, she was able to come up with an antidote, or… well… the closest thing to an antidote.”
“What exactly do you mean, ‘the closest thing’?” Draco asked warily, the old weight returning to press on his chest once again. He already knew the answer to his question. “The curse can’t be reversed, can it…”
Hermione shook her head sadly. “Not completely, no. She said it just isn’t possible, not with a curse that powerful. But here’s the thing– she was able to formulate a counter-potion that will weaken the curse even further.”
“How?” Draco raised a sceptical eyebrow.
“She said that it will strengthen the power our matings will have to stop your need to transform.”
“ ‘Matings’ again!” he drawled, unable to resist teasing now. “We’re adults, aren’t we? Let’s call it what it is.” He paused, a wicked grin quirking the corners of his mouth. “Sex.”
There it was. That adorable blush was pinking Hermione’s cheeks once again. She really was remarkably pretty, never more than when that high colour suffused her face. He found himself thoroughly enjoying both the sight of it and the fact that he had put it there.
“And,” she persisted, gamely attempting to ignore the sudden flutters that his suggestive words and sly smile had sparked, “the potion will make it so that any future transformations only happen in a shared dream state. I’m to give it to you just before we… we do it. That’s the other thing. Just think, Draco– if what she says is true, you’d never have to suffer another physical Turning! No more killing, ever! And…”
“I’d never be alone again.” Draco’s voice was very soft now, almost as if he were talking to himself. He looked up at her sharply, a rush of feelings flooding his heart and brain that were too new and foreign to even identify, much less contain. Abruptly, he turned away. When he regained his composure, he gazed at her, his grey eyes lambent.
“And… you would be willing to do all this? For me?”
“If the healer is right, and I believe she is, you’re my destined mate. The dreams prove it. So I need to do this. For both of us. I’m… I’m scared, but yes… I’m willing.” Hermione hesitated, her voice dropping to a near-whisper. “Are you?”
By way of reply, Draco moved closer until only inches separated the two of them, winding his arms around her waist and pulling her close. Dipping his head, he touched his lips to hers, his eyes drifting shut as his mouth explored hers ever so gently. In that moment, nothing existed but the heady sweetness of that kiss and the worlds of possibilities it contained.
When they parted at last, gazing silently at each other, eyes like molten silver told her the rest.
Mouth is alive with juices like wine,
And I'm hungry like the wolf…
A distinct feeling of déjà vu followed Hermione as she moved quietly along the candlelit corridor towards Draco’s room, vial in hand. She had done this before. But this time, it was different. This time, there had been a tacit invitation.
Come, his eyes had said. Tonight.
And then he had left her, slipping out of their embrace and leaving her to her own devices for a couple of hours. She had spent the time in her room, alternately pacing and forcing herself to sit down and take calming breaths until she could no longer abide the sound of her heart banging in her chest. Then she would resume pacing, pausing sometimes at the window to gaze down at the gardens and surrounding meadows and the dark wood beyond. The sight of those trees, a tangled tapestry of bark and branch and leaf, had started her heart pounding as she imagined herself there… imagined him there, waiting for her… remembered everything she had seen, all that had gone before, and what was to come this night…
In particular, she’d thought back to that evening, several months earlier, when she’d surprised him as he readied himself for the Turning. The sun had set not long before, the sky growing ever more dim as the minutes passed. She’d watched, wide-eyed, as he gazed steadily at her and then abruptly disappeared, materialising on the ground in fox form and vanishing into the anonymity of the wood.
But it was what she had seen just before he disappeared that haunted her still, sending her pulse racing and quickening her breaths. She wondered now, as she made her way down the hall, just what she’d find when she turned the knob and opened the door.
By now, her heart had lodged itself in her throat. Nearly dizzy with nerves and excitement, Hermione reached out and grasped the door knob. There was a small click as it turned, and then she pushed.
Everything was as it had been the last time. Draco stood very straight and still, facing the hearth, where a fire burned steadily. A single candle flickered on the mantelpiece, its intrepid, little glow casting ghost-like shadows on the walls. At the sound of the door opening, he turned to face her. As before, he was completely nude, and the sight of him, so tall and lean and comely, stole Hermione’s breath away. But this time… this time, what she saw in his mercurial eyes went far beyond the expressions of sudden surprise and lust she’d seen the first time. What she saw now burned into her very soul.
He was still himself, not yet taken over by the Turning; his gaze was clear-eyed and utterly lucid, that of a man who had chosen to cast off all protective veneers and expose his inner heart. He stood before her naked in body and soul, and in his eyes, she saw at last what he had hidden from her until now.
For several seconds, they stood facing each other in the gathering darkness, silent as two statues, barely breathing. And then Draco opened his arms.
And in that moment, all Hermione could see was his face– those liquid eyes alive with desire and then… then, the slow blossoming of his smile, incandescent with relief and joy, warming her. She fairly ran into his embrace, laughing and tearful at the same time.
Pressing her face into the comforting warmth of his shoulder, she caught her breath and then suddenly remembered.
“Here!” she hissed, thrusting the small vial into his hand. “You’ve got to drink this right away! Quickly!”
In one fluid move, he pulled the stopper and tossed back the contents of the vial, gulping the whole thing down in one go. He swallowed convulsively and then made a face, shuddering.
“Ugh! What the hell was in that?”
Hermione opened her mouth, ready to explain, but he shook his head, laughing softly and laying a light hand against her lips.
Slowly and with infinite care, he turned his attention to the buttons of her blouse, pressing fervent kisses to her mouth, her jaw, the hollow of her throat and her décolletage, as each pearly button came undone. At last, her blouse fell open, and he drew it down over her arms until it dropped to the floor.
The room was still, just the occasional pop and crackle of the fire as white-hot embers burst like small, fiery stars. Hermione remained quite still, feeling as if her own heart would burst from her chest at any moment.
His lips were warm and pliant, feathering kisses on every inch of bare skin he could find. Before long, his fingers found their way to the back of her bra and he set about unhooking it. Soon it too fell away.
A current of cool, evening air wafted over her exposed breasts, pebbling the small nipples, and reflexively, her hands moved to cover them.
“Don’t,” he said softly, reaching out to catch her hands in his. “You’re exquisite.”
Sighing, he stepped back, still holding her hands, his eyes travelling slowly, appreciatively, over her bare breasts. The frankness of his gaze left her flushed and trembling, and suddenly, exquisitely, even simple breathing became difficult. In the semi-darkness of the bedroom, his eyes seemed to smoulder, his slow smile undeniably lustful now. It was the most erotic thing she had ever seen.
The silver locket still dangled between her breasts, and he leaned in and caught it between his teeth, drawing nearer to what lay just beneath and breathing in the inviting fragrance of her skin. Then he dipped his head, his questing mouth capturing a rosy nipple and suckling, sending an electric thrill coursing through her. Through the haze of her own desire, she could feel his erection, hot and insistent, through the fabric of her skirt, and his warm palms pressed against her shoulder blades. His fingers moved lightly against her bare skin almost as if he were playing an instrument.
“Too many clothes.” His voice was a low growl in her ear. “Take them off!”
The raw need in his voice was shattering, and with shaking fingers, she unzipped her skirt and let it drop to the floor. Now all that remained were her tights and knickers. She had begun to pull them down when his hand stayed hers.
Silently, he dropped to his knees, hooking his fingers around the elastic of both garments and drawing them down with painstaking slowness. As he did so, he buried his face in the soft curls of her sex, inhaling the musky perfume of her desire for him as his fingers kneaded the smooth flesh of her bum. She could feel his warm breath fanning the sensitive tissue of her most secret places as his tongue began to explore, lightly probing and tasting and curling itself around her, until at last, her legs began to quiver and then give way under the onslaught of pleasure.
Deftly, he caught her, one strong arm sliding about her waist, and then, with a husky laugh of delight, he scooped her up and carried her to his bed.
As he cradled her in his arms, a smile– of recognition, of relief, of pure elation– passed between them, and Hermione buried her face in the crook of his neck. Her heart felt almost painfully full. If she’d had even the smallest doubt about the rightness of the course she had chosen, no trace of it remained now.
“The healer told me something else, you know,” she confided shyly as they lay together, limbs entwined, on the scented sheets.
“Oh? And what was that, sweet girl?” Draco murmured, busy nuzzling the sensitive skin beneath her ear.
“She said that I’m in love with you.”
Draco raised his head. Suddenly, he looked very young and vulnerable, almost scared. “Is it true? Are you, Hermione?”
She nodded, smiling her reassurance, and drew his mouth back to hers. The kiss was tender, replete with the growing pleasure they took in each other– full, too, of the momentous and still surprising knowledge, so rich in hope and promise, that they belonged to each other now and always.
Their night of love, of forging their deeper, more profound connection as a mated pair, was long.
Long by hours, but yet, it felt as if time had stopped completely. The gilded mantel clock put the lie to the sense both had of being wholly in each moment, one frame of seconds slipping seamlessly into the next, time and world without end.
Sleep took them for brief periods, but always, each was aware of the other’s presence. The touch of a hand, the press of warm skin against skin, the soft caress of a lock of hair falling carelessly over a cheek, the comfortable weight of his arm as it rested snugly in the dip of her waist, her lips pressing soft kisses to his shoulder as together they dreamed.
And oh, running… the sheer joy of sprinting over bare hillocks wrapped in the shroud of earth’s deep winter sleep… muscles coiling with ecstatic energy, long, slender legs flying over the frozen turf as they chase each other, the fresh, sharp winter wind ruffling soft, crimson fur… their exuberant gambolling filled with the pure exhilaration of youth, health and vitality that will soon find its physical expression, and, in time, produce young. This is the way it is meant to be.
Her scent on the wind is unmistakable now. Pungent and ripe, it signals a clear invitation that fills his nostrils and has his balls clenching. His pace is steady and unrelenting, all his senses keenly alive and searching. He has been tracking her for more than a day, careful to keep his distance, waiting until the time is right.
There. That thicket just ahead. A faint rustling in the underbrush stops him in his tracks. Head up, ears pricked, he listens. There… again. Between the low-lying branches of a gnarled, old beech skirted all around by creeping vines and shrubbery… a pair of eyes, fine, bright amber in a field of coppery red. The intoxicating perfume of her heat assails his nostrils, drawing him closer. With care, he picks his way through the tangled brush. She waits tensely in the small clearing as he draws near. Then, with a soft cry, she flops down on her side, rolls over and springs to her feet again, waving her slim hindquarters in his direction, her tail lifted provocatively.
Eagerly, he approaches, lowering his head to give her rump a deep, exploratory sniff and a lick. At such close proximity, her scent is overwhelming, almost unbearably so, and he presses his muzzle into the fragrant, yielding flesh of her genitals. At his touch, she leaps away as if stung, twisting her body in an elastic arc and letting out a high-pitched cry. Yet, turning her head to look back at him, her gaze is languid, sultry, her large, liquid eyes darkened with lust, and she makes a low, thrilling noise in her throat.
His hunger is all-consuming now, and he can wait no longer. With a growl, he launches himself at her, covering her slender frame with his larger one and anchoring himself to her, his forelegs hugging her haunches and his teeth clamped down on her neck as he drives into her, burying his aching cock deep inside her deliciously wet heat and thrusting hard. Seconds later, he explodes, drenching her womb with his seed...
Upon waking, their dream-time forms melting into the ether, the connection they’d forged found expression once again and they revelled in it. Fingertips touching, electric… palms slipping down valleys of skin slick with sweat… mouths seeking, caressing, drinking deep from each other… tongues sliding sinuously over one other, tasting, the salty beads of sweat licked away and then shared in soulful kisses… teeth nipping, drawing tiny beads of coppery blood and bruising tender flesh… whispered words drowning in urgent kisses, their bodies a perfect fit, one puzzle piece completing another… two halves of one whole joined, she receiving him with gladness as he filled her again and again, shouting his elation…
It was done.
Both sun and dark, she followed him.
His eyes so bright did shine.
And he led her over the mountain,
Did the sly, bold Reynardine.
Hermione stood at the French doors in the bedroom that was now hers and Draco’s together. The doors were open, light and air flooding the room. She stepped out onto the small balcony that overlooked the gardens below, filling her lungs with the warm, sweetly scented air, and brought her hand to her eyes, shading them so that she might see farther in the bright afternoon light.
Her new husband was below in the distance, striding through the meadow, his loose shirt open at the neck and the sleeves rolled up above the elbow. There was a glow of robust health about him, his skin tanned and his hair a tawny honey-gold in the sunshine. He spotted her and waved, his face breaking into a pleased smile.
He’d been walking in the wood again. He did that often these days, sometimes carrying a small notebook in which to write, but most often, simply taking the company of his own thoughts with him. She sensed he was making his peace with the part of his life lived for years in deepest shadows amongst those trees, remembering the many lives he’d taken and consumed, none of it through any choice of his own. She hoped that eventually, he would find a way to forgive himself.
Late-summer daylight would linger well into the evening hours. Perhaps she would pack them a picnic supper and they could walk in the wood together, enjoying the last rays of sunshine as they shot the clouds through with gold and then mauve and peach and fiery orange. At dusk, the night sounds would begin: calls of owls and nighthawks echoing above the tree line; tiny scurryings in the underbrush of field mice and their larger cousins, the squirrels and voles; swift flights of hares; rustlings of wings as ruby-throated birds sang the sun down to its evening’s repose.
There was a mated pair of foxes in the wood, their den not far from the place where dense stands of trees met open meadow. Both she and Draco had seen them in the last few weeks. They’d approached the wood’s edge furtively at first, tremendously shy, and then their curiosity had got the better of them. Gradually, they’d begun to venture a little bit closer. There was a litter of young kits as well. More and more frequently now, the whole family would make brief appearances in the meadow before melting back into the safety of the trees – all of them intensely inquisitive and observant, the parents keeping a watchful eye on their rambunctious babies as the lesson of each new experience was learned and remembered.
Perhaps, if she and Draco stayed long enough and sat very quietly, they would hear the calls they knew so well piercing the stillness of the summer night and catch a glimpse of elusive scarlet and white as it flashed amongst the trees. Perhaps then, they would return home to the sanctuary of their bed, throw the balcony doors open to the star-studded sky, and dream.
Author's note: Please continue to the next two chapters for story notes and photos!
Chapter 9: Story Photos
A/N: I am fascinated not only by the original fairy tale but also by the stories of Reynardine, the handsome, sexy, shapeshifting werefox in folk ballads and myths. There was so much crossover between the dark, implicit sexuality of the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” and the more overtly seductive, sensual werefox persona of Reynardine, that I decided to create a combination of the two. The result was the Renou, a lycanthrope containing elements of both, though much more heavily fox than wolf overall. I already loved wolves, and now I’ve fallen in love with foxes. They are magnificent, stunningly beautiful, intelligent creatures!
The Hunger Photo Album
First off, some photos of Tom and a manip of Tom and Emma that capture their characters in this fic perfectly and have been an inspiration. Thanks to DaMan, FAULT and The HF Magazines, and Tom himself, for some really amazing shots. They were all so wonderfully evocative, I couldn’t choose and had to use them all!
Lovely manip! It really captures the intensity of their feelings
And now, some original and very well known illustrations from early editions of “Little Red Riding Hood.”
Two rather bizarre takes on the Reynardine legend, in which, strangely, the werefox has both human and animal characteristics simultaneously. This does not reflect the far more common wisdom regarding were-creature transformations, in which the change to animal (via shapeshifting) is total. Draco became an actual fox that was just a little bit larger and more powerful than the average.
The Red Fox
Interestingly, the North American red fox is lighter and longer in the body than its British cousin.
At play during courtship
Beautiful fox kits, playful and curious!
When they’re very young, fox kits have beautiful grey or blue-grey eyes. Imagine an adult male with the same eye colour and you will know what Draco looked like as a werefox.
Mothers and Babies
The Red Wolf
One of the smallest wolf species, the adult male red wolf can still outweigh the adult male red fox by up to sixty pounds.
Mother and cubs in their den
Aconitum lycoctonum, the central ingredient of Voldemort’s potion
Chapter 10: Story Notes
A/N: The story of Little Red Riding Hood is one that has been told in many cultures over the centuries and is, in its earliest incarnations, a far darker tale than currently exists in the popular imagination. There is an illuminating essay about the story’s origins and symbolism by writer and artist Terri Windling in the Autumn/Winter 2004 issue of the Journal of Mythic Arts:
Therianthropy– “refers to the metamorphosis of humans into other animals. Therianthropes are said to change forms via shapeshifting. Therianthropes have long existed in mythology, appearing in ancient cave drawings such as the Sorcerer at Les Trois Frères.”
The curse Voldemort places on Draco in Parseltongue:
Transform brain, heart and body
A werefox shall you be
Now and evermore
Hear what the curse sounds like in Parseltongue (you’ll need to type in the words of the curse above):
Reynardine: “a traditional old English ballad. In versions most commonly sung and recorded today, Reynardine is a werefox who attracts beautiful women to him so that he can take them away to his castle. What fate meets them there is usually left ambiguous.”
More on its history and interpretations:
The lyrics that begin the last chapter of the story are from the version of the song that is my personal favorite, by the English folk-rock band Pentangle. It’s on their album, “So Early in the Spring” (1989).
One morning as I rambled upon the springtime,
I overheard a young woman converse with Reynardine.
Her hair so black and her eyes so blue, her lips like ruby wine.
He smiled and gazed upon her, did the sly, bold Reynardine.
She said, “Young man, please be civil, my company forsake,
For to my good opinion, I fear you are a rake.”
“Oh no, my dear, I am no rake, but cast out and made a thief.
And I’m searching for concealment all from the judge’s man.”
Her rosy cheeks, her ruby lips, they lost their bloom so fine.
And she fell into his arms, that sly, bold Reynardine.
He kissed her once and he kissed her twice till she came to again.
Then modestly she bade him, “Pray tell to me your name.”
He said, “My dear, if you look for me, perhaps you’ll not me find.
But I’ll be here in my castle. Pray inquire for Reynardine.”
Both sun and dark, she followed him. His eyes so bright did shine.
And he led her over the mountain, did the sly, bold Reynardine.
*An interesting side note: in the version recorded by Fairport Convention, the line is “his teeth so bright did shine.” The somewhat sinister imagery is suggestive of someone even darker and more dangerous.
“Some suggest that the story (of Reynardine) may be based on the life of Edmund Ryan (known as ‘Ned of the Hill’ or ‘Eamon o Chnoic’), who stayed as an outlaw in Ireland rather than join the 'Wild Geese' who fled to France after 1691. In ‘Irish Country Songs’ (1909), Hughes gives a variant, stating that ‘In the locality where I obtained this fragment, Reynardine is known as the name of a faery which changes into the shape of a fox.’ ”
--The Bard of Avalon
“Some commentators have thought the song concerns a love affair between an English lady and an Irish outlaw, and have set its date in Elizabeth's time. Others believe the story is older and consider Reynardine, the ‘little fox,’ to be a supernatural, lycanthropic lover.”
--A.L. Lloyd, “First Person” sleeve notes
“To the country person, everything around him has its place in the pattern of nature, but the fox seems the odd man out. Among other things, it seems that he kills for no reason, and although this has been explained by diligent study, at one time it led to people attributing a very sinister aspect to him. He was believed to have magical powers, and there are many stories of foxes appearing as people and threatening them in some evil way (Little Red Riding Hood is one related).”
--Martin Carthy, “Prince Heathen” sleeve notes
In the canon of English fairy tales, Reynardine is also known as Mr. Fox. The story features a handsome, charming, russet-haired rake who courts and seduces young women and then takes them to his castle, where he dismembers them. Read more in Terri Windling’s excellent essay, “Bluebeard and the Bloody Chamber.”
The lines at the beginning of Chapter One are from a piece by Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy, entitled “Little Red Cap.” It is part of a collection called The World’s Wife, and tells the Little Red Riding Hood story through the lens of a young girl’s sexual awakening. Find the full poem here:
The song lyrics throughout the story are from “Hungry Like the Wolf,” by Duran Duran. Check out my favorite version, a great live cover by Incubus:
Dark in the city, night is a wire
Steam in the subway, earth is a fire
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do
Woman, you want me, give me a sign
And catch my breathing even closer behind
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do
In touch with the ground
I'm on the hunt, I'm after you
Smell like I sound, I'm lost in a crowd
And I'm hungry like the wolf
Straddle the line, in discord and rhyme
I'm on the hunt, I'm after you
Mouth is alive with juices like wine
And I'm hungry like the wolf
Stalked in the forest, too close to hide
I'll be upon you by the moonlight side
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do
High blood drumming on your skin, it's so tight
You feel my heat, I'm just a moment behind
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do
In touch with the ground
I'm on the hunt, I'm after you
Scent and a sound, I'm lost and I'm found
And I'm hungry like the wolf
Strut on a line, it's discord and rhyme
I howl and I whine, I'm after you
Mouth is alive all running inside
And I'm hungry like the wolf
Hungry like the wolf!
Hungry like the wolf!
Hungry like the wolf!
Burning the ground, I break from the crowd
I'm on the hunt, I'm after you
I smell like I sound, I'm lost and I'm found
And I'm hungry like the wolf
Strut on a line, it's discord and rhyme
I'm on the hunt, I'm after you
Mouth is alive with juices like wine
And I'm hungry like the wolf
Burning the ground, I break from the crowd
I'm on the hunt, I'm after you
Scent and a sound, I'm lost and I'm found
And I'm hungry like the wolf
Strut on the line, it's discord and rhyme
I howl and I whine, I'm after you
Mouth is alive, all running inside
And I'm hungry like the wolf...
Aconite: “Aconitum, known as Aconite, Monkshood, Wolfsbane, Leopard's Bane, Women's Bane, Devil's Helmet, Blue Rocket, Friar’s Cap and Mousebane, is a genus of over 250 species of flowering plants belonging to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).
The roots of Aconitum ferox supply the Nepalese poison called bikh, bish, or nabee. It contains large quantities of the alkaloid pseudaconitine, which is a deadly poison. Aconitum palmatum yields another of the bikh poisons. The root of Aconitum luridum, of the Himalaya, is said to be as poisonous as that of A. ferox or A. napellus.
Several species of Aconitum have been used as arrow poisons. The Minaro in Ladakh use A. napellus on their arrows to hunt ibex, while the Ainu in Japan used a species of Aconitum to hunt bear. The Chinese also used Aconitum poisons both for hunting and for warfare.”
Here is some information about the species Voldemort used as a key ingredient for the curse. I have taken a small artistic liberty with this particular species of Aconite, in that I have made it far more rare than it actually is.
Aconitum lycoctonum: Aconitum lycoctonum (Northern Wolfsbane) is a species of the genus Aconitum, native to Europe and northern Asia. It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 1 m tall. The leaves are palmately lobed with four to six deeply cut lobes. The flowers are 18–25 mm long, dark violet, rarely pale yellow. Like all species in the genus, it is poisonous.
“In the monkshood genus, Aconitum, all species and cultivars are extremely poisonous. This is not a good choice for a garden where children are present. Although it is rare that humans suffer from an accidental poisoning, pets and livestock are frequently poisoned after digesting the plant.
Aconitum’s toxic properties are well known throughout the ages, as far back as ancient times in Asia and Europe. In the 1600s, John Gerard thought the yellow-flowering aconites were a good counter measure to the highly poisonous blue-flowering ones in the same genus. Ingesting the yellow-flowering plants would not only neutralize the poisons but protect people from poisonous animal venom as well. He also thought the same plants helped heal victims of the plague; however, anyone that used the plant as a counter measure suffered deadly consequences. In the case of the plague, the poison would kill the patient quickly, saving them from the agony of the last few days of suffering before the plague took their lives. Either way was not a good death.
In her book, Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, Amy Stewart writes, "In Greek mythology, deadly aconite sprang from the spit of the three-headed hound Cerberus as Hercules dragged it out of Hades." She also reports that “its common name—wolf's bane—may well come from ancient Greek hunters' practice of using the plant as poison on their arrows when hunting wolves.”
The counter-potion created by Healer Farqhuar:
a. Three parts Aconitum vulparia: Yellow wolfsbane or yellow aconite, in the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family. It is toxic but has medicinal properties if handled correctly. In this case, the healer chose it because of its innate ability to neutralise the highly toxic, blue-flowering Aconitum lycoctonum, cancelling it out to a significant degree.
b. Two parts Arnica montana: “known commonly as leopard's bane, wolf's bane, mountain tobacco and mountain arnica, is a European flowering plant with large yellow capitula.” It has marked anti-inflammatory properties and is also used to treat fevers, fractures, sprains and strains.
c. One part Hydrastis canadensis: “Goldenseal (Orange-root, Orangeroot) is a perennial herb in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae, native to southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States. Goldenseal has been ascribed the following herbal properties (whole herb): bitter, hepatic, alterative, anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, laxative, emmenagogue, and oxytocic. Goldenseal is often used as a multi-purpose remedy, and is thought to possess many different medicinal properties. In addition to being used as a topical antimicrobial, it is also taken internally as a digestion aid, and may remove canker sores when gargled. Goldenseal may be purchased in salve, tablet, tincture form, or as a bulk powder. Goldenseal is often used to boost the medicinal effects of other herbs it is blended or formulated with.”