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Chapter 10: Turning Corners




Saturday, late morning
8 March


Hermione’s clear voice rang out from the recesses of the kitchen, where she was busily perusing one of her cookery books. The owl, a small brown bird, had appeared suddenly out of the sky, cruising to a neat stop on the window ledge. Now it was pecking rather insistently on the glass.

In the bedroom, Draco was nose deep in a book he’d been dipping into on and off for the past several days. The volume was large, leather-bound, and very old; he’d borrowed it from the library at his parents’ house, intending to read it months earlier and never quite getting around to it. Years ago, as a bright boy but lacking sufficient self-discipline, the subject had simply bored him. Pointless old stuff, he’d thought then. Stupid waste of time. Who cared what wizards and witches did in the wilds of darkest Africa or Egypt five thousand years ago?

With a fingertip, he traced the letters of the title deeply embossed into the old leather: Ancient Pathways of the Craft. Now he found the particular focus of the volume fascinating, albeit often obscure and difficult to grasp: the millennia-old rites, practices, and lore of tribal shamans, mages, and sorceresses – people of power – in the most remote parts of the world.

The sound of Hermione’s voice startled him, and he glanced up, feeling a momentary and odd sense of displacement. Like being abruptly awakened from a very vivid dream, he reflected, getting to his feet and making his way down the hall and through the sitting room into the kitchen.

“Hello, you,” Hermione said fondly, reaching out to brush an errant lock of hair from his eyes. “Look, we’ve had an owl from Pansy. Well, Pansy and Ron, actually.”

Draco half-sat on one of the wooden stools at the breakfast bar, pulling her to him and threading his arms snugly around her waist. “Oh yes?” he whispered, nuzzling her neck. “What’s it say?”

“Well...” Hermione drew the word out, grinning playfully as she prolonged the mystery. “They want to see us. Something urgent, Pansy says.”

“Hah.” Draco let out a small snort of laughter. “It’s always something urgent with Pans. She’s been using that one on me since we were six. She’s a bit of a drama queen. I don’t reckon it’s much of anything.”

“I’m not so sure,” Hermione replied thoughtfully. “Ron added something as well.” She paused to open the parchment once again, muttering, “I’d know his handwriting anywhere.”

Draco chuckled. The sound was muffled by Hermione’s hair, in which his nose was still pleasantly buried. “What, that bit of infantile Bowtruckle scratch?”

“Not nice, Malfoy,” she told him primly, her lips twitching with amusement. “He says ‘No shit.’”

Draco shook his head, laughing deep in his throat. “’No shit,’ eh? Articulate, isn’t he. Is that it, then?”

Hermione slipped out of his embrace and glanced at the parchment. “Yes. Well, from him, anyway. There’s more from Pansy. They want to meet us for dinner at that new place in Diagon Alley. You know, the one that does Italian specialties. Supposed to be marvellous. Il Poeta Incantato, I think it’s called.”

“When?” Suddenly, rosy thoughts of an evening spent with his book, a glass or two of wine, and his wife before a nice, toasty fire evaporated as Draco intuited what Hermione would say next. “I know,” he sighed. “Tonight, right?”

“Yup.” She nodded. “At seven. Now, look, don’t be cross. They’re very old friends and it must be something really important.” She did a small hop of excitement, wrapping her arms around herself gleefully. “Oh, gosh, I hope it’s what I think it is!”

“And what might that be?” Draco folded his arms, an eyebrow arched in mock consternation. “Surely you can’t mean... Bugger, Pansy can’t be seriously considering... Not with Weaselby! Oh, but wait...” He chuckled evilly. “You fancied him yourself for quite a while, didn’t you! At least you regained your senses, though. Poor Pans, if that’s what it is...” Shaking his head mournfully, he sighed.

“Piss off, Malfoy,” Hermione told him airily. “She’d be very lucky, getting Ronald. Not as lucky as I was, of course,” she added, casting a sly, sidelong glance at him from beneath her lashes.

“Too right.” Draco gave her a smug little grin, kissed the tip of her nose, and turned to exit the kitchen, reaching over to snag an apple from a bowl on the butcher-block cart as he went. “Weasley’s okay, I reckon. No clue how she stomachs watching him eat, though. Bloody revolting, that is.”

He caught the dish towel Hermione threw at his head with a neat backhand grab, twirling it around impudently before vanishing into the sitting room.





As it happened, there was quite a lot of time to spare before they were due at the restaurant. Passing the theatre and bookshop that so successfully masked the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, they continued to stroll along Charing Cross Road, eventually crossing lively Shaftesbury Avenue. As it happened, Draco had something of an agenda. He’d brought his book along, hoping that Niall Gordon’s shop doors would still be open. There were things he wanted to ask about, and Niall was the right man for such obscure questions. Besides, Hermione had wanted to meet him, and what with flat-hunting and then moving house, it seemed there simply hadn’t been an opportunity. Until now, that is.

At length, he slowed before a corner shop, its exterior painted a deep, forest green with a blue canvas awning shading the large display windows.

Hermione opened her mouth to ask why they’d stopped and then the shop caught her eye; catching sight of the name above the entrance, her surprise became a canny grin.

“I see!” she laughed. “Was this the little detour you mentioned earlier, then?”

Draco nodded. “Well, you did say you wanted to meet Niall. Thought we could stop for a bit before dinner.”

“Well, it’s about time!” she retorted and then grinned. “Come on,” she said excitedly, tugging at his sleeve. “Let’s go in! It looks marvellous!”





“Is that him?”

Hermione’s whispered words tickled Draco’s ear and he turned his head to look where she was surreptitiously pointing.

Niall Gordon was behind the register, smiling and talking with a customer as he rang up the sale. His long, ginger hair, liberally threaded with silver, was woven into his trademark braid, and a tiny, silver earring winked from his left earlobe. Spilling down the front of his heavy woollen jumper in varying lengths were several necklaces of silver and rawhide and colourful, woven wool, decorated with pierced and dyed leather, bits of silver, tiny sea shells and a variety of feathers. An imposing beaten-silver ring studded with tiny gemstones rested on the third finger of his left hand. It looked very old, and Draco noticed Hermione eyeing it, fascinated.

He nodded and leaned in to whisper his reply into her ear. “Yeah, that’s Niall.”

“He’s... not quite what I expected,” she murmured. “Not your typical pureblood.”

Just then, Niall looked up, spotted Draco, and grinned. Draco grinned back and caught Hermione’s hand in his. “That, my love, is a colossal understatement," he said under his breath. "Come on, then. I’ll introduce you.”

“Well now, Draco. I was wondering when I’d see you again. How’ve you been?” Niall stuck out his hand to grasp Draco’s with evident warmth. “And this must be...”

“My wife Hermione,” Draco hastened to say. “Hermione Gr –”

“Granger, yes. I know exactly who you are, young lady. Your reputation precedes you, and I imagine it will do for some time to come, like it or not!”

Niall’s quick laugh was infectious, and Hermione couldn’t help smiling, even as she rolled her eyes, embarrassed. “How do you do, Mr. Gordon? I hope you’ve heard good things, at least!”

“Oh, very good indeed. No worries on that score. And it’s Niall, if you please. No formalities here.” Niall glanced over to Draco, catching his eye, and smiled approvingly. “You know, I should be very interested in learning how the two of you wound up together, considering what conventional wisdom would have predicted as your respective futures.”

“What...?” Hermione began, startled.

Niall held up a hand. “For various reasons, both of you are known well beyond the confines of your time at...” He paused and then lowered his voice. “Best leave the rest of this conversation for somewhere more private, shall we? Tell you what. Let’s go into my office. We’ll be far more comfortable there. I can even offer you a light repast. I’ve just got some very nice biscuits in and a new tea I’ve been wanting to try. Missed my tea break earlier, we’ll be closing in half an hour anyway, and my assistant can run the shop till then.”

Draco glanced quickly at his watch even as Hermione was pulling up a sleeve to check hers. Half five. She glanced at him questioningly.

“We’ve gobs of time,” he told her. “No worries.”

Her concern melted into a relaxed smile and she followed behind Niall and Draco into the small, private office behind the register.

They sat down while Niall puttered about the small office, setting out a plate of sweet wholemeal biscuits and three mugs, none of them matching. Extracting three tea bags from a tin on one of the shelves, he plunked them into the mugs and, with a wave of his hand, the knob on the old electric hotplate turned itself to “on.” It was only a matter of moments before the kettle was singing, and soon, three steaming mugs were before them on his desk.

“Milk or lemon?” he asked expectantly, looking from Draco to Hermione.

“Oh! Milk, please!” Hermione said quickly.

“For both of us. Thanks!” Draco smiled, threading his fingers through Hermione’s and drawing her hand into his lap.

“Not at all.” As he went about preparing the tea, Niall watched his young visitors with a subtle but canny eye; it was obvious that not much was escaping his attention, including things that weren’t being said – small details of body language and facial expression that revealed so much to the keenly observant.

“Well now, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Niall asked presently, bringing his mug to his lips for a sip of the tea and breathing in the clouds of steam with obvious enjoyment.

“Nothing in particular...” Draco began somewhat vaguely. “Well, that’s not true, exactly. In fact, there’s this book I’ve been reading lately. It’s got me wondering about some things, and I thought... well... I wanted to discuss them with you. If you’ve got the time, I mean.”

Niall smiled. “I do indeed. Let’s have a look, shall we?”

Eagerly, Draco drew the book out of his satchel and laid it on Niall’s desk. Immediately, the older man’s eyebrows rose in surprise, his eyes narrowed, and there was a sudden intensity in his gaze that hadn’t been there a moment earlier.

“Where did you get this?” he asked quickly, drawing the volume closer and running an appreciative hand over its cover.

“My parents’ library. It’s my father’s, really. You can see his mark on the inside cover, just there.” Reaching over, Draco flipped the leather cover open and pointed to an inked mark of a dragon whose serpentine body was in the form of a ring, the tail firmly gripped in its mouth. The name “Malfoy” was woven into the scales of the dragon so that the letters became a part of the design.

The corners of Niall’s mouth quirked into a fleeting smile. “Ah, the Worm Ourobouros, isn’t it. Yes, I remember now. Your father had a fascination for this particular incarnation of the dragon even when we were at school.”

“Did he?” Draco sat forward a bit. This was an interesting little tidbit. No doubt, Niall knew all sorts of things about his father, revealing little details that Lucius Malfoy would never share with his son, at least not willingly.

“You know, of course, that this book is exceedingly rare. Nearly impossible to find nowadays, in fact. I haven’t run across a copy of it in years. I don’t suppose your father might consider selling it?” Niall sat back, drawing his fingertips together and gently tapping them against his lower lip. The look on Draco’s face was all the answer he needed. He smiled wistfully. “No? Ah, well.” Leaning forward, he took another sip of his tea and cleared his throat. “You had questions, you said.”

Draco nodded. “For starters, I’d like to understand more about the connection between psychotropic substances and shape-shifting. You know, as the shamans practice it. How’s it different to what Animagi do? How exactly do these substances bring on the changes? And do the shamans actually change their physical forms, or is it more like a dream state they’re in?”

“Excellent questions, Draco. You’ve given this a fair amount of thought, I see,” Niall observed. “That’s good. I can teach you how it’s done, if you really want to learn. And if you’re willing to risk it. Because it’s not without danger, depending on the substance and the frame of mind of the practitioner.”

Hermione glanced quickly at Draco but bit her tongue, willing herself to remain silent and failing. “What do you mean, ‘the frame of mind of the practitioner’?”

Niall turned his attention to her and smiled gently. “Well, if the witch or wizard in question is afraid or unsure, they would invite the possibility of opening themselves to more than just the spirit of their totem animals. Their vulnerability would be sensed by malevolent forces. The door would be open to them. Practitioners of this sort of magic must be calm, confident in their ability to exercise control over what they’re doing, even in altered states. The work must be carefully directed at all times. Controlled.”

Hermione nodded slowly. “I see. I take it you’ve done this yourself?”

Now it was Niall’s turn to nod. “Many times, yes. And with shamans from many tribal cultures in quite far flung parts of the world. The experience has never failed to astonish me. And I have learned something new with every transformation.”

Draco was listening with shining eyes. “Will you teach me?”

Niall grinned. “I was hoping you’d ask.” He stood, stretching, and sighed. “More tea, anyone?”

Hermione smiled and stood as well, laying her hands on Draco’s shoulders. “Actually, I was thinking that I’d love to have a look round your lovely shop before you close, if that’s all right. Do I still have time?” She glanced longingly towards the door that separated the office from the shop at large, and then up at the clock on the wall. It was nearly six now. They’d have to be leaving fairly soon to meet Ron and Pansy. So many tantalising books and definitely not enough time.

“I’m flattered. Thank you. And yes, there’s still time. I can close a few minutes later tonight. A perk of being the owner.” Niall flashed Draco and Hermione a quick smile and then nodded at Draco. “This will give us time to talk a bit more.”

Hermione was out the door almost before he’d finished his sentence, and Draco couldn’t help chuckling. “Reckon I’d have had to tie her down to stop her exploring your shelves! I bet she was itching to excuse herself the whole time.”

“I expect,” Niall interjected thoughtfully, “that she found herself torn between looking at the books and learning more about shamanic shape-shifting. She’s a highly intelligent girl, isn’t she, always seeking to learn more.”

“Too right. She’s got a wonderful mind. I used to resent it, when we were kids. She was always besting me. Couldn’t work out how it was possible that she was so bloody smart and magically talented, considering she was a–”

“Muggleborn?” Niall said softly. “Though I suspect that wasn’t quite the word you used back when you were kids.”

Draco fell back in his chair, nonplussed. “Yes! And no, it wasn’t. How did you know?”

“It wasn’t difficult to work out. I can well imagine the sort of education you must have received at home. You forget, I knew your father very well, and I saw the changes he went through and the person he eventually became whilst we were still at school ourselves. And then, too, as I told you when we first met, I heard news of him from time to time over the years, particularly before and during the war. I know only too well the sort of people he was associating with and the vile, filthy rubbish they all espoused.”

Draco heaved a deep, painful sigh. “I was a nasty little git to her. For years. Really foul. Sometimes, even now, I am amazed that we’re together. That she was able to forgive me.”

“Especially when you haven’t entirely forgiven yourself. Isn’t that right?” Niall’s tone was gentle, but his clear-eyed gaze did not waver. He already knew the answer.

Draco turned away, chagrined. Was he so transparent that a relative stranger had already got him completely sussed? And yet, what was the point of feeling embarrassed and so… well… the only word for it was exposed, he realised. It seemed that Niall Gordon could see right through him and know what he was thinking and feeling with an eerie degree of accuracy.

Just now, his observation had been spot on. The harsh judgements Draco still levelled against himself whenever he thought back to his school years and the choices he’d consistently made were painful and unyielding. Much as Hermione tried to convince him that her own acceptance of him and forgiveness were both genuine and unconditional, he seemed unable to move past the memories of what he’d done, remaining his own harshest critic when he allowed himself to ruminate about the past. At least, he reminded himself with a small, grim smile, his instinct for self-preservation meant that such spells of brooding were the exception and not the rule.

Niall hadn’t missed that brief half-smile, half-grimace. He raised a canny eyebrow, bringing his mug to his lips and draining it.

“Do you reckon you are too easy on yourself? Is that it? Because you know, Draco, it does no good to continually judge and punish yourself for things that cannot be changed. Regret is a bitter pill. It does not go down easily. And it can never alter the things we wish we had done differently.”

“I know that.” Draco stared grimly down at the mug in his hands.

“So… what do you propose, then, for the rest of your life? Years of regret and self-reproach? What a bloody waste of time and talent that would be. Especially when there is so much ability there. I can see it, you know. I’m an excellent judge of such things. You have so much to offer – to our community, to that girl out there, and to the children you two will have one day. I’d like to help you reach your potential, if you’ll let me.”

Draco raised his head and looked curiously at the older man. “Why? Why does it matter so much to you? Why do I matter so much to you?”

There was a marked silence, then, before Niall replied. “You think you’re the only one with regrets, Master Malfoy? I’ve been down that road as well. What I finally figured out, after many years of self-recrimination, was that my energies could be far better utilised in other, more productive ways. But I didn’t have anyone to help me along. I had to suss it out for myself. It’s different for you.” And then he smiled, his meaning clear.

That smile was both warm and oddly reassuring, and its effect was immediate. A wonderful calm now settled over Draco in place of the tension he’d been feeling only moments before. Here in this small, sparsely furnished room, he was where he was meant to be. This man could be a master, a guide. A teacher. More than that, he could be a real and valuable friend. Draco nodded, grinning a bit sheepishly. No more self-pity in this room.

Shortly afterward, gazing thoughtfully after Draco and Hermione as they exited the shop, Niall Gordon took a pull on his pipe, smoke leaving his mouth in small, aromatic puffs. If guidance and intensive magical instruction were gifts he could give this boy, then surely the gifts would be equally his in the giving. He needed to do this – needed to succeed, finally, where he’d failed earlier. He hadn’t been able to help Lucius all those years ago. If he had – if Lucius had been persuaded to follow another path, the better one – perhaps his son would not have found his way to Quinto. Wouldn’t have needed to, knowingly or not.

Remarkably, Draco had. Second chances did not fall into one’s lap as fortuitously as this one apparently had done; Niall understood that what he had foreseen in the Tarot months earlier was an opportunity to make a profound difference in someone else’s life, and in so doing, make his own count for more. There might even be other benefits as well, if things went as he hoped they would.

He would not fail this time.





Ron’s ginger hair stood out like a beacon across the crowded, dimly lit restaurant. He and Pansy were seated in a booth in the far corner, partially obscured by a pot of palm fronds. Clusters of tea lights flickered on each table.

“Romantic,” Hermione remarked.

Draco’s mouth twisted into an amused smirk. “Reckon they want to keep it dark so people can’t see what they’re eating.”

“Well, if the food tastes as good as it smells, we shouldn’t be in too much danger of being poisoned,” she responded tartly, scanning the room. “This place got a very good review in the Prophet, you know. And it looks like everybody’s enjoying themselves quite a lot.”

“Yeah,” Draco snorted, “that’s now. Check back in about three hours and see how many of them wind up in St Mungo’s, having their stomachs pumped.”

Hermione rolled her eyes ceiling-ward, a corner of her mouth turning up in a wry grin. “Trust you to find something wrong with the place just because you assume Ron picked it.”

“Didn’t he?” Draco deadpanned. He did so love tweaking his darling wife. She was always so ready to defend what she thought was an underdog. Even if the underdog in question was a crowded, noisy restaurant that would probably give him indigestion, decent food or no, just because of the way the tables were squeezed together to maximize the limited floor space.

“For your information, Malfoy, it was Pansy who chose it. She raved about the eggplant piccata, you know.”

Hermione’s unspoken so there had him grinning outright now, though her answer surprised him a bit as well. Pansy knew that he could be claustrophobic in certain circumstances. The possibility – albeit remote, he conceded – of another diner’s elbow (or even worse, his face) hovering anywhere near Draco’s plate made him slightly queasy. That it could very well be Weasley’s made the scenario that much worse. Having to watch him eat was already quite bad enough, thank you very much.

Thanks, Pans. Brilliant choice. “Come on,” he sighed, taking Hermione’s elbow and steering her through the maze of tables. “Let’s get this over with.”

Hermione looked over at him, askance, and opened her mouth to reply, but Draco nipped in before she could say anything.

“Sorry, didn’t mean that.” Much.

Carefully, they worked their way towards the back of the room past animated diners busy conversing and eagerly attacking their dinners.

“Hello, you lot.” Draco summoned an expansive smile as they arrived at the table in the far corner where Pansy and Ron sat, holding hands. Well, one of Ron’s hands anyway, Draco noted. The other one was busy stuffing a piece of warm, buttered Italian bread into its owner’s mouth.

“Oh, good! You’re here!” Pansy clapped her hands together gleefully. “I’ve ordered us some champagne.” She gave Ron a sly look and giggled. “We’ve already partaken just a teeny bit. I hope you two don’t mind.”

A startled look passed between Hermione and Draco, both struggling to keep a straight face as they seated themselves. Pansy and Ron had clearly partaken more than just a little bit. From the looks of them, both were well on their way to a very warm and fuzzy place.

“Right,” Draco said briskly, reaching over to pour himself and Hermione a glass of champagne. Might as well cut to the chase and get the serious drinking started. “What’s going on, then? You said you had news.”

Ron grinned happily, leaning back against the leather banquette and slinging an arm around Pansy’s shoulders. “Yeah. We do. Big news, actually. I am about to become a Parkinson.”

“No, no, silly, you’ve got that the wrong way round!” Pansy let out a peal of girlish laughter. “I’m about to become a Parkinson. Wait. That’s wrong too, isn’t it. I meant a Weasley.” She leaned in towards Ron, nuzzling his cheek with the tip of her nose. “Weasley is my king. Aren’t you, Ronnie?”

Hermione and Draco exchanged another glance above their friends' heads – a disgusted roll of the eyes from him, corresponding chagrin from her – and then she raised her glass with a wide smile.

“Congratulations!” she exclaimed, discreetly elbowing Draco. “That’s fantastic!”

“Yeah,” Draco added abruptly. Hermione’s foot had begun insistently nudging his. “Great news. Congratulations, Pans... Ron. Not that it’s any surprise, really. You two have been thick as thieves for... how long is it now?”

“Going on three years,” Pansy replied, raising her glass to her lips and taking a rather indelicately large sip. “Though it feels like simply forever, right, Ron?”

“I bet it does,” Draco agreed, his mouth twitching. A moment later, he felt the toes of his right foot being mashed by Hermione’s irate heel. “Ow! Hey!”

“Oh, sorry, love,” Hermione responded, all innocence. “Was that your foot?” She turned back to the happy couple. “So have you set a date yet?”

Before either Pansy or Ron could answer, the waiter arrived to take their dinner orders.

“Oh, and we’ll have another bottle of this lovely champagne, please,” Pansy chirped brightly as the waiter turned to go. “Anyway, to answer your question, Hermione, yes, we have done. The wedding’s in September. Sunday, the twenty-eighth, in the afternoon. My mother’s gone completely frantic! It’s really quite funny!”

Draco couldn’t help smiling at that. He’d known Elspeth Parkinson virtually all his life, ever since he and Pansy were in nappies. Her tendency to lapse into fits of hysterics over the smallest difficulty was well known; he’d witnessed it often enough over the years.

“You’re enjoying it, too, aren’t you, Pans,” he laughed.

“Not at all,” his friend replied, straight-faced, and then she grinned a bit sheepishly. “Truth to tell, I’m enjoying it enormously, yes!”

Everyone laughed and then Draco let out a theatrical sigh.

“Got to hand it to you, Weasley,” he drawled. “Anybody who takes Pansy on gets saddled with her mother as well.”

“Don’t I know it! The woman’s barking!” Ron muttered and then glanced over at Pansy fondly. “You’re lucky I rather like having you around, Parkinson. Your mum being in the picture would make a lesser man think twice. I’ve got to be honest; I don’t know how your dad stands it sometimes!”

It was a very good thing that Pansy was so far into her cups, Draco found himself thinking, because the conversation had just taken a potentially volatile turn. Fortunately, the odds were that she wouldn’t remember a thing about it by the next morning. He took a generous swallow of his champagne and plunged back into the fray.

“Well,” he said quickly, “you’ve got yourself a great girl, Weasley. Definitely worth the occasional crisis intervention with her mother. A toast!”

Hermione gave Draco a positively radiant smile and raised her glass. “Ron and Pansy!”

Their food arrived shortly thereafter and the rest of the evening was taken up with the three-course meal; their dedicated eating was interrupted only by the occasional toast, the desire to drink each other's health (not to mention toasting anything else they could come up with) increasing exponentially as the level of champagne in the bottle went down and was replaced by another. Finally, a lavish array of tempting sweets was wheeled over on a trolley for everyone’s inspection. Throwing caution to the wind, Ron chose two exceptionally rich ones, a bowl of tiramisu and a large slice of chocolate seven-layer cake.

“Bugger,” Draco muttered in awe. “You’ve actually managed to top yourself, Weasley. Where the hell do you put it all?”

Ron leaned back, patting his midsection with a beatific grin. “Cast-iron stomach, mate. I’m just getting started.”

‘I’ll attest to that!” Pansy piped up. “I still can’t believe what you manage to put away at your mum’s Sunday lunches!”

“Oh, I believe it,” Hermione laughed. “I’ve been to my fair share of Sunday lunches at the Burrow over the years!”

Even Draco had been to a few since he and Hermione had got married a year earlier. He shuddered now, remembering the happy abandon with which Ron had consumed vast slabs of his mother’s roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and veg, not to mention the pie or cake that invariably followed, and felt the contents of his stomach turn over a couple of times.

“Just coffee, thanks,” he said firmly to the waiter. “Black.”





Later that night


“Are you all right, love?” Hermione called from the bedroom, where she sat cross-legged on the bed, brushing her hair.

“Yeah, no worries. Be right in,” he called back, searching rather desperately in the medicine cabinet for the hangover potion, in an attempt to forestall the inevitable. The beginnings of a headache were already making themselves felt, and his stomach was in an uproar. Too much rich food and far too much champagne. He ought to have known better.

A few minutes later, he wandered into the bedroom and crawled into bed beside Hermione. Unlike him, she’d been a bit more circumspect about how much she’d consumed. Annoyingly, all her body parts seemed to be in fine working order, no ill effects whatsoever.

“The least you could do is feel like shit along with me,” he muttered, burying his nose in the warm, fragrant skin of her neck. “Where’s your loyalty, wife?”

“With my common sense. Yours apparently deserted you tonight,” she replied pointedly, but she couldn’t stifle a tiny smile. There was a small groan from him and she sighed. “Gosh, you really are feeling dreadful, aren’t you! I’m so sorry! What about the hangover potion?”

“Already took it. Should be kicking in any time now. Just hold me, yeah? Like that.” Snuggling closer and slipping an arm about her waist, Draco sighed contentedly. Her breasts were resting gently against his forearm, a tantalising reminder of what was waiting for him as soon as major portions of his anatomy abandoned their bloody insurrection.

“Wonderful news, don’t you think?” she murmured sleepily. “About Ron and Pansy, I mean. Though I wasn’t really surprised, were you?”

“Nope. Pans has been hinting at this for months,” Draco snorted. “Everybody knew where things were going with those two. It was only a matter of time.”

“And it was all because of us!”

“How d’you reckon that?”

“Well,” Hermione began, “they got together because of that little New Year’s party we had three years ago. You remember. At that pub. So we could tell all our old friends that we were together. Ron and Pansy were definitely interested in each other right from the off. That’s really when they started dating.”

She was right, Draco thought, laughing to himself. They’d created a monster. He pointed this out.

“Oh, you!” Hermione giggled and gave him a light smack on the arm. “I think they’re sweet together. They balance each other. Like we do.”

“Thank Merlin, at least you’ve got better table manners.”

That earned him another smack. Suddenly, Draco discovered that he was feeling miraculously recovered. Flipping the two of them over, he pinioned Hermione against the mattress, grinning down at her.

“That’s quite enough of that, young lady. Or I shall have to teach you a lesson,” he informed her, his eyes glinting evilly.

“Is that a threat?” Hermione looked up at him with large, innocent eyes, and then they narrowed and he detected a veiled smile. “Or a promise?”

“Whichever you prefer, darling.” A familiar and rather delicious tension was mounting deep inside him, and he knew she was feeling it too. He laughed softly, leaning down to brush his lips against hers. “I’m game.”





Quinto, Niall’s bookshop in Charing Cross Road


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The Worm Ourobouros
Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos, in alchemical tract titled Synosius (1478).