Author's Note: Thanks as always for the lovely support on this fic, and for all your kind comments. It means SO MUCH.
Self-plug: I've posted a new WIP this week! It's called Dust, and it's a Dramione Wild West Outlaws AU. Give it a read if you're into that sort of thing :)
Thanks as always to Kyonomiko for all of her support.
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter franchise.
October 5, 2002
Hermione stretched her neck, one way and then the other, as she took a short break from the manuscript over which she had been poring for hours.
Cross-legged on the floor of the sitting room, surrounded with journals and accounts, she and Malfoy had spent nearly every waking moment trying to find something that might give them an edge over the Witch Doctor.
It had surpassed three months since Malfoy had discovered she was his mate, and the tension between them and in the situation felt so much higher.
In many ways, this felt like a last ditch effort to make things work without suffering the consequences, on one side or the other.
"Call me insensitive," Nott said, from his position sprawled across the armchair, his head hanging over the armrest as he nursed a bag of blood, "but why can't Draco just storm in there and threaten to burn this so-called Witch Doctor's hut down if he doesn't undo the curse?"
"It isn't that simple," Hermione said, taking a sip from her long-cold cup of Earl Grey. "Something tells me the Witch Doctor isn't the type to bow to common threats."
Nott shrugged, righting himself as he glanced at Malfoy, whose brow was furrowed as he read through an old account of strange magic and their users.
"How is it that there are virtually no encounters with this man?" he grumbled finally, shaking his head. "You'd think someone would know something. A weakness, even?"
"When I was first looking for him," Hermione explained, chewing her lip, "everyone warned me against it. Even the lead healer working with my parents said most people who sought him out never returned, and if they did, they were never the same."
"Ah," Nott said sagely, "so that was your cue to run off and seek him out then. I understand now."
Hermione threw a book at him.
"I never said it was the wisest decision I've ever made," she admitted, feeling a flush creep to her cheeks.
"There's some of that humility we need you to learn," Malfoy said with a soft smirk.
Her stomach flopped at the sight of it. Living in the same flat as him had only exacerbated whatever was between them, and Hermione could hardly look at him without wanting to jump his bones. And she wasn't entirely certain how much it had to do with the low-dosage pheromones that he naturally emitted, or whether it was his veela's way to encourage the bond by subtly increasing their intensity.
Or how much of it was merely borne from her own growing interest in him.
"I wish the curse were less ambiguous," she said quietly, chewing on the end of a sugar quill that Malfoy had brought home for her, after she had once mentioned enjoying them in school.
The riddles had been coming as per usual, and though she was remaining in her human form far more often, she tested her lion every morning and night to be sure the transition wasn't stuck either. The curse had been eerily accepting of her new living arrangements, despite the fact that she was less alone than she had ever been since being cursed.
But still, something churned uncomfortably within her at the reference to the humility clause. She found herself wondering more and more how that factored in, especially as she spent less time alone. And how she might be able to figure that out. It was something she vowed to ask the Witch Doctor about when they found him.
"It seems to me," Nott said, almost apologetically, "these answers are not ones you'll find in a book. I know, Granger, shocking to me too!"
Hermione rolled her eyes. Nott had been relentless as always with the teasing and the sarcastic remarks, but there was something softer in his words, ever since she had helped him out of the bind with Sally-Anne.
And while he had moped about the flat for a couple days after his new charge had gone to Sanguini's colony, not even leaving at night as usual, Nott had very evidently not wanted to talk about it, so Hermione had refrained from asking.
"You may be right," she said, releasing a sigh.
"I mean, you know how to find him, right?" Nott asked, carefully folding his empty bag. "And from there you'll have to try and, I don't know, negotiate or something?"
"Or something," Malfoy chimed in with a grimace as he ran his fingers through his already disheveled hair.
"Last time I had to hire a guide who knew how to find his hut," Hermione said thoughtfully. "Presumably we'll be able to do the same this time. The wards make it impossible to find otherwise."
"When are you leaving, anyway?" Nott asked, flipping casually through one of the journals. "You know, so I can arrange a gathering of my coven when I've got the flat to myself."
"You don't have a coven," Malfoy deadpanned, even as his lips twitched.
"Rub it in, then," Nott said, clicking his tongue.
"We've been meaning to leave when we have a plan of action," Malfoy continued, ignoring his oldest friend, "but we aren't having much luck. I just don't care for the idea of winging it."
"Neither do I," Hermione said, "but we aren't finding anything. Maybe there will be resources in Australia that might help. We just might have to accept that our trip will be longer than originally planned."
"Okay," Malfoy agreed, running a hand down his face. She could practically feel the stress radiating from him.
He had been working so hard trying to help her find a way out of this curse, despite that all she wanted was for the bond to be completed, and for him to escape the constant pain she knew he was in. Her brow furrowed as she stared at him.
"Let's go tomorrow, then," she said softly. "And we're taking a break."
"What's a break?" Malfoy said with a snicker.
"I like a break," Nott said, straightening in his seat. "Cards?"
"Sure," Hermione said with a shrug. "Although I was thinking of something different."
Abruptly standing, and massaging her overwrought brain, Hermione rummaged in the kitchen cabinets, returning with a partial bottle of Firewhisky and three tumblers.
"Seriously, Granger?" Nott said, gaping.
"What?" she asked, blinking at him. "We've been researching for days on end." She hesitated, chewing her lip. "Can you not drink firewhisky anymore?"
"Of course I can," Nott scoffed, reaching for a tumbler, "I just didn't think you had it in you."
Malfoy merely gave her a slow smile, his grey eyes lit up in a way she hadn't seen in days.
"That isn't going to be nearly enough if we're doing this," he murmured quietly. His gaze flickered to Nott, who grinned. "We need to infiltrate the Malfoy Manor liquor cellars."
Nott was instantly on his feet. "Let's go."
Malfoy stood as well, straightening his shirt and rolling up his sleeves. He offered a hand to Hermione and helped her to her feet, that soft smile lingering in the curve of his lips.
Hermione felt a breath catch in her throat as she stared at him, transfixed by the light within his grey eyes.
"The whisky in the cellars will make that bottle of Ogden's taste like dragon piss," he murmured with a beguiling smile, holding her gaze.
"Okay," Hermione said, swallowing. He still held her by the hand, and she interlocked their fingers.
His tongue flicked out to moisten his lips, and as he opened his mouth to say something else, Nott sighed exaggeratedly.
"Let's go," he repeated, shifting his weight, with what Hermione could only presume was the anticipation of good whisky.
"Right," Malfoy said, even as he continued staring at Hermione. She felt herself grow flushed from the heat in his gaze. He bit down on his lower lip around a smile. "Meet you there, Theo."
And her hand still held in his, he Apparated Hermione to Malfoy Manor.
Some time later, Hermione found herself giggling inordinately as Nott regaled them with some of his nighttime adventures. She threw her head back in laughter at the thought of a trio of common thieves who had tried to mug the vampire, and had run away screaming at the sight of his fangs.
"You should have gone along with it and followed them home," she snorted, slurring her words slightly.
"Dark, Granger," Malfoy snickered as he finished his glass of whisky and poured another.
"Well then they should know better," she said, indignant.
"They do now," Nott said, grinning widely, his razor-sharp teeth glinting.
Hermione cackled, turning to Malfoy who sat beside her on the couch, one arm resting on the cushion behind her shoulders.
"And if you were there, too," she giggled, poking him in the ribcage. "And you threw fire at them."
"Draco just has to sprout wings and everyone would run away," Nott said, snickering.
"Can I see them?" Hermione asked, swivelling her head towards him with what she hoped was a convincing smile. "I've never seen your wings."
"I don't like them," Malfoy said shortly, frowning. "I try to keep them away as best I can."
"But what if you need to fly away from danger?" she asked, blinking at him. "What then?"
"I suppose I'll decide if I'm ever in a situation where I need to fly away from danger," Malfoy responded with a half grin, his eyes heavily lidded. "Until that day, no."
"Fine," Hermione said, with mocking disapproval which was negated as she giggled again.
"And what about you?" Malfoy asked, turning to face her, wiggling his brows. "You could protect me."
"Absolutely!" Hermione exclaimed with a grin, the whisky in her cup sloshing. "I would protect both of you."
"How sweet, Granger," Nott said with a grin. "You know, considering how fucked up the three of us are, we aren't not formidable."
"Double negatives, Nott," Malfoy said, rubbing his temple.
"Like, you know?" Nott carried on, nodding. "I would bet on us in a fight."
"So would I," Hermione said, clicking her tongue. "Okay, but who would win between a vampire and a veela?"
"A vampire, obviously," Nott said. "I'm immortal."
"You can still burn to a crisp, no?" Malfoy muttered under his breath, looking at Nott over the top of his glass. "Just saying. There must be ways to defeat you."
"I think I would lose," Hermione said, tilting her head thoughtfully. "To both of you."
"You would beat me, because I physically can't hurt you," Malfoy pointed out, his brow furrowed. Hermione raised her brows, staring at him.
"Okay, but if that wasn't the case," she slurred, pointing at his chest.
"You could easily gut me," Malfoy admonished. "And I wouldn't see you coming. Your senses are stronger than mine."
"You would melt me to a pile of ash," Hermione said, snorting, "and then fly away from the danger."
Nott threw his head back with laughter. Malfoy frowned, looking put out.
"Okay, but what colour are they?" Hermione asked, poking at his shoulder blade. "And are they like a bird's wings, or a bat's?"
Malfoy stared at her for a long moment, chewing on his tongue. "I'll tell you what. If we find answers in Australia and make it through this disaster, I'll show you."
"Fine," Hermione said, smiling. "And take me for a ride."
"I'll take you for a ride," Malfoy said with a lascivious grin. Hermione flushed, jabbing him with an elbow. He snorted. "If you want to go for a ride, I'll take you on my broom."
"Weren't you always afraid of flying, Granger?" Nott broke in. "I thought you were, or was that someone else?"
"It was me," she said flippantly, tilting her head. "Although I suppose, after flying on hippogriffs and thestrals and dragons… what's flying with a veela who I know won't hurt me?"
Nott and Malfoy gaped at her as Hermione shrugged and took a sip of her whisky.
"What the fuck," Nott muttered under his breath.
"Whatever," Malfoy said, throwing his hands in the air. "I'll take you flying, then. If this pans out, and if I can figure out how to bloody fly, let alone with someone else."
"I have faith," Hermione said, leaning back into him. His arm dropped down the cushion and wrapped around her shoulders. He met her gaze, his brow furrowed, his grey eyes honest.
"I'm trying to have faith as well," he murmured softly. "That we can figure this out."
"Okay," Hermione said, chewing her lip as she gazed at him. "And we will, right?"
She leaned deeper into him, absently tracing patterns on his abdomen through his shirt. His throat bobbed.
"I'm leaving!" Nott announced, finishing his drink. He stood and gave the two of them a pointed look, then his face softened. "If I don't see you before you leave, don't either of you dare come back without good news."
"Thanks Nott," Hermione said, oddly touched.
Malfoy offered his friend a smile.
"You look after him," Nott said, pointing at Hermione. "And you know, gut that crazy sorcerer if you need to."
Malfoy made a face and glanced at Hermione.
"Have fun tonight," Hermione said softly, snickering.
With an awkward sort of wave, Nott left the flat.
Hermione turned to Malfoy, her vision swimming a little as she stared at him. "We're going to figure this out because we're going to be together, and we're smart."
Malfoy chuckled, tugging her closer. "Right, Granger. Because we're going to be together."
She blinked, tracing his cheekbone with her fingertips. "I want to kiss you, you know," she announced.
"Don't say that," he breathed, swallowing heavily, "because I've had enough whisky I might not have the willpower not to."
"So do it," she challenged, her eyelids heavy as she stared at his mouth.
"I can't, Granger," he murmured, even as he fidgeted with a loose curl. His grey eyes were glazed. "You need to break your curse."
"We're going to," she whispered, cuddling into his side, allowing the pheromones between them to roll over her. "Tomorrow."
"So wait until tomorrow," he breathed, exhaling heavily. His hand held her jaw assertively. "You have no idea, Granger, how badly –"
"Aren't you tired of waiting," she whispered, digging a hand into his soft blond hair. His eyes fluttered shut and his head pitched forward. She leaned in, so close she could taste the whisky on his breath. "We're going to break the curse… we will be together. And… all of this is just going to be a story we tell our kids someday."
"Our kids." He choked on a breath, as if her words were physically painful. His eyes were shining as they blinked open, and Hermione could see the leagues of self-imposed torment within their depths.
"I can't do this to you, Granger," he whispered, and Hermione could almost feel the movement of his lips.
"You can," she breathed in return.
"No," he said, shaking his head slowly. There was moisture at the corners of his eyes. "Not until we break your curse… not like this, drunken and desperate."
He drew away with a ragged breath, as if he couldn't stand it.
"You," he breathed, his voice shaky, "are everything to me. I will die for you, and I will give you up, if that's what it takes."
He held up a hand, as she opened her mouth to speak.
"I fucking love you, Granger, more than I can fucking comprehend, more than I knew I had the capacity to feel, and it terrifies me," he murmured into her neck, his hands clutching her like a lifeline. His voice dropped to a breath. "And I refuse to do anything that might harm you. So as much as it hurts, as badly as I want you, as I fucking need you like I need oxygen…"
Hermione gasped a breath as she felt his tears on her neck, dropping her face into his hair.
He swallowed. "I would gladly die before I put you at risk, my Granger."
"Okay," Hermione choked, digging her hands into his hair, lost for words. Never had she seen him like this. He was typically so strong, so aloof even, and to see him so devastated, so hopeless, broke something deep within her. She breathed into his ear, "I promise you, Draco, we are going to figure this out. One way or another, this is going to work out, and your pain is going to end."
He pulled away, nodding, though his expression was blank, his eyes dull and empty. "Of course we are, Granger." His grey eyes flickered to hers and then away as he muttered, "Sorry."
Hermione simply shook her head and wrapped her arms tightly around him, feeling her own tears spring to the corners of her eyes.
She could never deserve the level of devotion he was offering.
And she was going to do whatever she had to do, in order to make sure he found his own happiness, in the end.
October 6, 2002
Draco awoke, a cold churning in his gut.
His head was pounding and there was a terrible crick in his neck. His throat felt raw.
His senses flared to life, and as he blinked into consciousness, he realized Granger was asleep, half sprawled across his chest.
His heart constricted for a brief moment while he took in his surroundings. They had evidently fallen asleep on the couch, fully clothed, and having made a significant dent in the supply of whisky they had taken from Malfoy Manor the night before.
It had been quite some time since Draco had imbibed so heavily, and he could feel the impact in every muscle of his body.
"Granger," he murmured, nudging her. "Wake up."
With a groan, she stirred, rubbing at her eyes.
She stared at him, her lips slightly parted, then averted her gaze, flushing pink.
Draco wasn't entirely certain of everything that had happened the night before, but the unpleasant feeling in the pit of his stomach suggested he had humiliated himself.
"Good morning," she said, her voice high-pitched. She pressed her eyes shut. "Please tell me you've got a hangover draught handy."
"Merlin, I hope so," Draco muttered, running a hand through his hair.
Granger shifted off his chest as Draco made to stand, tripping clumsily over his own feet as he collected two vials from the potions cupboard, breathing a sigh of relief.
He unstoppered one and tossed the other to Granger, who blinked in surprise at the fact that she managed to catch it.
"So," Granger said softly, as the potion started to take effect. "Last night was interesting."
"Right," Draco said, chewing his tongue. "Sorry."
"For what?" she breathed, her gaze flickering to his.
"I can't remember," Draco admitted, feeling sheepish, "though I feel like there's something."
"Are you apologizing for saying you love me?" she asked, and though her face was red and her words soft, there was something quietly teasing in the sentiment.
Draco's heart plummeted into the bowels of his stomach.
"Yes?" he murmured, biting his tongue to refrain from asking the question he desperately wanted to ask. He realized too late he was tapping his empty vial into the arm of the couch, nervously.
"That's nothing to be sorry for," she said, almost apologetically, and Draco could read the answer to his unspoken question. "If anything, I should –"
Draco held up a hand, feeling rather as if he might still toss the contents of his stomach, despite the hangover draught working to soothe his body.
"No," he murmured. He forced a smirk to his face. "It isn't as if it's a surprise to anyone, I'm sure. Though it certainly wasn't the way I meant to tell you."
Granger's brow furrowed as she worried her lower lip. "I suppose I've been trying so hard to keep myself closed off –"
"Please don't, Granger, you don't owe me anything," Draco clipped. Suddenly he remembered something else. "Australia. Today, right?"
"Right," Granger said, pressing her lips together. "If you're still interested in going. I suppose when I think about it, we might find more information about the Witch Doctor closer to the source."
"Yes," Draco agreed, nodding voraciously, as he tried to swallow the panic in his chest as more of his words and actions of the night prior came flooding back. The last thing he needed was to push her away. "Brisbane, right?"
Granger nodded absently. "That's where my parents are. Or were, over a year ago when I returned to England."
"Then that's where we'll start," Draco said, nodding. "Pack a bag, and we'll activate the Portkey. We're going to find these answers, Granger."
She nodded, smiling, as if she believed him.