Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and review this story. It appreciate it so much I can't express. I hope you continue to enjoy as we dig a bit deeper into this story.
Thanks to Kyonomiko for talking through SO much of this with me.
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter franchise.
August 1, 2002
Draco sat at his kitchen table, idly drawing patterns on a sheet of parchment to calm his nerves while he waited.
Even days later, his head spun with the information Granger had shared with him.
That she had sought out this Witch Doctor, hoping he would help save her parents, but he had instead cursed her with a compulsion to spit riddles, forcing her to remain in her animal form, along with some nonsense about learning humility. But the worst – she must remain alone for one thousand days.
The exact wording was vague, and Draco understood why the thought of even spending time with him would make her nervous. He thought the curse itself sounded ridiculous, and suspected this Witch Doctor was perhaps mentally unstable.
If it meant waiting for her until March, Draco would do it – the only problem with that was that his veela side would have taken him into death by then.
And until then, Draco would cling to the shred of hope she had given him: that if they could find an answer, she would accept the bond.
Because she also didn't know what would happen if she violated the conditions by accepting him now. Whether she would feel compelled to ask riddles for the rest of her life, or if she would simply one day turn into a lion and never turn back. Or whether there was some other consequence altogether.
The former wouldn't bother Draco, as he had recently learned he was rather adept at riddles. But the latter would be frustrating indeed.
When Draco had suggested he would be willing to search out the Witch Doctor himself and explain the situation she had merely chuckled nervously and wished him luck.
Draco was stirred from his thoughts by a knock at the door. He stood, straightening his tie and smoothing the non-existent wrinkles from his shirt.
Draco had mentioned, after she had shared her story with him, that he would help her with research and she had instantly paled. Remembering she preferred to avoid people, Draco had stared at her for a long moment, chewing his tongue, before suggesting he take her to the library at Malfoy Manor.
It was certainly a better resource than the paltry library at the Ministry – but the way she had froze and tried not to show her terror at the thought had Draco immediately wanting to retract the idea.
The last time Granger had been to Malfoy Manor she had been tortured in the drawing room by his aunt, and the last thing Draco wanted was to force her to relive those memories.
He hadn't even wanted to discuss it with her at the time, but he supposed if they did find a solution and she accepted the bond, there would be a lifetime of clearing the air ahead of them.
But surprisingly, she had agreed.
Draco opened the door, and instantly his heart rate sped up at the sight of her. Granger hovered in the doorway, dressed in a nice purple jumper and Muggle jeans and she looked far more put together than she had been when he had seen her in the forest.
He had to consciously force himself not to stare too long and to keep his hands at his sides.
"Granger," he murmured in greeting, stepping out of the doorway so she could enter. "Would you care for tea?"
"Thank you," she said curtly, fidgeting with her sleeve as she entered the flat, "but perhaps we should start with the research, do you think?"
"You look lovely," Draco blurted, staring at her wide-eyed. "Your hair – I like your hair that way."
Grange raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips. "Yes, well, when I spend long periods of time as a lion, a proper shower is difficult to come by. I tend to… you know, bathe in the stream."
"And you managed a shower," Draco said warmly, nodding, even as he wished he could stop talking. He was meaning to sound considerate but suspected his attempts were coming across as patronizing.
"I went to my parents' old house," she explained quietly. "I generally avoid it, you know, but since we're going to Malfoy Manor –" she paused, cutting herself off. "Are your parents going to be there?"
Draco blinked, his brow furrowing as he stared at her. She must have been incredibly cut off in Australia, and then living in the forest as a lion for a year.
"My father's in Azkaban," Draco murmured softly, "and Mother prefers to stay with my aunt Andromeda most of the time. She won't be at the Manor." Draco scratched the back of his head as Granger frowned. "Probably for the best, to be honest. She doesn't know I've found my mate yet, and she likely won't take kindly to the situation."
"The situation being my curse," Granger deadpanned, narrowing her eyes at him.
Draco raised his hands in defense. His throat felt incredibly dry as he said quietly, "The situation being the fact that I could very well be dead within six months."
Granger's expression instantly softened. "I would take that tea if not for the fact that we ought to go." She chewed her lower lip for a moment before offering Draco a tentative smile. "But let's make a stop."
Granger awkwardly held her hand out, palm up, and a breath hitched in Draco's throat at the thought of touching her hand.
Draco carefully slid his hand into hers, doing his best to ignore the waves of pleasure that broke out from the touch of her bare skin, the urge to bring her closer. He wondered if Granger could hear the pounding of his heart.
Her eyes met his for a brief moment; she let out a deep breath and Draco wondered if just maybe, she felt it too. Then she tightened her grip and Apparated them both from the flat.
Hermione quickly released Malfoy's hand, trying to shake off the tingling of her skin where it had touched his. Her heart was racing and she took a step away; his expression betrayed nothing. She wondered if he was dosing her with his pheromones again, or if it was even something he could control.
They'd arrived in an alley and Hermione led him the half a block to their destination. His eyes widened at the harsh, neon lighting, the bustle of people, and the loud whirring of machines behind the counter.
"What is this place," he muttered under his breath.
"It's a coffee shop," she replied, meeting his soft tone as they joined the queue. "You can order tea and they'll put it in a paper cup so you can bring it with you."
"I'm familiar with coffee," he murmured with a nod. His eyes flickered to the large menu boards overhead. "Those are all different coffees?"
"Most of them are specialty beverages," Hermione explained. "Try something – it's on me."
"Nonsense," he said, waving a hand as he rummaged through his book bag. "I'll get it."
"They don't accept galleons, Malfoy," she deadpanned. He halted, chewing his tongue as he glanced back at her.
"Fine," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Next time, then." His eyes scanned the menu again as they advanced in line. "What are you getting?"
Hermione opened her mouth to respond just as the man ahead of them in line shifted and briefly caught Hermione's eye. Huffing out a sharp breath, she asked, "Voiceless it cries, wingless flutters, toothless bites, mouthless mutters. What is it?"
"Pardon me?" the man questioned, looking as if he thought she were mad.
"Think it through, please," she said, gritting her teeth, even as she clenched her hands into fists. As the man continued to stare blankly, Hermione winced at the feel of her claws extending from her fingers into her palms, her shoulders tensing.
She felt her cheeks flush, utterly embarrassed, especially in front of Malfoy. Coming here was a bad idea. She would need to leave.
"I don't know what you –" the man said.
"It's the wind, mate," Malfoy said easily, his grey eyes meeting hers as he nudged her with a shoulder. The man huffed and rolled his eyes, stepping up to the counter to place his order. Malfoy was still staring at her. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," Hermione gasped as her fangs began to retreat, and she opened her hands.
"You're bleeding," Malfoy said, his brow furrowed with concern. He shook his head, understanding. "It happens that quickly?"
Hermione could only nod, feeling the hot sting of shame. She wished they weren't in a Muggle establishment so she could close the wounds.
With a quick glance around, Malfoy gathered her hands together and clasped them within his. Hermione felt a faint tingle in her palms as the wounds healed and her eyes widened as he released her hands.
"You can do wandless magic," she breathed. He shrugged.
"A little. Only since the transition began," he murmured. "I'm still learning to control it, but I suppose it's easier with you."
"Thank you," she said, sliding her clean hands into her pockets.
"Don't mention it," he said with a brief smile. The man ahead of them walked away, shooting a disgruntled look at Hermione. Malfoy stared at the man, unimpressed, brows high, and he quickly left.
They approached the counter, where a cheerful young woman asked their order.
"I'll have a salted caramel mocha, please," Hermione said, meeting Malfoy's gaze with a small smile. He turned to the barista, his eyes wide.
"I will have an iced peppermint white chocolate mocha, thank you," he said stiffly, reading from the board.
"Good choice," Hermione murmured and his eyes followed her movements as she handed the cashier a paper note to pay for their drinks.
"Thanks," he said shortly as they stepped aside to wait, and then made their way back to the Apparition point. Malfoy looked uncomfortable as he sipped his drink through the straw, then his eyes widened. "This is quite good."
"Told you," she said absently, carefully opening the lid on her own drink to let the steam escape.
"Are you ready?" Malfoy asked, staring at her. Hermione bit her lip and forced a nod, to which he raised a brow. "You don't have to, you know. I can't imagine…" he trailed off, shaking his head. "I wouldn't want to go back there, if I were you. As it is, I rarely go there."
"It's alright," Hermione said, pressing her lips together in what she hoped came across as a smile. "Just… if we could avoid that room."
"Of course," he said quickly. "It's been renovated, anyway. You wouldn't recognize it."
"Really?" she asked, glancing at him as they arrived back at the Apparition point.
"Yes," he said quietly. "More happened in that room than I like to recall."
Hermione stared at him for a long moment, trying to determine whether he was being sincere or simply feeding her a line. But his eyes, the set of his brow – he was being honest. It wasn't something she was used to, and maybe she needed to accept the fact that he truly was trying.
"Okay, let's go," she breathed.
He took her hand, offered a pained sort of smile, and they were gone.
Draco released her hand when they arrived at the wide gravel drive leading to the wrought-iron gates of Malfoy Manor. The hedges, still impeccably groomed, rose tall on either side.
A pair of white peacocks strutted over to see what had happened, then turned and walked away again upon determining their arrival wasn't worth investigating.
Draco cast Granger a sidelong glance; she looked torn between fascination and discomfort.
"If you change your mind," he murmured, "just tell me."
Granger nodded, and took a step forward. Draco followed at a distance, allowing her the space she presumably needed to get accustomed to the fact that nothing here was going to harm her. Despite the fact that all he wanted to do was haul her off to the library and do depraved things to her. Those Muggle jeans were distracting him to no end.
Draco took a long sip of his beverage.
Granger halted before the iron gates, as if expecting something awful to happen.
"You're with me so you only have to push," Draco informed her nonchalantly. "Unless you're secretly here for a more diabolical reason – in which case I would turn and run."
Granger shot him an unamused look but her lips twitched even so. She reached out toward the gates and they swung open silently of their own accord.
In fact the entire grounds of the Manor appeared to be peaceful and quiet, the peacocks swaggering about and the extravagant fountain gurgling in the gardens the only sounds.
Draco still found himself surprised, sometimes, that the estate wasn't bustling with the comings and going of Death Eaters, even years after the war had ended.
Shaking off the memories, Draco followed Granger through the gates, and they swung shut behind him in an insidious manner. He took a step closer to the brunette as she approached the front doors.
"Who keeps the grounds and the gardens?" she asked quietly, gazing up at the towering doors.
"My mother likes to tend the gardens," Draco responded. "But the elves, otherwise. And when she isn't here." He rolled his eyes as Granger opened her mouth to speak. "They're treated perfectly well, I can assure you. And I'm not sure if anyone ever told you, but they actually like their work. They see it an honour. Dobby was a bit of an anomaly because my father never treated him well, but the elves at Malfoy Manor are quite happy."
Granger slammed her mouth shut, her head tilting. "How did you know what I was going to say?"
"Granger, I don't think your elf freedom campaign at Hogwarts escaped anyone's notice," he said with a smirk. "And you can even ask the elves. They are provided with a generous monthly allowance for their own purchases. More than they usually spend."
Granger pressed her lips together but didn't push the topic.
"The doors are a bit more tricky," Draco informed her, taking her by the arm. "Blood wards – they won't recognize you alone. Although," he hesitated, thoughtful, "I wonder if they might accept you as my mate."
Granger chose not to respond. Draco cast a complicated bit of spellwork, and the doors swung open.
She stayed alongside Draco as he guided her through the house, her eyes wide. He finished his coffee beverage and vanished the empty cup; it had been tasty but overly sweet.
"I must admit, I wasn't entirely focused on the decor the last time I was here," she said softly. "It's quite lovely."
"The house has been here in Wiltshire, in some variation, since 1066 when my ancestor Armand Malfoy came to England with William the Conqueror," Draco explained, shoving his hands into his pockets to keep from touching her again, her scent assailing his olfactory senses. "Over the centuries, land was annexed from the nearby Muggles and modifications were made to the manor and estate."
"That's fascinating," Granger admitted. "I wish I knew the history of my family even half as far back."
"My ancestors were very diligent about leaving a written record," Draco said, frowning. "Even when they probably shouldn't have, if you understand my drift."
"I think I do," Granger said with a shudder. "I can imagine there were some unsavoury things recorded?"
"Unsavoury is a good word for it," Draco agreed mildly.
"So you must know where your veela heritage comes from?" Granger asked, stopping to examine a marble bust of a Malfoy patriarch from the seventeenth century.
"Yes," Draco said, "only, those records were actually rather poorly kept. The last Malfoy to demonstrate any veela characteristics at all was a man by the name of Tobias Malfoy in the mid-nineteenth century. But he really only experienced the call to mate. It was his great-grandfather who married a half-veela woman, integrating the veela blood into the Malfoy lineage."
"Your blood must be very diluted," Granger observed, falling back into step with him.
"Incredibly, actually," Draco said, running a hand through his hair. "Especially to be exhibiting the symptoms so strongly. Even Tobias Malfoy didn't experience many of the symptoms I've been discovering."
"Like – the fire?" Granger asked, almost hesitantly. "How does that work?"
"I'm not certain entirely," Draco admitted, "and it isn't as if I can just ask someone. It seems to show up when I'm angry or threatened. Or, like that day in the pub, overwhelmed. My hands heat up, and if I can't manage to get it under control… well, it's unpleasant."
"Sort of like turning into a lion and attacking someone, unpleasant?" Granger offered a small smile and Draco recognized the olive branch.
"That sort of unpleasant, yes," he murmured, grinning. "I have to ask – have you ever actually mauled someone?"
"Well, the first time it happened I was so surprised and very nearly, yes," she said, looking ashamed. "I clawed a man quite badly, and he needed to be hospitalized and Obliviated." She frowned, staring at the ground. "The year I spent in Australia trying to be rid of the curse – I spent much of that time in my lion form, afraid it would happen again. It made it quite difficult to make any progress."
"I can imagine," Draco said, turning the last hallway toward the library. "Well, here we are."
Granger's eyes widened and she turned to stare at him. Draco gestured she go ahead.
"What is the freedom of birds and the pen of men?" She shook her head at the absurdity of it. Draco stared at her, surprised, for a long moment. He frowned, shaking his head. "Malfoy," she ground out, her hands tensing.
"Feathers, Granger, honestly," he grinned. "If I don't even know one that simple, you have my permission to attack me."
Granger gaped at him, eyes wide. "You're terrible!"
"Right," he agreed, "haven't you met me?"
"I suppose I thought your whole veela mating thing would mean you'd be less likely to string me along," Granger said, mockingly disgruntled. Draco laughed and her eyes brightened at the sound.
"Honestly, I'm starting to realize the strength of it comes and goes," Draco said, chewing his tongue. "I always feel it, especially when you and I are together. But there are times when the need is so great I can hardly function." He met her eyes, swallowing. "And there are times when I'm content just to be with you, if that makes sense?"
Granger turned to him, her brow furrowed, holding his stare. He saw her quick intake of breath, the shade of her irises as she gazed up at him through her lashes.
"And right now?" she asked, her tone light. Draco quickly clamped down on the pheromones rolling off him.
"Somewhere in between," Draco responded with a tight smile. He forced himself to take a deep breath and she blinked. "Presumably it's a product of the dilution in my blood. But that's only a guess, of course."
"Right," Granger breathed. She was still close enough Draco could taste her scent. It was taking all of his self control to keep from grabbing her. "When you said you would have three to six months… where did that come from?"
"Journals, first- and second-hand accounts," he murmured distractedly with a shrug, his eyes fixed on her mouth. "Why do you ask?"
"I only wonder if that length of time might vary depending on the strength of the veela inheritance," Granger murmured, biting her lip. Draco let out a shaky breath, wishing it was him biting her soft flesh. He very consciously kept his hands at his sides, then shoved them into his pockets again.
"What?" he asked, blinking as he remembered she'd spoken. He jerked his eyes up to meet hers again. "I've no clue. And it isn't necessarily something I want to experiment with, you know?"
"Are you alright?" Granger asked, her brow furrowing. "Your pupils are huge."
"Not sure," Draco choked out with a wince. "Maybe – you should take a step back. I can't, right now."
"Oh!" Granger exclaimed, stumbling away, shaking off the effects of the pheromones. "Of course. I'm sorry!"
"Don't be," Draco said with a harsh exhale. He removed his hands from his pockets and they were trembling. His shoulder blades itched. He tried to will them to remain hidden but his heart was pounding.
Granger's eyes flickered to his hands and they widened almost imperceptibly.
Draco did everything he could think of in an attempt to slow his breathing, to keep the wings from revealing themselves.
"Is this… fire?" Granger asked, her voice low. "Or something else?"
"Something else," he bit out, squeezing his eyes shut. Finally his breathing slowed, and the itch in his back began to retreat. He opened his eyes, meeting Granger's once more. "Sorry about that."
"What just happened?" she asked, making to reach for him and thinking better of it.
"I have wings," Draco said shortly, forcing a smile that he suspected looked more like a grimace. "And before you ask, I can't control them, and I have no clue why they sometimes appear."
Granger pressed her lips together, shaking her head in awe. "Wings," she breathed. "So you can fly?"
"Usually when they appear I'm too focused on making them disappear. I haven't tried," Draco said with a shrug. "But, we've arrived," he interjected, anxious for a diversion from the slight episode she'd witnessed.
"Right, of course," Granger said, her cheeks flushing a light pink.
With a tense nod, Draco swung the door to the library open and walked in with a decided lack of preamble, ignoring years of ingrained etiquette. He heard Granger's sharp intake of breath behind him but forced himself to keep walking, to put space between them.
But he turned when the second pair of footfalls behind him ceased, and Granger was staring at the shelves upon shelves of books with awe, her arms folded across her chest as if to stop herself from reaching for them all.
"Did you live in here growing up?" she gasped, eyes wide. "I've never seen so many books."
"I did spend a lot of time here," Draco conceded. "You'll want to use a keyword sorting spell unless you're particularly fond of using ladders and doing things the hard way. You're welcome to borrow as many as you like, so long as you keep them protected. Some of these books are older than the house itself."
"Of course I would protect them," she said, scandalized at the thought. She tilted her head, deep in thought. "I suppose I ought to start with curses, sphinxes, and some on veela as well."
"Why veela?" Draco asked, raising his eyebrows.
"In case we can find something that might help," she said simply. "And I suppose general curiosity as well."
Draco met her gaze for a moment and shrugged. "Whatever you like." Granger cast the sorting and Draco ducked as books came flying in every direction. "They'll compile here."
He led her to a bank of work tables where the books with keywords she had selected began lining themselves neatly on a shelf, sorted by relevance.
"This is amazing," Granger said, shaking her head as she stood with him, beyond the range of the flying books.
"So let me ask you something, Granger," Draco said, not looking at her. "You've been back in England for a year and the day I found you was the first time you transformed into a human? How do you explain that to Potter and Weasley?"
"They don't know," she said blandly, but her cheeks were pink again. "Ron and I haven't had much to do with each other since I left for Australia and he took it to mean I was leaving him. Harry and I owled while I was over there, with lessening frequency. I should think Luna takes up much of his time now. I reached out to him when I saw the announcement of his wedding, because of the wards on my cave." She shrugged, hugging her arms across herself again. "I told him I wasn't feeling well when I left his wedding and he didn't question it."
"Do you miss him?" Draco asked, eyes flickering to her.
"Of course," she said dismissively. "Harry and I were together through everything. But the curse makes it hard to keep friends, you know? Not everyone is so understanding as you, and that's only because you have to be. And besides, most people are shite at riddles, or they don't know why I'm asking, and then..."
"I follow," Draco murmured. "I don't have to be understanding, Granger, just so you know. The veela doesn't obliterate who I am just because it's selected you as my mate. It wants you to feel the same, obviously, through whichever means necessary. Hence, the pheromones."
"You can't control that?" she asked, turning to him.
"I'm learning to recognize it," Draco said with a shrug. "Naturally, as a veela, I emit a certain amount whether I'm eating dinner or walking down the street, or what have you. But when you're near, it's compounded. I don't want you to be influenced in that way, so I try to manage them."
"So do you, as Draco Malfoy, feel differently than your veela?" She shook her head almost instantly. "I apologize, I don't mean to ask such prying questions. I'm just trying to understand."
"Not at all," he murmured, smirking. "I would have expected nothing less from you. I don't think it's possible to separate how the veela feels compared to how Draco Malfoy feels, because as soon as the veela awoke, we became two integrated halves of a whole. All I meant, before, was that I haven't simply given up who and what I was before, if that makes sense."
Draco hesitated, trying to put the thoughts into words.
"Like I told you in the woods, I don't think I ever would have consciously selected you for a partner, but the veela doesn't care about our past, or about the war, or blood status. Does that make sense?" he pursed his lips, turning to her. She nodded slowly. "My mate, inherently, is selected as the one with the best compatibility, and the best chance of passing on the gene. And compatibility naturally includes intellectual, emotional… physical." Draco looked away.
"Basic survival," she nodded. "I think I understand. So while you're part veela, you're still you."
"Yes," Draco agreed. "I can't explain it very well. Instinctively – and this would override anything I feel as a human – my purpose is to protect my mate. Whether that means dying for you... " he swallowed. "Or killing for you. I would."
"Aren't veela governed differently?" she asked, turning toward him. "I've heard of such cases where a veela claimed a life due to a legitimate threat to their mate."
"Yes," Draco said, hesitantly. "If the mate has been marked. Until then, the law applies as usual."
"I understand," Granger said softly, shifting on her feet. The last of the books were making their way onto the shelf and her eyes widened at the sheer quantity that had gathered.
Draco ran a hand through his hair, turning to meet her eyes. "Look Granger, for what it's worth… I'm sorry, for everything. For what you went through during the war, for how I made you feel in Hogwarts."
Granger's eyes widened and her brow furrowed in surprise. She stared at him for a long moment and then nodded. "I accept your apology," she said quietly. "And I apologize for dishing it out in return. I guess if we're going to be working together, and maybe more, it's best to just put everything behind us."
"Yes," Draco said, feeling a wave of relief. "I'd like that."
Granger offered him a small smile. "I suppose we ought to get started, then."