Warning: Contains references to miscarriage and implied non-con
I owe a massive debt of gratitude to itsraa, who has been an amazing alpha, beta and what have you. This fic would have been a lot poorer without her help. Thanks ever so much for the insightful comments, suggestions and musings on the best Galleon to GBP conversion rate. I'm also very grateful to Edhla, who isn't even in the same fandom but still has been very helpful. Any remaining mistakes are entirely my own.
I'd also like to thank Quasar-Hunter for making the cover art.
This fic was written for the 2014 DramioneLove Love Fest on LiveJournal
Chapter 1 – Loose Ends
"Open up, Granger! I know you're in there!"
Hermione rolled out of bed in an ungainly heap and managed to scramble onto her feet — eventually. She swayed, head still cloudy with sleep. Yesterday had been a very long day, and judging by the tendrils of morning sun creeping in around the dusty blinds, it was far too early to be getting up.
There was another series of quick bangs on the door, which made the ancient wood shake alarmingly.
"Coming, Mr Saberthwaite!" Hermione fumbled through her coat pockets for her tips from last night, pouring the coins out on her bed. It had been too late to count them up when she returned last night, but she had hoped it would be more. The little pile of coins added up to only five Galleons and three Sickles, which made the total amount she could pay off the rent ninety Galleons even.
Her little room above the junk shop in Diagon Alley was the cheapest accommodation she could find, but it still wasn't that cheap, and she was already two weeks behind. Mr Saberthwaite was accustomed to being paid in small instalments by those of limited means, but even his patience had started to shows signs of wearing thin.
Once she had poured her motley collection of coins into Mr Saberthwaite's eager hands, accompanied by her apologies, Hermione closed the door with a kick and collapsed on her bed. It wasn't as if she had much choice; there wasn't exactly room for a couch, and her only, rather rickety, chair was currently serving as her wardrobe.
Last night, Hannah Abbott had let Hermione do a trial shift as a waitress at the Leaky Cauldron.
It hadn't gone well. Even if some people had thrown her a few extra Sickles because they recognised her from the war – at least some of the wizarding world hadn't been struck by convenient amnesia – she had spilled most of their pints on the way to the tables.
Hannah had asserted herself as the new landlady forcefully enough that Hermione had been spared any jibes from those who didn't appreciate her war record quite as much, but that didn't change the fact that they probably were in the majority. Hannah had always been a little too inclined to assume things would work out fine, only to spot the flaw in her plans later. After last night, she seemed to have realised that Hermione Granger was more likely to send customers away than attract them, for reasons that had little to do with her atrocious waitressing skills.
Hermione didn't expect to be called back unless the entire staff was laid down by Dragon Pox.
She stared at the wall opposite her bed, only a few feet away. In the scruffy-looking photo she had pinned to it, Harry was waving at her, glasses slightly askew and Gryffindor scarf fluttering in the wind.
Next to him sat her parents, unmoving and unchanging, looking just like she remembered them from before the war. They would recognise the face of their own daughter – she was certain they would. A few laughter lines and many more lines of worry hadn't altered her irrevocably. The look in her eyes was more wary than eager these days, but surely she had good reason for that?
Hermione tried to take stock of her situation, as unappealing as it was.
The next step down from Mr Saberthwaite's room in the attic was a bed at the Brockdale Foundation's Shelter for Homeless Wizards. As it was run by Pansy Parkinson's mother, Hermione doubted very much they would take her in. Just a few years ago, the solution to her predicament would have been obvious: she would simply have got a flat in the Muggle world. Apparition and Floo had ensured that generations of half-bloods and Muggle-borns had been strewn across the UK among their unsuspecting Muggle counterparts, happily paying a pittance in rent.
Unfortunately, currently a number of expensive permits and licences from the Ministry were required to connect to the Floo network and place wards on Muggle housing. Hermione couldn't afford as much as a door chime ward, and was therefore relegated to the back rooms of established wizarding areas.
She could always live in the Muggle world without wards, if she had no objection to old enemies calling in the middle of the night. Unforgivables were such ugly housewarming gifts.
Bloody Ron, she thought tiredly. Even now, she couldn't blame him for everything: all of them were at fault, not least Hermione.
"Daphne saw Hermione Granger serving drinks at the Leaky last night. I thought she was working for the Ministry?"
Astoria and Draco were in their seats waiting for the concert to start. It was the opening night of the Wizarding Assembly's classical music series. The Malfoys had arrived early, since their purpose for being there was to be seen rather than to listen.
"She used to," Draco replied. "Shacklebolt got them to hire her, to stop her turning up at his office every week."
"What happened?" Astoria looked bored with the subject already, but it was still a few minutes before the performance was due to start and Merlin knew they had little else to talk about.
"You know what happened to Shacklebolt?" It was a rhetorical question: the whole wizarding world knew that Kingsley Shacklebolt had been caught with his hand in the till. Draco had his suspicions about the veracity of the story; it was a little too neat for the war hero to be found corrupt so he easily could be disposed, but he'd never been able to find any proof. "Once he was gone, they weren't too keen on listening to Granger anymore. She never knew when to stop, either."
"Oh yes, she was working for house-elves or something, wasn't she?" Astoria looked aghast at the idea.
"Goblins, mermaids, vampires... The uglier, the better." The last bit was unfair; Hermione had never cared much about appearances, but Astoria didn't know that.
"And then she fell on hard times?"
"Apparently the job market for house-elf activists is somewhat limited." The curtain was about to rise and the witch next to them was looking daggers at Draco. The conversation ended, but through the performance of Lyadov's Baba Yaga Draco couldn't stop thinking about Hermione Granger. It had been a long time since she last had crossed his mind.
There was a little more to the story about her fall than what he had been telling Astoria.
In the beginning, Granger had plenty of reflected glory to go around to use as currency for her burning desire to reform the wizarding world. To Draco, jaundiced observer of human nature both by accident of birth and natural inclination, it was obvious that the wizarding world quickly got tired of being grateful. They mostly wanted to forget about the war, not relive it. While the Golden Trio remained tabloid fodder, it became less and less complimentary.
With her influence on the wane after Shacklebolt had been disposed as Minister for Magic, Granger had committed the cardinal sin of attempting to campaign harder for her pet causes rather than changing tack. Draco could have told her that it was as effective as trying to make foreigners understand English by speaking louder and slower.
She had to offer something, even if it was just the prospect of feeling benevolent. The way to ensure more rights for Centaurs was to find out what the ungainly critters could do for the wizards who'd grant them such rights, like donating some of their precious manes for potions ingredients. Banging on about them being entitled to the same consideration as Muggles, like Granger had been doing, was a sure-fire way to ensure people stopped listening.
She had a knack for making enemies, too. Granger had taken to the stand at the Death Eater trials after the war and meticulously provided evidence sufficient to send dozens of Draco's former comrades-in-arms to Azkaban. They had deserved it, no one knew that better than Draco. Unfortunately for Granger, the Rowle, Yaxley and Dolohov families did not share his opinion.
For some reason Rita Skeeter harboured a grudge against her, too. Skeeter never wrote a bad word against Gryffindor's golden girl herself, but Draco knew the inner workings of the Daily Prophet better than its editor did. The anti-Granger editorial line came directly from Skeeter's influence, although she was being very discreet about it.
Granger had slipped from the front pages and invitation lists and slid into obscurity. At the same time, her enemies had been gaining in power: the old families started to claw back the ground they temporarily had lost as Granger's star was waning. For a long time, she had disappeared from Draco's view.
He'd had much else to concern himself with.
As he heard the opening bars of the first piece, Draco felt the sumptuously decorated ceiling descend towards him, consuming all oxygen in the air as it came down to suffocate him in his seat.
He had almost everything anyone could ever want: a beautiful wife, an ancient name, a fortune and a palatial home. People listened when he spoke. The stains on the Malfoy crest had been wiped off since the war, and if Draco had only made the effort he would have had as much clout as his father had at the height of his influence. It was a veritable laundry-list of privilege, but it left him cold.
He wasn't even thirty yet, but he felt like an old man, worn out before his time. There was little to look forward to, except more of the same – but what else could he want from life?
The subject proved sufficiently intriguing to keep him occupied until the interval, when he reverted to his company manners and did what was expected of him. Yet, as he was busy flirting and flattering and gossiping, he continued to mull over it.
Something was missing, but he was damned if he knew what it was.
The letter arrived a few days after her stint at the Leaky Cauldron. It was delivered by a Long-eared Owl which peered down its aristocratic beak at Hermione when she motioned for it to perch on the back of her chair while she unrolled the letter.
The parchment was stiff and crisply white, indicating that it came from Lovatts, purveyors of the finest wizarding stationery. Hermione hadn't seen their products since Bill and Fleur's wedding, so many years ago. Her most frequent correspondent nowadays was Neville, who grabbed any piece of paper he found handy. Unless he had decided to marry Hannah in the last day or so, this was unlikely to be from him.
Warily, she unrolled the missive. Surely it couldn't be another bill? The cost of whatever she would have bought was less than a single sheet of Lovatt parchment anyway.
the letter read,
I have a proposal to our mutual advantage to lay before you. Your presence is requested at Malfoy Manor on Tuesday the 14th of April at ten o'clock to discuss this opportunity further. Kindly indicate your acceptance by return owl.
The owl unfolded its wings and reared; apparently, it didn't take kindly to Hermione's howl of laughter at its mistress's expense.
Hermione scrambled around for something to write on, and eventually resorted to tearing out the empty front page from her copy of Jane Eyre.
Dear Mrs Malfoy,
I don't think so.
"There now. Off you go," she encouraged the owl. "You know where Malfoy Manor is, I take it? Just go back there like a good owl, and we'll pretend this never happened."
A few weeks later, Hermione was sweeping the floor (well, she had her wand trained on the broom doing the actual sweeping) in the freezer room at Florian Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour when Astoria Malfoy, resplendent in mink and dark blue silk, swept in.
It didn't come entirely as a surprise.
Ever since she had dismissed the invitation to Malfoy Manor weeks ago, she had received ever more polite requests to meet the younger Mrs Malfoy, all of which Hermione had returned without a response. As far as she could recall, Astoria hadn't been particularly bright, but even the thickest society madam would get the message sooner or later.
Apparently not. The darling of pure-blood society and the youngest daughter of famously wealthy parents, Astoria probably wasn't used to not getting what she wanted.
Too bad. Hermione was, and she wasn't averse to giving Mrs Malfoy a lesson in how the other half lived.
"My dear Miss Granger," the haughty apparition started, pulling her robes up from the dusty floor with apparent distaste. "I'm very surprised you've been ignoring my letters."
Hermione took in the immaculately coiffed curls, the profusion of diamonds and the carefully painted, dark red lips. She was beautiful, no doubt about it, but with all that money, surely only a troll would look unattractive. There was something graceful about her, though, something hard to pin down which suggested that Astoria would have been very pretty even if her mother hadn't bought up most of Diagon Alley during the first wizarding war when property prices had hit rock bottom.
Hermione had already assessed how much trouble she'd be in if she ended up on the wrong side of Astoria. Not enough to pretend to be pliant; she didn't have much more to lose.
When you're at the bottom, you may as well kick upwards.
"Given that the only time I've spoken to you was when I found you snogging Andreas Vaisey in the library and took five points for it, I won't pretend to understand the sentiment."
Astoria was taken aback, but her face quickly regained its smooth expression. Her robes still weren't touching the floor. Hermione didn't break eye contact, but she couldn't resist waving the broom, which had paused when the fashionably clad obstacle had appeared in its way, so that a few specks of dusts advanced towards Astoria.
"I can assure you this matter purely relates to business. No prior acquaintance is necessary." Glancing down, Astoria discovered that the hems of her robes weren't pristine any more. Her lips pursed, and she daintily shook them out. It didn't work.
"And I can assure you I've no interest in entering into any sort of business relationship with you." Hermione reanimated the broom, and this time, Astoria actually jumped out of the way. "Now, if you'll excuse me..."
"I'll give you two-hundred thousand Galleons if you agree to my proposal." The words came rushing out and Astoria's mouth did a funny little turn, as if she hadn't meant to reveal the bait so soon.
That was one million pounds in Muggle money, and however much Hermione deplored it, it was enough to purchase a hearing even for a Malfoy.
She had a feeling she would live to regret this, even as she conjured a Windsor chair for Astoria to sit on.
Hermione's accommodation at Malfoy Manor was actually marginally more comfortable than her room at Mr Sabertwaithe's. She even had a chest of drawers here. The battered piece of furniture was insufficient in reassuring her that signing that contract with Astoria Malfoy hadn't been the worst mistake of her life.
And she couldn't even comfort herself with blaming Ron this time. This was all her own fault.
Well, Hermione Granger didn't give up that easily: she would get to work, fulfil the terms of the agreement and, in one year, she'd walk out of here and into the sunset with one million pounds.
It would be enough to buy her a future.
As little as five years ago, Hermione would never have voluntarily agreed to become a glorified house-elf for the Malfoy family. Not even in return for a very large amount of money and the chance of spreading some sedition among the house-elves while she was at it.
But five years ago, the wizarding world had been a different place, and Hermione Granger had been a name that opened doors.
She wondered again how it had all changed so quickly, as she unpacked her slender holdall and put her wand in a drawer. Hermione had refused to give her wand to anyone else, even if she couldn't use it.
Astoria had been very insistent: no magic while she was working. A year without doing magic was perhaps not the worst condition Astoria could have imposed. Better for Hermione to find out if she could live mostly without magic now, rather than after a few months in the Muggle world. If it did cause her to spontaneously self-combust, it couldn't happen in a better place.
Through the narrow window she could see several peacocks strutting across the lawn. Their white feathers were irrefutable proof she was back at Malfoy Manor, and she almost laughed at the improbability of it.
Lyadov's Baba Yaga is a real piece. She also appears on a Chocolate Frog Card in one of the Harry Potter games, so she was clearly a real witch...