This time it wasn't his fault.
Draco Malfoy had never expected to be grateful to the rats of London. Usually when there as some weird magical thing happening, Ministry Aurors would show up on his front stoop eager to pin the blame on him. They searched the house. They made vague threats about how he'd escaped prison after the War but a leopard didn't change its spots. They were absolutely, endlessly, irrevocably sure that any bad thing happening in their world could be laid at the feet of Dark magic and that had to be connected to him.
Harry Potter was always there, and usually he looked apologetic. "We just have to check," he'd say. "Your father had so many Dark objects." And Draco would nod and let them in and they'd find nothing. There was nothing to find. He'd scoured the entire manor and dumped anything that might be the slightest bit suspect in bins the Ministry had set up after the War for people to unload anything that, perhaps, they no longer wished to own, no questions asked. It had taken multiple trips but the house was clean.
Unlike, apparently, the London sewers. Those, it would seem, were teeming with disease carrying rats. Magical disease carrying rats.
He slid The Daily Prophet across the breakfast table to his mother and she picked it up. Her lips pursed when she read the article. "Soul mates," she said with a sniff. "Via fleas. How tasteless."
He wasn't sure tasteless was the word he'd use. The idea was sort of charming, really. Everyone had a person they were meant to be with, someone who suited them, who balanced their weaknesses with strength, who fit them. He'd love that. He just didn't think flea bites from infected rats were really likely to result in finding such a person. Give you delirium? That he'd believe. And that magic latched on to some random person from your past? Well, he'd seen stranger things. And you'd have to be a monster to begrudge someone a quick kiss to cure them. But it wasn't the kiss of true love. It was just a magical illness cured with a little snogging.
"I think I'd rather this cure than some of the potions Nurse used to pour down my throat," he said.
His mother sniffed again, suggested he avoid London until the outbreak was contained, and excused herself to go feel superior somewhere else. He picked the Prophet back up, folded the pages over, and began to read an article on a photography exhibit he'd meant to go see. A pounding at the door interrupted him and he squinted off in the direction of the front entrance. The manor was huge. For knocking to have carried this far, someone had to have magically enhanced it and the only people that rude were Aurors. The knocking came again, and he tried to contain his irritation as he pushed his chair back. The rat thing was not his fault. What were they going to search for this time? Hidden cupboards filled with cheese?
The only person at the door was Harry Potter. He was lifting his hand to hammer on the door again when Draco opened it. The two of them eyed one another. Old hatreds died hard, and if Potter had the grace to realize Draco wasn't hiding the makings of the next Dark Lord in an upstairs bedroom, that didn't mean Draco thought he wanted to come over to talk Quidditch. Whatever had brought him here, it wasn't pleasure. "What do you want?" Draco asked.
"You have to come," Potter said.
Draco didn't like being told what he had to do. He'd been told what he had to do a lot when Voldemort had been around and it had made him resistant to orders, especially orders from the likes of Harry Potter. He raised his brows as superciliously as he could manage. "I have to do what?" he asked in a sneering drawl.
Potter crossed his arms, scowled, and said, "I could make it Auror this, you worthless git."
"Then go do that," Draco said. He began to shut the door but Potter stuck half his body in the way. He'd have shoved it all the way closed but there was probably some law against crushing the chosen one even if he deserved it. "Potter," he settled on saying. "Move."
"Not until you agree to come with me," he said.
"Come where?" Draco asked when Potter made no movement towards leaving.
"To St. Mungo's," Potter said.
Draco could feel a stabbing beginning just above one ear. He wanted very much for Potter to go away. He wanted to lie down in a dark room and not have this earnest hero asking him for things. Instead of giving the rotter a good shove, slamming the door, and going upstairs, he heard himself say, "Why?"
He laughed when he heard the reason. That laugh made Potter turn so red he was afraid the man would blow up at him but he couldn't help himself. "Let no one say the universe doesn't have a sense of irony," he said as he followed Potter out, down the steps, and apparated to St. Mungo's, ready to do his duty as someone who wasn't a monster. The thought of how much it had to gall Potter to come, proverbial hat in hand, begging for this favor filled him with cruel glee. How that had to have rankled.
Potter blinked into existence outside the hospital a second after he did and when Draco met his eyes he began to laugh again. He knew it wasn't nice but, hell, no one had ever accused him of being nice. Being a shite, yes. A coward, certainly. But not nice.
"Just so long as you'll do it," Potter muttered as they entered the seemingly abandoned department store, made their way through the busy lobby, and up to the elevator doors. He pressed the button and they waited.
"Which floor?" Draco asked when the contraption finally arrived.
"Second," Potter said. "Magical bugs."
The elevator began a slow, creaking climb and Draco asked, "How did you know it was me?" The paper hadn't been completely clear on that point.
"You'll see," Potter said.
The ward itself had a row of beds, each with a table to one side and a chair at the end. The headboards were painted white, and the lights were too bright. and the whole effect was of a place trying very hard to be sterile and failing. Hermione Granger was on the third bed to the left and, frankly, he'd seen her look better. Someone had tied her curls back into a lumpy braid and she was flushed and sweaty. He supposed that was the way his luck ran. Hauled off to the hospital to kiss a sick girl and did she look like Snow White, lying peacefully surrounded by flowers? No. She looked like someone in the middle of a bout of fever.
She was also saying his name. Over and over and over again.
He glanced at Potter. "Yeah," he said. "I guess that was pretty obvious."
"The Ministry is planning on spraying the sewers," Potter said. "We can't have people just -."
"Begging for kisses?" Draco asked. He ran a hand through his hair. "You know it's not really true love, right? You aren't expecting me to fall in love and haul her off home to take care of her or anything?"
"Oh, god no," Potter said just a little too quickly. Draco narrowed his eyes. He was far too used to liars, and Potter wasn't very good at it. He was hiding something. Granger said his name again, and this time it sounded like a plea, and Draco dismissed whatever moronic thing Potter had tucked away in his brain. He'd bet the Ministry had accidentally let something out of their Unspeakable Department and that was why this new disease was running rampant, and why they planned to do something about it. It wasn't his problem. He'd just kiss the girl and go home. Maybe this afternoon his mother would explain why he was too old to follow Quiddich. It was one of her favorite topics. Barring that, he could take a nap. So many things to look forward to.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and took Granger's hand. She clutched at it and looked at him with glassy eyes. It suddenly occurred to him that kissing a woman in the grip of a delusion might be not exactly the done thing. It made him more than a little uncomfortable.
"Just do it," Potter said when his hesitation got too long.
"Promise me if she decides she wants to kill me when she comes out of this, you'll stop her," Draco said.
"She won't want to kill you," Potter said. He sounded grim.
Draco sighed and leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers.
She had nice lips. He'd never really thought about that before but now that they were right there he couldn't help but notice that they were soft and yielding and just the right amount of full. Some girls had lips that were too thin, and some were so swollen he'd wondered if they were the victims of spells gone awry, but if a woman could be said to have perfect lips that woman would be Hermione Granger.
A hand reached up tentatively lay itself across the back of his neck. He hadn't really thought this kiss would have to become anything, well, intimate, but perhaps that was what the magical malady required. Only a truly horrible person would refuse to comply. He lay his palms across her cheeks and brushed his nose against hers and when she parted those perfect lips he figured, well, in for a knut, in for a galleon, and he couldn't deny the feel of her tongue on his sent tingles down his spine and make his blood stir.
He only realized how long the kiss had gone on when Harry Potter coughed. Why was the man still standing there? Did he get his kicks watching people?
"What?" Draco asked without turning around.
"Hermione," Potter said. "You okay?"
She leaned her head around him so she could see Potter and he began to tug out that braid. What sort of blind idiot had thought to tie that glorious hair up? "I'm fine," she said. She sniffed. "Could use a shower, though."
"We have excellent water pressure at the manor," Draco told her. "And hair products."
Harry Potter had the nerve to let out what sounded like a badly swallowed laugh.
Draco had really had it with him. Lingering. Laughing. Some people were unbearable. "What?" he asked.
"I told you she wouldn't want to kill you," Harry Potter said.
Draco twisted to glare at him but Potter was finally leaving. He had a bad feeling something had happened and Harry Potter knew what it was, but he'd floo him later and ask. Right now, he needed to get Granger out of here and off to the manor where she could recuperate in a place that wasn't bright and dreary at the same time in the way only hospitals could manage to be.
"It's not my fault," she said. She sounded a bit apologetic.
"Of course not," he said. He looked around the bed to see if she had brought anything, but other than a beaded bag there was nothing. "Don't worry about it. You'll feel better after some decent rest." She gave him a long, searching look but didn't ask any questions. She just let him escort her out of the building. They passed a poster for a Quidditch match and she said, a bit wistfully, that she hadn't been able to get good tickets for that one. Draco hooked his arm around her. "I think I can get us box seats," he said.
Draco Malfoy had never thought he'd be grateful to the rats of London but it turned out he would be for his whole life.
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A/N – A little gift for Tbaby13.