Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who's taken the time to read, follow, and especially review this fic. I'm always incredibly nervous posting a new piece, so the warm support is so lovely. I hope you enjoy this chapter xoxo

Alpha love to the fabulous Kyonomiko.

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter franchise.

July 30, 2002

Draco was struggling. He rather thought "struggling" was a mild term, given the almost constant, all-encompassing need that had overtaken him since he had realized Granger was his mate.

He couldn't sleep, couldn't think, couldn't work. His veins ran with fire, his wings were constantly on the verge of making themselves known, and he had almost burnt the flat down three times in as many days.

Having felt the rush of Granger's skin, her blood so near, Draco couldn't tolerate even being near to anyone else, let alone being touched. He was afraid to even visit his mother or stand too close to Theo.

After one disastrous day of brewing, Draco had owled in sick the following two days, unable to even fathom the thought of being productive. On the second day, Master Herrero had owled to suggest they suspend Draco's apprenticeship until he sorted out the situation with his mate. Draco had gratefully accepted.

Theo had become more nocturnal than usual, though Draco wasn't certain that was entirely because of him. He seemed to be supportive as ever, and had taken the incidents with fire better than Draco had expected. But Draco could only imagine how irritating he had become.

As much as he wanted to respect Granger's wishes to leave her alone – Draco couldn't fight the need to see her. He had stopped himself a dozen times from Apparating to her forest, though his senses had gone so wild he wasn't certain she hadn't relocated.

The faint thread he had latched onto the day he originally discovered she was his mate had taken up permanent residence at the front of his mind, pushing, driving him to seek her out.

Draco didn't know how much longer he would last.

There was another presence in his mind, demanding she give him a chance to prove himself. She had hardly even listened to him before she had threatened him with bodily harm and left.

Draco knew as well as anyone the animosity that had existed between them at school. A rivalry which ultimately drove them to opposing sides of a war. He understood perfectly well her reticence.

But now that his Veela heritage had awoken, Draco also knew he would do anything for her. She could not imagine in her wildest dreams, ever meeting someone who would treat her better. His heart longed to show her, almost as much as his body yearned to claim her.

From Draco's research on the topic, he knew he would have a limited window for his mate to accept him – and this mania would only grow worse as time passed without her.

The research had been inconclusive, however, but Draco could ascertain he would have somewhere in the range of three to six months before his Veela side would go over the edge and vanish, taking Draco's human soul with it.

Draco didn't relish the thought – he also didn't look forward to the desperation that would go along with such hopelessness.

He needed to persuade Granger to give him a chance. A proper chance. And then if she still wouldn't accept him, Draco would go quietly. He recognized that her happiness and her acceptance was paramount and would ultimately override any other human instincts at survival.

Without his mate, life would grow dull. Food would taste like ash. Colour would fade from the world. And then… he would go.

Maybe Draco would ask Theo to turn him into a vampire and they could steal through villages at night, living as outlaws, claiming whatever they wanted.

But if Draco's Veela somehow survived the transition, Draco would simply be dooming himself to an eternity of missing his mate, the longing so painful he would wish for death that would never come.

No, if Granger truly didn't want him, Draco would accept death.

But not today.

Hermione paced through the brush, as she had been doing for three days. She hadn't dared transition to her human form since she had seen Malfoy and Nott at the pub in Gloucester.

No matter how much she thought about it, Hermione couldn't figure out Malfoy's angle.

This could all be one elaborate joke, but why? And how would he have discovered her, Apparating directly to her area of the forest despite the heavy wards she had in place? No one should have been able to find her, let alone Apparate directly in.

He clearly had some strange magic. She had seen the way his hands had burnt Nott's jumper, but when he had touched her, his skin was cool and reassuring. If she was honest, his touch had sparked something deep within her she had been unable to shake.

And he had done something else, at the pub. She had been caught, enraptured, in his energy. She had wanted to be nearer, to touch him. The very thought now nearly made her retch.

The only conclusion she could reach was that he truly was a Veela, as he'd claimed. It aligned with what she knew on the topic; his fair hair and complexion, his – she supposed – good looks. And she knew Veela gave off powerful pheromones, and were prone to selecting a mate for life.

Hermione also knew Veela were dedicated and compassionate toward their mates. But if she was his mate – a truly laughable thought – she would first have to accept him. Or what – she couldn't remember. And she didn't exactly have access to a library as a lion.

Perhaps he would die? The thought had been stirring uncomfortably in the pit of Hermione's stomach.

Maybe he had changed, maybe he hadn't. Presumably, if she was his mate, the Veela instincts would override his need to insult her at every turn. Perhaps he was tolerable under the right conditions.

But with her curse – there was no way she could accept him into her life. Not without dooming herself. The Witch Doctor has probably foreseen this – she imagined he'd have had quite the laugh at her expense.

And she somehow doubted Malfoy would want a lion for a mate.

But how could she condemn him to death?

Hermione continued to pace through the brush.

Draco grit his teeth, trying to shove back the impulsive urges crashing over him, wave after wave, pushing him to find his mate.

He suspected, having experienced the drive before, a simple Apparition would take him exactly where he needed to be.

But he didn't doubt Granger would follow up with her threat to maim him if he showed up in her forest. And he knew she was in her lion form; she would attack first, and ask questions never, since he would be dead.

If he grew desperate enough, Draco supposed it would be one assured way to go out. Though most certainly not the cleanest or the least painful.

Draco clenched his fists, feeling the fire rise to the surface of his palms. He tried to steady his breathing, but the pounding of his heart, the roar of his blood through his skull, only grew.

Theo was asleep as usual; Draco ordinarily tried not to ask too many questions about what Theo did when he was out every night. All that Draco concerned himself with was the fact that Theo wasn't actively killing or turning anyone.

Draco could feel her, with every fibre of his being. It was almost as if he could feel her emotions, so painfully connected to her as he had become.

He needed to see her, consequences be damned. The longing slammed through him as jolts of physically manifested pain.

"Fuck," he hissed through his teeth, fighting the urge to rip out his own hair.

He wouldn't even have to try to Apparate, so strong was the demand pressing in on him. He would simply need to let go and he would find her.

He cast a glance to Theo's closed door. Theo had always been a good friend.

But Draco couldn't even pick up a quill to write Theo a letter, his hands were shaking so badly. And the quill would probably have burst into flames, anyway, if he even tried.

Theo would figure it out, if Draco never returned. If Granger sliced him open on sight.

His eyes fluttered shut as he gave in.

Draco arrived at the Forest of Dean once more. Apparently Granger had not chosen to relocate.

She was near, he knew, because his senses, previously raging out of control, had quieted, as if in anticipation. His Veela realized he couldn't approach Granger if he were hissing and slathering like a feral beast. Instead the creature within him was languidly stretching. Draco clamped down on the instinctive pheromones which began surging out, searching for her.

Granger had not been pleased the last time he had allowed them out around her.

Tuning into his senses, Draco focused his keen smell and hearing in an effort to find her. If for no other reason than to know she was coming if she was going to attack.

He followed her feline scent, stalking carefully into the forest toward where her cave was located. Draco was pleased with his silent footfalls as he walked.

He could feel her, and he knew she had found him. Draco suspected he might have already been dead if she planned to follow through with her threat.

Cautiously, he raised his hands as if in surrender.

"I know you told me not to come," he murmured in a low voice, eyes darting through the trees. "And if you're going to attack me, please do it quickly. But know that I won't – I can't – hurt you. So I cannot defend myself. I just… needed to see you."

A paw smacked the ground behind him, rustling the leaves and twigs in the underbrush. Draco turned on the spot, slowly.

The lion stood, crouched on her haunches, her large eyes narrowed. A low growl rumbled from her throat.

"I know, Granger," he murmured, imploringly, running a hand through his hair. "It's so bloody far from ideal. If I could help it, I'd leave you alone." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Can you transform? Please?"

The lion paced forward, every sinewy movement screaming power. The cat walked right up to him and Draco felt his heart pounding, still unsure whether she was going to attack.

Carefully, keeping his hands before him, Draco crouched on his heels in front of the lion. The large, brown eyes gazing at him were the only concession to the fact that she was a human in a lion's body.

He could detect her scent, faintly – the scent that had drawn him in. But it was largely covered by the wild scent of her feline form.

With a warning growl, the lion dropped into a seated position. His brow furrowed, Draco reached a hand to rest on her muzzle, stroking the soft fur of her face. For a moment – so quickly Draco might have imagined it – he thought he heard the lion purr, her face nuzzling into the palm of his hand.

But then a snarl ripped from her throat so fast that Draco recoiled, snatching his hand back.

"If you mean to kill me, then so be it," Draco breathed, holding the lion's chocolate gaze. "But I can't simply leave you alone."

The lion growled again, pacing away from him. Draco felt the loss of her closeness as a physical blow.

Then suddenly Granger was standing in the lion's place, shaking her head, and Draco's senses were assailed with her human presence.

"You're serious, aren't you?" she snorted, even as she stared, wide-eyed. "Get up, Malfoy."

"I've never been more serious," he sneered, attempting to wrangle his senses as he stood.

"Okay, I believe you're a Veela," Granger admitted, shrugging. "But I meant what I said – you're going to have to find a different mate."

"It doesn't work that way," Draco ground through his teeth. "I don't just select someone."

"Have you tried?" she asked, scathingly.

"The thought of anyone else is repulsive," he said shortly, running a hand through his hair as he shuddered. "The thought of touching someone else –"

"Fine," Granger murmured. "But you're going to have to figure something out. I'm cursed, remember?" Then as if on cue, she rolled her eyes and asked, "What goes up when the rain comes down?"

Draco pondered briefly, then said, "An umbrella." A flash of something that might have been gratitude flickered in Granger's eyes. "Do you think I give a fuck that you ask riddles, Granger?" He smirked, his eyes flickering to hers. "It's cute."

"The riddles, the lion – it's only part of the curse." She frowned, her eyes flashing. "The rest of it I don't intend to share with you, but all you need to know is that my life cannot involve you."

"Then I'll die," Draco said, surprised at how matter-of-fact he said the words.

"Is that how it works, then?" Granger asked, but her tone was softer, her eyes apologetic. "I couldn't remember. But the curse – I can't be with you. Even if I wanted to, which, quite frankly, I don't." Her brow furrowed and she twisted her lips. "But I don't… I don't want you to die." Her voice broke on the last word.

"I will lay down my life for your happiness, health and safety," Draco vowed, taking a step closer. Granger chewed her lower lip as she stared at him.

"I spent a year trying to get out of this curse," she informed him. She hesitated. "The curse is to last one thousand days, under a certain set of conditions. But if I fail – and accepting to be your mate would count as failing – the curse will haunt me until I die."

Draco tilted his head as he considered her words. "And how many days remain?"

"I lose track out here," she shook her head. "But if I follow the conditions, the thousand days ends on March 11th, 2003."

Draco felt his heart sink. It was nearly eight months away. He forced a smile, trying to dispel the worry on her face. He knew she felt nothing for him, other than a heavy conscience at the thought of being responsible for his death. He couldn't bear the thought of her being sad.

"It's more important to me," Draco murmured, gazing at his mate's beautiful face, "that you break your curse. You'll have other chances to find someone who might make you happy."

His smile faltered as he backed away, even as his heart shattered at the mere thought of her with anyone else. No one could ever treat her like he would.

Ignoring every one of his Veela senses, Draco took another step back, wanting to memorize the lines of her face, the exact shade of her eyes.

Because Draco had no intention of suffering for the next six months, of struggling with the madness drawing him to her. She had very clearly stated she would not accept him – could not accept him – and Draco had to respect her decision. He didn't know the details of the curse but he didn't need to beyond that. She was the most important thing to him, after all, and he retained his humanity enough that he would never force her.

Draco wanted to damn his Veela heritage for showing up, for putting his mate in such a difficult position – but if it had never manifested, he would never have had a chance to understand how beautiful – how utterly perfect – she was.

Granger was staring at him, her lips parted, lost for words. Draco so badly wanted to taste her lips, just once. But he held his ground.

"I won't bother you again," he murmured, pressing his lips together in what he hoped was a convincing smile. But Draco knew she could see it in his eyes, so he whispered, "Goodbye, Granger."

As if breaking from a spell, Granger stumbled forward, reaching a hand toward him.

But Draco squeezed his eyes shut, branding her face on his eyelids, and Apparated away.

He landed in his flat, and even the Veela was subdued, numb with shock. Draco dragged himself into his room and collapsed into his bed.

He wouldn't cause Granger any more pain or indecision. He would visit his mother, explain the situation to Theo, and set everything in order.

The rest… Draco would figure out the rest later.

He slipped into an uneasy sleep.

Hermione was in a panic. She had resorted to pacing, once more, forgetting to even transform back into her lion.

She had seen it in his eyes – she had denied accepting him as her mate, and Draco Malfoy had gone quietly into the woods to die, so to speak. She didn't understand the depth of control the Veela had over the prat she had known from school, but Hermione couldn't be responsible for his death.

It really wouldn't that bad, she supposed desperately, to be the mate of a Veela. He would never stray, never intentionally hurt her; he would treat her like gold. That much she knew, despite knowing little else about the man Malfoy had grown into.

She could certainly do worse.

And that wasn't even a consideration, because he would die if she didn't accept him. And by the looks of things, he didn't intend to wait until the bitter end took him. If it had only been three days and he hadn't been able to keep himself away; she couldn't imagine what months would do to him.

Accepting Draco Malfoy was above and beyond the only option, when the alternative was that she would be responsible for his death. How cold, how callous she would have to be, to sentence him to death over a youthful rivalry.

But the curse. She had to remain alone – and Hermione was quite certain that being the mate of a Veela would violate that condition. And obviously, Malfoy wasn't looking for a lion as his mate. She didn't know if she would be able to return to her human form if the curse became permanent, or what would happen at all.

She buried her face in her hands. He wasn't even that bad. No one had ever understood or accepted her riddles. He not only knew the answers to all of them, he had smirked at her and called them cute, and his sparkling grey eyes had warmed his face in a way she had never seen.

Hermione stomped her feet, ending her ceaseless pacing. There had to be a way – something she was missing.

For now, she would simply find Malfoy, attempt to explain the details – not that she knew many of them, as she had woken up in the middle of the wilderness after her ill-fated visit with the Witch Doctor, no hut in sight.

But it could quell the urgency. He clearly had some time, but evidently not enough to wait until the curse ended in March of the following year.

Hermione needed to convince him to hold on.

If there was something yet that could be done – she would do it. If it meant saving his life.

But she didn't have a clue where he lived. She would have to break into the Ministry records.

Rummaging for her wand, she cast a disillusionment charm on herself. Then cursing the whole situation foully under her breath, Hermione took a deep breath and Apparated from her self-imposed isolation into the heart of London.

Two hours, and a number of tight situations in which she had nearly mauled several ministry employees later, Hermione pounded aggressively on the door of a flat in a building in an upscale London neighbourhood. She would never have imagined Malfoy to live in a flat in London.

There was no answer, and feeling the panic rise in her chest once more, Hermione knocked louder still.

The door swung inward, and Nott stood in the doorway, grumbling incoherently with a hood pulled far over his face. Even in the shadows, Hermione could see his eyes were bloodshot.

But his eyes widened when he saw her, and he quickly glanced behind him.

"Is Malfoy here?" Hermione asked, feeling suddenly timid. What in the name of Merlin was she going to say to him?

"Don't know," Nott said sharply, rubbing a hand down his face. He was staring rather unnervingly at her throat. "Asleep, wasn't I?"

"Can you check?" Hermione pleaded, fighting the urge to shift on her feet. She tensed, ready to turn in the event the vampire before her tried to attack.

Nott shrugged, gestured to a couch in what appeared to be a sitting area, and then vanished down the hallway.

Hesitantly, she sat down on the edge of the cushion and waited, chewing her tongue. The riddles always came less frequently when she was distracted.

"He was asleep." Nott had returned. "He told me to tell you, it's fine, and to please leave."

"I'm not leaving," Hermione said, jumping to her feet. "I need to speak with him. It's very urgent, please."

"The fuck did you do?" Nott said, folding his arms across his chest. "Don't tell me you fucking rejected him."

Hermione bit her lip as she pondered Nott's predatory stance. His eyes narrowed and teeth bared at her silence; Hermione could see his razor-sharp canine teeth and instinctively took a step back.

"Do you realize what you've done?" Nott hissed, advancing. "Don't you fucking realize, rejecting him is a death sentence!"

"Yes!" Hermione exclaimed, desperately, "and if it weren't for this curse –"

"I don't give a fuck if you ask him riddles for the rest of your fucking lives together –"

Hermione darted around Nott, grateful that some of her animal proclivities lingered when she was in her human form, and ran down the hallway from which Nott had returned.

Glancing behind her to see if Nott was following, Hermione collided painfully with something solid in the hallway. Choking on a breath as the air was slammed from her lungs, Hermione found herself in front of Malfoy, as his hands came to her shoulders to steady her, then quickly let go.

"What are you doing here?" he muttered. He looked paler, more ragged, than he had been only hours before. His blond hair was limp and lank, his grey eyes dull.

"I had to explain," Hermione said quickly, trying to meet his eyes, but he looked away. She wondered if, even now, the rejection was taking a physical toll. If maybe his Veela was already giving up. "Don't do anything rash."

"I told you," he murmured, "your life means more to me than mine does."

"And I'm not going to stand by and watch you die, Malfoy," she hissed, and he finally looked at her. "I can't accept this now, but I'm going to explain it to you. And just maybe – something can be done."

Malfoy simply stared at her, coolly appraising.

"How long do you have?" she breathed, fully aware of how close he was. She began to sense his Veela again, felt the tentative reach of his pheromones.

"Before you rejected me as your mate," he choked, as if the word was physically painful. Maybe it was. "I thought I had three to six months. But now… it feels like it won't be very long at all."

Indeed, his breathing seemed shallow. Hermione's eyes stung.

"If there is something I can do," she breathed, meeting his eyes, "some way out of this mess… I'll accept it, okay?"

Malfoy raised a brow, looking skeptical.

"I want you to break your curse," he said. "And if you can't do that and accept me… don't choose me. You don't owe me anything, Granger."

"If there is something to be done," she repeated simply. "But if I can't break the curse, you won't have me anyway."

"Can I help?" he murmured, pressing his hands together. Hermione thought she saw a faint spark of life return to his eyes and hoped that meant the Veela was rejuvenating.

"I don't know," Hermione said, shaking her head. "But you can try. I – " She ground her teeth and he smirked, staring intently at her, waiting. "Until I am measured I am not known, yet how you miss me when I have flown."

Malfoy stared at her for a long moment, swallowing. "Time."

"Should we talk?" she asked, glancing at the open door behind him. She didn't love the idea of having to deal with Nott again.

"Not in my bedroom," Malfoy said with a half-smile. "That doesn't feel like a good idea."

"Right," Hermione mumbled, a flush rising to her cheeks. "Of course." She turned and walked back to the sitting room, acutely aware of Malfoy close behind her.

Nott, it seemed, had gone back to sleep and Hermione exhaled a sigh of relief. She hesitantly took a seat on the couch and Malfoy dropped into the cushion beside her, maintaining a safe distance.

"So," he prompted quietly, fidgeting with his hands, "why don't you tell me about your curse?"