Yeah, I'm back from the land of the misinspired writers, and guess what, I bring a new chapter with me!
Disclaimer: I do own Harry Potter, you know. I keep him hidden in a cupboard under the stairs. Wait, no, there is no cupboard under the stairs, nor stairs to begin with... damn.
NEVER BEEN KISSED LIKE THAT
Hermione took a blue mug from the cupboard and poured some warm coffee into it. Not as good as the Watercolour's espresso, but it would do to wake her up. With the cup in her hand, she sat by the kitchen's bar, where she had left the old hand mirror taken from her bedroom's night table. She took a sip of the black liquid and felt it warm her insides. Setting the mug aside, she picked up her wand and, without further ceremony, tapped the glimmering surface of the mirror twice, whispering words softly. Immediately, it started glowing and the glass melted into a silver swirl.
There it was, as safe and sound as ever, Hermione thought. Rolling up her sleeve, she reached in with her hand and passed it through the now-liquefied glass - a concealing charm inspired by her adventures with Ron and Harry during the first year at Hogwarts and the Mirror of Erised. It was the simplest yet most secure place where the agreement of cooperation between the goblins and the WMCA had been kept all that time. She took the small, though crucial, parchment from the mirror and, with another tap of her wand, made a copy from the original document. It wasn't valid in legal terms, but it would suffice for the moment. Storing the agreement again into its hiding place, she emptied the mug's remaining contents in one gulp.
She exited the kitchen and slipped into the bedroom, quietly tiptoeing to the bedside, making as little sound as possible so as not to wake up the young man sleeping in her bed. A smile crept to her lips as she viewed the tousled blond wisps of Draco's hair, falling loosely on the pillow and over his eyes. She resisted the urge to reach out and put his fringe back with her fingers, so she tore her gaze away. Very carefully, she kneeled by the night table and opened its bottom drawer, placed the hand mirror inside, then let out the breath she didn't notice she had been holding. Secrecy was not, after all, something she had ever felt comfortable with.
The sudden pressure of something moving on her head made her spin round with a start. "Draco! You've scared me!" she cried when she realised the touch she had felt was Draco's hand, stroking her curls.
"My, my, guess who's not a morning person," he chuckled sleepily.
"You startled me; I thought you were fast asleep."
"And I was, but I no longer am. I haven't slept so soundly since... since always, I guess."
"I can tell from the drool that was trickling down your chin when I woke up," Hermione said amusedly.
"Hey!" Draco said, offended. "I don't drool in my sleep, I'm a Malfoy. I sleep peacefully and angelic-like." He ignored Hermione's snort and continued. "And it might be true, because you found me so irresistible you couldn't take your eyes off me while I was snoozing, could you?" He said with a smirk firm on his lips.
"Good morning to you, too," she retorted, leaning forward. Draco took the hint and, closing the distance between them, captured her lips into a sweet kiss.
"Good morning indeed," he said softly as he lifted Hermione into the bed with him.
"Draco," Hermione said, feebly pushing away from his embrace, "I can't stay. I received an owl from Stephen – from the WMCA – I have to go, it's necessary." He made no sign he had heard and continued nibbling her neck.
"Drac... hmm, Draco. I must go."
"Don't go," he said between kisses. "Tell them you don't work on Sundays. Tell them you've caught the flu. No, better, tell them you got yourself kidnapped by a devilishly handsome madman, and he won't let you go," he said, waggling his brows seductively. "It won't be that far from the truth."
Hermione chuckled softly. "You know I can't. It's important, really. Stephen wouldn't cut his fishing day short if it wasn't something important."
Draco sighed and looked at her earnestly, chewing on his lip. She had noticed that he tended to do that a lot, probably unconsciously, when he was deep in thought. "What is it?" she asked.
"I..." He paused and furrowed his brow, as if searching for the right words to say. "I have to tell you something important, too."
He sounded serious, even solemn, and a little bit... what was it? Afraid? Hermione thought. As he opened his mouth to speak again, a fluffy ginger cat leaped into the bed, meowing impatiently.
"Oh, Crook, my poor, hungry baby," Hermione said, cooing to her pet. "I promised you a tuna breakfast. Would you do that for me, Draco? There are some tins in the kitchen."
She rose from the bed and took her coat from the wardrobe, continuing with her hurried talk before he could actually answer. "Erm, do you mind if we talk later? I must leave now; I'm already late. We can meet for lunch, and you can tell me that important thing then. Is that all right? You can stay in bed and have some more sleep; it's Sunday, after all, and the sun has barely gone up."
"Or else, you can Floo to your house from here if you want to change clothes," she pointed to the mess of wrinkled garments scattered on the floor and blushed at the urgent way they had been removed the previous night. "Don't try to Apparate from here, we don't want any funny business, erm... just don't, ok? And, well, forget about leaving by the front door, it's got... some wards too, I'll explain it to you later. The fireplace wards go up again once you've used it, so you won't be able to come by Floo again unless I'm here by that time. You must tap twice on the second brick to the left and say the password –firefly – and it'll unblock. Ok?" she said hurriedly.
Draco nodded uncertainly and watched as she got into her coat and put some folders into her bag.
"It's half past six now," she checked her wristwatch, "and I think the meeting will be well over by twelve. Maybe we can meet at the Leaky Cauldron by noon and... I'm babbling, aren't I?"
Draco nodded again amusedly, and she sat again by his side.
"I do that a lot, sorry. I just don't want you to feel I'm leaving in such a hurry because of you. I mean, I don't want to give you the impression, after last night... I'm not running away, ok?"
"I know, Hermione, don't worry. We'll meet at the Leaky Cauldron by noon." He reassured her, taking her hands in his. She smiled at this, and he gave her a sweet lingering kiss that made her feel dizzy when she got up.
"Till later, then." She took one last glance at him before disappearing through the door.
"Till later," he said back.
Once he was alone, he lay back on the bed, his lower lip firmly clasped between his teeth. It tasted of coffee and something indescribably sweet. Just like her, he mused.
He had been about to tell her everything when Crookshanks, who was now meowing impatiently for his breakfast, had interrupted them. One part of him felt incredibly relieved for the disruption, for delaying the moment to confess to Hermione all his wrongdoings behind her back. But there was no use in delaying the unavoidable; the truth would have to come out before things got too complicated. There was also that feeling at the pit of his stomach, the suspicion that not everything was all right.
With a heavy sigh, he sat up in the bed and started looking for his clothes. Lifting his trousers from the floor, his attention shifted to the night table. He hadn't been asleep when Hermione had tiptoed into the room but had been observing her every movement through his half-closed eyelids, waiting to take her by surprise. Therefore, he had witnessed her attempts to stealthily put back that old hand mirror into the drawer. There was something odd nagging at the back of his mind, so curiosity got the better of him, and he pulled the drawer open, reaching for the old-looking glass.
His own reflection stared back at him from the silvery surface, a frown etched on his pale brow. In his previous illicit explorations of Hermione's apartment, he had seen that very same hand mirror thousands of times but had never taken the time to pick it up, discarding it as unimportant. For any other wizard, holding the mirror would have revealed nothing. But Draco Malfoy was not an ordinary wizard. He was an Auror, and a damned good one. He was methodically trained to recognize and manage all kinds of situations involving magic, thus possessing what some people might call a sixth sense to perceive anything remotely magical from any person, animal or thing.
The feeling was unmistakable. Some very powerful magic was rooted in that object. Could it be the thing he had been looking for all this time? Could it have always been in front of his eyes, without his noticing? he wondered while looking at it with narrowed eyes. He retrieved his wand from the trousers' pocket and pointed it to the mirror, throwing all caution to the wind.
After the tremendous storm of the previous night, the morning in London had risen sunny and slightly warm, evoking the still far away spring. Hermione walked the streets with light-hearted steps, a wide smile planted on her face. Yes, it was a wonderful morning. Despite the fact that it was early and the streets were quite empty on Sunday mornings, she decided to walk to the Leaky Cauldron and take its backside entrance to Diagon Alley.
She opened the door to the meeting room of the WMCA to find its members already gathered there, all with sleepy faces. She greeted them cheerfully and took a seat, still sporting the silly grin that now seemed glued to her features. Loretta eyed her suspiciously and arched an eyebrow, but Stephen's talk prevented any comment.
"I'm glad we all managed to come despite the rough hours and being Sunday, too. You all know I wouldn't have called for an urgent meeting if the matter at hand weren't of the utmost importance." He ignored the incredulous look Loretta gave him, for whom not even Merlin himself calling at her door would suffice to make her put aside her Sunday's lie-in.
"I do believe none of you had the time yet to have a look at today's paper." He continued, as it appeared no one had, "Well, as I usually do every Sunday morning, I woke up at 5.30 to go fishing. I was packing my things and got the papers from the news owl, when I saw the Prophet's front page." He unfolded said copy and showed it to the rest of the staff, who let out a collective gasp.
"GRUPNICK THE ELDER, CHIEF GOBLIN OF GRINGOTTS, FOUND DEAD IN BED," read the tragic headline.
"He-He'd been sick for a long time now, but.... I always thought he was too stubborn to die," Hermione commented in disbelief.
"The fact is," Stephen continued sombrely, "the Prophet says there's an investigation open to determine the cause of his death. It seems doctors had been positive the old goblin would come through it this time, and then, two days later, he's found dead in bed. They're trying to look at all the possibilities."
"What do you mean? Do they think he was..." Jaime, the secretary, said uncertainly.
"Murdered? Well, there's always the possibility." Winky and Dobby flinched with fear at the mere thought of it, while the rest of the WMCA staff paled. "But that's not the main reason I called you all up here this early. I believe you brought the copy of the agreement?" he said, turning to Hermione.
"Yes, here it is."
"As you all know, the WMCA's strength has been always secured by the unconditional support we had from Gringotts. This support was made legal by means of an agreement between us and the chief goblin, old Grupnick. He really believed that someday, the wizarding world could be made a better place," Stephen said sadly. "This morning, after having read the Prophet's headline, an owl arrived from Gringotts. Now that Grupnick has passed away, his inheritor and new chief goblin, Brodick, has asked the WMCA to hand over the binding common welfare agreement for revision."
"But that can't be!!" Hermione stood incensed from her seat. "He'll break it, he's always been against our cause, we can't do that or any chance we had to push the Minister will disappear!" Murmurs of assent passed through the members assembled there.
"That's exactly why I'm sending him this non-official reproduction of the document, but I know it'll only buy us some time until he asks for the original. The agreement clearly states that any of the parties are able to end the contract of cooperation by signing out of it, but Grupnick the elder, foreseeing this adversity, made sure the one and only copy of it stayed in our hands until we managed to reach a pact with the Ministry. That's why it's been hidden all this time. Maybe it's time to find a more secure place for it."
"Hogwarts is the most safest place in the world," Dobby proposed enthusiastically.
Just then, the office door banged open and a very dishevelled Ginny Weasley appeared there, a copy of The Prophet firmly clasped in her hand.
"Uh, oh, sorry. Hermione, hi," she called when she spotted her friend. "I... Colin owled me this morning ... he said there'd been a last-minute change... just come from The Prophet offices" she said between gasps for air. Then she started grumbling angrily to herself "They decided to take out the article that I had written, my first article published! You know how important it was for me. Not that the love life of Hags in the 21st century is worth an Order of Merlin, but well... After all the bloody research I had to make... the pictures Colin had taken, from every possible angle, urgh... that trip to hell for the interview with the..."
"Ginny! We're having an important meeting here, if you haven't noticed," Hermione said pointedly, interrupting the redhead's ramblings.
"Oh, I supposed you'd be here after seeing the newspaper's headline. Sad news, yeah," she paused and looked at her friend with anxiety, "you've seen the other article, too, haven't you?" At her friend's clueless face, she added, "Oh, no, you haven't. Merlin, Hermione, you're not going to like it."
"I'll be back in a minute." Hermione stood and excused herself and Ginny out of the meeting room, closely followed by a very curious Loretta.
"What's up?" the black witch asked.
"Page twenty-six," Ginny said, handing Loretta her copy of the Prophet.
Loretta opened it to the said page, and her eyes widened in surprise. Then she looked at Hermione.
"Ok, hand me that newspaper right now." Without waiting for an answer, Hermione snatched it out of the other witch's grasp and froze at seeing the moving picture on the Society section. She blinked twice in disbelief at the blonde witch and wizard that stood there, holding hands. The girl was very pretty, clad in elegant light blue robes. She was saying something at the young wizard's ear, and then they both disappeared out of a corner of the photograph. The image replayed itself again and again, under a heading reading "Malfoy heir announces engagement with the French Minister of Magic's daughter, Ms. Isabelle Durand. An exclusive by Rita Skeeter."
It was Ginny who broke the heavy silence that had fallen on the three witches. "So... he's engaged. He's going to marry. He's marrying a French! I guess that's some detail the big prat forgot to mention."
"I always thought he wasn't the trustworthy type, you know, all those sneaky glances and smirks..." Loretta continued disapprovingly.
"You must forget once and for all..."
"At least you can be grateful nothing happened..."
"He wasn't really your type..."
"Slimy ferrets are no-one's type..."
"Unless you're French..."
Ginny and Loretta continued their swearing, name-calling, and general deprecations while Hermione stood numb, hearing none of it, her eyes glued to the black and white couple pictured on the paper.I... I'm in love with you. She heard Draco's words over and over again in her head, felt still his touch on her skin. Was it all a lie, an act, performed by the greatest cheater ever? Was it all that had happened?
"Of course he also forgot to mention his intention to get into politics, with Fudge's support, no less. The nerve of him! And to think I was starting to consider him less hateable. Harry was right, Malfoy will always be the snobbish..."
"What!?" Hermione shouted, waking from her shock, startling Ginny out of her tirade.
"I said Harry was right..."
"No, not that. Did you say Dr..." her throat contracted painfully at the mere thought of his name. "Did you say Malfoy is going into politics, with Fudge's help?"
Ginny nodded. "It's in the article, some information Skeeter guarantees comes from reliable sources. As if! I bet she was bugging around as usual..."
A horrible sense of dread passed through Hermione's spine, like a lightning bolt; the overwhelming sensation that something was definitely wrong, very wrong indeed.
Something must have flashed in her eyes that moment, for her friends directed a concerned look at her.
"Hermione? Are you all right?"
She felt all the walls around threatening to crumble down and turn her into mush, the ground shattering to open and make her disappear into its darkness. But not now, not before she saw him. She turned, and without another word, opened the office's door and took off running, leaving her two perplexed friends behind.
"Uhm... I'll take that as a no. Maybe we should go after her?" Ginny asked.
"You go, darling. I'll cover for her in here."
"Ok. Thanks, Loretta."
Draco stood, shocked, with the agreement in his hands. It had taken him several failed tries to reconsider his capability to get anything out of the mirror. Who would have thought his knowledge of Muggle literature would tip him off to the password to the precious document? Not that he would ever admit to have read Snow White or have recited "mirror, mirror" ever to a looking glass, of course. He wouldn't admit those defamations even under Crucio.
Unfortunately, even Crucio seemed better than what he had to face now. He finally had the key to a life of power and success in his hand but no longer knew if that was what he wanted. The things he had said the previous night to Hermione seemed far and distant, now that he had the precious parchment in his hands. Too great a temptation for an ambitious Slytherin like him.
With a deep sigh, Draco made up his mind, leaving the mirror and the agreement back in the bedside table. He went to the living room and tapped the fireplace's second brick to the left with his wand, saying 'firefly'. Before he could take a pinch of Floo powder to throw into the flames, these burned green, and a head with the most disgusting smile one can imagine appeared through them.
"Surprised, Mr. Malfoy? Have you ever considered I would confide you such a delicate mission without being... supervised?"
"Minister," Draco said dryly, scolding himself for not noticing before Fudge had followed his every movement.
"Well, well, I'm afraid I had underestimated you, Mr. Malfoy. It seems you found your own stealthy ways to get into Ms. Granger's apartment, as well as other... domains," he chuckled sickly.
"I guess by now you've been successful, having discovered all of Miss Granger's well hidden secrets. The agreement is now in our possession, I presume? After all, we had accorded today as the due date to hand it over, if I remember correctly. I'll be awaiting your arrival at my residence after you've cleaned up from your... dirty job."
Draco felt the sudden impulse to rip the unnaturally white teeth out of the Minister with a beater club, but managed not to show his revulsion. "I am sorry to disappoint you, Minister Fudge, but unfortunately, I haven't managed to locate the document. If I could just..."
"Who do you think I am, boy?" Fudge roared irately. "Some kind of fool? Do you think this is a game that you're playing at? Do you think you can trick me, boy, turn on me as you turned on the Dark Lord?
"Boy, we made a pact, and it will be fulfilled till the end," he said in a more calm, even sweet way that made Draco's hair stand on end. "You do something for me, and in return I do something for you. This way, everyone's happy, and no dreadful accidents will happen to a certain bushy-haired friend of yours, understand?"
Draco's teeth clenched painfully; Fudge had always been power-hungry and all, but what was he talking about? Accidents? He wouldn't dare to go that far.
"Don't hesitate to think I'll dare to do it, boy. One word from me, and Miss Granger would be facing terrible consequences. We've come to the point of no return. Things... have happened. You've got the opportunity of restoring your family's pride and position; don't waste it for a nosy bitch. It's a lost cause. See you soon... Mr. Malfoy." With that, the Minister's head disappeared from the fireplace.
Draco passed a trembling hand through his white-blond hair, his breath coming out forcefully through his nostrils. He had misjudged the Minister as a fool, but now he certainly saw he was a raving lunatic. His talk had reminded him of some other disturbed, power-hungry madman he had heard before. It had reminded him of Voldemort.
There was just one thing he could do now. He went to Hermione's bedroom and came back with a determined look in his eyes. Taking a handful of Floo powder, he tossed it into the fireplace.
It can't be, there must be another logical explanation, Hermione thought, running like mad through the London streets, back to her apartment. Unshed tears were stinging in her eyes, blurring her vision. She was so distraught, she didn't even consider to Apparating back home; she'd probably splinch herself in two.
The only thing that came to her mind as she hurried up the stairs to her apartment was that Draco might be still lying in her bed, his hair tousled, and that everything was a misunderstanding. They'd surely laugh about it together later. She couldn't let herself think about the other possibility, or she'd break down. She couldn't have been fooled, cheated to that extent... he couldn't have done that to her.
The green-carpeted corridor seemed longer and longer as Hermione ran towards her door.
The door of the apartment banged open, and a very distraught Hermione stood by it, gasping for air. "Draco!" she called out.
Draco stood by the fireplace, one foot already in the gleaming green flames of the opened Floo connection. The sudden appearance of Hermione by the door, calling his name, had made him freeze in his actions, a sudden wave of guilt, shame and sadness coursing through his veins.
This flash of apprehension was noticed at once by Hermione, whose gaze travelled from his face to the object he was holding in his hand. The mirror. Then Hermione knew everything was true.
Their exchange lasted less than two seconds, but Draco didn't have to look at her again to know the betrayal he'd find there... he had already made his decision and had no time to lose.
"I'm sorry," he said and, wholly stepping into the fire, disappeared.
Hermione stood by the door, paralysed, as if her perpetrus charm didn't work right. Slowly, as if in a dream –more likely a nightmare--, she slid to the floor.
When Ginny arrived, only two minutes later, on the top floor of the building, she found her friend curled in the floor, inconsolably crying her eyes out. She keeled and reaching out, embraced her tightly, for that is the only thing one can think of when you see your best friend deep in pain for her first broken heart.
Well, that's all... for now. Don't get mad at me, but it'll take a while for me to post another chapter, for I'm moving to another country and it'll take a while to get everything in order. It's all in my head, though, safely stored and waiting to be written. I just need the time.
Have fun, it's an order!