Title: Merlin's Embrace
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and am making no money from this story, all Harry Potter copyrights belong to J.K. Rowling. I also do not own 'The Mists of Avalon' by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and 'The History of the Kings of Britain' by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Oh, and I think I was channeling Indiana Jones at the end there- I don't own that either, George Lucas and Steven Speilberg do.
Summary: By a strange twist of fate, Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy are induced to work together to find a fantastical treasure. Will they succeed, even as they are being perused by Hermione's evil partner
Authors Notes: Post-HBP humor is possible! cue maniacal laughter Bwahahaha! Forgive me for the liberty I take with dear old Geoffrey. That Merlin passage was so cracked I couldn't resist taking it and using it for my own evil purposes. As always, thanks to my wonderful beta Emily who does such a wonderful job with all of my fiction.000
"…One shall come in armour, and shall ride upon a flying serpent. He shall sit on his back with his naked body, and cast his right hand upon his tail. With his cry shall the seas be moved, and he shall strike terror into the second. The second shall then enter confederacy with the lion…"
- The Prophesy of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Draco Malfoy was broke.
He sat sprawled out in front of the fireplace in the study of Malfoy Manor early one morning, still fully dressed from the night before. He nursed a glass of firewhiskey and contemplated his inevitable fate.
He was poor.
He would rather the Ministry had killed him.
After his Sixth Year, Draco made the wise decision to go into hiding in France with his relatives. After the Prodigal Harry Potter predictably killed Voldemort, the Wizarding population of England finally united and went to work on putting their world back together by eliminating their problems.
Draco was one of those problems.
Although he hadn't minded leaving his cat-loving aunt, he did mind the large Auror who shoved him in Azkaban without a by-your-leave. He had rotted there for two excruciatingly long months until his trial yesterday. As he was about to be sentenced as one of the Dark Lord's followers, even with all of the evidence to the contrary, wouldn't you know that the Boy-Who-Freaking-Lived-Again-and-Again himself strode through the door, as if his very presence could swing the tribunal's decision to Draco's favor.
Fortunately for Draco, it did.
Unfortunately, it meant that he now owed Harry Bloody Potter a huge fucking favor.
That, however, was the least of his worries at the moment. The tribunal was able to accept Potty's explanation that Draco was coerced into plotting the attack on Hogwarts that terrible night, but that didn't mean that he was to get off scot-free. Instead, in their infinite wisdom, they decided to punish him in a much more dastardly manner.
They froze his funds for twenty years- essentially leaving him as poor as a Weasley in the meantime.
Draco slumped a little more in his chair, and rubbed his hands wearily over the day-old stubble on his jaw. The Wizengamot's exact sentence was, "For misdeeds unbecoming to a wizard of your station, all of your assets will be frozen for twenty years. If, upon further review, we have found you to be exemplary in your conduct, they may be reinstated."
Which meant nothing short of killing another Dark Lord would get the tribunal to unfreeze his funds. Lovely.
His mother had fainted at the trial, and his Aunt Andromeda had promised to take care of her until he could get the situation under control.For all he knew, his father had uncharacteristically fainted as well when he had found out how low the Malfoy name had fallen (Although it's not proven that a Malfoy would actually allow himself to lie on the slimy stone floor of Azkaban).
Draco couldn't blame him. The only thing that he had to his name, essentially, was an old, moldering house that would soon go to ruin without money to keep it up, and a bunch of house elves that refused to leave. He would be drawn and quartered before he sold the house that had been in his family for ten centuries, but he didn't know how to raise the sort of money he would need for its upkeep either.
He might have asked his friends for help, if his pride could stand it, but whatever friends he had that weren't residing in Azkaban had given him the cut after the sentence was past. Shallow, fickle bastards, Draco thought, as he viciously dug his fingernails into his palms, I'll show them. I'll claw myself out of this shit and nail their heads to the wall.
As he was contemplating the merits of slicing versus impaling, a small, ragged house elf appeared at his elbow. "Master Draco, there be a Miss Hermione Granger at the door. Shall I be showing her in?"
The elf cleared its throat and began again. "Erhm, there be a Miss Hermione Grang…"
"Yes, yes. I heard you the first time. What does she want, you infernal creature?"
It squealed and trembled in utter terror. In a shaking voice, it hesitantly replied, "She wants… she wants to be speakings to you, Master Draco."
Draco sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, as all of his earlier anger drained away to be replaced with bone-numbing fatigue. Granger? Here? He didn't need her snotty, gloating presence in the one place where he could brood in peace.
He had always felt Granger was an irritating oddity in his life. She was a Mudblood, a creature he had been taught to ignore from birth that refused to be ignored. She was smart, strong, and thoroughly infuriating, and he didn't feel like dealing with her right now.
"Show her away."
The elf gulped, "Master… we be tryings this, but she wouldn't have it. She… she threatened to give us clothes!"
Draco clenched his teeth in frustration, "Fine. Show her in and bring a tea service. I'll see what she bloody wants then throw her out on her arse!"
The Elf gave a short bow and winked out of existence. Draco hurriedly applied a freshening charm to his appearance and gave his clothes a quick Scourgify. It wouldn't do to look like a pauper begging on the streets even if he was one. Technically.
A few minutes later, a dashingly disheveled Draco Malfoy met Hermione Granger for the first time in three years. His first thought was that she had somehow beaten her hair into submission. Her small frame was no longer overwhelmed by her huge mass of curls. Instead of a frizzy mess, wild tresses flowed down her back. She was skinnier than he remembered, but still curvaceous enough to be pleasing. Her face had lost its baby fat, revealing high, haughty cheekbones and a stubborn jaw. His eyes leisurely took in the long neck and full lips, and then finally met her eyes.
They were glaring at him.
They stood, staring at each other, probing for weaknesses, for an imprecise length of time, minds whirling.
When Draco tore his eyes away, he noticed a steaming pot of tea on the table. As it seemed that she wasn't going anywhere, he might as well get the torture over with. Draco gestured to a settee across from his tall, wing-backed leather chair. "Sit."
As Hermione sat and gracefully poured a cup of tea, he noticed that she was clad in designer robes. They were modest and simple, but he knew that they had to cost a fortune. He felt a swift stab of hatred.
The Mudblood bitch doesn't deserve it…
"I need your help."
Draco, brought out of his sadistic musings by this unlikely statement, blinked in shock. "I am having tea with the Queen of Mudbloods. The surreal nature of this strange event must have altered the state of the universe, because I thought I just heard you say you needed my help."
Granger took a sip of her tea and glared at him. "You heard correctly."
"Call me insane, but that is possibly the most preposterous thing I have ever heard. As such, I can give you my answer now: no."
Granger took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a few moments. Her lips moved slightly, and her hands tightened on her teacup. However, when she opened them, she was again calm and collected. "Malfoy, I need your help to find Merlin's treasure."
"I'm sure you do. And Atlantis too."
"I'm serious Malfoy!"
Draco looked at her askance, "Merlin has been dead since the Sixth Century AD. Since then, everyone from Elgbert the Wise to Albus Dumbledore has tried to find Merlin's supposed treasure. Moreover, they all failed. Miserably. Why do you think you are any different?"
"Because I have something they didn't."
"Incredibly bushy hair?"
"No! Malfoy don't be so rude. I am Muggleborn."
"So? What does dirty blood have to do with anything?"
Hermione sighed heavily and put down her teacup. "Muggles have extensive literature about that time period as well. Mostly, it is centered upon the Muggle king that Merlin served, King Arthur. I know all of those stories as well as the Wizarding ones. They… complement and complete each other."
"Alright." Draco leaned back in his chair, face impassive. "I am supposed to believe that there is a fantastical treasure that no one has found yet because Merlin hid the clues in the Muggle world?"
"And no one in fourteen centuries has thought of this."
"I don't believe so."
"You don't believe so…" Draco snorted and looked skeptical, but inwardly his mind was racing. Granger was obviously cracked. Yet… if there was the slightest chance she was right, this could be the miracle he was hoping for. All he needed was to find that treasure and his money would be back faster than the Weasel ate chocolate pie. "Say I believe you. Why the hell do you need me?"
"Erhm… I need some books in your library."
Draco blinked, "Come again?"
"My partner and I found a reference to an obscure text written by one of your ancestors, who was one of the underwizards to Merlin. Unfortunately, if it does exist, we couldn't find it anywhere else."
"Why should I help you?"
As Draco watched in fascination, Hermione cool composure seemed to crack. Her eyes became unfocused, her hands twitched, and her jaw clenched and unclenched repeatedly. "I don't resort to this often, but Malfoy... I am begging you. I am so close I can smell success. Taste it. Think of the knowledge that we could recover- the wisdom of Merlin finally unearthed."
"Hold it Granger. That doesn't sounds like a treasure to me."
That seemed to snap Hermione back to her senses, as her dark eyes focused to glare at him. "You wouldn't think so. But I'm sure there will be other knickknacks about that would capture the interest of such a menial mind as yours."
"So… Again, I do not quite understand your point. Why would I want to help you?"
"Doesn't the knowledge make it worth it to you?"
"What about international fame and everlasting renown?"
"What about the chance to free up your funds?"
Draco paused with his teacup halfway to his mouth. "How did you know about that?"
"Malfoy, everyone knows about that."
"What about Potty and the Weasel? Why aren't they tripping over themselves to go with you on this daring do-gooder adventure?"
Hermione shifted uncomfortably and looked out the window of Draco's study. "They are busy running the government. I have never been as interested in being an Auror as those two. I would rather research- and because of that research I think I have found something important."
"You said you had a partner. Where is this partner now?"
"We… had a falling out."
"So why would you come to me?"
"I have searched every other avenue, every other course of action open to me. Do you really think that if I had any other recourse I would come to you? My most persistent schoolyard tormentor? Please, Malfoy, give me some credit."
Draco smiled. "Alright, Granger, I'm in. But only under certain conditions…"
The Malfoy library held one of the largest private collections of privately owned volumes in the world. Centuries of collecting and hording information had paid off with a treasure trove of knowledge- only available to the Malfoy family, of course.
Draco used to come here often as a child and play quietly as his parents read by the hearth. He clamped down on his biting regret that his family would never know the same peace, the same comfort… all because he was too weak…
"… Malfoy? Are you even listening to me?"
Draco looked down at her, and bit back a snide comment about her not having anything worthy to say.
He did need the money, after all.
"Malfoy, where are the records of your ancestors?"
Cloak swirling, his tall, elegant frame led them through the maze of shelves, cupboards and glass cabinets. His bright hair seemed to light the dimness, and Hermione, despite herself, felt a bit twitchy because of the dark atmosphere.
Suddenly, Draco stopped. "Here," he said, opening a cabinet, "This is what you want."
Hermione looked at the tall stack of books and sighed wearily. "Thanks Malfoy."
They adjourned to the study, where they worked side by side at a long table. Draco grew bored with the antiquated language of the documents and decided to amuse himself by inspecting Granger.
As he leaned back to take in her form, he noted that she had filled out very decently. Her robs accentuated her shapely form, hugging her curving hips and waist, and almost flaunting her high, round breasts.
If she wasn't a Mudblood and incredibly annoying, he definitely would have pursued her if there wasn't this fucking money issue in the way.
Leaning over slightly, he wondered if he could see…
"Stop looking down my blouse, Malfoy."
Draco huffed sullenly. "Nothing there to see anyway."
As he contented himself to stare at the way the shape of her neck gracefully accentuated her shoulders, he realized she was talking to him.
"…there is a famous history in Muggle literature written by Geoffrey of Monmouth. He claims to get his information from an 'old text.' This information is discredited by Muggle historians, who believe that he either made up his information or simply wrote down folklore."
Draco raised a brow, "So?"
"So, Malfoy, I think Merlin may have written the original."
"Oh. Alright then, carry on."
Hermione sent him a glare, but continued anyway. "It tells of a prophesy given by Merlin himself to a king that preceded Arthur. Most of it is rubbish, and I don't usually hold with that foretelling nonsense. But what if it was written by Merlin as a guide?"
"You're completely nutters, you know."
"Perhaps," Hermione huffed, but then she smirked, her eyes twinkling, "But you know what that makes you for following a madwoman? A complete moron." She thrust a large book into his hands, "Here, educate yourself for once. Read it while I look for the book I need."
Draco looked at the heavy tome with disinterest, but figured reading it was better than contemplating how poor he was now. With a shrug, he carefully flipped it open to the marked page. As he read, his eyebrows climbed higher and higher and his respect for Granger's intelligence grew lower and lower.
"Have you actually read this nonsense? The author was on those muggle drugs."
Hermione sighed and kept skimming her book, "Yes I have read it Malfoy, and I believe it to be deliberately obscure to all but a witch or a wizard."
"Well, I'm a wizard, and I think it is a load of shit written by a lunatic who obviously had a suppressed homo-erotic fixation on lions, serpents, dragons and their riding on one another. It doesn't tell you anything about this supposed treasure or where it is."
"I don't think it is supposed to- the treasure would be buried with him in his tomb, and all we need are the clues to get there."
"The tomb was in the middle of the forest somewhere. Only that Nimue bint knew where it was, if I remember correctly."
"The clues say otherwise," Hermione tore her attention from the tome she was perusing to fix him with a glower, "His burial was planned- and Merlin left enough evidence in the Wizarding world to tantalize wizards for generations about the location of his tomb- but he left the most valuable clues in the Muggle world."
"So… what did you need from me again?"
"Ah! I think I found it. Shut up for a moment, Malfoy."
Draco sidled closer to her, trying to see the cause for her excitement.
Hermione muttered to herself, "Finally! Why didn't I think of that before? It's so obvious…"
To Draco, she stated, "…We need an object of incredible magical power to get into the tomb… a key, if you will."
"Alright." Draco said, looking incredibly skeptical, "Where is said key, and why hasn't it been found yet? It has been over fourteen hundred years, in case you haven't noticed."
"Because it is hidden in plain sight, idiot."
"Oh, sorry for not noticing that subtle point. And where exactly would one hide an artifact of Merlin's in plain sight?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, no. You're kidding me. I am not going there."
"Tell me again why we came here?"
"To find a priceless treasure that will save you from the horrific prospect of actually having to find honest work?"
Draco and Hermione walked in relative silence at the edge of a tiny village, punctuated only by the crunching of their thick boots in the snow and Draco's whining. As planned, both of them dressed in heavy, nondescript winter clothing for the purpose of blending in. Draco actually thought Hermione looked rather cute, for a Mudblood, dressed in her downy parka, snug knit cap and muffler. As for himself, he dressed as plainly as possible. It would not do for a Malfoy to be seen… there.
"You realize that money is my only incentive for stepping foot in this foul place."
"Oh, please- your ancestors once lived here!"
Draco winced. "Yes. But that was before… this."
The Isle of Avalon was once a mystical place. Shrouded amidst the shadow of the Glastonbury Tor, a Wizarding community had existed in this place as far back as memory allowed. A haven for the witches and wizards of Great Britain in the Middle Ages, it was renowned as the birthplace of some of the most famous wizards and witches of all time. Merlin. Morgan le Fey. Nimue. Taliesin. Faust.
Even the Muggles could somehow sense the magic of this place. Many of them in the village still clung to the old ways, remembered the customs of the Wizards that had one walked amongst them unhindered.
Now, the famed Isle was something different altogether.
Early in the Eighteenth Century, wizards and witches started to travel. They came from around the globe to see the famed Isle.
Obviously, the residents noticed this.
Avalon, at that point, could have branched in two directions. One: they could try to suppress the tourists and keep the peaceful town as it was. Two: milk it for all it was worth.
Avalon chose money.
In a matter of a few years, the serene refuge of Merlin was unrecognizable. One end of the Wizarding portion of the village was filled with magical rides, thrills and games. The other was crammed full of shops selling everything from mediocre fashion to bogus maps leading to Merlin's treasure horde.
And of course, there were the fortune tellers.
Lining the path to the top of the Tor were hundreds of 'oracles' and 'mystics,' claiming to have the keys to the future. And, for a very reasonable fee, they would use all of the powers of prophesy gifted to them by Merlin himself to predict the future for their customers.
Hermione and Draco walked to the edge of the Muggle village closest to the Tor. There was a ruined medieval wall lining the edge of the town, and Hermione sidled close to it, drawing out her wand. She tapped a small, crumbling brick twice, and the wall slowly opened.
Draco seemed to be hyperventilating.
"Breathe, Malfoy. It's only a little public humiliation."
Draco sneered at her as he stepped towards the opening. "That is easy for you to say. You don't have any stake in Society."
Hermione bared her teeth at him as they walked the gaudily painted streets, "True. Now smile Malfoy- you are supposed to be my date, remember?"
"In your dreams, Mudblood."
Hermione cracked a bitter, too-wide smile. In a loud voice she cooed, "Oh Sweetums! That sounds like a Woooonderful idea! Let's go on the Wicked Spinning Serpent, I know that's your favorite!"
As Draco gave her a horrified look, she forcefully grabbed his hand and dragged his resisting body to the lurid sign depicting a very dizzy cobra.
Ten minutes later, a very pale Draco and a flushed Hermione emerged from the building.
Draco, on shaky limbs, walked very slowly towards a small café. It might even have been respectable, if it wasn't painted a blinding bright pink.
As they went inside the cheerful restaurant, the searing warmth of the room hit Draco sideways, the change in air temperature causing his stomach to roil. He sat quickly at the nearest available table, and put his head in his hands.
Hermione sat across from him and smirked.
Unwinding her long, burgundy muffler, she signaled to someone outside Draco's field of vision.
"Hullo!" cried a cheery male voice. "Welcome to The Mists of Avalon! How may I help you?"
Hermione gave him a gracious smile. "Yes. My friend here had a bit of a bad reaction to a ride, you see. Do you have any drinks that calm weak stomachs?" Hermione's eyes twinkled evilly as she glanced at Draco. "I'll just see a menu, if it wouldn't be too much trouble."
The man's deep, disembodied voice sounded from somewhere over Draco's left shoulder. "Of course, miss. I'll get him one of our teas."
Hermione's eyes squinted thoughtfully at the man. "Sir, I must say… I love your costume!"
At this, Draco stiffened. Costume? Oh, no. Please tell me we aren't in one of those…
Turning around slowly, Draco noticed what he, in his preoccupation with his ill stomach had overlooked before. Everyone in the restaurant was either a child under the age of ten, or was a parent of said child. Draco closed his eyes for a moment, and then looked at their waiter.
He was dressed as a Dragon.
In a strangely lucid moment, Draco wondered if he was supposed to represent the bastard offspring between a Hungarian Horntail and a Chinese Fireball. Clearly, he had stepped into hell.
As soon as the cracked server left with Hermione's order, Draco turned to her and hissed, "We are leaving! I will not be seen in this place."
Hermione leaned back in her chair and smiled smugly. "I already ordered my lunch. You are the one who picked this restaurant, anyway."
"I was not under any condition to do so. And I was obviously under the influence of a spell, as I do not have a weak stomach!"
"Oh, I don't know. About halfway through that ride, your face turned quite the interesting shade of green."
"Clearly, it was your imagination. Now, we are leaving this horrific Bisney World hellhole, and going somewhere normal. I will not be molested by a lunatic in a costume."
"Fine." Hermione rose jerkily and re-wrapped herself in her heavy winter apparel. "I don't see what the problem is. Hey! I have a great idea."
Draco slanted a glance at her from the corner of his eyes as he straightened his jacket.
Hermione chuckled low and long, the laughter brightening her eyes to deep amber. "You could work here! With a name like Draco I'm sure you would get hired immediately!"
"We are leaving!"
"Come on, Malfoy, it was only a joke."
Malfoy stalked down the avenue of Charlatans without even hearing their catcalls. How dare she? How dare she make fun of his situation? She didn't know what this was like! That… that Mudblood had no idea of his degradation. He had failed his ancestors, his class, his family… everyone!
He would go down in history as the laughingstock of the Malfoys.
He had lost their great fortune, their position in society, and would most likely lose their home.
And the shame was unbearable.
A small voice in the back of his head whispered that it was ultimately his father's fault that their family name was polluted, but he ignored it. His guilt would not be assuaged by laying the blame on another.
Draco's lips twitched into a small, mirthless smile. Now isn't the best time to be taking personal responsibility for the first time in my life. Thanks conscience, for waking up when I need you the least.
He watched Granger take carefully measured steps through the new-fallen snow as they walked down the busy street. It wasn't really her fault, he supposed grudgingly. She was just the catalyst that ignited his guilt. She had never lived in a society as restricted as his, never had to eat, breathe, and sleep duty.
In a way, he had always envied her that.
Merlin… When had he stopped thinking of her as just another Mudblood and started thinking of her a woman?
Suddenly, he felt a small but firm hand grasp his sleeve. Swiftly reaching for his wand, he looked into his opponent's eyes. Black, onyx pools stared hypnotically into his.
Wand forgotten, he stared at the small old woman, transfixed. She smiled at his stunned expression, and spoke in a low, husky voice, "She was a woman to you when she touched you with her anger, with her compassion. She will be a woman to you again and again."
Still immobilized, she touched Draco's brow with one wizened finger. He felt a small jolt, as if he had been hit with a curse. She grinned widely, showing a gaping mouth with one black tooth. Draco's mind drew back in horror, but his body was still under her sway.
"The Serpent has come, in confederacy with the Lion. Beware the second Serpent as he lies in wait, under the calm, grey sea. Only the courage of the beast will gain the advantage."
The old woman lifted her hand from his jacket, and turned slowly to walk back to her booth, leaving behind an extremely confused Draco.
"… Draco? Draco, are you alright?"
Draco turned to Hermione to find her watching him with large, worried eyes. She rushed to him and it looked as if she was going to take his hand, but stopped herself from actually touching him. "It was like you were in a trance- you weren't responding to anything I said. What did that old woman say to you?"
"Nothing." Draco shook his head slightly to clear it. "Just gibberish."
"Here we are!"
"Finally!" Draco panted, "You would think that the ancients would want their bloody temples within easy walking distance. We could have Apparated up here you know."
"Yes, but wasn't the exercise wonderful?"
"Perhaps to a peasant, but I am not used to such manual strain."
Hermione smirked. "Oh, you poor delicate thing. Why don't you go home to Mummy and let the grownups do all of the real work."
Draco glared at her, but said nothing.
The temple of Avalon was perched high upon the Glastonbury Tor. A pain to keep from the Muggles, but incredibly important for historical purposes, the temple was equipped with the most advanced Muggle befuddlement and misdirection wards.
As Hermione and Draco approached, there were only two other tourist groups visiting the temple. Not a large edifice, it was impressive nonetheless. Hewn out of rough stone, it exuded powerful magical currents. There were no silly rides here, no games or stores. There was something sacred about the building that people sensed, and did not disturb.
Draco felt the magic pull him, caress him, and soothe him. As if in a trance, his feet carried him into the building.
Inside, there was a simple stone altar inside a circle of tall standing stones. The angle of the cold winter sun was such that it almost directly hit the center of the altar, giving the room a charged, vibrant feel.
There were others in the room, so Hermione and Draco did not speak. Instead, they wandered, looking at the ancient petroglyphs of people long dead.
Hermione stopped suddenly, and then spoke quietly, in a low voice that didn't carry. "We need to wait for all of the tourists to leave before we can accomplish what we need to do."
"Weren't you listening when I explained your ancestor's records at Malfoy Manor?"
Draco thought of his preoccupation that day, and smiled wickedly at her. Giving her body a slow once over with his eyes, he spoke lowly, "No, I can sincerely say I didn't."
Hermione rolled her eyes, "Honestly Malfoy!"
Draco just shrugged, unconcerned.
"Your ancestor's records were incomplete, but with the information that I have already gained, I think I can figure out what we need to do. They provided the location, and the Muggle records will provide the means."
Draco snorted. "Yes, I'm sure. And I will soon become fantastically wealthy again, and you will somehow become a real woman."
"Don't be rude!" Hermione's lips compressed tightly in a stern line of disapproval, "This will work. I know it."
Draco raised a platinum brow, but wisely stayed silent.
Soon, the two groups of tourists were marching down the Tor back towards the village.
Hermione quickly turned to Draco and gestured for him to follow her to the altar.
"Alright Malfoy, it seems that we have a small window of opportunity for this to work. Let's get on with it shall we?"
Draco cocked his head to the side and looked at her as if she was daft. "May I ask what exactly 'it' is?"
Hermione raised one slender arm and pointed towards the petroglyph she had been inspecting so intently.
Etched into the stone was an ancient rendering of a lion and a serpent. Yet they were not locked into eternal combat, as Draco expected.
They were embracing.
In a pool of light, the serpent twined around the lion protectively, and they stood enthralled with each other forever.
"Come here, you stupid man!"
Hermione snagged his shirt, and tugged him towards her, into the sunlight that was now directly upon the altar.
Framed in radiance, Draco noticed that her dark hair glistened with highlights of cherry and mahogany. Her skin glowed a pale peach, and her dark eyes gleamed with an inner fire of their own.
Lost in his musings, he barely noticed when Hermione's soft arms wound around him.
He had missed the sensation of touch. He had not known how long it had been since he had any form of simple human contact until this moment. She seemed so small and fragile next to his larger body, and a sudden surge of protectiveness washed through him as she cuddled her head into the muscles of his chest. Her scent engulfed him, surrounded him, and intoxicated him.
Draco's arms, of their own violation, clasped her close to his body, sheltering her, protecting her.
As they stood in the ancient temple, enemies locked in a fierce embrace, the magical currents around the temple began to stir, to coalesce. Eyes tightly shut, the two felt these magical currents run through their bodies, as like lightening rods they called the bolts of magical energy to them, through them.
Waiting out the storm, the two held each other close.
When the magical maelstrom cleared, the room returned to its original state, except for one thing.
Upon the altar lay two dowsing rods.
Hermione, still within their tight embrace, was the first to notice them.
Her eyes widened, and she looked at Draco in shock. "It… worked. Merlin, it worked!"
Impulsively, her small hands cupped Draco's shocked face and her lips caressed his for the briefest instant.
Screaming in joy, she danced to the altar to collect the dowsing rods, leaving a stunned Draco behind.
As they left the temple, they were almost amiable. Sharing their triumph, Hermione was chattering about their next step, and Draco was smiling and teasing her about her know-it-all ways.
Clutching the rods to her chest, Hermione grinned up at Draco, "I need to consult a few books, but I am almost certain as to our next step."
"You do that, Granger." Draco surveyed the frosted landscape with content eyes. This crazed scheme might actually work. He might be able to salvage his family's honor…
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow move in the forest.
Intense pain shot through his right side, as the curse brushed him.
He screamed in agony, slipping upon the ice and jarring his wand loose.
Hermione's face was frozen in a caricature of horror as he fell. As he hit the ground with a harsh smack, she was suddenly galvanized into action. Shoving the dowsing rods securely into her coat, she whipped out her wand to face the intruder.
Stepping in front of Draco's prone form confidently, she assumed a dueling stance. Into the thin air she shouted, "Show yourself, coward! Face me!"
"I think not, Miss Granger."
Draco saw, through pained eyes, that Hermione noticeably paled at the sound of that cool, silky voice. Nevertheless, she did not tremble, she did not falter as the unknown man hurled a curse at her.
As she struggled to hold the shield under the weight of the heavy curse, Hermione glanced back at Draco and yelled, "Get your wand and get us out of here!"
Suddenly, the shield failed.
Caught off guard, Hermione threw herself onto the hard ice just as a curse was launched in the vicinity of where her head used to be. She clenched her teeth against the pain, and glared at their attacker.
"Blaise! Please, stop this!"
Draco looked at her in shock, before he grabbed her by the waist and Apparated, holding onto her so tightly it seemed that they were one flesh.
As they lay panting on the cool marble floor of the foyer of Malfoy Manor, Draco and Hermione took a moment to assess their injuries.
Satisfied that all of his limbs were intact, Draco leveled Hermione with a death glare.
"Is there something you forgot to tell me Granger?"
"Fuck, Granger that hurts! Try not to use those peasant hands to injure me permanently, all right?"
They were perched on the edge of Draco's bed in Malfoy Manor. Having to pacify many frantic House Elves along the way and with Draco injuries slowing the pace, it took awhile to get there. Draco immediately collapsed on the immense bed as Hermione calmly walked to the bathroom to find the medicine kit.
"…Take off your shirt! I need to see how badly you are injured."
Draco groaned, but complacently fumbled at the buttons.
Small, gentle hands batted away his own. Hermione looked at him sternly, "Here, I suppose I will do it. Wouldn't want you to injure yourself further."
Hermione slowly peeled the shirt, sticky with blood and sweat off his body. She hissed as she took in the extent of his injuries. "Oh, Malfoy…"
"Just tell me."
"It's mostly superficial, thank Merlin. They look nastier than they actually are." She slowly swept his body with a diagnostic spell. "It looks like you have a nastily sprained right wrist, and a lot of cuts and bruises. Here, take this, it will mend your wrist. It will be fine by tomorrow morning."
Draco tossed back the small vial that Hermione handed him, and was immediately dizzy from the potion's effects.
"Oh, that draught should make you a little dizzy, so try not to move."
Now she tells me. Lovely.
Draco glared at her, hating that she put him through this miserable excuse of a day. He wanted to hurt her. He wanted to hurt her as much as he was hurting.
"I saved you for the money, you know."
"Yes." She said quietly, "I know."
As Draco's pain lessened, he gradually became more and more aware of Hermione's soft presence as she bandaged his wounds. The more aware of her he became, the more he thought she was upset. Moreover, he sensed that it wasn't just because of his comment.
Not that he cared or anything.
As a quasi-neutral topic of discussion, he chose the subject of their near homicide.
"Why did Blaise Zabini try to kill us? I assume it was Zabini because he is the only one unfortunate enough to have the name you called out as we were being i shot at /i ." Draco's eyes narrowed, "That was a significant little detail that you left out of out the agreement. 'Oh, I'm being targeted for death'- I should think that would be something one would mention."
"One could even say it is a deal breaker."
Hermione's wide eyes flew up to his, filled with panic, "No! You can't…"
Draco held up one hand, silencing her, "I won't back out. I need this as much as you do." He gave a short, bitter laugh, "More, perhaps. I can't figure out why you want this treasure so much, it's not like you need the money. Or the fame."
Hermione was silent.
Draco snorted. "Fine. Keep your fucking secrets, see if I care. But if I am going to continue this, you will tell me one goddamn thing- why the fuck is Zabini trying to kill us?"
Hermione's dark, troubled eyes looked into his grey ones for a moment, and then darted back down to look at his wounds.
"Blaise was cool, intelligent, and professional. I had gotten to know him better during Professor Slughorn's meetings Sixth Year. He didn't seem to mind my birth, and I didn't mind his sullenness. It was the perfect partnership."
"He… became too greedy. He wanted to destroy our competition using unspeakable methods. I disagreed."
Draco made a deep affirming noise in his throat, wanting her to continue talking.
Hermione was silent for a moment as she wrapped a bandage around his smooth bicep. When she spoke again, it was more collected- more like the Hermione Granger that Draco knew.
She continued in a soft voice, "I was scared of him."
Quietly, Draco said, "Did you tell Weasley or Potter?"
"No. No, I couldn't." Shaking her head, she looked at him earnestly, "They would never leave me alone if I couldn't solve my own problems. And since they don't exactly approve of this project anyway… they would just use it as an excuse to find me a nice, boring Ministry job."
"That's strange. I thought that you always stuck together or some such bullshit. Isn't that in the Gryffindor code?"
Hermione snorted and wiped the blood off his brow. "Hardly. We have had many spats over the years, as you well know Malfoy. We just have a… different point of view about my work."
Draco sensed that this was all the information that he would get out of her, so settled for looking at her.
She wasn't half bad, really. Quite pretty in an unconventional way. Her hair was mussed from their earlier flight, and her cheeks still had a rosy flush from the adrenaline. Her long lashes hid her cinnamon eyes from him, but he knew that they would be vibrant with life.
He rather liked that.
As Hermione finished bandaging the last of Draco's cuts, he began to notice the charged atmosphere of the room. The pain had finally leached out of him to be replaced by a pain of another kind.
Like a Tsunami, a dark, feral need swept through him, finally rooting in his abdomen. He remembered the feel of her in his arms, the soft touch of her lips on his. He felt her body heat on his skin, and wanted to tear off her clothes and bury himself in her to see just how hot she really was.
Something in his eyes must have given away his thoughts, because when Hermione looked into them she froze. Eyes wide, staring into the steely focus of a predator, she stood stock still, assessing her options.
He looked away, and the moment was broken.
Hermione quickly gathered her things and rushed out of his room. Over her shoulder, she called, "Um… I'll see you tomorrow Malfoy. We can figure out how to use these things then."
He watched her leave from his perch on the bed, and wondered what the fuck had just happened.
Camelot, unlike Avalon, had not been 'fortunate' enough to become a popular tourist attraction for the Wizarding community. This was to be expected, however, as the fact that the most powerful Sorcerer of all time served a mere Muggle was usually glossed over in textbooks. Once Pureblood ideology had taken hold over the society, the notion that magical folk were innately superior to Muggles was accepted as fact, and that their societies could never, ever intertwine.
Who would want to visit a place that by its very existence was proof that Muggles and Wizards had once managed to live side by side?
Draco and Hermione had come to the ruins of Camelot for a specific purpose- to find Merlin's laboratory.
Unfortunately, they had no idea where to start.
In addition, the tense atmosphere was compounded by an awkward tension that wasn't there the day before.
Oh, yes. It was going to be a fun day.
"This place is a wreck."
"You have a wonderful gift for stating the obvious, Malfoy. Please do it while rummaging through that pile of rubble for something useful."
Draco, uncomfortably hot in working in his winter Parka, irritably replied. "I am of higher station than menial labor. Malfoys do not 'rummage.'"
Hermione glared at him, carefully stepping around a large pile of rocks, and started to wave the dowsing rods over what remained of the inner walls as she spoke. "Since I am your superior in this mission, I do believe I am of higher station, oh prissy one. And if I say rummage, you had better get to it!"
"Or you will live in abject poverty for the rest of your miserable existence."
There was silence for a moment, as both of them poked around the ruins. Hermione, still waving the dowsing rods, went out of sight around a particularly large boulder. Draco soon grew cold and bored- and so decided to pursue the only other pastime open to him at the moment.
"What exactly are we looking for again?"
Hermione's disembodied voice floated from the bowls of the ruined castle. "Sweet Merlin! Malfoy, do you ever listen to me?"
Draco sneered in Hermione's general direction, as he couldn't actually see her anymore. "Actually, it is my goal in life to tune out your horrible screeching as much as possible."
"Your constant whining is not any better, let me tell you."
"Better than the foul shriek that you call a voice."
Hermione came into view again, emerging from behind a crumbling wall. "To prevent a migraine, I will answer you. Then will you just shut up for five minutes? You are worse than a child."
"Why thank you."
Hermione sent him a quelling look. "We are looking for the entrance to… something. Something that these rods could open."
"Oh, yes. It is much clearer now. Superb directions, oh great leader."
"I could get Harry and Ron to do this with me you know! I don't have to include you!"
"Why don't you do it then? Go get them and take them on this mad tour of ancient ruins. You aren't going to find anything!"
Hermione huffed a little at that, and walked behind a long, complicated series of archways.
Draco looked at the stone of the arches and shuddered at the thought of being ended by an impersonal, very large rock. "This doesn't feel very… safe."
"Malfoy, you are such a coward. Be a man, will you?"
How dare she? How dare a Mudbl-
Draco heard the horrific sounds of rock grating against rock, followed by a long, shrill shriek- that abruptly stopped.
As did his heart.
"Where the fuck are you?"
"Down this huge fucking hole. Where do you think I am?"
Draco gave a relieved laugh. If she was sniping at him, she had to be all right. She had to be.
A peal of hysterical laughter sounded from the hole.
Draco looked at it askance and tentatively called down. "Uh, Granger, are you alright?"
"Malfoy! Get your arse down here, I have found it!"
"Loosen up Granger, don't be such a prude. It's a glass of wine. It won't kill you."
Draco and Hermione were in the living room of Hermione's small flat in Hogsmeade. After patching Hermione up from her fall, they had explored Merlin's laboratory until they exhausted themselves. As a find, it was of almost equal importance as Merlin's tomb. Perfectly preserved, it was filled with ancient scrolls, strange astronomic devices that whirled and buzzed in their presence, and large cauldrons for brewing fantastical potions.
And they had found it- the location of the tomb.
Merlin's tomb was located in the magical forest on the Salisbury plain.
Just thinking about it gave Hermione chills through her body.
She had found it, she had finally found it.
After they carefully sealed the Laboratory, they went back to Hermione's flat to pour over her books regarding the tomb. There were whispers of fantastical tasks, of unfathomable treasure… but no hard facts. As the hour became late, Draco grew too frustrated to read anymore 'gibberish' and scrounged up some food. Evidently, he coaxed Hermione away from her books to the fire with promises of food, wine, and peace.
The first two were plenty, but of course, Draco broke his promise regarding the third.
"You wine collection isn't half bad, Granger. Small, as expected, but you have good taste in vintages."
Giving him a half smile, Hermione chuckled wryly, "Thanks, I think. Was that supposed to be a compliment?"
"Hmmm," Draco murmured, and lifted the glass to his nose and inhaled appreciatively, "Good taste in wine is extraordinarily hard to come by."
"Draco… Are you drunk?"
"Me? I think not!"
Hermione chuckled and leaned over Draco to grab a bunch of sweet red grapes, accidentally brushing his hard body with hers. His grey eyes darkened and his nostrils flared as Hermione glanced at his face.
Breathily, she murmured, "You have given me two compliments in the space of five minutes. I think the wine is going to our heads."
Draco's smoldering gaze never wavered as he drained his glass, his quick pink tongue catching the last drop of red liquid on the edge.
In a low voice that sent a shaft of… something… straight into her gut, he said, "We've only had five bottles between us. And I want more… so much more."
Hermione closed her eyes tightly, and thought, This is insane, I do not desire Draco Malfoy. It's just the wine and excitement of the day. That's all.
"So… the Weasel… Everyone always thought you would end up with the Weasel."
Hermione, surprised by the change in topic, laughed until her cheeks grew rosy, "They did not!"
"It's true." Draco gestured at her with his glass, "Too, too true. Ah… what was I saying?"
"You were talking about Ron."
"Yes! The Weasel. Why didn't you marry him and have lots of Weaselly babies?"
Hermione looked away from him took a long swig of her wine. As she stared into the hearth, she began to speak softly. "I always thought I would. I always thought so… until the end of the war. We are incredibly different people, Malfoy."
"Oh, come on. You always had that… adventure bullshit to bring you together."
"Yes." Hermione smiled slightly, "But once that part of our lives was over we had nothing else. We had no common interests besides saving Harry from Voldemort. And we fought all of the time. It was… exhausting."
Draco leaned over Hermione's slight form and leered at her, "Alas! Our relationship is doomed!"
As Hermione giggled, Draco reached behind him for the bottle of Pinot Noir, noticing it almost empty; he refilled both of their glasses. Sighing as the rich taste flooded his mouth, he watched Hermione in the firelight. Her skin flushed with wine and heat from the fire, her eyes shining with happiness, her lips stained red with wine.
She was beautiful.
Not beautiful 'for a Mudblood.' She was just… beautiful.
As she sipped on the wine, he blearily reached for a topic of conversation and said the first thing that popped into his mind. "Do you remember what happened after Slughorn's Christmas Party?"
As soon as he said it, he knew he should have kept his mouth shut, What the fuck was wrong with him?
Hermione's face flushed scarlet as she shifted uncomfortably and drained her glass. Quietly, she said, "Yes."
Draco's smirk was predatory. "Me too," he purred.
"Here," Draco said, pouring the last of the Noir. He made a large sweeping gesture, and said, "Let's have a toast, shall we? To… being filthy rich and extraordinarily famous."
Hermione raised her glass and smiled, "I'll toast to that."
They finished their glasses in silence, listening to the fire crackle in comfortable silence.
"One more bottle?"
"Hmmm," Hermione sleepily murmured, "If you bring out the Cabernet Sauvignon, I'll be in your debt."
"Excellent," Draco inspected the label of the bottle, "Good vintage."
He raised a quizzical brow in her direction, and Hermione nodded in assent, giving him her glass.
He filled it, and then held out the full glass. Hermione reached one slender, trembling hand to take it. Hm, it may be time to cut myself off, she thought. As she grasped the stem, her fingers brushed his briefly. A bolt of electricity sparked from his warm flesh to hers, traveling down her arm to pool in her belly.
Definitely time to cut myself off.
Hermione stared into the fire, swirling the wine absently. What was she doing with him? He hated her. She knew it, he knew it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now she wasn't so sure. She had been attracted to him at Hogwarts, his confident manner and his sharp features were appealing to her.
Such a pity about the horrid personality and bigoted beliefs, though.
It seemed like ages ago, that disastrous party. A little tipsy, on the run from Cormac, she had encountered Draco in the hall, sneaking about.
He had looked so worried, so tired and drawn that her kind heart couldn't help but feel sympathy for him.
Impulsively, irrationally, desired to make him content.
"Draco… are you… are you alright?"
Draco's head had snapped up, eyes widening as he realized who was speaking to him. "I'm fine! I did not give you leave to speak to me, Mudblood. Get out of my sight!"
Normally, Hermione would have stormed off, angry and hurt at his harsh words, but something in his eyes stopped her that night.
Her dark eyes had blinked in shock as she realized what it was.
Stepping closer, slowly, gently as if approaching a dangerous wild animal, Hermione had approached him. She felt him tense as she entered his personal space, but he said nothing.
She placed a hand on his shoulder, urging him to look at her.
His bruised pewter eyes looked into hers, and she felt her heart break.
So she kissed him
Slowly, gently, she kissed him as she had never kissed another boy- to comfort, to soothe. She saw his eyelids gently close, and against her will, she began to feel a tug of desire in her belly as their lips gently brushed.
Suddenly, Draco pushed her away. He looked at her for a wild moment, and then ran down the hall, out of her life, out of her reach.
Hermione looked deep into the orange flames and sighed. That rejection, so long ago, had hurt badly. Swirling the wine gently to bring the complex aroma of the wine to her nostrils before she drank, she inhaled deeply. Something… wasn't quite right.
Frowning and wrinkling her nose at the strange odor, she dipped one long finger into the wine. Bringing it to her tongue, she gently placed a tiny drop on her tongue. Eyes widening, she spat into the fire, which hissed and crackled angrily.
Turning to Draco hurriedly, she found that he had just finished pouring himself a glass, and was ready to drain it.
Alarmed, Hermione threw her body across his, and knocked the glass out of his hand. Falling, it pooled under their bodies, coating the floor in the color of blood.
"What the fuck, Granger?"
Hermione frantically took his cheeks in her hands; bring his face level with hers, checking his startled grey eyes for proper dilation. Hurriedly, she spoke, "Did you drink any of that wine, Malfoy? Did you drink any?"
Surprised at her vehemence, Draco replied softly, "No."
Hermione sagged in relief. "Thank Merlin."
Taking her wand out of the sheath at her wrist, Hermione muttered a quick spell over the bottle. As the spell completed, she softly swore.
"Viscum album- Mistletoe." Hermione closed her eyes heavily, "It's highly poisonous, and easy to find. Fuck."
Draco's voice was tight as he contemplated her drawn face impassively. "Lethal dosage?"
Draco's temper snapped like a fine cord. "It was Zabini, wasn't it? That fucking psychotic bastard! I'll kill him!" Tightening his grip on Hermione, who was still in his lap, he spoke lowly, roughly, "We are staying in Malfoy Manor tonight. No discussions, no arguments. I may be a pauper, but the wards are still intact."
And with that, he took out his wand and they disappeared in with an inelegant pop.
They were in his room again.
This time, it was lit only by the light of two small candles near the large bed, making the room look cavernous. The bed itself was simple, but elegant in its minimalism. An ebony bed frame carved with a soothing geometrical pattern was covered in a deliciously soft-looking down mattress and grey silk sheets.
Draco stalked to the bed and jerkily started to take off his robes. Angrily, he gestured to a door on the other side of the room, "You can have the bedroom adjoining mine."
He presented his back to her as his elegant hands worked on the cuffs of his shirt.
Hermione was at a loss to explain his behavior. He had been almost amiable before, but now… now he was cold again.
Draco whirled around and sneered. "What are you still doing here?
Hermione looked into his eyes, searching for an explanation, analyzing his emotions. Anger. Frustration. Annoyance…
He was afraid? Of what?
Was he… was he afraid for her?
Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the unfathomable expression in his eyes, but for the second time in her life, Hermione Granger took a chance and tried to tame a Dragon.
Ignoring her racing heartbeat and the heat that rushed to her belly, Hermione calmly stepped towards him. Paying no heed to his severe expression, she confidently took hold of the button he was having trouble with. Unbuttoning one cuff, than the other, she set to work on his shirt.
Starting with the one nearest his throat, she efficiently undid the buttons, exposing his pale chest one sliver at a time. When she finished, she tentatively placed her hands on his warm, naked abdomen.
His hands shot out to grasp her wrists firmly. In a deep voice, he said, "What are you doing Granger? Are you teasing me?"
Hermione's eyes flew up to his, and saw the dark, feral desire there, warring with control. She tried to speak, opened her mouth, but found that her throat was clogged with emotion.
"Tell me!" Draco's grip tightened on her wrists, becoming almost painful.
Hermione licked her lips, and watched Draco's eyes dilate as they traced the movement of her tongue. She wanted him, oh, how she wanted him. With wine like liquid courage pouring through her veins, she did what she had done before.
She kissed him.
When she kissed him, the emotion and desire that coursed through her made her other kisses seem weak, inexperienced, and inadequate. As soon as her lips brushed his, his arms went from trapping her hands against him to steel bands that encircled her, steadied her. His lips tasted like wine, and his tongue, oh Merlin, his tongue was slowly circling the crease of her mouth, demanding entrance.
When she did, his reaction was immediate. His tongue triumphantly plunged into her hot moist cavern, slowly searching out hers, teasing and coaxing, until she was frantic and greedy.
She must have moaned, because Draco broke off the kiss and chuckled darkly, "That's answer enough for me."
As he stooped to take her mouth again, she absently noted his hands working furiously at their clothes. Deciding to take pity on him, she engaged her fuzzy brain enough to strip herself bare.
Draco growled in satisfaction, "Let me see you."
Picking her up, he gently laid her on the bed and feasted upon her with his eyes. Hermione just as shamelessly poured over every facet of his body. Her eyes traveled from his classically proportioned face down his long neck to his chest. Admiring the broad width of his pale shoulders, she drank in the sight of his impressive torso.
Smooth and pale, his body looked as if the hand of an artist sculpted it. Toned pectorals melted into sharply defined abdominals.
Abruptly, Draco snarled, "I can't stand this anymore!"
Spurred into motion, Draco crawled onto the bed, covering Hermione's heated body with his own. As his weight settled on her fully, she groaned at the hot, heavy feel of him. Hard all over, she thought dazedly.
Her mind was in a hazy state of euphoria as Draco thoroughly explored her body, kissing, nibbling, touching everything within his reach.
Sweaty and panting, Draco was trembling in his need to feel her wet channel around him. Slowly, gently, he guided himself to her willing entrance. In an almost unrecognizable voice, he rasped, "Look at me, love. Look at me while I take you."
Unwillingly she opened her heavy eyelids to look at his passion-darkened expression.
Then, with one sleek movement, he buried himself inside her hot core.
Slowly, forcefully, he thrust within her, causing her already aroused body to climb even higher into passion. He covered her completely, and his mind went blank as he let instinct take over. Gripping her hips tightly, he mindlessly rode her until he felt the dam break and his mind was catapulted into throes of exquisite pleasure. Vaguely, he heard Hermione scream in rapture as her walls contracted rhythmically around him, prolonging his orgasm, heightening it.
As they fell down from bliss, Draco pulled the covers over them, tucked his arms around Hermione and promptly fell asleep.
The tension between them was palpable as they Apparated to the forest bordering the Salisbury plain the next day.
They had woken up that morning entwined together, with one of Hermione's smooth thighs between Draco's legs, and one of Draco's large palms covering her breast.
Draco had woken up first, wondering fuzzily why his head hurt so much, and why he had such a raging hard-on. Then, his lazy synapses fired and he became aware the soft, warm body plastered to his side, soundly asleep.
A part of him wanted to roll over and plunge his body into Hermione's warm, sleepy, wetness, but the more cautious part of his brain warned him to take caution if he ever wanted to have sex ever again.
He was probably correct on that point, because when Hermione woke up, she looked incredibly embarrassed, and scooted into the shower in record time.
Now they stood on the edge of the forest in awkward silence, neither of them wanting to be the first to speak.
"Oh, bother, this is ridiculous." Hermione rooted through her little bag and fished out the dowsing rods. Confidently, bravely, she looked Draco straight in the eye, and handed him one of the rods. "Here. We both need one, I think. They should lead us to the tree that contains the tomb."
"Right. Let's get on with it then."
Draco felt more than a little strange walking through the strange, silent forest waving a bit of metal around in front of him.
Hermione wore a look of intense concentration, as if her mental focus could speed up the process.
"Hey, Granger, how are we supposed to know when these things are wooor-Woah!"
As Draco was speaking, the metal rod had 'perked up' as if it sensed something, and was now in the process of pulling his arm from his socket as it sped like a Firebolt through the forest.
Draco glanced over his shoulder to see Hermione struggling to keep up with the little rod.
"All right there, Granger?"
"Right then," Draco muttered to himself as he concentrated on not hitting any stray branches, or slipping on any patches of ice as he ran through the forest.
Finally, Draco could see that the dowsing rod was headed straight for a large, gnarled tree. At the last minute, he let go of his rod and rolled to the side. The rod flew straight into the tree and hit with an audible thunk.
A moment later, he heard another loud thunk, and Hermione tumbled to the ground.
"Let me… catch my breath… and then we can figure out how to get inside."
As Draco stood up and brushed himself off, he noticed that under the two needles, a small door had appeared in the trunk of the tree.
"Granger! Get over here."
"I don't think we have to figure out anything."
The door opened to reveal a spiral staircase that descended into a black, dank cave. As they walked down the stairs lit only by the light of their wands, they admired the natural cave formations.
The cave grew warmer and warmer as they descended, and they soon shed their heavy winter apparel in favor of their thick jumpers and weighty trousers.
Draco, who was leading, had gone into autopilot and almost tripped as he came to the end of the stairs.
Draco and Hermione raised their wands to try to judge the scope of the cavern, but the light from them was too weak to penetrate the inky darkness.
"We need more light."
Draco shouted the spell to maximize the light coming from his wand and the effect was almost blinding.
The walls of the cave were covered in jewels.
Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and hundreds of other gems decorated the wall in intriguing patterns. Spirals of emeralds. Comets of rubies and sapphires... Capturing the light, refracting it, bending it, they lit the cavern to a painful intensity.
"Sweet Mother of Merlin…" Draco breathed in awe. He was saved. Just a handful of those jewels would restore his fortune and then some.
"Come on, Malfoy, I think I've found the way!"
Draco slowly walked towards Hermione, head twisting every which way to get a better look at the bejeweled walls. As such, he didn't get a good look at what Granger was pointing to until he was almost upon it.
"You have got to be joking."
"I am not. The stories say that there are certain tasks that need to be performed for the 'champion' to claim the prize. Traditionally, those tasks are Physical, Mental and Spiritual. Erhm… I think we are looking at physical."
Hermione was pointing at a small opening in the cave wall. No more than a meter square, it was very small, and looked very uncomfortable.
"Don't worry Malfoy. I've gone spelunking with my parents a few times, so I know what I am about."
"We will have to leave our Parkas. I have a feeling we won't want the excess girth."
Hermione conjured a heatless blue flame and somehow attached it to the center of his brow. She did the same for herself, and then plunged into the passageway.
The passage was very, very small. Sometimes they could walk single file, heads bent. Other times they had to crawl on their hands and knees, pushing their packs ahead of them. Most often, they would have to snake through small holes on their bellies, worming their way inch by inch towards the treasure.
To keep themselves from going insane as they squeezed their bodies through the tight openings, they talked.
Mostly, they talked about inane things, like Quidditch and gossip about old schoolmates. Sometimes they talked about the other tasks, wondering what mental and spiritual trauma they would have to undergo.
Sometimes they talked about taboo subjects.
As Draco squeezed himself around a particularly difficult turn in the passage, he said, "Why are you so obsessed with this Hermione?"
"I need this, Malfoy. I need this."
There was silence as Hermione had to push her pack through a tricky hole.
When she was through, she continued as Draco negotiated the same hole. "I need something to help me forget; to forget all of the pain, the suffering, the blood… there was so much blood. You weren't there, Malfoy. You wouldn't understand."
"You think I don't understand death? You think I don't understand remorse? What kind of monster do you think I am?"
There was an awkward pause as they digested each other's statements, and then they resumed talking about trivial matters.
They had been crawling in the infernal tube for so long, that when they got through it, they just blinked at each other and stared stupidly at the endpoint.
Magnificent in its medieval splendor, it was as if they had stepped into the hall of a High King in the Sixth Century. Bright tapestries, beautiful, thick carpets, and exquisite furnishings littered the room. Lit by a fire and sconces along the rough stone walls, the fire eagerly rose to great them as they entered, and heated the room comfortably.
However, what really interested them was the feast.
Hermione made a half-hearted protest that they shouldn't eat the food, and glowered when Draco didn't take her advice.
"Enjoy the rations, Granger. I'll take roast lamb over dried carrots, thank you very much."
It made for a sullen meal, Hermione picking at the provisions in the pack, and Draco loudly enjoying the feast, his eyes mocking.
Afterwards, as they sat by the fire, enjoying its warmth, Hermione began to look around.
"Malfoy," Hermione said softly, "Do you notice anything… strange… about this room?"
Draco opened his heavy eyelids to peer at the hall. The tables, fire, chairs and carpets all seemed in order.
Then it hit him.
There was no way out.
Hermione looked around frantically, and said, "Even the way we came is gone! We can't go back!"
Time was indeterminate underground, so there was no way of telling how long they had been in the room. They ate when they were hungry, slept when they were tired, and paced the room endlessly trying to find a way out.
They tried every spell they could think of on the walls, tried pushing, pulling and tugging.
And yes, they even tried embracing.
"Which challenge do you think this is, Granger?" Draco said sarcastically, "Emotional turmoil?"
"No," Hermione said wearily, "I think this is mental. The solution is bound to be obvious. It is probably right under… our… Oh, Merlin! Please say it isn't that easy!"
Draco brows shot up as Hermione dropped to her knees in front of him.
"Well, if that's the way you want it, who am I to…"
"Not that Malfoy! The carpet, help me pull up the carpet!"
They spent the next few hours wrestling with the heavy carpets. When they got to the middle of the large room, they found it.
Hermione hooted in joy, while Draco laughingly picked her up and spun her around.
When they realized what they were doing, there was an awkward pause, but it was noticeably less tense. Draco hoped that Hermione was getting over her damn shyness and would finally tell him what the fuck was wrong. They had sex. Great sex. Moreover, Draco wanted to do it again. He was getting a bit impatient with her feminine modesty, and was having a hard time keeping gentlemanly restraint around her.
It was strange; he hadn't thought of her as a Mudblood in a long time. He felt almost… free.
And he rather liked it.
"… That was horrible. The good news is that the next task can't possibly be worse."
"Don't say that, you moron! You'll jinx it."
Draco snorted, "I don't believe in things like that, and besides, what could possibly be…"
Draco and Hermione stopped in their tracks. They glanced at each other and then swallowed in unison.
In front of them was a wall of fire.
Hermione turned to glare at him, "You idiot!"
Draco was inclined to agree with her for once.
Draco tentatively walked closer to the flames and felt a wave of heat blast him, "Well. The flames are definitely real. Spiritual then?"
Hermione's brows were furrowed as she looked at the fire wall intently. "Yes. I believe so… and if my theory is correct, no spells should be able to penetrate this fire, either."
Draco blinked. "So how do we get through it?"
"I think," Hermione said slowly, "I think it is a leap of faith."
Draco looked at her for a moment, and then by her grim expression knew what she was going to do. "Oh no. You are not going to leap through a wall of fire without knowing what it is going to do to you."
"Draco… I can't go back."
Draco clenched his teeth at the determined tones of her voice. "Screw Gryffindor bravery! Let's go back and live in that cozy room for the rest of our lives. Don't waste your life on this, Granger. I can't believe I am saying this, but it is just a treasure."
Hermione drew a deep breath and looked into his eyes. He saw the resigned expression in them and panicked, "Draco," she said, "I have to do this. I do. I don't expect you to come with me… I can't… I can't ask you to do this."
Draco's hands clenched and unclenched as they clutched her arms. He looked at the floor and then glared into her eyes.
"I'm not going to be able to convince you not to jump to your fiery death, am I?"
Hermione's eyes were dark and grave. "No."
"Fine," Draco's throat closed with some unidentifiable emotion, "But you have to know that I…"
He was interrupted by Hermione's mouth crashing onto his.
Twining his arms around her, he crushed her body to his, as if he could somehow absorb her. Her lips were hot and frantic, their tongues clashing with fierce intensity.
All too soon, it was over, and Hermione reluctantly stepped out of his arms.
She turned to look at him, and smiled a small, sad smile.
He watched helplessly as she straightened her pack, took a deep breath, and ran unhesitatingly into the wall of fire.
Draco slumped down, and held his head in his hands.
After an agonizing space of time, Draco raised his stony face to look at the blaze.
As his pale face was eerily lit by the dancing flames, he grinned manically.
"What the hell."
For a moment, the heat and the pain were excruciating, and then… it stopped. He was floating in a sea of suspended animation, no pain, no sight, no sound… nothing.
Is this death?
Then the moment was over. He exploded on the other side of the wall, coughing and panting. This must be what a phoenix feels like, Draco thought dazedly, When it is reborn…
"… Draco? Are you alright?" Hermione's frantic voice slowly pierced his consciousness.
"Yes," he croaked. He looked into her soot-blacked face and smiled. "I think I am."
"Oh, Draco!" Hermione cried, "We've found it!"
Merlin's tomb was huge. Lit by a thousand floating sconces, the light only served to illustrate how miniscule the two tiny figures of Draco and Hermione were. The floors were an exquisitely veined blue marble, as were three of the walls.
The other wall opened to a great, black pit.
Directly in front of it was a Sarcophagus.
Draco looked around him in awe, "Well, I guess we found the old man, eh?"
Hermione elbowed him in the ribs, "Malfoy! Don't be so disrespectful."
As they walked closer, they noticed a little stand in front of the large coffin.
"Look! It's the Book of Lore!" Hermione shouted, and began to run towards it.
Draco kept up his steady pace, and was content to watch Hermione in her moment of glory. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eyes, he though he saw something move by the wall of flames…
"Stop right there, Miss Granger."
Hermione hand froze halfway towards the Book.
Blaise Zabini's tall, elegant form walked into the room, wand trained on them.
"Don't move, or I'll kill you right now. Instead of later, of course."
Draco's face twisted into a cold sneer, "Don't you even try it Zabini, or I'll…"
Blaise slowly walked to Draco's frozen body and gently touched his cheek. "The days when you could threaten me and get away with it are long gone, old friend."
Blaise turned to Hermione as he cast the curse, effectively freezing her as well. "Ah, my partner. My lovely, filthy partner. I told you not to betray me, but you went and found this rubbish. Ah well, you figured out the clues anyway, so I can't be too mad at you, my sweet."
Gracefully walking to Hermione's small, proud figure, he glanced at the Book of Lore. Shaking his head slightly, he smiled and mildly said, "I will reward you for your good services with a quick death, no torture. Unlike that one."
Blaise slanted a nasty glance at Draco, as he wrapped his arm around Hermione's unresisting form.
"Beautiful…" Blaise shook his head slightly and sighed, "Such a pity. So young, so beautiful, so tragic a death. Falling because of a loose patch of marble. Such a pity."
Gesturing towards the black pit with one dark hand, he ushered the mechanical Hermione towards her doom.
As they neared the pit, Blaise suddenly stopped and let out a peal of chilling laughter that echoed and bounced around the cavern endlessly.
Lowering his head to hers, he took her jaw in one of his large hands. In a soft, purring voice, he whispered, "Such a trusting little Mudblood. I was just using you. Like Malfoy. Has he fucked you yet?"
Hermione was expressionless, but for the single tear that glittered in the corner of her eye.
"Ah," Blaise cocked his head slightly, sensing a weakness, "I see he has. He always was good at using any leverage to get what he wanted. And he must have wanted to restore his fortune badly to sleep with you. He was a good Slytherin to the end."
As Draco desperately fought off the effects of the stunning spell, he saw that Hermione's eyes jerked angrily at Zabini's words. Merlin, I hope she is faking. She had better be, or I am going to kill her.
Blaise leered at her, and his eyes raked the length of her body. Glancing at Draco, he smirked slightly. Leaning in, so that his body brushed Hermione's, he spoke roughly. "I suppose I could stomach fucking a Mudblood if she has tits as nice as yours."
As Draco's rage escalated, he felt his magic coiling deep inside of himself, waiting to strike. As he watched Zabini grope Hermione, helplessly, he felt his fingers twitch. Trying to keep the triumph he felt out of his eyes, he flexed his hands, straining to reach his wand.
"You are probably wondering if I am mad, aren't you, my dear?"
Blaise looked at her, and waited as if she were actually replying. "Yes, I suppose I am. I blame my parents, but I have always been told I was something of a bad seed."
During this little speech, Draco found that he could bend his legs. Just a little while longer, just a little. Hear me Hermione? Hold out just a little while…
Draco's rage spiraled as he saw Blaise maneuver Hermione next to the gaping blackness.
"I'm sorry, my sweet, but it seem that this is good-"
Blaise's speech was cut off by Hermione's elbow to his gut.
Teeth clenched, eyes glittering dangerously, Hermione turned and ran, only to slow down as she reached Draco.
Run! Draco's mind screamed, Leave me here!
As she bent to scoop up Draco's wand, Blaise barreled into her, knocking her to the ground. Hermione fought like a demon, but Blaise was much larger, and much stronger, and soon had her in his grasp.
"Hermione, Hermione," Blaise was panting heavily as he tried to restrain the frantic woman. "We got on so well. If we had just eliminated Malfoy as I said, all of this nasty business could have been eliminated. You and I could have shared the treasure as planned."
"You sick bastard!" Hermione yelled, "I couldn't kill him!"
"Yes, you wanted to bribe him- but that would have given Malfoy a share of my precious treasure, and I wasn't having that."
Blaise turned to Draco, Hermione in his arms, poised with her in front of the sarcophagus over the threshold of the cliff. "See this Malfoy? This time, I have what you want!"
Draco locked eyes with Hermione, and read her hopelessness, her despair. Eyes swimming with tears searched his, looking, delving into his soul, looking for an answer to her unspoken question.
"I win this time, Malfoy!"
"No you don't, you fucking bastard!"
Exploding from the bonds of the spell, his magic surged forth like the surging tide. Throwing his hands in the direction of Blaise, he screamed, "Now, Hermione!"
Throwing herself onto the ground, Hermione escaped the brunt of Draco's magic.
Draco's wrath swelled, condensed as he pushed Blaise with the power of his magic.
Blaise Zabini hurtled sideways, his body hitting Merlin's Sarcophagus with a loud smack. His unconscious form slid to the ground, as motionless as a rag doll.
Hermione wearily picked herself up from the marble tiles, and gave Draco a brave, wobbly smile.
"Fantastic day, huh?"
Hermione was lounging in her sitting room, reading the Book. The Book itself was fascinating, and Hermione's mind was eager to implement all of her new knowledge, but her body was drained and sluggish.
Draco had left her.
She didn't want to believe it, but all of the evidence pointed to it.
He hadn't come to see her after the frantic day in the tomb. He hadn't said anything to her after Blaise was sentenced to Azkaban. He hadn't even owled in the past few weeks. He hadn't responded to her messages either.
And she was furious.
If he only saw it as a one-time deal, didn't she rate a note? A tiny word of thanks for letting him in on the biggest discovery of the century?
Moreover, it was the find of the century. The Wizarding media was lapping up the discovery of Merlin's laboratory and tomb with eager abandon. And Draco was always there in the spotlight.
Hermione snorted. The media coverage of his hearing today was ridiculous. She had tried to speak to him after she gave her testimony, but they were both completely mobbed by reporters. Draco hadn't seem to mind it much.
Hermione was absently contemplating ways to maim Malfoy, when she heard the soft click of the door opening.
Whirling around in her seat, book clutched to her chest, she bravely faced the intruder.
Draco Malfoy was standing in the doorframe, still in his elegant formal robes from the hearing earlier that day.
"May I come in?"
"Oh, how nice of you to invite me," Draco smirked as he sauntered in to stand next to the sofa she was sitting on. "I'll just make myself at home."
Hermione's heart ached at the sight of him. He looked so good. So confident, so arrogant and elegant. He was lost to her again.
And it hurt.
"You've got what you want, Malfoy. You have your money. Now leave me alone."
"Leave," Hermione spoke in a soft, ragged undertone.
"No. I won't leave."
"Typical. I haven't seen you for weeks, Malfoy. Weeks. And then you barge in here, expecting me pander to you, just because you are rich again? It's not going to happen!"
Gently closing Merlin's book, she carefully placed it on its stand. Rising, she faced him, furiously, "Go back to your groupies! I'm sure they will be all over you now that you are wealthy again."
Draco was impassive in the face of her rage, "I don't want them."
"What?" Hermione sneered, "You haven't fucked me out of your system yet? Or perhaps you want…"
Draco slapped his open palm over her mouth, effectively silencing her angry tirade. "Listen to me Granger. I know it is a novel concept, but just do it for once. I don't want anything that sordid. I want…"
Hermione cursed her racing heart as she saw the uncertainty flicker in his eyes.
Draco cleared his throat and continued. "I would like for you to… come and live with me at the Manor."
Hermione's eyes rounded in shock.
Draco took his hand off her mouth and ran it though his platinum mane. "I didn't want to ask you before I had restored the honor to my name, as it wouldn't have been proper…"
"You are such a moron!" Hermione slapped him across his face, and then smiled at his look of shock. "That was for making me wait two damn weeks to hear from you again. This is what I think of your proposal."
Wrapping her arms securely around his neck, Hermione brought his lips to hers and proceeded to show him exactly what she thought.
The devious serpent twined around his lion, and their embrace lasted for an eternity.
…So the prophesy says, and so must it be.
Rating(s) of the fic you want:Any
Three things you want your fic to include:A magic book, a treasure
hunt, and mistletoe
Three things you do not want your fic to include:death, bananas,