Chapter 16: The Fine Print (a few weeks later)
Draco Malfoy was not crazy.
Hermione had a piece of paper that said so, with the Ministry seal on it and everything.
Actually he had it, but he'd thought it was so funny that he had shown it to her first before anybody else. In light of recent events in his life and his mockery of an interrogation, he'd explained, they made him take a detour to St. Mungo's for a psych eval before allowing him entry to the MLCE. He'd passed that, too, but the psych eval was more impressive.
She was so pleased with his clean bill of sanity that she was thinking about putting it up on the wall in their office, like a Muggle doctor would do with her degree, and possibly incorporating it into their advertising: Granger & Malfoy, where we can prove we aren't clinically insane!
It occurred to her that only Malfoy had proof, but for some reason nobody ever questioned her sanity. Either she'd fooled them all or she wasn't crazier than anybody else, and it didn't matter which one it was.
However, she did need to put something on the walls, either way. Their new little law office looked like a clinic minus the posters about not shaking babies, but at least the furniture was nice. She and Malfoy each had a fully-fleshed-out office, and it wasn't that they'd run out of money before they got to the lobby. They couldn't agree on the lobby. So far, the only compromise they could reach was eggshell-coloured paint, and that was after half an hour of arguing about which shade of almost-white would make the best temporary fix. Hermione had never dreamed she would have such a strong opinion on the matter, but she'd never been good at picking her battles, and neither had Malfoy. They both picked "all of them."
She was staring at the eggshell paint through her open door, thinking about how linen white would have been superior, when Malfoy walked in. At 4:33 PM. To start his day.
"Morning, Granger," he called as he walked past her office. At least he was carrying a briefcase this time-for the entire first week, he'd shown up empty-handed and explained that it was "all up here," tapping his forehead just below the unkempt hair.
Then he started using gel again, to Hermione's extreme and unspoken dismay, and crafted a more professional and also boring presentation. There was something nice about being one of the few people who knew how very unprofessional he actually was, and Hermione had sort of become a fan of secrets in the past couple of months. All the same, she couldn't give up the pretense of disappointment in his irrational behavior: if she lost that, all she'd have left was attraction, and she'd have to admit to herself how similar they really were. And so she became annoyed.
"Get back here, Malfoy," she called after him. A moment later, he managed to drag himself into her doorway. "It is currently afternoon, actually."
"Right, what did I say?"
"I see. Well, clearly I meant afternoon," he said. "I haven't looked at a clock yet today, but the birds have mostly shut up, so it can't be morning. And the sun is still out, so it can't be night. And you're still here, and we don't officially have any clients yet, so you wouldn't have enough work for it to be evening."
Malfoy used logic like the Kidz Bop children used popular music, and it was almost enough to make a person hate a thing she'd once loved dearly. "You need to start showing up before noon, at the very least."
"I can't wake up that early-you know my sleeping schedule. We've discussed this, and I've offered numerous times to return to our former living arrangement so that you can wake me up on time. While that offer is still on the table, I can't conceive of any other possible solutions."
"Alarm clock," she said, drawing out the words in exasperation. They had indeed discussed this issue, every single day of their new partnership so far, and she was so sick of it that she couldn't even form whole sentences about it anymore. Alarm clock. Enough said.
"Those are annoying," he complained, pulling a face. She took a deep breath and caught her fifty-second wind.
"And I've told you that you can't continue to live with me, because then we would literally never be apart, ever. We thought we hated each other back in school, but can you even imagine the levels of hatred that we could reach in that situation?"
He nodded. "You're right, but I don't mind hating each other. It was almost as much fun as tolerating each other, or whatever it is we're doing these days."
"You're just too lazy to find your own flat."
"Yes, I've admitted that," he said, with his 'serious face,' which was almost like his serious face, only completely meaningless. "I am too lazy, and it took a lot of courage to come clean about it. Haven't I earned the privilege of you doing it for me?"
She shook her head slowly. "No, and I'm done with this. It's not that hard to find a flat in magical or Muggle London when you have an unlimited budget. In fact, you could probably even hire someone to find you one! Why don't you do that?"
"Why don't you find someone, and I'll hire them to find me a flat?"
Hermione screamed loudly in her head, scrunching her eyes closed to hold it in. Nonetheless, that compromise sounded fantastic as opposed to ever talking about this again. "Fine. I'll find a person for you to hire to find you a flat, if you'll show up to work on time."
"As I recall, the core issue here was that you refuse to come wake me up every morning at the Manor," he said. She nodded. "Therefore, once I have my own flat, you'll still have to go over there and wake me up for work every day."
"How long are you going to punish me for kicking you out?" she asked. She realized that her hands had moved up to tug at her hair of their own accord, but she wasn't pulling it out like she used to at the Ministry. It was more like a scalp massage, which she supposed was an improvement.
"Until I get over it, so perhaps another week or so," he said, after thinking about it. "It's not that I disagree with your decision-we obviously can't live together forever. That would be weird. But the fact remains that I have an excuse to antagonise you, and I won't squander it."
"Fine. Deal," she said. "And when I find an excuse to antagonise you, I will do the same."
"I'm sure you have some saved up."
She smiled. "Yes, actually, I do."
She straightened her documents with a note of finality, and he left her office. She heard his door click shut and tried to control her curiosity, as usual: as of right now, her primary job was to complete all the paperwork involved with setting up a private law practice, which turned out to be a lot. She had to make sure their professional liability insurance was intact, that their Magical Law Society membership dues were up to date, that they were registered with all the appropriate authorities and that their accounting system was set up to regulation.
So, that was quite amazingly dull, and Malfoy's job sounded a bit more exciting: he was making Floo calls to every important connection his family had, getting the word out about their enterprise and digging up dirt on their competition. As she'd expected, his parents weren't on board with their partnership, but it wasn't as though they could do anything about it. According to Malfoy, they were still relieved enough about him being alive that they hadn't had time yet to be really angry about his engagement-ending and subsequent decision-making.
Even better, their family's wealthy friends were singing a different tune. They missed having Malfoy money thrown their way, it seemed, to the point where they were willing to call Hermione nothing less than a "Muggle-born witch" if it meant keeping their hands in the cookie jar.
Speaking of friends, Hermione had run out of those, and she was trying hard not to think about it. When she had told Harry and Ginny the identity of her future partner, they'd called her decision everything from "mind-meltingly stupid" (Ginny) to "a display of wanton disregard for your personal safety" (Harry). It was true: her mind was all melted, and she was wantonly disregarding a whole lot of things, but she was feeling better about herself and her life than she had before she went and accidentally fake-killed Draco Malfoy. For one, she was okay with things not making sense.
She was hoping to get them back, though, and they'd agreed to keep their Sunday dinner plans and discuss the matter again after taking a week to consider it. Most importantly, she'd made it clear that she was not going to change her mind. It was Friday, so she left Malfoy to his Floo calls and went home early. Worst case scenario, she reasoned, he'd only burn down the office. On a scale from one to ten-where one was the most boring and ten was the most dangerous-flames weren't a bad way to go down.
After she was over the initial shock of sleeping alone, Hermione had fallen back in love with not living with Malfoy. She wasn't having breakfast with Malfoy, or coming home to Malfoy, or feeding Malfoy, or washing Malfoy's clothes, and it was even more beautiful than she remembered. In fact, she was now able to look forward to seeing him at work: her life was overflowing with Not Malfoy, and a little bit of Malfoy was a cool breeze in the summer. As opposed to Too Much Malfoy, which was being locked in a walk-in freezer.
She'd been expecting him to owl her about drinks on Saturday, which was threatening to become a routine for them. Of course, this particular habit was only a problem if a person's name ended with "Potter"-and even for them, it would only be a problem if they knew that Saturday drinks didn't actually end until Sunday morning in Hermione's bedroom. She might tell them that information in a year or maybe a decade or something, but it wasn't high on her priorities. Anyway, Malfoy had owled her, but it was to cancel their theoretical plans. He had another social engagement, he'd explained, and it was going to be very good for their business. He refused to tell her anything about it.
She was disappointed, since that meant Sunday didn't start with as much fun as it usually did. She felt even worse when she remembered that this was the big day: Harry and Ginny would be coming over to reveal their final verdict on her partnership with the enemy. She was so nervous about it she could barely boil water, much less use it to properly cook pasta, and the instant pesto sauce felt like nothing short of a miracle when it was done.
They knocked on the door at six o'clock sharp, and she answered it, and they all stared at each other. Hermione backed up, and Harry and Ginny stepped into her flat without breaking eye contact, but they didn't look angry. Instead, they looked determined. After a few scary moments of silence, the Potters exchanged a glance, and Ginny took a deep breath while Hermione held hers.
"We've had a few long discussions about this," she began, "and we have come to the conclusion that we've been a tad hypocritical."
Hermione let the air out of her lungs in disbelief.
Harry nodded. "First, we told you to trust your instincts, and then you did, and then we tried to make it our decision again."
Ginny took over once again. "And so we've decided that we will not let this affect our friendship, and we're sorry for yelling at you. We know you can take care of yourself."
"I'm not sorry for the yelling," Harry amended, avoiding eye contact. "I still think that was warranted."
"I think so, too," Ginny admitted. "But it was still presumptuous of us."
"It's fine," Hermione said, cutting them off. She felt a swoop of relief in her stomach, although she'd pretty much been banking on this outcome-as far as her friends knew, all she'd done was form a business partnership with Malfoy, which didn't sound all that dangerous to her. She knew they'd come around fairly quickly. "If I suspect him of anything foul at all, I'll come to you immediately."
"Good," said Harry, and then he paused and looked confused. "You know, it's really weird, it feels like all we ever do these days is talk about Malfoy. I'm bloody sick of it. Let's stop. Permanently."
Ginny and Hermione both laughed, even though Harry had clearly meant to make a grave and serious statement, but he eventually smiled with them. They moved to the kitchen and ate dinner, and it suddenly felt pretty good to hear about James now that Hermione had her own baby. For every boring story Ginny told, she could tell an equally boring story about printing business cards or being on hold with the Magical Patent and Trademark Office, and she was just as enthusiastic about it. If she had to make reference to Malfoy, she referred to him as "my partner," which felt all kinds of icky. She couldn't just never talk about him again, though, whether Harry wanted her to or not.
By the time the meal was over, she could feel that she had her friends back, and she had this weird thought: if they could get over the business partnership thing in a week, how long could it really take them to get over that other thing? Two weeks? Three?
The knowledge crystallised in her mind that they would get over it. She would not lose them over this. They would not leave her, not for this or probably anything short of murdering their kid, and it was wonderful. Especially because Hermione had no immediate plans to take the life of James Potter.
She said goodbye to Harry in her living room, but Ginny tapped him on the shoulder and said she needed to talk to Hermione-that he should go on ahead, because it was about "girl stuff." Hermione cringed inside as Harry left and made a mental note to stop underestimating Ginny, who barely waited a minute after her husband left before getting down to business.
"I think there's more to this story with Malfoy than what you're telling us," she stated, while the last remains of a friendly smile melted off her face. "Harry thinks so, too, but in a different way-he thinks Malfoy's up to some kind of evil trickery, but I know you're too smart to fall for that. I think it has more to do with the one thing that nobody's too smart for."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Hermione said, maintaining eye contact.
Ginny paused briefly to roll her eyes, then continued full-force. "I didn't get it until this past week, but later I started thinking how I've never seen a woman cry like that when it wasn't about love-even you. You hardly cried at all about the War, but you cried about my brother."
"What exactly are you implying here?" Hermione demanded, drawing herself up to match Ginny's fury. "That Malfoy and I were carrying on some kind of secret relationship this whole time? Can't you see how ridiculous you sound?"
"I'm not asking for details," Ginny said, holding up a hand as though Hermione were eager to elaborate. "I don't want to hear them. All I know is that you were a whole lot more upset than you should've been when Malfoy disappeared, and even more when you couldn't find him yourself. Don't act like I'm wrong. You know it's true. If you two really hadn't spoken in years, you wouldn't have cared any more than Harry or I did."
Hermione felt relieved then, since Ginny had missed the mark slightly. If she and Malfoy had been having an affair before his disappearance, that was their own private dishonesty. Ginny could judge if she wanted, but she'd eventually have to accept that it was none of her business. On the other hand, setting the Auror Dept. back a few weeks and tying up key Ministry officials on the hunt for a man that Hermione was hiding? Well, that would be a matter of public safety. Oops.
"Fine," said Hermione, electing to tell a vague version of the truth. "I'll say this: Malfoy and I have had an association prior to this current arrangement, but it was far from romantic. You're right that we were in contact, but you're absolutely wrong about everything else."
Ginny narrowed her eyes, studying Hermione's expression. "Say what you like," she concluded at last. "And I'll act as surprised as Harry when you tell us there's something more going on with you two, and that's when I'll scold you for it and warn you about him and make a big fuss. I don't have the energy for it right now, but it's going to be a bad one."
Hermione started to cut her off, but Ginny held up her hand again to signal that she wasn't finished. "I'm also pretty sure we won't be telling you anything you don't already know, and I can see it's too late. Even if I'm wrong about everything now, which I don't think I am, I can't help but feel like it's only a matter of time."
"Until what?" Hermione asked, folding her arms defiantly across her chest.
"Oh, don't make me say it. Or have you already...?" She shook her head in disgust. "Never mind. Like I said, I can't stomach the details." Hermione glanced away at last, and they stood silently in her living room for a moment before Ginny relented. "But you know I love you, no matter what," she added, although her voice still sounded angry.
Hermione nodded, and Ginny pulled her into a hug. "I love you, too," she said, and then she couldn't stop herself. She'd planned to keep lying for a while longer, but it seemed a bit pointless now, especially since Ginny wasn't going to tell Harry anyway. "And you're right," she whispered.
Ginny pulled back and gave her a strange look, an uneasy mixture of self-satisfied and horrified and something else. "I knew it," she said, before stepping into the Floo.
It wasn't until Hermione went to bed that night that the relief caught up with her, but it hit hard when it came. Ginny knew the truth. Hermione's best friend knew the truth, finally.
Well, not the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help her god, but at least the vast majority. A suitable version, and it was all the truth that Ginny would ever need to know about the past-and the present, for that matter. For the first time in months, Hermione felt like Not a Liar, and it was an even better feeling than Not Malfoy. She slept easily, even though she was alone in her bed.
She arrived at her office at nine o'clock as usual on Monday, and a thrill still shot down her spine every time she turned on the lights. This place was hers. She built it, and she didn't feel any less accomplished in light of the Malfoy money that had gone into its creation: he owed her that, after all. She'd made the decision to save his life and nurse him back to reality in her flat, and they'd both emerged feeling like new creatures.
She could tell when she talked to him now; he seemed anxious whenever he mentioned his living situation, but aside from that his gaze was clearer when he looked at her. She could see him eyeing his office door the same way she looked at hers, with the pleasure of a person who was doing something right and honest. It was the look of a person who had achieved the success they always knew they'd have, even though it was definitely not how either of them had planned to do it.
She only had a few more bugs to work out in terms of business organization, and she finished them before breaking for lunch. Next, she placed a few calls until she found someone who was willing to help Malfoy find his own home, settling on a wizard who quoted her a good price on a share of freehold near Diagon Alley. The previous occupant had broken his lease before he'd finished paying it off, so Malfoy could move in immediately if he paid cash up-front.
She checked that off her list and waited for him to arrive, which didn't take as long as yesterday. He strolled in at 3:45, looking excited, and she met him in the lobby.
"You're early," she said, but he ignored the sarcasm.
"I thought you'd appreciate the gesture," he said. "I have some good news."
"About your social call on Saturday?"
"Yes. You remember Goyle, right?" Did she remember Goyle? Well, she'd only gone to school with him for seven years and fought him face-to-face in a war and stood in his office less than a month ago. Yes, it was safe to say that Hermione remembered Goyle. She didn't dignify it with an answer, and he didn't wait very long. "Well, once you review these documents," he gestured to his briefcase, "I think you'll find that St. Mungo's has been more than a little unjust in their handling and billing practices with regards to his father. In fact, he could be well enough to leave the house by now if they had offered him the full range of treatment options available to a person with his level of magical injury. Of course, he'd be under house arrest anyway, with a limited wand, but he wouldn't be confined to his bed."
That didn't sound good. In fact, it sounded like the opposite of the kind of first case Hermione wanted to win. "We're going to start our practice by defending a Death Eater?" she asked.
"I thought this was about justice, Granger," he said, grinning. She knew he was only saying it for her benefit. "Regardless of your personal views on Oliver Goyle, is it not the responsibility of mediwizards to heal the sick? We have Azkaban for criminals, and Minister Shacklebolt has already removed the Dementors. Isn't it a little inhumane to punish someone by denying him necessary medical attention?"
It was, and Hermione knew it, but she also knew there was another reason for this particular choice of client. "Isn't it a little dishonest to talk about justice, when all you're trying to do is settle a debt?" she asked. She was sort of guessing, but it worked. Some small part of her still wanted to know precisely why Malfoy was indebted to Goyle, but it didn't seem as important in the shadow of what could be her first real case. It was too exciting to think about anything else.
"That's part of it. Greg and I aren't on the best of terms these days, in light of certain events in the recent past, and he has requested my assistance on this matter. But you've met with him, and there's no way you could tell me that family hasn't been hurt enough."
"I'll think about it," she said.
"And that means you'll do it," he observed. "I knew you would. You know right from wrong."
"Someday I will. Maybe I can learn it from you," he said. It almost sounded like he meant it.
"It's not that hard. You just have to try a little bit," she said. He looked away, and she was convinced. Whether he'd intended it as a barb or not, she was pretty sure he'd accidentally told the truth. "Anyway, I found a realtor. He's got a flat in mind for you to look at."
"Perfect," he said, shifting back into his usual grin. "Get him on the Floo in my office. I've got some calls to make, and then we can get started. It's our first case, Granger-get ready."
She couldn't help but smile when he said that, even after he closed his office door. She called the wizard back and transferred him to Malfoy's Floo, and then she began a new task: calling up case files from her personal directory on malpractice cases similar to Goyle's.
As the week went by, Hermione amassed her research and Malfoy stayed locked in his office. She was pretty sure Greg Goyle had been in there at some point, because it made logical sense, but she hadn't met with him yet. That was fine, because she never wanted to see him again. It was strange, but somehow she felt even better about the situation because of her personal disdain for the man himself: it was real truth. She was showing compassion for her enemy.
She'd always felt herself devoted to justice, and she knew that every good person had to work daily to make the world a little more fair, but she'd never proved it like this.
The War was different because it was obvious. One side was a murderous lunatic, and the other was Harry Potter and everybody else. It didn't exactly take a saint to know the right thing to do in that situation. She'd done the right thing, and it had meant something, but it wasn't enough on its own. She didn't believe in the death penalty, even if absolute certainty of guilt were possible, and the proper legal measures were in place to address the crimes of Oliver Goyle. The simple fact was that prisoners were human beings who deserved ethical treatment, and she would fight to provide it.
Between her research and Malfoy's secret meetings, they didn't see each other until Friday, although she'd noticed that he'd been showing up earlier and earlier every day. He gave her a haughty look when he walked in each time, as if daring her to say something about it, and she didn't at first. She could tell it meant something to him, too, to take this case. She would never doubt again that Draco Malfoy would honour his promises.
No matter what else was wrong with him-and there was a lot -he was good for his word. That was another weird thing, in its own way; it was one thing to want to sleep with somebody, and to be doing that on a regular basis, which she was. It was a whole other thing to end up respecting that person, and now she was doing that, too. Even stranger, they hadn't argued all week long. At first, she'd thought it was because they hadn't had a chance to talk much, so she decided to test it.
He came in that morning at 10:00 AM, to her extreme shock. It was as good a time as any to test her theory, so she called him into her office as he walked through the lobby.
"Good morning, Malfoy. It really is, this time," she said, showing her approval. She couldn't tell for sure, but he may have preened a bit.
"You still haven't been helping me," he pointed out, raising his eyebrows. "But I've got my own flat now, and it's easier to wake up when I can see the sun."
"I thought Malfoy Manor had windows."
"It does, but some of them are cursed shut," he explained. "The ones in my bedroom have about two centuries of dust built up that no one can figure out how to clean, and hardly any light gets through at all."
"That sounds horrible," she said honestly.
"It is," he said, nodding. He didn't seem likely to say anything else, so she changed the subject.
"I just wanted to talk to you about the lobby. I've narrowed it down to three possible wallpaper designs." She flicked her wand to conjure them next to her, three floating squares near her shoulder. "And I like them all equally. All you have to do is pick one."
He looked at her for a second, and then he studied the samples carefully. After what felt like a very long time, he lifted his wand and vanished two of the designs. "That one will do, I suppose."
She smiled. "Good."
"Your taste still leaves something to be desired, but nothing could be worse than eggshell at this point," he said, but he was smiling too. She reckoned he was joking.
"I'll get rid of it this weekend," she promised. She made to go back to her research, but he stopped her.
"Speaking of this weekend, let's get drunk tonight."
"No, and tomorrow."
"I'm not getting drunk two nights in a row."
"I was exaggerating. We'll drink, but we won't get drunk."
She nodded. "Don't forget, I haven't seen your flat yet."
"Yes, we'll go there."
"All right. You're welcome, by the way," she added, although she knew better than to imagine that he'd ever thank her for something less than saving his life.
"No, you're welcome," he said, and she rolled her eyes as he left her office.
Continuing to sleep with her business partner may have been a less-than-logical arrangement, but she'd already had enough logic to last her a lifetime. She was sick of it, frankly, and there was something so fundamentally illogical about Malfoy that made him feel like a good match.
Not necessarily that kind of match. But actually, you know, maybe. It was too much to think about just then, since she could barely set aside enough time to get herself a kitten, but someday she'd think about it. Until then, "partnership" was a fine description. She wasn't a messed-up, war-torn, broken-hearted teenager anymore, too scared to even let herself think the words that she was dying to say. Those not-so-secret thoughts had almost killed her worse than Ron or her old job or even Voldemort, and now they were seeping out of her pores and falling through her fingertips, and she didn't mind because they were true.
She was a grown-up, and she was almost positive that she was mentally stable despite all evidence to the contrary, and Her Future felt like a real thing now. She actually had one, no matter whom she shared it with, and she also had a pretty good idea of who those people were going to be. They'd all been in the War, and they were all going to be at Ron's wedding, and those probably weren't even the worst things that would end up happening to them. Death might be, depending on certain conditions, but Hermione Granger could never believe in Hell.
"I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool."
- Kurt Vonnegut