Title: In These Dreams of Eternity
Summary: An adventure as old as Merlin. An unknown Prize. One magical ship. Exotic locations. Extreme danger. Two enemies. No wands. Destiny waits.
Genre(s): Action/Adventure, Romance
Warning(s): Mild Profanity, sex
Timeline: EWE. Post-Hogwarts.
Disclaimer: This work of fiction is not intended to be a derivative work as that term applies to the rights of JK Rowling, Warner Bros, Bloomsbury Publishing, et al with regard to the world and characters created by Ms. Rowling in the Harry Potter books, films, et cetera. Rather, it is intended as a transformative work which comments upon the original. As such, no infringement is intended. No money is being made from this work. To the extent permissible by law, I retain the rights to my language/text/story. A Journey To The Center of the Earth was written by Jules Verne and a few elements of this story owe their origins to him. Also, I had a specific image from the picture book Dinotopia, by James Gurney in my head for a good portion of the story, so some credit goes to him. And I borrowed something from Pirates of the Caribbean. See if you can find it.
Story Notes: This was a long time coming, and I'm still not quite pleased with it. I hope you enjoy it though! (I may do some extensive revisions in the future.) Most of all- thanks to Itsbeenvery for drawing such an awesome picture! It totally ate my brain… and my time! Many, many thanks go out to my betas Ravyn and Heist for all of their hard work and encouragement. I wouldn't have finished without them, especially Ravyn.
The format of the story is a bit experimental. So don't get worried in later chapters.
Beta(s): Ravyn and Heist
Chapter One: The Quest Begins
On a small raft in the Arctic, a wizard and a witch glowered at each other as they watched their ship burn.
"This is your fault Malfoy," Hermione said stabbing her index finger at the burning wreckage feeling the familiar, welcome rage overtake her. "I can't believe you let them find us!"
"How is this my fault?" Draco sneered, gesticulating wildly. When this rocked the boat alarmingly, his eyes widened and he brought his arms closer to his chest. "You were the one who let them start the fire!"
"At least I saved the compass!"
"But you let those idiots steal the map! And I saved the chest, so we're even."
What remained of the mast fell with a loud splash into the water, sending a wave of icy water into the dinghy making the old planks groan, silencing their bickering. The water sluiced over the side of the small craft and into the floorboards. Draco grimly picked up a small bucket and started to dredge.
Hermione's breath froze in her chest as the cold slowly ate through her many layers. Slowly her anger melted away, revealing an undercurrent of fear. We're at least a few hours away from land. It's freezing. It's close to dark. Luckily we're close to the Arctic Circle, so the night will be short. Thank Merlin it's not raining…
A fat raindrop landed on Hermione's nose just to spite her.
Hermione suppressed hysterical giggles. Wiping away the traces of her tears from her cheeks, she picked up the small oar. "Shove off, Malfoy, and get rowing."
Draco narrowed his eyes and picked up a paddle. Turning to the head of the raft, Hermione thought she heard him mutter, "…your fault…" as he efficiently started slicing his oar into the grey sea.
Eight Months Earlier
Hermione was a Planer. An Organizer. As such, her plan looked something like this:
She would finish Hogwarts first in her class. (After that annoying Dictator-Who-Failed was taken care of, of course.) She would be Head Girl (Again, that idiotic megalomaniac kept mucking things about.) She would become a brilliant lawyer, fighting for the rights of the common wizarding people (This was almost a possibility- never mind that she hadn't actually tried a case yet. She did work for the Ministry Law Division, at least.) She would find a wonderful man, fall madly in love (Of all the things on her list, this seemed to be the hardest. Who knew intelligent, handsome, fun, kind men were so hard to find? Honestly. It wasn't as if she was asking the impossible.)
The letter was certainly not in the plan.
Hermione stared at the message like it was a viper ready to strike. In fact, she wasn't sure that the message wasn't some sort of elaborate hoax perpetrated by some Death Eater nursing a grudge.
"What is it?" Millicent Bulstrode said as she walked by Hermione's little desk carrying a stack of files. Millie put down the files on the corner of Hermione's tidy desk and craned her neck to look at the letter in Hermione's hands.
The situation between Hermione and the former Slytherin had been strained at first. Their desks abutted each other in the large open room that served as the office space for the junior clerks of the division. Hermione had been civil to the Slytherin; indeed, she had been exquisitely polite to all Slytherins, during her eighth year at Hogwarts. And the Slytherins had been just as polite to her. Novel, really. Not that they had much of a choice.
But civility certainly didn't mean that they liked each other. Too much bad blood, too much hate had passed between them to let bygones be bygones so easily. So Millicent and Hermione's friendship had been a gradual thing, born of necessity and close quarters. They grew to respect each other's opinion about legal matters- often consulting each other about minor details. Work bled into social life- Hermione soon knew the particulars about Millicent's relationship with her steady boyfriend Gregory Goyle, and Millicent was there for Hermione to vent to when things with Ron went sour. But didn't really bond until coworker Lisa Turpin's Hen night. A mutual love of Ogden's finest and salsa dancing carried away any remnants of mutual dislike, and now Millie and Hermione had a steady lunch date every Thursday.
"You've been goggling at that note for a good five minutes now. Let me see." Millicent said, craning her neck comically to catch a glimpse. Hermione pressed the letter to her breast, her expression stubborn. But Millicent hadn't been in Slytherin for nothing. She quickly snatched the note from Hermione's hands, holding it above Hermione's head with a triumphant smile. "Stop that, Granger. You've been too short to get this back since second year. Let's just see what's got you so rattled, shall we?"
Hermione palmed her wand thoughtfully for a moment as she grabbed for the letter Millicent playfully pulled out of her reach. She caressed the smooth wood as she seriously contemplated accioing the parchment from her friend's grasp. Sighing, she released the length of vine. Everyone would know soon enough.
Might as well get this over with. Hermione grimaced. She wasn't sure, but she had an inkling that this may become a Big Deal…
As if proving her point, Millicent gasped. Waving the message in Hermione's face she shrieked ecstatically and hopped up and down like a schoolgirl meeting a celebrity. "Hermione," she squealed, "You're invited to compete in the Quest. The Quest, Hermione! Do you know what this means?"
"Actually, no," Hermione muttered, but Millie didn't seem to hear, as she was showing everyone in the office Hermione's letter, with much the same reaction. The crowd grew, and so did Hermione's bewilderment.
When the senior partners broke out a bottle of champagne from the back room, Hermione felt a tad annoyed at being left in the dark. As no one seems bothered to tell me what this is all about, it seems that a trip to the library is in order. She wondered if she could leave and not be noticed. The chaos bubbled all around her, to the point where she felt she wasn't even necessary, even though this impromptu party was for her benefit.
Huffing, she gathered her things quietly. The sooner I can get out of this madhouse the better. I have no idea what is going on.
Picking up her coat, she was waylaid by her boss. "Hermione!" He said, already slightly tipsy, "You… you need an indefinite vacation. Indefinite! You take off all of the time you need to do this! We'll be rooting for you!"
As she was faking her best smile, hiding her mystification, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Draco Malfoy watching her from the edge of the crowd, cold grey eyes almost predatory. A strange chill of foreboding slithered up her spine as she met his gaze calmly.
This was one snake that she couldn'tmake friends with. Mostly out of principle. But also because Malfoy was just a nasty bugger.
He had never been handsome in school. Features too pointed and sharp gave him a distinctly rodent-like appearance that Hermione had always thought befitting the inbred ponce. His physique, small and thin, didn't help with the overall impression. Yet she had always been hyper-aware of him- he was always incredibly well groomed and on more than one occasion during arguments or in class, Hermione had been distracted by the scent of his cologne- something warm and spicy, cinnamon and sandalwood and something else she couldn't place.
Apparently, Malfoys were late bloomers.
She probably should have suspected it- his father was devilishly handsome and all of the Blacks were notoriously good looking, but when Hermione saw Draco again after a year, she was shocked. It wasn't that he looked different; it was as if an artist has taken the sketch of what Draco looked like before and judiciously altered it to please his patron.
He had taken to staring at her after the war. It had grown so commonplace the even Harry teased her about it. He never approached her and they never spoke, but she felt his eyes on her like a soft touch on the back of her neck at the oddest times. The staring used to unnerve her, making her hyper-aware of herself, her flaws, her looks, but when he made no move to ever come near, she relaxed. They hadn't actually spoken since his trial, over a year ago.
He had more reason to stare now, she supposed, as he must have heard the news. Hermione raised her chin proudly, and Draco nodded slowly in acknowledgement. That's right, Malfoy. I will not be intimidated. Not anymore.
She spun on her heels and walked away to the elevator. Now to find out what this madness is about.
The Leaky Cauldron was a favorite among the once Dumbledore's Army. The food was good, the butterbeer cheap and the atmosphere familiarly cozy. Harry was a regular, and once Hannah started to take over management for old Tom, he didn't get gawked at excessively. It was a Wednesday night tradition for the group to gather there.
Hermione wished she were somewhere else. Preferably somewhere Muggle.
In the dim light sitting in the corner at their usual table, Hermione sipped a tepid butterbeer with her friends.
Sadly, she never made it to the library, as the news of her letter had made it to the other departments, and Harry and Ron dragged her out to celebrate. But she was still very confused, and she just wanted to drink in peace. It was still difficult to absorb today's events- her life was changing again, in a very large way, and she would like to reflect on that. And, if that were too much to ask, she would like some time to interrogate her Pureblood friends.
Sadly, seven and three-quarters of an hour later, Hermione still didn't know what that damn letter was all about, and lack of knowledge about anything, let alone something that now affected her well being, made Hermione a tad tetchy. She did know that; A- this was something to celebrate. B- it was something to celebrate hard. And C- that it apparently didn't happen very often.
In an effort to keep sober, she pushed her third free drink of the hour in front of Ron, who grabbed it happily.
Seizing the moment of relative peace, she said, "So what is this quest, and why haven't I heard of it?"
Ron sputtered into his butterbeer. "You don't know?"
"No, Ronald," Hermione said, trying to keep the irritation from her voice, "I wouldn't have asked if I did, would I?"
Ron snapped his mouth shut, "But you're Hermione Granger."
Hermione rolled her eyes. Raising a brow, she turned to Harry and Ginny, who were snickering on the other side of the table. "Some help?"
Harry shrugged and took a long sip of his butterbeer, but Ginny said, "It only happens once a century. It's a major feature of wizarding fairy tales, children's stories.
"It's just something everyone knows." Ron said. He shook his head slowly, eyes wide.
"Unless you're muggleborn," Hermione said dryly.
Harry caught Hermione's eyes over his mug and smiled.
Ron continued to shake his head and drunkenly exclaim his surprise to the point that Hermione had to leave, or she was going to hex him.
"I'm going to the loo," She announced, "I'll be right back."
The group waved her off, still in deep, drunkenly circular discussion about muggleborns and the likelihood of Hermione not knowing about the quest.
Hermione glanced over a witch dressed in provocative robes sitting at the bar, sipping a smoking martini at the mentioned of that name. "Did you hear? About Draco Malfoy?"
Hermione perked up, and discreetly sidled up next to her, under the guise of ordering another drink. As she signaled Tom for another butterbeer, she thought, Rumors about Malfoy? I shouldn't be so interested in the stupid ferret… but he stares at me incessantly. There has to be a reason!
The handsome wizard sitting next to the witch was obviously eager to show off his Intel, "Oh, yes, and probably more- he works in my department, you know."
"Oh!" The witch tittered, "So you already know about…"
What? Hermione thought irritably, About what?
"The real new is a lot juicer."
The wizard lowered his voice and Hermione could see him leaning towards the witch's ear, obviously making a move. "Promise not to tell?"
"Yes," The witch breathed.
Gag me. Hermione made a face and sipped her butterbeer to hide the expression.
"Well, Astoria Greengrass told Pansy Parkinson, who told Nott, who told Goldstein that their breakup was not mutual."
"Really?" The wizard really had the witch's attention now; she was hanging onto practically every word. "Witch Weekly's interview with Astoria said that the split was friendly."
"Oh, definitely not. Malfoy apparently fancied someone else and Greengrass couldn't stand it."
"Now that's a scandalous tidbit!" The witch crowed, "Who?"
"Well, there's rumor going around the office, which, if true, will make for an exciting…"
"Miss Granger! Just who we were looking for!"
Startled, Hermione turned around sharply, her hand reflexively going to her wand, only relaxing when she saw the face of her favorite teacher.
"Oh! Professor McGonagall!" Reluctantly, she pulled herself from eavesdropping to chat with Professor. "What a pleasant surprise!" Hopefully hiding her frustration, she led the older woman away from the bar to a quieter corner to chat. They dispensed with the pleasantries quickly.
"I was hoping to find you here," McGonagall said, "I had something to give you, which will help on your quest. I would have flooed later, but as I was here anyway, it seemed prudent to carry it with me."
The usually stern Professor quirked a smile. "On of my ancestors was something of a rogue. A great explorer and wizard, but a rogue nonetheless. This compass is part of his legacy to me."
Reaching into her robes, the professor pulled out a small, old, wooden box. Carefully, she opened it, revealing a compass inside, the needle spinning wildly in all directions.
"What does it do? The needle is spinning every which way, not pointing north," Hermione said as she watched the Professor caress the carved wood casing fondly.
"It leads you to your heart's desire."
"Oh my," Hermione breathed, touching the ancient glass reverently, "I can't take this, Professor McGonagall."
"Minerva, please, Hermione." The professor took Hermione's hand and gently deposited the ancient compass. "I've always thought of you as the daughter I never had. If anyone deserves this adventure, it's you. This will be of more use to you, so you should have it."
"Thank you," Hermione said, tear in her eyes. Throwing her arms around the older woman, she squeezed tightly. "Thank you… I'll treasure it."
Professor McGonagall pulled back gently and beamed. Squeezing her shoulder fondly, she turned away with a cheerful "Good luck!"
"Professor! Don't leave, I have so many…" Hermione trailed off as McGonagall was lost in the crowded bar. "…Questions. Damn." Disappointed, she headed to the loo.
Her mind was spinning with questions as she washed her hands. The contest, Malfoy, the compass… it was all jumbled together like the pieces of a puzzle. She couldn't make any sense of it, and it was driving her crazy.
She slowly made her way to the table, stopping by the bar showed that the gossipy wizard and witch had disappeared. Quelling her disappointment, she received the congratulations of the other patrons with as much cheer as she could manage.
Seeing Neville and Luna at the table brightened Hermione's spirits considerably. Giving a happily little wave, she smiled happily as she pulled up another chair.
"Hermione," Ginny said, "Neville and Luna have the most fantastic news!"
"We've been chosen for Merlin's Quest also! Isn't that wonderful?" Luna smiled beatifically, but Neville's grin seemed a touch forced.
Ron, already deep into his cups, squinted at them, hard. "Why you? I mean, Harry and I'd already saved the world, right mate?"
Hermione frowned. "I seem to remember being there too, Ronald."
"Yeah, yeah," Ron said, pouting, "But you've already been Chosen. Why weren't we chosen too?"
Harry raised a brow. "Speak for yourself, mate. I'm quite done with adventure. I have everything I need right here." He squeezed Ginny gently, and she giggled, gazing into his eyes fondly.
Ron made a gagging sound, and went back to his drink.
Smiling, Hermione turned to Luna and Neville, excited for the chance for more information. "Merlin's Quest?"
Neville smiled weakly and Luna answered. "Yes, Merlin's Quest."
Thankful for any sort of information, no matter what the source, Hermione continued to pry Luna with questions. "So Merlin is supposedly behind this madness?"
Luna nodded. "Over a thousand years ago, Merlin devised a Quest to bring the wizards of the world together. The call comes to the Chosen to meet in Camelot every hundred years."
Hermione blinked slowly, trying to process. "Camelot. Really."
"To participate in a grand Quest."
"As in the Quest for the Holy Grail?"
Luna cocked her head, intrigued. "The Holy what?"
"We partner up," Neville said, "Two teams from each country, and they each have to complete seven Tasks."
Harry sat back thoughtfully. "It's a contest, right?"
"Mmm-hmmm." Ginny said as she cuddled into his shoulder.
"So what does the winner get?" Harry asked.
Ginny and Ron stared at him blankly. "Get?"
Hermione rolled her eyes and gestured expansively with her mug. "You know - what's the point?"
"The Prize, of course." Luna said.
There was a pause as Hermione and Harry waited for someone to elaborate. When they didn't, Harry said, "What's the Prize?"
"No one knows."
"What?" Hermione said, "What do you mean no one knows?"
"Well, no one has ever won before!"
"Wait," Hermione said, slowly enunciating each word, disbelieving, "This Quest, supposedly designed by Merlin over a thousand years ago, pits teams from every wizarding country in the world against each other every hundred years. Using their wands and wits they have to complete seven Tasks. All for an unknown Prize that no one has ever won?"
"All true," Luna said smiling, "Except for one thing."
"No wands!" Ron said, jovially, drunkenly saluting his beer at the contestants.
"No wands?" Hermione said, flabbergasted.
Luna nodded enthusiastically. "Isn't this going to be fun?"
Neville looked a little ill.
One Week Later
Research was all well and good, Hermione knew, but seeing a dragon in real life always made the imaginary creature seem wan and pale; experience told her that she could prepare all she wanted and she would still be surprised. She tried to pack for all eventualities anyway, stuffing her trusty beaded bag full of essentials. She had experience, she told herself, she had camped for months, avoiding Death Eater detection, found the Horcruxes with only the faintest of clues. How bad could this be?
When she gathered her courage enough to touch the bit of parchment that acted as the contest portkey and was transported to the unknown starting place, she had to blink her eyes repeatedly to really believe. And she still didn't, not really.
"Camelot," She breathed, awestruck. "Wow."
She was standing in the ruins of a once-grand castle. Sunlight peeked through the holes in the ceiling, casting strange shadows on the walls of the castle hall. Bright shards of stained glass still stood in the windows, setting sparking bits of color around the large room. Most of the ceiling and tapestries had long crumbled into dust, but somehow the hall still looked intimidating.
A massive round table dominated the space, easily enough space for fifty large men. Made of granite, it was worn and battered by the elements, but it still sent shivers up and down Hermione's spine. The contestants, popping in woozily from the portkeys, all looked around in wonder, not speaking. Although Hermione knew she should be sizing up the competition, she was too overwhelmed by Camelot to really care.
This crumbling place was special.
Perhaps I should have stayed in bed this morning, Hermione thought, eyes wide clutching her little beaded purse with a little more force than necessary, I think I've had my quota of adventure this lifetime, thank you.
For a moment, Hermione felt like she was a Firstie seeing Hogwarts for the first time. The same sense of wonder, of excitement, of possibility squirmed in her stomach. This was magic - magic unlike the mundane sort that she had gotten used to in her work, in the magical world. This was the kind of magic that she felt in her bones, a deep thrumming current that both energized her and scared her.
Again, Hermione wondered if she should have stayed home today.
Standing a bit apart from the growing crowd of contestants by the Round Table, she studied an almost complete stained glass window, admiring the brilliance of the medieval colors. A knight and a lady, she thought, although half of the knight's body was gone and the lady's head was absent. The knight turned and winked. IWizarding glass!/I Hermione thought, delighted. She wasn't sure why she was surprised, but she was. Muggles and wizards lived closely together for many years before the Statute of Secrecy, especially in Merlin's time.
The hall was ringed with stone statues- gargoyles, knights, maidens, lions and all sorts of creatures Muggle and magical. She walked over to a stone gargoyle on the edge of the wall, and touched the smooth marble wing tentatively. As her hand touched the cool stone, the creatures' fearsome head turned towards her slowly. Snatching her hand back, she mumbled a quick apology. The gargoyle gave a toothy grin and settled into its former position.
She turned from the statue and smiled in relief at the two familiar faces. "Neville! Luna! So good to see you."
As they chatted quietly, Hermione craning her neck to see if someone else she recognized from Britain was in the growing crowd. She hadn't heard anything about other invites, so she assumed whomever it was kept their involvement in the infamous contest a rather hush-hush.
As they stood there, the skin on Hermione's neck began to tickle, as if a bug scuttled over the flesh, and she felt a vague restlessness grow in the pit of her stomach. I'm being watched, she thought, watched intently. She was used to the common stares, she Harry and Ron were often objects of fascination when they went out in public. But this was different, her instincts told her, like Malfoy's stares were different, but somehow not the same as him. Malfoy never made her feel this… dirty.
Subtly, she turned her head to scan the crowd. It's not Malfoy, so who is it?
Hiding her growing unease, she leaned back against a column in the corner, gaining some comfort that her back and flanks were secure from attack. She scanned the crowd again, more deliberately, her hands twitching above her wand.
She straightened her shoulders, giving her an air of confidence. Where is the bastard… no… no… there.
It wasn't Malfoy. She knew how to deal with Malfoy. The first impression of this man: large. Second impression: large. Third impression: hairy. Fourth impression: up to no good.
This man looked at her with an air of avid, rapacious hunger that made her infinitely more uncomfortable than Malfoy's glares. Her gut screamed that this man was evil, and she always trusted her gut. She had always placed logic over intuition as a young girl, but through painful experience, she had learned, and learned hard. War had honed her into a weapon, and she used all weapons at her disposal.
She held the man's stare for a count of three, and then deliberately turned her back. I'm not afraid of you. Smiling cheerfully, she said, "So Neville, what did your grandmother think when she heard the news?"
They talked for a few minutes more, and gradually, a hush fell over the room. She felt the slimy weight of the ugly man's gaze dissipate as his attention was caught by something else. A quick peek through her lashes showed him on the other side of the room, standing with a group of rough-looking men.
If he's the other English contestant, I'm out of here. She gazed at the captivated faces of her friends as they gestured excitedly at the stained wizarding glass. And I'm taking Neville and Luna with me. No prize is worth working with that man.
A gasp came from the front of the rabble. Hermione couldn't see very well, so she grabbed Neville and Luna's hands, leading them around the edges of the crowded room to see what was happening. She found them a spot by a statue of a knight that gave them a good view of the round table, albeit somewhat uncomfortable as the handle of the knight's stone sword poked into her back. She winced and mumbled an apology to the statue, whose helmeted head nodded back gravely. She turned this way and that, trying to get comfortable, but gave up as another gasp rippled through the crowd.
A stone lion had detached itself from the side of the room and sauntered up to the round table. As the audience watched, rapt, the stone feline leapt onto the table and then delicately arranged itself in a lazy pose. Just like Crookshanks, Hermione thought, amused.
"If I may have your attention."
Hermione squinted at the lion carefully. I didn't see his mouth move. Indeed, the lion was currently licking its stone paw with a stone tongue. She caught Neville's confused gaze and shrugged.
"Hem, hem!" A deep bass rumbled, "Over here!"
Hermione saw it - a small white marble mouse perched on the lion's head.
She stifled a small giggle, but heard outright laughter from some of the other contestants.
The small mouse opened its mouth again and sang in a booming bass that shook the crumbling walls.
"Before ye go adventuring,
These thing must ye know,
To win Merlin's Prize,
Seven Tasks you must complete,
Seven or none at all."
"I could do without the song," Neville muttered.
"The Jewel of Wizardry,
Will not easily come,
To those whose magick is strong and true,
Not needing wands of Hawthorn and Yew."
Hermione winced. "Ugh. Now it's trying to rhyme."
Luna shook her head. "Poorly done, too. Poorly done. Mice are never good poets; they should leave that to the owls."
"Ye must not falter,
Ye stay the course,
To lose your way means peril,
This will be the only boon you receive."
A beautiful map appeared in Hermione's hands and with a quick glance around the room: she noticed half of the people in the room had maps.
"Your journey will be long,
Failure is most assured,
But Perhaps the Prize will be yours
In these dreams of Eternity."
"Now, contestants. I shall name your partners in the Quest."
A bit of parchment appeared in Hermione's hand. It said:
You will find the shining Queen's Crown in Ireland's eternal Paradise.
As much as her brain wanted to puzzle over the clue, she tucked it in the pocket of her jeans and forced herself to pay close attention as the mouse rattled off the names of the contestants.
"For Bulgaria! Andrei Iliev and Gavril Manov!"
The large, hairy man, who had stared at Hermione earlier, joined a small, shifty looking man with dead blue eyes. Seeing them together set off every alarm that wasn't already going off from the earlier staring match. She tried to place the feeling, and she realized that this was the innate sense that she felt from being around the likes of Bellatrix LeStrange or Fenrir Greyback.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Hermione muttered.
"For England! Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood!" The mouse's deep bass boomed, "Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy!"
Hermione looked up, shocked, and he was there.
Staring at her, as always.
She couldn't breathe, she couldn't speak.
The small group stood together for a long time, long enough that most of the other contestants, eager to start, left the hall. Hermione certainly wasn't eager to start anything with Malfoy. Yet there was a small, niggling sense of relief that she wasn't paired with either creepy guy.
The evil you know versus the evil you don't? Hermione thought as she glared at the blond, such dilemmas.
Neville's face was blanched a sheer white and a thin sheen of sweat covered his brow. Hermione squeezed his hand fondly. "You'll do fine Neville. Don't worry so much."
Neville, still looking a bit green, smiled back. "You're right, as always, Hermione." He cast a worried look at Malfoy, stiffly glowering in their direction. "Are you sure you'll be alright? Malfoy has been pretty quiet these past few years, but he's still a nasty bugger. You don't have to do this, you know. You should quit. Putting up with him is too much."
Hermione stared at him blankly. She didn't need more insanity in her life. She had considered quitting. She knew with certainty that if she were paired with the creepy man from earlier, she would walk away without regrets. She gazed at the glowering blond. As her eyes met clear grey, a chill of something crawled up her spine.
An adventure with Draco Malfoy? Definitely insane. But she was having a harder time walking away than she should.
"You can't trust him, Hermione," Neville whispered. "You weren't there that last year at Hogwarts. He wasn't as cruel as Crabbe or Goyle, but he was still a Death Eater."
Hermione nodded absently, her eyes still locked with Malfoy's. He was staring at her, as if by the sheer power in his gaze he could see into her soul. Her eyes narrowed.
"Perhaps it's because he's a fox at heart."
Hermione blinked in surprise and turned to Luna. Luna tilted her head towards Draco and said, "You can tell a lot about a person from what kind of animal they are. There was an article in the Quibbler about it a few months ago. You're an otter – creative and intelligent." She then pointed at Neville, "He's a horse - dignified and brave. I'm a rabbit. And Draco is a fox."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "What does that even mean, Luna?"
Neville frowned. "But how do you know that he's a fox? He could just as likely be a snake or a lizard, or some other vile creature!"
"Animal husbandry, Longbottom? How very plebian. Fitting."
Everyone's head snapped around, while Neville choked and sputtered.
His presence was too much for Hermione to handle at this point. "Go away, Malfoy. This is a private conversation. Not that you'd understand common decency."
"Tsh." Draco drawled, voice cold and a little raspy. "So touchy. Not at all what I would expect from a partner."
Hermione rounded on him. Fine, so the prat didn't want to be ignored? She would give him her full attention. "I never agreed to work with you. I don't like you, I don't agree with you in any way, and I don't trust you."
Draco leaned against the Round Table casually, disrespectfully, crossing his feet at the ankles. "Obviously, Granger. And rest assured, I feel just as strongly about your swotty little self." He shrugged. "What to do? What's done is done. I need you to win the Prize, and you need me."
"I don't see why you're my partner at all. What could that mouse be thinking?"
Draco raised a brow. "I think you should reassess your words to see just how silly that sounded, but point taken. Perhaps… it's because we each have something the other needs?"
"Spoken just like a fox." Luna nodded firmly. "We can trust that he will be crafty and look out for his own interests - and now Hermione is one of those."
Hermione stared at him, trying to peer into his soul as he and Neville bickered. She couldn't trust him, that was a given. Yet he wasn't likely to murder her or to rape her, or any number of distasteful things. She was at his trial and knew of his distaste for unnecessary violence. "A fox, Luna?"
The blonde girl nodded solemnly.
Neville still looked dissatisfied by the prospect of leaving one of his best friends alone with Malfoy for an extended period of time. Hermione couldn't blame him, really.
"Hermione, you're famous enough already. You don't have to go anywhere with this wanker."
"Language, Longbottom, language. Mustn't sound like a common gardener," Draco smirked. "Ah, I see it's too late."
Hermione peeked at Draco from underneath her lashes to see him arch a brow sardonically at something Luna said. Searching her feelings, she found, to her surprise that her mind was already made up.
She wanted this.
No, she needed this.
She was going on an adventure with Malfoy.
She was insane. Probably.
She held Draco's cold eyes for a moment before sticking out her hand. "I can work with you in a purely professional capacity, if you can work with me. There will be no harm done, or threats of harm to my person, physically or otherwise. There will be no insults, references to blood purity and my lack of it, and there will be no disparaging remarks made about my person, my choices of friends, my House, my other personal decisions and anything else that is none of your damn business. But I've decided I want this Prize, whatever it is, and I'll be damned if you will hold me back. I will only take your solemn word as a wizard. Vow it, or begone." Hermione smiled then, showing lots of teeth, shoving her hand forward into the space between them.
Draco's brow furrowed for a moment in thought. He looked at her small, manicured hand as if it held some sort of disease. Likely he thought it did. After a few heart-stopping moments, Hermione thought he was going to refuse. But surprisingly, he placed his hand in hers.
His hand was warm, softer than she was used to, and not at all sweaty. Hermione's mouth opened slightly in surprise. It was... nice.
"I can't promise not to insult you, but I can promise the rest. And I want a similar vow from you. Quid pro quo, Granger. I don't trust you either."
Hermione closed her eyes and prayed for patience. "Fine."
Malfoy sneered slightly, and his hand squeezed hers tightly. His eyes met hers, and a spark of power traveled through her spine as he softly said, "I vow, in this sacred place, that no harm will come to you by my own will, and that I will do my best to protect you from any and all."
Hermione shivering with the power of the magic, gripped his hand a little tighter. "I vow, in this sacred place, that no harm will come to you by my own will, and that I will do my best to protect you from any and all."
The words rang out clearly in the stone Hall- the air shivering with the weight of the Vow. A moment passed, and the statues of a hundred knights raised their swords aloft, stone creaking and cracking in a silent salute.
The small group stood in silence stood in silence, a bit shocked.
"So mote it be." Luna whispered.
"Where are we going?" Hermione said, for possibly the tenth time. She gritted her teeth as the broom made another swooping dive and her arms tightened on Draco's waist. It was a cold evening, and Hermione was extremely glad that she had the foresight to put on her leather jacket and gloves. Her ears were still chilly, but it was bearable as long as Draco didn't move at the speed of light, causing the wind to tear into her skin.
The Malfoy family, he said, had some form of magical transport that did not require the use of wands. Hermione, honestly, had wanted to see Draco subjected to the queues at airports, and to amuse herself with his antics at the muggle tube station, but she supposed that it wouldn't be practical. She certainly wasn't made of money, and while she would relish spending Malfoy's on such muggle banalities, there were seven tasks that they had to complete- most likely in places that muggle transportation wouldn't reach. She would see what Malfoy had to offer and reserve judgment.
"For the last time- we are going to Dover. Please refrain from asking me questions while I am flying. I would prefer not to die this evening. Thanks." Hermione could hardly hear the reply due to the howling wind, but the tone still set her teeth on edge.
"And would you mind not groping me? It makes me uncomfortable."
Hermione's glare should have made him combust on the spot, but alas, the annoying blond was still skillfully maneuvering the broom. It made for a very uncomfortable ride, as Hermione and Draco, unable to use their wands, were luckily able to use Draco's Nimbus to escape Camelot, which he had had on his person. Unfortunately, Hermione had to ride behind him. Brooms, fashioned for one rider, made for a tight ride between two people who liked each other. Hermione found that her breasts were squashed to Draco's back, and her hips were very, very close to Draco's bum. Which she now knew to be very firm, and of a very nice shape. Malfoy was sure to relish her blush. She was supremely glad he couldn't see it.
And Hermione had no intention of telling him of her fear of heights.
She thought he might have noticed anyway.
"Granger!" He barked, "Stop shrieking! Do you want us to crash?"
Hermione, most emphatically, did not and said so.
"Then shut up, hold on, and stop distracting me."
Briefly, Hermione wondered what was so distracting, but was soon distracted herself by the nauseating spin Draco made to avoid a flock of seagulls. Holding back her vomit took all of her concentration.
Distracted by her roiling guts, she nearly missed Draco's shout that they were nearing their destination. Opening her eyes, she squinted through the sharp wind and even thought the light was dimming, made out the white cliffs of Dover in the distance.
Praising Merlin for small miracles, she buried her face into Draco's cloak and sighed. She felt him stiffen, but didn't care. She hated, hated, hated flying.
She didn't relinquish her death grip on his waist through the horrific slide downwards. When her feet were firmly on the ground, she leapt off the broom and self-consciously started to straighten her clothes.
Draco pushed his goggles to his forehead and silently watched her. It didn't seem fair that he looked like he stepped off of the cover of a Quidditch magazine while she probably looked like a refugee. He studied her carefully and seemed to contemplate saying something but, as usual, he kept silent and simply watched her.
Good, Hermione thought, if he even dares say something, anything, I'll hex him so hard his mother will feel... Her thoughts trailed off and she released her instinctive grip on the familiar length of vine. No wands. This may be harder than I thought.
When she moved to repair her wind-blown hair, she heard a snort.
Draco smirked. "You shouldn't even try - you look like a complete disaster."
Hermione huffed and stuffed her tangled curls into a messy bun. "Spare me." She zipped her leather jacket so that it fit snugly against her body. "Show me this transport of yours."
Draco rolled his eyes at her demands but turned swiftly and began walking along the path, his long stride eating up the ground beneath him. Hermione, with her short legs, practically had to run to keep up with him.
It wasn't long until they came to a beach. The water looked cold and grey, but the sound of the ocean had always been soothing to Hermione. She stopped for a moment and closed her eyes to savor the sound and smell of salt. A gull cried in the distance, and for the moment, she imagined that she was here on an adventure with someone she liked, someone she trusted.
Opening her eyes, she found Draco staring at her, the harsh planes of his pointed face softened somehow. She expected him to chastise her for stopping, for holding up his race to the Prize, but he just turned away and started walking again. Kicking a pebble in his general direction, she felt a sharp pang of anxiety tightening her chest.
Shrugging it off, she doggedly set out after him.
The beach seemed endless, and after awhile Hermione wondered if Draco actually had a destination in mind. "Malfoy? Do you know where we're going?"
He slanted her an evil glare. Hermione was not intimidated. Just to annoy him, she affected her most priggish voice. "We have been walking for awhile. I would like to be at our destination before dark, if it isn't too much to ask." She paused a fraction of a second, savoring the tension in his stance, then said, and "If you're lost, I may be able to offer some assistance."
She bit back a smile as she saw him grit his teeth. "We should be there shortly."
"It... moves. And I've never been there without apparating. I am Inot/I lost. So shut up and let me find it."
Now Hermione's curiosity was really piqued. What would move? A vehicle? Some sort of magical creature? She had read about a moving houses before - perhaps the Malfoys had acquired one?
Hermione followed Draco with renewed vigor, still not convinced that he wasn't lost, but somewhat more comfortable with his lead. For now. Instead of annoying her partner Hermione decided to think about the clue. It wasn't a particularly difficult one - Obviously the destination was in Ireland, and obviously it had something to do with royalty. But the Irish wizardry hadn't had royalty for generations, and muggle Ireland didn't have a royal family. Of course muggle Northern Ireland was still under British control, but somehow she didn't think that she was meant to break into the Tower of London and steal the Crown Jewels.
She was missing a key point and she didn't like it. It should be obvious...
You will find the shining Queen's crown in Ireland's eternal Paradise.
The shining Queen's crown. She let the phrase turn over and over in her mind while the calm rhythm of the sea soothed her anxious soul. Letting go of her frustration, she concentrated on enjoying the walk.
Suddenly, Draco stopped and Hermione almost crashed into his broad back. Looking around, Hermione couldn't see that this area of the beach was different than any other, but she stayed silent to humor him. She raised her brows haughtily, but politely refrained from saying anything for the moment. She caught his gaze, crossed her arms and gave him her best get on with it look.
It didn't work as well on Draco as it usually did on Ron, but he seemed to get the message. He stooped over and, to Hermione's great surprise, tugged off his expensive boots, one after the other. As he shucked his socks, Hermione's jaw dropped.
He wiggled his toes on the cold ground and grimaced slightly. His feet were long and thin, and she could see delicate high arches. The ankles were thin and shapely enough that Hermione was slightly jealous. His smallest toes were crooked outwards, as if they wanted to secede from the rest of the toes, and his big toes looked like a hammer had recently squashed them.
He has surprisingly attractive feet. Hermione felt it like a kick in the gut. The shock of seeing such an unexpectedly personal part of him somehow shook her. I've never thought about Draco Malfoy's feet.
And why should she? She wasn't interested in him that way. He was disturbingly attractive- for all of his pointedness - he radiated an animal charisma that her body found hard to ignore. But she had always, always been completely, utterly turned off by his attitude, his bigotry, and his nastiness.
And that will never change. Hermione thought, forcing her eyes from his bare feet.
She glanced at his face and noticed that Draco eyes were closed, his mouth tightly set, his face in lines of strict concentration. He raised his left arm towards the sea, cupping his hand.
When she followed the direction of his outstretched arm, Hermione gasped.
There was a ship gracefully cutting through the grey waves, headed directly for them.
It wasn't a large ship, by any means, about the size of a small fishing vessel. Made of a deep, rich wood, it had stark white sails. As it came closer, she noticed a snake carved into the bow, encircling it many times and coming back on itself to eat its own tail.
Mesmerized by the billowing sails Hermione blinked for a moment and tested the wind. There was none. Glancing at Draco, she noticed his steely grey gaze focused on the craft, both arms outstretched, all of his lean muscle mass lethally tense his body poised for flight. Her mouth fell open in an 'O.'
Malfoy was controlling the ship.
Hermione, for once, couldn't think of a single thing to say.
The ship moved closer and closer, and she could make out intricate runes covering the hull, and her excitable brain itched to study them. The possibilities! I've never heard of such a thing being done with wandless magic!
When it finally came to a stop, Hermione waded out eagerly with Draco, her curiosity overflowing. He touched the hull of the ship reverently, caressing the worn wood fondly. Hermione bristled with impatience, her inner child pouting with the delay. As she climbed the ladder, she felt something watching her. She turned to look at the front of the ship, and saw the snakes' wooden eyes following her curiously. She shot it a tentative smile. I hope that's not another Nagini.
Cautiously, she explored the deck. Hermione didn't have extensive nautical knowledge, but it seemed a fairly standard sailboat with minor modifications cluing her into its magical nature. There were no ropes keeping the sails in place. The wind seemed to fill only the sails, and not disturb the passengers. And the wooden snake uncoiled itself from the bow and followed Hermione around the deck like a devoted puppy, charming her with its antics.
Hermione loved it.
Poking around the deck, she noticed stairs leading down. Following them, she was surprised to see a very cozy living space. The walls were lined with small windows, giving Hermione a clear view of the sea and the white cliffs of Dover. Two plush green sofas held up the walls, and a large, solidly built table was in the center of the room. Small knickknacks graced shelves around the room- jars of potion ingredients, a small stack of books, a few wizarding pictures of the Malfoy family - just enough to make the place look like a home. It was bigger than she would have thought, as this was a wizarding ship, but still small. A perfect size for two, maybe three people, but more would definitely be pushing it.
She poked her head into the surprisingly large bathroom, which someone had obviously magically modified. Hermione snorted at the size of the bathtub. Someone certainly wasn't going on holiday without all of the comforts of home!
The small bedroom was luxurious, there were two full size beds covered in piles of downy comforters and big puffy pillows. As she stepped into the room farther, her feet sank about an inch into the plush blue carpeting. There were two ebony chests at the foot of each bed, beautifully inlaid with silver runes and filigree. A large, ornate silver mirror hung on one wall, and a small window graced the other.
Hermione was suitably impressed.
A further look around the ship revealed a small kitchenette off of the living space, a pantry and a water closet.
There's only one bedroom. Hermione thought. That's going to be awkward. Her mind was still reeling when she finally climbed up the stairs.
She found Malfoy standing on the deck, barefoot, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, his robes discarded on the deck. He stood by the wheel, his pale hair gleaming bronze with the sunset. One hand remained steady on the spokes of the wheel, his biceps bulging against the white lawn of his shirt. His other hand was raised, gesturing to the sails, commanding the winds.
Absently, she noted that he still had his Quidditch goggles pushed up onto his forehead. Somehow, that didn't make the picture ridiculous, but made him look even more divine.
He couldn't have looked more like a romantic hero if he tried.
Clearing her throat, she glanced at the ship again. "It's beautiful. Does the ship have a name?"
Draco smiled, and Hermione sensed that the smile was weighted with many, many memories. Happy, she thought.
"The snake eating its own tail." Hermione finished. "Fitting. Very Slytherin."
Draco smiled slightly, as he traced the wheel lovingly. "It's a symbol of Eternity - a circle that never ends. Like the Malfoy family."
Eternity. You will find the shining Queen's crown in Ireland's eternal Paradise.
Something clicked in Hermione's head. "I know where we need to go!"
Draco crossed his arms. "Alright Miss Swot, tell us then."
Hermione did. And Draco smiled, genuinely, at her for the first time.
It disturbed her.
Two Days Later
They sailed into the Isle of Dreams with the mist - riding the midnight fog silently into a rocky bay.
Draco, feet bare, arms aloft steered the ship into the cove expertly, barely making a ripple in the still black waters. Suddenly, he dropped his arms, his palms making great swooping motions across his body. With a great sigh, the wind left the sails, and they coasted the rest of the way to the shoreline.
Hermione watched him from her perch on the small bench in the bow, eyes wide, still marveling. After watching him for the past few days, she found that the mechanics of the ship were still as fascinating to her as the first time she watched the ship sail into Dover. And after careful study, she thought she figured it out. The magic interested her, as it always did, but it was Malfoy's attitude that fascinated her. Malfoy really seemed to love sailing. He was so relaxed when captaining the ship, so happy with the wind in his hair. She had never seen him so involved in anything, so bereft of his usual posh ennui.
It was disturbing. Which seemed to be a trend when it concerned Malfoy.
As they came to a stop, Hermione uncurled herself from the bench like a cat. Grabbing her pack, she slung it over her shoulder. While waiting for Malfoy to tug on his boots, she couldn't resist asking. "Can I try?"
He looked up, one pale brow raised. "Sailing the ship?
Hermione nodded eagerly.
Malfoy grunted. "Even if I would let you sail my ship, which I certainly won't, I'm afraid you couldn't." With a final tug on the laces to make sure they were tight, he rose, pulling on his cloak and large, rubber, knee-high fishing boots over his boots and trousers. "Only those with Malfoy blood can captain this ship without a wand."
"Oh," Hermione bit her lip, "So if I could use my wand, I could captain the ship?"
Malfoy sent her a quelling glance. "Let's go."
"Fine," Hermione muttered as they walked to the ladder, "Keep your secrets. It's not like we're supposed to trust each other with our lives or anything."
As Hermione made to descend the ladder, the wooden snake slithered along the railing under her hand, almost causing her to fall off the deck. While Draco snickered at her clumsiness, Hermione patted the magical creature while trying to get her bearings back. "Silly snake. Almost caused me to bash my brains out." She carefully climbed down the ladder, thankful for her own knee-high fishing boots as they trudged through the shallows to the beach.
Sad that they couldn't stay and admire the lovely beach, Hermione tugged off her rubber boots, trying not to get the soft sand in her clothes. As they walked on the pristine beach to the forest just beyond, Hermione said, "Does the snake have a name?"
"Not a formal one…" Draco trailed off, obviously remembering something.
When he was silent for a few heavy minutes, Hermione prompted, "Did you have a name for it when you were a child?"
"Yes," Draco said.
"And?" Hermione prompted after a few moments of silence.
"Snakey," Draco mumbled.
Hermione giggled, "Snakey?"
"I was three. The name apparently stuck."
"Actually, it seems rather appropriate. He is a very friendly creature, isn't he? More like a crup than a snake."
Draco grunted, and Hermione figured that he wasn't listening anymore; most likely calculating ways the scheme could go wrong.
What could possibly go wrong in Tír na nÓg, the mystical Irish land of Faerie, inhabited by dangerously, incredibly powerful magical beings when wands were prohibited?
Hermione decided to ignore her common sense and her instincts, and stick to the plan.
Their strategy was simple. Almost stupidly so, but the simpler the plan it was less likely to be complicated by those minor issues of trust and respect. Make it through the forests to the palace of the Dream Queen. Wait for the guard change. Sneak into the palace. Steal the crown.
Yes, Hermione thought, an awful burning sensation in the pit of her gut, There's no way this will go wrong.
The place really was beautiful, Hermione mused as they snuck through the forest as quietly as they were able. Beautiful in the way vacation resorts are beautiful. The bright moonlight made it possible to see the path without Muggle flashlights or witchlight. It gave the landscape a dreamy quality, hazy beauty seen in a mirage when dying of thirst. The trees were vaguely tropical – in Ireland! – and the flowers were in full bloom, layering the air with heavy perfume even though it was mid-October. There were no insects that Hermione could determine. Usually she would be the buffet for all sorts of bloodsuckers, but the Queen must have put a moratorium on mosquitoes.
Must be nice, Hermione thought as she tromped through the high grass.
Yet for all of its beauty, Hermione felt uneasy. It just didn't feel real, as if the lovely exterior was just a façade for something much more sinister, which certainly wasn't helping the sinking feeling in her gut.
The island was small, with only two real villages and the palace, so it didn't take them long to reach the boundaries of the royal grounds. Crouching, Hermione and Draco carefully assessed the situation from behind a particularly overgrown shrubbery with a pair of Omnioculars.
They sat there for what felt like hours to Hermione's poor knees before Draco was willing to move from the hiding spot. It's like the opposite of a heist with Harry and Ron, Hermione thought sardonically, rubbing her back gingerly, and I thought I was cautious. "Shift change," Draco whispered, his grip tightening on the Omnioculars, "We have about three and a half minutes. Let's move!"
As they quickly ran across the manicured gardens, Hermione felt the familiar flash of adrenalin heightening her senses. Although the lawns were large and elaborate, they miraculously made it into the palace undetected.
The stood behind a pillar panting as quietly as possible as the new guard took their posts outside. Hermione felt like her lungs were on fire, and she definitely felt that her office job didn't quite physically prepare her for this Quest. She felt a little better as Draco pulled out a crisp square of linen and wiped at the sweat on his brow. Little beads of sweat were forming on his pale skin, and tracking bright little trails down his angular cheeks, over his strong jaw line. She was mesmerized by a little bead that slowly wound its way down the lean corded muscle in his neck and finally disappeared into his shirt. Smiling softly, she looked back up at his face to find his hand had frozen mid-pat and his eyes were glued to something on her face.
She quickly spun away and saw to repairing her own disheveled appearance somewhat self-consciously.
After catching their breath, Draco carefully peeked around the pillar and surveyed the long corridor. He touched her shoulder gently, quickly, motioning for her to go first.
He touched me of his own free will, Hermione thought, Will wonders never cease?
Draco was surprisingly competent at sneaking. He kept his footsteps quiet, he knew how to minimize his admittedly large physical presence by utilizing conveniently placed furniture or tapestries, and he seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to noticing guards.
Hermione was, sadly, not as competent. She could walk quietly enough, but years of using the invisibility cloak for mischief handicapped her. She just didn't have the instinct that Draco did when hiding her physical presence. Which made for some very interesting moments with them stuffed closely together, incredibly uncomfortable, trying to breathe as quietly as possible while some guard or courtier walked by.
However, she did have a better sense of direction. And the compass.
So when Draco disagreed with her, she obviously took his opinion as seriously as a flobberworm.
"Idiot!" He hissed, "That's the wrong way! The guards will catch you for sure."
"How do you know? The compass says the crown is that way."
"It doesn't feel right! Trust me."
Hermione snorted. Yeah right. Malfoy's no Seer. Closing the compass softly, she eased her way around the corner. Seeing nothing but a long, grand corridor like any other, she scanned for another hiding place. That pillar over there looks large enough. Taking a deep breath, she ran for it.
She was halfway there when a large hand caught her shoulder and spun her around.
Startled, she looked up into a beautiful, harsh, unfamiliar male face. Eyes wide she glanced over at Draco and was dismayed to see that he was currently being held down in a very uncomfortable looking position by two very irate looking Fae.
His eyes were murderous, so she quickly looked away, feeling vaguely guilty.
After subduing them (which was, sadly, ridiculously easy without the use of their wands) the guards marched them down a long, majestic corridor to a large set of golden double doors. After announcing their presence, the guards waited as a tall, snooty looking Fae male spoke quietly to another, more elaborately dressed courtier. After much hushed conversation and heated looks in their direction the doors opened slowly.
"The Queen wishes to judge the intruders Herself."
Great, Hermione thought as they marched through a sea of curious, eerily beautiful Fae, This is sure to go well. Good evening, your Majesty. We just wanted to nip by and borrow your crown for a while. No harm meant.
"Kneel, humans!" The guards forced them to their knees, the guard controlling Hermione by twisting his hand into her long hair painfully. Suppressing her wince, Hermione glanced up at the Queen through her lashes. And froze.
The most beautiful woman Hermione had ever seen sat in the throne. She was dressed simply in a long, flowing blue gown, her waist length, golden hair free, without adornment. She wore no jewelry. She didn't need it. And her expression was utterly blank. Terrifyingly so.
Hermione swallowed to wet her suddenly dry throat. We're dead.
"Leave us." And with a flick of one elegant hand, the room was empty.
The queen rose in one languid motion, catlike. "Is it that time again? Foolish mortals wanting to steal my crown," She slowly walked down the steps, her dress moving around her tall thin frame like a waterfall. "I could kill Merlin but for the entertainment that it brings."
Hermione was terrified, but her brain still persisted in pointing out stupid minutiae. How old is she if she talks about Merlin in the present tense? She wished things like, say, plans for escape or weaknesses of scary high-powered faeries popped in her head with such regularity.
As Hermione stood frozen, the Queen was examining Draco closely, ignoring Hermione. She reached out one perfect hand and cupped his cheek lightly. "You look exactly like my Oisín…"
Uh-oh, Hermione thought as she saw Draco's eyes widen and his pupils dilate. His lips parted softly, and his breathing sped up. Her internal warning system, the one honed by years of living during dangerous times and surviving them, started blaring frantically.
"Would you like to stay here with me and be young forever, lovely one?"
Draco stood still, mesmerized, and slowly nodded.
This is bad. Bad! Hermione thought frantically. There was only one way she could remember to break the Lure of a Fae. It was a long shot, but she could think of no other plan. She was probably going to die either way, but at least she might spare Draco an eternity of slobbering ubiquitous obedience to the Queen.
So she kissed him.
He was a tall man, and she was a short woman, so she had to almost leap into his arms to reach his mouth.
His lips were surprisingly soft. She wasn't sure what she had expected, but as he always seemed to keep his lips in a grim line or a sneer it was actually somewhat difficult to get a firm grasp on their contours. Relaxed they were right now, his lips were warm, slightly wet and… well, rather nice, actually.
Closing her eyes, she sighed softly and consciously disengaged her brain. For this to work, to break the Fae's lure, they had to really kiss. It was easier than Hermione thought it would be. She concentrated on the sharp contours of his mouth, the feel of his soft, short platinum hair beneath her fingers and the hard, lean body she was currently pressed against. She kissed him languidly, peppering him with slow, soft, teasing touches. Experimentally, she touched the tip of her tongue to his lips, snatching a taste of salt and whimpered softly.
That was when he started to kiss her back.
His body stopped being an immovable pillar and seemed to fold in on her, enfolding her in a tight embrace as his arms encircled her like vines. One hand firmly slid into the curls at the nape of her neck, controlling the depth of the kiss, while the other wound itself around her back, his thumb making little circles against her spine. Gripping her tightly, he did things to her mouth she didn't even think were possible.
It was the single best kiss of Hermione's life.
She broke the kiss to catch her breath a little. Opening her eyes, she looked into his surprised clear grey ones. Smiling a little at the lucidity there, she stroked his angular cheek, slightly roughened by stubble. Draco's eyes closed, and he licked his lips. Leaning forward, Hermione strained on her tip-toes to capture his lips again when the sound of slow clapping intruded into Hermione's kiss-drugged brain. Remembering their situation, and the very dangerous woman that currently occupied the room, she broke away, albeit more reluctantly than was rational.
Warily, she turned to look at the Queen, expecting retribution for her actions. One certainly didn't disenchant the Queen of Tír na nÓg's chosen victim without consequences.
Surprisingly, the Queen's dead expression had melted into one of terrifying delight. "Ah! What a sweet example of young love. You truly deserve the crown. Come."
She beckoned with one perfect arm, and with one quick look at Draco's flushed, dazed face Hermione grabbed his hand firmly. I don't think I am even going to try to understand Fae logic. Hermione thought, confused. At the touch of her hand, Draco's dazzled expression cleared once more, and he squeezed her hand tightly as they followed the unearthly creature.
Hermione twisted the lock of golden hair this way and that, admiring the way it shined in the sun. Crown, indeed.
"Here, we'd better put that away before something happens to it." Draco opened the small lacquered chest, his mouth set in a grim line.
Hermione reluctantly placed the beautiful hair into the box, smiling wryly at the finality with which Draco snapped the box shut. The better to place the memories into the past, I suppose. "Well." She said awkwardly.
"Well," Draco seemed as tongue-tied as she was, for which Hermione was grateful. Right now she was in no mood to deal with his rotten attitude.
If he doesn't want to mention the elephant in the room, I suppose I certainly won't. The memory of his lips on hers was like a burn in her brain- it was going to take a lot of mental cartwheeling to forget it. I'm not the one with the mountains of baggage to overcome. Sighing wearily, she laid on the deck of the Ouroboros. She kicked off her trainers and stripped off her socks, wiggling her painted toes happily. Snakey twirled around her body in a circle joyfully a few times, until it settled by her hand, content to be stroked. Leaning back, Hermione petted the smooth wood of the snake and watched the isle of Tír na nÓg fade into the distance with little regret.
It really is paradise. A bit of a boring paradise, but paradise nonetheless.
She fiddled with the magical compass on her breast absently, and wondered at the direction her life had taken. The new clue had popped into existence as soon as they stepped foot off of the magical island, but she was in no mood to work on puzzles. Later, perhaps. For now she just wanted to enjoy being alive.
Hermione glanced to her side to see that Draco was sitting next to her on the smooth wood of the deck and had rolled up the legs of his trousers, exposing muscular pale calves to the sun. His face was relaxed, and Hermione found that without the expression of haughty malice she was used to seeing on it, he was actually quite handsome.
"I want," He hesitated, playing with his signet ring nervously. "No, I need to thank you."
Hermione propped herself with one elbow, shading her eyes from the sun. Grinning cheekily, she said, "Whatever for?"
Draco glared at her. "Don't be daft. You saved my life back there and you know it."
Hermione shrugged and lay back down, smiling awkwardly. "Well, of course. Even though you're a slimy little ferret, you're still my partner in this mad scheme." She cleared her throat uncomfortably. "I was responsible for your situation in the first place, so it was the right thing to do."
Draco was silent for a long while. Hermione closed her eyes, but she was preternaturally aware of his movements. He lay down beside her, and she could feel the heat of his body next to hers. It wasn't as uncomfortable as she thought it would be. It was almost… nice.
They lay together on the deck of the ship in silence for a long time, letting the silence and the bright mid-afternoon sunlight work its own subtle, healing magic. When Draco did speak, his voice was low and raspy, sending shivers down Hermione's spine.
Hermione looked at Draco with a fragile new trust, and as their little ship sailed to their new destination a novel sense of optimism was born in her breast.