Given the small amount of wine he'd imbibed, the sudden dizziness when he attempted to stand was both unexpected and unwarranted. Thoughts as fuzzy as his vision, Draco wondered if perhaps the drink had been poisoned, but dismissed the worry before it had fully formed: he'd cast the detection spell himself. Bracing a hand against the velvet upholstered chair from which he'd arisen, he was then absently struck by the thought that he didn't recall his fingers being quite so long and spindly.
Mind still comfortably placid, he mentally assured himself that there was no cause for alarm. The wine was just a bit more potent than I expected, he reasoned, releasing his grip on the chair and slowly turning toward the door. I'll be fine if I can... sleep... it... off?
The elegant little end table next to his chair was now at eye level. Although puzzling, that discovery was not what had stalled his thoughts. No... it was the fact that there, reflected in the silvered curve of his empty cup, was a house-elf. The features were skewed, but the shock of platinum blond hair was still recognizable, as was the expression of slowly dawning horror.
The vaunted Malfoy dignity abruptly vanished as Draco screamed. The sound was unnervingly high pitched, and he clamped both long-fingered hands over his mouth in an effort to regain some control.
I'm a house-elf! The thought was tinged with all the panic a pampered pure-blood wizard could be expected to feel. With both hands busy holding in his frantic whimpers, his trousers chose that moment to slide to the floor, as if to punctuate his current ignominy. Thankfully, his shirt – now quite voluminous – continued to cover him, the hem falling somewhere around his knees.
He immediately resolved, very firmly, not to think about his male parts and what might have become of them during the transformation.
Dazed, he staggered over to the closest window, pushing the drapes aside to examine his image in the shadowed glass.
In parody of his human build, his body was still slender and long-shafted (for a house-elf), although the joints were far more pronounced. His ears had the distinct bat shape characteristic of all house-elves, but were angled back and close to his head rather than sticking out straight to either side. The shape of his nose and the fall of his bangs were unchanged, and his eyes – although larger and rounder – were the same light grey... all of which combined to paint him as a caricature of his former self.
"I'm a house-elf." This time he breathed the words aloud, flinching at the change in his voice.
Think, he admonished himself, swallowing hard as he straightened to his full – yet still painfully short – height. This must be some sort of transfiguration. How was it done? Worrying it over in his mind he began to pace, and immediately found difficulty with his ill-fitting shoes. Kicking them off, he resumed his nervous motion in stocking feet. The wine was clean. I have the house to myself, so there are no guests or family here to try something like this thinking it funny. The wards on the house would prevent anyone from sneaking on the property to cast the spell from hiding. That leaves... an object. He frowned, the expression rendered somewhat comical due to his oversized features, and slowly cast about the room trying to remember everything he'd touched. There was the chair, and the table... the book he'd been reading, his wand... the wine bottle, and the silver cup. The chair, table, and wand were flat-out impossible. The book was also highly unlikely – it had been a coming-of-age gift from Astoria Greenglass, who seemed to have something of a crush on him.
The wine bottle, however, was a more reasonable possibility. It had arrived via owl post, with a card proclaiming it to be from 'A Secret Admirer'. Although he more than half suspected that Astoria had sent it as well as the book, there was always the chance that this admirer had managed to keep her identity truly secret. It would also be far more clever to cast the spell on the bottle, since no Slytherin worthy of his house would fail to test the contents for tampering. Still... he'd first handled the bottle hours ago. It would be difficult enough to set the spell to trigger only for him, rather than for anyone who handled the bottle; add in a time delay, and the variables became far more complicated. He supposed the spell might have been set to trigger when the wine was poured...
Then there was the cup. It was part of a set he'd recently acquired from Borgin and Burkes, the former swearing that it had originally belonged to the family of Herpo the Foul. The convincing argument had cited the snake-and-cane emblem etched on the side. Might the cup have been cursed? Something that affected anyone who drank from it? That would explain the timing, but not Borgin's failure to warn Draco. Not only was that bad policy for someone in such a shady business, but the Malfoys had been favored customers for years.
If the cup were cursed, he'd make Borgin drink from it to pay for his oversight.
Oddly, he felt a twinge in the tips of his ears, as if the thought didn't sit well with his house-elf body. Sort of a... vague feeling that he should expect punishment at any moment. He supposed that made a kind of sense: house-elves weren't meant to judge wizards. Self-preservation – or at least the desire to avoid having one's head slammed in the oven – was probably ingrained.
So: either the bottle or the cup were spelled. Success was doubtful, but it wouldn't hurt to try a simple finite incantatum on both and hope it set him to rights.
Turning, he rushed back to his chair and clambered up onto the seat, spindly fingers reaching eagerly for the wand he'd left on the table... and then he paused.
House-elves were forbidden the use of wands.
It was basic knowledge among those reared in a proper magical home. Draco had only ever heard of one case of the taboo being broken: when the Crouch family elf – Wimpy? Whiskey? – had been caught using one the summer before his fourth year at Hogwarts. Many pureblood wizards had openly sneered, labeling the story a fiction: a convenient excuse that allowed the ministry to ignore the reappearance of the Dark Mark in the night sky. House-elf magic, his father had explained later, was too crude, too base to be channeled through a wand.
What would happen if he tried to use his now? At best, maybe nothing. At worst, the wand could explode or backfire, adding injury to insult. He could try casting the spell wandlessly, but he'd not been terribly successful with wandless spells as a human, and expected the case would be even more true now.
Not that he had any idea – really – what house-elves could do with magic. Cook and clean, obviously; and they could perform some form of apparition. If necessary, they could act as guardians for home and master, but exactly what that entailed – what kind of spells they used – had never been discussed.
Nor had how they went about casting them.
Deciding that he should assess his abilities in his current cringe-worthy form before trying anything complicated, he reluctantly withdrew his hand and collapsed back down in the chair. Abruptly, he felt like a child again: too short for his feet to touch the floor, too small for his arms to comfortably reach the armrests. After a few moments of morose contemplation, he rather half-heartedly resigned himself to casting a few simple spells to see what happened.
Easing down from the chair, he retrieved a fine linen handkerchief from his discarded trousers, and spilled a small amount of red wine over the white fabric. He then proceeded to try – both verbally and non – first a color-changing spell, then a borax charm, and finally an aguamenti. Of them all, only the borax charm did anything: drying the fabric and leaving it stained a sickly lavender-blue.
Of course that would be the one that worked, however poorly. Borax was a cleaning charm.
Resisting the urge to bang his head against the wall, Draco settled for resting his forehead in the palm of his hand. If his entire spell repertoire was going to be reduced to household charms, he was doomed. Borax was the only one he knew, and only because Crabbe had been dangerously clumsy around pumpkin juice. Not to mention that the charm hadn't actually been successful.
Now what? Frowning, Draco stared at the ruined handkerchief and hoped for inspiration. It was slow in coming; pure-bred wizards didn't spend a lot of time observing their house-elves. Eventually, though, he was struck by the vague recollection that Dobby – his family's erstwhile house-elf – tended to snap his fingers when performing magic. Draco had no idea whether or not that was standard procedure, but it was worth a try at the very least.
Concentrating on removing the stain, he focused on the handkerchief, and very deliberately clicked his fingers.
The stain – not the handkerchief as a whole, but the stain in particular – burst into flame. With a surprised yelp that sounded disturbingly like a squeak, he tossed it in the nearby fireplace. After a few seconds the stain burned itself out, leaving a roundish hole in the middle of otherwise pristine white.
This less than promising result was the reason why Draco decided to forego additional experimenting and turn to outside help. But who could he ask? His parents were out of the country on an extended sabbatical; it could take weeks to contact them. As for his friends and associates, he quite frankly didn't trust any of them not to take advantage of the situation. A former teacher, maybe? Slughorn might be willing, but was he capable? Besides, the man was Slytherin enough to demand some sort of favor in exchange for his help. McGonagall? In seven years of schooling, he'd never had a use for her, and it was galling to think he might have suddenly found one now.
No, he needed someone who would feel obligated to help him. Someone who understood the plight he faced as a house-elf, and would be sympathetic. Someone who would look out for his welfare, should he be stuck this way indefinitely.
Putting it in those terms, the answer was obvious, if less than serendipitous. Merlin help him... he was going to have to ask Granger.
It was getting on toward midnight when Hermione's concentration was broken by a sudden and imperious tapping at her office window. Looking up from the draft of her latest proposal for house-elf rights, she found an eagle owl perched on the sill.
Stretching in a manner reminiscent of Crookshanks, she stood and crossed to the window, glancing at the clock on the way by. She hadn't intended to stay so late; her supervisor had recently expressed concern regarding her habit of working well past Ministry closing time on a regular basis. "Your dedication is admirable, and once in awhile is fine... but not every night, nor even every week!"
Tapping the glass with her wand, she temporarily vanished it in order to take a rolled up parchment from the owl. "Are you to wait for a reply?" she asked, only to have the bird look down it's beak at her and huffily fluff it's wings. It didn't leave, however, so regardless of it's personal opinion on the subject, the answer was obviously yes.
Breaking the seal and unfurling the letter, she was understandably surprised by its contents.
I am writing to you in the utmost urgency, regarding the welfare of a magical creature dear to my heart. An unfortunate curse has been placed upon this being, and I require assistance in both determining and casting the counter spell. As your compassion is well known, I thought perhaps you would be willing to offer your support. If you are agreeable, simply state a convenient time, and I will await your appearance at Malfoy Manor.
Blinking at the letter, Hermione then glanced back at the owl, wondering if she was meant to take this seriously. Absently noting that the bird did seem vaguely familiar, she slowly returned to her desk as she read the brief missive a second time.
And then a third, just for good measure.
When she finished, she was certain the whole thing was some sort of practical joke... and she'd never appreciated Malfoy's sense of humor.
Oh, and to think he'd try this after the vile things he said last time I presented a reform bill to the Wizengamot!
But that was Malfoy. The setbacks his family had suffered in the war had changed his attitude for the better, but he still enjoyed playing lord of the manor when he could get away with it, and handed out slights like candy. What was it that the Ravenclaw girls used to say about him? Lovely to look at, delightful to hold, but the sharp side of his tongue will soon leave you cold.
(Lavender had put it much less poetically: Malfoy can charm the pants off anyone, so long as he doesn't open his mouth!)
Movements quick and decisive, Hermione reached for parchment and quill to write out a pointed reply:
I doubt there's a magical creature on the planet which you truly hold dear – always excepting the possibility that you might have managed to meet a voluptuous, willing, and undeniably dim Veela. If the attraction spell is taking its toll, that's both your own fault and problem.
Nodding once in satisfaction, she rolled up the parchment, bound it with a rubber band, and handed it to the owl. It hadn't even taken off yet when she returned the vanished glass back to its proper place, Draco's plea for assistance just as easily dismissed from her mind.
In the two hours it took his owl to deliver his letter and return with Hermione's reply, Draco had found himself growing increasingly frantic. High strung. Embarrassingly house-elfish. It was perhaps understandable, as he had nothing much to do but plan for the worst should she refuse him... but it was disconcerting once he noticed, nonetheless. There was also a constant house-elf worry that someone – his brain couldn't seem to settle on who – would find and punish him for not working; this went hand-in-hand with the similarly continual but contradictory human fear that someone would find him and put him to work. Underlying both was the growing concern that this wasn't a prank at all, but a dark curse gone awry.
He'd been stuck in house-elf form for close to three hours when he determined – although the reasoning wasn't clear, even to him – that the crux of the matter was the silver cup.
What if, he'd come to wonder, the cup has always been cursed? Although it didn't appear old – the metal was still polished and unpitted, the staff-and-snake engraving pristine – magic could keep antiques looking fresh and new indefinitely. If, as Borgin had insisted, the cup truly had belonged to Herpo the Foul, then it was thousands of years old. Countless numbers of wizards and witches could have drunk from it and the others in the set... and been cursed.
What did that mean? What could it mean?
He was more than half-convinced it meant he'd stumbled on the forgotten origins of the house-elf. It was a thought that made him ill, sick all the way down to his bones.
Enough so that the trouble he was having with another little house-elf quirk was almost a welcome distraction: it had become nigh impossible not to refer to himself in the third person. Worse, the demented psyche that had come along with his house-elf body seemed to think 'Draco' was an inappropriate name. He'd given in and conked his head against the marble table top a few times, upon realizing he was calling himself 'Drakey' in his thoughts.
When Bedell returned, Draco snatched Hermione's reply from the bird with unabashed haste and grabby hands, managing to shoot himself in the ear when too-long fingers fumbled the elastic string she'd used to seal it.
As he read her reply he felt his bulbous eyes prick with tears. Well, that was acceptable: Draco was experiencing an unhealthy degree of panic and frustration, and was trying to cope with the thought of living the rest of his life as a house-elf.
Except... part of him wasn't trying to cope with said bleak future. Part of him was living it, and deeply distraught over the fact that Mistress Granger was mad at him.
Should he punish himself? What would be appropriate?
But... we've always fought, Draco thought in some confusion. He was horrified in no small amount when 'Drakey' began openly sobbing and wringing his hands in response, searching about for something suitable with which to brain himself.
Obviously, things were getting worse.
With a fair amount of effort he got himself under control again, wiping away the last lingering tears with the trailing end of his shirt. Taking a deep breath, he then straightened his shoulders, and returned to the desk at the far end of the room. He'd have to try again – convince Hermione somehow that he was serious and in need of help. Picking up the quill and inking the nib, he hesitated over the parchment.
Right. Convince Hermione. How?
Casting about for an idea, he spotted the gleam of the silver cup out of the corner of his eye... and inspiration struck.
Ever punctual, Hermione returned to her office in the Beings Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures bright and early the next morning. She was less than pleased to see the owl had also made a reappearance. Sighing in some exasperation, she removed her coat and set aside her bag before taking the proffered letter.
"Let's see what he has to say this time," she remarked conversationally.
The owl again gave her a patronizing look.
Definitely a Malfoy, that one.
I assure you, this is no joke, nor do I have any ill intentions. I quite simply and seriously need your help. Perhaps a good-will gesture would convince you of the truth of my statements:
If you agree to assist me, I will tell you whence house-elves originate.
With utmost sincerity,
Hermione frowned down at the parchment as she seated herself in front of her desk, a tiny, pinched furrow between her brows. Mistress Granger? What was that about? And... was he offering to tell her about the birds and the bees? With house-elves?
Mouth a thin, disapproving line, she reached for her quill.
I believe house-elves 'originate', as you put it, much the same way humans do: when a male house-elf and a female house-elf love each other very much, they touch each other in 'magic' ways, and thereby make a baby house-elf.
Of course, house-elves need the approval of their wizard masters first, but otherwise I'm sure you get the idea. You certainly had no qualms about discussing house-elf husbandry in front of an audience last month.
If you honestly need my help, you might try coming down to the office in person – I'm not your errand girl. You could also tell me exactly who has been cursed and how. You haven't even revealed his or her species!
Seriously, Malfoy: quit messing me about.
It really was almost impossible to give his story even the slightest credence: Malfoys didn't associate with any of the other races of magical beings unless absolutely necessary. The closest they came was visiting Gringotts, where they were rude to the goblins, or owning house-elves, which they treated like dirt.
After swiftly signing her name she twisted the parchment into a tight roll, and once more sent it off with the owl. Then she opened her day planner to check her schedule for the day, determined to be about her work and forget Malfoy and his unfunny humor.
After Bedell left the second time, Draco realized the chances of his receiving a reply before morning were slim to none. It'd been sheer luck that Granger had still been in the office at midnight; surely she would have gone home by now. Which left him – once more – with nothing to do but wait and fret.
House-elves, he was learning, could play for England if fretting ever became a sport.
To avoid going insane, he cautiously returned to assessing his magical abilities, and was both pleased and disturbed to find that living as a house-elf for four hours had increased the effectiveness of his borax charm. Although it still didn't work completely – his test doily was left with a faint pinkish mark – it was nevertheless an improvement. In addition, snapping his fingers had failed to make it burst into flame, which he felt was an achievement. After considerable thought, he'd remembered a few charms used in potions to clean and sterilize cauldrons and measuring tools, and had managed some small success using them to clean the cursed cup that was the bane of his current existence.
Whether it was the energy he spent experimenting, the constant strain of worrying, or possibly both, around five in the morning he realized he was hungry. Not just hungry, but famished, and this despite the fact that it was several hours before he usually breakfasted. Unfortunately, unless he was willing to chance being seen in his demeaning state – not likely! – he had no way of obtaining even dry toast.
Attempts to subdue his hunger by ignoring it likewise failed. He couldn't even distract himself with the tried-and-true method of drawing caricatures of Potter: 'Drakey' felt very strongly that it was not proper house-elf behavior. Morose, he settled for tearing the paper into tiny little bits and then scattering them around his chair. At least the compulsive urge to clean them up again gave him something to do for awhile.
By six he decided to try transfiguring something to eat. Even an apple would help keep his stomach from gnawing a hole through to his spine.
By seven, after failing to transfigure anything at all, much less anything edible, he'd decided he was going to die.
As a house-elf.
There was irony in that, he was certain.
If he were going to die anyway, however, then dying as a splinched house-elf was certainly only slightly worse than dying as an unsplinched one... so he might as well try apparating. If he were lucky, maybe he'd manage to go someplace with food. Or maybe, he thought, in a spurt of black humor, I'll be unrecognizable when splinched, and at least save my mother the horror of realizing what has happened to me.
House-elves were uncannily good at apparating, however, so he wasn't really surprised to find he could successfully apparate from one side of the desk to the other with no difficulty what-so-ever. Gradually he increased the distance he traveled, until – come his normal breakfast time – he felt reasonably certain he could apparate to his chambers safely. The brightest moment of the past ten hours came when he arrived in his room and found a breakfast tray ready and waiting on the table by the window. Ignoring 'Drakey's' hesitation and discomfort – the food was intended for him, regardless of his current physique – he settled himself and devoured everything in short order.
Outlook considerably brighter with his belly full and his magic operating properly in at least one respect, he popped back to the library just before nine, and was waiting when Bedell returned from his second trip to the ministry.
Wincing at Hermione's sarcasm, he brightened at the hint of willingness he found at the end of her missive: she didn't believe him, and she didn't trust him, but if he would come to the ministry and explain the problem, she might be more open to helping him.
In short: she wanted details, and she wanted the problem to come to her.
He'd do both.
Grabbing the cup from the table, he apparated.
Hermione jumped when the distinct crack of apparition sounded directly behind her chair. It was followed by a voice – male, but in a higher register than was common for a human – stating:
"I'm the cursed being Draco Malfoy wrote you about... and if you turn around, the reason will be obvious."
She hadn't needed the prompting, having already been in motion before the noise of his appearance had faded. Standing there in a bedraggled dove gray silk shirt was, quite obviously, a house-elf.
It was also, undeniably, Draco Malfoy.
Oh, they didn't, she thought.
If an unbiased observer would describe the human Draco as attractive, even handsome, then the same observer would be forced to describe the house-elf Draco as... adorable. And not in the 'I'm so ugly I'm cute' way that applied to certain breeds of dog. His features had all been transferred, in miniature, from one form to the other. He almost looked like a child-sized version of himself, but with big, pointy ears, and slightly bulbous eyes. Even his disgruntled expression was cute.
Hermione wanted to hug him.
For his part, Draco was compelled to admit to himself – stupid house-elf tendencies – that this adult Hermione was a far cry from the bushy-haired girl he used to tease in school. Her robes were high quality, and her hair fell in orderly curls around her face and down to her shoulders. She was quite pretty – certainly putting Pansy to shame – and he was galled to realize this while looking like the offspring of a hairless monkey.
In an attempt to regain some of his dignity, he said the first thing to come to mind.
"Stop staring Granger," he demanded... and then promptly slapped a hand over his mouth, eyes going wide with horror.
Fascinated, Hermione watched while he appeared to wage some internal battle.
House-elves do not talk that way to witches and wizards unless they want to be punished! His inner elf scolded. Drakey does not want to be punished. Does not does not does not! Drakey is speaking respectfully, or Drakey is having his head slammed in the desk drawer! Eyes briefly closing in surrender, he swallowed heavily, and then uncovered his mouth. "Drakey is sorry Mistress Granger," he offered contritely. "Drakey sometimes forgets he wasn't always a house-elf."
Brown eyebrows disappeared under her fringe in an almost comical display of shock.
Yes, they had. They definitely had. And it had worked better than they'd ever imagined.
Draco was going to kill someone.
"It's...It's alright Draco," she said in her calmest, most soothing tones, making a point to use his real name, so he wouldn't flay her later for using the diminutive. "I'll do my best to help you."
That simple sentence was the most wonderful thing Draco had ever heard.
As soon as he was human again, he was going to kiss her.
"What I need to know, to start," she was saying, " is how long you've been like this?"
"Drakey has been a house elf for almost twelve hours now, Miss Granger." It was far easier to just go with it, rather than fight the urge to be what he currently was. "Since ten o'clock last night."
Glancing at the clock, Hermione noted it was a quarter 'til ten. "Around fifteen minutes, then," she muttered to herself. I can keep him distracted that long. Turning her attention back to 'Drakey', she noticed he was holding what appeared to be a metal cup with a familiar emblem engraved on the side. "What are you doing with that?" she asked with some surprise.
Moving closer, he offered her the cup in question. "Borgin swore it once belonged to Herpo the Foul," he explained, expression earnest and intent, "but he didn't tell Drakey it was cursed!" the anguish in his voice and face was unfeigned and heartfelt. "Drakey thinks it must be very old," he confided, voice dropping to a whisper. "Drakey thinks this is how the very first house-elves came to be."
Merlin help me, Hermione thought, shocked and appalled but also incredibly amused. What do they teach pure blood wizards, anyway? "Draco," she said, very firmly, "this cup is not cursed."
He blinked. "It's not?" She nodded. "But... how can you know? You haven't cast any spells!"
She sighed. "I know it isn't cursed because I recognize the emblem on the side."
"The snake-and-cane of Herpo himself," Draco agreed.
Save me from wizards who don't know anything about muggles. "It's not the emblem of Herpo, Draco," she said. "In the first place, Herpo's symbol wasn't a snake-and-cane, it was a cane shaped like a snake. Secondly, this symbol is known as the rod of Asclepius. It's used to indicate a place or practitioner of muggle healing." She turned the cup in her hand, tracing the engraving with a fingernail. "This one was stolen from a London hospital.
Draco stared at her, bulbous eyes wide, shoulders drooping. "Are you sure? About Herpo's symbol I mean?"
Hermione looked down her pert little nose at him. "I'm sure." Glancing at the clock, she was glad to see it was now eight minutes until ten. When she turned back, she found Draco twisting his hands anxiously.
"It must have been the wine, then," he was muttering to himself, "or maybe the bottle. Should Drakey go back and get it?"
Gray eyes peered up at her, pleading for guidance.
If he didn't stop it, she really was going to have to hug him. "Get what?" she asked. "A bottle of wine?"
His little blond head bobbed up and down sadly. "Drakey was sent it by an admirer."
"Oh, that is so cliche!" she burst out unexpectedly, her tone more than a little disappointed. "Really, come on, now. You develop something this original, and then you do something that camp to deliver it?"
Draco eyed her askance, while inside his head the wheels were turning, piecing things she'd said together. He might be a house-elf, but he wasn't stupid.
"You know who did this!" he yelled, pointing one long knobby-jointed finger at her in accusation. When she did nothing more than turn faintly pink, he jabbed her in the knee. "You know, and you're not telling! You're supposed to help me! Make them change me back!"
"You don't need me to make anyone do anything," she countered. "You're already changing back! Or didn't you hear yourself just now, Drakey?"
"Don't call me that! My name is Draco! Dra–"
And abruptly, he realized she was right. He wasn't referring to himself in the third person, nor were his thoughts running through a house-elf filter. For the first time in hours, his thoughts were normal, and it was an incredible relief.
On the other hand, he was still house-elf shaped.
"Granger," he said with false calm, "what is going on?"
Biting her lip, she leaned back against her desk and stared at her toes. With her cheeks flushed pink, she was shyly sexy in her discomfort.
Draco was likewise discomfitted by the nature and direction of his own thoughts. Focus!
"You weren't cursed," she finally stated, "it was a potion."
"You're wrong," he returned flatly. "I tested for harmful substances."
"Malfoy, I promise you it was a potion." Her left hand moved to tuck a long, glossy curl behind her ear. "Your spell didn't detect it because it isn't harmful."
"Not harmful!" Outrage combined with house-elf squeakiness caused his voice to reach a whole new pitch. "How can you call being... demoted or-or-or devolved from the human race anything but harmful?"
"Because it's not poisonous, and it's not permanent! It doesn't physically hurt you, it doesn't prevent you from using your magic, and it wears off on its own in twelve hours!" She paused to take a deep breath, and then added: "It's mainly just a transfiguration... and it can be counter-acted at any time by a dose of Panacea's Universal Antidote."
Seething, Draco clenched his fists. "Mainly just a transfiguration?"
She swallowed. "Yes. There are three parts to the potion, but the transfiguration is the trickiest. The other two are a confusion concoction and a suggestion solution. It's designed to make whoever imbibes it feel and act the way they believe house-elves are supposed to act." As she spoke, she folded her hands primly in her lap and adjusted the cant of her shoulders, striving hard not to seem or sound or be defensive.
Slowly, bit by bit and inch by inch, Draco could feel his body returning to normal, the change creeping over him like a wave. His fingertips tingled, as did his toes, and when he spoke he was pleased to hear his voice deepening in stages. "Do you have any idea how... how horrifying and confusing the last twelve hours have been?" he demanded in tones close to his own.
"Do you realize that was all a product of your own mind?" Hermione returned, refusing to be intimidated. "As with all self-transfiguration, the potion let you retain your human mind while gaining the abilities of a house-elf. That's how you managed to apparate in here through the ministry wards, and without ever having been in my office before: because house-elves can. But your mind," and she poked him in the shoulder for emphasis, "is full of ideas about how house-elves are inferior. You think they should be subservient. You think their magic is less than yours, good only for menial tasks. And now, over the last twelve hours, you've been forced to believe about yourself everything you've ever believed about them. I bet you were afraid to use your wand or tell anyone what had happened, for fear of punishment or enslavement," she added scathingly, smiling just a bit – the curve of her mouth brittle – when he flinched. "Yet you don't have any problem punishing or enslaving real house-elves. So tell me, Draco, having been reduced to the same level by your own mind, by only the power of your own belief: did you feel like a worthless animal? Did you?"
By the time she finished, Hermione was panting and flushed with righteous anger. Draco, his body reconforming to its original shape, slipping into it much like one would don a tailored suit, thought her magnificent. Still standing in front of her, he now had the advantage of both height and reach, and he leaned into her personal space, his face inches from hers.
"No," he said after a long, charged moment, his eyes boring into hers, "I didn't. I felt... persecuted. I felt like I had to punish myself for any negative thoughts, particularly if they were about wizards or witches... and I found that both frustrating and unfair."
Her breath danced across his face as she exhaled in relief; it smelled faintly but pleasantly of cinnamon. "Good."
Part of him wanted to fulfill the promise he'd made himself – to kiss her once he was human again – right then and there. Another part wasn't quite ready for her reaction, or to give up on his anger. He also still had one very important question: "Why me?"
"Because the Malfoy family is the only house in over a hundred years to free an elf and make it happy rather than abjectly miserable. Because you and your father are at the forefront of the opposition to house-elf reform." Those alone were two very good reasons to slip someone in his family the potion, but Hermione wasn't finished. "You... oh, you said perfectly foul things about house-elves in front of the Wizengamot, Draco. And I was so mad, and so frustrated, that when they," and Draco no longer had any doubt that 'they' were the Weasley twins, "tried to cheer me up by telling me about Dobby Drops – that's what they're called, you know –" which he hadn't, but it was both obvious and appropriate, "I said... I said... I said that you would be the perfect test subject." Abruptly, she grabbed at his shirt on either side of his collar bone and tugged for emphasis. "I didn't know they'd actually do it!"
No, she wouldn't have. As clever as she was, she couldn't seem to grasp that the twins weren't ever going to stop crossing lines they probably shouldn't. Yet Draco, who didn't even really know them, knew that.
He also knew they'd be getting an earful in the very near future, and – in its own way – that was more satisfying than the thought of hexing them himself.
Oh, he probably would, given an opportunity; but he didn't feel a need to go directly to Diagon Alley, wand out and ready to fire.
Instead, he settled for murmuring: "Take pictures." Her head came up in surprise, and he quirked a grin in response. "When you lecture the twins," he explained, "take pictures, and we'll call it even."
She grinned back, briefly, before her expression turned thoughtful. "You seem to be taking this well," she observed with some surprise. After his initial fit of rage, anyway.
"Better than you expected?" One eyebrow winged upward as his grin shifted to his more customary smirk. "Even sharp tongued Slytherins can have an epiphany." Or two. A heartbeat later he was kissing her, and although her response was both surprised and hesitant, it was there. "Keep your eyes closed," he said when they parted.
"Why?" It was absurdly, wonderfully, typically Hermione.
His breath was a warm puff of laughter. "Because I'm missing my trousers," he answered, and somehow found he wasn't embarrassed in the slightest.
Maybe because she was the one blushing.
One rushed transfiguration spell later, and he was wriggling into a pair of skin-tight muggle jeans. "Hermione," he teased, "have you been sizing me up?"
He should have paid more attention to her in school. Her reactions were far more honest and enthralling than Pansy's had ever been.
"You can open your eyes now," he informed her, "as I am both dressed and leaving." As if to prove his words, he opened her office door. Best to escape while she was too flustered to lecture him. "But Hermione?"
Was that eagerness or irritation in her voice?
"I want those pictures. Owl me when you have them, and we'll do dinner?" His manner was as assured and self-possessed as ever, but the words lilted into a question at the last possible moment.
"We'll see," she answered, but she was smiling.
Maybe – with a little training – Draco Malfoy wouldn't be so bad.