Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I in any way associated with, Harry Potter. I'm just taking the characters out for a spin.
AN: This is an AU seventh year fic. HBP and DH never happened and any canon found within them is probably best ignored. As usual, this story is finished and the remaining chapters will be posted in a reasonable amount of time.
It was with a great deal of personal shame and horror that Hermione realized that the Head Girl of Hogwarts had, as a muggle would call it, a tramp stamp.
She stood with her back to her mirror in only her underclothes, wishing desperately that she hadn't agreed to this. The tattoo would disappear in under a fortnight - or else she should "consult her primary healer" as the packaging had said - but the placement alone would be cause for some shame. She wasn't sure if wizards had the same outlook on tattoos in this general area of the body as muggles, and she didn't want to find out. It certainly wouldn't help that the thing's serpentine tail followed the left curve of her bum before twisting out of sight in the shadow between her thighs.
Reflected in the mirror, she could see the box the magical needle had come in, laying discarded on her nightstand. She'd read and reread every word on the packaging twice before finally agreeing that Fred and George wouldn't sell something too dangerous. The words came back to her now, making her wince as she took in the pale creature emblazoned on her back.
True Love Tattoo
Quantity: one tattoo
True Love Tattoos reach deep into your subconscious mind, marking your skin for up to two weeks* with a symbolic representation of your soul mate.
*If tattoo lasts longer than two weeks please consult your primary healer or tattoo may become permanent.
And then, on the bottom in extreme fine print:
Weasley Wizard Wheezes makes no claims as to the accuracy of True Love Tattoos.
That last did little to console her. Maybe it wasn't "accurate," maybe it just showed you who you liked or who you had a crush on and not who you were destined to be with for all time. That was perhaps worse.
She bit her lip as she examined the tattoo again. The lines of the thing were thin and light, almost as if it had been painted on with a calligraphy brush. Long wings gracefully followed the curve of her backside, reaching so far around that she'd just be able to see the pointed tips if she stood in profile. Its sharp, aquiline head was turned to the side, staring back at her from one beady eye.
Laughter from the room next door startled Hermione out of her thoughts. The other upper class girls were awake and no doubt tittering over their own tattoos. Any minute one or all of them would come barging in here, asking what she'd gotten.
Hermione threw on her clothes and grabbed her wand. She wasn't about to tell anyone the truth of what her tattoo had formed and that meant glamouring a fake one. But of what? She looked frantically around the room for inspiration. A cat, she thought, seeing Crookshanks. A good Gryffindor girl could never go wrong with anything feline.
Ginny, Parvati, and Lavender stumbled in just as Hermione finished her charm, all demanding to see her tattoo. Hermione lifted the edge of her robes, turning her ankle so they could see. They all ooo'ed and ahhh'ed. There was some discussion over who was the most Gryffindor of all the boys before Ginny pointed out that it clearly meant Crookshanks, who was a better man than any of them would ever be. Hermione joined in the giggling and quickly asked about their tattoos, desperately trying to put out of her mind the dragon wrapped tightly around her waist.
Hermione shifted in her seat. The chair had been comfortable all year, keeping that perfect balance between stiff and cushy so that she could sit in it for hours on end without pain or danger of falling asleep - though she had done the latter a time or two. Not even the most uncomfortable chair in the world would help when she worked herself to exhaustion. Today though, she could not sit comfortably. She swore she could feel the tattoo, taunting her, mocking her with every tiny movement she made.
She'd come to the Heads' office to escape. After ten minutes of tattoo talk in the dorms that morning, Hermione had been done. She'd rushed down to the Great Hall while the other girls were still getting dressed and eaten a few bites of toast, leaving before any of the other upper class Gryffindors showed up. She had somehow looked at the Slytherin table three times though and that was disturbing.
She figured no one, not even the Head Boy, would come up to the Heads' office today. OWLS and NEWTS were over and the weather was bright and sunny, beckoning the student body outside. It would give her a chance to finish off her last minute paperwork and get a head start on packing before she had to go home in a week. Papers that she kept filed away in her desk needed to be archived in the filing cabinets that lined the wall opposite the door. The records held there went all the way back to the school's founding and were kept on hand for future Heads. She also had to pack up what she needed to take home with her. She wasn't sure how so many of her things had migrated into this office over the course of the year, but they had. Her only consolation was that her fellow Head was just as bad. In one quick glance at his side of the room she could see his Quidditch jersey, his Potions textbook, and a top that glowed in different colors depending on the mood of whoever spun it. He was a bit worse than she was about abusing their office, but not by much.
She quickly signed her name to a final document and set it atop the pile she'd been making all morning. Very pointedly, she pushed the pile as close to the Head Boy's desk as she could, careful not to breach the boundary between but making sure he would notice. She would need to consolidate her paperwork with the his before it was all locked away, leaving her free to work on the rest of the room. Before she could so much as decide where to start, the door swung open.
"Shouldn't the Ravenclaws be sad classes are all but over?" Malfoy asked, flopping into his own chair and tossing a satchel onto his desk. It flopped over, some of the contents spilling out and onto her desk. Malfoy quickly stood back up, gathering the small firecrackers, pack of ton-tongue taffy, and a few of the True Love Tattoos before they could get in her way. He wouldn't apologize for breaching her space, nor would she if their positions had been reversed, but it was silently agreed that they would clean up any accidental violation of territory as quickly as possible.
"Are those for me?" Malfoy asked.
Hermione started. Her eyes had been fixed on the True Love Tattoos and she'd missed when Malfoy noticed the paperwork.
"Yes," she said, fiddling with her quill and hoping he wouldn't notice her blush. "Er, no," she amended. "They're all done but we need to go through everything together before filing it away for the year." She jerked her head towards the filing cabinets with what she hoped was a wry grin. More than once they'd had to access them over the course of the year and had been amazed at just how much useless information had ended up in there. But everything that was official Head business was required to be stored for future reference - apparently even Head Boy Jacob Quirrell's love letters to Head Girl Margaret Feathering back in 1862.
Malfoy eyed the cabinets with an odd combination of wariness and humor. "Of course," he said, lowering himself back into his seat. "We'll have to do it before the match on Friday."
"Right," Hermione said with a firm nod.
Gryffindor and Slytherin's final match of the year had been postponed due to an attack by Lord Voldemort. When the dust settled on what turned out to be the final battle, everyone agreed that defeating the darkest wizard of the age was a good reason for Harry to ask for a postponement. Had NEWTS not been coming up so fast, it would have been held sooner, but Dumbledore seemed pleased by the idea of giving the students one more big game the day before they headed home.
"That'll be nice though," she said, trying not to look at him or the red and black boxes on his desk. "We'll have the whole last day to just enjoy ourselves before Saturday when we're busy rounding up first years."
"You get to enjoy yourself, Granger," he said, picking up one of the accursed boxes and examining it, "I will be beating Potter and the rest of your precious Gryffindor team so badly that Gryffindor Tower will flood with tears."
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"What were those Ravenclaws doing with these anyway?" he asked suddenly. "They're more of a Valentine's Day thing, don't you think?" He spun one lazily across the desks and straight into her hands. She dropped the quill she'd nearly picked bare by now and tentatively fingered the box.
"Colin bought them," she explained, keeping her eyes on the gawdy heart on the box's cover. "He thought it'd be a good anniversary present for him and his Hufflepuff girlfriend to try it out but he messed up the order form and ended up with twenty instead of two."
Malfoy clicked his tongue and muttered something about Gryffindors and an inherent lack of math skills.
"All the upper class Gryffindors took pity on him and bought some, figuring it'd be fun to use them together and see what everyone got. Parvati took a few, said Padma'd get a kick out of them. That must be where the Ravenclaws got them."
Hermione waited several beats for Malfoy's no doubt snarky response but received only silence. Finally she looked up, meeting calculating grey eyes that did not send a faint shiver down her spine.
"'All the upper class Gryffindors'?" he echoed with a knowing smirk.
Hermione's eyes widened. "They're not against the rules," she quickly said, tossing the box back to him. She crossed her arms over her chest with a huff of annoyance that she hoped would hide her embarrassment and leaned back in the chair.
"I know. I'm just wondering where and what." The way his eyes traveled up her body as he said it and then settled on her face with an appreciative smile made her squirm.
"None of your business," she said coldly.
"Oh, come on," he teased, "how bad can it be? I suppose it could be a weasel but …"
"I am not in love with Ron!" Hermione snapped. Their attempt at a relationship the year before was still a bit of a sore spot. "And stop calling him a weasel!" she added, realizing she should be defending her friend despite their breakup.
"Then what is it? And how are you even supposed to know who it represents? Sounds kind of dodgy to me."
Hermione shook her head. She'd asked Fred and George the same thing when they came out with the product. "You know the old legend about Patronuses? How when you're really in love with someone your Patronus matches theirs because their happiness is so much a picture of your own?"
Malfoy nodded her along, a slight roll of his eyes betraying how he really felt about that particular old wives' tale.
"It basically works like that," she said with a shrug. "Since a Patronus is a reflection of the caster, the tattoo should form your true love's Patronus or simply the thing that represents them in your mind." Or the mystical creature from which their name was derived, apparently, Hermione thought with a small mental huff.
"Like I said, dodgy," Malfoy said, flicking one of the boxes with his fingers. "Most wizards can't even form a Patronus. I can't believe you Gryffindors were taken in like that."
Hermione smiled and pulled out her wand. "Oh, but we weren't. Expecto patronum."
White light poured from her wand, coalescing into an otter that leapt and danced around Malfoy's head before settling atop the mess on his desk. He eyed the creature uneasily, as if he thought it was somehow as filthy as its flesh and blood counterparts.
"We all learned back when Umbridge decided to ignore the defense part of Defense Against the Dark Arts." Malfoy didn't respond, only kept staring distastefully at the Patronus. "It's an otter," Hermione added helpfully.
"I know," Malfoy bit out, glaring over the ethereal creature at her.
She giggled and the light flared. Malfoy spun his chair to the side in a show of annoyance and she let the creature disappear.
"Sometimes it's hard to tell what they are due to the scintillation."
"Not if the caster is truly happy," he said quietly. "What were you thinking of, anyway?"
Hermione took her time tucking her wand back into her robes. She'd been thinking of him - the look on his face when he'd see it, the way he sometimes smiled just a little bit at her, how her first name had sounded coming from him even though he'd been patronizing her the one and only time he'd said it. Her spirits fell. She was doomed.
"Wow," Malfoy said, "I've never seen a happy memory make someone so sad."
"It's nothing," she said and was grateful when he didn't pursue the subject.
"How do you work these anyway?" he asked offhandedly and reached under the desk to pick up one of the boxes her otter had knocked to the floor with its tail. He broke the seal and slid out the inner box. A small needle rested snugly in an indent in the cardboard. Where there should have been an eye there was instead a small bulb that glowed faintly.
"Y-you prick your skin and sometime in the next few hours the tattoo will appear."
Malfoy looked up at her carefully, his eyes once more moving over her body.
"What?" she demanded.
"Just wondering where you pricked yourself that you're so unwilling to let me see."
She scowled at him. "The tattoo can appear anywhere. The spot you prick has nothing to do with it."
"So it's dictated by your personality like the animal is?" he asked. The question sounded almost idle, the look he was giving her was anything but.
This used to be fun, just yesterday if she recalled. They would bicker and tease and it had been okay because neither of them ever crossed that line into actual insults. It had also been okay because yesterday she didn't have a great big symbol of Draco Malfoy on her backside reminding her that occasionally she'd given in to silly little fantasies about him. They didn't mean anything. Working in such close contact with him at all hours of the day and night, she was sure to have some impure thoughts eventually. That didn't mean she liked him.
Even though she had defended him to Harry and Ron more than a few times this year. She'd even gone so far as to call him a "real human being" once. And she could still hear the "finally" that had escaped her when he announced he'd dumped Daphne Greengrass in January. But that was only because he'd spent the six weeks they dated doing nothing but complain about her.
"What's wrong?" Malfoy asked, pulling Hermione back into the present. She really wished he'd stop doing that. It was one thing to be trapped in depressing thoughts about all the feelings she wasn't sure she had for him, it was another to actually face him.
"Nothing," she said quickly.
"That's the second time in one conversation that you've gotten that look on your face."
"Like Harrow found your familiar during a full moon."
Hermione gave him her most disapproving frown. Ever since McGonagall and Snape had explained first year Timothy Harrow's condition to them, along with what their role would be in helping to manage it, Malfoy had not let a single full moon go by without making at least one joke at the boy's expense.
"Werewolves don't care about animals," Hermione said.
"Yeah? Tell that to Harrow, would you? It took me a whole day to clean up that giant spider he disemboweled."
Hermione winced. One of Aragog's younger children had gotten lost and holed up in the Shrieking Shack for shelter. If Harrow's injuries were any indication, it had been one hell of a fight. Sadly, only the Heads and professors knew what had really happened. Everyone else thought Harrow was his usual clumsy self and had fallen down a few stairs.
"Are you going to tell me or not?" Malfoy pressed, taking back control of the conversation. "It's not like I'm going to gossip about you, and if Potter and Weasley have done something to set you off, you know I'm always here to make fun of them for you." He smiled sweetly at her.
"It's nothing," she said quickly. "I'm just sad it's the end of the year, is all. I'm gonna miss this place." She dropped her head back as if she could see through the ceiling to the floors above.
"Yeah," Malfoy said wistfully.
Hermione's head dropped down sharply at his tone but he only smirked at her.
"So why don't you go enjoy it?" he asked. "There's plenty of time to sort all our paperwork before the week's up and it's a beautiful day."
"What about you?" Hermione asked, half-rising from her chair. If Malfoy was giving her an opportunity to escape from his presence, she wasn't about to waste it.
"I just have a couple things to do. I still have to write up those Ravenclaws."
"But you're not just going to waste the whole day in here, right?" As much as she wanted to get away, she didn't want him to be all alone on such a nice day.
He smiled sardonically at her. "No, Granger, that's what you do. Go on."
She didn't waste another minute.
When she exited the dark castle and entered the bright sunshine, Hermione only made it three steps in the direction of the Patil twins before she was caught up in a redheaded whirlwind.
"We're not talking to them," Ginny said, nearly dislocating Hermione's shoulder she was tugging so hard.
"Why exactly not?" Hermione asked, trying to keep up. Ginny didn't answer and soon Hermione was forced to yell, "Ginny! Please!" to get her to stop.
Ginny let go and sighed, plopping down in the sun-warmed grass with a scowl firmly set on her face. Hermione joined her slowly, taking time to roll her shoulder before sitting.
"Now. What's happened?"
"Padma got a stag."
"What? You mean a stag like-"
"Like Harry's. Yes! Can you believe her? How could she do this?"
Hermione frowned, unsure of just what to say to that. "Ginny, you know it's not Padma's fault. It's not like anyone chooses who-"
"But that makes it worse, doesn't it?" Ginny practically wailed, her head dropping into her hands.
Hermione was taken aback for a moment. Ginny was usually much more unflappable than this. Lots of girls had crushes on the famous Harry Potter, it had never bothered her before. Much.
"Ginny," Hermione said slowly, touching her shoulder, "what's really wrong?"
Ginny sniffed and looked up at Hermione before extending her right leg and tugging up her pants so Hermione could see the antler-like design wrapped around her ankle.
"It's fake," Ginny admitted with a watery smile. "I really got a fox." She shrugged her right shoulder and added, "On my shoulder."
"A fox," Hermione mulled, trying to remember who, if anyone, in the DA had a fox Patronus. "That's …"
"Seamus," the two girls said at the same time, Ginny rather glumly.
"But I don't like him!" she said. "I mean, I like him fine. He's friendly and he's nice but -" She sighed heavily. Her head drooped and she put her hands together before her, ripping up bits of grass just so that she could have something to do. "The box says it shouldn't be taken seriously."
Hermione watched as several of Ginny's torn up bits of grass were picked up by the wind. It blew them towards the castle and she noticed a familiar blond coming out the doors. Malfoy scanned the lawn, no doubt for his fellow Slytherins, and their eyes caught. She quickly looked away.
"What did you think?" Ginny asked. "When you got a cat? I know I teased you about Crookshanks and I hope you know I didn't mean it. I was just so surprised and annoyed because everyone else was so happy and-"
"Ginny," Hermione said, cutting her off. She considered, for one brief and horrifying moment, that she might come clean about the dragon. Ginny had done the same, surely she would understand. "It doesn't mean anything," she said instead. "It's just a silly toy and there's no reason to think it knows your destiny."
"But it might know you," Ginny said dully.
Hermione grabbed Ginny's shoulders, forcing the younger girl to look at her. "Do you love Harry?"
"Yes," Ginny answered immediately. It wasn't a defense, only a declaration of an obvious fact.
"There you go then. Maybe this just means you want a house full of red-headed children or you want to take up hunting or fight to stop hunting or something."
Ginny smiled. "Maybe."
"And anyway," Hermione reasoned, "Padma's probably just as horrified as you are. Everyone knows she's been trying to get Ernie's attention before the end of the year and now there's no chance of that, nor is there any chance of her getting Harry."
Hermione bumped shoulders with Ginny before standing and offering an arm to help her up as well.
"Now, how about we go talk to the Patils and make nice? No reason to end the year with a fight."
Ginny nodded and allowed herself to be tugged along.
The night before, the Common Room had been full of boisterous laughter and some good-natured ribbing at Colin's expense while the tattoos were doled out. Tonight was quiet and withdrawn, the most noise coming from the younger years who were all busy studying for their exams in the coming week. Despite making amends with the Patils, Ginny was sticking with the sixth years. Lavender kept biting her nails while her gaze darted around the room. Neville jumped every time someone spoke to him. They weren't even the worst.
Given how her day was going, Hermione doubted she would have noticed any of this except that she'd been looking forward to some traditional end-of-year Gryffindor hijinks to get her mind off a certain Slytherin.
Everyone went to bed early and Hermione was glad when Neville finally left her alone with Harry and Ron.
"G-goodni-night," he stuttered, and stumbled on the first step up to the boys' dorms. Blushing he nodded to each of them in turn. "Harry, R-ron, He-hermione."
"What's gotten into him?" Hermione asked once they heard a door close upstairs. Neville hadn't been that clumsy in years and ever since the battle last month he'd been carrying himself with much more confidence than before.
"I don't know," Ron whined, slumping in his chair.
"Okay. What's wrong with you?"
"He thinks his tattoo is wrong," Harry said, pointing out to one of his chess pieces where he wanted it to go.
"Not you too," Hermione sighed. She really just wanted to wallow in the pain of having a crush on Draco Malfoy and avoid the topic of tattoos altogether, not comfort people who were unhappy with how theirs turned out when clearly she was the one with the worst tattoo of all.
"What do you mean 'too'?" Ron demanded immediately. He lunged across the small sitting area towards her, upending the table he and Harry had been playing chess on. Harry threw up his hands while the chess pieces yelled their displeasure.
Hermione stared down her nose at him until he backed into his seat once more. With a careful look around to make sure no one was watching, Ron lifted his shirt. On his side, just where his ribcage ended, was what could only be described as a hare.
"No," Hermione said.
"I told him," Harry said. "It doesn't mean anything. You are clearly not in love with Lu-"
"Don't even say it!" Ron hissed under his breath. He dropped his shirt and smoothed it down fiercely.
"It's a toy," Harry pointed out.
"A toy that's supposed to tell you who you love. What if it's true? What if I'm destined to marry Luna Lovegood?" His eyes unfocused, seeing a far off future, while his face contorted into an expression of horror and extreme disgust.
"Maybe you do like her," Hermione said quietly. The two boys gawked at her but she didn't notice, too caught up in her own thoughts. "Maybe you've just never let yourself think seriously about her like that because it seemed so far fetched and unlikely."
"Okay," Ron said slowly, "we need to get her to bed."
Hermione blushed. "Sorry. It's been a long, long day filled with pep talks about true love." Desperate to get away from her own awkwardness she asked, "What about you, Harry? What did you get?"
"He didn't do it," Ron said sulkily.
"But you bought one!"
Harry shrugged. "I was helping Colin out. I don't need a tattoo to tell me I'm in love with Ginny."
Hermione forced herself to smile, to be happy for her friend. At least someone was certain where their heart lay.