Author's Notes: Written for the last round of the dmhgficexchange on LiveJournal under the username peskywhistpaw. My recipient asked for humor and the Grey's Anatomy quote, "OK, here it is. Your choice, it's simple, her or me. And I'm sure she's really great. But [x], I love you. In a really, really big, pretend to like your taste in music, let you eat the last piece of cheesecake, hold a radio over my head outside your window, unfortunate way that makes me hate you, love you. So pick me. Choose me. Love me." This is part one of two. If there are any odd typos, it's because this website is not cooperating with me right now.
The trouble with being stuck in a pit with the man who was probably in love with you was that there was no trouble at all, really—except if that man happened to have been turned into a frog. It was all the more troublesome if you happened to have only just realized that you, in fact, loved the man back, but couldn't very well tell him as much, what with him being a frog, because that would just be undignified. You couldn't even kiss him, because only the naive lunatics of fairy stories would logically consider doing so. And besides, you'd probably frighten the poor amphibious man to death with your great, smacking lips descending upon his head like so many other carnivorous creatures just waiting to slurp him up. The man's brain was even smaller than usual—or perhaps more appropriately housed, one couldn't be sure. There was no telling what he could and could not comprehend. All you could do safely without causing damage to said man (short term, terror; long term, death) or to yourself (utter humiliation in both the short and long terms) was give your frog-man a sympathetic look and make sure he didn't leave your sight. Of course, you had to be careful not to look at the man you loved—who was a frog—too lustily, otherwise he might get the wrong idea, and think you wanted to eat him, which—
Hermione Granger shook her head. A handful of leaves, fresh and green, dislodged themselves from her wild tangle of hair to seek more civilized accommodations. Unfortunately, they landed around a small green and brown frog, who wobbled angrily until the leaf on his back fell off—he ignored the others. The frog seemed to glare at Hermione, but did not say anything snide or reproachful.
This, of course, was because he was a frog.
Frogs couldn't talk. Draco Malfoy had been able to talk; but he had lost that privilege about two hours ago when he had gone from homo sapiens sapiens to rana temporaria—or, the European Common Frog. (Hermione recited these names in her head because logic was calming. Or it should have been, but perhaps was only having a sort of Placebo effect on her mind, which—
Hermione shook her head again.)
"I don't know how to turn you back," she told the frog for the hundred and second time. ("Also," she added mentally for the ninety-seventh, "I am in love with you. In case you were curious.")
The frog gave a shuddery sort of croak and turned his back to her. Sighing, Hermione leaned against the curving, earthen wall of the pit. This—situation—was not her fault. The fact that Malfoy had turned into a frog only a few moments after she had discovered how she felt about him was the work of coincidence. Coincidence, and his associate Bad Timing.
Although, to be fair, it had been Malfoy who had broken the mirror.
"That's not my department," Hermione told the man who had just upended a sack of glittering fragments onto her desk. Her tone was clipped—a bit rude, because she'd been having a bad day, and felt entitled to it. She didn't offer directions to the proper department as she would normally have done. She didn't even glance up to see who had made the misguided delivery; she only assumed it was a man because she had caught a brief glimpse of hairy arm before it had receded with the burlap sack.
"I was told to come here," said the man. His voice was unfamiliar, though the annoyance in his tone matched hers. "Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."
Hermione hastily apologized, though she was still disinclined to believe that the man was in the right place. Unless the broken thing on her desk had once been a house-elf, there was little help her position allowed her to offer. She looked at the man, who uncannily reminded her of a Viking with his broad shoulders and braided blonde beard, and waited. When he didn't speak again, she coughed.
"I'm sorry," she said again, "but how may I help you?"
He pointed to the shards. "This mirror," he began, "was goblin-wrought, five centuries old. It was broken this afternoon. I've been told you can fix it."
Hermione stared at him. "I'm sorry," she said for the third time, "but I—"
"The Restorative Bog-Seal Charm. That's what it needs."
"And I hear you're the one who invented it."
This was true, though she didn't know how he had come across such information. The charm was public knowledge, but the identity of its creator was not. She had had far too much attention from the media after the War; as much as the greater part of her yearned for scholastic recognition, the rest of her simply wanted to be left alone. She was not a celebrity, yet she had been treated like one; though she desired praise at her most fundamental levels, enough was enough. Things had only just died down when she had been examining Harry's two-way mirror, and had been struck by an idea of how to repair it—magical mirrors being heretofore irreparable.
Hermione paused a moment. "I am," she affirmed hesitantly. "The charm involves a complicated process, however—rather more ritualistic than is customary, because of the accompanying salve. And," she added in the same breath, hoping to provide further discouragement, "it requires the assistance of the person who broke the mirror in question."
The man waved his hand dismissively. "That's not a problem. He's waiting outside."
That was it, then. She could think of no other excuse. Hermione took another look at the shards on her desk; now that she had been told what they were, she felt foolish for not recognizing them at once. Goblin-made mirrors always more resembled opaque diamonds than glass when they were shattered. There were also distinct lines of magic crisscrossing along the backs of some of the pieces, signs of the latticework foundation originally put into place by the goblins to all but ensure the mirror would be unbreakable. Whoever had broken this mirror was very clumsy, indeed.
Hermione tore her eyes from the former mirror and nodded at the man. "I'd be glad to help you, then."
Once she had got his name and information—Sven Bracegirdle of Peebles—jotting it down on the proper notepad, she let him lead her out to where the mirror-breaker waited. Sven warmed to her considerably after she agreed to fix the mirror, falling into amiable conversation as they headed to the lifts. By the time they reached the Atrium, Hermione had become quite an expert on Muffins, Tuppence, and Bluebell, Sven's beloved pet kneazles. She was admittedly a bit relieved to see the tall fireplaces arching on either side of them, and began to look about searchingly for Sven's mirror-breaker.
Sven, however, proceeded directly to the nearest fireplace. Puzzled, Hermione followed. Where was 'outside,' exactly? She had thought it meant outside her office, and when that had proved to be untrue, she had thought it meant here. Surely, Sven had not banished the mirror-breaker into exile in some remote location. But the only clue she received was yet another proclamation of "Outside!" when Sven stepped into the fireplace. She was fairly certain that that wasn't how it worked, but decided it was best to follow him, wand at the ready.
To her astonishment, she turned up inside a phone booth, her shoulder jammed uncomfortably under the telephone. With a jolt, she realized that it was the phone booth. She hadn't known it was possible to get out through the visitor's entrance. Sven seemed to know an awful lot of things he shouldn't—Hermione would have to talk to Kingsley about security issues.
Out the windows, she could see Sven waiting for her next to a lamppost, which had a little white dog tied to it. There was nobody else in sight.
Hermione carefully extricated herself from the booth, brushed off her robes, and proceeded toward Sven.
"Where—?" she began, but as soon as she started speaking, the little white dog began to pull on its lead, staring at her with bug eyes she didn't think were at all natural. After a moment, it moved to gnawing desperately on its lead.
Hermione tried to take the lead from its mouth; the dog nearly bit her, but then seemed to think better of it. As a consequence of almost attempting to take her hand off, however, the lead fell out of its mouth, and Hermione snatched it up at once.
At a questioning look, Sven merely shrugged. "I didn't want him to get away."
Hermione blinked, then relaxed. Surely, surely, he could not mean what she thought he meant.
"This dog broke your mirror?" she asked hopefully. A couple walking by on the street eyed Sven's beard curiously.
Sven hesitated, as if suddenly abashed. "Well... it's like I said. I... didn't want him to get away. He seemed awfully eager to run off once he'd damaged my property."
Hermione gaped at him. "Oh my—!" She checked to make sure the street was empty—the couple had disappeared around the corner. Then, she crouched down, and in one fluid motion, she waved her wand over the dog, detecting the counter-curse at the same time she cast it. She thought she heard Sven mutter, "Don't let him off his lead," but she didn't pay him any mind.
In a matter of seconds, the dog had given a gasp—but that was because it was no longer a dog. It was a young man with pale, mussed blonde hair, who, because he was still hunched on all fours, had his pointed nose nearly touching Hermione's. His equally pointed chin had an untidy shadow of scruff that seemed odd, though she could not explain why. She was about to ask the man whether he was all right, when he raised his eyes to meet hers. They were grey, and very, very sullen.
Hermione gasped, and shot backward at the same time the man did. It did not work well for either of them: Hermione landed flat on her rump, and Draco Malfoy nearly choked himself to death with the lead that was still buckled round his neck. He clawed at it desperately while Hermione attempted to form the proper words.
For once, all she managed was a horrified, "You!"
She could feel her face heating up in a blush as she scrambled to her feet. Malfoy had managed to unclasp the lead, but a firm grip on his upper arm, courtesy of Sven, stopped him from escaping. His own cheeks were flushed angrily, and something flashed in his eyes briefly that she did not quite catch as he glanced at her. She supposed it was probably loathing. He redirected this loathing at Sven, which suited Hermione just fine.
In the hopes of regaining her professional dignity, she attempted to keep her voice calm. "Sven," she asked, "am I correct in presuming that it was this man who broke your mirror?"
Instead of Sven, it was Malfoy who answered. "I didn't break anything," he insisted hotly.
"That. Is. A. Lie," Sven growled.
"Not on purpose, then!"
"That doesn't change the fact that you broke it!"
Still rather in shock, the only thing Hermione thought to ask was, "What on earth were you doing in Peebles?"
At least it got the two men to stop arguing.
"What the hell is Peebles?" Malfoy demanded. "How can I have been there when I've never even heard of it?"
"Then where were you when you broke the mirror?"
"I didn't break the—"
"Essex," Sven told her. "I was in Essex with the mirror. I'd stopped on my way to Diagon Alley, where it was to be cleaned. I had it leaned against a bench, when he"—he jabbed his free hand at Malfoy, who flinched—"came trotting by, careless as you please, and caught his fancy coat on the frame. He tried to pull himself free, but he only pulled the mirror with him."
Essex, unfortunately, made sense. It was in Essex, after all, that Malfoy had a flat. Hermione knew this because her own flat was, regrettably, the one next to it. Malfoy had been scandalized—she had seen the look on his face—that his wealth and familial prestige had landed him in a place which Hermione could afford, and Hermione had been disgusted that, after seven years of fighting dark wizards—and surviving—her good luck had deposited her in a place where she might have to do laundry with one. They had to share a wall, for goodness sake!
In the beginning, they had done everything within their power—which was, admittedly, quite a lot—to get the other to move out. Malfoy had had large parties—or at least, played loud music; she had never actually seen anyone go in or out of his flat—and she had been sure to brew the most foul-smelling potions she could think of in hopes that his pointy little nose would curl right up into his head. She also knew for a fact that Crookshanks had peed on Malfoy's welcome mat, though she'd had nothing directly to do with that. (Crookshanks was simply a good judge of character.)
When it had appeared that neither was going to relent—and they had received several complaints from other residents—they began to expertly and judiciously ignore one another. Hermione knew Malfoy's daily routine as surely as Malfoy knew hers, and, without discussing it, they had adjusted these routines so that they would only just miss seeing each other in the corridor. (As Hermione washed her clothes by wand, and Malfoy probably did not wash his own clothes at all, an encounter in the laundry room was not an issue.) In case they happened to need to run errands at the same time, they had an unofficial exit strategy, in which Hermione would take the stairway to the right, and Malfoy would take the lift to the left. This was only ever a problem on weekends, because Hermione was at the Ministry nearly all day during the week. She and Malfoy did not even have to speak, and for the past two years, their flowing, wordless dance had carried them through life in a more or less satisfactory manner. There had been that one time, but Hermione could not—would not—speak of it, not even to herself; she was quite happy to put it on her list of things to ignore, as a nicely indented bullet point beneath her neighbor's name.
Yes. She had always told herself she was quite happy.
"Essex," Hermione repeated, frowning. "Yes, all right. Well, Malfoy, you and I had better get started." She considered, then added, "Oh, and you can let go of his arm now, Sven."
"I don't see why you need me for this, Granger," Malfoy drawled a week later. The terrible squelching of his boots in the mud defused much of the viciousness in his tone; the fact that he was wearing dungarees in addition to muddy Wellingtons made him about has harmless as a kitten.
"I need you because you're the idiot who broke the mirror," she shot back—and not for the first time.
"So you've told me," he squelched at her, "but it isn't as if you've explained anything. I don't know a thing about what we're looking for, which makes me quite useless for your little excursion."
"Useless?" she mused. "Oh yes, normally I'd agree with you. Unfortunately, as you're the great klutz who—"
"Granger, I swear to—"
"You've got to pick certain plants to go in the salve. You've got to right what you've wronged. It's part of the magic."
Malfoy snorted, swatting at a fly. "It sounds too moralizing to be part of a spell—exactly like something a self-righteous Gryffindor would think up. Oh, wait." He pretended to have had some sort of epiphany.
"You've no right to criticize me or to complain. You wouldn't even help me lay out the mirror. Not that I would have trusted you with such a task, anyway..." She recalled the painstaking care of the past week, in which she had labored to piece the thousands of mirror shards back together on her living room floor.
"Right, because putting together puzzles in the playroom with Granger is something I've always dreamed of." Malfoy squelched a bit more.
Hermione nearly screamed. She whirled around, jabbing her wand at him "The least you could do is walk a bit more quietly!"
Malfoy threw up his thin hands. "We are in a bog, Granger! My feet could get sucked into the mud and stuck forever at any second! We could be attacked from all sides by wild animals! Noise"—he drew out the word in a drawl—"is probably the only thing keeping us safe from wolves."
"Wolves?" Hermione snorted. "What are you, Little Smug Riding Hood? Malfoy, there haven't been any wolves here for centuries."
"What do you call a werewolf, then?"
"A werewolf, you impossible prat! Besides, the next full moon isn't for another fortnight. And we're only going to be here during the daytime. No need to run home screaming to Mummy. The most we'll see is a dugbog or a bowtruckle. Now..." She shot a Silencing Charm at his boots, smiled to herself, and pulled a piece of parchment from her pocket. Seeing Malfoy in filthy dungarees like a common farmhand was almost enough—almost—to keep her from wanting to wring his neck.
She was wearing a similar outfit herself, but then, she reasoned, she had always cared much less for her appearance. Instead, she cared a great deal for practicality, and having to tramp through a marshy landscape for several hours was hardly an occasion for neglecting it. Besides, their clothing was magically enhanced, as well, to suit their needs. The dungarees wouldn't feel wet unless completely submerged, and Hermione had spelled the boots not to sink too deeply into the water or mud. Malfoy's fears of being dragged below the surface and drowned—or whatever it was he was frightened of now—were completely unfounded.
Absently, she rubbed at a streak of mud that was drying across her cheek. At least it wasn't terribly hot out, though the air had periods of stagnancy, much like the patches of water that stretched around them like puddling leopard spots. Everything around them would appear dead and still, frozen in time, until suddenly a gust of wind would rush through to shake the weeds and grasses, or a dragonfly would skim down along the water and propel the bog into motion. The trees across the water seemed a constant painted backdrop until she happened to squint at them for a bit; then she noticed the delicate swaying of each individual branch, the fluttering of the leaves that lined them.
Hermione could not deny that she enjoyed field work. She was best in a library or at her desk, of course, taking notes from a stack of books in some quest or other for truth. Years of adventures with Harry and Ron, however, had honed her skills in the wide open world, where she could find practical applications for her knowledge. It was not uncommon for someone to find her gathering her own potion ingredients—the method was important, she always said—nor was it particularly odd that a vein of research might take her to some interesting location. For a time, the Department had even put her in one of the squads responsible for tracking down injured—and often dangerous—magical creatures because of her quick mind when situations turned difficult. She did not have the physical reflexes of the rest of the squad, but she had learned to make quick, logical decisions that were just as good, often better.
Although, truth be told, she was rather relieved to be put to more exclusively mental work. She hoped to be a part of the legal section of the Department one day, a different sort of public defender. That was a ways off, though. She was only roughly a few years out of Hogwarts, and still had much to prove.
Blinking, Hermione realized she had been staring at the piece of parchment in her hand without actually reading it for several moments. She seemed to be doing that a lot lately. She would almost call it daydreaming, except that it wasn't. One of her coworkers had also informed her that she had been sighing a lot lately. She would have to work on resharpening her focus.
While she was lost in her thoughts, Malfoy had been awfully quiet—as far as she could tell. He had not made one rude remark about her distractedness, and had not even grumped at her to move along. How peculiar.
She turned around, just in time to see Malfoy point his wand defiantly at his boots and mutter, "Finite Incantatem." There was a moment in which he simply looked at her smugly, pleased with himself for getting rid of her Silencing Charm and once more able to be as noisy as he wished. Then, with a horrible splash, his boots gave way, and he dropped into the water like a stone. The fool had also removed the spell that kept him from sinking.
For an odd moment, Hermione felt her heart drop with him; she felt it drop from somewhere in her throat, travel past her spine, and come crashing down somewhere around her toes. She did not think to pick it up. For after that moment, she felt only inexplicable terror. The terror only grew when Malfoy's white-blonde head disappeared under the muddy water, and did not reappear again, not even when she felt that several hours had passed, though it must only have been seconds.
Seconds too long. Was this really happening? Hermione affirmed to herself that it was, and then did the only logical thing she could think of. She shoved her wand and parchment into her pocket, quickly squelched over to where she could see a few indolent bubbles rising to the surface, and planted her feet at the edges of the deep but narrow pool. The boots prevented her from sinking as Malfoy had done. Thus positioned, she plunged both hands into the muck. The ends of her hair dipped into it after her. If she couldn't find him, she would take her wand, and—
There! Her fingers had brushed his. Squatting down, she searched blindly until her hands found his wrists, and she grasped onto them as tightly as she could; she felt him return the gesture. Knees trembling, heart pounding, she gave a great pull. The water lapped at her boots angrily, and the mud squelched to its heart's content, but slowly, surely, Malfoy was rising. He jerked slightly in her hands, probably kicking his feet to propel him upward. Eventually, something vaguely head-shaped broke the surface. It gave a wheezing cough.
Hermione was almost squatting now. Her strength was giving out—it was rather a miracle she had pulled Malfoy as far as she had. She could envision herself whisking him from danger, flinging him from the water and onto her back as if he were no more than a sack of potatoes. She envisioned it, but could not make it happen. Not quite. Malfoy's shoulders were sinking back into the muck; his kicking and struggling had begun to make her lose her grip. She could feel herself sinking after him, the charm on her boots struggling to hold up so much weight.
For the next few seconds, she was more frightened than before—yet all the more determined. She let him go. She grabbed her wand.
Before he could give one more good kick, Malfoy shot into the air suspended by one ankle, so covered in mud and grime it appeared as if he were made of it. He dripped globs of greenish slime into the water below, which was now almost still. Hermione grabbed one of his flailing arms. A hillock rose out of the water nearby, green, beautiful, and safe, and she dragged Malfoy toward it as though he were some sort of perverse balloon. As soon as her feet hit the sloping grass, she reversed the spell, and Malfoy came floating down beside her, as gracefully as could be. Some of the grass was still rather bedewed from the morning mist, so she yanked fistfuls of it from the ground, and began wiping at his mud-covered face. All the while, Malfoy sputtered indignantly at being 'scrubbed by a mad woman with weeds.' Apparently, he had got over the shock of his nearly drowning.
Hermione, however, had not. With determinedly pursed lips, she continued to scrub until she had got the mud out from about his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. (Malfoy quieted a bit while she was near his eyes.) A well aimed Scourgify took care of the rest. She might have used it initially, but there were some things—more delicate things—for which she felt a Muggle touch was appropriate.
She didn't want to accidentally blind him with a cleaning spell, after all—who knew all the filthy things he had seen that the spell might try to wash away?
There was a cut on his cheek that still bled lightly. Hermione wasn't much of a Healer, so she decided to simply dab at it a bit with the grass, to get out the mud.
Then she stopped.
The laughter was rather shaky, but it was enough to make Malfoy scowl. "What?" he demanded.
Hermione shook her head, still chuckling. "Sorry, but..."
He swiped his finger across his cheek, bringing it in front of his face. It was smeared with a mixture of blood and mud. He glowered at Hermione, a bit chagrined.
"Wonderful," he drawled. She noted that his voice was a little shaky, too. "It seems I've gone to meet death, and come out the other side a Mudblood."
Hermione shrugged. "It's a fair trade."
Malfoy was quiet for while, picking at the bits of grass that stuck to his skin. Hermione was suddenly exhausted; whatever strength she had retained deserted her completely, and she sunk back against the hillock with a groan. The dewy grass felt like soothing aloe against her skin, which she had only just realized was flushed with exertion. She felt as if she had been running about for hours, and had only now decided on a rest. It had been years since she'd been required to do something like that.
Perhaps she was more out of practice than she thought.
How long it was before either of them spoke, Hermione didn't know. But at some point after her heart had calmed, and her breathing had slowed to normal, and she felt as though she could melt into the earth, she heard Malfoy shifting in the grass.
"Granger?" he asked.
It didn't sound as though he were about to snark at her, so she responded in kind. "Hm?"
"You... er... saved me."
"Yes, I did."
She kept her eyes closed, the sun blessing her with its warm bath.
Shrugging into the grass, Hermione gave a snort. "Because however else would I be able to repair that wretched mirror?"
Malfoy paused. "It's a Gryffindor thing, isn't it?"
"I think a Featherweight Charm would have been more effective. Your spell of choice nearly wrenched my leg off."
"My hands were starting to slip. You're quite slimy, you know. I mean that literally this time."
"You ought to have Summoned me, then."
"Do stop talking."
Malfoy's dungarees were soaked through as well as entrenched in grime, but he managed to fix them up well enough—his wandwork was not too shabby, Hermione couldn't help but notice. Hermione's own dungarees had stayed dry, as per the spell, so she had only to wring the mud from her hair and renew the spell on Malfoy's boots. He wouldn't allow her anywhere near them until she had explained at least three times what it was she wanted to do, and even then, he watched her mistrustfully.
"It's your own fault you nearly drowned," she told him crossly. "You undid both my spells."
"Well, you wanted me to be ravaged by wild beasts! I was only trying to protect myself."
"Yes, 'trying' rather seems to be the key."
"I'm starting in on seven years of bad luck, it isn't my fault!"
"There was no bad-luck curse on that mirror!"
Though Malfoy had recovered faster than she from the whole 'nearly drowning' incident, he had insisted they remain on the hillock for well past a half hour longer. She herself had only required an additional fifteen minutes before her mind started whirring away, adjusting her mental schedule for the time that had been lost. They had only been in the marshes an hour before things had gone so terribly awry, and they had still only gathered the first of five ingredients: meddlin, allegedly fairy-grown—though how something so dimwitted as a fairy could maintain an entire species of plant was a mystery to her. She had had Malfoy cut three of the curlicued stalks with a pair of silver scissors, going counterclockwise from stalk to stalk. He then had to tie them together with one of the plant's long, milky leaves—bound thus, they maintained more of their magical properties when being ground for the salve. Hermione had been rather self-conscious as she explained all this, but Malfoy had said nothing about it. For once, she had been thankful that Malfoy had been Professor Snape's favorite.
They still needed goblin's root—this was the key—mallowsweet, elf-ear mushroom bark, and boggum—preferably dried, though the drying process only took three days under the proper conditions. The mallowsweet would be easy enough to find as long as they were looking specifically for it, and boggum was common enough that, once they came across a hollow log that had fallen into the marsh, they would have to search no longer. Only the goblin's root and the mushroom bark would be more challenging to locate. Elf-ear mushrooms turned invisible if they heard anyone approach, and so would have to be snuck up on before being collected. Goblin's root could be lured aboveground only with real gold; you couldn't leave gold lying about everywhere, though (even if you could afford it—Malfoy refused to contribute), because then it would become skeptical and ignore the gold altogether. There were various important methods of harvesting all of these, of course, once you actually managed to find them.
Hermione was certain they could manage. Harry had helped her the very first time, since he had broken Sirius's mirror by proxy, but after that, when she had begun mostly breaking mirrors herself—removing all bad-luck curses beforehand—she had ventured out to the marshes on her own. She had catalogued where she had found each ingredient every time, but this did not help as much as she had hoped: these particular magical ingredients were rarely found in the same place twice.
"Think mallowsweet," she called over her shoulder to Malfoy, who lagged behind because he feared being sucked into the swampy waters around him more than ever.
"What does that even mean?" Malfoy scowled. "Am I to think like the mallowsweet? Shall I become one with the mallowsweet?"
Hermione snorted. "If you'd like. Or, you can useful and picture the mallowsweet in your head."
"What does it look like?"
She sighed. "Perhaps just think the word 'mallowsweet,' then. If that isn't too difficult for you."
"And if I think about this little mallow thing, it's going to show up, just like—"
Grinning, Hermione came to a stop. "Yes, Malfoy," she said, bending down to inspect the patch of tiny green leaves and sugary-looking flowers that she had suddenly noticed at her feet. "Just like magic."
Malfoy loomed curiously over her shoulder while she cut the mallowsweet, this time with an ordinary knife. The mirror-breaker wasn't required to harvest this one, nor was any special instrument needed—in fact, a special instrument had been known to dull the effects of the mallowsweet, so that the mirror, once repaired, would be slightly less magical than it had been before; in a two-way mirror alone, it could make images a bit foggy about the edges. Hermione explained this rather absently, and she saw Malfoy's shadow nod on the ground beside her.
The boggum was as easy to collect as she had expected. Soon beyond the mallowsweet, a hollow log appeared in their path, half submerged. Hermione told Malfoy to reach inside and feel for a sticky, grainy sort of substance. When he pulled out a handful of something that looked like acid-green, liquefied sphagnum moss, she had recoiled in spite of herself, crying, "Oh, don't touch that!" There was a brief period in which Malfoy nearly went into spasms attempting to scrape the goo from his hand, wiggling his appendage about in the water so panicked-like that Hermione nearly fell backward over the log from laughing. In the end, the skin on his hand was dry and cracked from so many Scourgifys.
Another two hours passed before Malfoy demanded a second break. Wiping the sweat from her brow, Hermione gladly obliged him. She had watched him out of the corner of her eye for those two hours and had come to the startling conclusion that she didn't mind so much, having him here with her. That was in spite of the time he had nearly run her into a tree because he hadn't noticed she'd stopped walking—he hadn't acknowledged his clumsiness, but had at least had the courtesy to flush a bit as he stared resolutely elsewhere. It was also despite the occasion in which he spooked mightily at a rustling in a close group of bushes, and had clutched at her hand in terror, only to discover a rather startled-looking mouse. (That time, they had both blushed.)
But that was the thing, really. Nature actually did Malfoy good. He wasn't the sort of wild-man type to run off into the wilderness, only to return ten years later with a three-foot-long beard, animal-skin clothing, and an immunity to mosquitoes. When he wasn't starting at every suspicious rattle of wind through the trees, or flinching at buzzing insects, Hermione had seen him start to relax a little. She had seen how he seemed to arch himself toward the sun, as though chlorophyll, not blood, ran through his veins; she had seen his curiosity piqued by odd growth formations in the bog, had seen his steps eventually lighten until once—very briefly, mind—he had reminded her of a deer. Nature did Malfoy good the way it did Hermione. It was all very well to spend your life indoors, but from time to time, you needed to be reminded of that mysterious being, fresh air. She highly doubted that Narcissa Malfoy had allowed her son to scurry up trees like a rabid squirrel throughout his childhood. (As a matter of fact, neither had Hermione's mother, but not because it was undignified; Hermione knew full well from whom she'd inherited her worry streak.)
During their respite, they decided to try their luck with the goblin's root, placing a few Galleons in likely places, such as the crook between two tree roots, or the lee of a weathered stone. Malfoy suggested they leave the ones they had already placed, and scatter a few more elsewhere. To which, of course, Hermione replied that he was welcome to, so long as they were his Galleons they would leave unattended. (He did not seem to understand this at first. "But it will be more efficient this way," he'd insisted.)
Eventually, they settled onto another hillock, from which they could watch all of the Galleons with ease.
"How long will it take?" Malfoy hissed in her ear. The feel of his breath there made her shiver slightly, despite the warmth and dryness of her dungarees.
"It will take as long as it needs to take," she hissed back, though she was sure it didn't have the same effect. Malfoy had his eyes trained on the Galleons, and did not appear to notice her. In fact, for all the noticing she had done of him, she had not caught him noticing much of her. This bothered her, for some reason.
Her troubling line of thought was interrupted when Malfoy suddenly pointed at one of the Galleons, shouting, "There! There! I see one!"
Her eyes found the third Galleon—this being the closest to his outstretched finger—and she searched the dark earth around it. Nothing.
"I don't think—" she began, just as Malfoy said, "Oh."
"Oh?" she echoed.
"Nevermind," he said.
Frowning, she asked what he had seen, but he refused to tell her. In a moment, however, her question was answered: a little brown moth, much the same color as the goblin's root would have been, took flight from beside the third Galleon. She might have poked fun at Malfoy for this—nothing too harsh, of course, for she could see herself making the same mistake with less experience—but his shoulders had slumped in a sad sort of way, as if he were very disappointed that he had not been useful after all.
Hermione considered this. Here they had been, tramping about for hours, and all she had really needed Malfoy to do was cut some weeds and handle a bit of sludge. It was important, yes, but hardly exciting, and hardly something she couldn't have done on her own, had it been she who had broken the mirror. She had teased him about being useless, but perhaps he was actually feeling the brunt of that. Perhaps—in whatever strange, alternate universe this was—Malfoy felt badly about not being able to help more.
Perhaps the large bird that had passed over them a while ago had not been a bird at all, but a flying pig.
She did not discount this theory, exactly. She had not discounted many things since she had learned she was a witch. The world—the true, full world—was an unfathomably bizarre place.
The universe seemed intent upon proving this true, because the next time Malfoy opened his mouth, he said something that Hermione would never in a thousand years have expected. Apparently, Malfoy would not have expected it either, because he spoke haltingly, almost as if the words were beyond his control.
"Do you... do you remember?" he asked her. He was not looking at her, exactly, not at first—more like somewhere over her shoulder. His body was positioned toward hers, though, attuned to her as she was attuned to him. "I mean... that one time...?"
He sounded almost... shy.
But there was no shyness in the way he looked at her then.