Characters by JK Rowling who is a genius – all I do is play in her sandpit. All and any mistakes are mine. I make no money from this – only enjoyment.
"It's a what?"
Hermione Granger, unemployed Auror and current owner of a large debt to Gringotts, stroked the small box and smiled at her backer.
"A verse-creator, Draco. Something that will give you a suitable poem, at your prompting, for any occasion. Wedding, Valentines, Christening..."
"Merlin, Granger. Any occasion?"
"Test it." Hermione flipped open the teak cover of the control panel and pointed to the small grill embedded therein. "Tell it what you need, and the reason, and see what it does."
Draco Malfoy leaned over, his brows knitting in a manner guaranteed to negate all the wrinkle-free cream he'd applied that morning. "Great Aunt Agatha's funeral. Eulogy."
The box hummed and buzzed for a moment, then a small slip of parchment slipped out the bottom, bearing only three lines.
"Three lines? That's not much of a Eulogy!" Draco picked it up and waved it in front of Hermione, who took it from him and slapped his arm lightly.
"You didn't read it, Draco. The device needs more information. Here: 'Her favourite flower, the name of her house-elf, something she did for you.' Can you answer it?"
Draco smiled in spite of himself, then leaned over and spoke once more. "Stinging nettles, Bonzo, spanked me hard for stealing her nail polish."
"DRACO!" The grin on her partner's face confirmed Hermione's suspicions, but she watched with fascination as the machine once more hummed and buzzed. Within moments, it started feeding out a length of parchment that would have rivalled any of her own assignments, the lines spaced in such a manner that she knew it was the poetry he requested. She reached for the parchment, but was beaten by Draco as he snatched it from the machine and held it up for the ink to dry.
"Agatha, your memory lives on
As ever will your legacy of love.
While we remaining souls will mourn,
Your spirit watches us from o'er above
We think of you each time we hold so close
The stinging nettles that you held so dear,
And none more so than Bonzo, your dear elf
Will keep these treasured memories quite near.
That nail-polish, high upon the shelf
Which bottle's loss you rued upon the day …
… Ye gods, Granger, the poetry sucks but I can see this working. It's just the sort of thing all the biddies at the Old Witches' Home would love to hear about themselves. And I can't believe it actually wrote that..."
"You don't have a Great Aunt Agatha, do you?" Hermione didn't need to hear an answer – the gleam in Draco's eyes told her everything, and she snatched the poem back, rolled it into a tight cylinder then used it to beat him on the head. "I would have believed the nail-polish, but the stinging nettles?"
"It was a good test though." Draco shielded himself, then grabbed once more at the parchment. The tug-of-war went on another minute or so, then Hermione suddenly let go of her end. As Draco fell back into a waiting armchair, she closed off the input port and started packing the device into its protective carton. "So, you want to present this at my father's offices next Tuesday? I think I might have a buyer."
"I can't tell. Have to check it with them first, but they do a lot of work in the publishing business. Cards. Love letters. That sort of thing. I'll call my contact, and let you know." Draco pulled himself up and checked his reflection in a handy mirror over Hermione's mantelpiece. "But I have to run - I have a date."
Draco blushed, and swept a small piece of lint off his shoulders. "Maybe." He spun and quickly hugged her, almost as if he was still ashamed to be friends with her, then threw a handful of powder into the fire and headed out.
His owl two days later confirmed the meeting, but left Hermione spluttering with indignation.
"Buyer does not deal with Muggles. Had to tell a small porky, suggest you use a glamour and come as an unknown witch. Have told them your name is Jane Basilby. Of all the nerve..." Hermione paced her small living room nervously, the Verse Creator 2000 humming beside her. She'd decided the name needed some "oomph", and had carefully carved it into the wooden sides in brass lettering, which gleamed in the firelight and gave the machine a very steampunk look.
Her stomach rumbled, and the emptiness of the pantry reminded her of her financial situation. Being dismissed as an Auror for championing house-elves rights would have been bad enough, but the rumour had swept around the Ministry that she'd actually been caught by Severus Snape while she was snogging Draco in the storeroom on the third floor. Which wasn't actually true, but it didn't help her with finding a new position.
Her cheeks burned with the memory. She'd been starting to get rather keen on her old Potions Master, and had hoped that he might … well, that wasn't going to happen now. The look on Draco's face when Severus had flung open the door of the storeroom had scared her into silence - the desperate don't give me away please Hermione whispered into her ear – just as she had been holding him as he cried on her shoulder about his broken and damaged heart... And behind Severus, of all people, Dolores Umbridge who had been collecting her personal belongings stored in that very storeroom against the day she was released from Azkaban...
If Hermione had wanted to set up an embarrassing and disastrous misunderstanding, she couldn't have done better. It was only because Draco didn't want the Wizarding World (and by Wizarding World he meant his parents and his godfather) to find out about his … preferences … that Hermione held her tongue. Watched as Draco's engagement to Astoria was quietly annulled. Shrugged as Ron stormed out of her place, carrying the clothes that he would leave there occasionally. And wept afterwards on Harry's shoulder when she was dismissed from her position.
The only good thing that came out of the whole debacle was that she had told Harry the truth – that Draco had been crying on her shoulder because he didn't think Harry would ever be interested in him – and Harry, instead of being horrified, had smiled a rather shy and pleased smile and asked her to call Draco to her place. She wished the pair would let her tell the world how happy they made each other, if only to help clear her own name, but they were waiting for the right moment. If "coming out" was hard enough in the Muggle World, it was doubly difficult for a Hero and a Pure Blood in the world of narrow-minded bigoted wizards...
"Enough." Hermione shook herself. "Self-pity gets me nowhere – and no dinner." Grabbing her coat, she headed for the Cauldron and some food. It might be her last few Galleons, but she was too hungry to care any more.
The tall, blonde, impeccably-dressed woman who showed up to Malfoy Management and Facilitators didn't show how nervous she was. She'd even cured herself of constantly pulling down the hem of the very smart corporate-style skirt she was wearing, despite the fact that she felt that the entire world could see her … assets. They couldn't. Draco had assured her that his mother's outfit that he'd … borrowed … would magically adjust itself to the optimum position to make people think they could see things, but would adequately cover anything Hermione wanted kept private. And she had to admit that the gentle glamour that slightly aged and refined her face and lightened her hair had the wonderful effect of making her look very, very professional. Not at all like a young witch who had been recently thrown out of a job. Or who was desperate for any income at all...
She walked into the boardroom, faced the four people sitting at the other end of the table, and took a deep breath. Draco stood and came up to her, not at all acting as if he'd been shaking her shoulders an hour before and telling her to calm down – for Merlin's sake Granger, you've got the legs to pull this off – now wear it!
"Ms Basilby! Thank you for joining us. Let me introduce the rest of the committee. My father, Lucius Malfoy; George Weasley and Harry Potter who are two of the financial backers looking into this project; and the wizard who is considering collaborating with us, Edmund Dujean. Might I introduce to you Ms Jane Basilby?"
Hermione smiled at the group and tried not to appear desperate. She'd spent her last three sickles on a stale bun on the way in, and was seriously considering having to borrow from Harry if this didn't work out. "Thank you all for agreeing to meet with me today. I'm here to present to you the Verse Creator 2000 …"
"2000?" Harry looked concerned.
"There were a few prototypes, but I called it the 2000 because there are over two thousand sentiments, quips and romantic ideas inside this small box." Hermione hated the way it sounded, but she'd read a couple of How to sell yourself and your ideas books and this seemed to be what they were advocating. "I've yet to give it an idea for a poem that it hasn't coped with. Even eulogies seem to flow smoothly, with just the right level of sentiment to appeal to the widest audience." She stroked the lid of the machine gently, unaware of the confidence boost it was giving her.
"How does it work?" Lucius leant forward and gestured at her to open it up. "Does it read your mind, or use some sort of divination?"
"It's powered by a tiny quantity of Veritaserum in a closed-circuit pump mechanism, and seems to pick up the truth of what the person requests." She opened the lid, and tilted it forwards so that the panel could see the input grille. "You need to tell it the occasion, and what sort of poem you'd like, and it will ask for more information if necessary. Draco was kind enough to test it for me. Perhaps you'd like a demonstration?"
George Weasley smiled encouragingly at her, and she had the strangest feeling that he could see through her disguise. "It is Valentine's Day, Ms Basilby. Perhaps it could write me a poem for someone?"
"Go ahead." She slid the box over to George, who spoke clearly into the grille.
"Angelina Johnson. Limerick."
The machine whirred a moment, and then spat out a small slip of paper. Hermione expected it to be a request for more information, but instead it held the following verse:
Angelina, chaser supreme,
Her heart is as big as a team,
But when she is taught
Not to chase but be caught,
George Weasley can give her her dream.
"Wow." George took the parchment, and folded it carefully before stowing it in his pocket. "Um … do people mind if we finish this meeting early? I have something I need to do."
Hermione almost giggled; she had never seen George blush or smile so sweetly before. "I think you'll agree, then, that this machine is up to the task?"
"Wait a moment, Ms Basilby, if you please." Mr Dujean stood up and walked around the table. "If what you say is correct, this machine could be used in other ways."
"It could, for instance, be used," he drawled slowly, leaning over the machine for a closer look, "to predict the perfect soul mate. Mine, perhaps."
The machine buzzed, and Mr Dujean jumped back as it started vibrating rapidly. All at the table watched in rapt fascination as for a minute it looked as if the device would self-combust. Finally, a sheet of parchment started feeding out of the bottom, four close-set lines covering it. The machine stilled, and a thin wisp of pink smoke drifted out of the top.
No-one dared move until Lucius leaned forwards and picked up the paper.
"It's a poem. A love-poem." His eyes drifted down the page, and then he laughed out loud.
Lucius looked from Hermione to Mr Dujean and back, and his face grew redder as he tried to speak, but the humour of the situation overcame him and finally, gasping, he handed the parchment to Draco and started sipping water in a vain attempt to regain some control. Draco looked down the page and his face lit up with a rather twisted smile. Without further ado he began reading.
"Beloved Hermione, you're thick as a log.
Severus Snape is the one you should snog.
And Severus, surely you don't need a shove
To work out Hermione's the one that you love."
George and Harry looked from Mr Dujean to Hermione and back, and their laughter joined the others as "Mr Dujean" drew himself up to his maximum height and shed the glamour he was using. Faced with the truth, Hermione also spoke the words that had the glamour melting off her, and she looked into the eyes of her crush with her cheeks blazing like a bonfire.
Severus looked extremely annoyed, and turned to Draco. "I thought she was your girlfriend. If this is your idea of a joke..."
"Um... I should explain." Draco walked around to Harry and put his hand on the dark-haired wizard's shoulder. "Hermione was just telling me what a fool I was not to follow my own heart. I did, and it led me to Harry." He turned to his father, whose smile had frozen. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, Father, but I'm in love with a wizard, not a witch. Can you forgive me?"
Lucius' smile finally slipped off totally, and he looked at his son silently for a minute. "You … you're …"
"Gay" Lucius repeated, still trying to take it in. "You love … For the sake of all that's magic, did it have to be Potter?"
"Lucius, be grateful. He could have been enchanted by the favours of Stan Shupike." Severus walked over to his old friend and looked him in the eye. "And if it's real love, who are we to stand in its way?" Lucius nodded, then turned back to his son.
"This, Draco, is a bigger shock than when you told me the wolfhounds had eaten the peacocks. I think I need a drink." He looked around the company, then beckoned to Harry, Draco and George. "And you lot had better join me. I think there's some business here that needs some privacy."
"If you'll excuse me..." George slipped quickly out the door, and the others followed, leaving Hermione and Severus facing each other.
"Is it true?" Hermione gulped, scared for what the answer might be.
"That I care for you? Yes. But I thought you didn't care for me." Severus stepped towards Hermione and held out both his hands.
"I've loved you for ages, Severus. I was just too..."
"Too scared to say it?"
Hermione would have answered, except that at that moment Severus pulled her into his arms and began kissing her. Hard.
Behind them, the machine spat out one last note.
"About time, you two. That's one true love way
To find out your true love on Valentine's Day."