A/N: Hello readers! Look, a new story! It's going to be 28 chapters long and an epilogue (yes, I'm done writing it, so there shouldn't be huge waits between chapters like some of my other stories *coughThisIncarnationcough*
You have Irianaceleste to thank for it being out so soon. I was going to make you wait at least another week or so before I had this out, but she got the first three chapters betaed so fast. And here it is! Don't forget to review, kay?
Tall, broad shouldered, and with a fondness for leather duster coats that had saved his arse on more than one occasion, he cut a rather impressive figure. In his mind, there was nothing more intimidating than someone looking completely unruffled in a dire situation.
He patted his pockets and fished out various things. Frowning down at his dwindling supplies, he slipped a wooden stake, a vial of holy water, and his wand into the many pockets of his long coat. Never leave the house without first being properly prepared – that motto had saved his arse even more times than the trench coats had.
He worked for The Department of Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures – emphasis on the control. His partner got to handle all the regulating, he did the dirty work. The kind of dirty work that involved the satisfying crunch of broken bones and on rare occasions, a beheading. Working was always most satisfying when he brought out his sword and beheaded something.
So he liked violence. He had some remaining anger issues after the war. He got away with them because most of the people who complained changed their tune after a few words and his famous icy glare.
Was it a crime for him to intimidate coworkers like this?
But once again, with no one to complain, his superiors were willing to let his attitude slide because he was so good at what he did. He wasn't just good; he and his partner were two of the best in the world – partially because very few Ministries had a department quite like theirs.
His thick soled boots thumped across the floor as he made his way out of the house.
"Draco!" a voice called just as he reached the door. His shoulders immediately bunched as he waited for what was sure to come next.
"Draco, did you remember the stakes? I don't want you facing down a nasty vampire only to find that you've forgotten your stakes." A beautiful blonde woman drifted into the room and started to fuss with his coat, fixing the collar and trying to subtly make sure that he did indeed have stakes in the pockets.
For a full moment, he allowed it, his eyes turned to the ceiling in longsuffering frustration. When he'd deemed she'd had enough time to fuss, he pushed her away – gently, of course.
"Mother, I'm going to be late for work," he muttered, slipping out the door.
Hermione looked up from her notes at the scowling blond darkening the doorway of her office. He was scowling at her, but she knew she hadn't done anything to warrant that expression – this time. If it had been her that had incurred his wrath, he wouldn't be shy about letting her know.
"Your mum ask you if you remembered to bring the stakes again?" she asked with false sympathy that did nothing to conceal the humour in her voice. Draco was always in a foul mood when his mother made him feel like a child, yet most of the time, he allowed it.
His glare only intensified. "Either you give me my assignment for today or I start killing off coworkers. I'm starting with the stupid bint at the coffee cart."
Hermione handed him over a folder, knowing the contents were not going to go over well. "A unicorn?" he demanded. "You want me to kill a unicorn?"
"No, you idiot. You're to capture the unicorn. It's wandered too close to a Muggle city and is in danger of being discovered. We have to relocate the poor thing."
"The coffee bitch dies," he announced.
Hermione remained unaffected. She was used to Malfoy's petulant behaviour. Years of growing up completely spoiled and then living under the same roof as Voldemort had left him a fair share of emotional scars – not that she could point fingers, she had her share of war wounds as well. The difference between them was that Hermione tried to deal with her issues and Malfoy wore his as a "look away or I'll behead you" sign strewn across his face.
"You're not going to stop me?" Usually, she would have calmly spoken up and stopped his ranting by now, and it was obviously throwing him off that she had decided to humour his antics.
"She's confused my order one too many times." Hermione didn't even look up from her papers, but she could imagine the baffled confusion in Draco's eyes. "Do what you wish; just don't get caught."
He spent a brief moment fantasising about making the coffee woman pay for giving him coffee instead of his usual lemon tea. Coffee was disgusting; he didn't know how anyone could stomach the vile liquid, and for the beverage slave to think that he was so common as to drink the black dishwater of a drink... His eyes narrowed again as his murderous fantasies redoubled.
The tapping of a quill brought him back out of his daze. He hated tapping quills almost as much as he hated incompetent beverage slaves.
"Are you going to kill her or not? Because we have a unicorn to catch if there's going to be no homicide in the workplace today."
Hermione had been working for the same department since she was fresh out of Hogwarts, and Draco had been working there almost as long. As soon as the blond joined the team, he'd been assigned as Hermione's partner and they'd been working together ever since. It was good that they'd managed not to kill each other, since everyone else in the office was too intimidated by Draco to stand up to him. After almost five years of seeing him nearly every day, Hermione knew how to handle almost all of his volatile moods.
Malfoy seemed to contemplate her request for a moment, but that was only because he didn't want her to know that she'd already won. "Fine," he eventually grumbled, standing from his chair and following her out of the room.
Hermione rushed back into her office and snatched the file off of her desk. "Remember what happened the last time you didn't read the file?" she demanded as they made their way to the Portkey office.
"Absolutely nothing. I never read the files and nothing goes wrong because of my lack of knowledge. By the time we get there, you've nagged me enough for me to know the contents of the bloody files in their entirety anyway. There's just no point in wasting my time."
She huffed irritably before brushing off the insult. "This unicorn we're after is on the very edge of a small town near Moscow."
Malfoy rolled his eyes as she started her little lecture. Why was he surrounded by nagging females? He obviously wasn't trying hard enough to scare Granger into leaving him alone.
Wait a minute; Moscow... That meant Russia. His eyes moved from the ceiling to scowl down at the brunette keeping pace with him. It was cold in Russia, particularly in the middle of winter.
Draco hated the cold.
"-And if you had read the file like I told you to, then you would have known that a stunning spell won't work on a unicorn," Granger snapped.
Draco had long since tuned out her ranting. Instead, he was staring at the ceiling as he reclined against a hospital bed and allowed the healer to work on the gouge mark in his abdomen. He noticed that the brunette at his side was pointedly avoiding looking anywhere but in his eyes. This amused him to no end. If only she wouldn't lecture him to distract herself from the view if his attractive torso. Then he might have some blissful peace and quiet.
"You should have known better than to try and take a unicorn head-on," she continued. Draco was right that Hermione was having trouble looking at him. Despite the angry red slash from where the unicorn had charged and injured him, he was a fine specimen. She knew he was aware of what she was thinking, and it embarrassed her to no end that her infuriating partner knew she was attracted to him.
Despite their awareness, neither of them had ever verbally acknowledged this attraction that Hermione had. That would have made working together uncomfortable and Hermione would never allow something like that interfere with her work.
The Healer applied some salve to the injury, healed the wound and then slipped out of the room, unnoticed by either of the other occupants. They were too wrapped up in their bickering to realize that Draco was healed. The Healer knew what the young Malfoy would say when he discovered that they were going to have to keep him for the night, and she didn't want to be anywhere near the fallout zone when it happened. Let his frizzy-haired friend reveal the news to him, that one seemed almost immune to his temper.
"I didn't take the unicorn head on," he growled. "It charged at me. There's a difference."
Hermione huffed and muttered something about his idiocy, which Draco ignored. Perhaps he had been a little deserving of that charge. In his defense, he hadn't known that unicorns were able to understand human speech. If he had, he certainly wouldn't have said such unflattering things about its mother. He kept quiet about this though since he knew it would only start another lecture on the importance of reading the files and showing respect for the wonderful creatures that they handled on a daily basis.
"Where's the Healer?" he asked, bending slightly so he could peek at his no longer marred abdomen. Having had more than enough experience with flesh wounds, Draco ran a finger along the place where he'd been injured, checking for any twinges of pain. It appeared that he was completely healed.
Glancing around the room as well, Hermione shrugged. "She must have left."
Draco's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Check my chart. They usually only slip away like that when I'm going to have to stay for the night."
With a sigh, she did as he asked. Hermione hated it when he had to stay for the night; it always made him a nightmare to deal with the next day because he hated the lumpy hospital beds. She supposed that if one was used to ridiculously expensive sheets and a mattress woven from clouds, the hospital beds were a bit of a downgrade. At least they knew to give him a private room. She could only imagine his fit if they tried to put him in a shared room.
Her eyes flicked over the information on his chart with practiced speed. Malfoy really did get injured rather frequently in their line of work. He was admitted to the hospital much more often than her. It was probably because he never bothered to read the files she gave him. The dangers of each magical creature were conveniently listed on the last page of every file. For example, in the one of the unicorn that Hermione had tried to make Draco read that very day, it had clearly warned that unicorns had a tendency to charge when they felt threatened.
"You're staying the night for observation," she said, raising her voice slightly when he started a string of profanities. "Apparently unicorn horns have magical properties that can cause complications if not healed very carefully. They want to keep an eye on it just in case."
Subtly, while he was still distracted by his angry ranting, Hermione grabbed his wand and shoved it in her pocket. It was best that he not have it on hand while trapped in the hospital. Just like the Healer before her, Hermione slipped out of the room. Malfoy noticed this time, but he only raised the volume of his swearing and glared at her. They were both more than familiar with the routine by now.
Hermione went back to her office to file the paperwork for the unicorn job. Technically, she and Malfoy were both supposed to submit a report, but because hers were so through and Malfoy's were mostly just barely literate chicken scratch (Hermione suspected that he went home and ordered a House Elf to complete his), they were allowed to submit only one set of documents.
Her forms however, were going to have to wait. Sitting on her desk for her was an owl, looking expectantly at her.
Hermione sighed. "What now?" she mumbled, knowing that an owl bearing the official Auror stamp rarely brought good news.
She sat down heavily and reached for the envelope. Oftentimes, if the Aurors were having trouble with a case involving magical creatures, Hermione's department would step in and assist. Since Draco got along with so few people, they were rarely the team that was asked, despite being one of the very best. Their work was mostly done on their own, in the wilderness where there weren't any other people present.
Hermione scanned over the letter, growing paler and paler as she read on. She'd been right in guessing that the Aurors needed their help. She and Malfoy were to help Aurors Potter and Weasley with a nest of vampires that seemed to be sheltering their fugitive.
The problem with this wasn't that Malfoy would probably attempt to murder her friends who would react in kind. No, her problem was that Harry and Ron, in all the times she'd visited the both of them in the last few years, hadn't been informed about the identity of her partner. It just hadn't really come up in conversation and then it had been too late for her to casually mention that she was working with one of the people they hated more than anything.
Tiredly rubbing a hand over her face, Hermione wrote a letter back confirming her appointment tomorrow morning with Aurors Potter and Weasley to discuss the case. It figured that the meeting had to take place on a day Malfoy was fresh out of the hospital. He was bound to be in an even more unpleasant mood than usual.
Hermione smiled at Harry and Ron, hoping they didn't notice the uncomfortable way she kept glancing towards her office door. She was praying that luck was with her and she'd be able to get the meeting with her friends over before Malfoy came bursting in. He had a tendency to be late, and if he would only be a little later that day, then she would have a while longer to break the news to her friends that Draco was her partner.
"Are you sure you can handle a nest of vampires?" Harry asked worriedly for what was probably the hundredth time. His hero complex hadn't faded much after school and he still thought of her as the bush-haired bookworm who had helped him with homework, not as the full-grown woman she was.
"Harry, from what I can tell from your reports, it's just a small nest, probably only three vampires. We've handled way worse and come out perfectly fine," she soothed.
Ron didn't seem concerned with the situation. He was content to gnaw on a liquorice wand and let Hermione and Harry work out the details of the mission. His blue eyes were roving over her office, taking in all the details for the first time.
Hermione was still as close with them as she'd been in school, but neither of them had ever seen her office. She had always come up with a reason to keep them away when they had mentioned stopping by since she didn't want them to run into Malfoy and cause a scene – or worse, an explosion. It was always so terribly messy after an explosion; paperwork and books never fared well against soot and smoke. If she could avoid it, Hermione would prefer not having to replace everything paper in her office again.
She was cutting it pretty close, but if Hermione managed to finish up her meeting with her friends and get them out of her office in the next few minutes, they would be gone before St. Mungo's even released Malfoy. She just had to hope that her luck would hold.
Hermione was just starting to get her hopes up about a conflict-free day when a bright purple interoffice memo flew under her door and then landed in Harry's lap. No matter how hard she tried to convince herself that the letter wasn't something Malfoy-related, there was an uncomfortable and vaguely nauseous sensation in her stomach that said otherwise.
The office was silent as Harry read his letter and then burst out laughing.
"What?" Ron demanded, trying to see over Harry's shoulder. Harry passed him the memo.
"Apparently there's been a bit of a disturbance at St. Mungo's this morning."
Hermione's stomach dropped, the chances of the memo not involving her having just dropped significantly. Please let me be wrong, she thought desperately, I really don't want Harry and Ron to discover the identity of my partner this way.