Chapters, schmapters. A previous work took four years to write, with long pauses between chapters, so I decided going forward, I would only post finished stories. Disclaimers: Rowling's characters are not my own, and the epilogue is a thing of evil that must be destroyed.
The Hogwarts Potions Professor walked slowly along Diagon Alley, the hood of his heavy black cloak keeping his face in shadow. He paused from time to time to look into a shop window, but never entered any of the stores. Shoppers hustled along past him, giving the hooded man a wide berth.
As he turned the corner toward Flourish & Blotts, he paused for a moment. There were hundreds of witches outside the bookstore, chattering amongst themselves, lined up from the doorway all the way down past Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. They were all bundled up in heavy cloaks due to the chilly autumn weather, but not a one of them seemed unhappy in the slightest. They all looked positively delighted to be standing outside in the cold.
The Potions Master knew he should avoid the bookstore completely, but he was intrigued to know what drew women in such numbers to the tiny shop. He approached the front windows from the opposite direction of the line of witches and peered inside.
At the head of the line was an attractive blonde woman wearing glasses, sitting behind a table piled high with books. As he watched, the blonde spoke to the witch at the head of the line as she took a book from the top of one of the stacks. Both women laughed, then the blonde looked down as she wrote inside the book. Another laugh, a toss of her long, straight hair, and the blonde passed the signed copy to the witch in line. Between visitors, the blonde looked toward the front windows of the store, straight at the Potions Master.
She narrowed her eyes for a moment, trying to see who was behind the hood, but was quickly distracted by the next witch in line.
The Potions Master noticed a large sign on an easel next to the woman. Appearing today, it read, Author Helena Graham reads from and signs her latest novel, Love Potion Number Ten.
He rolled his eyes and stepped away from the window. Just what his profession needed, tawdry romance novels. He turned on his heel and stalked back down Diagon Alley, muttering to himself about the injustice and causing even more shoppers to jump out of his way.
The blonde woman looked out the window once more, but the mysterious hooded man was long gone.
I rushed around my tiny London apartment, trying to make it presentable for visitors. It's not that I'm not usually a tidy person, it's just that I don't spend an awful lot of time here. Pretty much only when I'm expecting someone. In London.
Okay, that sounds strange. Let me explain.
I keep an apartment in London, fully decorated, plenty of books on the shelves, but I don't live there. I only really go there when Ginny says she'd like to come over, or if she and Harry want to take me out to dinner. Because that's really all there is to my social life, the Potters. At least I get plenty of advanced warning that they're coming, since they're tied down with three children and have to make very specific plans to socialize.
I'm not sounding less strange, I can see. Because you're wondering, why do I have a fake apartment in which I don't live, so that the Potters can visit me there? Where do I live? What the hell, Hermione, gives?
Oh, like you haven't led a secret life that you haven't told anyone about. And kept a second home so that the place you actually live can remain a solitary island, untouched by people who wouldn't understand your life choices.
Seriously, I can tell I'm not sounding less strange. But I was in the middle of cleaning the apartment.
I'd just finished a few last dust-banishing spells when Ginny knocked at the door. I barely had the door open before she dashed in, apologizing profusely as she ran to the loo. Not that I was complaining, as it gave me a moment to shut the door and give the apartment a quick once-over before she really got a good look. I scooped the two-month-old magazines off the coffee table and deposited them in the recycling bin as she came out of the bathroom.
"Honestly, you'd think I hadn't just gone before I left the house," she groused.
"You always have this problem in the middle trimester," I reminded her. "Pregnant Ginny's bladder and the fine art of apparition have never mixed all that well."
She giggled. "At least I can hold it for a short while with apparition. Do you remember that one time with the floo …"
I laughed and held up my hand. "I swear, I've never seen your mother more torn, trying to decide whether to comfort you or to clean her fireplace."
"Thank goodness she can hug and still wield her wand."
"Agreed." I opened the hall closet and pulled out a winter coat. "Any ideas on where to lunch?"
"Oh, I spotted a new place in Diagon Alley yesterday when I was there." She zipped up her own heavy jacket as we left my apartment and I locked the door. "Such a pity you were working, and couldn't come with me."
"What was it you went there for, again?"
"Honestly, Hermione! It was the book signing I told you about! I know you're not interested in books that aren't a thousand years old, but I really think you should try to read Helena Graham. Her books are just so good! You can't even really call them romances, because there's just so much other amazing stuff happening in them."
"Someday, maybe, I'll check them out."
"You will not," she said, and punched me lightly in the arm. "You'll just keep your nose in your moldy old textbooks."
"There's a lot to be learned from mold," I sniffed. "Besides, I write quite a bit myself. Potions and Charms discoveries are important, and getting articles in trade journals can really help one's career."
"We really need to find you a new job," she said, linking her arm in mine as we headed down the road. "That place you work for sounds terribly dull. And I'm sure you find your work exciting, but just hearing about trade journals makes me want to take a nap."
Ginny then turned the subject from my work to her own growing family, and we strolled on toward Diagon Alley.
If you've guessed it right, congratulations. You're one of the only ones who now know. And surely you can understand why I wouldn't want Ginny (or anyone else, for that matter) to know that I've published 14 books under the name Helena Graham.
First, of course, is the fact that I'm part of the Golden Trio. The last thing I need is more personal fame of any kind. Then there's the fact that I'd get nothing but grief from all quarters, because a lucrative career writing romance novels is not what was expected of "the brightest witch of her age." Strangely, people have much more respect for a job toiling in stuffy research than they do for entertaining the masses.
Also, having been so public a figure for so long, I was ready for a little privacy. Although I may have taken that a little bit overboard. You'll have to decide for yourself.
So how did I become author Helena Graham? Well, in a way it started at Hogwarts. Despite what Ginny said, I did read my fair share of trashy novels as a girl. I read everything else at lightning speed – when you run out of textbooks, and it's too late in the evening to go to the library, sometimes you'll just grab whatever book Lavender Brown has thrown in the corner of the dormitory. I found her romance novels to be quick, light escapism. I dove into them eagerly to lift my spirits when I spent a terrible year camping and destroying horcruxes, and used them to alleviate the boredom when I realized that even double-majoring in Potions and Charms in University left me with too much spare time on my hands.
I finally decided that since I spent so much time reading the damned things, I might as well try my hand at writing them. The first few attempts weren't all that great, but by my third year I had two manuscripts I was fairly pleased with. I sent them off to an agent under the assumed name of Helena Graham (primarily at the time to ensure no Golden Trio favoritism, since we were still very much celebrities), and was shocked to receive a return owl with a contract offer within the week.
Of course, I completed my degrees. But I continued writing through University, and had four published books to my (fake) name when I graduated. I was already putting together a nice little nest egg, which was bolstered when my agent told me that she'd sold three of the books to a Muggle publisher. A few changes were necessary, of course, but they were easy edits that helped my audience more than double. They created the pen name of Hilary Greene for the Muggle versions, just to keep the right books in the right stores.
A fake name for my fake name. I found it pretty weird too.
Despite all of that success, I think what really made me realize how well I was doing was one day when I visited Minerva McGonagall for tea shortly after my graduation from University, and found two of my books in her stash of confiscated goods. Clearly if they were worth taking away from the teenagers, I had something good going on.
Really, my timing couldn't have been more perfect. I had a few popular books out, and was making a name for myself, when my publisher decided to try a new type of book. They called it "Witch Lit," after the highly popular Muggle "Chick Lit" genre. Yes, they were still romance books. But the stories centered much more around the heroine's work life, and her friends and family. Plus, there was a humorous element that really spoke to me.
I started out with One Little Spell, and just kept going up one number every book. Yes, Janet Evanovich did the same thing. But she doesn't have quite the reach in the Wizarding world that I have. And here I am, years later, celebrating Love Potion Number Ten.
Of course, my publishers wanted me to go on book-signing tours. I had to develop the character of Helena Graham, and I didn't necessarily want to depend on charms or glamours, so I went for a real old-school Muggle disguise – a wig and glasses. Add in a few makeup tricks and a small latex prosthetic or two, and you'd have a hard time recognizing me. Of course, I'm extra cautious when I appear anywhere in Britain and might run into someone I know.
However, my disguise is clearly good – I signed two books for Ginny when she came to Flourish & Blotts.
Oh, but you're probably still wondering about my fake apartment. See, on one of my first book tours, I visited several of the United States, including Florida. In March. You can well imagine the impression it made on me, heading to the balmy tropics when it was nothing but ankle-deep slush in London. Eventually I got an apartment there, so I could have a home base in the states.
Then, after I'd made my first million pounds, I finally decided that I didn't really want to live in a place that shared walls with other people. I just wanted more privacy. I looked at house after house after house, but couldn't find the perfect place. Until, that is, I discovered that people, ordinary people, people who just happened to have enough money …
… could buy their own islands.
So thanks to an excellent exchange rate from Galleons to pounds, and an even more favorable rate from pounds to dollars, I was able to purchase Little Big Key, less than a half-mile offshore near Marathon, Florida. Complete with a dock and a sandy beach. More of my savings went to a small, simple house and lots of underwater cable to supply power and internet.
You should see the spells I put on this place. Not that you could see the house, though – that was the point of several of the spells. Even if you're standing on the Overseas Highway, staring straight out at my Little Big Key, you'll see nothing but a dangerous-looking chunk of rock surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico. It helps that the house is on the far side of the island, but even if you sailed around the entire thing, you wouldn't see a hint of habitation unless I let you.
(Oh, and I did consider changing the name of the island, but I was quite tickled with the oxymoronical nature of Little Big Key. Had I been able to spend more money on a larger island like Fanny Key, I certainly would have chosen a new name; that one was certainly not named by a Brit.)
So you can see, I had a cozy little lifestyle. Hammer away on my books during the day, have a cold beer on the beach in the evening, pop around to London every couple of weeks to see the few people I cared to see. I'd become firmly entrenched in my little rut, even having a set schedule for puttering over to the mainland in my motorboat for groceries.
One has to wonder why I invited change into my life the way I did.
The big change, I can see now, came by after a series of smaller changes. About a year ago, completely out of the blue, I received a letter from the Potions Master at Hogwarts. It was a surprise to receive anything from him, certainly, but even more of a surprise to discover that it was an apology. A series of apologies, actually, for various insults and ill treatment throughout my years at school.
I didn't know what the hell to do with it. Throw it out? Answer it? He was always a right bastard, but this was one smooth letter. And I was willing to admit, even then, that despite being a bastard, he was definitely smooth.
I let it sit for a few days, then brought it up with Harry and Ginny the next time I visited them in London. To my surprise, Harry had received his own letter, equally full of sincere-sounding apologies, with the addition of what seemed like very genuine thanks for Harry saving his life.
My curiosity was on red alert. Fortunately, I had a lunch date the next day with Minerva. She worked with the man, so perhaps she knew what prompted the sudden flood of letters.
I apparated to Hogsmeade in the late morning, so I could enjoy a leisurely stroll up to the castle. Minerva met me at the enormous front doors, cloak in hand, so I only got the barest peek of the massive front hall. No Potions Master lurking around. We walked back down to Hogsmeade and chatted about small matters – how I was enjoying my (fake) job (and let me tell you, it sucks to have to lie to Minerva McGonagall), how her classes were progressing, how Harry and Ginny were doing. And perhaps it was because we walked side-by-side, but it wasn't until we sat down in Brews and Stews (fortunately, Minerva dislikes Madam Puddifoot's as much as I do) that I saw the twinkle in her eyes. Hell, it was practically an Albus Dumbledore-grade twinkle, she was so delighted about something.
"You old bat," I said. "You're practically exploding out of your skin with excitement. Out with it."
She settled back into her chair and smiled at me. "I don't suppose," she asked, "you've received a mysterious letter?"
I stared at her for a minute, sure my mouth was hanging open. "Minerva, what on earth? Did you write them? Did you have a hand in them? Do you know why he wrote them?" A sudden horrible thought crossed my mind. "He's not dying or anything, is he? This isn't one of those settling-up things, is it?"
She laughed and clapped her hands together. "My dear, take a breath. No, I did not write them. Nor did I have a hand in them. I wasn't actually certain that you'd received one, except that I happen to have seen our dear Potions Master in the owlery sending a number of missives on the morning I received my own letter. And no, I don't believe he's dying."
"He wrote you one too?" This made no sense. "But he lives in the same castle as you do. If he wanted to apologize to you for … well, I have no idea what, why couldn't he just walk up and say it?"
"Oh, he apologized to you? That's lovely." She nodded. "That makes perfect sense."
"So your letter wasn't an apology?"
"No, my dear." She shook her head, still smiling. "Perhaps I shouldn't tell you, to leave the man some privacy. Although he does know that we meet quite regularly. Perhaps he expected that you and I would speak."
"Minerva, you're killing me here."
"Oh, Hermione, it's not as if my letter was full of mysterious secrets. No, it was a lovely letter, complimenting me as both an instructor and a co-worker, admitting that our two houses are more alike than he suspected, and thanking me for being kind to him when he was a student, and remaining kind when he came here as a teacher."
I thought about it for a while. "Really, it sounds like he's gone through some sort of twelve-step program."
She cocked her head. "I'm not familiar with that."
"It's … if a Muggle has an addiction, to alcohol or gambling or something, there are programs where they follow twelve steps to recovery. Several of the steps relate to recognizing your wrongs and making amends."
"Fascinating," she said. "Perhaps you're closer to the truth than you think."
"Right, because it's a Muggle thing. And I think we all know how he feels about Muggles."
"Indeed," she said. "He finds them so loathsome that he risked embarrassing himself greatly by writing an apology to one of the most famous Muggle-born witches in history."
"I … well, yes, but …"
"But of course, you're not the curious type. So you certainly wouldn't be interested in finding out what's going on in the man's mind."
I glared across the table at her. "You're worse than my mother. Of course you know I'm going to find him, and find out what's going on, and probably embarrass myself terribly in the process."
She picked up her menu and smiled. "I'd advise we have lunch first. I always find confrontation much easier on a full stomach."
I gave Minerva a kiss on the cheek as we stood in the great hall, then watched her climb the stairs toward her office. It's still amazing how nimble that woman is, considering her advanced age. I looked around the hall, checking the house points, until I admitted to myself that I was stalling.
Finally, I set off toward the dungeons.
Despite the fact that I spent six full years at Hogwarts (not to mention the speedy five months that served as my final year, after the war was over, just so I could get my OWLs and head off to university), I wasn't terribly familiar with the dungeons. Usually I headed straight for the Potions classroom, then right back out again. The few times I'd gone elsewhere, I was usually in a terrible life-or-death rush.
I followed Minerva's directions to the Potions Master's quarters, passing the familiar old classroom on the way. I finally stopped at a door across from a truly ugly tapestry and knocked.
No answer, of course. Just my luck.
I was about to knock a second time, just to be sure, when I heard someone behind me ask, "Can I help you?"
I spun around in surprise. There he was, leaning against the stone wall, mostly in shadow.
"Granger," he said. "How fascinating that you're the first to come see me."
"Well, technically, I'd say Minerva was the first."
He stepped out of the shadows toward me. "Yes, of course, but then again, I have to see her every day at meals. I don't know that she really counts as making a special trip to visit me."
I just stood there like an idiot, looking at him. Because the passing years had been very, very kind.
He smirked back at me for a few moments, then moved around me toward his quarters. "You caught me just coming back from the classroom. You made it this far, Granger. Would you like to come inside?"
I hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, thank you." He stepped aside, and I got my first glimpse inside the Potions Master's quarters. Decorated in green and silver, of course, but tastefully so. The sitting area had an enormous fireplace, heavy furniture with thick cushions, and wall after wall of bookshelves, packed to their brims.
It was a room I could really fall in love with.
I wandered around, gawking at all of the books, while he took his work robes off and threw them over the back of a chair. He walked to a corner of the room and asked, "Would you like something to drink?"
"Yes, please. A glass of …" I thought for a moment. "You know what, it's been years since I've had Hogwarts pumpkin juice. I don't suppose you have any of that?"
He laughed, a strangely warm and genuine sound coming from someone I still expected to be cruel. "We aim to please, Hermione." He tapped a table in the corner with his wand, asked for pumpkin juice, and immediately a pitcher and two glasses full of ice appeared on a tray. He picked up the tray and turned toward me. I must have had some unusual expression on my face, because he asked, "Are you all right?"
I blinked a couple of times. "I don't believe I've ever heard you use my first name before."
He smiled again. "Well, I could certainly keep calling you Granger if you like."
"I'm … not sure. This entire visit is so terribly weird, maybe that would give me something normal to hold on to."
Another genuine laugh. "No worries. And if it makes you more comfortable, you can call me whatever you used to call me as well."
"Well," I said as he led me to an overstuffed chair, "So far you're being a courteous host, so I hardly think calling you Ferret would be appropriate. But I can certainly stick with Malfoy."
"Fair enough." He poured us each a glass of juice, then he settled into his own armchair. It should be seriously illegal to look as laid-back as that man did – tousled blonde hair, a slightly rumpled t-shirt, and a well-worn pair of jeans. Hardly the standard for a teacher, but then again, at Hogwarts your robes can hide a multitude of fashion sins.
"So," I said, "you sent me a letter."
"Yes, indeed I did." He took a drink of his juice, set his glass down, and just stared at me.
He leaned further back in his chair. "You're not keeping up with the news." It wasn't a question. And it was true.
"I get the Prophet, but I don't read it on a regular basis, no."
"Ah," he said. "Then let me be the first to inform you that my father died two weeks ago."
I gasped. "I'm so sorry."
He waved his hand in dismissal. "Don't be. I'm not." He sat up and leaned forward in his chair. "Lucius Malfoy was a terrible human being, and we're all quite well rid of him. His prejudices ran deep, much deeper than most people ever suspected. Although I knew very well."
"But what does that have to do with … I'm sorry, I just don't understand."
"I don't expect you to," he said. "Because it's so terribly twisted. He made me make an Unbreakable Vow with him, you see. When I was eleven years old. Take the Vow, or no Hogwarts. And really, it didn't seem like all that terrible a thing to a small boy who's so excited to go to school, where he's sure to get into Slytherin with all of his friends. So I took the Vow – a vow to never show kindness to a Gryffindor, or to a Muggle-born."
I gasped. "He WHAT? But … but … what kind of monster would do that to his child? Cut him off from a quarter of his schoolmates before he's even MET them?"
"Ah, but you see, to my father, Gryffindors were the lowest of the low. He would always rail about, and please pardon me here, 'Mudbloods, and half-breeds, and blood traitors.' He believed that Gryffindors were what was wrong with the ministry, the school board … hell, the world. He wasn't even all that enthusiastic about supporting Voldemort, specifically, but he loved the idea of someone in charge who knew the 'true value' of a pureblood."
"But wasn't Voldemort a … er … 'half-breed' himself?"
"I'm sure my father thought he'd deal with that somehow later. But since Voldemort was so ready to get rid of all Muggle-borns, Lucius took the easy path and followed."
I drank the rest of my juice and thought for a moment. "Surely I remember you being kind to some Gryffindor at some point. Don't I?"
He shook his head. "There were many times when I would just be silent. That was the best I could do, to ignore people instead of insult them. Because whenever I would try to be sincerely kind, it would come out as scathing sarcasm. Listen, Hermione – sorry, Granger – Harry Potter saved my life, rescued me from a room full of fiendfyre, and did I thank him? No. COULD I thank him? No. So I sat there in silence, and felt like the most useless thing alive.
"For a while, in school, I actually did start to hate Gryffindors. Because you were all such damned decent people, and whenever I wanted to tell any of you that I could be decent too, my throat would close up and I would choke on the words. And the only way to breathe freely again would be to say something cruel and cutting and heartless. And because I was young and stupid, I blamed you. All of you. And yet, I was constantly drawn back to watching you all, watching how different you were from the Slytherins, how you helped each other without a thought about what was in it for you. How you threw kindness and generosity around, as if it cost you nothing."
Malfoy settled back in his chair, gripping the armrests and heaving a deep sigh. "My father wanted me to be like him, so he made me take an oath when I was too young to understand what I was doing. But in doing that, he forced me to silently watch the people who really and truly inspired me. In his attempt to make me hate you, he made me want to be like you."
I leaned forward in my chair and put my hand on his. "I'm so sorry."
He closed his eyes and smiled. "See, there you go," he said. "Here I'm the one who should be saying sorry, should probably keep saying sorry for years, and you're just being a big-hearted Gryffindor about it."
I patted his hand and settled back into my own chair. "Well, I'll certainly allow years of apologies, but that might get kind of tired after a while."
"Tell me when it gets tiresome. Perhaps I could choose a new tactic."
"I'll be interested to see what you choose." I looked up at the clock over Malfoy's fireplace. "I'm also sorry to say that the day is growing late, and I should probably be heading home."
He got up out of his chair, and offered me his hand. I took it, feeling a little bit of surprise, and let him help pull me out of my chair. He walked me to his door, but turned to me before he opened it.
"I also wanted to thank you, because you went back to the Shrieking Shack for Severus after the battle was over. I don't know that anyone else would have thought to look for him there. You allowed us to give him a proper burial."
He held out his hand to me, and I shook it. "He deserved all the respect I could give. The man was a hero."
"I agree," he said. "After all, I followed in his footsteps here, instead of following my own father. And on that note, thank you, Granger, for coming to see me. I hope you won't be a stranger."
"Honestly, I think I'm going to be fascinated to watch this new Malfoy," I said.
He grinned again as he shut the door behind me. Fascinating, indeed.
Minerva invited me up to Hogwarts the following week, for dinner and a game of cards. After a delightful meal in which I got to sit at the staff table and look out over the students (How small they all looked!), we adjourned to the staff room. I apologized for not knowing the rules to Bridge, but we managed to put together a fairly cut-throat game of Hearts between me, Minerva, Filius Flitwick, and Poppy Pomfrey.
We'd played a number of rounds, and I'd consumed more than one firewhiskey with soda, when Malfoy entered the staff room and walked up to Poppy.
"Poppy, I've finished with the Pepper-Up and the Skele-Gro. They're both all bottled up and waiting on your desk."
She smiled up at him. "Oh, lovely, thank you, Draco. Oh, and goodness me, look at the time!" She pointed to the grandfather clock just beyond Malfoy. "I'm sorry, my friends, unless … Draco, I don't suppose you'd like to step in for some Hearts?"
He smiled and began to unbutton his heavy work robes. "I would love to join in."
"I'm sorry to say, you won't be taking over the best score. Hermione over there is in the lead."
He pulled her chair out for her and held out a hand to help her up. As she headed toward the door, Malfoy pulled off his robes, revealing another t-shirt and jeans ensemble. He threw the robes over the back of a nearby couch and sat in Poppy's chair. Minerva handed him a glass of firewhiskey and soda.
"Well, we'll just see about Miss Granger's lead, then, shall we?"
After another hour, both Minerva and Filius headed to bed, a bit tipsy. I myself wasn't the most sober person in the room, so I let them know I'd stay around for another hour or so, until I was clear-headed enough to apparate back to London without splinching myself.
Malfoy gathered up the cards and tapped the score sheet with a quill. "Granger, you've ended the evening with a one-point advantage. I don't know that I can let that stand."
I picked up the empty drinking glasses and carried them over to a nearby sideboard. "Well, I suppose a rematch could be arranged."
He smiled and moved over to an armchair by the fire. I followed, sitting across from him. Glancing up at the clock, I saw that it was about to chime eleven. "I hope I'm not keeping you up too late."
"No, I'm usually up until midnight reading, anyway. And my first class tomorrow isn't until ten. But what about you? Minerva says you're working in some research lab – I hope this isn't too late for you?"
"Oh, no, I …" I hesitated, and I'm sure I blushed a bit. "They're quite flexible on hours, where I work."
He narrowed his eyes slightly, then quirked an eyebrow and settled back into his chair. "So, have you read the latest Potions Monthly? There was an interesting article about new uses for fluxweed …"
It was after one o'clock when we noticed that the fire had burned low.
And he walked me down to the front gates, where I could apparate away.
Two days later, the tiny Floo-Post fireplace in my kitchen flared up green, and an envelope popped through. Great little thing, the Floo-Post; scarcely a foot square, needing only a small pilot light to operate, and much quicker than owls. But many of the older witches and wizards refused to have the units installed. Even my publishers still rely on owls.
I opened up the envelope and pulled out the shortest letter I've ever received:
I grabbed a pen and some paper, and scrawled a quick note back:
Saturday, Hogwarts? Not a Hogsmeade chaperone weekend or anything?
I folded up my letter and stuffed it in an envelope. Grabbing a pinch of Floo powder and throwing it onto the miniature flames, I said Malfoy's name and threw the letter in. A couple of minutes later, the flames turned green again and another envelope fell through.
Perfect. I have office hours in the morning on Saturdays, so anytime after lunch your trouncing can begin.
I threw in another note letting him know I'd be there around two, made some coffee, and headed to my desk to write. Grinning like an idiot the entire time.
"So something I don't get …"
"Granger, we're supposed to be playing a game. And that game is not twenty questions."
"I know, I'm sorry, but you know how it is, the know-it-all must know it all."
He finished shuffling the deck of cards and started dealing another hand. "Go ahead, then. I'd hate to be responsible for you exploding due to a buildup of unasked questions."
"What about Dumbledore?"
He finished dealing and rested his hand on his cards, raising an eyebrow at me. "You may need to be more specific."
"Oh, sorry. I mean, he was a Gryffindor in his day. Does that mean you were cruel to him?"
He picked up his cards and fanned them out. "Well, there's a difference between being cruel and not being kind. Since the vow was about showing no kindness, it wasn't actually much of a problem. We spoke when we had to, I was minimally courteous, and he understood. I believe Severus filled him in as soon as I got to Hogwarts."
"But he didn't talk to you about it? About how horrible the vow was?"
"What was he supposed to say? The vow was already taken, so there was no undoing that. Besides, you have to realize, when I was eleven the vow was no big hardship on me. There I was, fresh out of a home with two purebloods, only ever being visited by their pureblood and mostly Slytherin friends, playing with their pureblood, future-Slytherin children. Honestly, I don't think I'd even met a Muggle-born before I got here."
"Still, I can't imagine he wouldn't have had something to say about it. The man was one of the biggest meddlers I've ever known."
"Yes, but even Albus Dumbledore couldn't break an Unbreakable Vow. And as I've said, when I was eleven, the very idea of being chummy with a Gryffindor was beyond me. After all, anyone important and worth knowing would be put into Slytherin with me. Or so I was raised to think." He put his hand up to his mouth, lost in thought. "Really, anything he said would probably have backfired. Can you imagine, telling this arrogant, entitlement-minded pureblood kid that Gryffindors and Muggle-borns were good people, and worth knowing, and worth my kindness? If anything, it would have pushed me away."
"So perhaps he did meddle. By not meddling."
"I don't know if we can give him that much credit. But certainly if anyone could have meddled by not meddling, it would have been Albus Dumbledore. And," he tapped the cards on the table, "enough stalling. These cards are not going to play themselves, and I still haven't brought the unholy fire of my revenge down upon your head."
I picked up my cards and fanned them out. "You're four points behind, Malfoy. If that's unholy fire, by all means, burn me up."
Fall turned into winter and we kept up a steady correspondence through the Floo-Post; most mornings I'd get up to find a slip of paper waiting for me (we'd done away with envelopes and full sheets of paper almost immediately, as it was a terrible waste for our quick notes). Every week or two I'd pay a visit to Hogwarts, visit with Minerva, and eventually end up in the staff room or in Malfoy's sitting room, playing cards or reading or just talking about anything and everything.
One day, I ran out of scrap paper for notes, and threw a Post-It into the Floo with my next message. In return:
Granger, what on earth was that fantastic bit of sticky paper? ~DM
I dug a fresh pad of Post-It Notes out of my desk, wrote "Post-It Notes, enjoy!" on the top sheet, and sent it through the Floo-Post. From then on, I sent care packages with different sizes of Post-Its on a weekly basis. I also sent him a few felt-tip pens as well, which quickly replaced his quill.
At the time, I was working on Love Potion Number Ten, but my writing was seriously slowing down. I suddenly had much more of a social life than before, and was spending far too much of my writing time up at Hogwarts. But the invitations I received were so tantalizing.
I have a six-pack of Butterbeer on ice, and a stack of third-year essays to read. Interested? ~DM
I mean, how on earth can a girl refuse an offer like that?
By late spring, my writing had ground to a halt. It wasn't just my visits up to Hogwarts; it was a case of writer's block. More to the point, brewer's block – it was a point of pride (and something that set my books apart) that I had a new charm or potion included in the plot of each, with the recipe or incantation and instructions in the back of the book so that the reader could use it themselves.
I have a real knack for creating little charms and potions, it turns out. I'm sure it was because of my voracious reading habits in school. On the plus side, actually researching potions ingredients and wand movements helped bolster my fake job. I even published a small research paper every couple of years under my own name, so I'd have some little proof of my gigantic lie.
For some reason, however, the potion I was trying to develop just wasn't coming out, no matter what I did. I didn't want to develop a real love potion, of course – some of those things can actually be quite nasty. And most of the ingredients involved are a bit too expensive or rare for the average romance-reading housewitch to acquire. My plan was to create some sort of indicator of emotion, which my heroine could create or discover. The idea was that once taken, it would make the drinker's true love appear somehow. Or have an aura. It would concentrate her emotions, clear out all the baggage, and let her know clearly exactly who it was she was fond of.
Except it just didn't work, no matter what I tried. And I just couldn't figure out where my story was headed without it. I was able to get partial results, but there was just some ingredient missing – I seemed to need something to bind the ingredients together.
I'll admit it, I got a little desperate. That's probably why I made the fatal mistake of asking a Potions Master for help.
I have a potions conundrum. Care to consult? ~G
Delighted to. Small enough to ask on a Postie? ~M
Probably not. I wouldn't mind peeking in your storage cupboard for ideas as well, if that's all right.
Lucky you, it's fish and chips night tonight. Come for dinner, stay after for cupboard peeking.
Could you make that sound more dirty?
Probably: come by for a poke through my drawers and a thorough look at my cubbies.
You're a poet, Malfoy.
Delicious fish and chips / between your eager lips / while my secret vials / bring those lips to smiles.
You can't see me rolling my eyes, but be assured, it's happening. See you at six.
Full of fish and chips, delicious as advertised, Malfoy and I strolled slowly down to the Potions lab in the dungeons.
"So, Granger, want to ask your questions now, or wait until you've rummaged through my wares like a gold-crazy niffler?"
I punched him lightly on the arm. "I will not rummage, Malfoy. I promise to be much more delicate with your wares."
"I take it that means the questions will wait?" We stepped up to the lab, and Malfoy tapped his wand on the heavy wooden door to make it open.
He walked through the classroom to the storage cupboard beyond, and tapped on that door as well. "As my lady wishes."
You could barely call the room a cupboard, since it was almost as large as my master bedroom. The shelves lining every wall were neatly labeled in Malfoy's tidy block handwriting, with similar ingredients in separate sections. Even more sets of shelves sat in the center of the room, equally neat and tidy. I wandered around, amazed at the sheer variety that Hogwarts supplied. I headed to a small section labeled "Binders" and perused the choices.
"I never realized how many ingredients you had down here."
"Well, Minerva lets me order my own supplies, and I figured it would be wise to have a little bit of just about everything. Now I can veer off the lesson plan whenever I want, if it strikes me to teach a different potion."
I gently touched a couple of bottles. "I've never even heard of a couple of these."
"Well, I could tell you what they are, if you'd be a little less suspiciously silent on what it is you need."
I stepped back from the shelves, and looked at him. He was leaning in the doorway of the closet, arms loosely crossed over his chest, watching me explore. It suddenly struck him how one-sided I was being, and that if I were in his shoes, I'd be burning with curiosity.
"I … sorry, yes, you're right. All right. So I have a potion, which of course I can't exactly tell you about, since it's in the research phase." He nodded. "But I don't think I have the proper ingredient binding the rest together. The attempts that have come closest to success seem like they're going to come together, but then suddenly everything separates."
He tapped his finger against his upper lip and walked into the room, straight to the section of shelves where I was standing. He started tapping bottles and phials as he spoke. "You've tried, of course, all possible saps and waxes. Likely also coriander, starthistle, and … dittany?"
"Yes, but none worked. Besides which, dittany is a bit dear. And I'm sorry to say, the complication here is that I'm trying for an ingredient that's inexpensive and easy to find."
"And you can't tell me anything else about what it is you're making."
I thought about which ingredients I could reveal, without making the embarrassing revelation that I was working on something relating to love and emotion, instead of something serious and scholarly. "Well, some of the ingredients are … rose thorn, cinnamon, and moonstone. There are more, of course, but I'm sure you can understand that I'm sworn to secrecy."
"Sounds delicious already. And you need something inexpensive and accessible as a binder. Hmmm." He walked to the shelves in the middle of the room, and around to the other side. I followed around as he perused his stores. "This is a tough one, Granger, and not just because you can't tell me all of your ingredients, or your desired end result. This need for cheap and easy is also a hell of a wrench." He turned from the shelves and raised an eyebrow at me.
"Well, I don't need a solution tonight. Nothing here is really leaping out at me, although just looking around may spark something in my mind later."
"In that case, why don't we both ponder this over a drink?" I nodded, and watched him lock up the storage cupboard and the classroom. We were close to his quarters, and he gently put his hand on the small of my back as he led me down the corridor.
Once inside, I kicked off my shoes and flopped down in my favorite squashy armchair, while Malfoy went to the sideboard to pour drinks.
"So, Granger, I've been advised to ask you, and I quote: 'Am I stepping on anyone's toes?'"
"What on earth does that mean?"
"You know, Filius and Argus and the other gents, I think they want to make sure that you're not dating anyone, because I'm sure they'd like nothing more than for me to propose marriage immediately." He passed me a firewhiskey and soda and sat down in the armchair opposite mine, grinning.
"OH! Oh my. Um … no, there are no toes to step on." I felt the heat rise in my cheeks.
"Good. Then in the interest of full disclosure, I should also inform you that you have turned into, and again I quote, 'Quite the attractive bird.'" His grin grew even larger.
"Bird? What is this, the sixties?"
"Granger, seriously – most of these guys are at least a thousand years old. Probably closer to five thousand. They probably think they're still hip, using terms that are a mere fifty years old."
I took a sip of my drink and pondered him over the top of the glass. "So … why would they all want you to propose? It's not like we're even dating." I immediately wanted to punch myself for saying that. I was practically begging for a real date, a not-at-Hogwarts date, a date where we acknowledge that it's a date.
He settled back in his chair. "Well, we do spend a lot of time together, not to mention the fact that they're all a bunch of old fogies. I'm sure the very idea that a man and a woman can be friends is beyond them. Hell, they probably think we're down here doing all sorts of debauchery."
"Poking through your drawers and looking at your cubbies?"
He laughed. "Exactly. Don't mind them, they're just insanely nosy."
I finished my drink, and Malfoy escorted me to the front gates so I could apparate away. I landed seconds later in my London flat, where I hung my heavy winter cloak in the closet. I was able to take my usual route back home – a portkey to Little Big Key. I grabbed the cat-shaped salt shaker from the flat's kitchen table, pointed my wand at it, and whispered Portus. Moments later, I landed in my much larger kitchen. I set the shaker down on a shelf next to several others, glad as always that having a friend like Harry Potter in the Ministry meant having a license to make as many portkeys as I wanted.
My Floo-Post box on the kitchen counter flashed green, and a Post-It fell out.
Catalyst, instead of a binder? Won't just blend things together, but activate somehow?
I'd tried a few catalysts as well, of course – ingredients that didn't just neutrally bind other ingredients together, but could change and rearrange the chemical structures, while remaining intact in the potion. I wrote back:
Tried some, no success. Do you have a specific idea to try?
The little Floo fell silent, so I went into my bedroom to change into my pajamas. Little Big was five hours behind Great Britain, so it certainly wasn't my bedtime, but I was in for the night and ready for light, comfortable clothes after a trip to the drafty Hogwarts dungeons. Even though it was late spring, those Scottish highlands were chilly.
By the time I went back out to the kitchen, there was an actual full sheet of paper waiting for me.
Since your ingredients need to be cheap, and at least one is a food item, I thought about enzymes. Specifically, rennet. And please don't think that this is genius on my part; I was walking back down here, and thought about a piece of cheesecake for dessert, and remembered that Hagrid is experimenting lately by making cheese from the milk of his various creatures. Which, you may not be surprised to hear, is even more ghastly than it sounds. Although his beer-making experiments two years ago were decent. Mind you, I couldn't tell him that at the time, since he was a Gryffindor before he got expelled. But I digress. Depending on your proteins, some rennet could both bind and activate your ingredients.
PS – Yes, I've apologized to Hagrid. I knew you'd wonder.
I thought about the idea. Of all things in the world, a common ingredient that turned milk into curds and whey. But if I adjusted my ingredients a little bit, added some acid, perhaps lemon juice or vinegar … I quickly scrawled a note.
A fascinating idea, and one well worth trying. I'll keep you updated on my progress.
Be sure to give me all the credit when you write it up.
No promises, but I'm sure an acknowledgement might be coming your way. Good night, Malfoy.
It was a little too late in the afternoon to head over to the mainland to shop, so I decided to strike out first thing in the morning for some rennet. Meanwhile, I headed to my little lab to start writing down notes and putting ingredients together.
The next morning, I decided to get breakfast over in Marathon before I did my shopping. I dressed quickly and popped into the kitchen to grab the keys to my little speedboat. I noticed a Post-It on the counter next to the Floo-Post.
Good night, Granger. Glad there aren't any toes.
Of course, Malfoy's idea worked. With a few ingredient changes, and some minor adjustments, my potion ended up as a cinnamon and ginger flavored chewy candy. As with all of the potions in my books, I sent the recipe to my publisher, who sent it on to a manufacturing company that did all the necessary safety testing. I had a standing contract with the publishing house that they would license my potions from me, and in return would undertake all of the expenses in testing. We then had a generous split of the manufacturing profits. Although the recipes were so simple a housewitch could brew them, we learned quickly that there was also a huge market for prepared potions. The healing salve from Three Point Landing, the one about the Quidditch star, still sold amazingly well after several years.
My writing picked back up, which was helped by not spending as much time at Hogwarts over the summer. Most of the staff went their various ways for vacation, and Malfoy attended a couple of conferences. He sent notes whenever he got a chance, sometimes by owl and sometimes by Floo. He expressed his surprise that I wasn't in attendance at one of the conferences, because there were several potions researchers there. I felt guilty and lousy, and made a feeble excuse.
It didn't help that the course of my book had changed – my original leading man turned into a good friend, and instead a dashing Potions Master became the new object of my heroine's affection, helping her solve a nagging problem or two. I ended up rewriting the entire first third of the book. Of course, they argued and had awful misunderstandings, just like in every other romance ever written since the dawn of time, but thanks to the amazing candy-chew of emotional revelation, my leading lady realized that she loved him all along.
I am perfectly willing to admit, Malfoy had me hooked. I didn't even need a revelatory candy-chew to figure it out. And instead of doing anything about it, I created a fictitious version of him. Witty, charming, handsome, and intelligent. At least I had the subtlety to write him with dark hair.
I managed to turn the manuscript in on time, and it was published that fall. School resumed at Hogwarts, and my visits there resumed as well. I started writing myself notes with ideas for my eleventh book, sticking them on the wall behind my desk. Off to the right-hand side, since the left-hand side was occupied by a variety of colorful Post-Its from Malfoy.
You can't fault me for keeping some of them. He's terribly witty.
I did a few signing trips, including that one at Flourish & Blotts, where Ginny failed to recognize me in my disguise. That next day, I had lunch out with Ginny.
Then the day after, I got the sad puppy dog letter.
So I've been thinking a lot about some things lately, and I've finally decided to bring them up. And while I've found the last year one of the most enjoyable of my life, mainly due to your friendship, I think I need to risk that friendship in order to stay true to the new, improved, honest Malfoy.
The thing is, I'm fairly certain that you haven't been honest with me. We discussed your potions problem over six months ago, and I've yet to see any articles even hinting at what you've been developing. Believe me, I've looked – I get all of the important journals delivered, and the vast majority of the lesser journals too. Your articles are usually few and far between, but I haven't seen hide nor hair of anything for a long time.
Nobody at any of the conferences I attended this summer had any clue about your project either. But what's more concerning is the fact that none of the conference attendees seemed to know who you were, or who you worked for.
I'm also a bit concerned that I have no idea where you live. Not that I expect an invitation to tea at your house, but you've never made a single mention of where your home is. You've only visited Hogwarts, and while everyone here is always delighted to see you, it would be nice to possibly see you elsewhere. If only I knew where that elsewhere was.
Add to these things your mysteriously flexible schedule, and your incredibly evasive answers whenever conversation turns toward your job, and I have to wonder what on earth it is you actually do. Or what you're hiding. Or both.
I'm not saying that you owe me answers. Or that I'm deserving of them. But I'd like to think that in the past year, I've proven that you can trust me. So if there's some terrible, sordid secret you're keeping from the world (or even a mildly interesting secret that you're just keeping from Minerva), I want you to know that you can tell me. However awful it is.
It probably doesn't need to be said, but after reading that letter, I felt like a deflated pile of shit. Strangely, I didn't feel as terrible about lying to my old friends – Harry and Ginny barely asked questions about my work. Here, however, I had a kind and caring man who not only asked me about my life, but seemed to genuinely care about the answers I gave. And I'd done nothing but feed him a stream of lies and half-truths and omissions for over a year.
The funny thing is, I didn't even have a hard decision to make. In the contest between keeping my decade-old secret and losing Malfoy's friendship, there was only one choice.
I got up and went to the bookshelf, pondering which novels to pull. I grabbed Seventh Heaven and Four Seasons, looked at the rest of the shelves, then figured what the hell. I slapped a copy of Love Potion Number Ten on top of the other two, wrapped all three up in some plain brown paper, and stuck a Post-It on top of the package.
I did publish this year, and the solution worked.
I grabbed a pinch of Floo powder, but stopped before sending the package. After a moment's thought, I stuck another Post-It just underneath the first.
If you're still interested after seeing this, I'll send a portkey to you. –HG
The stack of books just barely fit through the Floo-Post. I was committed to the truth now; I just had to wait to see if I was going to be given a chance to spill it all.
It took Malfoy six days to answer. Six days that I spent pacing, muttering to myself, cleaning the house to keep busy, and not writing a single damned word. I had to restrain myself several times from writing him a note. But no, I needed to wait, to see if he wanted to hear more after reading my books.
Finally, on Thursday night of that eternally long week, a Post-It popped out of my Floo-Post.
Ready for my portkey. I'm free both Saturday and Sunday, whichever works.
I grabbed one of my cat salt shakers and set it on the kitchen counter. Given the option, I wanted to get the rest of this over as soon as possible, so I'd have an answer as to whether my newest friend (and really, my closest friend) would want to remain so after I finally admitted all of my lies.
I tapped the little cat with my wand and created a time-specific portkey. Worried that a Post-It might not stick to the smooth, curved sides of the salt shaker, I wrote out a note on regular paper and wrapped it around the little cat with a rubber band.
Saturday, 2:00 PM your time. Dress for warm weather.
Friday I spent most of the day over on the mainland. I stopped at the grocery store and stocked up on food, wine, and beer, and since I suspected Malfoy might not actually believe me about the warm weather, I bought a few generic pieces of men's clothing in summer weights and styles. I also bought him some swim trunks, just in case.
I puttered back to Little Big and unpacked everything, terribly glad that I'd had the house built with a spare bedroom where I could put away the clothes I'd bought. It seemed like a stupid idea back at the time, since I planned on never having guests visit my actual house, but my one-never-knows cautious nature took over.
I didn't sleep terribly well Friday night, and was up bright and early on Saturday. I'd set the portkey for two, which was nine in the morning for me. I had plenty of time to choke down what breakfast I could, shower, and stare down my closet for a good, long while, trying to figure out what to wear.
I finally settled on a simple cotton sun dress and sandals, since the weather was already warm. At five minutes to nine, I walked across the patio and down the path to the beach. I made my way along the dock, down to the far end – the one place on my little island where the wards allowed apparition. It was a beautiful morning, all blue sky and tiny fluffy clouds, and greenish-blue water all around.
A couple of minutes later, Malfoy popped onto my dock.
He stood there, squinting and blinking at the morning sun, looking around to get his bearings. The sunlight made his hair shine especially bright. He was wearing a full cloak, one hand clutching the strap of a backpack he had slung on his back, the other holding my little salt shaker. Finally, his gaze settled on me.
"So … welcome to my home, Malfoy." I swept my hand to the side, toward my little house and patio and pool.
He looked silently over at them, then back at me. Then he pulled his backpack off his shoulder and set it down on my dock. He gently placed the little porcelain cat on top of it, then unbuttoned his cloak and pulled it off. He unceremoniously dumped the cloak on the dock, revealing his standard t-shirt and jeans, then walked a few steps toward me.
"Granger." He paused and scowled at me, sending my heart up into my throat.
"Yeah?" I tried to steel myself for whatever he threw my way.
"You said 'warm weather,' not the surface of the sun."
I stared at him for a moment, started to laugh, then to both of our surprise, burst into tears.
He quickly covered the few steps that separated us, and pulled me into a hug. I sniffled into his shoulder, then got myself under control as quickly as I could. Malfoy stepped back, gently holding my shoulders.
"I think so," I said. I looked him in the eye. "You don't hate me, right?"
"No, Granger. I don't hate you." The corner of his mouth twitched. "Although to be fair, I haven't heard your entire sordid story yet. I may still find a reason."
We gathered his things and walked up to the house. I led him on a tour of the house – brief, but only because the house isn't terribly large. It can only take so long to see a large connected living room with kitchen, then quickly peek into the bedroom, office, small potions lab, bath and a half, and the guest room. We dropped off his cloak and backpack in the guest room, and I showed him the clothes I'd bought for him. He protested, but not too much, and after closing himself up in the room for a few minutes, emerged barefoot and in a pair of shorts instead of his jeans.
I looked at his bare feet (very nice), and at his legs, equally bare below the knee (also very nice). I realized it was, probably, the most uncovered Malfoy skin I'd ever seen in my life.
"Something about my legs, Granger?"
I squinted at them, as if blinded. "Malfoy, you are possibly the palest man I've ever seen."
"Need I remind you, it's practically winter. And I live in a dank and dark castle in Scotland." He looked at me for a long moment, his gaze passing over my arms and legs, then cocking his head to the side. "In contrast, Granger, I don't recall you being quite so tan."
"Well, I'm really –" I clutched my hands together and looked down at the floor for a moment. No more lies, I told myself. Then to make sure Malfoy knew where I stood, I looked him in the eye and said it out loud. "No more lies. I put on a little glamour to appear pale when I visit, so nobody asks any questions."
Malfoy smiled. "No more lies, excellent. Now, since my legs offend you with their whiteness, and because like most Brits I'm hopelessly drawn to a swimming pool, what say we go sit in those comfortable-looking lounge chairs in the sun, and you tell me all sorts of non-lies?"
A couple of hours and a pitcher of iced tea later, I'd told him my whole secret story, from the first attempts at writing to my most recent book tour. I told him about my reasons for keeping everything a secret, my need for anonymity and privacy, and why that led me here to the seclusion of Little Big Key. Malfoy nodded in all the right places, as if everything made perfect sense, but I knew there would be more questions later.
It was almost lunchtime, and while I had a fridge full of groceries, I figured I'd go all the way and show him the whole scope of my little world. He transfigured his heavy shoes into a pair of canvas slip-ons, and we piled into my little motorboat for a trip to the mainland.
I steered the boat from the back, while Malfoy sat up at the front and dangled his fingers in the water. He seemed disappointed when the trip only lasted a few minutes, but Little Big isn't all that far offshore. We tied up the boat at my favorite marina, then walked up the dock to a small shed. I opened the door and gestured for Malfoy to step inside; even though he looked perplexed, he went in without question. Inside were a dozen or so bicycles.
"Pick whichever one you like," I told him. "They belong to the whole marina."
He rolled a couple back and forth, and settled on a blue ten-speed. I picked my favorite, a hot pink cruiser with tassels hanging from the handlebars. Malfoy grinned and rolled his eyes at me as we rolled the bikes out of the shed.
"Where to, Granger?"
I pointed above the nearest buildings, toward a pirate flag a few blocks away, flapping in the breeze. "Mike's. You can always figure out where you are in town, as long as you can see his Jolly Roger."
Malfoy looked at me innocently. "Do men usually show you their Jolly Roger?"
I punched him in the arm. "Shut up, and let's go. I'm hungry."
After a short ride through streets more full of pedestrians than cars, we made it to Crazy Mike's Surf Shack. We leaned the bicycles up against the side of the building, next to several others, and went inside.
Mike himself, a burly, bearded man with a taste for tie-dye, was behind the bar. "Hermione!" He waved at me and beckoned me over. I trotted up to the bar, Malfoy trailing behind looking at all of the pirate memorabilia on the walls.
"Hello, Mike!" I leaned over the bar to receive his hug. "I have a friend visiting today, so I expect only the finest sandwiches and beers."
Mike looked a bit shocked at me having a visitor, which wasn't surprising. I hadn't ever brought anyone in with me before. He looked at Malfoy with an appraising eye. Malfoy, in returned, smiled widely at Mike. "This is an amazing place you have here. I love it!"
Mike's look melted immediately into a smile just as broad as Malfoy's. They shook hands and we made brief introductions, we placed an order for sandwiches and beer, then I took Malfoy up the rickety back staircase to the little patio Mike called the Crow's Nest. The Nest was one of the highest points in our little corner of town, so from up there we could see all the way back down to the marina, as well as across to the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
"Where's your island from here?" I pointed beyond the marina and off to the left; to my eyes, it was a lush and green lump in the sparkling blue water. Malfoy squinted and shaded his eyes. "Looks like just a chunk of rock from here!"
I thought about it for a moment , then decided, in for a penny, in for a pound. I pulled my wand out of my pocket and looked at Malfoy. He nodded, and I muttered a spell and lightly tapped him on the head. He looked back over to Little Big and smiled. "Excellent wards, Granger. Though I have to admit, it looks much more pleasant now."
Mike came up the stairs with a tray bearing food and drink. He set down our food and I saw him glance at my wand, still in my hand. He popped up one eyebrow, and I winked at him.
"Everything look all right?" He looked down at us both, smiling through his bushy beard, like a smaller hippie Hagrid.
Malfoy looked everything over. "It looks fantastic, Mike. Thank you." Mike grinned and headed back downstairs, clearly already a fan of Draco Malfoy.
I put my wand back in my pocket and reached for my beer, ready to answer Malfoy's question before it was even asked, in my new spirit of complete honesty. "There's a not-insignificant population of witches and wizards here; we're just outside of the city of Marathon, in a few square blocks that's almost entirely magical. Not that the Muggles are aware of it, since so many people who live down here in the Keys are quirky and unique anyway."
"And Mike is a wizard?"
"Indeed, he is. Visited down here from Salem over twenty years ago, and never went back. It's a very mixed lot here, from all over the world. And everyone's very friendly, but at the same time very respectful of everyone else's privacy."
Malfoy swallowed a bite and followed it with a sip of his beer, looking all around at the palm trees rustling in the breeze. "I suppose there are quite a few people like Mike, who fall in love with the place and don't want to leave."
I smiled. "I'm definitely one of them. It would be a magical place even if there weren't a community of witches and wizards here."
We finished up lunch, and went back downstairs to settle up. Malfoy reached into his pocket, but I put my hand on his elbow and turned to Mike. "Put it on my tab, please, Mike."
"Of course, my dear. A pleasure to see you as always. And a pleasure to meet you, Draco." The men shared another hearty handshake, and we went out to our bicycles. We chatted as we rode slowly down to the marina.
"Seriously, Granger. The clothes, the food – you don't have to pay for my visit here."
"Malfoy, I'm a millionaire. For writing sappy books. And since I own the island free and clear, there really isn't much for me to spend my money on. So if I can throw a few dollars toward keeping a doubtlessly ill-paid Hogwarts Professor fed and clothed, I think it's money well spent."
He laughed, then went silent for a moment as we coasted downhill toward the water. We hopped off the bikes and put them back in the shed. As we walked down the dock back to my boat, he sighed.
"All this fresh air is doing wonders for my honesty. I'm not exactly what you think I am, Granger."
I untied the mooring lines and hopped down into the little boat. "If you're going to tell me that you're not the Potions Professor at Hogwarts, then I am incredibly impressed at how you've managed to pull off the ruse."
"No, I do work at Hogwarts. But … oh, wait until we get back to your kitchen."
"My kitchen?" I squinted at him as I steered the boat back toward Little Big. "I truly can't wait to find out what's going on in my kitchen that's your big drama, Malfoy. You certainly know how to build the suspense."
We tied up at my dock and headed into the house. I made a beeline for the kitchen and started looking around. There really wasn't all that much on the counters; the Floo Post in the corner, a vase with some flowers. Pots and pans hung from hooks over the center island. A couple of cupboards had glass fronts, to see the plates and glasses inside. The most exciting thing visible was the spice rack on the wall. I leaned against the counter next to it, and looked at Malfoy.
He walked straight toward me and stopped directly in front of me, looking me in the eye. Then he smiled and reached around toward the spice rack. On the top shelf were several small bottles, common household potions that were easier to just buy from the local apothecary than bother to make for myself.
He plucked a bottle from the rack and held it up, turning the label toward me. Dreamless Sleep, made by Wyvern Potions. The logo had a weird dragon-like beast wrapped around a flask.
"This," said Malfoy, "is my number three best-seller."
I looked at him, then back at the bottle. "Seriously?"
He nodded. "Pepper-Up is number one, mainly due to cold and flu season in the fall."
I laughed as he put the bottle back on the rack. "Oh my God, how did I never figure that out? Wyvern, dragon, Draco. It makes total sense."
"Nobody's ever figured it out. I work through quite a few layers of fake corporations and businesses. Not only do I, like you, want my fair share of privacy, but the Malfoy name would hurt sales more than it would help these days."
"Well, let me tell you, Malfoy – your Dreamless Sleep is the best I've ever used. No weird hangover feeling, and the peach flavor is fantastic."
He bowed in thanks. "I am, after all, a Potions Master. My best products are top-secret alterations on tried-and-true recipes."
"No wonder you were able to solve my potions problem."
"You did most of the work on that one. I just made one suggestion. But on that note, Granger – they're not sappy."
"Your books. You called them sappy before. I read five of the damned things in six days. And yes, the genre is not normally my cup of tea, but in the spirit of complete and total honesty, they're brilliantly written."
I'm sure the grin on my face looked pretty silly, but then I thought about what he'd just said. "Wait, five books? I only sent you three."
He blushed a little bit. "I knew the name was familiar, so I looked in the cupboard full of confiscated items. There were two more in there."
I poured us each a glass of ice water and we wandered back out to the poolside patio. "In a way, I'm surprised there were only two. The day I figured I really had something good going on was when I found my first two books in that same cupboard, when Minerva was showing me what an amazing treasure trove it was."
Malfoy kicked off his shoes and wiggled his toes in the sun. "Well, I think the two were actually doubles. I'm pretty sure she has every number, one through ten, on her own bookshelves."
I stared at him. "She doesn't know it's me, does she?"
He shook his head. "I'm pretty sure no. She caught me reading one of them, even though I had it tucked inside a textbook, and raved about how much she loved all of them. That she thought you … well, Helena Graham … was an amazing writer, and she hoped to meet you … or, well, her, someday." He shook his head again. "Your secret is harder than mine, Granger. At least I don't have to appear as a complete different person. I just have a reclusive corporate bigwig identity who never appears in public. Ever."
"Two people, remember. There's also the Muggle version."
"Too much work," he said, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. "I'll stick with peach flavor and no hangover."
Through the rest of the fall, November and much of December, we continued our visits back and forth. I would usually visit Hogwarts one day during the week, and Malfoy would come to Little Big Key one day on the weekend. We talked about anything and everything, especially our secret lives that we couldn't talk to anyone else about.
From his weekly visits to a place with actual sunshine, Malfoy started to tan up a bit. I taught him my glamour charm to appear pale, and he in turn suggested a brilliant idea in which Hermione Granger changed jobs, to a mysterious new research position in Roswell, New Mexico. Muggles thought of the place as the home of strange experiments and space aliens, but the Wizarding world knew that Roswell was all about top-secret corporations doing top-secret research. People talked about Roswell in the same hushed tones they talked about Unspeakables.
It was perfect – I could stop hiding my tan, nobody would be comfortable asking me anything about my work, and I wouldn't have to churn out the occasional genuine research paper anymore. I let the Potters know, but also let them know that I'd be able to keep my apartment in London, but it would probably get a bit dusty between visits. Another victory, removing the need to obsessively tidy up every time Harry or Ginny came to visit.
I taught Malfoy about quite a few Muggle things, including the internet. I know he took a shine to it, because less than a week after introducing him to my computer, I received an email from someone calling himself DungeonMasterDM.
Granger – thank goodness for this computer, and for this internet. Now I finally know why the Muggle-born Hufflepuffs keep saying "honey badger don't care." Although I have to say, I think I still prefer the Floo Post to this e-mail. Seems a bit impersonal. And it's quite easy to ramble. Your little sticky notes have forced me to become more succinct.
Good thing I hadn't introduced him to Twitter.
My next weeknight visit, instead of hanging around the staff room or Malfoy's quarters, we apparated to Spinner's End, where Malfoy spent his non-Hogwarts time in the house he inherited from Snape. I got the grand tour of the library (even more impressive than Malfoy's, or mine), and got to admire Malfoy's brand new, state-of-the-art computer.
The rest of the time, I seemed to spend more hours thinking about Malfoy than I spent writing. For over a year we'd been seeing each other, never actually on official call-it-a-date dates, but certainly we went out for two-person meals much more often than a pair of friends might. He'd expressed happiness that I wasn't seeing anyone, but that was about as far as finding out how his feelings went.
He'd never even stayed the night in my guest room, always arriving in the morning and leaving again that same evening when he came to Little Big. Then again, I'd never asked him to stay. But he'd never asked to stay, either.
I decided it was either that we were squarely in the "friends" zone, or that he was overly courteous and gallant. Perhaps there was some Wizarding code of conduct for spending time with the opposite sex that I'd not grown up learning. I decided the best person to ask was Ginny, even though I'd be exposing the fact that I was either seeing someone, or wanted to be seeing someone.
Fortunately, Ginny was aching to get out of the house, and aching even more so to leave Harry at home with the kids. We arranged a time after Harry got home from work – 6 in the evening was something like 11 in the morning in New Mexico, but I waved it off by saying I had very flexible hours, but of course, I couldn't say more than that.
After popping down the street for some Chinese takeaway, Ginny and I exchanged a few pleasantries before she started her interrogation.
"So, you need to know some things about growing up in the Wizarding world. I'm your girl."
"Yes, well …" I tried to figure out how to approach my issue.
"Because seriously, there's only one thing I can think of that you might not know about, and that's romance."
I gently choked on my food.
"Aha," she grinned. "As I suspected. Because it's not really in books, more just taught to your children at home. The procedures, the rituals, all that."
I managed to swallow the mouthful. "Rituals?"
Ginny's smile turned wolfish. "Oh, of course, you wouldn't know about any of the rituals, would you? They'd probably be too shocking for anyone to discuss outside of their own family."
"I … er …" I was at a sudden complete loss for words.
Ginny stared at me intently for a moment, then managed to blurt out, "Gotcha!" through a fit of giggles.
I threw a plastic-wrapped fortune cookie at her head.
After she calmed down, she said, "You do realize you're not the only one who visits Minerva McGonagall, right? And that the woman is a hopeless, incurable gossip? She's been telling me about you and Malfoy dancing around each other for months."
"Oh, God." I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Well, at least I don't have to beat around the bush on this. So yes, lots of visiting back and forth, and going out for meals, and playing cards, and great conversations. And yet, we've never gone on an actual fancy-up date. He seems to enjoy my company, but he's never made any kind of move or pass or anything."
Ginny nodded. "Completely normal. Especially for someone raised … well, let's just say in one of the more strict pureblood families. They have their own set of weird rules for courtship. First and foremost, there are a lot of arranged marriages, so some people never even go on a date. They're just told they're going to marry so-and-so, and eventually they do."
"Malfoy told me about that much – I guess his family wasn't as gung-ho as some. He was apparently free to make his own decision, but he was 'strongly encouraged' to view at least one of the Greengrass girls as future marriage material."
"Shame they're both such complete hags."
"Well, I think it's a good thing they're both hags," I said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be having this discussion with you."
Ginny grinned. "Yes, yes indeed! All right, so, if it's not an arranged marriage, a boy is still schooled on the proper way to treat a woman who is of marrying quality. There's a whole weird system of courtship, but the bottom line is, the woman has almost all of the power. She needs to signal, clearly and visibly, that she's receptive to being courted. Otherwise, a man just has to stand by and wait."
"What if a woman isn't 'marrying quality'?"
"Oh, then he can just jump her bones without a problem. So don't you see? Malfoy must have you in the quality category!"
"Either that, or he's not interested either way, and is happy just to be friends."
"I think I can say with some confidence, because of the keen observations of one Minerva McGonagall, that Malfoy is interested. Do tell, do you see him on the weekends?"
"Almost every Saturday."
"Then I can report that on Friday nights, Malfoy appears to be a thousand miles away, grinning like a fool. Also, apparently when you're in the staff room and concentrating on something else, he's been known to look at you. A lot."
"So what, then? I need to give him some sort of clear signal?"
"If you want to be courted, yes." Ginny leaned forward with her chin on her hand. "Think back to how Ron acted through most of school, Hermione. Weren't there a thousand longing looks? Wasn't he always by your side? God knows, I watched it happen in all its awful glory."
"I don't remember ever giving a signal to Ron. Then again," I said, thinking back, "we'd just escaped certain death yet again, and I think I grabbed him and hugged him. And then he kissed me. So I guess the old grab-and-hug was a good enough signal for someone who figured he'd be dying soon anyway."
"Shame you two never worked out; you'd be a much better sister than Fleur."
"We're still sisters anyway, fool. Especially since kissing Ron felt like kissing a brother."
We finished up dinner and cleaned up the mess. At the door, Ginny gave me a huge hug. Then she stepped back, grinning. "Don't you even think of kissing me now, Hermione."
I laughed. "You're not my type."
"Well, if someone does happen to be your type, you know what you have to do. Now you just need to figure out how to do it."
I closed the door behind her and leaned against it. How to do it, indeed.
I figured it out a week before Christmas. Which was a day after I received a letter through the Floo Post.
My dear Hermione,
It would appear that we'll be having a fairly quiet Christmas here this year. Only a half-dozen students, as well as a few old Professors. And some not-so-old Professors. Perhaps you'd care to come by for breakfast? I understand that chocolate chip pancakes will be on the menu, and I've been told they're your favorite.
I had a standing offer to visit the Burrow every Christmas for breakfast, but I knew that Harry and Ginny would understand. I sent Minerva a note back accepting her offer, then dashed off a Post-It for Malfoy.
Did you tell Minerva my pancake preference?
This may be, quite possibly, the strangest non-sequitur note I've ever received, Granger.
I've been invited to Christmas breakfast. A little birdie told Minerva that chocolate chip pancakes would seal the deal.
Oddly enough, I had no idea you preferred chocolate chip. I pictured you as a blueberry girl.
Sorry. I suppose the house elves might have tipped her off.
I'm not sorry; this means I get to give you your present on Christmas morning, instead of sending it.
Malfoy, you don't have to get me a present.
Too late. And it can't be returned, so you'll just have to suffer. Of course, I expect a gift in return.
Ah, so you'd like bacon with your pancakes? This can be arranged.
Perfect. Will you be stopping by to sunbathe and enjoy my hospitality on Saturday?
Argh, can't this week. End of term exams. But I'll definitely need a break afterward.
Well, Granger's Tropical Bed and Breakfast is always here.
Marvelous. See you on Christmas!
I went to bed thinking about what to get Malfoy. And woke up realizing that I'd already written what it should be.
Two days before Christmas, I received an envelope from my publisher. It included an invitation for Helena Graham to speak at the International Potions Conference, coming up in February in New Orleans, as well as a hand-written note practically begging me to finally take part. The conference had been inviting me to speak for several years, but I never even considered it. Small book signings were one thing, but several days in character just seemed like too much of a hassle.
I decided to take the invitation with me to Hogwarts, so Malfoy could have a laugh over it. I packed it along with a few gifts, Malfoy's included, and a few changes of clothes, and portkeyed to my London flat. Two days before Christmas would give me time to visit the Potters, clean up the flat a bit, and get my internal clock adjusted so I wasn't getting up at three in the morning in Florida in order to have Christmas breakfast at nine in Scotland.
I paid a visit to Diagon Alley and stocked up on a few potions ingredients. I also stopped in at Flourish & Blotts, partially to browse, but mostly to check out my shelf space. I was delighted to see quite a few of my books there, some of them with the premium position of having their faces out instead of their spines, as well as quite a few gaps where my books had been removed. Always nice to see that things are moving.
I spent most of Christmas Eve at the Potters' cozy house, chatting with Harry and Ginny, putting up with Ginny's constant wiggling eyebrows and winks, and playing with their children in a way that mostly entailed being climbed on and over by small squealing people. After a lovely enormous meal (Ginny inherited some amazing cooking skills from her mother) and a bit of spiced cider, I kissed all of the Potters goodnight and took a small stack of gifts back to my little flat. Some were obviously books, and of course there was a lumpy package from Molly Weasley that was suspiciously sweater-sized.
Once home, I turned the heat up full blast and shucked my heavy coat and boots. It was nice to visit the cold places occasionally, if only just to remind me of how wonderful it can be to wear shorts for Christmas in Florida. I set down my pile of gifts, and decided to take them with me to Hogwarts and open them there. Make a proper Christmas of it.
After setting my alarm, I was out like a light.
Christmas morning came bright and early, and a bit too loud what with the jangling alarm clock. I showered and took a bit of hangover potion, just to battle the bit of Harry's super-secret spiced cider recipe that was clearly a bit more powerful than I'd thought. The fact that the bottle was from Wyvern made me chuckle.
Bundled in my heaviest clothes, with two bags of gifts in hand – those for me, and those for friends at Hogwarts – I apparated off to the front gates. I was pleasantly surprised to find someone waiting for me there, wrapped head to toe in heavy black wool.
"About time, Granger. It's freezing out here."
I looked at my watch. "I told Minerva I'd be here at nine. It's two minutes until nine."
"Well," Malfoy grumbled, "I naturally assumed you'd be here at quarter-to. May I?" He reached out for my bags.
I handed one over, then boldly hooked my free arm in his. We started up the hill toward the castle, crunching unsteadily through the snow. "I suppose my laid-back island lifestyle has caused me to be merely on time, instead of annoyingly early."
"Speaking of your laid-back island lifestyle, I hope you appreciate that I didn't clear the walkway for you."
I gripped his arm tighter as I slipped a bit in the snow. "What does the one have to do with the other?"
"Well, I didn't want you to come back here and be all, 'Oh, look at the lovely snow, and the beautiful landscape, and with this cleared walk it's just so easy to get around, I may as well move back to the motherland and give up my luxurious beachside home and no longer allow my friends to wallow by my pool,' now did I? So I thought I'd just give you a little reminder of how totally and utterly crap the winter is."
"Don't worry, Malfoy. I've been back over here for two days, and I've already had an eyeful of crap winter."
"Two days? Why didn't you stop by earlier?" We reached the enormous front doors and he opened one, gallantly.
"I have other friends to visit besides you, you know. I had to spend quite a bit of time buried under a pile of tiny Potters."
"Ah, the wee Potters. Four now, aren't there?" We strolled through the entryway on our way to the Great Hall, my arm still linked with his.
"Yes, and you'll have young Sirius here in only a few short years."
"Undoubtedly another Gryffindor," he snorted.
"Well, it will be his ghastly fate to deal with." We entered the Great Hall, which was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Only one lonely table sat in the middle of the room. Malfoy set my bag down on the bench next to the doors, took off his heavy cloak, then helped me off with my coat, hanging both on hooks above the bench. I sat down and looked at my snow-caked boots.
"Here at Hogwarts, we are always prepared," Malfoy said in a formal voice. He then pulled a pair of fuzzy slippers out from under the bench.
I laughed and reached out for them, but he gently slapped my hand away. "These are mine, wench. Get your own."
I looked under the bench, and sitting in what I could swear was an empty spot just a moment before was a pair of pink furry slippers with rabbit ears on them. I pulled off my boots and put on the slippers, feeling more than a little bit foolish until I saw Malfoy stand up with his own bunny-clad feet.
"You truly look the part of the Potions Master now. Dark, mysterious, terrifying, with the cutest little feet."
"I swear, this is actually one of the more tame years here. Minerva's Christmas morning dress codes have been known to rival Albus Dumbledore for their sheer foolishness."
We shuffled over to the table, where a few students were gathering with those staff members who stayed behind for the holidays. I hugged the staff and shook hands with the students, who all seemed a little starry-eyed at meeting one of the golden trio. You can see why I didn't want any more fame than necessary; over ten years on, and my name was still a fixture. Every single person had on their own pair of fuzzy bunny slippers.
We sat for breakfast, and it was truly an epic meal. Rashers of crispy bacon, waffles, sausage, eggs, crispy potatoes, and of course, piles of chocolate chip pancakes with syrup. Mealtimes were always wonderful at Hogwarts, but this one, with not only the food but the delightful company, was one of the best. Minerva and Filius Flitwick tried to one-up each other with knock-knock jokes, while the poor students looked caught between laughter and terror at being caught laughing at their teachers.
After all of the plates were cleared away and we'd all finished coffee or tea, Minerva shooed us all away. "It'll be mealtime again before you know it, my dears. Due to this enormous and late breakfast, we'll be having an early dinner around four. Go open your gifts if you haven't already, and take a nap if necessary."
I passed out my gifts for Minerva, Filius, and the other staff. Minerva hugged me and said, "We've given everything over to Draco for you; I'm sure he has all of your gifts tucked away somewhere safe."
Malfoy merely smiled and raised his eyebrow.
I gathered up my bags, leaving my coat and boots to drip dry. We made our way down toward Malfoy's quarters, passing the giant hourglasses full of gems that showed house points. I was delighted to see Gryffindor slightly edging out Slytherin.
"Quiet, you," said Malfoy, even though I hadn't said a word. "There are still two more Quidditch games."
"I've always wondered – how often do Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw win? Seems like it's always our two houses battling it out."
"Not very often, sadly. I suppose it's because our two houses just want it more. Or that they hate each other so much it's become a personal grudge match. Or more probably, a combination of both."
"It's a shame that all these years later, the two houses don't get along more."
"Well, look at yours truly," he said as he opened the door to his chambers. "Not raised all that long ago, and raised with all the venom and hellfire you can imagine. Things have changed, but they haven't changed all that much."
Malfoy waved his wand at the fireplace, causing the glowing embers to launch out hearty, crackling flames. I unpacked my parcels onto his coffee table as he poured drinks at the sideboard. He handed me a mug of what looked like warm cider with spices, set his own down, and went into his office, bringing out two stacks of gifts.
"I decided to save mine until after breakfast, because who likes opening Christmas gifts alone?"
I took a sip from the mug as he sorted the gifts into two piles. It was indeed spiced cider, with just a subtle hint of booziness. "You know, this tastes quite a bit like Harry's secret recipe."
"I should hope so. Minerva sneaked some back here a couple of years ago after a Christmas with the Weasleys and practically begged me to reverse-engineer it. Took some trial and error, but I think I've finally got it. Say what you will about Harry Potter, and I've said quite a few things, the man makes a fantastic spiced cider."
I took another sip. "Delicious though it may be, I feel a bit scandalous drinking liquor before noon on Christmas."
"Are you kidding? You haven't been here for Christmas dinner lately, obviously. Half of the teachers will be in their cups by four."
"Oh, well, we certainly wouldn't want to be the odd ones out, would we?" I took another delightful sip.
We settled down in front of the fire, Malfoy on the sofa and me in my favorite squashy armchair. I picked through the gifts (most of the ones from Hogwarts staff were obviously books) and found Malfoy's. I set it aside for last. I noticed that he took the box I brought, wrapped in paper printed with palm trees, and set it aside as well.
Quite a while later, after lots of torn paper, sharing, and commentary, we were down to our last gifts. We each had a small stack of new books, as well as various trinkets. I'd put on my new Molly Weasley sweater, which was a fairly decent shade of blue and devilishly comfortable.
Malfoy picked up my tropical gift, and I picked up his present – a heavy box wrapped tastefully in green tissue with silver ribbons. "Nice wrapping," I said.
"Only the finest house colors for you. Ladies first," he said.
I pulled the ribbons away, loosened the paper, and pulled out a plain white box. Inside were two books.
Two amazing books.
I was almost afraid to touch them, because I knew just from looking at them how old they were. I gently picked up the first one, and opened it to the title page. Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. The publishing date was 1847, and it was signed with the name "Currer Bell," Charlotte Brontë's pseudonym for that first edition. Setting that book gently down, I picked up the other volume. Pride and Prejudice, read the title page, with a date of 1813. It was also signed, also a first edition.
"Oh my God, Malfoy. These must each be worth more than my little island," I whispered.
"Well, they struck me as a couple of the earliest romance novels, so I thought they'd be appropriate."
"They're too expensive. I couldn't possibly accept them."
He put his hand up. "Granger, even though it subtracts from the drama of the gift, you should know that I didn't pay a cent for them. They were part of Severus's library, which has more books than I'd be able to read in ten lifetimes. So look at it as doing me a favor. If I can shuttle some of these moldy old things to you, then maybe I can get the pile down to eight or nine lifetimes' worth of books."
I grinned. "You know exactly what to say to ease my crushing guilt, Malfoy." I set the books carefully back in their box.
"And now," said Malfoy, "let's see what we have here." He opened the wrapping paper on his gift even more carefully than I'd done. He opened the box and pulled out the colorful piece of cardstock inside. I watched his eyes widen as he read it.
This coupon entitles the bearer to
Overnight Lodging at
Granger's Tropical Bed and Breakfast*
Little Big Key, Florida, USA
Sparkling clean guest rooms! Free internet! Pool! Close to the beach!
Perfect for a post-exams school holiday getaway!
*Chocolate chip pancakes with a side of bacon included in breakfast.
He looked over the top of the coupon. "I … I know how much you value your privacy, and I'm probably there too damned much already. Are you sure?"
"Malfoy, I already see you at least two days a week. If the two were in a row, back on Little Big, then perhaps I wouldn't have to come out here to the frozen wasteland so often." I looked down at my stack of new books. "Unless, of course, you don't want to spend the night in my lumpy old guest bed and have to trudge around through all that gritty sand in the mornings."
"No, I'd love to! As long as it's not too much trouble."
"Well, why don't you redeem your coupon sometime, and we'll see how it goes. For all I know, your morning bed-hair might offend me so much I banish you from the island forever."
"Seriously, Malfoy. I caved on these incredibly expensive books right away. There are no take-backsies, so you'll just have to redeem that sucker before it expires."
He looked at the coupon. "There's no expiration date."
"Details, details." I put my feet up on his coffee table. "If you feel the need to pay for your stay, you can start by fetching me another mug of that cider."
He got up and refilled both of our mugs. After handing me one, he picked up my bags from the table to move them aside. An envelope fell out of one of them, which he picked up and handed to me.
"Oh, right, I wanted to show you this." I opened the envelope and pulled out the invitation to the International Potions Conference. "They've invited me for the last few years; they want Helena Graham to speak."
Malfoy got a kind of lopsided smile on his face, then got up and went to his office. He came out with two envelopes and tossed them to me.
"Clearly you're not doing something right, Granger. You only got one invitation."
I opened both of them up – one for Draco Malfoy, Potions Master of Hogwarts, and one for Damon Miles, President and CEO of Wyvern Potions. Both with offers to speak.
"Have you ever gone?"
"As myself? Yes, a couple of times. I went last year, but didn't speak," he said. "It's actually not a bad time. Only three days, so it's not long enough for anyone to really get on your nerves. And there's almost always something interesting going on. You?"
"No, never. Being in disguise for a long weekend, having to play a part the entire time … it never sounded like all that much fun."
Malfoy looked at me over the top of his mug, eyes gleaming. Finally, he set it down and leaned forward. "I will accept and use your gift, even though it seems rudely intrusive on your privacy, on two conditions."
I rolled my eyes. "Thank you for making my gift sound so awful. What are the conditions?"
"The first is that you attend the conference."
"Malfoy, really, it doesn't sound all that – "
"Ah, but I'll need you there." He smiled even wider. "Or really, Damon Miles will need you, because the second condition is to use your expertise to craft him a truly masterful disguise."
The conference was in early February, so we had to get moving. I sent an acceptance to my publishers, who were over the moon at the idea of one of their authors speaking at the Wizarding world's foremost potions conference. Malfoy directed his Damon Miles acceptance through his corporation, although he opted to just attend, and not speak.
"Seriously, Granger," he'd complained. "It'll be weird enough being in disguise for the first time. At least you're used to it."
"I'll go along with that, but only if you help me with my speech." After all, it was true – I was more than used to making public appearances in my Helena Graham disguise.
Malfoy didn't redeem his coupon, but he did spend several afternoons over in Florida. I took him up to Orlando a couple of times to visit with Serena, the Muggle woman who's made my wigs and prosthetics for years. I don't know why so many special effects and makeup people settle in Orlando. Perhaps it's all the theme parks there.
On our first visit, she took numerous photographs of Malfoy's face, then put him in a computer scanning booth to get a full 3-D model of his head. He did not find the experience a pleasant one.
We returned the following week to find a variety of latex noses, a variety of wigs, and a custom-made wig cap.
"The trick here," said Serena, "is to find the right hair color and nose combination. Then we can construct a wig on the cap that we made specifically for the shape of your head."
"I have to wonder," said Malfoy, "if anyone else in our circle of friends has ever been offered the right hair color and nose combination."
I laughed. "Well, I have several fine wigs and fake jawlines, so I'm probably the closest one."
We tried every hair color from a blond just darker than Malfoy's own down to jet black, finally settling on a very dark brown with subtle dark red highlights. The color really worked well with Malfoy's pale skin. In a twist of fate that was either hilarious or terrible, the nose that went best with the whole ensemble was decidedly Snape-like.
Malfoy looked into the mirror for a long time with the combination of temporary wig and loosely-applied nose on.
"It's so weird," he said. "It's almost like I'm the love child of Severus and … oh, I have no idea. I can't imagine anyone having a love child with him."
"You may not realize this, Malfoy, but a goodly number of students had massive crushes on Snape."
"Really?" He shook his head, still looking at himself in the mirror. "I guess I just can't see it. He was always just my Godfather. My swooping, intimidating Godfather."
"Oh, yes." I remembered back to my sixth year, the last year when we had Snape as a teacher. "Of course, he was terrifying. But there was just something about that dark, brooding attitude, combined with that voice."
"Granger, you totally had a crush on my Godfather."
"I was sixteen!" I smacked him on the arm. "Look at what was around me! Gawky, awkward schoolboys, and then this tall, dark, and mysterious … well-read, intelligent … perplexing and puzzling enigma."
Malfoy gently peeled the nose off. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, Madam Hooch was very popular among the male population at school."
"The flying instructor?!"
"She had those weird yellowy eyes! Plus, besides kooky Tralawney, she was the youngest woman teaching at that school by at least fifty years."
I watched him take the wig off and run his hand through his own flattened hair. "Well, how about we just tuck these secrets away, and never mention them again?"
"I don't know, Granger. You're going to be spending three days around Snape Junior here. I may not be able to restrain myself from torturing you."
Serena came back out from her workroom and smiled at us both. "So, we have the winning combination! Now it's just a matter of creating the wig, the final nose, and perhaps some contacts."
I smiled. "Yes, I think contacts are definitely a brilliant idea."
"What are contacts?" asked Malfoy.
"Something you're bound to hate," I grinned.
Serena sent us away with several pairs of cosmetic contact lenses in a variety of shades of green and brown, so Malfoy could decide what color he liked and get used to wearing them. She promised delivery of the wig in time for the conference, and we made an appointment to have both of our wigs professionally attached, as well as prosthetics applied, the morning we were to leave.
The next two weeks, Malfoy peppered me with notes about his disguise and about the conference, as well as helpful thoughts for my speech.
I think I've decided on the green eyes. And by the way, these things are ghastly.
Do you just want to speak, or have you thought about demonstrating some practical applications?
I was working on walking differently today. I think Minerva's worried that I'm ill.
Don't forget something formal. Wizarding world loves formal. There's a closing night ball, which seems odd for a potions conference, but they're all old and crusty and sticklers for tradition.
I love your idea of developing a new potion in less than an hour. That'll knock their socks off!
Huge disguise question, Granger: Facial hair?
Finally, it was Friday morning. The conference was set to start that afternoon, and run all day Saturday and Sunday. Malfoy showed up at nine, bearing his suitcase, a box full of potions ingredients, and a gigantic full beard on his face.
He looked like some kind of crazy blond mountain man.
"Boy, you weren't kidding, Malfoy. That's definitely … facial hair."
"I found the spell in an old grooming book Flitwick had, and used it this morning. I didn't think it would be this massive."
"Oh, I'm glad you think it's massive. I was just wondering if you had some nifflers living in there."
He rolled his eyes. "Your friend Serena has hair dyes and razors. We'll let her figure out what to do with it."
I stacked my own box of ingredients on top of his, grabbed my shrunken suitcase, and we headed to Orlando.
After a quick bite (breakfast for me, lunch for Malfoy, "Don't worry about the time change, I took a nap before noon," he assured me) we went to Serena's studio.
"Damn, Draco!" she said. "It's only been two weeks. Have you been growing that beard the whole time?"
"Yes," he said. "I myself am also surprised at how fast it grew, and how wonderfully lush it is."
Serena used some clippers to mow the beard down to a shorter, uniform length, then declared that after she had the rest of our looks done, she'd decide what to do with it.
She started by gluing a prosthetic chin on me, and a nose on Malfoy. I already knew most of the tricks, having attached my own appliances for years, but she explained every step of the process so Malfoy knew what she was doing. As the experienced one, I'd be putting his noses on the next couple of days, so I paid attention.
The wigs came next: first a delicate net cap to hold our own hair in place, then the wig, which Serena nudged and tugged gently all over to get the perfect fit. She showed Malfoy the delicate and practically invisible lace edge, which she stuck down with spirit gum, then brushed the fringe down over his forehead to hide the edge completely. The style she'd decided on was completely different from Malfoy's regular hairstyle – instead of his normal style of short on the back and sides, a little longer on top, this style was shaggy all over and flipped a bit in the back. If it weren't for the enormous beard, he probably would have looked ten years younger.
Serena carefully packed a case for us with our additional noses and chins, as well as makeup, spirit gum, extra liquid latex to fix any rips or tears, cotton swabs, cotton balls, and a large bottle of adhesive remover. It felt like we were ready for a theatrical production. Which, in a way, we were.
Finally, she turned her attention to the beard. She slowly walked around Malfoy's chair, looking at it from all angles.
"I don't know if the whole thing will stay, but I think I can do something great here," she said. Rummaging through her shelves, she pulled out a tube of hair color, a bottle of developer, a mixing bowl, and a small brush. Holding up the tube, she said, "This is temporary color, so it should come out in a few shampoos."
After covering Malfoy up with a beauty smock, she mixed up the color and developer, and gently brushed the glop all over Malfoy's beard. It turned into a purplish grayish mass surprisingly fast, and Serena had to assure Malfoy that the color of the mixture was not indicative of the hair color result. After about 15 minutes they went to the bathroom to rinse and shampoo.
Malfoy came out grinning, and I was surprised at how well the beard color went with the wig. Both colors looked totally natural. Serena pulled out what looked like a mascara bottle, and applied darker color to Malfoy's pale eyebrows. "The beard, you can shave off if you can't stand waiting for the color to rinse out. I try not to permanently color eyebrows, because … well, experience has taught me that you can never be a hundred percent sure what haircolor will do." Once again she walked around the chair, then said, "I don't know. You look like a professor."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow at me, since he already was a professor. I could tell he wanted some clarification as to the Muggle meaning of the word.
"I don't know," I said. "I see what you mean, this is totally a middle-aged university professor look. But what we're hoping for is more of a high-powered, dashing C.E.O. type."
Malfoy nodded at this. Serena thought about it for a moment, then she grinned.
"Tony Stark," she said.
I looked at her blankly.
Malfoy smiled and said, "Of course, that's it! But maybe a bit fuller."
I looked at him blankly.
Serena went to get her clippers again, and Malfoy told me a brief history of Iron Man. She came back and trimmed his beard back, shearing it down to stubble on his cheeks, and leaving a tidy goatee behind. She contemplated his sideburns, then shaved them so they were just slightly higher than the bottom of his earlobes.
She grabbed her scissors again, and snipped here and there on his wig, finishing everything off with some sticky-looking styling product. Serena insisted he go back into the bathroom to blade-shave (or more likely wand-shave) the bare parts of his face and put his contact lenses in.
While we waited for that, she adjusted my blonde wig and inspected my makeup. I put on my non-corrective glasses, and she shook her head. "All this trouble you go to. How bad would it be, to be a little famous?"
"Believe me, my friend. There's famous, and then there's famous. And I don't want either one."
Malfoy came out of the bathroom with clean-shaven cheeks. He stood there in his t-shirt and jeans, beauty smock in his hand. If you can, picture a very handsome man, the kind you could have an enormous crush on. Then replace him with an equally handsome man, but completely different in every way.
Yeah, it was weird.
We each kissed Serena on the cheek, and promised that we would have an exciting mysterious weekend in disguise. Then we grabbed our luggage and ingredients and box full of disguise parts, and walked down the street until we found a nice, dark alley.
He checked his watch. "Great timing," he said. "My portkey is at noon. You're twelve ten, right?"
"Right. So. I'll see you there."
He ran his hand over his beard, grinning. "I'm already having fun. This weekend is going to be amazing."
He pulled out his conference-issued portkey, which doubled as a souvenir – a polished stone with the conference's logo carved in it. A moment later, he popped out of existence in front of me.
Ten minutes later, I held my own stone tightly in my hand, headed for my own amazing weekend.
I landed in the beautiful old lobby of a beautiful old hotel in New Orleans. A middle-aged witch with a clipboard was waiting right in front of where I appeared. When she saw me, she grinned.
"Helena Graham! We were so delighted when you accepted our invitation!" She made a mark on her clipboard and escorted me to the front desk to check in. I glanced around, trying to see around all of the witches and wizards milling around the lobby, but Malfoy was nowhere in sight.
The check-in process was quick and painless; no wonder Malfoy had already disappeared. Within five minutes I was handed an antique-looking brass key with a metal number plate attached, and the welcome witch escorted me to an ancient elevator.
"We have you up on the top floor, Ms. Graham," she said. "You'll have a direct view of the French Quarter."
"That sounds lovely," I said.
"And may I say, I'm a huge fan of your books."
"Oh, thank you!"
"A few of us on the planning committee are really looking forward to your speech. I'm hoping you give these old goats a peek into what kind of things the younger generation is up to."
That made me look around the lobby a bit closer. Suddenly I felt terribly young – there didn't appear to be anyone under forty anywhere nearby. Probably eighty percent of the people were men, and probably eighty percent of those men were over eighty years old. What the hell had I gotten myself into?
"Well, thank you. I … um … hope to impress everyone. And it's always a pleasure to meet a fan. Perhaps we can have a drink sometime while we're here."
She enthusiastically shook my hand as the elevator finally arrived. A few more old wizards poured out into the lobby. I stepped inside, pressed the button for the top floor, and waved to her as the doors closed. I took a deep breath and leaned against the wall as the lift slowly creaked its way up four floors.
I made my way down the hallway, searching for room 417. I finally found it, second to the end. Inside, it was like stepping back in time – the furnishings all had to be as old as the average age of the crowd downstairs. But everything was beautiful and well-kept. I dropped my suitcase and box of ingredients on the bed, then went over to the balcony doors and peeked out. The witch was right, the view was lovely. The hotel was on the perfect corner, across from classically New Orleans buildings on one side, and looking down at a lush, green park on the other side. Our hotel was towering over the rest of the buildings, most of which seemed to only be two stories high, and I wondered if the building was glamoured or charmed.
I turned back to my suitcase to start unpacking, but was interrupted by a knock on the door. I went to the front door of the room and looked through the peep-hole, but there was nobody in the hall. I opened the door and looked out, but the hall was empty. As I closed the door, I heard another knock, and realized that it was coming from a door on one of the side walls of the room.
I stepped up to the door. "Hello?"
"Granger, it's me."
I opened the door to find a grinning Malfoy on the other side, with a matching door of his own standing wide open.
"We're neighbors, are we?"
"Well, I figured you'd want a friendly face nearby. And being super-rich Damon Miles can really help with this kind of thing."
I left the connecting door open and tried the other two doors in the room, looking for the closet. Of course, the first door I picked was the bathroom. The décor was in keeping with the rest of the room, right down to the claw-foot bathtub. I shut that door and opened up the closet, then moved to unzip my suitcase.
"Malfoy, did you see the crowd down there? I felt like a baby."
"Well, what else did you expect? Most people don't get their Potions Mastery until they're a bit older than the two of us. We're definitely the outliers here."
"Yes, but I certainly didn't see a lot of forty- or fifty-somethings down there. Seemed like the bulk of the crowd was twice our age, at least."
"Oh, there are plenty of younger people here. At least, younger than that crowd. We just had the misfortune to arrive shortly after a group who call themselves 'the 99s' – an exclusive club that I'd be welcome to join after I hit that age."
"Oh you would, would you? What about when I turn 99?"
"Perhaps they'll have changed the rules by then, but at least right now, it appears the club is no girls allowed."
I sighed as I hung up my clothes. "Of course. So now I'm stuck here with a crowd of old men, who will probably come to my speech in order to mock and ridicule the babblings of a young girl."
Malfoy left his position in the doorway and flopped down on my bed, grabbing a sheet of parchment that was on the pillow. "Well, I'll be there to see it all. Don't worry, Granger. Your idea is a good one, and we've put together a great outline. They'll love it." He looked over the parchment. "Plus, you have until Sunday to win them over in advance. Looks like you're one of the last speakers of the whole conference."
"Great. I'll just spend the next two days schmoozing with the elders, shall I?" I pulled the last item out of my suitcase, a carefully folded and zipped up garment bag.
"What's in there?" asked Malfoy.
"You said to bring something formal for the closing night. This is something formal."
He hiked himself up on his elbows. "Can I see?"
"Yes, Malfoy. On Sunday. At the closing night formal whatever. After my crushingly embarrassing presentation."
"Granger, it's not going to be that awful. You're going to have fun. You'll see." He pulled the parchment back out. "Nothing going on until three, then there are a few choices to make before dinner. What do you think – New Developments for Dragon Hide, Cauldrons: A New Look at Old Metals, or Twenty Unique Uses for Wormwood?"
The rest of Friday and all of Saturday were pleasant enough – a few presentations, most of which Malfoy and I attended together (although he insisted on going to Potioneering for Profit, while I couldn't resist New Ingredients from the Old Country, both of which were held at the exact same time). In between, there was plenty of time to wander around a large area filled with vendor booths; we each ended up with a large bag full of free samples and promotional items.
We had separate assigned seats at dinner both nights – it appeared that several middle-aged witches were in on the seating arrangements, because I had a gaggle of them fawning over me at my table. Some of them even had my books with them, which I readily signed.
By Saturday night, most of the dinner witches had seen me spending time with Malfoy, and peppered me with questions about the elusive, reclusive CEO of Wyvern, Damon Miles. How long had I known him? A few years. Were we an item? No, just friends. Had we ever worked together? We'd consulted on occasion, but never done a large project.
They made it surprisingly easy to tell mostly truths; the only lie was that neither of us was who we said we were.
Once I'd made it clear that we weren't dating, a few of them got that look in their eyes. That shrewd, calculating look of the man-hunter. It reminded me of Pansy Parkinson. They batted their eyelashes at him, but Malfoy, two tables away and surrounded by his own fawning fan club of old men and bigwigs, didn't seem to notice.
On both nights, the scheduled events ended by ten. There wasn't much partying, because due to the average age of the crowd, ten was still past most normal bedtimes. We'd head back to our rooms, wash up and remove our disguises, then head out to Malfoy's huge corner balcony. It had a nice little table and two chairs, and the table was the perfect size for two glasses of wine and Malfoy's little travel Scrabble board.
The nights were delightful, if you put aside the fact that nothing romantic happened. And here I thought I was looking fairly cute in my pajamas – a camisole top and flannel bottoms printed with flying golden snitches. Malfoy looked damned great in his loungewear, which consisted of a t-shirt and striped pajama bottoms. I was even kind of delighted by the absurd contrast of his naturally blond hair and his artificially dark goatee.
But no. Maybe a couple of hours of Scrabble, some discussion about my upcoming presentation, a good bottle of red, and then good night, Granger. See you in the morning. What do you think, eight or so? Should give us enough time to have noses and chins in place for breakfast.
Great. Yeah. See you in the morning.
Had I not been clear enough with my Christmas gift? Hell, I'd given him a written invitation to spend the night with me. Well, granted, it was to spend the night in my home. But I figured it was enough. But maybe it wasn't. Maybe I'd have to make myself a little more clear.
After the presentation, though. That thing was going to be stressful enough.
Sunday morning, I was over in Malfoy's room a little after eight, gluing his nose on. As with the previous morning, I was reassured that my fancying him wasn't just a one-way thing. What with me standing practically in his lap in order to get his face straight, I could see him trying to be gentlemanly and look anywhere but at my chest. And being so close made him quite fidgety.
He cleared his throat. "So, think you're ready for today?"
I smoothed the edges of his nose down and started in with the makeup to hide the seam. "I think so. Although if I bomb horribly, at least it's not me bombing. Hermione Granger, I mean. You know?"
"Well, certainly. We wouldn't want the brightest witch of her age to bomb."
"Ass. Tilt your head to the side."
"Granger, you'll be fine. They'll love you, even the old crusty 99s. They've been driving me crazy at dinner, asking questions about you."
"And joking about my profession, I'm sure."
"No, they haven't. I told them what you write, certainly. But most of them have wives who read your books, and they were actually quite impressed with your innovations in both potions and charms."
"That's a relief, anyway. They won't start throwing the rotten vegetables at me too early."
"It probably also helps that you're by far the youngest and most attractive witch here."
I looked at him, but he was studiously gazing out the window. And reminded myself to not think about this thing between us until later.
"Get your wig settled, Malfoy. Time to put on my chin."
I went back into my own room, using the bathroom mirror to apply my last fake chin of the conference. Once I had it attached and blended in, I put on my blonde wig, carefully sticking down the lacy edge with the spirit gum. Glasses, shoes, and I was ready to go.
Malfoy stepped through the connecting doors and sat on my bed, waiting for my approval of his wig application. I tugged it in a couple of spots, but really, it was perfectly done to begin with. I glued down his wig, tousled the brown hair, and stepped back to look at him. The hair, nose, and beard may have been different, but the gleaming eyes and smile were the same.
He popped up and offered me his arm. "Shall we?"
I hooked my elbow in his. "Let's."
Breakfast and the morning sessions flew by. At lunch, my circle of ladies tittered about how excited they were to attend my presentation. It made me even more nervous than before. Finally, it was time to head back to my room and pick up all of my materials.
I had my box of ingredients, as well as those that Malfoy had brought. I had a stack of note cards for reference, but hoped I wouldn't need them too much. I carried everything down to my assigned conference room and set things up. The equipment I'd requested was already there – two cauldrons over low fires, one pewter and one brass; a variety of measuring, cutting, and stirring utensils; and a stack of heavy fabric that could only be dragon-hide robes.
With everything set up, I went into the waiting room next door with my note cards. I looked over a few of my ideas, but kept being distracted by the sound of people filing in and chatting in my presentation room. Finally Martha, the middle-aged witch who had greeted me on the first day, came into the room.
"As I'll ever be."
She walked back to the connecting door. "I'll leave this open and introduce you. There's a clock to the left that will show you how much of your hour is left. I'm terribly excited to see this; thank you again for coming."
We shook hands, and she went out to introduce me. She mentioned a few of my books, and the potions featured in them. When she said the name Helena Graham, the applause was lovely and warm.
I stepped out into the room, which was now brightly lit and filled with witches and wizards. I knew there was another presentation at the same time as mine, but it felt as if all of the attendees were here with me.
"Ladies and gentlemen, witches and wizards, potions masters and mistresses, thank you for having me here. As Martha was so kind to explain, I write novels. Novels which, while aimed at women, I have on good authority," I looked at Malfoy, sitting in the front row off to the side, "can be enjoyed by men as well.
"I've made it a point to include a new charm or potion in every book, something easy enough to be incanted or brewed by anyone, with affordable and easy-to-acquire ingredients. I've done this for two reasons – love of the crafts of charms and potions, and love for my readers. Without my readers, I wouldn't be able to continue to write and develop and brew. So my inventions are, in essence, gifts to them. Certainly I take pleasure in the process of creation, but it's the ability to share them with so many wonderful people that makes it all worthwhile."
I pulled the stack of dragon hide toward me. "For my presentation today, I'd like to create a brand new potion here for you. It will be simpler than many, due to our time constraints, but my goal here is to remind us all that brewing doesn't need to be complicated or time-consuming, and that sometimes the simplest thing can turn out to be the best thing.
"I would, however, like it if you would indulge me in inviting someone up here to join me. A second set of hands is always welcome in brewing, as you all know. And a second mind can be just as helpful in development. That said," I shook out the stack of dragon-hide robes to reveal two sets, "would you please be so kind as to welcome the president and CEO of Wyvern Potions, Mr. Damon Miles?"
Malfoy actually looked surprised as the crowd applauded him. He then gave me a wry smile and came up to the front of the room.
"You never mentioned this part of your presentation," he said in a low voice.
"Well, you were such an integral part of developing it, I figured you'd want some of the glory."
He put on his robes as I turned back to the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd hate for you to think that I had a new potion already developed, and was merely pretending to create something in order to impress you. So if you would be so kind, would someone please tell me of a small problem you'd like to solve?"
A woman in the second row raised her hand. "My teenage daughter can't seem to get rid of her spots."
I nodded. "Teenage acne is often the most resistant." I looked over our ingredients and was already coming up with some ideas. I offered to the audience, "Would you prefer a topical application, or something consumed?" The majority shouted for topical.
With our robes on, we were ready to start. "Mr. Miles, we'll need to start with a base. I have here cocoa butter, beeswax, and coconut oil. My inclination is to go with the oil."
"Please, call me Damon," he grinned. "I agree. Coconut oil is moisturizing, and also has antibacterial properties." He put some into the pewter cauldron. "May I suggest rose petals, for both fragrance and astringent properties?"
"An excellent starting point," I said. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have here green tea, grape wine, and oak bark. If I could only use one of those ingredients here, let's discuss which would be the most advantageous."
So began what would be an hour of the crowd agreeing, disagreeing, bickering, and laughing, as Malfoy and I improvised and brewed up at the front. His big idea was to get the audience to do most of the work, and I had a feeling it was a technique that he'd be taking to his classrooms. Meanwhile, between the two of us we managed to create a fairly simple but most likely effective paste for teenage acne.
We got a great round of applause at the end, and then Malfoy offered that the Wyvern testing and research departments would test the formula free of charge. I responded by promising that after the testing process, fifty percent of all proceeds from the sale of the formula would go to a university fund for the spot-riddled teenage daughter of the woman who'd made the suggestion.
From the sound of it, the audience thought that was a grand idea.
After quite a bit of handshaking, hugging, autograph signing, and general chit-chat, the room cleared out and I was able to pack my boxes back up. Malfoy stuck around and helped me carry everything back up to my room.
"I don't know why I didn't expect you to bring me up there. Makes perfect sense now that you'd torture me like that."
"Oh, go on. You loved that applause and you know it. Plus, you made half of that audience swoon with your charm."
He laughed. "Maybe I should go out as Damon Miles more often. It certainly gets a lot more positive attention than Draco Malfoy does."
We'd missed the start of the last presentations of the conference while packing everything up and carrying it upstairs, so we sat in the bar and had a glass of wine while we waited for everyone to emerge. There were a few other attendees in the bar, and a couple of them came over to compliment us on our presentation, but for the most part we waited the half-hour or so with each other for company.
At five o'clock, the doors to the conference center opened, and the attendees filed out and headed toward the dining room. We picked up our wine glasses and joined the flow of the crowd. Dinner was early this final night, so everyone would have plenty of time to go back to their rooms and get dressed for the formal closing night event at eight.
Many of the ladies at my dinner table ate quickly then left; they had the job of opening up the retractable walls between all of the conference spaces and decorating the conference center for the night. A couple of wizards from other tables came over to fill in some of the empty seats, as did Malfoy. Really, on that last night, the assigned seating seemed to have flown out the window.
After another lovely meal, we went back upstairs to rest, refresh, and change clothes. With the connecting door shut, I was able to peel off my wig and clothes, then wander around the room in my underwear, packing up and sorting a few things in advance of having to leave the next morning.
I freshened up my makeup, checked the edges of my chin, piled my hair back up under my wig cap, and put my wig back on. I pulled my garment bag out of the closet and unzipped it, pulling my gown out gently and smoothing out a few small wrinkles with my wand.
It was the kind of dress I'd always wanted to wear, but never had an opportunity. But I'd found it a couple of years ago while browsing around a store, tried it on, fallen in love with it, and now I finally had a chance to wear it.
I changed into different underthings – a matching set of booty-smoothing pants and a bra somehow constructed with a lower back strap than usual, to leave a goodly portion of my back bare. I pulled the dress on and made sure everything was in its proper place. The dress was sleeveless, with a draped cowl in the front and a much lower drape in the rear, exposing about half of my back. The rest of the dress was form-fitting as if it had been made just for me, and was an elegant floor-length. It wasn't obscene, and nothing inappropriate was exposed, but I felt sexy as hell.
Malfoy knocked on the connecting door, and I looked at the clock: five minutes until eight.
"I'm headed down," he called. "Ready to go?"
"Go ahead without me; I have a few more minutes here. Get me a glass of champagne, would you?"
"What a surprise, Granger. So atypical in so many ways, but running late for a fancy-dress party. I never would have expected it."
"Shut up, Malfoy," I said, grinning. I heard him laugh, then open and shut the front door of his room while I sat down and buckled on my strappy high-heeled sandals.
I tucked my wand and room key into a sequined clutch bag, brushed the hair of my wig around a bit, put my glasses on, then looked myself up and down in the mirror.
"Go get him, tiger," I said, and headed down to the party.
I walked into the conference room, which had been completely transformed. Gone were the bright lights, vendor booths, and rows of seats. The wonderful gaggle of organizers had turned the room into a softly-lit, glittering ballroom, with cozy cocktail tables along the walls. In a corner, a band played a mix of wizard and Muggle dance music, mostly all from before 1950. A few couples danced in the middle of the room, but most people were lined up by one of several bars or chatting in groups.
I checked out the other women, and decided my dress was just perfect. Others were wearing things far more glitzy, far more showy, and far more revealing, tight, and short. Despite the fact that I was most likely the youngest witch in the room. The men were much simpler, with about half in black dress robes and half in tuxedoes.
I looked around for Malfoy, and found him standing next to one of the bars, holding a glass of champagne in each hand, staring at me as if he'd never seen me before. He was one of the few wearing a white tuxedo jacket instead of black, which oddly lent him an even more debonair look. White shirt, black bow tie, black cummerbund and black pants completed his ensemble. With the dark wig and goatee, he looked like a spy from another era.
I walked over to him and took one of the glasses of champagne. He continued to look at me.
"Miles," I said, looking around at everyone nearby, "it's not polite to stare."
"Graham," he said, blinking at me, "it's not polite to outshine everyone else in the room."
"Nonsense." I took a sip of the champagne, which was quite good. "Martha over there is quite shiny in those sequins. She might accidentally be mistaken for a disco ball."
Malfoy snorted, then took a drink from his own glass. As we looked around the room, one of the old 99s came up and asked me to dance. I set down my glass, put my hand in his, then raised my eyebrow at Malfoy as I was led to the dance floor.
For about an hour, I spent my time dancing with older men who fell into two categories: lechers, and those with business propositions. I broke away from the first kind as quickly but politely as I could. With the second group, I listened to their sales pitches and put their business cards in my bag. At least they were mostly interesting, and didn't spend the entire dance trying to see down the front of my dress.
I saw Malfoy pass by on the dance floor a few times, in the clutches of various witches. I think I even saw a woman who was probably old enough to qualify for the 99s (if only they'd let women into their stinky boy's club) pinch his rear.
Finally I had a chance to make my way back to one of the bars for a fresh glass of champagne. I found a quiet corner between a large potted plant and a window, where I could partially hide and just watch as the conference attendees got drunker and friskier with each other.
Malfoy appeared at my side with his own fresh glass. "Lots of dancing out there, Graham," he said. "Business or pleasure?"
"I could ask you the same thing. How's your bum?"
"Apparently, delightfully pinchable. And a bit sore. I'm surprised you haven't been molested out there."
"They've all been perfect gentlemen with their hands. Their eyes, however, are another story."
We sipped our champagne until the glasses were empty. Malfoy plucked mine out of my hand and set them both down on a windowsill. The band changed from an uptempo number to a slower one, and he held out his hand.
"May I have this dance?"
I put my hand in his. "Of course you may."
He led me out to the dance floor and pulled me toward him. Every other man had put his hand on the small of my back, over the fabric of my dress. Malfoy put his hand much higher, on the bare skin of my back. I gripped his shoulder and took a step closer, and we danced around the floor.
"Thank goodness for those dancing lessons fourth year."
"I don't get much of a chance to dance anymore," I said. "The ministry balls, of course, but they're only once a year, and I don't always go."
"You should see the ball the Parkinsons put on every spring," he said, then laughed when I crinkled my nose at the name.
I leaned closer, my cheek next to his, and lowered my voice. "Thanks for making me come to this thing, Malfoy."
"Thanks for agreeing to it, Granger. You were great in there today."
"So were you."
We kept on dancing, Malfoy's warm hand moving gently on my back, the muscles in his shoulder flexing under my hand. He danced wonderfully, and smelled great. And if he didn't make a move soon, I was going to kill him out of frustration.
The band finished up their song, and all of the dancing couples stepped apart and applauded. A man stepped up and tapped Malfoy on the shoulder. Malfoy hesitated a moment, then gallantly stepped aside. We made eye contact and he looked like he was going to say something, just as my new dance partner spun me away.
After a couple more glasses of champagne, quite a few more dances, and one more turn around the floor with Malfoy, I was feeling fairly tired. About half of the attendees had left, and I made a quick run around the floor saying goodbye to everyone I'd met that weekend. Martha practically cried when I hugged her and kissed her cheek. Then again, she was fairly drunk at that point.
I looked around for Malfoy, and spotted him on the dance floor with another of his elderly admirers. I caught his eye, put my hands together as if I were praying, then leaned my cheek on them and pretended to sleep. He nodded and continued dancing, so I went back up to my room alone.
I found a sheet of paper that had been slipped under my door; it was a note from the hotel thanking me for attending the conference, and assuring me that since there were no additional charges to my account, I was free to apparate away directly from the room anytime before the check-out time of eleven the next morning.
I hoped most people were staying the night; most of them seemed too tipsy to apparate safely. I didn't even know that I'd trust myself to not get splinched. I pulled off my wig and ran my hands through my hair, scratching my scalp with abandon. I didn't want to wear that thing again for quite some time.
I carefully took off my dress and put it back in its garment bag, trading in glamour for my comfortable pajamas. As I was in the bathroom removing my chin, I heard the door to Malfoy's room open and shut. I scrubbed the makeup from my face and went back out to pack up a few more things. As I puttered around, I heard water running next door, and wondered if Malfoy would make an appearance at our connecting door.
I didn't have to wait long; he knocked, and I had to keep from leaping to open the door. As soon as I opened it, I saw that not only had he removed the wig and nose, but he'd shaved the goatee off. He smiled broadly at me, looking at my face and hair. "Back to normal, I see. The blonde is nice and all, but it's also so strange. I prefer the real you."
I stepped up to him in all my tipsy courage and gently put my hand on his clean-shaven cheek. "I know what you mean."
He raised his hand and covered mine, and we just looked at each other for a long, long, moment.
Then he reached out with his other hand, grabbed my arm, pulled me forward, and then his mouth was on mine, warm and wonderful and amazing. Our hands were all over each other; I buried mine in his hair, and I'm pretty sure his were all over my ass. And it certainly felt like he wanted me just as much as I wanted him.
We broke apart to catch our breath and rested our foreheads against each other, still holding on to each other, his hands roaming restlessly up and down my sides.
"Granger," he whispered. "I … I should go."
I tightened my hands in his hair. "Seriously, Malfoy?"
"I don't want … okay, I totally do want … listen, I've had a few drinks."
"So have I," I said. "I don't care." I grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him back in, and we spent more time enjoying what was definitely some of the best kissing I'd ever experienced.
Finally we parted again, still clutching each other.
"Here's the thing, Granger." He kept running his hands up and down my sides, my arms, into my hair. "I've screwed up just about every damn thing in my life." He leaned down, kissing my neck and making me sigh. "And you kind of scare the shit out of me, because you're incredible, and I absolutely, positively, do not want to screw this up."
I ran my fingernails gently down his arms, making him shiver. "You won't screw this up. I won't let you."
We kissed for a while more.
"Total honesty, Malfoy," I said during our next breathing break. "That's how you won't screw this up."
"I just …" he held my shoulders and looked in my eyes. "You're my best friend, Granger. And I want to court you, even though that sounds stupid and outdated and archaic. I've thought about kissing you for months, but I'm such an enormous cowardly screw-up, I didn't want to jump in and risk losing my best friend, and I was hoping you'd let me know that you were interested in more, but even when I thought you had, I wasn't really really sure."
I put my hands on his chest and grinned. "Okay, Malfoy, breathe. You're definitely going a little overboard with the total honesty here. First off, if I wasn't interested, I wouldn't be snogging your face off. And secondly, I've been waiting for you to make it totally clear how you felt. And third, I don't want to screw this up either, because you've become my best friend as well."
He laughed and leaned his forehead against mine again. "Good. Okay. Well then."
"Well then indeed."
"Perhaps we should take it slow," I suggested.
"Good thought," he said. "But not as slow as we'd been taking it?"
"I should hope not."
A bit more kissing later, he finally went back to his room, without even a hint of requesting an overnight stay. Which was fine, great, I certainly wasn't ready for that anyway. But I was very interested to see where this whole formal courting process was headed.
After shrinking our parcels and luggage and filling our pockets with them, we both apparated back to Little Big the following morning. Neither of us needed a portkey, since it was a much shorter distance between Louisiana and Florida than between England and Florida. And I'd long ago allowed Malfoy access past my wards.
Malfoy asked if he could store his wig and prosthetic noses at my place. "Not only do you already have a lot of this kind of stuff already, the house elves at Hogwarts get into everything. I'd never hear the end of it after they discovered this stuff." We restored those cases to their normal sizes, then put them away in my spare bathroom.
As he got himself ready to head back to Hogwarts, I sorted through the weekend's worth of Daily Prophets I'd brought in from the front porch. I flipped idly through that morning's issue, then immediately started laughing.
"What on earth?" asked Malfoy.
I pointed to a photograph of the both of us, in our famous person disguises, dancing at the closing night ball. We both leaned in together to read the accompanying story.
Romance at the Potions Conference, by Rita Skeeter
While many of the shining stars of the potions community looked on, it appeared that superstar romance author Helena Graham and reclusive CEO of Wyvern Potions Damon Miles only had eyes for each other. After giving a fairly impressive presentation together earlier, the two were practically inseparable at the event's closing night ball.
Inquiring minds wonder – was it the bestseller Graham, known for her witty and clever novels that all include homemade potions or charms, who finally drew the elusive Miles out from secrecy and into the spotlight? This reporter certainly wonders if there might be a real-life romance going on. If so, how did these two potions superstars meet? How long have they been seeing each other? And will we see more of them in the future?
I browsed the story before I looked up at the byline. When I saw Skeeter's name, I had to sit down, I was laughing so hard.
Malfoy looked up from the story smiling, but looked at me with a puzzled expression. "What's so funny?"
The laughing calmed down, and I took a minute to catch my breath. "We didn't see her there."
"No, I don't think so."
"She's an unregistered Animagus. She can transform into a beetle, which is strangely appropriate."
Malfoy's eyebrows creased. "I still don't get why it's so funny."
"Oh, right, you don't know this story! So, way back in fourth year, she was so horrible to Harry, and made up all sorts of terrible stories about him."
"Yeah, I vaguely remember that."
"I figured out that she was an Animagus, and captured her in a jar."
His eyes went wide. "Seriously? That's amazing!"
"Kept her in it almost all summer, too. When I finally agreed to let her go, she had to swear that she wouldn't write any more awful things about Harry. But more importantly, I made her swear that she'd never write another word about me."
He thought about that. "Did you just make her swear, or …"
"Actual oath. Unbreakable."
"So I guess I don't understand how she was able to write this story about us."
"Exactly!" I got up and practically twirled around with joy. "I don't know if it's because the identity has taken on a life of its own, or if Skeeter is just so convinced of Helena Graham being an actual person, but this article didn't trip her up at all. Oh, God, can you imagine if she'd tried to write it and couldn't? And wondered why? And figured me out? I'm just so relieved!"
Malfoy smiled. "Not to mention the fact that she clearly thinks Helena Graham is fantastic. Must be a big fan."
"I know, right? I'm almost tempted to reveal my secret identity to her, just to see the look on her face."
Malfoy took my hand. "Were you aware, Granger, that you're beautiful when you're laughing?"
We didn't get around to making his portkey for home for a little while.
The next couple of months passed in an oddly similar way to the previous few. Malfoy still came out to visit, or I'd see him in England. He never stayed over at Little Big. We'd go out for lunch or dinner, but now they were considered actual dates, instead of just friends going out for a meal.
There was, of course, a lot more kissing than before. And groping and grabbing. But true to his word, Malfoy was taking things slow, in an adorably valiant effort to not screw things up.
It was assumed in the Hogwarts staff room that we'd be partners for whatever card game was being played. Maybe that assumption had been there all along, but I saw it clearly on everyone's faces now. Minerva smiled at us more than usual, and had that Albus-like twinkle in her eye.
We were each invited to little James Potter's birthday party, and we actually arrived and left together.
I came along as a chaperone on a Hogsmeade weekend, which included a torturous visit to Madame Puddifoot's. Although it gave us snarking material for a week afterward.
Helena Graham and Damon Miles were seen out and about a few times as well, at some of the hottest spots in New York, London, Los Angeles, and Paris. They kept mostly to themselves, and never spoke to the press. It was pretty damned entertaining to read Rita Skeeter's gossip columns about us.
Evenings spent in Malfoy's quarters still included hearty discussions and arguments about books and articles, but they almost always ended with a fair amount of time making out on his sofa.
Finally one night in late spring, I was browsing around his bookshelves and desk, and looked over his bulletin board covered with Post-Its. Tacked up in the corner was my Christmas coupon. I untacked it and brought the coupon over to where he was sitting, reading in his favorite chair.
"So, I know there's no expiration date, but this thing is seriously waiting to be used, Malfoy."
He looked up at what I was holding, then looked sheepish. "I … well, I was waiting …"
I plucked his book out of his hands, tucked a bookmark inside, and tossed it onto another chair. Then I gently plopped myself into his lap and kissed him.
"Malfoy, I do have a guest room. You can stay there if you like. Although I have to confess, I wouldn't mind you speeding up this whole courting process a bit. I am, as you may be well aware, warm for your form."
He blushed even deeper. "Well, this is certainly a romantic discussion to have. Not to mention utterly comfortable and not embarrassing in the slightest."
"This whole total honesty thing was your idea, Ferret." I kissed him some more.
"Tell you what, Granger."
"If you make a reservation at Granger's Tropical Bed and Breakfast, I will honor that reservation."
"Wait, I'm the owner. Aren't I the one who's supposed to honor your reservation?"
"Clearly, I cannot be trusted to make my own accommodation reservations in a timely manner. Best leave it in the hands of a travel professional such as yourself."
"Hmmm. When is school out this year?"
He craned his neck to look at the calendar over his desk. "Middle of June. We're already heavy into the studying season for OWLs and NEWTs."
"Ah, how I miss those days. I loved my timetables."
"Of this, I am aware."
I punched him gently in the shoulder, then kissed him a bit more. "Oaf. When all of the final exams are done, I'll make you a reservation. Which you better keep, if you know what's good for you."
"Oh, if there's one thing I know, it's what's good for me," he said as he wrapped his arms around me.
I wrote. He taught. We visited back and forth as much as possible, considering our workloads and the time difference.
Exams ended, and I consulted my calendar. I considered both interesting things to do (there was a charming arts fair coming up in Key West, as well as a small food and wine festival in Marathon) and my own personal calendar (if an overnight stay was going to happen, I wanted to be sure that if possible lusty things happened, I wouldn't have to worry about any biological nuisances).
After comparing all of my schedules, I sent him a Post-It through the Floo.
Mr. Malfoy, we are pleased to confirm your reservation for the night of June 25th.
He wrote back, Splendid, thank you! What time is check-in at your fine establishment?
Anytime after noon local time. Please be aware that the Marathon Food and Wine Festival will be occurring that weekend; you may wish to plan a day trip.
That sounds fantastic. Will I need to bring my coupon for redemption?
We have your coupon code written down here, Mr. Malfoy. You may keep the paper copy as a souvenir.
What's to keep me from trying to re-use this coupon, if I still have it?
Here at Granger's, we allow you to re-use your coupon, sir. So please, put all worries out of your big silly head.
Thank goodness. I just hope you have extra-large pillows for my big silly head.
We have it all here at Granger's, Mr. Malfoy.
A few days before his visit, I started paying attention to the weather. The Atlantic hurricane season started on June 1st, and several named storms had already come and gone. At that point it was looking to be quite a busy year, and a new storm was quickly developing out at sea.
The next day the storm had a name, so I felt it my duty to write to Malfoy.
Just so you know, there's a chance, a small chance, of a little hurricane visiting on the 25th.
Yeah, sorry. So if you want to reschedule for another time, when it won't be a pouring misery, just say so.
I wish I could have the previous note back so I could send it again. SERIOUSLY, Granger?
Is this a seriously, why would I cancel, or a seriously, this is a stone cold bummer?
Why would I cancel? How many times does a guy get the chance to be inside of a hurricane?
Well, there's no guarantee it will hit.
Of course it will. I know they're calling it Tropical Storm Dorian right now, but I'm going to call it Tropical Storm Draco.
How on earth did you know that?
Looked it up on my internet. Some of these storm names are just awful! Who's going to be afraid of Hurricane Betty?
I am somehow not surprised by your boyish enthusiasm. And your egotistical renaming of a weather phenomenon.
See you on Saturday, Granger. When we'll all be INSIDE HURRICANE DRACO.
The storm got closer, and the storm got stronger. It was upgraded from tropical storm to hurricane while still out in the ocean, and it was still headed straight for the Florida Keys. I took my little boat over to the mainland and stocked up on some supplies – bottled water, extra candles, some food and wine. In the few years I'd lived on Little Big, I'd only lost power a couple of times due to storms, mainly because the lines supplying my power from the mainland were underwater all the way out to the island. But there were still some aboveground lines over on the mainland, and you never know when a tree branch is going to smash things up.
Saturday morning was gray and windy, and a bit chillier than normal for June. The weather forecasts still had the storm headed straight for us, upgraded to a category 2 hurricane, but Dorian was taking his time. Predictions were that it would hit us sometime in the evening.
Malfoy portkeyed in at noon with an overnight bag and a clear case of nerves. I thought it was pretty damned charming. I led him to the guest room, even though he knew very well where it was, so I could see his face when he saw the couch cushion I'd wrapped in a bedsheet, to serve as my largest pillow.
Once the couch was reassembled, he actually used the bedroom for a quick power nap, to adjust to the fact that it was already five in the evening back in Britain. Twenty minutes later he was back, looking less nervous and more refreshed.
"Went to bed late last night, and slept in this morning."
"Are you in the mood for lunch? Or dinner, as the case may be?"
"Sounds good." He looked out the window. "Here, or over at Mike's? The rain hasn't started yet."
"I thought we'd go to Mike's, since the storm may keep us from going anywhere tomorrow."
We puttered over in my boat, took the marina bicycles up to Mike's, and each had a fantastic burger at the bar. Despite only seeing each other every month or so, Malfoy and Mike were practically the best of friends already. Since there were no other customers in the bar due to the impending storm, we had a great time talking about some of the latest new charms and potions. After a couple of beers, we noticed that a light rain was beginning to fall, and took that as our cue to head back to the island.
By the time we rode our bikes back down to the marina, the rain was starting to fall steadily. Malfoy hopped in and started the boat as I sat in the middle to cast a quick spell.
"Purgare Orbis," I said, and tapped the center beam of the boat with my wand. I reached my arm up as high as I could over my head and repeated the spell, with a few intricate swirls and stabs with my wand. Suddenly the boat was encased in a clear bubble, and we stopped getting rained on.
Malfoy drove us back to my dock, having mastered the boat long ago. I dissolved the spell and we hopped onto the dock, tying up the boat and running back into the house.
"I know that one's from one of your books, but I don't quite remember it sounding that way," he said.
"Cheaper by the Half-Dozen," I replied. "The one with the governess and the six children. It's really a modification of the bubble-head charm."
"Right, yes. She uses it to keep the children in line." He furrowed his brow in thought. "Doesn't that wear off after a few minutes?"
"Ten points to Slytherin for remembering obscure facts from my books. This is a modified version, not so much for public consumption. Ten minutes is one thing; a more permanent bubble wouldn't be the kind of thing you'd want in the hands of the general public. I developed this one at the request of the Ministry, for their Aurors to use."
"Ah, makes sense."
"The best part is, Harry showed it to me about a year ago. Had all kinds of great things to say about how useful it was for prisoners. But when Harry used it, he showed me how he uses it to keep the kids where he wants them."
Malfoy laughed. "So it came back around to its original use. He didn't know it was yours, of course?"
"Oh, of course he didn't. I asked him where the spell came from, and he blushed a bit before he made up some terrible lie of an answer. Ginny told me later where the spell came from, and that it's common knowledge among the Aurors that it came from a romance novel, but nobody talks about it."
"Brilliant," said Malfoy.
"Oh, I should do the house. Wouldn't do to have actual hurricane damage," I said. Malfoy came outside to watch as I pondered where to place the center of the bubble. I decided on a spot that would include the entire house and pool, since I hated to clear leaves and debris out of the water. It would also include a sizeable bit of beach.
I said, "Purgare Magna Orbis," tapped the ground, then pointed my wand straight upward. Malfoy moved over to stand next to me. I said the spell again did my swirls and stabs, and the bubble started to grow around us. I kept pointing my wand upward, letting the clear dome expand until it covered everything I wanted it to. I swished my wand around as if tying a knot in the air, and lowered my arm.
"An impressive adjustment, Granger. I had no idea you could make it that large."
"I think you know enough Muggle popular culture by now to know how much I want to say, 'That's what she said'."
He laughed and walked around the perimeter of our bubble. "No way out under it?"
"Technically it's not a dome, it's a full sphere. So it's well and truly locked into the ground. A simple Finite would remove it, if you get claustrophobic."
The rain tapped lightly against the invisible barrier, not quite as loud as if it were falling on glass. We could still hear the wind rustling the palm trees out beyond the pool. The sphere allowed in air but kept out rain, a neat little trick I spent two months perfecting. It did cut the wind down to a pleasant soft breeze.
We spent a lazy day around the house, reading, talking, drinking wine out by the pool, and watching the rain fall overhead. The evening got dark early, but the real storm hadn't hit yet. I checked my usual weather website and saw that the storm was moving even slower than expected, and now wasn't due to really get nasty until the early morning hours.
Malfoy started yawning around nine, which was impressive in that it was two in the morning back in England. A late lie-in and power nap helped, but he still wasn't quite adjusted to Florida time.
"You're practically falling asleep here in front of me, Malfoy. You should go to bed."
He rubbed his eyes and nodded. "Much as I'd love to romance you like crazy this evening, I am knackered."
"Well, that's such a pity. What girl doesn't want to get romanced like crazy?"
He grinned, stood up, and kissed me. "I hear my pajamas calling me."
We went our separate ways to change, brush teeth, and do whatever other necessary things. We met back up in the hallway.
"Good night, Granger," he said.
I smiled up at him. "This is so strange. Good night, Malfoy. Sleep tight." We delayed going to bed for a few minutes of kissing, then went our separate ways.
As soon as I went into my bedroom, I remembered previous storms, and knew I wasn't going to be able to sleep there. The rain was still falling, but in this amazing sideways manner that rain in Florida sometimes has. And while I'd managed to expand my spell all around the house, the wall of the bubble was probably less than five feet from my bedroom window. The noise of the rain pattering directly on the transparent sphere could probably be called soothing by some, but to me it was just loud. A few times a year, I'd end up sleeping in my own guest room to be closer to the center of the sphere.
My guest room, and guest bed, that was currently occupied with my first ever guest.
I went back down the hall to the other side of the house and knocked on the guest room door. I heard Malfoy's feet shuffle over the wood floor, then he opened the door.
"What's up, Granger?"
"Okay, so, I seem to have made the bubble a bit smaller than I should have. It's loudly pounding rain right outside my window."
He rubbed his eyes again, clearly ready to sleep. "It's your house, Granger. If you want to sleep here, sleep here."
"I just … I didn't want to make things awkward."
He put his hand on my cheek. "This whole day has been kind of awkward, so why not finish it off in style? Look, Granger, honesty and tiredness talking here, but I told myself before I came here that I would just stay over, and shouldn't put any moves on you, because you still scare the absolute shit out of me most of the time. So get in here and get in bed, and I promise to be asleep in about five minutes."
We got into the guest bed and flopped around a bit until we found a comfortable middle ground between total separation and clinging. And we were both asleep within five minutes.
I woke up with a start to the most amazingly loud noise. I blinked in the dark a bit, getting my bearings. I felt Malfoy's warm hand up on my ribcage, burrowed up under my tank top. He was still fast asleep. I lay there for a while thinking about how much I liked that, then carefully lifted his hand away and slid out of bed, padding over to the window. The hurricane had most definitely arrived.
I went out to my office and woke my computer out of sleep mode; sure enough, the radar on the weather website showed a swirling mass of colors right over the top of us. The little clock in the corner of the screen said it was 2:43am. I shut the computer down and went back to my bedroom to get close to the protective sphere; the noise was incredibly loud, a combination of pounding rain and the hissing of wind whipping through all of the trees and bushes, with the occasional flash of lightning and grumble of thunder.
I went back to the guest room and gently shook Malfoy's shoulder. No jumping awake for him – he sighed and stretched, blinked at me, glanced around the room, then looked back at me and asked, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, it's really late. But you wanted to see a hurricane from the inside."
He looked up at the ceiling, and I could tell he was listening to the sounds of the storm outside. Just then the little bedside clock on the nightstand winked out, and I knew I'd just lost power from the mainland. Glad I'd thought to turn off my computer.
Malfoy tossed the covers aside and got up, rubbing his hands over his face to clear away his sleepy haze. "Do you have a beach blanket?"
"Yeah, in the closet next to the guest bathroom. Why?"
"If I'm going to sit in a hurricane, I think it'd be even better to sit in it outside."
"Ah. Good. You grab that, I'll get some candles. The power just went out."
He picked his wand up from the nightstand and muttered, "Lumos." The blue light from his wand was a bit sharp in the darkness; I went to my kitchen pantry and pulled out a couple of candles in glass jars, along with a box of matches. Their warm glow was much nicer than the almost halogen-like light from a wand. Malfoy came into the kitchen and extinguished his wand, leaving it on the kitchen table. I looked at it as we went out onto the patio, and realized just how much he trusted me.
We went out to the beach and put down the blanket. I put the candles on my patio table to cast enough light to get around, but not so much as to disturb our enjoyment of the storm. I made my way down to the beach, navigating in barely-candlelit darkness accentuated with the occasional blinding flash of lightning.
I made it back to Malfoy, and we lay side by side on the blanket, looking up at the sky. It wasn't completely pitch dark out; clearly there was still some power on somewhere on the mainland, and the streetlights cast just enough reflected light that we could see the swirling of the clouds.
"They say Florida is the lightning capital of the world," I said.
"So this is a regular thing?"
"Ah, yes, you haven't been here in the summertime yet. Most days, we get a dramatic bunch of thunder and lightning, and rain like it's the end of the world. Only for about a half-hour, though. Then it blows through and it's all sunshine and puffy clouds, if a bit more humid."
Another flash of lightning, and a couple of seconds later, a roar of thunder followed. We both shifted a bit closer together, so we could hear each other over the pounding rain and the wind whipping through the trees.
"I was always taught," he said, "that if you count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, you can tell how close the heart of the storm is."
"Something like a few seconds for every mile, isn't it?"
"Five seconds per mile." We waited for the next flash, followed very quickly with a rumble we could feel.
"Guess it's closer than a mile," I laughed.
"I thought to ask how secure your spell is, but then realized that would be foolish. Because it's yours."
I turned my head toward him. "That may well be one of the sweetest things you've ever said to me, Malfoy."
He smiled at me in the dim light, and kissed me on the nose. "That's what they say about me, Granger. Ever since I was a boy. That Draco Malfoy, what a sweet kid."
I snorted, and we went back to watching the sky swirl around us. He moved his hand a few inches over and wrapped our fingers together, rubbing his thumb over the back of my hand.
"It's an amazing world we live in," he said after a while.
"This is true."
"I thought a hurricane might be scarier than you."
"And?" I turned my head to look at him.
"Nope. You still come out on top."
"Well, I don't think you're scary at all, Draco Malfoy, sweet kid."
"That's because you don't have my head full of worries and neuroses. I'm convinced that one day I'm going to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, and you'll kick me off your island and out of your life, and then where would I be?"
"Considering all the things you've said and done to me in the far-flung past, I don't really know if there's anything you could do or say that would make me give you the boot."
He turned his head and looked at me. "So I could say just about anything?"
"Well, as long as it's in the brave new world of total Malfoy honesty."
He looked at me for a long moment, the storm crashing all around us. He had his nervous look back. He took a deep breath and squeezed my hand.
"I love you, Granger."
I blinked at him a couple of times. This was the earth-shattering thing that would make me kick him off the island? I couldn't help myself from laughing. He still had the worried, nervous look on his face, so I grabbed his head and kissed him as hard as I could. We rolled around on the blanket, and he pulled me on top of him.
When we came up for breath, he said, "Okay, so clearly that didn't horrify you."
"Oh my god, Malfoy. Seriously? I've been in love with you for at least a year, you idiot." I grabbed his head with both hands and gently shook it.
He grinned and kissed me some more. "Good, great. Okay. Um … so …"
"Malfoy," I said, pulling off my camisole and tossing it into the sand, "just shut up."
We managed to completely forget about the hurricane.
The sun rose somewhere high over the storm clouds; we could tell that night was turning into day because the swirling sky went from dark gray to a slightly lighter dark gray. We gathered up our sand-filled discarded clothes, tossed the blanket up on the patio, and went back to the guest bedroom, where we proceeded to spend most of the day in a cycle of talking, reading, napping, popping out for food or drink or the restroom, then more of – in the spirit of total honesty, I have to tell you – the best sex of my entire life.
The power was still out, but I had plenty of candles put away. The storm moved on throughout the day, until the thunder and lightning were far distant to the north, and the rain tapered to a heavy shower. I cancelled my dome spell, and at Malfoy's request, we even went for a swim in the ocean in the rain. Which was quickly followed by a quick heating spell on my powerless water heater and then a hot shower, because despite it being early summer, the rain wasn't exactly tepid, and the ocean was cool and salty. Seems those were as good a reason as any for a communal hot shower.
I'd thrown the occasional cooling charm at my refrigerator throughout the day, but neither of us felt like cooking anything with magic. Malfoy offered to make sandwiches, so we threw on a bare minimum of clothing, and he puttered around in my kitchen in the candlelight while I twirled around on one of the barstools at the kitchen counter.
"If sandwich service is included, I should have you spend the night as often as possible, Malfoy."
That seemed to delight him. "You haven't tried my sandwiches yet. Mustard?"
"Yes, please. But if you make sandwiches as well as you do most other things, I'd be an idiot not to keep you around."
He brought a pair of plates, each with a beautifully made sandwich, over to the counter. Setting them down, he took the stool next to me. He didn't pick up his own sandwich, but watched me instead.
"What?" I asked.
"I hope you like it," he said. He had his nervous look on again.
"Malfoy, what's going on?"
"Just waiting for you to eat your sandwich, Granger."
I squinted at him, confused. He raised his eyebrows at me, and glanced at my plate.
I sighed. "Fine." I turned to the counter and picked up the sandwich, and everything happened at once.
I brought the sandwich up to my mouth.
I felt Malfoy hop off his stool next to me and move around.
I saw the Post-It Note that was stuck to the plate underneath the sandwich.
I slowly set the sandwich down and turned toward Malfoy, who was down on one knee with a little box in his hand.
"Granger, I truly was going to take it slow this weekend."
I squinted at him, confused. "So … this is how you take it slow?"
"No, no, I … look, you're like that hurricane."
I hopped off my stool and knelt down on the floor with him. He looked even more nervous, so I leaned forward and kissed him. "You're going to have to explain that one a bit, Malfoy."
"Right, yes, okay. So you're this amazing and beautiful but scary force of nature. But that hurricane came and went, right? And I certainly don't want this hurricane to ever go away, frankly I'm amazed that you've put up with me so far, and haven't moved on to some other land mass to rain and thunder on."
I couldn't help it, I snorted. He smiled in response, and I kissed him again. Finally I sat down on the floor and asked, "So, are you going to show me what's in the box?"
"Oh, yes, right." He opened it up and pulled out the ring, and it was absolutely perfect. A diamond in the center, flanked by a ruby set in yellow gold and an emerald set in a silvery white gold. The two colors of gold met and wrapped around each other on the underside of the ring, the perfect combination of Gryffindor and Slytherin.
"It's beautiful, Draco."
"And if you don't put that ring on my finger, I'll give you such a hit. Of course I'll marry you!"
It was the perfect fit. Just like Draco Malfoy.
We had a fairly small wedding at Hogwarts, attended by the staff and a few friends, including a goodly number of Potters and even some Weasleys. Malfoy turned in his resignation, declaring that he was going to move to the States to be closer to my top-secret Roswell work.
We gave up my little London apartment where this story began, and kept Snape's old house at Spinner's End. It was handy for visiting from out of town.
Malfoy moved all of his things out to Little Big, where we had to create a lot more shelf space for all of his books. We did do some heavier construction – neither of us was much interested in building a nursery (being influential in the lives of a number of wee Potters and Weasleys was more than enough for us), so we built a sturdy lab at the far end of the island. It was perfect for both of our research and development projects, and strong enough to withstand a hurricane. Much of its wall space is covered with Post-It Notes.
Malfoy became a regular in Mike's poker night up at the Surf Shack, took up fishing, and bought a small two-person sailboat to tie up next to my motorboat. Overall, he settled beautifully into the slow island life.
On the other hand, Helena Graham and Damon Miles had an amazingly extravagant, showy, and expensive wedding. There were even some lucky contest winners in attendance, like Ginny Potter, and Martha, my big fan from the potions conference.
Rita Skeeter cried almost the entire time, and wrote up a surprisingly beautiful article about the wedding. We framed it.
They aren't seen in public much these days, Helena and Damon. She still publishes popular novels (and has branched out into mysteries, still including the traditional spell or potion), and he keeps coming up with new and improved potions for Wyvern.
And every year, they look forward to hurricane season.
July 2012 – May 2013