DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter and co. belong to J.K. Rowling. (Although I do wish I owned Werewolf!Draco, sigh...)
Hermione Granger was not amused.
She had just spent the better part of an hour scowling at Malfoy and his childish antics. She knew it was him; who else would have the gall to create such unnecessary ruckus during a serious departmental meeting? Who, for instance, would have the nerve to send the Department Head's toupee flying off across the room, sideburns flapping like tiny hairy wings, a feat that was met with a roar of laughter but cost poor old Eddard Dodderidge his dearest pride? The all-too-familiar smirk on Malfoy's face was all the evidence Hermione needed to pin him as the culprit.
Really, she thought to herself with a sniff of disdain, some people never change.
"… And that's it on new dragon regulations," intoned old Eddard, a hint of an embarrassed flush still lingering around his cheeks. Nobody had the heart to point out that the hastily-placed toupee sitting on his head had a rather large dust bunny clinging on to it as a result of its unfortunate crash landing. "Well, erm, if that's all, I suppose we can end the meeting here. Does anyone have any questions?"
"Sir!" Hermione raised her hand. There was a collective yet silent groan around the table. As always, she chose to ignore it. "Sir! I was wondering if I could have a word about the dire need for house-elf reforms?"
Eddard Dodderidge peered at her through his foggy glasses, leaning so far forward that his toupee threatened to slip down to his nose. Truth be told, in all his years as the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, he had never met someone with as much tenacity and persistence as this Hermione Granger. She has never—not once—failed to bring up the topic of house-elf reforms at the end of every departmental meeting since she started here at the Ministry. Eddard was duly impressed and not a little bewildered.
"I don't know, Miss Granger, I'm sure we all need to be getting back to work—"
"Please, sir! It would just be a moment, I assure you!"
Old Eddard sighed. There was another silent groan around the table, with Malfoy shooting her a particularly nasty look. Hermione suppressed a smile; she knew she had just won the battle, as always.
"Very well, Miss Granger. Five minutes."
And so, for five valuable minutes, Hermione launched into an impassioned speech about the plight of house-elves, their need for better treatment and respect from wizards and witches, and the societal benefits of having reforms in place. She could see Malfoy emit a loud, theatrical yawn from the corner of her eye, but she didn't care—she only had five minutes once every two weeks to make her point across, and sooner or later she knew she was bound to get through to them.
When more and more people started to shift in their seats, Eddard finally raised a hand to put an end to Hermione's rant. "All right, all right, settle down. Thank you for your input, Miss Granger. We shall, of course, come back to the subject of house-elf reforms at a later time. Meeting adjourned."
"Congrats, Granger," said Malfoy as they passed each other on the way out. "You put me to sleep nearly a minute earlier than the last meeting."
"Eat dung, Malfoy," she hissed through gritted teeth.
"Tsk tsk. Such foul words, Miss Granger. What would your precious geriatric lover, Eddard, say?"
Then with a last parting sneer, he turned a corner and was gone.
Git! thought Hermione, fuming beneath her breath. It didn't matter that they saved his skin during the War; Malfoy was still, and will always be, a grade-A git.
"Mione! Oi, Mione!"
She turned around just in time to see Ron bounding toward her. He was wearing his violet Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes robes which clashed horribly with his hair. But violet robes be damned, the sight of him put a smile on Hermione's face.
"Ron! What are you doing here?" she chided him, though secretly pleased to see him. "It's the middle of the work day!"
The tall, lanky redhead merely shrugged and shot her his trademark boyish grin. "Oh relax, Mione. George can handle the crowd by himself for an hour or two." He looked around, casting furtive glances at the people passing by. "Actually… there's something I want to ask you. Can we pop into your office for a minute?"
Suddenly, quite out of nowhere, Hermione's heart began pounding at a much faster rate, and she distinctly heard herself say yes to Ron before her feet led them down the hall toward her office.
Snippets of frenzied thoughts were whizzing through her brain.
Could it be…? Could he be…? But now? Surely not here, in the Ministry of Magic of all places?
Merlin, she needed to breathe.
Once they reached her office, Hermione darted to the safety of her desk, almost as if sitting behind it was going to steel her for whatever Ron was going to ask her.
She did not, however, expect him to ask: "Blimey! What happened to your desk?"
"What do you mean?" asked Hermione with a frown.
"Well, for one thing, it looks like a mini-tornado has hit it and dumped a bunch of parchment and bits of broken quills in its wake!" exclaimed Ron, looking thoroughly flabbergasted.
"Oh, that. My last research assignment was a bit extensive, that's all. Sixteenth-century house-elf conditions, mind you. Not a particularly easy subject to look up."
"No, I don't suppose not," said Ron with an amused expression on his face. He deposited his lanky frame onto an empty armchair with a loud flump! before stating with all sincerity: "You're remarkable, you know that?"
She could feel her cheeks grow hot.
"Oh now, really, Ron! Why'd you say that for?" she stammered, tucking an errant curl behind her ear.
"Because it's the truth," he said simply, grinning. "Okay, before I forget, I wanted to ask you—"
Hermione's heart skipped a beat.
Oh sweet Merlin. Here goes.
"—that is, I wanted to see if you—"
Ohmygod. Ohmygod. Ohmygod.
"—were free this Thursday night?"
One second of silence.
At Hermione's blank look, Ron's ears reddened slightly. "Err… that is, you know… if you're not busy…"
Finally, she snapped to. "Yes! Of—of course I'm free, Ron. What d'you have in mind?"
And as Ron happily told her all about this trendy little place in Diagon Alley with the best medium-rare dragon steaks around, Hermione couldn't help but feel a confusing mix of relief and disappointment wash over her. She tried to shake it off as best as she could, but she could tell that Ron grew more and more suspicious the longer he stayed.
So, after insisting that Ron should pop in to see Harry at the Auror Headquarters, Hermione finally managed to get him out the door. But then, the minute he left, the wave of emotions that crashed upon her was so overwhelming that it was all Hermione could do not to scream out loud.
She didn't know what she wanted. Not a clue. And that vacillation was the thing that scared her the most.
Before she could really sink into a proper state of self-hatred, however, a pale-violet memo slipped in through the crack at the bottom of her door and—instead of landing on her desk like it usually would—aimed straight for her hand.
"All right, all right, I'm opening it," she muttered as the memo jabbed her hand repeatedly.
Frowning, she began to read the hastily scribbled note.
URGENT NEWS—Werewolf on the loose at Hogwarts grounds. A student may have been bitten. The Werewolf Capture Unit has been dispatched, but so is the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. Malfoy is apparently with them. I need you there as soon as possible—your presence might make the difference between a fair trial and a bloody execution for the werewolf.
P.S. The Daily Prophet has not been notified, so I urge you to try and keep any developments as confidential as possible.
Hermione's head swam as she re-read the note, refusing to believe the words staring up at her. Werewolf? At Hogwarts? A student—bitten?
She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. If Malfoy had been dispatched, that werewolf's fate was as good as sealed.
Her mind drifted back to all those years ago, back when she, Ron, and Harry were little more than children, cowering in the dust-covered corner of an abandoned shack, listening to their Defense Against the Dark Arts professor confirm that he was indeed a werewolf… Listening to him say that he'd had no control, none whatsoever, once he'd transformed… That he had bitten and hurt himself when there was no other human to bite…
Hermione's eyes flew open. About this, there was no question in her mind. She knew what she had to do.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading! I hope to read and learn from every review, so any thoughts/comments would be much appreciated. I know there's not much going on yet, but I promise that the next chapter is going to be ACTION-PACKED! (Werewolf!Draco SQUEEE!)