It started with a twitch. A small, inconsequential tremor of her fingers that she blamed on exhaustion. After all, it wasn't uncommon for tired hands to falter after holding a quill for hours of writing proposals for elvish welfare.
She simply glared at the scratch of ink that marred her perfect parchment and decided to call it quits for the day.
The second time it happened, she had just arrived home after she and Ron had been out on a double date with Harry and Ginny. It had been a complete disaster. They had been quarrelling earlier in the evening, and she insisted that they drop it until after dinner. Hot-headed Ron, however, couldn't keep from nit-picking at her throughout the meal. Ginny flashed her brother an incredulous look while Harry just sighed sadly and shook his head.
When the night came to a blessed end, she said her goodbyes quickly and, with one last cold glare to Ron, disapparated.
Angrily, she strode to her bedroom and plopped down on her bed. She reached down to undo the strap of her shoe when her hand shook slightly and failed to grip the thin strip of leather. Taken slightly aback, she clenched and unclenched her hand a few times and shook it out for good measure before trying again. On the second try, she was successful.
Maybe she had drunk one too many glasses of wine that evening? That had to be it. She hadn't been paying much attention to how often the server refilled her glass because she was too busy fuming at Ronald.
The next time wasn't as easy to explain away.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It was late spring, and the weather was sunny, but not yet too hot. She had retreated to her small veranda overlooking the back garden with a new book and a cup of tea.
Just as she was finishing a chapter, she heard her Floo chime announcing a visitor. Reluctantly, she set her book aside and went to greet them. It was Neville who had come to inquire about a book she had once mentioned to him about rare water plants. She left him sitting in her lounge as she hurried to the spare room she had set up as a small library. Her books were organized neatly, so it was easy for her to find what she was looking for quickly. Pulling the book from the shelf, her hand clenched oddly around the spine.
She tried the set the book down, but found that she couldn't. Neither could she step away or call out for help. The muscle spasm that had started in her hand had quickly spread its way through her entire body. Every muscle was contracting and impossible to fight against. Her face felt strange as her jaw pulled at an awkward angle on its own accord. Was she having a stroke?
Then suddenly, the feeling that had raced through her body quickly darted to her brain, and everything went blissfully black.
Four Years Later:
It had been a decade since the famous Harry Potter defeated the darkest wizard of all time and nearly just as long since the infamous Draco Malfoy had left Britain. The sight of him strolling through the halls of St. Mungo's raised a few eyebrows, but time and absence had a way of making people forget and most didn't give him a second glance. In his lime green robes, he was just another healer.
Draco made his way to the fourth floor where patients who had suffered from spell damage were treated, including long-term patients in the Janus Thickey Ward.
It was also the floor where many of the hospital's higher-ups had offices, including Chief Healer Hippocrates Smethwyck, with whom Draco had a meeting. Smethwyck specialized in creature-induced injuries and had once been in charge of the "Dangerous" Dai Llewellyn Ward on the first floor before being promoted.
He easily found Smethwyck's office; the door was already open, so he lightly tapped his knuckles on the doorjamb to announce his arrival.
The balding, rotund man behind the desk looked up from his parchment, stood, and waved Draco in. "Healer Malfoy! I've been expecting you. Come in, come in!"
Draco entered the room and reached across the desk to shake the other man's hand. "It's nice to meet you in person, Chief Smethwyck."
"Likewise." The older man sat down and gestured to the chairs in front of his desk indicating that Draco should do the same. "I'm incredibly impressed with your work, Malfoy. Your article that was published in Potions Today on the long term use of Dreamless Sleep Draught and the effects on the brain was revolutionary."
"Thank you, sir."
"My first inclination was to assign you to Potions and Plant Poisoning since you're very well-informed on the subject, but your skills as a neuro-healer is something I think could be more beneficial to Spell Damage."
"I will try to be useful wherever you see fit to place me," Draco said.
"Good! It's settled, then. You'll report to Healer Strout immediately; you can work with her to set up your schedule." Chief Smethwyck stood and Draco followed suit. "Welcome aboard, Malfoy!" he said heartily with a strong handshake.
"Thank you, sir," he replied with a nod of his head.
Bidding his new boss farewell, Draco left in search of Healer Strout. Since he was already on the same floor, he wouldn't have to go too far. He rounded the corner and came to a halt when he caught a glimpse of a familiar face.
Making his way out of one of the patient's rooms was his old rival, Harry Potter.
Draco slipped back around the corner so he wouldn't be seen, but peeked around to get a better look. He hadn't seen Potter in years, but he didn't look like the triumphant saviour of the wizarding world. Instead, he looked tired and defeated. The ginger-haired girl Weasel was with him and pulled him into a hug.
They looked… sad.
The two walked away arm in arm, and Draco found his curiosity piqued by the scene that had played out before him. What could have possibly dragged the almighty Potter down into the depths of despair? Who was in that room? And what happened to them?
As fascinated as he was, he had to go meet with the head of Spell Damage, and there wasn't enough time to investigate Scarhead's woes.
It had been nearly two weeks, and Draco hadn't given any more thought to Potter's mysterious visit. Working in Spell Damage kept him quite busy. Healer Strout, or Miriam as she insisted he call her, had even permitted him access to the Janus Thickey Ward so he could have a chance to look in on long term patients. It was incredibly useful to his research to see how spells, especially Unforgivables, could irreversibly damage the brain.
He was strolling back to his office to make notes on Gilderoy Lockhart when a magical alarm went off. Before he could even move, a young mediwizard darted out of a nearby room and sighed in relief upon seeing Draco.
"Healer Malfoy! This patient just had a seizure!"
Not even noticing which room it was, Draco ran in, stopping short upon seeing who laid in the bed.
"Healer Malfoy?" the young man asked nervously as Draco continued to stare at the unconscious woman.
"Erm." Draco cleared his throat and gathered his bearings; he pulled out his wand and started running diagnostic spells. "How long did the seizure last?"
"Two minutes at the most."
"Was she standing at the time? Did she hit her head?"
"Good," Draco said. "Well, I doubt she was on a drinking binge in here, so I think we can rule out alcohol." He looked at her thin frame. "When was her last meal?"
The mediwizard picked up her chart. "Lunch was delivered a couple hours ago, but it's not noted if she ate any of it."
"Low blood sugar, maybe?" Draco muttered under his breath. To the mediwizard he said, "I want a blood sample and a list of potions she's currently taking."
The mediwizard moved to the other side of the bed just as the woman's eyes started to flutter open. In all his years, he had never seen the look of confusion in those eyes before.
"Hey there," Draco said to her. "Welcome back."
She squinted her eyes like she was having a difficult time focusing on him.
"You had a seizure, so I know things are a little hazy, but I'm going to ask some questions."
She stared at him blankly in response.
"Can you tell me what year it is?"
Her chin trembled and with a sad voice, she said, "No."
"It's okay. It'll come back," he reassured her. "Can you tell me who the current Minister of Magic is?"
She furrowed her brow hard. "Kingsley."
"Good," he said encouragingly. "What house were you in at Hogwarts?"
"Gryffindor." Her answers were becoming clearer and more confident.
"What's your name?"
For the next few days, it was all Draco could do to keep from thinking about Granger. He had never thought he'd paid much attention to her eyes before, but the look she'd had after her seizure felt so inherently wrong. Even after the short term memory loss had passed, she was too exhausted to even question why he, of all people, was in her room.
After their weekly staff meeting, Draco caught up with his boss to see if he could get some answers.
"Miriam," he said as he jogged up to her. "Do you have a moment?"
Healer Miriam Strout was a short woman who was a tiny bit overweight and had little grey strands peppering her curly brown hair that she kept cut short. She looked like she could be someone's mother. Not his, of course, but then again, Narcissa Malfoy was unlike most women.
"Of course, Draco," she answered kindly. "Would you like to go upstairs to the tea room and have our discussion over a cuppa?"
"Actually," he said hesitantly, "I think maybe we should have this conversation in private."
She gave him a look of concern. "Alright. Let's go to my office then."
Miriam ushered him down the hall and into her office. Quickly shutting the door, she began questioning him even before she had fully sat down.
"Is every okay?"
Draco nodded. "Yes, everything's fine. I just have some questions about a patient, and I didn't want to discuss it in public."
The tension eased from Miriam's face. "What do you need to know?"
"I wanted to know about Hermione Granger?"
"Ah," she said with a knowing look. "What would you like to know?"
"What is the exact nature of her illness?"
"Miss Granger suffers from recurrent temporal lobe seizures."
"How long has this been going on?"
"Erm." Miriam looked around the room before waving her wand and summoning Granger's records. Looking through the parchments, she found the information he was requesting. "The first occurrence was four years ago."
Draco's eyes widened. "Four years?!" He was stunned. "Has she been in Mungo's that long?"
"Almost," she said with a nod. "She was initially sent home with an anti-convulsant potion, but it wasn't enough to suppress the seizures. She ended up back here twice for injuries sustained from falling during a seizure including a pretty serious head wound. The last time, it was determined that it was safer to admit her until we could find a treatment that would work."
"And in four years you never found one." It was more of a statement, but Miriam shook her head anyway.
"Why isn't she in Thickey with the rest of the long term patients?" Draco asked.
"We never intended for her to be long term," she answered. "Once she had been here a year, there was talk of moving her to the long term ward, but then the idea was dropped and never discussed again."
Draco had a feeling that the "idea being dropped" was more like "Harry Potter heard about it."
"I'm assuming because she's in Spell Damage, you have some theory as to what's caused her condition?"
"We're fairly certain it was a delayed reaction to prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus Curse sustained during the war."
He couldn't help but cringe, and his stomach churned as images flashed through his mind of a young girl writhing in pain on his drawing room floor as his insane aunt repeatedly tortured her. Now, he was sitting in a room listening to a healer describe it as "prolonged exposure" as if she had stayed out in the cold too long.
"Draco?" Miriam's voice broke through his memories. "Are you alright?"
He squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose before turning back to her. "Yes," he assured her with a little nod. "I'm fine."
"Good," she responded with a small smile. "Was there anything else you wanted?"
"Actually," he said, "I'd like permission to exclusively treat Hermione Granger."
A lot of words could be used to describe Draco Malfoy, but peppy wasn't one of them. However, there was an out of character liveliness in his step as he made his way to St. Mungo's. It was a beautiful spring day, and he had spent the evening before studying Granger's medical files. He had some ideas for treatments and was eager to get started.
He hurried to his office on the fourth floor and took time for some coffee and to make notes on other patients' charts. It was mid-morning before he finally headed toward Granger's room.
The room was dark when he entered; the blinds were drawn, and all candles and torches were doused. Pulling his wand from his pocket, Draco gave it a flick and lit the never-ending candle on the bedside table emitting a slight warm glow to the room.
Granger was huddled under the blankets with only the top of her head visible; her body was curled away from him. Quietly, he summoned her chart from the pocket at the end of her bed to see when she'd been given her last dose of potions. He had also asked the staff to note how much she had been eating so he could see if low blood sugar triggered her seizures.
Draco felt that strange tingly sensation of being watched. He glanced toward the bed and saw Granger's big brown eyes blinking owlishly at him.
He started to speak, but found himself at a bit of a loss for words. In all his studying and preparation of treating her condition, he hadn't considered that he would have to actually interact with her.
She beat him to the punch.
"What are you doing here?"
With his forefinger, he tapped the bone and wand cross on his uniform. "I'm a healer."
"Do you remember when I was here before?"
"I thought…" she started, but faded off.
"You thought what?"
"I think I'd like another healer," she said as she rubbed her forehead nervously.
It was odd seeing her like this. The woman before him was not the bold and self-assured Granger he remembered. There was much more going on beneath those eyes.
Draco sighed heavily and sat in the chair next to her bed. Leaning forward, he put his elbows on his knees and looked her in the eye. "Granger," he said, "I know this whole situation is bizarre and a little fucked up. But, I'm good at what I do. I've extensively studied charms and potions and their effects on the human brain and neurology. To be honest, you're damn lucky to have me as your healer."
A hint of a flush spread over Granger's cheeks, but whether in embarrassment or anger, he wasn't sure.
He continued, "And just like every other healer here, I've taken the healer's oath. It's my job, and I take it very seriously."
"Are you finished chastising me?" she asked shortly.
"Are you finished acting like a child?" he retorted.
She pressed her lips tightly together and glared. It was the most life he had seen from her since he'd been there.
"Now, do you remember when I was here before?"
"I remember seeing you," she answered, "but I thought I hallucinated it."
Draco raised his eyebrows with interest. "Do you often have hallucinations?" he asked as he charmed his quill and notepad to take notes.
"Not hallucinations, exactly, but I sometimes feel like I'm dreaming when I'm awake." She nibbled on the inside of her lip. "I'm not sure how to explain it. It's a weird feeling."
Draco nodded. "That's jamais vu, or derealisation. It's actually a common sensation in epilepsy patients. Does it happen often?"
"Maybe once a month," she said with a shrug.
"Hmm," he mumbled as he glanced around the room. The covered windows caught his eye. "Do you often keep the blinds closed?"
"The light gives me headaches."
Furrowing his brows, Draco looked back over at her. "Granger, when was the last time you were out of this room?"
"Four years ago."
Somewhere in the distance, Draco vaguely heard a clock chime, but barely noticed. The sun had set hours ago, but he stayed hunched over his desk poring over books and taking notes.
For two weeks, he had been slowly reducing Granger's anti-convulsant potions. While she had epileptic-like symptoms, the root of the problem was spell damage. The potions were doing nothing to prevent her seizures or migraines, and they left her fatigued and suppressed her appetite causing her to lose weight that she didn't have to lose in the first place.
On top of everything else, she was extremely depressed.
Her senses were dulled, she rarely read anymore, and she kept her friends an arm's length away. She spent most of time sleeping the day away waiting for the next seizure to hit.
Hermione Granger was no longer living; she was only existing.
She had been terribly nervous about reducing the potions. Even though she still had frequent seizure activity, she had come to feel dependant on the potions and was terrified that it would be worse without them. His colleagues expressed similar reservations, but he held his position on the matter.
Two weeks later, she was off the potions and there had been little change in her condition as he had predicted. He did prescribe a Calming Draught for her anxiety, and a Dreamless Sleep to be taken as needed to help ease her into her new treatment. Both were carefully monitored to prevent dependency.
Draco yawned and looked at the clock. He decided to pack it in for the night because tomorrow was going to be a long day.
The next morning, Draco entered the familiar darkened room on the fourth floor. Granger was sitting up on the bed and glanced up as he walked in. He had to admit that in two short weeks, her appearance had improved immensely. She was still a bit underweight, but her skin colour was a little better and she looked more alert and well-rested.
"Ready for your new treatment?" he asked, matter-of-factly. Since their first meeting as healer and patient, he had taken on a no-nonsense tone with her.
"As ready as I'll ever be, I guess," she replied. "So, what it is it? Experimental potions?"
Draco shook his head. "Potions are the wrong way to go, actually."
She tilted her head curiously. "What do you mean?"
"How do we normally treat curses, Granger?" The question wasn't meant for her to answer, so she waited for him to elaborate. "If it's an Obliviate or Imperius, we wouldn't use a potion. We use our wands to reverse it. You stun someone, then it's Enervate."
He watched the excitement and, perhaps for the first time in years, hope build in her eyes.
"Obviously," he continued, "it's going to be a little more complicated than a Finite Incantatum, but I have experience with Spell Therapy that I think could help in your case."
Her wide brown eyes became glossy with unshed tears. "Do… Do you think you can cure me?" she asked softly.
For a moment, he felt like his heart stopped as he was caught in her earnest gaze.
Studying brains, potions, and spells had always been fascinating to him. They were also completely unemotional. The reactions of patients and their families was the part of being a healer that he had never quite become comfortable with.
"Um." He blinked and looked away, then turned back to her. "Honestly, I don't know. But, I do think it will improve the quality of your life, and perhaps even get you home again."
Before he could contemplate his next thought, she launched herself from her bed and wrapped her arms around him, sobbing noisily.
Stunned, he stood straight as a rod with his arms to his side as she wept into his shoulder. He could hear her muttering under her breath, "Thank you, thank you, thank you…"
Cautiously, he placed his hands on her shoulders blades and patted awkwardly. Even knowing that she had lost so much weight, feeling the reality of her frail bones beneath his fingers was somewhat shocking.
"Oh goodness," she exclaimed pushing back from him. "I'm so sorry! I just got so…" She swiped her hand over wet spot of tears she had left on his uniform as if she could brush it away. "I'm so sorry!"
Draco grabbed her fingers and held her hand in his own, and her eyes shot up to meet his.
"It's alright," he said. It came out lower than he had meant.
Hermione stared back at him biting her lip, then glanced down at their hands which were still interlocked.
Clearing his throat, Draco quickly let her hand go and pretended to gather his notes to compose himself. When he turned back to Hermione, he saw that she had wiped her face and settled back on the bed.
"So, how does Spell Therapy work?" she asked.
This is good, Draco thought. Back to business. Just facts, and no emotions. Keep your eye on the snitch.
"It's similar to reversing an Obliviate. The spell work is intricate and time intensive. I have to find where the Cruciatus left scarring on your brain and nervous system and fix it."
"How long will it take?"
"It depends on the extent of the damage. You were exposed to the curse for a short period of time, but the casting couldn't have been more severe."
Though neither said it, both were thinking of the healer being a first hand witness to his patient's curse. One with irony, and one with guilt.
"Will it hurt?"
"You may have some residual 'memory pain,' but I don't expect for it to be anywhere near the intensity of the original curse. Mostly, I'll think you'll find it tedious and exhausting."
Puffing out her cheeks, she blew out a long, steady breath and nodded.
"Also," he said, "I'd like for you to start leaving this room regularly. At least once a week at first, then increasing frequency as you start to build up strength again."
All the colour drained from Hermione's face.
Draco tilted his head forward in askance. "Granger?"
"Is that safe? I mean, what if I have a seizure? Where would I go?"
"I think you're perfectly safe inside the hospital. There are plenty of trained personnel here to help you. You can walk the corridors or go up to the tea room. If you don't want to be alone, I'm sure your friends would-"
"No," she cut him off quickly, shaking her head. "I don't want to bother them." She pulled her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms around them.
As much as he disliked Potter and the Weasleys, he was fairly certain they wouldn't see visiting her as a bother. In fact, he'd go as far to guess they'd be over the fucking moon if she'd invite them back into her life. But he had learned a bit about how her mind worked in the last few weeks, and he knew that she thought she was protecting them. She didn't want to be a burden or worry them, so she wallowed inside of herself and took her problems on alone.
"What if..?" she began to ask, then trailed off.
"What, Granger? I told you not to hold things back from me."
"What if I wanted to go somewhere where no one knows me?"
"You mean go outside Mungo's?" he asked, slightly confused.
"Being your primary healer, I would only approve that if you were accompanied by a healer who knows your condition very well and who's well-trained in neuro-healing," he stated. "And I'm the only one here that fits that description."
"Well, would you?"
"Would I, what?"
"You know, for such a brilliant healer, you can be really thick."
Draco quickly replayed the conversation back in his head, and everything clicked into place.
"You want me to be your chaperone?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of a companion, but yes."
"Because you just ordered me to do it, and my options are severely limited." She smiled at the look of defeat on his face.
"Fine!" He rolled his eyes. "Now, we've spent half the morning discussing it, let's put this Spell Therapy into practice."
The first week of Hermione's Spell Therapy was taxing on both of them, so for their first outing, they only made it to the upstairs tea room. Judging by the stares being directed at them, Draco could understand why Hermione had been insistent on private outings.
Draco Malfoy was well-known, but Hermione Granger was practically a legend. He hadn't taken into consideration how closely her condition must have been followed by the public. It was already going to be a daunting task for her to integrate back into her normal life, but with the added pressure of public attention, she was going to be completely overwhelmed.
He made a mental note to set her up with a psychological health healer to help get her ready for the transition.
Startled from his thoughts, he glanced up at the girl who had been occupying them. "Everything alright?"
"Yeah," she said, "I was just wondering where you were off to."
"Oh." He shrugged. "Just thinking about work."
"There was a time I'd be called a hypocrite for saying this, but do you only think about work?"
"Bit of a workaholic were you?"
She smiled sardonically. "Perhaps. Stop deflecting."
"Work does take up a great deal of my time," he reluctantly admitted.
"So, what do you do when you're not working? Are you married? Have a girlfriend?"
Uncomfortable with her line of questioning, he stared her down in an act of intimidation. "Why are you suddenly so interested in my personal life?"
"I'm just trying to make polite conversation. That's what people do when they have tea together, Malfoy."
"I know what people do," he replied defensively.
"Then, why are you so bothered?"
"Because you are my patient, and I'm your healer." He ended with a little nod of his head as if it put a physical point on his statement.
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest and cocked her head to the side. "So?"
"Why are you so difficult?" he asked with exasperation.
"I'm only trying to understand," she countered.
Draco took a deep breath. "It's my opinion that in order to give the best treatment, a healer must remain impartial to his or her patients. Thus, the relationship between the two should continue to be professional at all times."
"God, Malfoy, I was making small talk, not asking for a lifetime commitment."
"Well, you were starting to sound like my mother," he mumbled darkly.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her pressing her lips together trying to stifle a smile.
"I think it's time I escorted you back to your room," he said grouchily as he stood from the table.
"Yes, Healer Malfoy," she said with an extra prim voice.
At least she was amused.
Hermione stood up and began to wobble, bumping into the table and causing a cup to fall over.
"Whoa!" Draco said as he grabbed her arm and helped her right herself again. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," she replied quietly as she pressed her palms over her eyes. She pulled her hands away and tried to smile reassuringly at him. "I think I just stood up too fast."
"Are you sure?" His healer instincts had kicked in. "Watch my finger," he said as he began tracking his index finger in front of her face.
Quickly, she slapped his hand away. "Stop it!" she said between gritted teeth.
Startled, he jerked back. "Gran-"
"Not here," she whispered.
He then noticed they had an audience. The entire room had watched her falter and was waiting for her to fall apart right there.
With a nearly imperceptible nod, he gave her the okay to leave the room, leading him out with her head held high.
Draco stood before her feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious.
After she stared at him for what seemed like a good minute and a half, he finally blurted, "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You're wearing Muggle clothes," she said, her voice slightly in awe.
He fought to keep from pulling at the collar of the slate blue jumper he was wearing. "So?"
"So, I've never seen you in Muggle clothes before. You look very nice," she complimented.
With those words, it was like an invisible string that had been pulling him taut had been released, and he relaxed a little. He didn't realize how anxious he had been about the clothes until she said something, but he felt much better now.
"Grab a jumper," he told her. "It's spring, but there's still a chill in the air."
The two walked out of St. Mungo's main doors hidden at Purge and Dowse, Ltd. and out onto the Muggle street. Draco guided them a few blocks north to a nearby park with a walking path.
The day was a little grey, but signs of spring were everywhere. The crisp air smelled of rain and fresh soil; the ground was lush with green grass and flowers in colours so bold, it looked like a painting. A mother duck and her little baby ducklings wandered across the path on their way to a nearby pond for an afternoon swim.
Hermione filled her lungs full of air and slowly released it. Her cheeks were slightly pinked by the cool air, and she looked healthy and alive.
"This is lovely," she said with a smile. "How did you know it was here?"
"I've walked by it before."
"But…" she trailed off with a sigh.
"You know I don't like it when you hold back."
"You also don't like when I ask personal questions," she retorted.
"That just kills you, doesn't it?"
"That the nosy little know-it-all doesn't know everything about my life."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Don't flatter yourself."
"Then, why do you care?"
"I don't know! Maybe I'm trying to figure out how a childhood bully became an amazing healer and is currently the closest thing I have to a friend!" she shouted, then stalked off down the path.
He gave her a little time to cool off before following after her. He found her sitting on a bench staring at a water fountain. She didn't look up when he approached, and she didn't stir when he sat down.
"I am a workaholic," he said, not looking at her. "After the war, everything felt tainted: my home, my family, even me. Everything was off-kilter, and no matter how hard I tried, things were never going to be as they were before." He sighed. "I needed to find something that made me feel good again, to somehow right the balance. As much as I talked shit, I did enjoy school, so I sat for my N.E.W.T.s and began healer training. After that, I left the country and went wherever my research took me. Then, I got a great offer from St. Mungo's, and it seemed like a good time to come home."
"Why did you decide to study neuro-healing?"
"That's a tale for another day." Draco turned his head and smiled at her. "What about you?"
"Well, I've been in hospital for four years," she answered sarcastically.
Draco laughed. "Yes, yes, I know! But before that? What kind of heroic job did you have before that?"
Hermione scowled. "What makes you think it was a heroic job?"
"Because you're Hermione Granger."
"I'll have you know that I worked at the Ministry. Nothing heroic at all!"
"Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures," she said.
"Oh, I'm sure there was no protecting or saving of magical creatures involved at all."
"But, that's not-"
"Yes, it is! It's heroic. You have a hero complex!"
"I do not!"
"Of course you do! You're a Gryffindor. I'm almost certain that's part of the Sorting Hat's song."
"Well, if we're going to talk about house stereotypes, then you must be nothing but a sneaky-"
Suddenly, the heavens opened up and it started to rain heavily. Draco grabbed her hand and dashed to a large, stone monument nearby that offered some shelter.
Hermione laughed all the way.
Three weeks later, Draco once again saw Harry Potter leaving Hermione's room. His appearance was a lot less distraught than before. In fact, he almost looked happy.
He slowed as he passed Draco in the corridor and caught his eye. With a look that could only be described as gratitude, Potter nodded once in acknowledgement. Grudgingly, Draco returned the gesture and moved on.
He would never particularly care for the scarred git, but he was important to his patient's well-being. The fact that she was inviting her friends back into her life was a good sign.
She was getting better.
"Did you apply Sun Obstruction potion?"
"Of course, I did!" he huffed. "What kind of healer would I be if I didn't do something as simple as that?"
"You're so pale," she said. "I just wanted to make sure."
"Yes, Healer Malfoy. You've asked me three times already. You act like you don't trust me."
"With you, I can't be sure."
"If anyone should be worried about being deceived, it should be me. You're the Slytherin after all."
"Maybe you should choose your lunch companions more carefully."
"Maybe I should," she said slyly.
Draco ignored the strange little flip-flop feeling in his chest at the thought of her spending her time with someone else.
They were sitting in the park on a blanket stolen from her room enjoying the last blooms of spring and the early warmth of summer. Hermione had wanted him to get snacks from St. Mungo's tea room, but he had taken complete leave of his senses and actually had his house elf pack a proper picnic, basket and all. He was turning into a complete Puffskein around her.
Of course, she was delighted.
They ate and watched some kids playing a game with a ball. He asked Granger to explain it, but she understood Muggle football about as much as she did Quidditch, which was to say, not very much.
When their bellies were full, Hermione stretched out on the blanket and closed her eyes. It gave Draco a rare chance to observe her. She had gained back most of the weight she had lost, and her body now filled out her simple blue dress the way it should. Her skin had a hint of a tan from their regular trips to the park, and her hair had flecks of gold glinting in the sun among the brown strands. Her lips were full and pink.
She was beautiful.
Hermione cocked one eye open and looked up at him.
"Are you going to stare at me all day, or are you going to enjoy the sun while it lasts?"
Wordlessly, he stretched out beside her and closed his eyes, too. In the distance, he could hear the kids still playing and birds chirping. If he listened even closer, he could hear Hermione breathing beside him. The sun felt deliciously warm on his face.
Then, she slipped her hand into his.
For a moment, everything was right with the world.
It had been two weeks since she had been deemed healthy enough to be released from St. Mungo's. It had taken months, but hours of Spell Therapy had worked and she was pronounced cured by more than one healer.
Chief Healer Smethwyck wanted Draco to write a presentation on his revolutionary use of Spell Therapy to be submitted to the National Healers Association for publication. Draco agreed only on the condition that the patient's name be kept anonymous. Hermione didn't need anymore attention as she was trying to get back into her normal life.
Summer was ending, and the grass and trees were starting to lose their lustre. The air was getting cooler, and the sun was losing its power. He still walked through the park from time to time, but it wasn't quite the same.
Draco threw himself into work harder than he had before. His success with Spell Therapy on Hermione left many wondering if he'd be able to help long-time victims of the Cruciatus Curse such as Frank and Alice Longbottom.
One Saturday morning, he was sitting on his sofa researching their case and nibbling on some toast when someone knocked on his door. When he answered it, he was surprised to see Hermione on the other side.
"Hi," she said with a slightly nervous smile.
"How did you know where I live?"
"I have friends in high places."
"Of course, you do," he said as he opened the door and gestured for her to come in.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"I was just working."
"Of course, you were," she parroted back at him.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Have a seat. What are you doing here? Is everything okay?"
"Everything is fine, so you can turn your 'ihealer vision/i' off," she said.
"iHealer vision/i?" he muttered.
"Can't a girl just stop by and say hello to a friend?"
"Are you just going to repeat everything I say?"
"I'll stop when you start making sense," he retorted.
"Well, we are friends, aren't we?" she asked. "I know you had your silly 'healer-patient' rule before, but that no longer applies."
"I… well… yeah," he sputtered.
"Besides, I miss you," she blurted out in a rush.
"Fucking hell. We're not going to have a bloody heart-to-heart are we?"
Hermione busted out laughing, then threw her arms around him. Hermione Granger never did things half-way, and that included hugging. It was a forceful, full-body, frizzy-hair-in-your-face experience.
Tentatively, he wrapped his arms around her and gently returned her hug.
"I missed you, too," he whispered.
Pulling back, their faces were so close together that his nose brushed hers. He could feel her breath on his cheek as she asked, "Would you join me for a walk?"
He looked into her eyes and saw a spark of something more, something deeper. He nodded and took her hand.
Draco wasn't sure where the path would lead him, but he knew that with her, it was definitely somewhere he wanted to go.