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the second chance








“Fucking hell!” The pile of blankets on the chaise longue stirs, and a blond head emerges. “Where’s that bloody house-elf?”


“Shut up!” (The bastard-thing’s giving him a headache). “TWINKY!”

No response.

With an exasperated sigh, Draco swings his feet down to the floor, encounters a pile of empty cans, curses his ex-Father-in-Law for introducing him to the miracle of Red Bull and spirits, kicks himself some space, and stands up.


“Stop that bloody noise!”

He pads over to the window and draws back the curtain.

The post office owl’s sitting impatiently on the sill, but Draco’s momentarily distracted by the raddled individual standing beside it. He’s tall—about the same height as Draco himself—and thin, wearing a frayed dressing robe that must once have been black, and grubby pyjamas; his pale, startled eyes look unnaturally bright against the dark circles that surround them; and his platinum blond hair’s sticking out in clumps.

Draco stares.

Then, “Bugger!”

It’s his own reflection.

He pats down the worst of the cowlicks, and opens the window.

The owl sticks out its leg, disdainfully.

Draco removes the letter, digs into his dressing robe pocket, finds a bit of cracker—How long’s that been there?—and offers it to the bird. “’S all I have. Take it or leave it.”

The owl leaves it.

“Suit yourself.” Draco puts the cracker back in his pocket, closes the window, and turns his attention to the letter.

The handwriting’s masculine but careless, and clearly belongs to a wizard of no breeding, which gives Draco pause...

No idea.

He breaks the seal. Folded inside the sheet of parchment there’s a photograph torn from Witch Weekly. Its caption reads, ‘Whirlwind romance’, and it shows ‘the former Quidditch all-star, Cormac McLaggen’ attempting to trigger Hermione Granger’s gag reflex by sticking his tongue down her throat.

Again... And again... And again...

Bugger bollocks.

Draco sits down heavily.

The letter itself is short, and to the point: Stop being such a bloody pussy Malfoy.


Later the same day...

Hermione runs between the puddles in Diagon Alley—ducking past the shoppers with their umbrellas and dodging the children in their Wellington boots—sheltering from the rain under her fiancé's jacket, which he’s insisted on taking off and holding over her head.

They reach the door of Pucey’s Wine Bar, where Hermione’s arranged to meet Ginny Potter for lunch, and dash under the portico.

“Okay?” Cormac is, as always, smiling.

“Mmm. Thanks.” Hermione comes up on tiptoe, and kisses his cheek, which she almost regrets, because it gives him the chance to get his hands around her waist and pull her in for a long and rather sloppy kiss.

Then he releases her, and gives her another of his famous smiles. “Got to go. See ya later.”


Hermione watches him run down the street, drawing admiring glances and ripples of recognition from men and women alike. She’s no stranger to fame herself, of course, but Cormac’s a sporting legend, a real celebrity, like—Well, like David Beckham, in the Muggle World, she thinks. And, though she sometimes wishes he had fewer hands, she knows that, with his glamorous past, his charity work, and his political ambitions, he’s a fabulous catch.

She checks her own reflection in the window glass—Cormac’s enthusiasm sometimes leaves her embarrassingly dishevelled—and, once she’s sure she’s decent, she opens the door, and enters the wine bar.

Ginny’s already there, sitting at their favourite table with a glass of white wine in hand, studying the menu. As Hermione approaches, she looks up. “How’s things?”

“Busy.” Hermione sits down, and pulls her notebook from her bag. “I’ve briefed the caterers,” she says, checking her list, “finalised the flowers, and hired the band, but I still have to choose the music, and work out a seating plan, and...” She looks up at her friend.

Ginny’s not joining in the fun like she usually does. In fact, she seems worried. “What’s wrong?”

Ginny sighs. “I know I’ve said this before,” she says. “We all have, especially Ron, but... Are you sure, Hermione? I mean, absolutely sure? Only... If anyone had asked me to list the top ten men that Hermione Granger would never, ever, agree to marry, Cormac McLaggen would have been at number two.”

Hermione bites her lip. “And who would have been at number one?”

Ginny shakes her head. “You know who. And just look what happened with him—eighteen months—”


“Nineteen then. Not exactly what you’d call a success. And he—I can’t believe I’m saying this—he made you happy!”

“Cormac makes me happy.”

“Not in the way Malfoy did. It was embarrassing, actually. Like being with one of those animals that always has,”—she brings her finger to her mouth, and draws a big semi-circle—“a smile on its face.”

“A Cheshire Cat?”

“A rabbit.” She waggles her eyebrows.

“Ginny!” Hermione closes her notepad and slips it back into her bag. “People attach far too much importance to... that sort of thing.”

“Merlin, McLaggen must be bad in bed!”

“Ginnyyy!” Hermione glances around, making sure that nobody’s listening, before she leans closer, and continues, quietly, “As it happens, Cormac and I have agreed to wait until our wedding night,”—she leans even closer—“because I’m sure that that’s were it all went wrong with Draco. If he hadn’t been such a—you know—”

“A sex-u-al ath-lete,” says Ginny, letting the syllables pleasure her tongue like one of Honeydukes’s Chocolate Cauldrons. “Not that I’m complaining about Harry in that department, you understand,” she adds, quickly, “but, just once in a while, it would be lovely to have a bit of athletics...”

“It soon palls, believe me.”


Hermione bushes. “No, actually... No, that was a lie.” Her gaze turns inward, as she savours... certain memories.


“But there’s so much more to life than that, Ginny. I want to settle down, and have children; and I want the opportunity to do some good in the world.”

“Oh, Hermione...”


Three days, three bottles of Firewhiskey, and three bottles of Bordeaux later...

“Will you stop that!”

Draco takes a swig of wine.

His ex-wife—blast her—ignores him, as usual, and continues to allow Cormac-the-Sieve McLaggen to probe her tonsils.

Draco turns the picture face down.

Quidditch all-star, my arse! If ever a man rode on the back of his team mates...

He looks about the room, dispassionately surveying the pyramids of empty bottles, the piles of soiled clothing, and the general fustiness.

He’s at a loose end.

For the first time since She walked out on him—followed, with indecent haste, by his parents, though, to be fair to his mother, she’d been dragged from his bedside, sobbing—he’s actually feeling restless.

That bloody wizard—the one who sent him the press cutting—has completely destroyed his equilibrium, totally pierced his cocoon of—

Can you pierce a cocoon?

He supposes you can, if you have something small enough.

Her engagement isn’t a small thing, though.

No, her engagement’s a great, big acromantula egg sac, seething with newly hatched offspring tearing their way out with huge mandibles, and advancing—

Draco shivers, and rubs his face.

No wonder he can’t settle!

He considers his options.

One: more wine.

Two: more Firewiskey—much more Firewhiskey.


He’s sure there must be a third option somewhere but, what with missing Her, and missing his mother—and even missing his father, a bit—he’s not really on form this morning.

He decides on option number two, the Firewhiskey, and reaches for the bottle—and something strange catches his eye...

The fire, which he’s charmed to crackle away soothingly, suddenly turns emerald green, and from its silenced flames a disembodied hand emerges—a big, square, and thoroughly uncouth-looking hand—which deposits an envelope in the hearth.

Draco closes his eyes—clearly that Firewhiskey’s more necessary than he’d realised.

He picks up the bottle, takes a couple of swallows, and looks again.

The hand’s disappeared, but the letter’s still there, lying—all crisp and white—upon the dusty marble. Draco dumps the Firewhiskey back on the table, slides off the chaise longue and with surprising ease, all things considered, crawls over to the fireplace, and retrieves it.

It’s addressed, in the same handwriting as before, to D Malfoy, Esq.

Draco breaks the seal, pulls out a rectangle of deckle-edged pasteboard, and reads the invitation that’s printed in silver script:

In Celebration of the Engagement of
Hermione Jean Granger
Cormac McLaggen

You are cordially invited to
a Dinner Dance
On Saturday 25th October 2013
The Dancing Centaur Hotel, Little Abbey, Norfolk, at 8 pm

Draco sits back on his heels, frowning.

It’s not from Her.

For all her kindn—for all her bloody, stupid soft heart, which will, he knows, be nagging her to invite him because it can’t bear to see even him alone and friendless, her head knows better than to let a loose cannon roll around her ballroom.


So the invitation must have come from the unknown wizard.

But who is he? And what’s he playing at?

Could it be Cormac-the-Tosser himself, hoping that his predecessor will cause such an unholy riot, he’ll be able to call off the engagement?

Please, Merlin?

That hand did look like a Keeper’s...

Wait a minute!


What day is it today?

Draco scrambles to his feet, finds his wand, and aims it at the clock, barking, “Date!”.

A little door, just above the clock face, flies open and a tiny woman, looking very nervous—but he really can’t blame her for that—shoots out, squeaks, “Saturday the twenty-fifth of October, two thousand and thirteen,” and dashes back inside.

FUCK, he thinks. Fuck, fuck, fuck!

He’s got less than eight hours to get ready, and his last remaining house-elf seems to have buggered off and left him.

Probably, he reflects bitterly, because She gave the little sod some bloody clothes.


Eight hours, one Sober-Me-Up® potion, one small hair of the dog, and not one but two Vitamix potions (just to be on the safe side), later...

Crashing the party’s easy; the squibs on the door have been hired for the night, and don’t recognise the bride-to-be’s ex-husband.

Draco glances at his reflection as he strides through the mirrored foyer.

In point of fact, he’s cleaned up quite nicely—the weight he’s lost gives him an additional grace; his longer hair, which he’s wearing tied back but with jaw-length strands falling about his face, makes him look Byronic (had Byron been blond); and the Vitamix potion has done what it says on the vial, and made his eyes all bright and his tail all bushy.


He finds his place (the odd man out in a party of strangers), and sits down. And things are going surprisingly well until the happy couple make their grand entrance, and he sees Her, in her flame red robes and matching lip-gloss.

Merlin’s balls!

The pain in his chest’s so intense he thinks, for a moment, that a freak combination of alcohol and potions has knackered his heart.

But he doesn’t die.

Instead, he refuses his food, and spends the entire dinner wondering what he’s done to that unknown wizard for the bastard to hate him so much he’s putting him through this agony. After that, it doesn’t take him long to find the punch bowl and, once he’s started on the punch, it doesn’t take him long to attract attention.

She gives him one of her patented Oh, Draco, what are you doing? looks, but doesn’t come anywhere near him.

McLaggen—still wearing that stupid fucking smile—has a quick word with one of the squib bouncers and, moments later, Draco feels a hand on his collar.

Figuratively speaking.

“I need a pee before I set off,” he insists, “and I don’t suppose you want me to do it in here...” He reaches for his fly with a theatrical flourish.

The idiot panics. “All right,” he hisses. “The toilets are through there.” He nods towards a curtained doorway. “But I’ll be watching. And, when you’ve done, I want you out.”


Besides a palatial Gents (and, presumably, a similarly well-appointed Ladies) the corridor beyond the doorway leads to various other rooms, including a small dining room.

Dark and empty, a metaphor for bloody life...

Draco slips inside and closes the door behind him.

He doesn’t want to go home.

He doesn’t particularly want to stay, either, but having seen Her, in flame-red satin that celebrates her every curve, especially the curves of that delicious little bum she was always so worried about, he doesn’t want to go home.

He sits down on one of the chairs and, elbows on the table, he leans forward and buries his face in his hands. What possessed him to come to this fiasco? What the fuck did he think was going to happen? That She would catch sight of him and suddenly see the light?

“Oh, Draco, why did I ever leave you?”

The truth is, he hadn’t been thinking.

The truth is, he’d let that bloody unknown wizard lead him here by the balls.

He hears something small and hard hit the table top, and feels it bounce off his leg and, when he lifts his head, he realises he’s lost a cuff link—one of the emerald-eyed dragons She gave him for his thirtieth birthday.


He flops down to the floor and crawls under the table and, whilst he’s patting about in the gloom, he hears the door open, and someone enter the room, and—assuming it’s a canoodling couple—he’s just about to roll out from his hiding place and make an apologetic exit, when he recognises a voice.

“Well?” says McLaggen.

“It’s early days,” says his companion, “but, so far, the results are positive; you’re eight per cent up on your pre-announcement peak.”

Pre-announcement what?

“And old Wimple?”

“Obviously, the eight per cent has come from him.”

“So I’m ahead?”

“If the vote had been taken today, you would have won. Just.”

The election for Minister of Magic! For a terrifying moment, Draco had thought that She might be pregnant. He would breathe a deep sigh of relief were he not in such a compromising position. And—Speaking of positions—he eases himself down onto his arse and gets more comfortable. His Slytherin instincts are telling him there’s dirt to be heard, and that it’s likely to be useful dirt.

“So, all because,” McLaggen’s saying, “the fools think I’m poking Hermione Granger.”


“Because,” corrects the other man, “they think you’re marrying Hermione Granger. They think they’re getting two for the price of one—a world-class sportsman from a respectable family, with a brilliant Muggle-born wife who has poise, and charm, and some very influential friends.”

“Poise and charm?” McLaggen sighs. “The world’s most frigid woman?”

Draco has to hold himself back. Fucking TOSSER!

“She’s vital to your campaign, McLaggen. You can’t risk losing her. That slip earlier—”

“You mean about the dog’s dinner?”

“If she were to find out—”

“She won’t. And, once I’m Minister, I’ll get rid of it.” McLaggen opens the door, letting the din of the ballroom flood in. “Come on, Burke. Let’s get back to the party.”


Draco leans back against the table leg, wishing his head were clearer.

He’s just heard McLaggen admit to using Her to gain votes; he’s heard him call her ‘frigid’—What the fuck’s that about?—and he thinks he’s heard him boast about hiding something from her—something that might, were she to know about it, turn her against him—something about dogs...

Draco pushes his hair back from his face.

But how in Merlin’s name’s he going to warn her that something’s going on, without... telling her?

Because he knows she won’t bloody-well believe him if he just—well—tells her.

He reaches into the magically extended breast pocket of his dress robes, pulls out a flask of Firewhiskey—Never go anywhere without your travel insurance—unscrews the cap, and takes a good, long swig.

The dining room door opens again.

Fucking Ada, it’s like King’s Cross bloody station in here!


Draco freezes.

The voice is disguised; its owner’s speaking through one of those things from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes that makes a person sound like a talking clock having a panic attack. “Stay where you are,” it warns, “I don’t want you to see me. Here,”—a big, square hand appears under the table, proffering a potion—“sort yourself out. Hermione’s in the Conservatory. Go and talk to her before it’s too late.”

Draco takes the bottle.

It’s another Sober-Me-Up® potion and—although he resents the implication that he needs it—he knocks it back and, as it floods his system, making his flesh crawl and his heart flutter up into his throat, he vaguely registers that the unknown wizard’s already left the room.

He rubs his chest to ease the pain.

If substance abuse is going to do for him, he’s already a dead man walking.


The moment sobriety kicks in, Draco remembers he has a wand.

He summons the missing cuff link with a quick Accio and then, realising that the bouncer might still be watching for him, he shrouds himself in a Disillusionment Charm, rejoins the party, and—with a bit of bobbing and weaving—makes his way across the dance floor and through to the Conservatory.

The place is impressive, easily comparable in size to the Tropical House at Malfoy Manor and crammed with equally rare specimens, and Draco’s reminded that the ancestral hot house has been shamefully neglected of late...

Another bloody thing that’ll break Mother’s heart.


He finds Her sitting beneath a banana tree, an exuberant splash of red against a harmony of greens.

Merlin, she’s beautiful!

He drops the Disillusionment Charm.

“Draco?” Her head jerks up. “Oh, Draco!”

He’s amazed by the expression of joy on her face, and doubly amazed when she leaps to her feet and throws her arms around him. “I knew you’d come,” she sobs, “I just knew it!” She hugs him fiercely. “But you shouldn’t have, Draco. Really. You shouldn’t have. I mean it,”—hugging him more fiercely—“you shouldn’t,”—even more fiercely—“you shouldn’t; you shouldn’t; oh, you shouldn’t...”

It’s bliss.

No, it’s more than bliss, it’s...


It’s how things are supposed to be.

Somehow, without breaking her hold on him, he manoeuvres her backwards, and sits her down, and then he slides to his knees, and lays his head in her lap.

It’s always been their shared secret, this most intimate of embraces, and she gathers him closer, and whispers, “Baby...

And for one single, perfectly happy moment, everything seems possible.

And then that fucking bastard destroys it. “Hermione! Are you in there?”

She gasps: “It’s Cormac!”

And, at that moment, Draco sees The Truth, written on her face—that she still loves him, that she’ll always love him, but that she doesn’t want to be with him. She doesn’t want the notoriety, the social pressure, the constant drama of life with a Malfoy.

She wants Cormac See-me-Smile McLaggen—sportsman, politician, and founder of a fucking Magical Creature Sanctuary somewhere in Norfolk...

Draco squeezes her hand—trying to tell her that he really doesn’t blame her—before he backs away from her, and disappears behind a clump of tree ferns.

McLaggen rounds the corner. “What on earth are you doing in here, Hermione?”


“Come on, love; Burke wants to talk to you.”

Peering through the ferns, Draco watches them go—a slender, flame-red flower in the grasp of a big, black-robed spider. He waits until he’s sure he’s alone, then he steps out into the open, and sits down.

Faint traces of Her perfume linger in the air.

The time, he thinks, for hiding inside a bottle of Firewhiskey has passed.

She’s admitted that she still loves him.

He has to win her back.


Later that night...

Sitting at her dressing table, Hermione opens the jewel case and fingers the ruby necklace—her thirtieth birthday present from Draco—that she hadn’t worn earlier that night, because it would have brought back too many memories.

Red’s your colour, he’d always said.

She lifts it out, and holds it against her throat.

He’d been right, of course.

Draco’s always right in matters of taste.

She fastens the clasp.

How can it be so different? she wonders. One man touches you, and it’s magic—Muggle ‘magic’; another man touches you, and... and you have to learn to bear it.

But it will get better, won’t it? With time? Even arranged marriages can be happy, can’t they?

She admires the necklace, and the way its warm glow complements her own colouring.

Sex with Draco had always been wonderful, not because of his experience, but because, once he’d taken that momentous step and let her in, he’d never been afraid to show her how much he needed her.

And, for a woman like Hermione, so much need had been intoxicating.

She takes off the necklace, and lays it carefully in its case.

But, in the end, for her own sanity’s sake, she’d had to kick the habit.


Two days, no Firewhiskey (because he’s really trying), but a half-dozen or so bottles of Bordeaux (just to take the edge off), later...

Draco sighs.

He’s spent two days, lying on the chaise longue, trying to devise a foolproof scheme to win Her back.

He’s dismissed the idea of kidnapping her (because it’s too risky), of bribing her (because it hasn’t worked in past), and of getting down on his knees and begging her (though he’s keeping that one in reserve); he’s even rejected the idea of pretending to have the Dragon Pox (because it’s far too easy to disprove and, besides—even he has to admit—it’s a little bit shady).

In the process of scheming, however, he’s become intimately acquainted with the ceiling of his study.

In fact, he can name every crack—Yes, they all have names—point to every flaking bit of paint, and describe every suspended dust bunny in the room. If he ever sees that bloody house-elf again, he’ll be giving her some detailed instructions...

And, fuck, he needs a decent drink!

He drags himself into a sitting position, prepares to stand—and freezes.

There’s another letter in the hearth!

Part irritated, part diverted by the idea of having correspondence, Draco retrieves it, breaks the seal, and unfolds the sheet of parchment.

It’s notice of a job interview at the Ministry of Magic.

A job interview?

No Malfoy’s ever had a job!

But the unknown wizard has already anticipated that objection.

Across the bottom of the letter, in the scrawl that’s now become familiar, he’s written: I know you don’t need the money Malfoy, but if you get this job, you’ll be working with Hermione.

Hmm, thinks Draco.



Two days, two bottles of Firewhiskey (purely for medicinal purposes), one Sober-Me-Up® potion, and a quick swig of Dutch courage (to steady the nerves), later...

“Well, Mr Malfoy,” says the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, “you’re certainly well-qualified for a clerical post, and you have have some very impressive references...”

Do I?

Draco leans forward slightly, wondering whether the unknown wizard’s name is lying somewhere amongst the papers strewn across the Head’s desk.

“...so the only thing that remains,” the Head continues, “is for you to meet the Director of the Being Division.” He picks up an Extendable Ear, and speaks into it: “Miss Granger, will you join us, please?”


One month of (comparative) sobriety later...

Draco leans his broom against the wall, takes off his cloak and hangs it up behind the door.

“Morning!” The Office Junior arrives with his floating trolley, and makes the morning delivery: a glass of pumpkin juice, a plate of chocolate biscuits, and the day’s pile of paperwork.

Draco sets the food on his desk, dumps the papers in his ‘In’ tray, closes the office door, and settles down to work.

His month in the Being Division has proved surprisingly interesting. There’s been the Cronk case, which he’d had to read and review as part of his orientation; then the Furmage case, in which he’d played a small part, interviewing witnesses and transcribing statements; and, most recently, the Sloper case, in which it had been his meticulous analysis of the bills of lading that had cracked everything wide open.

Today, he’s so preoccupied with plotting werewolf sightings on a map of Muggle London, he doesn’t hear the door open.


Draco looks up. It’s Her. And, framed in the doorway with the candlelight making her hair shine like spun gold, she could be a bloody Veela.

“Hello,” he replies, wittily.

“Can I come in?”

“Of course.”

She shuts the door behind her, and sits down. “I just wanted to tell you—I wanted you to hear it from me—that Cormac and I have set a wedding date.”

The earth stops spinning. “When?

“June the twenty-fifth.”

Only seven months! And he’s been so bloody wrapped up in his work, he’s not made any use of his opportunities!

Merlin, he needs a drink!

They stare at each other, an uneasy silence hanging between them, then Hermione says, “We’re going to Paris for a long weekend, to celebrate.”

His misery must show upon his face.

“Draco, I want—I need—to explain. That night, in the Conservatory—”

“You don’t have to—”

“Yes I do. It’s not that I don’t care, Draco, it’s really not. It’s that—when I look at you, when I see you in pain—it hurts. I want to shield you, Draco—when you’re disappointed, I want to make the sun shine for you. And I can’t bear it! Not any more. I’m too tired. I need... I need a normal life. Do you understand?”

He nods.

But he’s lying.


One sleepless night, two bottles of Firewhiskey, and two Sober-Me-Up® potions, later...

“What’s all this?”

The Office Junior shrugs.

Draco dumps three times the usual amount of paperwork into his ‘In’ tray, and sits down heavily.

He’s had a rough night, but he’s sober now.

Bugger bollocks.

“Ah, Draco,” says Harold Smethley, Her second-in-command, poking his head around the door, “I see you’ve got the first batch.”

“What is it?”

“Just routine end-of-year stuff—licence renewals, applications for grants and subsidies, that sort of thing—you’ll be getting a lot of it over the next month. Give everything a quick once-over and, if it’s straightforward, stamp it and sign it off; if you’ve got any doubts, set it aside for the Monday morning case conference.”


Draco unwraps a Strawberry Chocoball, and pops it in his mouth. He’s found that staying off the booze requires a surprising amount of chocolate, and he suspects that the next few days are going to require considerably more than than a surprising amount...

The first and second files concern licence renewals, and everything’s in order. He applies the Departmental stamp to them, and signs them with a flourish, Draco Abraxas Malfoy.

The third file’s a thick tome, labelled Victor Ludorum Magical Creature Sanctuary, Norfolk.

Cormac Come-Save-the-World-with-me McLaggen’s bloody charity!

With a heart-felt sigh, Draco flicks through the multi-part form, looking for any obvious omissions. It’s an application for the renewal of a Ministry subsidy. The form’s complete, and the supporting evidence is all there, so he’s just about to stamp the coversheet, when something occurs to him.

He takes up his pen, and a blank piece of parchment, and jots down a few figures; then he multiplies the number of creatures rescued by the subsidy per creature, and...

It’s an astronomical sum, even by Malfoy standards!

Draco speaks into his Extendable Ear. “Ursula, do we have a map of Norfolk?”

Minutes later, he’s drawing his wand along the bank of a river, along a Muggle road, through a pine forest, across a lake, tracing the perimeter of the sanctuary, and transferring its area to his parchment.

Then he performs another calculation, dividing number of creatures by acres, and...

He picks up the Extendable Ear. “Ursula, do we have last year’s figures for the Victor Ludorum Magical Creature Sanctuary?”


Strictly speaking, thinks Draco, as—suitably Disillusioned—he flies along the Muggle A11, I should probably have taken this to the Monday morning case conference. But his job description does permit him a certain amount of initiative when it comes to investigating possible fraud.

He lands in front of the sanctuary’s ostentatious main entrance, reads the sign above it,


and raps on the little door to the right of the massive gates.

The custodian’s polite but tight-lipped, taking Draco up one of the observation towers, handing him a pair of omnioculars, and pointing out a row of specially constructed replica manor houses, from the windows of which entire families of house-elves wave at him, enthusiastically.

Back outside, Draco thanks the man, summons his broom, and flies back to London.

Something’s wrong, he thinks.

For one thing, if McLaggen were housing even half the number of creatures he claims, those bloody house-elves would have been stacked five high.


Several hours, one half bottle of Firewhiskey, and one Dreamless Sl...

Draco sits bolt upright on the chaise longue.

What the fuck’s McLaggen doing with them?


No Sober-Me-Up® potion (because he can hardly be considered drunk) but one Pick-me-Up Max Strength® potion later...

For the second time that day, Draco flies to Norwich, veers off towards the south east, and follows The Broads until he reaches the Victor Ludorum Magical Creature Sanctuary, Middle of Nowhere, Norfolk.

Still Disillusioned, he travels along the perimeter, calmly assessing McLaggen’s security arrangements.

He finds the usual Muggle-repelling Charms, of course, but there are other wards, too—a Cave Inimicum, specifically designed to deter wizards, a Caterwauling Charm to ensure that those who aren’t deterred don’t hang around too long, and an Intruder Charm, which no doubt sounds an alarm in the gatehouse and alerts the custodian, should any trespasser prove particularly hard-of-hearing.

The tosser’s definitely up to something, thinks Draco. Fortunately, he’s no match for a Malfoy who’s also an ex-Death Eater.

He hovers above the fence, pointing his wand into the compound. He can’t dismantle McLaggen’s magic, but he can cast a modified Gouging Spell, and cut a safe tunnel through it.


A tiny speck of darkness appears, just below his feet, and begins to rotate, sending out a long, thin arm of nothingness, which sweeps around, slowly descending...

And Draco follows.

Moments later, he’s standing safely on the ground, and a few passes of his wand confirm that it’s safe to proceed—McLaggen’s clearly so confident in his perimeter defences, he hasn’t even bothered to secure the sanctuary itself!

Draco tucks his broom under his arm, ready for a quick getaway, and jogs in the general direction of the house-elves he’d seen earlier in the day.

When he gets there, he’s almost impressed.


The row of manor houses is no more than a façade—a single wall, with glazed windows and wooden doors, and nothing behind—cunningly designed to look real when seen from the observation towers!

No retirement home for waving house-elves here, he thinks.

So where are they?

He turns back, and heads deeper into the sanctuary, casting a Muffliato Charm to hide the sound of his breathing, because—Merlin!—he’s really getting out of shape.

At the top of a small rise, his outstretched wand detects a strong Disillusionment Charm.

He casts another Gouging Spell and passes through the charm, and then through the metal wall behind it...

And finds himself deep in the bowels of Lucifer.


The first thing he notices is the smell—a combined stench of raw meat, stewed meat, and burnt meat—and his stomach’s heaving before he even notices the cage, packed with house-elves, gnomes, thestrals, and elderly centaurs, and the chute that brings them down past a line of wizards casting killing curses, and carries their—in most cases—lifeless bodies away to be butchered.

Still Disillusioned, Draco follows the meat, watching other wizards skin it, slice it, and dice it with Diffindo Spells; watching them levitate it into cauldrons, and add fucking herbs and spices to it; watching them stir it with Locomotor Spells, bring the spoons to their mouths to fucking-well taste it, and then ladle it into metal cylinders...

And he realises he’s seen cylinders like these before, in his own study.

They’re called ‘cans’.

Are they making this stuff for Muggles?

He inches closer, quietly lifts a can, slips it into his magically extended breast pocket and retreats to comparative safety, behind an empty workbench.

He needs to think...

Obviously, he must tell the Ministry what he’s found.

And Potter! He must alert Potter, and...

Oh, bugger bollocks! He must tell Her.

Draco shuts his eyes, imagining how she’ll react when she finds out what her fiancé’s been doing to the creatures she’s made it her life’s work to protect, and he realises he can’t allow it to go on a second longer.

He pokes his head over the bench, and looks around the manufactory.

It’s a single, windowless space with no source of light—besides the cooking fires—other than the candles sitting in the rough metal sconces that hang from the beams holding up the roof.

Draco backs away until he’s at the mouth of his Effodio’d spell-tunnel; then, moving his wand in a long, sinuous motion that takes in every candle, every flame, and every wand in the building, he whispers, “Nox totalum,” extinguishing the light forever.

The effect is instantaneous, and the the howl of surprise from the wizards is expected but, unfortunately, the bellowing of the incarcerated creatures, terrified by the sudden black-out, takes Draco by surprise, and he swears, realising that too much alcohol must have rotted his brain—he’s forgotten the most important thing!

He quickly points his wand towards the noise, and shouts, “Alohomora!

And, as he backs out through the spell-tunnel, he hears the crash and thunder of a herd of frightened beasts stampeding round the darkened manufactory, and the shrieks of the wizards trapped inside with them...

Bugger bollocks, booze and Dark Magic really don’t mix!


He blows out the side of the building, releasing the creatures into the compound, then leaps astride his broom and rises, smashing through McLaggen’s wards and enduring an ear-splitting burst of caterwauling before he’s free, and powering away.

A few miles later, he has just enough time to land, and drop to his knees, before he throws up.

Messing about with too many potions, he thinks, wiping his mouth and shivering, will do that to you.


One extremely difficult night, three bottles of Firewhiskey, two Sober-Me-Up® potions, one Pick-me-Up Max Strength® potion, and one entire packet of Honeydukes’ Mint Imperials, later...

“Head Auror Potter doesn’t usually work on Saturdays, sir.”

The Auror Office is practically empty. For some reason, that’s the last straw: “I DON’T FUCKING CARE WHAT HE—”

The young man’s hand moves, and Draco has just enough sense left to recognise that he’s about to be caught with a Body-Bind Curse. “I’m sorry,” he pleads, holding out his hands in a gesture of surrender, “really, I’m sorry. But—please—contact Potter. Tell him that it’s regarding my wife, Hermione Granger.” The boy looks him up and down, dubiously. “Please. Tell Potter. And tell the Weas—tell Auror Weasley, too. They’ll both thank you, I swear it.” Draco squeezes his eyes shut, and tries to will his heart to slow down, and his hands to stop shaking.

“All right, sir,” says the lad, at last. “Wait here.” He crosses to a fireplace, and Draco hears him talking over the Floo connection.

Come on, Potter!

Fortunately, his old antagonist doesn’t keep him waiting long. “Malfoy...” Potter emerges, wearing a worried scowl. “What’s happened to Hermione?”

“We need to talk in private.”

“My office.” Potter waves Draco through a door and, once they’re inside, indicates that he should take a seat. He himself perches on the desk. “Now what’s this about Hermione?”

“Yeah,”—Weasley joins them—“what’s going on, Malfoy?”

“It’s McLaggen,” says Draco, breathlessly. “I was processing his application, and—well, that doesn’t matter—the thing is, I went there, to his creature sanctuary,”—he pulls out the stolen can—“and he’s making this.” He hands it to Potter.

Potter reads aloud:

Chicken Chasseur with real red wine flavour
a specially balanced complete meal
for the dog you love!

“Muggle dog food,” he says. “So?”

“It’s made from house-elves! It’s... It’s... Oh, fuck,”—despite all the potions propping him up, he’s shaking like a jelly—“I need a drink.” He holds his head in his hands. “I saw them, Potter, cooking bloody house-elves, and thestrals, and...” He can hardly bring himself to describe the horrors he’s witnessed.

Whilst he’s talking, Weasley leans over Potter’s desk, picks up sheet of parchment, and scribbles a note; he touches his wand to it, murmuring, “Advolo Peakes,” and the note folds itself into a dart and shoots away.

“It looks like you were right, Ron,” says Potter to his friend.

Weasley shrugs. “I never thought it’d be anything as bad as this.”

“She,” says Draco, “Hermione—she’s in Paris with him. They’ve set a wedding date, and—and... Merlin’s balls, this is going to kill her, Potter!”

There’s a knock at the door. Weasley opens it, quietly thanks someone, and returns with a bottle, which he hands to Draco. “Here,” he says, “get this down you. You’ll think you’re dying at first but, once your guts settle, you’ll be glad of it.”

Draco looks up at him. “Thanks,” he says.

And that’s when a ludicrous idea pops into his head.


Potter decides that the sanctuary must be shut down immediately and, whilst he’s calling in his Aurors, and preparing to brief them, Draco seizes the opportunity to accuse Weasley.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” he says. “You sent me that clipping, and the invitation to her party; you got me the job interview in the Being Division, and sorted out the references—I’ll bet one was from Potter, wasn’t it?”

Weasley shrugs, which—in Draco’s book—is as good as a confession.

“Why the fuck did you do it?”

“Why do you think?” Weasley’s face is even redder than his hair. “Don’t go thinking I like you, Malfoy. You’re a cowardly shit who got away with murder, and Hermione’s little finger’s worth more than ten of you. But she still loves you, and, and—I can’t believe I’m saying this—you’re better for her than McLaggen. Even before all this, you were better than McLaggen. So, just,”—his face contorts in a sneer that’s almost worthy of a Malfoy—“clean yourself up. You’ve shown you can hold down a job. If you clean yourself up, and tell her you’re sorry—”

“I didn’t—”

Tell her you’re sorry, Malfoy,” Weasley growls. “And then thank Merlin, and make sure you look after her better in future.”


Potter refuses to let Draco join them on the raid and, with nothing else to keep him focussed, his nerve crumbles. When McLaggen’s wizards are brought in and charged, he’s back home, hiding under his blankets. And when the Aurors arrest McLaggen himself, on his return from Paris, and Potter takes Hermione aside and explains what he’s being charged with, Draco’s drowning his sorrows in yet another bottle of Firewhiskey


Three weeks of ‘sick’ leave, and one shed-load of alcohol, later...

Draco wakes, stares up at the filthy ceiling, curses the absconded house-elf, wrestles with the blankets until he manages to get himself upright, and reaches for a bottle.

This morning’s the same as any other.


There’s another fucking letter in the buggering hearth.

Draco abandons the Firewhiskey, crawls over to the fireplace, picks up the letter, and hurls it on the fire, but Weasley’s one step ahead of him—An almost sobering thought—and, as the parchment touches the flames, it bursts open and the Weasel’s undisguised voice yells: Didn’t you hear me, you tosser? Clean yourself up and bloody-well make Hermione happy!

Draco falls onto his back, and lies there, exhausted. Easy for you to say, Weasley, he thinks.


Sometime later, he awakes with a start.

She seems to be standing in the hearth.

Draco tilts his head one way, and then the other, but it makes no difference.

She’s almost certainly there.

“Can I come in?” she asks.

He sits up. “Of course.”

“You haven’t altered the wards.” She brushes a little soot from her sleeve.

Draco shrugs. “Why would I want to keep you out?” he asks, though he can see, now that she’s pointed it out, how her bloody friend, Weasley, has been able to deliver all those annoying letters.

“Can I sit down?”

Draco swings his feet to the floor, and pulls the pile of blankets aside, and she joins him on the chaise longue. They don’t speak but, gradually, she leans closer, and he puts his arm around her, and she lays her head on his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, softly.

“It wasn’t your fault.” Her head moves, and Draco knows that she’s looking at the piles of empty bottles, and the dirty clothes, and the chocolate wrappers. “Are you living in just this one room?”

“It’s got everything I need.”

“Chocolate and whiskey?”

“And blankets.”

She shakes her head. “You haven’t been eating, have you? Or washing?”

“It wastes my drinking time.”

“Oh, Draco—”

“I’m so lonely, Granger.”

That’s the wrong thing to say. “Oh, God,” she moans, and starts crying.

And he’s always been crap with tears but, this time, he gives in to them, pulling her closer, and crying with her. “Come back. Please. You can have your own room—your own wing, if you want, and never see me—just... Just be here. Please—”

Shhhhhh.” She clamps her hand over his mouth. “You’ve got to eat,” she sobs, as though that will solve everything. “Where’s Binky? She promised me she’d look after you.”

Binky... Draco feels a deep swell of almost suicidal despair. He’d thought the bloody house-elf had abandoned him, but it had been his own mistake—he’d been shouting the wrong fucking name—and, sure enough, when Granger calls her, Binky appears, overjoyed to see her former mistress again.

“Mrs Draco!”

“Hello, Binky.” Granger wipes her eyes. “Can we have some soup, please, for Mr Draco; something nourishing?”

The little creature disappears with a pop.

Draco pulls Granger back into his arms, and lets her warmth and softness ease his misery a little. “Will you stay?”

She sniffs. “I’ll make a deal with you, Draco,” she says, and he recognises the steel that’s creeping back into her voice. “You’ve been brilliant in the Being Division, do you know that? Brilliant. Smethley can’t stop talking about how you thought to make all those extra checks on the figures, and then had the sense to investigate... And the work you did on the Sloper case... That was solid... So come back to the Department. Stop wallowing in self-pity, and start doing something worthwhile, something good—come back to work, Draco, and I’ll come back here.”

He can’t believe he’s heard her right, and he’s about to ask her to say it all again, when Binky returns and, shoving some bottles aside, sets a tray of soup on the side table, and leaves with a little curtsey.

Granger takes up the spoon, dips it in the bowl, and raises it to Draco’s mouth.

“I love you,” he says, and drinks.

“Will you make an effort, Draco? Will you? For me?” She gives him another spoonful.

“Yes.” He leans in to give her a soupy kiss.

“No,” she says, pulling back. “No—first, you’ve got to eat, and then you’ve got to have a bath and a shave, and then,”—she smiles—“then, you’ve got to come to work with me.” She offers him another spoonful.

“And, after that, will you come home with me?”

“Yes.” (Another spoonful).

“And to bed with me?”

Her smile turns wicked. (Another spoonful). “If you really think you’re up to it, Draco.”


One afternoon of work, followed by one more bowl of nourishing soup, one Alco-stop™ potion, and a lot of exercise later...

He lets out a long, grateful sigh and sinks into that complete satisfaction, that calm sense that everything’s well with the world that, for him, always follows an orgasm, when all his pent-up sexual energy, held back whilst he’s made Her come again and again, has finally been released.

His boneless limbs are still entwined with hers, and he lies with his head upon her bosom, feeling her fingers, gently combing through his hair.

Slowly, rhythmically...

No wonder he’d gone crazy when he’d lost her.

Lost this bliss...

Beneath him, Granger sighs. “You know,” she murmurs, “that ceiling really needs cleaning.”

His fingers move, and she shrieks—“No, no, no!”—and, suddenly, they’re both struggling—him tickling, her wriggling and squealing—and, as she tries to escape his hands...






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Written for the Dramione_Duet Challenge.