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Chapter 29: Draco's Ultimatum
Always a light sleeper, Draco woke in the middle of the night, completely and instantly awake. He lay still in the dark for a few moments, trying to remember what had awoken him. The room was completely dark but for the dim light of the hallway that filtered through his half-opened door. The room was silent; he heard nothing at all that would justify him waking up. A barely audible rustle to his left suddenly had his muscles tense and coiled to strike.
His eyes adjusted to the dark enough to see that the woman standing beside him was Hermione, as if the tentative voice hadn’t given it away. “How are you awake?” was the first thing he could think of to say, his voice husky with sleep. The potion should have kept her asleep for at least the duration of the night, if not most of the morning.
A shaking hand was placed on his bare shoulder. Draco never slept in a shirt; it made him feel too confined—trapped, even.
“I keep seeing them in my head,” Hermione whispered brokenly. “All those people; the woman with the tongue curse, the man with no face...” She’d woken up, dizzy and groggy from the potion he’d given her, which couldn’t stop the horrible dreams of the people she’d watched being killed. The horror had eclipsed her, and she’d found herself walking to Draco’s room with one thought in mind: that he was the only one who could save her from the abyss of grief that she could feel herself on the precipice of falling into.
“Come” was the only word that Draco said as he moved over in bed to make room for her.
Hermione crept into his bed, having the strange sensation of homecoming. She’d felt as if in a transient state ever since she left Hogwarts, where she’d last felt at home. From Hogwarts, she had lived with her parents, then the dormitories at the Auror training camp, then back in her apartment. Nowhere she’d lived since Hogwarts had ever felt truly like home to her. As she curled up against Draco Malfoy and felt his arms slide around her, she felt at once completely safe and at home.
The strange realization made an involuntary shiver sweep through her. Assuming she was cold, Draco tucked the comforter more securely around her shoulders in a surprisingly gentle move. Still under the effects of the potion, it took her only moments to fall fast asleep again.
Hermione woke up not long after dawn, yawning and stretching in the large bed. It had been a long time since she’d slept in a bed as comfortable as this. Midway through her stretch, she realized that she was alone in the room. She sat up quickly, a sinking feeling in her bones. “Draco?” she called out tentatively. When no reply met her ears, she slowly got out of bed, testing her limbs. She felt good as new—whatever had been in the potion Draco had given her, it had worked.
Hermione wandered the house, her desires split between wanting to find Draco and wanting to explore. An hour later, however, she’d searched the whole house and not found a soul there. It was a stark difference from the previous day when she had come there as a last resort to seek the help of the Hunters.
Marcus and the rest of the Hunters had swarmed her the moment she set foot in the Manor, threatening to kill her on the spot, but she’d kept her wand in her pocket and remained as unthreatening as possible, explaining the danger that Draco was in. Once they heard that their leader was in danger, they ceased trying to harm her. Hermione had given them a copy of the Portkey that August had sent her and told them what time it would activate.
Without them, she and Draco would have died, Hermione mused. Although they were at most times a sexist group of thugs, they had saved her life and she owed them. She knew that she would be remiss not to try to help get them out of Azkaban.
Resolving to fight for the men who had saved her, Hermione made her way back to the bedroom that Draco had put her in the night before and entered the adjoining bathroom. When she saw her reflection in the mirror, she gasped.
Her hair was a wild, tangled mess from both the battle and her nightmares during the night. Dried blood crusted her chin and neck from where her lip had bled. A dark purple bruise was beginning to form on her cheek where she’d been struck by Bryce Goldberg. She touched it lightly, wincing at the pain. The bruise hadn’t fully formed the night before or she was sure Draco would have healed it.
In short, she looked like a battered mess. Embarrassment flushed her face. She’d definitely have to make a few changes before Draco returned from wherever he was.
Turning on the water in the sink, Hermione gingerly washed her face to get rid of the blood and grime from the battle. Then, she turned to the delightfully large wizarding bathtub and filled it with steaming hot water and pink bubbles that gushed from a tiny golden button on the side when pressed. She shut and locked the bathroom door before easing her body into the hot water. The bath felt like heaven after the rush of the past days and weeks.
She found herself drifting into a doze as the scents of the bubbles filled her nose. They smelled like freshly-cut grass...and roses...and the shampoo that she used to bathe Crookshanks with...and something very masculine that reminded her of blonde hair and strength...and cinnamon and chocolate... The aromas were all-consuming.
Hermione realized that there was some kind of magic in the bubbles and tried to fight it, but her wand was on the countertop out of reach and she was fully immersed in the bubbles by this time. She didn’t have a chance. She was lost. Her head hit the side of the tub with a soft thud as she drifted to sleep, soaking in the most delicious of sensations.
The things she dreamed of...love and passion and strength and courage...A figure dressed in all black was forefront in every dream, blonde hair blazing with the light of the sun.
Hours passed, during which the charmed bathtub magically kept the water hot and the bubbles fresh, even though Hermione spent the time unconscious. After all, how could the bathtub know that its occupant’s head was slipping gradually into the water, where she would surely drown?
A blast of air ripped through Hermione’s dream in which she was entangled in the limbs of her black-clad, blonde-haired lover. The passion rippling through her was too much for her to come out of willingly.
Warmth closed over her head, invaded her mouth and nose with a pressure that Hermione didn’t even care about in the dream. Had she been conscious, she would have known her head had slid under the water and was in sure danger of drowning. But she didn’t care. She was entwined with her love, lying on a bed of velvet and roses, petals strewn everywhere, the scents and sensations of everything she adored flooding her senses.
“Hermione!” a faint voice yelled from far in the distance. The warmth around her head, mouth, and nose disappeared as her head was pulled from the water, though the rest of her remained comfortably warm.
Hermione ignored the voice from the real world, burying herself deeper in the arms of the figure who held her in her dreams, who kissed her everywhere and trailed fiery, feverish love throughout her bare skin.
“Snap out of it!” ordered the persistent voice.
Hermione growled and used every bit of her considerable mental strength to push the voice out of her mind. She dimly felt a sensation as if her corporeal body was being shaken, but it didn’t matter in this fantasy.
“You leave me no choice,” that unrelenting voice stated coldly.
Pain flared as teeth sank into her bare shoulder. Hard. Hermione hissed and clawed like an animal at whatever was holding her and sank deeper into her dream world. The alluring scents and figures were all she could focus on. But then...a hard mouth came down on top of her lips in the physical world, claiming her with a possessive kiss that rivaled even that of Hermione’s dream figure. A hot tongue pushed into her mouth, savaging her tongue with skilled, passionate strokes that even felt like velvet.
“Come back,” hissed the voice, breaking the kiss for the few instants it took for him to say the words. Then his mouth returned, and his hands were on her body, caressing and stroking her to the point of madness.
“Hermione!” Draco Malfoy snarled, his breath hot in her ear.
Hermione’s eyes flew open and the overpowering scents were gone, absent from her mind. She was in the bathtub, her back against the side, being kissed out of her mind by Draco. He was fully clothed and soaking wet as he straddled her in the bathtub, which was still steaming hot but now had no bubbles in it whatsoever. Draco’s body pressed against hers was all she could think of, and it was so much better than in her head. An involuntary moan escaped her as his hands continued to fondle her body recklessly.
At the sound of her moan, Draco broke the kiss, whipping his head up to meet her gaze. When he saw her eyes open and conscious, his grey eyes lost their feverishly passionate cast and turned stormy. His hands left her body, leaving her feeling empty and cold though the water was still quite hot.
“What the bloody hell were you thinking?” His soft and deadly tone cut through her.
Hermione tried to shield her body with her hands, suddenly embarrassed of her nakedness. Draco had eyes for nothing but her face at the moment however. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said stonily, trying to ignore the need for him that she still felt pulsing through her.
He looked ready to explode into a thousand angry little shards of Draco Malfoy, so Hermione hastened to say, “I really don’t know what just happened.” Her shoulder throbbed from the bite that had surely been from him.
“Do you really not know?” He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was sitting in a bathtub wearing an expensive suit that was certainly ruined by this point. He must have leapt in the bathtub without hesitating to take off his clothes—or even his expensive-looking Italian shoes.
Hermione bit back a caustic answer and simply shook her head in confusion.
“Have you never been in a wizarding bathtub before?” Draco snapped, some of the anger leaving his countenance at her clear ignorance. When Hermione opened her mouth to answer, he held up a finger. “Not including the ones at Hogwarts?”
Hermione shook her head mutely.
“Yes, well, many of them—for adults, anyway—come with a small golden button that creates bubbles infused with Amortentia,” Draco explained, running a hand through his hair to push back the dripping blonde strands that were beginning to fall into his eyes. “When used with a partner, it makes...certain activities...very pleasurable to both parties by enhancing the attraction they feel for one another and heightening the senses of what is occurring between them. However, when used by just one person, the Amortentia seeks to create that which the person desires. Since it can’t actually create a corporeal version, it plunges the user into an unconscious dream state where anything can come true.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Hermione muttered, trying to escape the accusing gaze that was fixed on her.
“It is when there’s no way for the user to get out of it,” Draco said coolly. “You nearly drowned before I got here. I had to break a bloody window to get in.”
Hermione glanced around, realizing that the blast of air that had tried to penetrate her dream had come from the broken window opposite the bathtub, next to which lay a discarded broomstick. “How did you get me out of it, then?”
A ghost of a smirk flitted across Draco’s face. “What were you dreaming about, Hermione?” he purred, his eyes traveling up and down her body.
Hermione flushed hot red, looking away.
Draco placed a finger under her chin and forced her to look at him. “I could only have brought you out of the dream state by being the object of your desire. Amortentia cannot create a more lifelike version of what you desire than the actual thing—or person—itself.”
Humiliation turned her face even redder. He knew she’d been dreaming of him (or at least, some version of him). Draco smirked at her obvious discomfort.
“Why did you bite me?” she growled, embarrassment causing her to sound angrier than she was.
“Pain can sometimes break the hold of the bubbles,” Draco drawled, trailing his finger over the bite mark on her shoulder. Unable to resist, he lowered his mouth to her shoulder and planted a slow, open-mouthed kiss over where he’d bitten. His head lowered as it was, Hermione saw four bloody lines marring the back of his neck.
“What happened?” she gasped, gingerly touching his neck.
Draco flinched and raised his head, eyes clouded with lust. “I believe that’s where you struck me when I bit you,” he answered mildly.
Hermione blushed even further, if that was possible. She was certainly setting a record today with how red her face was. “I’m sorry,” she muttered.
“Not necessary,” Draco replied. “Will you allow me to show you what the Amortentia bubbles can be like with a partner?” His lips curved in a smile that could only be described as seductive.
Anticipation made Hermione’s heartbeat quicken and her breathing shallow. “N-not right now,” she breathed, though she desperately wanted to. She was too frightened to get sucked back into that chasm of desire and lust.
Draco saw her fear. “It’s different with two people,” he reassured her. “It won’t take over your mind like it did before.” He’d used the Amortentia bubbles with women before, but he had a feeling that it would be much, much different with Hermione. Here, in the bathtub with her, he couldn’t get the idea out of his mind.
Hermione hesitated long seconds before finally shaking her head reluctantly. “I really don’t want to,” she finally admitted.
“I understand,” Draco said, though he looked disappointed. “I’ll let you finish your bath. Join me in my office after so we can talk.”
He stood, rivulets of water streaming down from his drenched clothing. Without another word, he stepped out of the tub, taking care not to slip and fall on the slick floor. “Reparo,” he said, and the window magically repaired itself. He unlocked the bathroom door and stepped out, carrying his broomstick.
Just before he shut the door behind him, Hermione blurted out, “Why didn’t you just unlock the door instead of going through the window?”
Draco turned and said, smirking, “You locked it. Doors in Malfoy Manor STAY locked.”
Once Draco was gone, Hermione pulled the stopper out of the bathtub. No matter how comfortable the water was, she was somewhat wary of the bubbles turning on again. She dressed and magically dried her hair in minutes. She pulled her hair back into a practical ponytail. A spell from her wand easily removed the bruise on her cheek, though the ache still remained. She made a mental note to talk to Harry about Bryce, though it was likely that her friend would have taken care of the matter already.
She transfigured the dress she’d been wearing as part of her Brooke disguise into an Auror uniform, though her badge couldn’t be replicated magically of course, for security reasons.
Once appropriately dressed, she headed out of the bathroom in search of Draco’s office. She remembered it from her first visit to the Hunters and had no trouble finding the room. She knocked on the partially-open door to be polite.
“Come in,” Draco called.
When Hermione entered the room, she saw Draco sitting at the large mahogany desk. Having changed out of his wet clothes, he now wore a casual button-up shirt in a deep blue that complemented the gray of his eyes wonderfully. He was writing a letter with an elegant black quill and ink. A half-full glass of wine rested on the desk beside him. A pristine eagle owl perched on an ornate silver stand behind him, preening its feathers.
“Take a seat,” he murmured without looking up from his letter.
Hermione sat in a chair opposite the desk, feeling a bit uncomfortable. Surely he wouldn’t be upset that she hadn’t wanted to brave the Amortentia bubbles again so soon after her experience with them. Though it had been amazing, she was afraid to lose control again. Control of her life was one of the things that kept her sane. She gazed around the room while she waited, trying not to fidget.
Draco finished writing his letter and attached it to the leg of the eagle owl. Once the owl had flown out the window, he turned to Hermione. “So,” he stated, his face expressionless.
“So,” Hermione echoed, smirking in a passable imitation of him.
Draco cracked a smile and folded his hands on the table in front of him, sighing. “How in hell did you get my Hunters to help you?”
Hermione relaxed; he wasn’t angry with her about the bubbles anymore. She explained what had happened from her point of view, though there were clearly areas of the previous day that were confusing her, such as why she’d awoken deaf and invisible in the graveyard and how Draco had gotten captured. When she was finished telling her side, Draco filled in those holes for her.
Hermione’s independent streak immediately fired up when she heard how Draco had protected her in the graveyard. Who was he to decide whether or not she should be involved in something? Her more logical side told her to calm down, that he’d only been trying to take care of her. Which begged the question: why did he feel the need to take care of her.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” he asked politely, filling the silence between them. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Her lips were pursed and her eyes distracted as she thought over whatever was bothering her.
Hermione grimaced. “This early? No, thank you.”
“Would you prefer something else?” Draco asked, standing. He walked around the desk towards her. “Which reminds me, neither of us have had breakfast yet today. Are you hungry?” He was wearing black jeans along with the blue shirt and it struck Hermione that she’d not seen him in informal clothes before today. He was usually in dress robes or expensive suits. While the jeans hinted at designer labels, they were certainly more casual than his usual attire.
“I am, yes,” Hermione answered, deciding to let go of the irritation that always came when she felt that someone had treated her like a child.
Draco snapped his fingers and ordered the house elf that appeared to serve them breakfast. The house elf bowed and disappeared with a crack.
While they ate in the warm light of the dining room, Hermione asked Draco where he had been in the morning.“I’m trying to figure out what’s happened to my Hunters,” he said, his face darkening. “They’re all in Azkaban awaiting questioning. No doubt they’ll be imprisoned for at least a few years. I’ll have to do something about that.”
Hermione froze, her fork halfway to her mouth. She saw an ominous look on Draco’s face. His eyes had turned cold, his mouth set; though the food in front of them looked delicious, he’d barely taken three bites. “Surely you’re not thinking of breaking them out?”
Draco’s fierce expression met hers. “This is my job, my livelihood,” he said tightly, setting his fork down on the table delicately. “Now, I don’t blame you for using the Hunters to rescue me—Merlin knows they saved our lives—but I am as loyal to my men as they are to me. I will not let them languish in Azkaban because they were caught while trying to do the right thing. Contrary to what you may think, there’s much greater evil out there than a group of men who go after proven criminals.”
Passion infused his words, stunning Hermione with his sincerity. He truly believed in what he did. It was almost...inspiring. She found that if she thought about it, she would not be able to say the same thing about the Ministry. The system was flawed; the Minister of Magic had too much power and the Aurors weren’t accountable to anyone but him. The Wizengamot was composed of a group of men and women who had been appointed, not elected, to their positions.
“But you’re cleared,” she couldn’t help saying. “If you break them out, everyone will know that it was you; you’ll be on the run forever! If they catch you, you’ll get the Dementor’s Kiss for sure.”
“Some things are worth the risk,” Draco said stonily. “If you can’t see that, then perhaps the Sorting Hat made a mistake when it put you in Gryffindor.”
That struck Hermione dumb. She paused, taking several bites of her breakfast while she thought about what he had said.
“The only question is: Having heard what I plan to do, are you going to stand in my way?”
Hermione jerked her eyes up to meet Draco’s. He was dead serious, 100% tense, hostile, former Death Eater as his eyes bored into hers. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. And she was telling the truth. She had never felt so torn in her entire life. Her heart was pulling her in one direction, while her hard-wired Auror brain was pulling her in another.
“I’ll give you a week to decide,” Draco stated, his face softening only slightly. They both knew that this decision was about more than the Hunters. It was about whether or not anything was going to happen between them, whether or not they were going to allow what was budding to blossom into something more. They’d both reached the understanding that Draco was going to do what he needed to keep his Hunters in business, as it were. They also understood that Hermione would have to choose between her duty as an Auror and him. Hermione simply didn’t know if she could do that.
She nodded at Draco, and they finished their breakfast in silence.
Just wanted to send another thank you to my reviewers for your kind words and encouragement :) I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and I look forward to hearing what you thought!