A Change in the Weather (PG13) - Draco/Hermione Title: A Change In the Weather Author/Artist: Rating: PG13 Recipient:midnight_birth Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, they (and all profits therein) belong to JK. Had they been mine, more characters would know what 'development' meant. Warning(s): (use as necessary) Misuse of Divination and Glyphs? Summary: "Three things are pre-ordained by fate, and therefore are unchangeable: blood, death, and the weather." Hermione hates Change Days. Note(s): I used the prompt "One should always be a little improbable." Written, as ever, for the DMHG fic exchange. For some reason well beyond me, this pairing is always incredibly hard to write, but always seems to come out decently. Original Link:A Change In the Weather on LJ
A Change In the Weather
Beep, beep, beep, bee-- An alarm clock jangles brazenly; when her hand shoots out from under the blankets and hits the off button, the square neon numbers read 4:15 am. For a moment, Hermione contemplates rolling back under the covers for another hour or two (surely it can't hurt), but no, it's Monday, and Mondays are Change Days, with capital letters.
Fifteen minutes later, she is out of the shower, hair spelled back in a still-damp and mostly neat twist. She wraps a faded blue towel around her torso, and surveys her wardrobe with a pained expression.
Change Day means doing something out of the ordinary. Usually it means she wears casual clothing in deference to the (absurdly) early morning hours, but after a few times it becomes predictable. And being unpredictable is, after all, the whole point of the exercise.
But if I wear my normal business-casual clothing, I'll just be perpetuating the same routine as a weekday - Oh for Merlin's sake, stop over-thinking things! She scolds herself aloud in the manner of one who's lived alone too much, before deciding to wear her standard business casual - but with her more comfortable, almost-presentable, trainers. She's never yet done a mix of both, after all.
Change for the day decided, she is quickly dressed and armed with her usual briefcase; a quick bite (Earl Grey, one sugar, no milk, half a bagel, lightly toasted) and she is on her way, locking the door of her small Muggle flat behind her. She lives in Muggle London, and it is only a short walk (seven minutes, eight if it was particularly inclement) to the Leaky and to Diagon Alley, and from there to take public Floo to the Ministry, and from there to take the stairs (always the stairs, never the lift or inter-departmental Floos, she considers it her daily exercise routine), up to her office. She always thinks of it as her office, even though it's really a room shared by a dozen others, all in neat cubicles.
She works with an adjunct branch of the Department of Mysteries, a grey-level instead of black (which only means you are Obliviated instead of killed if you blab what you are working on).
With a yawn, she finds her cubicle and slides into her chair (5 am on the dot), shaking her head. The frizzy curls are coated with fine water droplets and some bead and cascade to the organised chaos of her desk. Rain is almost a daily occurrence though, and after handing in water-marked parchments she keeps an impervious shield over her work. It works well against spilt tea, as well.
"Good morning, early bird! Let me guess, it's still miserable out?" Susan hands a mug of tea (just the way she likes it) over the low particle board divider.
"Good morning, Susan," she greets the only other person crazy enough to be there at such an hour. "And yes, it's still raining out. Wouldn't it be nice if the 'change' for Change Day was a change in the weather?"
Susan wrinkles her nose, and they quote their boss' favourite truism: ""Three things are pre-ordained by fate, and therefore are unchangeable: blood, death, and the weather."
After a moment of shared eye-rolling, Hermione takes a slow sip of her tea. "Now, I didn't take you for an early bird. What gives?"
Susan responds by groaning, heartfelt. "Don't say it," she begs, "You might jinx it into coming true, and were would my night life be then?"She manages a half-hearted glare when Hermione snickers; Susan's love of going to clubs at night is legendary, almost as predictable as Hermione's Earl Grey. "No, I decided to get my Change in early - how's that for a paradox, huh? I've been here all night. Then I'll go home, sleep all day."
Hermione shakes her head. "Did the glyphs suggest that? Or was it just a matter of you oversleeping, and needing to make up the hours?"
"More the latter," Susan admits, sheepishly, before she beats a hasty retreat into her cubicle.
With tea at hand, Hermione begins her normal routine, something that doesn't change even on Change Days: she pulls out a bag of wooden tiles. Each person in the department has their own handmade set; they are required to make them themselves when they join the department, if they haven't already. They can make them out of any material they wish, but she'd chosen wood from an ah tree for knowledge and protection against unwanted change.
The wood was cured and seasoned, then cut by hand into uniform tiles, before each was marked with a glyph. She'd then smoothed the tiles until the wood felt like warm satin beneath her fingers. She feels comfortable when they slip through her hand and spell out cause-and-effect, when she can assign ratios and probabilities to things happening around her.
On any day but a Change Day, she asks a routine set of questions, the same questions every person in the department is required to ask, things focusing on the safety and well-being of Wizarding Britain and the Ministry.
On a Change Day, though, once she asks the required questions, she switches to focusing on herself, or at least a more personal sphere. With a drawn out sigh, she draws out tiles one by one; the order she draws them in is important. Often ratio is influenced by how close one glyph is to another, while considering the whole picture (inasmuch as any one person can ever see the whole picture).
Impetuously, she asks the tiles, "What change can make me happy?"
It is a poor choice of a question; too ambiguous. Ten minutes later, she sits back with a huff and glares at the tiles. While it isn't Divination as such, it is similar in that it deals with Probability.
Divination says, "This will happen," while Probability says "This has about a 70% chance of happening." Specifically, her department's job is figuring out what factors lead to the less desirable outcomes, and giving advice to avoid it; basically helping to tip the scales towards a mutually positive outcome.
Apparently the Ministry has learned something from the rise and fall of Voldemort!
Susan taps on the divider and calls out, "What questions did you ask today?"
Hermione frowns at the traitorous tiles. "Same as always. There's a 99% chance that things will be the same tomorrow as they were yesterday. I don't know why I even try on Change Days."
"What does the other 1% say?"
"Love and passion!" she mimicks Trelawny's 'other-worldly' voice, before letting disgust color her words. "No doubt Lavender would be excited over a 1% chance, but as far as I'm concerned it's no chance at all."
Susan smiles faintly, well-used to Hermione's anti-divination rants. "You know multiple ways of increasing probability, maybe you could widen the window of opportunity. You've been single for a long time, you know."
"I don't need a boyfriend, Susan. Besides, things were such a disaster with Ron." She sighs again and begins painstakingly marking down each tile in her records.
By 8:00 the rest of her colleagues have arrived and settled at their own desks, in various states of awake; Susan is all but asleep at her desk.
The Department Head, Aaron Certeyn, bangs through the doors at 8:10. "Happy Change Day, people!" he sings out (off key, as always), stopping at the beverage station to fill his own mug (printed with a picture of knuts and sickles, and the words 'change is good'). After preparing his coffee - always coffee on Change Day, sugar, no cream - and taking a deep swallow, he leans his hip against the counter and surveys the low cubicles before him.
"Right, who's ready for a change?"
"I'm ready for some sunshine!" someone calls out, and he sends a scowl in their direction.
"I heard that, Brodney. Find something clever to say, that joke's older than the hills." He clears his throat and moves on to business. "Besides, I have a change for you. Starting today, you're going to be adding another member to the team. Most of you are from Muggle or mixed parentage, but it's recently come to my attention that certain pureblood houses practice a basic form of probability-casting to better maintain their family fortune. In that light, I'd be remiss to not have a pureblood on the team."
He nods his head at the doorway. "Fortunately, instead of having to hunt down someone willing to work with us, someone offered their time and expertise instead."
Hermione groans. "Please tell me it's not who I think it is?"
Certeyn shoots a warning glance her way before he continues, "Welcome Draco Malfoy to the team! I'm sure we can all learn something from each other and embrace the change, right team?"
Hermione's head hits her desk with a solid thunk. "Merlin, I hate Change Days," she whimpers.
Susan reaches over the cubicle wall and pets her shoulder comfortingly.
"No, you drew the glyph reversed, so it means that while weather will affect the outcome, it's secondary to illness - "
"Couldn't the weather be the cause of illness? You know, colds and flu - "
"You're thinking like a Muggle again. Most wizards don't have a problem with those common afflictions..."
"Yes, but those Muggles grow about 80 percent of the fresh produce Wizards and Witches buy. Anything that affects their commerce and economy is going to affect the magical community as well, though usually in a less significant manner."
Hermione grinds her teeth and rubs at her temples, trying to ignore the headache looming on the imminent horizon while Susan and Draco argue.
"It's got to be minor! If it's reversed, and you can't do anything about the weather - "
"Oh for goodness sakes!" Hermione finally snaps, "Use my glyph set to get a more accurate reading. If it's entirely the weather, then all you can do is advise them to mitigate the effects as best they can. If weather's not the root of the economic slump, then it should help point out what has a higher probability of being the actual cause."
Draco stares at her. "How is your set different?"
"Your tiles are limited; one of each glyph and no more. You're forced to estimate probabilities by repeat castings and readings, positioning of the tiles, their relationships to the adjacent tiles. Probably at least half of it is guess work. In my set, I duplicated each tile. Each tile is one of ten. Draw all ten tiles, and the outcome is pretty much guaranteed to happen. Just one or two tiles, and the chances are slim to none. From there you can use location and relation to further pinpoint probability factors." She smiles, tightly; it is that innovation that won her a seat on the team. She's earned her spot....unlike Malfoy.
Draco grabs at his chest and staggers back. "Stop the presses!" he says dramatically, "Granger's on the ball! No really, Granger, isn't that overkill? Just because you can't read the minutiae of relative location with impeccable accuracy doesn't mean the original method was inaccurate!"
She sends him a dirty look, before heading back to her desk. "Do it however you want, Malfoy, I really don't care."
Draco Malfoy is bored. Like the rest of the department he casts the glyphs every day (his tiles are made of richly marbled malachite; the etched glyphs are gilded with gold dust and magic, and at times he suspects the glyphs are malevolent, but he's grown up among vipers.
He's bored, because he's been reading glyphs since he was old enough to walk. His father cast glyphs several times a day, though in the last years the questions he heard most were, "How do I increase the Malfoy fortune?" and "How do I restore the Malfoy name?"
My father, Draco thinks with dark amusement, rarely listened to what the tiles said. Only if it was easy and painless. Nothing uncomfortable to be suffered for the family name, unless it could be accomplished by someone other than Lucius.
The year after the war, Draco cast the tiles and lined up the Glyphs daily, and even without know-it-all-Granger's probability tiles he could see the only path of redemption (for both his name and his fortune) was through the Ministry. So when Aaron Certeyn had posted in the Daily Prophet for a pureblood skilled with casting tiles, he'd asked the Glyphs if that was a path of success.
Reading glyphs wasn't true divination, which gave only one path of certainty. Glyph-reading was looking at paths and possible outcomes, and the factors that influenced those diverging paths. So when he asked the glyphs if he ought to take the job, he wasn't surprised when they couldn't give a simple yes or no.
Stay home and your glory will decrease, the tiles murmured, cool and smooth beneath his fingers. Accept the new opportunity - and a chance of success is there. It is slim, but not impossible. Just improbable.
He'd reasoned that any chance was better than no chance, but when he'd heard that Certeyn's department had developed a new method for pinpointing probability ratios to within 1%, and then found a way to shift the probability to favor the best outcome, he couldn't sign up fast enough.
He'd just never expected to learn that Granger had pioneered the multi-tile method.
Time passes in drips and drabs of minutes and hours, delineated by Change Days. Tuesday through Friday she asks the glyph tiles prescribed predictable questions, and gets predictable answers. Once they have the probability, they find out what things to change to shift the balance to widen the door of opportunity for the most desired outcome. Usually it's simple, at least on the surface - things a Muggle economics class would cover. She thinks, if once then a million times, that the Magical education is sorely lacking in the basics.
But even her Mondays have picked up a predictable pattern, and it disturbs her. Every Monday she asks them the same question: what can lead to my happiness, and the runes answer her, but for the first time she can remember in this game of probability and chance, she doesn't understand them. Or maybe she just doesn't want to.
The runes whisper, This way, things will always be the same, nothing changes. She's happy with that, because routine and non-change are familiar and comfortable, like an old pair of slippers. But a lone tile points to another path; a small possibility, but then, she knows all the ways she can widen that door of opportunity. And this way, the risk is high - the chance of success marginal at best, but this way promises love, and happiness...
"Bollocks," she mutters crossly (and rudely) to herself, tucking an errant curl behind one ear. "Love, just like that, on a random encounter?"
No, not random, the scattered tiles insist. Chance. Probability. Fate.
She rakes a hand through the lined up tiles (set in the tree-of-life pattern, the usual layout for personal questions) and scatters them until their answers - and their questions - are unreadable.
Hermione can't stop thinking about the glyphs, and the minute chance of happiness. It's been a long time since she had someone to come home to. Certainly not since she and Ron parted (more or less amicably) when he'd found a girlfriend who actually had something in common with him (Quidditch, food, red hair).
It was only after they'd broken up that she realised it was the best thing that could have happened, because she didn't miss him at all.
But she does miss the company, and the companionship. Words on parchment are a good substitute, but not a replacement.
The tiles tell her there's less than a 5% chance of success, but she knows all about changing the odds (half of the techniques are pioneered by her team) - it's her job, after all. It takes a lot of changes (which she's still uncomfortable with) and a great deal of trial and error (which she's even more uncomfortable with) but she muddles on anyway, because as frightening as Change is, it's not nearly as frightening as a lifetime of being alone.
Mondays begin to be peppered with more changes than her usual wont: mostly superficial, like going vegan for a day, or drinking coffee instead of tea. She takes a different route to work, even the long way, and comes in to work at eight on Mondays.
Those are shallow things, but she looks for bigger changes, following the information the glyphs give her. She acquires a house elf, though only under a contract, with Mondays off and pocket money and a clause that grants freedom if he is ever abused. As it is, she has to coax Flippy to accept pocket money, and he only agrees to it because she tells him he can spend it on gifts for other people. Once upon a time she'd be horrified, but now she understands that elves are happiest when taking care of someone.
She also starts paying attention to the political climate, using her breaks and her late hours (she all but lives there) to wander the floors of the Ministry - being part of the Golden Trio gets her past miles of yellow tape and security checks. She makes a habit of reading the memo notices on each floor and gossiping with the secretary, the janitor, and the check-in clerk, she learns, is a wellspring of information most people never think to plumb.
Draco never thought he'd like working a job, normal 8-5 hours like a blue-collar plebeian, but surprisingly he enjoys it. He'd deny it until he was blue in the face, though, blustering about it being for the family honor and a necessary survival measure, never mind that Lucius would never have stooped to such measures.
But working a job became a necessity; the Ministry is pushing a bill that would seize all assets of known Death Eater families, down to the last knut. Even to seizing the Inheritance funds, ensuring the children and young adults are as paupered as their parents. No matter if the offspring took the mark, no matter if they never broke a rule in their life or even opposed their parents' political stance. Draco can't touch one knut of what's in the Malfoy account.
Draco knows he, in particular, has little chance of appealing. He wears the mark, and though it's faded and inanimate now it will always be a literal mark against his character. He will always be seen as a murderer and worse, and while he never actually killed anyone he knows he came close, so he supposes he deserves it, but he'll try to appeal anyway.
Not for himself, though he'll deny that too. No, he'll fight the bill on behalf of those who, unlike him, made the right choice from the start; and for those too young to have made that choice yet. They don't deserve to be punished because of their parents.
He does what he can, but he doesn't have his father's connections, and everyone's assets are frozen while the Wizengamot argues the bill. He's thankful he has a job that pays for a modest flat, and even more so that it's more than tolerable (the job, not the flat, which is drafty and dingy). It's better than many of his former acquaintances can boast, and he has mixed feelings over that.
His job actually helps him in his goal, though he doesn't tell anyone that. He casts the glyphs daily and dutifully asks the questions they're all assigned, and after he goes through the mandatory questions of "What's the largest current threat to the British magical world?" and "What will keep the Ministry stable?" and of course "What will prevent the rise of another dark lord?", then he moves on to personal questions.
But one day he asks the glyphs, in a moment of melancholy, What can lead to my happiness?
Happiness, of course, is a multi-tiered emotion. The tiles shiver and clack in excitement beneath his hands as if eager to impart their knowledge, and when he finishes laying them out in a pattern, he can only sit back and stare.
He never knew there were so many paths to happiness. This way, one whispers, fame, power, money. He feels an urge to follow that, add more tiles, see how the pattern develops, but he's learned caution from his father's mistakes. Instead, he looks for the other paths.
This way is risky, another tile informs him, the path of the heart - love -
He sneers at it; Malfoys never marry for love. Marriages were always arranged to the one most suitable - but then normally his father would do the arranging, and he wasn't at all confident that his father's connections could reach from the depths of Azkaban.
Sighing, he nearly rakes a hand through the tiles to scatter them, when one last tile catches his eye. A high risk, a small chance; he's been taught to ignore them, a gamble never worth the prize. But he follows the pattern through the tiles, compelled by curiosity and something else that might be fate.
This way, the tiles whisper, almost in awe, this way, a new life, a new love, a new start. He blinks, but the tiles are unchanged. High risk, high reward, they insist, restoration of honor. Prestige. Love worth sacrifice. A future -
He snarls and scatters the tiles, cursing in ways that defy the rules of pureblood and high class etiquette, and then casts the glyphs again with shaking hands.
After a month, Hermione begins incorporating change into every day, instead of just Mondays. She refuses to explain why to Susan, afraid to admit that she's chasing moonlight on a one percent chance. She knows, with such a small window of chance, that one change, one day a week, isn't enough - even accounting for the longer lifespan of wizards (assuming her chance at love even is a wizard, and the small doubt that he might not be increases her desperation to do something).
Instead of just lurking on the edges of politics, she decides to dive in; if nothing else, it broadens her horizons and lets her rub shoulders with people she would otherwise never meet. She learns, for the first time, the intellectual and often brutal games played with words and reputations and, often, gold.
She learns to smile when she's repulsed, to be calm when furious, to act mindless and simpering when it suits her purpose. She begins to understand the movements of the figurative dancing, to follow the patterns, to see who hides in the shadows and who is up front - and, even more challenging, who hides a dangerous double meaning behind a polite and cheerful demeanor.
She reads the glyphs every day and lets them set the pattern of her day, in her work and later, in the workings of the Wizengamot. There are few pies she doesn't have a finger in or a link to; being a decorated hero of the War Against Voldemort has its perks, after all.
Still, she's surprised to hear about the Death Eater Seizure Act. Her first impression is malicious glee, and she does her best to stomp down her uncharitable thoughts. It's hard to be charitable withcertain memories emblazoned indelibly in her head - Dolohov's scar will always be with her - and she can hear a faint echo of Bellatrix' mad laughter, and she shivers. No, they deserve to lose all they have, she thinks vindictively, and puts it aside.
But it's a big issue of debate and talk filters down to all the departments including hers, and then she overhears Susan and Draco talking. She listens in, curious, certain Draco will have a smoothly rehearsed reason why he, of all the Death Eater 'children', deserves to be spared from the Seizure Act's repercussions.
"I won't deny life would be easier with my inheritance, and there are heirlooms I'd hate to see leaving the family," he tells her, frustration heavy in his voice though he tries to sound unconcerned. "But then I've at least got a job. I'm ok, all things considered. I'm one of the lucky ones, people will hire me. But not everyone is so lucky. Most people won't hire anyone even remotely related to a Death Eater. The kids didn't have anything to do with it, Susan!"
Hermione peeks over the particle board wall of her cubicle; she watches, vaguely unsettled, when he rakes his hand through his hair with agitation. "It's not right," he says, trying to make her understand. "Some of them aren't even old enough to get their first wand. They've never tortured or killed anyone. Their parents won't find work, and they'll only know privation and harassment. Chances are, even as adults the kids won't find escape from the stigma of their parents. It's not right," he emphasizes, and then he says something that shakes Hermione's world upside down.
"It's not right to judge them by their families, any more than Potter should be judged by the Dursleys."
She's incensed and she wants to jump in and deny that the Dursleys were no kind of family, but the logical side of her mind informs her distantly that that was exactly the point. After all, parents who torture and murder and kiss the hem of a madman's robes are no kind of family, either.
Dazed, she sits at her desk, unseeing for several long moments before she reaches for her glyphs, and spills them on the flat surface there.
"What do I do?" she murmurs to the tiles, and they warm and hum beneath her fingers, the polished wood like sun-warmed silk.
Take a chance, devil's child, the tiles advise her cheekily.
November rolls around, and with it, yearly reviews. Draco is pleased when he's offered a promotion with a decent pay raise. He won't be buying back the family manor any time soon, or even their smallest summer villa, but it's enough for a few small luxuries he misses - decent wine, for one thing. He feels absolutely barbaric eating dinner each night, alone, without a bottle of fine wine to go with.
He watches and listens, and thus he knows who else receives a pay raise - and who doesn't. Susan receives a small bonus. Eldrew, a rather quiet and sullen man who hails from Ravenclaw, receives a rather hefty bonus and a promotion into a different department all together.
Granger, he is chuffed to learn, receives nothing: no promotion, no bonus, no raise, zilch. Doesn't she deserve it? part of his brain whispers, the part he scornfully thinks of as Reformed Draco. She did come up with a better glyph set and more accurate probability ratios...she revolutionised glyph casting, and you know it.
Resolutely, he ignores it, in favor of preening his ego. He needs the ego boost, if he's being honest with himself. His lobbying for opposing the Seizure Act is going poorly; few people are willing to support anything that helps Death Eaters or relatives of Death Eaters, afraid their onus will rub off on them.
When he's fed up with dancing verbal circles and playing Reformed Death Eater, he focuses on another task, one he's too embarrassed to tell anyone about. He's using all the things he's learned from his job to change odds for more than just the Seizure Act. He's trying to widen that window of opportunity from a sliver to something greater. He knows it'll take a change, but how big of a change, he doesn't know.
He starts small at first. He wears a jumper to work that doesn't quite match his tie. He wears trainers (new, and black) instead of his perfectly polished shoes. He tries parting his hair down the center instead of brushing it back from his face.
When none of these affect the glyphs, he takes more drastic measures: he begins to take lunch in Muggle London. Every day he leaves through Diagon Alley and enters the bizarre world of machines and plastic and tel-e-vision. He tries strange foods like pizza and hamburgers and tries hard to not think about Muggle germs or the disturbing amounts of grease, and sometimes he's surprised at how good some of their culinary messes are.
He picks small grotty restaurants, finding tables next to the window and for a half hour every day he nibbles deli sandwiches or fish and chips, and watches people - Muggles - scurrying by in the cold, miserable rain that passes for winter in London. He's surprised, after a while, to start to see traits he can recognise in them: greed, in the boy throwing a tantrum in front of a toy store. Loneliness, in a young woman hunching her way through the rain alone. Bitterness, in a homeless man wrapped in rags and cardboard. He sees these things, and thinks that perhaps the Dark Lord had the right of things, but like a train wreck he goes back and keeps watching, and eventually he sees other things, too.
When another man - not particularly well-dressed and likely down on his luck himself - treats the homeless man to fish-and-chips - he's surprised to see generosity. He sees bravery and sacrifice when a young boy tries to take on some bigger boys bullying his sister (and Draco tries to suppress a grimace, remembering the things he got up to with Crabbe and Goyle). One time he even sees some sort of Muggle law enforcement chasing a thief, and blinks when he sees that though they are firm and allow him no leeway once caught, there is no violence, no abuse. Of course, being Muggle they can't curse or hex him, but still, he's surprised.
He learns to use the Muggle magic called machines, and it seems they have machines for everything. Machines that dispense a sugary fizzy drink called soda, machines that do a goblin's job, machines that let you order your food.
He's most impressed with the Muggle forms of conveyance, and wonders what his former acquaintances would think if they knew he was considering buying a Muggle automobile (if he can save up for it, of course).
All in all, it's enough to tip him onto a teetering slope and he has the alarming realisation that his world view is changing. It's too late to step back, and he's not sure he'd want to if he could.
Nothing will convince him that 'French fries' are French much less food, but he's starting to rethink his views on Muggles.
Usually Hermione eats in the Ministry cafeteria. She has to admit it's better than what's found in a Muggle commercial cafeteria.
But sometimes her errands take her into Muggle London. She tries to consolidate her errands and do them all at once, and she pauses just inside the Leaky to charm her coat Impervious. Because she'll be among Muggles, she charms the inside of her coat so the water can't reach her clothes or skin, and she layers in a warming charm. She's a clever witch, after all. A damp coat can be countered later, with a drying charm.
Pretending to hunch through the miserably cold rain when she's warm and dry secretly tickles her, though she feels a brief guilt for those around her. She remembers all too well what it's like to be among their number, squealing as a passing lorry sends a spray of muddy water at their legs -
No, if she's being honest with herself, she can understand in a vague sense why some purebloods would see themselves as superior, though she thinks Muggles should at least be given credit for creative adaptation and perseverance!
A commotion from behind distracts her, and she steps out of the way, pressing against the wall next to a Bistro's rain-speckled window. At first she watches the chase - a thief - but then some sixth sense tells her to turn her head.
She's close enough to reach out and touch Draco Malfoy, if the glass weren't in the way. Draco Malfoy, in Muggle London. Eating fish and chips. She wonders if hell's frozen over.
Draco's eyes are firmly fixed on the commotion ahead - they've caught the thief; and Hermione wonders, idly, if he's remembering when he was caught and brought in for questioning and trial. He didn't run or resist, just surrendered, sitting with his family in the Great Hall.
She remembers the Aurors had been rather brutal with him when it hadn't been necessary. And when she saw him at the trial, he'd been bruised and ragged looking. So she understands his look of surprise when they subdue the thief with a minimum of force.
Some things, she thinks with pride and a little vindication, Muggles do better than Wizards!
Then she slips away and takes a street, so Draco doesn't see her.
Take a chance, the glyphs advise her, and so she does. She takes a chance, and asks the tiles, "Should I support or oppose the Seizure Act?"
The tiles quiver under her hand, before showing her a pattern, which isn't an answer, but a question:
What is the right thing to do?
Huffily, she glares at the tiles. "That's what I was asking," she mutters, but truthfully, she already knows.
It takes a little arm twisting, and a judicious use of name-dropping, something she used to hate passionately. Her time learning the moves of political dancing serve her in good stead, and by December she has earned herself a position - and a following - on the Wizengamot.
"You bring life and energy to us older folk," wheezes an old wizard, beard well past his belt and head bald as the day he was born. "Good to have new blood here!"
Hermione smiles politely, deliberately not mentioning that he'd been so opposed to her joining on account of her age. Even after presenting her (quite extensive) credentials, it'd still taken all the combined weight of Shacklebolt, McGonagall, and Harry Potter himself to get her the seat.
Once on, she brings her considerable intellect to bear, smiling a razor-edged smile when the Seizure Act is opened for discussion. She's prepared for the shock and the outcry when she announces her intent to oppose the bill.
"Are you mad?" a plump witch with white hair and crow's feet asks, shocked. "Why should Death Eaters keep their ill-gotten gains! Don't tell me you've already forgotten what they think of your background!"
Hermione leans forward in her seat, settling in for a good debate; her mind is kicking into full gear, shuffling through various arguments and selecting the one that this particular witch is weak to; she'd spent a good month at first, back when she was studying political intrigue. In politics, no adage is truer than this: Know thy enemy. Here, everyone had the potential to be both enemy and ally. It was up to her to learn what made each of them tick, and she'd flung herself into memorising every detail she could find.
"Ms Albrieth," she says politely but firmly, "This black and white view of us and them is part of what got us in trouble in the first place. The adult Death Eaters deserve the full extent of justice, I don't deny that. But this Seizure Act, it goes beyond that, don't you see?" She turns her impassioned gaze on each member of the Wizengamot, and meets their eyes one by one.
"You're throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. Just because their relatives or children grow up in a dark environment doesn't mean they should be judged by the same crimes their parents committed. Some of them have never held a wand, much less cast an Unforgiveable or taken the Dark Mark. Yet you're ensuring their parents never hold employment again. You unofficially sanction harassment of anyone even remotely related to them, and taken away their inheritance, in essence assuring that children grow up suffering privation and abuse. Let me ask you bluntly: do you want another Voldemort?"
She lets her teeth and her scorn show. Guilt, fear, anger: weapons she's learned to wield, honed by intellect. Now she leans in for the kill.
"Voldemort is dead," she tells them, in a quiet voice that none the less sounds loud in the echoing room. "Most of the Death Eaters are dead or imprisoned. It may not be justice enough, but I appeal to your humanity," she says forcefully, and her hands are gripping the railing in front of her with white-knuckled force. "Voldemort would have exterminated all Muggles for the crimes of a few. Don't let us become guilty of the same, tarring all with the same brush. Need I remind you of Severus Snape - a Death Eater and hero? Seize most assets, if you must. Find a way to bar known criminals and Death Eaters from accessing it. But don't destroy the hopes of the next generation."
She waits, until they all are shifting uncomfortably in their seats, and then she sees Draco in the doorway, watching her with uncertainty and distrust. She aims her closing remark to him.
"After all, the war was not won with hate, nor prejudice, nor even justice. It was won with love, forgiveness - and mercy."
"Granger, what in Merlin's name are you playing at?"
Hermione is still riding on the adrenaline high; the Seizure Act had been re-written. Anyone who had been a minor or who hadn't killed anyone was eligible to receive their inheritance, as well as any family heirlooms (cursed or Dark artifacts, however, were still to be seized by the Ministry). She'd played the Devil's advocate and won; she feels like she's been made Head Girl all over again.
"I'm not playing at anything, Malfoy," she insists, and pushes past him - or tries to, but he grabs her shoulders and swings her against the wall, trapping her between his long arms. One sleeve rides up - she's vaguely surprised to see the shirt is distinctly Muggle in make - and she can see the faded edge of the dark mark on the pale underside of his wrist.
"The hell you're not," he snarls, "You overheard my conversation with Susan, and you want something, and I want to know what it is! I may have my inheritance back now, but - "
"But nothing," she says, suddenly tired, sagging against the wall; her emotional high runs out of her, through her feet, like she'd just finished her NEWTS test and realised the long wait for scores had begun. "Not everything's a game of intrigue. I just knew something had to change." She unconsciously emphasizes the word change, and doesn't understand why Draco flinches.
He rallies in a moment and sneers at her. "Don't think this changes anything, Granger," he warns, "I don't owe you anything!" He swirls and storms down the hallway, though even in his anger he is conscious of his image as a reformed Death Eater, and stops to politely thank each member of the Wizengamot as he passes.
Hermione realises she's the only one he didn't thank, and teeters somewhere between amusement and anger.
Draco does not like the idea of owing anyone. Worse is the idea of owing Granger. The only thing worse, he muses, is if he were to owe a Muggle, though he doesn't think they're all entirely worthless anymore. He thinks this as he sips a beverage called coke through a plastic straw while a gooey slice of pepperoni pizza cools and congeals on a paper plate in front of him. Outside, people bustle along the sidewalk and the street is packed with vehicles, honking; holiday music crackles from various stores, and lights and Christmas trees decorate every shop window. It's hard to not curl his lip at the crude mechanical displays they have, when he's grown up with fairy lights and house elf magic.
He thinks about Granger, and about the tiles, and can't help but think they're connected somehow. He's disturbed to realise that her impassioned face is spending so much time in his thoughts, and with a titan effort of will, he forces himself to stand and abandon his cold pizza for the cold drizzling rain outside, the kind that clings to hair and fabric.
A month ago he'd risk the Statute of Secrecy and use an impervious charm on his clothing, but today he forgoes it, and walks like a Muggle back to Diagon Alley.
He casts the Glyphs twelve times that afternoon, asking the Glyphs, "How do I repay Granger?"
Each time the glyphs tell him, unhesitatingly, With a gift of equal value, which doesn't help at all because he already knows that.
Finally he asks the Glyphs, "What is Granger to me?"
He feels a strange mix of apprehension and fear, but it flares into something very like relief when the glyphs spell out, A chance.
Winter comes to the Ministry, lack of snow notwithstanding; everyone wears winter coats and scarves, charmed impervious to the sometimes-rain, sometimes-sleet that makes the outdoors a cold misery.
At least two people in their department are trying to find a way to affect the weather, despite the boss' favourite adage, "Three things are pre-ordained by fate, and therefore are unchangeable: blood, death, and the weather."
The two are Brodney and, more surprisingly, Susan, who is normally rather spot-on in her work (though her eye for blokes needs some polishing, in his opinion).
Certeyn argues with them repeatedly. "You can't change the weather! It's impossible!" he insists, shoving stacks of parchments that validate his assertion.
"It's not proven impossible, so much as very, very improbable," Brodney counters, and Susan nods in support.
"Besides, weather changes constantly," she points out. "A force of nature in a state of constant change. By natural laws of magic, it should be changeable by any other entropic force of nature."
Certeyn looks at her for a long moment, then really looks at her, before snatching her notebook from her desk and flipping through it. One page snags his attention and he stares at it before closing it with a snort of disgust. "If you really want to follow that will o' the wisp, do it in your personal time, and stick to the assigned work when clocked in. Clear?" His glare demands compliance.
"Crystal, sir," Brodney and Susan chorus.
Draco tries to find ways to get close to Granger and talk to her. He's desperate to know why she chose to oppose the Seizure Act, and if it was as purely selfless as she intimated to the Wizengamot.
And, if he's honest with himself, he wants to know if it has anything to do with him, because he can't imagine why. He can't deny he went out of his way to make her Hogwarts years a nightmare (and he has nightmares, remembering the night Dumbledore died, and he let Death Eaters and werewolves into the school - ).
For the first time he regrets the actions because they were wrong and not because he was caught, and it's humbling how much of a difference that makes.
Hermione is avoiding him, however, and he can't say he blames her, all told. He all but attacked her in the hallway after the Wizengamot broke up, and he'd essentially accused her of wanting to blackmail him.
Finally, in desperation, he sends his owl with a note, a small buff-colored thing with amber eyes and a white face. He's grateful he has an owl again, thanks to the Christmas bonuses everyone in the department received; he's never felt comfortable sending personal correspondence via Ministry owls. "Don't leave until she at least reads it," he instructs her, pushing down his nerves. "If you can, wait for a reply."
The owl swivels her head to look at him backwards, before taking off.
"What are you working on?" Hermione peers over the divider, a habit that she refuses to change. "I heard you and Brodney getting chewed out by Certeyn."
Susan feigns nonchalance. "Nothing major, really. We just think we might know an equation for affecting the weather. You know the Law of Similarities, correct?"
"Voodoo," Hermione returns, and frowns. "But weather is a force of nature itself. What could possibly match that, and still be controllable and changeable?"
Susan fights to hide a grin as Hermione begins to dissect the problem, and can tell the exact moment when the solution dawns on her. "Emotion!" she breathes, "Have you tried it?"
"Oh we've tried, but we lack the control," Susan admits, a blush briefly highlighting her cheeks. "The amount of control it takes to harness a natural force of pure change is staggering. Oh, but here's the interesting thing, Hermione - " she holds up her notebook and wags it in front of the other girl's nose.
"Both Brodney and I asked the tiles if anyone in the department could pull it off. Do you know, they said only you - and Malfoy, of all people- could pull it off?" She adds teasingly, "Maybe you should work together?"
"Don't be ridiculous," she says scathingly, "we can't stand each other. As far as he's concerned, I'm one of the very worst sort, the dregs of society, and less than human. And as far as I'm concerned, he's a bully and a coward."
"Hate is a powerful emotion," Susan points out.
"Hmm," she answers, but won't say aloud what they both know: she doesn't really hate him any more. He's changed. In another universe where he hadn't been raised to be a Death Eater, she thinks they might have had a chance together.
And then she thinks, Chance is fickle, and refuses to dwell on what-ifs.
She's spared from further scrutiny when a large owl arrives for her. It is dark tan and mottled with bands of white and charcoal; Certeyn's owl.
At first Draco is nervous waiting to hear from her and he paces the area around his cubicle. When an hour passes, he assumes she's refused to meet him to talk, and the nervousness turns to dejection. Dejection turns to a spark of bitterness, which becomes anger, and before he can think things through, he's storming through the department to where Granger's desk is.
He's startled to find it empty, and turns to Susan instead. "Susan, do you know where Granger is? I sent her an owl, but she never answered." He doesn't - quite - manage to hide the bite of anger in his voice.
Susan blinks at him, surprised by the tension in the normally controlled Slytherin. "Certeyn's owl showed up an hour ago," she offers cautiously, "she headed to his office. Shortly after a little owl came by, but left when she saw Hermione wasn't here, I guess."
Her explanation helps calm his anger, and he nods in thanks. But before he's gone more than a step, her hand is on his arm.
"Don't take this the wrong way," she says hesitantly, "but most of us have ears in the Wizengamot, and - well, we're aware that Hermione's the reason you've got your inheritance." She almost doesn't finish her words when she sees the gathering storm on his face, but she musters her courage and rushes to finish her message.
"If you want a chance to repay your debt, you might want to swing by Certeyn's office while Hermione's still there. No, I can't tell you why," she warns, forestalling his heated questions with a glare. "The glyphs say there's a good chance, but short of asking the tiles one thousand questions, I can't give you more information than that. Ok?"
And she sticks out her hand.
He stares at it, uncomprehendingly, and unbidden he remembers a day where he met a boy with ragged clothes and a lightning-shaped scar, and how his own proffered hand had been rebuffed. Then he blinks away the past and grasps her hand and shakes it firmly.
He knows somehow he's again in someone's debt, and wonders if it's just part of being reformed.
He isn't sure what he expects to see or hear, but seeing Hermione red-faced and yelling at Certeyn isn't among the possibilities he expected. He slows and listens; it's not hard to hear.
"I could at least understand skipping me for a raise or bonus," she argues, hands flying as she punctuates her words with animated gestures, "but it's Christmas now and you've given every department member a Christmas bonus except the Muggleborn!" She doesn't add that she's the only Muggleborn in the department, the same way Malfoy is the only pureblood.
Out in the hallway, Draco's feet stutter to a halt as his brain does some rapid re-processing, and then Certeyn's words further derail him.
"Right now, public opinion favors purebloods," Certeyn says stiffly, not meeting Granger's eyes. "The recent opposition of the Seizure Act is proof of that. Were I to give you a bonus, I risk offending the pureblood elitists, who hold significant sway over the higher-ups in this department."
But Draco hears something else beneath the paper-thin excuse. He's been raised to see political maneuvres for what they are, and this smells like an agenda.
His body freezes, and in a moment, he has the answer: Certeyn is a half-blood, and was in a position to benefit from the Seizure Act, perhaps in the form of a grant to his department. He blames Granger for the loss...perhaps even for 'siding' with purebloods, despite her own Muggleborn status. He doesn't ask himself when she stopped being a mudblood and was just a Muggleborn.
He makes a decision before he's even conscious of a decision to be made, his feet walking him towards the office and through the door, ignoring Hermione's squawk of startlement and Certeyn's blustering protests.
He has his inheritance back, and with a hefty account backing him, he realises he has power to Change things.
And he knows all about change, after all.
"What's this about Purebloods taking offense over the matter of a raise?" he asks with mock incredulity, leaning his hip against Aaron Cereyn's desk, acting every inch the pureblood aristocrat despite his distinctly muggle clothing (impeccable and stylish, but still undeniably Muggle-made).
Certeyn sees his flimsy reasoning escaping, and tries to bluster, "The fact that the Wizengamot to reward their actions by returning their fortunes shows purebloods are still in power, and would be offended by raising a Muggleborn - "
"Which purebloods are you worried about? The ones in Azkaban? Thanks to the Kiss, they're not really in any state to be offended. If they're purebloods and they fought with Dumbledore, they're not about to open their mouth at this late date considering he was a staunch supporter of Muggles and Muggleborn. Any of the Dark Lord's supporters who still walk free - or who are even related to those - owe the return of their wealth to Granger. If they have any wits at all, they'll have nothing to say on the matter. Purebloods take debts seriously, after all," he adds, watching them both carefully.
He feels a flare of worry when he sees her lips tighten with anger.
She does, at least, wait until they are out in the hallway before flinging up a privacy ward and laying into.
"What were you thinking?" she shouts, her face flushed - shame, he recognises, though he can't imagine why she's embarrassed. "I don't need your help, and I definitely don't need some - some Pureblood riding in on a white horse saving the little peon!"
Now it makes sense. It's her pride damaged, and that he can understand very well.
Once upon a time he could have used this against her, pushed her until she fled in tears, but he's started to realise in a flash of truth that that Draco is gone. Instead, he leans against the wall in the hallway and folds his arms, and waits for the eventual pause in her rant.
When she finally stops to inhale, he breaks in. "Granger, in all your research, have you never heard of a wizard's debt?"
As he'd hoped, the mere mention of research throws her off stride, and she blinks, flustered. "Yes, but what - you don't - oh!" she exclaims. "The Seizure Act! But I didn't do that for you specifically - I mean - "
"I know exactly what you mean," he answers sardonically, "but it doesn't negate the fact that your choice to oppose the Act changed things."
His slight emphasis to the word Change doesn't go unnoticed; her eyes widen. "You - what? No, you can't be; not you," she whispers with a shudder, and he frowns.
He'd been so sure, against all odds, that the Glyphs pointed to her: his 1% chance of of happiness, success, hope of a peaceful future. He didn't expect her to reject him before he even mentioned the possibility!
Well, a Malfoy is not without pride, either; he shoves away from the wall and snaps a mask over his expressions, slips into the role of polite neutrality. When he's certain she won't say anything else, he nods to her, formally. "Consider us even, then," he says levelly, and turns away.
Hermione realises in an instant that she's rejected him unthinkingly, and she didn't mean that. But she's afraid nothing will make him turn around and look at her that way again. She's still high on anger, on adrenaline, and now hope and fear twining with convoluted half-advice from glyphs.
Unthinkingly, she draws on the pattern of their Hogwarts days. "Coward!" she snarls at Draco's back, "Don't you turn your back on me, always looking down on me, pretending purebloods are so much better - " She imbues the words with every scrap of loathing and scorn she can muster, and it works.
Draco whirls and grips her shoulders hard enough to leave bruises and slams her into the wall, trapping her between his arms. His eyes are a hard steel grey, and he is snarling.
"You know nothing," he hisses in her face, "You're one to speak of cowardice. You are too afraid to ever admit you might be wrong, because it would mean your capable intellect had failed somewhere. Here's something you missed along the way, Granger: people change," and he says the word mockingly, a gauntlet flung down.
"Prove it," she spits at him, so he does.
He steps closer until she can feel the heat of his body through the layers of clothing, until she can feel the lean planes and angles of his body pressing against hers and his face is inches away from hers, grey eyes meeting and challenging hers -
Then before he can be horrified by his audacity, he kisses her.
And for a long moment they're both frozen in a painful tableau; shock, horror, relief, pleasure. He's surprised how soft her lips are, given that she bites her bottom lip incessantly when she's trying to solve a problem (which is all the time).
She's surprised that his kiss is so tender, until her mind catches up and she realises she's kissing Draco. Malfoy. Draco Malfoy is kissing her. Is kissing her.
She plants her hands on her shoulders and shoves, suddenly too furious to remember she's a witch, she has a wand, and she's a hundred times the witch/wizard he is, and likely knows a thousand charms to make him regret touching her -
He staggers slightly before he bounces back snarling, and he traps her hands together - two small wrists in his own - pinning them over her head, pinning her body with his, and her panting breath in his face is warm and sweet and the flushed heat in her face is something he suddenly realises belongs there, because she looks most alive when she's passionately fighting.
"Look," he says, and he puts every bit of authority into the words he can manage, "you can hit me afterwords, if you absolutely must. But right now, I'm going to kiss you, because I don't know that you'll ever give me the chance again."
He belies the harsh authoritarian tone of his words when he kisses her again, a light sensual brush of his lips over hers, again and again; a path of light, soft kisses from one dimpled corner of her mouth to the other, and when he lifts his head he's delighted to see her resistance fading, the wariness caged, and he allows himself a smile.
And then he really kisses her, lips hungry and demanding and bruising, teeth nipping and tongue questing and receiving access, tongue swiping across tongue, a sensual assault that seems to only intensify, and somewhere in the back of his mind he's aware she's participating as much as he is, moaning into his mouth.
At some point his hands untuck her shirt to slide around her waist and touch skin (soft and smooth) and her hands are doing the same, only she rucks up the back of his shirt and her fingers dig into his shoulders, holding him tightly (he has a decent amount of muscle, and she's distantly surprised by that, in the small part of her brain not consumed by a kiss).
When they finally separate for air, they're wearing identical expressions of lust and wary hope and - something more, perhaps. Something neither is willing to name, but perhaps to consider for the future.
Draco's normal pallor is replaced by a healthy flush and his grey eyes have brightened into an argent fire; Hermione is flushed too, and her lips are red and swollen. Draco thinks she looks entirely too delectable, and she's speculating about how fine an arse he's hiding beneath his trousers. And the silence between them is filled with heavy breathing.
"Granger," Draco finally manages, in a ragged voice, "hit me, hex me, whatever you need to do, but I think something needs to change between us."
She studies him for a long moment, before she smiles; a slow, languid smile like daybreak. "I agree. For example, I think you need to start calling me Hermione," she whispers.
Their next kiss lasts even longer.
Susan is packing up to leave for the evening and another night at the clubs when she looks out the window.
"Hey Brodney, what was the weather supposed to be today?" she calls out, though they both know; rain, rain, and yet more rain.
"Rain, you know that - I can't believe it!" he exclaims, rushing to the window and yanking it open so he can watch the fat, fluffy flakes land on his upturned palm.
"You owe me a galleon and a date," Susan says smugly.
Brodney groans, but she pays him no mind. He's shown up her her own glyph readings, and she knows all about change, and working the ratios. He'll be next, she's sure; she just has to teach him how to dance. It can't possibly be any harder than getting Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger together, she thinks to herself with a smile, and she resolves to send them a card thanking them for a white Christmas.