“Oh, Harry! Imagine how much Snape will make you pay for that!” Hermione was pacing the Gryffindor common room while Ron looked on, nodding occasionally when Hermione glared at him, but siding with Lee Jordan and his brothers more than anything.
“Well done, mate! You tell that old bat where he can stick his death-eater-y demands!” Fred was pretending to toast Harry with his latest creation; a model of a serpent that shrunk every time someone insulted it, until it was the size of an every-flavor bean (“But not edible!” George warned. “Those Slytherin gits are poisonous!” …“Or they will be, when we test our Gaseous Rainbow Rumpus potion on them,” Lee cackled.)
Smiling ruefully, Harry shrugged. “Hermione’s right, Snape’s going to make me pay. But I don’t care. It was worth it just to tell him off. Anyway, he can’t hurt me more than he’s already done.” His green eyes flashed with anger.
Hermione had her doubts. “But still, it’s not even mid-year yet…”
“You worry too much, Hermione. Besides, it’s not like we’ll be here after this year,” Ron said as he studied his next chess move, where Harry’s pieces were being systematically bludgeoned and dragged off the board.
“Well, we have enough enemies…”
“Are you honestly trying to say that Snape wasn’t our enemy before this??” Ron asked incredulously.
“Come on, Hermione!”
“Jeez, delusional much?”
“Ok, ok… you’re right…kind of,” Hermione managed a small smile. “Now finish your chess game and end this violence so our common room can get back to being a peaceful place.” She stared distastefully at the board balanced between Harry and Ron.
“No such luck, Pretty Prefect; Lee, George and I are doing some necessary testing…”
“On who, I might ask?”
Fred took one look at Hermione’s livid face and said, “On who? On us, of course! And any other of-age student who wishes to pocket a few more galleons.” He raised his voice, looking around the common room at the youths sprawled about the room, chatting and studying.
“As long as you test your joke stuff ONLY on yourselves and upper-class, consensual students. Seriously – Fred, George, Lee – if I catch you experimenting on any First Years…”
“Hermione!” George placed his hand over his heart and assumed a comically solemn look. “Would I ever abuse innocent First Years for my own benefit?”
Ron, Harry, Lee and Fred burst into laughter, and Hermione fought a smile.
“Well, see that you stay…virtuous…or you can forget about Hogsmeade next month.” All four boys stared at her, horrified.
“Little Miss Prefect, I am wounded. I am…”
Rolling her eyes, Hermione slipped through the portrait hole toward the library.
Draco stalked to the high-backed chairs in front of the dungeon’s common room fire, staring hard at a Second Year who was poised to sit down and sending him scurrying. He rubbed his temples and let the firelight play across his face, trapping the glow inside his eyelids.
He heard someone claim the seat beside him and snapped his eyes open to glare at the intruder.
“Oh. It’s you.”
“Try to contain your excitement.” Blaise Zabini stretched his legs out and scanned the room, superiority etched on his face. “Potty and Professor Snape put on a good show today,” he commented in a bored tone.
“At least Dumbledore’s prized pup is good for something.”
Blaise sneered; the closest he ever came to a smile. “Yes, well, he’ll be even more entertaining when the Dark Lord gets ahold of him and his little fan club.”
Draco glanced at his friend through silvered eyelashes. He gave a noncommittal nod and resumed staring into the flames.
“A pity we can’t join Him until we’re of age,” Blaise continued.
“I’m sure we’ll be needed soon enough. I’ve heard my father discussing numbers; we have many, but not enough for the kind of takeover The Dark Lord is planning.”
“Well, if there’s an opportunity, I won’t hesitate.” Blaise spoke with conviction.
“Nor I.” But a nameless dread settled in Draco’s stomach at the thought. He believed in the Pureblood cause, didn’t he? Yes, he did. But he could admit that he did not relish the idea of killing. Or of serving a soulless maniac. Marked as a slave to the Dark Forces and all that that implies. He shook his head to clear it.
Blaise was continuing to speak. “…And my mother tells me that with Mulciber gone…”
“You know, since Malgrov is dead, there’s some room in the ranks for at least a few more. He was worth three good Death Eaters, and had the brutality of ten.”
Immediately Draco thought of Granger.
“…How do you think he died? Has your father heard anything in the ranks about revenge? Merlin knows the Ministry is too fool to solve the case.”
“No, the general consensus is that some warlock harboring an old grudge murdered him,” Draco spoke automatically.
“That makes sense. He had quite a number of enemies,” Blaise smirked again. “I prefer a more subtle approach to evil. You can get away with more by staying in the shadows.”
Nodding, Draco stood up.
“Where are you off to?” Blaise asked.
“Why study? When the Dark Lord comes to power we’ll get any job we want; the only pre-requisite being loyal service to Him.”
Draco spared Blaise a backwards look. “You know my Father. He’d be furious if I didn’t keep up with ‘The Malfoy Standard.’” Blaise nodded.
Draco disappeared through a grotesque gargoyle that marked the Slytherin common room entrance and out of sight.
Hermione moved purposefully toward her favorite spot in the library; a disused sofa covered in faded green velvet in the back of the Restricted Section, farthest from the door. No one bothered her there, and it was secluded enough that the sound of other students gossiping faded to a low hum. She pulled out the worn book on Dementors that she’d bought in Diagon Alley and continued to translate. She’d been too busy in the last week to study it, but she was determined to unlock whatever secrets it might hold.
The ancient spell to repel Night Bearers can be harnessed through great skill and the use of a nigrum opalus…’Nigrum opalus, what can that mean?’ Even having studied Latin, Hermione had never come across those words before. She flipped through the tiny book, frantically searching for another reference to the mysterious words. Nothing. She let out a sigh of frustration.
“I’d feel defeated if I had hair like yours too, Granger.”
Hermione whipped her head up and stared in horror at Malfoy. Now he was invading the one place she could always be assured of solace? She felt like screaming.
“What do you want, Malfoy? I’m busy. I really don’t want to argue with you right now.”
“You don’t want to argue with me? I’m touched Granger. What would you like to do instead?” His cheeky tone didn’t match his eyes, ice-pale and narrowed in malice.
“Still nose-deep in the pamphlet you spent your life savings on?” Malfoy continued. “It’s funny; I was under the impression that you were a good reader.”
“My reading habits – my life – are no concern of yours.”
“Well, you’re right about that at least. I don’t give a pixie’s arse about you and your miserable life.”
“Good. Glad we cleared that up. Why are you still here?” Malfoy sneered at her for a moment and turned around.
“I’m in the library because I need a book, Granger. Is that easy enough for a nerd like you to understand?”
Hermione shook her head, glaring at his back before re-opening her book. But she couldn’t concentrate. He was in her peripheral, randomly pulling out texts and being suspiciously silent. It was distracting as hell.
“So purely out of curiosity, why is it taking you so long to finish that stupid leaflet?” Malfoy asked in a lazy drawl.
Hearing him speak was almost a relief to Hermione, who didn’t trust the tall Slytherin at the best of times, particularly when he wasn’t insulting her.
“I told you, it’s none of your business. And ‘purely out of curiosity,’ why is it you’re still here? Don’t you have First Years to torture and preparations to make for your upcoming career as a Death Eater?” Immediately, Hermione knew she’d crossed a line.
Malfoy’s face grew sinister and his eyes glinted like frozen steel. “You know NOTHING about me!”
Hermione was taken aback. “I thought you would have taken that as a compliment, Malfoy.” She kept her voice even and forced her face into an expression of bored dislike. Inside she was reeling, though. She remembered he had said the same thing when she suggested his becoming a Death Eater at the Quidditch World Cup. Staring hard at him, Hermione tried to decipher his expression.
Draco struggled to control his emotions. Granger was right; why was he so bothered by that idea? That was what he was destined for – to serve the greatest wizard in the world and succeed his father as head of the Malfoy line.
“It is a compliment. The highest honor I’ll be given, in fact. I just don’t need some little Mudblood spouting it all over the castle and getting me into trouble before The Dark Lord comes to full power.” Malfoy crossed his arms and assumed a stronger stance. “I’m excited to be given the opportunity to personally exterminate the likes of you.” His eyes were once again shuttered and his face locked into tight lines, all angles and hollow shadows.
Hermione eyed him disdainfully. “I knew it. You’re despicable, Malfoy. And a fool as well.”
“HOW DARE YOU CALL ME THAT?!” Malfoy pulled out his wand and pointed it inches from Hermione’s face.
Sensing how angry he was, Hermione’s stomach clenched, but she refused to show fear. Instead, she stepped into his wand until it nearly touched her forehead and stared into Malfoy’s burning eyes.
For a second, Malfoy could read the streak of unease that shot through her, but it was gone a moment later as she steeled herself for an attack. Bloody Gryffindors.
“Go ahead, Malfoy. You’d best start practicing at cursing unarmed Muggleborns now. What do you want to try? The Cruciatus is a favorite, I know.” Hermione spat the words out; her fear replaced by anger as memories of Mulciber came flooding back.
Malfoy was frozen, his mouth a hard line.
“Come on,” Hermione taunted him. “There’s no one in here if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“And what’s stopping you from running up to Dumbledore or your moron sidekicks afterward and sticking me with detention?” Draco sneered.
Blood was rushing through his ears and his chest felt tight. His wand hand was sweating terribly. Merlin, she is so close. My wand is almost touching her.
“If you curse someone right, there’s no reason they’ll be able to give you away after.”
Hermione’s anger was disintegrating fast, replaced by a strong curiosity. She was close enough to Malfoy to mark his reactions, and watched as his breathing became more labored and sweat beaded on his upper lip. He was as flushed as she’d ever seen him, as well – his pale skin dappled with red. But his hand was clenched so tight about his wand it was bloodless. He doesn’t want to curse me, she thought with surprise. She’d watched him hex Harry and Ron, and many others. But when she sifted through years of Hogwarts memories she couldn’t recall ever being hexed by him (insulted, Merlin yes…) but never cursed.
“What, Granger?” He snapped. He was furious. And confused as well; why couldn’t he just do it? Merlin and Agrippa, she’d even given him permission!
Hermione snorted, and closed the gap between her forehead and his wand.
Malfoy jumped back in surprise, the energy in his blood releasing suddenly after being pent up for too long, and a flash of light exploded out of his wand, striking Hermione square in the forehead.
Draco stared in horror at the floor. Hermione was slumped like a rag doll, her head turned at an odd angle. Throwing himself on his knees, he brushed unruly hair from her neck and pressed his fingers to her pulse. “Thank Merlin,” he breathed. She had a pulse. He must have unwittingly stunned her. Draco’s last spark of energy went out of him and he cradled his head in his hands, folding over Hermione until he was nearly resting on her chest.
After taking a few more deep breaths, he got up and blearily looked around for his wand. It was so slippery with sweat it was hard to grip, but he steadied himself and once again pointed it at Hermione.
“Ennervate,” he whispered.
Hermione groaned and tossed her head from side to side. Malfoy stared apprehensively as she opened her eyes and caught his gaze. She watched him for a minute and said: “I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“I didn’t.” Malfoy flushed. “I mean, I did – I do –“ he stuttered before finally sighing and looking at her sulkily. “I didn’t mean to stun you. My wand just went off. It was your fault, by the way! If you hadn’t stepped into it my magic wouldn’t have been released!”
“Don’t blame me because you can’t control your own magic at 16 years of age!” Hermione shot back, pushing her hands into the floor and sitting up.
“Whoa…” she gasped, fighting a wave of dizziness as she forced herself to her feet. The vertigo threatened to sweep her into the edge of the bookshelf, but just before impact strong hands circled her waist and held her fast.
“What are you doing Granger? For ‘the smartest witch of her age’ you’re being a real idiot. You just got hit by a stunning spell at close range.” Malfoy glared at her incredulously. “You’re not ready to stand.”
“Prat,” Hermione spat weakly, but her body was sinking. Against her will, she slumped against his chest and felt his arms tighten around her. Interesting. He does have a heartbeat. The spicy cologne that seemed to be a family legacy surrounded her, and she breathed it in gratefully, too exhausted to care that she was in the arms of her enemy.
Malfoy looked down at the top of Hermione’s head and watched her dark eyelashes flutter before resting on her cheek. She was way too close for comfort. He could feel her heartbeat against his chest, smell her subtle perfume (some mix of vanilla and rose, he mused), and sense her warmth. Her skin was buttery in the glow of the torchlight. NO! He shook his head furiously. I am a Malfoy! Scooping her into his arms, he marched to the sofa and laid Hermione on the tattered cushions before stalking toward the library entrance. Just before he reached it, however, he turned back with a sigh. Unfastening his school robes as he went, Draco reached the sofa where Hermione lay.
He positioned his robes over her and walked with swift steps back to the cold comfort of the dungeons.