“How was the slimy git?” Ron asked when she got back to the common room.
“He was fine, Ron,” Hermione sighed. “Can you please not make it a bigger deal than it is? We barely even spoke.”
That’s true enough, Hermione thought uncomfortably. Back in her room, she shook her head and sat at her desk. I have to nip this in the bud. She and Malfoy could never be anything other than enemies. Not only was it dangerous – it was unheard of. A Gryffindor and a Slytherin, not hating each other? Hermione snorted aloud. “Yeah, right.”
She thought Malfoy was attractive. And she didn’t think he was evil. That’s the extent of it, she thought. With that, she pushed him out of her mind and got ready for bed.
Draco stared at the Hospital Wing ceiling. This was not good. He clenched his fists and groaned. Why do I feel like this? He wondered with resentment. He thought longingly of the years of comfortable, seemingly set-in-stone hatred that had marked the whole of his acquaintance with Hermione.
He couldn’t even say when the attraction had started. All he knew was that it had to end. There was just no way it could work – Slytherins and Gryffindors were simply not meant to be together. And Muggleborns and Purebloods? Only the Weasleys were capable of such folly. Especially since the Dark Lord was less than a year away from gaining full power. Draco nodded resolutely, determination building in his chest.
Right. I’m going to piss her off so thoroughly that she can hardly bear to look at me, let alone with any emotion other than hate.
Yes, that could work. He sat up in bed and stared out the window, imagining all the ways to make Granger hate him again, ignoring the tug of regret threatening to make him lose control.
Lucius paced the drawing room floor distractedly.
“Lucius, please. You’re making me even more nervous. I’m sure everything will work out. They can’t send you to Azkaban – think of the galleons you’ve donated to the Ministry! They’d be fools to overlook such charity.”
“You’re right, Narcissa, they would be fools to overlook it,” he growled. “Fools to overlook the fact that every galleon I gave was a bribe. No – they will use the money against me, just as they’ll use my involvement in the prophecy incident last year against me. Never mind that I didn’t kill anyone.”
He stopped pacing abruptly and sank into the leather couch, breathing deeply. “And don’t look at me that way, Narcissa. You know as well as I do that I can’t lie my way out of this. I could pretend that the Dark Lord Imperiused me once; twice is simply unbelievable. The evidence is overwhelming.”
Narcissa’s ice-blue eyes widened in desperation. “But surely – surely, even if they do somehow send you to Azkaban…” “They will!” Lucius interrupted angrily. Biting back a shudder, she continued. “Even if they do, they can’t hold you for longer than a few months! A few months, and even then, I’m sure the Dark Lord will spare no expense to get you out.”
“I’m not so sure of that. I’m no longer in his favor, after failing to retrieve the prophecy.” Lucius strode to the liquor cabinet and poured a glass of whiskey. He was about to put it back in the cabinet when he hesitated, pouring one for Narcissa as well.
Normally not one for liquor, she sipped it gratefully, thankful for the sharp burn that balanced the growing ache in her heart.
“Well, there’s no use dwelling on it, Narcissa. The hearing is scheduled for two weeks from now,” he said, crumpling the Ministry notice in his fist. “Until then, we’ll carry on as before. Malfoys do not show weakness. I’m just glad Draco is at Hogwarts; he’ll have a distraction, at least.”
“Would that we had one,” Narcissa shook her head sadly, willing unshed tears not to fall.
“Would that I had never gotten involved with the Dark Lord’s cause in the first place,” Lucius whispered, his gray eyes dull with defeat.
Narcissa didn’t have the energy to gasp. The firewhiskey must be taking hold, she thought gratefully.
“I’ll write Draco tonight. He should hear what date the trial is set for. From us – not from that wretched Daily Prophet.”
Lucius just nodded and poured himself another whiskey.
“Hogsmeade!” Students buzzed around the notice excitedly.
“Finally – it’s been ages since I’ve had a decent butterbeer!”
“Yes!” Lee Jordan punched his fist in the air and slung his arms about Fred and George. “Upper-classmen get to stay ‘til 7!”
“Wicked,” Ron grinned.
“Well done, Hermione,” Harry nudged her.
“Thanks.” She smiled shyly as congratulations poured in from the surrounding crowd.
“Thanks for what?” A snide voice interrupted. “It was my idea, not that bushy-haired, brown-nosing twit’s.”
Hermione turned around and frowned.
“Malfoy?” she asked, half-warning and half-questioning.
He was back, immaculate as ever; a small scar on his upper cheekbone the only indication that he’d been injured. His grey eyes were ice-cold and narrowed in malice.
Hermione studied him, unable to account for his dramatic change. She could see nothing of the boy she had tended in the Hospital Wing, or even following the library incident.
“What? You didn’t think I’d let a filthy little Mudblood take credit for my brilliance, did you?”
The crowd gasped. Harry and Ron were bristling, and people were shouting retaliatory insults at an all-too-smug Malfloy.
Hermione barely heard them. The word “Mudblood” had struck her hard this time, and she felt more exposed than she’d ever felt in the face of that hateful term. She had actually allowed herself to believe that Malfoy was alright – that he was even (dare she think it?) changed. She was horrified to find that there was a lump in her throat that made it impossible to swallow, or even breathe.
“What? Not going to cry, are you Granger?” There were some light chuckles among the Slytherins in the crowd.
That did it. Her strength kicked in, and with it the anger she needed to swallow the lump in her throat and chase away any threatening tears. Thanks at least for that, you miserable Slytherin bastard, she thought.
“Cry?” she cut in furiously. “Over any comment you’ve ever made? You’re even more of a moron than I realized, Malfoy.”
Malfoy just sneered, pushing through the crowd and out of sight.
Pansy watched him go confusedly.
“What was that about?” Theodore asked aloud. “I thought you said Granger had told you about the plans to extend the Hogsmeade hours while Draco was in the hospital wing?”
“Maybe he just wanted to piss off the Gryffindors,” Dareon Balthazar said. He shrugged. “He hasn’t had the opportunity for awhile.”
“Still, that was a bit harsh,” Pansy said.
Theodore and Dareon nodded.
“Well, maybe we should get back to the common room, see what’s eating him,” Dareon suggested.
“Yeah,” Pansy said. “Poor Drakie. I’m sure he’s just upset that he’s missed out on so much since he’s been out.”
“You guys go ahead,” Theodore said. “I’m not getting anywhere near him until his mood improves.”
“Hmm,” Dareon said. “Maybe you’re right.” He looked at Theodore. “Want to practice Quidditch for awhile?”
Theodore’s eyes lit up. “Yeah!”
Pansy pouted. “Fine! I’ll go cheer him up by myself, then.” She flew off in a huff.
“Back and more bastardly than before, eh?” Fred chuckled.
“I think that little speech just gave us a perfect opportunity to test our Gaseous Rumpus potion on the Slytherins, Fred,” George said matter-of-factly. “Free of guilt, of course.”
“Guilt? When have you two ever felt guilty about pranking the Slytherins?” Harry asked, grinning.
Merlin, what could I possibly have seen in him? Hermione thought furiously, ignoring the conversation around her.
“Come on, Hermione, cheer up.” Ron whispered to her. “We’ll see who has the last word after Fred and George test their new potion on him!”
She managed a half-hearted smile. “You’re right of course. I don’t know why I let that git get to me. Hey, I’m going to cool down in the library for a bit, ok? I’ll see you at dinner.”
“Ok, Hermione. You sure you don’t want company?”
“No, I’ll be all right. Thanks though,” she said, managing a real smile this time.