“Drakie, is everything ok?” Pansy approached the shadow-backed chair in the Slytherin Common Room with hesitating concern.
“Don’t call me that,” a sullen voice answered.
“There’s no need to be such a prat,” Pansy huffed. “I only wanted to see if you were ok.”
“I’m fine. Why do you ask?” Draco spat.
Pansy was taken aback by the venom in his voice. “I don’t know – you were a bit rough on Granger is all. Why’d you say you came up with the idea to extend the Hogsmeade hours?”
“I shouldn’t have to explain myself to you.”
“Fine.” Pansy’s lip quivered. “You won’t have to. Nor will you have to explain to Theo and Dareon. No one can stand to be around you when you get into one or your stupid moods anyway.”
She turned and marched out of the dungeons, her nose in the air and her body shaking with indignation.
Draco watched her go impassively. Suddenly he sighed, bowing his head toward the fire until it flickered and glowed to mirror the flames.
Great. Everyone hates me now, he thought. And Granger…
She hated him too, he was sure of that. Her face when he’d used that word...he could tell it hit her as it never had before. He felt a painful stab in his diaphragm, just below the heart. Guilt. Draco pushed himself back from the fire. It was for the best. For both of them. He did it protect her. And myself, he admitted, feeling another guilty twinge.
Hermione speed-walked toward the library, willing herself not to cry. Just a little farther, she repeated. But it was no good; she wasn’t going to make it. Taking a shuddering breath, she wrenched open the door to an empty classroom and threw herself into it. Then she sank to the floor and sobbed. When the tears finally stopped, she took a deep breath and drew her legs up, bracing her back against the cold stone of the castle wall.
She was so humiliated. Malfoy had played her for a fool. What did I expect? He’s a Slytherin.
She could not believe she’d let herself feel anything but hate for a Malfoy, of all people. In her mind, the cruel sting of his tirade this morning was one slap too many. She’d been willing to put aside his past offences, but this was too much. The look on his face when he’d called her Mudblood…and then taunting her when she was on the verge of tears…
She was never going to allow him to slither his way into her heart again.
“Never,” she said aloud, just to drive the point home. She knew that she was more angry and embarrassed than anything, but she wasn’t willing to make the mistake of trusting a Malfoy again.
“Hermione! Come on. We need to get to the carriages if we want to get seats together!” Ginny called through her door.
“Coming!” Hermione called back. She gave one last look at herself in the mirror, trying in vain to flatten a few curls that had escaped the braided knot at the back of her head. She sighed. Oh well, who do I have to impress?
They raced down the dormitory steps, where Harry and Ron were waiting with increasing impatience.
“Girls,” Ron whispered, rolling his eyes at Harry.
“I heard that,” Ginny said, whacking her brother and grinning at Harry.
“Ok! All present and accounted for?” Harry asked. “Onward to Hogsmeade!”
Hermione felt her spirits lift. She’d been down all week after the incident with Malfoy, but she could feel herself pulling out of it. Who cares about Malfoy, anyway?
“Draco, come on!” Dareon yelled. “D’you want some stupid Third Years to get the front carriages?”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” Draco mumbled irritably.
They met Pansy and Theodore in the Great Hall, where Filch was eyeing each student ominously before prodding them with his Sneak Wand.
“Shouldn’t you be using that when we’re coming back into the castle? I mean, who cares if we’re sneaking stuff out?” Ron said loudly, earning a few snickers from other students. And earning Ron a few extra pokes with the Sneak Wand.
Pansy snorted. “Those Weasleys really know how to get on Filch’s good side, don’t they?”
“I wasn’t aware Filch had a good side,” Dareon said.
They watched as Ron hobbled toward an amused Hermione, who was clearly struggling to look concerned.
“Mudblood bitch.” All three turned to stare at Blaise Zabini in surprise.
“Zabini, where’d you come from?” Theodore asked.
He shrugged, still watching Hermione.
Pansy and Theodore exchanged wary looks. Ever since Blaise’s outburst in Care of Magical Creatures, they had kept their distance from the intimidating Slytherin.
Draco dragged Blaise’s attention away from Hermione. “Let’s go, I need a butterbeer.”
“More like a firewhiskey,” Dareon said with a smirk.
You have no idea, Draco thought. He moved forward, blocking Blaise’s view of the Gryffindors. He didn’t like the way Blaise looked at Hermione – as though he couldn’t wait to cause her pain. Draco could tell the others were uneasy around Blaise as well.
Once in their carriage, Draco looked out the window, purposely ignoring Pansy and Theodore’s attempts at conversation. Absentmindedly, he rubbed his throbbing temples and pressed his fingers into the hollow circles under his eyes. He really had not wanted to go to Hogsmeade today. If he’d had his way, he’d have stayed in bed and exited reality for a few precious hours. But he was a Malfoy. And a Malfoy knew that one always – always – had to keep up appearances. Even after getting a letter like the one his Mother had sent only a day before.
I wanted you to be the first to know that your father’s hearing is scheduled for two weeks from now. Please, for your own good, don’t attend; you have enough stress with school and Prefect duties. We are so sorry to put you through this.
His stomach clenched as he thought about it. He’d known the hearing was coming; all of them did. But now that it was so close Draco realized that he’d expected his father to somehow get off with a warning from the Ministry, as he had so many times in the past.
Draco tried to focus on his mother’s assurances: Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m sure the most he’ll get is a few months in Azkaban, maybe a fine…nothing too drastic. Everything will work out, you’ll see.
He wished it were true. Even a few months though, was enough to turn Draco’s stomach. Men had been driven mad in Azkaban within less time…
He was jolted out of his reverie by their arrival into Hogsmeade. The village was spectacular, decked out in thousands of floating Christmas lights to herald the holiday season. Magically decorated trees lined the quaint cobblestone streets, which were bustling with witches and wizards. The air held an excitement that was all but tangible.
Draco viewed the scene through a haze of disdain.
“Malfoy?” Dareon asked.
“I said, do you want to go to Rosmerta’s?”
“Oh – yeah.”
“I’d rather go to the Hogs Head,” Blaise cut in.
“Well you’re welcome to do that,” Draco said sharply.
Blaise sneered at him. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me. If you want to go to the Hogs Head be my guest, but I’m not stumbling around the village at your whim.”
“No, we’ll all just stumble around at your whim.” Blaise said.
“Alright, alright,” Theodore cut in, looking from one to the other warily.
“Fine then. I’m going to the Hogs Head. The people there are better, anyway.” Blaise swept his cloak on and curled his lip at Draco before marching away.
Pansy looked at Draco with worried eyes. “You shouldn’t provoke him like that. Zabini’s not some little Third or Fourth Year. He’s dangerous.”
Draco only shrugged. “Let’s go. I need a butterbeer.”
“You need something,” Dareon muttered just as Pansy was saying, “That much is obvious.”