Chapter 16 : 16.
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Snape was in a worse-than-usual mood. Fortunately, that meant that he threw instructions on the board and barked “BEGIN!” but didn’t harass the Gryffindors with his usual pointed menace.
“Thank Merlin Snape’s distracted today,” Harry whispered to Hermione, nodding to Neville’s cauldron where it was spitting blue sparks.
“Yeah, but why?” Hermione asked. “He seems to be looking at Malfoy a good deal…”
She and Harry exchanged looks. Could Snape be worried about him?
“Oy, Harry! Help me out here.” Ron snapped, angry at being excluded from the conversation.
Harry scooted back to the middle of the table and Hermione resumed stirring her Sleeping Draught.
“I hear I am to congratulate you,” Blaise said as Draco arranged Potions ingredients. Draco shrugged noncommittally.
“Well? You don’t seem so excited. Many would be in your place.” Blaise spoke with lazy indifference, but his eyes were hooded in malice.
“Jealous, Blaise?” Draco said. He knew he shouldn’t bait him, but he couldn’t stop himself. He felt helpless, and he was furious in a way he couldn’t even comprehend. Blaise’s games no longer amused him.
“Jealous? No. Just curious –“ he lowered his voice to a whisper. “Curious as to why the Dark Lord chose to honor you before me. I am INFINITELY more loyal, more devoted, more…”
“Lower your voice you fool!” Snape silenced Blaise in a furious breath as he swept past them. “Remember where you are.”
Blaise gave a jerky nod, but sneered at Snape once he turned away.
“You think you’re such a big man now, Draco, but you’d best watch your back. Because I will no longer be the one protecting it.”
Draco's cold grey eyes raked Blaise with disdain. “Don’t believe for a second I thought you ever had my back. Unlike you, I’m not a complete fool. I never counted you as anything more than a partner – equal in looks, status and ability. You’ve only saved me the inconvenience of having to keep up the charade.”
Blaise's face spasmed in anger. “Very well.” He turned and abruptly left the dungeon. The loud slam of the door caused the students to look up, and Draco inadvertently caught Hermione’s eyes.
For a moment, he allowed himself to dive into the warmth of her gaze. The last week he’d been cold as ice – he hardly felt human any more. The knowledge of what he had to do was threatening to destroy him. And the trial. The trial was in one week. One week, and then his father would be taken from him as well. It was all too much. Shutting down his emotions was the only course left to him. His very survival depended on it.
But just this once, he held Hermione’s eyes and allowed the heat of her gold-brown stare to penetrate his walls. Then the moment was over. She wrenched her gaze from his and stared into her cauldron. He could see her chest heaving with every breath, and was suddenly aware that his own breathing was affected. He fought the urge to grip the table and instead concentrated on his own cauldron. He had no idea which ingredients he’d already put into it, and decided he didn’t care.
“Hermione? Are you alright?” Harry asked.
Taking one more shaky breath, Hermione answered in as steady a voice as she could manage. “I’m fine, thanks. It’s just hot in here with all the cauldrons going.”
Harry pulled his cloak tighter around him and moved closer to Ron. That’s weird, he said to himself. It’s freezing down here.
Bloody Malfoy, Hermione thought. How could he get her into such a state? She sighed and looked hopelessly at her ingredients. Merlin’s beard, where was I? Have I added the powdered moonstone yet?
“Oh who cares,” she whispered aloud. She was too distracted to work anyway. Why had Zabini stormed out? And Malfoy’s eyes…there was something so different about them. Colder. Despairing. Had he really become a Death Eater? Hermione couldn’t – wouldn’t – believe it. But what if? He had changed drastically in the span of a few weeks. And the last few days, he’d seemed so much darker and sadder…she shook her head. Stop it, Hermione. Why should you care about Malfoy and his stupid problems? He probably just ran out of hair gel or something.
She nodded resolutely and continued stirring her cauldron, not even bothering to add more ingredients.
“Time’s up!” Snape bellowed. “Bring me a vial of your potions and get out.”
Students scrambled to do as they were bid. Hermione and Draco were two of the last to turn in their Sleeping Draughts. Both were in a semi-done state; Draco’s blue, Hermione’s a rose purple. Avoiding each other’s eyes, they plunked their vials onto Snape’s desk and turned to leave.
“What are these supposed to be?” Snape asked.
Hermione turned back with a sigh. “I lost track of my place, Professor.”
Draco looked sideways at her. Granger, not finishing an assignment?
“Me too. I mean – so did I. Lose my place, I mean.” Draco said, cursing himself for stumbling over his words.
Snape’s black eyes gave nothing away as they shifted from one to the other.
Hermione offered up a half-hearted “Sorry Professor,” but for reasons she couldn’t identify, she found herself not really caring if she failed an assignment or not. That’s a first, she thought. She almost laughed aloud at her sudden apathy.
“Something amusing, Miss Granger?”
“No Professor,” she said.
“I think detention this weekend should wipe the grin off your face,” he said.
Hermione’s face fell. “NO!” she shouted.
Snape and Draco stared at her, shocked at her vehement outburst.
“Plans with your sniveling friends can wait, I think,” Snape said slowly.
“No. It’s not that. I have other plans – important plans.” My parents. I must ward their house. She mustered her courage. “I’m sorry, I will gladly do detention any other time, but not this weekend.”
“MISS GRANGER. I’m afraid you don’t have the authority to dictate when your detentions take place. You will be here this Saturday night, 9 o’clock.”
“Fine. But I’m afraid you’ll have to give me another detention.”
“Is that so? I’d be happy to, but may I ask why?” Snape’s eyebrows were knitted together so tightly there was no telling where one ended and the other began.
“Because I’ll expect you’ll want to punish me for skipping Saturday night’s detention.”
She drew herself up to her full (albeit short) height and glared resolutely.
Draco stared at her with his mouth open. “Granger! What the bloody…?”
Snape’s already-white face grew whiter in anger and shock. “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE SPEAKING TO?!” he roared. “DETENTION! Every Saturday ‘til the end of the year!”
“Fine. But not this Saturday,” Hermione turned on her heel and grabbed her bookbag.
“Not so fast, Miss Granger! I have not finished.”
She glared at him with flames dancing in her eyes. “What else is there to say?”
Snape sat back down and rubbed his temples. “What are you doing this weekend that could possibly be so important?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“And why not?” Snape’s voice was an angry hiss.
Because you’re a Death Eater. She glanced at Malfoy. Because you might both be Death Eaters.
She held her silence.
“Miss Granger. If you do not tell me where you plan on going this weekend, I will be forced to hold you here at Hogwarts with binding magic. Students are not allowed to leave the grounds unless accompanied by adult supervision anyway.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes in fury. All at once the vials on Snape’s desk exploded in flames, engulfing him in fire.
“AQUEOUS CASCADIUS!” Draco and Hermione shouted at the same time.
A wall of water exploded from their wands and washed over the desk and Snape himself, instantly extinguishing the fire.
Oh Merlin. I’ve done it now.
Hermione ran to where Snape lay panting on the floor, his robes scorched and soaking. “I am so, so sorry,” she babbled. “I don’t know what happened, I swear Professor.”
“I know what happened, Miss Granger. You performed wandless magic. And apparently, you are an Elemental,” he said wryly.
“Where is Draco?”
He raced into the room, closely followed by Dumbledore.
“Ah, Professor Snape. Good morning,” Dumbledore said lightly. “You’re looking – hmmm, well, nothing a little change of robes can’t fix.”
Snape shot a look of fury at him and pushed himself up. Hermione was standing sheepishly to one side, trying not to make eye contact with anyone.
“Miss Granger. May I ask what made you angry enough to unleash elemental magic?”
She cleared her throat.
“Snape asked me a question that I wasn’t inclined to answer,” she said quietly.
“Ah. And what was the question?” All three were staring at her. She felt her cheeks go pink.
“He wanted to know why I couldn’t make detention this Saturday.”
“And what did you say?”
She grew in stature as she remembered her purpose.
“That it was none of his – or anyone else’s – business.”
“I understand, Miss Granger. But if you are going to be leaving the grounds and disobeying a detention order by a Professor, I’m afraid we need to know what your intentions are.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but Dumbledore was having none of it.
“No, I’m sorry, that is my final answer.”
He continued in a softer tone. “You may be assured that no one here will betray your purpose. I have complete trust in Severus, and I’m sure that young Mr. Malfoy will stay silent, or face the consequences.”
He stared at Draco a moment as if weighing his potential.
“I won’t say anything Professor,” Draco said, but he was looking at Hermione.
She held Malfoy’s eyes a moment and then nodded.
“If you must know, I’m going to my parent’s house. You-Know-Who is getting stronger every moment, and I need to make sure they’re safe. I’m warding their house this weekend. Blood wards.”
“Blood wards are illegal,” Snape said, but his eyes were curious, and strangely calculating.
“Yes. They are the strongest and oldest form of protective spells – I’ve researched them all, and that’s what I’m going to use. Illegal or not,” she added at the last, defiantly.
She risked looking at Malfoy, and found him staring with an unreadable look on his face.
“How were you going to get back to London?” Dumbledore asked.
“You can’t see them unless you’ve seen someone die,” Snape frowned.
“I know that,” she said softly. Malfoy shot her a sharp glance. “Now, I’ve answered your questions. I’d like to get to my other classes.”
“Ok, Miss Granger, if Severus excuses you from detention this weekend you have my blessing to carry out your plans.”
She looked to Snape, whose black eyes gave nothing away as he answered: “Fine. You are excused, just this once." Hermione's eyes widened in surprise. "But I expect you to clean up my classroom before the end of today.”
“Ah yes, the fire…” Dumbledore said. “Have you performed elemental magic before, Miss Granger?”
She shrugged. “No. I assumed I’d learn once we reached N.E.W.T level.”
“What?” she asked, angry at being made to feel stupid.
“You can’t teach elemental magic, Granger. You either have it or you don’t.”
“Roughly 1 in every 500 witches and wizards has elemental capability. Of those, even fewer ever learn how to master the skill properly. And as far as has been recorded, there has never been a Muggleborn Elemental.”
“How does she learn to control the magic?” Snape asked.
Dumbledore turned to Hermione. “I suggest you start by focusing on a candle flame; see if you can manipulate it. Then move onto a fireplace, and ere long, setting a piece of paper or some other object aflame by harnessing your magic and directing it where you will.
“It will be difficult, and there’s no way I or anyone else can teach you. As far as I’m aware, you are the only Elemental in a hundred years. Save one.”
“Who?” They demanded.
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “After your father’s… mishap… in the Ministry last year,” (Draco flushed) “I was called upon to help put the prophecy room in order. It just so happens that there were two Elementals prophesized to be born – it seems that you, Miss Granger, were one – and the other was given in a riddle that I did not understand at the time, but believe I do now: ‘In the darkest night of winter solstice shall be born a Dragon, yet he shall not breathe fire, but ice and wind and storm.’
Hermione’s eyes widened as Snape’s narrowed. Both looked at Malfoy, whose brow was still furrowed in confusion. “Why are you looking at me like that? I don’t know who it is.”
“Ah, but you do…” Dumbledore said, eyes sparkling. “You were born at the winter solstice, were you not? And you are Draco, which is a synonym for Dragon.”
Malfoy stuttered. “B-b-but I’ve never made ice, or a storm, or anything –“
“Neither did Miss Granger, until today. Magic of this kind usually emerges in times of powerful emotion, in witches and wizards old enough to fully understand those emotions.
“I will leave you now. Never fear, Mr. Malfoy. I am sure your power will show itself in due time. And Miss Granger, good luck this weekend. Severus,” with a respectful nod to Snape, Dumbledore left.
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