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The Journal by KAMalfoy

Format: Novel
Chapters: 14
Word Count: 97,570
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: Romance, Angst
Characters: Hermione, Draco
Pairings: Draco/Hermione

First Published: 04/19/2003
Last Chapter: 09/02/2005
Last Updated: 08/14/2007

Summary:
A misplaced possession reveals to Hermione that there is more to Draco Malfoy than just being a mean-spirited Slytherin.


Chapter 1: A Night of Solitude
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Chapter 1: A Night of Solitude

The weather that day had been unbearable, as large droplets of rain descended from the sky, causing the students to seek refuge in their respective common rooms. Down in the dungeons, past the portrait of Arthur the Plunderer - who was always on alert of any Slytherins who might be returning back late, so he could snitch on them - was the Slytherin common room. Although elegantly appointed with its tapestries of green and silver that honored the great Salazar Slytherin and flickering lanterns that cast an ethereal glow over the students, the room was still drafty and cold.

The temperature always remained the same in the dorms, no matter the weather outside: chilly. Some of the first years often walked around with their robes still on to help keep them warm; but the older students had all become accustomed to the coolness. Sitting in his favorite velvety chair, his body sinking into the soft cushions was Draco Malfoy. Dressed in a simple shirt and slacks, he didn't feel the draft, although things were far different his first year.

He had heard tales of how the other three houses were warm and comfortable. It was said that Gryffindor's common room was a magnificent sight to behold and the dorms had terrific views of the castle's grounds. Draco had written home to his parents complaining as to why he had to suffer down in the dungeons while Harry Potter lived like a king.

His father had written back, telling him in short to tough it out and not act like a baby - "If generations of Malfoys could handle it," Lucius wrote, "so can you." But now, Draco barely even needed the self-heating blanket his mother had sent him, and kept it locked away in his trunk. He had received numerous requests from younger students who wanted to use the blanket, but he always greeted them with a hard stare and narrowed eyes.

And now he sat in front of the fire, his gray eyes steady on Crabbe and Goyle, who had become bored from playing a game of Exploding Snap, and now busied themselves with stealing treats from the younger students. Crabbe reached over without any hesitation and snatched a package of small cakes from a first year's hands - the same cakes the youngster had been salivating over since his parents owled to say they would be sending it.

The spirited youngster bolted to his feet and looked the seventh year in the face. "Hey, what do you think you're doing?" he asked, as he placed his hands on his hips.

The room grew silent as many of the students glanced up from game of wizard chess and other activities to watch the confrontation. They eyed the first year with admiration, as they were amazed at the amount of courage he was showing. Of course they also pitied him; they all knew too well - and many of them had the scars to prove it - what happened when anyone dared to confront either one of Draco's bumbling henchmen. Everyone held their breath, as they anticipated the eventual blow that would knock the small boy to the ground.

Crabbe stood up straight, towering over the other boy. "What did you say?" He placed the cakes on a nearby table and smashed his fist into the palm of his hand.

The small youngster lowered his eyes and began to back away. He then headed to the corner of the room, where he sat amongst a group of first, second and third year students who all had been victims of Crabbe within the span of thirty minutes. They all huddled in a circle, as they exchanged ideas on how they would get even with the bully.

This competitive nature ran rampant in Slytherin House. Outside the dorms, they often banded together to terrorize an unsuspecting Hufflepuff. If the group was feeling extra rowdy, they would take on a Gryffindor, who were the feistiest of the other three houses. But when locked away together, the Slytherins often turned on one another. When squabbling took place, there was no authority figure from whom to seek advice from, as Snape often left the students to solve their own troubles - thus perpetuating the circle of aggression.

Crabbe triumphantly trotted towards Draco with the cakes in his hand, as if seeking his approval. "You want some?" he asked, spraying Draco in the process with bits of half chewed pastry.

Draco glared at him, causing the portly young man to slowly back away and join Goyle at the table. With his lip upturned, Draco watched as Crabbe sat down, his large pants hanging off his hips and exposing the crack of his ass in the process. Those two minions of his will probably remain at that table for another hour, Draco thought, gorging themselves on anything that had sugar in it.

Of course neither one of them dared to touch any of the sweets Draco's mother sent him every other day from Malfoy Manor - most of which would go uneaten, as Draco did not have much of a sweet tooth. Instead, he placed the packages of cream puffs and other assorted bakery goods prominently on his nightstand, and watched with amusement as his two friends took nervous glances at the pastries, while licking their lips.

Crabbe and Goyle were unable to hold back their appetites for very long, and would eventually beg Draco for a raspberry torte or some other chocolate concoction. Draco, of course, always denied their requests. For five years, Draco had been able to torture them in that manner, without them growing any wiser to what he was doing. Sometimes, instead of displaying his treats on a nightstand, he would eat them slowly in front of his two friends.

Not only were Crabbe and Goyle gullible, they were also extremely predictable. Draco knew their routine, as they did the same things almost on a regular basis. After a night of bullying other students in the house, the two would spend two hours gorging themselves on the stolen treats, before forcing one of the smarter kids to do their homework for them.

Draco surely did not need to have others do his homework, as he usually completed his assignments the minute he returned to the dorms from afternoon classes. His essays in both Potions and History were neatly rolled up and placed in his book bag at that moment. He knew he would get high marks on both assignments, as they both were meticulously researched. Although he appeared to be mischievous and a bit of a troublemaker to the typical observer - and he surely was to some extent - he took great pride in doing well in his studies, and everything else in his life. This was probably brought on by pressure from his father to be and do better than all the other students, especially a certain Muggle-born young woman who always seemed to tie with him or exceed him in grades.

To help keep up his son's competitive edge, Lucius Malfoy always took it upon himself to send the young man newspaper articles detailing how Harry Potter, his poor red-headed friend and the Muggle-born were able to thwart one or another of Voldemort's plans. Although no notes would be accompanied with these articles, Draco always got the gist of what his father was trying to say: do something newsworthy.

All of his life, Draco had gotten these messages from the man he always tried so hard to emulate and please - his mother pretty much saw him as perfect, much to his father's chagrin. Because of this, the blond had always pushed himself to be the best in everything he did, and to present an impressive appearance to the outside world. This craving for excellence propelled him to awake early each morning to groom himself, and make sure his hair and robes were in perfect condition.

This extra effort paid off for him, as he was the object of affection for many of the girls in his house and throughout the school. Some of the guys also took notice of him - especially Justin Fitch-Fletchley of Hufflepuff, who always seemed to stare at him a little too long. The eye contact always made Draco feel uncomfortable, and would eventually force him to sic Crabbe and Goyle on the young lad they all perceived was a pouf. One time Crabbe and Goyle chased Justin down the hall and dragged him into the bathroom with the intention of dunking his head into the toilet. However, Justin's high-pitched screams and pleas for help caused Draco to cave in and prevent his two goons from completing the act.

Draco got up from the chair he had been sitting in for nearly an hour and brushed the dried crumbs of cake from his shirt. He picked up his robes from the arm of his chair and draped them over his slender body.

"Where are you going?" asked Crabbe. He watched with alarm as Draco approached the portrait hole.

The blond continued to look down at his robes, reaching into interior pockets to make sure he had everything he needed. "I'm going out," he finally said to the two boys at the table.

Crabbe and Goyle both dropped their heads, and stared at the table with dejected expressions on their faces. Draco rolled his eyes, and glanced away; his two friends were always trying to trick him into allowing them to follow him around. But he needed his privacy from them and all others at that moment.

Draco had not taken one step, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Look," he snapped, not bothering to glance over his shoulder, "can't you idiots be left alone for two minutes? I'm sure you can find something to occupy your time while I'm awa--" He stopped talking when he noticed that the hand now resting on the crook of his neck was very light. The scent of roses soon wafted into his nostrils.

He turned around and found himself looking at Pansy. He forced a smile onto his lips - although he was relieved it was not his minions, he was not entirely glad to see her either. "Sorry about that," he said rather flippantly. "I thought you were someone else."

He was about to say more, when he saw a glimmer of something glistening in her eyes, which were made more dazzling by the glow of the crackling fire. He began to back away, knowing far too well that she was going to question him about his whereabouts. He walked backwards until he felt his back pressing against the cold wall. He turned his head to the side when he saw her hand approach his face. His eyes closed as those long fingers grazed his cheek, her fingernails running down along his neck to his collarbone.

"Where are you off to?" she asked, her hot pumpkin juice drenched breath fanning against his skin.

Draco opened his eyes and pushed her fingers from his chin. "I'm going for a walk." He brought his hand to his face to flick the silvery strands that were now in his eyes, when he felt her hands venture into his robes.

He gave her a hard stare. His eyes then traveled to where Crabbe and Goyle were sitting. The two young men had stopped pouting and were now watching him and Pansy with great interest. Their eyes were fixed on Pansy's hands, and the way her fingers darted in and out of the folds of his robes. But they eventually glanced away and stared down at their candy wrapper covered tabletop when they caught the glare in his eyes.

"Do you want me to accompany you on your little walk?" Pansy asked. She reached for his hand and wrapped her fingers around his. "We can then go up to the Astronomy Tower."

Draco pulled his hand away. "I'm not going there. I have other plans."

Pansy remained quiet as the smile that was on her full lips slowly disappeared. Her hands soon drifted to her hips. "Are you going up there with another girl?" She tapped her foot on the floor while she waited for his answer; but Draco didn't look her way and continued to fuss with his robes. "I thought you said you weren't going to go up there with anyone else but me," she said, this time unable to keep her voice neutral.

Draco moved to a nearby mirror and to check his appearance. "I never said anything of the sort." He observed the angry look she was now bestowing on him through her reflection. However, her glares they had lost the little effect they once had on him, and he glanced back at his own image. He took his time re-adjusting the buttons she had opened on his shirt, when her fingers were in pursuit of his hot skin. When he was satisfied with what he saw, he turned around and faced her. "What I do with my free time is my business. I thought I made that perfectly clear to you the last time we had this discussion." He kept his eyes on her and waited to see if she would make another public outburst in front of everyone in the common room, like last time; but she kept quiet. He walked past her and climbed out the portrait hole.

While he was in the hall, Draco gazed back at the man in the portrait. Arthur the Plunderer was a highly combative and feisty military general. Over the years, he had been able to intimidate most of the students who passed through Slytherin House, except one: Draco. He would have accosted any other young man or woman standing before him; but he said nothing to Draco, and patiently watched as the boy picked bits of lint off his robes.

"Be wary of Filch," Arthur finally said. "He just passed by here a few minutes ago."

Draco turned his head and gave the man a nasty look. "I don't need your help." His voice was even, but possessed that tinge of spite that he had expertly perfected over the years; the same tone that never creased to put others in their place. He and Arthur stared at one another for a long time afterwards, but it was the old man who looked away first. Draco snorted; he knew Arthur's little warning was only a lame attempt to get himself back into his good graces.

The tension between them had transpired during Draco's fifth year, when he was denied access back to the dorms after returning late from an amorous tryst. Draco was then forced to sleep in the halls. Arthur had been proud of his actions, and smiled brightly at the fact that a Malfoy had finally gotten his comeuppance. He had been on the receiving end of Lucius' pranks during the man's time at the school, so it pleased him to be able to take out his revenge on the man's son.

But his happiness quickly disappeared the next morning, when he received a verbal lashing from Snape - Draco had apparently wasted no time in telling his father about the situation. Arthur was then placed in one of the castle's many abandoned and dusty rooms for over a year. The time spent in the company of cobwebs and spiders had taught the old man a lesson: Draco was to be given more leeway than other students. Ever since his return to his rightful place, Arthur had tried desperately - not too desperately, he still had his pride - to be on good footing with the young man, to no avail.

Draco glared at Arthur one last time, before he turned on his heels and headed down the hall. He continued walking down the semi lit corridor, when he saw the tall and lanky figure of the Potions Master approaching.

"Where are you going?" asked Snape.

"Just for a stroll."

Snape pushed his dark and greasy hair from his brows and eyed Draco, his gaze observing every nuance of emotion on the young man's face. "Whomever this girl is that you're meeting, make sure you keep your time with her short. You have Quidditch practice tomorrow."

"Yes, sir." Draco then watched the man make his way down the hall, his dark robes billowing behind him.

On his way to his destination, Draco made a detour to the entrance leading up to the Astronomy Tower. Standing at the bottom of the steps, he could hear heavy breathing and giggling wafting down from the room. He shook his head, wondering how wanna-be Casanovas such as Gryffindor's Dean Thomas managed to keep from getting caught by the likes of Filch, since they were so careless about who heard them. Draco, of course, was never going to get caught; he was intoned to Filch's schedule, and knew many other destinations around the school where he could conduct a rendezvous or two with the young lady of his choice. He listened to the activities of the hormonal teens in the room above for a few more minutes, before making his way to the library.

The room was almost empty, except for a scattering of Ravenclaws and Gryffindors. The librarian looked up from her thick book and stared at him, her eyes following his every movement. "I don't want any mischief," said Madam Pince. "Do you hear?"

Draco shot her a glare from over his shoulder, before continuing on his way. He had been coming in there every night for the past couple of months, and had done nothing to disturb other students; but she still did not trust him. He walked past the tables of students, and made his way to the back of the library, where he could be alone. He ventured to the Religion Section and sat on the floor. He leaned against the shelves with his legs outstretched before him and took out his quill and journal. He folded his robes in a neat pile in front of him, before scribbling into the leather- bound journal.

That journal was now his most treasured possession; it replaced his Excalibur racing broom, which was a present from his father when he became the team captain. The broom had become tainted the year before, when he received a bitter letter from his father the day after a decisive match against Gryffindor for the Quidditch Cup. "It seems pathetic," his father had written, "that even with a world class and highly expensive broom you still can't beat Harry Potter just once."

He had received the journal as a gift from his mother some years ago. Narcissa had wanted him to be able to record his memories at Hogwarts for later recollections. Lucius looked down on the gift, and even scolded his wife for encouraging what he deemed to be "queer activity" in their son.

The journal had remained empty for nearly a year before one word was written into it. But now, it was almost filled to capacity, as he found himself scribbling in it almost non-stop. This habit had become almost like an addiction for Draco. He even wrote in it during his classes; his teachers assumed he was taking notes on the lectures.

This fondness for writing had always been in his heart; as a child, he enjoyed writing short stories. The tales were usually very dark and violent, and centered on the Dark Lord regaining his power and ridding the world of Muggles. His father always loved hearing these stories when Draco was a small child; but the man now looked down on the practice.

Draco no longer dabbled with short stories, as his own real life was much more exciting than any fiction he could think of. His quill steady in his hands, he lowered his head and quickly wrote onto the blank pages. He did not think of what he was writing, as the words jetted effortlessly through his fingers.

He had long sought out the empty rooms in the castle to conduct his activity. But he now favored the library, as it provided more light. Plus, the background noise of the other students' whispers and the rustling of parchment were somewhat soothing and urged him to write. And the shelves of books provided him with something to look at if he ever became bored.

So engrossed was he in his own thoughts that he failed to notice that two girls had wandered to his section, and were now standing next to him. He glanced up at the two girls - whom he assumed were second years - and scowled at them. After the icy reception, they retreated back to their table.

It always annoyed him when others disrupted his train of thought. No matter where he would seek refuge in the library, one or more people would always walk his way. He knew for a fact those girls had not suddenly become interested in religion just then; that he was writing so feverishly was intriguing enough for them to venture into his section. They were probably curious to find what was on those shelves that had enraptured him so greatly.

His writing always attracted stares from others, even if he wasn't in the library. In the dorms, fellow Slytherins would always approach him. Blaise - who had an innate interest in his private life to begin with - would always stand over him and ask what he was writing. Or else they would sit next to him and try to sneak a look at his journal. He remembered yelling at Pansy for doing this, when her eyes discreetly washed over a page he had just finished writing on.

Normally, any male who was seen with a journal would have been laughed out of Slytherin House or severely beaten, but Draco was the exception. Most of the students knew the Dark Lord spent much of his time at Malfoy Manor, and they assumed Draco was acting as the man's eyes and ears at the school. Draco had long noticed how Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall would always stop talking whenever he would walk by; they were surely wary he would send whatever information he overheard back to Voldemort.

When his hand started to feel tired, Draco looked up and eyed the other students in the room. His gaze darted to the group of first years who were giggling in the corner. He craned his neck to see what could be fascinating them to such an extent, when his eyes rested on a blue book that lay in the middle of their table.

He knew exactly what they were looking at, as he had discovered that same book when he was a first year. The Magic of Reproduction was a publication all youngsters took a glance at one time or another during their years at Hogwarts. It was located in the Body and Soul Section of the library, which was near the librarian's desk - so she could regulate who wandered into the section. It was forbidden for any first or second years to check out any of those books, and Draco wondered how the group of students got their hands on it. But he figured an older student must have gotten it for them, as was the case for him.

He had first been introduced to the publication through Marcus Flint, who checked it out of the library for personal use several years before. Draco later discovered what 'personal use' meant when he opened the pages. Although the writing was neither erotic nor tantalizing, as it described love making in the most bland and scientific way, it was the explicit moving pictures that drew generations of youngsters to the book. One could flip through page after page of couples engaged in different sexual romps. As a first year, those images provided many nights of masturbatory bliss, which only lasted a minute at the most. But now he had found other things and people to help him with that department in his life.

His gaze drifted away from the youngsters and traveled to another table, where Hermione sat. He wasn't surprised to see her there, as the place had become a second home for her. She too had her head lowered, while her eyes concentrated on the parchment in front of her.

His lips curled into a grimace. He kept his eyes on her until she eventually turned her head and glanced at him. She tried to return the same disdain that was in his gaze. But she did not master that look of disgust as well as he, and ended up looking nervous. He kept an unblinking stare on her, until she was forced to look away. Draco snorted to himself; she never could hold his gaze for very long before retreating. But he did appreciate her gumption for even attempting to face off with him. He knew she was feisty, as the slap she gave him during their third year still stayed in his head all those years - courtesy of Blaise, who always took the opportunity to remind him of the incident.

By the look of the books scattered about her table, he could tell she was still working on her Potions assignment. Although she had finished it long ago, like himself, he assumed she was adding more material to her essay. However, Draco knew her extra efforts would not be rewarded with the highest marks in Potions - Snape would surely see to that. A smile crept to his lips as he recalled a past Potions class when Snape was announcing the grades for another assignment. Hermione sat on the edge of her seat, hoping that just that once the professor would put his dislike for Gryffindor aside and acknowledge she had done an exceptional job; but it never happened.

Draco soon grew tired of watching Hermione and decided to look at the books that were stored on his isle. He reached for a tattered book on the shelf called The Righteousness of Morality. But he nearly jumped when a high- pitched voice blared out of the pages the moment he opened it. The voice then preached on the values of living a clean life, never lying and abstaining from sex till marriage. After several minutes of listening to the man's shrill voice, Draco closed the book and tossed it onto the floor. He looked at several other books, but none of them held his interest for long.

"It's closing time," said the librarian, poking her head around the corner. "Please grab your things and go back to your dorm." Her eyes drifted to the large pile of books now lying on the floor near his feet. "And I expect you to put those books back where they belong."

Draco waited until she was gone before he scooped all of the books off the floor and haphazardly put them back on the shelf.

"Hey," yelled one of the books, "you put me back in the wrong place."

Draco stared at the red book for a moment, before walking away. He picked up his robes and draped them over his body. He placed his quill in his pocket and left the library.

~*~*~

Draco ventured around the castle after his abrupt departure from the library. When he returned to the dorms, he was relived to see that the common room was nearly deserted. But he drew in a sharp breath when his eyes rested on Pansy. Her gaze had been on him the moment he entered the room, like usual. She often waited up for him on nights like these when he preferred to go out alone - which had become more frequent over the past couple of months. Upon his return, she would accost him about a random girl she suspected him of seeing that night. One time, she even dared to yell at him about his unfaithfulness. Draco flew into a rage and eventually reduced her to tears. The few students who were present during that explosive night never repeated what they saw, lest they wanted a thrashing from Crabbe and Goyle.

Pansy had learned her lesson that night, and now sat quietly by the fireplace. Draco ignored the downcast look that was glowing in his eyes, and proceeded to the dorms. But as he walked by her, she began to lift her skirt up, exposing a shapely leg in the process. Draco stopped in the middle of his tracks to eye that well sculpted thigh, and drink in the view of the supple skin he had touched so many times before.

But just then, he heard some snickering that drew his attention to the corner of the room. Sitting on the floor, half obscured by the darkness were Crabbe and Goyle, who were also waiting up for the blond. But their eyes were not on Draco - not anymore, anyway. Their dark gazes were now focused on Pansy, as they were within full view of her leg and much more - if they tilted their heads in the right angle. Hoping to catch their attention, Draco glared at the two young men for a moment; but they were too mesmerized by the sight before them to take notice of his frown. Since catering to Draco's needs and following him around took up most of their time, Crabbe and Goyle had few opportunities to be with girls; so, they thoroughly enjoyed what they were seeing.

Draco glanced back at Pansy, who immediately pulled down her skirt. The glow of desire that was once in his eyes had immediately disappeared. He was suddenly turned off by the thought of other boys enjoying the view that was only meant for his eyes. He scowled at her, before he proceeded to the stairs.

Knowing that most of his dorm mates usually congregated in the sixth year boys' dorm to play cards, Draco hoped to find the room empty; but he was disappointed to see that he was not alone. He immediately lowered his head and sighed loudly when his gaze landed on Blaise. He made his way to his bed without saying a word to the other boy and began to get undressed.

He and Blaise had grown up together, as their parents were long time friends. The young man and his parents had been constant guests at Malfoy Manor throughout Draco's childhood. While the boys' fathers were in the den discussing the future of Death Eaters worldwide and their mothers chatting about charity events in the gardens, the boys would be up in Draco's bedroom fighting. The rivalry between them continued into their teenage years; but was not as intense as when they cursed each other with the measles when they were small children or sometimes forwent their wands and used their fists on one another.

But in Draco's mind, he and Blaise did not have a rivalry because he considered himself better than the other boy; his family was wealthier, he was a much better Quidditch player and was far more popular. He only wished Blaise would come to grips with his subordination and not compete with him as if they were equals.

"Where were you?" asked Blaise.

Draco quickly gazed over his shoulder, as he wondered how Blaise could have the nerve to question his whereabouts. He then continued to take off his shoes, placing them under his bed. He jolted when he felt the warm touch of the other boy's fingers wrap around his neck.

"I guess you want to keep your girls a secret," said Blaise, as his breath blew against Draco's cheek. "Cause you know I'll steal them from you."

Draco winced and turned his head to the side when the other boy's fake laughter reached his ears. He then pushed Blaise's fingers away from his skin and moved towards his bed. He took a long hard look at the other lad; he always hated it when Blaise tried to be his friend.

As enemies, Mr. Zabini had proved to be useless, as he was unable to outsmart Draco. Whatever he did to Draco would be returned threefold the next day or maybe a week later; a man of much patience, Draco always bided his time when it came to dulling out revenge - probably to catch his victim off guard.

After numerous humiliating tricks and curses, Blaise had given up his war against Draco. By the end of their fifth year, however, he had developed a new tactic: forcing his way into Draco's inner circle of friends. But unlike Arthur the Plunderer, whose hatred could be detected in his voice while he talked to the blond, Blaise was a much better actor, and always managed to appear as if he wholeheartedly cared for the Draco.

Deciding he would get undressed later, Draco climbed into his bed. Hoping Blaise would get the message and leave him in peace, he placed his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. But Blaise kept talking. After several minutes of unsuccessfully trying to ignore the other boy's chatter, Draco finally gave in and opened his eyes. "I'm not in the mood to talk," he finally said, as he glanced up at Blaise through half closed eyes. "I want to be left alone."

The other boy continued to stand near his bed for a few more minutes, before heading out the door with his shoulders slumped over.

When he was finally alone, he closed his eyes once more and allowed his mind to race with random thoughts of Voldemort, the Death Eater meetings that were taking place at his home, girls he had been with and much more. But he was pulled away from his daydreaming when he heard a creaking noise coming from the entryway. The person who was slinking ever so slowly towards his bed was not Blaise, but Pansy.

"Where were you tonight?" she asked, her voice sounding casual. She leaned against Goyle's bedpost and stared down at him. "Was she at least pretty?"

Draco remained quiet. The round of questioning was a frequent in his interactions with her. She had grown more possessive of him over the past two years. In the beginning, he enjoyed her jealously, as it made him feel wanted. But he now disliked it more than anything.

"Was she the same girl as last time?" Pansy asked.

A smile curled onto his lips. He could have told her he did not do anything indecent, but he did not utter a word. It was not her business what I did, he thought. Plus, he enjoyed torturing her.

Seeing that he was not going to volunteer any more information to her, she sat down on his bed and gazed down at his face. "Well, I don't care whom you were with," she uttered, her voice dark and husky, "because I know you will always come back to me." She reached out her hand and curled her fingers around his long locks. She couldn't help but let her fingers glide down the side of his face and trickle along the swallows of his cheeks, before landing on his mouth.

She climbed on top of his body like she had always done in the past. Normally, he would have been the aggressor, but on rare moments like this, Draco liked to have her do most of the work. His eyes stayed placid, as he dared her to seduce him.

She lowered her head and placed her lips against his. Draco remained unresponsive; his lips were pursed in a tight line that would not allow her tongue to enter his mouth. Her mouth flittered along his cheek until they found their way to his ear. Draco closed his eyes when he his earlobe was suddenly enveloped by moist heat. His fingers curled around her waist, as he tried to encourage her to continue with her actions. He let a moan escape his mouth when her warm tongue flickered in and out of his ear; she had apparently found his vulnerable spot.

She sat up again, and looked deep into the eyes. Draco held her gaze for a moment, before he looked away. His brows began to cease when she continued to stare down at him, her eyes beckoning to him to make eye contact. But she was fairly well at reading his expressions and stopped staring at him; they both knew that trying too hard to draw an emotional connection from him was futile, as it usually resulted in him growing colder.

Pansy abandoned the eye contact and kissed the side of his face to ease his budding anger. The tactic worked; he turned his head and met her lips in a cooperative union. The kiss started slow, but eventually grew frantic. And soon, the smacking of their lips against one another could be heard throughout the room.

Draco was unaware of his surroundings, as he was now thoroughly entrenched in sensual pleasure. But his enjoyment was suddenly interrupted when he heard talking coming from the door. He pulled away from Pansy and turned his head towards the direction of the noise. His eyes narrowed on Crabbe and Goyle, who were perched at the entryway.

"Get out," Draco bellowed. He then watched as they trotted down the stairs. In reality, they should have known better than to come up in the dorms during that time. All of Draco's other dorm mates were well aware and often obeyed the carnal rule - even Blaise, although reluctantly - that the dorms were off limits when he was in there with a guest. His dorm mates often had to sleep in the common room during those times, or even bully their way into some of the younger students' rooms.

Without missing a beat, Pansy lowered her head, and proceeded to kiss him again. But Draco turned his head to the side. The excitement he was feeling earlier had waned since the appearance to the other two lads. Pansy then began kissing his neck, hoping somehow to recapture the passion that had transpired between them. She pulled up his shirt to reveal the taunt skin underneath. Her fingers danced up and down his chest before sinking into his robes.

Draco's eyes widened, as a sudden panic overtook him. "Get off," he said.

Pansy moved away from his bed and gave him a puzzled look. "What's wrong with you?"

Draco didn't register her question as his hands drove into his robes, and plunged into the pockets. The only article he was able to pull out was his quill. He finally got off of his bed and glared at her. "What did take from my pockets?" he asked, standing only inches away from her face.

"I didn't take anything. I didn't even feel anything in your pockets." She moved towards him again, and placed her hands firmly on his chest. "Why don't we continue what we started? I could see and feel that you were really enjoying it."

Draco pushed her hands away. "I'm in no mood for this. Just leave me alone." He didn't even watch her walk out of the room, as he got down on his hands and knees and began to comb the floor for his personal treasure. He reached under his bed, but only felt the usual shoes that he stashed down there. He got to his feet when he imagined Blaise snatching his journal when he wasn't looking. But he never remembered taking it out of his robes. He held his breath just then as he thought back to his time in the library. He clearly remembered placing it on the floor next to his robes when he grew tired of writing. And he picked it up when he was told the library was closing.

"What a minute," he said out loud. He squeezed his eyes shut when he thought he had accidentally placed his journal on the shelves with the other books. He threw his head back and let a tortured moan escape his lips. He fell onto his bed and stared up at his ceiling. Horrible thoughts of someone finding the journal and then reading it echoed through his mind. It was possible, since he never bothered to place a spell on it.

Chapter 2: Voyeurism
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Chapter 2: Voyeurism

Hermione's quill moved feverishly fast across the parchment. She didn't know what propelled her to change her essay at the last minute, but she had the sudden inkling that it wasn't up to par. She didn't initially intend on doing any work that night; she was actually at the library to tutor Harry and Ron on their assignments. But the redhead was the first to leave the scene, claiming he had other important things to do back at the dorms. Although his propensity towards lifting his academic standing had risen over the years, he still spent much of the study period trying to engage Harry in a sword-fighting match with their quills.

Harry had stayed a few minutes longer, before deciding he had enough. Hermione let him go without nagging him too much. Those past couple of weeks had been horrendous for him, as he had received another letter from the Dark Lord. But this time, the letter had not arrived by owl post during dinner, but was sitting on his seat in Potions class. Although no acts of violence had yet materialized from the Death Eater camp, there still was the possibility of attacks.

To keep her mind from wandering to the Dark Lord, she decided to re-write her essay. She was determined to win some extra points in Potions for her house; during most classes, she always ended up losing five or ten points here and there for showing off. But she had to admit that personal recognition for her work was what she was really after. Snape was the only one of her professors who had never acknowledged she was an excellent student. A past assignment had been returned with the note, "Too longwinded. This wasn't supposed to be a novel." But she was determined to win him over with her writing.

She was busy glancing over her books, when she caught sight of Draco walking into the library. He had been coming there a lot lately, she thought. She kept her gaze on him as he made his way to the same spot he had been the night before. She stared at him for several more minutes, as she tried to think of what he could be up to. There was no doubt in her mind that he had delivered that letter to Harry, since it was widely known that his father was Voldemort's right hand man.

After staring at him for a while longer, she continued with her essay once more. While in the midst of writing an eloquent sentence, which she thought would impress even Snape, the students at the table behind her started laughing, and disrupted her thoughts. They had done that a lot during the night. She knew what they were looking at; everyone in the library knew, since they couldn't keep their chuckling to a minimum. Ron had glanced through that same publication earlier in the night, but he had the decency to keep all comments to himself. After the umpteenth giggle and silly statement about genitalia, she turned around and glared at them. "Do you guys mind?" she said to the group. "Some of us are actually here to study and not to look at pornography."

Some of the other students made derogatory comments at her - one of which she recognized as Katie Bell's younger brother. She stared at him, before picking up her books and heading to the next table. She slammed her things down on the table and glanced up at Madame Pince. But the librarian was too engrossed in her book to take any notice. Hermione recalled that she had been reading that same novel every night that week.

Hermione sat down again and tried to concentrate on her assignment. But as she wrote, Ron's words echoed in her head. He had once said she would grow up to be a pious old maid like McGonagall. Hermione had certainly given him a piece of her mind for making such a comment. And to think there was a time when he fancied her, she thought. Of course all of that had occurred during the fall of their fifth year, when his fierce jealousy over Krum had caught her attention. But it didn't last long, as he soon found someone else to keep him occupied. And her romance with the Bulgarian Quidditch player soon fizzled; the constant glare of the media and their absence from one another was too much for her to take.

She took a deep breath and tried to ignore the snickering students behind her. Her quill moved with such little effort, as she ended her composition. She was about to congratulate herself on a work well done when she felt a prickling sensation on her neck, as if she was being watched. And low and behold, she was. Draco was leaning against the shelves watching her. She put down her quill and stared back at him. She narrowed her eyes in the same manner that never ceased to subdue Ron; but Draco held her gaze without flinching. She eventually gave in and looked away.

Draco was always doing that nowadays, she thought. She long noticed that his teasing and taunting had died down considerably. And his interactions with Harry were minimal at best. But although he wasn't as confrontational as the previous years, there was still something dangerous looming in the depths of his gray stare. She kept her head lowered and watched him from the corner of her eyes. He eventually stopped looking at her and began fumbling with the books on the shelves. She winced when she saw him toss books onto the floor, and step on them in the process.

When it was determined that Draco wasn't doing anything mischievous other than vandalizing school property, Hermione turned her attention back to her essay. She was looking it over one last time, when someone tapped her shoulder.

"Ms. Granger," said the librarian, "it's time to leave."

Hermione straightened up her books and put them all in a pile. "Madame Pince, I hope you will do something about those students back there. They were making a lot of noise. I'm pretty sure you heard it from your station."

Madame Pince was in the process of walking away, but she suddenly stopped in mid step. She then walked backwards until she was facing Hermione. "Miss, please don't tell me how to do my job. I am quite capable of keeping my library in order."

They looked at each other for a moment before the librarian walked away. Hermione could see that she had her novel tucked in the front pocket of her shirt; the bare-chested man on the front cover winked at her. She signed loudly as she placed her work in her bag. But as she walked to the door, she could hear a faint noise coming from the shelves. She headed to the isle Draco had been in and walked to the center, where the noise was the loudest.

A red book on the fifth shelf was moving uncontrollably, as it tried to free itself from underneath a large pile of bibles. "I'm out of order," it screeched. "This is not the proper place for me."

Hermione could definitely see that the books were placed in every which way on the shelves. She reached for them and placed them back in their designated areas. She wedged the complaining book between Searching for God in England and The Religious Experience of Wizardkind.

"Thank you so much Miss," said the appreciative book.

"Don't mention it," Hermione muttered under her breath.

"By the way, if you are interested in learning how to get more spirituality into your life, I'm the book for you."

"No thank you." Hermione had one more book left in her hands, but there was no filing code on it. She was about to call for the librarian, when she read the gold lettering on the spine. "Draco Malfoy." Her brows furrowed, as she flipped the book over for any other markings, but she saw nothing. She opened the book, and caught a glimpse of the writing on the pages.

The librarian watched her from two isles away. She pressed her arms tightly against her chest and crept up behind the unsuspecting girl. "I thought I told you it was closing time."

Hermione immediately closed the book. "I found something." She was about to hand over the journal so the other woman could owl it back to its owner, but she stopped herself. She then realized that she could benefit from the content on those pages. Plus, the annoyed expression growing on Madame Pince's face further enforced her decision to keep her finding to herself. She glanced back down at the journal, and quickly said, "It's nothing."

She headed out of the room and made her way back to her dorms. She walked back with quickened steps as her heart pounded over her discovery. Her initial thought was to show Harry and Ron what she had found, so all three of them could examine it. When she walked through the portrait hole, she forwent her plan to complain to Katie about her little brother, and headed to the seventh year boys' dorm instead.

She was about to knock on the door, when it creaked open. She could see that Harry was asleep in his bed. She stayed at the entryway for several minutes debating what to do next. She finally decided that it would be best for her to examine the contents of the journal first, before sharing it with Harry; she didn't want to give him any unnecessary fright, as he already had other things on his mind. She would also wait to tell Ron, as she knew he wouldn't be able to keep such news to himself.

Hermione normally would have taken a shower that night, but she decided she would bathe in the morning. Plus, she couldn't waste any time; there might be important material in the journal that needed her immediate attention. Since the night was still young and she knew her dorm mates would wander in and out of the room, she closed the curtains around her bed to let others know she was not to be disturbed.

She placed her pillows against her headboard and settled herself into a comfortable position. Her wand sat in her lap, giving her just the right amount of light. She brought the journal to her face and glided her fingers along the leather exterior. A queasy feeling started to develop in her stomach.

But before she opened it, she wondered if Draco had set a trap for her. The Malfoys were by now renowned for having bewitched diaries. But she shook off the possibility that her finding it was a ploy to entrap her, like Ginny. Plus, if Draco had intentionally wanted her to find it, he would have placed it out in the open instead of burying it under a mountain of books on an isle that received little traffic. As she prepared herself to read, she was finally hit by the magnitude of her finding, which sent excitement through her body.

She had often seen him writing in it during Potions. She was certain that there was something sinister on those pages; the look on his face while he scribbled always told her he was up to no good. Plus, he would sometimes halt in the middle of writing, and turn around to glance her way with a smirk on the edge of his lips.

Hermione brought her legs up to her chest and balanced the journal on her knees. She finally opened it and flipped from page to page, as her eyes focused on random words on various entries. All of this heightened her enthusiasm and she couldn’t hold back from reading an entry in the middle of the journal.



16 June 1996

The train pulled up at King's Cross Station at around 6pm. This should have been a great night for me, as I was going to sleep in my own bed instead of the lumpy one they have in school, but things went wrong right away. Nigel picked me up at the station and right away he began to show me some attitude. I told him to take the scenic route home, but he disobeyed my orders once more. I don't know why we keep him in our service when he's become so rebellious.

But things got considerably worse when we got to the manor. Father immediately called me into his office, not even bothering to give me a moment's rest. But I assumed he was going to give me my new Quidditch gear. My mother had ordered the green colored ones the week before, but they looked dreadful. I much preferred the black and silver. So I went into Father's office expecting him to hand me the box, but he had a go at me instead.

He lifted up the report I had owled him the week before on Potter and started to yell at me. "Did you think this was a joke?" he asked. He brought the parchment to his face and read. "8:30am, Harry is eating breakfast in the Great Hall. He is wearing the same flannel shirt he had on two days ago. To his right is Granger and to his left is Weasley."

"I did just as I was told," I said. "I followed Potter around and recorded his actions."

"But this is not what I wanted. I needed to know if he was talking to Dumbledore and what he knew of our plans. What you've written does not help me at all."

"But that was the best I could do. It's not like I could waltz up to the Gryffindor table and eavesdrop on their conversations, now could I?"

"Are you being smart with me?"

I didn't say anything else and just lowered my head.

"Our Lord asked you himself if you would do this for him,” he said, “and you agreed. But I never thought you would do such a sub par job. How can I hand this garbage to him now?"

First of all, it was Father who asked me to do it. Our Lord has never spoken a word to me directly. But I didn't repeat any of this to Father.

He ripped up my report and tossed it in the bin. All those months of hard work for nothing. But I didn't want him to think I had not taken the assignment seriously. "Father, I tried to get as close to them as possible, but every in the house is wary of m--"

"I don't want to hear your excuses. You always have an excuse for everything. Your problem is that you don't try hard enough. You could have gotten me my information if you really wanted to. I thought I could count on you, but I guess I can't."

He stopped talking and just stared at me. But he soon went back to his work and left me standing by the door, waiting to be dismissed. I tried to mention how I'd gotten excellent marks on all of my finals, but he said he didn't want to hear anymore from me and told me to leave him alone.

When I got back to my room, I saw that my new Quidditch gear was on my bed. But it was the green colored one. I was so angry, I took the shin pads and threw them against my dresser, shattering the glass award I had gotten for excellence in Dark Arts. I spent the rest of the night in my bed. I even cancelled my lesson with Liam.



Hermione leaned into the pillows and flipped to the beginning of the journal.


4 August 1995

My mother woke me up early this morning so I could get ready for the arrival of the Dark Lord. She then spent all afternoon ordering the servants around so they could get the manor ready.

I've always wondered about the Dark Lord, since I've never seen Him. I once asked Father what He looked like, but he snapped at me.

"What kind of ridiculous question is that?" he asked. "The only thing you need to know about Our Lord is that He is all powerful and it's because of Him that we live this grand lifestyle."

Soon the time came for Our Lord to finally make His appearance. At three in the afternoon, Father finally arrived with Him. My mother had me line up with the servants in the hallway. And in unison, everyone lowered his or her head when He walked through the door. Our Lord was heavily clothed in thick black robes and the hood obscured His face, so I couldn't see much. But that didn't stop me from looking up to get a view of any of His features.

He walked slowly down the hall, with a bit of a limp. Looking at Him up and down, He didn't seem any bigger or stronger than Father, nor that impressive.

But He stopped to glance at me. We stared at one another for several minutes, before He whipped His head around and said, "Malfoy, why is this boy looking at me?"

Father was then by my side and pushed my head down. "I'm sorry My Lord," he said.

"I would have thought you'd teach him to show my some respect."

Father continued to squeeze my neck with his hands, forcing me to look down until Our Lord walked away. Then he lowered his voice and said how I had embarrassed him and that he thought I would know better.


15 August 1995

I was in my room tonight, when I heard someone screaming. I ran out to the hall and looked down the stairs to the first floor. That's when I saw several of the Death Eaters dragging a man down the hallway by his arms. The man had a sack over his head and kept screaming, "Help me please. Someone call 999." One of the men kicked him in his side and he finally stopped talking. They eventually led him to the dining room.

I walked down the stairs to follow them, when I overheard my parents arguing in Father's living quarters.

"I don't want this in my house," my mother said. "Especially since Draco's here."

"So what if he's here? It's about time he got to see what I did. He'll be doing the same thing in a couple of years."

"But why did you have to bring him into the main house? Why couldn't you use the shed?"

"It's better here. The dungeon is a much more appropriate place. Plus, it's big enough to fit everyone. Why are you so agitated? You've never said anything about this sort of thing in the past. Our Lord just wants to have a bit of fun tonight. He's been gone for far too long and needs some excitement."

My mother sat down on a chair and put her hands over her face. "Why does this have to happen now? Just when things were finally settling down for us too. Why do you have to involve yourself in this petty activity?"

"Involve myself?" asked Father. "This is who I am. It's in my blood and Draco's as well. I didn't choose it; it chose me. And the only way I can leave is through death."

That's when my mother started to cry. "But I don't want things to go back to the way they were. We're going to deal with the Ministry raids all over again. Remember when Draco was a baby and we had those constant searches."

"Well, that's the price we pay."

"Things are going to get worse. And of course everyone knows he's staying here."

Father whirled around and glared at her. "What's wrong with you woman? You should see it as a great honor to host him. Anyway, leave me in peace. You're agitating me and I need to keep my focus for what I have to do."

I hid behind one of the tapestries when my mother walked out of the room. Shortly afterwards, Father exited. He was wearing his red robes. He only wore them on very rare occasions and kept them in a cedar chest in his closet. I used to sneak into his room and try them on when I was younger. One time, when I was ten, I put on the robes only to discover that part of the right sleeve was wet. When I touched the damp spot, there was blood all over my hands. That's when my mother walked into the room. Before I could say anything, she slapped me across the face and ordered me to take off the robes. She then yelled at Helena for not keeping a better eye on me.

I made my way down to the kitchen and entered a small storage room near the laundry. I crawled under the old chairs and table until I reached the vent. When I opened it, I was able to see a small portion of the dungeons. The man who had been screaming was in full view. The sack was now off his head and he was sitting in a small chair surrounded by the Death Eaters. He was sweating a lot and blood was running down his temple.

"Please release me," he said. "I'm a very rich man. I could give you any amount of money you desire."

The Death Eaters laughed. "Your money is of no value to us," said Our Lord.

All the men had their usual black robes on, but I could still recognize many of them. Goyle's father stood out because of his potbelly. Mr. Goyle stepped in front of the man and pointed his wand at him.

"No," said Our Lord. "This night belongs to Malfoy." And that's when Father walked into sight. "I want you to take your time with this one, Malfoy."

The Death Eaters crowded around the seated man and carried him out of sight. The room was then quiet for a long time afterwards. I was about to leave, when I heard the man scream again. This time the cry was louder than when he was in the hall, and it sounded like wailing. Wave after wave of screams followed that one, until I couldn't take anymore and left the room.


16 August 1995

I'm so tired. I couldn't sleep. I spent the entire night thinking about the man in the dungeons. Every time I tried to close my eyes, I kept hearing him screaming over and over again. At breakfast, I thought I'd fall asleep in my food, but I forced myself to stay awake. Father seemed to be in good spirits though. But my mother was in a bad mood. She kept glaring at him the whole time. And she left the table without even touching her food.

Just before breakfast was over, Father told me the Parkinsons were coming over for an extended visit. I was hoping I could spend a summer without seeing them.

When I left the table, I saw Nigel taking a tray of food into the North Wing. I wish I could sneak in there to see what Our Lord does all day. Last night was the only time I saw him since his arrival. I've looked through lots of books for possible spells Father could have used on the doors, but I couldn't find any.


16 August 1995 (that afternoon)

Pansy and her parents are here. I decided not to greet them when they first arrived and stayed up in my room. Plus, I see enough of her during school. I was putting on my equipment for my lesson with Liam, when she walked in. I didn't say anything to her. She stayed by the doorway and stared at me for a long time, before she sat on my bed.

"You've been ignoring me this summer," she said. "You didn't even come to my party."

I don't know why she'd be upset, since I didn't go last year either. I just continued getting ready.

But she wouldn't leave me alone and kept talking. "It was really nice of you to invite me to the Yule Ball. But I was a little upset when you went off with your friends."

"We weren't on a date," I said. "So why shouldn't I have left?"

"I wasn't even upset about that."

"Then why are you bringing up something that took place eight months ago?"

"No particular reason. I just couldn't get over the fact that you invited me."

She's been saying that for a while. I don't know why it's such a big deal. Then she started talking about her summer and the fight she had with Millicent during her party.

"I hate her so much," she said. "She's always spreading lies about me."

She went on like that for several more minutes. I had to tell her to leave because she was annoying me. My practice started in five minutes, and I couldn't have her distracting me.


17 August 1995

Tonight was quite interesting. I sneaked into the kitchen at around one in the morning to get a bite to eat, when I ran into Pansy. I didn't expect her to be there, since the guesthouse has its own kitchen. I didn't say anything to her, but grabbed my sandwich and left. But she followed me to the library and would not leave me in peace.

I don't know what happened, but somewhere between discussing our fifth year, we started talking about sex. She asked if I've ever done it. I didn't want her to know my business, so I just nodded my head.

When she told me she was still a virgin, I nearly choked. Marcus used to tell me stories about her all the time. And knowing the kind of girls Marcus went after, I never would have imagined she was a virgin. I didn't say anything else after that and just sat back and listened to her describe what she wanted her first night to be like. But I wasn't really listening to her, but looking at her legs. I never realized until then how nice they really were. I was so preoccupied with them that I almost missed out when she said, "I want to lose my virginity to you." That took me by surprise. I never had a request like that before. So we decided that we would do it the next night.


18 August 1995

Tonight was the night Pansy and I did it, sort of. It was perfect timing too because both of our parents were going to some show in town.

I pretty much spent today getting ready for the big night and I sent George to town to buy me some condoms. I went over to the guesthouse at 8 o'clock. She looked really pretty tonight and wore her hair up. We didn't really do anything for the first half hour or so. We just sat in her bed while she told me about her summer. She then spread out all the jewelry her father had bought her on their trip to Italy.

When I placed my hand on her thigh, she moved away. It wasn't until five minutes later that she showed some real interest, when she kissed me on the cheek. But she gave me a real kiss on the lips a moment later. We ended up rolling around on her bed.

I told her to touch my crotch, but she freaked out and got off the bed. She stood by her closet with her hands over her mouth for several minutes before she said anything. "I don't think I can go through with this," she said. "I'm not ready for sex."

So, I asked her for a ...


"Oh my God," said Hermione as she let the journal drop out of her hands. She opened her curtains to see if anyone had heard her. The room was dark and quiet, and was made even more eerie by the moonless night. She held her breath, so she could easily detect any noises. All she heard was the occasional rustling of bedcovers and light snoring. She closed her curtains and continued to read.

I lifted her shirt and bra and kissed her breasts. I tried to place my hands down her pants, but she kept pushing them away. I lay back on the bed and watched her undo my belt and zipper. When she pulled down my boxers, she brought her hands over her mouth again and kept saying, "Oh my God." And then she kept staring at it for the longest time.

It was a nerve-wracking moment for me. It was one thing to be naked, but it was entirely another to be stared at like that. She giggled a lot before we actually did anything.



Hermione's eyes continued to grow wide from the content; Draco's writing was extremely blunt and detailed. Several times, she had to stop reading from fears she would awaken her dorm mates with her loud gasps.


Afterwards, we just sat on the bed and looked at each other. It was really awkward. She tried to give me a kiss on the mouth, but I turned my head away just in time. I told her I had to get some sleep because I had an early practice, and left.


28 August 1995

This afternoon started off all right. My mother insisted we have lunch on the back veranda. Everything was going well until Nigel came out and handed Father a small box. I could tell from the gold wrapping that it was from the jewelry store. My mother saw it too, because she started smiling and held out her hand to Father.

But Father didn't look at her or even give her the box. My mother kept staring at him for about ten minutes, before she threw her napkin onto the table and went inside. I went to her living quarters later to pay her a visit, but Gemma told me she didn't want any company.



5 November 1995

Pansy told me she loved me tonight. We were in our usual room getting dressed when she said it. First, I thought she was just kidding. But she had a serious expression on her face. She even gave me a hug afterwards. Then she kept staring at me. I didn't say anything to her and just walked to the other end of the room to try to find where I'd thrown my trousers. We didn't say anything to each other for the rest of the night. But when we got back to the common room, she ran up to her dorm.

I didn't think I'd have trouble sleeping tonight, but I can't seem to close my eyes. I've never had anyone say that to me in my life.


20 June 1996

I was practicing with Liam today out in the rain. He loves it when the weather's bad. "It builds character," he's always saying. He was teaching me the Bromley Special. He was known for doing it when he played for the Falcons. I was looking forward to learning it. I've even seen Potter do it a couple of times, but not very well. I tried it several times, and I got it right away. But I fumbled when the snitch was released. I almost had it in my grasp when I slid off my broom and landed on my side and hurt my arm. The worst part was that Father was staring at me through the window.

When I got back in the house, he was standing by his study door, staring at me. My mother tried to see if I was all right, but I told her to leave me alone. I didn't even cradle my arm while I walked upstairs; I let it hang by my side, which was a big mistake because it started to hurt even more. But I couldn't do anything else because he kept watching me. I tried to go without medicine for nearly an hour, but I couldn't. My arm feels a bit better now, but I wish I could have just lived with the pain.



6 July 1996

No one was home today, so I went to Father's room. In his closet, there were some new robes and shoes I hadn't seen before. One robe fit me perfectly, but the shoes were a little big. But I really wasn't interested in the clothes; I really wanted to find out what was in the box I found last week.

I pulled the box from under his bed and said the words to open it. I finally found the spell after looking for it in one of my spell books. Inside the box were pictures of my mother. The first one looked as though she was in her twenties. I was looking through the pictures, when a pink cloud floated up to my face. That's when I knew Father had used a spell on the photographs. I used to have the same curse on my collection of wizard cards in my bedroom. I bewitched them all to look like Dumbledore, so Blaise wouldn't steal them. I took the spell off the pictures and the images of my mother began to disappear. The top photograph was now of Father. He looked really young, like he was still in school. He looked a lot like me and styled his hair in the same manner as well. There were a few more images of him playing Quidditch and holding up awards he had won.

But towards the bottom of the box, the pictures got stranger. One of them was of a naked woman. Her hands were chained to the wall, her mouth was gagged and her breasts were wrapped with some sort of leather strap. They almost looked purple.

The picture underneath that was of a man and woman having sex. But the man had his hands around the woman's neck and seemed to be choking her. Some of the other pictures involved animals. I didn't really look at those.

I still can't get those images out of my mind, especially the woman with her black and blue breasts. All I know is that I have no desire to go back to Father's room.



23 July 1996

Our house got raided tonight. I should have suspected something was up this afternoon when I saw the servants cleaning out the North Wing. And the servants were in the library, taking out certain books. Nigel even came into my room this morning and started taking out the spell books Father had given me.

The raid happened at around midnight. I was in my room reading when I heard loud voices coming from the hallway. When I went downstairs, there were about ten Ministry officials standing in the entryway. One of them was having an argument with my mother. "Look Madame," he said, "if you cooperate with us, we will only be here a short time."

"Just make sure you don't break anything,” she said. “Last time you guys were here, one of your men broke a vase. I will take action against you if anything is missing."

Weasley's father was in the group and he took a step forward. "I will personally see that nothing in your home is broken or disrupted." He placed his hand on my mother's shoulder, but she smacked it away.

My mother stared at him and then walked away.

Then all the men dispersed throughout the house. They went from room to room, opening up cabinets and drawers. But they spent most of their time in the dining room. When I peeked into the room, I saw that some of the men were on their hands and knees, feeling along the floor and walls.

After about two hours, they left. When I got back to my room, all my things had been moved. It took Nigel an hour to straighten everything up.


25 August 1996

We just got back from our trip to Paris. Father wasn't with us again because he had "business." This year, my mother decided to invite Crabbe and Goyle. Since they'd never been to Paris before, my mother insisted on taking them to all the museums and other touristy places. But I was able to have some time to myself for a little while. I even tried out my French at this little bistro. The waitress gave me a few odd looks at first, but I think I did pretty well.

Now it’s just Crabbe, Goyle and I at the house. My mother went off to visit a friend. Anyway, everyone was in my room, when I got an owl from Pansy. It appears she's talking to me again. In her letter, she said she was sorry about being mad at me for not asking her to go with us. She wanted to see me today. Says it would be worth my while. She even sent me a pair of her panties.

I was sitting by the window writing her back, when Crabbe started looking over my shoulder. "Is Pansy coming over?" he asked. "What if she and Mandy meet?"

"So what if they do?" It would have done Pansy some good to see her competition. Plus it would be interesting to see how the girls would react around one another. But I wasn't in the mood for all that drama. And I couldn't waste the hard work I’d done to get Mandy.

When we all went to the game room, I kept seeing Crabbe sticking his hand into his jean pocket. Later on, I saw him take something black out of his pocket and rub it between his fingers. I didn't think it was anything, until I got back to my room. The letter Pansy sent me was still on my bed, but the panties were gone. I was going to yell at him for taking it, when the doorbell rang. It was Mandy. I could tell she dressed up for the occasion. She initially didn't want to come into the house.

"Is anyone else around?" she asked.

"Just Crabbe and Goyle."

"Then I can't stay. I can't have people know that I've been here. My parents think I'm at a friend's house."

"Don't worry about it Mandy. Crabbe and Goyle won't say a word. They know better than that." I took her hand and kept reassuring her that no one will know about our meeting. I think it helped because she became more relaxed.

I started off by giving her a tour of the house. I think she was really impressed. "I thought your house would be dark and gloomy," she said. "Filled with people chained to the wall. But it's really lovely."

We then had our lunch outside. I was surprised things were going so well. Nigel was even acting like an obedient servant for once. After an hour of listening to her talk about being a Prefect for Ravenclaw and other things, I led her to my bedroom. She was shy at the beginning and didn't want to do much, but I finally got her.


31 August 1996

I was packing my things for the train ride tomorrow when I slammed my fingers on the trunk. I still can't believe the scream that came out of my mouth. Too bad my mother wasn't around, or else she would immediately be in my room asking me if I was okay. I called out for Nigel, but as usual he was nowhere to be seen.

I went down to the kitchen to get some ice for my fingers. On my way back, I passed by Father's study. The door was opened a bit and I know he always liked it closed. I didn't even think he was at home.

But when I opened the door to see who was inside, I saw him sitting behind his desk. Normally, he would have had his head lowered as he looked over the parchments that always covered his desktop. But this time, he was reclining in his chair with his arms behind his head. There was an odd expression on his face that I've never seen before.

I was busy staring at my father until I realized there was a woman sitting on his desk. Even though she had her back to me, I could still tell that she was Father's secretary. I've only seen her several times at his office, but never at the house. She wasn't wearing any shoes and she was grazing her bare feet against Father's thigh.

"Can I help you with something?" Father asked me.

"No, Sir," I said.

"Then get out and close the door."

I closed the door. But I pressed my ear against it and listened for several minutes. I couldn't hear anything for a long time, but then I heard Father's chair squeak. I ran down the hall and hid in the music room just as he opened his door.



21 April 1997

Pansy had another go at me this morning. She stormed into the boys' bathroom while I was shaving my chest and started yelling at me. I nearly took off a nipple because of her.

"I know about you and this girl," she said. "I know what's been going on. But the thing I don't understand is why you would do this to me."

I rinsed off the razor and put it back in my bag. I inspected my chest for any little hairs that I might have missed, when I felt her hands on my shoulders. "Why are you making this difficult for me?" she asked. "It sometimes feels like I'm the only one doing all the work in this relationship. I'm the one who always has to chase after you and initiate all the interactions between us."

I didn't want to say anything else to her, I'd said enough over the past couple of months. She just kept watching me through the mirror while I brushed my hair. But then she leaned against one of the sinks and pulled the brush out of my hand. "I love you," she said.

I walked over to get my clothes off the hook. I'd just gotten the top button of my shirt fastened when I heard her crying. I continued to get dressed.

"Why are you always doing this to me?" she asked. "Are you trying to purposely hurt me?"

I tried to pretend she wasn't even in the room. I was doing a pretty good job, until I felt a wet towel hit the back of my head. And that's when I lost it. "God dammit," I yelled, "why the hell do we have to go through this every single day? Can't I have a moment's rest without you attacking me?"

"I'm not trying to attack you. I would just like to get some answers from you. Every time I ask how you feel about me, you never respond."

"I don't have to answer to you. And as for this relationship that you speak of; there is none. I'm only with you when it suits me. I made it perfectly clear to you from the beginning that we were not together. How many more times do I have to tell you that?" She lifted her hand. I thought she was going to slap me again, but she didn't. She just placed it over her mouth. She was shaking. I just turned around and placed my hands against the wall. "Your crying is annoying me. Just get out of here and leave me alone."

She didn't leave as immediately as I hoped. She stood there sniffling for about five minutes before she finally walked out.

It took me awhile to get back into my routine. It's been like this for nearly a week. But she's never intruded on me like this before. I think I sat on that floor for about thirty minutes before I finally finished getting dressed.



Hermione finally reached the end of the journal, as she read the entry he had made that night.


October 5, 1997

My head has been pounding all day today. I was feeling really nauseous after Potions. My Mythology teacher let me leave class early so I could go back to the dorms. This made the Muggle-born mad because she raised her hand and asked why I was allowed to leave. The teacher told her because I didn't need any preparation for the exam. But that girl wouldn't stop and said, "Then can I leave too? I'm prepared as well." But Professor Dorian didn't say anything to her. If my head wasn't hurting so much, I would have laughed.

All I wanted to do was lie down for a while. But when I got to my bed, there was already a letter from home. I didn't open it for a long time because I already knew whom it was from. He's been sending me these letters nearly everyday now. When I finally did open it, I found that it was indeed from Father. I was a short note, wanting to know if I was studying for the December ceremony. His owl was still waiting outside the window, so I guess he wanted an immediate answer.

After I answered his letter, I lay on my bed and closed my eyes. I've been studying those books he gave me for several months now. With my homework and everything else, I've been very busy. I don't know why he would be so worried. Out of all the guys who are going through with the initiation, I'm the most capable. I would be worried if I was Crabbe or Goyle's father. Marcus told me the ceremony is long and painful. But I think he just said that to scare some of the other guys. He's probably just mad because he didn't make it.

I don't even want to think about that right now. Every time I imagine myself sitting in front of the Dark Lord, I start feeling sick. I was looking forward to it a while back, but now I don't even know.

There was another article in the papers today about our house getting raided. I didn't read it. But I'm sure Weasel will say something to me about it tomorrow.

Mandy sent me another letter. I just put it in my box with all the others. She's been getting really persistent lately. And careless. She didn't even bother to use one of the school owls when she sent it either.

But I can't worry about her at this moment. I just have to concentrate on being prepared for the ceremony.



Hermione finished reading. She had changed positions during the course of those hours and was now lying on her stomach with the journal spread out on her bed. She looked over that entry one last time, concentrating on the passage that talked about her. She was indeed angered that morning when Draco was allowed to leave the class. But now that she saw her actions down on paper, she realized how foolish she seemed.

She was both surprised and disappointed over what she had read. Draco seemed to offer little information about Death Eater plans for which she could pass onto Harry. But he did mention something about an initiation ceremony in December. Hermione reach into the top drawer of her nightstand for a piece of paper and jotted down a note to herself for the next morning.

She them flipped through the pages of the journal once more, her eyes searching for passages that had caught her attention. She first went to the entry describing the contents in the box under Lucius Malfoy's bed. "Some of the other pictures involved animals," she read out loud. She then contorted her face into a grimace.

It surprised her to learn that Draco had been following them around all those months; she had never noticed what he was doing before. She grabbed her sheet of paper and jotted down this important piece of information.

When she couldn't find anything else to make Harry aware of, she closed the journal and placed it underneath her pillow. She slowly climbed off her bed and stretched her sore muscles. A surprised look came across her face when she looked down at her watch; it was one in the morning.

After a quick shower and changing her clothes, she climbed into bed, ready to get some sleep before her busy day began. But the contents of that journal beckoned for her and she couldn't resist reaching underneath that down pillow for it. Her eyes skimmed through the pages once more, taking in every detail of Draco's life. Although she told herself that there might have been valuable information about Voldemort that she could have skipped over, in reality, she liked reading about his personal life. There was something voyeuristic about what she was doing.

She especially like reading about his love life. "Mandy," she mumbled to herself. She recalled a seventh year in Ravenclaw by this name, but it surprised her to think that anyone in that house - or any other house other than Slytherin, for that matter - would ever venture to Malfoy Manor. She reached for her paper once more and scribbled down 'Mandy Brocklehurst.'

She then sat with her back pressed against her headboard for several minutes, contemplating what she would do with the journal. She could send it back to him, she thought, since Draco was obviously not using it to communicate with Voldemort. But she decided to keep it for a while longer. It might come in handy later on.








Chapter 3: Draco's Conquests
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Chapter 3: Draco's Conquests

Draco looked down the table, his eyes slowly washing over each girl in his house. A smile formed on his lips as he thought of how he could have any one of those girls if he so cared. They would be more than honored, he mused, to be led to his dorm and fulfill any need he wanted. But this great power had gone fairly unused by the blond, for many of the girls in his house were not known for their beauty. Some of them were much like Millicent Bulstrode, who he thought resembled a female version of Goyle than anything else.

Although he had hormones like any other hot-blooded male, he also had standards, which would only allow beauty and grace into his bed. This being so, he had tampered with and tasted the fruits the other houses - except Gryffindor of course - had to offer, as many beautiful girls resided in Hufflepuff and especially Ravenclaw. Although the creed was for all the Slytherins to stick together and to only date those in their house, inter- house sex was found necessary and frequently practiced by the boys of Slytherin.

Draco had initially been shocked during his second year at school when he saw a seventh year Slytherin boy sneaking into the Astronomy Tower with a Hufflepuff. He had initially found the boy's actions to be highly traitorous; but he soon learned that sex had its own rules.

Although some of the Slytherin young men were seen as vile and detestable, they were still able to get the odd Ravenclaw young lady for the night. During the day, the usual taunting and glares in the halls would be exchanged by these two groups of individuals; but at night, that hatred would fuel their lust and make their amorous encounters much more explosive. And the next morning, the boys would go back to holding their Slytherin girlfriend's hand around school.

This was also the same for Draco, but with one exception: he never held anyone's hand the next morning.

"It's all in our persona," Marcus had said, as he tried to explain to him the reason the Slytherin young men were popular with the women. "I know they stay away from us in the halls and pray for us to lose during Quidditch matches, but that's just a facade. We're their guilty little pleasure. They might want a Gryffindor for a boyfriend, but they want us in their bed. They find the symbol of the snake dangerous and exciting."

But Draco soon realized he didn't need the mystique of the Slytherin banner to get attention. Over the course of those years, he had built a steady reputation for himself of being wildly seductive, and that he was now the captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team helped his popularity as well. But he had also grown more handsome over the years, as he was quick to point out. His eyes, which had gotten him much teasing in his younger years for looking strange, were now his biggest assets, as girls often commented on how beautiful they were. He had also let his hair grow out longer, as it hung to his shoulders, beautifully framing his pronounced cheekbones.

His gaze soon flittered to the Hufflepuff table. The girls in this house were what he would call "cute," but they also possessed a giggly nature that made them annoying. He could easily have any one of them with her legs spread and ready for him at the snap of his fingers; the other lads in his house did not nickname them Hufflepuss for nothing. But they were great practice for more challenging prey.

One of the girls caught his gaze and smiled at him. But he kept his face expressionless and moved his eyes to the next table, Ravenclaw. The women at this table were considered to be some of the most beautiful at the school; but they were much more of a challenge to get. No smiles greeted him from this table; there were scowls and lowered glances, but definitely no smiles.

A smug smirk curled onto his lips as his gaze fell upon what was once a reluctant conquest. He then mused over how she and the other girls in that house had initially resisted him. But he was patient and had mastered the art of seduction. Plus, he preferred to chase and the opportunity to slowly break down a girl's resistance, rather than have them fling themselves at him.

He had courted one certain young woman for several months before she even spoke to him. But that girl had since become a nuisance. And just then, his gaze fell upon the young woman in question. She was his first Ravenclaw conquest and was one of only two girls in the school who had managed to remain a frequent in his life for more than a week after their initial sexual encounter. Draco had opened up to her once - clearly a lapse in judgment on his part. He has since tried not to make that same mistake.

Mandy did not try to hide away from him like the others at her table and met his glances full on. The powerful emotions that exuded from her gaze would have affection any other person; but Draco kept his face relaxed and brought his hand to his chin and rubbed the few tufts of hair with the back of his fingers.

The staring continued for a while longer as neither party looked away. And then her expression turned from sadness to anger as she furrowed her brows and pressed her lips together in a tight line. No emotions, however, surged onto Draco's creamy features. And that's when she glanced away and started blinking her eyes rapidly.

Draco slowly let his gaze wander to the end of the Ravenclaw table, where a sixth year blonde was seated. She was looking down at her breakfast, as she twirled her porridge around in her bowl. But Draco was not fooled by her coyness; he was certain she had seen him. So he leaned forward in his seat and kept a steady gaze on her to show that he would not back down.

She eventually let her spoon fall from her hand and sheepishly met his stare for a moment before looking away. But her timid glances eventually grew more and more confident and were soon engaged in a romantic dance with his gray stare. After several minutes of that tango, Draco looked to the doors of the Great Hall and then back at her.

She kept still, as if pondering something in her head before she gathered her things from the table and left the room. Draco kept put as he watched her leave. He then pushed his uneaten food away and tapped his fingers against the table. He glance down at his watch and then got out of his seat and exited the room.

He walked swiftly down the long hall and turned into a dark corridor. He was about to head up the small passageway that led to the North Tower, when someone grabbed his hand. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" she asked

Draco breathed loudly and looked down at his feet. But he eventually leaned against the wall and stared across the hall at her through half closed eyes. He brought his arms against his chest and waited for her to start talking. But she looked very timid as she glanced up at him, crossing and uncrossing her fingers in a nervous gesture. He was glad to see that his presence unnerved her; he was secretly hoping that his defensive stance would eventually intimidate her and force her to head back to the Great Hall. But she finally mustered some courage and began to speak.

"Did you get the letter I sent you the other day?" she asked.

Draco slowly nodded.

She continued to stare at him, as her eyes pleaded for him to say more about the letter; she had spend nearly two hours expressing her feelings over that long piece of parchment. But he did not utter a word.

"I was hoping you'd write me back," she began. "You used to write me the most incredible letters. I still have all of them." She slowly approached him and placed a hand on his arm. "I've missed you." Her voice came out sounding choked, but it was evident she was stilling trying hard to suppress the majority of what she was feeling. "I've missed spending time with you. Remember how we used to spend all those nights together talking?"

Her breathing grew more audible and she found herself moving closer to his body, as her fingers traveled along his chest. "Did you even read my letter?"

Draco turned his head towards the staircase as he muttered in a flat voice, "No."

Mandy glanced in that direction as well. "I guess you were too busy...with other things."

Since it was apparent that she knew where he was going and with whom, her gaze searched his face, as she tried to find a hint of guilt in his features. But there was no evidence that he was shameful for his actions; there was even a small grin on the corner of his lips. She drew her hands away from his body and took a step backwards. She looked away for a moment, but then gazed back at him. He met her eyes with indifference and drummed his fingers against the wall to indicate she was wasting his time. After a few minutes of that eerie silence, she walked away and headed back to her dorm.

Draco stayed against that wall for a minute, but then glanced at the staircase. He closed his eyes and whiffed the air; he could still smell the blonde's perfume. He had been planning that meeting for quite some time and hated the idea of missing it. But he soon concluded that not showing up would only increase the Ravenclaw's interest in him. He looked down at his watch and decided that he had better head off to the library.

He stalked along the hallway with quick but controlled steps, all the while making sure he did not look too eager. Outside the library, he saw Madame Pince opening the doors. He calculated that he would have a few minutes to get his journal before heading off to the Quidditch pitch. But Snape, who intersected him from an adjoining hall, prevented him from reaching his destination.

"Where have you been?" the Potions Master asked. "We've been looking for you everywhere. Did you forget about the team's practice?"

"No. I was just about to...I'll be right there." He stood in the halls for a moment longer watching the librarian open the doors to the room he'd been thinking about going into since the night before. But he put his needs aside and followed Snape.

***************

Hermione slowly made her way to the Great Hall. She had initially waited on the steps leading to the boys' dorms for Ron and Harry, but after fifteen minutes she guessed they had left for breakfast without her. And just as she had assumed, they were both sitting at the table. Ron's plate was piled high with bacon and eggs, while Harry's plate only held a half eaten piece of toast, which he stabbed at with his knife.

She took her usual place between the two young men. She greeted them good morning, but it was hard to grab their attention. Ron was involved in a fierce argument with Seamus; they had bet money on the previous night's game between the Cannons and the Falcons, and the Irish boy was refusing to pay. Harry on the other hand, had his head lowered and was absorbed in his thoughts. She grabbed both of their arms, causing each of them to look at her.

"I have something important to discuss with you guys," she said in a whispered voice. Ron only casually glanced at her, before returning his attention back to Seamus. But seeing that Harry was looking at her, she decided that she would be better off telling him the news since if pertained more to him than Ron.

"How are you feeling?" she asked Harry. She brought her arm around him and began to rub his back. "Did you get a good night's sleep? I know you went to bed early last night."

Harry had his elbow on the table and offered her a weak smile. His hair was a bit more tousled than usual and the circles around his eyes were visible, even though his glasses. "I woke up last night at one in the morning, and couldn't go back to sleep. I spent the rest of the night just pacing downstairs in the common room."

"I was awake then. You and I could have talked."

He raised an eyebrow in the air. "What were you doing up?" Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but hesitated. However, she didn't need to make up an excuse, because Harry said, "You were still working on your essay, weren't you?"

Hermione nodded. Her hand then fluttered to the boy's face, as she pushed away the hair from his cheek.

"What's the important news you need to share?" he asked.

Hermione kept quiet as she observed the weary expression on his face. Although the news she wanted to tell him was not life threatening, she feared it would add to his already abundant worries. And that he was never able to get a good night's sleep reinforced her decision to keep mum. "Nothing," she muttered, as her fingers traced along his face. She then grabbed his plate and began to fill it with more food. "You should really eat something, your skin is losing its color."

Harry at first stared at the food as though it was some foreign substance, but soon found his hunger.

Hermione then decided she would take it upon herself to watch Draco and see if he engaged in any suspicious activity before sharing anything with Harry. She looked across the room at Draco; he wasn't eating his breakfast, but looking in the direction of the Hufflepuff table. His gaze was fixed at the end of the table, where a group of girls were gathered.

She knew exactly what he was doing as Ron often did the same thing during meal times. Ron would always stare at the girl he had been with the night before in the same fashion; but unlike Ron, who would wave at the girl as if publicly announcing to all the other boys at the table that he was capable of getting a girl, Draco's methods were slyer. The calm manner in which his eyes darted from girl to girl said he was confident in his achievements and didn't need to proclaim his conquests to anyone.

But then suddenly, Draco's gaze grew intense, almost alarming her. She followed his gaze to the Ravenclaw table behind her. And just as she had thought, he was observing Mandy. But there was a weird manner in which they were looking at one another. She then watched as Mandy lowered her head and began to wipe her eyes.

Hermione was busy watching Mandy that she failed to notice that Draco had walked out of the room. But she too got out of her seat when she saw Mandy chase after him. She stayed several feet away from the other girl, as she followed her down the hall. She suspected the couple was going to be meeting somewhere. And just then she saw them in a dark corridor, staring at one another. Hermione stayed out of sight, but was close enough to hear parts of their conversation.

She poked her head around the corner and saw Mandy with her hands pressed against his chest. She glanced away when she assumed they would start to kiss. But after several minutes, she heard footsteps and before she could find somewhere to hide, Mandy was walking her way. The Ravenclaw gave out a frightened gasp when she saw her, but hid her face underneath her mountains of curls before quickly heading down the hall.

Hermione's heart was pounding, as she wondered if Mandy had suspected something. But she became more nervous when she thought of Draco catching her. She looked into the corridor once more, but he was nowhere in sight.

She leaned against the wall and closed her eyes as she thought of what she had just witnessed. She winced as the image of Mandy with her hands on Draco's chest flooded into her mind. She and Mandy had had several classes together in the past; she remembered the Ravenclaw as being extremely smart.

It was thus highly disturbing for her to think of how such a bright girl could fawn over Draco. She could see how a Hufflepuff could fall for the Slytherin, as they didn't know any better and were highly susceptible to flattery.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a sliver of paper, on which had written down the journal entry date where Mandy was first mentioned. "August 25, 1996," she said to herself. Her hand lifted, as she placed the paper close to her lips. Seeing as that Mandy's liaison with the Slytherin had gone on for over a year, Hermione guessed the Ravenclaw could offer her some insight on his daily routine.

*****************

Draco ducked as a bludger came surprisingly close to his head. He managed to move out of the way just in time. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he yelled at the beater. "You're supposed to hit it at the other team, not me." He glared at the sixth year for a moment, before looking out into the sky for the snitch; the shiny object was nowhere in sight.

He spent his time watching the rest of the team down below, as they practiced the new game plan he had come up with the week before. He closed his eyes, as the chasers were out of alignment with one another. "You guys are supposed to stay together. Stay as a pack. We're never gonna win if-- will the two of you cut that out?" he screamed as the two beaters began swinging their bats at one another in some mock gladiator combat.

The rest of the practice time was spend just the same way, with him barking orders and then throwing back his head as the team was not working up to his standards. They continued for another hour before going to the changing rooms. Draco spent his time getting dressed away from the rest of his teammates. He was swelling with the great desire to slam Terry into the lockers for his poor performance on the pitch, but he had other important things to attend to. With his hair still wet, he made his way out of the room. While at the door, he flashed the other player a warning look of what was to come if he ever messed up again.

With quickened steps, Draco made his way back to the library. And just as he had seen her a few hours earlier, Madame Pince was standing before the doors, this time locking up the library.

"What a minute," he said as he hurried to the woman's side. Why are you closing it now? It's only four o'clock."

The librarian finished the doors and nonchalantly turned to towards him. She glared at him for a moment, before placing her keys in her pocket. "Young man," she said in a flat voice, "let me make you aware that the library closes early on weekends. One would think you'd know this, considering the amount of time you now spend here."

And with that, Madam Pince turned around and continued down the hall, leaving Draco to glare at her back and curse her underneath his breath.

Draco stood motionless for several minutes. Soon his head began to pound, as he felt his heart racing. He squeezed his eyes shut, as his body was suddenly proliferated with an intense anxiety. His mind began to swim with looming thoughts just then, many of them not related to whether his house would win the Quidditch Cup that year.

His hands clenched into balls as his body tensed. He looked up at the light fixture above and mouthed an obscenity. He began to take deep breaths as he told himself over and over again that he would find his journal in the next day. After saying this enough times, he eventually believed it; it was through the help of this wishful thinking that he was finally able to leave the hall.

**************************

Draco threw himself onto the bed and closed his eyes. He tried to keep his mind from racing with numerous thoughts, as was the case when he tried to get some rest. Breathing slowly, he was able to slow down his thumping heart and calm his nerves. He didn't know how long he was on his bed, but when he opened his eyes once more, a small group of boys were sitting in the corner of the room, whispering quietly amongst themselves.

Some were sitting on Blaise's bed, while other sat on the floor. They stopped talking when they saw him sit up on his bed and eye them. There was a long silence as the six boys glanced from their hands to Draco, a look of discomfort on their faces.

"We didn't mean to wake you," Brandon finally said. "I guess we'll take this back to my dorm." The dark haired sixth year got to his feet and was about to tell the others to follow him, when Draco lifted his hand and signaled for them to stay put.

Normally, Draco would have delighted in watching them walk out of the room, but he had a fondness for the sixth year; the young man always knew his place and never grated his nerves, like everyone else. Draco preferred the other boy's quiet disposition. Plus, the young man had amorous tales that rivaled his own.

"Go on," Draco lazily said as he lay back on his bed and sunk into the mattress. His eyes stayed fixed on the ceiling as he listened to their chatter.

"Like I was saying," Brandon went on, "she and I arranged to meet in the Prefect's bathroom last night. Knowing her, I knew we wouldn't be doing anything right away, so I just bided my time. I mean, after all, I didn't want to rush her."

"Of course not," said Terry. "You have to give them as much time as possible or else you'll frighten them." All the boys in the group nodded in agreement, even those who had no luck or practice with the opposite sex.

"I knew I couldn't bring up the issue of sex right away, so I just turned on the water and started soaking my legs in the tub. But she was soon sitting beside me, doing the same thing. I was finally able to convince her to take a bath with me, with the promise that nothing would happen. I even looked the other way while she got undressed."

"But you saw her body, didn't you?"

A smile crinkled onto Brandon's lips, as he nodded. "I looked at her while she climbed into the tub. And I must say, she has a wonderful body. "

The boys around him began to chuckle.

"Anyway, we were in that tub for about fifteen minutes, just messing around. We were just doing innocent things like splashing water on one another and rubbing our feet on each other. Her feet were on my belly, when she brushed up against my...you know."

Draco had kept passive during the conversation, until this point, when he stopped concentrating on the crack in the ceiling and turned to look at the other boys. Still acting as though uninterested, he slowly rolled onto his side and watched Brandon.

"Of course she got a little alarmed about what she felt," continued Brandon, "but-"

"As well she should," said Blaise. "We Slytherin men are pretty lucky in that department."

Draco huffed loudly and rolled his eyes at the comment; he wished Blaise would allow the other boy to continue with his tale without interruption. But Brandon did not utter a word about being interrupted and waited patiently until everyone had gotten an opportunity to make a comment about the boys in their house being blessed.

When everyone had settled down, Brandon continued to talk once more. "I told her I didn't want do anything with her. I even said I would take care of my..." He glanced down at his lap. "My little problem on my own when I got back to the dorm." He reached for his face to hide his embarrassment, when he heard some of the other lads laugh. "But I think it turned her on that I was excited by her presence because she gave me a handjob."

This statement caused everyone to immediately hush up and lean closer to the other boy. Even Draco found himself climbing out of his bed and slowly moving towards the small group.

"What was it like?" asked Goyle, as he rested his head on the bed and looked up at Brandon with utter fascination.

"I'd say she was top five. She did it a little too hard the first time, but she got it right the third try."

"Three times?" exclaimed Blaise. "My God, you're an animal." He shook his head for a moment and whispered something to Terry and both boys began to laugh. "I told Terry you should try to get her and her twin at the same time. Can you imagine having two sets of hands all over your—"

"You had one of the Patils?" asked Draco.

Terry turned around. "Yeah, he had Parvati."

Draco now sat on the edge of Blaise's bed. He tried to keep his face neutral and not show the budding interest that was now flooding within him. It was to his knowledge that no one in the house had ever succeeded in getting anywhere with a Gryffindor.

Although they would publicly denounce any notion of wanting to sleep with a Gryffindor - often with the words, "Salazar Slytherin would roll in his grave if I got together with one of them" - but privately, they all wanted to penetrate that house. This feat would have brought unending bragging rights and a place in Slytherin sexual history for the young man who accomplished it.

Although Draco's place was already firmly set in that history, he would like to have accomplished the task that boys like Brandon only came close to doing. Draco watched the way all the boys glanced up admiringly at Brandon. He too couldn't help but feel a bit of envy.

"But of course getting a Gryffindor is all routine for Draco," said Alex. The boy then looked up at him. "I'm sure he's had nearly every girl in that house since they all hate him."

"Yeah," chimed Terry. "After Draco gets through with a girl, they hate him that much more. I can tell which Ravenclaw girls he's been with by the way they glare at him in the halls."

One by one, all the seated boys looked up at Draco for some answers; but Draco only kept his arms crossed against his chest. He met all of their gazes, before standing up and walking back to his bed. He never indulged them in stating whom he had or had not been with, and let them come up to their own conclusions.

He casually climbed back onto his bed and placed his hands behind his back.

Chapter 4: Gender Issues
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Chapter 4: Gender Issues





The morning bell rang, signaling the beginning of classes. Draco grudgingly got up from his seat and headed out of the Great Hall. Flanked by Crabbe and Goyle on either side of him, he made his way up the marble staircase. He and his two cronies walked slowly, blocking the other students who were eager to get to their classes.



“Can you guys please walk a little faster?” uttered a young boy. “My class is all the way in the North Tower.”



Draco stopped in mid-step, causing a fourth year Hufflepuff to slam into his back. He turned around and glared down at the young man who had just spoken. The low hum of students’ whispers suddenly ceased.



The courageous boy appeared to be a first year, and stared up at Draco with annoyance on his face. Realizing that the crowd was now at a standstill and that Draco and his two friends showed no intention of moving anytime soon, the first year placed his hands on his hips and tapped his foot on the floor. Several of the other students moved away from him; some of them, sensing trouble, even walked down the stairs in search of alternative routes to their various classes.



“Can we please get going?” said the first year. “I kinda have to—“ He stopped talking when his friend leaned close to him and whispered into his ear. When they pulled apart, the first year’s mouth opened slightly and the rosy shade drained from his cheeks. The fire that was gleaming from his gaze diminished, as he slowly lowered his head.



Feeling that the young man was now acquainted with who he was, Draco and his two friends continued on their way. This time, they walked at a snail’s pace; Draco even stopped several times to rearrange his robes.



When they finally reached the landing, the first year sprinted down the hall to his class. Crabbe and Goyle took a step forward, as they were ready to advance on him and teach him a lesson; but Draco held them back. The two portly boys looked down at him with surprise and disappointment on their faces; it was a rare moment when Draco did not allow them the privilege of pummeling an unsuspecting youngster.



But Draco had his reasons for holding them back: Peeves was dumping trash onto the floor in a nearby corridor where the first year was headed. Never one to miss out on such a grand opportunity, the poltergeist raised the metal wastepaper basket over his head and threw it at the youngster’s legs. The first year tripped and slid down the length of the hall, before slamming into the wall.



Draco stood in the middle of the hall and laughed, before making his way to the other end of the corridor. He, Crabbe and Goyle rounded the corner and walked into their Sociology of Gender class. Classes like these were populated by seventh years of all the four houses. However, this class was only a second choice for most of the students, as the preferred class, Wizard Sexuality, filled up quickly.



Professor Monroe was standing in front of the class talking, but paused when the three boys noisily burst through the doors. Draco ignored the nasty glares that his tardiness garnered him from various Gryffindors and Ravenclaws and trudged to the back of the Slytherin side of the room. He threw his bag onto the floor, and fell into his usual seat.



“It’s very nice of you gentlemen to bestow us with your presence,” said Professor Monroe. The youngest professor in the school, she had come to Hogwarts the year before with tremendous zeal and enthusiasm for the subject, which some of the male professors looked down upon.



But that spark within her had long since faded over the year, due in part to the student’s lack of interest. Her spirits would have been entirely obliterated if it weren’t for the Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors and Ravenclaws in her class, who always participated wholeheartedly in the discussions and debates. The Slytherins, true to form, watched the discussions as though bored spectators.



She waited until the Slytherin side stopped whispering to one another before she resumed talking to the class. “If everyone will recall, during our last class session we were talking about language. I said that someone could degrade a woman by calling her a bitch. Now, is there a word in the English language one can use to call a man that will carry the same power as ‘bitch?’”



A murmur soon grew from the class; some of it was attributed to students discussing curse words to call a boy, while others were merely shocked that the teacher had used foul language.



After a minute, everyone remained quiet. But just when the teacher was beginning to lose all hope, Hannah Abbott’s hand slowly lifted into the air.



“Yes Hannah,” said Professor Monroe.



Hannah hesitated and looked around before talking. “Prick?” she said in a timid voice.



The professor considered the answer. “But is that word as offensive as ‘bitch?’” She glanced around the class and saw students shaking their heads. “If I went up to Mr. Longbottom --please don’t get offended Mr. Longbottom, but I’m only using you as an example--and called him a prick, he might just roll his eyes at me.”



“Or start to cry,” Millicent whispered to some Slytherin boys sitting in front of her.



“Now, give me another word,” continued Professor Monroe.



“Dick?” said Parvati. The class erupted in laughter, and the young woman brought her hands to her face to hide her burning cheeks.



Blaise, who was sitting closest to the other three houses, leaned over and whispered, “I could give you that if you want.” He then flicked his tongue out at the Ravenclaw. Parvati made a face and looked away.



“That’s a good one Ms. Patel,” stated the teacher. “But that word will not produce the same reaction in a boy as ‘bitch’ will in a girl.”



Soon the class become more assured of themselves and started blurting out words such as “ass,” “jerk,” and “prat,” causing the young professor to grow more and more enthusiastic. She raised her hand in the air when the noise in the room reached a fevered pitch. Slowly, the students began to settle themselves.



“You guys have given me some wonderful examples,” said Professor Monroe. “But none of those words carry the same impact as that one derogatory word that is targeted at females. And does anyone know why?”



Instinctively, everyone’s eyes traveled to Hermione. And as usual, she had her hand raised in the air.



“Yes, Ms. Granger.”



“We live a society that is ruled by men, and they are the ones who control the language.”



“Lesbian,” Blaise mumbled not so softly underneath his voice. The Slytherin side of the room laughed, as did some of the students in the other three houses.



Professor Monroe glared at Blaise for a moment. But then her gaze drifted to Draco, where they stayed for a long time; it was as if she was blaming him for the disruptiveness of his house. Draco stared back at her and raised an eyebrow, before concentrating on Hermione’s flustered cheeks.



“That is absolutely correct,” the professor said over the giggling of the Slytherins. “Twenty five points to Gryffindor. And another ten points to Gryffindor for the class participation. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, you get ten points also.”



“They get points for cursing?” asked Millicent. “That is not fair.” Professor Monroe opened her mouth to say something, but Millicent continued to talk. “Okay, what about ‘queer?’ I bet that word would cause any boy to get upset.” She then glanced across the room at Justin Finch-Fletchley, who immediately cowered in his seat.



“Ms. Bulstrode,” stated Professor Monroe, “I awarded them points for contributing to the discussion. And since that discussion is now over—“



“What about ‘fucker?’ That’s a good one.”



“If you do not wish to lose points for your house, I’d remain quiet.”



Millicent was about to say something else, but Draco interrupted her. “Millicent,” he hissed as he leaned forward in his chair, “shut your fat mouth.”



Even with the extra thirty-five points awarded to them that morning, Gryffindor still remained behind Slytherin in the race for the House Cup, and Draco wanted it to remain that way. Millicent quieted down, but Draco kept a harsh glare on her nonetheless. When he was finally confidant that she would not utter another word, his gaze then drifted to all the other members of his house to discourage them from making any other outbursts.



“I would now like to go into greater discussion about your class project,” said Professor Monroe. A collective groan echoed around the room. “I like for you to spend some time with a member of the opposite sex so you get a feel of what it’s like to be in their shoes.”



She then flicked her wand at the chalkboard and read the words that began to appear there. “You and your partner must have a series of four meetings over the next month to discuss your views and definition of gender. These meetings will be conducted in the library, where you will be required to sign in with Madam Pince. And they must be at lease one hour.”



Her gaze moved down the board to the next bullet point. “The two of you must also spend time with each other outside of the library, where you will observe one another’s behavior. You need to take notes on your partner’s manner of dressing and speaking, interactions with other students, and sexual practices—“ she paused for a moment when many in the class began to laugh, “I mean courting rituals. You need to show how these behaviors fit or do not fit the role our society has defined for their gender. “



When she had finished reading all of the requirements, she faced the class once more. “I think this will be a very fun assignment for all of you. I know it’s a lot of work, but you have until after your Christmas break to turn it in.” She then slapped her hands loudly together, startling some of the students who were engrossed in writing down what was on the board. “At this time, I would like for you to pair up with someone…who’s preferably not in the same house.”



She stared at the right side of the room, as the three more cooperative houses made attempts at partnering up with one another. Her lips spread into a smile that had long disappeared since the beginning of her teaching career. But her happiness was short-lived, as her gaze wandered to the Slytherins, most of who remained seated with expressions of disinterest on their faces. Some even had the latest Quidditch magazine spread open on their desks. She sighed loudly and ventured back to her seat.



“I will give you all a few more minutes to find a partner,” said Professor Monroe. “Come and sign your names on this parchment when you are through. Once both your names are placed here, it is final. So, please pick carefully.”



Draco’s stare drifted to the other section of the room, as he observed the young girls he would have liked to pair with. But that move would have been too bold; his activities with members of the other houses were much more exciting and enjoyable if kept secret. He lazily let his mind race with all the possible escapades he could have indulged in while at the library, when he saw Millicent Bulstrode coming his way. He immediately frowned and lowered his head.



He had long suspected her of having deep feelings for him, which were made evident when she followed him around the common room, volunteering to beat up anyone in the school for him. Draco had declined her offer then, but it did amuse him when she shoved Pansy into the wall during a heated interlude.



He began to rub his chin as he mused over the prospect of having another Crabbe or Goyle on his side. Although he could benefit from having a person of her size and strength beside him, the idea of spending hours with her in the library was a matter that did not fill him with joy.



He was saved the duty of turning down Millicent’s offer when Prudence tapped him on the shoulder. “Do you want to work together?” she asked in her usual wispy voice.



Draco placed his elbow on the desk and muttered, “I guess.”



As Prudence waltzed to the front of the room, she received an ominous glare from Millicent. Prudence flipped her hair over her shoulder and continued to the teacher’s desk. During her absence, Draco busied himself by watching Goyle flip through a deck of playing cards, which had pictures of scantily clad women on them. When he looked up again, Prudence was once again standing before him, this time with an angry look on her face.



“That really wasn’t funny,” she said. “If you didn’t want to be partners with me, all you had to do was say so.”



Draco slumped further in his seat and lazily gazed away for a moment. “What are you on about?”



“You being partners with someone else. I was up there for five minutes trying to write your name next to mine. There was no need to embarrass me like—“



“Will you shut up for a minute?” Draco interrupted. He immediately sat up in his chair. “Who am I partnered with?”



Prudence looked blankly back at the sign in sheet that sat on the professor’s desk, before shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t know. When I asked the professor why the quill wasn’t allowing me to write your name next to mine, she said it was because you were already tak—“



She didn’t get an opportunity to finish her sentence because Draco rushed past her. He bolted to the front of the classroom, and shoved students out of his way in his quest to get to the professor’s desk.



“I thought we were allowed to pick our own partners,” he said as he placed his hands on Professor Monroe’s desk and stared down at her.



Professor Monroe pushed her dark brown hair away from her face and casually glanced at him. “Yes, that’s right.”



“Then why did you sign me up with someone?”



“I assure you that I did not sign you with anyone.”



“But Prudence just told me she wasn’t able to write my name next to hers.”



Professor Monroe lifted the parchment from her desk and looked down the list of students. “It looks as though you already have a partner,” she said as she gazed down at his name. “But I was not the one that made the pairing.” Her eyes flittered to the right side of the room, and stayed focused on a certain young lady. She then sat back in her chair and handed the parchment to Draco.



Draco grabbed the parchment from her hands and found his name written in a penmanship that did not belong to any of the girls in his house. He then directed his gaze at the name written next to his own. Several emotions ran through him, as his eyes stayed permanently fixed on the name of the young woman who had the nerve to pick him. He at first thought it was a cruel joke someone was playing on him; but when her name didn’t disappear like the time Crabbe signed him up for a Potions assignment with Harry Potter, his astonishment was quickly replaced with anger. His fingers curled around the parchment for a moment, before he let it slip from his grasp.



“Granger?” he said in a hushed but tense voice. “I have to work with Granger?” The volume of his voice soon grew, causing many of the other students to stop their chatter and gaze at him.



“It seems like it,” said Professor Monroe. She then glanced up at the ceiling as a pleased expression spread across her face. “I think it’s wonderful that someone such as Ms. Granger has made an effort to get to know—“



“But I didn’t choose her,” interrupted Draco.



“But she chose you. So you have no other choice.”



Draco glanced over his shoulder at Hermione, who was sitting calmly in her seat, staring back at him as though nothing was wrong with her actions. But that ease suddenly faltered when a flood of glances flittered her way.



“I want it changed right now,” said Draco. He had picked up the parchment from the floor and was now stabbing at Hermione’s name with his finger. “I will not be partnered with that Mud—“



“I would watch what you’re about to say if I were you Mr. Malfoy,” Professor Monroe. She was now standing up and glaring back at him.



Draco ignored her threat and looked at Hermione once more. “I want you to pick another partner.”



“Mr. Malfoy,” said Professor Monroe, “the situation is already settled. The pairings are final. Now, if you’ll please move. You’re holding up the line.” She tried to usher him back to his seat, so the students behind him could sign the parchment, but he would not budge.



Draco stood upright and crossed his arms against his chest. “Then I simply won’t do the assignment.”



At these words, the professor straightened up. “I just want to remind everyone of something,” she said as she stared at Draco and then at the rest of the class. “Those of you who don’t think you need this class are sadly mistaken. I hope none of you will follow Mr. Malfoy’s example by thinking you do not have to complete this assignment. As you all know, the Ministry is now requiring that all who wish to join their agency to take and pass a diversity class, such as this one.” She then fixed her stare exclusively on Draco. “I know you have professed an interest in going into the Ministry, so I would do my best to complete this assignment if I were you.”



Draco stood defiant for several minutes. There were several obscene things he wanted to say to the professor, who was also Muggle-born, but he bit down hard on his lip instead. He soon tasted salty droplets of blood trickle into his mouth. He then glanced from the professor to Hermione and back again, as if trying to decide whom he was angrier at. But he eventually gave up his stance, and stomped back to his seat.



The rest of the class period remained a blur to him, as he spent most of that time fuming and staring at Hermione. Ill thoughts ran through his mind as his eyes bored into her; but she remained oblivious to his stares and continued taking notes as usual.



His only consolation was the sympathy he received from members of his house, who turned around in their seats and offered him jinxes he could put on Hermione. His hand trickled down to his wand several times during that period, as he was overcome by a tremendous desire to inflict some small pain on her, but he stopped himself from doing so. After awhile, he slumped down in his chair and became consumed by his thoughts, as Professor Monroe’s voice dissolved into a faint murmur in the background.





**************************



Pansy burst through the portrait hole, her face contorted with anger. She lifted her bag into the air and threw it into the couch where several second years were sitting. “I hate this,” she screamed at the top of her lungs. The common room grew silent for a moment, as everyone turned to look at her. But the chatter commenced just as quickly; they were all acquainted with her theatrics and now grew weary of her, just like Draco.



She stomped her feet as she walked towards Draco, who was sitting on one of the tables in the corner of the room; he had not looked up from his game of Wizard Chess when she entered the room.



“I was standing out in the hall for fifteen minutes,” she said. “Author wouldn’t let me in until I recited the last five passwords.” She pressed her arms against her chest and stared down at Draco.



Draco’s gaze remained lowered as he moved his pawn across the chessboard. After a moment of waiting, Pansy grew impatient. “Well?” she snapped. “Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”



The sharp tone in her voice caused Draco to look up at her. Pansy’s hands suddenly fell to her side and she reduced the harshness in the voice. “I mean…can’t you talk to him about laying off me? I know he listens to you.”



“Author does that to everyone,” said Terry, who seemed annoyed that the game was suddenly halted over such a trivial matter.



“But I’m not just anybody. My circumstances are different because I’m Dr--”



Draco suddenly caught her gaze, his eyes daring her to utter the word that was on the tip of her tongue.



“I’m just different,” she said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “He shouldn’t be treating me like this.”



Draco went back to his game. “And why should I talk to Author?” He suddenly winced when he witnessed his pawn being demolished by Terry’s knight. “I actually enjoy watching him mess with you.”



The comment caused a smile to spread along Terry’s lips; but Pansy ignored him as she pulled back a chair and fell into it. She sighed loudly for several minutes while she watched the game, hoping Draco would glance her way. But she was unable to keep silent for long and decided to draw him into a conversation.



“I wish I could take that gender class with you,” she said. “Sexuality class is too over-rated. Leave it up to Professor Binns to make the subject of sex boring. He’s already ruined History. Why did Dumbledore let him teach the course?” When Draco did not respond, she continued. “And he’s given us tons of homework.”



“Draco also has a huge project to do in his class,” said Terry. “They have to partner up with a girl and do some observational – follow them around or something.”



Pansy’s eyes grew wide as she looked back at Draco. “You have a partner?” Her mind then raced as she thought of the girls who were in his class, some of whom she had confronted during the past year about their supposed liaisons with him. “Who are you partners with?”



Before Draco could respond, Terry blurted out, “Hermione Granger.”



Pansy let out a deep breath and leaned back into her chair.



Draco stopped concentrating on his next move and glanced up at Terry. “Why the hell did you have to bring that up? I was trying not to think about it.” He watched as Terry brought his hands to his face to hide his laugh. Draco then stood up. With his eyes squarely on Terry, he swiped the chess pieces across the room.



“Why’d you do that for?” yelled Terry. “I was winning.” He watched in dismay as his queen landed into the fire and began to scream.



“That’s for opening your big mouth and…your performance out on the pitch.” He knocked over his chair as he picked up his robes and headed for the portrait hole.





***********************





The library was less crowded than the previous night, but the usual players were present with their noses stuck in their books. Draco glanced at the table in the far corner and eyed Hufflepuffs Hannah and Susan. He then huffed loudly at the thought that they preferred to spend their weeknights in the library than engaging in other activities like normal students. But he couldn’t dwell on them for any longer, as he rushed to the back of the room and approached his favorite isle. He would have been there hours earlier, but he was still numb from the events that took place in his first class.



His eyes darted from left to right on the shelf he had explored several nights before, in search of his brown leather journal. He leaned forward and glanced at the books one at a time to make sure he didn’t skip over it. The books were just as he had left them: in complete disarray. After searching for another minute or two, he found his journal under a stack of bibles.



But while he made his way to the exit, he noticed Hermione sitting at a table on the left hand side of the room, staring at him. When he looked her way, she appeared to jump and quickly lowered her head.



He continued to stare at her as he thought of the stunt she had pulled earlier that day. “Partnering up with me,” he said coldly under his breath while his eyes narrowed down on her every action, as if trying to make her regret her decision.



He then watched as she got out of her seat and slowly approached him. Her head was down at first, but she soon stood upright, looking him straight in the face. Draco did not flinch nor make any reaction to her seemingly cool appearance. There was silence for several minutes, as their gazes locked on one another. But Hermione was not like the other girls, whom he could intimidate by just his glare – except of course Pansy; but she, too, would eventually be overcome by his fierce look and glance away.



“Professor Monroe gave me our schedule,” Hermione finally said. “We’re to meet in here tomorrow night to start our reporting.”



“You know what?” Draco said after a long silence. “We’re no longer in Monroe’s class, so I can tell you exactly what I think of you.” He leaned close to her, watching with some delight as she backed away from him. He lowered his voice and uttered, “I am not going to work with a Mudblood.”



Hermione continued to stare at him with a blank expression on her face. Draco watched her for any signs or discomfort, but that word failed to induce the intense emotion that he had seen during their second year.



She then glanced down at the parchment in her hands, as she looked over the specifics of their assignment – or perhaps it was a ploy to hide her emotions from him, thought Draco. But she soon glanced up at him, with a defiant look across her face. “Like Professor Monroe said before,” Hermione stated, “you have no choice but to work with me. We all need this class…. even you.”



Draco opened his mouth to say something; in his head, he planned to utter, “My future career plans will not be affected by some silly class,” but he said nothing.



He had wanted to do what his housemates had advised him in the common room: sabotage the project. Causing Hermione to receive low marks would have delighted him, but he knew the class was important to his overall grades. He needed to fulfill the school’s requirements. He knew this, and unfortunately, so did she. And of course, his father would not tolerate anything less than excellence from all areas of his life. So, the project would go on. But he would make sure that it didn’t last very long.



Never one to admit defeat, he continued to stare at Hermione, as he tried to keep his face from showing too much emotion - aside from the anger he felt towards her. Hermione ignored his glare and continued to talk.



“Professor Monroe has designated that room for us,” she said as she pointed to the room that lay in the back of the library. “We can meet there at five.”



Draco said nothing. He lazily blinked several times before turning and walking out of the library, leaving her to stare at his back.





*******************



Dinner that night was a special treat from Dumbledore, which he hoped would make up for the dreary weather they had been having for the past couple of weeks. But while everyone else at the table gorged themselves – Crabbed disgusted some by using his fingers to grab several chicken legs out of the communal dish – Draco only half-heartedly glanced at his food.



The day had been a disaster for him, to say the least, as he had another dismal Quidditch practice under his belt. His dream of turning the rest of the team into finesse players had now been bashed; they would have to resort to aggression and intimidation if they wanted to win games.



His gaze flittered to one of the other few people not eating their meal. He had watched Hermione off and on for the past thirty minutes, and observed that she too only picked at her food. The sight of what he guessed was her nervousness over that night’s meeting was the only thing that caused him some happiness. The sight of a dreary-looking Harry Potter had brought a momentary smile to his lips, but Hermione was now his new target.



By now, everyone in Slytherin House knew that they were to work together on their project. But the sympathy they had shown him had all but disappeared, and was now replaced by shielded giggles. Pansy also found the prospect to be quite humorous. And that she seemed almost delighted that he was working with the Gryffindor annoyed him even more so.



Draco glanced down at the parchment that was tight in his hand. He had received the letter from his father only that morning, but the sting of it still stayed with him. He had written the man the night before, in his desperation to escape working with Hermione. He had taken his protest to Professor Snape - and knowing how the man looked down on the subject of gender fueled his desire to complain even more - but when Snape was unwilling to interfere, Draco went back to his father.



While writing his letter, he spent nearly an hour searching for the right words that would provoke his father, and not make him sound as though he was whining. He smiled as he held the finished product in his hands and read it out loud. “Granger partnering with me is Dumbledore’s desperate ploy to learn about goings-on in the Malfoy household.” He knew those words would incite his father to action.



However, the response that arrived that morning left Draco feeling glum. He unfolded the parchment and read it to himself once more.



"I have not the time or patience to respond to every one of your asinine requests. I order you to cease with these insufferable letters. As for the issue at hand, you will most definitely complete your report with Granger. You partnering with her will allow you the opportunity to learn about her associates. I will be expecting a full report of this soon."



Draco crumpled up the parchment and forcefully stuffed it into his pocket.





***********************





He entered the library and when he went to the sign in sheet, he saw that Hermione’s name was already written down. He hastily wrote down his own name, and continued to the back of the room. He rounded the corner past his favorite section and walked to the study area. Hermione was sitting at the small table; several sheets of parchment, a quill, an inkpot and various class books lay in neat piles before her.



Draco stood in the entryway and watched her for several moments, before finally entering the room. He said nothing and grabbed the chair across from her and dragged it several feet from the table. He sat down, placed his hands calmly in his lap and stared at her. Her gaze met his, as she tried to match the same expressionless look that was on his face. He could see she was trying hard to prevent a grimace from spreading on her features. He then watched her eyes roam up and down his body; they soon remained fixed on his empty hands. He knew she was wondering where he was keeping his ink and parchment. This caused a smile to spread on his lips.



Hermione eventually stopped glancing at him and pulled a clean sheet of parchment close to her. She dipped her quill in the inkpot and gently wiped off the excess. Draco watched as she scribbled the date on the right hand corner of the parchment. She picked up the notes she had written in class and glanced down at them.



After some serious thought, she began to talk. “She wants us to start by giving our definition of gender.” Her quill was poised just above her parchment, ready to jot down his words.



But Draco sat back in his chair and said nothing. The same smirk remained on his face. He stretched out his legs before him and sighed deeply.



“Then, I will start with my definition,” Hermione went on. She placed the quill down on the table and folded her hands in front of her. “I define gender as a socially constructed method that tries to keep men and women in line.”



Draco observed her in silence as she continued to talk; his eyes were soon glazed over with a bored haze. She continued spouting her views for several more minutes, until she suddenly stopped.



“Why aren’t you writing all of this down?” she snapped. She then glared at him for a moment, before leaning over in her seat. “And where is your quill and parchment?”



The smile on Draco’s face got wider as he stared back at her.



Hermione sat back in her chair and crossed her arms against her chest as she breathed heavily. But the stern look on her face eventually faded. “I know you don’t want to fail this assignment as much as I don’t. So, why don’t we just get on with the project?”



“Maybe I am willing to fail,” Draco stated in a dry tone, “if it means bringing you down with me.” Although he uttered it with true conviction, the statement failed to produce the reaction in Hermione that he had hoped. She just stared back at him, perhaps wondering if he was bluffing, he thought.



“Who the hell gave you permission to chose me as your partner, anyway?” Draco asked.



“I don’t need anyone’s permission. Professor Monroe said we should pick someone from another house—“



“Then why didn’t you pick the Fletch-Finc—that Hufflepuff kid? I’m pretty sure you’d discover many aspects of his behavior that stray from the norm.”



Hermione exhaled loudly and shook her head, as a look resembling a mother who was about to castrate an ignorant child spread on her face. “That talk about Justin being…well, preferring his own gender are only rumors. And besides, this project is not about discovering deviant behavior in people, but spending time to see how society could have influenced the way—“



“If you think you’re gonna follow me around so you could get infor—“ Draco suddenly stopped talking, and in the nick of time, too. He was very close to revealing too much information. But it had been hard for him keep his anger bottled up. He had lost the composure he had a few moments ago, and was now leaning forward in his chair with a tense look on his face. His breathing was now audible.



But he settled himself down just as quickly and sat back in his chair once more. He soon resumed staring at her in silence. While the face-off continued, Draco suddenly felt the room getting warmer. And even though he was sitting as far away from her as possible, he could now smell the scent of her perfume. The light flowery fragrance wafted into his nose, causing him to turn his head away in disgust.



He glanced at her once more; she was now banging her quill against the small table. For a split second, he could almost see the fear on her face. He would have remained there all night to bathe in this small victory, but the banging of the quill, which was now magnified, mixed with the invasion of her perfume into his body, caused him to spring into action.



“I’m gonna make this easy for you,” he finally said. “I am not going to come here and listen to you chat about the plights of being some Muggle-born girl. I’ll write my essay based on what I’ve already seen of you and turn it in. I suggest you do the same.”



He got to his feet and straightened out his robes. “I will not waste another night here with you.” He was about to leave the room, when she grabbed his wrist. He glared down at her hand and then at her.



Hermione hastily released his wrist. “We have to sign in with Madame Pince though.”



“Don’t you have any sense? You can just sign in and leave. I’m pretty sure Pince won’t even notice, considering she’s so into that trashy book.”



“I know,” Hermione said quickly. “She reads a different one every single—“



Draco scrunched up his face into a grimace as he gave her a hard look from the corner of his eye. But as he prepared to leave, she began to talk once more.



“But what will you write about me?” she asked.



“I’ll write about how insufferable you are.”



Hermione sat back in her chair and rolled her eyes. “She’ll fail you if you just write about how much you hate me.” She then looked down at her nails in a smug fashion, before glancing up at him once more. “This essay has to be on how we fit into our societal roles. And it has to based on many hours of observation.”



“I’ve observed you enough to complete two essays.” He took a step towards her, causing her to move back in her seat. “I know that you don’t fit perfectly into your designated role. You show traits, such as bossiness, which if shown by a boy would be considered appropriate. But since it is through you, it grates on people’s nerves, causing them to whisper about you being a bitch or a lesbian. And although you act as if there’s nothing wrong with the way you act, I know it makes you feel uncomfortable, especially when you get strange looks and snickers from people.”



He placed his hands on the table and stared down at her. “Is that good enough for you?”



Hermione said nothing, as her eyes grew wide; he had surely proved his point. He continued bestowing her with his smug glance, until he was absolutely sure she would not utter another protest about his abilities to write a report about her. When he was satisfied with himself, he straightened up and walked out of the room.



*************************





The musky odor that permeated the halls of that old castle never smelled sweeter to Draco, as he made his way back to the dorms. For once during that week, things were going his way. He thought only of his complete satisfaction when he rounded the corner to the entrance of the dorms. But when he paused in front of the portrait hole, he saw that Author was not alone; a man named Vincent was sitting beside him. The two men stopped talking when they saw him.



“Wolfsbane,” Draco uttered. In his jubilation, he failed to notice that the portrait did not swing open immediately.



Author continued to stare at him, while nudging his friend with his elbow. “I hear you are working with Granger on a project,” said Author. “How unfortunate for you, my dear lad.”



Draco’s gaze drifted from Author and then to Vincent, who was now hiding his face. But he did not let the men’s smirks and poorly concealed chuckles rattle him in the most. “Just swing open, will you?”



His glare then stayed fixed on Vincent, whose gleeful smile was now visible. “And you,” he said pointing his finger at the man. “Aren’t you banned from these corridors?” He watched as Vincent showed his teeth, most of which were pointy. “I suggest you go back to that little dark corner which you inhabit.” Vincent glared at him, before exiting the portrait.



Draco pinned his arms against his chest and stared at Author. “For your information, my project is progressing just fine. And be advised that I will certainly be talking to Snape about taking away your visiting privileges.”



Author exchanged a narrowed glance with him, before swinging open.



Draco walked into the common room with lightness in his step; that night was looking better for him already.

Chapter 5: And So It Begins
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Chapter 5: And So It begins

The swooping of the owls’ wings during breakfast caused the students at the Slytherin table and around the Great Hall to cover their bowls and plates with their hands, lest they wanted an extra treat in their food. And almost immediately, packages from home, notices of detention and other assorted correspondences landed in front of various students.

Draco reached out his hand and grabbed the rolled parchment that was delivered to him by a small brown owl. His gaze remained raised in expectance of more letters, preferably those scented with perfume, but there was nothing else for him. He glanced down at the measly package, which had the school’s official seal on it.

Thinking it was from Snape, he quickly unrolled the parchment. But he scrunched his eyebrows when he realized it was not from the Potions Master, but from Professor Monroe. He read the short letter, which ordered him to continue with the project, before slamming it against the table.

His gaze then went in search of the young woman who had tattled on him. He didn’t have to search long, as she was staring back at him. She then looked at the table of teachers to her right and exchanged a glance with Professor Monroe.

Draco leaned forward in his chair and continued to stare at Hermione. There was definitely no need for her to involve their teacher, he thought; he was going to soldier on with the project – outside forces had made sure of that. But he did enjoy leaving her in limbo.

He rolled his hands into fists, as he eyed the triumphant smirk – which always came so naturally to him, and was now his trademark – that was plastered on her face. His mind was then flooded with thoughts on how he would obliterate her in his essay.

But as he continued to stare at her, his anger began to slowly diminish. The tense look of vengeance that was on his face eased, as his mind started churning with ideas. He sat up straight once more and circled his finger around the edge of his plate. He then smiled to himself.

*****************************

Hermione pressed her head against the wall and looked up at the ceiling in boredom; she had been waiting outside the common room for the past twenty minutes. She had tried to talk to the girl the minute dinner had finished, but had lost her among the crowd of students, all of whom squeeze out of the Great Hall at the same time.

She lowered her gaze as another Ravenclaw stepped before her and eyed her up and down, before disappearing through the portrait hole. That was the sixth Ravenclaw in a row who looked at her in that manner. She assumed they were curious as to what business she might have in their section of the castle. Or perhaps they were asking themselves why she had chosen Draco as her partner, she thought; she had been bombarded with question from other students on this topic for the past couple of days.

Regardless of the glares, Hermione was determined to wait in that hall until she saw the person she so eagerly wanted to speak to. After fifteen more minutes of pacing up and down the hall, all the while being glared at by the man in the portrait, she finally saw Mandy climbing up the stairs. She immediately rushed towards the girl, who seemed taken aback by her presence.

“I hope you don’t find me impertinent,” Hermione said as she approached the young woman, “but I need to talk to you about something.” She then eyed Mandy’s friends, who were leaning against the railing of the stairs, whispering amongst themselves. “Do you mind if we go somewhere private for our chat?”

Mandy looked hesitant at first – and she had great reason to be so, as she and Hermione were never close acquaintances. But she eventually turned around to her friends and said, “You guys go in without me. I’ll be back in a few minutes”

A small classroom on the second floor, which had long gone unused for over a hundred years, now served the purpose of providing the two girls with the privacy they needed. The walk to that room was tense and devoid of any chatter; Hermione had considered starting up a conversation with her on the weather, but decided her energies would be more useful if saved for their more serious discussion.

They sat in desks facing one another in silence for several minutes. After tracing with her finger the names of former students which had been magicked into the wood of her desk, Mandy began to nervously looked down at her watch, before fidgeting in her seat

“As you might know,” Hermione began, “I am currently working on a project with Draco Malfoy.”

The statement caught Mandy’s attention and forced her to quickly look up at Hermione. “So it’s true,” she said. “I heard the rumors, but I never really believed them.” She opened her mouth to say more, but paused. “But what’s that got to do with me?” Mandy asked after tinkering with her watch once more.

Hermione placed her hands on top of the desk and leaned forward in her seat. “Well, our project requires that we do some observational study on one another. And so far, he’s been unwilling to cooperate with me or even let me anywhere near him.”

Mandy continued to stare at her with a blank expression on her face. “Like I said before, what does this have to do with me?”

Hermione cleared her throat. “I though you might be able to give me some insight on his personality.”

The look in Mandy’s eyes became rigid as she brought her arms to her chest. “What makes you think I would know anything about him?” Her gaze flittered to the nearby wall, before returning to Hermione and staying fixed on her. When Hermione did not answer her quickly enough, she added, “Why don’t you ask his Slytherin friends for that information?”

Hermione tried hard to stifle a laugh, as she did not want to offend the other girl. “First off, they wouldn’t talk to me. Secondly, I don’t think they’d be able to provide me with the information I need.” When she saw Mandy raise an eyebrow, she sat back in her chair and added, “I fear that his friends might only see one side of his personality. I need the insight of someone who’s seen him when he’s…not behaving like an alpha male. I need information from someone who’s been in an intimate relationship with him.”

The scowl on Mandy’s face grew more intense. She dropped her arms from her chest and slammed her hands against the desktop. “What are you implying?”

Hermione brought her finger to her lips as she thought of a delicate way to state her reply. “I just thought you and he were…”

“What you’ve heard are lies,” snapped Mandy. She then flew out of her chair and stood over Hermione. “You have some nerve to question me about my private life. Especially considering you don’t even know me.” Her breathing grew more intense and her nostrils flared with every breath. “I’ve had enough people make comments to me about Draco. And I’m going to tell you the same thing I always tell them: mind your own business.”

She then stomped to the entryway, and placed her hand on the doorknob. But she didn’t leave. Glancing over her shoulder, she bestowed Hermione with a much less intense look than before. “I really thought you were above this,” she said in a soft voice. “I never knew you would fall prey to lies and innuendos.”

Hermione got to her feet as well and slowly approached the other girl. “Mandy, I’m really sorry about this. I didn’t mean to offend or upset you in anyway.” She continued to stare at Mandy’s back.

Mandy’s fingers were still tight around the doorknob and her head was lowered. But despite her earlier display of anger, she remained in the room. Hermione took this as a sign that Mandy was willing to hear what she had to say and continued to talk.

“I only asked you here because I wanted to know more about Malfoy,” Hermione said. “This project means a lot to me and I don’t want to fail. And since I had heard that you and he were…that you…”

Hermione lifted her hand and began to scratch her head. Although she had read clear evidence of their union in Draco’s journal, she had no way of forcing Mandy to own up to that fact. Plus, she did not want to anger her; the insight the Ravenclaw might have had on Draco was much too important.

Hermione took a deep breath. “If the rumors are wrong, I apologize for embarrassing you and wasting your time. I just thought you could help me.” She grabbed her bag from the floor and flung it over her shoulder.

But as she approached the door to leave, Mandy touched her arm. “Wait.” She slowly lifted her head and stared at Hermione. “You were only asking me about Malfoy because of your project, right?”

Hermione nodded.

Mandy closed her eyes. She then glanced at the desk Hermione had once occupied and pointed at it with her finger. “Have a seat.”

Hermione did not utter a word and quickly took her place at the desk. She folded her hands in her lap and kept her eyes on Mandy, who sat back in her desk across from her.

“Do you swear not to repeat what I’m about to tell you?” asked Mandy.

“I swear.”

Mandy stared at Hermione for several seconds, as her eyes flittered along the other girl’s features. She lowered her head and remained in that position long enough to cause Hermione some concern. “Mandy,” Hermione said softly. She was about to tap the other girl on the arm, when she sat up in her seat.

“Draco and I are…” Mandy began. “We were a couple. If that’s what you call it.” She searched Hermione’s face again, to see if she was being judged. When she was satisfied with what she saw, she continued to talk. “So, what do you want to know about him?”

Hermione grabbed her bag and took out her notebook. She quickly glanced down at the questions she had written for Mandy. “What is he like in a relationship?”

Mandy leaned back in her chair and gazed just above Hermione’s left shoulder. “He’s just…I don’t know. When I was with him, he would make me feel as though I was the only thing that mattered.”

She smiled to herself and began to glide her finger along her jaw line. “And he always seemed interested to learn about my life.” Her gaze flittered to Hermione. “I’ve dated guys who only wanted to talk about themselves, but not Drac—“ She suddenly stopped talking. “Why are you making that face?”

Hermione jolted in her seat. She had not realized it before, but a look of disbelief, mixed with disgust was not plastered on her features. She then tried her best to adopt a more neutral expression.

“I know it seems unbelievable that I would describe him in that way,” said Mandy, “but…” She stopped talking when she saw Hermione open her mouth to say something. Mandy held up her hand and continued to talk. “You don’t have to explain yourself. I would be skeptical, too, if I were you. But let me assure you that he was very attentive with me when we were alone.”

Mandy grew quiet and glanced down at her nails for a moment. “You were right in thinking his Slytherin friends only know one side of his personality. I think they would all be amazed to learn that he’s a romantic at heart.”

Hermione was busy scribbling on her notepad, when that comment caused her to stop. She then slowly looked up at Mandy.

“It’s true,” said Mandy. “He would never forget my birthday or the anniversary of the day we started dating. And on those days, I always received a really nice gift.”

Hermione continued to stare at her for another minute or two, before she glanced down once more. “And what about his reputation for being a playboy?”

The question obliterated the smile that was on Mandy’s lips. The Ravenclaw’s features became tense as her brow creased into a frown. She was then grew quiet, causing Hermione to wonder if she would walk out of the room. But this was not the case.

“I’ve heard that rumor as well,” Mandy uttered. She lowered her voice to a soft whisper. “And I guess it’s true to some extent.” Her hand flittered to her neck and remained there for several minutes. “I know he’s been courting several other…when I was will him, I only felt total devotion.”

Hermione soon felt a pang in her heart that made her regret ever asking the question. The expression on Mandy’s face caused her to look away. But she decided to ask Mandy a question she thought would bring the smile back to her face. “What attracted you to him?”

Mandy leaned back in her chair and exhaled loudly. “He’s very smart. And of course, he’s handsome.”

“How did the two of you get together in the first place?” asked Hermione.

“It’s kinda weird how we just got thrown together.” She placed her fingers over her lips and chuckled to herself. She remained quiet as she reminisced; but upon looking at Hermione, she finally said, “We were in the same Literature class together. I was talking to my friends one day about being disappointed that we weren’t allowed to read a certain book by Louis—well, it doesn’t matter what his name is. Anyway, the next day, an original copy of the book was owled to me.”

“And you fell for him then?”

“Oh, no. Of course not. It took months before any of that ever happened.”

Hermione continued to write feverishly as Mandy described the first hints of flirtation between her and Draco. She soon stopped looking at the parchment in front of her and kept her eyes on Mandy, as her tale grew more and more compelling. Her quill slipped from her fingers and she found herself leaning forward in her seat as not to miss a single word that spouted from Mandy’s lips.

She continued to look at Mandy, long after the other girl had stopped talking. “And what about now?” Hermione asked.

Mandy folded her hands in front of her and considered her answer. “I don’t want to go into that right now.” She got out of the small chair and stretched, before standing in front of the window. “Was that enough for you?”

Hermione watched her in silence. It was only when Mandy glanced over her shoulder did she respond with a low, “Yes.” While placing her notebook in her bad, she tried to think of words that would show her gratitude to Mandy. “I really appreciate you talking to—“

“You won’t use my name in your project, will you?” asked Mandy, still facing the window.

“Of course not. I wouldn’t do that to you.” She waited for Mandy to say more; but when she remained quiet, Hermione slowly crept out of the room and left her with her thoughts, or regrets.

When she got back to her dorm, Hemrione climbed in her bed and spread out her notes on her bed. However, she didn’t need to review it, as Mandy’s words rang over and over again in her head like a recorder. Her head resting on the pillow, she tried to force herself into seeing Draco as the young man Mandy had describe. After five minutes of trying to do this impossible task, she made a face and gave up.

A laugh escaped her mouth as she thought of Draco, the Romantic. She had wanted to do this early on during the night, but had kept herself composed for Mandy’s sake. Plus, the tale proved to be an intriguing one.


*****************************

Hermione sat in the room and waited patiently for him to arrive. She scratched her chin and thought of the note Draco owled her during dinner. That he would come around so quickly and ask for another meeting to go over preliminaries of their project almost startled her; but she quickly attributed his behavior to nothing more than feeling the pressure of Professor Monroe to continue with her project.

She sat back in her chair and clasped her hands in front of her. It was difficult not to smirk, as she was now in control of the situation. But she forced a neutral expression onto her face; but she was, however, gloating inward.

And a minute later, Draco sauntered into the room. He grabbed the chair opposite of her, and like last time, dragged it to the far corner of the room. Hermione watched his actions very carefully, as she tried to witness any signs of distress, anger or otherwise. That he would want to sit so far away from her was evident of his anger, but other than that gesture, he seemed composed. He even had his quill and parchment in hand, which surprised her; but she bit her tongue and fought back the urge to utter a smart-alecky remark.

“Shall we begin then?” she asked.

Draco did not respond and merely poised his quill over the parchment. He glanced up her through his long lashes, as he waited for her to talk. But when Hermione did not utter a word, he began to speak.

The views that Draco uttered amazed Hermione, and caused her to raise an eyebrow every now and then; it was clear he done his research. She tried to keep her head lowered, and not show any signs of surprise on her face when he began to quote several of the chapters in their book. But she couldn’t feign her disinterest for much longer and gave him a hard look.

“It seems as though you’ve read that book through and through,” she finally said. Her voice was kept neutral enough, but there was still a lingering envy in her tone; he had talked of chapters she had not yet reached.

“Why wouldn’t I know about the subject matter?”

“Well, you never talk in class…unless it’s to goof off with your friends.” She couldn’t help but to roll her eyes when recalling all the times she had seen Draco participating in acts of tomfoolery, instead of listening to the teacher. “And you never participate in the discussions.”

“But isn’t that your department?” He cocked his head to the side as he glanced at her. “I don’t need to flaunt my intelligence to everyone.”

Hermione huffed loudly. “Of course you don’t. Because you’re obviously known for your modesty, and would never walk about school drawing attention to yourself.”

Draco considered her statement for a moment and brought his finger to his lips. “You’re right to be sarcastic,” he said, causing Hermione to open her mouth. “But aren’t you showing off as well when your hand goes up in the air every time the professor asks a question?”

“No,” Hermione answered, with a little too much force. “I’m simply answering her question.” She found herself growing more heated as she stared into his face and looked at the smirk that was growing on the corner of his lips. “My actions are nothing like yours. I don’t go around making fun of others in front of the whole school or making sarcastic comments in Potions.”

Draco said nothing and only smiled at her.

“I am not showing off,” Hermione said in a louder voice. “Just because I’ve done my homework—“

Draco held up his hand. “Listen, I don’t have time to argue back and forth with you. We’re already behind as it is.”

“And whose fault is that?”

Draco shot her a stern glance, which normally would have provoked her to say even more, but she kept quiet.

“I have some books that might help us with our project,” said Draco,. He then bent forward and reached into his leather bag, pulling out several books on the art of interviewing and observational research. He then held out the books to her.

Hermione glanced at them with deep concentration on her face. Her first feeling was that of regret for not thinking of getting them herself. But she held out her hand and tentatively took them from his fingers. “Won’t you need them?” she asked as her eyes scanned the spines, which had his initials written on them. She huffed loudly. “It would be like you to claim something that isn’t yours.”

“First of all, those are mine. I ordered them a couple of days ago. And secondly, no, I don’t need them. I’ve already read them.”

Hermione sat back in her chair and stared dumbfounded down at the books weighing down heavily in her lap. “Why are you doing all of this?” she asked. “Why the sudden change?”

“Doing all of what?”

“Being so cooperative.”

Draco got up and began to place his parchment and other documents in his bag. He didn’t answer immediately, which made Hermione wonder if he had heard her. But when he quickly glanced at her with a smug look on his face, she knew he had heard her perfectly.

“I’m not doing this for anyone, but myself,” Draco finally said. “At the end of the school year, it will be my name Dumbledore calls out when he announces the student with the highest seven year marks. I’m not going to let a trivial thing such as this project deprive me the pleasure of surpassing you when that day comes.” With that, he flashed her an evil grin for several seconds, which caused her to lower her gaze.

Hermione, now done with thinking that they might actually be civil to one another, threw the books into her bag, and watched as one of them missed the target completely and skidded across the floor.

“You will pay me if you cause any damage to my books,” Draco said. He stood with his hands crossed and watched her pick up his book. But he quickly changed his stance and stood in the entryway, looking at a nearby wall. “We’re having a Quidditch practice tomorrow. You should come and watch me play…for the report.”

“But aren’t you afraid I’ll tell the Gryffindor squad your strategy?” Hermione asked.

“No. They can use all the help they can get.”


*****************************


Hermione sat frozen on a bench in the stadium, looking up at the green colors that whizzed through the sky. That night was indeed chillier than she had imagined. During previous matches that were played in equally frigid weather, Hagrid was always able to block the majority of the cold winds. But she was now the only person in that section of the stands watching the Slytherins practice.

Just a few feet away from her sat several Slytherins girls. But unlike her, they had not prepared for the drop in temperature. Although apparently suffering from the cold, they tried to look content in their skirts and low-cut tops. They would force a smile onto their faces whenever any of the players passed by them; but they would immediately huddle together for warm afterwards.

Hermione wrapped the wool blanket around her head and body. Not only was the garment able to keep her warm, it also shielded her from the glares she received from the other girls, who turned around periodically in their seats to point and glare at her.

“Will you stop looking at those girls?” Draco shouted at his team. “Terry, if I see you glance down one more time, I’m going to beat you with that bat myself. Now, settle yourselves down so we can start.” He looked down at one of the other chasers, who was now hovering just inches from the ground. “Evan! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“It’s too cold be out here. I can’t fly in this weather.”

“It seems like you can’t fly in any weather. Stop being a little pussy and come up here.” While Evan floated up in the air to join his teammates, Draco continued to mumble not so quietly to himself. “I can’t believe I have to deal with you fu—“

Hermione winced. Although she had become accustomed to hearing such profanity from Ron, it still startled her to hear them in such rapid succession. Although shivering, she was able to jot down notes on everything she saw and heard that night. But nothing that Draco displayed on the pitched changed her views about his personality.

When the practice was over, she scurried to Draco before he could escape to the changing rooms.

“How could he let her watch us?” muttered one Slytherin when he walked past Hermione.

Hermione ignored his comment and grabbed Draco’s arm. “I think you should watch me as well,” she said. “I’m having a study session tomorrow night in the library at eight.”

Draco continued to wipe the sweat from his brow. He then inspected his broom for any scratches. His gaze finally met Hermione’s. “That should be fun,” he responded in a sarcastic tone. He then walked away and left her standing in the middle of the field.


*****************************

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to us,” said Ron as he paced back and forth in front of Hermione. “Now you’re sneaking out to meet him?”

Hermione kept her gaze fixed on the reddening glow of the fire, as she kicked up her feet on a nearby chair. Her quill dangled from the corner of her lips as she thought over the piece she had written so far about the Quidditch practice.

Since it was late in the night, she assumed she would have some time to warm herself near the fire and wallow in her thoughts without being disturbed; but her plans for peace had been demolished nearly ten minutes before, when Ron and Harry tiptoed downstairs to confront her.

“Hermione, are you listening to me?” snapped Ron. When Hermione finally turned to look at him, he continued. “I don’t know why you would even consider going along with this.”

“Going along with what?” she asked. “It’s only an assignment.”

“’It’s only an assignment’ she says. Don’t you see what your actions are doing to Harry?” Ron raved. He then pointed a finger at the young man slouched in the chair across from Hermione. “You’re running around here with Malfoy like it’s some fun game, all the while ignoring the fact that he’s been placing letters from You-Know-Who on Harry’s seat in Potions.”

“Don’t be daft,” said Hermione. She sat up in her chair and wiped away a smudge that was on her parchment. “No one knows for sure if it’s him. That doesn’t even seem like something he’d do.”

Hermione didn’t have to look up to know that both boys – even Harry, who seemed as though he wanted to distance himself from the conversation – were now staring at her.

“You know what?” said Ron. “I think Hermione’s right. Because why in the world would a mean-spirited son of a Death Eater want to do something like that?” He then shrugged his shoulders. “What must I have been thinking to come to that conclusion?”

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose. He then grabbed Ron’s arm. “Can you please not yell? You’re going to do my head in.”

Ron leaned across the table towards Hermione and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Don’t you see what your golden boy’s little letters are doing to Harry?”

Hermione continued to look down at the table. “I still don’t think he’s the one doing it. He’s too smart for all that.” She glanced up at them both when it was apparent that further explanation was needed. “Placing a letter on someone’s desk seems too simple for him. Plus, I don’t think he would do something as blatant as that, considering everyone’s watching him already.”

“Wow. Since when did you become such an expert on Malfoy?”

“I’m not an expert. I’ve just been…”

Harry finally sat up in his chair. He reached across the table and touched her arm. “Hermione, what exactly are you trying to prove with this assignment?”

“I thought I could learn more about the Death Eaters’ plans by interacting with him.” She pushed her parchment away. “And yes, I know he won’t volunteer any information to me,” she said quickly to Ron, “but I have a feeling I might be able to learn something.”

“Herm, what you’re doing is really dangerous. By interacting with him, he could learn about our routines and then tell Volde—“

“That won’t happen,” Hermione interrupted. The tone of her voice seemed too casual, considering the subject matter, and both Ron and Harry took notice. “I didn’t mean for it to sound like that,” she added quickly, when their glares finally caught her attention. “You know I would never tell him anything that would jeopardize your safety.” Her eyes rested on Harry, where they remained for several minutes. Harry gave her an appreciative, but still unsure nod, before heading off to bed.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” said Ron.

Hermione ignore his comment and kept her gaze lowered as she looked over her notes.


*****************************

Hermione twirled her thumbs and glanced down at her watch for the second time; he was ten minutes late. She assumed he would be punctual, like he was for their second meeting. His unexpected tardiness was now starting to way down on her nerves and caused her to wonder if he had decided not to cooperate with her anymore. The two boys sitting at the table with her kept watching as she stared at the library door.

“Can we please get started?” asked Ron in an impatient voice. “I can’t stay here all night. I have…other things to do.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I can just imagine what those ‘other things’ are.”

Ron rubbed his chinned and gave her his usual toothy grin.

However, Hermione to not notice his patronizing smile, as her eyes were now set on the person entering through the library doors with his usual robes billowing behind him. “You won’t have to wait any longer,” she said. “Because here he comes now.”

She pulled a chair from a nearby table and placed it several feet away from where she, Harry and Ron were seated. Harry and Ron both turned around and watched as Draco approached them.

“Where the hell does he think he’s go—“ Ron stopped talking when he realized that Draco was heading their way.

Ron opened his mouth in horror when Draco grabbed the chair Hermione had set for him and moved it even further away from the threesome. He quietly sat down, placed his parchment in his lap and glanced up at Ron and Harry, who were now standing up.

“What the hell is he doing here?” shouted Ron.

“I invited him to join us,” said Hermione. “We have to observe one another for our project. And since he invited me to watch him practice last night, I only thought it would be fair to have him observe our study session.”

While Ron’s eyes grew large and darted from Hermione to Draco in a horrific manner, Harry’s reaction to the news was a lot calmer. But his displeasure was surely visible; he crossed his arms tightly against his chest and moved away from his seat, which was closest to Draco. He stared at Hermione for a moment, before grabbing his bag and whispering into her ear, “I can’t be here.”

Hermione grabbed his hand and moved close to him. “Please to leave,” she uttered against his earlobe. “Trust me on this. I thought that this project with Draco would help you. And I know that with time—“

“I’m leaving too,” interrupted Ron. “I won’t stay here with that little—“

“Ron, sit down!” Startled by the power of her own voice, Hermione looked around the room to see if anyone had notice. The entire room was staring back at her. She tilted her head and looked at the librarian’s desk; Madame Pince had a content expression on her face, as she licked her finger and turned the page of her newly delivered book.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Hermione said to Ron in a more quiet voice. “You need all the help you can get.” She then turned her attention back to Harry. “I’m not trying to cause you any stress. I’m trying to get information out of him, so we can find out who’s been sending you those letter—“

“We already know who it is,” interjected Ron. “It’s Draco.”

Hermione flash Ron a warning glare that finally quieted him. She then focused her attention back to Harry as she ran her hand up and down his arm in a reassuring man. Harry was unresponsive to her touch at first and kept his gaze lowered. “Please stay here,” she whispered.

Although Harry continued to stare at the floor for another moment, he eventually went back to their table. Seeing that his sidekick had surrendered to Hermione’s pleas, Ron begrudgingly took his seat as well.

Draco remained quiet and watched the excitement in front of him as if it were a fascinating theatrical play. He had chosen to take a seat under the window, and the large tree outside cast a shadow over most of his body, except for his shoes.

Not having a pale face on which to focus his anger on, Ron spent his time glaring at Draco’s leather shoes instead.

When everyone had finally calmed down, Hermione opened her history book. “I guess we can get started now. Ron, I’ll quiz you first.” She placed her list of questions in her lap and cleared her throat. “When did the Wiccan Wars begin?”

Ron continued to stare in Draco’s direction, until Hermione snapped her finger in his face. “What?” Ron asked angrily.

“The Wiccan Wars. When did they begin?”

“I don’t know.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, before asking Harry the same question. Harry only gazed at her from the corner of his eyes. He then shrugged his shoulders and muttered in a dead tone, “Don’t remember.”

“It was 1132,” said Hermione. “We went over it in class just a couple of days ago, remember?”

Ron and Harry’s inability to answer any of the questions continued throughout the night. In the beginning, their lack of focus could have been attributed to Draco’s unsettling presence; but it was now clear that they had not studied.

“Come on you guys,” said Hermione as she banged her hands on the surface of the table. “I don’t understand why none of this information is sticking.” Taking a deep breath, she stared up at them once more. “Now, what did Abigail Igner do that is so important to the Wizarding world?”

Harry had his elbow on the table and was supporting his head in his hand. He traced his finger along the surface of the wood table and quickly glanced up at Draco. And in a small and hollow voice, he muttered, “Abigail Igner introduced witchcraft to Wales.”

Hermione stared at him for a moment, before placing her hand on his shoulder and bestowing on him a jovial, “Well done.” The smile on her face seemed exaggerated, but at that point, she was overjoyed at finally hear a correct answer.

She then turned her attention to Ron, who stared at her with disinterested. “Okay Ron,” Hermione said. “When did Ms. Igner do this?”

With his finger in his mouth, Ron gave off the impression he was deep in thought. But he finally moved his hand away and muttered, “905 AD?” Seeing the annoyed look on Hermione’s face, he quickly changed his answer. “I mean 915.”

“You’re just blurting out random dates.”

“No, I’m not—“

“926 AD,” said Draco. He kept his hands firmly folded in his lap and watched for a reaction from the other three.

“Who the hell asked you?” replied Ron. He moved his head to the side so he could better glare at Draco, but the other boy’s face was properly obscured by the darkness.

“I just thought that someone might as well say the right answer, since both of you are struggling.”

“I wasn’t struggling. Anyways...” he paused and looked back at Harry, who had his head turned and appeared as though he did not want to get involved. Ron moved away from the table and took a step towards Draco. “I’m surprised you’re even daring to say something to me, considering your two friends aren’t here to fight your battles for you.”

Draco huffed loudly and examined the parchment in his lap; he already knew where the conversation was headed.

“Why don’t you and I go outside and settle this?” asked Ron.

The comment caused little reaction from Draco; in fact, he continued to go though his notes. “As appetizing as that might sound, I’m actually here to do a project.”

Ron was soon standing in front of him. “Perhaps I could change your mind.”

And just as swiftly, Hermione got in front of Ron and prevented him from initiating anything. She grabbed him around the waist and pushed him back to the table. “Why are you starting stuff?”

“Me? He’s the one that started it by making fun of us.”

“He wasn’t making fun. He was simply stating the right answer.”

Ron looked down at her in silence, and then back at Draco. “Why the hell are you defending him, when I know you heard all the little comments he was making during the whole session?”

“I didn’t hear him saying anything derogatory towards you or—“

“Oh, get out of my way.” Ron brushed her aside and picked his bag from the floor. “I don’t even know why I agreed to this.” He kicked his chair back in its place and turned to Harry. “Let’s get out of here.”

Harry slowly got up from his seat. The worried lines on his face appeared more intense as he flashed Hermione a sharp glance. His eyes then traveled to Draco, who moved away from the shadows and greeted his stare with his own harsh glare.

When the other boys had left, Draco got to his feet and approached Hermione. “The Wiccan Wars stated in 1133, you know. The skirmishes between the regions started in 1132, but the Mister of Magic didn’t declare war until 1133.”

“I don’t think so,” said Hermione with a confident smile on her face. She then worked quickly to find the passage in the book that would prove him wrong. But that smile faded when she discovered that it was she who was incorrect. She hastily closed her book and tossed it into her bag. “I guess you’re right,” she said in a voice that was barely audible.

She expected Draco to start gloating over her indiscretion; but he did not. He picked up his bag and continued to the door. Hermione quickly packed her own bag and trotted alongside him.

“They’re not very bright, are they?” commented Draco as they reached the exit.

Hermione stopped in front of him and placed her hands on her hips. “Like your lot is smarter. I’d like to see Crabbe and Goyle try and answer those questions.”

Draco raised his eyebrows. “I guess you’re right,” he muttered. He took one last look at her, and then walked into the hall.

Hermione leaned against the library entryway and watched him walk away. She placed her hand in her hair and twirled several strands around her finger. “1133,” she mumbled to herself. That had been the first time she had been incorrect about anything in regards to her studies, and the feeling was not pleasant. She raced after Draco.

“Listen,” she began. “I was wondering if we could…” She paused as she re-thought her decision. But in the end, she decided she could not take any chances when it came to her grades. “Would you be available to have a study session with me?”

“Why? Does it look like I need help?”

“No. I was thinking you could help me prepare for the test, since you seem to know the material so well.” She squeezed her eyes just then when she heard the comment escape her mouth.

Draco stared at her in silence, causing her to think he was going to decline her offer. “I guess I could pencil you into my schedule,” he said in a low voice. “I’ll owl you tomorrow morning.” And with that, he continued back to his dorm before she could utter another comment.








Chapter 6: From the Dungeons to Hogsmeade
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Chapter 6: From the Dungeons to Hogsmeade

The Potions classroom loomed with an intense heat that caused the students to squirm uncomfortably under their robes. Although the frost had now erupted outside, the class remained stifling due to the many cauldrons that bubbled within.

Harry and Ron sat with their hands folded nervously in front of them, as they both glanced at their cauldrons, which lay several feet away; both were hoping their potions would turn a bright blue. They flashed one another a fleeting look – the same look they had exchanged during their exam, as they both struggled to remember the amount of wolfsbane to add to their potion. Since Professor Snape had separated Hermione from her housemates, the two boys had to rely on one another for support.

Hermione sat more calmly, as her mixture had already turned the desired pigment. She placed her elbow on the table, and rested her head against her hand. Her gaze was lowered, which gave off the impression that she was busy looking down at her notes. However, this position allowed her to gaze at the young man on the left side of the room, without getting noticed.

Draco’s face was half shielded from her view by his hair, as he too glanced down at his notes while Snape lectured in front of the class. She had been watching him like this since class first started.

He had owled her a book on Ethnography that morning. The book, which had been advertised in the back pages of the Daily Prophet, was something Hermione had considered purchasing for herself. She had had the pleasure of browsing at it during much of her breakfast, and was captivated by the research that Davinia McCloud had done on a group of goblins she had lived with for nearly two years. The strong assumption from Harry and Ron was that the book was a gift from Professor Monroe, which caused Ron to mutter, “Teacher’s pet” under his breath.

A smile then crept onto Hermione’s lips; she was pleased by the effort Draco was now putting into their project; which was, of course, due to her intervention.

Although she did appreciate his little gift to her, she had trepidations about seeing him in Potions class. She hoped and prayed that whoever the culprit was, they would not place another letter on Harry’s seat. But she was finally relieved to discover that Harry’s chair lay bare. She had then bestowed Ron and Harry with a look that told them, “See, I told you it wasn’t him.”

Ron had answered her back with his own retort. “So,” he said smugly, “this doesn’t prove a thing. Just because there’s no letter today doesn’t mean there won’t be others later on. Besides, he probably overheard us talking last night.”

Hermione glanced down at Draco’s lap; he no longer had his journal concealed there. Its absence from many of their classes was something she clearly noticed. Perhaps he did not trust it, she mused; the idea of someone tampering with it and having access to his intimate thoughts would surely have caused him to stop writing in it. But Hermione doubted this; she had placed the book in the exact spot she had found it on the shelf. He’s just being more cautious about displaying it out in public, she said to herself.

Her heart thumped as she thought of the study session she would have with him later that night; the prospect of studying with someone who was an academic equal was a new and exciting venture.

So distracted was she with watching Draco’s every move, Hermione didn’t realize that the class period had commenced, until she saw other students getting out of their chairs. While packing up her belongings, she tried to make eye contact with Draco when he walked past her, surrounded by his friends. He was laughing at a cruel joke his Slytherin housemate had made, and glanced at her from the corner of his eyes. But the exchange was brief, as he quickly looked away once more. Hermione watched him leave, before she went to join Harry and Ron, who were waiting for her by the door.

*****************

Hermione glanced down at her notes for the last time, as she made her way down the marble staircase. She wanted to be ready for her session, and did not wish for a repeat performance of the night when she faltered on a crucial date.

She, of course, had received some suspicious glances from Ron and Harry as she was leaving the common room. Both boys had stopped in mid conversation to look up at her.

“And where are you off to now?” Ron had asked. This question was answered with a flippant “None of your business.”

She now held onto the railing, as she stared at the parchment in front of her face, while trying to maneuver down the steps without losing her footing. When she reached the bottom of the staircase, Draco was leaning against the wall, waiting for her. Hermione abruptly crumpled the parchment and shoved it in her pocket. However, the smile on Draco’s lips told her he knew what she was doing.

He stayed quiet, and watched as she approached him – a gesture that made her feel suddenly uncomfortable. There were no greetings from him, or even any attempt to initiate an exchange about the weather; only staring. When she had finally reached him, he turned on his heels and said, “This way.”

Hermione watched him walk in the opposite direction of the library. She hesitated following at first, but eventually trotted alongside of him. “Why are we going to the dungeons?” she asked when they rounded the corner.

Draco didn’t answer and continued to walk.

What she was feeling at the moment could not be classified as panic per se, only deep concern. She wondered if he was taking her down to the Slytherin common room, in order to ridicule her in front of his housemates. “I should have known it was too good to be true,” she said to herself. Her hand slowly crept into her pocket and wrapped around her wand, just in case.

However, the Slytherin common room was not their destination. They instead stopped in front of their Potions class. Draco took out a rather large key from his possession and opened the door.

“Won’t we get in trouble for being in here?” Hermione asked.

“No. Professor Snape knows I come in here sometimes.” He then busied himself by turning on all the lanterns in the room.

Hermione saw for the first time that there were blotches of blue on the floor from that day’s experiment. She took off her robes and draped them on the back of a chair. “So, you bring your conquests back here for the evening?”

“No,” Draco snapped. “I come here to study.” He then paused as he considered. His hand traveled to his face, as he began to leisurely stoke his chin. “I might bring someone in here, if the mood suits me.” Hermione rolled her eyes at the comment. “But I mainly come here to study,” he added. “This room is not as noisy as some of the others.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Noisy?”

“Well, yes. It’s hard to concentrate in some of the other rooms in this castle because you hear the sounds of moaning and…other people’s extracurricular activities through the vents.”

Hermione stared at him for moment, before looking away. “I’m sorry I asked,” she muttered under her breath.

Draco paid no attention to her comment and rummaged through his bag. He pulled out a parchment, and sat down on one of the desks in front of the class. “I’ve made a list of some of the obscure questions Binns might ask us on the exam. He has a habit on quizzing us on things we briefly went over in class.”

Taking a seat in the next row of desks, Hermione clasped her hands in front of her and looked up at him, as he began his questioning. Some of the questions – in fact, many of them – were very difficult, and caused her at times to lower her head, in order to think of the answer. She sometimes wondered if he was not testing her intelligence for his own pleasure, instead of helping her prepare for the exam. Regardless, she answered every question correctly.

After nearly two hours of rapid-fire questioning, Hermione’s head remained lowered, as she waited for him to ask her something else. She finally gazed up at him when he remained quiet.

“That’s all I’ve got,” he said. He got off of the desk and began to put away his parchment. Hermione tried to find any signs on his face that showed he was disappointed by her flawless performance; but his expression was hard to read. “You’ll do fine,” he quickly added.

Hermione continued to stare at him, to see if he was being genuine, but he turned away too quickly. She then began to gather her own belongings. “Do you do this sort of thing nightly?” she asked him. “I’m sure everyone in your house is lining up to have a study session with you.”

Draco flashed her a hard look from over his shoulder. “Why would I want to waste my talents on any of them? None of them are worthy of my time.”

The statement nearly caused Hermione to take a step backwards. Was he paying her a compliment, she asked herself. She decided not to utter a word, and continued to stand near her desk, as she fidgeted with her bag. After a long and awkward silence, she was finally prepared to make her way out of the door, when he spoke.

“I’ve finished part of my report,” he said. He pulled out a neatly rolled piece of parchment from his bag. “I just wanted you to look it over. I know Monroe said we shouldn’t share our findings with one another, but…here it is.”

Hermione hesitated, before reaching for the parchment. She resisted looking down at it immediately, because she knew it would highlight her shortcomings. But when her eyes finally scanned the report, she was taken aback by what she read. She glanced up at him and gave him a look of disbelief, before bringing the parchment to her face once more.

According to sociologist Andrew Cohen’s strict definition of gender roles, Hermione Granger strays from the characteristics that are often ascribed to females. Although this would be seen as deviant behavior on her part, close observation shows she exceeds the socially constructed limits and boundaries that are placed on her sex.

Hermione stayed quiet, long after she had finished reading. She carefully rolled the parchment and handed it back to him.

“That’s only a rough draft,” he said. “There’s still more I have to add.”

The astonished look on Hermione’s face was still present. But she soon adapted a casual expression and said, “That was good. It’s too bad I didn’t bring my report with me.” But even if she had it, she would be too embarrassed to hand it over to him; she was not as kind about his failings, as he was about hers.
There was still more silence, as neither one of them made any attempts to leave the room. But Draco soon opened his mouth to say something.

However, Hermione also spoke at that exact moment. “I think that we should…I’m sorry, were you about to say something?”

“Yeah,” replied Draco. “I was going to suggest that we meet up in Hogsmeade. There’s still a lot we don’t know about each other.”

“That would be fine.” Hermione then watched as walked out of the room, without saying another word to her.


*****************


The Three Broomsticks was not as busy that day, as it was on previous excursions. But the low traffic inside the establishment did not guarantee that Hermione and Draco would not be disturbed. There were plenty of other students on the streets who made it a habit to walk past the large front windows to have a glimpse at them. Pansy and her group of Slytherin girls even stopped by twice to gawk at them. The distraction caused Hermione and Draco to move to the back of the room.

Hermione looked back at the window just in time to catch Seamus and Dean press their faces against the glass and give her a mournful look. “I wish they would just go away,” she muttered when the waitress placed a bottle of butterbeer in front of her.

Draco, on the other hand, seemed unfazed by the added attention as he took a long swig of his drink. Even the raised eyebrows and whispers of several other patrons and barmaids did not seem to fluster him.

After several minutes, Hermione stopped looking around. Her gaze now focused on the long parchment in front of her, she said, “The one area we have not examined yet would be our romantic entanglements.”

That said, Draco leaned forward in his seat and placed his elbows on the table. “I’m glad you brought that up, because I meant to ask you something: why did you ask if I brought my ‘conquests’ to Professor Snape’s classroom last night?”

Hermione quickly glanced up at him. She didn’t give him an immediate response, as she was somewhat taken back by his directness. “I think you’re very much aware of your reputation,” she finally said.

“Oh that.” The neutral expression did not diminish from his face, and he now leaned back in his seat and asked, “And you believe all of the talk?”

“Well, I’ve seen all of the evidence I need.” She fixed a long stare on him, before clearing her throat and looking down at her parchment. “But we’re not here to discuss my opinions of you, now are we?”

Draco reached out his hand and placed it on top of her parchment, preventing her from bringing it to her face. “No, I want to hear your opinion.”

“Are you sure about that?” When Draco nodded, she said, “I’ve heard of you running around with several girls at once. And from what I’ve seen, I’d say those rumors were true.”

“My, my, is that a disapproving tone I hear?” Draco cocked his head to the side and grinned. He then sank back in his chair and stroked his chin in the slow manner she had watched him do the night before. “Why do you look down on me, when all I am doing is searching for the right girl?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “If that’s what you call it.”

“No, I really am.” Draco placed his hand on her arm, causing her to immediately gaze at him. “I’m in search of an equal…someone who can keep up with me. And with such a search, it is inevitable that I have to sample what the school has to offer. Wouldn’t you agree?” He then flashed her a smile.

But Hermione’s eyes were no longer locked on his. His long milky fingers remained on her skin; and although the touch was very light, it still made her jolt back in her seat and prevented her from looking anywhere else but down at his hand. He immediately pulled away.

Silence loomed over their table once more, as Hermione resumed her pastime of watching the other patrons. But she eventually turned to him, and gave him a long stare. She then thought back to her conversation with Mandy, and the lingering affection the Ravenclaw still had for Draco. Her eyes lit up when she remembered something Mandy had said to her: “There was something intense between us. I guess you could say it was love. I think it overwhelmed him because he suddenly withdrew.”

Hermione placed her hands in her lap and asked, “During your searching, have you ever once found the right girl?”

Draco’s eyes drifted in Hermione’s direction for a moment, before settling on the group of people sitting in the table behind her. The expression on his face was tense and outright serious, causing her to wonder if she had angered him. But he regained his calmness and glanced at her once more.

“Maybe,” Draco responded in a soft voice. “There was a time…” He paused and stared at Hermione. When he spoke again, his voice went back to its usual casualness. “Who knows if I’ve ever found the right girl? I’m still a young man, and I have many years to look around.”

Although his words told her one thing, Draco’s posture and eyes betrayed his true feelings; although this betrayal was very subtle, Hermione had now spent enough time with him to recognize it. Known for his intimidating eye contact, that was the first occasion he did not keep his gaze entirely on her as he spoke.

She had hit a sensitive subject, she mused. She was taken aback by this minor show of vulnerability. However, she decided it was best not to ask him any more questions on that particular subject, for now. They then spent another hour talking about something that never seemed to put either of them on edge: academia.


*****************

Harry and Ron stood outside the Three Broomsticks. They had been standing there for the past ten minutes, observing their friend inside. “When she comes out, just let me do all of the talking,” said Harry. Ron mumbled something under his breath, but Harry knew there was no way he would be able to keep from interjecting his opinion.

They could understand the motion of Hermione meeting Draco in the library to go over their project, like they assumed she did the previous night, but meeting him during the weekend went beyond their comprehension. They both stayed pressed against the brick wall and watched as she and the Slytherin headed to the door.

Draco was the first to pass them. He paused on his way to Honeydukes, and looked them both up and down. A grin then appeared on his face, which caused Ron to omit an angry grunting noise from deep in his throat.

Harry grabbed Hermione’s arm just as she walked out of the door. “What were you doing in there with him?” he asked.

Hermione gasped loudly and nearly dropped her bag out of her hand. “My report.”

Ron tried to talk, but the taffy in his mouth was preventing him from doing so. He eventually spit out the wad onto an unfortunate passerby’s shoe. “With my untrained eyes,” he finally said, “it looked as though you guys were on a date.” He then fixed an accusatory glare on her. “We saw you in there, flirting and tossing your hair about.”

“How do you know what I look like when I’m flirting?” Hermione asked.

“Oh, I know.” He gave her a meaningful glance that caused her to look away. He then placed his finger on his temple and looked up at the sky. “Gee, I wonder if Crabbe would share Death Eater secrets with me if I took him out to dinner?”

“We were not on a date,” protested Hermione. She then swung and hit Ron’s arm.

“Hermione,” said Harry, “it looked that way to me, too. You seemed to be really enjoying yourself in there.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? This project is very intense and it is necessary that we cooperate with one another.”

Ron snorted loudly, causing Hermione’s narrowing eyes to flitter his way. “That’s not true,” he said. “I overheard Justin talking about his project and he said he and his partner…” He turned to Harry just then and asked, “Who’s that girl he’s working with again? That manly looking Ravenclaw.” When Harry was too slow to respond, he addressed Hermione once more. “Anyway, she and Justin don’t even like one another, and their project is still going along fine. You don’t see them sneaking out to have late night rendezvous.”

Hermione was going to comment on the rumors surrounding Justin’s preference for his own sex, but kept quiet. “Justin and Lisa Turpin are going about it the wrong way,” she finally said. “All that negativity they have towards one another is going to be evident in their reports.”

“Do you think that by being nice to him,” asked Harry, “he’ll write something positive about you?”

“No. That’s not what I mean at all. It’s just that fighting with your partner will only slow down your whole project.” But her explanation didn’t seem to ease the harsh expression on Harry’s face. “Look,” she said as her fingers grazed Harry’s arm, “I wasn’t on some date or anything like that. We came here because we wanted a casual atmosphere in which to interview one another on our private lives.”

Harry moved away from her touch, as he eyes widened with surprise. “You’re telling him about your life? Now, he’s surely going to learn more about me.”

“Don’t worry. I haven’t talked about you. Nor has he asked. He’s spent the afternoon just asking about me.”

The look in Harry’s eyes still indicated that he was unimpressed by her answer. “But he’s bound to find out something if you keep talking to him,” he said. “Hermione don’t you see what he’s doing? He’s trying to get you to feel overly relaxed, so that you’ll eventually slip some piece of information to him. Because from the way you were laughing in there, it seems as though he’s almost got what he wants. Malfoy’s not dumb, Hermione. You even said it yourself. This whole reporting process is going to benefit him.”

“No it’s not,” said Hermione. “And Ron, don’t you dare say anything.” She glanced back at Harry, after a threatening stare proved enough to silence Ron, and said, “I think he’s starting to trust me because he was opening up today.”

Harry leaned against the wall and folded his arms against his chest. “So, what have you learned so far?”

Hermione remained quiet. She then glance across the street as two pairs of skeptic eyes now rested on her, awaiting some answer.

“She doesn’t have any information,” said Ron. He seemed almost happy – well, at least the smile on his lips would suggest so. He nudged Harry in the side with his elbow. “I told you she wouldn’t get anything out of him.”

“I know I don’t have anything on him now,” Hermione responded in a silent but defiant voice, “but I will eventually.”

The statement caused Harry to sigh loudly. “Just make sure you find out his secrets before he learns ours.”

Hermione’s gaze traveled from Harry’s face to Ron’s. Her chest heaved in and out as she watched the disappointment and anger on her two friends’ expressions. “I know what I’m doing,” she said forcefully. “It’s amazing how the two of you can suddenly doubt my abilities.” And with that, she took off down the street.


*****************

Hermione didn’t make it back to the common room. The news of her venturing to the Three Broomsticks with Draco had spread amongst the students, and she didn’t want to deal with any questioning from her housemates. She now stood in the middle of the hall, debating whether to go to the library, or find some other refuge.

Finally deciding to escape to the library, she turned a corner and ran into someone. “I was looking for you,” said Draco. “When do you want to meet next?” When she did not respond to his question, he took a step closer to her and gazed at her face. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’ve just had an unpleasant…” Remembering who she was talking to, she quickly decided to hold back on giving him any information. “It’s nothing.”

Hermione glanced over her shoulder when she heard the sounds of footsteps coming down the hall. And a moment later, two girls walked rather slowly past them, all the while glancing unabashedly in their direction.

“That’s my problem,” exclaimed Hermione when the girls had finally put a considerable distance between them. “The stares and the whispering. That’s what’s bothering me.” She placed her hand on her forehead and remained quiet, as she stared down at the floor. “Listen,” she said in a much more calm voice, “I don’t think we should have anymore excursions to Hogsmeade. In fact, I don’t think we need to meet with one another again.”

Draco did not react to what she was saying and only glanced down at her as if she had made an offhand comment about the windy weather outside.

“I think we can both do our reports without anymore research,” she added.

“So,” Draco finally said, “are you finally doing what you accused me of? And later tattled on me, might I add?”

“And what would that be?”

“Bailing on the assignment.”

“I am not doing that,” Hermione said defensively. “I just think we have plenty of information to finally finish our reports. We’ve already spent enough hours talking and…what are you laughing at?”

Draco had his hand over his mouth, but immediately removed it and exposed his smile. “Oh nothing. Continue with what you were saying.”

“No. I want to know what’s so funny.”

“It’s amazing how you would let other people’s opinions scare you away from continuing with a project.” He lost the smile on his lips and gave her a scrutinizing look. “I always thought you had more gumption than that. But I guess not.”

Hermione gave him a hard stare and then snorted loudly. “You’re the one to talk. Wasn’t it you who wanted nothing to do with me in the first place?”

“But that was before.”

“Before what?”

“It was before we started. I now realize that I want us to really know each other. Because it will make our reports that much better,” he added quickly. “I think the professor will sense it if we’re making up things about one another.” His hand then flickered to his neck, as he turned his head to the side. “I had a lot of trouble writing my report about you after our first meeting. I went though about ten pieces of parchment.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “But why would you want me to get good marks on the project? Didn’t you say you wanted me to fail?”

“No, I don’t want you to fail. I want you to do a great job on it because you’re my rival. What’s the point of having a rival who’s not on equal footing with you?”

“You just want to me to continue,” stated Hermione, “so you can try to beat me at my best?” She kept her mouth slightly opened, as she glanced at him in disbelief. She then shook her head and began to walk away from him.

Draco grabbed her arm and prevented her from getting far. “That’s only part of the reason. I think your report might affect the grade I receive on mine. Monroe will get suspicious if you do a sub par job on yours, and mine is excellent. She might mark me down for that.”

Hermione gave him a harsh look just then to ask why it had to be her who would get the failing grade, but Draco ignored her and continued.

“But the most important part,” Draco said, “is that our discussions have been…rather interesting. It’s a new experience to be around someone who’s on equal footing with me, intellectually that is. To not have your eyes glaze over when I’m talking to you is…different.” Draco paused for a moment.

“You’ve been with girls who were like that?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Well, that’s what you get for shagging everything that crosses your path.” For a split second - which surprise even her - Hermione regretted taking this jab at him. But it only came automatically, considering this had been the nature of most of their exchanges during the past six years. “I think you’re right,” she said quickly to take away the sting of her last comment. “We should continue…to get the highest marks possible.”

She reached into her bag and rummaged amongst the books for a piece of parchment. “I made a list the other day of some publications that might help us with—“

The last words of her statement were never uttered, because her mouth suddenly became enveloped by Draco’s lips. Hermione moved back so suddenly, that her head hit the wall behind her with a loud thud. “Ow,” she said as she rubbed the back of her head. Instinctively, she brought her hand back to her face and glanced down at her fingers; there was no blood present.

“Did you cut yourself?” Draco asked as his hand dug into her thick hair. His fingers then felt along her scalp for any bumps or abrasions.

His chest was now rubbing against her, as he conducted his inspection. She normally would have pushed him away, or demand how he could dare place his lips or any part of his body on her, but the suddenness of the events and the throbbing she now felt in her head was overwhelming.

Hermione finally moved away from him. “I’m all right,” she said as she stepped to the side. “It just feels a little sore. I think I might go to Madame Pomfrey.”

But she did not go to the Hospital Wing. She stood still, as she rubbed her head, all the while wincing when her fingers ran along the bruised area. Draco remained motionless as well, until…

Hermione saw it coming, as if it was being played in slow motion in front of her. She knew exactly what he was going to do; yet she did not move out of the way – it was because she was overwhelmed by shock, she told herself till this day. But she held her breath just as his mouth made the lightest of contact with her own. Her eyes remained opened, as she contemplated the sensations running through her body at that time: pain, surprise and bewilderment. And just as suddenly, the realization that he was actually kissing her again caused her to push him away.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked. She was now breathing heavy, as her heart thumped against her chest.

Draco said nothing and continued to stare at her with a look of serenity on his face. He acted as if their embrace had been an everyday occurrence.

When he did not provide her with any answers, Hermione clasped her book bag tightly against her chest, as a form of protection from him, and began to walk backwards. When she was a safe distance away, she turned her back to him and quickly walked down the hall.

She raced up to the girls’ dorm and sat on top of her bed. Bringing her knees to her chest, she contemplated what had just happened. Although she tried to keep herself as still as possible, her body still shivered. Her hand trickled to her mouth, as she moved her fingers slowly across her lips. She could still picture him against her, his mouth gliding along…

“No,” she said to herself. “He did not just kiss me.” She got up from her bed and walked to the window. With her hands pressed against the glass, she lowered her head as she tried to control her breathing. When this act failed to calm her, she went back to her bed, where she lay for nearly an hour.


Chapter 7: Draco's Room
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Chapter 7: Draco’s Room


Ron was about to take another bite of his toast, when his gaze was forced upwards. “It looks as though Hermione is getting another delivery,” he said. His eyes then followed a brown school owl as it approached the girl sitting next to him and dropped a letter in her lap.

He leaned close to Harry and said in a loud voice, “I bet it’s from her favorite teacher.” He glanced at Hermione, giving her an amused look. “Tell us Hermione, is there something going between you and the professor that we should know about?” He continued to nudge Hermione with his elbow until she looked his way. “Harry and I are wondering: have you switched over to lesbianism?”

The comment caused Harry to spit out his pumpkin juice all over his breakfast. He and Ron then lowered their head and began to laugh.

Hermione would have smacked either one of them on the back of the head – especially Ron, who was now pointing at Professor Monroe and muttering something in Harry’s ear that caused him to laugh harder – but she did nothing. That had been the first time in weeks that she had seen Harry and Ron in such good spirits, and she didn’t want to spoil their fun, even though it was at her expense.

Plus, she had another reason for wanting them to be preoccupied. She had long noticed that the letter in front of her was not in her teacher’s handwriting. She moved away from the two boys, so neither one of them could glance over her shoulder and read the letter. Written on the parchment in front of her was part of a poem that she quickly recognized; the poet was her mom’s favorite and a prominent fixture in the Muggle literary world.

She placed the parchment in her pocket and glanced at the Slytherin table. Draco was engrossed in conversation with Crabbe, but she could see the he was looking at her from the corner of his eyes.

“Who’s sent the letter?”

Hermione nearly jumped when she felt Ron’s fingers on her shoulder. His gaze darted from her lap to her empty hands, in search of the correspondence, which he assumed detailed Hermione and her professor’s secret love affair. Hermione glanced at him and then at Harry, before muttering, “No one.”

“Sure it isn’t,” said Ron.

Hermione went back to stirring her porridge. Ron and Harry had clearly made up their minds on who the sender was, and she wanted it to remain that way. She and Draco had not talked to one another for a week, and her two friends had welcomed the Slytherin’s absence with relief and happiness.

She glanced at Draco one more time; he was now looking at her. She stared back at him, all the while showing no signs that his letter had touched her in any way.

When afternoon classes were finally over, Hermione headed to the dorms. She dropped her bag on the floor and fell onto her bed. It had been very difficult for her to concentrate in most of her classes that day, like it has for the past couple of days.

Ever since their kiss, her mind had been swimming with thoughts about Draco. In Potions and Mythology, she always found herself looking at him, as she wondered about his motives for the sudden embrace. Perhaps he was just messing with me, she would say to herself. She had seen plenty of evidence that Draco loved to toy with the emotions of those around him. And that she had made him confess to having once been in love, gave Draco even more motivation to play with her mind.

Her reasoning was only enforced by the fact that he had not made any attempts, till that morning, to contact her. “He wants me to be confused,” she muttered two days after their kiss, when he had passed her in the halls without glancing her way. “He knows I’ll be agonizing over why he did it. And he’s enjoying every moment of it.”

Hermione shut her eyes as she rested her head on the pillow. Although she tried to push back all thoughts of him from her mind because they always left her feeling angry and frustrated, she could not escape the musky scent of his cologne. Then, the feel of his lips against hers came back to her. She had been surprised by how soft his lips had been and how gentle he had been when…

“Oh God,” she said. She now sat up on her bed and placed her hands over her face. She stared down at her bedspread as she tried to get all thoughts of him out of her mind, when she heard a tapping noise against the window. Thinking it was only the wind, she first tried to ignore the disturbance. But she finally looked up, when it became more persistent.

She stared at the brown school owl for another minute, until it banged its beak against the glass once more. Hermione got up from her bed and opened the window. The owl flew onto the windowsill and waited for her to untie the package from its leg. When he was finally free, the owl flashed her a look of annoyance, before flying away.

Hermione reached for the rolled sheet of parchment, which had a white calla lily attached to it.

************

Hermione peeked around the corner to make sure no one was there, before she continued down the dark hall. After walking several feet, she halted when she thought she heard a noise. She held her breath, and listened for any footsteps. When she heard nothing, she proceeded up a winding staircase.

She stood in front of the room for a minute, before opening the door and walking inside. She squinted and turned her head to the side when the flood of moonlight splashed across her face; the bright glow was a sharp contrast from the dark halls she had been walking in.

When her eyes had finally adjusted, she looked around the room. It was too small and out of the way to have been a classroom, but it was also too clean to have been a storage unit. The hardwood floors and rugs told her that the space must have been a professor’s office. She searched for the boy, and finally found him lying on the ground a few feet away. She almost didn’t recognize him, as the dancing flames around him cast a deep glow on his pale skin.

************

Draco lay on the floor in front of the fireplace, with his hands crossed against his chest. He turned his head and quickly glanced up at Hermione, before looking up at the ceiling once more. From the corner of his eyes, he watched as she stayed perched at the entryway. She was unsure of herself, Draco thought to himself. He smiled inwardly.

Hermione finally took a seat on the floor, several feet away.

“How did you do on Binns’ exam?” he asked.

“I did fine.”

He waited for her to ask him the same question, but she remained quiet. He assumed she already knew the answer. He then looked at her and took in her appearance. He could detect a bit of rouge on her lips and the scent of her perfume was clearly evident; however, the fragrance was more intense than the last time.

“I’ve never come into this room before,” she said.

“How could you? I always place a locking spell when I leave.” Seeing that she must have been giving him an odd look just then, he added, “No one comes here. Not even Filch. So, I took this room for my own last year.”

Hermione pulled out a sheet of parchment from the pocket of her robes and examined it. “This poem you sent me, I always interpreted it to be about a man apologizing to his wife for some wrongdoing. Did you intend it to be an apology to me?”

“Who’s to say? If that’s the way you interpret it.” Draco signed loudly and placed his hands underneath his head. “I just thought it was nice.”

“And are you aware that the poet is a Muggle?” Hermione spoke slowly and made sure to emphasize the last word.

“Yes.”

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

“Of course not.” Draco rolled onto his side and faced her. He then traced his finger around the pattern on the rug below, as he glanced at her through his long lashes. “I don’t let such things come between me and my intellectual enlightenment. But, if it bothers you—“

“Why should it bother me?” interrupted Hermione. “I’m Muggle-born, remember?”

“Then I guess it’s not an issue.” He stopped playing with the fringes on the rug and kept close watch of Hermione’s actions. He noticed that she had moved further away from him.

“Intellectual enlightenment, my ass,” Hermione muttered under her breath. She then snorted. “I’ve seen your dalliances with girls around school and at meal times. I doubt that you—“

“Are you accusing me of using poetry to woo girls?”

“Yes.” Hermione reached into the pocket of her robes and pulled out a flower. “Here’s your lily. I don’t know what you had in mind by sending it to me, but let me assure you that I do not want it.” She got to her feet and tossed the flower onto Draco’s stomach. She then walked to the door.

Draco sat up and leaned against the wall, causing the flower to roll onto the floor. “Your assumptions about me are wrong, you know.”

Hermione stayed by the entryway and crossed her arms against her chest. “And what assumptions do you think I have about you?”

“That everything I do is premeditated.”

“That’s because it is. I find it hard to believe that you would allow yourself a moment of wild abandonment. I think that everything you do and say is thought out well in advance. Take your actions with me for example; I don’t believe for a moment that our little kiss was an accident. You did it purely to throw me off.”

Unlike her pervious words, however, Hermione’s last statement came off sounding uncertain. But Draco did nothing to deny or confirm her belief and simply muttered, “If that’s what you think.”

Hermione stood by the door for another moment. She alternated between grasping the doorknob and bringing her hand back to her side. Draco eventually stopped looking at her and glanced at the fire. He could hear Hermione huffing angrily. But he did not let such sounds draw a reaction from him, nor would he coax her into staying, which he assumed is what she wanted. But in the end, she sat back on the floor.

“I wish I was as calculated as you think I am,” Draco said after a long silence. “But I’m not.”

“Then why did you kiss me?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have a definite answer for everything I do. Maybe I did it because I saw that you were stressed. Or perhaps I wanted to experience what it would be like, or maybe because I was bored.” Seeing that a frown was now present on Hermione’s brow, he added, “All I know is that I don’t regret what I did.”

The statement seemed to do the trick. The harsh glare in Hermione’s eyes disappeared. Draco brushed his hair behind his ear and said, “There was a time in particular when I lost control over myself.” He took a long pause and only continued after he saw the look of anticipation on Hermione’s face. “I allowed myself to fall in love.”

“Was it with the same person you were referring to yesterday?”

“Yes.”

Hermione moved closer to him and leaned forward. “How did you meet her?”

Draco gazed back at the now dying fire, as he rung his hand. “We were in the same class together. It started really slow, actually. We spent most of our time just looking at each other. A lot of people tried to tell her not to talk to me, but she has a mind of her own.”

Hermione was now lying on the floor on top of her robes, her gaze fixed on him. “In the beginning,” he stated, “it was just…” Draco considered whether to continue; the rest of his statement was not flattering. But he knew Hermione would have guessed the truth sooner or later, considering she was already well acquainted with his reputation. “In the beginning, I pursued her just for the thrill of it.”

A look of disapproval flashed on Hermione’s face. “But it soon turned into something more serious,” Draco added. “Something about her drew me to her.” He twirled the flower in his hand as he spoke. He began to pluck out some of the petals, and threw them carelessly into the fire.

“Don’t do that,” said Hermione. She reached for his hand and pulled the plant from his grasp. “You’re ruining it.” Her hands wandered gently along the remaining petals, before she placed the flower in her pocket. “What made you fall for her?”

“She was one of the smartest students in our literature class. And of course she belongs to a House that is known for its beautiful girls—“

“That stereotype about Ravenclaw girls is highly exaggerated,” said Hermione. “Just the other day, Justin Flinch-Fletchley was telling everyone that his Ravenclaw partner looks like m—was not very good-looking.”

“First of all, I wouldn’t trust the boy’s judgment of girls. Secondly, although there might be some bad apples in Ravenclaw, let me assure you that the girl in question is not one of them. She is absolutely stunning.”

Hermione made no other attempts to challenge the supposed beauty of Draco’s former flame, and patiently waited for him to tell her more of his relationship.

“The rest of it gets a bit personal,” Draco said. “And I’d rather not talk about it. But what about you? Have you ever fallen in love?”

“Didn’t you ask me that question already?”

“Yes, but you never answered me. You pretended to drink your butterbeer.”

“I wasn’t pretend—“ Hermione stopped talking and turned her head to stare at the large map on the opposite end of the wall. Draco touched her chin to grab her attention, but quickly brought his hand back to his lap when Hermione move away from him. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in love,” Hermione finally responded.

“Not even with your quidditch player?”

“He was sweet, but I don’t think it was love.” Hermione spoke in a soft voice. But after looking in Draco’s direction, she cleared her throat and said, “Anyway, I don’t think I would have been able to handle it. Relationships can get a bit messy.”

“Plus, it would mean that you would have to open yourself up.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, you accused me of not throwing caution to the wind, but the same could be said for you as well.”

Hermione sat up. “That’s not true at all. There have been plenty of times when I’ve ‘thrown caution to the wind,’ as you put it. Especially in regards to school rules.”

“Oh yes, you’re little misadventures with Potter and Weasley. I’m sorry, but sneaking around school after hours with your little friends is not the same thing as opening your heart to someone.”

“It’s not like that at all. I was really young…and Krum and I—“ Hermione stopped talking when she realized her defenses were having no effect on Draco, who was now bestowing her with an unimpressed gaze. She looked away.
Draco drummed his fingers against the heath of the fireplace, as he waited for her to stop sulking. Although Hermione eventually faced him, she did not resume her previous position of lying on the floor. She wouldn’t meet his eyes, as she gathered her robes from the floor and draped them over her bare legs.

After a lengthy silence, she asked, “Are you going to reveal the identity of the girl who captured your heart?”

Draco was not quick to answer. “I wouldn’t say she ‘captured’ anything. And, no, I won’t tell you who she is. I want her to remain anonymous.”

“That’s very noble of you,” said Hermione. The comment caused Draco to lean forward as he tried to detect any sarcasm in her voice. “But I’m pretty sure I can tell who the girl is.” Hermione paused for a substantially long time, before muttering, “All I have to do is look down at the Ravenclaw table for the girl who looks emotionally scarred.”

A triumphant smile curled onto Hermione’s lips. She looked directly into Draco’s eyes, as if daring him to speak. When he remained quiet, she casually glanced down at her nails and exhaled loudly.

Draco narrowed his eyes as he watched the self satisfied look on Hermione’s face grow. “Get out,” he said.

Hermione drew her attention away from her hand. “What?”

“I said get out.”

“But why?”

“Because you have the audacity to make light of a serious situation.”

“Just because I said this girl might be emotionally scarred? Draco, come on. We all know that many of the girls you date end up getting hurt.”

“Yes, I am aware of that rumor. But we were not talking about some fling I had several summers ago. This was an actual relationship. And I don’t appreciate you making smart-alecky comments about it.”

“You’re not serious, are you?”

Draco got to his feet. “I am definitely serious. And now I want you to leave.”

Hermione got up as well, and continued to stare at him with her mouth opened. But she eventually picked her robes from the floor and draped them over her shoulders. A quick glance at Draco revealed there was no change in the harsh expression on his face. Hermione headed for the door and quietly walked out of the room.

************

Draco continued down the hall to the Slytherin common room in a slow pace. He had waited nearly twenty minutes after Hermione had exited the room to finally leave. Most of that time had been spent listening to her pace back and forth in a nearby hall. He had expected her to come back into the room, but she did not.

He was about to round the corner to his dorms, when he heard footsteps behind him. “Draco.” Draco did not stop. “Draco,” she said again, this time a little louder. Draco halted in the middle of the hall. He closed his eyes when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, but I had to talk to you,” she said.

“It’s a bit late, don’t you think?” Draco muttered.

“I know, but it can’t wait.”

Draco finally turned around and faced her. “Make it quick. I don’t feel like getting caught by Filch.”

Hermione quickly gazed up and down the hall at the mention of the caretaker. She took hold of Draco’s sleeve and pulled him into a darkened corridor. “What just happened back there?” she asked when they were properly shielded from the view of passersby.

“It’s quite simple what happened: You got smart with me, and I told you to leave.”

“Now, who’s being smart?” Hermione tugged on his sleeve, which she had not let go of. Her gaze met his, and then drifted down to the fabric still clutched between her fingers. She quickly released it.

“I didn’t think you’d get so upset,” said Hermione.

“I wasn’t upset. I was simply perturbed. And why wouldn’t I be Granger?” Hermione flinched when he referred to her by her surname. “Wouldn’t you get offended if I was to make fun of something that was dear to you?” Draco asked. He paused and placed a finger to his temple. “And as I recall, several years ago, you not only got offended, but you hit me as well.”

“That was a different situation. You were making fun of Hag—Wait a minute. You’re the one that started it by saying I was too cold-hearted to fall in love.”

“Those weren’t my words.” Draco took a deep breath then and lowered his head. “I really don’t want to get into this again, because it will get us nowhere. And if you’ll excuse me—“

“Don’t leave,” said Hermione. Her hand moved towards his to prevent him from walking away, but she brought her arm back to her side before any contact was made. “Listen, I didn’t mean to offend you back there. I guess I was just fuming because of your last comments to me.”

Hermione looked down at her robes and ran her hand along the buttons, as though trying to find her words. She then met his eyes once more. “It must have taken a lot for you to share all of that information with me.” She smiled to herself then. Her hand dropped into her pocket and she began to finger the contents within. Draco remembered that that was the pocket she had placed the lily. “I guess it was true about you,” she mumbled.

“What’s true about me?” asked Draco.

Hermione hesitated for a moment. A shocked look flashed in her eyes; she had not intended for him to hear her last comment. “Nothing.” She glanced away as she ran her fingers through her hair.

Draco remained quiet and watched her. He then placed his hand in her hair as well. He, at first, tried to tame her wild locks by gently pressing down on her head. But when his actions did nothing to make her hair appear less bushy, he curled his finger around a few strands instead. Hermione stood rigid, with both arms at her side.

“Why don’t you have a man?” Draco asked.

Hermione opened her mouth several times, but was unable to utter a response. Draco’s fingers had now slipped to her temple, where they stayed momentarily, before moving along her cheek and finally resting on the crook of her neck. He could feel the pulse of her rapid heartbeats just under his fingertips. Hermione moved away momentarily when he began to finger the nape of her neck. But she eventually relaxed into his touch.

“Perhaps you’re waiting for someone special,” he muttered. His fingers had not grazed past the small hairs at the back of Hermione’s neck. “Or maybe you’re too consumed in your studies to even care.” He paused for a moment, as a sly smile spread on his lips. “But something tells me that this is not the case.”

“What about you?” Hermione said in a soft voice. “Why aren’t you—“ She stopped talking when Draco placed his other hand under her chin. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. When she looked back at him, there was a determined expression in her eyes, which said she would not let his touch frazzle her nerves. “What aren’t you with someone?” she asked again, this time in a steadier voice.

Draco did not answer immediately, as he was too preoccupied in running his fingers along her skin. Although Hermione tried hard not to flinch or show any other reaction, Draco could still feel her body shaking. “How do you know I haven’t got my eyes on someone right now?” he responded. “Someone smart, attractive,” his thumb now moved along Hermione’s lower lip, causing her to jerk her head back, “and definitely feisty.”

“I think I hear Filch coming down the hall,” Hermione said. She then glanced over her shoulder and began to survey the adjoining hall.

“I hear nothing.” The halls were indeed quiet, except for their whispering. He soon realized she just wanted an excuse to escape their close contact. “Plus, Filch wouldn’t be in the dungeons at this time. He’ll most likely be in the kitchens. Crabbe and Goyle like to have a late-night feast.”

He took hold of both Hermione’s arms to draw her attention back to him. “Move towards the light,” he said. Hermione took a step to her left. When she was standing underneath the moonlight, Draco stared down at her, his eyes taking in her features. A momentary flush appeared on Hermione’s cheeks when she realized he was scrutinizing her appearance.

Draco did not verbalize what he thought of her looks, and continued to gaze down at her in silence. He then lowered his head and kissed her. Unlike their previous embrace, Hermione’s lips were now relaxed and not pursed in a tight line. Draco opened his eyes; Hermione was staring back at him. Draco pulled away.

Staring into her eyes, Draco wondered whether Hermione would storm down the hall. Although he did enjoy the startled reaction he was able to produce in her during their previous encounter, he did not want tonight’s embrace to end prematurely.

He wrapped his arm around her waist and splayed his fingers against the small of her back, pulling her into his body. Hermione made no attempts to move away. Draco kissed her once more. He opened his eyes halfway through the kiss; Hermione’s lids were closed. Draco applied pressure against Hermione’s back and deepened the kiss.














Chapter 8: Underneath the Portrait
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Chapter 8: Underneath the Portrait


The rug on the floor provided very little padding for her back; but Hermione did not care. She had long forgotten the aching in her shoulder blades. She opened her eyes and looked up at the window above her head. Never had the moon looked so luminescent, she thought. Certainly, her heightened sensitivity was allowing her to see everything more clearly.

Hermione turned her head to the side and watched the dancing flames in the fireplace, which had been bewitched to change colors every couple of minutes. A moan escaped her lips, just as the fire turned an icy blue. She lifted her hands and placed them on his shoulders. Her fingers then followed the muscles along his arms.

She responded wholeheartedly to every touch, as she allowed the hand underneath her to push her forward, allowing him greater access. Although his target was now the sensitive skin under her chin, Hermione’s entire body seemed to be affected by his caresses.

In the corner lay their robes and shoes, which they discarded five minutes after entering the room - much sooner than during their previous encounter. But no more items of clothing would be added to that pile, as was Hermione’s insistence. Draco had not protested, nor had he attempted to take things further.

Hermione closed her eyes; the felicity of his touch now consumed her. However, the beeping of her watch interrupted their session. She tried to ignore the sounds for several minutes, but eventually opened her eyes. “We have to stop.”

Draco lifted his head and stared down at her. A pinkish color was now on the apples of his cheeks, and his hair was tousled. He did not say a word, but kept his hand on her cheek. His finger tickled to her lips, as it tried to wedge itself into her mouth.

“I’m serious,” she said. “We really have to stop. I only have a few minutes before Filch starts patrolling Gryffindor Tower.” Draco’s finger continued on its path until she bit down on it.

Draco bent down and kissed her lips, before getting to his feet. He held out his hand to her, and helped her get up from the floor. He also assisted in wiping dust from the back of her shirt and skirt. However, he concentrated solely on running his hand along her backside, until she pushed him away.

“Are we going to Hogsmeade together this weekend?” Draco asked when they were both outside the locked room.

Hermione hesitated for a moment before answering. “I don’t think we should risk it.”

“I don’t mean walking down the street holding hands. I was just thinking we could have a meal or something. I’m sure people will think we’re just doing more research. A lot of people will probably be doing the same thing, seeing as that the Christmas holidays are in a couple of days.”

Hermione did not answer immediately, and proceeded to gaze down the hall. “All right,” she eventually answered. “We could meet in front of the Three Broomsticks. Same time as the last meeting.”

After a kiss goodbye, Hermione made her way back to the dorms before Filch and Mrs. Norris beat her there. And although she never turned around, she always knew that Draco was watching her walk down the hall.

***********************

The room filled with the rustle of parchment, as all the students prepared to take down notes. Professor Monroe stood in front of the class with her wand poised in her hands. A pleased smile crinkled into the corner of her lips as she began to speak.

“It seems as though everyone has been working very hard on their projects,” she said. “I’ve been checking the sign-in sheets in the library, and I’m just dumbfounded by your dedication. And I’ve been made aware that there has been an increase of students checking books on interviewing and ethnography.”

She then turned around and flicked her wand towards the blackboard. “For those of you who will be writing your reports during the holidays, let me reiterate that I want it to be at least thirty four inches long.” Some on the Slytherin side groaned, but those sounds did not dampen her spirit. “This is supposed to be a fun experiment for all of you and I expect that many will exceed the length requirement.”

Hermione stopped listening; her project was already completed. She glanced at the other side of the room. Draco turned his head her direction, as if he was stretching his neck. His eyes met hers. Instead of looking away, he held her gaze. He winked at her. Hermione lowered her head and smiled to herself.

She was still smiling while making her way to dinner with Ron and Harry. They were about to enter the Great Hall, when a figure to her left caught her attention. Draco was leaning against a wall in the adjoining corridor, his eyes tense with concentration, as he looked her way.

Hermione stopped walking and stared at him. Perhaps he wants a word, she thought. This prospect excited her; other than their late night rendezvous, their daily interactions were limited.

She stood in the middle of the hall, causing other students to walk around her, and contemplated whether to go to him. Ron and Harry were now several feet ahead of her, when they realized she was not by their side.

“The Great Hall is this way,” Harry called out.

Hermione drew her gaze away from Draco and stared down at her feet. She brought her hand to her forehead and remained quiet for a moment. “I have to get back to the dorm,” she said. “I think I left my homework lying out in the common room.”

“But no one’s there to copy your work,” said Ron. “Everyone’s at dinner.”

“I still feel uncomfortable leaving it out like that.” Before Ron and Harry could say anything else, she snapped, “Just save me a seat, will you? I’ll be right back.” She then turned on her heels and headed up the staircase. She walked slowly and watched the two boys from the corner of her eyes. When they and the other students finally disappeared into the Great Hall, Hermione descended the stairs.

Her heart beat rapidly as she made her way down the empty hallway towards Draco. A shiver of excitement ran through her body when got closer to him. However, that joy waned when he did not acknowledge her presence. She soon realized why he was preoccupied: he was talking to a dark haired girl, who had her back turned to Hermione.

Hermione continued to stare at him, until Draco eventually glanced over the other girl’s shoulder and made eye contact with her. No expression creased onto Draco’s face while he held Hermione’s gaze.

Draco leaned forward and whispered something into the girl’s ear. He then wrapped an arm around her shoulders and led her down the corridor, disappearing out of sight. Hermione remained in the hall long after they had left. She did not join her housemates for dinner that night.

“Hermione, is this the right answer?" Ron asked later that night, as they were doing their homework. Hermione continued to look at the fireplace. Unlike previous nights, when she berated them for their incompetence, Hermione had remained quiet.

After waiting for a moment, Ron glanced at Harry, who shrugged his shoulders. Seeing that Hermione was preoccupied with her thoughts, Ron’s fingers crept along the table and found their way to her Potions homework.

“Is something bothering you?” asked Harry.

Hermione did not respond. She brought her hand to her head and began to rub her temples. A group of students, whose teachers had been kind enough not to give them homework just days before the start of their Christmas break, was loudly playing a game of cards just a few feet away. Hermione closed her eyes; the sounds of their laughter only worsened her headache.

After the throbbing in her head had finally disappeared, Hermione’s eyes snapped open. She glared at the boy now busy scribbling on his parchment. Ron stopped writing and glanced back up at her. “Who gave you permission to copy my work?” she asked. When Ron did not answer her, Hermione got to her feet and snatched her homework out of his hands. “Maybe if you paid attention in class for once, you wouldn’t need to cheat.”

“I didn’t think you’d mind,” said Ron.

“Well, I do mind. See, that’s your problem. You’re always trying to take the easy road—must you guys make all that noise?” she snapped at the nearby students. “A game of cards can’t possibly be that much fun.” She looked around the common room at the startled glances that were now on her. Breathing loudly, she gathered her things from the table and headed up the stairs.


***********************


“Is everything still on for the twenty-fourth?” asked Blaise. He stood just behind Draco, while the other boy groomed his hair in front of the mirror.

Draco turned his head to the side, so he could examine his reflection from every angle. When everything was to his liking, he finally muttered, “It’s still on.”

Blaise’s eyes lit up. He turned around and motioned for Terry and the other boys, who were watching their interaction from the staircase, to join them. Crabbe and Goyle got up from their seats in the nearby table and gathered around Draco as well.

“What can you tell us about it?” Blaise asked. “Is it true,” he looked around the room and lowered his voice, “that Our Lord will be presiding over the procedures?”

“Father says there is a possibility He will be there,” said Draco. A smile spread on his lips as his eyes traveled to the impressed expressions growing on the other boys’ faces. “He says that—”

Draco stopped talking and glanced over his shoulder at Goyle, who was loudly eating a candy bar close to his ear. Goyle was initially oblivious to his stare and continued to lick his fingers. However, once their gaze met, Goyle quickly shoved the candy and his chocolate-stained fingers into his pocket.

“As I was saying,” Draco continued, “Father says it’ll occur sometime around midnight. That’s when the initial meeting will begin.”

“Meeting?” said Terry. “I thought we’d get initiated.”

“It’s not that simple. They first have so see if we’re capable. Obviously, not everyone can join, or else every person in the room would be involved in this conversation.”

A look of superiority spread on their faces as they glanced around the room at the other students who had no knowledge of the information they knew.

“And from that meeting,” Draco went on, “they will choose one or two candidates.”

“Only one or two people can join?” said Blaise. He grew quiet and looked down at his feet. After a moment, he stared at Draco and muttered, “I bet you’re the one that gets chosen. Everyone knows He favors your family.”

The comment sounded almost bitter and caused Draco to give him a hard stare. After he put the other boy in his place, Draco said, “All of you can stay over at the house, since the party is next day. Adrian is even coming over that night. I think he just wants to show off his Mark.”

“I heard he screamed,” said Terry, “when the Lord—“

Draco placed his finger over his lips and shushed the other boy. He had seen Pansy approaching from the corner of his eyes.

“Why are you guys huddled over here?” she asked. “Are you having a secret meeting?”

“We were talking about my Christmas party,” Draco responded. He spoke loudly enough so that many in the room turned to look at him.

Now in its fifth year, the Christmas celebration at Malfoy Manor had become legendary. The tradition began as a consolation present to Draco from his parents, who always vacationed elsewhere during the holidays. What was once a small gathering of a dozen classmates had now grown to include nearly sixty people.

Lucius Malfoy was more than happy to fund the lavish party. In doing so, he was able to appease his son’s persistent complaints about being alone, and show off his wealth; there were no doubts in his mind that his constituents and fellow Death Eaters would hear about his generosity from their children.

“The girls and I were talking about the same thing,” said Pansy. She glanced over her shoulder and motioned for her friends to join the conversation. When finally surrounded by her gang of Slytherin girls, she placed her arm around Draco’s shoulders and spoke in a more excited voice. “Have all the preparations been made?”

Draco leaned against the wall and looked at his collective audience. The room had quieted down considerably, except for the whispers of those feigning disinterest. However, even those that were not invited leaned forward or moved their seats closer to him.

“All of the food and drinks have been ordered,” Draco said. “And Father has even ordered some special entertainment for the guys.”

Pansy snorted loudly and looked away. While the others loudly mused over the festivities and the events of celebrations past, Pansy curled her fingers around Draco’s collar and pulled him aside. She leaned closed to his ear and whispered, “Do you think you might want some company when the party is over? I can stay with you for a few days, if you wish.”

Draco did not respond to Pansy’s inquiry. His face stayed rigid as he continued to look in the direction of Crabbe and Goyle. He chuckled when they began to talk of the drunken state they had gotten into the year before.

“We had some good times last year,” Pansy said. “So, what do you think? You want company this year?”

Draco only spent a moment considering the idea, before he pushed Pansy aside and grabbed his robes. “We better get going,” he said to the group of students standing to his left. Soon, those old even for the Hogsmeade excursion headed to the portrait hole, leaving the younger students to mope.

Before he went to join the others, he looked over his shoulder at Pansy. “You can come to the party, if you want. But I don’t want any company beyond that. I need some peace this year.” He gave her a hard look when he saw that she was about to speak. “And as for today, I really don’t want you following me around.”


***************************


Draco waited inside the Three Broomsticks and glanced down at his watch. One o’clock had come and gone fifteen minutes ago, and yet Hermione had not arrived. He took another swig of his butterbeer while his gaze remained on the people walking in front of the establishment.

He perked up in his seat when Hermione walked by the window. She glanced at him for a moment, before going across the street and entering Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop. Draco waited at the door of the Broomsticks until Hermione exited the other store. Again, she passed him without uttering a word; but this time, she did not look his way.

“Hermione,” he said. When she continued to walk away, he raced after her. He then spent the next several minutes walking several feet behind her. Not once did she acknowledge his presence, and spend most of her time admiring the wintry white that now covered the town. Draco smiled to himself. Her ploy was obvious enough to him. However, that amusement soon faded and he took immediate action.

Draco ran next to her and roughly grabbed her arm. He pulled her into the small alleyway between two shops and pressed her against the brick wall.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“I’m obviously getting your attention.” He kept his hands firmly on her shoulders, not even releasing his tight hold when she attempted to push his fingers away. “Isn’t this what you wanted?” he asked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, now get off me.” She squirmed under his hold, but he pressed his body against hers.

“Of course this is what you wanted. Or else you wouldn’t have walked past the Three Broomsticks. You wanted to get a reaction from me and now you’ve got it.” For a moment, Hermione appeared as though she would say something. However, she looked away. “And you have some nerve not showing up. You’re lucky I waited for you. Now tell me what’s going on.”

“I have nothing to say to you,” she finally uttered.

A smile now crossed Draco’s lips as he pressed his body weight further on top of her. Hermione attempted to take hold of his arms and perhaps dig her nails into his skin, but he grabbed her wrists and placed then above her head.

And so began another attempt to get free or hurt him. However, she could not do much, as she was now completely trapped between him and the wall. “Draco,” she shouted. But that would be the only time she would yell. Soon after his name came pouring out of her mouth, she quickly glanced to the street only a few feet away.

Draco also looked in the same direction. He watched a young girl clutching several bags in her hand pass by their hiding place. However, being preoccupied with her purchases, she did not look in their direction.

He glanced down at Hermione’s face, which was now pale except for the redness on the tip of her nose. He had clearly noticed the sharp intake of air she had taken at the presence of the other girl. His head lowered until his lips brushed against Hermione’s earlobe. “I wonder what your two friends would say if they saw us here.” His eyes finally met hers and he observed the expression on her face. “I can stay like this for as long as it takes for you to start talking.”

Hermione remained silent as her gaze flickered from the street and then back to the smug look on Draco’s face. “You should already know why I didn’t show up today,” she said. When Draco showed no signs of comprehension, she added, “Why should I when you ignored me yesterday in the halls?”

The blank stare in Draco’s eyes suddenly filled with understanding. He released Hermione’s hands and moved to the opposite wall.

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about it,” said Hermione, “because you looked right at me.”

“I haven’t forgotten. But that situation has nothing to do with you.”

Hermione crossed her arms against her chest and stared at him. After waiting a considerable time for him to speak, she uttered, “If you have nothing to say to me, then I have nothing further for you.”

Draco caught her arm before she left the alleyway. “I’m not keeping anything from you,” he said. “I just can’t talk about the girl you saw me with. But let me assure you that it was innocent.”

“If it was so innocent, then you have nothing to hide?”

Draco said nothing and began to stroke his chin. The silence between them was halted by the noisy appearance of a black cat, which leapt from the roof onto the top of one of the trash bins. After the animal crept underneath the pile of rubbish, they went back to looking at one another.

“That girl you saw me with,” Draco began, “she’s someone I had a—“ He stopped talking and began to bang his fingers against the wall. “I was involved with her in the past.”

“Why were you talking to her?”

“We had some unfinished business that needed to be settled.” When Hermione continued to gaze at him with an unsatisfied expression on her face, Draco quickly added, “I’m not pursuing her, if that’s what you think.”

Hermione’s arms dropped from her chest. “Where did you take her when you led her away?”

“Didn’t I already tell you that everything between us was innocent? Anyway, I don’t question you about who you associate with during your free time. It’s not as if we’re—“ He stopped talking and let out a nervous laugh. Hermione did not share his sense of humor and continued to stare at him in silence. Draco broke their eye contact and gazed down the alley, hoping the black cat would reappear and put an end to their awkwardness.

When he glanced back at her, Hermione had now lowered her head. Draco closed his eyes. He did not have to explain himself to her, he thought. He easily could have left her in that alleyway to search for happier company. However, he stayed put.

He placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. “I didn’t bring her back to that room,” he said. “You’re the only one I’ve brought there since the beginning of the year.” Hermione’s head remained lowered for some time, causing him to wonder if she even heard him.

“What did she want?” she asked in a soft voice.

“She just wanted to talk.” Draco snorted loudly. “She’s always tracking me down in the halls to talk about our…” He paused. “Anyway, she became emotional halfway through our discussion. I led her away because I didn’t want her to embarrass herself in front of you.”

“Was it a bad breakup?”

“I didn’t think it was. But some people don’t know how to let go.” He now stood beside her against the wall. “So, now you know why I couldn’t say anything to you in the hall.” He reached down and placed his finger under Hermione’s chin, stroking it in the same fashion his lips had done the night before. “Are things all right with us?”

Hermione nodded.

They spent the rest of the afternoon exploring various shops in Hogsmeade. Draco, of course, maintained his distance while walking down the street with her. However, he managed to graze Hermione’s arm several times in the less crowded isles of Honeydukes.

Several hours later, they found solace in a seventh floor hallway. Their usual meeting room was off limits; Filch was cleaning vomit, the result of Peeves throwing a badly decomposed rat at a Ravenclaw, in the hallway next to Draco’s room. The couple found a quiet corner underneath an empty portrait and sorted through their purchases of candy.

“Why don’t you take my stuff?” said Draco, as he pushed his bag of chocolates towards Hermione. “I’m not big on sweets.”

“I don’t believe that.” She opened a chocolate frog package and broke off one of its legs. “There’s no way you can possibly resist this,” she said. She lifted her hand and placed the twitching leg slowly into Draco’s mouth. “Don’t tell me that’s not pure pleasure.”

Draco closed his eyes and devoured the leg. He found the chocolate to be too sweet for his liking, and was about to utter his displeasure, when Hermione’s mouth closed down on his. His hands felt their way towards her arm and wrapped around her waist. Soon, the sickening sweetness of the candy disappeared and was replaced by the delicious taste of her lips. He leaned back against the wall and allowed her to control the pace.

When they pulled apart, Draco opened his eyes and watched Hermione lick her lips. “I’ve grown a whole new appreciation for chocolate,” he said. However, he continued to fill her bag with his purchases.

After discarding the last of his chocolates, Draco declared, “I’m really going to miss all of the attention you’ve been giving me.” He gave Hermione a sideways glance, as he placed a hand on her knee. “Perhaps we could see one another during the break.”

Hermione was in the midst of putting aside some candy for Ron and Harry, when his comment caused her to stop and glance up at him. Neither one of them spoke for a long while. However, she broke their eye contact and went back to her previous activity, only pausing to examine his face from the corner of her eyes. “Do you think we could arrange that?” she asked.

“So, you’d consider it? Even after the way you acted earlier?”

A chocolate frog near Draco’s leg suddenly caught Hermione’s attention, and she went to seize it. However, Draco grabbed her wrist, forcing her to answer.

“Today was different,” she said. “You took me by surprise when you cornered me in that alley. But I guess I’ll have to get used to the idea of having people see us together if we’re going to—“ Hermione stopped talking and looked away. Her statement had revealed too much.

From the way she now avoided his gaze, it was clear to Draco that this slip was unintentional. After sitting motionless for several minutes, he took hold of Hermione’s hand and allowed his finger to run over her knuckles. “Do you want to visit me during the break?”

Hermione did not answer immediately. “I don’t think so.” She quickly added, “I’m sure your parents will be giving galas and elaborate parties at your house. And I really don’t want to take you away from your celebrations.”

Although she gave him a weak smile, Draco sensed she had stronger reasons for not wanting to venture anywhere near Malfoy Manor. “You don’t have to worry about encountering my parents or anyone else. Christmas is actually a low-key affair at the manor. I usually have my Christmas dinner alone in my room.”

“Why’s that?” Hermione asked.

“Because I prefer not to sit in the dining room by myself. Plus, I don’t really care to hear the servants singing in their quarters. They all have such horrible voi—”

“Why would you be by yourself?”

“Because my parents spend their holidays elsewhere,” Draco remarked matter-of-factly. “I believe they will be going to Switzerland this year.” And they would be taking The Lord with them, Draco thought to himself. He did not dare utter these words to Hermione. When he glanced at her, she was gazing up at him with a look of disbelief on her face.

“It isn’t so bad,” he added. “I like having peace and quiet. Plus, I get to run the manor. The servants always stay out of my way, so no one will disrupt us. We’ll be able to enjoy each other’s company without any intrusion.”

Hermione lowered her head and remained quiet. Draco patiently waited for her to start talking. After much consideration, she finally said, “I’ll be spending Christmas day with my family, but I think I could sneak out after that.”

“Why don’t you come over on the 26th then? We could have dinner.”

The look on Hermione’s face showed that she was still unsure of her decision. “I can’t be there all day,” she said. “If I come over, it’ll only be for a few hours.”

Draco took hold of her shoulders and turned her towards him. “I would really love to be with you, but there’s absolutely no pressure on you to come over. If you’re not there by one in the afternoon, I’ll just assume you changed your mind. Okay?”

Hermione nodded. His statement caused her to relax and she soon found herself automatically tilting her head towards him for the inevitable kiss. She closed her eyes and received her reward. The bag of candy soon received no attention from her for the next couple of minutes, as her hands now drove deep into the folds of his robes. All of the uncertainty and tension that surrounded their union soon disappeared, as they truly indulged their senses and lust.

So preoccupied with one another, Draco and Hermione were unaware that they were not alone in that corridor. Only inches above their head, the portrait was no longer empty. Vincent had come back from visiting Arthur only to discover the delicious sight. Creeping away, he traveled back to the dungeons to inform his friend of his findings. Both men were now peeking down from the sides of the portrait. They exchanged a momentary glance, before continuing to gaze at the activities of the couple below.





Chapter 9: Gatherings
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Chapter 9: Gatherings

The boys stayed quiet as they lined up outside of Lucius’ office. Each of them dressed in velvet black robes, they looked like miniature versions of their Death Eater parents. Everyone remained still, only occasionally glancing at one another from the corner of their eyes. Goyle was the only exception. He leaned forward and poked Crabbe in the ribs with his finger, causing the other boy to snicker.

“That will be enough,” said the hooded man only a few feet away. He lifted his head, so he could better glare at the two boys now causing the disturbance. His eyes then stayed fixed on the culprit, his son.

Draco glanced over his shoulder at Goyle. He shook his head as he wondered what could convince the other boy to conduct himself so poorly, especially in front of his father. Although Draco had suspected it from the very beginning, it had now become clear to him that Crabbe and Goyle’s presence at the meeting was only due to their fathers’ involvement with the Dark Lord.

Other than himself, no one else had done anything that garnered them an interview with the Dark Lord, thought Draco. He then eyed each of the other boys, and compared their abilities with his own. Every one from Crabbe to Terry, the only sixth year in the group, looked nervous. However, Blaise wore a smug smile on his face.

Finally, the office door creaked open and another hooded man motioned for Goyle’s father to escort the boys inside. As they shuffled into the room one by one, Mr. Goyle pulled his son aside and whispered something into his ear.

As Draco entered the dark room, someone grabbed his hand and led him to his seat. The shuffling of feet continued for another moment, until the room grew quiet. Draco could hear Crabbe’s loud breathing coming from his right. He soon felt a finger jab into his side. Draco ignored the other boy’s actions and continued to sit with his hands folded in his lap.

The waiting went on for a considerable time, until several lanterns began to illuminate the room. The boys soon realized they were facing a large throne, while the hooded Death Eaters formed a circle around them.

Sitting atop of the throne was another hooded figure, but unlike the Death Eaters, his robes were thicker and covered every inch of his body, even his hands. All of the boys sat motionless, as their eyes fixed on the person in front of them. Draco felt a shark shiver run along his back when the hooded figure moved his head in his direction.

Standing next to the throne was Lucius Malfoy. He did not wear a hood and was cloaked in his red robes. “You come to us young men,” Lucius began, “because you are the brightest and most committed candidates.”

Draco smiled inwardly to himself.

“Each one of you,” Lucius continued, “is here tonight because someone in this room has found you to be worthy. However, worthiness is not enough. We need someone who will make great sacrifices for our cause. Someone who is loyal and willing to give their life for Our Lord.”

At that moment, the hooded figures in the room bowed their heads. The boys each hesitated for a moment, before doing the same.

After giving the person on the throne a deep bow, as well, Lucius Malfoy straightened his body and continued to talk. “Each of you is a descendent of someone who is devoted to the cause. This alone should be a great honor.”

Lucius brought his hand to his neck and lifted his collar. “However, some of you have proven to be ill-equipped to handle the great responsibility that will be forced upon you in the upcoming months. Immaturity is still not foreign to several of you.” His eyes rested shortly on several of the boys, who slumped down in their chairs. “Because of this, only one candidate will be chosen for this year.”

Several of the boys began to look at one another; they had all assumed that most of them would be joining their fathers. The whispers continued amongst them until Lucius stated, “This person will be notified at a later date.” After a long pause, he waved his hand in the air and stated, “You are dismissed—“

“Excuse me, Sir,” said Blaise. He slowly got to his feet. “I know you have already chosen your candidate,” his gaze fluttered quickly towards Draco, “but might I plead for you to consider me alongside him? I think I deserve to be included, seeing that I’ve done so much for the cause already. I trust you received the letter detailing my activities?”

Lucius slowly stroked his chin as he stared at a Death Eater standing at his right. “Zabini,” he said in a hushed voice, “is there a reason why your child is addressing me?” Before the other man could answer, Lucius added, “His impertinent behavior will not be tolerated in the future and I assume you will remind him of this when you get home.”

“Yes, Sir,” said the hooded man. “My deepest apologies.” He then lowered his head.

Lucius turned his attention back to Blaise, who remained standing despite the evident shaking in his legs. “I did receive the letter which you speak of. And let me assure you that sending threatening letters to Potter in school is of little interest to us. Your activities only illustrate your blatant childishness.” His stare continued to rest on the young man until he fell back onto his seat. “That is all, unless someone else has something they would like to say.” When everyone remained silent, Lucius dismissed them once more.


******************

Long after the men had apparated, the Slytherin boys gathered in the guesthouse and filled themselves on the crate of whiskey that had been delivered that morning. In the corner sat crates of other mood altering beverages for the following day’s festivities.

Blaise sat away from the crowd, as he brought the pungent liquor to his lips, before slamming the goblet down on a nearby table. The noise caused all eyes to dart in his direction. He met everyone’s stare with his own deviant glare, before folding his arms across his chest and staring out of the window.

Terry sat back in his armchair and placed his bare feet on an ottoman. He took a long sip of his drink, letting the fluid drip down his chin. An alcohol-induced smile spread on his relaxed face as he muttered, “Was I the only one who thought Mr. Malfoy was going to kill Blaise tonight?” The rest of the boys laughed and looked at Blaise, who was determined to keep his back to them.

“Yeah, Blaise,” said Crabbe. “What were you thinking? Speaking up like that. And in front of Our Lord.”

“But did you see the way he was shaking?” said Goyle. “I thought he was going to wet himself.” Goyle threw his head back and let out a loud laugh. He continued snickering until Blaise got up from his seat and stomped up the stairs.

When the laughter had finally died down, Terry placed an unsteady hand on Draco’s shoulder and said, “We all know it’s going to be you. Your father’s Head of the Council, so it has to be you.”

Draco remained silent, as his finger continued to trace along the rim of his wine glass.

“Pretty soon,” continued Terry, “you’ll be joining Toby.”

Admiring glances soon flittered to the older boy sitting in the chair near the fire. Toby finished drinking his whiskey and sat up in his seat. He had graduated the year before and was the only one of his class to be chosen. But the initiation process was still ongoing, and was proving to be a very painful ordeal. He rubbed his forearm as he tried to ease his pain.

“You’ll be joining us soon Draco,” Toby said. “And this,” he pulled back the sleeve of his robes to show off the glistening and fresh tattoo, “will be yours too.”

Terry absentmindedly reached forward and touched the sensitive skin. Toby pulled back his arm and swore at the youngster.

“How did they do it to you?” ask Marcus, who had been in the corner, jealously eyeing the other man’s arm the entire night. “Did they take you out into the woods?”

Toby placed his hands on his forehead and began to massage his now throbbing temples. “You know I’m under a charm and can’t talk about it,” he said as he squeezed his eyes in pain. “And the more you ask me about it, the more it hurts. Draco will just have to find out for himself.”

“Don’t worry Marcus,” said Terry, “you’ll go through you own initiation soon.” He placed his hand against his cheek and declared, “Oh, I forgot. You weren’t chosen.” At this, the crowd lowered their heads and began to snicker. “Well, there’s always next year.”

Terry buried his face in his hands as he continued to laugh. They all knew that there was never a ‘next year’ for those found to be unworthy. However, Terry’s amusement soon stopped when Marcus’ goblet hit the side of his face, spilling more alcohol on his already drenched shirt and causing the chuckling in the room to grow even louder.

But the raucous stopped just as quickly when a creaking noise escaped from the chimney. Toby turned around and stared at the fireplace behind him.

Crabbe got up from his seat and crept towards the other man. “I want to be the first one to see them,” he said in a loud voice.

Soon, all in the room were leaning towards the fireplace, their eyes carefully watching the flames and waiting for them to turn a deep green. When no change occurred, they resumed their previous positions.

“They should be here in about fifteen minutes,” Draco announced.

“When they get here,” said Goyle, “I want to have the first pick. Last time, the only girls that were left where the ugly ones, and none of them wanted anything to do with me either.”

“That’s because you have a face only a mongrel would love,” said Terry.

Goyle got to his feet and proceeded to where Terry sat. The younger boy leapt from his seat and hid behind the piano.

Draco reached for his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Will the two of you cut it out? Besides, this is not like one of Derrick’s parties. Every one of these women will be beautiful. Father has made sure of that. And considering the money he’s spending, I think you will find them to be very accommodating.”

“In that case,” said Toby, “I would like to request the use of that corner room upstairs. I just hope Blaise isn’t in there, crying his eyes out.” He tilted his backwards and glanced up at the ceiling to where the guestroom was situated on the upper level. “And I will leave the master bedroom for the Lord of the manor,” he declared as he stood up and bowed deeply towards Draco.

Draco only half smiled as he continued to stroke his chin. He reached for his glass of wine and twirled a finger in the liquid.

Even after the entertainment had arrived – which caused Blaise to finally emerge from his hiding place - Draco remained in his chair. His mind was elsewhere, as he watched his finger become colored by the deep redness of his drink.

******************

Draco slowly opened his eyes. But even this simple act seemed too much of a labor, and he closed them once more. His hand drifted to his head, as the pounding intensified. Images from the previous afternoon and evening began to flash in his mind. All he could recall was loud laughter; people shoving goblets spilling with whiskey in his hands, and of course Pansy.

How could he have gotten away from her, he asked himself. She had trailed his every move, and had even followed him into the laboratory. Draco opened his eyes and laughed as that memory came back to him. He attempted to sit up, but the hand on his chest pushed him back to the mattress.

“Not so quickly,” said Pansy. “Or your head will hurt even more.” She lay on her stomach, while supporting herself on her elbows. “What were you laughing about just then?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Draco muttered. He rested his head against the pillow and tightly closed his eyes, until the nauseating sensation in his stomach disappeared. “How did I get back here?” he asked, as he glanced around his bedroom. He last remembered stumbling out of the guesthouse to get away from the stifling noise and heat.

“I walked back here with you.” Pansy moved closer to him. She placed her left hand on Draco’s stomach, as her fingers fiddled with the buttons on his shirt. “You said something about wanting to lie down for a bit.”

Draco glanced at her from the corner of his eyes, before looking down at his own body; he was fully dressed.

“You immediately passed out when we came in here,” said Pansy. Her voice was soft, but the disappointment could still be detected. “But that’s all right. We have the whole afternoon to ourselves.”

“What time is it?” Draco asked.

“A quarter past noon.”

Draco sat up again on his elbows, before leaping out of his bed. “Has everyone left?” He threw back the heavy curtains and stared out towards the guesthouse. “I made it perfectly clear that I wanted everyone gone by noon, so the house-elves—“

“Don’t worry about it,” Pansy said. “I took care of everything. Everyone is long gone and the guesthouse is back to its gorgeous splendor.”

“Then what are you still doing here?” When she did not immediately answer him, Draco glanced over his shoulder at her. Pansy was now sitting cross-legged on his bed, like she had done many times in the past. But her attention was not focused on him. Her gaze was lowered and she was looking down at her hand.

Draco walked to his dresser to find clothes for that day. “Why are you still here?” he asked again. He was about to reach for a shirt when Pansy’s arms wrapped around his waist.

“You know why I’m here,” she muttered into his ear. “I need to thank you. I would have done it last night, but you were having too much fun drinking.” She playfully slapped his back. “You really hurt my feelings when you said you weren’t going to get me anything for Christmas. But I stopped being angry the moment I saw it. This gift more than makes up for that little bit of cruelty.”

Before Draco could ask what she was on about, Pansy lifted her left hand. Draco remained quiet and gazed at the diamond ring on her third finger. He recognized it immediately. He had seen it during a summer outing with his mother in Diagon Alley.

While at the jewelry shop, his mother had tried to persuade him to purchase it for Pansy. But Draco had adamantly declined; getting Pansy such a present would have implied their relationship had reached an advanced stage. Plus, he wanted to use his money for selfish pursuits.

“I love it,” Pansy said. She then kissed his ear.

“When did you get that?” Draco asked, when he finally turned around.

“It arrived two days ago. I knew exactly what it was when I spotted the box. Jeannie Maddox’s beau also bought her a ring there. But this,” she lowered her head to examine the gift, “is much grander. Her diamond is almost nonexistent.” Pansy wandered to the window to watch her ring glimmer in the sunlight. “I can’t wait for her to see it. She’ll be so jealous.”

“How many people have seen it?” asked Draco. Pansy continued to stare at her finger, whilst smiling to herself. “Are you listening to me?” Draco barked. When she finally turned to look at him, he repeated the question.

“Well, my mother saw it. She was with me when it arrived. And…” She began to tap her finger on her chin. “Everyone at the party saw it. But it was only because the ring is hard to ignore. It wasn’t like I was trying to draw any attention to it.”

Draco turned around and placed his hands on top of his dresser. Lowering his head, he closed his eyes. “Why must everyone meddle in my affairs,” he muttered to himself. During the past year, outside forces had become more involved in trying to preserve his relationship with Pansy.

“What did you say?” Pansy asked. She placed a hand on his back. “You’re not angry with me for wearing it in public are you?” When Draco continued to remain silent, she added, “I know I should have waited until you had spoken with my father, but I just couldn’t—“

“Spoken to your father about what?”

“Well…you know. I know it’s not an accident that it fits my ring finger perfectly. We both know it’s a precursor to—“

“No, it’s not,” snapped Draco, as he pounded his fist down on the dresser. He whirled around and grabbed Pansy’s wrist. “And what makes you think that’s what I want?” But before she could answer, he said, “The ring was an accident. You never should have received it. But now that you have, consider it a very expensive present and nothing more.” He pushed her hand away and walked to the window.

“You don’t have to pretend with me,” said Pansy. “I know that this was not an accident. It’s only natural. After all, we’ve been together for a long time. Our families have been friends for ages and our backgrounds are the same. So of course it’s expected.”

She was quiet for a moment, as she traced her finger along the diamond for the umpteenth time. When she spoke again, her voice was more subdued. “I know we’re both young, but things are gonna change dramatically for us in the next year. You’ll be getting your own estate soon and…”

“So what? Does that mean I have to get a wife to help me run it? That’s what house-elves are for. Anyway, I don’t need anyone telling me how I should live my life.”

“Well, I guess next year will be tough for you,” stated Pansy. “Because I don’t think you’ll have much say in what happens in your life then. I’m not stupid. I know about the meeting two nights ago. You’re going to be chosen. And once you are, we all know who’s going to dictate how you live your life. So, I suggest you get used to—”

Draco swiftly grabbed Pansy’s arm. “Don’t you think I know what’s going to happen?” he shouted. “I’ve had this in my head for month’s now. And now, you have the nerve to rub it in my face?”

“I’m sorr—“

“I don’t want to hear it.” Draco pursed his lips as he glared down at her. But the anger that once consumed him disappeared; he was left feeling fatigued. He let go of her arm and went back to his windowsill. “Leave me alone,” he muttered in a low voice. “My headache’s coming back.”


******************

Showered and changed, Draco went to the guesthouse. He propped himself down in his usual chair, facing the fireplace. He lifted a catalog for a furniture store from the coffee table and began to browse through its pages. He was busy looking at an advertisement for a rug when a bright green flash illuminated the room. He thumbed through several more pages before glancing up.

Hermione was standing in the fireplace with her head lowered, as she brushed ash from her clothing. Draco got to his feet and approached her. Hermione ceased her activity and looked up at him. They continued to stare at one another in silence.

Such a union would have forced other couples to engage in a passionate embrace, but neither partner moved towards the other. The awkwardness was finally broken when Draco touched the side of Hermione’s face.

“You have ash on your cheek,” he said. He kept his fingers on her face long after the smudge had been removed from her skin. “I’m surprised you’re here.”

“Well, it definitely took a lot of talking on my part to get here. But luckily, we have a lot of guests over the house, so my parents aren’t lacking for any company. Plus, I told them that I would be visiting—“ She cleared her throat just then, and pushed her hair behind her ear. “I told them I was going over to a friend’s place.”

Draco remained quiet, even though he noticed the blunder. He merely took her hand and helped her step down from the brick hearth. Unfortunately, Hermione’s foot caught on the fire poker and she stumbled; but Draco caught her before she fell.

He should have let her go after a few seconds, but he kept his arms wrapped around her. “Are you okay?” he asked in a soft voice. Hermione didn’t answer and continued to gaze up at him.

“That’s a pretty stupid thing for me do,” she finally said. “I’m not usually that clumsy.” She managed to force a laugh.

“Don’t worry about it. It could happen to anyone.” He then lowered his head and kissed her.

That embrace was the remedy both partners needed to break the uneasiness of Hermione venturing to his home for the first time. When they pulled apart, they were more at ease with one another.

Her hand still entangled with his, Hermione began to look around the room. “Is this the main house?”

“No, it’s the guesthouse. I just thought it would be more appropriate to meet here first. The manor can be intimidating.” A sly smile curled onto his lips. Although his answer was partly true, he kept the main reason - that the fireplaces in the manor were not safe - to himself.

Draco took her to every room of the house, all the while telling her stories of the family friends and relatives who had slept there in the past. However, his chatter ceased when they went outside. He did not say a word while he led her down the cobblestone path that meandered towards the manor, and allowed her to enjoy the splendor of the snow drenched landscape in silence.

“That’s the main house,” he uttered, when they had passed the large trees and now had a clear view of the manor.

Hermione stopped walking and tilted her head up to the skies as she stared at the building in front of her. “I used to play up there when I was younger,” Draco said as he pointed to the uppermost tower, where Hermione’s gaze was fixed. “Of course the manor looks more spectacular from the front entrance, but this will have to do.”

As they continued towards the veranda stairs, Draco noticed that Hermione’s steps had slowed down considerably. She then stopped walking altogether. Draco leaned close to her ear and whispered, “Don’t worry, no one’s home. And their house-elves went with them.”

He waited a moment, before pulling on her arm once more; she walked more willingly with him then. Although she carried a look of doom with her as they approached the glass doors, that expression soon changed when she stepped into the manor. Draco leaned against the wall and watched her. “It’s not what you thought, is it?” he asked.

Hermione shook her head.

And, so the tour began. Draco made sure to point out expensive artifacts and heirlooms that had been in the family for centuries. “I’ll inherit this one soon,” he said as he ran his fingers across a light blue vase.

The sunroom would have caught Hermione’s eye, but the entrance to that side of the house was sealed. However, all was not lost. Walking down the winding hallway that was still adorned with holiday decorations, Draco brought Hermione to the library. A cloud of dust lifted to the ceiling when he opened the wooden door. But that and the smell of mold could not keep Hermione from quickly leaving his side to explore the shelves of books.

“Is this what I think it is?” she asked, as she reached for book on a shelf just above her head. When Draco nodded, she proclaimed, “I can’t believe you have this. The one at school is missing several hundred pages because they thought the political nature would offend some students.” Just then, the front cover fell apart in her hands.

“Careful,” said Draco. “It’s the original.”

They spent the rest of the day in that room. Draco placed a blanket on the hardwood floor, so Hermione could sit. It was also atop that blanket that they enjoyed their dinner. Of course, the meal would have tasted a lot better if eaten in the upstairs dining room that overlooked the pond, like he had planned; but sitting alongside her on the floor pleased him just as well.

And now, he sat in the leather armchair, watching as she lay on her stomach, thumbing through another book. Draco felt down the side of his robe and fingered the box in his pocket. He watched her for another moment, before getting out of his chair and sitting beside her. He placed a hand on the center of her back and moved his fingers upward until they rested on the back of her neck.

“I have something for you,” he said. Hermione pushed the open book out of the way and sat up. Draco took her hand and placed the box in her palm.

“I didn’t know we would be exchanging gifts,” she said. “I would have gotten you something in return.”

“It doesn’t matter. Plus, it’s nothing much.”

Hermione unwrapped her gift. She stared down at the necklace in her hand for several moments, before saying, “It’s beautiful.” She touched the round pendant and fingered the writing etched along the center.

“I don’t know what the writing means,” said Draco. “But it’s supposed to bring the bearer good luck.” He took the necklace out of her hands and clasped it around her neck.

Seeing that they were now in such close proximity, he leaned in and kissed her. He then proceeded to kiss her neck. She was again wearing the perfume he had become accustomed to smelling, and he buried his face into the crook of her neck, savoring the scent and taste of her skin. His mouth moved to her ear and he whispered, “Will your parents be alarmed if you don’t come home tonight.”

Hermione didn’t answer him immediately and continued to stroke his back. “No,” she finally said.

A smile curled onto Draco’s lips. He then gave her neck another long kiss. He placed his left hand along her collarbone, and let it wander downward to her bosom. His fingers worked fast to unfasten the buttons on her shirt, revealing the black bra underneath. But that garment did not stay on for long and eventually found a resting place on the floor.

He ran his hand slowly across her hot skin and explored that soft and malleable flesh, which he had long desired, but never before had the opportunity to touch. He could feel the drumming beat of her heart underneath his fingertips.

Draco bent his head forward and savored a taste, causing her to arch her back. But just as he was about to leave another wet trail along her skin, he glanced up at her; she was gazing down at him through half closed lids. Draco looked down at her bare chest once more.

He pulled away.

Getting up to his feet, Draco went back to his chair. He stared at Hermione from the corner of his eyes, before placing his elbow on the arm of the chair and resting his head in his hand. “It’s getting late,” he said. “Perhaps you might want to get some sleep.” After a long pause, he added, “I’m sure you’ll find everything you need in the guesthouse.”

Hermione suddenly grew ashamed of her nakedness and crossed her arms over her chest. She turned her back to him while she put on her bra and buttoned her shirt. She was brushing her hair away from her face, when a bell sounded behind her.

“Escort her to the guesthouse,” Draco said. His voice was very forceful and commanding. When Hermione glanced at the door, she realized that he was addressing a house-elf. “And do make sure she is comfortable.”

Hermione got to her feet and stared at Draco. “Can I bring a book with me?” she asked. Draco casually flicked his wrist, as though he was granting permission to one of the servants.

Hermione gathered the book near her feet and placed it under her arm. She took a step towards Draco but stopped. After an extended silence, she mumbled, “Goodnight,” and followed the house-elf out of the room.

Draco closed his eyes and slouched in his chair.

******************

After several unsuccessful attempts that night to induce sleep, Draco rolled onto his side and stared into the darkness of his room. He climbed out of bed and paced in front of his windows. He was about to go back to bed, when the light from the guesthouse grabbed his attention. Draco immediately went to his closet, and draped a fur coat over his bare torso, before making the chilly trip outdoors.

After a fast sprint, he soon realized that his excitement was all for nothing, when he walked into the dark house. After leaning against the staircase for a minute, he finally decided that Hermione had gone to bed. But as he reached for the door, he heard footsteps overhead.

When Draco reached the second floor landing, he saw a flicker of light coming from the partly open door of the master bedroom. He walked to the entrance to the room and peeked through the gap. He searched the room for Hermione, until she finally came into full view. With her back to him, she faced the bed, where a nightgown lay. A towel was wrapped around her torso. But that soon fell to the floor.

Draco allowed his eyes to roam over every inch of exposed skin. His gaze traveled downward from her back, as he took in the curves of her hips, and the roundness of her buttocks. But her undergarments and finally nightgown eventually obscured his view.

When Hermione approached her door to close it, Draco took several steps back and hid in the darkness of the hall. He waited several minutes, before going to her door once more; but this time, he knocked.

“Did I wake you?” he asked when she answered the door. Hermione shook her head. “I couldn’t sleep tonight,” he continued. “And seeing that your light was on, I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “I was just reading in bed.”

Draco tried to detect any emotions that would tell him otherwise, but she sounded content.

“The room is so big,” she went. “And there’s a lot of women’s clothes in here.” She furrowed her brows and added, “All in my size, now that I think of it.” She went to the nightstand and opened the first drawer, revealing several panties.

“It’s the house-elves,” said Draco. “It’s their duty to make sure that all guest have everything they need for their stay.” He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

Hermione sat on the bed and brought her knees to her chest

Draco leaned against the curio cabinet opposite the canopy bed, highly aware that Hermione was watching his every movement. He tapped his foot on the floor several times, before nonchalantly saying, “You mentioned before that you told your parents you were going to a friend’s house, right?”

“Yes.”

“This ‘friend’ wouldn’t happen to be Weasley, would it?” He kept the tone of his voice even when he uttered the other boy’s name. Seeing that Hermione was still pondering the question – or rather, his reason for asking it – Draco added, “Did you ever date him? Are you dating him now?”

“No,” Hermione answered.

“Which part of the question are you answering? The first or the second part?”

Hermione opened her mouth, but instead of answering, she asked, “Why are you asking me this?”

“Just curious.” He then immediately added, “What about Potter, did you ever sleep with him? Everyone at school is under the impression that you have. You are envied by most of the female population, you know.”

“No, I did not sleep with Harry,” Hermione shout. She was now sitting erect, and the look of content had disappeared from her face. “What about you? Aren’t you dating Pansy?” She was about to include a certain Ravenclaw’s name in the equation, but thought it would not be wise.

Draco showed no reaction to the inquiry and stated matter-of-factly, “We’ve been together in the past. But as of right now, no.”

Hermione crossed her arms against her chest and huffed loudly. “Oh really? From the way she talks about you in school, one would think you guys were getting married.”

A smile now creased onto Draco’s lips. “Well, she’s delusional.” But this statement and the casual matter in which he was treating the situation did nothing to persuade Hermione; she was now glaring at him.

“Listen,” he began again, “Pansy likes to do a lot of talking. She’s hoping that I’ll get back together with her. But that will never happen. Whatever she and I had is over. Plus, I’m interested in someone else.”

The look on Hermione’s face softened enough for Draco to tell that she was intrigued by what he had to say.

“This girl I’m interested in,” he said, “unnerves me sometimes. She’s headstrong, suspicious of everyone around her, and answers questions with more questions. But she’s my equal in so many ways. And that she’s attractive doesn’t hurt either.”

Hermione tried to hide her smile, but even she was incapable of that feat. “Come over here and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”

She didn’t start talking immediately and spend a considerable amount of time adjusting her nightgown; it almost became an art form, as she deliberately ensured that the silky material covered every inch of her legs.

“Ron and I did date,” she finally said. “If that’s what you want to call it. But nothing much came from it. All we did was fight.”

Draco rested his head against the headboard and listened to Hermione discuss the differences in personality that caused her and Ron to end their fling. “Did you sleep with him?” he asked.

Hermione shook her head. “No. We never got that far.” She then glanced away.

Although her head was turned, Draco could see that her cheeks had now become pink. He waited until her embarrassment had finally faded and she was looking at him once more before he began to talk about Pansy. “We’ve known each other since we were children, but we didn’t start dating until our fourth year. But back then, we used to break up every other week.”

He leaned back against one of the larger pillows and stared up at the ceiling. “I don’t think we should have slept with one another that year,” he said. His voice was very low and caused Hermione to scoot towards him. “Neither one of us was ready for the ramifications. She became too needy and possessive, and I couldn’t handle it. I broke up with her that summer.”

The hours passed by quickly as they lay side by side, sharing their thoughts with one another. Although their voices were now hoarse and they each yawned periodically, neither one wanted to sleep.

Hermione draped an arm around Draco’s waist. “Why did you kick me out of the library?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I didn’t want us to do anything that we would regret. Especially on the floor.” Draco continued to stare into her eyes, waiting for her to respond; but she said nothing. He lifted his hand and touched the side of her face. He continued stroking her skin for several moments, until he felt her arm tighten around his waist. He then kissed her.

Draco slid his hand under the covers. There, his exploration began. His fingers slid effortlessly along her body, as they glided on top of the nightgown. Soon, there was no barrier between him and her skin. He then continued what he had started in the library by leaving more wet trails on her body.

Although that night had been long awaited, he never hurried. He closed his eyes and relished the sensation of her body moving against his.

******************

Draco hummed to himself, as he surveyed the breakfast tray that was left by the house-elves. Being that Hermione was new to their home, the servants had no knowledge of her tastes. Thus the tray was assembled with foods that past female visitors had enjoyed. Draco found the situation humorous and smiled to himself. He lifted the tray and carried it into the living room, when a flood of cold air hit his chest. He glanced up to see Pansy standing by the door.

“You really need to do something about those house-elves,” she began as she dusted the snow from her jacket. “They’ve become so disobedient. They wouldn’t tell me where you were. I surely hope you’re not thinking about bringing them to your new house.”

Draco placed the tray on a nearby table and crossed his arms. “They are obedient. I told them I did not want any disturbances and they honored my wishes. Which is more than I can say for you. Didn’t I tell you yesterday that I wanted to be alone?”

Pansy approached him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. The anger in her voice disappeared and she adopted a syrupy sweet tone. “I know what you said, but I just had to see you. I don’t like leaving things unresolved between us. And you might not like this, but you and I need to think about what’s best for the future.” Her hand dropped and glided down his smooth chest. “We are not childre—“ She stopped talking when she caught a glimpse of the tray from the corner of her eyes.

“Blueberry muffins?” she said, leaning towards the tray. “Now, they should know by now that I don’t like those. I’ve stayed here enough for them to figure that out.” She grew quiet as she continued to stare at the tray. Her gaze drifted to Draco. She eyed him up and down. Her eyes then flickered from him, to the tray and then the stairs. She walked to the bottom of the staircase and listened for any movements from above.

Draco watched her in silence. But his passivity stopped when he grabbed her arm to prevent her from walking up the stairs.

Pansy pulled away from his grasp. She reached for the ring she still wore on her left hand and twirled it around her finger. For a slight moment, Draco thought she was going to throw it across the room. But he soon realized that she would never desecrate such a fine gift. She merely stared at him, before reaching for her coat. Throwing him a final glare from over her shoulder, she stomped out the door.

Remaining unfazed, Draco lifted the tray and continued up the stairs.





Chapter 10: The Hypocrite
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Chapter 10: The Hypocrite

The trek back to school occurred on a gray and cloudy day. But the students were in high spirits, and chatted excitedly about their holiday adventures en route to their common rooms. Draco distanced himself from the other Slytherins in the hall and even ignored a fellow housemate’s inquires about his new leather shoes, as he watched Hermione from the corner of his eye. She, of course, was standing near her two ever-present friends. When Hermione’s gaze finally met his, Draco tilted his head to the right and then looked away.

“Did you get those for Christmas?” the second year Slytherin asked again. “They look very expensive—“

“Listen, I can’t talk right now,” Draco said. Glancing over the other boy’s shoulder, Draco could see the other Slytherins waiting for him near the entrance to the dungeons. “Tell everyone I’ll join them in the common room later.”

After the youngster darted away, Draco veered into another hall. There, he found a dark enclave and waited. When he finally heard her familiar footsteps, he closed his eyes. Soon, he could detect the scent of her perfume. Within moments, her fingertips touched the side of his face and traced along his cheek.

They remained there for several minutes, before Hermione began to pull away from his embrace. Draco’s fingers remained curled in her hair when he whispered, “We’ll meet later. I’ll send you an owl with the time.” But he could not let her go and stole one last kiss so he could have something to soothe him until their next meeting.

~*~*~

Sitting in his favorite chair in the common room, Terry was holding court in front of an audience of first and second years. Some of them were sitting crossed-legged, while others lay on their stomachs, gazing up at him with awe. “You wouldn’t believe the wild fun we had that night,” Terry stated. “The women alone were worth going.”

Pansy was engrossed in her own conversation with a group of Slytherin girls, when Terry’s comment caught her attention. “Stop lying. There were no hired women there. You’re making it sound as though it was a bordello.”

Terry stopped talking in mid-sentence and threw her an aggrieved look for intruding on his show. “Of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that,” he shouted over his shoulder. “We gentlemen had our own celebration the night before the party.” He smiled to himself when an astonished expression developed on Pansy’s face.

Draco climbed through the portrait hole then, and was immediately bombarded with questions. “Weren’t there tons of women at your party?” Terry called out to him. “Tell everyone about the entertainment we had because Pansy doesn’t believe me.”

Standing in the middle of the room, Draco said nothing and began to scratch his neck. He looked from Terry to Pansy, before deciding to let them settle the argument on their own.

“There were women there,” Terry proclaimed. “They were so beautiful. And if my memory serves me right, several of them took a liking to Draco.” He turned his head and winked at Pansy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of them came to visit him when we all left.”

A second year got up from his seat on the floor and approached Draco. He placed his hand on Draco’s shoulder and asked, “Is it true there were women there? What did you do with them?”

Draco folded his robes and draped them over his arm. He turned around and stared at the youngster; it was the same boy from the hall. Draco continued to look down at him, until that hand was quickly removed from his shoulder.

“The place was filled with women,” Crabbe shouted from the other end of the room. “And he did plenty with them, too. We could hear one girl screaming from the master bedroom.”

The statement caused the lucky few who were there that evening to hoot and holler. But even they had to scratch their head and mull over the events of that night. The alcohol flowed freely that evening, and many still had trouble recalling what they participated in, let alone Draco’s activities.

“He wore her out,” Terry stated confidently. The other boys began to smile. Yes he did, they all said to themselves.

Draco said nothing to counter that belief and continued to the stairs. But he paused long enough to glance in Pansy’s direction. Her back was now turned to him. He then surveyed Pansy’s group of girlfriends. They, on the other hand, were not timid about expressing their disdain and glared at him. He flashed them his biggest smile.

~*~*~

Draco stood in that shower stall with his eyes shut. Sleep had eluded him once again that evening; but unlike other nights, he did not try to force it. He actually enjoyed lying awake with his thoughts. Drowsiness had eventually caught up with him though, allowing him three hours of sleep. But he was mentally awake and bright as he readied himself for the start of the second term.

When he entered his dorm to put his toiletries away, he was surprised to see that the other boys were awake. They, including the boys from the sixth year, were gathered near Blaise’s bed. Some were still in their pajamas. They stopped whispering when he passed them.

“Discussing another conquest?” Draco asked, as he walked to the mirror.

“We were discussing your conquest,” stated a sixth year.

After squeezing a few drops of gel onto his fingers, Draco combed the product through his hair. “I thought I made it clear last time that I don’t like talking about my—“

“Why didn’t you tell us about Granger?” asked Blaise. “If I made a conquest like that, I’d pass out buttons.”

Draco stopped smoothing back his hair and glanced at their reflections in the mirror; they were staring back at him. He placed the comb on the dresser and asked in an even voice, “Who said I was with Granger?”

No one replied.

He turned around and crossed one leg over the other. “I asked you guys a question. Who said I was with Granger?”

Terry got to his feet. “It was the portrait who told me. Last night, I was returning from the Astronomy Tower when he said he wanted to share a secret with me. He said he and Vincent caught you guys kissing. They even overheard you inviting her to the manor. He said Granger was to come over on the day after the party.”

He stopped talking and gazed at the other boys; they all gestured for him to continue. “And earlier last night, I remember Prudence telling me how Pansy was upset because you were entertaining another girl in your guesthouse. At first, I just assumed it was one of the hired women. But after hearing what the portrait had to say, I knew it had to be Granger.”

Draco picked up his comb and tapped it against the dresser. He then flung it towards his trunk. The other boys ducked their heads when the comb ricocheted off the trunk and bounced off the wall, before landing somewhere in the corner of the room. Draco sat down on his bed.

Terry took a seat beside him. “What you’ve done is amazing. You got the mother of all Gryffindors.” He then turned to Brandon and said, “I’m sorry, but getting hand release from Parvati is not much. Plus, we all know that she and her sister are attracted to us.” Brandon shrugged his shoulders.

“Not only,” continued Terry, “is Granger betraying her allegiance to Potter by sleeping with you…” He lowered his voice then and whispered, “She’s muggle-born.”

The statement caused the other eight boys in the room to murmur to one another. Although sleeping with a muggle-born was a very taboo subject – one that is only discussed amongst trusted friends – it was the secret fantasy of many young Slytherins.

“Was it good?” asked Blaise.

Keeping tightlipped as usual, Draco only stared at him. The expression on his face was that of a man who was confident and self-assured; a man that did not have to brag about his accomplishments. But he said more through his silence than words could actually express, and thus caused the other boys’ minds to run wild with thoughts of what occurred between him and Hermione.

The pats on the back soon started. And those who were too timid to touch him, or had been reprimanded for doing so in the past, nodded in his direction.

Draco turned away from the others, and focused his attention down on his hands. I have to go to the owlery, he thought. To explain. But not now. Later.

~*~*~

“Hey you,” Arthur the Plunderer bellowed. He was staring directly at a boy who was roughhousing with anyone who would participate. “That is no way to behave.” The boy stood motionless and lowered his head. Arthur smiled to himself; the present crop of first years was easier to intimidate than the previous years’ group of students. But his grandest smile, which revealed several missing teeth and gave his appearance a devilish quality, was reserved for Draco.

He looked into the crowd of students now gathered in the hall, as they prepared to head to breakfast together, and called out, “Malfoy, may I have a word with you?”

Draco ignored him for a moment, but eventually sauntered to the portrait.

“I believe congratulations are in order,” Arthur said. “I think I underestimated your abilities.” Unlike other times, when Arthur had a hidden agenda, this statement was a sincere compliment from a man who, above all, valued manliness in his male students. And one significant trait of being a man was the ability to handle the opposite sex, both authoritatively and amorously.

“None of these other riffraff,” he added, as his gaze fell upon several boys in the crowd, “have the finesse that I’ve seen you demonstrate. Brandon perhaps, but even he has years to go before he could catch up to you.”

“What business was it of yours to tell everyone?” asked Draco.

“Now, don’t be angry. I know you wanted the privilege of breaking the news. But I couldn’t help myself. Getting a Gryffindor is not an everyday occurrence for one of us. You’re one of the few young men who’ve been successful at such as task.” He then whispered, “I’ve been told the seduction occurred at your guesthouse. Which is a lovely touch. I’ve heard many stories of your family’s estate.”

Pansy stood a few feet away, listening to the conversation. The news had already reached her ears hours ago. Millicent found it amusing to wake her at dawn to tell her the shocking revelation. She closed her eyes. A hired woman was something she could easily forgive; seeking the services of a professional was a rite of passage for many young men in her social standing. But a fellow student…

“She will soon be forgotten,” she repeated in her head.

But even those words no longer had the calming effect they once possessed. And observing the way other boys patted Draco’s back and whispered jokingly into his ear only added to her frustrations. “I don’t think this reckless behavior should be congratulated,” she said to Arthur. “It’s disgusting.”

Arthur stopped talking to Draco and slowly turned his head in Pansy’s direction. “Just because your sex is not allowed the freedoms that we enjoy does not mean you have to cheapen his accomplishment. And let me remind you, young lady, that those of the feminine persuasion should mind their place and not intrude on the conversation of men.”

~*~*~

Many times during the night, Hermione’s hand had run along her pillow, assuming it was Draco. But she was jolted out of sleep when her fingers were unable to find his warm skin. She stayed awake most of the night, as she stared into the moonlit room, periodically watching Parvati toss in her sleep.

She now faced a yearning she once rolled her eyes at when witnessed in other lovesick girls. It was queer, she thought, how one person could affect her entire being. Even those close to her saw a difference in her appearance and demeanor. Comments had been made in the common room about her skin; it exuded a glow.

But this new situation also brought crippling anxieties. That he had not yet owled her with a meeting time was troubling. He was usually very timely with his communications. “But he’ll do it tomorrow morning,” she said to herself. It was this reassurance that allowed her to go back to sleep.

Thoughts of owl posts, however, were not on her mind that morning when she raced to the Great Hall. Ron and Harry were still in the dorms searching for the redhead’s lost schoolbooks. After ten minutes of combing the common room for these items, she had given up. And now she hurried down the hall to get something to eat. But just as she reached the doors, someone caught hold of her robes.

“I need to talk to you,” said Mandy.

“I can’t right now. I’m already running late as it is. Perhaps later.” Hermione took another step towards the doors, but found she could not move. She glanced down; Mandy’s fingers remained tightly curled around her robes. She deeply inhaled the delectable smell of bacon and eggs, before allowing herself to be led away.

The location Mandy chose to make her declaration brought a smile to Hermione’s face. She stood in the same spot Draco had waited for her, and reminisced about their last encounter. However, daydreaming was a luxury she would have to indulge in on another day. Mandy was tapping her foot on the floor, waiting for her full attention.

“I need to warn you about something,” said Mandy.

“Warn me about what?”

“I overheard several Slytherins talking about you during breakfast.”

“I wouldn’t be concerned about them,” Hermione said flippantly. “They’re always talking about me. Or giving me dirty looks.” She placed her hand on Mandy’s shoulder. “Listen, I appreciate your concern, but it’s really nothing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get something to eat before class begins.”

“They were talking about you and Draco.”

Hermione’s arm slowly dropped back to her side. “What about me and Draco?”

Mandy didn’t answer immediately, and lowered her gaze. “It’s a bit embarrassing for me to say this,” she muttered. She remained quiet again, longer this time, before finally saying, “They were talking about you sleeping with Draco.”

Hermione leaned against the wall and fixed her eyes on her hands. She reached behind her to grab hold of something; but there was nothing there for her to grasp. The hunger she once felt was taken over by a nauseating sensation in her stomach.

She remained in this slouching position until the adjoining hall suddenly became noisy with students. She had missed breakfast.

After watching the other students with a blank expression on her face, Hermione cleared her throat. “That’s a lie.” Her voice was unwavering and possessed the conviction she wanted to convey. “Of course, they would make up something like that. Everyone has been gossiping about us ever since we started working together.”

“I know the Slytherins like to talk,” said Mandy, “and make up rumors about people’s sex lives. But this goes beyond being a rumor.”

Bracing herself for the worst, Hermione clenched her jaw and kept her face rigid. She wanted to maintain an appearance of calm when Mandy revealed to her that she had been witnessed at Malfoy Manor. She focused her attention on a small hole in the wall, just as Mandy uttered, “They claim that one of the school ghosts caught you guys together.”

Hermione’s gaze flew quickly back to Mandy. She knew of one character in the school that possessed a great love for producing and dispersing gossip. And this particular spirit found her and Draco’s project match-up to be a great subject for his latest jokes. Slowly, Hermione’s body relaxed and her breathing became less forced. “Are you sure it wasn’t a poltergeist who told them this?”

“No, I specifically remember them saying it was a ghost,” said Mandy. “They didn’t say the ghost’s name, but it witnessed you guys in the library. In the study room. And last night, Draco told everyone that you guys had indeed been intimate in there.”

“Draco?”

Mandy nodded. “He made an announcement to the boys in his dorm. They didn’t go into detail about what he said, but he confirmed everything the ghost had seen.”

Although they were safe from view, Mandy lowered her voice and said, “I don’t think the Slytherins will keep something like this to themselves. So just be prepared if someone says something to you about it.” She tried to make eye contact with Hermione, but the other girl had turned her head to the side. “Listen, I’ve been in the same situation. So, if you ever need to talk…” She reached over and touched Hermione’s arm.

“There’s nothing to talk,” said Hermione. “Because nothing happened. They just made it up to spite me.”

“But Hermione—“

“Why would you trust anything they’d say? They’re repeating some bogus story Peeves told them. And as for Draco…” Hermione paused. A smile, which always formed when she thought of Draco, was beginning to curve onto her lips. She lowered her head and pressed her lips tightly together. “Draco’s still mad he had to do this project with me. He only confirmed Peeves’ story to save face in front of his friends.”

“Are you sure about that?” asked Mandy. Her voice softened as she uttered, “I know it can be something that’s hard to accept. It took a long time for it to sink in when everyone started talking about me. So, I definitely know how you feel.”

“Listen, no offense, but you and I are not in the same boat. Okay? These are just rumors. I am not sleeping with Draco. I definitely feel sorry for what you had to go through, but…” She stopped talking when she saw the expression on Mandy’s face. Hermione looked away; she didn’t mean for her tone to sound as harsh as it did, nor was it her intention to wound the other girl.

“I’m sorry,” Hermione finally said. “It’s very kind of you to give me a head’s up on what’s going on. But it’s nothing for me or you to be concerned about.” She touched Mandy’s arm and gave her a grateful smile, before heading down the hall for her class.

~*~*~

Hermione scanned the faces of all those standing outside of Potions class; she could not find Ron or Harry. She walked to the small group of Gryffindor boys gathered nearest to the door and asked, “Have any of you seen Ron or Harry this morning?”

Seamus and Dean stopped talking and stared at her. Neither one said a word. Hermione’s gaze flickered to either boy, as a puzzled look came over her face. “It’s not a hard question,” she added. She finally turned to Neville and asked, “Did you see them?”

Neville glanced away. He looked down at the floor while he spoke, and said in a soft voice, “Last I remember, they were still looking for Ron’s things. So I think they might still be in the common room.”

“Well, they better not be late. Snape’s already warned them about that.” Hermione gazed at the end of the hall, hoping to see Ron and Harry race around the corner at any given moment. But after several minutes, she gave up hope.

When Hermione turned her attention back to the three boys, she saw that they had moved away from her. They were now huddled together, as they resumed whispering to one another. That they would not talk in her presence did not bother her; after all, they could have been discussing a private matter. But the manner in which Neville glanced at her every so often did cause her to raise an eyebrow.

Seeing that she was excluded from their group, Hermione opened her bag and searched for her Potions notes. She was surveying her roll of parchment, when she glanced up to see Pansy and some of the other Slytherin girls standing in front of her. Her eyes briefly flittered to each girl. She then went back to her reading.

“Did you have a pleasant winter break, Granger?” Pansy asked.

After continuing to read for another moment, Hermione mumbled, “Yes, I did.”

“And did you receive lots of gifts?”

Hermione finally lifted her head. “Parkinson, what are you on about? Because I can’t believe that you’re being nice to me.”

“I was just asking about your gifts,” Pansy remarked in an innocent tone. She then looked around at the other Slytherin girls. “I mean, is it such a horrible thing to ask someone about their holidays? Geesh, some people can be so combative.” Pansy faced Hermione once more. “I asked about your gifts because I wanted to show you what I got for Christmas.” She then proceeded to stick out her left arm.

“That’s a very nice ring,” Hermione said half-heartedly.

“Yes, it is nice. And you can just imagine my surprise when Draco gave it to me.” She paused and watched as the bored look on Hermione’s face disappeared. And for the first time during their interaction, Hermione did not seem preoccupied with her roll of parchment. A smile formed on Pansy’s lips. “I guess he’s decided to make our relationship official.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“No particular reason. Just wanted to share the good news with as many people as possible.” Feeling satisfied with herself, Pansy held her head in the air and slowly walked away.

Hermione huffed loudly. She turned towards Parvati, who had been watching the exchange, and proclaimed, “Can you believe her? Some people are so full of themselves.”

Parvati did not respond and gave her a sideways glance. After a prolonged silence, she finally muttered, “It seems to me that you’re the one who’s full of herself.”

“What?”

“You heard me,” Parvati said.

Lavender reached over and touched her friend’s arm, but Parvati pushed her away. Parvati faced Hermione and looked her up and down. “You are so full of,” she lowered her voice, “shit. It just makes me so mad when I think of all the times you’ve rolled your eyes at me when you’ve overheard me talking about him. You’ve always said he was vile and disgusting, and how you didn’t understand why my sister and I threw ourselves at him.”

“Please Parvati, not here,” said Lavender. “You’re causing a scene.”

“I don’t care.” Parvati placed her hands on her hip as she glared at Hermione. “You once said I must have been desperate for liking him. But you were the one who was desperate. Desperate to have him all to yourself.”

Hermione’s eyes traveled to the other Gryffindors, who were now watching her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. How can I? I don’t even know who you’re referring to.”

“Malfoy.” When the expression on Hermione’s face began to change, Parvati added, “Oh, now you understand, don’t you? We all know about your little escapades with him. We know you two have been sneaking around the castle together.”

Hermione crossed her arms against her chest. “Here we go again with the dumb rumors. Let me guess, Peeves told you he saw us doing it in the library. Am I right?”

“No. It was two portraits that saw you guys together. One of them was Arthur the Plunderer. He guards the Slytherin dorms. And the other one…I don’t know his name, but he resides on the seventh floor. They saw you and Draco kissing.”

“Sure,” Hermione said.

“They did. And even Malfoy confirmed that you guys had been together. You can go and ask any one of the Slytherins. They were all talking about it just before you arrived. He told them everything this morning.”

The glare in Hermione’s eyes intensified, matching that of Pansy’s. “And what exactly did he say?”

“He said you came over his house during the break. It was on the twenty-sixth.” Parvati turned around to confirm the date with Lavender, who nodded. “Yes, you came over on the twenty-sixth and you guys had sex in his guesthouse.”

Thinking that Hermione was going to deny the incident, Parvati added, “Go and ask Zabini. He was at Malfoy’s Christmas party and he said everyone was instructed to leave the house by noon on the twenty-sixth. I guess Malfoy wanted you guys to have some privacy.”

“You went to Malfoy’s house?” asked Dean.

Hermione attempted to shake her head, but had suddenly lost control of her body, and stood motionless. Her gaze flittered to Seamus, who was staring at her open mouthed; then to Neville, who would not look at her. “These are all just vicious lies,” she said.

Parvati snorted loudly and whispered something into Lavender’s ear. Both girls laughed. Seeing that she now had an audience, Parvati pushed back the sleeves of her robes and continued to talk.

“Lavender and I only talked about Malfoy,” Parvati stated. “We never actually thought of doing anything with him. Being with him would betray all the principles of our house.” She then placed her hand over her heart to show she had no devious intentions in her body. She got a much needed ego boost from those around her, who were now nodding in approval at her honorability.

With her confidence soaring, Parvati held her stare level with that of Hermione’s, and allowed a barrage of accusations to pour from her lips. Lavender held onto her friend’s arm, tightening her grasp when ever Parvati made a particularly strong attack on Hermione’s character.

Hermione, however, did not hear these words. She began to retrace the events of the past couple of weeks, thinking of incidences where she and Draco were careless about their indiscretions. Her mind narrowed on the tryst following their Hogsmeade excursion. They had made sure that no one was around, she thought. And they had not seen any portraits…

The drumming of her heart quickened. She opened her eyes. Parvati was still talking, loud enough to rouse even the Slytherins. Hermione glanced past Parvati’s shoulder and searched the crowd.

Parvati paused long enough to trace her gaze. “He’s not here,” she said. “Your knight in shining armor is not here to rescue you.” When Hermione made eye contact with her, she added, “Malfoy’s running an errand for Snape and can’t get you out of this now.” The smile took a long time to form on her lips, but when it finally did develop, it was full of venom.

Everyone continued to stare at Hermione, waiting for her response. But she said nothing as she stared at Parvati. For a quick moment, many anticipated a physical altercation to ensue; but the boys’ fantasy of watching the two girls shred one another’s garments while they rolled on the floor never materialized.

Hermione stood defiant at first, holding up her chin and daring them to judge her. However, that stance became too exhausting to maintain, and she soon found herself searching for reassurance. She eyed Sally, a sweet natured girl she had counseled in the past, but the look in the other girl’s eyes was harsh.

After several minutes of enduring accusatory glares, Hermione turned on her heels and walked away. Her footsteps were quick, but very controlled. But once she was out of sight, she began to run.

~*~*~

“Why are you always misplacing things?” Harry asked. He trotted alongside Ron, as they both hurried to make their class. “You made me miss breakfast. And now we’re going to get in trouble with Snape.”

Ron did not respond and ran ahead of his friend. He came to a sudden stop when he reached the students still gathered in the hall. When an out of breath Harry had finally reached his side, he remarked, “I guess we’re not in trouble after all. And if you’re hungry, I have some chocolate frogs in my bag you can have.” He opened his book bag and began a search for the candy.

Harry leaned against the wall and took the chocolate confection from Ron. “Where’s Hermione?” he asked as he bit into the leg.

“Probably had to rush to the library to do more research. You know how everything has to be perf—” Ron stopped talking. Parvati, who was now chatting loudly in the corner, suddenly caught his attention. He nudged Harry’s shoulder and then pointed in Parvati’s direction. Both boys soon moved closer to her.

“She’s so hypocritical,” Parvati said to the crowd gathered around her. “She used to walk around the dorms acting so high and mighty and looking down at us. Always telling us how we should conduct ourselves. ‘I would never do that’ she always said. ‘I would never degrade myself like that.’ But I guess she just couldn’t live up to the high standards she set for everyone else.”

“That wasn’t very nice to embarrass her like that,” said Neville. “Anyway, I don’t believe the rumors. I don’t think she would do such a thing.”

“And since when did we start believing the Slytherins?” interjected Dean. “They could just be making this up.” Some in the Gryffindor crowd began to mutter to themselves, while others stood with vacant expressions on their faces, unable to form a definite opinion.

Ron draped his arm around Dean’s shoulder and whispered, “What are we talking about? What have the Slytherins done this time?”

Dean remained quiet. After throwing Ron a few fleeting glances from the corner of his eye, he finally moved away from the other boy. And soon, those who had once been adamant about being heard stood silent. The most vocal of them all, Parvati, had suddenly lost her voice, and stared at her fingers.

“It’s just a stupid rumor,” Neville finally said. “You shouldn’t believe what’s being said.”

Harry was about to bring the chocolate frog to his mouth, but stopped just before it reached his lips. “What rumor are you talking about?”

“The one about Hermione. Everyone was talking about it over breakfast—I forgot, you guys weren’t at breakfast. Anyway, the rumor is that…” He looked around to see if any of his fellow housemates were going to help break the news to Ron and Harry. But everyone had their back turned to him, as they feigned interest in something else. Neville pulled Ron and Harry aside. “The rumor is that Hermione slept with Malfoy.”

His voice was so low it caused Ron to ask him to repeat himself. Neville turned his head away momentarily. Soon, the redness flooded to his plump cheeks, the only bit of baby fat he had left. Not raising his voice any louder, he said, “There’s a rumor that Hermione and Malfoy had sex.”

“What?” Harry asked, although he had clearly heard the other boy. After staring at Ron, who looked at him with a dumbfounded expression on his face, Harry muttered, “Does this have anything to do with her report?”

“Yeah,” Ron added. “Ever since she started that stupid report with him, there’s been all sorts of rumors flying around. Harry, remember that time in Hogsmeade when that Slytherin said something to me about seeing Hermione and Malfoy snogging at the Three Broomsticks? I wanted to punch him in the face. But you had to stop me.”

“That’s because there were four of them. They would have killed you.”

“I’ve heard all the talk, too,” said Neville. “But this time, they’re saying that Malfy admitted they actually did it. He apparently made a big announcement to his dorm last night.”

Ron turned his head and stared at where the Slytherins were gathered. “Where is he?” he asked.

“Malfoy isn’t here. He’s helping,” Neville’s suddenly lowered his voice and mumbled, “Professor Snape. They had to fetch something for today’s lesson. And we can’t go inside until they come back.”

Harry crumpled the chocolate frog wrapper in his hand and shoved the debris in his pocket. “What exactly did Malfoy tell everyone?”

“I don’t know word for word what he said,” Neville began, “because I heard all the information second-hand. But from what everyone has been saying, he and Hermione had arranged to meet at his house over the break. His parents were going out of town, so he would have the house all to himself. And it was in his guesthouse that they,” he paused and proceeded to scratch the back of his neck, “had sex.”

“What day was this suppose to take place?” asked Harry.

“The day after Christmas.”

“That little rat is making it up,” Ron declared. “Hermione owled me that same morning. Now, how could she do that if she was at his house? I really doubt she would bring her owl to Malfoy Manor.”

“Well, she was supposed to be there in the afternoon,” Neville muttered. “Malfoy had some sort of party at his home the night before, so I guess he wanted time to clean up.”

A crinkling noise escaped from Harry’s pocket, as he fiddled with the candy wrapper. He stared at Neville for a moment, causing the other boy to look down guiltily for having to be the bearer of bad news. He then looked at Ron. “But didn’t her letter say she couldn’t come over to your house because she had too much work to do?” Before Ron could answer, he stated, “She was probably still working on her report. And I bet you she went over to his house to finish it.”

Ron contorted his face and shook his head at the idea. “Hermione wouldn’t do something like that. She knows better.”

Harry glanced at Neville; the other boy was following their conversation with great interest. He took hold of Ron’s shoulder and pulled him a few feet away. Lowering his voice, he said, “Hermione was determined to find out as much about Malfoy as she could. So, I think going to his house is something she would do. She probably told her parents she was coming to your place, and instead went to his house. And with his parents gone, she could do a lot of snooping around.”

Slowly, Harry’s words began to ring true, causing Ron to finally accept that the scenario at Malfoy Manor could have taken place –without the sexual interactions, of course.

“That scoundrel,” Ron blurted. “Hermione came over there to study, and he used the situation to his advantage by painting her as some Slytherin groupie.” His voice rose significantly when he muttered these last words. He looked directly at Parvati. “Which she’s not. Unlike some other people.”

“Is there something you’d like to say to me, Ron?” asked Parvati. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and glared at him from the corner of her eye.

A deep breath escaped Neville’s mouth. “Must we watch another fight? Didn’t you get your fix from yelling at Hermione?”

“When did this happen?” asked Harry.

“About five minutes ago. Hermione left and went down the same way that you guys just came from. Didn’t you see—”

Ron and Harry didn’t wait around to hear the rest of the statement and darted down the hall.











Chapter 11: Exposed
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Chapter 11: Exposed



The desk in the corner of the girls’ dorm was occupied and had been so for the past hour. Hermione sat hunched over in the chair with her head lowered, as she ignored the girls quietly gossiping behind her. Her mind raced with thoughts, which she quickly scribbled on the piece of parchment in front of her. Although the quill clutched in her fingers moved feverishly, it was still not quick enough to convey all she wanted to say.

It was curiosity that forced Hermione’s three roommates to remain in that room for so long. While others were beginning to head to dinner, they stood by Parvati’s bed, speculating on what Hermione was writing. They had tried for the past ten minutes to get a glimpse of the parchment, but Hermione guarded her work too closely.

Watching Hermione write, however, was not what Parvati, Lavender and Sally had raced to Gryffindor Tower to see. They expected someone who had been publicly accused of having a liaison with Draco Malfoy to show a dramatic display of emotion. Sitting quietly at a desk was too sedate, and did not satisfy the girls’ craving for theatrics.

The girls now wrestled with the question of what to tell the others, who were waiting in the common room for a full report on Hermione’s condition. After deliberating for several minutes, they decided to head downstairs and tell the gossip-thirsty students what they expected to hear, what they should hear.

But had they skipped one of their classes, the three girls would have gotten the spectacle they desired.

After escaping the onslaught of everyone’s glares, Hermione had headed back to the comforts of Gryffindor Tower. She had hidden behind a statue just as Harry and Ron raced out of the portrait hole for class. Alone in the dorm, she tore off her necklace and hurled it towards the nightstand. It landed perfectly in the top drawer. She then climbed into her bed and closed her eyes. It began very slowly at first, but after thinking of Parvati’s words, the tears began to flow more rapidly.

Her emotions ranged from humiliation to self-pity and then grief. But it was the feeling of being betrayed that caused her the greatest pain, and her most violent reaction. She got out of bed and opened her trunk. From a secret compartment, she pulled out the letters Draco had written her and stared down at the neat bundle.

A surge of rage coursed through her then, causing her fingernails to dig into the parchment and rip the correspondences at the top of the heap. She threw the letters against the wall and watched them fall to the floor. She then attacked them by pulling off the string that bound them together and tearing the parchments into small pieces.

When her gaze fell upon an unharmed letter, her anger suddenly began to subside. That particular correspondence had been written shortly after her introduction to Draco’s secret room. In it, Draco had expressed to her the feelings that consumed him when they were together. He also talked of how he had never been so open with anyone in his life, except her. She couldn’t possibly destroy it, she thought.

But as she read his sentimental words, the anger bubbled within her once more. “Lies,” she muttered. And like the others, that letter met its fate, as she pounded it into the floor with her fist, before ripping it.

Hermione collected the torn pieces of parchment and placed them in a metal bin. “Incendio,” she said. She then watched as they began to burn. Soon, all that was left was a small heap of ash.

The satisfaction her actions brought her quickly disappeared. She found herself wallowing in a state of sadness once more. Moreover, the letters were not entirely destroyed; she still remembered every word written on those pages.

Hermione fell to the floor and cried. She wept for letting her guard down and leaving herself exposed, and for believing him.

After resting in bed for several minutes, she finally decided that an explanation was needed, and headed to the desk. Even if Draco’s response confirmed her worst thoughts, she needed to hear from him. But more importantly, she needed to express her feelings about him and the predicament he now placed her in.

Long after her inquisitive dorm mates had left, Hermione remained at the desk. She lowered her head and brought her hands to her forehead. Her head was now pounding from lack of food and stress. But these pains were trivial compared to the obstacles she now faced.

~*~*~

Harry and Ron continued down the staircase towards the Great Hall. Although they were amongst the last in their house to leave for dinner, they seemed to be in no hurry to get to their meal. They wore agitated expression on their faces, as they slowly made their way to the ground floor.

It was not the feast of roast beef that pained them, but rather their lack of communication with Hermione. They had missed half of their Potions class when they ventured back to Gryffindor Tower to console her. However, they were not able to talk to her and spent most of their time at the bottom of the girls’ staircase, shouting out her name.

They now resorted to getting their information second-hand. Like everyone else in their house, they had waited in the common room while Parvati and her two friends accessed Hermione’s state of mind. But the news these three girls brought back was subjective and distorted. Ron even accused Parvati of exaggerating the truth to please the crowd.

When they reached the bottom of the staircase, their attention was drawn to a nearby portrait. Vincent, who never stayed put in his own portrait, was visiting an old lady. He was seated in a chair as he told her the latest school scandals. The woman had been away visiting her other portrait that hung in her country estate. She leaned back in her chaise lounge and fanned herself while Vincent talked about Draco and Hermione.

“Stop spreading lies,” said Ron.

Vincent stopped talking and gave him a sideways glance. “I only speak the truth.”

“Like hell you do.” Ron took several steps towards the man, but Harry grabbed his arm and prevented him from proceeding further. “That story was made up by the Slytherins to humiliate our friend.”

The old man was about to continue talking to his captivated audience, when Ron’s words suddenly jolted his interest. “You say the young woman is a friend of yours?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “She went to Malfoy’s house to do a report, and now he’s trying to make it seem like they slept together.”

“My dear boy,” remarked Vincent, “she might have gone to his house for many reasons, but studying was definitely not one of them.” When a smug smile developed on Vincent’s lips, it soon became Ron’s turn to hold Harry back.

Seeing that he had now raised the emotions of the two boys, Vincent added, “I’m not saying these things to be cruel. The truth is that your friend’s interest in Malfoy goes beyond a mere report.”

“Of course you would say that,” said Harry. “You have an allegiance with the Slytherins. And now you’re helping them spread these lies.”

“I only have an allegiance to myself. And what I say to you is not made up, because unlike everyone else, I actually witnessed your friend being romantic with Malfoy. Well, Arthur and I witnessed them. But it was my portrait that enabled us to do so.”

“Unless you have another portrait at Malfoy Manor,” said Ron, “I don’t believe you.”

“I didn’t say I saw them being intimate in the guesthouse, you ignorant boy. But I was present when they were making plans to spend time together. Plus, I saw them engage in an…amorous interlude.”

“Amorous interlude?”

“That is a nice way of saying I saw them snogging,” barked Vincent. When he heard Ron snort, he remarked, “I did see them. It was on the day all of you went to Hogsmeade before your break. I went to visit Arthur’s portrait down in the dungeons and when we came back to my portrait, we saw them sitting on the floor together. She was feeding him chocolates.”

Ron made a loud noise deep in his throat.

Vincent narrowed his eyes at the boy. “This indeed took place. In fact, Malfoy didn’t want his candy, so Granger took it to bring back to her friends Ron and Harry—That would be the two of you.”

Ron and Harry exchanged a glance.

From then on, neither boy said a word - nor made any loud noises - while they listened to Vincent recall the rest of the events of that afternoon. Ron’s arms, at first, were pinned tightly against his chest as a form of protection against the old man’s lies. But they soon dropped to his side.

Ron and Harry walked into the Great Hall as if in a haze. They then sat silent, and moved their food around on their plates. Harry pushed his plate away and said, “I don’t believe him. The fact that he hangs around with the Slytherin portrait is reason enough not to trust him.”

With his elbow on the table and his head in his hand, Ron lazily glanced up at Harry. “I guess. It’s just that…” He scratched his head and looked down. “He said that she went up to the seventh floor with Malfoy after the Hogsmeade trip. And don’t you remember how we kept looking for her all over the place? And suddenly she showed up out of nowhere with a huge bag of chocolate frogs.”

He then made a face. “I would never have eaten those frogs if I had known they were Malfoy’s.” He reached for his stomach and opened his mouth as though he was going to throw up.

“Are you saying you believe him?” asked Harry.

“I don’t know. There’s about ten different stories circulating at once, and it’s hard to know what to believe. I would be a lot easier if Hermione told us what was going on.”

“Listen,” said Harry, “this is all Malfoy’s doing. You know how he twisted the truth about them having sex at his house. He’s twisting the truth on what happened during the Hogsmeade excursion, as well. Perhaps he and Hermione did go to the seventh floor. But to study. And I wouldn’t blame them either. You remember how everyone kept staring at them that time they were in the Three Broomsticks.”

Ron nodded.

“So,” continued Harry, “they probably went somewhere quiet to continue their report. And then afterwards, Malfoy ran to the portraits and told them lies. But don’t worry, everything will get cleared up once Hermione starts talking.”

Harry’s words did not enliven Ron’s mood, and he continued to look down at his food with a blank expression on his face. Harry soon adopted his friend’s solemn demeanor and dropped his gaze.

The two boys’ behavior was a vast contrast to the whirlwind of excitement and action that was taking place around them. All throughout the hall, students were moving from table to table, as they exchanged information on the Draco/Granger scandal. Even those who had no knowledge of what had happened were now experts on the matter, and were making claims of actually seeing the couple together.

Although the noise and talk about their friend was mind numbing, the room grew more distracting when it suddenly became quiet. Ron lifted his head and looked in the same direction everyone was now staring.

Standing in the entryway, with Crabbe and Goyle holding the doors on either side of him, was Draco. He surveyed the room, as though he was fully aware he been the subject of everyone’s conversations. He then made his way to the Slytherin table, closely followed by his large entourage.

The order in which the Slytherins entered the Great Hall was based on seniority, with the seventh year boys up front, and the sixth and fifth years towards the back. The girls, no matter their year, were delegated to the very rear.

Pansy, however, had the privilege of being the only female at the front of the crowd. She turned her head and scanned the faces of those at the Gryffindor table. Her spirits fell slightly when she didn’t see Hermione. But the moment was not completely wasted; that she was now the center of attention gave her some satisfaction, and she smiled.

Others in the convoy stared at the Gryffindor table as well. A group of boys even pointed at Harry and Ron. After whispering amongst themselves, they erupted in laughter.

Ron grabbed the knife from his plate. “Look at him,” he said as his eyes followed Malfoy’s every move. “He walks in here like he owns the place. He should be hiding in shame for what he’s done to Hermione.”

“Since when has he ever done something like that?” asked Harry. “Of course, he’s gonna show off in front of the school. Everyone’s talking about him and he’s loving every minute of it.”

Harry soon grew tired of watching the Slytherins and directed his attention back to Ron. He tentatively took the knife that was tightly clutched in Ron’s fingers. “What were you thinking about doing with this thing? It can barely cut this roast beef. So, what do you think it’ll do to Malfoy?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care. I just want to hurt him.”

Several seats away, Pansy was having her own conversation about the spectacle. “I can’t believe Parkinson had the nerve to smile. I wouldn’t be smiling if my boyfriend had just cheated on me.”

“I’m just glad,” said Dean, “that Hermione wasn’t here to see this.”

Parvati rolled her eyes. “I don’t think we’ll see her for the rest of the week.” She then turned to Lavender. “And I don’t blame her. If I was her, I’d drop out of school.”

“Will you shut up, already?” said Ron. “I’m sick of you running your mouth like you know what you’re talking about.”

Harry leaned over in his chair and stared at Parvati. “Don’t forget that this could have been you. You could have easily been in Hermione’s place.”

“What do you mean?” asked Parvati.

“I think you know exactly what I mean. There was once a time when you were willing to do anything to be with a certain Slytherin.”

Parvati opened her mouth as if stunned. “No, there wasn’t.”

“Oh,” said Ron, “you mean to tell me that you never wrote him a letter saying how you would love to go to the Astronomy Tower with him?”

The comment caused many at the table to look at Parvati in shock. Even girls who had considered communicating with Draco in the past gave her looks of disapproval. Justin had been carrying on a conversation with Seamus and was about to return to the Hufflepuff table, when he heard the revelation. He now kneeled on the floor close to Ron, with a look of delight on his face.

“Since we’re discussing people’s private lives,” Ron went on, “why don’t we talk about that time Harry and I found that letter you wrote to Malfoy? You remember Parvati. It was the one that fell out of your bag.”

Even though her face turned slightly pink for a short while, Parvati was still able to keep her composure. “So what?” she said. “I never sent it. Besides, writing someone a letter still isn’t as bad as sleeping with them.”

“Hermione didn’t sleep with Malfoy,” said Harry. “She’s never been attracted to him. He’s just saying these things because he was forced to do a report with her.”

Parvati pushed back the sleeves of her robes. “And speaking of the report, I heard it was Hermione who volunteered to work with Malfoy, and not the other way around.” She turned to Justin to confirm the information, but he looked away when Ron flashed him an evil glare.

“She insisted on working with him,” Parvati continued, “even after he made a protest to the teacher. So, it seems to me that she was definitely attracted to him.”

“She only insisted on working with him,” said Harry, “because she thought he would be an interesting subject.”

“Yeah right. If she’s so innocent, how come she’s not at dinner and refuses to even come out of the dorm?”

Ron banged his fist down on the table, causing the silverware to shake. “Because she’s got to deal with people like you who’ll only give her a hard time. You know what? I blame you for this whole mess.”

When a look a surprise developed on Parvati’s face, Ron added, “Yes you. This wouldn’t be happening if you and all the girls in Hufflepuff didn’t throw yourselves at Malfoy. If you didn’t obsess about him all the time, he wouldn’t have the power and cockiness to do something like this to Hermione. But since all you girls are so weak for him—yes, I’m talking about you, too,” he said to a Ravenclaw who had turned around in her seat when she heard the commotion. “It’s because of all of you that he’s able to get away with this.”

A seventh year Ravenclaw wrapped his arm around his distraught girlfriend, to whom Ron was referring. “You can’t talk to her that way, Weasley. Besides, she’s never looked twice at Malfoy.”

“That’s not what I’ve seen,” retorted Ron. “I clearly remember her sneaking out of the storage room with someone who wasn’t you. If she was my girlfriend, I’d try to do a better job at keeping track of her whereabouts.”

The other boy gave his girlfriend a long glare. He then turned his attention back to Ron. “Maybe you should follow your own advice and do the same with Granger. If you’re not careful, she might bed the entire Slytherin house.”

Ron got to his feet.

Harry reached over and grabbed Ron’s arm. “He’s not worth it. Hermione’s the person you should be thinking about a the moment, not him.” He got up from the table as well, and dragged Ron out of the room before an altercation could ensue.

~*~*~

Ron was still fuming and muttering to himself when they reached the Fat Lady. “Bet he wouldn’t be so quick to jump to his girlfriend’s defense if he knew half the stuff she was up to,” he said to himself.

“Don’t worry about him,” said Harry. “Let’s just try to talk to Hermione before everyone gets back.”

“She stepped out,” said the Fat Lady. She was seated a large table, as she played cards with a group of equally plump women. “You missed her by about five minutes.” She put down her cards for a moment and took a deep breath. “It’s good to see her out and about. I hate seeing one of my girls so distraught.”


~*~*~

Hermione reached into her robes and fingered the letter in her pocket. She had done that repeatedly during the past few minutes. Somehow running her fingers against the parchment relaxed her. But her calmness was only momentary, and shortly afterwards, her heart resumed its rapid beating.

As she rounded the corner, she looked around to ensure that she was alone. Although dinner had still not commenced, she feared bumping into stragglers like herself who had no appetite.

Her journey continued undisturbed for several moments, until she turned into the hall leading to her destination. It was there that she began to hear footsteps behind her. She paused and listened. The noise suddenly stopped. She continued on her way. But just seconds later, the footsteps resumed as well. They now grew louder, as if the person was closer to her. She was about to start running when someone grabbed her arm.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Blaise. He swiftly positioned himself in front of her, blocking her way. “You were absent from dinner, which is quite a shame.”

“Get out of my way,” said Hermione.

Blaise leaned against the wall, and smiled. He took the toothpick out of his mouth and flicked it into the air, not watching where it landed. He took a step towards Hermione, causing her to back into the wall. Two sixth year Slytherins came into view then and formed a circle around her.

“Why do you want to get away from us?” Blaise asked. “I thought you liked Slytherins.”

“If you don’t leave me alone,” Hermione said, “I’m going to scream. Flinch is patrolling nearby and he’ll hear me.”

“Be my guest. But I guarantee you that no one will hear you. First of all, Flinch is still at dinner. Peeves is on the sixth floor, but he’s having too much fun destroying the bathroom to come to your aid.”

A satisfied smirk curled onto Blaise’s thin lips. He turned to the other boys and said, “You know what? When I first heard about Malfoy getting her, I thought he was crazy.” He glanced back at Hermione and added, “Or desperate.”

He took a few strands of Hermione’s hair and curled it around his finger. “But now that I see you up close, I realize you’re not bad looking. And I even like how your hair is all wild and out of control.” After looking Hermione up and down, he moved closer to her. “You want to know a secret?” he whispered in her ear. “You’re getting me excited.” He then proceeded to press himself against her.

Hermione pushed him away. “Get the hell away from me.”

“Oh, you’re a feisty one. I like that. I bet Malfoy had a good time with you. Maybe you could show us a good time, too.” Blaise was about to advance upon her again, when he saw her place her hand in her pocket. His stare then traveled to the door leading to the owlery. He remained still for a moment, before swiftly reaching into her pocket and swiping the letter within.

“What do we have here?” he said, as he began to unfold the parchment.

“Give that back to me,” Hermione shouted. She then lunged at him.

Blaise was quick on his feet, and avoided being hit by Hermione. He lifted the letter high in the air, just out of her reach. With his other hand, he grabbed Hermione’s neck and pinned her to the wall. He moved the letter close to the glow of the lantern and glanced at her writing.

“I don’t think Malfoy will have a problem with me reading this,” he stated. “After all, he’s too busy pursuing other girls at the moment, and won’t have time to read it.” He smiled to himself when the statement caused Hermione to dig her nails into his arm. He tightened his grip around her neck, forcing her to remain still.

Blaise cleared his throat and read her letter to the other boys. He soon stopped reading out loud and began to mumble the words to himself. When he reached the middle of the letter, he let out a deep breath and turned to Hermione.

“Wow,” he said, “those are some angry words you used there. He must have really gotten to you, or else you wouldn’t have bothered writing this.” He glanced over his shoulder at the two boys and said, “What the hell does he have that I don’t? How come every year, he gets all these girls to fall in love with him? Is he using a spell I don’t know about?”

He turned back to Hermione and asked, “You’re not under a charm, are you?” He waved his hand in front of her face in order to detect anything in her eye movement that would signal she was bewitched.

After staring at Hermione for a considerable time, Blaise looked back at his two comrades. “You two,” he bellowed, “go to the end of the hall and keep watch.” The two boys seemed hesitant at first, but they eventually obeyed his commands and walked away.

Seeing that Hermione was no longer struggling against his grasp, Blaise released the hand around her neck. Having no further use for the letter, he folded it and placed it back in Hermione’s pocket. And while his hand was still in her robes, he took the opportunity to do some mild exploration. He reached for her hips and let his hand glide along her thigh.

Hermione kicked his leg.

Blaise smiled to himself. “You should really forget about him,” he said after rubbing his shin. “He’s working on a girl or two in some of the other houses, so I don’t think he cares about you. You’re better off with someone like me.” He lifted his hand and glided his fingers along her chin, causing Hermione to turn her head away.

“You must have really been special to Malfoy,” he said. “Usually, I can tell when he’s got a new girl in his sights. He never makes any announcements, but he’ll give off little hints. But with you…nothing. So, I’m guessing he really liked you. And I want to know why.” The finger that was perched on Hermione’s chin now moved down her neck. It would have traveled further, but Hermione pushed his hand away.

Blaise was about to touch Hermione again, when the other two Slytherins ran past him. “Where are you two going?” he shouted. “You’re supposed to be—“

He never saw it coming. But how could he? Ron was very swift and had perfected his movements over the years. And with one quick punch to the nose, Ron knocked Blaise to the floor. Blaise remained down for several moments, as he tried to register what had just happened. He slowly got to his feet and reached for his face. When he pulled his hand back, his fingers were covered in blood.

His blurred gaze darted from Ron to Harry. “Which one of you did this to me?”

“I did,” said Ron. He approached Blaise once more, causing the other boy to stumble backwards. “And I’ll do it again if I ever see you near her.”

Blaise wiped away the blood that was trickling down to his lip with the back of his hand. “You wait until Professor Snape hears about this. He scolded you guys today for being late to class, so I could just imagine what he’ll do to you when I tell him about my nose.”

Ron craned his head towards the end of the hall, where the other two Slytherins had been standing post. He then turned to Harry and said, “No one’s around. So, why don’t you pin him down while I beat him? If we’re going to get in trouble for this, we might as well make it good.”

“Nah,” said Harry. “You’ll hurt yourself. Anyways, he’ll get his due when McGonagall finds out he likes to harass girls.”

“Granger’s no girl,” said Blaise. He curled his lip, as his glared ran up and down Hermione’s body. “Besides, she loves it when Slytherins harass her. Malfoy was just telling us how she likes it really rough—“

“Get outta here,” shouted Ron. He lifted his fist in the air and advanced towards the other boy. Blaise turned around and ran down the hall.

When the other boy’s footsteps were no long audible, Harry walked over to Hermione and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Are you okay?”

Hermione pulled away from him and began to straighten her robes. “I’m all right,” she said in a small voice. Her fingers flew to her neck and she began to gingerly rub her skin.

Ron leaned forward and stared at the spot her fingers now touched. “Did he choke you?” he asked.

Hermione’s hand quickly flew to her hair, as she began to rearrange the long curls over the area Ron’s eyes now penetrated. She took a step away from both boys when she realized Harry’s attention was now drawn to her neck, as well.

“He just grabbed my neck,” Hermione finally said. “It’s nothing to worry about.” After a long pause, in which she looked down at the floor, she uttered, “Thanks for the help.” She then began to walk down the hall.

Harry caught hold of her arm. “Is that it? After everything that’s happened, you’re just going to mutter a weak ‘Thanks,’ and then leave?”

An agitated look now developed on Hermione’s face and she folded her arms tightly in front of her. “Look, I’m sorry if I sounded ungrateful. I just have a lot of things on my mind at the moment.”

“And I guess, that none of those things includes explaining to us what’s going on, right? We’ve been worried sick about you. Didn’t you hear us calling out your name this morning?” He continued to stare at Hermione, until she looked away. “We know you went to Malfoy’s house.”

The statement grabbed Hermione’s attention. She looked him in the eye for the first time during the conversation, and wondered if she would, once again, be forced to deny the rumors. Lying to Parvati and other members of her house had been fairly easy for her. But doing the same to those she cared about would be more daunting. As the tension in her body rose, Hermione resisted placing her hand in her pocket and busied her fingers by fiddling with her collar.

“I know you wanted to find out about Voldemort’s plans,” Harry said, “but that was too high a risk to take. What if you were ambushed? Malfoy could have been setting you up.”

“We were the only ones there,” Hermione replied. “Plus, if he wanted to kill me, he could easily have done that while I was asleep.”

Harry opened his mouth, but Ron was the first to speak. “You slept at his house?”

“I slept in the guesthouse, not the main house.” When the tense expressions on the boys’ faces did not disappear, she added, “We had a lot to discuss. And it was already dark outside when I realized the time. And since I told my parents I’d be staying at The Burrow, they’d be suspicious if I stumbled back home at midnight.”

“No they wouldn’t,” said Harry. “You could have just told them that Ron was being a pain and you couldn’t take him anymore.” He quickly moved out of the way when Ron attempted to kick him. But after that playful interlude, both boys adopted a more serious demeanor and continued to stare at Hermione.

“He didn’t do anything to me,” said Hermione. “I’m standing here, aren’t I?”

Harry shook his head in disbelief. “He might not have harmed you, but he was able to humiliate you by spreading this rumor around school.”

Hermione rested her head against the wall and glanced up at the lantern above. Out of habit, she reached for her neck. Unfortunately, her pendant was no longer there for her fingers to wrap around, and she ended up touching the sore area Blaise had attacked.

“I don’t think this is his doing,” she finally said. “I think someone else started the rumor.” When she was met with intense looks from the two boys, she declared, “He wouldn’t do something like this.”

“Of course he would,” Ron and Harry shouted in unison.

“Hermione,” said Harry, “we’ve all been dealing with him for the past six years. And during that time, his personality has stayed the same. He’s a conniving, little git. He didn’t suddenly transform into a decent person overnight.”

“He wouldn’t risk antagonizing me,” Hermione stated. “Because he knew I would altar my report and paint him in a bad light.”

Ron snickered. “You mean you’ve actually found something positive to write about him?”

“Of course. It’s not like he’s a demon. He’s got some redeeming qualities, once you get to know him.”

Both boys remained silent and stared at her. Ron walked towards Harry and whispered in his ear. When they pulled apart, they both gazed at her once more. “Did you eat anything at his house?” asked Harry.

“Yes.”

“Then I think Ron’s right. Malfoy could have put a something in your food. He’s very good in potions and I’m pretty sure he knows some illegal ones that the school’s not teaching us.” After conversing with Ron once more, Harry said, “I think we should take you to Professor McGonagall.” He reached for Hermione’s arm, but she pulled away from him.

“Leave me alone,” she said. “I’m perfectly fine. He hasn’t given me any potion and I’m not under a spell.”

“Then why are you defending him?”

“I’m not. It’s just that there’s more to him than what you see at school. Regardless of what you two think, he doesn’t act like that all the time. I went over to his house because I knew he wouldn’t do anything bad to me. I’ve spent hours alone with him, and he’s never done anything. That’s why I don’t think he started this rumor.”

There was then a long silence, in which Hermione studied their expressions to see if they believed her. Although Harry did not appear to be completely persuaded by her argument, the hardened look on his face had disappeared.

Ron, on the other hand, made it perfectly clear that he did not believe her generous description of the Slytherin. And although he continued to glare at her from the corner of his eye, he made no other comment on Draco’s personality flaws. “What information did you get?” he finally asked. “Did you find out if he was the one sending Harry those letters?”

The question seemed to have caught Hermione off guard because she stared at Ron for a moment before answering. “Well, we basically spent a lot of time in his library, just talking about books. The subject of Harry never came up.”

Ron continued to stare at her with a perplexed look on his face. “What about You-Know-Who’s future plans?” When Hermione did not respond, he said, “So I guess the answer is no, right? After all the trouble you went through, you weren’t able to learn anything new except maybe his favorite piece of literature?”

Hermione’s gaze fell to the floor.

“I guess you were right about Malfoy being a smart guy,” said Harry. When Hermione gave him an inquisitive look, he added, “All this time, you thought you could fool him into trusting you. But you’re the one who’s been fooled. You haven’t gotten his trust; he’s gotten yours. That’s why you weren’t able to get any information from him.”

Harry’s voice grew sad as he spoke, and he ran his hand down Hermione’s arm. “Malfoy knew what you were up to from the very beginning,” he continued. “Didn’t you find it odd that he continued the report with you? I know I did. He could easily have complained to his father or Snape, but he went along with it because he came up with a scheme to embarrass you. And he succeeded.”

The misery that Hermione had experienced in the dorms suddenly came back to her. And like before, her emotions came in a sudden flash that caused her to slide down the wall. Although she brought her hands to her face, the large tears that rolled down her cheeks were hard to hide.

Ron and Harry sat on either side of her. Harry wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her into a hug. With Hermione now sobbing on his shoulder, he whispered, “I appreciate what you went through to try to help me.” He then looked at Ron, and quietly signaled for the boy to utter supportive remarks as well.

“Yeah,” said Ron. “We really appreciate it. It took a lot of guts to do what you did. I still don’t know how you just didn’t punch Malfoy during your first study session. I would have pummeled him—” He stopped talking when Harry narrowed his eyes at him.

“You did your best,” said Harry. “But Malfoy is too clever to fall for it. Let’s face it, he’s a pro at being manipulative. He has an agenda for everything he says and does.”

Harry’s well-meaning words only deepened Hermione’s pain. His harsh description of Draco reverberated in her head hours later when she was in the library. She had been exposed to Draco’s conniving nature in the past; but she hoped that that deviant side of his personality had not surfaced during their relationship.

Hermione looked up from the new letter she had just composed – which was shorter than its predecessor, and would not be recognized by Blaise – and watched as Madam Pince gathered the books from a nearby table. It was then that she began to ponder the other statements that Ron and Harry had made earlier that night.

She doubted that Draco had masterminded everything from the very beginning, like Harry had claimed. Why would he concoct an elaborate plan and spend weeks of his time just for the sake of spreading rumors, she thought. Had he been up to something, she surely would have sensed it. And she would not have agreed to spend an intimate night with him, unless she truly believed his love for her was genuine.

But just before she became set on the idea that Draco was not involved in the scandal, a myriad of doubts flooded her mind. She then began to question her judgment. Perhaps he had been crafty enough to mislead and entrance her like he had done to others. After all, she failed to find out anything about Voldemort, which was her main reason for doing the report with him.

Hermione lowered her head as she thought of the idea of sharing her body with a boy whose intentions had been devious. Thoughts of their time in the guesthouse, which she had previously recalled with fondness, now filled her with regret. She closed her eyes and placed her hands on her face.

It was twenty minutes later – well after closing time – when Madame Pince tapped her on the shoulder. “Ms. Granger, I hate to inform you that we are now closed.”

There was a certain sweetness in the librarian’s voice, which Hermione had never heard before. Perhaps she feels sorry for me, Hermione thought. Madame Pince, however, kept her views of Hermione to herself and did not utter another word to the girl. She took her cart of books and pushed it nosily towards the next table.

Moments later, while Hermione tied her letter to the school owl’s leg, she concluded that no one had any reason to feel sorry or even pity her. Her relationship with Draco was genuine. It had to be. She needed it to be.





Chapter 12: Draco's Victory
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Chapter 12: Draco’s Victory
 
 
The seventh year Slytherin dorm was more crowded than usual. Aside from the standard group of sixth years that congregated there from time to time, the mix now included several fifth and fourth years as well. These youngsters would normally have been thrown out, but the older boys were in high spirits, due to their spectacular entrance into the Great Hall.
 
“Did you see everyone’s face when we walked in?” said Terry. “Every mouth on the Gryffindor table dropped. Everything went according to plan, right Malfoy?”
 
Draco observed him from his bed. He knew everyone expected him to contribute to the conversation, considering he masterminded the event. But he placed his hands behind his head and remained quiet.
 
Unfazed by the silent treatment the other boy was giving him, Terry pulled from his bag a bottle of whisky he had stolen from Snape’s office, and held it out to Draco. When Draco shook his head, Terry took a long sip, before passing it on to the next boy.
 
The younger students tried their best not to spit out the strong liqueur, lest the older boys see them as weak. When a fourth year named Liam nearly downed half of the bottle, he received heavy applause from the others.
 
Draco watched the commotion for another moment, before looking away. He drowned himself in his own thoughts until Terry stumbled to his bed with another bottle in his hand.
 
“Are you sure you don’t want a sip?” Terry asked him.
 
Draco made a face and pushed the bottle away; he clearly had no interest in drinking from where the others had placed their mouths.
 
Terry brought the bottle back to his lips. He began to sway back and forth while he guzzled down the remaining drops. Crabbe and Goyle looked at one another. They knew it would be their responsibility to carry the boy to his dorm when he passed out.
 
And just as Terry stumbled backwards into the dresser, Blaise burst into the room. “Malfoy, look what your girlfriend’s friends did to me,” he declared
 
Draco’s gaze flittered to the blood stained tissues protruding from Blaise’s nostrils. “Pansy’s friends did that to you?”
 
“No, your other girlfriend. Her two friends attacked me when I was in the hall.” Blaise searched the crowd until he found the two boys who had abandoned him; they avoided his stare and looked down at their hands. “That damn Weasley,” Blaise said. “When I see him again, I’ll—“
 
“Take another beating from him?” remarked Draco.
 
When the room burst into laughter, Blaise quickly stated, “I got in some good punches. I’m pretty sure I can handle him again.”
 
“Yeah right,” Draco muttered under his breath. A quick look at Blaise hands showed that his knuckles were not bruised, proving he had not landed any punches. But as much as Draco would have liked to ignore him, that Blaise had had an encounter with Harry and Ron piqued his interest. He sat up and asked, “Where did you encounter Potter and Weasley?”
 
“Up near the owlery.” Blaise gingerly took the tissues from his nostrils and threw them into the bin. He sat on his bed, and placed his finger under his nose to ensure the bleeding had stopped. “I went looking for you when you left dinner early,” he said. “And that’s when I ran into Granger.”
 
At the mention of the Gryffindor, the other boys in the room stopped talking and turned towards Blaise.
 
“She was walking by herself,” said Blaise. “And I thought I’d start a conversation with her.”
 
Several boys in the room began to chuckle. All of them, including Draco, were well aware that Blaise had not approach Hermione to initiate a discussion, but to ridicule her. This, unfortunately, was the treatment the Slytherin boys gave to all girls who’ve had liaisons with a member of their house.
 
“Seeing that she’s already acquainted with someone in this room,” Blaise continued, “I didn’t think she’d have any problems with me talking to her. But she didn’t feel like talking, and even gave me a lot of attitude.” He then kept his eyes steady on Draco.
 
Draco lay back on his pillows, and kept his face relaxed. He knew Blaise was trying to get a reaction from him, and he was determined not to give the other boy the satisfaction of rattling his nerves. Besides, Hermione was now fare game to the other boys’ abuse.
 
After causally looking down at his nails, Draco asked, “When during the conversation did you get beat up?”
 
“Weasley took me by surprise,” Blaise said over the crowd’s snickering. “And it was an unfair fight because it was two against one.”
 
“Didn’t you fight Weasley?” Terry asked Draco.
 
“Yeah,” responded a fourth year. “I remember everyone talking about it. They said it took eight people to pull you guys apart.”
 
“And from what I could remember,” Terry continued, “Draco got him good. And afterwards, he didn’t wine about being hurt.” He raised his voice as he added, “Like some other people.”
 
Blaise ignored Terry’s taunting and took a seat on the floor next to several fourth years, who seemed very impressed with his injury. Now that he had an attentive audience, Blaise went into detail about his interaction with Hermione.
 
Draco listened to the conversation until Blaise mentioned rubbing up against Hermione. He closed his eyes. Why did I leave dinner early, he asked himself. In the back of his mind, he knew that Blaise would follow him. But the loud banter at the Slytherin table and Pansy’s excessive clinginess had forced him to leave the Great Hall prematurely.

When the talking had died down and some of the younger boys had gone back to their dorms, Draco took the letter he received earlier that night from his pocket and glanced at it.
 
Blaise stopped talking when he caught a glimpse of Draco’s actions from the corner of his eye. As his heart thumped heavily against his chest, he craned his neck to better view the parchment. But his excitement quickly disappeared when he noticed the shortness of the letter. It must clearly be from someone else, he thought. Although filled with disappointment, he went back to his conversation.
 
~*~*~
 
Hermione stood in the entryway of Professor McGonagall’s first floor office. She glanced over her shoulder at Ron and Harry, who were waiting in the hall, and waved them away. It would not be fair if she caused them to miss breakfast, she thought.
 
Ron and Harry stood motionless for a moment, but they eventually departed for the Great Hall. Besides, Hermione would tell them all the details of her talk with McGonagall later on.
 
“Close the door behind you and have a seat,” McGonagall stated. She sat behind her mahogany desk with her head lowered. In front of her were several sheets of parchment. As she dipped her quill in the inkpot, she said, “I’m sorry to have to call you in here. I’m sure you were looking forward to breakfast. I hear they are serving Spotted Dick this morning.”
 
Thinking she was expected to respond at the mention of the pudding, Hermione muttered, “Wow.” If truth were told, she didn’t miss not going to breakfast. Although she was mentally prepared to face the other students, she was relieved that that moment would be delayed.
 
This joy, however, did not stem from cowardliness on her part; in fact, it would have delighted her to prove to others that the scandal would not force her to hide – not anymore, that is. Plus, she wanted to see if these gossip mongers were brave enough to make disparaging comments to her face. The true origin of her relief stemmed from not having to face the one person who truly disappointed her.
 
She touched her fingers to her head, as the throbbing grew more intense. I must stop dwelling on him, she thought. But this was difficult to do when he had consumed her thoughts for the past two days.
 
Hermione continued to look down, when a hand bushed against her arm. She lifted her head and found a plate of bacon and eggs before her. And next to the plate lay a bowl of Spotted Dick.
 
“There’s no reason why you should go to class hungry,” McGonagall said. She glanced at Hermione over the rim of her glasses, before returning to her writing. When she finally finished, McGonagall folded the parchments and placed them in a pile in front of her. “You’re probably wondering why I called you in here.”
 
She waited until Hermione pushed her plate away, before continuing. “It’s gotten back to me that some of my students have been missing their classes or showing up late. Professor Snape was particularly angry that Potter and Weasley missed all but fifteen minutes of their Potions lesson two days ago. He gave them a lot of detention, deservedly so. They shouldn’t have done that.”
 
McGonagall took off her glasses and inspected them for dust. “I hear that you didn’t show up to any of your classes that day either, although you were seen in the halls before Potions began. And yesterday…” She placed her glasses on her desk and sighed loudly.
 
Although Hermione sat up straighter in her chair, she remained quiet. There was no defense for her actions. And even if she could think of one, she was too drained to utter any words.
 
“I talked to some of your professors,” McGonagall went on, “and they all informed me that you didn’t miss any work. Professor Monroe was especially concerned about your absence. She hopes your illness will not prevent you from turning in your report. I hear it’s due during tomorrow’s lecture.”
 
“My illness?” Hermione asked.
 
“Well, yes. I informed her you weren’t feeling well.” She got up from her chair. “I believe a virus has been spreading through the school. I know for a fact that several Slytherins have been sent to Madam Pomprey. So I don’t think Professor Snape should blame you too much if you failed to show up. After all, it all stems from his house. But just in case, I’ve written you a letter. I also wrote one for your Mythology course. As for the other teachers, you need not worry about them. We have an understanding.”
 
 
~*~*~ 
 
After taking a deep breath, Hermione entered Potions class. Being one of the last people to be seated, she received a fair share of attention from the other students. Widened eyes and opened mouths greeted her as she pulled back her chair and took a seat between Ron and Harry.
 
This stunned reaction from the rest of the class wasn’t unwarranted, however. Considering she had spent two entire days in her dorm, many were surprised to see her out in public. Her absence had caused some to predict she would never make another appearance in class. But they clearly underestimated her will and drive.
 
The reception she received from those in her own house was decidedly split between gender lines. While the boys greeted her with approving nods, the girls merely glared at her.
 
After giving Hermione a long look, Parvati turned around in her seat and huffed loudly. “I don’t know why they’re all treating her like she’s so great,” she said to those sitting nearby. “All she’s done was give us girls a bad name. Now the Slytherins think we’re all easy.”
 
Motioning for the other girls to move closer to her, Parvati lowered her voice and said, “I heard Professor McGonagall had a talk with her this morning. I bet you Hermione got scolded for missing two days of classes.”
 
Those on the Slytherin side of the room watched Hermione with just as much, if not more, interest. Blaise leaned forward in his seat and tapped Draco’s shoulder. “Your girlfriend just arrived.” He then turned to Pansy and said, “I mean his other girlfriend.”
 
Pansy glared at Blaise as he began to laugh. But she soon projected all her anger towards Hermione.
 
Draco did not react to Blaise’s comment, and remained focused on his note taking. After several moments of trying to ignore those around him, he finally glanced towards the back of the room. Making it appear as though it was by accident, he rested his eyes on Hermione. She did not return his gaze. Ron, however, made full eye contact with Draco and flicked him an obscene gesture.
 
A smile creased onto Draco’s lips, as he folded his arms in front of him. But when he faced the blackboard once more, his expression hardened.
 
“Can you believe the spectacle she’s making?” Pansy whispered into his ear. It was normally Goyle who sat in the seat next to Draco, but on that day, Pansy had insisted on being by his side. She moved her hand up and down Draco’s back, while her stare remained steady on Hermione. “I bet she deliberately skipped her classes just so her appearance today would have more of an impact.”
 
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” remarked Draco.
 
Professor Snape glanced up from his desk when the whispering became more noticeable. He made a noise in his throat when his eyes rested on Hermione. After bestowing her with a glare, he tapped his wand on his desk. “I would advise everyone to copy down the instructions written on the board. I will be erasing them in a few minutes.”
 
Looking down at his hands, Snape added, “It seems to me that some people feel they can come to class whenever it suits them. But they will eventually learn that this is not the case.” He lifted his head and looked directly at Harry and Ron; their detention was to begin that night. He then sat back in his chair and focused his attention on Hermione once more.
 
And as if on cue, Hermione got up from her seat and approached the front of the class. The other students stopped writing – or pretending to – and watched as she walked by Draco without saying a word. She took a rolled piece of parchment from her pocket and placed it on Snape’s desk.
 
While making her way back to her seat, Hermione’s gaze lowered and met with Draco’s. Most in the class held their breath and leaned forward in their seats to get a clear view of their interaction. But everyone’s hope for a fiery exchange was quickly bashed.
 
Draco disappointed those in his house by not making a biting comment on Hermione’s chastity, one that would surely incite Harry and Ron to action. And Hermione’s gaze, although brief, lacked the intensity of a woman scorned.
 
Snape lifted the letter, allowing a loud huff to escape his lips as he read Professor McGonagall’s writing. After a long silence, he crumpled the parchment into a ball and placed it into the pocket of his robes.
 
Seeing that all eyes were on him, instead of the blackboard, Snape barked, “I thought I told you all to copy down the instructions?”
 
After he had copied all that was written on the board, Harry pushed his parchment aside and leaned towards Hermione. “You’re lucky Professor McGonagall excused your absence. But why didn’t she do the same for us?”
 
Hermione continued to stare down at lap. But after Harry nudged her side, she said, “She didn’t say. We never discussed you guys.”
 
When Potions had ended, Ron and Harry stayed close to Hermione’s side while she made her way to her next class. But considering the thrashing Blaise received for his actions, the trio was greeted with no more than glares from the Slytherins. Until they passed Draco’s group, that is.
 
“Slag,” Pansy shouted towards the trio. The comment caused the crowded hallway to grow quiet.
 
Although Harry and Ron turned to look at Pansy, Hermione continued to stare straight ahead of her. She reached over and grabbed both of the boys’ robes before either one of them could say or do anything to Pansy.
 
Grabbing Pansy’s arm, Draco pulled her away from the group. He placed his mouth close to her ear and asked, “What do you think you’re doing?”
 
“Nothing. I was merely addressing your mistress.”
 
Draco tightened his grip around her hand. Although, he would have liked to say more to her - especially to erase the smile on her face – Draco decided that engaging in an argument would be pointless. Besides, their private conversation was drawing too many curious looks from those around them.
 
He released Pansy’s hand and headed to his Mythology class. While walking down the fifth floor corridor that led to his lecture, Draco paused momentarily when he saw Ron and Harry strolling towards him. After making eye contact with both boys, he continued on his way.
 
Ron and Harry stopped walking and stood in the middle of the hall. When Draco reached them, they did not budge. “Off to harass Hermione some more?” asked Ron. “Think you can continue what your girlfriend started?”
 
“What Parkinson says and does is out of my control,” said Draco.
 
“Like hell it is,” shouted Ron. He then pushed hard on Draco’s chest, causing him to fall to the floor. “I bet you told her to say that to Hermione.”
 
Draco got back on his feet. “Don’t start with me Weasley. I saw what you did to Zabini and I’m not impressed. You’re forgetting that I fought you once, and I’m not afraid to do it again.”
 
“What about me?” Harry asked. “Can you take me on as well?” He took a step forward and pushed Draco down.
 
The shove was more violent than Ron’s, and forced Draco to remain on the floor for a longer period of time. Draco flicked the hair out of eyes and looked up at Harry. “I never knew you had it in you. Don’t you usually hide behind your friend?”
 
“Do you see me hiding behind anyone?” asked Harry. “Just because I don’t go around trying to start fights with everyone doesn’t mean I don’t have it in me. And considering what you’ve done to Hermione, I think you deserve to get yours.”
 
Draco stood up and began to brush the dirt off his robes. “You two are completely ignorant about what’s going on between me and Granger. So, you might as well save your anger for someone else.”
 
Ron looked at Harry and asked, “Can you believe this guy? He starts this whole mess by telling everyone in his dorm he slept with Hermione. He even gets his friend to attack her in the halls. But now that he’s not with his gang, he has the nerve to deny any wrongdoing.”
 
“I didn’t know Zabini was going to do that to her,” said Draco.
 
“Sure, you didn’t.”
 
Draco didn’t respond, and allowed his book bag to slide off his shoulder and land on the floor. “Will you two get on with it already? If you’re going to give me the beating of my life, please do it quickly so I can still make my class.” He closed his eyes and opened his arms, as though inviting the first blow.
 
But before any pummeling commenced, Professor Dorian opened her classroom door and peered at them. The sound of voices and that her star pupil’s chair was empty had led her to the hallway. “Malfoy,” she called out, “what are you doing out here? Class is about to start. And you two,” she said pointing and Harry and Ron, “get to your lessons before I inform the head of your house.”
  
Draco pushed past the two boys, bumping shoulders with Ron in the process. Just as he walked into the classroom, he waved at Ron and Harry from over his shoulder.
 
Hermione leaned over in her chair to get a better view of the hallway. When her gaze landed on her two friends, she quickly sat back in her chair and lowered her head. It was a mistake, she thought, to have them escort her to Mythology. Especially considering who was in her class.
 
After taking several deep breaths, Hermione refocused her attention back on her class notes. Her eyes remained on them even when Draco passed her desk.
 
She continued to keep her mind on anything other than Draco when class ended. But his presence was harder to ignore when he followed her to the water fountain. Refusing to look over her shoulder, she bent over in front of the fountain to take a drink. She remained in that position until Draco’s shoes came into view.
 
A wave of uneasiness overcame her when she finally faced him. Looking down the far end of the hall, she saw the last of her classmates heading towards the staircase. And the door to Mythology class was closed; Professor Dorian had retired to her study.

She and Draco were alone together.

Hermione hid the panic developing in her stomach as she said, “I don’t want to hear what you have to say. I want you to leave me alone.” When he did not move, she stated, “Will you and the rest of your Slytherin brood stop harassing me? You’re just making yourselves look stupid.”
 
“Unlike my encounter with your two friends earlier,” replied Draco, “what I’m doing right now is not harassment.”
 
“Well, I hope your visit with Harry and Ron went a lot better than my run-in with Zabini.” Hermione lowered the collar of her shirt to reveal the bruised area still on her neck.
 
Draco impulsively reached out his hand to finger the purplish skin, but thought better of it and drew his hand back. “He told me about meeting you in the hall. He just left out the part about hurting you. Had I known, I would have—“
 
“Save your breath. You would have done the same thing you’ve been doing all this time: absolutely nothing. Oh, and I especially liked your reaction when your girlfriend—I mean, your fiancée called me that disgusting word.”
 
“Who said she’s my fiancée?”
 
“I only had to look at the ring on her finger to know you two were engaged.” A look of disgust spread on her face as she glared at him from the corner of her eye. “You’re pathetic,” she muttered under her breath.
 
The coldness in Hermione’s voice and that she had knowledge of the ring rendered Draco speechless. But he didn’t expect Pansy to keep something of that magnitude to herself, he thought. Especially from someone who was now her direct rival.

Everyone in the Slytherin dorm already knew about the gift. Several girls even made it the main topic of their nightly fireplace chats. But never had Draco heard anyone utter the words ‘fiancée’ or ‘engaged.’

“We’re not engaged,” said Draco. “The ring was merely a present.”
 
“I really don’t care. And if you ask me, the two of you deserve one another. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to get to my next class.”
 
“But your note said you wanted to talk to me.”

Although her silence gave Draco the impression she was considering his question, in actuality, Hermione had already made up her mind the day before. “We have nothing to discuss,” she said. “Your actions have told me all I need to know.”

“And what could that be?” When his question only garnered a harsh glare from her, Draco added, “I didn’t start the rumors, if that’s what you’re thinking. It was Arthur that did it. You and I were sitting underneath his friend’s portrait when we were talking about you coming over. And they naturally couldn’t wait to tell everyone when we came back to school. I didn’t make any big announcement in the dorms, either. In fact, I didn’t say anything when they asked me about it.”
 
Hermione said nothing for long while, as she gazed up at him. “Do you think I’m a fool?” she finally asked. “News about us breaks out, and instead of writing me to let me know what’s going on, you wait two days. And now, you expect me to believe you had nothing to do with it?”

“Yeah, I do. And is it my fault I couldn’t get in touch with you? You locked yourself in your dorm. And I couldn’t just walk in there to hand deliver a letter, now could I? And another thing, how dare you talk about my actions? What about your own actions?”

“My actions?” she asked. “What did I do?”

“You made things worse for us by hiding away. And why did you have to run off before Potions class? The whole Slytherin House was talking about it. If you had just stuck it out, things wouldn’t have gotten this bad.”

Hermione perched her hands on her hips. Although her body was still tense, she was able say in a controlled voice, “What’s this ‘us’ that you’re referring to? I don’t remember anyone calling you names or glaring at you when you walk down the hall. In fact, everyone’s been treating you like a hero. It must really be great to be you right now. As for me, things are little different.”

The anger gradually disappeared from Hermione’s voice, and her arms fell back to her side. “I’m sorry I inconvenienced you by staying in Gryffindor Tower,” she continued. “But I guess I wasn’t thinking of the hard time you would have trying to communicate with me. I should have been more considerate.”

She brought her hand to her neck; but the necklace that once calmed her was now buried under a mound of parchment in her nightstand drawer. She couldn’t bring herself to dispose of it. But what good could it be to her anyway, she asked herself, when all it represented were Draco’s lies.

An underlining feeling of sadness soon crept over her as she dropped her gaze. “It wasn’t impossible to get in touch with me,” she said in a soft voice. “You could have sent an owl to my dorm window…like last time.”

Draco slid his hands into his pockets. He then looked down at the water fountain.

Hermione clutched the strap of her bag and buried her nails into the leather material. “You know what?” she said after giving him a long stare. “I don’t know why I’m even having this conversation with you. Nothing you say matters to me anymore.”

And just as she tried to walk away from him, Draco grabbed her arm. “Don’t touch me,” Hermione said, as she hit his arm with a closed fist. When Draco released her arm, she finally made her way to the staircase.  
  
 
~*~*~
 
Balancing herself on the tips of her toes, Hermione reached for a book on the uppermost shelf. Although McGonagall had assured her she did not miss any work from her classes, she wanted to be fully prepared for the next day’s lessons. As her fingers curled around the bind of the book, a pair of arms encircled her waist from behind.
 
“I need to talk to you,” he whispered into her ear.
 
Hermione turned around, but before she could say anything, Draco placed his hand over her mouth. He then looked over at the table of Hufflepuff girls sitting nearby. With his fingers still pressed against her lips, he moved Hermione to a more private area in the library.
 
Finding safety behind a shelf of autobiographies, Draco pinned Hermione against the wall. Before he would remove his hand from her mouth, he said, “I don’t want you to say anything. I just want you to listen to what I have to say.” After waiting a short moment, he slowly lifted his hand.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop harassing me?” Hermione said in a loud voice.

“If you yell again like that, you’ll attract the attention of everyone in here.”

Hermione crossed her arms tightly against her chest. “After everything that’s happened to me, do you really think I care anymore?”

“I guess not.” Draco soon grew quiet as he fingered his chin. “I didn’t come here to argue with you,” he said. “I wanted to know if you would meet with me tomorrow night. So we can discuss everything.”

“Didn’t we already do that today in the hall? And if I remember correctly, you said that one of the portraits started the rumor, and you let everyone in your dorm think it was true by not denying it. And you didn’t get in touch with me because it was too much of a hassle. Now, am I right?”

She stared up at him for several moments, but before he could answer, Hermione said, “I don’t even know why you’re bothering with this charade. Shouldn’t you be off celebrating your victory with your friends?”

“My victory?”

“Yes. You won. You were able to fool me into thinking…” It pained her to continue the rest of the sentence. “Anyway,” she said after a long pause, “you got what you wanted. You can now go off and start working on a new unsuspecting girl.”

She turned around to leave, but was immediately stopped. “Let go of me,” Hermione shouted when Draco grabbed her waist. “I don’t ever want you to touch me again—“

Draco muffled her words with his hand when he thought he heard the squeaking of Madam Pince’s book cart. But his fears were calmed when he heard the librarian berating several students at the front of the room. He waited until Hermione stopped trying to get away, before bringing his arm back to his side.

“I can understand how you would think this is a charade,” he said. “Knowing my history, most people would probably think it was. But let me assure you that I was not using you.”

Hermione turned her head away.

“If I was in fact using you,” he went on, “then why would I still try to talk to you? Or risk getting hit by you?” He leaned towards her and said in a low voice, “I meant everything I said to you at the guesthouse. Everything we shared was genuine.”

Hermione rested her back against the shelf as she listened to his words. He spoke in the same tone he always used when they were alone together. It was soothing, and nothing like the accusatory manner he had spoken to her earlier that day. For a brief moment, she let down her defenses, and allowed him to move closer to her. His breath now fanned across her cheek. And when he took hold of her hand, she did not resist.

“I know you’re angry at me right now,” said Draco, “but you and I both know that we need to have this discussion. There are a lot of things we need to clear up. That’s why I need you to meet me tomorrow night in our room. Same time we usually meet.”

Draco brushed his fingers across her cheek as he looked down at her. He then lowered his head. But Hermione moved away before his lips touched her face. A bitter smile creased onto his lips, and then disappeared just as swiftly. “Just meet me tomorrow, all right?”

As he made his exit from the library, Draco glanced over his shoulder to see Hermione staring back at him.


  ~*~*~
 
Harry and Hermione remained in the common room long after Ron had retired to bed. Now that their homework was completed, they sat in front of the fire and watched the flames. With his chin resting on the arm of his seat, Harry muttered, “You should have heard him, Hermione. He tried to pretend he did nothing wrong.”
 
Hermione brought her hot chocolate to her lips and took a sip. Suddenly growing tired of the drink, she placed the mug on a table. “I wish you and Ron hadn’t done that,” she said. “You’re now acting like Slytherins.”
 
“Why shouldn’t we have confronted him? He created all of this, so he should face the consequences.” He sat up and stared at the fire. “The thought of him standing there with that smug smile on his face while his girlfriend called you a slag makes me—“
 
“Please don’t start,” said Hermione. “All this talk about today is just…” She lowered her head and placed her hands on her forehead.
 
Harry waited for several moments for her to talk, but when she remained quiet, he knelt down on the floor before her. “I didn’t mean to upset you.” He reached over and placed his hand on her leg.
 
Hermione’s hands soon fell down to her lap. She sat back in her seat and looked down at Harry. “I just want this whole mess to go away. I don’t want to hear about the Slytherins anymore. And I definitely don’t want to hear about you and Ron fighting Malfoy.”
 
“We didn’t fight him. We just…” Harry stopped talking and looked down at the rug.
 
“Well, I’m glad nothing happened,” said Hermione. “You guys could have gotten hurt. I hear Malfoy’s a good fighter.”
 
“Ron tells me otherwise. Anyway, I’m not afraid of getting hurt, if it means defending you.”
 
Hermione turned her head away as a deep look of displeasure creased onto her face. “I don’t want you talking like that. You and Ron need to promise that you won’t try to get back at Malfoy. Just leave him alone.”
 
“Leave him alone?” Harry gently squeezed Hermione’s arm, causing her to look down at him. “He started a vicious lie about you and spread it around school. He had one of his friends attack you in the halls—by the way, did you tell McGonagall about that?” He stared up at her for several moments, before saying, “Please say you told McGonagall. The bruises on your neck are still there.”
 
“I didn’t see a point in saying anything,” Hermione muttered. “Ron already gave Zabini his punishment. So, I don’t think he’ll be messing with me for a long time. But punishing him wasn’t goal. I just want to get on with my life.” She paused to reorganize her thoughts, but deciding she said enough, she remained quiet.
 
Harry lay on the floor and gazed up at the ceiling. “I guess it was stupid of us to do what we did, but…” His eyes drifted around the room, before he said, “I’m just glad your project with Malfoy is over. Now, you don’t have to deal with him anymore. In a few more months, we’ll never have to see him again.”
 
Hermione moved uncomfortably in her chair while Harry continued to describe Draco in the worst ways. She never uttered a word to contradict his statement, and allowed Harry to vent his frustrations. But when he finally stopped talking, she said, “You really shouldn’t blame him for all of this. I helped create this mess.”
 
Harry lifted his head from the floor and gave her a hard look. “You didn’t do anything,” he said. “You were merely doing a class project. It’s not your fault he’s like that.”
 
Hermione brought her finger to her mouth and bit down on a nail. She then looked down at her hand. “I have something to tell you,” she said. “I should have told you from the very beginning, but I didn’t know how.”
 
Harry got up and moved to his previous spot next to her chair.
 
“Something did happen,” Hermione began, “when I went to his house. It wasn’t planned or anything—“
 
“Did he hurt you? If he did anything to you, I swear to God—“
 
Hermione held up hand. “He didn’t hurt me.”

She looked passed Harry’s shoulder and into the fire. It was then that she realized how similar the tile patterns of the fireplace was to that in Draco’s room. Her mind soon began to wander back to those intimate late night moments she shared with him. But unlike earlier, there was no bitterness associated with these memories.

“When I first started this project with Malfoy,” Hermione began again, “my sole purpose was to get information from him. I’d heard some of the Slytherins talking about an event that was supposed to take place at his house in December. I just assumed it had to do with You-Know-Who.”
 
She fell back into her seat and rested her eyes on Harry. “At first, I found Malfoy to be very difficult. He postponed meeting with me for several days. And during our first session, he was really arrogant. But things began to change after several meetings. I don’t know what it was, but I started to become comfortable around him. I think we both let down our guard, once we got to know each other. After a while, I got used to his company. I started to forget how much I once detested him. I began seeing him in a new light.”

“You mentioned that the other night,” said Harry. “But what’s this ‘new light’ that I obviously can’t see?”

“I don’t know how to describe it. I know you don’t believe me,” and at that moment Harry made a face that proved this point, “but let me assure you that he’s not a one dimensional person. There’s a lot more to him than what you see in class or in the halls. And I began to see that side.”

A smile now curled onto Hermione’s lips. “I started enjoying being around him. We started to hang out with one another outside of class. He knows a secret room, so we’d go there sometimes to talk. It was then that I stopped seeing him as an evil guy. He showed me a side of him that I really liked.”

Harry seemed unimpressed by her words and continued to wear a critical expression on his face. “Do you know,” he began, “how many girls have said those same things about him? He knows exactly what to do and say to seduce someone. He was pretending, Hermione. After dealing with him for all these years, I can definitely tell you that he doesn’t have a different side to him. What you see is what you get. He was just pretending to be nice, so he could get you to come to his house.”

Resting against the arm of Hermione’s chair, Harry shook his head and laughed bitterly. “You’d think he’d have matured by now. But I guess not. I can just imagine what kind of man he’s going to be.” He lowered his head as he thought of the idea of dealing with an older and more manipulative Draco in the far-off future.

He turned around when he noticed how quiet Hermione had gotten. “Don’t be mad at yourself,” he said. “You’re not the only smart girl who’s fallen for his nonsense. From what I’ve heard, he’s gotten half of the girls in Ravenclaw. But unlike them, you were able to get out of this mess, before things got really serious and you started sleeping—“ He stopped talking, and looked away. “I’m just glad you got out when you did.”

Hermione rubbed her hands together for a considerable time, before finally saying, “I’m not as lucky as you think.” She looked down and stared at her lap when Harry turned towards her. “When I went to his house,” her voice then dropped to a low whisper, “something did happen between us. But it was something that I wanted, as well.”

Harry didn’t say anything as he sat up on his heels and stared at Hermione. But then, he brought his hand to his mouth and muttered, “Malfoy was telling the truth?” When Hermione did not answer him, Harry closed his eyes.

He took a seat on the hearth of the fireplace and bowed his head. After taking several nervous looks at Hermione, he finally mustered the courage to ask, “Did you sleep with him?” When he witnessed the expression on Hermione’s face, he looked down once more. “You don’t need to answer,” he said. “That’s your personal business.”

A long and awkward silence soon enveloped the room. Hermione nestled her face against the pillow of her chair as a wave of emotion overtook her. To have a true friend be disappointed with her actions was the greatest pain she had experienced thus far. And just when she thought he, too, would abandon her, a warm hand glided slowly across her face.

“You must think I’m a complete idiot,” Hermione said. “I should have known better. Considering what we’ve gone through with him, I should have known better.”

“Of course I don’t think that way about you. You’re anything but that, and don’t let the Slytherins or anyone else make you feel foolish.” Harry got up on his knees and pulled her into a hug. “You’re a smart and wonderful person,” he whispered into her ear, “and you’ll always be that way to me.”

“Thanks,” Hermione muttered.

Harry held her for several moments. He sat back down on the floor and brought his knees to his chest. “Don’t worry about him or his friends anymore,” he said. “All they want from you is a reaction. And the more you ignore them, the better. I think you’ve handled yourself well, so far. Pretty soon, everyone will forget about this and go on to the next scandal.”
  
Hermione stayed quiet as she stared calmly at the fire. “He approached me,” she finally said. “He said he never told anyone about us. He also said his feelings for me are genuine. He wants me to meet with him tomorrow so we can talk.”
 
“Are you going?”
 
Hermione’s eyes danced around the room, before she nodded.
 
“Hermione. He’s just going to tell you more lies. He’s going to suck you back into his world, only to humiliate you again.”
 
“I just want everything to be resolved,” said Hermione. “If I don’t go, I’ll be thinking about it for God knows how long.”

When Harry opened his mouth to say something, Hermione quickly added, “I thought about it yesterday. I guess you have a lot of time to think when you’re sitting in an empty dorm. When I didn’t hear from him, I decided that I would just move on. He got the better of me, but I would just go on with my life. That’s the only way I would be able to deal with seeing him and everyone else. But when I saw him today and talked to him, I realized I wasn’t over him. I just can’t push everything aside and pretend it never happened. I actually want to hear what he has to say.”

“Do you believe his story?” Harry looked up to see Hermione shrug her shoulders. “Do you have feelings for him?”

Hermione slid down from her chair and sat on the floor next to him. She reached for her neglected mug of chocolate. It was now cold. After staring down at the liquid, she finally said, “Yes.”

Harry rested his chin against his knees. “And what if he tries to get back with you? Will you go back with him?” He then waited for her answer. But none ever came.


Chapter 13: Roles
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Chapter 13: Roles

Draco stayed crouched on the floor by the foot of his bed, and looked around him; the other beds were empty. His dorm mates were all enjoying a morning shower. Crabbe’s laughter echoed from the bathroom, followed by the snapping of a wet towel against someone’s bare buttocks.

Draco opened his trunk and reached inside.

As he pulled out his journal, his head began to throb, forcing him to drop it into his lap. He lowered his head and massaged his temples. The pain began the previous night, and it now came in intense waves that forced his eyes to water. The migraines were from a combination of stressors that now took over his life - one of which he would have to face that night.

When the pounding had finally subsided, he opened his eyes. Down in his lap, the pages of the journal were now opened to an entry he had made the night before.

5 January 1998

Everything went according to plan with Hermione. I said everything I had to say, and she seemed to believe me. She didn’t give me a definite answer when I left the library, but I know she’ll show up tomorrow night. I had a lot more I wanted to say, but I was already late for my meeting.

But before I could even reach the stairs to go down to the dungeons, I heard someone call my name. I turned around to find Terry walking out of the library. In the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him step foot in there.

“I’m studying for a test,” Terry said, before I could even ask him. “Can you believe it? It’s our first week back to class, and they’re already giving us tests. But, my parents want me to do well in the class.”

I was about to tell him that I was in a hurry and didn’t have time for chitchat, when he asked, “Can I talk to you for a moment?”

“I’m meeting Professor Snape,” I said. “And I’m running late.”

“It’ll only take a minute.” He wanted me to follow him into another hall. And when we reached a small corridor, he said, “You know I have a lot a respect for you. We all do. But if you’re involved in a relationship with Granger, I think you better keep it to yourself because the other guys might take it the wrong way.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I saw you and Granger in the library,” he said. “And you looked like you were about to kiss her.” The expression on my face must have changed because then said, “I could really care less if you guys are a couple. You have to do whatever feels right for you. I just think the House will feel differently about it. You might lose some points in the eyes of some other people if they knew you’ve become attached to her. I know Blaise would love it if that happened because he wants to take over your spot. But I definitely wouldn’t want to see that.”

“She and I are not together,” I said. “In all the years that you’ve known me, have you ever seen me get hooked by one of these girls?”

Terry shook his head.

I put my arm around his shoulders and told him, “Everyone knows I stop talking to the girl once the school finds out. But with Granger, I wanted to see if I could continue the game and see how far I could take things. And since the school year is half over and I have exams coming up, I really don’t want to waste the time and energy to find a new girl. I’ve had too much fun with her to stop now.”

Terry stared up at me like he always does when I talk to him. “I’ve never seen anyone take it to this level,” he said. “But wouldn’t it just be simpler to get a Hufflepuff? They don’t take that much time and energy.”

“That’s the easy way out,” I said. “That’s something Blaise would do. But not me. A challenge is much more interesting. You appreciate something a lot more if you work hard to get it. And trust me, I’ve worked hard to get Granger.”

He didn’t say anything for awhile. But then, he began to smile. “No wonder you’ve gotten all the girls in school.” He looked down at his watch and said, “I have to go back. My tutor is waiting for me.”

“Hey,” I shouted to him, “let’s keep this conversation between us. I don’t want all of the others knowing my secrets.”

“I won’t say a word to anyone.”

And I know he won’t.


Draco smiled to himself as he wondered what could have possessed him to say such things to Terry. But he soon decided that that was what the other boy needed and wanted to hear. And if it caused Terry to respect him even more, then so be it.

But he suddenly stopped smiling when his gaze drifted to the parchment sitting on his bed. The letter was from his father, and in it, Mr. Malfoy requested that Draco return home during the Easter holidays. A party was to be thrown in his honor to acknowledge two significant events taking place in his life.

Draco knew that one of these events centered on his initiation as a Death Eater. It would be at this gala that his parents would be able to publicly announce to their friends that he was in training to take over his father’s position as Head of Council. After this public announcement, his meetings with the Dark Lord would begin, as well as his Loyalty Test - all of which would be facilitated by his father. And when all was completed, he would be fitted for his own set of red robes.

The second announcement would deal with Pansy. This, Draco was sure of. What was once a rumor circulating around the common room, filling Pansy’s friends with envy, would soon become reality. But Draco wasn’t surprised that things would unfold in this manner, after all, his parents’ coupling had occurred in the same fashion.

Of course, all of this would ruin his plans with Hermione. But that was something he would deal with at a later time.

After resting his head on his mattress for several minutes, Draco finally reached for his inkpot. As he twirled the quill between his fingers, he decided not to make another entry at that time; he was too tired to conjure up a cohesive thought. But as his mind drifted back to Easter and Pansy, he flipped through several pages of his journal until he reached an entry he had made about her.

3 January 1998 (Later that night)

The air felt crisp tonight. I even closed my eyes and let the breeze hit my face. This was the only time I was able to escape the disastrous evening Pansy had arranged for us. I had agreed to take a stroll with her in the gardens, but I didn’t know two other couples would be joining us.

Every time I tried to get a moment of peace, the boy who was dating Pansy’s fat friend would approach me and try to draw me into a conversation. “It’s too bad about the last Quidditch match,” he said. “We were so close. If only that Chaser hadn’t crashed into the pole. I hope he’s okay.”

I didn’t want to think about that match. It was already a humiliating defeat. And to Hufflepuff, of all houses.

“Do you know,” the skinny boy said again, “who’s going to replace him in the next game?”

I didn’t answer and just walked away. He’d been asking me that question all night, knowing full well that one of our reserve players will take the place of Chaser. Besides, he and several of his friends had tried out for the team, and they were all horrible.

Pansy grabbed my arm and pulled me back to the group. “I’m pretty sure Draco will try to put in a good word for you with Professor Snape,” she said to the skinny boy. She then flashed me one of her fake smiles and said, “Won’t you, Honey?”

She was doing a lot of that “Honey” and “Dear” stuff tonight. And she kept putting her arm around me and placing her hand in my back pocket. But that act ended when we headed back inside.

“Why did you have to act like that?” she asked. “You didn’t say one word to any of them.”

“I thought you did enough talking for the both of us.”

“You could have at least acted like a gentleman in front of my friends. And why didn’t you say anything when Gina’s boyfriend tried to start a conversation with you?”

“Because I’m not interested in what he has to say,” I responded. “You should be happy I even showed up tonight. I had better things to do than hang out with your dull friends.”

“Considering the misery you’ve put me though, the least you could have done was act like a pleasant person.”

I ignored her and tried to get to the castle doors a fast as possible. But she grabbed by robes. “You’ve made me the laughing stock of the whole school,” she said. “And now I have to explain to my friends why my boyfriend would want to be with an ugly cow like Granger when he’s got me by his side.”

“Do we have to go through this again?” I shouted. “Why do you have to bring it up every five minutes?”

“Because that’s the only thing everyone in school is talking about. I can’t believe you would do this to me. And just for the sake of bragging to your friends. Well, I hope you enjoyed it.”

I grabbed her arm and pulled her as close to me as possible. “Yeah, I did enjoy it,” I said. “I loved putting my hands all over her body. And you know where all of this took place? In the guesthouse. In your favorite bedroom. And you know what else? It was bloody fantastic. A lot better than you.”

She slapped me hard across the face. She then tried to scratch me, but I moved away. I ended up slipping on a pebble and falling on my arse. Pansy just stood there and started to laugh.

While I was getting up, I saw an owl circling above us. It landed on the ground next to me. I assumed the letter was from Professor Snape, since he was the only one who’s ever sent me a night post. But when I realized it was Hermione’s writing, I walked away from Pansy, so I could read in private.

“Why are you getting a letter at this time of the night?” asked Pansy. She was right behind me, trying to see what I was reading. “Is everything all right?”

She placed her hand on my back and whispered, “Does Professor Snape want you to go to his chambers? I know he’s been worried about the Quidditch team, but does he have to bother you every night?”

I didn’t say anything to her and shoved the letter in my pocket.

Pansy put her hands on her hips and asked, “Is it from her?”

“What if it is? Why would that bother you? It’s not like it’s the first time that this has ever happened. You never made this kinda fuss in the past.”

“This is different than all the other times,” she said. “I look in your face and I can tell there’s something more going on.”

I tried to ignore her, but she kept talking.

“My friend saw you looking through a jewelry catalog in the common room right before Christmas. She said you placed an order for a necklace. So, you can imagine how disappointed I was when a necklace didn’t arrive at my house during the break.”

“What do you care?” I asked. I lifted her left hand and looked down at the ring she promised never to wear in public. “You got what you wanted. So, what does it matter?”

“It matters because things are starting to resemble last year, when you were so consumed with that Ravenclaw girl. I had to find out about her from other people too—“

That’s when I lost it and screamed, “I thought I told you I never wanted to talk about that again. Why can’t you just bury it? That was ages ago.”

It was then that the other couples made their way to where we were. Pansy’s cheeks turned bright red when she saw the looks on their faces. I knew she wouldn’t say anything else to me. Not in front of her friends. She knew I could humiliate her in front of them.

But I didn’t waste my time with her. I walked back to the dorms by myself.


Draco stared down at the words he had written for several minutes. It was then that his mind became clear. Now that the minor pains and aches in his head had momentarily subsided, he was finally able to take a stance on the issues taking over his life. He took out a sheet of parchment from his trunk and began to compose a letter to his father. When he was finished, he folded the letter and placed it in the pocket of his robes.

He placed his head in his hands and closed his eyes. It was the right decision, he said to himself. Now that the matter was settled, he was able to find peace of mind; and having the quiet dorm all to himself added to his relaxation. But even that was short-lived.

The door creaked open and Pansy walked into the room. Draco quickly waved his wand over his journal, and the words on the pages disappeared. He then placed it back in the bottom of his trunk, before securing the lock. He cast a suspicious glance towards Pansy and asked, “What do you want?”

She didn’t say anything and took a seat on the floor next to him. She placed a hand on his leg and said, “I came to apologize for being so mean to you these past couple of days. I shouldn’t have treated you like that.”

Her hand moved to his face, and she began to brush the hair from his brow. “It’s just been frustrating for me to listen to everyone talk about Gra—“ She immediately stopped talking when she heard Draco make a noise. “Well, I shouldn’t have acted the way I did about everything.”

It was then that Draco knew his father had sent a letter to Pansy as well. But he kept this knowledge to himself, and allowed her to run her fingers up and down his neck. “No more theatrics?” he asked.

“No more,” she answered back.

Pansy wrapped her arms around him. Draco stared out into the sun soaked room while she placed kisses on his cheek and then his ear.

This perfect moment was interrupted when a freshly showered Crabbe walked into the dorm, fully naked. The towel that was supposed to cover his modesty was draped over his arm. He froze when his eyes met Pansy’s. She didn’t say a word as her gaze moved up and down his body. She then laughed.

~*~*~

Hermione’s hand shook slightly as she placed her report in her bag. An uncontrollable jitteriness coursed through her body. It had been the same during the night, when sleep came to her in thirty minutes intervals. Every time she closed her eyes, the meeting with Draco in the library would flash in her mind. She had spent much of the night staring blurry-eyed out of the window while analyzing Draco’s words.

The report still in her hand, she lifted it from the bag and gazed upon it. Not a word on that parchment had been altered since the day she had returned from Malfoy Manor. She could have added a paragraph or two about his character, but she would have done herself a disservice if she let her anger disrupt the flow of her essay.

She sat down on the edge of her bed and brought her finger to her temples. She stayed this way for several minutes. This helped to alleviate her stress, plus, it had the added bonus of allowing her to avoid Harry – who was downstairs waiting for her.

When Hermione finally made her way to the Great Hall, she found a seat across the table from Harry and Ron. They were not sitting in their usual spot in the middle of the long table, but close to the doors, away from most of their dorm mates. After giving her a quick smile, Ron returned to his conversation with Dean and Seamus about the card game –which would involve the exchange of money and not just candy - they were to have that night. It was because of this that they sat so far away from the teachers’ table.

But while the other boys chatted loudly around him, Harry sat quietly, with his eyes steady on Hermione. Before any words were exchanged, Hermione flashed a nervous gaze in Ron’s direction.

Reading her thoughts, Harry touched her hand and whispered, “I didn’t tell him.”

Hermione was then finally able to relax. It was not as though she was purposely being cruel by not involving Ron in her dilemma. But she and Harry both knew that Ron would not have handled the situation tactfully. And at the present, Hermione did not need anymore distractions in her life. So, she allowed her friend to remain in blissful ignorance, as he joked of all the money he would make that night from Seamus.

Harry, on the other hand, stared at Hermione during their entire meal. Although he did not utter a word, his face displayed the concern and worry that he felt for her. Hermione kept her gaze fixed on her plate.

But one person that she could not avoid looking at was Draco. She noticed that he, too, did not touch his food, as a full plate sat before him. Draco folded his hands and placed them under his chin. Hermione tried to catch his gaze, but his eyes never traveled beyond the Slytherin sitting across from him.

“I don’t want you to go tonight,” said Harry. He looked around to make sure that the other students at the table were preoccupied with their food or engaged in other conversations, before he leaned forward and said, “He’s going to continue using you. Look at all the girls at the Ravenclaw table who’ve been with him. Do they look happy to you?”

Hermione did not reply, nor did she turn her head to glance at the table behind her. She looked down at her plate and began to stab her sausages with her fork. And with that, all communication between them stopped. But Hermione could still feel Harry’s eyes on her.

~*~*~

The noise level in Professor Monroe’s Sociology class rose as the students began to chat loudly amongst themselves about their reports. Some even displayed their long roll of parchment proudly on their desk, so others could marvel at their work. Draco did neither of these things, as he sat quietly at the back of the room, pretending to listen to Crabbe’s crude jokes. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Hermione staring at him. But he was not the only one who noticed this.

“The girl can’t seem to get enough of you, “said Crabbe. He then proceeded to poke Draco’s arm with a plump finger.

“Hey, watch this,” Goyle said excitedly. He looked in Hermione’s direction and said loudly, “He doesn’t want you anymore. You’re used goods.” The other Slytherins began to laugh. A weak smile trickled onto Draco’s lips, before fading away.

Crabbe stopped laughing momentarily to exclaim, “I think we upset her, because she’s glaring at us.”

But before any of them could make any other gestures towards Hermione, Professor Monroe clapped her hands loudly together and said, “Let us begin. I’m looking forward to your reports. I’ve heard several of you talking positively about this experience. I hope some friendships were formed as a result of this.”

Yes, this project caused several new alliances to form, but a far larger number of rivalries now existed as well. Devon McCoy from Ravenclaw flashed a menacing glare towards Christina Bennett of Hufflepuff. McCoy did not appreciate Bennett’s assessment that he suffered from an inferiority complex, which caused him to “lash out irrationally at others.”

“I can’t wait to read the wonderful insight you guys have learned about one another,” the professor went on. “It should be very fascinating. I’m especially interested in those that ventured outside their own houses.” At that moment, her gaze drifted from Hermione to Draco. “So, at this time, please hand in your assignments.”

Millicent stayed seated at her desk, as she continued to work on her report. After crossing out several poorly written sentences, she threw her hands up in the air and said, “Screw it.” She hastily rolled up her report and proceeded to the front of the class. After dropping her report on the professor’s desk, she began to snicker when she caught sight of the neatly tied red ribbon that Justin Finch-Fletchley had wrapped around his roll of parchment.

“Hey Finch,” she called out. “Maybe you should just wear that ribbon in your hair.” Justin quickly handed over his report, before making a hasty retreat back to his chair. “I wonder what ‘wonderful insight’ your partner discovered about you,” Millicent continued. “Could it be that you like dic—“

“That’s enough, Ms. Bulstrode,” said Professor Monroe. “Go back to your seat.”

While the rest of his Slytherin colleagues trudged up to the front of the class – carrying parchment that was clearly under the required minimum and muttering about the pointlessness of the assignment – Draco remained seated. He glanced over at Hermione; she, too, had not yet turned in her report. But after the last of the students from the Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and Ravenclaw side of the room had returned to their seat, Hermione finally got up to submit her report. It was only after Hermione was seated again that Draco finally went to the front of the class.

~*~*~

At around seven that evening, Hermione found herself sitting on the steps leading up to the girls’ dorms. She’d been sitting there for nearly an hour, garnering looks of annoyances from those that tried to squeeze past her. And just when she was mustering up the courage to head towards the portrait hole, she looked up and saw Harry and Ron walk into the room.

Ron was carrying a box containing packets of vinegar flavored crisps, while Harry struggled to hold onto a large jug of pumpkin juice. The boys placed these items on top of the table that now stood in the middle of the room. After unloading his burden, Harry took a seat next to her.

“I guess you’re not going to stay for the card game,” he said. When Hermione didn’t respond, Harry asked, “Why are you giving him the benefit of the doubt? You know he’s going to continue to lie to you.”

“I know you’re worried about me,” said Hermione, “but this isn’t your problem.”

“Of course it’s my problem. It’s been my problem ever since you started doing this study thing with him. And after what you told me last night, how can you expect me to suddenly stop caring?” He tried to touch her face, but Hermione moved away from him. “He showed no remorse, you know. When Ron and I met up with him in the hall, he didn’t seem the least bit sorry about what he’d put you through. And now, you’re going to give him the luxury of brainwashing you some more? What’s wrong with you Hermione?”

“Can you please not yell at me right now? I already have enough on my mind.”

“Maybe we should involve Ron in this conversation,” said Harry. “That way, you can learn the true meaning of yelling.”

It was then that Hermione finally looked Harry in the face. “Don’t. You know what he’s like.” Hermione’s gaze then darted to Ron, who was berating a small boy that had tried to steal some crisps from the box.

“Yes, I know what he’s like. But maybe that’s what you need at the moment. You need someone like him to bring you back to your senses. Because God knows you’re not listening to me.”

“I am listening to—“

“No, you’re not, “said Harry. “Because if you were, you wouldn’t even consider seeing him tonight. You’d stay here with us.” He then pulled her robes out of her hands and tossed them into a nearby chair. “Please Hermione. Don’t do this. Malfoy doesn’t deserve this kind of decency. You should just leave him to rot in that room.”



~*~*~

7 October 1997

Brandon seems to be the hero of the House. He told the dorm about an escapade he had with Parvati in the bathroom. He leads all of us in the Gryffindor department.

I haven’t thought about Parvati in a long time. I almost had her. That would have made me the first in my class to have a Gryffindor. Too bad her sister talked her out of it.

Brandon said Parvati wouldn’t have sex with him. But when I was talking to her, she offered me more than just her hand. I still catch her looking at me in class.

I think I still have the letters she used to write me. I could always show them to the other guys as proof that I got her long before Brandon did. But what’s the point, if there’s no real truth behind it?

She’s Brandon’s conquest now.


9 October 1997

Hermione Granger. She got me. I can still see her smirking at me from the Gryffindor table. She talked to Monroe, and now I have to continue with this project. And of course Father will do nothing to get me out of it. He says he has other matters to deal with. Crabbe says I shouldn’t show up and should just let her wait for me all night in the library. That was a temping idea.

Blaise was sitting across the table from me and he kept asking Brandon for more details about his encounter with Parvati. He wanted to know exactly what Parvati’s naked body looked like, especially her breasts. All of the first and second year boys came into our section of the table. They were easily impressed by Brandon’s bathroom encounter, too.

Sharing a brief moment with someone is not as impressive as working for months to gain the trust and love of someone who despises you. What I went through with Mandy was impressive. And I was certainly rewarded with more than just one night in a bath tub with her.

Granger was glaring at me during the whole meal. That was the same look Mandy used to give me in class, before everything started. She reminds me of the old Mandy. She carries herself in the same confident manner that Mandy used to. They even look alike. The same curly hair, same high and mighty attitude. But it only took me a couple of weeks to rid Mandy of that.

Granger would probably take the same amount of time. Maybe longer, since she’s friends with Potter and Weasley. I don’t think she would respond the same way to my romantic gestures like Mandy did. After a couple of weeks, yes. But not right away. With her, things would have to go more slowly.

Crabbe asked me again if I was going. I think I will.


10 October 1997

Good old Madam Pince. She hasn’t changed her habits in five years. When I got to the library, she was in the Arts section sorting out the books. I lingered by the Sports section for several minutes, until she went to the back of the room to yell at some first years who were acting up. I walked up to the front desk and reached behind her “Things to do” tray. And as usual, the key to the Check-out registry was still behind there.

I unlocked the right hand drawer of the cabinet and took out the list containing all of the students’ names. When I tapped my wand on Granger’s name, a long sheet of parchment unrolled itself in my hands. Her list of check outs was longer than Mandy’s.

In the past week, she had checked out several books on gender inequality. I noticed that she had also put in a request for the school to purchase a book by a Muggle woman named Davinia McCloud. Pince likes to do things on the cheap, so I doubt that’s ever going to happen. I’ve seen McCloud’s oldest son at the Ministry a couple of times. He gets funny when people ask him about his mother. I guess he doesn’t like to admit he’s a half-blood. He gave me his card that last time. I think I still have it. There was another book on Granger’s request list, a book of poetry by yet another Muggle. I think I might have to get this one from Charles.

Her list contained mostly academic books, but there were a few odd check-outs thrown in. There was one book she took out two weeks ago called The Smart Witch’s Burden. I knew there would be something like that hiding in her records. And she had once checked out Quidditch: An Everyday Guide, only to return it the next day. She replaced that book with The ABCs of Quidditch and So, You Know Nothing About Quidditch.

I copied down her records and tapped my wand on her name again. I was able to place everything back in the file before Pince walked back to the front of the room. She gave me a hard look when she passed me. “You’re not going to give me a hard time tonight are you?” she asked.

“No ma’am.”

When I got back from the library, I walked up the stairs to the dorms and knocked on the door where some of the fifth year boys were asleep. “I need to speak to Charles,” I said when a small dark haired boy answered. After a moment, Charles came to the door. Before I could say anything, he reached out his hand. In his palm was a galleon.

“That’s all the money I have,” he said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t pay Crabbe his money earlier, but my parents haven’t been sending me much.”

“I’m not here for that. I need you to do something for me. And if you do it, you won’t have to pay Crabbe ever again.” When he nodded, I said, “You know that catalog you were looking at the other day? Well, I need it.”

“But they’re just full of Muggle books,” he said.

“I’m aware of that.” When he kept staring at me, I said, “I need it for a class assignment. There are some books in there I need to order.”

He disappeared into the room and came back carrying the catalog. When he handed it to me, I told him, “I’ll mark off the books that I want, but I’ll need you to order them for me in your name. I’ll give you the money. And when the books come in, I want you to wrap them in plain parchment and owl them to me. You’ll get the catalog back tomorrow morning. Meet me in the common room at six. No one will be up at that time.”

When I walked back to my own dorm, he was still standing by the door staring at me.


11 October 1997

Charles came through for me today. I met with him this morning to give him back his catalog and by dinnertime, my books were delivered to me. The wrapping was plain, like I had requested. Everyone just assumed I was getting another package of chocolates from my mother.

Crabbe was pretty angry when I told him Charles was now off-limits. “Why are you protecting that kid?” he asked. “Did he tell you some sob story about his parents having money troubles? If he did, he’s lying. His family’s rich.”

“That’s none of your business. All you need to know is you can’t go after him for money anymore, or anyone else is his dorm, for that matter.”

“God dammit.” He slammed his fist down on the table and caused his pumpkin juice to spill into his porridge. “What am I going to do for money, now?”

“Why don’t you just ask your parents for it?” I asked.

“I already tried,” he said. “They’re saving it to remodel the house. I’m much more important than that bloody house.”

I know his parents are strapped for money, but it has nothing to do with any remodeling or renovation projects. Mr. Crabbe came over to the manor right before school started and begged Father to give him a loan. I overheard him graveling and pleading with Father through the office door. It seems as though Mr. Crabbe made some bad investments with his money. I was tempted to tell Crabbe the truth, but I didn’t say anything about it.

“Whatever you do,” I said, “make sure it doesn’t involve Charles and his dorm mates or I’ll kill you myself.”


12 October 1997

Potter and Weasley. I had to spend most of my night staring at them in the library and listening to their idiotic responses to the easiest test questions. This wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my evening, but Granger had insisted I join them during their session. Towards the end, even she got frustrated with them and began to yell.

I was sitting closest to Weasley, and after he failed to answer a question, I mumbled, “Idiot,” under my breath. He heard me. He got mad and threatened to jam his foot in my mouth if I didn’t shut up. Granger snapped at him and told him to be quiet. When Weasley complained that I was saying things to him, Granger said she didn’t hear me say a word.

Potter didn’t say anything to me during the session, but he glared at me, like I had just stolen something from him. I ignored him and kept my attention on Granger. She kept looking back at me. But she always made it look like it was an accident, as if she was turning her head and her eyes just happened to meet mine.

After Potter and Weasley stormed off, she suggested that we study together for Binns’ exam. That session should be interesting.


14 October 1997

Professor Snape and I met tonight. “You’re late,” he said when I walked into the classroom.

“I’m sorry, sir.” I grabbed a chair from the corner of the room and dragged it next to his desk. He didn’t start talking right away and just stared at me. “I’m sorry,” I said again.

“If I have to go through the trouble of mentoring you, then you have to show up on time. I don’t know what’s going on with you but you’re slipping this term. You’re preoccupied with something and it’s affecting everything you do. I can definitely see a difference in the work you turn in. During the last class, the potion you brewed was a bit off.”

“But it couldn’t have been—“

“Don’t interrupt me,” he said. “The potion, if you had done it correctly, was supposed to turn a bright, green color.” He pulled a small glass bottle from his pocket and held it close to my face. “Please tell me what color this is.”

“A murky green?”

“A swamp green. I’m going to have to mark you down for this.” He placed the bottle on the table. “And I’m not happy with your choice of classes for this year as well. You know how I feel about that gender nonsense you’re taking.”

“It fulfills a school requirement,” I said.

“So do a lot of other classes.” He grabbed the bottle from his desk and threw it into the bin. “I also hear that the Quidditch practices have been disastrous.”

“We’ve only had two of them,” I said. “And is it my fault that none of the other players are any good?”

“Yes, it is. As the Captain, you’re responsible for picking the team. And if they are all bad, then it’s your fault—“

“But everyone who tried out was bad. It’s not like I was picking from a great crop of players. You saw them yourself. Some of them didn’t even know how to ride a broom. Who the hell tries out for Quidditch when they don’t even know how to ride?”

Professor Snape got to his feet. I thought he was going to start yelling again, but he didn’t. He began to put on his robes. “I think this session is over.” As he walked to the door, he turned around and said, “And you obviously can’t be too ashamed of the team if you’re willing to invite outsiders to the practice.”

I didn’t say anything to him in response and looked away.

“For your sake,” he said, “I hope I don’t hear anymore stories about Granger being at another practice.”

When I got back to the dorm, most of the other students were asleep. The ones that were still up were crammed at the table nearest the fireplace, while they tried to finish their class assignments. I opened the door to my dorm and saw that Goyle was the only one in the room. But he was on his way out, probably to help Crabbe steal more food from the kitchens. I didn’t ask. As he passed me, he stopped and asked, “Are you all right? Your face looks a little red or something.”

I lean against the doorway. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just feeling a lot of pressure.”

“Pressure? You mean, in your stomach? From gas?”

“No, not from gas,” I said. “Nevermind. Just go and leave me alone.”

I lay on my bed and pulled the covers over my head. I could still hear him standing by the door, breathing heavy. But he finally left after a couple of minutes.


15 October 1997

Douglas McCloud was very happy to get my note. It’s amazing how a simple question could propel him to write a response that was so long. It took forever to read his letter. He spent most of it talking about how he admires my family and what a respectable wizard my father is. He wanted to know if I would arrange a meeting between Father and himself. It was at the very end of the letter that he finally answered my question. He agreed to send me a copy of his mother’s book. He asked if I wanted his mother to autograph it. I told him no. An autograph would have been too much. Granger would have gotten suspicious.

Twenty minutes after I owled my response to him, the book was delivered. I was able to send it to Granger right before breakfast.

I wasn’t rewarded for my efforts like I thought. Granger didn’t even acknowledgement me when she got it. It didn’t even matter that the book was a first edition. She simply tossed it in her bag and went back to her conversation with Potter.

But I caught her staring at me during Potions. She was trying to be discreet about it, but I could clearly see her looking my way. And she kept peeking at the book during the end of class.


16 October 1997

I had a study session with her tonight. It ran longer than I had expected. She mentioned the date of the Wiccan Wars. “I don’t know why I got that wrong,” she said. “It was on the tip of my tongue. My head was just spinning at the moment.”

I didn’t say anything and let her believe what she wanted.

She was wearing that perfume again. The same one that made me sick on our first meeting. But it smelled lighter this evening, less sweet and pungent. While she talked, I just stared at her face. She has very full lips. A few strands of hair got stuck to her lips. I kept staring at the spot during most of the session.

I got back at the dorm well past two in the morning. Everyone else was sleeping. I would have gone to bed as well, but my mind kept drifting back to her. Every time I closed my eyes, I would see her face.

I reached for the top drawer of my nightstand and pulled out the yearbook from sixth year. And there on page eighty-five was a black and white picture of her staring back at me. A look of disgust was on her face.

I left the book opened across my chest and reached underneath the covers. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine a smile on her face. But mostly, I thought of her moistened lips and what they would feel like against my skin.

It was working for a moment, until I opened my eyes and saw the glare her portrait was giving me. She then turned her back to me. I stopped. And just as I closed the book, I heard a noise coming from under my bed. I pulled out my wand and asked, “Who’s there?”

Nobody said anything for a long time, until I heard a loud thud, followed by an “Ow.” Finally, Crabbe crawled out from under my bed, rubbing the top of his head. His mouth was covered in chocolate.

“It’s just me, Malfoy. I was having some of your candy. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

I shoved the yearbook under my pillow before he could see it. “How long have you been under there?”

“Not long.” He bit off the head of the chocolate frog in his hand, and laughed as the legs began to twitch. “What are you doing back so late? You have someone new?” He then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

I didn’t say anything and watched him chew with his mouth open. A piece of nougat flew out of his mouth and landed on his shirt.

”You’re making me sick,” I said. “Just take the rest of the candy and go.” For the rest of the night, I could hear him chewing loudly in his bed.


23 October 1997

I shouldn’t have done that tonight, but I did. I kissed her. It happened in the halls of the fifth floor. She seemed a little panicked about our project and suddenly wanted to back out of it. I convinced her to continue. And while she was talking, I kissed her.

She ended up hitting the back of her head on the wall because she was trying to get away from me. I think she cut herself. She didn’t kiss me back the first time, but she seemed a little more relaxed the second time around. I felt her mouth open and I could have sworn she wrapped her arms around my waist. There was something there. So, I guess it was a good move after all.

I’ll see how she acts towards me tomorrow.


24 October 1997

Nothing today. But I kinda knew she would act this way. She didn’t even stare at me like she used to. She was writing down something on some parchment throughout breakfast. She might have been working on her report. But sometimes I would catch her looking down, but her hand wouldn’t be moving. I thought maybe she might look at me then, but she never did.


26 October 1997

Quidditch practice went a lot smoother tonight, but the other players are still not grasping the strategies. They had trouble flying in formation and some of them acted like I was speaking in a different language when I gave them directions. But overall, they showed some improvement.

Blaise walked into the changing room after practice like he was a member of the team. He’s done that a couple of times in the past. He sat down on the bench and started to whisper some things to Evan.

“You have to change the way you fly into the opposition’s zone,” I heard him say. “You’re the best player in here, so you know the other team’s players will be going for you.”

“Do you mind not filling my players with your bull?” I said.

He acted as though I was talking to someone else, but he eventually looked up at me. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to be helpful. Since some of your ideas aren’t working, I thought he could benefit from my expertise.”

“I’m well aware of everyone’s abilities, so I don’t need your help.”

Everyone stopped getting dressed and turned around to look at us.

“You do need my help,” Blaise said. “Because you judgment seems to be lacking lately. First, you invite Granger to a practice, now you—“

“I knew you were the one who told Professor Snape about that.”

He got up from his seat and walked towards me. “Why shouldn’t I inform him? As Captain, you weren’t doing a very good job of protecting the team. For all we know, Granger could have been jotting down notes to take back to Potter. We all know that you’re stuck doing some project with her, but that doesn’t mean you have to jeopardized the integrity of the—“

I punched him in the mouth. It hurt like crazy and my knuckles started to bleed, but it was worth it. I stood over him, ready to hit him again, but Terry pulled me away. “Draco, don’t,” he said. “That’s your catching hand.”

Blaise didn’t say anything to me as he walked out of the room with his hand over his mouth.


29 October 1997

I was lying in my bed tonight, looking through some of the books that Charles had sent me this morning. I had meant to give them to Hermione, but since she’s still staying away from me, I have to keep them. I flipped through one book that was filled with poems. Most of them were about regret and sorrow. One of them caught my eye. I took out my quill and started to write it down.

Blaise was busy writing something on his bed as well. He kept changing the color of his ink from red to black, which made it look as though he was writing a ransom letter. He looked over at me a couple of times. He probably wanted me to ask him what he was doing. But I ignored him and started working on my letter to Hermione.

When I was getting ready to go to sleep, Blaise walked up to me and sat on the edge of my bed. The cut on his upper lip was still present. “I’ve been doing some tasks for the Lord,” he said. Before I could say anything, he blurted, “Don’t look so surprised. Yours is not the only family that He trusts. In fact, He plans to spend the summer at our home.”

I knew of no such plans. I’m not sure where He’ll be next summer, but I’m certain it won’t be at Blaise’s run-down manor.

“And I wouldn’t be surprised if I get chosen because of this,” he said.

I wanted to give him several words of warning when it came to dealing the Lord, but since he looked so satisfied with himself, I decided not to. He’ll learn, eventually. He went back to his bed and closed the curtains around him.


30 October 1997

She certainly made my blood boil tonight. She’d finally agreed to meet with me, but when she showed up, she gave me a hard time. She then went out of her way to suggest that my relationship with Mandy was meaningless. That’s when I told her to get out of the room. I surprised myself too when I heard the words come out of my mouth. But at that moment, I didn’t want anything to do with her.

But she found me in the hall and apologized. I don’t even remember if she did it properly, but she seemed really sorry though. She made it up to me with a kiss. It was more than a kiss, actually. We stayed in the hallway beside that statue of Gorr for about ten minutes. It wasn’t as passionate as I would have liked, but she must have been nervous. She kept her mouth closed during most of it.

I was able to run my hands up and down her body. And from what I could feel, she seemed really fit. But she did tense up a bit when I touched her bum.

“Why don’t we go back to the room,” I said. “Someone might walk by and catch us here.” She didn’t say anything for awhile, and I couldn’t read the expression on her face because her hand was covering it. But she nodded. While we were walking back to the room, she kept some distance between us.

When we were back in the room, she stood in front of the mirror, fixing her hair. I walked up behind her and touched her arm. She nearly jumped. “I’m actually kind of tired,” she said. “I think I’m gonna go back to the dorms. I’ve been getting back late these past couple of nights, and I don’t want the Fat Lady to be mad at me. But I’ll see you later.”

I didn’t go back to the dungeons right away. I could still smell her on my robes, and I know Pansy would have noticed if I came back smelling like perfume. I went down to the laundry room and knocked on the door. The house-elves were not happy that I was there, but they did what they were told. They made me wait outside while they cleaned my robes.


3 November 1997

“What’s with the womanizing?” That’s the question she finally asked me today. I was wondering how long it would take for her to get to it. I know it’s been on her mind since the beginning.

“You’ve said that you were just searching for the right girl.” She then made a face like she wanted to roll her eyes. “But do you have to date every girl in the school?”

“Can’t I have some fun while I search?” I said. “Because it’s all about pleasure and fun. Nothing more, nothing less.” If looks could kill, I would have burst into flames at that moment. “But, why are you judging me when your friend does the same thing? I’ve seen Weasley sneaking around on more than one occasion.”

She ignored my comment and went on to her next question. “Do you do it to show off to your peers? Because if you ask me, it seems as though you and the other boys in your house have a little competition going on.”

“Have you ever heard me boasting to my friends, or seen me pointing to different girls in the hall and say, ‘I’ve been with her?’”

“No. But I’ve listened to the way you guys talk about girls in Potions. You guys are always comparing notes, and trying to figure out who got further. You all talk so loudly, I’m surprised Professor Snape doesn’t say anything about—Maybe he’s the one that’s created this whole macho culture in your house.”

She pulled out a roll of parchment from her bag and jotted something down. She was sitting pretty close to me on the floor, so I reached over and touched her leg. She didn’t jump like last time, but she froze. “Hermione,” I said, “You’re making too big a deal out of this. It’s not like I’m sleeping around with everyone. It’s only a bit of snogging.”

When I withdrew my hand, she seemed to relax a bit more. She then went back to her writing. I know our conversation will end up in her report somewhere.


5 November 1997

We talked all night again. It’s funny how a question such as “What was it like growing up in that big manor?” could result in a three hour conversation about my childhood. After mentioning my weekly etiquette lessons and monthly Phoenix Scout meetings, she said, “Phoenix Scouts? You don’t seem the type.”

“Well, it was a little against my will,” I said. “But I guess my mother wanted a well rounded child.”

“What was it like?” she asked.

“Horrible. Especially the camping trips. We had to sleep on the ground, and we couldn’t use any magic. On the first day, they made us rub two sticks together. We didn’t even know what that was supposed to do.”

After she stopped laughing, she didn’t say anything for awhile and just continued to stare up at me. She placed her hand on my arm. “Tell me more about you as a small boy.”

“Nothing special ever happened when I was little. Just the usual Quidditch practices and of course magic lessons with my tutor.”

“Magic lessons?” she asked. “But you were underage.”

“I know. But he never taught me any real magic. All he tried to do was help me focus my powers a little better. Because when I was little, I was a bit headstrong. And when I didn’t get what I wanted, I used to make my mother’s vases explode. She lost a lot of vases that one year she wouldn’t get me the broom I wanted.”

I kept looking down at her every few minutes to check if she was still paying attention. She was. She never once looked away or tried to interject her own opinions or thoughts. She let out a loud yawn while I was talking. When I asked if she wanted to go back to the dorms, she said, “No.”

“We could always spend the night in here,” I said. “I have an alarm on my watch that goes off at six in the morning. We could sneak back in our dorms tomorrow, and no one will ever know.” When she made a face, I said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to fondle you in your sleep.”

She laughed, but I know that’s what she was thinking I’d do.

I went on to talk about my first flying lesson, when I noticed that her eyes were starting to close. I stopped talking, and watched her sleep.


9 November 1997

Hermione and I had our first encounter in that room tonight. It was on the same spot on the floor where we always sat. She began things by touching my face. “You have an eyelash on your cheek,” she said. After she had removed the eyelash, I grabbed her hand. She didn’t pull away. I didn’t kiss her immediately, and started things off by running my fingers through her hair. She closed her eyes.

“Open your eyes,” I said. I wanted to see the look on her face when I did the next thing. I placed both of my hands on her thighs. I felt her muscles tighten, but she didn’t move away. I moved my hands up her legs, but stopped before I got very far. I gave her a kiss on the lips. She kissed me back.



12 November 1997

We were in the room again tonight. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but we found ourselves lying on the floor side by side. She had taken off her shoes and was now beginning to rub her toes against my leg. I sat up on one elbow and looked down at her.

“Are you a virgin?” I asked.

She stopped rubbing my leg and stared at me for a long while. “What kind of question is that?” She then looked away. I couldn’t see her face, but I’m sure she was blushing. “I’m not answering that,” she said.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Wow, no wonder Krum was playing so badly when you two were together. He was probably frustrated from all that unreleased sexual energy.” She then hit me hard on the arm. But it didn’t hurt. “Why don’t girls ever answer that question?” I asked.

“Because we’ll be judge no matter what answer we give. I mean, wouldn’t you think differently about a girl if you knew she had been with half the school?”

“I guess,” I said. “But I’ve never had that problem. Most of the girls I’ve been with had been virgins and the other one…well, I already knew about her past.”

“That pretty much answers my question about whether or not you’re a virgin.” She looked down at her hands for awhile and then asked, “How many girls have you slept with?”

“Not many.” I didn’t want to say anything about it, but when she kept staring at me, I said, “Three. I’ve only slept with three girls. And I’m sure you can guess who one of them is.”

“Did the other two go to our school as well?”

“Just one other girl,” I said. “But that’s a discussion for a different day.”

She rolled her robes into a tight ball and placed it under her head. She stared up at the ceiling. “What about the third girl? How did you meet her?”

“She wasn’t exactly a girl,” I said. “She was three years older than me. She used to work as my mother’s personal assistant. But this was over three years ago. And yes, I was fourteen when I lost my virginity. I can see you doing the math in your head. I was fourteen and she was seventeen. I guess it was inevitable since we lived in the same house. But it wasn’t anything special. It only took place during that summer. It would have been longer if my mother hadn’t fired her. I guess she felt a need to protect me. Plus other people in the house were starting to take an interest—“ I stopped myself before I finished. “Now that I’ve shared so much with you, can you do me the honor of answering my question?”

“Yes,” said Hermione. “Yes, I am a virgin.” She only half looked at me when she said that.

We didn’t talk for awhile after that. We just listened to the rain. After a couple of minutes, she was lying with her head against my chest. I took hold of her hand and moved her up towards me. I kissed her. In the process, I rolled on top of her. When she gave out a little noise, I asked if she was all right.

“Yes,” she said. “I just wasn’t prepared to have you on me like this.”

“I can get off if you think I’m too heavy.”

“No, you’re okay.”

I repositioned myself so that I wasn’t lying directly on top of her. When she finally looked comfortable, I kissed her again. Halfway through it, I must have pressed myself down hard against her, because she gasped. That’s when she pushed me away.

“I can feel…I can feel you,” she said. “Rubbing up against me.”

I smiled at her. “Does that bother you?”

“No. But I don’t want you to think that I’m going to sleep with you.”

“I wasn’t thinking that,” I said. She eventually kissed me again after a couple of minutes. But I didn’t lie on top of her again.



Chapter 14: Roles (Continued)
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Chapter 13: Roles (Continued)


3 December 1997

I got a catalog from Caine’s Flower Shop today. I was happy to get it, too. I was thinking of sending Hermione something. Maybe some lilies. They’re having several specials on all orders placed before Christmas. Included in the catalog was a list of the orders I had made in the past two years. The last one was a bouquet of two dozen red roses I had sent to Mandy. I was sending her a lot of flowers at that time. But that was when things were little out of control between us. Pansy was even starting to notice. I wasn’t being as careful as I used to and almost let things slip a few times. I looked through that catalog a couple more times before I threw it away.

I also got a letter from Hermione. She wants to know if we could meet tomorrow night. I’ve been with her almost every night this week. I’ll write her back and tell her that I’m busy with Quidditch.


5 December 1997

I had that dream again last night. Hermione and I were on the floor in our room. I was in the middle of kissing her, when I looked to see everyone in Slytherin House looking down at us.

When I woke up, my heart was racing. I looked down to see my blankets lying in a pool on the floor. “Are you all right?” Crabbe asked. He and Goyle were standing over my bed. “You were talking really loudly. But you were mostly mumbling. So, we couldn’t understand what you were saying”

I looked out into the room. Blaise and Christopher were both sitting up in their beds, staring at me. “I’m fine,” I said. Crabbe and Goyle eventually went back to their own beds, but I knew everyone was still watching me. I could especially feel Blaise’s eyes on me. “Go to sleep,” I told them. I then closed the curtains around my bed.

Pretty soon the room filled with snores. I, on the other hand, spent the night staring up at the ceiling. I’ve been up since three this morning.

When I got to breakfast, I didn’t look at her. I know she was staring at me, waiting for me to give her a smile. But I couldn’t do that today. I have to keep focused on what I’m doing. I can’t let her be a distraction.

Another person who was staring at me from the Gryffindor table was Parvati. She’s been doing that in Potions, too. Next time I get a letter from her, I think I’ll answer it.


6 December 1997

Parvati was staring at me again during Potions. I managed to look at her as well, and nearly ruined my class assignment in the process. Hermione was busy helping Potter and Weasley, so I don’t think she noticed the exchanged. When I was making my way to dinner, I saw her and her sister walking into the Great Hall together. When I walked past them, I managed to touch Parvati’s arm. She looked up at me and smiled. I kept walking.


8 December 1997

I waited for her outside her Transfiguration class, like her note had said. I leaned against the wall and stared in front of me. She passed by with her friends, her sister was among them. I heard her tell her friends that she had to go back to class to get something. Her sister looked my way, but she didn’t say anything. It was only after everyone had left the hall that she finally approached me.

“It’s about time you finally got in touch with me,” Parvati said.

“Seeing that you’re highly guarded, it’s been tough.”

She laughed. “Padma’s not as tough as she might look. She’s a lamb.”

She hadn’t changed a bit since the last time we had met in the halls like this. Her hair seemed a little lighter, though. I stayed by the wall and let her approach me. When she was standing in front of me, she began to play with my hair.

“I feel bad about not meeting up with you that last time,” she said. “I guess I let other people influence me too much. But you don’t have to worry about that happening anymore. My sister’s got other things going on in her life, so she could really care less about what I do.” She leaned forward and was about to kiss me, when she saw someone walking down the hall. She quickly moved away from me. We kept our distance while a small boy ran past us and into the Great Hall.

“Let’s meet up later tonight,” she said. “I know somewhere we can go that’s quiet.” She kissed me on the cheek right before she left for dinner.

While I was getting ready to meet with Parvati, Crabbe sat on his bed, watching me. But he suddenly turned away and pretended to be reading a magazine when I grabbed my bottle of cologne. The bottle was almost empty. I know he’s been using it. I could smell it on him the other day. I didn’t say anything and continued to get dressed.

The room Parvati chose was on the fourth floor. I’ve never been in there before, but it was nice; the windows overlooked the lake. We didn’t do anything for nearly an hour. We just sat on the floor and talked. Actually, she talked and I listened.

Although my eyes stayed on her, my mind was elsewhere. I thought of what the other boys were doing back in the dorms. Crabbe had mentioned something about Terry stealing several bottles of whiskey from the cellar. I knew everyone would be gathered at our dorm room, talking and laughing.

But mostly, I thought of meeting up with Hermione.

“A new tanning salon just opened in Hogsmeade,” I heard Parvati say. “I can’t believe how dark I got. Look.” She then pulled her skirt down past her hip bone and exposed her tan line. She ran her fingers over the area. “I got burnt.” She then looked at me to see if I was watching her.

I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow Parvati ended up standing in front of me, with the top of her skirt still lowered. Her perfume was really strong. She took my hand and placed it on the area just below her belly button. “Your hand feels good there,” she said. I kept my fingers steady on that one area and didn’t lower them. She must have noticed because she looked down at me.

“I have something that will loosen you up,” she said. She reached into her purse and pulled out a silver quill holder. She took out what looked like a cigarette and handed it to me. It was tightly rolled and had a sweet smell to it. After she lit it with the tip of her wand, I inhaled deeply.

“Careful,” she said. “That stuff is really strong. I don’t want you passing out on me.”

That’s when I started to cough. I haven’t had one of those in a long time. But things got easier the second time around. I took in several more breaths before handing it off to her. She inhaled like a pro. She then gave it back to me. When we were finished with the first one, she offered me another. I shook my head. I was feeling a little lightheaded at that moment.

She was now sitting in my lap, kissing my neck. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” she said. She started to kiss me on the mouth. I tilted my head back and let her have complete control. She was a little aggressive and bit my lower lip.

I opened my eyes when I felt her tongue in my mouth. That’s when I pushed her away. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I’m really not interested in all of this right now. I think I’m gonna go back to the dorms.” I got up from the floor and picked up my robes.

“But you’re the one who said we should get together,” she said.

“I know. But I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore. I guess you just caught me in a wrong mood.” She didn’t say anything and just looked at me for a long time.

I went to the door and waited for her while she gathered her things. When we walked out into the hall, she walked to the stairs leading to Gryffindor Tower without saying anything to me.


9 December 1997

Pansy wouldn’t leave my side in Hogsmeade today. She dragged me from shop to shop so I could help her look for a gift for her mother. “She really likes figurines,” she said. She then pulled me into the antique shop. The shop had a strong odor to it, and that gargoyle statue kept looking at me.

“I need to get out of here,” I told her. “Why don’t you look for the gift and I’ll come back and get you in a few minutes?” I walked out the door before she could respond.

I was about to go into the Three Broomsticks when I saw Hermione outside of Honeydukes. I waited until Potter and Weasley had finally left her side before I approached her. She was wearing that ugly knit cap she had on a couple of days ago. I flicked the fuzzy white ball on top of her cap with my finger.

“Leave my hat alone,” she said.

We both looked at one another and smiled. “Do you want to meet me tonight?” I asked.

“I thought you were busy with the Quidditch team.”

“I was, but not anymore. The team was having some issues, but they’ve been taken care of. For good.” She agreed to meet me. I tried to hold her hand, but there were too many people around. Besides, Potter and Weasley were making their way out of the store.


22 December 1997

I got back from train station just in time to see my mother before she left for the Christmas Ball. She was still getting ready when I got home. I was walking back from the kitchens with my sandwich when she called me into her dressing room.

I sat on the chaise lounge near the window and watched as she fixed her hair. She was wearing a floor length burgundy gown, the one she got fitted for during the summer. The bodice was covered in jewels and in the middle of it was the cross pin Father had given her for her birthday. Father had always told her that the dress was too tight, but I guess he was right because she kept fidgeting with the corset.

I took a bite of the roast beef sandwich, and then threw it back on the plate. The bread was too hard. Every time Blue makes the bread, I always end up cutting the roof of my mouth.

I was about to make a complaint to my mother, when I noticed a gift basket filled with gourmet cheese, crackers and pate sitting on a nearby coffee table. I tore off the large red bow from the basket and reached for a cracker, when I saw the card from the sender. I made sure my mother was preoccupied with putting on her choker before I took the card from its envelope and began to read. This is what it said:

Dear Narcissa,

Thank you so much for all your help. If things go according to plan, you and I will be making the announcement together, shortly. It is definitely a good match.

I couldn’t read anymore, because my mother ripped the card out of my hands. “This is not for you,” she said. But before I could ask her who the card was from, she quickly changed the subject. “Are you having someone stay with you?” she asked. “I saw one of the house-elves fixing up that room overlooking the garden, so I just assumed Pansy would be staying with you.”

When I nodded, she said, “I’m glad. She’s a delightful girl, don’t you think?”

“Who’s delightful?” asked Father. He was standing in the doorway, fastening the cuffs of his shirt.


“I was just discussing Pansy.”

At that moment, Father stopped fussing with his cuffs and gave me an odd look. He then looked over at my mother. “I thought you weren’t going to do it?”

Mother did not say anything and went back to her vanity, where she began to pin up her hair.

“Or have you already done it?” Father asked. When Mother glanced at him from over her shoulder, he said, “Oh, what do I care. That’s your department.”

That statement settled things, and seemed to put a smile on Mother’s face. She began to hum to herself and attempted to put on her choker once more.

“None of the other women will be wearing their pearls, Narcissa,” said Father. “We’re going to be late if you continue to play around with that thing.”

“Fine. But I’ll take it with me just in case.” Mother placed the pearl choker in a silvery pouch and put the pouch in her purse.” She touched my head with a gloved hand and said, “We’re going to head to Switzerland right after the party, but your father will be back here on the twenty-fourth, before joining me again. I won’t see you until the New Year, but I promise to be here when you head back to school.”

“Could you send me something from Switzerland?” I asked.

“We will do no such thing,” said Father. “Haven’t we already gotten you enough? You’re already getting two parties as it is.”

Mother was about to walk to the door, but suddenly stopped. “Two parties? What other party is he getting besides the Christmas one?” She looked from me to Father.

Father took hold of her arm and began to walk her to the door. “We’re already late Narcissa.”


24 December 1997

The Ceremony was nothing like I had imagined. There was no task. Aside from Blaise speaking out of line, nothing really happened. Father made an announcement that only one of us would be initiated, but he didn’t mention a name.

He pulled me into his study afterwards. He didn’t say anything for a long while and puffed on his pipe. “Everything has been ordered for both of your parties,” he said. “I’m sure you and your friends will enjoy yourselves.”

I nodded.

He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and rolled his neck from side to side. “The person we choose will be notified in a few weeks, and then the real initiation will begin.” He emptied his pipe into the bin and looked at me. “You know I can’t give you anymore information.”

“I understand,” I said. I know he’s not bound by the Dark Lord’s spell like the others, and could speak his mind. But I didn’t say anything.

He went to his cabinet and took out two large glasses. I almost held out my hand to take one of the glasses, but I decided to wait until he offered it to me. I didn’t really care for the strong alcohol he kept in his office, but I guess I could tolerate it for this special occasion.

But he didn’t hand me the glass. He placed it on the table, and then poured brandy into the other. He then took a seat in his chair and stared at the fireplace.

I continued to look down at the empty glass sitting on his desk. “Will Mother be joining you tonight?” I asked.

He kept his back turned to me and said, “You know damn well that she won’t. Don’t you think you’re getting too old to ask questions you know the answer to?” He stared at me from over his shoulder. “I think you should go now.”

When I left the room, I wanted to press my ear against the door. But I already knew what I would hear.


24 December 1997 (Later that night)

The girls came over tonight. They were beautiful. Crabbe started to thank me the minute they got there. He grabbed some blonde’s arm and dragged her up to the Chinese Room upstairs. Some of the girls stayed downstairs, but it was the brunette in the short dress that approached me first. She walked right up to me and sat on my lap.

“Do you want to go upstairs?” she asked. “We could also stay down here if you want.” She then started to run her fingers through my hair.

Blaise was on the couch with an Asian girl. He stopped kissing her and began to watch us.

“I think we should go upstairs,” I told her.

The girl took my hand and led me upstairs to the master bedroom. I sat on the bed and watched her close the door. “What would you like?” she asked. “I can give you a little show.” She began to dance in the middle of the room. She then turned around, bent over and touched the floor. She wasn’t wearing underwear.

She faced me and started to rub her hands up and down her body. She slipped the straps of her dress down her shoulders and exposed her breasts. She then continued with her dance for several more minutes, until I told her to stop.

“I guess you want to begin,” she said. She got on the bed and crawled towards me. Her hands slid along my legs and then reached for the zipper on my trousers.

“I’m not interested,” I said. “I’m really tired.”

She straddled me and placed her hands on my chest. “It’s all right. You won’t have to do any work.” She leaned her body forward and brushed her breasts against my face. Her skin was soft. And she smelled good. She was wearing a light, flowery scent.

“I’m really not interested,” I told her. “I’m not in the mood.”

She got off of me and sat on the edge of the bed. After several minutes of staring down at her hands, she pulled up the straps of her dress and covered herself.

“I can get you another girl, if you want,” she said.

“No, it’s not that. I’m just not interested in doing anything with anyone.” When she continued to stare at me, I said, “I’m with someone right now.”

“Do you love her?”

I smiled at her. I didn’t feel like discussing my feelings with a hired woman.

“You don’t have to worry about it,” she said. “There are loads of fellas who don’t want to do anything. They just want someone to talk to about their problems.”

“It’s not exactly a problem” I said. “Things are good between us.”

She lay on the bed next to me and began to rub my chest. “Tell me about her,” she said. She then draped her thigh over my leg.

“Talking about her is not going to put me in the mood,” I told her. “But don’t worry, I’ll still give you a good tip.”

“You’re a sweet guy,” she said. She gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Maybe when you’re not feeling so faithful, you and I can get together. I won’t even charge your father for it.” As she was climbing off of the bed, her hand “accidentally” landed on my crotch. She winked at me before she left the room.

But she was back five minutes later. Crabbe was finished with his first girl and was apparently looking for another one. “Can I stay in here with you?” she asked.

She stayed with me for the rest of the night in that room. She spent some of the time staring out of the window. But mostly, she tried everything to get me in the mood. When it was time for her and the other girls to leave, she slipped me a card with her address written on it.

I tossed the card into bin.


25 December 1997

Happy Christmas to me.

The house-elves set out a large buffet for everyone in the dining room. Unfortunately, the other guys had already left early this morning. They all wanted to go home and celebrate with their families before tonight’s party. I sat in Father’s chair and ate several slices of ham. I told one of the house-elves to serve me my drink in Father’s goblet, but he refused.

“You are not Lord and Master of this home,” he said. “Only after Lord Malfoy is deceased can you drink from his goblet.” When he left the room, I could hear the other house-elves singing from the kitchens. They were having their own celebration. I slammed the dining room door so I didn’t have to listen to them.

After I ate, I walked around the gardens for a little bit, before I went back inside to get ready for my Quidditch lesson with Liam. We only practiced for an hour, but it was an intense hour. “You’ve really improved,” he said, when we were putting the equipment back in the storage room. “I still have connections with the Falcons if you ever want to make this a full time career.”

“That’s not in my plans,” I said.

“That’s too bad. It’s quite a life. The fanfare, the women. I’m not a good looking bloke, but you could not believe the quality of women that I got when I was at my prime. I’ve had beauty queens and I once had Mona Castell. She left me for Rodney because he was more popular, but I at least had her for a couple of nights. And the money,” he then whistled. “But I guess when you grow up in a big house like this, money isn’t a big issue.”

When he finished telling me about an encounter he had with one of the Quidditch Bunnies that hung outside the stadiums for the players, I said, “We can continue this conversation in the house if you want. The house-elves made too much food, so there’s plenty to eat.”

He looked down at this watch. “I wish I could, but I can’t. My parents are throwing a little shindig in a little bit. But thanks for the offer.”

I went into my bedroom when he left. Sitting on my bed were some presents from my mother. I got new Quidditch gear, shoes, a gold watch and a box of chocolates from Switzerland. I left everything on my bed and stared out the window. I could see the house-elves walking into the guesthouse. They’re probably setting up for the party.

I wanted something strong to drink, so I walked downstairs to my father’s study. The door was locked. So, I went into my mother’s bedroom and took a bottle of wine from behind her dresser. Since there’s still a couple more hours until the party starts, I think I’ll finish off the bottle and then take a nap.


27 December 1997

Hermione just left to go back to her house. She was supposed to leave two hours ago, but I convinced her to stay longer. We spend most of the day lying in bed. I can still taste her lipgloss on my mouth from when she gave me a goodbye kiss. It’s funny how shy she acted this morning, when I brought her the breakfast tray. She kept the sheets tucked under her chin the entire time we ate.

And she moved away when I tried to kiss her. She placed her hand over her mouth and said, “I have to brush my teeth first.” I watched as she got out of bed, with the blankets still wrapped around her, and ran to the bathroom.

When she was eating a strawberry, I tried to pull the sheets off of her, but she stopped me. “I just want to look at you,” I said. “Last night, you made me turn off all the lights and I couldn’t see anything.” She fought me for a couple more minutes, but she finally let me have my way. I pulled the covers off the bed and looked at her body. She turned her head. “Look at me,” I said. “How come you never make eye contact? Even last night, you kept your eyes closed.”

She turned and looked at me.

I placed my hand on her stomach, which made her laugh. I then moved my hand up. Soon, she stopped being shy. She took my hand and started to move it up and down her body. I climbed up on the bed and looked down at her face. “I want you to stay here with me,” I said. “I’m gonna be alone for a couple more days, so it won’t be a problem. The house-elves can bring you your food in bed everyday, and you, of course, have access to a library full of books.”

“As tempting as that sounds,” she said. “I can’t. My parents will be worried if I’m not back today.”

She sat in front of the fireplace with me before it was time for her to go. That was twenty minutes ago.


3 January 1998

Everyone in school found out about us today. Some girls even confronted Hermione about it in the hall before Potions class. Instead of denying it, she ran to Gryffindor Tower and stayed there for the rest of the day. When I got back from helping Professor Snape, all the Slytherins were standing around watching the Gryffindors fight with each other about what Hermione had done.

Although a couple of the boys were defending Hermione, most of the people seemed to believe that what she did was vile. As though being with me would be vile. Parvati was particularly angry. She ripped into Hermione like crazy. “I guess she’s not so pious now,” she said. “Who knew that underneath that virginal exterior was a huge whore?”

“Don’t you dare call Hermione that,” said the black boy, whose name I think is Dean.

“I can call her any damn thing I want. And why are you defending her? Do you think now that she’s been exposed as the nymphomaniac that she is, she’ll sleep with you?”

“Hush up, both of you,” shouted Professor Snape. “This is a place of learning, not page six of the Daily Prophet. Twenty points from Gryffindor for having an inappropriate conversation.”

Potter and Weasley didn’t show up to class until the end. That’s when Professor Snape lost it and took an additional forty points from their house. Ten extra points were taken from Weasley for being disheveled and sweaty. After class, Weasley kept walking towards me, like he wanted to fight. But Potter pulled him away. “Next time I see you, you’re dead,” Weasley said. Crabbe asked if he should go after them. I told him no.

When I got back to the common room after classes, everyone in the House was talking about Hermione as well. “Serves her right,” said Pansy. “That’s what she gets for laying down with someone who’s already taken.” She came to where I was seated and sat in my lap. She then began to stroke my hair with her left hand, so that everyone could see the ring on her finger. I wanted to rip that thing off and toss it into the fire.

And that’s when she kissed me. She hasn’t done something like that since the Mandy days. It was one of those kisses where she held my face in between her hands and made a lot of noise, so that everyone would know that she was enjoying it. When she was done with me, she went back to sitting with her friends.

“Did you see all the Gryffindors arguing?” asked Blaise. “It was fantastic.”

“I think I’m going to have fun with them tomorrow,” said Terry. “A few of them are in one of my classes. It’s going to be fun to get them all riled up.”

Everyone soon stopped talking and looked over at me for some ideas. “You know what would really anger them?” I said. “If we made a big entrance at dinner. We should go in together and march in front of the Gryffindor table. McGonagall won’t like it, but Professor Snape won’t care. He might get a kick out of it.”

“That’ll be great,” said Terry. “We should just rub it in their faces that one of us got their girl. And we’re not talking about hand action either. Malfoy got the whole shebang. He had her bent over a chair, screaming out his name. I bet all the house-elves at Malfoy Manor were like, ‘What’s all that noise? Oh, that’s just Master Malfoy having his way with the Muggle-born.’”

Pansy stormed upstairs to her room.



~*~*~

Draco paced the room, walking back and forth in front of the fireplace. He shot a glance towards the door every time he heard a noise that sounded like footsteps. He had assured himself that she would come, but every minute that passed put doubt in his mind. Perhaps her two friends were able to poison her mind against him, Draco thought. He then lowered his head, as he cursed his decision to confront Harry and Ron in the hall. When thirty minutes had finally gone by, the door opened and Hermione walked into the room.

She stood by the entryway with her back to him, and her hand still on the doorknob. For a slight second, Draco thought she would exit the room. But she stayed put, and eventually faced him. The smile that usually greeted him was absent, as was the look of delight that was always evident in her gaze.

He approached her to offer her a greeting, but she moved away. She walked past his opened arms and took a seat in the wooden chair in the corner. With her legs crossed at the ankles, she folded her hands in her lap and she stared up at him. There was a harsh expression on her face, which sent the clear message to Draco that their meeting would be a serious one.

Draco retreated back to the fireplace, where he had laid a blanket and several pillows on the same spot on the floor where they had enjoyed many nights talking or partaking in other sensual activities.

He playfully kicked one of the pillows. It flew into the fireplace and began to catch fire. But it was quickly rescued before it sustained any real damage. Draco started to smile as he lifted it into the air, and showed the cindered portion to Hermione. When this failed to produce any laughter from Hermione, he dropped the pillow onto the floor and took a seat by the fireplace.

“Did you plan this whole thing?” Hermione asked.

Draco didn’t answer immediately, and sat motionless, as if stunned by her question. “Both of us had our own reasons for wanting to do this project,” he said.

“You still didn’t answer my question.”

There was a moment of hesitation, before Draco finally said, “Yes.”

Hermione brought her hand to her face and looked up at the window. Being that it was a cloudy night, she did not have the beauty of the moon to distract her from what was happening in that room. After a few moments of heavy silence, she jumped out of her chair.

Draco got up, as well, and held up his hand to prevent her from bolting out of the room. “Can you honestly tell me that you didn’t have ulterior motives for wanting to work with me? After six years of hating me, I find it odd that you would suddenly have the desire to work on a school assignment with me. I know you wanted to find out some information for Potter. You had your agenda, and I had mine. But somehow, we ended up together.”

“But my initial plan was never to manipulate you into liking me,” said Hermione.

“Yes, it was. How else would you get any information from me?”

Hermione glared at him momentarily, but soon realized that Draco was not the only culprit in their twisted mind game. She played her own part. After all, it was she that initiated the turn of events by choosing him as her partner.

“Hermione, listen,” Draco said again, this time in a less accusatory tone. “I never thought things would get this far. Inviting you to my house was never part of the plan.”

A look of disgust spread across Hermione’s face. “So, your intention was to seduce me on the floor of this room?”

“No at all,” said Draco. He stopped talking when he realized how unconvincing his answer had sounded. He began again, and stated, “Look, I was angry with you. I knew you were using me, so I figured I might as well do the same to you. But as the project progressed, I started to lose track of what I was after. I stopped planning what I would say to you. And I even looked forward to our chats. And before I realized it, I started to enjoy being around you. The only time that’s ever happened was with—“

“Mandy?”

Hermione kept her eyes steady on him to catch his reaction. But Draco’s stoic expression never wavered and he replied matter-of-factly, “I had a feeling you would talk to her.” He took a long pause, before adding, “I don’t think there’s a need to bring her up, since she has nothing to do with us.”

“She has everything to do with us,” said Hermione. “You did the same thing to her that you’re doing to me.”

Draco looked away and sat near the fireplace once more. He turned around in his seat and faced the fire. He drew his hand from his lap and allowed it to hover above the flames. He pulled his hand away when the heat became unbearable. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Hermione giving him a stern look.

“With Mandy,” he began, “I wanted a challenge. We were in the same literature class together during our fifth year. Some of the girls in her house used to show some interest, but she was not one of them.” He smiled to himself when he thought of the manner in which Mandy would glare at any Ravenclaw girl who dared to smile at him or even look in his direction during class.

“Mandy, for some reason, wanted nothing to do with me,” he went on. “So that year, I spent several months trying to get her. Just by doing little things that would get her attention, but at the same time not make her suspicious.”

“What exactly did you do to get her to like you?” asked Hermione.

“I found out little things about her. It was easy since some of the girls in the class were more than a little chatty. I learned what books she liked, her favorite perfume, what shops she frequented in Hogsmeade. That sort of stuff. That was the first time I had worked that hard on someone. But as you already know, my plans didn’t really work out, and things started to happen.”

“She still likes you,” said Hermione. “She’s not infatuated with you, like the other girls. I think she might love you. Did you love her?”

An uneasy smile crept over Draco’s lips. “Aren’t we here to discuss you and me?” His hand then crept up to his neck. “That’s a bit personal.”

“Why didn’t you stay with her?”

“Do you really have to ask?” Draco asked. “She’s a Ravenclaw.”

“Is that something in the Slytherin Code of Ethics? You can sleep with someone from another house, but you can’t openly date them?” When Draco did not answer, she immediately went on to her next question. “So, do you get pleasure from hurting girls?”

“I haven’t hurt anyone,” said Draco. “When I’m with someone, I give them my full devotion.”

“But we all know that that’s fake. Everything you’re doing for these girls is just to fulfill your own needs. You tell them what they want to hear, and make them think you’re genuine. All the while, you’re playing with their heart.”

“You’re right. Maybe there are girls that I’ve hurt. Maybe I was using them for my own pleasure and once I got it, I stopped talking to them. Perhaps these girls cry themselves to sleep every night, or send me letters begging me to take them back. But you know what? There are also lots of girls who just want to have a good time, no strings attached. They want the same thing as me. Not everyone is looking for a boyfriend.”

“Which category do I fit?” Hermione asked.

“You’re in a third category: someone who caught me off guard. Someone I didn’t expect to have feelings for.”

These words would have produced a quickened heartbeat in any of the love-sick girls that yearned for Draco’s attention; but Hermione simply looked away. Her harsh attitude towards what he thought was a sincere compliment caused Draco’s hopes of a quick reconciliation to vanish momentarily. But he would not be deterred by her silence.

“I sorry,” he said in a low voice. When Hermione finally looked his way, he added, “I’m sorry I have a reputation. I’m sorry I’ve taken advantage of girls in the past. I’m sorry I have a libido. I wish I could change my past actions. But I can’t. This is who I am. But just because I might have hurt girls in the past doesn’t mean I’ll do the same to you. And I didn’t invite you to my house just to have my way with you. If that had been my intention, I would have had you in the library.”

Hermione scrunched her brows. She knew that her defenses were lowered that evening; but for Draco to imply that she would have slept with him in his family’s library was simply ludicrous. A kiss, and perhaps an embrace, was all she was looking for, Hermione said to herself. She definitely would not have gone any further.

But her defiant attitude quickly waned when she realized that she could easily have lost her virginity in that room. That event, of course, took place hours later on a warm bed only because Draco orchestrated it that way.

“I’ve never put myself out there before,” Draco said. “I’ve come close, but never like this. Whatever my past actions, just know that it was never a game with you. What started out as a scheme turned into something more.”

“Do you love me?” she asked.

He stared at her for a moment, before proclaiming, “Jesus Christ. Do you love me?”

“Yes,” Hermione replied. “At least, I thought I did.” She grew quiet, as she considered her answer. She then said, “Yes, I do.”

Draco rubbed his neck. “It’s not that easy for me. I just can’t come out and say it.”

“That’s the problem with you. You can never come out and say anything. I have to guess what your intentions are.” Hermione dropped her gaze and after several moment of staring at the floor, she turned her back to him.

Draco slowly approached her. “I can’t tell you what you want to hear,” he said. He grabbed Hermione’s shoulders and turned her around. “I know how I feel about you. But I really don’t want to spend the night talking about it. It’s not really my thing, and it can be exhausting.”

Having such intense conversations was indeed something he did not relish doing. Fortunately, he had been lucky enough to avoid them for most of his dating years. With many of the girls he’d dated – or had a brief encounter with – the infatuation usually wore off before the relationship reached a level of any real intimacy. Pansy had attempted to draw him into a heart to heart discussion in the past; but even she gave up when Draco greeted this proposition with a cold stare.

When he saw the scowl lines form on Hermione’s brow, he knew that she did not appreciate his reluctance. “This is not easy for me,” he went on. “I don’t usually dwell on this sort of stuff. It’s just that, I’ve never experienced…” He stopped talking in mid-sentence and began to rub his chin. After several moments of doing this, he took hold of Hermione and kissed her.

Hermione did not move away from him; in fact, when they pulled apart, she raised her hand and ran her fingers along the side of his face, feeling the scratchiness of day-old stubble against her fingertips.

She spent several moments staring up at him, before she said, “When I left the guesthouse, I went home and thought about you. I can’t express to you how happy I was at that moment. I remember lying on my bed and rehearsing what I would say to Harry and Ron about you and me being together. I didn’t even care about what the rest of the school would say about it, because at the moment everything seemed perfect.”

Hermione stopped talking as a smile formed on her lips. She remained quiet for a long while as her hand traveled along Draco’s neck, causing him to close his eyes whenever her fingers touched a sensitive area. She then brought her hand to her side.

“I spent all last night thinking about us again,” she said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that things just didn’t add up.”

She moved towards her chair and stared up at the window once more. It had now begun to rain. She stayed quiet as she watched the large rain drops trickle down the side of the window pane. “How could you care about me,” she said, with her back still to him, “when you won’t even acknowledge me when you’re around your friends? Everyone just looks at me as being another one of your conquests. Even today, you avoided me during class, and you joined your friends when they were making fun of me.”

“What do you want me to do though? Should I stand up in the middle of my dorm and profess my undying devotion to you?” He then let out a deep breath. “I should have talked to you, but…I don’t know. I should have done more.”

Hermione closed her eyes when she felt Draco’s hand on her back. “I shouldn’t have ignored you like that,” he whispered against her ear. He rested his chin on her shoulder. “But that sort of thing takes time. It won’t happen overnight. But just because I haven’t told other people doesn’t mean I don’t want us to be together, because I do. This mess between us is just one big misunderstanding. I want us to go back to where we were before all of this happened. Those were happy moments for me, too.”

“What about Pansy?” Hermione asked. “Or is your relationship with her a big misunderstanding as well?”

Draco opened his mouth, ready to retort, “She and I don’t have a relationship.” But he said nothing and stared at her in silence.

“That ring she keeps showing off,” said Hermione, “actually means something, doesn’t it?”

Draco squeezed his eyes, as his fingers traveled to the bridge of his nose. “It wasn’t my decision,” he said. “The ring, that is. Yes, she and I have been together for a long time, but I’m not in love with her. It’s because of outside influences that we are still together.”

“Will you ever tell these ‘outside influences’ that you want to be with someone else?”

“Yes,” Draco said. “In fact—“ He walked back to the fireplace, where his robes lay in a neat pile near the burnt pillow. “I’ve already written a letter to my father.”

He searched the pockets of his robes for the parchment. Finding nothing other than the lint that lined his pockets, Draco turned the garment upside down and began to shake it, in hopes the letter would fall to the floor. He finally gave up his search and went back to Hermione.

“I had it this morning,” he said. “The letter is about you and me. Well, I don’t name you in it, but it says that I want to be with someone else and not Pansy. I really am trying to fix this mess.”

Draco placed his hand on her head and smoothed back her hair with his fingers. “Everything is falling into place for us,” he said. “I know it’s taken a me a long time, but I’m trying my best to make things right.” He pulled Hermione close and hugged her. His lips eventually found their way to the crook of her neck, where they stayed for a considerable time.

Hermione knew what he was doing. He had done that same thing on many nights when they were alone. She smiled to herself when she heard him inhale deeply. It pleased her to know that he was fond of her perfume. But she never did reveal that the fragrance was a gift from Krum. She allowed him several long moments to indulge his senses.

“Will you stay here with me?” Draco asked. “I just want to lay down with you for a bit. It’s been a long time since we’ve been alone like this.” Hermione’s gaze flickered to the fireplace, where it stayed until Draco touched her arm and asked, “What do you say?” When he was met with silence, he opened his mouth to ask again, but Hermione finally began to talk.

“I spoke to a friend about us,” Hermione said. “This person is like family to me,” she added quickly, when she sensed that he was about to make a disparaging comment about Harry and Ron. “This friend told me to be cautious of your motives, to be careful about trusting you. I didn’t want to listen at first, but after awhile, things started to make sense.”

She then took a long pause, before finally stating, “I want to believe you. I spent hours trying to convince myself that your feelings for me are genuine.” She closed her eyes, just as a tear rolled down her cheek and rested in the corner of her mouth. She moved away from him when he attempted to touch her. “As much as I would like to think that you are madly in love with me, deep down, I know that this is just another scheme. The fact that you’re still with Pansy after everything that’s happened between us just reinforces that belief.”

“But I’m trying to clear things up with Pansy. I’m gonna tell her later tonight that it’s over between us. And I already wrote a letter to my father, telling him my intentions.”

“The letter you couldn’t find?” Hermione didn’t wait to see Draco’s reaction to her stinging remark. She walked to her chair and picked up her robes. She then spent several minutes running her hand along the smooth fabric of the garment.

“I came here tonight,” she said, “to see you for the last time and hear what you had to say. And I must admit, that was a wonderful story you told me. For a split second, I almost believed you. Almost.”

“Hermione,” Draco said, “I swear to you that I am being genuine. Why would I bother going through all of this if I wasn’t?”

“I don’t know. Why would you spend months manipulating someone, crafting a world of lies just so you could get them into bed? You do it because you get a kick out of it. It’s become this big, elaborate game for you, and you love it. Even when your plans go array, and there’s a chance that you might fall for someone, you still keep playing it. Let’s take Mandy for example. You loved her. I know you did. I could hear it in your voice. But instead of letting yourself fall in love, you broke it off with her. Why? So, you can still play the role of the school Casanova.”

Draco tried to grab her hand, but Hermione moved away from him.

“I’m not proud of what I did to Mandy,” he said. “And I have to pay for it every time I sit in the Great Hall and see her staring at me. But just because Mandy and I didn’t work out, doesn’t mean we can’t. I can’t go back and change things. But I’m not the same person that I was when I was with Mandy. The circumstances have changed, I’ve changed.”

“No you haven’t. You’re still that same person who likes to toy with people. How else would you explain your relationship with Pansy? You don’t have any feelings for her, and yet you string her along, making her think she might have a chance with you. All the while, you’re out pursuing different girls. In the end, she ends up looking stupid.” She brought her hand to her face and wiped her stinging eyes. “I don’t want to be with someone I can’t trust. I can’t have you turn me into another Mandy.”

Draco grabbed hold of her arms and pulled her against his body. “Look into my eyes and tell me that you don’t want to be with me.”

Her gaze didn’t meet his immediately, but she eventually looked up at him and said, “I don’t want to be with you.”

“I thought you said you loved me.”

“I do,” she said. “But it was really a false image of you that I fell in love with. So, I guess you can say I fell in love with a lie.”

The expression on Draco’s face, which could have been interpreted as a look of concern, soon disappeared as he creased his brows and narrowed his eyes down at her. He tightened his grip around her wrists, but before she could protest, he pushed her arms away and walked to the fireplace. “Don’t forget that I’m not the only liar in this room.”

“But your lies and mine were completely different,” said Hermione. “Yes, I led you to believe that I wanted to work with you just for the hell of it. But I never schemed to get you to fall in love for me, nor was it my plan to seduce you. So, don’t imply that you and I are the same, because we are not—”

Draco swiftly got up from his seat and approached her. Hermione took a step backwards and hit her backside against the desk. She attempted to bring her arms up to her chest to protect herself, but he was quicker than she; he pushed her arms out of the way and swiftly grabbed her waist. But looking down at her face and seeing the frightened look on in her eyes, he quickly loosened his grasp.

“It’s not a game anymore,” said Draco. “What you see here is real, and I’m not going to let people like Potter poison you against me. Look at me,” he barked.

When Hermione had finally stopped squirming and had directed her gaze back towards him, Draco said, “You might think I’m acting again, but let me tell you that I would never do something like this. If this was all a joke, the minute we got back to school, you wouldn’t have heard from me ever again. I’ve never done something like this before. I’ve never put myself out on the line like I’m doing now.”

When he caught a glimpse of Hermione’s gaze drifting towards the fireplace, he shouted, “God dammit. Why aren’t you listening to me?”

“I am listening to you. I’ve been listening to you since we first got together. And I’ve realized that everything you say is complete bull. You tell people what they want to hear. I figured that out after talking to Mandy about you. So, you can go ahead and talk all you want. But don’t expect me to believe a word of it.”

“Then why are you here,” he asked, “if you already had your mind set that you and I weren’t going to be together?”

“Like I said before, I wanted to do this face to face. I needed to tell you all of this in person.”

“Well, we’re face to face right now,” Draco said as he lowered his head towards her. “And I don’t believe you. I think you came here because you can’t stand to be away from me. I look at you now and I know you want to be with me.” He pressed his lips against her ear and whispered, “I know you do.” He kissed the side of her face, before say, “We’ve worked so hard to be together. Don’t throw away all that we have.”

It was that statement that caused Hermione to finally push him away. “Don’t do dare say we’ve worked hard for this,” she said. “The only person working hard was you. I bet it takes a lot of energy to keep all your lies straight. My favorite is when you said you spent your Christmases alone. But I’ve recently found out you have a huge party every year. So, don’t make it seem like you and I have been battling the outside world to keep our relationship alive. Because we don’t have a relationship.”

She picked up her robes, which had dropped to the floor and draped them over her shoulders. “And do you really think that saying you’ve never done something like this with another girl is going to convince me you’re being sincere? So what. Maybe you’re setting a new precedent for yourself. Perhaps you’ll take things further with the next girl.”

Draco stared at her in silence for a long while. Thinking he would lung at her once more, Hermione took a step backwards. But after careful examination, she realized that the anger he had displayed just moments ago was no longer present on his face. He did not advance towards her and eventually retreated back to his seat. He clasped his hands together and lowered his head.

Hermione stared at him for a moment, before slowly walking to the door. But she didn’t exit the room and stood by the entryway. She wondered if she should say something before leaving. She wasn’t angry, after all, nor did she feel triumphant about finally putting him in his place.

She was about to speak, when Draco finally said, “Sometimes the past is not a good indicator of things.” His head was still lowered, and he continued to stare at his hands. “Everyone’s done things that could be interpreted as hurtful. But should they be judged for the rest of their lives? I know you’ve heard things about me that aren’t pleasant. But you can’t let all of that shape your opinion of me. What if I’m being real, and I genuinely care for you? What if being with you has been an amazing experience for me? If you walk out of here, you’ll never know.”

There was a haunting tone in his voice that forced Hermione to turn away from him and stared at the tattered tapestry hanging on the back wall. She blinked rapidly as the emotions began to swell within her. She eventually brought her hand to her face and wiped her eyes.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people who are more than happy to whisper in your ear about me,” he said. “But in the end, you have to follow your own feelings. I know you’re scared and don’t want to trust me, but sometimes you have to take a chance.” He took a long pause, and then said, “Hermione, look at me. Look at me and tell me if this is the face of someone who is playing a role.”

Hermione turned around, but kept her gaze fixed on the checkered pattern of the blanket lying on the floor before her. There was a great desire to look up at him, and witness firsthand the pain that must have been present on his face. If the trembling in his voice was any indication, then his pain must have been great. She had only seen this intensity twice before: minutes ago when he grabbed her roughly, and once during her stay in his guesthouse.

But as much as her heart told her otherwise, Hermione’s eyes never lifted high enough to meet his. She still did not trust him and doubted the sincerity of his suffering. He had great control over his emotions, and she assumed he could therefore switch them on and off at will.

“I’ve already told you my decision,” she said. “I’m not going to change my mind, so there’s no reason for us to continue this conversation.” She wrapped her robes tightly around her body and reached for the doorknob as she prepared to leave the room.

“Hermione, I—“ Draco hesitated for a moment. He opened his mouth and tried to force the words out, but after several attempts, he remained quiet.

Hermione exited the room.

Draco stared at the door, as he willed her to come back into the room. When some time had passed, and he was still alone, he looked down at his hands. He tried hard to prevent himself from being overpowered by what he was feeling, and he was successful for the first few minutes, because he was, after all, skilled in the art of restraint. But even he couldn’t last long, and months of aggravation and worry finally hit him. He placed his hands over his eyes as a tear rolled down his face. And just as wiped the wetness with the back of his hand, more tears streamed down his cheeks.

His hands fell back to his side and he stared straight ahead. He was captured by an overwhelming urge to go after her. But his body would not cooperate with him and he stayed put. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror just then. It was hard to believe that he could be reduced to the pathetic sight that now greeted him. He looked away.

It was well into the early morning when he finally decided to leave that room. His back was now hurting from leaning against the hard rocks that formed the fireplace. He slowly got to his feet. The headache of that morning had now spread to his entire body, causing his joints to hurt.

And just as he was about to pick up the blanket from the floor, he saw the letter he had been looking for earlier that night. It was lying near the burnt pillow. He lifted it up and looked at it.

Dear Father,

I want you to cancel your plans to announce my engagement to Pansy. My affections have transferred elsewhere. I know that this will upset many people, but it is my decision. Your son, Draco


He knew his father would have followed his directions. Just like himself, the elder Mr. Malfoy was not a supporter of arranged or forced marriages.

Draco flung the letter into the fire. What use could it do him now?


~*~*~

Before approaching the portrait of the Fat Lady, Hermione slipped into an adjoining hallway and sat on the floor. Her heart was still racing. Although she had made her decision the night before and told herself many times that it was the right choice, she still had her doubts; her feelings for him and his actions tonight added to her torment.

She leaned back against the cold wall and closed her eyes, as an internal dialogue ran through her head. Could it be possible, she said to herself, that he had actually changed and was trying his best to rectify his past actions? She pondered this for only a moment, before shaking her head. “He was just acting the part,” she said.

A sudden wave of sadness came over her. Sadness for him, and not herself. What a great loss it was that this young man, soon to be eighteen, would toy with others with such ease, and leave those around him hurt in the process. But mixed in with feelings of melancholy was a sense of relief. This act of falling in love, or be it infatuation, placed a heavy burden on one’s mind. But that was now over for her. It was done. She lowered her head and took a deep breath.

It was only when she heard Peeves’ laughter that Hermione finally got to her feet. She approached the portrait hole and whispered the password. The Fat Lady swung open, without saying a word or lecturing her about the lateness of the hour.

Upon entering the common room, she was taken aback by the loud noise and celebratory nature of those in her dorm. In the middle of the room, clutching two handfuls of sickles and several galleons, Ron was performing a dance of his own invention. He leapt in the air several times and landed on his feet, to great applause. “A round of drinks for everyone at the Broomsticks this weekend,” he said. He stopped dancing and added, “For seventh years only. The rest of you can fend for yourselves.”

Dean excused himself from the card table and headed upstairs to the dorms to sulk. But this feat was hard to accomplish due to the numerous first years that sat on the stairs, blocking his way. Most of these youngsters were yawning because they had stayed up well past their bed time to watch the game.

Harry draped an arm around Hermione’s shoulders and pulled her to a less populated spot near the fireplace. He stopped clapping for his friend and looked down at Hermione. She was facing the fire. He was tempted to chastise her for sneaking out of the room to talk to Draco, but he decided to say nothing. He went back to watching Ron. But he soon grew weary of Ron’s antics and looked at Hermione once more. She was now sitting on the floor. He took a seat next to her.

“You don’t have to worry about Malfoy anymore,” said Hermione. “I’m through with him.” She closed her eyes when she felt his fingers curl around her arm.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Hermione kept quiet for a significant time before answering, “No, but I will be.” Soon, Harry’s arm moved from her hand to her waist.

~*~*~

Hermione found it hard to forget him, especially when they couldn’t avoid meeting in the halls or their mutual classes. But as the spring progressed to summer, it became easier for her to stop gazing at him, or bestowing him with sideways glances.

New stories and tales came and went, causing her own scandal to become old news. But the stigma never disappeared. She always found herself being stared at by strangers in the hall. When groups of whispering girls would turn around to look at her, she knew she was the subject of their conversation. And during meal times, Mandy would always gaze at her with saddened eyes, which quietly communicated that she knew what Hermione was feeling.

Although she did not want to admit it to herself, her feelings for him still remained strong. So, it naturally pained her when she read about his engagement to Pansy in the Daily Prophet.

Draco, of course, showed no signs of being wounded or even affected by what had happened between them. He still walked through the halls with the same overconfident swagger. And he gloated over the Gryffindors’ defeat when Slytherin House finally won the Quidditch Cup; Hermione was secretly happy for him, although she told Harry otherwise.

There were instances, however, when she would catch Draco staring at her in class. But Hermione never returned his glances. She would not go down that road again.


The End






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