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Detention of Granger and Malfoy by girl_next_door

Format: Novella
Chapters: 16
Word Count: 29,986
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 12+
Warnings: No Warnings

Genres: Crossover, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Hermione, Draco
Pairings: Draco/Hermione

First Published: 08/30/2007
Last Chapter: 12/22/2008
Last Updated: 12/22/2008

Summary:


The only people not sick of the whole Hermione and Draco rivalry is, well, Hermione and Draco. So nobody's surprised when, after jinxing each other on the first day of their last year in Hogwarts, their given punishment is to be a tag team of babysitters for a mysterious bundle of joy. Nobody said it was a good idea but the faculty reckons this extraordinary detention should fix them up good and proper.

Special thanks to curtaincall of The Dark Arts for my smashing bannerÜ


Chapter 1: HERE WE GO AGAIN
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The chilly, early September wind blew through the massive structure of Hogwarts Castle, disturbing the placid surface of the lake and even shaking a couple of sturdy boughs on the Whomping Willow.

Inside, the drapes fluttered noisily. Professors Minerva McGonagall and Filius Flitwick busy themselves with charming them, especially those that line the hallway near the Great Hall. A few feet behind them, Argus Filch, suspiciously sniffs the cold air.

"I think we’re to expect a harsh winter this year," McGonagall says, her lips pursed in a firm line.

"Very harsh," adds Flitwick. He flicks his wand and halts the moving drapes in front of him. His forehead is creased with concentration and worry. "I’ve never seen anything like this."

Before McGonagall could say anything, Filch holds up a finger to his lips. "Do you hear that?"

Filius looks at him strangely but listens anyway. There is something. It sounds distant. A door left open? He listens further. An animal? He turns to look at Minerva.

The tall witch waits another minute until deciding to speak. "Heavens, Filch. What is that?" She points towards the direction of the Great Hall’s foyer. "It sounds like it’s coming from over there."

Filch follows McGonagall who walks briskly towards the noise. Professor Flitwick follows close behind, charming each drape he passes.

The foyer is empty. But they can still hear the thing, only closer now. The trio look at each other and then at the Great Doors. Through a silent agreement, they all opened the doors at the same time, with the two professors flicking their wands and Filch prying it open with his bare hands.

Lightning flashes overhead. Thunder crashes immediately after. Right by their feet is a bundle of rags, soaked, with something moving inside. With the help of his wand, Flitwick pulls away one layer of the rags to reveal the contents of the mediocre packaging.

It is a little baby girl.

The two professors gasp in surprise. Filch only laughs.

"Well, well," he says. "Not another one."

*    *    *

It is barely eight in the morning, yet a racket is already echoing through the thickness of the Forbidden Forest.

Hagrid wipes his forehead with the back of his arm as he runs for the Rhinotah - basically a huge rhinoceros with cheetah-patterned armour. It is thrashing about wildly, with Neville Longbottom on its broad back. He is hanging on for dear life, screaming for his grandmother.

His enchanted class card flies out from his pocket and hits Karla Haughton, a Slytherin, smack in the middle of her forehead. She takes it off and looks at it.

Monday. First Class: Care of Magical Creatures.

Professor: Rubeus Hagrid.

Houses: Gryffindors and Slytherins. (7th Level)

Usually, Karla would throw a fit if anything of Neville's touched her, but since it's the first day of classes and the "clumsy dungbomb" is already in the middle of something hilarious, she'll let it go this time. With an evil laugh, she drops the class card into the intercepting wind which blows it off again, this time straight into the woods.

"Neville!" Hagrid hollers as he tries to reach for the animal’s leash. "Hold on, boy! I’m going ter get yeh down!"

Hermione Granger, Neville’s partner for today’s class, watches with terrified eyes as the Rhinotah lows like a cow and bounces like a bull, flailing Longbottom around, who looks so frail on the huge animal.

Ron Weasley, who is standing beside her, has his eyes opened wider than his gaping mouth. "I don’t understand it," he says, grasping the leash of the enormous but rather placid Rhinotah between him and Harry Potter. "They’re the calmest creatures we’ve had. They eat grass, love a good cuddle and are scared of the dark... what happened?"

Harry shakes his head, clueless. He ran his hand through his dark hair and nervously watches the scene. "Uh, do you need help Hagrid?"

"Don’t worry Harry, I can do this!" he replies, grunting with each step he took.

Hermione wrings her hands as Hagrid keeps hopping around to catch the leash. Rhinotahs are very tame magical creatures. She’s read about them before. The only thing that can drive them wild is a good kick in the behind like any other animal.

"Aw, come on, Hagrid!" shouts Draco Malfoy as he pats the Rhinotah assigned to him and Pansy Parkinson. "Let the Rhinotah have a little bit of fun!" He laughs as loud as he can and Pansy cackles along with him.

As soon as she hears them, Hermione's eyes narrow into slits. She whips her head to face the right side of the class and glares at Draco. He's now high-fiving the brainless duo, Crabbe and Goyle. 'That obnoxious, evil, spoiled - how could anyone be his friend?’ she thinks, disgusted.

"Look, Pansy," Draco says, nodding towards Hermione, "The Mudblood’s family still has enough money to get her through seventh year in Hogwarts."

Pansy throws Hermione her famous pug pout. She then points menacingly at her feet and whispers to Patricia Haughton, another Slytherin girl, and they both have a laugh at her yellow Wellington boots.

"At least you didn't miss the party, Granger," Draco smirks. He laughs again at the running Hagrid, bucking Rhinotah, and screaming Neville. He calls out to the rest of the class. "What do you say we all bet on which freak gets tired first?"

Now it was Ron and Harry's turn to get upset. As they start towards Draco, Hermione stops them and gestures that she will handle the situation herself.

"You did this, Malfoy?" she says accusingly, approaching him in determinedly.

"Ooh, are you going to hurt me Granger?" he taunts.

"DID YOU DO THIS TO NEVILLE, YOU FERRET?!" she yells as she pushes him. The Rhinotah beside him grunts nervously.

"DON’T TOUCH ME, MUDBLOOD!" he yells back, pushing her, too. "I won't take credit for anything Longbottom does to himself." His right hand slowly reaches for his wand in his jean pocket.

Hermione who has also started to reach for hers finally has a good grip of it underneath her school robes. "Nobody calls me a mudblood, you wart," she mutters threateningly at Draco.

"Well, I just did," he jeers, "What are you going to do about it?"

"Just this."

At the same time, Draco and Hermione raise their wands and place jinxes each other in a flash. Everyone ducks with the exception of Hagrid and Neville who are still busy with their own problems a whole 30 feet away now.

A scream erupts just as Hagrid got hold of its leash. The Rhinotah immediately stops bucking and catapults Neville straight into a muddy pool near their Professor's hut.

"What is it this time?!" Hagrid roars, tying the leash onto his fence post and running towards the commotion.

"Professor Hagrid, sir!" the lovely Parvati Patil wails, "Hermione has been turned to some kind of mushroom!"

"And Draco’s— Draco’s—he’s a—" stammers Pansy who is now on her knees.

"A wart!" Ron cries out happily.

Hagrid walks through the parted crowd of students and fortunately manages to see a piece of wart and some weird shaped mushroom on the still dewy lawn. He looks at his students and points at Draco and Hermione.

"Perhaps, the most important lesson we’ve learned as of today is that these two creatures are the hardest yet to tame."

Chapter 2: PUNISH! PUNISH! PUNISH!
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"I cannot believe you two!" Minerva McGonagall fiercely says, her hands on her hips. "On the first day of classes!" her voice echoes into the neighboring dungeons of the Dark Arts professor, Severus Snape.

Snape hovers over Draco and Hermione, looking at the two who are as still as, well, mushroom and wart. Both students are in jars, "permitted" to remain in their gross state until further notice. The ever maternal Madame Pomfrey looks profoundly worried. She wrings her hands while she peers over Snape’s shoulder.

"The children should be getting treatment now, Professor," she says firmly.

Snape turns to face school nurse, his expression his typical stoicism. "Yes, yes. Madame Pomfrey. That’s right. The CHILDREN." He turns to look back at the two specimens in their respective jars.

"CHILDREN! After seven years these two are still… CHILDREN!" he shouts, spitting his words out like they were the bitterest things he's ever had in his mouth. He grabs the two jars and raises them both up to his eye level and continues his rant.

"Every single day, both of you get on each other’s nerves! EVERY SINGLE DAY! Aren’t you sick of it?! Row after row after row. And now, on the first day of school! You couldn’t even wait! Our nerves are shot because of this ceaseless madness!" his arms motion a throwing gesture but McGonagall stops him in time.

"Please, Severus!" she calls out, bewildered at his lost of aplomb. "I’m sure Mr. Malfoy and Ms. Granger get the point," she takes the jars and puts them back on the desk.

"As both of you know, this calls for a detention," McGonagall sighs. She looks noticeably tired. Slowly, she sits down on the visitor's chair across Snape's desk. She rubs her temples wearily, "But due to unexpected circumstances, the type of detention I’ll be giving, will be-- different."

Snape raises an eyebrow. "Surely you won’t—"

"Everyone is too busy with the little thing to even care about two teenagers running amok," McGonagall reasons, "Besides, Dumbledore did say that we need all the help we can."

Snape is silent. He looks doubtful.

Professor McGonagall turns to face the jars once again. "Last night, a baby girl was left on the doorstep of Hogwarts. We don’t know where she came from, who she is or who her parents are."

"We can solve that problem if we could just cast an Identifying spell on her but she’s too young and too sick for it," Madame Pomfrey adds, "She was left outside during the storm. Poor little thing."

"While we research on this trifle I’m assigning both of you, Ms. Granger and Mr. Malfoy, as the baby sitters of this infant. No buts."

Snape moves closer to the jars, resisting his urge to pick them up again. "Starting tomorrow, you are to report every night after dinner to the Infirmary for this job. You’ll be sitting in from that time until the baby falls asleep. You can do your homework there."

"If you don’t report on time or are absent for that day, you’ll be sitting in by yourself the day after that," McGonagall says sternly. She puts a thoughtful finger on her lips then finally nods, "I guess that’s all." She stands up, takes the jars and hands them to Madame Pomfrey.

"Starting tomorrow," she said, shaking a reminding finger at her cleverly Transfigured students. She conceals a smile underneath her hand as this incident certainly shows the two's obvious mastery of her subject. "Fortunately for the both of you, these spells are reversible."

And with that the three adults adjourned, Snape and McGonagall to their classes and Madame Pomfrey to treat the smallest patients she's ever had.

*    *    *

"Draco? Draco Malfoy? Taking care of a baby?" Ron exclaims with a hearty slam of his fist on the Gryffindor dining table. Harry practically jumps off his seat. Although used to his best friend's overacting antics, Weasley just never ceases to amaze with his timing and enthusiasm.

"Hermione, I cannot believe what you just said," Ginny adds as she helps herself to some kidney pie. The four Gryffindors are in the Great Hall having dinner and Hermione just about dropped the bomb on the nature of her and Draco’s detention. "Baby," Ginny snickers, "Now THIS I have to see."

Harry scratches his head, "Strange thing to do. Leaving a baby on a doorstep."

His friends raise their eyebrows. "Yeah, that's right," Hermione blinks, "How quaint."

"Without identification!" Harry adds defensively, blushing a bit. "The least they could've done was to give the baby a name."

"Aurora," Hermione says as she smoothes out the wrinkles on her skirt. "Professor Dumbledore already named her. It’s only temporary. They'll keep it until they know the real one, which they'll get after they’ve cast an Identifying Spell, of course."

"Of course," Ron rolls his eyes, his mouth full of mashed potatoes. "We all know that."

Ginny casts him a reproachful look. From the fierce glare in her eyes, she knows today is not the day to poke fun at Hermione's callous intelligence. "How old is she?" she then asks, hoping to distract. "A month?"

"Two."

"What does she look like?" Ron questions through mouthfuls of, this time, fruit tart.

"She looks like a skinny, hairless mole rat," a voice answers from behind them.

The quartet turns around and sees Draco in his Quidditch robes, holding his Nimbus Two Thousand and One. Obviously, he just came from an afternoon practice with the Slytherin team.

"You know very well that she’s sick," Hermione replies, her face going all stony.

"So she does look like a mole rat?" Ron asks again, eyes growing big.

Draco laughs. For a moment, Hermione sees something-- like how his steely eyes twinkle, and how pleasantly pink and sweaty he looks in those green and silver robes. Horrified, she immediately coughs up a shooing line.

"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" she snaps. "Do you need us to pay you a quid to bugger off?"

"I don't think you can afford it, Granger," he steps closer to her. "I came over to tell you that I’m not doing that foolish detention."

Harry snorts and looks at Draco amusedly. "You are so predictable, Malfoy. Let me guess. Your father's helping again, isn't he?"

Draco steps back and pulls back his shoulders, suddenly uncomfortable, "I’m not playing slave for nine months to a baby who's the same kind of charity case as you are, Potter," he says in a disgusted tone.

"Ten," corrects Ginny.

"You can’t do that!" Hermione shouts, rattling the surrounding students.

"Going to miss me Granger?" Draco smiles slyly, "Don't worry; we still have Double Potions together."

Hermione glares at him, "Can't wait."

He turns his back and lazily waves his hand, "See you around."

As she was just about to reach for her wand, Harry stops Hermione, "Hey, come on. No need for that again.”

She retrieves her hand. "It’s not fair. I’m sacrificing tons of homework hours for this detention and he’s just going to take it easy." For a moment, Hermione feels worried. Draco might just be the next top student for the whole seventh year. He may be a bad person but he’s one of the smartest in her year along with her.

"Don’t worry," Ron says assuredly, "McGonagall won't hear of this."

A crack of lightning suddenly breaks out of nowhere, illuminating the deep dark blue sky outside. Rain starts pouring in torrents and hammers loudly on the rooftops. In spite of her friends' assurances, Hermione’s hopes of getting exemplary marks on all her subjects streamed down like the water outside of Hogwarts Castle.

Hermione slowly trudges up the steps to the Infirmary, carefully balancing the heavy books she brought along with her. Right after dinner she made a quick trip to the Library for some additional readings. They didn’t have homework yet so she thought she would take advantage of the free time with some advance studying, and maybe lessen her chances of getting mediocre grades.

She finally reaches the top step and peeks out the window before she knocks on the door. It is still raining out but not as hard as it did during dinner.

"Come in!" a cheerful voice calls out from the other side of the wall.

Hermione pushes the double doors open and is welcomed by a smiling Madame Pomfrey. The school matron is holding a peacefully sleeping baby in her arms.

"Good evening," she smiles back, touching the baby’s forehead affectionately.

"Good evening, dear," Madame Pomfrey half-whispers. "It’s a good thing you’re here. I have a student in the Quarantine who’s having the worst case of Hiccups. I need to attend to him the whole night, just to make sure he won't hiccough his pillow inside him during sleeping."

She nods towards a couch and a coffee table in the corner of the little nursery she had set up. "Set your things over there, Miss Granger."

Hermione obediently does so and goes back to Madame Pomfrey, her arms outstretched, "You go on then. I can handle her."

The school nurse smiles. "I’m sure you can. Are your hands clean?"

Hermione nods.

Madame Pomfrey looked at her impressively. She carefully sets Aurora in Hermione’s arms and adds, "By the way, love. Where is Draco?"

Hermione bit her lip nervously. "Oh, he didn't tell you. I... well...he said he wouldn’t be coming..."

"How inconsiderate!" she comments, putting on a defiant stature by crossing her arms. "I’ll see to his punishment tomorrow night." She then leaves in a huff and enters the Quarantine section on the other side of the nursery.

Hermione shrugs-- she did warn him about that punishment. She smoothes the white-blond curls out of baby Aurora’s eyes. She looks pityingly at the sleeping baby in her arms. Aurora is a little too skinny and pale. She needs more help than Hermione thought.

A very loud thunder booms and reverberates throughout the castle. Aurora’s eyes suddenly open and she begins to whimper.

Hermione sighs, "Here we go."

Chapter 3: MR. BIG STAR
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Patricia Elliot looks up from her Quidditch Hotties magazine upon hearing a familiar voice from behind her.

"So I told him, get lost, right? Just that. And the loser started bawling his ass off..."

She nudges the girl beside her who was busy reading a novel. "Karla. Draco’s here."

Karla Haughton's face suddenly brightens up and pats her hair consciously. She and Patricia are both on the floor near the fireplace having some coffee, when Draco Malfoy entered the Slytherin common room with Blaise, his also rather attractive Quidditch team mate.

The two girls wave and smile at him. "Hey, Draco," Patricia calls out.

Draco glances in their direction and smiles back. "Hey, Patricia," he continues walking towards the couch in the common room’s extension, moving on with his conversation with Blaise.

Karla sighs longingly at his retreating back, "Why didn’t he say hi to me?"

Patricia rolls her eyes. She takes the book her friend's been reading in the past hour and throws it across the common room. "If you want Draco to notice you, maybe you should try reading something else other than a bloody Muggle novel."

"Hey!" Karla stands up and retrieves the book. "It’s quite interesting once you get into the thick of it." On her way back to her seat, she peeks at Draco and Blaise who are now in the middle of a game of Wizards’ Chess.

"Interesting or not, you shouldn’t be reading those stuff in front of him," Patricia advises, "You know how much he hates Muggles."

Karla ignores what she just said and sighs again, moving closer to the fireplace. "He is such a hottie."

"I know," Patricia agrees, stealing a glance at him. "Nice hair..."

"Handsome eyes..."

"And he's got a bit of a nice bum on him, too," Karla giggles. "And--"

"DRACO MALFOY!"

The two girls jump up from the floor and start shrieking like crazy. Severus Snape’s head just appeared in the fireplace and startled them.

"Calm down, both of you! It’s just me!" he shouts at them. "Where’s Draco?"

Patricia points a shaking finger at the common room extension.

"Well, what are you waiting for? GO GET HIM!" In a flash, Patricia runs to Draco to tell him about the call.

Meanwhile, Snape lectures Karla on reading Muggle-written books. "You should know better than read things written by them, especially him! He portrayed a Slytherin who has great mind powers as a lunatic with no love life! And her mother wasn’t ignorant of magic. She was one of the best wizards I have seen around. Deplorable author, this King person."

"What is it?" Draco, who is already behind Karla, asks. "I’m resting here and—"

"WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?" Snape shouts.

At this, Karla walks away from them and lingers close but out of sight to be able to hear their conversation. Patricia slips behind one of the common room drapes.

"Trying to slip out of detention with another letter to your father? Well, I just talked to him and thank goodness he sees the sense of discipline."

Draco’s brows furrow. "What are you talking about? He’s making me take THAT detention?!"

"Yes," Snape answers in a calmer tone, "And you will be reporting tomorrow night at the Infirmary—ALONE. Ms. Granger was already informed of this. She won’t be showing up then so make sure YOU are!" Before Draco could retort, Snape’s head disappears from the crackling flames of the fireplace.

As soon as he was sure Snape was gone, Draco curses, kicks a chair and storms up to his room. Blaise peeks in from the extension looking puzzled. Patricia and Karla emerge from their hiding places and exchanged looks.

"He’s taking detention WITH ugly Granger?" Karla says, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

"Eew," Patricia adds. "No wonder he’s mad," she sighs, "Poor baby."

Chapter 4: BLACK COFFEE
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Thursday morning wreaked pure Transfiguration havoc. Professor McGonagall made the whole class (Gryffindors and Ravenclaws) turn themselves into cardboard boxes and they were barely succeeding.

"Close enough," sighs McGonagall at three Ravenclaw students who turned themselves into tinselled paper bags. She waves her wand and turns them back before moving to the next table. There, she saw a lavender-striped, perforated cardboard box sitting between a wooden crate full of red herring and red Tupperware with a pair of glasses sitting atop of it.

"Very good, Ms. Granger," she says, turning the cardboard box back into Hermione. "Although, we can do without the holes next time, and as for you Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter," she adds, moving closer to the remaining curios, "concentrate." She flicks her wand and turns the two back into their old selves, only more dazed and confused.

Hermione catches up with McGonagall as she heads up to Neville and Seamus' table where a Jack-in-a-box and a jar of sugar lumps sat.

"Professor," she calls out. The Transfiguration teacher tut-tuts at the scene in front of her before turning to face Hermione.

"Yes Ms. Granger," she says, "Do you need something?"

"I was wondering," she begins, "if we aren't doing anything else, if I can leave class early? I want to get a head start on some History readings. I can't get much done at the Infirmary, you see. Practical stuff, I can manage. But the readings are a bit difficult to do with Aurora around."

"Very well," replies McGonagall as she gives a curt nod. "I hope this teaches you to be more mindful of your temper next time, Ms. Granger."

Hermione purses her lips but murmurs a positive answer. It does her well because in a few seconds, she is already out the door and well on her way to the library.

Upon arriving at the annex that led to her favourite Hogwarts haven, she notices two Slytherin girls near the door's entrance blowing green-tinted bubbles from their wands.

She recognizes them as Patricia Elliot and Karla Haughton, good friends of Pansy Parkinson. She rolls her eyes and quickens her pace. She finds herself wishing for Harry's Invisibility Cloak. She hates the Pug Squad - Ron's term of endearment - even more than Malfoy because they're twice as conniving and maleficent.

"Well, look what the good wind brought," Karla smiles, blowing a bubble her way, "It’s Mudblood Granger."

Hermione freezes in her tracks, recognizing the green-tinted bubble as a Slime Conjurer. If it pops (popping is done at will), she will be covered with Green Slime for the rest of the day. Surprisingly, she has yet to read on the antidote. Then again, she isn't the type to update herself on the wide, wonderful world of prank spells. That's the Weasley twins' job.

"Leave me alone. I’m not doing anything to you."

Patricia nods innocently, "Oh, okay." She waves her wand and the bubble flits away.

Hermione continues walking. Patricia flicks her wrist and the bubble is in her way once again.

Hermione glares at her. Patricia slyly smiles, "Not." Karla giggles and blows another bubble from her wand. It hovers menacingly above Hermione’s head.

"Look, I just want to go to the library—"

"And that’s why we want you to bugger off," Karla shrugs. She smoothes her skirt and walks towards Hermione. "You’ve been stressing Draco out a lot lately. He doesn’t need to see you today."

"He’s IN the library?" Hermione shakes her head and resumes walking. "Yeah, right."

"Another step, Mudblood, and you’ll be sorry!" Patricia screeches. She waves her wand and her bubble moves closer to Hermione - dangerously closer.

"Look, if he IS in the library, what makes you think I'll waste my time on Draco?" she snaps. "I’m. Going. There. To. S-T-U-D-Y."

"No," Karla says more determinedly, "And--" Her eyes suddenly widen, looking at something at the other side of the annex flying towards their group. She screams and ducks behind Patricia.

Her friend rolls her eyes. "It's just an owl, you scaredy cat," she tries to pull Karla to her side.

"I. Hate. BIRDS!" she shouts in her friend's ear.

"Bloody--what did you do that for?!"

Hermione looks at them back and forth and decides that now is the best time to sneak past them. Dodging the bubbles, she runs for the library’s entrance.

Patricia turns her head just in time to see Hermione reach the door. "She’s getting away!" Quickly, she and Karla flick their wands at the same time and cry, "Eruptus!" Upon command, the two green bubbles zoom towards Hermione, pop and pour a generous amount of slime on the poor girl, drenching her from head to toe.

Hermione's scream reverberated across the annex while Patricia and Karla laugh, pointing at her sorry state.

"Two days, Granger! You’re a slime ball for two LONG days!" Karla howls with joy.

"You know what," Patrick snickers, "you go on ahead and study." At that, the two Slytherin girls leave, their cackling still audible to Hermione even minutes after they are out of sight.

For a moment, Hermione is frozen. Her eyes wandered down to stare at her clothes, dripping wet with slime that is starting a little pool of green underneath her feet. Then, she hiccups and starts to cry.

Why me? She asks herself. She's not the only Mudblood in school. And she's nice! Isn't she nice? There were far more annoying students than her! Her eyes well with tears and in a minute, she loses her resolve to study.

She begins to consider an early retirement to the Gryffindor common room: have a few butter beers with her friends, maybe give Wizard's Chess a shot. She might just be good at that. After all, where is studying getting her aside from being Harry Potter's constant companion in almost every life-threatening adventure? She shakes her head, disappointed. What's the point in being the best when all they see is her Muggle parents and not her outstanding Arithmancy or superb Charming skills?

"Oh get a grip, Granger!" she cries out, stomping her feet. "Don't let the Pug Squad get to you." Having said that, Hermione thought it would be best to still visit the library. Although a trip to Madame Pomfrey would surely help, she doesn't want to walk past all those classrooms looking like a slime ball (as Karla so kindly put it). So, the library is her only sanctuary. As she approaches the doors, Hermione crosses her fingers, hoping that no one will see her and that the antidote lies in a book somewhere inside.

Finally, she reaches the Antidote and Spell Breakers section where, much to her dismay, Draco happened to be. He is seated behind a long study table, sleeping. Several books, a scroll and a cup of coffee joined him but he is otherwise, alone.

"Of all the people in the world..." Hermione breathes nervously. As quietly as she can, she tiptoes past him and starts looking for that large antidote book on trick charms.

"Bingo," she whispers, spotting the gnarly volume sitting pretty on a shelf just over an arm's reach up. She put her things on the floor and was just about to reach up when she hears a voice behind her.

"So, that's where the smell's coming from."

Hermione refused to turn around. She just needs to get the book and she's out of there.

She can hear Draco yawning as he asks, "What happened to you? Popped one of your zits again? That's a whole week's worth of slime you got there!" he laughs, pretty much sold to his own joke.

Hermione's eyes begin to pool with tears again. Just when she thought the worst has happened, Draco joins the picture to add insult to injury. These Slytherins just know where to hit it. She hops up to reach for the book then mentally smacks herself. As her vision starts to get blurry from her tears, she takes out her wand and swishes and flicks her wrist.

"A-a-acc-acci- a-a,”she couldn’t continue as she was starting to choke on her own remorse, "Acci- a-"

"Accio book," chants Draco from behind and the book flies out of the shelf and lands in Draco’s hand. "What do we have here, Granger? Oh, antidotes huh?"

"G-give it h-here, Malfoy," Hermione insists, trying to mask her crying.

Draco turns his attention from the book to the girl in front of him and looks at her closely. Hermione steps back, hoping all that dripping slime can mask her tears. He walks up to her and raises her chin up with his right hand. "What’s the matter? Are you crying, Granger?"

Hermione freezes. What is he thinking? Is he touching her? Their eyes meet and for a moment she opts to look back but finds that she can't stand his probing eyes anymore. She drops her gaze and pushes his hand away.

"Get your hands off me," she steps back. "Give me the book now."

He levitates the book again and puts it back on the shelf. He smiles at her. "I don’t think so." And before Hermione can react, he takes his mug of coffee and splashes the black liquid on her.

She shrieks, "What did you do that for?! What is up with everyone, pouring stuff on me…” Her voice trails off. The slime is melting away into thin air. In a minute, she's as clean as she was that morning. What was left on her was the bitter-sweet aroma of strong, black coffee.

"Wh-what?" Puzzled, she faces Draco who is now back in his seat.

"Naturally, coffee is the antidote," he yawns, "And you wouldn’t find it in there. That book’s way too old for new spells." He pushes aside the scroll in front of him full of plant drawings. "Now how about you leave me alone? That stupid baby kept me up all night."

Hermione is at loss for words. Is she dreaming? Did Draco just... help her?

"Uhm," she begins, as she picks up her things, "Thank you."

She cringes inwardly, waiting for a comeback. He doesn't answer. On closer inspection, she observes that he's asleep again. Hermione thought that it couldn't get stranger than that. Maybe Aurora really wore him out. Quietly, she takes her leave, relieved to be let off so cheaply today.

As soon as she is a few feet away, Draco opens an eye and watches her walk away. He couldn't help but think about how beautiful her eyes looked and how soft her chin felt even with all that slime. He looks at the empty mug in front of him, mentally reprimanding himself for the outrageous thoughts. Not the Mudblood. An unfamiliar fluttering in his stomach made him feel extremely uncomfortable... and pleasant at the same time. He pushes the mug away.

"You owe me coffee, Hermione," he mutters at her retreating figure. He sees her stall for a moment and looks around, like she heard someone say her name. Satisfied that no one else is there, she proceeds to the opposite wing of the huge library to get on with her reading. He closes his eyes.

Chapter 5: MOON AND SAND
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It is a Friday. Over dinner, while most are busy making plans for their first weekend of the school year (trips to Hogsmeade, Quidditch games, picnics, what have you), two students grudgingly finish tonight's beef stew and treacle tart as excited conversation swarm about them.

"Hermione, you're not done yet?" Ginny asks incredulously, looking at her friend's plate. "Come on, we're gonna check out Fred and George's Blubbering Fool game set, remember?"

"It's Flubbering Bull," Ron corrects.

Harry shakes his head, "It's Bubbling Ghoul."

"You three very well know I can't," snaps Hermione.

The three "oh" and "ah" and "that's right" in unison and glance at the Slytherin table where Draco just happens to look up at them. Instead of giving the Gryffindors his accustomed sneer, he opts to ignore them. He then stands up and leaves the Great Hall.

"Well that's new," Harry comments in surprise, "I kind of miss the old pompous bit he does whenever he sees our lot." He glances at Hermione who now seems very interested in the swimming carrots in her stew. "We can wait for you, if you want Hermione. We'll be staying up late anyway, right?" He looks at his group who is now joined by Luna Lovegood and they all nod vigorously.

Hermione knows her friends are being more patronizing than sweet tonight. From the look on their faces, they are all too eager to sort through the care package of tricks that Fred and George sent this afternoon. "It's all right," she sighs, "I'll just catch up."

"Let's get on with it then," Ron points out, wiping the jam off his face with the back of his hand. At his word, the group scrambles out of their seats and of the Great Hall. In two minutes flat, they are well on their way through the Fat Lady's portrait, appendixes aching a bit.

Hermione smiles a bit and shakes her head as she looks at freight train of red and gold that are her friends. Had it not been for them, she might have long since lost it to the reptiles of this place. She glances at the Slytherin table as this thought crosses her mind. She spots the Pug Squad eyeing her maliciously--Karla and Patricia especially murderously, obviously livid that she's strangely slime-free.

Being the smart girl that she is, Hermione takes this as her signal to leave. After all, a once a week encounter with the Pug Squad is more than enough for her. She quickly gathers her books and takes off for the Infirmary.

Aurora is looking better today. Her white-blond curls are glinting healthily, and her cheeks are pleasantly rosy against her brownish skin. Although still noticeably skinny, Madame Pomfrey remarks that the baby's improvement has been vast and it will only be a matter of time before she gets more flesh on her tiny bones.

That night, the matron leaves Aurora in the care of her two babysitters to join the rest of the faculty in conducting a battery of spells to help identify her. There aren’t any students confined that night, it was just the three in the Infirmary who are not on speaking terms.

The first few hours of babysitting is uneventful, with Hermione on an empty bed doing Monday's homework and Draco several feet away, stiffly marching around the Infirmary burping Aurora and "swaying" her to sleep. Needless to say, Malfoy's soldier-like gait does no magic in lulling a baby to sleep.

Nine o'clock sees Hermione's turn to carry Aurora. Draco seem to have forgotten though as he continues to sway around the Infirmary even half past nine.

"Draco," Hermione calls her detention mate, "It's way past nine. Let me try to get her to sleep."

"What?" he says, snapping back to reality. "Oh, right." He walks over to her hands over Aurora as gently as possible. "I thought she was already... she was closing her eyes... then they'd open... I'd--" He catches himself, probably wondering why he should be explaining to her. Of all people.

She, on the other hand, is surprised at his newfound concern for Aurora but decides to mask it lest he changes his mind out of shame. "It's all right," she nods. She positions Aurora comfortably on the crook of her arm. "I'll give it a shot."

"Yeah," he mutters. He walks over to the armchair near the crib and slumps on it. He reaches for his Potions book and opens it.

Hermione slowly walks around the nursery. Once. Then twice. It is already ten in the evening when she did eight full laps and at the same time a painful yet stealthy sound starts ringing in her ears. She looks around and realizes it's only the bothering sound of silence when the sound of flipping pages from the armchair breaks it every five or so minutes.

She walks over to Draco who is still busy reading their Potions book. She winces as another stream of "silence" filters through her eardrums. She clears her throat just to soothe it a bit.

"What?" Draco asks, looking at her.

"Oh, nothing," she answers quickly. "I was... it's just... it's too quiet."

Draco gives her a strange look before going back to his reading.

Hermione looks at Aurora who is still wide awake and now playing with her mittens. She smiles at her. If only she can talk, then maybe it wouldn't be this painfully quiet and she wouldn't feel too compelled to talk to Draco. She coughs softly and moves towards him a bit closer. "Are you studying?" she asks.

Draco doesn't look up. "No. I'm swimming, Granger. Can't you see?" He flips to another page. "Now step back or I might hit you with my backstroke."

Hermione bites her lip. Her question IS rather daft. She steps back and does another round in the Infirmary before going back to Draco.

"I didn't get to thank you. Properly. For what you did yesterday."

Draco doesn't say anything. He continues to busy himself with his reading.

"You know. With the Slime Conjurer."

More silence.

"So thank you."

"I don't remember helping you Granger," Draco finally replies. He still won't look at her.

Hermione mentally shrugs and goes to walk Aurora around again. She would love to forget everything that happened that afternoon as well but unfortunately, memory is working against both of them. So her effort to tell him her thanks was just so he knows she's not some persona non grata. Heaven forbid he uses her ungratefulness to bash Muggles again.

She walks towards one of the Infirmary's windows and starts humming Aurora a song. The baby girl gurgles a compliment and in a few minutes her eyes start to close.

Draco looks up at them distractedly. "Could you stop that? I’m finding it hard to concentrate."

"This is a song she happens to like," Hermione says defensively. "Look, it’s putting her to sleep. Just be thankful I’m not singing it."

Draco frowns and goes back to his homework. Hermione starts humming again.

"I don’t know that song," says Draco suddenly, "Who sang it?"

"Chet Baker. It’s called Moon and Sand. It’s about a boy meeting a girl—"

He grimaces. "A Muggle? Don’t sing it to the baby, then. Won’t be good for her."

"So now what's good for her actually matters to you?" Hermione says in her challenging tone, putting the sleeping Aurora back in her cradle. "And what is your deal with Muggles?"

"They’re stupid," shrugs Draco.

"Wizards can be stupid," she counters.

"Oh, that’s right. Like you. Then again, you’re a Mudblood," he says slyly.

Hermione rolls her eyes. "And how are you so sure that Aurora isn’t a Muggle?" she points out.

Draco shrugs. "How are you so sure that she isn’t a wizard?" He stands up and turns on Aurora's mobile with his wand. "A kid as good-looking as her might just find her way in Slytherin."

"I thought she looked like a mole rat to you—"

"If she is a Muggle, then you should consider her lucky," Draco continues, "At least she's had a few months of good wizard upbringing—"

Hermione laughs. "And you consider yourself to have had one?" She sees Draco glaring at her but he doesn't say a word. She took this opportunity to bosh on everything she got on her chest since she came in tonight. "You’re a screwed-up git with no respect for others. If that’s what you call a product of good upbringing then I pity Aurora. Come to think of it, tell your parents, Malfoy, that I pity you, too. Because it looks like you’re going to be as ruthless as they are."

Draco laughs but his face has turned scarlet with anger. "You don't know my parents, Granger. So don't you dare talk about them like you do."

She remains unfazed by his sudden frightening exterior. "Oh, I think I know more about them than you give me credit for, Malfoy." She crosses her arms and looks thoughtful. "Tell me, who loves you a whole lot less: your dad or your mum?"

Draco definitely looks grim. At this point, Hermione knows she hit a nerve. A fragile one. What she saw in Draco’s eyes was more on hurt than contempt. She immediately feels guilty for her merciless banter. Obviously, she's right about the love subject being such a family issue. But it isn't her problem therefore giving her no right to highlight it at any point of argument with Draco. 'So much for saying 'thank you',' Hermione says to herself.

Malfoy says nothing and goes back to his chair and his book. Hermione walks back to the bed where she has spread out all her homework. She begins reading through her Charms checklist to practice for Monday's practical. She looks at Draco from the corner of her eye. He's now staring blankly out the window.

After an hour of reading the same line over and over, it was clear that none of what she's reading seem to be penetrating her mind. Telling off Draco distracted her more than she expected. She glances at him again and sees him nodding off to sleep. She looks at the clock near the door. It was nearing 11. Madame Pomfrey still hasn't come back from the faculty's identifying conference.

Hermione sighs and wonders if she should apologize to Draco. He might be rude but she really hit below the belt with that last row. Her mind starts to wander to the Gryffindor common room where her friends might still be yelling outrageous spells at each other. They would never hear of it, apologizing to Malfoy. But then again, they don't know what she told him. After all, nobody likes it when people bash their families.

Her eyes are now growing heavy as she continues to ponder giving an apology. She finally drifts off to sleep with a vision of laughing friends and the sound waves in her head.

*

He laughed as he stared at the midnight sky. "Truth or dare, Hermione?"



"Truth," I said without hesitation as I lay back on the sand with the waves lapping at my toes. I felt at ease and at the same time giddy. I looked over to my right and there was an empty bottle of Faust and two champagne glasses lying beside me. Then I turned back to look at him.

He smirked. "Do you like me?"

I laughed and stared at him. The reflection of the full moon glinted from his light gray eyes. "Hell yeah..."

He smirked once again.

"Now you, truth or dare?" I asked.

"Dare me."

"I dare you to kiss me - for a good five seconds," I said all of a sudden.

Then before I realized what was happening, he was in front of me. His smiling lips centimeters from mine. Our noses touched, sending flashes of sparks throughout my body. I felt my eyes close involuntarily. I quivered under the touch of his hand on my right arm. I fell into him. His lips gently grazed over mine. Then they strayed away. But even before I could open my eyes, they were back on my lips once more. Forcefully this time, but with more passion and honesty than before. My mouth opened unintentionally and I tasted his lips, still sweet from the red wine.

My fingers found its way into the soft tangles of his blond hair. Pulling him closer to me, we fell onto the sand, with the moonlight still dancing above us. "Draco..."


*

Hermione wakes up with a start. Lightning and thunder along with rain, are ruling the skies again. Her eyes are wide open. If anybody can see her, they would think that she just had a nightmare. She looks around as she desperately tries to remember her dream, but most of it is slipping quickly away with every second she's awake. Only one detail seem to stick though. Draco. She was--

"Ssh," said a familiar voice. "It's okay."

Her heart starts beating fast. 'Where am I?' she wonders, panicked.

A humming from her far left causes her to turns her head. She feels her hair snag on a bunch of parchments lying beside her in bed. Past "flick" and "swish" and "tapping" directions, she sees Draco on his feet, carrying a crying baby. For a good five minutes, Hermione can't seem to place where she could be in the middle of the night with Draco and a baby.

"It’s okay Aurora," he whispers. "Go back to sleep. It was just a bad dream."

Then she remembers. Detention. Madame Pomfrey and Identifying Spells. Then Chet Baker. A row. And wine.

'No, wait,' she thinks, shaking her head. There was no wine. That belongs in the dream she just had. She touches her lips with her fingers. It felt so real.

She peeks at Draco and sees him plant a kiss on Aurora's forehead. He marches around the Infirmary as he continues humming... Moon and Sand. He looks tired but his face has also a measure of calm and benevolence she has never seen before.

She continues to watch him, strangely enamored by the sound of his voice. She drifts off again, waves and his humming echoing in her ears.

Chapter 6: WAKING MOMENT
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"Hey," a voice from far away says, "Are you okay?"

Hermione isn’t listening as she goes on pruning the blood-red evergreens in front of her. She looks up at the sky through the glass ceiling of the greenhouse and sees clusters of cumulonimbus clouds preying on the bright morning. She frowns. The sight of an impending thunderstorm is dousing her bright expectation that Aurora is sure to get better in a day's time.

She sighs, as she turns the pot of the evergreen around and checks for more unsightly needles. She’s been getting three or four hours of sleep at most, with a sickly baby and a home work from all of her classes to juggle.

Then, there's the problem of the other sitter. Ever since that dream she had, she can't look him straight in the eye anymore. It was an embarrassing dream to have about anyone, much more when it’s about someone you passionately despise.

Fortunately, with the last row they had, another encounter seemed hardly likely anymore. They had not breathed a word to each other, even a single one of hate. Hermione didn't dare start another exchange; she felt guilty enough about having said terrible things about his parents. She wouldn't take it back either, especially when she knows it hurt him - for once in his life, Draco should feel what it's like to be on the other side of the fence, where the Muggleborns and Muggles sat, judged for the blood that ran through their veins and nothing more.

Hermione sniffs, a haughty a look on her face, convinced that that was reason enough for saying something mean, something that went against her nature. 'I can take care of Aurora without Draco's help,' she says to herself.

As soon as the thought passed through her mind, her wand slipped a little from her hand and the Pruning Spell cuts her in the other hand.

"Oww," she hisses through her teeth.

"Fourteen!" cries the girl beside her. It is Parvati Patil, looking worried and slightly nauseous. "You’ve nicked yourself fourteen times in the past ten minutes, Hermione. You're bleeding all over the table!" she squirms and edges away from her.

Neville Longbottom, who is sharing the table with the two girls, glances at Hermione's hand. "Whoa," he says, surprised, "That looks really bad. Are you having problem with the spell?"

"I beg your--" Hermione stops, "My Pruning Spell is fine, Neville. I’m just…out of it."

"I'll say," Parvati replies darkly.

Hermione turns red. "My wand just slipped, that's all."

"I'll ask you again," Parvati says. "Are. You. Okay?"

Hermione rolls her eyes at her overreacting classmate. "I'm fine, Parvati."

Parvati raises her eyebrows, flicks her wrist to halt the Pruning Spell from her wand and crosses her arms. "Yeah? I don't think so," she looks up and bats her eyes. "Look at me, I'm Hermione Granger. Supposedly the smartest witch in my class yet I'm pruning with my eyes looking up the sky and my mind wandering to something else."

"Or," Lavender Brown adds smiling from the next table, "someone."

Neville blinks. "Oh," he says, "I never thought of that. I figured you were always bothering about the boring stuff--"

"The boring stuff!" Hermione exclaimed, eyes wide.

"Is it Krum?" Lavender asks excitedly, "He hasn't been writing, has he?"

Parvati shakes her head. "Is that the problem? You should have told us, Hermione. It's better for things to be talked about than kept inside, you know. Those things manifest in other things that are more bothersome--"

"Like in eating," Lavender shares, "A lot."

"Or with homework," Neville adds, “And playing hooky.”

Hermione laughs. She goes back to pruning the plants on their table. "There is nothing wrong with me--"

"Or in dreams," Parvati interrupts.

At that Hermione's wand slips again and another cut on her left hand appears. "Oww," she winces again. This one feels deeper than the earlier ones. "What did you say?"

Parvati walks closer to Hermione and grabs her classmate’s wand and ceases the Pruning Spell running on it. "My mum said when we refuse to face the truth about something while we're awake it chases us in our sleep. And that's the worst because you hardly get any rest and it's all you think about and the next thing you know, you're scared to go to bed because you don't want to dream about it again."

Hermione grabs her wand from Parvati. "No, you dream about things because you see them while you're asleep. It's just your unconscious swirling everything around that your conscious self saw the previous day."

Parvati looks at her pityingly. "You know the only time I remember you're a Muggleborn is when you say things like that?"

"Like what?" Hermione in a loud voice, defensively asks.

"Is there a problem, Miss Granger?" Professor Pomona Sprout calls out to her from the front of the classroom where she is busy watching Harry and Ron prune their own lot of evergreens.

Lavender and Neville quickly return to their own pruning while Parvati pretends to look at something on the blackboard. Hermione feels her face turn the shade of beets as the rest of her classmates look at her.

"No, ma'am," she answers, "I just…cut myself..."

Professor Sprout glances at Parvati, Lavender and Neville, "Well, wear your gloves if you can't get a hang on it still." Hermione purses her lips at the second presumption of her incompetence today. "And please, keep it down. It's just a nick."

"Yes ma'am," she nods. She waves her wand and turns her attention back to her work. Parvati turns around to face Hermione again and watches her.

"What?" she whispers to Parvati, irate.

Her seatmate doesn't seem shaken. "It’s the detention, right?"

Hermione freezes for a split second but resumes pruning. "What about it?"

Parvati nods, suddenly looking understanding again. "It's not Krum. You're distracted because you haven’t got enough sleep," she looks around, "Because of that baby."

Hermione breathes a sigh of relief but tries to keep a straight face.

"You must be doing all the work," Parvati continues. "It's not an easy job, taking care of a baby. Or even two." she laughs. "Malfoy must be bullying you into doing everything. I don’t blame him though. What does he know right?"

"Oh he's not bullying me into anything," Hermione says as-a-matter-of-factly. "He's doing his part, actually. And he's especially good with the formulas..." she trails off as soon as she sees Parvati look at her strangely. "But yeah, he's hopeless."

Parvati nods and flicks her wand again to begin the Pruning Spell. "And you're stuck with him for the rest of the school year. Bother."

"Yeah," Hermione mutters. But as she ponders over this piece of insight, she finds that it hardly bothered her one bit.

She blinks and wonders if she's dreaming again.

- - - - - - - -

The grandfather's clock ticks ominously, its sound echoing across the spacious nursery. Inside, the air is humid and the atmosphere tense. Sitting calmly inside any of the rooms would leave one parched and breathless. It's as if the entire Infirmary is cloaked with layers of the thickest and dampest blankets that do not intend to let any soul or air in or out.

From the rocking chair placed in the center of the room, Hermione suddenly stands up. She crosses the room and goes over to the nearest window, pulls aside the drapes and takes a deep breath. Outside, nothing is visible save for the dense black clouds that hovered over the school grounds.

“Why won’t you rain?” she mutters at the clouds as she wipes her forehead with her handkerchief. She looks at the nursery where Aurora’s crib is now placed squarely in the middle of the room. Five feet away, Draco is snoring loudly in an armchair, a copy of Wizards Quarterly on his chest.

It was just the three of them again tonight. Hopefully for just two hours, like Madame Pomfrey promised. She left a few minutes ago to transfer a student to St. Mungo’s whose Hiccoughs weren’t getting any better. They had left through the Floo Network to avoid any splinching from happening as the student couldn’t stand still for even a minute, propelled by the force of her own hiccups.

Hermione glances at the grandfather’s clock. Two hours won’t be so bad with Draco napping and Aurora sound asleep. With any luck, she can get some reading done and be back at the dorms just in time for bed.

“No sweat,” she says to herself. After another deep breath, Hermione decides to get a move on with her Potions homework and goes to the other armchair placed ten feet away from Draco’s and just five from Aurora’s crib.

As she is about to settle comfortably between the upholstery, she hears a small whimpering sound coming from the crib. Hermione sighs impatiently but stands up anyway and goes over to Aurora. She gasps at the sight that hailed her.

The tiny girl who was just sleeping peacefully a few minutes ago is now wide-awake, red and gasping for breath.

"Wh-what’s going on?" Hermione stammers. She reaches out hand to feel Aurora’s forehead.

“Ouch!” she cried, quickly withdrawing her hand. Hermione is alarmed. Saying that Aurora has a fever would’ve been an understatement. Feeling her forehead was like touching a hot kettle. “What’s going on?” Worry quickly turns to panic as she realizes that even with her temperature literally flaming, Aurora is shivering. The baby starts crying softly.

“Oh, it’s okay,” she coos, while her eyes frantically scanned the room. “It’s okay, you just have a fever.” She spots a pile of infant linens on the bureau near the bathroom door. She takes her wand out from her pocket. “Accio linens!” She catches the linens and immediately goes about in bundling Aurora.

“Oww,” she hisses as the baby’s skin singes her hands, but she keeps going. Fortunately, Madame Pomfrey must have left anti-enchantment linens as they stayed perfectly whole on Aurora.

As she quickly wrapped Aurora’s body, Hermione can’t help but think that Draco might just be right about her. “You’re no Muggle,” she whispers gently. She leans forward to carry Aurora but she only cried harder and grew hotter. “It’s okay,” she winces, “You’ll be okay.” She reaches for the last linen and covers her arms with it. Again, she tries to take Aurora.

“There you go,” Hermione smiles. The linen helped but she doesn’t know if it will hold. Aurora is absolutely sweltering and her crying has grown louder.

Hermione is visibly distressed. The sight of Aurora’s thin and pale face twisting in pain is more than she can bear. She can stand the look of boils and warts, and worse still, of rabid three-headed dogs and even You-Know-Who.

But a sick baby that can hardly move her hands and feet—Aurora’s condition is certainly breaking her bit by bit. Hermione trembles and tears start to fall down her cheeks. She doesn’t know what to do. Although the linens are holding very well, the heat that seeped out from the sides is blistering.

“Ssh,” she sobbed softly, “It’s okay.” She continues to sway about, hoping it can make Aurora feel better.

“What’s going on?” she hears an all-too familiar voice say from behind her. She turns around to face Draco who is still rubbing sleep from his eyes. He looks at her. “Are you crying again, Granger?” Then, his gaze falls on Aurora.

“What’s going on?” he asks again, this time less vindictive and more serious.

“She’s sick,” Hermione finally manages to answer. She winces again, feeling another blister on her arm. “And she’s really hot. I don’t know what to do and—“

“It’s okay,” he says. “Here, let me take her.”

“No, I mean she’s really hot,” she sobs.

“That’s why you should give her to me,” Draco says, moving closer. “You’re burning. You shouldn’t be touching her.”

“You’ll burn—“

“I’ll bring her back to her crib right away.”

Hermione nods and gently hands Aurora to him. “Now, get a basin of water and towel,” Draco urgently says as he put Aurora back in her crib. “We need to give her a bath, so make sure the temperature’s just right.”

Hermione runs to the bathroom, wiping her tears as she went. The air is still humid and it’s making it harder for her to breathe. She leans over the sink to take a deep breath and gain aplomb. She knows she needs to stop being sixteen for a while and grow a few years older for a baby who might never feel real care.

She returns to the crib side with the things Draco required and finds that her classmate has conjured a basket of lemons. He has also removed the linens that covered Aurora, save for one that covers her from the neck down.

“Thanks. Just put it over there,” he points to the night table beside the crib, “Are you okay?”

Hermione couldn’t speak. She is at loss for words, her mind racing on what to do for Aurora. In Healing knowledge, there are no spells for taking care of a baby with fever. Only a parent’s care is in place for such a delicate being. And so for once, without books or scrolls on her side, she doesn’t know the right thing to do. Then, just like that, she feels sixteen again, maybe even younger and more helpless.

Draco seems to realize what Hermione is going through. He reaches over and squeezes her gently on the shoulder, “Hey, you did great. You bundled her up and the freezing’s gone, see? That’s what you did, right?”

Hermione nods, feeling her eyes well up again. “Is she going to be okay?”

“Of course,” Draco assures her, “But I need your help.” He summons a lemon from the basket and cuts it in half with his wand. “I need you to squeeze a couple of these into the basin,” he touches Aurora’s toes and withdraws his hand almost immediately. He has the same look as when Hermione felt her forehead. “Her feet are like ice,” he mutters. He looks back at Hermione who has started with the lemons.

“We have to give her this bath to draw the fever from her head,” he says. He takes the towel and dips it in the basin. “Rub her feet, too. That helps.”

For almost an hour, the two went about in this manner, exchanging places, rubbing Aurora’s feet, wiping her face and the rest of her body. But all the work paid off. Soon, Aurora was calm, less feverish and sleeping soundly once again. Outside, a light drizzle began.

"My mum used to do this for me when I was sick. Then my dad rubbed my feet," he gave a small laugh, "It’s a miracle I still remember how they used to go about it." He dries Aurora’s feet with a dry towel and puts on her socks.

Hermione kisses Aurora’s forehead. It was still a little warm but at least they can touch her again. She slumps back in her chair and looks at her hands, all wrinkly and sore from the lemon juice. Her cuts from Herbology class are starting to sting, too.

"That’s was great work," she whispers to Draco who has now moved his chair closer to the crib.

"Thanks," he mutters. He waves his wand wearily and enchants the slowly spinning mobile above Aurora’s crib with some music that sounded of chimes. For a minute, the two students were silent.

"I’m sorry," Hermione says suddenly, her eyes still on her hands, "I really shouldn’t have said those things about your parents.” She then looks at Draco and waits for him to answer. His eyes are directed at the mobile but his gaze is far away. She speaks again.

“This, what you did for Aurora. This is perfect proof that you mean a lot to them. And that, they’re not as bad as I thought they were.”

Once again, Draco doesn’t answer. But this time, he looks at her. Then, at her hands.

“What happened to your fingers, Granger?” he asks. “Dull moment at Herbology today?”

Hermione smiles. She isn’t sure how and why but all of a sudden, everything about Draco is clear. Their differences forestalled camaraderie between them and began revulsion instead. But now, she realizes that the boy she hated all this time was just one side of a person. There is more to him, which strangely, looks and sounds just like her—proud, self-possessed and human.

“I’ll have you know that pruning blood-red evergreens is no joke, Malfoy,” she replies. “It was hardly a dull moment.”

Draco finally smiles back, “Right.”

Just then, the Infirmary door opens and in walks Madame Pomfrey, drenched and flustered. "Terrible, those Hiccups! Children these days don’t know how to chew and swallow their food properly. Always in a hurry!” Her eyes shift back and forth between Hermione and Draco.

"Well... is everything... all right?" she asks.

Draco stands up. “Aurora’s sick again, ma’am. She was having a fit about an hour ago. It was a fever.”

“A fever?” Madame Pomfrey repeats, alarmed. She runs over to the crib and looks at the baby. She touches her forehead. “Yes, she is a little warm. But she seems fine now.” She glances at the two again. “You two managed a fever?”

Hermione looks at Draco, “I couldn’t have done it without Draco.”

“I wouldn’t have known she was having one if Hermione didn’t stay up to look after her,” Draco immediately adds.

Madame Pomfrey raises her eyebrows and puts her hands on her hips. She can’t believe what she is hearing and seeing. “Well, both of you did a good job. Quite frankly, I never thought I’d see this day…” her voice trails off, probably thinking better of it. “You two go on then, it’s pretty late. I’ll take over from here.”

The two students nod and began gathering their things. As they step out of the nursery, Hermione remembers something and goes back to the school nurse.

“Madame Pomfrey,” she says, fidgeting with the strap of her school bag. “Do we have any luck in Identifying Aurora?”

She sighs, “No, I’m afraid not. The weather isn’t cooperating at all and we need at least a week of clear sky.” The nurse looks at her. “Why do you ask, Ms. Granger?”

She then goes on to tell Madame Pomfrey about what happened during Aurora’s fever fit. After a quick rundown of tonight’s events, Hermione finally leaves after giving Aurora another kiss on the forehead.

As soon as she closed the door behind her departing students, the nurse walks back to the crib and looks at Aurora. Her face shows worry and confusion. “Curious,” Madame Pomfrey whispers, “Very curious.”

Chapter 7: CLANDESTINE
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As Patricia Elliot ducked to dodge an incoming bludger, the Slytherin girl wondered where all the time went with Quidditch season just right around the corner. She, along with Pansy Parkinson and Karla Haughton, are watching the Slytherin practice that’s been going on since five that afternoon and they are not tired in the least bit.

As she smiles at one of the cute Beaters, who winks at her while zooming past, she glances at the amber sky and guesses that it must be a quarter before seven. She swallows and realizes her throat is parched from all the cheering they've been doing for the last hour or so. Already subdued from, perhaps, thirst levels as well, Karla is just making suggestive looks at Blaise Zabini; Pansy, on the other hand, is relentless.

"He is SO hot!" she gushes, as Draco zips past their group, avoiding the same bludger that was just flying past Patricia a few seconds ago.

"Yeah," nods Karla, eyes still on Blaise, "WAY cuter Seeker than Potter."

"I am SO lucky I got him as my date in the Yule Ball," Pansy says proudly, "Remember that I was the only one he danced with ALL night?"

Karla coos at her enviously. Patricia only rolls her eyes. 'Oh someone PLEASE kill me now.' Never a day goes by when Pansy won't Draco-fy the conversation. At this rate, she's already memorized three Draco vignettes: Who’s his Potions partner? Who’s his family friend? And the current favourite, who was his Yule Ball date?

‘Someone should tell her it's never going to happen,’ Patricia thinks, a pleased look on her face. After all, if Pansy's been this lucky, shouldn't they be, at the very least, be dating by now? She tucks a lock of her black hair behind her ear, and looks at the blond Seeker. "Oh look," she says morosely, "he's on his way here."

Her two friends hush as Draco flies up and lands on the bleachers two rows in front of them. He smiles, his grey eyes looking bright, "Hey!"

"Hey," Pansy says in her best impression of someone uninterested.

He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and sits down. Pansy grins at her friends before standing up to approach him. She takes out her wand and conjures a bottle of cold soda.

"Hard day?" she asks, smiling as seductively as she could. She hands him the soda. Patricia rolls her eyes again, thinking that Pansy should make up her mind if she'll play the dog or the shrew.

"Oh thanks! Day's okay, I guess," he shrugs, taking the bottle. He looks at Patricia and Karla and motions to the soda. "You guys want one?" He motions towards Pansy. "You should make her get you one, she makes them real cold."

"I'll have one, Pansy!" grins Karla.

"Me too!" pipes in Patricia, relieved. She can never ask Pansy to get her anything. Thank goodness for Draco, who, apparently, still believes in chivalry.

Pansy waves her wand and sends the bottles straight into their hands, eager to get them off her back for more quality time with Malfoy. 'Typical,' Patricia thinks as she takes a sip from the bottle of orange soda in her hand. She looks at it, impressed. It is deliciously cold and conveniently, in orange, which is Draco's favourite.

As Patricia begins to open her mouth to compliment her friend, she notices that Pansy's elation is replaced with something else. A frown glowers where her smile was just a moment ago. Patricia looks at Draco and sees the problem.

Even with his eyes on the team, the Slytherin Seeker's mind seems to be elsewhere. Pansy coughs lightly to get his attention, a move Patricia knows all too well. She knows her friend got it from Dolores Umbridge a few years ago and has been using it ever since to get attention, supposedly subtly. Patricia smiles. Apparently, elsewhere, wherever that is, is getting on Pansy's nerves.

Patricia can see that Draco's obviously having another one of his moments. He's been so distracted as of late that even Karla agrees that he's not as fun and desirable as he was before. While it didn't really do any damage to his studies (he's even been topping all his classes) or his Quidditch training (he's getting the Snitch in much less time than before), his recent actions hasn't been living up to his bad boy status. For example, he hasn't bullied anyone lately like Harry Potter and his friends. "Especially them," Patricia says quietly.

"What?" Karla asks distractedly. She's still busy exchanging body language messages to the Zabini boy. "You said something?"

"Oh, no," Patricia quickly replies, eager to hear the conversation in front of her unfold.

"Quid for your thoughts?" Pansy asks Draco, sidling up to him.

Draco looks at her and grins, "Is that all they’re worth?" He leans back and shakes his head. "It’s nothing." At this, he averts his eyes from the field and looks at the school.

Patricia follows his gaze towards Hogwarts which stands ominously against the darkening sky. Stars are beginning to appear and it looks as if it's going to be a clear night. She peers at the school's towering facade, curious as ever.

"What time is it?" Draco suddenly asks, bolting upright.

Pansy checks the silver Belinda Bauble watch hanging around her neck. "Half past 7--"

Draco curses and immediately gets on his broom, "I gotta go."

"What?" Pansy asks, grasping his arm. She immediately lets go when she sees the desperation linked with such a small action. "Training isn't even finished yet, Draco," she says, forcing a calm smile. "You haven't got the Snitch."

Draco grins, hovering over the bleachers on his broom. He stretches out his left arm and opens his fist to release a glittering gold ball with small fluttering wings. "I got it twenty minutes into practice."

Karla and Patricia clap their hands excitedly. Pansy scowls.

Draco winks at her and zooms away, tossing the now empty bottle of soda in a nearby bin. "I'll catch you girls later!" he shouts. He then swerves towards Blaise who is hovering pointedly by the goals. He tosses him the Snitch which he catches, alarmed.

"What-- is this the Snitch?" Blaise calls out to Draco who is already fifty feet away. "Blinking git's got it all this time!" he calls out to the rest of the team.

"What's he got us running around for?" one of them yells back.

Patricia watches Draco make a couple of figure eights above the field before heading on back to the school. "You gotta admit Pansy, that was pretty cool," she remarks admirably.

Of course, Pansy could care less about a caught Snitch. She crosses her arms as she walks back to her seat in between her friends. "Late? What could he possibly be late for?"

"Detention, what else?" Karla answers nonchalantly, taking another sip of orange soda. Patricia hides a grin.

Pansy frowns at Karla, and turns her head back to Draco’s departing figure. Before completely disappearing into the castle, he swoops down one of the flowerbeds beside the line of greenhouses. A small rain of white petals trails after him.

"Wow," Patricia says, amused and surprised at this unexpected scene, "He looks mighty excited."

"Well, that sorts it out," Karla shrugs. "Can't imagine him being excited about detention, can you? Must be getting a call from his father."

"And he's bringing him flowers?" Pansy snaps. She stands up and leaves in a huff, storming straight into the field and almost running the entire Slytherin team over. She continues to stomp across the field and Patricia thought she saw fumes come out of her ears a little.

“Just said it was probable, didn’t I?” Karla calls out to her defensively. She sighs and looks at Patricia. "What's gotten into her?"

Her friend shrugs, masking her giggle by having another swig of soda. Karla sticks her tongue out at the departing Pansy and stands up. "Come on, let's go. I'm hungry."

Patricia smiles, "Yeah, let's go." On their way down the bleachers, the two girls chuck their soda bottles in the nearby bin.

“Hold on, I want to say hi to Blaise,” Karla smiles. Patricia nods absentmindedly, looking at Hogwarts again. As her friend skipped towards the field, something catches Patricia’s eye.

She steps off the bleachers and leans over the bin. It was empty, save for two empty bottles of orange soda… and one lemon.

"Hello, anytime this year?" Karla calls out, already arm-locked with Blaise on the field.

"Coming!" Patricia answers back. She gives the bottle one last look, shrugs and skips to join Karla and Blaise in their walk back to school.

--------

Harry Potter looks up from his dinner of mashed potatoes and seared rib eye just in time to see a bushy-haired girl walk in the Great Hall. For a minute, he is puzzled. He seems to know her but not recognize her.

“Is it me or does Hermione look different?” Ron Weasley, from beside him, asks. He squints at the approaching figure obviously headed for the Gryffindor table.

Harry’s face lights up. Of course. “Yeah,” he replies, watching their friend continue down the aisle in her cheerful gait. “She looks odd.” He pauses and takes a sip of water. “Is she smiling?”

“Hey, you’re right,” Ron says in surprise. “Haven’t seen that in a while. Hey Hermione!”

"Good evening!" Hermione Granger greets her fellow Gryffindors as she reaches the table. She plunks herself on the space between Seamus and Neville, across her best friends.

"Someone’s in a good mood," Seamus comments with his mouth full of chips. He swallows them down with a hearty swig of pumpkin juice. "Finished all your homework before five?"

"Maybe earlier," Ron points out as he helps himself to another serving of salmon casserole. "Which reminds me. Can I copy some stuff off your Transfiguration journal, Hermione?"

"Sure!" she answers in a tone that is close to a squeal. Ron and Harry jump in their seats while Seamus almost chokes on his fish. Hermione only laughs. She takes a slice of the spotted dick which just appeared in front of her and spoons a blob of cream on it.

"I think you ARE in a strangely good mood," Ron comments, nodding at her plate. "Aren't you going to have some real dinner first?"

"Oh, I'm good!" she answers in the same excited, half-squeal. This time Neville jumped along with Harry and Ron in their seats.

"Hermione, you might want to turn it down a bit," squirms Neville, "You’re worse than a blooming Howler."

She giggles and pats Neville’s shoulder, "Sorry. Got a bit carried away." She goes back to tending her dessert, this time garnishing it with a healthy dollop of honey.

Harry looks on, his mouth half-open. "Hermione, won't that be too sweet?"

"What? Oh!" Hermione laughs again and tosses her hair, "Au contraire, Harry. Honey, although sweeter than table sugar, won't give you as many cavities." She winks at him and picks up her fork and starts eating her dessert.

Harry nods and shrugs. "Okay, I guess. Good to learn something new everyday."

"Oh, which reminds me," Seamus starts. "I was on my way to Charms today and guess--"

"What, you're done?!" Ron suddenly exclaims. Everyone turns to him who then turns to Hermione who was dabbing at her mouth delicately with her napkin. In front of her is the plate where the spotted dick sat not a few minutes ago. It is empty.

Seamus and Neville are dumbfounded, knives and forks in frozen in midair. Ron and Harry look like they were going to be sick over their mashed potatoes.

"What?" she says defensively. "I was hungry!"

"So am I and I'm still going through this slice of sea bass," Seamus states dryly.

Hermione rolls her eyes. “You lot don’t think it’s strange when Ron does the same thing,” she points out.

“Because it’s Ron!” Harry exclaims. “He’s always eaten like that. You know better.”

“Hey,” Ron pouts. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Hermione shakes her head and waves her hand dismissively. “Well, if you must know, I’m in a bit of a rush because I want to get some homework done before detention.”

“Oh,” Neville says. “Your detention’s still busy? I thought you said the baby’s getting better.”

For a moment, Harry thought he saw Hermione turn slightly pink. He looks at her closely and notices her wand stuffed carelessly inside her robe. He suddenly gets an odd feeling.

“She is,” Hermione quickly replies. “But her health’s still a bit dodgy. You know, better safe than sorry.” She starts gathering her things and stands up.

“I guess we’ll see you later then,” Seamus shrugs.

“Yeah,” she nods. Already a few feet away from them, she turns around and goes back. Except for Seamus and Neville who are already lost in a conversation about Wizard’s Chess, Harry and Ron look at her quizzically.

She just grins nervously at them and turns around again and jogs out of the Great Hall.

“She’s been so weird lately,” Ron remarks as he chews on a cupcake.

Harry nods. He knows that look. Hermione wants to tell them something but can’t. Usually because the timing’s off or she doesn’t really know how to say it—‘But she eventually does,’ Harry tells himself. He crosses his fingers. He hopes that whatever it is, it’s not trouble involving Dark wizards again.

--------

He’s been standing quietly in the shadows for quite some time now. He saw Draco on the Quidditch field hurriedly get on his broom and fly to the school’s main grounds. And he nearly ran into Hermione in the hallway, seemingly to be in a hurry to have dinner. Fortunately, he blended in with the shadows and managed to go by unnoticed.

Now, from his place above the staircase and tucked underneath the great drapes by a nearby window, he sees the Granger girl emerge from the Great Hall. As soon as she steps through the doors, she gets knocked off by Malfoy who is still flying his broom.

“Bul—Hermione! I’m sorry!” Draco apologizes. He dismounts his broom and offers her his hand.

Hermione looks up at him and around them reluctantly. Positive that no one is around, she takes his hand and smiles back at him. “It’s okay. I wasn’t looking anyway.”

The man in the shadows raises an eyebrow. He starts to think back on the past months. Clearly a lot has changed about the situation between the two students.

“You had dinner?” Draco asks, glancing behind her. “But, I—“

Hermione looks around again and pulls him to the staircase, urging him to start walking. “Pretended. Just so nobody misses me,” she says. She grins at him. “I still have room for your famous mincemeat pies.”

He smiles back and puts one arm around her shoulders, “I am willing to swear it’s nothing like you’ve ever had.”

“Oh really?” she giggles.

From the sparkle in their eyes and the shy smiles they exchanged in animated conversation, he knows there is nothing to fear. Unmistakably besotted with each other, it is safe to say that the two baby sitters suspect nothing. Of course, this newfound friendship is certainly worthy of note, but it’s not the reason why he is keeping tabs on them.

As soon as the two students disappear around the corner, he steps out from behind the drapes. He looks out the window and up at the crescent-shaped moon that eerily lit the cloudless atmosphere. Tomorrow makes a week of clear sky. Pre-holiday examinations and practicals made the teachers forgetful. But he has been very careful not to let such a thing pass.

What the Granger girl told Madame Pomfrey is much to be worried about. The baby is obviously not a Muggle and definitely not a witch. As of the moment, she does not belong anywhere that can be explained.

That is why he believes that the Identifying Spell needs to be done right away. Contrary to what the rest of the faculty thinks, he is certain that the child is no longer weak to take such powerful spell. In fact, she may be stronger than they perceive her to be.

Already four months old, her crying is strong and clear, her body well-formed. ‘And her eyes,’ he recalls. When he visited the Infirmary a few weeks back, he noticed how extraordinarily bright her grey eyes were.

He nods at the empty hallway before him. “Tomorrow night,” he whispers to himself. “There is no time to lose.”

Chapter 8: BLESS WHO?
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"Aaarrrggghhh!" screams Hannah Abbott as another Slime Conjurer hits her on the head. She curses furiously at the copse of trees some fifty feet in front of her before taking one of her own bubbles from the rucksack sitting some few inches away from the bushes she is using as a makeshift fort. She levitates the green bubble with an angry swish and flick and sends it flying to her target.

"Eruptus!" she bellows as soon as she sees a familiar head peek out from behind a fairly large yew tree. Her bubble bursts and drenches a Slytherin girl who begins wailing wildly. "Hah!" Hannah shouts at her opponent. "That serves you right!"

"Wingardium Leviosa," a wispy voice says from behind her. Hannah moves to her left and lets Luna Lovegood's Slime Conjurer flit past her head and towards the wailing girl's group. It glides slowly, yet gracefully, and bursts spot on Blaise Zabini's nose. Shouting and wailing from the other side ensues again.

Neville pats Luna at the back. "That's a good one!" he says, watching Blaise make rude gestures at them. "But I think at the rate they're going, we're gonna have to make the bubbles go faster." At that moment, five Slime Conjurers zoom towards them and burst in a split second drenching the three Gryffindors further in green, stinking slime.

Hannah screams bloody murder again while Luna looks at Neville, "Like that?"

He nods and wipes his face with the back of his hand, "Yep. Just like that."

"It kind of helps that there's five of them and only three of us, doesn't it?" Luna asks, a thoughtful look on her face.

Hannah looks at the Galleon in her other hand. "What's taking them so long?!" she shrieks at Neville.

Her boyfriend cringes at the tone of her voice and gives Hogwarts castle a worried glance, "They said they were on their way."

"Oh, sod it!" Hannah cries as she reaches for the rucksack of Slime Conjurers. She tosses them in the air and raises her wand at the same time. Deftly, she levitates each and every single one of the bubbles and sends them zooming towards the Slytherins once more.

The green bubbles twinkle prettily in the Saturday morning sunshine reflected from the lake just a stone's throw away from their crossfire. For quick moment, they look as if they are floating and not menacingly headed for five teenagers' heads. Then, Hannah calls out the bursting spell and the bubbles pop and drench their targets all at the same time.

"Now, while they're busy," Hannah begins to tell her group, her eyes carefully watching the Slytherins, "run!"

They sprint for the castle at breakneck speed, knowing that once the Slytherins catch up they won't have any more bubbles to throw back at them. The time is now or never.

It is at that moment that a familiar whistling noise cut through the early morning air and reached the ears of the three. They look up and cheer happily as they see Harry, Ron and Ginny flying towards them on their brooms.

"Blimey!" Ron exclaims as soon as they land, gawking at his slime-drenched friends.

"That lot looks worse though," Harry nods at the group of Slytherins still whining and griping in their spot behind the trees. He squints, trying to make out a face or two underneath all the green goo. "Is that the Pug Squad?"

"Just two-thirds of the Pug Squad," answers Luna who is trying to wipe her face with a soiled scarf. "And Crabbe, Goyle and Zabini."

"How do you get it off?!" asks Ginny who tries to clean them with a scouring spell.

“We’ve tried that,” sighs Neville, “We just know how it works.”

"Don't worry," Ron assures them, "Reckon Fred and George will know."

"What happened anyway?" Harry asks his friends.

Hannah points an angry finger towards the direction of the scheming Slytherins. "That Pansy Parkinson’s gone off her rocker,” she reports vehemently. “She thinks she saw me snuggling with her boyfriend in the Library yesterday. So now she’s attacked me so I’ll ‘stay away’!”

“Boyfriend?” Harry remarks in surprise. “Who’s her boyfriend?”

“Malfoy, apparently,” Neville answers, “Can we talk about this later? I think I see them coming and we’ve completely ran out of Slime Conjurers.”

“What?” Ron cries out loud as they mount their brooms and make room for their friends. “You used up all of them? I haven’t even had a go yet!”

“Shut it, Ron, and let’s just go!” Hannah hollers from behind Ginny’s broom.

"Not so fast, Abbott!" comes Pansy's shrill voice from behind, or rather, above them.

They look up and see her riding with Goyle on his broom. Joining them is Crabbe who made room for Patricia on his broom and Blaise who looks especially livid. Hovering with them are five more Slime Conjurers, poised and ready to be putted on their heads.

“You ready to own up yet?” Pansy smiled, her teeth tinted green as well. Goyle snickers wickedly.

Hannah glowers at her, “Haven’t got anything to own up to, have I?”

“Don’t worry, Hannah,” whispers Ron, “Ginny’s got around ten more bubbles in her pocket.”

“Oh, I feel safe now,” Hannah comments sardonically. She nods at Crabbe’s rucksack which is still half-full (half-empty for Luna) of Slime Conjurers.

“Makes you think, doesn’t it?” Harry mutters. He has an odd look on his face.

“What?” Hannah asks, “What about?”

“If it wasn’t you she saw—“

“If!” Hannah snaps.

“I mean since! SINCE it wasn’t you that she saw,” Harry continues, “then who was Malfoy trying to have a go at?”

Ginny groans. “I wish you wouldn’t talk like a real bloke.”

“I wish Hermione was here,” Ron swallows nervously. He slowly takes out his wand, “She’s pretty good with these caught-in-a-barney situations.”

“Where is she anyway?” Neville asks them, eyeing Zabini who is raising his wand bit by bit to ready the bursting spell.

“I thought she was with you three,” Ron replies through his teeth.

“She wasn’t in her bed,” Ginny adds, her eyes flicking about, starting to formulate a good escape plan.

Hannah sighs and rolls her eyes. “Doesn’t really matter now, does it?”

“Kind of hoped it would,” Neville and Ron said at the same time. Luna nods in agreement.

Ginny shrugs, “Well, let’s just make my last bubbles worth it, all right?” They all nod, wands aimed vigilantly at the Slytherins. She nods back at them. “At the count of three then…”

--------

Karla woke up at half past nine because of a cold she brewed up overnight and so, is completely oblivious to the slime fight her friends are busy with. At the moment that Ginny yelled, “Three!” Karla is busy filing her nails on her bed while reading her copy of Witch’s Weekly.

Now sniffing and blowing her nose non-stop, she decides to go to Madame Pomfrey for remedies. She’ll go after she’s done with polishing her nails, of course.

"At-choo!" she sneezes. She draws her blankets closer around her and gets herself another tissue. She takes out her compact and is aghast at the sight of her red nose which is at the beginnings of a hideous swelling. She looks at her nails. Satisfied that they look pretty okay, Karla decides not to waste anymore time and hit the Infirmary pronto. After a shower.

As soon as her hot shower's done, Karla’s cold is worse. She then wraps herself in her favourite wool scarf, puts on her gloves and adds another coat over her mohair jumper. She checks her reflection in the mirror and is becomes more worried at the state of her nose. Quickly, she grabs her tissue box from the nearby dresser.

She is already outside the Slytherin dormitory, when she realizes that she had taken someone else’s wand in her hurry.

"Damn it," she curses, not wanting to run back inside. She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. “Tredan wand,” she whispers. Karla smiles upon seeing the wand in her hand replaced with her own.  "The perks of the Switching Spell," she says of the wandless spell only purebloods can cast. And with that, she is off.

The hallway to the Infirmary is very serene. Portraits of Charles Curative and Dilys Derwent scatter the annex, joined by statues of angels and paintings of beautiful scenery from Wales. So, when Karla reaches the lounge and is welcomed by intense silence, she doesn’t worry. Only Madame Pomfrey seems to be out of sight.

“Hello?” she calls out, slowly stepping in the sterile environment colored with the slightest hue of blue. “Madame Pomfrey?” she says again. Karla frowns. From the sound of her voice, the cold’s already taken a toll on her voice, making it sound scratchy.

She approaches the school nurse’s table and sees that her things are still there. Joining the usual jars of White Leeches and Licorice flavored Depressors, and bottles of Smethwyck’s Sparkling Cleansers, there are nursing bottles and stacks of silver-white linens. “For the mole rat,” Karla nods.

The sound of running water from the door near the table causes her to turn her head in its direction. On the whitewashed panelling beside a door is a sign the gleamed “Bathroom.”

“Madame Pomfrey?” Karla calls out. “Is that--at-choo!”

“Oh is someone there?” the school nurse answers, “I’ll be out in a bit, dear. Give me a minute.”

“Okay,” the student answers stuffily through a tissue. She turns around and heads for the line of white chairs near the door. But before she could sit down, she hears a voice. It is familiar and coming from the general direction of the ward. She sees a door which is slightly ajar and tiptoes towards it.

"I think she's wants you to throw her the ball,” the voice says. Karla recognizes it as Draco’s. On a very, very good day. Intrigued and curious as to what Draco Malfoy might be doing in the Infirmary on a Saturday morning, she peeks in.

She sees Aurora first, sitting calmly and holding a silver white ball in her hand. “The mole rat,” Karla whispers. She smiles in spite of herself, “She’s cute.”

The baby seems to be handing her toy over to Hermione Granger who is leaning on the crib bars and smiling teasingly at her. "I'll take the ball?" she cooed. "You want me to take the ball, Aurora?"

Karla frowned. Because of Pansy, she knew perfectly well that Draco’s detention with Hermione falls only on weekday nights. She tries to remember when the schedule extended over to Saturday mornings and when it started to look like fun—a whole lot of fun. She takes a deep breath. She decides not to indulge so soon on the outrageous story forming in her head. So she continues to listen and hide behind the huge oak door.

Hermione is now looking at Draco, sitting on the other side of the crib. "Don't think so, she won't give the ball to me," she tells him. He doesn't respond. He seems to be busy fumbling with a small, velvet green box on his lap. "What are you doing?" She leans over to him. "What's that?"

"What?" Draco asks in alarm, hiding the box behind his back. "It's, well, it's uh..." His voice trails off. It now looks as if he completely forgot about the box and is now staring amazedly at Aurora.

"What?" Hermione asks. She and Karla follow his shocked gaze and their eyes widen in return.

A slight draft seems to be blowing from somewhere and is causing the ball to hover a full foot above Aurora's outstretched palm. It moves up higher, two feet and then three. Then, as quickly as it happened, the draft dies down and the ball falls neatly on the cushions in front of the gurgling child.

"How did she--" Karla whispers.

"--do that?" Draco says.

Hermione gleefully musses Aurora curls with her hands. "That was amazing, Aurora!" She takes her up in her arms and kisses her soundly on the cheek. "You're a talented little thing, aren't you? Whatever you are!"

"She's definitely not a Muggle," Draco remarks. He continues to stare at the baby in amazement but breaks out from his reverie when the box in his hand finally opens. Karla hears the soft pop and pries her eyes from Aurora and on the tiny package in his hands.

Sitting pretty inside it is a thin silver necklace, with a pendant shaped like a snake. Its eyes twinkle an emerald-green color. "Finally!" he cries out.

Hermione glances at him. "Finally what?" she laughs. Karla's eyes narrow into thin slits. She begins to wonder if her imagination wasn’t being so wild after all.

Draco stands up and shows the necklace to Hermione. He smiles nervously at her. "It's uh... a..."

"A-a-a-a-a-a..." parrots Aurora.

Draco turns red. Hermione and Karla raise their eyebrows in surprise. They don't quite remember the last time Draco turned red for anything.

Finally, he takes a deep breath and takes a step closer. "It's a necklace," he says, "And it's for you."

Karla's jaw drops. Hermione turns pink. "Wow," she says slowly, "Really?"

"Wow wow wow wow wow..." Aurora says, clapping her hands.

"Really," nods Draco, "Go on, take it." He places the box in Hermione's one free hand and takes Aurora.

"B-but," she stammers. By this time, Karla has her hands on her hips and her mouth pressed in a thin, livid line. "It looks like it's worth a lot, Draco."

"I want you to have it," he insists. He looks at her and their eyes lock. Quickly, Draco hides his red face behind Aurora and plants a kiss on her tousled little head.

Hermione smiles and blushes as well, "Thank you."

"It’s enchanted,” he adds, in a tone that was too loud and nervous. He catches himself and takes another deep breath.  “It’s enchanted,” he says again. “When somebody else wears it, the pendant turns into a real snake."

Hermione nods, impressed and still very much surprised. “That's cool. This is really wonderful, Draco."

"Yeah?" he says, grinning proudly.

Karla shakes her head in disbelief and disgust. ‘How did this happen?’ she wonders, ‘And is this even for real?’ She leans back on the wall and mulls over her last thought. Perhaps it is a joke. One of Draco’s famous pranks. Detention must be really boring and maybe this is his way of coping or better yet, spicing it up.

She grins maliciously but her gut is not satisfied. Something was odd about how Draco acted today. He seemed profoundly different. There was a noticeable change in his smile, his manner of talking and towards Granger no less. ‘No,’ she thinks to herself, ‘This is no prank at all.’

Upon arriving at that conclusion, Karla starts to feel her nose itch. As she scratched it with a tissue, she realizes that the sensation is slowly crawling to the back of her throat.

She looks at the entrance to the lounge. She didn’t realize how far she had gone from the reception area. Quickly, she turns around and heads for the door. Unfortunately, physiological responses are faster.

“AT-CHOO!”

"Who’s there?" come Draco’s voice.

Karla mentally slaps her forehead as she wipes her nose with another fresh tissue. But she doesn’t stop. She silently strides towards the door.

"Who’s there?" Draco calls out again.

She finally reaches the hallway and it is there that she begins to run. The portraits hush her as she passed. She ignored them. She crosses her fingers, hoping Draco won’t go after her.

It is at the courtyard that she runs literally into some trouble, bumping into a fairly large figure that throws her off a good distance. She lands on her butt and sneezes yet again.

“AT-CHOO!”

"Where were you?” comes Pansy’s shrieking voice from somewhere.

"Yeah!" adds Patricia’s in agreement.

Karla’s vision clears and she realizes that it was Goyle she ran into. She sees that he and the rest of her friends are drenched in green slime. Blaise reaches out his hand and helps her up. “What happened?” Karla asks in bewilderment.

“Hannah Abbot and the Crackpots, that’s what’s happened!” Pansy shrieks again. For a moment, Karla doesn’t understand what she is talking about. Then she recalls what happened yesterday.

While procrastinating over some History homework, she and Pansy got lost in the Library’s Restricted Area and saw Draco studying with his arms around Hannah. A girl they assumed was Hannah.

“I’d rather Hannah,” Karla grumbles, her mind flying back to the scene she caught in the Infirmary.

“What?” Pansy shouts, “What did you say?”

“Look,” Karla mutters as she herds the group into to the Great Hall. “Let’s get you lot some black coffee and then we’ll talk. I just found out something interesting." She points a finger at Pansy, "You would just die."

Chapter 9: IDENTIFYING SPELL
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He thought they would never leave.

He scowls in his place behind a statue of Charles Curative as he watches Madame Pomfrey see Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger out of the Infirmary. The school surgery is hardly a merry place to be on a Saturday night. Yet, as he gives a cursory glance at the picnic basket Draco is lugging in his arm, the two students seem to have decided to spend their precious dinnertime at the nursery and not some café in Hogsmeade.

They pass the statue in silence, eyes looking far away and foreheads creased with worry. He peers at them curiously. He wonders why anxiousness is etched on the students’ faces. ‘I guess dinner wasn’t that fun,’ he thinks to himself.

“You haven’t told anybody, right?” Draco suddenly asks. “About us? Being alright now and everything?

Hermione looks at him in surprise but shakes her head. “No,” she answers slowly, “Nobody knows.”

Draco sighs. He stops walking and takes her arm. “Hey, don’t take it the wrong way.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hermione says in a tone that was a forced attempt to be as offhand as possible.

“Hermione,” he says pleadingly.

“Draco,” she interrupts, “You don’t have to be worried about anything. My lips are sealed about this entire… thing. Whatever it is. If it is… something… at all…” She continues to walk but Draco steps in her way.

“It is. It is something,” he insists. He reaches out his hand and touches the snake pendant that leans on her neck. “I gave you this because I want us to have… something.” He turns red. “That is, if you want us to have… something…”

The Dim figure rolls his eyes in exasperation. He wonders why he’s always in the right place and right time for these sappy moments. He looks over at Hermione whose face just lit up in a smile. She doesn’t answer but takes his hand in hers and they resume walking again.

Again, he wonders what all the fuss is about. But as soon as the two students are well out of earshot, he quickly dismisses the puzzle. He looks down at own hand, carrying his own picnic basket and gives it another once over, making sure he has everything he needs.

“Perfect,” he says a little too loudly.

“I dare say. Who’s there?” says the statue of Charles Curative nervously, eyes looking around.

He smiles and puts his hood on and turns himself Dim. The statue then focuses on something else at the other end of the annex. “Anyone there?” the statue calls again. He takes this opportunity to slip in the Infirmary unnoticed.

He enters the lounge at the same time Madame Pomfrey steps out from the nursery. He could tell the Dim spell is holding quite well as her attention is fixed on her desk, where a rather thick book sat beside a steaming cup of Overcast Duke.

He stands still in his place right beside the front door and he watches her leave the nursery door open before going over to her novel. As soon as she is settled in her chair and is opening her book, he quickly slips in the baby’s room, carefully holding his picnic basket close to his chest.

He takes a deep breath upon setting foot in the nursery. He looks around the room and spots the little infant’s crib, now moved from her place near the window to the center of the nursery. He walks over to it and smiles at her sleeping figure.

She definitely looks better, maybe even at the pink of health. Her tanned complexion exudes a vigorous glow and her silver blond curls are shining beautifully.

He looks back at Madame Pomfrey who is now softly weeping over her book. Gently, he puts the picnic basket down and takes out his wand. “Muffliato,” he says.

Finally, everything is secure. A piece of scroll is taken out from underneath his robes and laid down on the night table. A few rays of light from the moon touch it delicately and the letters and words written in a very hurried scrawl seem to jump to life.

To compile everything neatly, the identifying spell requires: a pair of owl eyes, a pair of dog ears, a pixie’s nose, a salamander’s paw and a lock of hair or fur of the animal, human, monster, familiar, et cetera to be identified. All are to be thrown into a cauldron of boiling water and paprika in the order this is relayed.

The caster must stir the formula completely while chanting Appelatio over and over again. After two minutes of stirring, hear a distant thunderbolt from the bottom of the cauldron will be heard. Once the surface is settled, a five-minute vision of where the being is from and what it is should appear.

He obviously wastes no time as, in a few minutes, everything is in place. On the floor, a few feet from Aurora’s crib, a cauldron full of water is now at a rolling boil. From the picnic basket, he draws out the bottles and sacks of monstrous ingredients and drops them in the cauldron. Then he goes over to the sleeping baby and takes a lock of her hair using his wand and chucks it in the cauldron.

He stirs the darkening potion with his wand.

"Appelatio,” he begins, feeling a bit tense in his chest. But he continues. “Appelatio. Appelatio. Appelatio. Appelatio..."

Suddenly, he hears a thunderbolt. It is time. He takes away his wand and takes a deep breath. He counts up to ten and peers over the cauldron.

His eyes widen. A freight train of confounded thoughts begin to flood his mind. He waves his wand and the cauldron and the picnic basket disappear.

Not able to comprehend what he’s just seen, he leaves the Infirmary the fastest way he can and runs like the wind.

Chapter 10: SCANDAL
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Rubeus Hagrid is in a good mood today. He has promptly divided his Monday class, 7th year Gryffindors and Slytherins, into two groups and placed them a good twenty feet from each other.

He nods approvingly at the neat clustering of each house, like Muggle soldiers of ancient times when they would go to war. The students are surprised at this exacting arrangement but are noticeably relieved at the same time.

Today signals the beginning of Practicals Week. It is the rigorous, credited activity of the 7th years in preparation for their mock N.E.W.T.s which will be held the following week. In other words, everyone’s Christmas holidays will be preempted by this hellacious affair and the last thing the students and teachers need is another feisty diatribe between select members of their houses.

Draco Malfoy hardly cared for it at all. In fact, he’s one of those thankful for Hagrid’s sudden surge of firmness. This should divert attention from anything dodgy going on between him and Hermione Granger and it might even make that mysterious sneezing being think twice about what it saw.

He runs a slightly shaking gloved hand through his white-blond hair, throwing a cursory glance at Hermione who is standing on the front lines of Gryffindor, speaking with Parvati Patil. His breath catches in his throat, enthralled at how stunning she looks so early in the morning. But the sudden appearance of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley beside her made him quickly redirect his gaze on the leaf-covered ground. He sighs.

He’d been reduced to a bundle of nerves over the weekend. He’s half-expected the news to come up during mealtimes or Quidditch practice. After all, his friendship with Hermione is certainly a story not worth keeping to one’s self. Carefully, he’s listened in on all the stories that are going around, even checked for the freshest lot of vandalism on desks and walls.

But there was nothing. All in all, it is strange and at the same time, upsetting. He’s been involved in a lot of mischief just to result to the naïve assurance that the issue will never come up. It will, definitely. And the hold up only says that it will be in the worst way possible.

Hagrid’s voice calling roll brok him out of his thoughts. He has just rounded up a dozen Rhinotahs onto the large expanse of grass between the two houses.

“You lot remember them?” he asks everyone. There were some scattered sighs of relief and uncomfortable grunts from the class. “Yeah, they’re yer practicals. Hope everyone remembers everythin’ I taught.”

Draco stares emptily at the creatures. He attempts to block out Hagrid’s voice as he just heard something distinctly familiar.

“At-choo!”

And there it is.

He spins around, checking to see where it came from. He curses silently as he surveys each and every face. The way everyone is bundled up today, anyone of them could have a cold. But he knew he got it right this time. And what luck. For sure, whoever it was that saw them that day, is a Slytherin. His face is grim.

“Hey, Longbottom!” calls out Goyle, who is standing beside him, “Reckon you’ll ace this one, eh?”

There is some collective snickering. Hagrid reprimands the students and resumes roll call. Draco looks at Hermione, now patting Neville’s back reassuringly. She doesn’t look like she heard the sneeze at all.

“At-choo!”

Draco cranes his neck over to the left side. It seems to be coming from behind. Then, he catches sight of Pansy Parkinson. She is rolling her eyes at Karla Haughton who is sporting a very red nose. Draco’s heart skips a beat. ‘Oh no,’ he panics. ‘No.’

Slowly and as cautiously as possible, he walks away from his position at Slytherin’s front lines and moves back a few rows towards where the two girls are standing.

“Haven’t you been to the Infirmary yet?” Pansy asks.

“Just went there this afternoon,” the girl gasps in reply. “Ghastly, this.” She catches sight of Draco and their eyes lock.

“All that sniffing, can’t stand it anymore," complains Pansy, oblivious to what is conspiring in stares between Malfoy and her friend. “You should’ve gone during the weekend.”

“I tried,” Karla answers, keeping her eyes on Draco. Her eyes twinkle and he thinks he sees a smile form slightly on her lips. “But other things were in the way.”

Draco’s jaw tightens. He squeezes through two tall Slytherin girls and stands beside Karla.

“Oh,” Pansy says morosely, eyeing Draco coolly through narrowed eyes, “It’s you.”

“You need something?” Karla asks him, casting Pansy a reproachful look.

He flippantly shrugs. “Hey, listen. Do you have a minute?”

Karla laughs. “We’re having our practicals, Draco. Don’t think any of us have a minute for anything, do you?” She smiles smugly at him. “I have all the time in the world after class though. We can talk then, if you’re not… busy?”

Draco frowns at her as Hagrid cries out, “Elliot, Patricia!” Several heads look their way as their half-giant teacher waits for an answer. This is obviously not a good time to continue his conversation with Karla.

“Elliot, Patricia?” Hagrid calls again. He looks expectantly at their group.

“Where is she?" Draco hears Pansy whisper to Karla.

“Don’t worry,” she whispers back, “She’ll be here.”

“Ah,” Hagrid says, looking towards the pathway that led to his house. Running on it is Patricia Elliot, looking aghast. “There you are.”

“Sorry, Mr. Hagrid," she pants. She replaces Draco on his spot beside Goyle. “I think I’ve lost—“

“Any later and I’d take you out of this class, Elliot,” Hagrid says gruffly. He casts a cagey eye on the whole class. “Jus’ because I’ve bin light most o’ the time, doesn’t mean I haven’t got limits. Show me a bit o’ respect then maybe I’ll start thinking that you lot deserve to pass your N.E.W.T.s!”

Everybody is frozen solid by the newfound severity of the gamekeeper. That’s why it surprises Draco that Patricia has the nerve to continue speaking. “But it’s a really expensive necklace,” she whimpered, “I think someone stole it.”

Draco swallows hard. There it is—the reason why they didn’t just let the secret out the cage. A story would just be regarded as any daft rumor. But an exposé will surely get everyone’s attention and Hermione in trouble.

Hagrid throws another frightening look at Patricia. She starts to cower behind Goyle who looks equally nervous.

“Abbott, Hannah!” Hagrid suddenly shouts, calling forth the Gryffindor student for her practicals. He points a warning finger at Patricia before proceeding to guide a Rhinotah closer to Hannah. He then calls on three Slytherins to join her.

“What are you doing?” Draco whispers to Karla.

The girl only bats her eyes at him, her face innocent. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He turns to face Pansy and grabs her arm. “Don’t do this.”

She shoots him an angry look but she speaks to him, oddly enough, in her calmest voice, “Too late.”

“Granger, Hermione!” Hagrid shouts. “You’re the last one.” He nods to the rest. “We’ll do five students at a time, a’right?”

Draco freezes at the mention of her name. Pansy pries his hand from her arm and smirks as she watches Hermione walk to the center of the class towards the largest Rhinotah. His hands feel clammy. He should warn her. But how? A cough? Wink or wave?

‘Come on, you git!’ he curses. ‘Just do something.’ He swiftly takes his wand out of his pocket but apparently, that isn’t fast enough. His next actions were frozen by Patricia’s high-pitched shouts.

“That’s mine!” she cries from where she stands, pointing a menacing finger at Hermione. “Look, that’s it over there!”

“Elliot!” shouts Hagrid in a booming voice. “What is it this time?”

“But Mr. Hagrid," she protests, "that’s my necklace! The one I lost! Look, she’s wearing it!” Hagrid glowers for a moment but turns to look at Hermione. The poor girl looks panic-stricken, gripping her Rhinotah’s leash so tightly that her knuckles are turning white.

"This is mine," Hermione whispers in her hoarse voice, her fingers touching the delicate jewelry clinging around her neck. Draco feels his heart break as she sees her face become slowly strewn with webs of confusion.

"Do you expect us to believe that?" Karla snaps at her

“Hermione,” Hagrid says slowly, “That’s a Slytherin Graduate’s Necklace.”

The whole class started buzzing with whispers of shock and surprise. Draco feels overwhelmed. Suddenly there are too much people around him. He feels small and Hermione looks small.

"Only sold to 7th year Slytherins,” Patricia adds. "Yours, Granger? I don’t think so."

"I swear, it’s mine!" she cries. Her eyes meet Draco’s. "I didn’t know it’s a graduate...it was... given to me as a gift..."

"Really? By whom?" Patricia challenges.

Silence. Hermione doesn’t answer but only looks at Draco. He looks back at her pleading eyes. Nobody will believe her if she tells them. He knows she needs him to say it.

But he keeps his mouth shut. Tears begin to form at the corners of her eyes. Draco avoids her gaze. Once again, he makes her cry but this time he feels terrible about it. Sick to the pit of his stomach. He can feel Pansy looking at him triumphantly.

“The Mudblood’s a liar and a thief,” Karla declares, raising a perfectly arched brow.

“Don’t call her that!” Ron angrily shouts.

“Now hold on,” Harry says, looking at Hagrid. “This is Hermione we’re talking about. What they’re accusing her of doing—that’s impossible!”

"Is it?" Pansy snaps. She nods at Hermione. “If that is yours Granger, then how come the Burglar Spell just broke?"

For a moment, she is confused. Then, Hermione shrieks in horror as the beautiful silver necklace resting on her collarbone transforms into a scaly, bright green serpent. It slithers around her neck and hisses. She grabs it and throws it on the ground with disgust.

"Snake!" cries several students. Some climb up rocks while the others start towards the Slytherin side of the clearing. The easily excited Rhinotahs start stomping up a huge cloud of dust.

“Elliot, pick that snake up!” Hagrid cries as he attempts to subdue the huge creatures. Patricia fetches the green snake and takes it in her hand. Almost immediately, it turns back to being a necklace.

“She deserves to be punished, Mr. Hagrid!” exclaims Pansy.

The rest of the students who saw how the snake changed back into being a necklace in Patricia’s hand look at their teacher expectantly. He doesn’t respond. Still busy calming down the Rhinotahs, the gamekeeper is at loss for words.

At this point, a silver-grey cat pounces into view and stands on top of the tallest rock in the clearing, the one not reached by most students. It starts to speak in Minerva McGonagall’s voice.

“I wish to see Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger in my office immediately.”

Hagrid exhales loudly, relieved that he’s spared of making a decision on the spot. “You heard the Patronus,” he says looking at Draco and Hermione. “Off you go! I’ll bring this up with Professor McGonagall soon as I sort this out.”

When the two students have reached a considerable distance from their classmates, Hagrid turns back to the rest of his students and barks orders once more. “Now you best be gettin’ off those rocks or I’ll make sure you stay here all night ‘til everyone finishes their practicals!”

*          *          *

Draco reaches Professor McGonagall’s office first. The door is ajar and reveals through the sliver of an opening, Hagrid’s head in the fireplace talking to the elderly teacher who is standing a few feet away.

“Thank you, Rubeus,” she says with finality, “I’ll take it from here.”

Draco quickly steps back from the door as McGonagall turns around to face her desk. He sees Hermione appear from the corner of the hallway, eyes downcast. He starts towards her.

“Hermione—“

“Malfoy?” says McGonagall from inside her office, interrupting him. “Step inside already, I hardly have five minutes for this. Is Miss Granger with you?”

Gingerly, he pushes back the heavy door and lets himself in. Hermione emerges from the same doorway a few seconds later, looking straight at the Transfiguration teacher.

“Good,” Professor McGonagall nods. She is her usual regal self, sitting behind her heavy birch desk. There are no chairs in front of it for sitting. It is a room for quick business and stubborn students. She peers at the two students over her glasses, and at Hermione slightly longer.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be quick. You’ll both be back in practicals in no time.” She leans back on her chair. “There will be a slight change in your detention schedule and I think you’ll both be pleased to hear it.” She pauses for a moment, looking thoughtful. “But with the care and concern you’ve shown Aurora the past few weeks as reported by Madame Pomfrey, perhaps you’ll also be slightly disappointed.”

“As it is, Aurora has been successfully Identified by one of our—“ She looks up, slightly irritated. “—anxious staff.”

Draco and Hermione look at her, surprised. McGonagall doesn’t notice as she is busy looking at a piece of parchment lying on her desk. “She will be handed over to her proper family a fortnight from now. So to help her adjust to new people, your detention will be cut down from five nights to just once a week. That’s Wednesdays after dinner.”

She returns her attention back to them. “Is that clear? Or do you need me to run it by you again?”

The two shake their heads.

“Good,” she says approvingly. Through her glasses, Draco sees her eyes turn to Hermione. “Now, I understand that there has been some problem regarding a stolen necklace?”

Hermione, who just about gained enough aplomb to look at McGonagall, shifted her gaze back on the floor. She nods.

“I am shocked, Miss Granger. I didn’t expect this from you.” She waits for Hermione to say something but the girl doesn’t even blink.

“Normally, this would call for suspension. But given your previous record, I agree with Rubeus that we shouldn’t result to something so severe, especially with the N.E.W.T.s coming up.”

McGonagall pauses again before continuing. “Unless, you can prove to me otherwise that you didn’t steal that necklace from Ms. Elliot. Hagrid did say you were pretty vehement in denying it.”

“Professor,” Draco speaks up, “If I may—“

“I stole it,” Hermione quickly interrupts. “The Burglar Spell broke, didn’t it? So I stole it.”

The elderly professor, whose eyes are now curiously looking at Draco, nods. “All right. You already have Wednesdays at the Infirmary. So the rest of the school week after dinner, you are to report to our gamekeeper for three hours of creature-grooming. Without magic.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good, that settles it.” With one final wave of her hand, she sends off the two students back to Hagrid’s class.

Back at the hallway, Draco catches up with Hermione who now leads the hike back to the forest. They pass portraits and statues who all inquisitively stare, aware of the tension reigning between them.

“Hermione,” he beseeched. “I’m sorry.”

“Waited until we’re out of earshot, I see,” she says in a shaking voice. She doesn’t bother to turn around.

Draco clenched and unclenched his fists. “I didn’t know what came over me. I should’ve told everyone the truth.”

Hermione doesn’t answer and continues her brisk walk down the portrait-laden hallways.

“Please,” Draco says again, “Please, say something.”

For a moment, it seems that she might just stop. Her steps slow down and her tense back seem to relax a bit. But she doesn’t. She continues walking. She speaks again though.

“Go away,” she says in a whisper that struggles for control. “Leave me alone and don’t speak to me ever again.”

He can’t see her face but he can tell from her voice that she is crying. Slowly, he feels his resolve melt away by the second. He wants to continue pleading for her to stop and face him but no words leave his mouth. He is torn between doing what she asks and taking her into his arms.

“Please,” she adds quietly.

That’s when he stops walking and nods, hoping that she sees that somehow. That she knows he’s letting her be.

A cold sensation starts to spread inside his chest and crawls up to choke him with tears. He watches her retreating back. Later that night, he will look back on that hallway and remember how that vision of Hermione walking away left him feeling so broken and alone.

Chapter 11: DEALING WITH SILENCE
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Hermione Granger feels numb. Diligently, she tends the soil patch that surrounds Rubeus Hagrid’s hut while her mind remains a complete blank. Perhaps for the first time in her life, she doesn’t worry about the future. Only the now counts and matters.

It has been a week since the outrageous affair of the necklace and she has long been done grieving over it. Ever meticulous, she gave herself a night—just one—to cry and move on from being angry to depressed then finally to this stage of unfeeling. She did the works on what is expected of a suffering girl, like tirelessly recalling everything that happened and asking herself an endless list of questions. It was sickening process that she knew was necessary. She would have gladly skipped the part but it strangely soothed her and finally, even lulled her to sleep.

When she woke up though, the questions were still there but much less damning with the absence of her tears. Where would she be now had she kept her temper in the first place? Would’ve things gone another way if she never apologized to Draco Malfoy for having hurt his feelings? Could she have saved herself the shame had she deafened her ears and heart to his speech about having “something” together?

Something. As Hermione mulls over the word, she feels that anticipatory sting in the nose of one just about to cry. Hastily, she swaps the rake for the shovel leaning against Hagrid’s hut and starts digging holes for elderberry sprigs. She will not let herself cry.

Something. It’s not even a word worth holding on to. And yet she did. How incredibly intelligent of her. How many O.W.L.s did she get again? And wasn’t she prefect now made head girl? What again do we call tarts that believe pompous gits like Draco?

She breathes deeply as begins to feel pain radiate on her lower back. She almost forgot how to garden the Muggle way. And now that her memory’s been appropriately refreshed, she finds it rather bracing.

Professor McGonagall specifically stated only non-magic creature grooming for her punishment but Hermione craved one backbreaking job after the next. After convincing Hagrid that she can finish her given task in half the time expected, the gamekeeper allowed her a couple of chores here and there. Nothing too heavy as he remains convinced of her innocence.

 “Wha’ is—are you planting them sprigs too?” demands Hagrid from the doorway of his hut. “Hermione, I told yeh ter only rake o’er the soil. Tha’s quite enough.”

The girl sighs but doesn’t answer.

“Don’t start. You stop tha’ and come inside fer some tea. It’s getting’ real cold out.”

Again, Hermione gives no reply continues to dig. She hears him step out of his hut, muttering incomprehensibly. He moves on to light the torches around his property, starting from the front and finally ending at the backyard where Hermione just about started planting.

She senses him leering over her, perhaps getting ready to pry the shovel from her hands. To be sure, she moves over to a farther patch and digs a new hole.

“Why are yeh doing this Hermione?” he asks, frustrated.

Work keeps me busy, she answers in her head.

Hagrid sighs and whistles for Fang to stand beside him. “Hermione, yer friends are worried about yeh. Harry and Ron said yer not talking to them. An’ Ginny noticed that yeh haven’t bin eating. Yer goin’ ter kill yerself with all that work and no food to draw energy from.”

From the tone of his voice, she knows Hagrid is eager to get her talking about what transpired between her and Draco. She does want to talk to him and Harry and Ron about it, more than anything. They are, after all, her best friends. But she still hasn’t enough courage and strength to begin the story, even end it. For now, she just needs the wounds to heal. She then decides to humor the gamekeeper and speak. She’s been dying to ask him a question anyway.

“Hagrid,” Hermione finally says, “will Aurora be okay? With her new family, I mean. I overhead Madame Pomfrey and Professor Snape talking in the Great Hall last night and they said both her parents are dead so she’s actually getting adopted.”

For a moment, Hagrid is shocked to hear her voice but manages to gain aplomb to answer her. “Of course!” he exclaims in a delighted tone. “She’ll be in good hands, Aurora. Dumbledore made sure they got professionals ter help her out. Yeh got nuthin’ to worry about tha’ baby.”

He looks up and frowns at the full moon, its celestial glow surrounded by ominous clouds.

Hermione follows his gaze and smiles meekly at the sight. “A fairy circle.”

“Yep,” says Hagrid slowly. “Tha’ means storm’s a-coming.”

“Oh dear. Aurora absolutely hates them. She got really sick that last big one. I hope this time won’t be so bad.”

“Don’t worry. She’ll get through any tuft o’ weather, thanks to you and Draco. You both did a good job restorin’ her.”

“Yeah,” she mutters. “Some team.”

Hagrid sighs and sits down on one of the tree stumps around his vegetable garden. Perhaps bored with conversation, Fang walks back to the hut to get some sleep.

“He’s jus’ one boy, Hermione. Don’t let him get yeh all screwed-up jus’ because he broke yer heart.”

Upon hearing his words, Hermione froze in her place, staring at the soil.

“Harry and Ginny pretty much got an idea already,” the gamekeeper explains. “What with the secret trips ter Hogsmeade and the Saturdays you spend in detention, they reckon you two were a lot like ‘em when they were hidin’ their dates from Ron. Speakin’ of which, tha’ boy still can’t believe it but he admits he’s never seen you this happy.”

She remains speechless. Tears trickle down her cheeks and she mentally curses herself for breaking her promise to stand strong.

Hagrid gently pats her hand. “There, there.” He wipes her tears with his gigantic handkerchief. “Who would’ve thought, huh? You and Draco,” he chuckles. “He’s been makin’ yeh cry since you were both eleven. But this one’s definitely the different sort.”

“It’s not,” she says, shaking her head defiantly. “He was being himself all this time. I just never saw it. I believed otherwise, I thought he’d change. Obviously, I’m wrong. People never change.”

Hagrid looks thoughtful but doesn’t say another word on the topic. Instead, he casts another wary glance at the moon. “Well, detention’s over an’ you better be goin’ back to the castle. I reckon this storm’s starting tonight and believe me, you wouldn’t want to be out here when it does.”

Hermione nods suddenly feeling tired. She knows she still has an hour of detention but she decides to humor Hagrid for once. Maybe she can convince Madame Pomfrey to let her see Aurora tonight, even for a short while. She misses her terribly and last Wednesday’s time with her was short and of course, a little strained with Draco lurking about. She wants time alone with the little sister she never had. It just started to hit her that she will never see her again.

 She hands Hagrid the spade and rake. “Thanks Hagrid.”

“No problem,” the gamekeeper nods.

As Hermione walks back to the castle, she looks again at the moon, suddenly remembering something Hagrid said. “Professionals,” she blinks.

Chapter 12: DEALING WITH SILENCE 2
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“Blaise, where are my shoes?”

“How am I supposed to know?”

“Oh, come on, mate!”

“Goyle, what would I do with your shoes?”

Draco Malfoy raises his head which has been buried underneath his sheets since dinner started that night. He squints as candlelight from the chandelier hits his still-adjusting eyes.

“Good, you’re awake,” Gregory Goyle says to Draco as he steps into his line of vision. His tall figure completely shrouds his friend from the harsh light of their dormitory room. “Have you seen my shoes?”

Draco hears Blaise Zabini mumble in the background. “Bloke wouldn’t see a Blast-Ended Skrewt if it hit him in the bloody face.”

“Oi! It’s almost eleven!” cries Vincent Crabbe from the doorway.

“I got it!” Goyle shouts excitedly. He grabs his shoes, a surprisingly small pair of expensive leather loafers, from underneath Crabbe’s bed and waves it in the air.

Blaise scrunches up his face and gags. “Just put it on, dunderhead.”

Goyle excitedly hops on Draco’s bed and slips his feet in his shoes. Draco groans and turns over to face the wall.

“You’re not going?” he hears Gregory ask him. His mates are sneaking out of school tonight to try out the new gastropub in Hogsmeade. It was a plan they made weeks ago. It seemed pretty inviting then. Not so much now-- at least not for Draco. “Come on! Reckon a bit of Firewhiskey can cheer you up.”

“I don’t drink,” he mutters in reply. He grabs a second pillow and tries to block out Blaise’s snorting.

Crabbe’s large hand pats the pillow and jars Malfoy immensely. “We’re bringing the girls, Malfoy. That ought to be fun!”

“All right, let’s go!” Gregory says excitedly, hopping off the bed. “Malfoy?”

Draco doesn’t answer. He maintains his position towards the wall just a few feet from the window. He can see the moon outside. Full and surrounded by a glacial haze.

“I’ll be right down,” Blaise tells the two. “I’ll deal with this.”

Draco hears them noisily head for the Slytherin common room. He turns around to face Blaise.

“’Deal with this’?” he sneers at him.

Zabini pretends not to hear and motions for him to get out of bed. “Come on, Malfoy. Stop being such a piss artist and have a drink with us.”

“I’m not up for it.”

"Sure you are. Besides, you know it's free house, right? The pub blokes said they'll be serving every alcohol imaginable. It'll be heaven!"

"No."

Blaise frowns at him and crosses his arms. “This about that Mudblood again?”

Something clicked inside Draco upon hearing Zabini's derogatory banter. It cracked his subdued demeanor and unleashed what has been hiding in him almost a fortnight now.

“DON’T CALL HER THAT!” Draco shouts. In a split second, he is out of bed and pinning Blaise’s head onto the hardwood floor. His friend however, remains resilient and laughs.

“Are you gonna kill me, Malfoy?” he hoots. “How are you going to do it? By bludgeoning me with your fists? Just like how Muggles do it, right?”

Draco doesn’t answer, his mouth pushed into a grim, livid line.

“I’m not dumb like Crabbe and Goyle and everyone else who was in that class, Draco,” he hisses. “I know better than to believe Karla Haughton’s delusions. You weren’t playing around with Granger. I know it was serious.”

Again, Draco is silent but keeps Blaise pinned against the floor. Only his face is giving him away right now. Surprise is written all over it. He didn’t expect to hear this from Blaise or anyone else.

Every Slytherin and even a good number of Gryffindors actually believe that Hermione Granger stole Patricia Elliot’s Graduate Necklace. Even Pansy, who’s sure to have planned the “dramatic unveiling” on the week of mocks, is convinced that his “fling” with Hermione was only an act. His ultimate prank against the Mudblood. Talk about being in denial.

“Then why don’t you tell them?!” Draco bellows, his expression pained. “And help me! How did they do it, Blaise? I have to be able to explain it. To Dumbledore, McGonagall—the school!”

Blaise shakes his head. “This is not my problem, Malfoy. Besides, Pansy never told me how they did it.”

“Aaarrrggghhh!” Draco cries. He presses Zabini’s head again on the floorboards.

“This happened for a reason!” he shouts.  “Attaching your self to a Mud— Muggleborn – is social suicide. Think about your family! Your future! And what your father will say! Think, Draco!”

“That’s what I did!” he yells. His grip around Zabini’s collar loosens. Finally, he lets him go and staggers back to his bed. “Look where it got me,” he adds, this time in a tone much, much more mellow.

Blaise gingerly rubs the side of his head and his neck. Slowly he stands up, keeping his eye on Malfoy. “You don’t know what you’re saying,” he mutters.

Draco opens his mouth but no sound would come out. His mind is winding back again, replaying the past four months of school that he spent with Hermione. He closes his eyes and the scenes flash invariably before him.

Hermione singing to Aurora. Hermione walking down the hallways and sneaking a smile at him. Hermione poring over stacks of books in the library. Hermione whispering stories of her childhood as they lay sprawled on the floor of the Infirmary, hoping that their detention is still far from ending that night.

“Don’t tell me you think she’ll take you back,” Blaise scoffs, “That she’ll forgive you.”

Draco swallows the bitter taste in his mouth as his mind lingers on that last picture of her. He opens his eyes again. “No, I don’t believe that.”

“Then why are we even having this bloody conversation?! Why are you doing this to yourself?!”

“Because I want to think of a way, just one, to show her that what we had was real. I want her to believe that I am truly sorry for what I did and that, for her peace of mind, I will never see her, talk to her or touch her ever again.”

Ever. Draco looks at his trembling hands. It feels like a lifetime since they brushed up against her face, her hair… But now, there is no way for him, a traitor, to reach her.

“Blaise!” shouts Crabbe from the common room.

“I’ll be right there!” Blaise growls. He looks back at Draco and points a menacing finger at him. “You’re mad and you need help.”

Draco stands up again shoves Blaise a few feet back. “The only help I need is one that will clean up Hermione’s reputation!”

“Blaise!”

“You won’t get it from me.”

“Don’t I know it,” Draco drawls.

The disturbingly loud huffing of Crabbe as he tried to catch his breath interrupts their tirade. The large, stout boy is now standing by the door and is momentarily surprised by the sight of Draco on his feet and away from his bed. “Draco! Blaise! You’ve got to come down. We need to bring Patricia to Madame Pomfrey. She seems to be… conuv… convus...”

“Convulsing?” Draco asks, alarmed.

“Yeah, that one,” Crabbe nods.

Draco grabs his robe draped on his bed and quickly puts it on as Blaise swiftly makes his way down to the common rooms.

“How did it happen?” Blaise shouts as the three of them run down the winding stone steps.

“Goyle said it might be venom,” Crabbe said. “He saw her neck. Three bites almost up to her ear.”

“Bite?” Draco cries as Pansy’s and Karla’s frantic shouting echo up the stairwell. “What kind of bite?”

Crabbe gasps, still a little breathless. “Snake!”

Chapter 13: THE TEMPEST
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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE TEMPEST

Madame Pomfrey smiles sweetly at Aurora as she tucks her in for tonight. She couldn’t believe that just over four months ago, this child that came to them practically skin and bones is now glowing with health and stubbornly won’t go to bed like any toddler her age.

“Come on, love,” she coos to the little girl. “It’s time for bed.”

In reply, Aurora whimpers and wriggles underneath her sheets. Outside, lightning flashes and is accompanied with a thunder barely above a rumble. It is hardly a frightening warning, but a warning nonetheless.

Madame Pomfrey gently pokes the baby’s nose and laughs. “There’s more time to play tomorrow. Good night.” She raises her wand, ready to turn down the lights but the knocking that ensues from the Infirmary’s front doors stops her.

Aurora immediately ceases her squirming. The child looks at the school nurse curiously.

“I’ll be right back,” sighs Madame Pomfrey.

She walks out of the nursery and checks the clock hanging above the front doors. It is nearly eleven. She wonders who it might be.

Usually, it would be Severus but ever since he discovered and reported the identity of Aurora to Dumbledore, he ceased his nightly visits to avoid further attachment—just like what they’re trying to avoid with Draco and Hermione.

Aurora hardly misses the Potions professor’s unusually large nose, Madame Pomfrey can tell. But the child’s bedtime has been severely affected by the lessened detention hours of her student babysitters. Whatever “attachment” they wanted to avoid, has obviously been formed long before the discovery of Aurora’s identity.

Madame Pomfrey opens the double doors. “Ms. Granger! What are you doing here?” She takes in the student’s muddied yellow Wellingtons and soil-covered robes.  Also hard to miss are the dark circles under her eyes and the smattering of small pimples over her forehead. Clearly, this girl hasn’t been getting enough sleep. “Heavens child, are you all right?”

“Yes,” Hermione nods, brushing hair away from her face. “I’m fine, Madame Pomfrey. I just came from Professor Hagrid’s hut… for my detention…”

The school nurse nods back, remembering last week’s incident, due to a stolen necklace. School must be harder than it used to be, with even its best students getting in more trouble than they should. And on the first day of mocks, too.

Stealing never seemed to be Granger’s style but one can never really know a person fully. Why, just a few weeks ago, she thought the Malfoy boy has actually learned to care for those whose blood isn’t as pure as his. But from what has conspired that fateful Monday, she thought she couldn’t have been more wrong.

It is just unfortunate that Dumbledore has forbidden the faculty to involve themselves in their students’ personal disputes. It is part of their learning process, he insists. Madame Pomfrey’s maternal instincts can’t help but feel otherwise but she can see the light in this rule and trusts that the headmaster knows what he’s doing.

“What is it you need then, Ms. Granger?” she asks. “It’s awfully late. Shouldn’t you be heading for bed?”

Hermione fiddles nervously with her cable knit sweater. “I was wondering… if I could see Aurora?”

The nurse presses her lips in a firm line. “You know the rules, Ms. Granger. Just Wednesdays from now on.”

“Yes, but… I’ll be just a short while.”

A gust of wind blows through the doors and the two ladies shiver inwardly. Madame Pomfrey holds up her hand to hush Hermione. She thought she heard something down the hallway. She pushes the student aside and looks down the Infirmary annex.  Hermione follows her gaze. Nothing seems out of place.

“Charles,” the nurse calls out to the white marble statue of Charles Curative just a few feet away, “keep your eyes peeled. I think I heard a student.”

The statue nods and salutes back. “I’m on it.”

Hermione took this busy moment as another opportunity to insist. “I just want to see her, Madame Pomfrey. I miss her.”

“Hermione—“

“I’ll be very quiet. I won’t even touch her. Just let me see her. I promise I won’t wake her up!”

Madame Pomfrey sighs and shakes her head. There was no need to worry about that. She recalls the wide-eyed look Aurora gave her the instant she heard Hermione’s knocking. It was of hope and anticipation that she will see her friends today. The child was definitely far from asleep.

“What is it?” Hermione asks.

The school nurse pauses, thinking of the best answer. Unfortunately, her silence only made Aurora’s bored gabbing reach Hermione’s ears.

“Is… is that her? Is she still awake?” The girl steps in the lounge, hoping to get past the nurse. “Oh Madame Pomfrey, I can put her to bed! It’s the weather, you see--”

“Child, you’re being a little too loud—“

“She hates it when it’s bad. She needs a song, is all. I know a good one for a storm like this!”

Another flash of lighting again, this time, the accompanying thunder is less merciful. It is a resounding crash that causes the whole castle to tremble. Another cold draft blows through the area and causes a couple of torches to go out.

At the same time, somewhere down the hallway, a terrified scream is heard. From the nursery, Aurora whimpers and begins to cry.

“Poppy!” shouts Charles Curative. “Come quick!”

Momentarily distracted, Madame Pomfrey almost misses Hermione as she heads towards Aurora’s room. Fortunately, she is quick with her wand and waves the door shut and locks it in a split second.

“But Madame Pomfrey!” cries the girl.

“Hermione, if you step into that room, you’ll only make things worse!” She points at the chairs that lined the lounge. “You stay here while I go see what that is!”

The teenager reluctantly takes her place on the plush seat and glares at the white, tiled floor. Certain that she won’t be trying anything soon, the nurse steps out into the hallway.

“What is it, Charles?” She gasps. The scene before her was enough of an answer. Apparently, she was wrong. It wasn’t a student but two.

Before her, a disheveled-looking Draco Malfoy stands struggling with a seizing Patricia Elliot in his arms. The girl, despite of her tremendous convulsions, still manages to scream.

“Aaaaahhhh!”

“It’s okay!” Draco shouts as he dodges her flailing limbs. “It’s okay, Patricia. It was just thunder.”

“Too loud… interfering with my aura… hate loud sounds…”

Madame Pomfrey rushes to his side and helps him restrain his classmate. “What happened, Mr. Malfoy?”

“Wasn’t there,” he grunts, “but Karla and Pansy reckon it’s a snake. Blaise is searching the common room for it.”

“Snake… gold scales… Slytherin… snake…”

“Hermione!” the nurse shouts as they amble towards the lounge.

“What?” Draco gasps, nearly dropping Patricia. He looks at the doors hanging open. “She’s—she’s here?”

Charles Curative nods from his pedestal. “’Fraid so.”

“Hermione, help come over here and help us!” the nurse shouts once more.

“Hermione…” Patricia mutters. “Mudblood… ugly hair… stupid know-it-all…” She gasps and covers her mouth with her hands. “What’s going on?” she sobs through her palms.

The student emerges through the front doors. She and Draco freeze in their places at the sight of each other.

“Merlin strike upon both of you!” Madame Pomfrey cries exasperatedly. “A student is having an allergic reaction and you two just stand there!”

The two immediately return to their senses. With great effort, they move Patricia from the hallway and into the surgery, trying their best not to look at each other. Much louder now, Aurora’s crying reaches Draco’s ears.

“Is that Aurora?” he asks, instinctively to Hermione. He realizes this upon seeing her face stiffen. But she nods back at him.

“Under no circumstances will you two go in there!” shouts the school nurse. “We will attend to Ms. Elliot first!”

“Baby… cute baby… weird… magic…”

“It’s an allergic reaction?” Draco asks as Madame Pomfrey quickly sorts through her emergency potion cabinet.

“Yes, yes Malfoy,” she replies without looking up. “Look at her; she’s swelling up like a tomato. If that were venom she would’ve looked the same but dead long before you got here. Are you quite sure it’s a snake?”

Draco nods and pushes back Patricia’s hair to show the three bites on her neck. “I can’t think of anything else that can do this kind of damage.”

“Well I can’t give her anti-venom when there’s no poison in her system. Ah hah!” She holds up two ampoules in her hand victoriously.

Patricia screams and doubles up in pain. “It burns, Madame Pomfrey!” She curls up and holds her abdomen agonizingly.

“Hush child, it’ll be over soon.” She turns to face Draco. “It looks like allergy to me, Mr. Malfoy. But if it’s venom, I need to give her this other one. And these two can’t mix in her system. It’ll be a dangerous combination so you have to be sure.”

“Well I’m not sure!” he cries. “We can’t just ask her, I’m not even sure if she can hear us!”

“Can bloody hear… everyone… including that screaming mole rat!” She gasps again and covers her mouth with one free hand. “I’m sorry, Madame Pomfrey… didn’t mean to talk like that!”

Madame Pomfrey raises an eyebrow. Her eyes reflect careful discernment. “That’s all right,” she says as she slowly approaches the writhing girl. “What did you have to eat for tonight, Ms. Elliot?”

“Are you kidding? Trying to lose five pounds… haven’t had any dinner… past two weeks--- aaaarrrrgggghhh!” She curls up in a tighter ball.

“Did a snake do this to you, then?”

“Yes!”

“What kind of snake?” Draco prompts.

“Don’t know… maybe we should wake up that Creevey boy, yeah? Geek would know… the name to every crawling thing in this… bloody castle!”

Madame Pomfrey nods and raises the dark ampoule. “That’s it then. Anti-venom.”

“Wait!” Patricia cries. “But you said that will kill me if I don’t have poison in me!”

“Well I—“

The Slytherin squeezes her eyes shut, as if trying to remember something. “I felt the bite… after I put on earrings and…” Her eyes fly open. “It’s from a necklace… Granger’s necklace…”

“What?!” Draco and Hermione shout at the same time.

“Don’t know… what kind of snake… definitely from Granger’s necklace. I put it on… forgot it wasn’t mine… for tonight… sneaking out to Hogsmeade… new gastropub… with the boys…”

Realization dawns on the school nurse’s face. But of course, the answer is short and simple. “Yes, Belinda Bauble’s anti-theft charms are foolproof. But her specialty isn’t Transfiguration but Potions. Most importantly, exceptionally potent Veritaserum.”

“Veritaserum…” Patricia rattles on. “I’m allergic to Veritaserum.”

Upon hearing this, Madame Pomfrey sends the dark ampoule flying back into the potions cabinet. She then breaks off the lighter colored ampoule’s cap and starts charging her wand with the liquid remedy inside.

“Veritaserum,” Draco repeats slowly. In his eyes is the unmistakable gleam of exhilaration. He grabs Patricia’s arm. “How did you take her necklace?”

“Mr. Malfoy! Step back, this instant. You’re agitating the patient!”

“Switching Spell… Pansy’s plan… said it was for your own good…” she answers. She turns to face Hermione. “Sorry, Granger… just wanted to embarrass you, is all… didn’t want you to get another detention…”

“Uhm,” Hermione reluctantly pats Patricia’s hand, “well…”

“Are you two quite through? I need to give her a shot!” Madame Pomfrey admonishes. She pushes them aside and touches the back of Patricia’s hand with her wand.

“That feels better,” she whispers into her pillow, succumbing to sleep induced by the potion.

At this point, Madame Pomfrey is ready to collapse in a chair and call it a night. But another loud crash of thunder reminds her that all is still not well. Aurora still needs… tucking in.

“Well thank you for your help, both of you,” she tells the two students, careful to keep her voice calm and steady. “But I’ll take it from here. Ms. Elliot will have to stay for the night but I’m sure she’ll be back on her feet by breakfast tomorrow.”

“Madame Pomfrey,” Hermione begins to say, “what about—“

“Go on then,” she interrupts, ushering her and Draco back into the lounge, “it’s nearly midnight.”

The nursery doors suddenly open with a resounding crash. A huge gust of wind laced with snow and rain blows through the lounge and knocks the three of them down on their backs.

Fighting the force with her small frame, Madame Pomfrey wobbly gets up on her feet. Outside the menacing howl of the blustery weather brings a chill down her spine. She scrambles frantically for the nursery. She’s not sure yet but Aurora’s crying seem to have gone.

Draco beats her to the crib. Hermione is a few feet behind them, struggling to close the heavy west window that somehow flew open.

“Aurora?” Draco calls out.

Madame Pomfrey sees the blankets move. Her chest lightens a bit. But on closer inspection, she sees that the crib is empty.

Empty. Aurora’s blanket flutters to the floor and she hears Hermione gasp from behind her. “Where is she?!” the girl cries out.

“Maybe she crawled,” Draco mutters. He looks underneath the crib, the couch and the armchairs. “Aurora?” he calls out, hoping perhaps, for a cry or a gurgle of some sort. But there is none, only the ceaseless moaning of the storm.

Madame Pomfrey faces the students.  “All right,” she says, her steady voice beginning to falter. “Everybody, calm down. I am going to get help.”

“What is going on, Madame Pomfrey?” Hermione asks suspiciously.

“You two will stay here, inside the castle where it is safe.

Draco eyes the nurse guardedly. “Do you know where she is?”

Madame Pomfrey puts her hands on her hips. “I am not playing games here, Mr. Malfoy.” She turns around and walks briskly for the door. “Stay here!”

“Wait!” Draco shouts, following the nurse out into the hallway. “I don’t know if Hermione told you but Aurora hates it when the weather’s dodgy like this. We can help you—“

“I shouldn’t tell you this,” the nurse interjects, “but the reason why we want you and Ms. Granger to stay away from Aurora is to keep the both of you safe.”

“I… don’t understand,” Draco mutters. “What do you mean?”

Madame Pomfrey looks at him pityingly. “I mean she doesn’t hate the weather, Draco. Because she is the weather.” And with that, the nurse switches her brisk walk to a steady run and leaves the stunned young man by the doors of her Infirmary.

 

Chapter 14: SEARCH PARTY
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“What did Madame Pomfrey mean?!” cries Hermione Granger. The school nurse was gone now and Draco Malfoy is looking expectantly at the statue of the former Hogwarts Healer.

“Charles, surely you must know,” he prompts. “What is going on here?”

 “I thought you and the girl would have figured it out by now,” remarks Charles Curative. He looks surprised. “Aurora’s a Gifted.”

“A… what?” Draco frowns. “I thought they weren’t real.”

Hermione leans against the Infirmary doors, her face alight with devastated realization. “They have powers, just like us. Only they don’t call it magic.”

 “More like abilities,” offers Charles. “Special abilities on specific things. In Aurora’s case, the weather.”

Hermione looks at him. “But I read that they don’t manifest until they turn thirteen.”

“Adolescence usually triggers the manifestation,” he nods. “But she’s been sick. I think that made her display her powers earlier than expected.”

“She doesn’t get sick when there’s a storm,” Hermione realizes. “When there’s a storm, she’s sick!”

“She controls the weather?” Draco demands of the statue. “Aurora?”

Control is the operative term,” Charles says uncertainly. “Now you two listen to me. She’s ill and very young. That storm out there, that’s her doing. She can toss the both of you off the ground and kill you with a bolt of lightning without wanting to. That’s why Madame Pomfrey wants you to stay here. She’s dangerous.”

“And what about Aurora?!” exclaims Hermione. “She’s not safe either! How do we know she’s not getting boshed against the trees by her own bloody blizzard?!”

“She’s right,” nods Draco. “Way I see it, Aurora needs calming down. And we’re the only one who can do it. She trusts us.”

“Oh for goodness’ sake! Believe me, the last thing we expect the both of you to be are heroes. You will stay here!”

Draco rolls his eyes. “As if you can do something about it.”

“Mr. Malfoy, you will stay put!”

“Let’s see you get off that pedestal first, Curative,” Hermione put on.

Draco frowns. “No, you’re staying.”

“I beg your pardon?!”

With a tight grip on her arm, Draco leads Hermione back to the small surgery where Patricia Haughton remains heavily sedated, unaware of her surroundings.

“Let go of me!” she cries, punching his arm. “No! Stop it! Stop it!”

Draco easily dodges her blows but not without some annoyance. “Hermione, you heard what Charles said, it’s dangerous.”

“Oh-ho! Concerned about my well being, are you? Afraid I might slip and fall and break your bloody heart in the bloody process?” She glares at him and shoves him back. “SAVE IT.”

Draco’s face is wrought with shame. “Okay.” He raises his wand. “Accio wands!”

From Hermione and Patricia’s pockets, their wands are summoned into his hands. The conscious girl curses with conviction.

“You! Give! That! Back!”

“Stay, Hermione.”

“Oh, I’m wrong!” Hermione exclaims. “You want to look like a hero! Always about you, isn’t it, Malfoy?”

“I’m just doing what I should’ve done for you. I’m stepping up to the plate and being a man,” he solemnly answers.

She shakes her head. “Too late for that now, isn’t it?”

Without another word, Draco turns his back to her and locks the door upon his wake. Through them, Hermione hears Charles Curative’s cries of disdain. Draco’s footsteps were gone in no time.

She rolls her eyes and takes a Galleon out of her robe pocket. “Really Malfoy. You think taking my wand will stop me?” She looks around and finds a sturdy stool right next to Patricia’s bed. She stands on it and puts the golden coin right into the flame of one of the surgery’s lit candlesticks.

“This better work,” she mumbles. “I hope everyone still has theirs with them.”

*

“Your move,” snickered Ron as he moved his pawn down a square.

Harry glared at him.

“Why do you even bother, eh? I always win.” His redhead best friend stretched out on his chair and tucked his arms underneath his head.

“You just win most of the time,” muttered Harry. He bent his head over the board and as a result, didn’t notice Ginny skip down the steps that lead to the girls’ dormitory.

“Have you two seen Hermione?” she asked. She leaned over to look at the chess board and tut-tutted. “Harry, why do you even bother?”

“That’s what I said,” Ron said smugly.

Harry looked hurt at his girlfriend’s comment. “I feel tonight’s the night, G.”

“Take on snakes and You-Know-Who, I’ll give you that. But beat me in Wizard’s Chess?”

The two blokes began to bicker.

“Keep it down you two,” she sighed as she glanced at the clock. Near midnight. Outside, the shutters banged menacingly on the common room windows. “I didn’t see Hermione at dinner, did you?” she asked them.

“Well she hardly eats nowadays,” shrugged Ron. “But I reckon Hagrid invites her over for tea right after detention.

“She’s not upstairs?” Harry asked, distracted.

Ginny shook her head. “I doubt that Hagrid made her work an extra hour or two. It’s storming outside.”

“OOOWWW!!!”

Ginny and Harry looked at Ron quizzically.

“What did you do?!” Ron shouted at Harry. He patted his front pocket as if he’d been burned.

“My hands are right here!” Harry exclaimed, flipping his hands over a mere inches from his best friend’s face.

“Oi,” Ginny said slowly. “Your pyjamas are singed, Ron.”

Her brother looked down and saw it. A perfectly round burn mark on his thigh. “What the bloody hell?” Slowly, he reached inside his pocket and pulled out a Galleon. It was still iron hot so he immediately threw it down the carpet.

Three heads came together and looked at it. It glowed an angry red and started burning the carpet.

“Ah!” Harry started stomping on the tiny flame. He looked at Ron. “Was that the DA Galleon?”

“Yeah,” he said. “What’s going on? How come yours isn’t doing that?”

“Well I don’t have mine with me right now,” Harry replied. “How about you, Ginny? Ginny?”

“I don’t have mine, either,” Ginny looked at the two of them but Harry could tell her thoughts were far away. Her brows nearly met, a sign that she was thinking hard. “D’you reckon it’s Hermione?”

The two shrugged.

“Because I didn’t know you could do that with our Galleon and she was the one who made it,” she said again, still deep in thought.

“If she wanted to tell us something, then why didn’t she just spell it out with her wand?” Ron muttered bitterly. “Saved some of us a pair of pyjamas.”

“Maybe she doesn’t have her wand with her.”

Harry frowned. “She always has it.”

“What if somebody took it?”

“Why would somebody do that?”

“I don’t know,” Ginny said, “but I bet it’s the same person who made her look like a thief during mocks.”

“The Pug Squad?” Ron asked. “She’s ten times smarter than the lot of them! I’m ten times smarter than the lot of them!”

“That’s why I’m worried,” Ginny frowned.

“Only one way to find out,” Harry said. “I’ll get the Marauder’s Map.”

A few minutes later, the three of them convened at the common room again, the Wizard’s Chess board tucked away. Harry pointed at the yellowed parchment. “I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good.”

“Or somebody else,” muttered Ron.

“Shh,” Ginny glared.

“I can’t see anyone,” Harry said.

“Why are you looking outside? Check the Infirmary,” Ginny ordered.

“Bloody hell, Ginny,” Ron said. “There’s Hermione. And she’s in the same room as Patricia’s! That can’t be good.”

“No it can’t,” nodded his sister. She gasped. “Oh! And look who’s running away in the opposite direction!”

“That snake!” Ron growled.

Harry closed the map. “That’s it. Get your brooms and wands, mates. We’re stepping in.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “Mates?”

“I mean,” Harry flustered, “don’t bother, love. Just wait for us here and I’ll get mine.” After a quick kiss on her cheek, he left Ginny in the common room and trailed after Ron to the dorms.

Ginny shook her head and looked at the Galleon on the carpet which started glowing again. “Don’t worry, Hermione. We’re on the way.”

Chapter 15: X MARKS THE SPOT
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A strong gust of wind slammed Draco Malfoy and his broom mercilessly against a sturdy pine tree, making him lose sight of Aurora whom he saw hovering ominously above the snow-covered tree tops of the Forbidden Forest.

“Argh!” he cried as he doubled over the ground in pain. His arm felt broken. “Aurora!” he shouted as his struggled to get right back on his feet. “Sweetheart, where are you?!”

Another draft blew past and served as a frigid and cruel reminder that his robes, although lined with the most expensive livery, was not enough to keep him warm.

“Aurora!” he called again. But really, he doubted if the child could hear him above the din. His thoughts went back to Hermione and how he was right to lock her in the Infirmary.

“Yeah but she’d know what to do now, won’t she?” he muttered to himself. With the blizzard upping the ante and his broom barely holding up against the wind, he wondered if he should’ve listened to Madame Pomfrey and waited for the faculty to get Aurora.

He looked around swirling white environs. He wondered also, where they were at the very moment.

Suddenly, the blizzard’s strength dampened. The trees only whisked their branches gently now. The angry whistling of the wind had disappeared. And somewhere in the distance, he heard Aurora’s familiar gabbing and post-tantrum whimpering.

Draco didn’t have to think twice. He jumped in the nearest copse of trees that was part of the greater forest. “Aurora!” he cried. “Where are you? Make a sound! Any sound!” He stopped short when he reached a clearing. “Aurora?”

But a low, guttural sound, a bit like a growling wolf’s was not the sound he was hoping for. It seemed unusually near, too. Slowly, he took out his wand. His mind started running through possible anti-werewolf spells he learned. There was none. That was Auror business. “You’d think I’d learn something of the sort from Lupin,” he muttered.

Then, then storm rose up again. It kicked up the snow and leaves on the forest floor and billowed up Draco’s robes around him, covering his head.

“No!” he yelled as he fought to keep his robes on his sides.

The animal gave a cry of frustration, which sounded more human this time. The ground trembled from both the gale and bounding body of the animal.

Draco got his wand arm free. "Stupefy!" he shouted as the wand shot the defensive spell through the opening.

There was a whining sound but the animal didn't stop. Instead, Draco felt huge and sharp cold claws graze the left side of his body as it reached him.

He howled in pain and crumpled to the ground. Above him, thunder rumbled. But the blizzard was losing strength once more. The wind died down again, this time, almost completely. Only gentle falling snow was left.

Draco looked down his left shoulder and saw that his robes were shred almost to pieces. Underneath, half of his pyjamas were in tatters.  Bright red blood oozed from his lacerated shoulder and entire left leg. There was no pain but he felt a great throbbing towards his injuries. Although the slashes were plentiful, they appeared shallow. He waved his wand weakly.

“Ac-accio… acc-io broom... broom... stick…” he moaned.

Almost immediately, there was a zipping in the air. He sighed gratefully. But as the sound got nearer, he noticed that it didn’t come from just one broomstick but several. He weakly raised his head.

“Bloody hell,” said the redhead who led the flyers. “Malfoy, is that you?”

A pair landed right next to him, another redhead but a girl, and a dark-haired, bespectacled lad.

“That’s him alright,” said the boy. He was holding a piece of parchment in his hand.

“Draco!”

This other voice was shrill, and Draco could’ve sworn he heard it just a couple of minutes ago. Or was that hours ago? He blinked his eyes a couple of times and saw that the last flyer landed and was using his broomstick.

“Hermione,” he whispered, “you were actually on a broom?”

“Oh you daft, silly, bludgeoned, wannabe hero!” she cried again as she knelt down beside him. “What happened to you?”

“I think I was a-attacked by something.” He winced. “Aurora, did you find her?”

“No. Just you and your broom.” Ginny Weasley answered. Her eyes flitted vigilantly about the clearing. “She’s not on the map.”

“We’ll explain later,” Ron said when he saw Draco’s inquisitive gaze. “Well, when you remember. Which hopefully you won’t.”

“You should’ve brought me with you!” Hermione yelled at Draco. She was charming his robes with a darning spell.

“You wouldn’t have,” Draco smiled meekly back.

She grinned through her tears. “I wouldn’t.”

“I’m sorry for---“

“Oh Draco,” she interrupted. “You know we’re both too proud for sorrys.”

“Thank Merlin you remember,” he nodded, looking relieved. “You wanna kiss on that instead?”

“Really not the time, you two,” Harry said. He was looking nervously at the parchment in his hands.

“Check again, Harry! Aurora couldn’t have gotten far.”

“I did, Hermione. But she’s really not on the map. I… I can’t make head nor tail of it.”

“Maybe it has something to do with her being Gifted?” offered Ginny.

“Look,” Harry said with finality, “I can’t find her. The most we can do is get Malfoy back inside Hogwarts before these X’s start moving again.”

“X’s?”

“That’s what the map is calling them. We don’t know what they are, Draco,” Hermione said. “But there are about four of them scattered about the forest.”

“Make that five.”

“And we think that extra one attacked you.”

Draco frowned. There was definitely something more they were unaware of with regards to this Gifted business. Individuals that cannot be identified with their magic, individuals not like them… just like Aurora. “Maybe… she’s one of them? The Xs? That’s why we can’t see her.”

“More Gifteds?” Hermione exclaimed. “Then what are they doing here?”

“Just like what Professor McGonagall said,” Draco said. “They’re taking her home.”

“Then why do they want to hurt us?”

Unfortunately, there was no answer for that last one.

Ron whistled lowly. “You lot better continue this inside. The blizzard’s completely stopped now. We should go.”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Harry muttered. He showed them the parchment.

Draco saw a tiny drawing of a clearing where all their names were in the middle. From the north were five dots labeled Xs coming towards them.

“They’re too fast,” Ginny realized. “We have to… stay. And do what we can.”

Draco struggled to his feet. “If this is the only way to get Aurora from those… things.”

Ron and Hermione helped him up while Harry and Ginny flanked their sides, their wands aimed towards north.

It seemed like an eternity passed but finally, the group heard their footfalls. Some were heavy, others nearly too light to be heard. And among their footsteps, they heard a baby gurgling contently.

Four figures emerged from the thick woods but they stayed in the shadows, hardly giving a hint to what they really looked like.

“Professor, I think we found them,” said a voice which seemed to belong to a cool, controlled gentleman.

The students froze as one of the figures, a bald man in a hovering chair approached them.

“Good,” he answered. He smiled at them, baring a perfect set of teeth in the little moonlight. In his lap sat Aurora, rosy and well as can be.

"Aurora!" cried Draco and Hermione in sync.

The baby shrieked and laughed and clapped her hands. "A-a-a-a..." she pointed at them.

"You must be the child's babysitters," the bald man said in a voice that was suprisingly reassuring. "Professor Dumbledore told me so much about you."

"Wish we could say the same about you," muttered Draco.

Hermione nodded. "You're the Gifteds?"

"That we are, in your world's terms." He nodded at Draco. "I would like to apologize for what happened young man. It was difficult to see in that blizzard and I'm afraid one of my colleagues injured you."

"Out of instinct," one of the figures in the shadows said in a low, gruffy voice. "He got me, too. But I managed to control myself when I realized you were a student."

Draco nodded. "The cuts are shallow enough." Then almost like an afterthought, "Thank you."

"I think we best sort this out inside the castle? Albus is waiting in the Infirmary for the five of you." The bald man looked at Ron. "And yes, Mr. Weasley. He is quite cross that the Gryffindor Head Boy should be involved in  your little search party."

Ron's eyes widened. "Blimey. You read minds!"

"Gifted," nodded Harry.

The bald man smiled again. "Now please Mr. Weasley. Perhaps we can get on your headmaster's good side again if he sees the Head Boy on the forefront. Kindly lead the way."

Chapter 16: EPILOGUE
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Hermione knew she had her eyes closed because although her nose stung from the Infirmary’s custom sterile scent, she could only see darkness.

“A fine way to spend Christmas,” said Madame Pomfrey, seemingly from far away. “In bed with cuts and breaks all over their poor bodies.”

“Now Poppy, you know it’s only Draco that needed attending,” Dumbledore gently reprimanded. “Keeping the others here is overreacting.”

“Well I like them here,” she sniffed. “Keeps them away from trouble.”

The muffled snickering of Charles Curative reached Hermione’s ears. There was something extra comical about its sound that made a smile tug at the corner of her lips. She slowly opened her eyes.

“You’re up!” whispered Ron joyfully. “Go on! Say you’re okay so we can go down for some lunch!”

Hermione looked down the line of beds and gasped when Draco was nowhere in sight. “Where is he? And Aurora?”

“Now, now Granger,” a familiar drawl said. “You’re sounding a bit too needy.”

Quickly, she sat up and saw Draco on the bed right across hers. He was flat on his back and covered in numerous bandages. “Oh you pompous git!” she cried in relief as she hopped off her mattress and onto his.

“Did you see that jump she made, Madame Pomfrey?” said Ron. “Clearly we’re more than ready to go down the Great Hall.”

“Clearly,” muttered Ginny as the two snogged shamelessly in front of them.

Harry shook his head. “I have to start getting used to this.”

Madame Pomfrey coughed disapprovingly. “Not too enthusiastic now, Miss Granger. Mr. Malfoy is still mending.”

“Sorry,” she grinned. Her eyes roved about the ward. “Where’s Aurora?”

Draco took her hand. “She’s already left, love.”

Tears began to form at the corner of Hermione’s eyes but there was s mile on her face. “Reckon it’s for the best. I’m gonna miss her though.”

“Me too.”

“Rest assured that the young Gifted is in good hands with others of her own kind,” Professor Dumbledore said. “Charles is more than capable to rear her and her powers into stability. He is both a kind and competent man.”

“Will we ever see her again?” asked Hermione.

“Our world hardly crosses with the Gifteds’, Ms. Granger, much like how we avoid it crossing with the Muggles’. But the bond you formed with the ten months you took care of her will always stay. Who knows? There may come a time when you will meet again.”

He laid a hand on both of their shoulders. “For now, you both should be proud of the work you did for Aurora. The punishment that was given was surpassed by turning it into something beneficent for both of you as students and for Aurora as a child of great power.” His eyes twinkled. “So congratulations, I believe your detention is now dropped.”

The three Gryffindors and even Madame Pomfrey applauded this announcement. Charles Curative whistled in agreement from his mount outside.

“Hmm,” Draco said thoughtfully, “I don’t know, Professor. We very nearly drove Madame Pomfrey mad when we left the Infirmary.”

Hermione vigorously nodded in agreement. “And roaming the school grounds after curfew is a serious violation.”

“Very.”

“Truly.”

Professor Dumbledore shook his head and rolled his eyes. “When they’re too smart…” He started gathering Harry, Ginny and Ron from their beds. “Come along, you three. Time to tuck in the pudding.”

Madame Pomfrey ran after the departing group and protested loudly, but was drowned out by the three students’ cheering. As soon as they stepped out of the ward, Draco looked back at Hermione who was smiling down on him. “I’ve forgotten where we left off.”

“You locked the Infirmary,” Hermione smiled, “but you were on the other side of the door.”

“Oh! This about right then?”

She nodded. “Good enough.”

Draco laughed and took her face in his hands. “Come here.”

 

*

 

Somewhere...

“New kid for registration,” came someone's voice amidst the clicking and clacking of computer keyboards. “ID number 0740624...”

“Copy that...”

“Transferring personal data...”

“Accepting...” The blond guy seated across the major computer screen leaned back on his chair. “This the baby that got lost?”

“Yeah,” said the one who brought all the necessary data in for encryption in the motherboard. “All right, do your stuff.”

 The blonde shook his head. “Sometimes, I wonder if these kids will hate me in the end.”

 His friend shrugged. “It's just a name. They can always change it once they’re old enough.”

 The blonde sighed. “Okay.” Clicking and clacking ensued. "Powers are weather control? Just that?"

“You know what I heard? That this kid can wipe buildings off the ground with tornadoes the size of Texas. Crazy right?” said the other guy. He swiveled around in his chair impatiently. “Come on, man! What are we calling her?”

 Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. “I'm changing Aurora to Ororo.”

 Silence.

 Clickety-clack. "We can call her Storm."

 Enter. Data saved.

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Stephen King for the concept of being Dim. Stan Lee. JK Rowling. T. And people who reviewed. Thanks. It's been friggin' fun.

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