You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com


The Pureblood by PoohBear813

Format: Novel
Chapters: 24
Word Count: 145,018
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Scenes of a mild sexual nature

Genres: Drama, Romance, Young Adult
Characters: Hermione, Blaise (M), Draco
Pairings: Draco/Hermione, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Luna, Other Pairing

First Published: 02/14/2008
Last Chapter: 09/23/2016
Last Updated: 01/21/2017

Summary:




*Banner by Lil lily71* It's the eve of Hermione's 17th birthday and her world is turned upside down. It just so happens that she's not who she thought she was, and now she has to face her 7th year at Hogwarts with a new identity... and a fiance?? *I own nothing... (except a few original characters)... All Harry Potter characters are credited to the AMAZING J.K. Rowling... Reviews would be most welcomed!!*


Chapter 1: Chapter One
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Author's note- Hi everyone! I'm back! Thank you for your patience in waiting for this story to be finished and revised! I really hope you like it! -PoohBear

Disclaimer- I own nothing but the plot and a few original characters! No copyright infringement intended with the letter from the Ministry. Just wanted it to be like the one Harry got in Chamber of Secrets!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Chapter Image by ariana_tithe


Hermione Granger lay sprawled out on her stomach with a book in front of her. She had just spent the past couple of hours packing for her annual trip to the Burrow; the home of two of her best friends, and she was ready to relax. She opened her book to the final chapter and began reading, her eyes fluidly scanning over the words on each page before going to the next.

Being that she had always possessed an inquisitive mind, Hermione liked to be prepared for the upcoming school year. This year was no different. However, apart from preparing for her seventh, and final, year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she was also preparing to fight in the pending war. With Lord Voldemort attempting to regain power, no one could be too careful.

She was nearing the end of her sixth year Arithmancy book when her father’s voice called up to her. “Coming!” she called as she marked her page and climbed off her bed.

When she reached the foot of the stairs, she could just make out the whispered voices of her parents coming from the living room. “She’s not going to take this well,” her father was saying.

“Then why do we have to tell her?” her mother questioned.

“Jane, I don’t like this anymore than you do, but we have to tell her.”

Must be serious, Hermione thought. She then rounded the corner and the sight that greeted her pulled at her heart.

Her parents were sitting close together on the sofa, their heads bowed. Her father had an arm around her mother and his other hand was holding her mother’s tightly. “Dad?”

Mr. Granger looked up, clearing his throat as he smiled at his daughter. “Ah, there you are,” he said.

“Is everything alright?”

“Why don’t you sit down, sweetheart,” her father replied.

Hermione sat in the arm chair across from her parents. She could tell that whatever news they had for her, it was something that had deeply upset them. “What’s going on?”

“Um, your mother and I have something very important that we need to talk to you about,” he told her.

Hermione’s brow furrowed as she made herself more comfortable. Her mother looked as though she had been crying for hours and her father seemed shaken to the core. The only other time she had seen her parents like this was when her grandfather had died two years previous.

“Do we have to tell her now, Tom?” her mother asked, her voice trembling.

Mr. Granger rubbed his wife’s arm. “We don’t have a choice, Jane,” he said softly, “They’re going to be here in a few hours. She’ll need time to process this.”

“Process what?” Hermione questioned, “Who’s coming?”

Her parents were quiet for several minutes. “Dad, who’s coming?” she persisted.

“Your parents,” he finally replied.

Hermione stared at them for a second before bursting into laughter. “Funny, Dad,” she said, “You really had me going for a second there.”

“This is no joke, Hermione,” Mr. Granger said solemnly, “There’s something you need to know.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The storm raging outside was the worst Oxfordshire County had seen in many years. Lightening lit up the sky, thunder shook the windows; but Tom Granger was paying it no mind. He was too wrapped up in the book he was reading to even notice the knocking that could barely be heard over the pouring rain.

When the knocking broke through his thoughts a few seconds later, Tom marked his place and checked the clock on the mantle above the fireplace. Now who could be calling at this hour? Then, setting his book down, he walked over to the door.

When he opened it, he was greeted by the sight of two figures covered in dark, hooded cloaks. The shorter of the two figures was cradling a tiny bundle in its arms and appeared to be rocking it. “Can… Can I help you?” Tom questioned, looking at the cloaked figures with curiosity and fear.

The taller figure lifted the hood of its cloak, revealing a handsome young man whose face held such fear as Tom had never seen. “Sir, my name is Pietro and this is my wife, Marjorie,” he said, his words heavily accented, “We are seeking help… Please, may we come in?”

Tom eyed the man suspiciously. “I promise… we mean you no harm,” the young man stated upon seeing his uncertainty.

Marjorie also removed her hood and reached for Tom’s arm. “Sir, I beg you… Please!”

He noted the sense of urgency in their voices, the despair on their faces as she held tight to his arm. These things, as well as the fact that they seemed like nice enough people, caused his heart to open to them. Ordinarily, he would have closed the door on them and thought nothing more about them.

Tom stepped aside and opened the door wider for them. “Yes, of course,” he said, “Please, come in and warm yourselves by the fire.”

“Tom, are you coming to bed, darling?”

Tom looked up the stairs as the young couple entered the house. “Not quite yet, love,” he replied, “You go on. I’ll be there in a bit.”

“If you please, we must speak to your wife as well,” Pietro told him.

“Sweetheart, who are you talking to?”

“Why don’t you come join us, Jane?” Tom called as he shut the door. He then showed Pietro and Marjorie into the living room so they could warm up.

Seconds later, Jane entered the room and stood next to Tom. “Pietro, Marjorie, this is my wife, Jane,” Tom said, wrapping his arm around her waist.

“Hello,” Jane said, “Please, won’t you sit? Can I get you some tea? You must be frozen from being out in that storm.”

“You are very kind, but we can only stay for a moment,” Pietro replied.

Tom cleared his throat. “Exactly what is this all about?” he asked, “What do you mean knocking on our door so close to midnight?”

Marjorie held the bundle in her arms tighter to her. “We apologize for the late hour,” Pietro said, “Our daughter, Hermione, is in danger.”

Jane looked at the tiny bundle and opened her mouth to say something, but Pietro rushed to continue. “Please, for your own safety, I cannot tell you more than that.”

“And how is it that you think we can help?” Tom questioned.

The young woman kissed the swaddled child on the head. Then, she tearfully stretched out her arms, wordlessly offering the baby to the couple before her.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“And before we knew it; there were all these bright lights, you were in our arms, and they were gone,” Mr. Granger finished.

Mrs. Granger handed Hermione a folded piece of paper. “We found this wrapped in your blanket.”

Hermione unfolded the paper and began to read.


Please take good care of our Hermione Jean. We will be back for her when it is safe.
Many thanks,
Pietro and Marjorie Zabini


Hermione stared at the last name of the mysterious Pietro and Marjorie. This can’t be true, she thought, this just can’t be true! I’m Hermione Granger; seventh year and Head Girl at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m not a Zabini… I am not a Zabini!

“This has got to be some kind of mistake,” she said after several minutes.

“I’m afraid there’s no mistake, Hermione,” her father said.

“But… I go to school with Blaise Zabini,” Hermione stated, “We’re in the same year; I look nothing like him.”

“Hermione, haven’t you ever wondered why there are no pictures of your mother pregnant? Or why we don’t have pictures from when you were born?” Mr. Granger questioned.

That was a very good point. She couldn’t recall ever coming across pictures of her mother pregnant, or pictures from the hospital when she was born. Of course there was a logical explanation for that. Perhaps her mother didn’t want her picture taken while pregnant or just after giving birth. Her mother never had been too fond of getting her picture taken. “But there are all those pictures of me as a baby and you have my birth certificate,” she said.

“We have those baby pictures because you weren’t even a week old when your parents brought you to us,” Mrs. Granger explained, “but your birth certificate is fake.”

“What?”

Mr. Granger stood and began pacing behind the couch. “The day after you came to us, we received an envelope filled with everything we would need to make it believable that you were ours; including a birth certificate,” he told her.

Hermione’s heart pounded loudly in her chest as she tried to make sense of everything her parents had just explained to her. Though the looks of sadness and the tone of her parents’ voices told her that it was the truth, she just couldn’t wrap her head around it. She felt as if she had fallen into a strange, yet horrible, dream and couldn’t wake up. But I am awake, she thought logically. Suddenly, her blood began to boil in anger.

“You’ve known this all along and you never told me?” she questioned hotly, standing up and glaring at them.

Mrs. Granger looked at her pleadingly. “Darling, please, you must understand…” she began.

Hermione whipped around and glared at her. “Understand what, Mother?” she snapped. “That you’ve hidden the fact that I’m not even your daughter from me? I think I understand that one quite well, thank you.”

“Hermione, your mother and I…”

“You aren’t my parents,” Hermione snapped, again, not allowing an explanation and turning to face Mr. Granger.

Mrs. Granger threw her head into her hands and sobbed loudly as her husband looked at the young woman they had come to know and love as their daughter sternly and said, “Young lady, you do not speak to us like that!”

“How could you have kept something like this from me? Didn’t you think this was something I should have been aware of before now?”

“We wanted to tell you, Hermione,” Mr. Granger said, “we truly did, and we tried but we just couldn’t. We didn’t understand it at first, but it was physically impossible for us to tell you.”

Her father‘s words about bright lights suddenly made more sense to her as he said this. She had read of particular spells used to prevent a person from spilling information, willingly or not, so it seemed fully plausible that the Zabinis had performed such spells on them. “They must have cast a Secrecy spell on you,” she said aloud, “Something like that would keep you from speaking the truth, even to each other.”

Mrs. Granger nodded. “We did try to speak to each other about it a number of times, but something prevented it. That must be it,” she agreed.

“And you couldn’t have found some other way to tell me before now?!”

Mr. Granger came back around the couch and took his wife’s hand as she began to sob again. “We were scared, Hermione,” he said, “A strange couple comes to our house and tells us their daughter is in danger but they can’t tell us why, then suddenly they’re gone and we’re the guardians of a beautiful baby. You were the miracle we’d been praying for. We couldn’t just give that up.”

“We always knew they’d be coming back for you, but we just couldn’t allow ourselves to accept it,” Mrs. Granger said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, “But the fact always remained; as much as we wished it were true, you were never actually ours… Not legally anyway. In our hearts, however, you are.”

Hermione clutched at her head briefly in anger. “And yet you’ve been lying to me my entire life!”

“We’ve explained that,” her father snapped.

Hermione realized at that moment that lashing out wasn’t going to get her anywhere. She took a deep breath and sat down, doing her best to remain calm so that she could logically consider all of the facts. “I’m assuming my features were altered in some way,” she said thoughtfully, more to herself than to her parents, “I mean; I know Blaise and there’s no resemblance between us and…”

At the thought of Blaise, Hermione suddenly realized that not only was she his sister… “we’re twins.”

She blinked in amazement. “This doesn’t make any sense,” she continued, standing and beginning to pace, “I’ve never heard of anything that could alter a person’s physical appearance for such an extended period of time. Of course, Polyjuice Potion could do it, but that only lasts for an hour at best. I suppose they could have done some kind of spell, but I don’t know of anything that powerful. Then again, I was very young when I was brought here, and all babies look sort of similar, so I gather that there wasn’t much that would have been done…”

She finally stopped pacing and took a breath. She turned to look at her parents. “What did I look like? Before, I mean.”

“Your mother kept you so close that we never got a look at you before you were handed to us,” Mrs. Granger explained, “The next day, I was cleaning out that old closet in the hall where I discovered this envelope. I had never seen it before; it just appeared.”

She took an envelope from her apron pocket and handed it to Hermione. “Inside was a letter explaining that you were a witch, that you would probably receive a letter to a special school, and that precautions had been taken to hide your true identity,” she said, “There was also everything we would need to sell the thought that you were undoubtedly our daughter. Including, as your father mentioned, your birth certificate.”

Hermione sat silently for a few minutes processing what she had just been told. “Why did they leave me here?” she asked suddenly, realizing that a full explanation on that front hadn’t been given.

“That’s a question we can’t answer,” Mr. Granger told her, “We don’t know.”

“They didn’t give you a reason?”

He shook his head. “We were only told that you were in danger and couldn’t be told why.”

Hermione furrowed her brow. “It all seems strange, doesn’t it?” she asked, “Me being in some kind of mysterious danger that no one can know about. Suppose I’m not their daughter at all; suppose they kidnapped me! They‘re Death Eaters after all so I wouldn‘t put it past them.”

“Hermione, darling, you didn’t see their faces, hear their voices. They were terrified.”

Hermione went back to pacing. “Well this is just great! Ever since I started at Hogwarts I’ve been teased, ridiculed, and utterly humiliated for being Muggle-born by people like Blaise Zabini and various other Slytherins and no one can tell me why I was brought to the Muggle world to begin with other than ‘you were in danger’!”

“Sweetheart, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explan…”

“Yes, Mother I’m sure there is but unfortunately that explanation seems to be lost in the void until the time I can get it from the Zabinis,” she said.

“Which should be in a few hours,” Mr. Granger said softly. “They’re going to be here at five thirty to take… to take you home.”

Hermione stood and began to walk toward the stairs. “Excuse me,” she said quietly, “I need a moment to sift through all of this.”

Her mind was racing with the thought of being taken away from her parents. As angry as she was at them for not telling her, she couldn’t honestly blame them; they had been under a Secrecy Spell after all. Furthermore, she loved her parents dearly.

Before she even made it out of the living room, her father’s voice stopped her. “There’s more,” he said softly, “Please, I think you’ll want to sit down for this.”

Hermione reluctantly sat back down and Mr. Granger continued, “Early this morning we received another letter from your parents. That’s how we knew they would be coming back for you today.”

“What did it say?”

Mrs. Granger pursed her lips and let out a disapproving snort. Mr. Granger glanced at his wife as he rubbed the back of his neck. It was clear that whatever the letter said, it was something neither of them were happy about. “Ahem, apparently there’s a tradition of arranged marriages.”

Hermione blinked and shook her head as though she hadn’t heard properly. “I’m sorry; are you trying to tell me that the Zabini’s have arranged a marriage for me?”

“According to the letter, you’re to be married during the Christmas Holiday,” her father confirmed.

Hermione scoffed in disbelief. “They’ve got to out of their minds if they think I’m going to agree to such an archaic practice! What; do they think women are incapable of choosing a husband?” she raged.

“We don’t like it either; you‘re only seventeen after all, but this is obviously something that’s important to them,” Mrs. Granger said, “Perhaps we should try to be more understanding of their ways?”

Hermione huffed and folded her arms over her chest. “The only way I’d be understanding of this is if they agree to postpone the wedding until whoever it is I’m supposed to marry and I have had a proper amount of time to get to know each other,” she stated. She then looked at her father questioningly. “Did the letter say who it is I’m supposed to be betrothed to?”

Mr. Granger reached into his pocket and opened the letter he pulled out. “Ahem, yes… A boy called Draco Malfoy.”

Hermione’s eyes widened as she shot out of her seat, “WHAT?!” she yelled, “Oh this day just keeps getting better and better! I find out I’m the daughter of a Death Eater, the twin sister of a complete prat, and I’m betrothed to someone who hates me. What a joy this day has turned out to be!”

“Is this Draco Malfoy really so bad?”

Hermione ran a hand through her bushy brown hair and sighed. “I think he shows people what he thinks they expect of him, but I don’t think he’s truly bad; no,” she confessed, “Though I can’t honestly say he’s good either. I mean; all he’s ever done is torment my friends and me. He was raised to hate Muggles and Muggle-born witches and wizards, so that automatically puts us at odds, doesn’t it?”

She paused, twisting her hair into a bun and sticking a pencil into it to keep it in place. “I don’t see how he could be agreeable to this arranged marriage when he hates me.”

“Oh honey, I’m sure he doesn’t hate you,” Mrs. Granger said comfortingly.

“I’m afraid I think he does. He’s only ever treated me like dirt since the day he met me because I’m Muggle-born.”

“Well, maybe you two can work things out.”

Hermione was about to protest when suddenly something small and sparkling gold zoomed into the room and began circling her head. What’s a snitch doing here, she thought as she reached up and attempted to catch the small object. Oh where the bloody hell is Harry when you need him?

Though it took several minutes, Hermione finally managed to catch the walnut sized ball, it's thin silver wings flapping madly in an attempt to get away from her firm grip. With it finally settled down and its wings tucked away, she was able to examine it. From what she could tell, it was just an ordinary snitch used in Quidditch. But it can’t be ordinary, she thought. Unless it escaped from a game somewhere…

“Hermione, what is that?” Mr. Granger asked.

“It’s called a ‘snitch’. It’s one of the four balls used in Quidditch,” she said, “I’ve told you about Quidditch; remember, my friends Ginny, Ron, and Harry play for the Gryffindor team?”

“Oh, yes.”

“What’s it doing here?” Mrs. Granger asked.

“I’m not sure,” Hermione said thoughtfully. She didn’t have long to ponder as to the reason for the snitch being in a Muggle town, however for at that moment, an envelope flew in through the chimney and landed softly at her feet.

Seeing that it was, indeed, for her, Hermione quickly pocketed the golden snitch and picked up the envelope. She then opened it and found a neatly scrawled note consisting of a single word; Serpentias.

There was no signature, just that one simple word. Hermione turned the piece of parchment over and over in her hands trying to see if there was maybe something else that she might have missed. Finding nothing, she sighed and removed the snitch from her pocket and examined it again, confusion washing over her in bigger waves than she had ever felt.

“Hermione?” Mr. Granger questioned.

What the bloody hell is going on here, she thought? She looked closer at the writing and it suddenly clicked. “Malfoy!”

Her parents looked at her curiously as she began pacing and thinking out loud; a habit she’d had since she was a child. “He’s the only one that makes sense. The snitch, the one word note which is probably the password to open the snitch… Ugh! He’s probably hoping I’ll open the snitch and get expelled for using underage magic,” she rambled, “What a slimy little…”

“You wouldn’t really get expelled, would you?” Mr. Granger questioned worriedly. School had always been important to him so the possibility of her getting expelled was definitely a concern for him.

Hermione shook her head. “I come of age tomorrow so one little spell isn’t going to get me anything more than a warning,” she assured him.

Without another thought, she withdrew her wand from her jeans pocket and gently tapped the snitch with the tip of it and said, “Serpentias.”

At first, it seemed as though nothing was going to happen, the snitch just sat there in her hand. Then, in a matter of seconds, it began to vibrate. A warm tingling feeling spread through her hand as the snitch began to heat causing her to drop it.

As it hit the floor the golden color changed to red and then burned white hot. Hermione watched the snitch as it began to glow so brightly white that she had to squint to see what was happening. Then suddenly, she let out a scream of terror as the snitch turned into a great black snake, coiled and ready to strike. The snake raised its black head and stared at them through amber eyes, its forked tongue flickering in and out of its mouth, smelling them.

Mr. Granger carefully moved toward the snake with the poker from the fireplace in an attempt to remove it but it lunged dangerously at him. Mrs. Granger and Hermione both screamed and Mrs. Granger pulled her daughter close to her. The snake flicked its tongue in Hermione’s direction and uncoiled itself.

Hermione’s heart pounded wildly in her chest as the serpent slithered gracefully across the floor and came to a stop in front of her. She watched as it rose up and looked her right in the eyes, swaying its head slightly. Then, as if she knew the creature wouldn’t hurt her, Hermione stepped away from her mother and reached for it.

The snake slithered closer to her and wrapped itself around her arm, turning so that its head was in the palm of her hand. As though hypnotized, Hermione began stroking the watery skin. The snake suddenly stretched its mouth wide and hissed loudly, vanishing in a puff of green smoke.

Hermione blinked, bringing her eyes back into focus, and looked down at her open hand. A thin band of silver glistened up at her formed into the shape of an emerald eyed, open-mouthed snake. Sitting in the snake’s opened mouth, held in by four tiny fang-shaped diamonds was a small, perfect emerald. It was the most beautiful ring she had ever seen in her life. Slowly, she looked back at her parents.

She swallowed loudly and whispered, “Oh my.”

Mr. Granger chuckled shakily. “Well, he certainly has an impressive way of doing things, doesn’t he?”

Hermione nodded and closed her fingers around the ring. Looking at her parents, she said, “How am I supposed to wear this? An engagement ring is supposed to be a symbol of two people’s love, this seems more like a symbol of an arrangement of convenience.”

“Talk to the Zabinis,” Mrs. Granger suggested, “I’m sure they’ll understand once you explain your thoughts to them.”

Hermione sniffed as she wiped a tear from her eye before it could fall. “Excuse me,” she said, suddenly bolting for the stairs.

Hermione quickly climbed the stairs and ran into her bedroom, slamming the door and leaning back against it. For the first time since she had heard the news of who she was, she allowed the hot tears she had been holding back to fall freely. She sank to the floor and hugged her knees to her chest, crying into them. It was all she could do to keep herself from completely losing her mind.

She felt betrayed in some ways because her parents had kept such important information from her for so long, however unwillingly. Betrayed because the people who had created her, who had supposedly loved her, had abandoned her. She also felt nervous about the fact that she was going to be marrying someone who had shown an intense hatred for her during the years they had attended Hogwarts.

Slowly, she lifted her hand and opened her fist. The tiny ring shimmered back at her as her honey brown eyes carefully looked it over. The band was quite intriguing; it was as if the snake was appearing to coil itself around the wearer’s finger. It looked a bit big for her slim fingers, though it was certainly beautifully crafted… Most likely by magic… every detail made to perfection.

Upon closer inspection, she noticed writing etched into the inside of the band. Curiosity getting the better of her, Hermione walked over to her nightstand and turned on the lamp. Holding the ring close to her face, she read the neatly scrawled inscription.

“To my betrothed, Draco Malfoy,” she read out loud, wiping the tears away from her cheeks. She was truly impressed. I wonder if he knows who he’s betrothed to, she thought as she slipped the ring into her pocket, Of course he does you twit! He sent you the bloody snitch and note.

Hermione silently wondered what Draco thought about their arranged marriage. Did he have the same concerns that she did? Would he be able to set aside their differences and accept her into his life? Would she be able to forgive him for the hurtful things he’d said and done to her over the years? If they refused to accept this betrothal, would they be forced to marry?

She wasn’t completely sure of what was going to happen in the next twenty-four hours, but she was willing to at least speak to the Zabinis and make her decision from there. At this point, she wasn’t ready to either accept or deny anything.

Moments later, an owl appeared at her window carrying a letter in its beak. Hermione walked over to the window and took the letter from the owl, which flew off quickly, and looked at the envelope. Her name was written on it in a very official way so she could only assume that it was from the Ministry of Magic.

Knowing exactly what it might say, she opened it lazily and read the neatly written note.


Dear Miss Granger,
We have received intelligence that a Password Charm was used at your place of residence this afternoon at five minutes to three.

As you know, underage wizards are not permitted to perform spells outside school, and further spellwork on your part may lead to expulsion from said school (Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, Paragraph C).

We would also ask you to remember that any magical activity that risks notice by members of the non-magical community (Muggles) is a serious offense under section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy.

Enjoy your new school term!

Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

Improper Use of Magic Office

Ministry of Magic


Hermione rolled her eyes as she unceremoniously ripped the letter and threw it in her waste basket. Ordinarily she wouldn’t be so lax when it came to an official warning from the Wizarding world’s highest form of government. However, things weren’t exactly being run by the Ministry these days. Lord Voldemort had found his way into the Ministry and was using it to further his plan, whatever it was, to rule the Wizarding world. That, and they had been treating Harry very poorly since their fifth year.

With a deep sigh, Hermione walked over to the foot of her bed and threw open her school trunk. At the bottom of the trunk were a few broken quills and empty ink bottles which she quickly gathered up and discarded in her waste basket. She then walked over to her closet and began emptying it of its contents.


Chapter 2: Chapter Two
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Chapter image by SillyBeee


 Hermione jumped slightly when a loud tapping sounded in the quiet room. She stood up from her spot on the floor and looked toward her bedroom window. Sitting comfortably on the outside window sill was a large, beautiful Boreal owl that she didn’t recognize.

 She stared at the owl briefly, noticing that there was something tied to its leg. Curious as to who had sent the owl, she quickly walked over to the window and threw it open. The owl swooped into the room silently and perched itself on Hermione’s desk. It then obediently held its leg out for her and waited.

 Hermione moved over to the owl and untied the envelope that was attached to its leg. Sure enough, written in beautiful slanted cursive was her name. I wonder who it’s from, she thought, opening the envelope and pulling out the enclosed piece of parchment.

My darling daughter,
 By now, the Grangers will have told you of your true identity, and your betrothal to Draco. All of this is, I’m sure, a shock to you. If you’re anything like me, and I’ve been told you are, there are many questions running through your mind. I promise that your father and I will answer any, and all, questions you have, but for the time being, I must be brief.


 Your father and I are so thrilled that you will be coming home to us after so many long years apart. We will be arriving shortly with your brother, Blaise, to bring you home. We are all so looking forward to getting to know the young woman you have become.

 We can’t wait to see you.

With deepest love,

Your Mother

 

 Hermione stared at the last line for several minutes. Your Mother. Her eyes narrowed as the weight of those words seemed to come down on her like a wave in the ocean. There was no way she was going to stand for this. She had a mother, and a father, that she loved dearly and she wasn’t going to be taken from them!

 With a small grunt of anger, Hermione crumpled the letter in her hand and tossed it onto her desk. She padded across the floor and opened her door, stepping out into the hallway. As she made her way down the hall to the stairs, she heard the sound of crying coming from her father’s office.

 Her feet quietly carried her to the closed door as instinct told her that it was her mother doing the crying. However, as she opened the door and poked her head into the room, her heart broke at the sight that lay before her. Her father was sitting behind his desk with his head in his hands, sobbing.

 Hermione had never seen her father cry before. He had always been so scientific, so rational about things that she had never thought crying would be an option for him. She wanted to be there for him in the way he had always been there for her; wanted to comfort him in some way.

 With all the emotional strength she could muster, she gently pushed the door open further and entered the familiar room. As she quietly padded over to him, Mr. Granger looked up at the young woman as she came toward him. Fresh tears fell from his eyes as he watched her.

 “Daddy,” she whispered, sitting on his lap the way she used to do when she woke from a nightmare.

 He remembered the way she would tiptoe to his office and climb into his lap causing all the stress from his day to vanish as his little girl slept, curled in his arms. “My little girl,” he whispered back, tears falling from his tired eyes with each word.

 He touched the tip of her nose with his finger as he said, “That’s what you are; my little girl and you always will be. Nothing will ever take that away; no distance… no time… no name change… You are my little girl.”

 Hermione felt the warm, wet tears from his face seeping into her shirt, mixing with her own as she looked around the small, dark office. The mantle bore pictures of their family, happy and loving. There was a section of the room that proudly displayed her grade cards and awards from school while another section was splashed with the many vividly colored drawings she had done over the past sixteen years. Handprints walked around the room, each one bigger than the previous, representing her sixteen years of life.

 She stood from her father’s lap while he wiped his remaining tears away. She walked along the wall, touching each handprint, marveling in the love that surrounded her. Turning back to her father’s desk she saw her mother’s petite form wrapped in her father’s arms; he now doing the comforting.

 Hermione made a mental note of how well they seemed to fit together, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But even then, there seemed to be something that was missing between them… her. She took a small step toward them and suddenly, like a moth to the flame, she was drawn into the familiar embrace; each of them soaking up that tender moment.

 “I’m not going,” Hermione said softly, pulling away from her parents. “It’s like Dad said, I’m yours; not theirs! They have no right to me… none!”

 Her mother turned, dabbing a tissue at the corner of her eyes as she took a deep breath. Hermione knew this to be a sign of a long, civilized conversation and she would not have any part in it. “No!” she cried, quickly pacing around the office. “How dare they think they can just swoop in here and take me away like… like some, some… owl! Well, I’m just not going… I’m not… So there!”

 “Hermione, sweetheart, there’s no option but for you to go. We promised them,” her mother explained quietly, her voice full of the tears she had already shed, and those she hadn’t.

 “You promised them… You! Not me! I didn’t promise them anything!” Hermione stated, “They abandoned me! For seventeen years they left me here, I want nothing to do with them!”

 Her father sniffed and nodded as he said, “You’re right, you didn’t promise… but you’re not an adult yet which is why you have no choice… And neither to do your mother and I.”

 He took a breath and continued, “We made a promise when you came to us that we would take care of you until the day they came to get you. Naturally, we came to love you as our own, and we always will, but you’re rightfully theirs.”

 Hermione glared at them, anger welling up inside her. “So you’re just going to let them take me? Just like that?” she asked tearfully.

 Mrs Granger grabbed her daughter, who stood stiff, refusing to reciprocate the warmth. “Now you listen here, young lady… We’d fight to the ends of the earth for you, don’t you dare think we wouldn’t,” Hermione could sense a ‘but’ coming and felt she knew what her mother was trying to say.

 Hermione rarely saw her mother angry, but this was one of those times and she knew that her mother was right. I’m barely a match for fully qualified Witches and Wizards, she thought, and with a reputation like the Zabinis, they would probably stop at nothing short of murdering my parents and modifying my memory to get me to go with them. It was also obvious that if she was no match for the Zabinis, her parents certainly weren’t.

 Sinking into the chair that sat next to the one large window, Hermione began to cry once more. She felt her mother’s warm, loving arms wrap around her and simply hold her, allowing her to cry for as long as she needed.

 Suddenly, an idea sprung to her mind. Tomorrow! Hermione stood again and paced the floor, noticing the threadbare rug with its familiar pattern etched in where she would pace as she talked things over with her parents. “I’ll be of age tomorrow… I can choose! They can’t keep me there… granted, I’ll look different without the Glamour Charm, and Draco will undoubtedly be uncomfortable coming here to visit but I’m sure he’ll get over it… that is, if we decide to go through with this engagement.”

 Hermione rambled on and on until her father’s hands wrapped around her shoulders, stopping her mid-ramble. “No, Hermione,” he said simply, “As much as it pains me to say this; you need to give the Zabinis a chance. You don’t know what caused them to brings you to us, or what they’re really like; none of us do. We will always be here for you, but it’s for those reasons that you need to go with them.”

 “But that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to make us stop loving you,” Mrs. Granger added. “You’re our little girl… but you’re their daughter.”

 There was no way out of the arrangement. That somber realization hit Hermione like a Stunning Spell. “Well, I guess I’d better finish packing,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

 With one final, long hug, Hermione Granger left her father’s office for the last time, armed with the knowledge that she was loved deeply by her Muggle parents and grateful to the Mother and Father she hadn’t met yet for giving her to such wonderful people to raise.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Twenty minutes later, Hermione was looking around her room, which now stood empty, except for her furniture. Her entire life had been packed away into boxes and trunks that she had taken downstairs. Memories flooded her mind as she scanned the empty room. Sleepovers, the day she got her first Hogwarts letter, the hours her father spent sitting next to her bed reading to her; these were all things that wouldn’t fit into a box, but made all the more cherishable because of that fact.

 She wiped her eyes and sniffed. She looked around the room one final time and was about to walk out when a soft hoot stopped her. Her eyes went to her desk where she saw the owl that had delivered her biological mother’s letter still perched, watching her.

 Carefully, she walked over to it and reached her hand out. The bird hooted softly and stretched its head to meet her fingers. Hermione smiled tenderly at the creature as she gently petted the soft brown, white-tipped feathers. The white tips were so subtle that they gave the appearance of spots. “You’re very beautiful,” she said quietly, “Do you have a name, I wonder? An owner?”

 As if the owl had understood her, it extended its leg. A small gold band wrapped around the elegant leg caught Hermione’s attention. She leaned down and saw the engraved letters. It was the same slanted cursive that her mother’s letter had been in. For you, Love, Your Parents.

 Hermione was in shock, yet again, as she re-read the words. This gorgeous bird was for her? She couldn’t believe it. Of course, disbelief seemed to be the theme of the day. “Well, I guess if you’re mine; that means I have to name you,” she said to the owl, “Let’s see; you’re a girl… How about Callidora, meaning ‘gift of beauty’.”

 The owl hooted affectionately in response. “Yes, I think that suits you beautifully,” Hermione said with a smile.

 Knowing that she would eventually have to tell her two best friends, Harry and Ron, what was going on, she sat down at her desk and pulled some spare parchment out of the drawer along with a quill and ink pot. She then set herself to writing as detailed a letter as she could in the remaining time she had.

 

Dear Ron and Harry,

 I’m not certain that I’ll be able to meet you in Diagon Alley tomorrow as planned, though I will try. Some things have happened and I don’t know exactly how to explain it all. I’m still processing the information myself, to be honest. I’m wary of writing much on the subject as I’ve been told that it’s potentially dangerous. I will tell you what little I can.

 Earlier this afternoon, I found out that I am the twin sister of Blaise Zabini. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. I am Hermione Jean Zabini (boy does that sound strange), daughter of Pietro and Marjorie Zabini. I don’t know the details as to why they brought me to my parents when I was a baby, but I will let you know as soon as I do.

 This new was less shocking than what I’m about to tell you. Apart from being Blaise’s twin sister (that’s going to take some getting used to, no doubt), the Zabini’s have arranged for me to marry Draco Malfoy. I don’t know what could have possessed them to do that, but I can’t see a way out of it at this time. Perhaps, though, given time, it won’t be so bad… I’m really not agreeing with this utterly archaic practice, but I’m not disagreeing with it either. I’m going to speak with the Zabinis about it before agreeing to anything.

 The Zabinis will be here any moment to take me to my new home. No telling how that is going to go. Please send your responses back to me with Callidora, my new owl (a gift from the Zabinis). Ron, tell your family hello for me and that I miss them. Harry, I hope all was well for the few weeks that you had to stay at the Dursley’s and that the Burrow finds you well.

 Love to you both,

 Hermione

 

 Just then, a muffled call came from down the stairs. “I’ll be right there,” Hermione called. She then quickly folded the letter and stuffed it into the envelope. After sealing it, she wrote the address onto it and stuffed it into her back pocket. There wasn’t any time for her to send the letter just then so it would have to wait.

 Hermione took one final look around the room and sighed. Well I guess this is it, she thought as a tear escaped her eye. With a deep sigh, she held out her arm for her owl. “Come on, Callidora, it’s time to go… home,” she said quietly.

 Callidora spread her wings and flew across the room to Hermione’s outstretched arm. The weight on her arm was something Hermione knew she’d have to get used to, being the new owner of a lovely owl. She gently petted the bird’s soft feathers and made her way out of her childhood room.

 Hermione quietly headed down the stairs into the living room. Because of her new found family’s Wizarding status, she assumed they wouldn’t be traveling by floo powder, but she couldn’t be certain. Considering they’re purebloods, they’ll probably not want to get soot all over their clothes, she thought bitterly as she took the last few steps into the living room.

 Mrs. Granger was sitting on the couch, nervously wringing her hands and glancing at the clock on the mantle. “Oh there you are dear! They’ll be here any minute,” she exclaimed. She then saw the small owl sitting on her daughter’s arm, “My goodness where did that come from?”

 “Mr. and Mrs. Zabini sent it to me,” Hermione responded quietly, “It’s an early birthday present I suppose.”

 “Oh, I see… It’s very pretty.”

 “I’ve named her Callidora,” Hermione told her absently, trying hard not to think about what was coming.

 Mrs. Granger blew her nose on her handkerchief and asked, “Are you nervous?”
 Hermione nodded.

 “I’m sure everything will be fine,” Mrs. Granger said with a sad smile. “Oh I do hope your parents are pleased with how we’ve raised you. You’re a fine young woman, Hermione Gra… Hermione Zabini.”

 Hermione Zabini, Hermione thought, walking over to sit next to her mother, it sounds so strange to hear that last name attached to my first.

 “Do you have everything?” her mother asked tearfully.

 Hermione nodded, unable to bring herself to speak.

 Mrs. Granger ran her fingers through Hermione’s hair, attempting to smooth some of the frizziness. She then brushed off Hermione’s sweater, pulling and tugging to get things to sit properly. Hermione knew that this was a nervous habit of her mother’s so she allowed it. Truth be told, she had more important things than her appearance on her mind.

 A knock then sounded at the front door. Hermione stiffened at the sound and bit down on the inside corner of her mouth to keep herself from bursting into more tears. Mrs. Granger, however, allowed fresh tears to fill her eyes as she stood on shaky legs and made her way to the door. “Pietro, Marjorie… What a pleasure to see you again,” Mr. Granger was saying.

 Hermione noticed that her father’s voice trembled, and did not sound at all pleased as he spoke. “Please, come in.”

 “Tom, Jane, it is lovely to see you both,” said a smooth male voice in a thick Italian accent.

 Hermione tiptoed over to the entrance of the living room and peeked around the corner. Three figures dressed in traveling cloaks had just entered the house and were standing with their backs to her.

 The feelings of anger and fear that flowed through her at the sight of Mr. Zabini almost overwhelmed her. It took all of her self-restraint to keep from pulling her wand out and cursing him, then and there. She had always been a logical thinker, though, and because of that, she knew that it wouldn’t be a good idea to use magic of any kind.

 “This is our son, Blaise,” Mr. Zabini said, putting his hand on the shoulder of the tall figure on his left.

 “Oh, yes, we’ve heard about you, Blaise,” Mr. Granger said, shaking his hand politely, “Handsome lad.”

 “Thank you, sir,” he said a little insincerely. It was obvious that he wasn’t pleased about being there.

 Hermione watched as he turned his head slightly, looking at his father as he began to speak. “Is Hermione ready?” Mr. Zabini questioned.

 Mr. Granger looked to his wife. “Ahem, um… Yes, she’s just in here,” she said meekly.
 Noticing that the Grangers were leading them into the living room, Hermione quickly backed away from the entry and walked over to stand near the fireplace. “Hermione, your… your family’s here,” Mrs. Granger said as they entered the room.

 Hermione turned her attention from the fire in the fireplace to the five people walking toward her, particularly the ones that she was to call “family”. The two elder Zabinis beamed at her. Well, Mrs. Zabini beamed. Mr. Zabini gave her what could only be classified as a careful smile. It was obvious that he was not as happy to be there as his wife was. Hermione stood straight and nearly stone-faced as she regarded each Zabini in turn.

 Marjorie Zabini was nothing like Hermione had expected. Her bright smile and soft eyes had all the makings of someone truly kind and loving. Her brown hair hung loosely down to her shoulders in sleek, gentle waves, very unlike the frizz Hermione’s hair often sported. Hermione knew, of course, that a book could not be judged by it’s cover alone. One needed to open the book and read a few pages before forming an opinion. For all I know, she could be just as murderous as her husband.

 Pietro Zabini was standing next to his wife and was as dark as she was fair. His olive colored skin matched nicely with his deep green eyes and jet black hair, which was slicked back majestically, in Hermione’s opinion. Just like Lucius Malfoy, Hermione thought with a mental grimace. As she looked him over with her sharp eyes, she was quite surprised to find that he did not look as evil as he had always presented himself. He actually looks… kind, she thought, although it’s probably an act for my parents so that they don’t try to keep them from taking me!

 At last, Hermione turned to her twin brother.

 Blaise was standing behind their mother, his head clearly visible over hers due to his height looking quite uncomfortable. Hermione quickly noticed that he wasn’t looking at her as their parents were; instead, he was staring fixedly at the hearth of the fireplace behind her. Of course he wouldn’t want to be here, she thought, Muggle hater that he is. He must have felt her stare because, at that moment, his eyes locked with hers.

 Hermione noticed immediately that there was no malice in his expression. He was simply gazing at her in curiosity. It was as though he was trying to figure all of this out as well. Like he was seeing her for the first time. In a way, she supposed he was, although, if her biological parents knew where she had been all this time, it was possible that he had known, too.

 Mrs. Zabini walked forward and pulled her “long-lost” daughter into a tight hug. This action caused Callidora to leave her perch on Hermione’s arm to find another resting place for the time being. “Oh my darling Hermione, I’ve missed you so much,” Mrs. Zabini practically sang.

 Hermione did not return the hug, but she didn’t pull out of it either as she felt this would be rude, and her mother had taught her better than that. Mrs. Zabini loosened her hold and grasped Hermione’s shoulders, holding her at arm’s length so as to get a better look at her. “My, you’ve grown up beautifully,” she said tearfully. She then turned to her husband and said, “Oh, Pietro, look at how beautiful our little girl is.”

 Hermione tensed slightly at those words and her eyes cut to where her parents were standing, looking just as tense and sad as Hermione felt. “Marjorie, let her breathe,” Mr. Zabini said kindly, “Do not forget that she has only really just met us and I am certain that she is overwhelmed with everything.”

 Certainly got that right, Hermione thought, gently pulling out of her mother’s arms.
 Mr. Zabini looked at Mr. and Mrs. Granger and said, “Might we have a moment alone with our daughter before we depart?”

 Mr. Granger nodded and placed his arm around his tearful wife. “Of… of course,” he said, gently ushering Mrs. Granger out of the room, “We’ll just be in the kitchen.”

 Mr. Zabini gave Hermione an expectant look as he gestured toward the couch. “I imagine this has all come as quite a shock to you, dear one,” he said in a pleasant sort of voice that Hermione wasn’t used to hearing from him.

 “I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement, Mr. Zabini,” Hermione said with forced politeness as she moved past him and sat down in the squashy arm chair, “and I’d appreciate it if you’d refrain from using pet names for me, we hardly know each other.”

 Mr. Zabini inclined his head as he said, “Of course, forgive me.”

 “Forgive you?” Hermione questioned, “Forgive you for what exactly, Mr. Zabini? Forgive you for trying to kill my friends? Forgive you for abandoning me when I was just a few days old? Or maybe I should forgive you for waltzing in here after nearly seventeen years and taking me away from the only family I’ve ever known? Tell me, Mr. Zabini, which is it?”

 “Hermione, I understand that you are angry but…”

 “You’re damn right I’m angry,” Hermione interrupted angrily, “I’ve gone my entire life believing that I’m one person, and then I suddenly find out that I’m someone completely different, and betrothed to boot, and then you lot come here and want to take me away from my family; I believe I have a right to be angry!”

 Mrs. Zabini cleared her throat nervously and glanced at her husband as she spoke, “Of course you have a right to be angry,” she said softly, “I’d be rather worried if you weren’t, but please, you must understand that we did what we had to those long years ago out of love.”

 “Love? You call leaving a child in the care of strangers and then coming back seventeen years later as if nothing has happened ‘love’?”

 “Enough,” Mr. Zabini said, “This is not the place or time for this discussion.”

 Hermione stood facing him and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, I’m not going anywhere until I get some sort of explanation as to why you left me here to begin with.”

 “All things will be explained in due time but we will not discuss this here,” Mr. Zabini said sternly, “This place is not safe.”

 Hermione’s eyes narrowed in challenge as she said, “If you’re thinking my parents are going to rat you out…”

 “It has nothing to do with the Grangers,” Mr. Zabini whispered harshly, “however, were they to know our reasons for leaving you with them, they would surely be in danger.”

 At these words, Hermione quieted and sat back down. She didn’t want any harm to come to her parents so she dropped the topic with a, “But you will tell me?”

 “I swear to you that everything will be revealed.”

 She eyed him carefully for a moment and then nodded, accepting that he was being truthful. “I’m going to hold you to that, Mr. Zabini,” she said.

 He chuckled softly. “Of that, I have no doubt.”

 “Ahem, well, if you can’t tell me, at present, why I was left to be raised by my parents, then perhaps you’ll be kind enough to explain my betrothal to Draco Malfoy?”

 “Arranged marriages are a tradition in the Zabini family,” Mr. Zabini said simply with small smile, “In most ancient wizarding families, actually. Lucius Malfoy and I have been friends for many years and it was decided long ago that my son, or daughter, would marry his daughter, or son.”

 “Yes, and a better match we couldn’t have asked for,” Mrs. Zabini said.

 “A better match? Have you all completely lost your minds? What, in Merlin’s name, makes you think that Draco Malfoy and I are a good match for anything, much less an arranged marriage? I highly doubt the Malfoy’s would even consider marrying their son off to someone raised by Muggles. Isn’t that below their standards?”

 “Raised by Muggles, or not, I assumed you would have better manners than to judge someone based on their blood status,” Mr. Zabini admonished.

 Hermione wanted to scream. How dare he lecture her on judging someone based on blood status! Oh she wanted to strangle him! Instead, she took a deep breath and said, “Leaving my manners out of it, surely you’ve heard of our distaste for one another.”
 Mrs. Zabini shook her head and turned to her son. “Blaise, what is she talking about?”

 Blaise looked up from staring at the floor as he said, “They’ve despised each other since first year, Mum. She’s got the measure of it; we all know how the Malfoy’s feel about Muggles. Draco’s going to put up a fight about this arrangement.”

 Their mother cleared her throat. “You have a point, but I’m sure he’ll be agreeable once he’s heard the full truth.”

 Hermione sighed. “Right, because blood status is all that matters,” she muttered under her breath.

 “He’s really a delightful young man,” Mrs. Zabini was now saying, “I’m sure he’ll be a wonderful husband for you.”

 “Narcissa sent your mother an owl before we left telling her that Draco had sent you your engagement ring…”

 “Oh, do let’s see it!” Mrs. Zabini said excitedly, clapping her hands a little.

 Hermione groaned inwardly but she stuffed her hand into her pocket and pulled the tiny ring out, holding it out for them to see it.

 Mrs. Zabini gasped, “Oh Hermione, it’s beautiful. Come, come, put it on.”

 Hermione shook her head, “No,” she said quietly.

 “Don’t be ridiculous, put it on,” Mr. Zabini said somewhat sternly.

 Blaise cleared his throat when he saw that Hermione was dangerously close to whipping out her wand and hexing them into oblivion at their father’s sternness. “Mum, Dad, perhaps we should consider the fact that Hermione’s only just found out about all of this a few hours ago,” he suggested, “I’m sure it must be difficult learning you belong to a family you didn’t know you belonged to and finding out you’re betrothed on top of that to someone you hate. Shouldn’t we allow her some time to adjust?”

 Mr. Zabini thought for a moment and then nodded, saying, “Yes, I think that would probably be wise.”

 “I’m sure that it will take some time for both of them to get used to being betrothed to someone they hate,” Blaise added as an afterthought.

 Hermione gazed at her brother silently for a moment before saying, “I don’t hate him, Blaise… he hates me. That’s not why I’m refusing to put the ring on, though.”

 Mrs. Zabini placed her hand over Hermione’s cautiously. When Hermione didn’t pull her hand away, she gently squeezed her hand and gave her a questioning look. “What is the reason?” she asked.

 Hermione was quiet for a moment, debating whether or not she should say anything. She didn’t know these people, after all, and it seemed strange to open up to them about such a personal matter, but she knew that this was something they would need to know, so she said, “I’ve always had a very clear idea of what I want in life; attend a good school, get good marks, go to University, things like that,” she explained, “The only thing I’ve ever thought about as much as I’ve thought about school, is marriage.”

 She took a deep breath and continued, “I want a marriage born out of love, not convenience. I want my future husband to put a ring on my finger because he wants to, not because he’s told to. So, please, if you really want Draco and I to marry, please allow us to do things on our own terms, and if we don’t wish to be married, please accept that.”

 Mrs. Zabini wiped at her eyes and gave her a smile. “I can certainly understand your feelings on the matter,” she stated, “and I don’t think your request is too difficult to manage. What do you think, Pietro?”

 They all turned to Mr. Zabini who, in Hermione’s opinion, looked a little angry. “I do not think the request is unreasonable,” he agreed, “Though, I do not think Draco will be disagreeable to the betrothal. He is an honorable young man and knows what is expected of…”

 “Mr. Zabini, Draco is perfectly capable of making his own choices, and I’ll thank you to not speak at me as though you’ve raised me,” Hermione interrupted angrily, “You left me here to be raised by the Grangers; they are my parents and they’ve raised me with certain morals that I will not just give up because I’ve suddenly found out that I’m not their biological daughter.”

 “We should be going,” Mr. Zabini said, looking at his watch and ignoring Hermione‘s statement. “We have much to do. I will just floo your things to the Mansion and then we shall set off.”

 Mr. Zabini and Blaise maneuvered Hermione’s belongings into the small fireplace and then Mr. Zabini pulled a little pouch from inside his robes. He opened the pouch and threw a pinch of green powder into the fireplace and said, “Zabini Mansion.”

 Seconds later, Hermione’s things had vanished in bright green flame. Mr. Zabini held his arm out for his wife and motioned for their children to follow. Mr. and Mrs. Granger met them at the door, tears filling their eyes.

 “Thank you for looking after Hermione,” Mrs. Zabini said, grasping one of Mrs. Granger’s hands, “It means more to us than you’ll ever know.”

 “Yes,” Mr. Zabini agreed, “Please, if there is ever anything that we can do to return this large act of generosity do not hesitate to call on us.”

 The Grangers nodded. “It was our pleasure,” Mr. Granger said.

 Mrs. Granger pulled Hermione into a tight hug and said, “Now you be a good girl and show them what a fine young lady you are.”

 “I will, Mum,” Hermione replied.

 Mr. Granger ran his hand over the back of Hermione’s head. “Oh we’re going to miss you, little girl.”

 “I’ll miss you too. I’ll write all the time and I’ll come to visit so much that you’ll get sick of seeing me,” Hermione told them with a sniffle.

 “We will never get sick of seeing you,” Mrs. Granger said sternly, placing her hands on Hermione’s cheeks.

 “Remember all that we’ve taught you and if there’s anything you need…”

 Hermione gave her father a sad smile. “I won’t hesitate to ask,” she said.

 “There’s my girl,” he said, touching her cheek lovingly.

 Hermione gave him a huge hug, not wanting to let go, and then made her way out into the warm evening. As she reached the edge of the driveway, she paused and looked back at her parents. They were both crying; their arms wrapped around each other as if holding on for dear life. Hermione allowed the tears she had been trying to hold back to fall freely as she ran back to them and hugged them tightly.

 “I don’t want to go!” she cried softly, “Please, please don’t make me.”

 Mrs. Granger petted the back of Hermione’s head soothingly and sobbed as she said, “Hermione, we talked about this. You have to go but they can’t stop you from visiting us.”

 Once again, Hermione realized that there was no way out of going with the Zabinis. “All right,” she said reluctantly while wiping her tears away, “I’ll come see you soon.”

 Mr. Granger kissed his daughter on the head and touched the tip of her nose with his finger. “Now go on, love,” he said, “You shouldn’t keep them waiting.”

 Hermione gave them one last hug and walked back out to the Zabinis. As they walked down the street, Hermione kept looking back at her childhood home. Memories of birthday parties, Christmas parties, and all sorts of other family functions filled her mind. There were so many happy times that she had had in that house and she truly wished there was some way for her to remain there; to build more memories.

 Just then she felt someone’s arm wrap around her shoulders and was quite surprised when she turned her head and found herself looking into a pair of blue eyes. “Dad’s job allows him to set up Apparation points practically wherever he wants,” Blaise told her quietly, “you’ll be able to visit as often as you like.”

 Hermione sniffled as she nodded and said, “Thank you.”

 “I… I know this might not be any sort of consolation to you,” Blaise began nervously, “but I’m really glad that you’ll be with us after so long. I’ve always wanted a sister.”

 Hermione gave him a small smile and allowed him to keep his arm around her as they continued to walk. Blaise gently squeezed her shoulder as she continued to quietly cry. There were so many things that he wanted to say, but something inside him told him that what she needed in that moment wasn’t words. Instead, he just walked next to her, silently lending her his strength.

 He couldn’t even begin to imagine what she was going through at that moment. It was obvious that she was sad. Who wouldn’t be after being ripped away from the only family they had ever known? He honestly couldn’t say what would be going through his mind if he were in her shoes, but he did know that he was going to do everything possible to make his sister feel welcome and comfortable in their family.

 “There is an Apparation point set up just inside this patch of trees,” Mr. Zabini said a few moments later, “We shall be doing side-along Apparation this evening since neither of you is of age or has an Apparating license; Hermione, with me, Blaise with your mother.”

 He held out his hand for Hermione, who took it reluctantly, and smiled reassuringly at her. “Hold on,” he said, and just as she tightened her grip, they were gone.


Chapter 3: Chapter Three
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



 

 


 

Chapter image by .kapowi @TDA


 

 


 

Chapter Three


 

 


 

 Hermione’s eyes were shut tight during the short trip to her new home. Though she actually had passed her Apparation test the previous year, quite honestly, she’d be perfectly happy if she never had to do it again; it was extremely painful. She felt as if her whole body was being squeezed through a hole the size of a pinhead. Though she didn’t much like flying either, she decided she liked it better than Apparating. At least with flying, she only needed to worry about falling off and popping ears. One wrong move with Apparation and she could splinch herself. Not something she fancied doing. No, I’d much prefer flying, or traveling by floo powder, thank you, she said to herself.


 


 Finally, after what was a much shorter trip than she felt, her feet touched solid ground. “All right Hermione?” her father asked, noticing that her eyes were still shut tight.


 


 The young witch opened her eyes and looked up at her father. “Yes,” she replied a bit shakily.


 


 “Apparation is a bit of a rough way to travel, but it gets easier the more you do it,” her father assured her with a light squeeze of her hand.


 


 Hermione nodded slightly and let go of his hand. “I’m sure.”


 


 Blaise walked over to her as their father said, “Well, shall we head in? Please wipe your feet before going in, Blaise you always seem to forget that.”


 


 “Dad’s a bit of a… what do the Muggles call it… neat freak?” Blaise whispered to Hermione.


 


 Hermione couldn’t help giggling softly as turned to face her twin brother. She was a bit shocked to see how close he was standing to her and jumped a bit. He had been so close, in fact, that she could see small flecks of black in his blue eyes. “Um… yes, that’s right,” she said after a few moments.


 


 Mrs. Zabini walked over to her and smiled brightly. “Welcome home, Hermione,” she said warmly.


 


 Hermione smiled nervously, feeling the warmth of ‘home’, and turned to face her mother. It was then that she realized that they were standing outside a large brick mansion. Her eyes widened in awe as she took in the grand sight before her. Never in her life had she seen something so beautiful.


 


 The mansion seemed to be about four stories tall and about four times as long. Two large, white pillars stood on the front porch supporting an awning that was about the length of a decent sized pool. Just beyond the two pillars stood the front door, tall and made of cherry wood. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.


 


 “Come, I’m sure you’ll want to get settled a bit before dinner,” their mother said, guiding them to the front door.


 


 As they stepped onto the porch, the front door swung open and a little house-elf came running out to greet them. “Sir and Mrs.! Oh Gripa was so worried about you, she was, and young Master too!” the tiny elf squeaked as she snapped her fingers causing their traveling cloaks to disappear.


 


 “There was no need for worry, Gripa,” Mr. Zabini said, “Our trip was a safe one.”


 


 “Yes, Sir,” Gripa said, turning to Hermione and stopping in her tracks, “Oh Miss, it has been so very long! Gripa welcomes you home, Miss!”


 


 Hermione smiled kindly at the large eyed elf. “Thank you Gripa, that’s very kind of you,” she said.


 


 Gripa’s eyes began to well up with tears as a bright smile spread across her ugly face. “Gripa, have Hermione’s things been taken to her room?”


 


 “Yes, Mrs. Gripa had them taken up as soon as they came, Mrs.”


 


 “Excellent,” Mrs. Zabini said, “Please have Paulina see to unpacking Hermione’s things and then check on dinner.”


 


 “Oh, no, really,” Hermione said quickly, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of having someone doing things she was perfectly capable of doing herself, “I’d much rather take care of unpacking myself. I mean, I’ve grown up doing things myself so…”


 


 “It’s no trouble, Miss,” Gripa said, wiggling her ears excitedly, “Gripa will see to it.”


 

 And with a loud pop, Gripa disappeared before Hermione could protest again.


 

 


 

 Hermione turned to Blaise and whispered, “I didn’t know you had a house-elf.”


 

 


 

 “We have a house-elf… and we treat her very well so don’t go trying to free her,” Blaise whispered back.


 

 


 

 “How did you know about S.P.E.W?”


 


 Blaise chuckled. “Did you think that your efforts to free House-Elves would go un-noticed? Everyone at school knows about it. You’ve been trying to bully everyone into supporting S.P.E.W since the day you started it.”


 


 Hermione bristled at his teasing. “It’s a very good cause!” she hissed, “I mean; honestly! How would you like being a slave to a rich family, always working, never getting days off, or paid for your work?”


 


 “We don’t treat our household servants that way! We treat them like family!”


 


 “No matter if you treat them well, I’m sure they’d much rather be free…”


 


 “Hermione, just let it go and enjoy your new life,” Blaise interrupted, “besides, Gripa would be very upset if you even mentioned the idea of freeing her.”


 


 Suddenly, Hermione realized that she had forgotten Callidora. “Oh my! I’ve left Callidora at my parents!” she exclaimed, “What a wonderful pet owner I’ve turned out to be!”


 


 Mrs. Zabini wrapped her arm around Hermione’s thin shoulders. “There’s nothing to worry about; she knows where to go,” she told her daughter softly as they stepped into the mansion.


 


 Hermione’s eyes grew large as she looked around the spacious foyer. It was a very tall room that spanned the height of the mansion with four grand pillars lining either side. A long, carpeted staircase stood at the back of the foyer that branched off into two sections, one going left, and one going right.


 


 A very surprising sense of home washed over Hermione as she took in the soft, deep green runner that ran from the front door all the way to the staircase. The high walls were a warm cream color and scattered with several gigantic pictures. Each of the framed occupants, Hermione noticed, was looking her way.


 


 To be perfectly honest, Hermione was quite surprised at how warm and welcoming the mansion seemed to be. She had thought that the Zabinis lived in a sort of castle with a large dungeon or something of the sort. She knew it was childish to have thought that, but knowing what sort of people they tended to mingle with, it really wasn’t too farfetched an idea.


 


 Blaise smiled at his sister and gently grabbed her hand. “Come on, I’ll show you to your room,” he said, pulling her toward the staircase.


 


 “Be dressed and down for dinner in an hour you two,” Mrs. Zabini called after them, “Hermione, your evening gown is hanging in the closet.”


 


 Hermione looked curiously at Blaise as they came to the landing at the top and turned left. “Evening gown? We’re required to dress formally for dinner?”


 


 “Well, not usually,” Blaise confessed, “but tonight is a sort of special night.”


 


 “Because of me?”


 


 “Well, you coming home is cause for celebration; don’t you think?”


 


 She thought about that for a moment. “I suppose so,” she admitted, “but is it really necessary to dress formally when it’s only family?”


 


 He gave her a strange look. “Mum didn’t tell you in her letter that the Malfoy’s are coming tonight?”


 


 Hermione shook her head. “Oh what a great day this really has turned out to be,” she said, “Not only do I find out that I’m a Zabini, betrothed to Malfoy, but I have to deal with the ever so affectionate ferret boy on my first night here? Lovely.”


 


 Blaise led her up another flight of stairs, laughing heartily. “That was a good one,” he said, “You know, I heard about Professor Moody doing that, but I never actually saw it, did you?”


 


 “Sadly, no, but the picture I have in my head from the story Harry told me is quite lovely,” Hermione confessed.


 


 Blaise looked at her with a smirk playing at his lips. “I thought you said you didn’t hate him,” he said.


 


 Hermione blushed. “I don’t,” she confirmed, “but it’s become a nasty habit to insult him; I mean, my best friends are his enemies… and it’s not exactly easy to just give up insulting someone when that’s all they’ve done to me for the past six years.”


 


 “Good point.”


 


 Hermione cleared her throat. “So, it must be weird for you, finding out you have a twin sister.”


 


 “Well, to be honest; I’ve always known about having a twin sister. Mum and Dad never kept that from me,” he told her, “Whenever I’d ask what happened to you, they would just tell me that you got sick and had to go away to get better.”


 


 “So you don’t even know why I was sent to live with the Grangers?”


 


 “Nope. Mum and Dad would never tell me where they took you, or anything. All I knew was your first name. I didn’t even make the connection until this morning when Mum told me we were bringing you home.”


 


 “Was it hard for you to cope with, hearing that I was your sister?” Hermione asked quietly, “I mean; we’ve never really spoken.”


 


 Blaise shrugged. “Well, no, not really. I mean; I never would’ve pegged you for my sister, but I must admit; it certainly fits.”


 


 Hermione looked confused. “What fits?”


 


 “Why I never agreed with the things that were said about you; even from my own lips. I think deep down I knew who you really were,” he said thoughtfully, “like I was unconsciously feeling some sort of connection to you.”


 


 Hermione wasn’t quite certain that she believed this, but she wasn’t going to argue with him about it. After all, he was being rather sweet to her. “So is it just the women in the Zabini family that marriages are arranged for?”


 


 Blaise grinned as he answered, “Oh no, although I think I got the better end of the deal.”


 


 “Oh, so you’re betrothed, too?” Hermione questioned, a bit relieved that she wasn’t the only one that had to go through this.


 


 Blaise nodded. “To a girl named Beatrice Graphook,” he told her, “Charming girl, really; she attends Beauxbatons.”


 


 “So, do our parents think we’re incapable of finding our own spouses?”


 


 Blaise rolled his eyes and put on his best impression of their father. “It is tradition in the Zabini family that the parents arrange fitting marriages for their children so as to uphold the family’s nobility.”


 


 “Did he actually say that?” Hermione asked.


 


 “Right after I asked him why I couldn’t pick my own wife,” Blaise told her with a nod, “And can you believe that I only found out about being betrothed two weeks ago? I mean, you’d think I would have known before then but, no.”


 


 “Have you given Beatrice a ring?” Hermione questioned.


 


 He nodded. “You’re going to find out very quickly that our family is filled with traditions,” he informed her, “One of which is that a mother’s engagement ring is passed down to her son so that he can give it to his future wife.”


 


 Hermione looked down at her free hand, suddenly realizing she was still fisting the ring Draco had sent her, and held it up slightly, opening it. “I never thought I’d say this but, Malfoy has good taste in jewelry.”


 


 “He’s actually pretty good at making jewelry, too,” Blaise commented, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he made that ring.”


 


 Hermione stopped in her tracks. “Malfoy makes jewelry?” she questioned, slightly impressed.


 


 “Yeah, sometimes,” Blaise said, taking a few more steps, “He made a rather splendid necklace for his mum’s birthday last year actually.”


 


 “I never knew,” she said, “If he made this, he’s very talented.” Even if it is too big.


 


 Blaise cleared his throat momentarily before asking, “So I assume you wrote to Potter and Weasley about all this?”


 


 Hermione nodded. “Ordinarily I’d say you shouldn’t assume, but in this case, you’d be correct. I’ve written them, but I haven’t had a chance to send the letter.”


 


 “They won’t be able to help you get out of the betrothal, if that’s what you’re hoping for,” he said, “So what’s the point of telling them your business?”


 


 “I’m not trying to get out of anything; I’m telling them about all this because they’re my best friends and I could really use their support.”


 


 Blaise took a few more steps and stopped in front of a pair of tall, dark oak doors. “I understand, but just know that whatever they’ll think of this, it probably isn’t good and there’s no way out of the engagement,” he said, turning the handles and pushing the doors open, “This is your room.”


 


 Hermione’s eyes widened to the size of saucers as she cautiously stepped into the room. It was very spacious with stained maple furniture and stained-glass windows that went from floor to ceiling, each with a rearing lion with a snake winding its way around its body. A deep red throw rug sat in front of the stone fireplace, which had a blazing fire in it, and matched perfectly with the deep red comforter that was neatly spread on her king sized bed.


 


 She noticed that the room was decorated and arranged exactly as she liked it to be with her pictures framed and displayed on the walls or on her desk. Her desk was perfect for the way she liked to study; things spread everywhere so she could see all resources necessary. There was a large dresser against the far wall that she assumed contained all of her personal items, such as bras and underwear, and her Muggle clothes.


 


 She moved her gaze to the left of the dresser and saw another door, also made of the same dark oak as the doors to enter her room. “Where does that lead?” she asked.


 


 “That door leads to your private bathroom and the one on the other side is your closet.”


 


 She couldn’t help herself; excitement washed over her and, eager to see what her bathroom looked like, Hermione almost ran across the room and flung the door open carefully. The sight before her almost took her breath away. The bathroom was almost the size of her bedroom.


 


 A large, multiple person tub sat in the middle of the room with stairs leading down into it. A beautiful, sheer green curtain hung suspended several feet above the tub and looked as if it could be lowered to become a shower curtain. Vines crept up the walls and across the ceiling which appeared to have been enchanted to reflect the sky outside, like the ceiling in the Great Hall of Hogwarts. The sink looked very much like a palm leaf and came right out of the wall. Just above that, a small waterfall trickled in mid-air, the large room reflected into it.


 


 Hermione looked back at her brother and asked, “This is all for me?”


 


 “Well you didn’t think you were gonna be living like a Muggle anymore, did you?” he teased.


 


 “Well, no, but I never expected this.”


 


 “Mum spares no expense when it comes to decorating the house,” Blaise said, “It’s her job, in a way; looking after the mansion. I’m sure if there’s anything you don’t like, or if you want to make changes…”


 


 “Thank you, but that really won’t be necessary,” Hermione quickly interrupted, “This is all… very lovely and…”


 


 Blaise grinned. “And not at all what you’re used to.”


 


 “Yes.”


 


 “I can understand that.”


 


 Hermione gave him a skeptical look. “I doubt that,” she said, “You were raised with all of this.”


 


 “Yes, I was, but I’ve never been spoiled,” he thought for a moment, “Well cared for, yes, but spoiled? Never.”


 


 She laughed. “That’s certainly one way of looking at it.”


 


 “Would you like to see how everything works?”


 


 “Oh, yes please.”


 


 After Blaise gave her a quick lesson on how the fixtures in the bathroom worked, they walked out of the bathroom and Blaise sat down on the edge of Hermione’s bed, chewing on his bottom lip for a moment as she continued to look around her new room. She looked so bewildered that he couldn’t help chuckling a bit. Hermione turned to him questioningly. “What?”


 


 “Nothing, you just seem a bit… um… puzzled.”


 


 “Well how would you feel if you had just found out a few hours ago that you were really the child of Muggles?” Hermione countered.


 


 “I’d probably be looking a lot like you are right now,” Blaise admitted.


 


 “I just haven’t managed to wrap my head around all of this just yet,” Hermione whispered.


 


 Blaise nodded in understanding. “I can’t even begin to imagine what must be going through your head right now,” he said, “but I promise that you’ll like it here. Mum and Dad have talked of nothing but bringing you home for the past week; they’ve missed you so much. We all have.”


 


 Hermione sighed heavily as she walked over and sat down next to Blaise, chewing on her bottom lip for several minutes. “I just really don’t understand how they could have given me up the way they did,” she said suddenly.


 


 “Mum and Dad?”


 


 “Yes, I mean; how can someone just leave their child in the hands of complete strangers and then come back for her seventeen years later? Why not sooner? Why come back at all?”


 


 There were so many questions and thoughts running through Hermione’s head she felt that if she didn’t get them all out, she’d burst. As she ranted, she stood up and began pacing in front of the fireplace. Blaise turned his head, following her movements intently. It was quite amazing to him that she could go on for so long without pausing for anything other than a breath of air.


 


 Finally, after several minutes, Hermione stopped pacing and looked at him expectantly. “Well?”


 


 Blaise chuckled as he asked, “You don’t actually expect me to answer every single one of those million questions; do you?”


 


 Hermione ran her hand through her hair and huffed lightly. “Well, I suppose not,” She said logically, “I’m sorry; I tend to rant when I’m feeling out of place.”


 


 “It's fine,” Blaise told her, “To be honest, it was kind of like watching Mum.”


 


 “Really?” Hermione asked as she sat back down next to Blaise.


 


 “Yeah; Mum goes on and on about things sometimes and she paces when she does it; just like you.”


 


 “Can you tell me more about our parents?”


 


 Blaise ran a hand over the back of his neck and scrunched his nose a bit in thought. “What do you want to know?”


 


 “Anything; everything,” she answered, “My knowledge of this family begins and ends with Death Eaters and Slytherins.”


 


 “The first thing you should know is that our family shouldn’t be defined by what we do, but who we are,” he told her, not unkindly, “Not all of us support You-Know-Who.”


 


 Hermione saw the truth in his eyes and nodded. “I’m beginning to see that.”


 


 “Um, well, let me see here… Dad was born in Italy… you knew that though; didn’t you?”


 


 Hermione smiled a bit. “Well, the accent kind of gave that one away.”


 


 “Dad has an accent?” Blaise asked jokingly.


 


 “Are our grandparents still living?”


 


 “Yes… well, three of them anyway. Grandfather Zabini died when I… we… were four.”


 


 Just then, Blaise caught sight of the time. “Um… you should probably get ready for dinner,” he said.


 


 Following his gaze, Hermione noticed that a half hour had passed. The slight sense of calm that Hermione had been feeling quickly melted away and was replaced by nervousness and slight revulsion at the thought of dinner with the Malfoys, well Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy anyway. “Did you have to remind me?”


 


 Blaise rolled his eyes, saying, “Oh it won’t be that bad. Come on,” he said, walking over to her closet.


 


 “It’s just so nerve-wrecking,” Hermione stated, following him, “And I haven’t had the best of experiences with the Malfoy’s in the past.”


 


 He opened the door and walked in, followed shortly by Hermione. In the middle of the closet, resting on what seemed to be a life-sized model of herself was the most beautiful deep green dress she had ever laid eyes on. Her mouth dropped open as she walked over to it and gently touched the soft fabric; pure silk.


 


 Blaise cleared his throat. “Well, I’ll leave you to shower and dress. Gripa will most likely be up shortly to help you with your hair and I’m sure Paulina would be happy to help with the dress, if you need it.”


 


 Hermione came out of her daze. “Are you telling me that we have people that help us get dressed?”


 


 Blaise shrugged. “Not exactly, but they’re there if we need it.”


 


 She shook her head and smiled a little. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that and I’ve done my own hair for many years now; I’m pretty sure I can manage. No need for Gripa to worry herself.”


 


 “She’s actually very gifted at fixing hair, but suit yourself. I’ll be down the hall on the left if you need anything, okay?”


 


 Hermione nodded and gave him a small smile. As he turned to leave, she called out to him, “Why are you being so nice to me?” she asked, “We’ve never gotten along before, so why now?”


 


 Blaise’s azure eyes saddened. “The last six years must have been horrible for you,” he said, “being teased by Draco and so many others of us. I wouldn’t be surprised if you hated me for all the things I’ve said and done to you, not only to your face, but behind your back, as well.”


 


 He took a deep breath and continued, “Despite all of that, and I honestly don’t know how to explain this, but it’s like I said earlier; whenever I’ve been around you, it’s like I knew that we were connected somehow,” he took her hand and squeezed it, “I’m so sorry for everything I’ve said and done to hurt you, Hermione.”


 


 Tears fell freely from Hermione’s eyes as she listened to her brother’s heartfelt words and saw the look of true remorse on his face. She had never thought she’d ever be able to forgive a Slytherin for tormenting her to no end, but as she looked at him, every hurtful comment and action he had been a part of melted away and she saw the truly kind young man underneath the façade. She walked over to him and hesitantly wrapped her arms around his thin waist in a hug. When she felt his strong arms wrap around her shoulders, she tightened her embrace and cried into his chest.


 


 A few moments later, Hermione pulled away slightly. “Oh, I’m sorry! I made a mess on your shirt.”


 


 Blaise looked down at his shirt and shrugged. “It’s not a big deal; it’s just a shirt,” he said softly, “I hope you can forgive me for everything.”


 


 “I don’t know how I’m able to actually say this but, I do,” she said, “You’ve accepted me into your family with open arms; I couldn’t hate you for being so kind to me during an awkward time.”


 


 “Well, you’re my sister, Gryffindor or not; I wouldn’t be able to turn away a family member, especially one that’s meant so much to me regardless of her absence.”


 


 Hermione smiled and wiped the tears away from her eyes. She glanced at the alarm clock on her nightstand. With a sniff and a deep breath she said, “Well, I guess I’d better get started on getting ready for dinner. I’ve got a family, a possible fiancé, and potential in-laws to impress, no matter how much I despise them… By “them” I mean the Malfoys, not…”


 


 Blaise patted her hand and nodded in understanding. “You don’t have to explain, I understand. Just give them a chance; I’m sure you’ll come to at least like them a little bit,” he said, “They’re really not as bad as you think.” He then walked out of her bedroom and closed the door quietly, leaving Hermione to prepare for the most nerve-wracking dinner she would ever have.


Chapter 4: Chapter Four
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 

Chapter Image by SillyBeee @TDA

 

 

 Draco Malfoy sat slumped in his seat in the family carriage, glaring out the window. He had been in a foul mood since the moment he had found out that he would be marrying Hermione Granger. It had been years since the last time his betrothal had been brought up, so he had begun to think that the marriage his parents had arranged for him wouldn’t happen.


 It was for that reason that he had allowed himself to get close to Astoria Greengrass. They had been seeing each other for several months and things had progressed so quickly between them that he could actually see himself having a family with her. He should have known better.


 His parents, specifically his father, expected him to end things with Astoria so that he could make good on a marriage that had been arranged for him before he was even born. It angered him. Why did he have to sacrifice his happiness? And for whom? Hermione Granger? It just wasn’t fair!


 Oh sure, she wasn’t actually a Granger, as Draco had found out two days ago; she was a Zabini and his rightful future bride. Rightful future bride my arse, he thought bitterly, Astoria is the one I should be marrying, not Granger.


 Astoria Greengrass was of pure blood and came from a long line of powerful witches and wizards. Not to mention, she was beautiful beyond belief. She could turn the head of even the most powerful wizard and make him think twice about being unfaithful to her. Any man would be lucky to have her attention and Draco was that man.


 Then there was Hermione Granger… Zabini. Sassy, raised by Muggles, little miss know-it-all, bushy-haired, and not pretty in the slightest. There were so many things that disqualified her from being a prospective wife to him that he was surprised his father was entering back into the agreement that had been made with Pietro Zabini before Draco and Hermione were born? Why did it have to be her of all people?


 Draco’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by his mother’s smooth voice, “Draco darling, don’t slump like that, you’ll get your new dress robes all wrinkled,” she said softly.


 With a heavy sigh, Draco sat up and looked at his parents questioningly. “Can you please tell me, again, why I have to marry Granger?” he implored, “It seems to me that Astoria would make a more suitable…”


 Mr. Malfoy silenced him with a look. “We have had this discussion already, Draco.”


 “But, Father, Astoria and I have been seeing each other for so long now,” Draco argued, “Why can’t you just open marriage negotiations with her father instead?”


 “Because an arrangement was made between your mother, me, and the Zabinis,” Mr. Malfoy stated, “That is all you need to know.”


 “But Granger’s an absolute bore! Always walking around with her nose in a book, thinking she knows everything.”


 “Draco, that is no way to talk about your future wife,” Mrs. Malfoy chided.


 Mr. Malfoy leaned forward slightly. “Let me be perfectly clear,” he began sternly, “You will be on your best behavior at this dinner and any future events involving Hermione Zabini. She is your fiancée and you will treat her with respect… even if she has miraculously come back from the dead. Is that understood?”


 “She was never actually dead, though; was she?” Draco pointed out, “She was taken to the Grangers and raised as a Muggle.”


 Mr. Malfoy’s cold gray eyes flashed in anger. “Is… that… understood?” he repeated.


 Draco knew that it was pointless to argue with his father when his mind was made up. “Yes, sir,” he said begrudgingly.


 “Good. Now, there will be no more talk of this. You will marry Hermione Zabini and that’s the end of it.”


 “Draco, I know how much you wanted a marriage with Astoria, but your father and I…”


 “Narcissa, I said there was to be no more talk of this,” Mr. Malfoy stated roughly, “He’s a Malfoy and he will uphold our agreement with Pietro and Marjorie. Isn’t that right, Draco?”


 “Yes, Father,” Draco agreed, knowing full well there would be dire consequences if he didn’t obey.


 He couldn’t disagree that marrying Hermione would be good for his family. The Zabinis, like the Malfoys, came from a long line of wealthy, pureblood Wizards and Witches. Financially, and magically, there was no doubt that he and Hermione were a good match, but physically? How was he going to make this marriage work if he wasn’t even attracted to the girl he was going to marry? On the other hand, he had always thought of Blaise as a brother, and with this marriage, he truly would be, but he wasn’t completely certain that thought alone would be enough to get him through this situation.


 It was twenty minutes later when Draco’s thoughts were interrupted, this time by the sight of the large brick Zabini mansion. Well, this should be interesting, he thought as they pulled into the long, circular driveway. I wonder what Granger… Hermione… thinks of all this anyway. Probably searching through books to find some way out of this, knowing her. Not that it would do her any good. She’s as bound by this arrangement as I am.


 The carriage came to a stop in front of the grand mansion and the door swung open. Draco took a deep breath and stepped out onto the gravel drive. He then turned and held his hand out for his mother, his steel gray eyes never leaving the mansion door which was now opening to greet them.


 “Sir and Mrs. Malfoy, and Master Draco we is been expecting you,” squeaked the little house-elf as she came running out.


 “Gripa, go and see how long dinner is going to be please, I will take it from here,” Mr. Zabini called, walking toward them.


 “Yes, Sir,” Gripa replied quickly, her tiny legs scurrying as fast as they could.


 “Pietro, how good to see you,” said Mr. Malfoy with a pleasant grin.


 “And you!” Mr. Zabini returned, pulling him into a hug. He then turned to Mrs. Malfoy and kissed her hand as he said, “Narcissa, always a pleasure.”


 “Thank you so much for having us, Pietro,” Mrs. Malfoy said sweetly.


 Mr. Zabini beamed. “Oh it is our pleasure, we are glad you could come,” he told her, turning finally to Draco. “And here is the future son-in-law, how are you my dear boy?”


 “A bit shocked, really,” he answered.


 “Yes, well I do not think you are the only one. Blaise tells me that you and Hermione despise each other?” Mr. Zabini asked, leading them all into the warm mansion.


 Draco cleared his throat, “Well, we cert…” he began.


 “However uncivil their interactions have been in the past, I’m sure all of that will be forgotten now that Hermione’s true identity has been revealed,” Mr. Malfoy interjected, “I mean, really Pietro, hiding her with Muggles? How utterly improper of you.”


 “Now, Lucius, you know quite well that we will do anything to ensure our children’s health,” Mrs. Zabini said as she greeted them in the foyer, “And these Muggles were very kind and certainly fit to care for her.”


 “I have no doubt about that,” Mr. Malfoy replied, kissing her hand, “Marjorie, you’re getting lovelier every day.”


 Mrs. Zabini blushed slightly as she turned and greeted Mrs. Malfoy with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, “So wonderful to see you, Narcissa,” she said.


 “You too. I can’t believe this day is finally here!” Mrs. Malfoy exclaimed, “Where is the bride-to-be?”


 “She should be down any minute,” Mr. Zabini said.


 “Will the rest of the family be joining us tonight as well?” Mrs. Malfoy questioned.


 Mrs. Zabini shook her head and said, “Not this evening. Pietro and I didn’t want to overwhelm Hermione too much on her first night home. She’s had a pretty rough day as it is.”


 “I can only imagine, what with learning who she really is and whatnot,” Mrs. Malfoy said.


 “Yes, but she seems to be handling it all right,” Mrs. Zabini stated.


 “That’s wonderful to hear! Marjorie, I’m so excited!” Mrs. Malfoy exclaimed, “Now that Hermione is home, the wedding can take place as we always dreamed.”


 Draco cleared his throat. “If you will excuse me, I think I’m going to see if I can find Blaise,” he said politely. He wasn’t really interested in hearing his mother and Mrs. Zabini gush about the pending nuptials.


 “He should be nearly finished getting ready for dinner. You can go on up,” Mrs. Zabini told him with a kind smile.


 Draco nodded and made his way to the staircase. All the talk about his betrothal was making his head hurt. In all honesty, he could understand why his parents had arranged this marriage between himself and Hermione; it was a smart match. Smart match indeed, Draco thought, seems more like one of Father’s business arrangements.


 He ran his hands over his face in an attempt to rub out whatever emotions he might be showing. Growing up, he had never truly been allowed to show his emotions; his father saw emotion as a sign of weakness. However, at the moment, he couldn’t help feeling a little uneasy at the thought of what Hermione was thinking about all of this. Why I’m feeling that why, I have no idea, he reflected, it’s not like we’re on good terms, or anything.


 For the past six years he and Hermione had done nothing but fight with each other. Names had been called, spells had been cast… could they really get past all that and find love with each other? There’s no way that’ll happen, he thought, there’s too much bad history between us, not all my fault, of course, but she’d most likely hex me before she’d ever forgive me for anything.


 A small smile came to his face as that thought crossed his mind. If there was one thing he genuinely liked about Hermione Granger… Zabini… it was her quick-witted ability to shoot insults back at him and his friends without hesitation. Most of the students at Hogwarts were afraid of him and his friends for one reason or another, but Hermione wasn’t. He could see it in her eyes. Not to mention, she’s wicked smart.


 Smart women were a secret weakness for him. He also liked women who wouldn’t just give him what he wanted. Contrary to what his schoolmates thought, he liked the challenge of working for the things he wanted, whatever they may be. When things were just handed to him, he felt spoiled (which he knew he was anyway) and unsatisfied. However, when he had to work for things, he felt a sense of pride and satisfaction when he finally got them. Hermione was certain to be a challenge; he’d known that since he’d first met her.


 Just then, Draco’s thoughts were broken by his name being called. He looked up the hall and saw the familiar figure that was Blaise. “Blaise, how you doin’ mate?”


 Blaise smiled, “Can’t complain. You?”


 “I don’t know really. Nothing seems to be making sense right now,” Draco answered.


 “If it makes you feel any better, Hermione’s not doing much better.”


 “Has she staged a one woman revolt?”


 Blaise chuckled and tugged on his shirt cuffs to straighten them out. “Actually, she’s been rather… cool… about everything.”


 Draco snorted disbelievingly. “You’re kidding.”


 “Well, she’s not jumping for joy about any of it, but she hasn’t cursed us,” Blaise noted, “And we both know how capable she is with that wand of hers.”


 Draco shifted a bit.“So what’s it been like with her here?”


 “A bit awkward, but nice. I mean; I’ve always known I had sister, but now she’s actually around and I’m looking forward to getting to know her.”


 Draco arched his brow. “Blaise, we’ve gone to school with her for the last six years; you already know her,” he said, “Or have you forgotten?”


 “Of course I haven’t forgotten, but just because we’ve gone to school with her, doesn’t mean we know her.”


 “Right,” Draco said dismissively, “So, how do you think she’s really taking the news of being a Zabini?”


 Blaise shrugged. “Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to really talk to her. As soon as we got home I brought her up to her room,” he said, “but she seems to have accepted it, at least a little.”


 “Hey, why didn’t you tell me that was your sister anyway?”


 “I never knew she was,” Blaise confessed, “but I can’t say I didn’t have my suspicions. I didn’t know for certain until last week when my parents told me where she had been all this time. What about you? When did you find out about your betrothal?”


 Draco ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I’ve known about that since I was a kid. Granger being your sister, though, I didn’t find out about that until two nights ago. My parents wanted me to have time to prepare.”


 “Prepare for what?”


 Draco shook his head. “Not ‘for what’,” he said, “Just ‘what’.”


 Blaise looked at him curiously. “What are you…?” Before Blaise could finish his question, however, Hermione’s bedroom door opened.


 Draco’s steel gray eyes widened slightly at the sight that was just a few feet from him. Standing just outside her doorway was a very elegantly dressed Hermione, her usually slightly ragged appearance nowhere to be seen. Draco couldn’t take his eyes off of her as she stepped carefully out of her room and closed the door. He looked her over carefully, surprised by what he was seeing.


 Her tiny feet were clad in a beautifully made pair of ballet flats of the deepest green with silver ribbons that climbed their way up her delicate legs and disappeared under her matching dress. The dress, Draco noticed, didn’t really leave a whole lot to the imagination with the way it formed perfectly to her figure, held up by spaghetti thin silver straps. Her hair, for the first time since the Yule Ball during their fourth year, had been swept off of her neck into a neat French twist.


 His eyes were suddenly drawn to her hands as she smoothed the front of her dress. Her hands were bare, not that he had expected to see the ring he’d sent her gracing her finger so soon; though he was a little taken aback to find that he felt an inkling of disappointment. He had worked hard on that ring and was proud of how it had turned out. Before he could think too much on it, he found himself looking into Hermione’s honey brown eyes.


 Hermione gave him a small, nervous smile and looked down at her feet. Draco cleared his throat and quickly looked away as well. Blaise beamed at his twin sister and walked over to her, taking her small hands in his. “Hermione you look absolutely stunning!” he exclaimed.


 Hermione looked up at him. “Thank you, Blaise,” she said, “So do you.”


 Blaise spun around so that she could get the full effect of his black suit and gave her a small bow. “Thank you,” he replied, “Well, as you can see, the Malfoys have arrived. Allow me to present you to your husband-to-be, Draco.”


 “You don’t need to introduce us, Blaise,” Draco said, a bit sharply, “We’ve known each other since first year.”


 “There’s no need for you to snap at him, Malfoy,” Hermione stated coolly, “He’s only being polite. Something you obviously have trouble comprehending.”


 Draco’s eyes narrowed slightly for a moment, then, remembering his father’s words, softened a bit. “You’re right,” he said. He then turned to Blaise, “I’m sorry mate. I didn’t mean that how it sounded.”


 Blaise smiled. “Hey, tensions are high right now for the both of you; you’re bound to snap sometimes,” he said, “No problem. Are we all good?”


 Hermione gave him a small nod and opened her hand. She was holding her engagement ring and was incredibly nervous about what she was about say. She wasn’t sure that she would be able to make Draco understand her reasoning behind not wanting to wear the ring just yet and it worried her that he would be offended. However, it was very important to her that she not wear the ring until the time was right, not just for herself, but for him as well. “Um… Mal… Draco, I know this might sound a bit crazy to you,” she began, looking up at him, “but um… I’ve always dreamed that… Ever since I began dreaming about getting married…”


 She furrowed her brow and bit her lip for a moment. She then took a deep breath and started over. “I’ve dreamt about my engagement since I was a child. Part of that dream involves my future husband putting the engagement ring on my finger,” she stated, “and, as beautiful as this ring is, I’m not exactly ready to…”


 Draco cleared his throat. “I understand,” he told her, “and, if you’re agreeable, I’d like to start fresh.”


 Hermione gave him a slight nod. “I’d like that.”


 I guess I’d better start learning how to deal with this if I’m going to be married to her, he thought. “Listen,” he began, “I’m sorry for treating you the way I have over the years. I have no excuse for the way I’ve acted other than; it’s how I was raised. Is there… ahem… Is there a chance that you could forgive me for all that I’ve said and done to hurt you?”


 Hermione was silent for several moments before she nodded and said, “Yes, I think I can do that; given time.”


 Draco took the ring out of her hand and held it up a bit. “How about I hold onto this until we’re both ready for it to be on your finger?”


 “That sounds like a good idea,” Hermione agreed, looking down at her feet.


 When she finally looked up, she noticed that Draco was twirling his finger in front of her. “Turn,” he said simply.


 Reluctantly, Hermione obliged and turned gracefully so that he could get a good look at her. “Something’s missing,” Draco said, chin in hand. After a few moments, Draco reached inside his dress jacket pocket and withdrew his wand. May as well play the part properly.


 Wordlessly, Draco drew his wand around in the air. It took a few seconds for Hermione to realize that the silver smoke now coming from the wand’s tip wasn’t, in fact, smoke at all, it was silver. Her eyes widened in amazement as the silver began to take shape. She gasped softly; Draco was making her a necklace. She watched as he worked, noticing that he, indeed, had a talent for jewelry making.


 It wasn’t long before the necklace was finished. Draco pocketed his wand and, with Seeker reflexes, caught the necklace before it fell to the floor. He held it up and cleared his throat before saying, “May I?” pointing at her neck.


 Hermione gave him a nod and turned so that he could put the necklace on her. She looked down at the chain and noticed that it was exactly like the band of the ring that sat comfortably in Draco’s pocket. The head of an emerald eyed snake came into view just below her collarbone followed shortly by a curved tail just an inch below that. The tail was that of a rattlesnake, its rattler made of diamonds, encircling a princess cut emerald.


 Hermione’s breath caught in her throat at the beauty of the necklace Draco had just made her. She held the diamond encrusted tail with the emerald wrapped protectively in its coil gently in her hand as she examined it. It suddenly became clear to her just where her ring had come from.


 Draco watched her silently through curious eyes as she looked over the piece of jewelry around her neck. He couldn’t help thinking that she was actually sort of beautiful. Wait a second… this is Granger… I mean; Zabini… loyal best friend of my two most hated enemies, he thought, I can’t be thinking she’s beautiful… but, she is gonna be my wife…


 Both Hermione and Draco were brought out of their thoughts when they were interrupted by the squeaky voice of the house-elf. “Master Blaise, Mistress Hermione, and Master Draco, your parents is looking for you,” Gripa told them, “They is already seated in the Grand Dining Room.”


 Blaise cleared his throat. “Thank you Gripa. We’ll be there shortly.”


 Gripa scurried off as fast as her little legs could take her and disappeared around the corner. Blaise walked over to Hermione and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Come on, we should all get down to dinner before Mum and Dad throw a fit,” he said, “They’re sticklers for being on time.”


 Hermione nodded and then looked nervously at Draco. “Thank you for the ring and the necklace,” she said softly, “They’re beautiful.”


 “You’re welcome,” Draco replied, scarcely above a whisper.


 Hermione gave him a small smile. She then took her newfound brother’s now outstretched arm and headed down the hall.


 Draco shook his head as he stood and watched Hermione and Blaise walk away. He and Hermione had just had a brief moment of kindness and he had initiated it. This may be easier than I thought, he told himself. He shook himself from his thoughts and began to follow Blaise and Hermione down to the dining room.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile…



 “Pietro, how is business going?” Mr. Malfoy asked as the four adults walked through the mansion to the Grand Dining Room.


 Mr. Zabini smiled as he said, “Things have never been better. In fact, we are going to be receiving a shipment of rare documents supposedly written by the four founders of Hogwarts next week.”


 “Pietro, that’s remarkable!” Mrs. Malfoy exclaimed as her husband pulled out her chair for her, “The museum must be very pleased.”


 Mr. Zabini’s cheeks pinkened slightly as he bowed his head. “Yes, well, we still have to have the documents verified, of course, but it does look promising,” he said, “If all goes accordingly, the documents will be ready for display once the expansion of the Founder’s Wing is complete next week.”


 “Narcissa, you and Lucius simply must go see the new Founder’s Wing when it’s finished,” Mrs. Zabini cooed, “Pietro’s shown me the sketches, they’re simply amazing! Oh, and Darling, you should take the children before the Grand Opening. I think Hermione would find it fascinating.”


 Mr. Zabini nodded in agreement as they all sat down. “Yes, I am certain she will, though I think Blaise would find the whole thing incredibly boring.”


 “Yes, that’s probably true.”


 “Draco tells us that Hermione is a lover of books,” Mrs. Malfoy stated, taking a drink of her wine.


 “A love of reading tends to run in the family,” Mrs. Zabini said with a smile. “I sometimes have trouble getting Pietro to come to bed when his nose is in a book.”


 “Pietro was quite the schoolboy when we were children,” Mr. Malfoy agreed. He then glanced around impatiently. “Where the devil are those children?”


 “I’m sure they’re on their way, Lucius,” Mrs. Zabini said, “Please be patient, Hermione’s new to our family and needs time to adjust to everything.”


 “Forgive me, Marjorie,” Lucius said graciously, “I often find myself being so intolerant of tardiness that I forget how to be accommodating for such circumstances as this. What was it that caused you to send your only daughter into the Muggle world?”


 Mrs. Zabini turned and smiled. “Oh, here they are!”


 Mr. Malfoy narrowed his eyes infinitesimally at his childhood friend. He could feel that there was something going on, and he was determined to figure out what that something was.


Chapter 5: Chapter Five
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



 

Chapter image by FairyQueen@TDA

 

Hermione’s heart was pounding harder than she ever remembered it pounding before in her life. She gripped Blaise’s arm a bit tighter and bit her lip as they turned one final corner and came to the door of the Grand Dining Room. This is it, she thought, this is the rest of my life.

She felt Blaise’s warm hand cover hers and she looked up at him. “Relax,” he whispered.

“That’s easy for you to say,” she whispered back, “You’re having dinner with friends. I’m having dinner with people who’ve tried to kill me and my friends.”

Blaise chuckled. “Come on, the faster we get this over with, the faster you can send that letter to Potter and Weasley,” he told her.

The doors to the Grand Dining Room swung open revealing a beautifully set dining table and four very proud parents beaming at the three teenagers. Mrs. Zabini stood up and rushed toward Hermione. “Hermione, you look lovely darling,” she said, kissing her on the cheek.

Hermione let go of Blaise’s arm and gave her mother a stiff hug. “Thank you,” she said softly.

“Please, come have a seat. I’m sure you must be hungry,” Mrs. Zabini said, guiding her to the table, “Lucius, Narcissa may I present our daughter, Hermione.”

Mrs. Malfoy smiled kindly at her as Mr. Malfoy nodded politely. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, finally.”

“Not to be rude, Mrs. Malfoy, but we’ve met before,” Hermione stated, as kindly as she could, “We were both in the Minister’s box at the Quidditch World Cup, remember?”

Mrs. Malfoy nodded in remembrance. “Ah yes, that’s right. Such different times those were.”

“Certainly,” agreed Mr. Malfoy, “Miss Zabini, our apologies for such atrocities. Had we known of your true identity…”

“Your actions would have been different?” Hermione interrupted, “I accept your apology Mr. Malfoy but unfortunately do not believe for one second that things would have been different. I don’t think I need to remind you who I’m friends with.”

Mr. Zabini cleared his throat. “Hermione that is no way to speak to our guests.”

Mr. Malfoy held up his hand in dismissal. “Pietro, it’s quite all right. I do not pretend that our family’s differences with your daughter haven’t been great. Nor did I expect welcoming arms from her this night,” he said. He then turned to Hermione, “Miss Zabini, your feelings of hatred towards this family are not misguided, however, I implore you to give us a chance.”

“Mr. Malfoy, I can assure you that I’ve already made up my mind to give you a chance,” Hermione said, “I’ve willingly accepted my betrothal to your son and willingly accept your apology, hoping that we can all have a fresh start.”

Mr. Malfoy gave her a gracious nod. Mrs. Malfoy then held out her hand as Hermione sat down, helped into her chair by Draco. “Come, come, let’s see the ring!” she said excitedly, “Draco wouldn’t show it to us before he sent it.”

Draco coughed softly as he took his seat next to Hermione. “Mother…”

Hermione bit the corner of her lip. “I’m afraid I’m not wearing it just yet,” she said.

“Why ever not?” Mrs. Malfoy questioned, “I mean; it’s customary for a woman who is engaged to wear an engagement ring.”

Hermione nodded in agreement as she said, “I know that, Mrs. Malfoy, but, please, understand that I’m just barely going to be seventeen and have only found out tonight that I belong to a family that I don’t have the best of histories with. And then, I get told by the lovely people I thought were my parents that I’ve been betrothed to a boy that’s hated me since the second he’s known me, simply because I was supposedly Muggle-born.”

She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes slightly. “So, you’ll forgive me if I’m not completely comfortable with the idea of wearing a piece of jewelry romantically binding me to your son at this time.”

“She’s dreamed of her future husband placing the ring on her finger himself,” Mrs. Zabini said, “Isn’t that romantic?”

Mrs. Malfoy nodded as Blaise said, “Mum!”

Mrs. Zabini looked at her son questioningly. “What? Is it so wrong to tell something that Hermione, herself, told us earlier this evening?”

“Mum, don’t you think that might embarrass her? I mean, she is basically meeting the Malfoys formally for the first time… and she’s out of her element here.”

“Oh my goodness, I’ve lost my manners!” their mother exclaimed, “Hermione, I’m so sorry.”

Hermione gave her a reassuring look and waved her off slightly, “It’s all right, Mrs. Zabini,” she said, her cheeks burning pink.

Mr. Malfoy then cleared his throat as dinner was brought in. “I’d like to propose a toast,” he said, raising his glass of wine, “to the joining of our two families, and to the joining of Draco and Hermione. May every happiness be bestowed upon them.”

“Here, here!” Blaise said, banging the table lightly and raising his own glass, “Hermione and Draco!”

“Hermione and Draco!” everyone chimed.

Hermione blushed madly as she held up her glass in thanks and then took a small sip. “About that,” she said, “I’ve discussed this with Mr. and Mrs. Zabini… um… my parents… and they’ve agreed with me. Ahem, I think it would be best if Draco and I were given some time to get to know each other, let us decide if we want to be married.”

She focused her gaze specifically on Lucius Malfoy. She wasn’t surprised to find that he was just as focused on her, his expression livid, but careful. Theirs had become a staring match of wills, and she wasn’t about to lose.

“If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that you were trying to get out of an agreement made long before you were born,” Mr. Malfoy observed.

Hermione shook her head. “Not at all,” she replied, “I’m not trying to get out of anything. I’m simply asking for the opportunity to get to know your son the way any future wife should know her future husband. I don’t think that’s too unreasonable; do you, Mr. Malfoy?”

Mrs. Malfoy placed her hand on her husband’s arm. “It’s not unreasonable at all, Darling.”

“Well, it seems as though I’m outnumbered, so, I’ll agree.”

“Thank you,” Hermione stated with a gracious nod.

Hermione took another sip of her butterbeer, turning to look at Draco. She was surprised to find that he was watching her. She smiled nervously into his stormy gaze and blushed when he inclined his head, raising his glass to his lips without breaking eye contact. This is definitely a night I’ll never forget, she thought.

“Dad, tell Hermione about the museum,” Blaise said, breaking the tense silence.

Hermione looked up curiously and asked, “Which museum?”

“The Museum of Magical History and Artifacts,” Blaise replied, “Dad’s the Curator there.”

“Really?” Hermione asked in awe, “I’ve always wanted to go there but my… um… it couldn’t be afforded.”

Mr. Zabini smiled tenderly at her. “Well, now you can go there any time you like without having to pay a single Knut,” he said, “We are getting a shipment of documents written by the founders of Hogwarts next week… Would you like to come with me to receive it?”

“May I?” Hermione asked, doing her best to control her excitement.

“Of course, I would love for you to be there,” Mr. Zabini said, “Blaise, Draco; you are welcome to join us also, if you are interested.”

“Thank you, sir,” Draco said with a nod of acceptance.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dinner went rather well, as far as Hermione was concerned. She had gotten to see a very different, much unexpected side of the Malfoys as well as the Zabinis. It was almost as if she were seeing completely different people than the ones she had briefly known over the past six years. In a way, it almost made Hermione forget who she was accompanied by.

She watched her parents as they chatted happily about things in the lounge, discussing the day’s news, or laughing about some memory that had been brought up. It made her think of the parents that raised her. There had been many nights like this at the Granger’s home. Nights full of laughter and great friends. Those memories brought a sad smile to her face.

To her left, Draco and Blaise were quietly playing a game of Wizard’s Chess, poking fun at each other when one of them made a stupid move. She hadn’t quite figured out what to think of the two of them in this whole scenario just yet, but she had to admit that she was finding it difficult to dislike them. She leaned over in her seat and looked over the chessboard.

“Oh, Blaise, if you move your Knight there to H-3, you’ll leave room for that Bishop there to Checkmate Draco’s King,” she said.

Blaise and Draco looked at her curiously. “Where in bloody hell did you learn that?” Blaise asked.

“Ron made that move when he, Harry, and I were trying to save the Sorcerer’s Stone from Voldemort our first year at Hogwarts.”

The room suddenly went deathly quiet. Hermione looked around at the six faces around her nervously. The silence was just too much for her to take at the moment. Standing up, she cleared her throat. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a walk around the mansion to familiarize myself with it,” she said.

“Of course,” Mr. Zabini said, “I imagine you are somewhat… overwhelmed.”

Hermione gave a small smile. “Just a bit,” she confessed, “It’s a lot to process.”

“Yes, yes… Perhaps we should all just let you rest,” Mrs. Malfoy said.

“Oh, no, no… I’ll be fine, Mrs. Malfoy,” Hermione assured her, “I just need a few moments.”

With nods from each of the adults, Hermione turned and walked toward the door. “I’ll join you,” Draco said, standing up and walking toward her, “If that’s all right with you, that is.”

Hermione nodded. “I don’t see why not,” she said, “I think this would be a good opportunity for us to start our new beginning.”

“Agreed,” Draco said, reaching out and opening the door, “Shall we take a walk in the garden?”

“That sounds lovely,” Hermione stated, cautiously looking around and noticing that Lucius Malfoy was staring at her.

Draco nodded and ushered her out of the room before their parents could engage them in another conversation about something. Once they were out of the room, and Hermione was certain they wouldn’t be overheard, she looked up at Draco and said, “If you don’t mind, I’ve just got a letter that needs sending off first.”

He motioned toward the stairs in consent. “Have you got an owl?” he asked when they were halfway up the first flight of stairs.

“My parents sent me one earlier this evening as a gift of some sort,” Hermione replied, “Her name is Callidora.”

“Gift of beauty,” Draco said, “I like it. So, this letter you need to send; it’s to Potter and Weasley?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Hermione sighed heavily and stopped walking, looking at Draco with her sharp eyes. “Whether you like it or not, Malfoy, Harry and Ron are my friends and nothing you say is going to change that.”

Draco ran a pale hand through his hair and stared directly into her eyes. “Look, I’m not going to lie and say that I like Potter and Weasley, because I don’t. The truth of the matter is; you’re going to be a part of my life and with that comes your friends and family… as much as I dislike your friends, I’m going to respect the fact that they’re your friends, and in return, do my best to be civil to them when they’re around,” he told her. A little lie never hurt anyone. “But please don’t expect me not to defend myself if they provoke me.”

Hermione thought about what he had just said for a moment. “That seems fair. I’ll respect that decision and in turn, expect the same.”

“Fair enough.”

“Very well,” Hermione said, continuing her journey to her room to see if Callidora had arrived yet. They walked in silence for several moments. “This is all a bit strange, isn’t it? Our parents arranging for us to be married.”

Draco gave a little snort. “I think that’s an understatement.”

“And I don’t believe for one second that you’re agreeable to it,” she said, “Nor do I believe what you said a few moments ago.”

“Well, you always were a know-it-all,” Draco said, dropping his polite mask.

Hermione stopped and faced him. “I’ve never claimed to know everything, Draco Malfoy, everyone just assumes that I do because I’m smart.”

He seemed a little taken aback at her flaring temper, but he kept himself composed. “Maybe you shouldn’t go around showing off and correcting everyone all the time.”

She narrowed her eyes at him dangerously. “You’re getting dangerously close to me hexing you, Malfoy,” she warned, “I’m willing to actually try here and all you’re doing is spouting insults and lies.”

Draco eyed her thoughtfully. “Okay, Granger, you want to really give this betrothal a try; fine,” he said, “I’ll keep my word and do everything I’ve said I will. It’s not going to be easy.”

“Oh, believe me; I know,” Hermione agreed, “but if you agree to try, then I will, too.”

Draco held out his hand. “All right, Granger, you’ve got yourself a deal.”

Hermione furrowed her brow momentarily before placing her hand in his and shaking.

When they reached her room a minute later, Hermione paused at the doors. She had never had a boy in her room. After all, a person’s room was a very personal thing. She glanced at Draco, took a deep breath, and pushed the doors open.

As she walked into her room, Callidora hooted softly and flew over to her. “Well there you are,” Hermione said affectionately, “I was wondering when you’d arrive. I’m so sorry I left you at my parents.”

Callidora nipped her finger lovingly in forgiveness and hooted. “She’s beautiful,” Draco said, coming up next to Hermione.

“Thank you. Callidora, I need to you take a letter to someone if you would please,” Hermione said, walking over to her desk and picking up the letter she had written to Ron and Harry, “Please take this to Ron and Harry at the Burrow. They’re to send back responses with you.”

The owl took the letter in her beak and flew off immediately. A few moments later, another owl flew into the room carrying two envelopes. The owl landed gracefully on Hermione’s desk chair. Hermione took the two letters from the owl and looked at the names written on them. “This one’s for you,” she said, handing one of them to Draco.

She then opened hers and began reading the curvy words that had been written by their headmaster.


Miss Zabini,

I would like to be the first to congratulate you on your pending engagement to young Mr. Malfoy. Only you can know how you truly feel about this arrangement, but I would imagine that you are feeling quite uncertain of it, as well as yourself.

Do not despair, Miss Zabini. I believe all things will work themselves out the way they are intended. You may come to find that Draco Malfoy is a surprise himself.

I look forward to seeing you both on September 1 for your final year at Hogwarts. I expect you will discover some things about yourself.

Kindest regards to your family (new and old),

Albus Dumbledore


Hermione looked up from the letter and over at Draco. “Is yours from Dumbledore as well?”

Draco nodded, “He sends congratulations and well wishes,” he said.

“Same here,” Hermione stated, “I’m sure we’ll receive more letters like this, as well as ones wishing us not to go through with this.”

Draco nodded in agreement. “So, I suppose there’s really no point in asking this but, have you been made Head Girl?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes.”

“Well then, you and I are going to have plenty of opportunities to get to know each other while doing rounds, and such,” he told her, “I’ve been made Head Boy.”

“You have?”

Draco chuckled a bit. “Well don’t look so shocked,” he said, “I’m a lot smarter than you’ve presumed.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped a bit. “Oh, no… I didn’t mean…” she stammered, “Congratulations.”

“Same to you,” Draco said.

“So it looks like we really will be spending a lot of time together. I’ve read that the Head Boy and Girl share living quarters.”

Draco nodded. “Well, a common room anyway. Bedrooms and bathrooms are separate,” he said, “Now how about that walk in the garden?”

Hermione smiled. “Sounds lovely,” she said.

Draco held out his arm, which Hermione took, and led her out of the room. They walked the many hallways in silence, not sure of what to say to each other. This openness, however small it may be, was new to them and Hermione didn’t want to say, or do, anything to ruin it.

When they reached the main staircase, Draco gently steered Hermione in the direction they needed to go to get to the garden. She gave him a small smile of gratitude and allowed him to lead her the rest of the way.

As they walked the long, picture adorned hallways, whispers could be heard. Few at first, and then they seemed to multiply the more portraits they passed. It wasn’t until they passed by a particularly large one that Hermione realized they were whispering about her. She turned around and placed her hands on her hips. “It’s not polite to whisper about someone behind their back,” she stated.

The portraits suddenly went still and silenced their whispers. Hermione nodded and turned back around, continuing on her walk out to the garden, again, in silence. Draco had to suppress a smile at her actions. It was so like her to scold someone, or something as the case may be, for being rude.

It wasn’t until they reached the garden that Draco finally broke the silence. “You really do look beautiful tonight,” he said.

“Thank you,” Hermione said, “You look quite handsome yourself.”

“Thank you. So you really like the necklace and the ring?”

“Yes, they’re beautiful.”

Draco smirked a bit. “I was hoping you’d like them.”

“I do,” Hermione stated, “So, what did you think when your parents told you that you were betrothed to me?”

Draco sighed and pulled his wand out of his jacket pocket, twirling it nervously between his fingers. “To be honest, I was angry, at first. I mean; I had a good thing going with someone and then this gets sprung on me like it’s no big deal? How else should I have felt?” he said.

Hermione cleared her throat. “You… You’re seeing someone?”

Draco knew he needed to tread carefully when answering her question. He hadn’t exactly ended things with Astoria like he was supposed to, but if Hermione knew that, she would most likely hex him and cause him trouble he would rather avoid. “I ended it when my parents told me about our betrothal,” he explained, “It was the right thing to do.”

“Yes, it was probably best,” Hermione agreed, feeling slightly giddy. She swallowed hard and asked, “And how do you feel about our betrothal now that you’ve had time to process it?”

“Well, as you already know, I’m not exactly thrilled about it. Given our history I can’t say things will work out for the best, but I’ve given you my word to give this a real shot,” he replied, “and honestly, I’m interested to see if we can work out our differences.”

Hermione blushed a bit and looked around the garden. Anything to keep from looking at Draco. Never in her life had she seen such a beautiful garden. Flowers bloomed all around them as they walked down one of the many paths of the large garden.

Flowers unlike anything she had ever seen before peeked out at her from behind the trunks of small trees and from under leaves that had fallen on the ground. Sunflowers, not much unlike the ones she’d seen in the Muggle world, were bursting with bright light. Small Dogwood flowers barked and yipped softly as they passed. She leaned down close to a pretty-looking plant with greenish-red skin and reached out to run her fingers over it.

Draco’s hand suddenly grasped her wrist. “You don’t want to touch that,” he said.

“Why not?”

He reached down and grabbed the hard stem of a Goldenrod. “Snap Dragons,” he said, extending the stem toward the harmless looking plant. It immediately began nipping and chewing on the stem, “They’re tricky little blighters and don’t like to be touched unless they’ve known you from a seedling.”

“Oh, I see,” Hermione said softly, looking down at Draco’s hand still clasped around her wrist.

Draco dropped the stem he’d been playing with and looked back at Hermione. When he saw her looking down, he followed her gaze and realized that he was still holding on to her wrist. Without a word, he let go of her wrist and looked up at the sky. “So… ahem… I imagine Potter’s going to have a hard time of it in Quidditch this year.”

Hermione looked up at him with her eyebrows furrowed. “What makes you say that?”

“I’ve been made captain of the Slytherin team,” Draco replied with a slightly arrogant air about him.

“And you think that’s going to make Quidditch difficult for Harry?” Hermione questioned. “Draco, Harry’s got a year of experience as captain on you…”

“And I’ve got years more experience playing than he has,” Draco argued. “I’ve played my whole life and he’s only been playing since our first year.”

Hermione could tell that Draco was beginning to get angry so she said, “We’ll just have to see what happens. I mean; you’re both skilled players.”

Accepting this for exactly what is was, a compromise, Draco nodded and began twirling his wand between his fingers again. Wand twirling had nearly always been a nervous action for him but at the moment, it was just an action to keep him from fidgeting. He had always thought of himself as a confident bloke but his confidence seemed to be fading at present.

In the past, he had always found it easy to speak with the girls he was interested in. His good looks alone were enough to have girls falling in line to be with him. All he had to do was choose. When he was finished with whichever girl he’d chosen, he’d simply move on to the next one. Astoria had been the exception to that.

He’d been with her for nearly a year, the longest he had ever been with anyone. Something about her had captivated him and he had begun feeling that he was beginning to fall in love with her. He’d never been in love, so he couldn’t be sure, but he certainly didn’t feel the same as he had with all the other girls. However, something about Hermione had always gotten under his skin the way no other girl had.

Just in the last few minutes of talking with her, without name calling or spitting out insults, he found that she really was quite a lovely girl. He didn’t think he’d ever love her, or anything like that, but he could see himself, at least, being civil to her.

Getting to know Hermione was going to be tricky. She was so different from every other girl he’d been with that he found himself uncertain of how to go about it. Ordinarily, he would just charm her until she gave in, but Hermione wasn’t like other girls. His usual tactics weren’t going to work. Just thinking about that made him feel incapable of speech.

Hermione, also, seemed to be having trouble finding words to say. Normally, when she and Draco spoke to each other, harsh words came out of his mouth as well as hers. This was entirely new territory, in more ways than one, and she wasn’t sure how to handle it. Everything just seemed so surreal, as if she would just suddenly wake up and realize it had all been a dream. But it isn’t a dream, she told herself, this is real. You’re really a Zabini and you’re really going to be marrying Draco Malfoy… Possibly.

Suddenly, a cool breeze blew past them causing Hermione to shiver slightly and rub the upper part of her arms. Draco noticed this and instantly took off his jacket. “Here,” he said placing it over her shoulders.

Hermione slid her arms into the sleeves and gave him a small smile of thanks. “Thank you,” she said softly as Draco’s warmth surrounded her.

Draco cleared his throat and nodded. “You’re welcome.”

Not another word was spoken between them for the rest of their time in the garden.


Chapter 6: Chapter Six
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 

Chapter Image by Ande @TDA

 



Later that night…

 

            Hermione walked along one of the many Sunflower lit paths of the garden, taking in all the sights. The Malfoys had left just over an hour ago so she was taking advantage of her solitude. She had always loved gardens and this one was no exception. She was in awe of such beauty possessed by the Goldenrods and Snapdragons that she couldn’t resist just being among them. Something about them calmed her, helping her to make sense of everything.

 

            Her thoughts seemed to be all over the place as she found a comfortable looking bench and sat down. She leaned forward and rested her head in her hands and sighed. What a night this has been, she thought, First, I find out that I’m the daughter of Pietro and Marjorie Zabini. Then I find out that I’m betrothed to someone who hates me… or at least I thought he did. I’m not so sure now… Then I have dinner with two families that have tried to kill me over the past six years... What is this world coming to?

            Her heart sank as the Grangers flew into her mind. Until this night, Tom and Jane Granger had been the only parents she had ever known. They had been there for her through every moment of her life, great and small. First steps, first words, first day of school, her acceptance to Hogwarts… These were all such special moments and her parents had been there for each and every one of them.

            And she had repaid them by yelling at them.

            She had been so rude to them when they had first told her of her true identity. She really hadn’t given them the chance to explain their side of things. She had just exploded in anger and had spouted off questions selfishly, not really thinking of how they felt or what they needed.

            Silent tears filled her eyes as she thought about how horrible she must have made them feel. The hurt looks on their faces as she had taken her anger out on them flashed in her mind. She knew that they had raised her to be a better person than to just yell at someone because she was angry, but she hadn’t been able to help it. Her anger had blinded her. What a lovely girl I turned out to be, she thought sarcastically.

            The sound of footsteps coming toward her caused to her lift her head. The tall, lean figure of her twin brother now stood just a few feet away from her, concern written all over his face. “Are you all right, Hermione?” he asked.

            “I’m not really sure,” she replied, tears evident in her voice, “I mean; it’s all kind of coming at me so fast that I’m not sure I can keep up.”

            “Listen, I know we really only met tonight, but I’m here if you want to talk.”

            Hermione patted the bench next to her and gave him a small smile. “My thoughts are all so jumbled up I’m not sure where to begin,” she told him.

            Blaise sat down and looked up at the sky. “Must’ve been pretty weird finding out you have a twin brother huh?”

            She thought about that. “Weird, yes, but nice,” Hermione replied with a small smile, “I’ve been an only child all my life… well at least I thought I was… but I always wanted a brother or sister.”

            “Really?”

            “Yeah. I’ve always been envious of people like Ginny and Ron Weasley who have several siblings.”

            “Why?” Blaise questioned, looking at his sister.

            She worried her bottom lip nervously. “I’ve always liked that idea that, even if I didn’t have any friends, someone would always be there to talk to and do things with,” she admitted softly, “Kind of like having a built in friend.”

            “Well, now you’ve got me,” Blaise said, giving her a hopeful smile, “I may not be good at this brother thing, but I’ll sure try.”

            Hermione smiled at him. “You’re doing great so far,” she assured him.

            “Thanks,” he said.

            Hermione looked up at the sky as an owl hooted. “Oh! That’s Callidora. Excuse me, I really need to see what she’s got.”

            “Of course. I’ll be in my room if you need anything.”

            “Thank you,” Hermione said, standing up and kissing him on the cheek, “You know; you’re really not as bad as I thought you were.”

            Blaise smiled broadly and watched as Hermione ran off toward the Mansion. Although he wasn’t sure how he knew it, he knew that they were going to become great friends. With that thought, he stood up and headed toward the Mansion himself.

            Once she had gotten to her room, Hermione quickly changed out of her dress into something more suitable for lounging. She also took her hair out of the French twist it was in and tied it into a ponytail. She then picked up the letters Callidora had brought her, giving the owl a gentle pat, and climbed onto her bed. She was pleased to see that she had not two, but four letters. She opened the one on top and began reading the neatly written note from one of the only female friends she had at Hogwarts.

 

 Hermione,

           I really don’t know what to say, other than; I can’t believe you didn’t include me in your letter to Ron! This is all rather shocking, isn’t it? You must be going out of your mind with racing thoughts and whatnot.

            It seems like you’re seriously considering going through with this arranged marriage. I mean; you haven’t really said anything about trying to get out of it. No matter. You know I will support you no matter what you decide. Just… Be careful.

            Mum’s calling. We’ll talk more later!

Ginny

            P.S. Did you make Head Girl?

 

             As she put Ginny’s letter aside, she felt a small twinge of guilt for not having included her in her letter to Ron and Harry. It didn’t last too long though. Ginny was her best girlfriend, but she wasn’t as close to her as she was to Harry and Ron. How very like her to want to see the ring, she thought, Well, she’s going to have to wait until it’s actually on my finger… If it gets there.

            She picked up the next letter.

 

 Hermione,

           A Zabini? Seriously? And engaged to Malfoy? This has got to be some kind to trick. Are you sure they’re telling you the truth? It sounds sketchy to me. Are you all right? They haven’t hurt you, or anything, have they? Hermione, if they try anything, or you just want me to come get you, send word somehow and I’ll be there. I don’t think I need to tell you to keep your guard up around the Zabinis, and especially the Malfoys. They’re not good people.

Harry

 

             It was just like Harry to be skeptical of anyone connected to the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort. She was still skeptical herself. Of course, she wasn’t going into anything blind, either. She knew the sort of people the Zabinis and Malfoys were, but after the dinner earlier, she wasn’t completely certain they were as bad as she had known them to be. Well, the Zabinis anyway.

           The next letter she picked up was from Mrs. Weasley.

 

 Hermione,

           Oh such wonderful news dear! Engaged! Arthur and I are so happy for you! (Although I’m not so certain you should fully trust the Malfoys.) I had heard of the Zabini’s having twins, but the daughter was never discussed. Makes a bit more sense now… They must be happy to have you back in their lives…

            Well, I’m sure you’ve got many things to do, spending time with your family and making plans for the wedding and all. I’d love to make your cake for you, if that’s all right. Please, if you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask.

            Much love to you,

Molly Weasley

 

             A smile spread across her face as she read Mrs. Weasley’s kind words. She was much like a mother to Hermione with as much time as she had spent at the Burrow over the years. As she set Mrs. Weasley’s letter aside, dread came over her. She had one letter left to read; Ron’s. Although they had only ever thought of each other as brother and sister, he tended to be overprotective of her, much like he was over Ginny.

 

 Hermione,

            You’ve got to be out of your bleeding mind to marry that git, Malfoy. Completely off your rocker. I don’t want you marrying that slimy ferret. He’s bad news and you know it!

Ron

 

             Hermione set down Ron’s letter with a loud sigh. She knew that Ron didn’t like Malfoy; in fact, he hated him, probably almost as much as he hated spiders. At least he hadn’t sent her a howler; she had been worried about that. Knowing Ron, he’s probably skulking about the Burrow, she thought.

           She read over the letters again. Upon her doing so, she found it odd that there was hardly a reference to the fact that she was the daughter of Pietro and Marjorie Zabini. It seemed everyone was more concerned with her pending engagement to Draco Malfoy. If one of her friend were in her shoes, she would be more interested in the newfound parentage rather than the arranged marriage.

            Just then, her attention was drawn to the door when a light knock sounded. “Come in,” she called.

            The door opened and Gripa waddled in. “Mistress Hermione, your parents is liking you to meet them in Sir’s study,” she said.

            Hermione climbed off the bed and slipped her feet into her slippers. “Thank you Gripa. Um… Would you… Would you mind showing me the way?” she asked, not really wanting to, but knowing she needed help finding her way.

            “Gripa would be pleased to, Mistress!” she squeaked.

            “Thank you.”

            Hermione followed the small elf down a flight of stairs and through a series of hallways. Each hallway they walked through bore pictures on the walls, on either side. Hermione wanted to pause and look at them all but she had a feeling that now wasn’t exactly the best time. Her father was waiting, after all.

            It wasn’t until after seeing a portrait of a particularly pretty young woman that Hermione noticed they had come to a stop in front of a door. “Here you are Mistress.”

            “Thank you Gripa,” Hermione said. She then knocked lightly on the door.

            “Come in,” came the muffled reply.

            Hermione opened the door and poked her head in. “You wanted to see me?”

            Mr. Zabini smiled. “Yes, please come in,” he said, motioning to a chair, “Have a seat.”

            Hermione sat down in the comfortable chair opposite her father’s desk and looked at him questioningly, “What’s this all about?”

            “We know you have had a very trying day today,” Mr. Zabini began, “but we feel that the sooner we explain why we took you to the Grangers the easier it might be for all of us to become a family.”

            “We want you to feel comfortable here and we don’t think that will be possible without you knowing the whole truth,” Mrs. Zabini added.

            “However, if you are too tired just now then perhaps…”

            Hermione shook her head as she interrupted, “No, please… I’d really like to know,” she said, “Besides, it’s obviously very important.”

            Mr. Zabini stood up and walked around his desk. “The first thing you must understand, Hermione, is that we love you,” he said as he sat down on the edge of his desk, “Ahem… forgive me; it is difficult to know where exactly to begin. It was so long ago and everything happened so fast.”

            “Pietro, perhaps it would be better just to show her,” Mrs. Zabini suggested.

            “Hmm, perhaps you are right, Marjorie,” he said, standing up and walking over to a cupboard.

            Hermione watched as he opened the cupboard and a bright shining light became visible. Mr. Zabini pulled out a large stone bowl and carefully carried it over to his desk. “Is… is that a pensieve?” Hermione asked in awe.

            “Yes, it was handed down to me by my father,” Mr. Zabini replied as he walked back over to the cupboard and began sifting through some vials. “I plan to hand it down to Blaise one day… Blaise has told us that you are quite the student, no doubt you have inherited that from me.”

            Mrs. Zabini gave her husband a soft smirk, very like the one Hermione often gave Harry and Ron when she knew something they didn’t. “Darling, the Sorting Hat didn’t put you in Ravenclaw.”

            “No, that honor goes to you, my dear.”

            “So why would you say our daughter inherited her intelligence from you?” she teased.

            Mr. Zabini looked at her with twinkling eyes. “Because of the way she always had her head in a book.”

            “Yes; that would be something she got from you,” his wife allowed.

            “I’ve always been told that I have an insatiable curiosity,” Hermione said off-handedly, wanting to bring the attention back to the task at hand, “I’ve read a bit about pensieves; they’re supposed to hold the memories of a witch or wizard.”

            “That is quite true,” he said, picking up two vials and walking back over to his desk. “Now, there are two memories that I am going to show you this evening. The first is by no means happy and I wish now that I had never taken part in such things. However, what is done is done and I hope that you can one day forgive me for the atrocities in my past.”

            Hermione bit her lip in thought for a moment and then said, “I think only time will tell if I’ll be able to forgive you,” she said, believing that honesty would be best, “I’m seeing a side of you that I never thought was possible but I’m not completely certain that I believe it just yet.”

            He gave her a small smile. “Yes, well, I have caused you a great deal of pain so if you were never to forgive me, I think I would understand,” he said. He then looked at his wife questioningly. “Marjorie, will you be joining us?”

            Mrs. Zabini shook her head. “I think not,” she said, “I lived through all of that once already, I’d rather not live through it again.”

            Mr. Zabini nodded in understanding and held his hand out for Hermione. “Very well, Hermione, you must hold tight to my hand.”

            Hermione stood up and walked over to her father, grasping his hand tight. “Good, now, we must lean in close to the pensieve so as to be taken into it.”

            She recalled Harry telling her and Ron about his experiences with Dumbledore and the pensieve during the previous year. She remembered thinking how interesting it would be to actually see someone else’s memories; to know what someone else had seen exactly as they had seen it. The fact that she was about to experience this for herself made her a little giddy, and yet she had no idea what she was about to see. That made her nervous.

            Mr. Zabini poured the silvery contents of one of the vials into the pensieve as the two leaned close to the silvery blue surface, so close that their noses we almost touching the liquid-like substance. Hermione’s eyes widened as she suddenly felt herself being pulled into the pensieve. She gripped her father’s hand even tighter as they fell slowly through the dark air.

            They landed with a soft thud on what felt like a stone floor and Hermione looked around. Well, tried to look around anyway. She really couldn’t see anything because it was severely dark and there seemed to only be a few lights coming from the distance, and getting closer.

            As the light slowly got closer, Hermione could see dark figures all around her dressed in hooded black cloaks and gold masks. A small gasp escaped her lips. “Death Eaters!” she exclaimed, instinctively reaching for her wand. It wasn’t until she had reached for it that she remembered that she didn’t have it with her. She also realized that she wouldn’t need it; this was a memory, no one would be able to see her, or hear her.

            She looked around with much wonder. She could tell that the building they were in was old, however, where they were, she had no idea. The dimness of their surroundings hindered her vision slightly as she tried to make out anything she could. A fair distance ahead of them, a dull patter of footsteps could be heard.

            Mr. Zabini took Hermione’s hand and gently pulled her toward the sound of the footsteps. As they walked, the pitch black hallway became lit, a torch lighting itself as it was passed. With each new source of light, Hermione got a better look at their environment.

            The walls on either side of them were damp and mildewed. Cracks of various sizes were visible and some had what looked like tree roots growing through them. She gave a little shriek as a rat scurried in front of them. “I hate rats,” she muttered at her father’s slightly amused expression.

            Ahead of them, twelve figures crept through the dank hall, each draped in a long, black hooded cloak and their traditional gold skull mask. They each seemed to be walking with a purpose, as though they had been summoned by something, or someone.

            Each of the figures was curious as to why they had been sent for so suddenly and at such a late hour. Though their curiosity was practically killing them, they knew better than to ask questions unless permitted to do so. In their order, to speak before being spoken to was against the law and punishable in any way imaginable; even death.

            The figures stopped in front of a large, iron door. The sound of muffled screams could be heard as the figure in front removed his wand from his robes and tapped the door lightly. It immediately creaked open and the twelve figures that had just arrived, as well as the ones who had been waiting around, filed into the dark room that lay behind the door.

            “Where are we?” Hermione asked as they slowed down to follow two cloaked figures.

            “The basement of Nott’s home,” Mr. Zabini replied.

            “It’s very old,” Hermione noted.

            Her father chuckled. “Yes, it has been in their family for centuries, though no one actually lives here anymore,” he said as they followed the Death Eaters into the room, “Now, pay close attention.”

            The Dark Lord gave a smile that looked more like a grimace. “Excellent. Excellent, you are all here,” his cold voice said, “Come; join me, for there is much I have to tell you.”

            The figures formed an incomplete circle around their master and focused their full attention on him, refraining from looking to the floor to satisfy their curiosity. The Dark Lord stood from his throne-like seat and began walking around in front of them. “I sense that you are all wondering why I have called you here at so late an hour,” he said, “The reason is this… There is tale of a Prophesied being that could destroy your Lord.”

            Whispers broke out among the cloaked figures. “Surely that’s not possible my Lord,” said a voice, louder than the others.

            “Impossible though it may be, I will not take the chance of it coming to pass,” Voldemort said, “As it is, the Prophecy I speak of has already been made and now rests safely in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic.”

            “Then we shall retrieve it for you my Lord.”

            “Yes! Yes, we shall!” came several shouts of agreement.

            Voldemort lifted a pale, white hand and the room fell silent. “There is no need, for I have acquired the only witness to the aforementioned Prophecy,” he said silkily, gesturing to the large stone chest to his left. His cloak swished as he turned and stepped closer to it.

            At a quick glance, it looked like an ordinary chest. However, upon closer inspection, there was nothing ordinary about it. Charcoal gray, so dark it was almost black, with moldy green undertones. Deep red splatters and smears decorated the entire outside. On the front and back were what appeared to be headless snakes entwined as though they were a knotted rope. Every now and then, the torchlight would flicker in such a way that the snakes appeared to move.

            Screams and thumps could be heard coming from the chest, but all fell silent as Lord Voldemort hissed a command in parseltongue. As soon as the words were spoken, the top of the chest began to disappear, revealing the captive inside. The snakes, as it turned out, were not headless. Quiet murmurs of shock rippled around the circle as they witnessed the snakes bite their master’s prisoner one final time before pulling back and becoming stone once more.

            Voldemort waved his wand and the man inside the chest rose into the air and floated forward. With another wave, the man was carelessly dropped to the floor where he lay, broken and crying.

            It was obvious that Voldemort had tortured him. His body was covered in dark bruises and his clothes were drenched in blood and sweat. Deep puncture wounds could be seen as well, the most recent of which were gushing, spilling crimson onto the cold floor.

            The Dark Lord tilted his head ever so slightly. “Zabini!” he called, “Step forward.”

            A tall figure, toward the center of their formation stepped forward and kneeled in front of Voldemort, “My Lord?”

            “You will kill this man.”

            The kneeling hooded figure bowed low and lifted his hood and mask. “Anything to serve you, Master.”

            Hermione let out a soft gasp. Kneeling just mere feet from her was a younger version of her father, looking up at Voldemort in adoration. Although she had known that her father was a Death Eater, she had not known just how close he had truly been to Voldemort.

            Zabini quickly stood up and withdrew his wand from his robes and pointed it at the cowering man at his feet. “AVADA KEDAVRA!” he shouted.

            With a flash of bright green light, the man on the floor was silenced and lifeless. “Let all those who choose to keep things from me know that this is what awaits them!” Voldemort stated loudly, “Lord Voldemort does not tolerate secrets!”

            Murmurs of understanding filled the room. “My Lord?”

            “Yes, Lucius, is there a question burning in your gut?”

            “Yes, my Lord.”

            “You may ask it.”

            “If you please, what is it that the Prophecy states will destroy you?”

            “That is not your concern Lucius,” Voldemort said, “I have already chosen one of you to take care of this matter and it will be done so with no mistakes! Zabini!”

            “Yes, my Lord?”

            “This task is appointed to you. The rest of you may leave. I must speak to Zabini alone.”

            Obediently, the cloaked figures filed out of the room, leaving Zabini alone with Voldemort. “Sit,” Voldemort said, flicking his wand.

            A chair fell silently next to Zabini, who instantly sat down. “How long have you served me, Zabini?”

            “Ten years now my Lord.”

            “And you have served me well… which is why I am giving this task to you.”

            “I am deeply honored my Lord.”

            “As you should be; this task is very important,” Voldemort told him, “However, before I tell you your task, I am going to show you what I saw in that horrid creature’s mind.”

            With that being said, Voldemort touched the tip of his wand to his temple and slowly began pulling it away. Seemingly attached to the tip of the wand was a silvery liquid strand. Zabini knew this to be a memory. Next thing he knew, he was shot with a burst of pain just behind his eyes.

            Suddenly, his head was filled with the vision of an odd looking woman, seeming to be choking on something. Then, he heard it.

 

            And so the Bringer of Darkness shall fall at the hands of The Light.

            Wary should Darkness be for The Bearer soon approaches, Wielder of The Light.

            None such as The Bearer has ever before walked this Earth.

            Only a Crescent reveals her, a mark from her birth.

            Her destiny shall be fulfilled, bringing Darkness’s demise.

            And The Light shall brighten, bringing joy to everyone’s lives.

 

            Another burst of pain shot through him and he was looking at his master again. “What is your will, my Lord?” he asked.

            “You will find this ‘Bearer’ and destroy her,” Voldemort said simply, “If she never comes to possess this ‘Light’ then I shall never be destroyed.”

            “My Lord, are you not worried about the part that said, ‘Her destiny shall be fulfilled’?”

            “Not in the least, Zabini. Now go, you have work to do,” Voldemort said, “You must find out who this ‘Bearer’ is.”

            Zabini stood quickly and bowed his head. “Yes my Lord,” he said. He then turned and left as quickly as he could so as to start doing his master’s will.

            Hermione suddenly felt a floating sensation as her father grabbed her hand. The two floated upward until they finally found themselves standing in the study. “So, there’s something else that’s meant to kill Lord Voldemort?”

            Mr. Zabini closed his eyes, in a sort of flinch, as his wife gasped. “Do not say his name, Hermione,” he said.

            “Sorry. I’ve, sort of, gotten used to saying his name.”

            Mr. Zabini cleared his throat. As he cyphined his memory from the pensieve, he set about trying to answer his question. “Prophecies are tricky things,” he told her, “Some are set in stone and will happen no matter what while others can be swayed in either direction by the person, or persons, the prophecy is about. Still, others never come to pass.”

            He corked the vial and put it back before preparing the next one. “I do believe that there are people, and things, in this world that are far more powerful than the Potter boy, or even You-Know-Who.”

            “The Light?”

            Mr. Zabini nodded. “The Dark Lord does not fear anything that we know of, but he will not stand for anything, or anyone, trying to destroy him.”

            “So, what exactly is this... Light?”

            “I am not certain. It could be anything, I suppose,” he told her as he poured the second memory into the pensieve, “Come, there is one more memory to see. Marjorie, I believe you should join us for this one.”            Hermione grasped her father’s hand tightly again as her mother joined them. During the dark fall, Hermione’s thoughts were hopeful that this next memory would be happier than the one they had just seen.


Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



 

Chapter image by obviously394 @TDA

 

            They were standing in a familiar looking hallway with large windows that looked out to some lovely green hills. Sunlight was pouring in, lighting the hall with bright, warm light. Hermione blinked a few times to adjust to the brightness as she looked around. “Are we… at the Mansion?”

            “Yes, the day you and Blaise were born as a matter of fact,” he answered, “Hush now; this is very important.”

            Hermione watched as a younger version of her father came running down the hall.

            Pietro’s heart was pounding as he ran down the hall, coming to a skidding halt in front of a closed door. He pressed his ear to the door and listened. Screaming could just be heard through the thick wood of the door; screams of pain. Nervously, he bit his lip and began pacing in front of the door. He knew that he wasn’t allowed in until everything was done, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to burst through the door.

            Suddenly, the screaming stopped and a faint crying was heard. The door swung open and a much smaller, much younger Gripa came waddling out carrying a bundle in her arms. “Sir, oh Sir, it’s a boy!” she squeaked.

            Pietro leaned down and took the little bundle from Gripa and cradled it in his arms. Brilliant blue eyes stared up at him as he looked into his son’s tiny face. “He is so handsome,” he whispered, “Gripa, Marjorie is carrying twins; there should be another baby on the way!”

            Just at that moment, more screaming began and Gripa hurried to her Madame’s side, shutting the door with a slam as she went. Pietro looked over his first born and smiled. “Blaise…” he said softly, “Yes, I think that suits you; Blaise Dominic Zabini.”

            A few moments later, Gripa came bursting back through the door with another bundle. “A girl, Sir!” she said, “She looks so much like Mrs.”

            She lifted the baby girl up and Pietro took her in his free arm. He gently rocked both babies and nodded as he said, “Yes, she does. How is Marjorie?”

            “Mrs. is doing well, Sir,” Gripa answered, “She’s resting. You may see her if you likes.”

            “Thank you Gripa,” he said.

            Pietro then strode into the bedroom, carrying both babies, and went straight over to the bed where his wife was resting. He sat down on the edge of the bed and kissed his wife’s forehead. “How are you?” he asked, placing their son in her arms.

            Marjorie looked up at him and smiled. “I’m as well as I should be after just giving birth. Oh, Pietro, they’re everything I’d hoped they’d be,” she said weakly.

            “Yes, they are beautiful,” he said.

            “What shall we call them?” Marjorie asked.

            “Blaise Dominic… and…” He paused, looking down at their daughter.

            “Hermione Jean.”

            Pietro smiled at his wife. “Yes, Hermione Jean,” he agreed, gently laying her in Marjorie’s other arm.

            As he did this, the blanket Hermione was wrapped in came loose and fell off her shoulder. He went to fix it and his face went pale. Memories of the prophecy he had been shown months ago rose to the surface. He blinked. The crescent, he thought. He picked Hermione back up to get a better look, hoping he was just seeing things.

            He wasn’t.

            Plain as day, on the back of her tiny shoulder, was a crescent shaped birthmark. There was no doubt that he had just found the Bearer. “No,” he whispered, sinking to his knees.

            Marjorie noticed the change in her husband immediately. “Pietro, what’s wrong?”

            He carefully turned Hermione in his arms and showed her the birthmark. “You know the task The Dark Lord has set me,” he told her, “I have just succeeded in part of it.”

            Just as his had, Marjorie’s face paled. “Pietro… Our daughter…” she was panicked, “You can’t.” She reached for her daughter.

            Pietro kissed his daughter’s head gently then placed her in her mother’s arms. “Hush now, and rest,” he whispered, “I will figure something out.”

            “But, the Dark Lord…”

            “Marjorie, please do not concern yourself with this just now,” Pietro said, silencing her, “You have just given birth and need rest. I will have Gripa administer a draught.”

            He stood and walked briskly from the room.

            He gave Gripa instructions before heading to his study. He slammed the door and lit a fire in the fireplace. He wanted to scream, cry, throw something, but he knew he must remain calm. He took a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck. “What am I going to do?” he asked aloud, “What am I going to do?”

            He paced his study. He was pretty certain that no matter what he did, there would be a certain amount of danger, not only for him, but for his whole family. He picked up an ink pot and threw it into the fire. He cursed the fates for putting him in this situation. There seemed to be no way out. He either had to kill his daughter, and ruin his family for life, or defy his master and risk the lives of everyone he cared about.

            He banged his fist against the wall as he tried to think. A few minutes later, he pushed away and looked up with a heavy sigh. “There is no other way,” he said, “I know what I must do.”

            The scene faded around them and another began to form.

            Pietro and Marjorie were standing over a beautifully crafted crib of maple, whispering hurriedly. It was clear, by their expressions, that they were worried about something. Hermione moved a few steps closer so that she could hear what they were talking about.

            “Pietro, how can you be so sure that this is the best option?” Marjorie questioned, wringing her hands together, “I mean; the Muggle world? How would Muggles protect her?”

            “My Love, I have thought over this a thousand times, a thousand different ways. There is no other option but to take her to the Muggle world. The Dark Lord will not look for her there.”

            His wife gave him a sort of defiant look. “Nothing good has ever come of you joining up with him in the first place.”

            “This is not my fault, Marjorie!” Pietro exclaimed, growing angry, “I do not see the future, I do not control the Fates, nor do I have anything to do with what is prophesied! I was young and naive when I joined The Dark Lord. I had no idea what would happen, or who he really was.”

            He breathed a deep sigh. “The Dark Lord has always been cruel and hungry for power, but it was not until he heard of the prophecy about that Lily Potter woman that he became so determined to keep from dying,” he explained, “The lengths he has gone to, not even I can begin to describe.”

            Marjorie took his hand and squeezed. “Is there no way for you to leave him?”

            Pietro chuckled bitterly. “We both know there is not.”

            Hermione began to fuss so Marjorie leaned down and lifted her into her arms. She held her close and rocked her. Hermione quieted almost immediately. Marjorie kissed her tiny head. “You’re sure that this plan is going to work?” she questioned after a moment.

            Pietro’s face took on a determined expression. “It has to! For our sake, and Hermione’s,” he said, “Though, I will be honest; I am not certain of anything.”

            Marjorie nodded and forced her face into an expression of calm. “Tell me again.”

            The scene faded to black and Mr. Zabini gripped his daughter’s hand. Seconds later they were sitting in Mr. Zabini’s study with Mrs. Zabini looking at them anxiously. Hermione looked from her mother to her father. “So, that’s why you took me to live with the Grangers, because I’m this… Bearer?” she asked softly.

            “We wanted to protect you,” Mrs. Zabini explained, “We couldn’t risk the Dark Lord finding out about you, so we found the Grangers and…”

            “And abandoned me there for nearly seventeen years!” Hermione exclaimed, practically shooting out of her seat, “You took me away from my home and, seemingly, loving family and left me with complete strangers.”

            “Hermione, you cannot have expected us to give you to the Dark Lord,” Mr. Zabini said, “That would have killed us.”

            “And leaving me with strangers, and allowing them to raise me, didn’t?”

            “Of course it did! But we had to do what was needed to keep you safe,” Mrs. Zabini said, tears beginning to fill her eyes. She wanted to hug her daughter tightly to her, but considering she had only just met Hermione earlier that day she decided against it.

            “So you just gave me up?” Hermione questioned, “Why couldn’t you have gone into hiding?”

            Mr. Zabini ran a hand through his hair and sighed loudly. “Hermione, it is not that simple,” he stated flatly, “We could not just go into hiding. The Dark Lord would have searched for us. Do not forget, I was charged with finding the Bearer and disposing of… well, you. Were I to fake my death, go into hiding, or anything of the sort, he would have found out. He would have found out and we would all be dead. You, Blaise, your mother, me; dead. I could not allow that to happen.”

            “So how did you keep You-Know-Who from finding out about what you had done? I know he’s a skilled Legilimens.”

            “It was a matter of keeping out of his sight as much as I could manage under the guise that I was searching out the Bearer,” Mr. Zabini said, “Plus, I hid the memory of you away in my pensieve so even if he had used Legilimency on me, he would not have found any memory of you. Other than those in connection to your friend, Harry Potter.”

            “It must have frightened you very much to find out that I was going to grow up to possess such a power that could destroy the darkest wizard of all time.”

            “We were more frightened of you being killed than anything else,” Mrs. Zabini said, “So we hid you away.”

            Hermione thought for a moment. Understanding and forgiveness washed over her as she thought about the sacrifice they’d had to make for her. Then another question came to mind. “So why the betrothal to Draco?”

            “Well as far back as I can remember; our family has wanted to merge with the Malfoy’s,” Mr. Zabini said, “But both families had only ever turned out boys. Lucius and I had been friends since before our days at Hogwarts so when we had both married, we made a pact that if one of us ever had a daughter, and the other a son, they would be married.”

            “I see,” Hermione said, “Does Lucius Malfoy know that I’m the one the prophecy spoke of?”

            “No, only your mother and I know,” her father said.

            “We couldn’t risk anyone being in danger of knowing your secret,” Mrs. Zabini said, “We told anyone who knew we were having twins that you were very ill with a rare disease and needed to put into special care.”

            “Didn’t anyone ask questions about what I was ill with or anything of the sort?”

            “Of course they did. We couldn’t have anyone pulling the truth out of us so we made it clear that it was a touchy subject with us.”

            “Are you still loyal to You-Know-Who?”

            Mr. Zabini looked a bit taken aback by her question. “My loyalty, and love, has always been to my family first; if it was not, I would have served you up to The Dark Lord without hesitation.”

            This shocked Hermione greatly but she remained quiet as her father continued. “Family is important to me, my top priority, and always has been, but Hermione, you must understand; once you have received the Dark Mark, there is no changing sides,” he said sadly, “No matter how much you may want to.”

            “Surely there must be something you can do. Have you tried talking to Professor Dumbledore? I’m sure he could help you and Mr. Malfoy as well, if he’s interested.”

            “Hermione, promise me that you will not do anything to try and save Lucius and me.”

            Hermione shook her head. “I’ll not make any such promise,” she said, “I’m sure there’s a way for you to get away from You-Know-Who and I’m going to find it.”

            “Hermione…”

            Mrs. Zabini put her hand on her husband’s arm, silencing him. “Pietro, perhaps we should let Hermione go to bed. I’m sure she’s had a rough day.”

            “Yes; that I have,” Hermione agreed.

            “Very well. Good night, dear one,” he said softly, kissing her on the forehead, “Sweet dreams.”

            Mrs. Zabini hugged her. “If you need anything, we’ll be here,” she said before letting go.

            Hermione nodded. “Good night,” she replied. She then headed out of the study and back up to her room, thoughts of books she might be able to use to find out how she might help her father flowing through her mind.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

            Draco shut the door to his room with a yawn. It had been a long and confusing night and he was ready to call it a night. He looked over at his desk and saw a few letters sitting on top of a book he’d left open earlier that afternoon. With a few steps, he stood in front of his desk and sifted through the letters, seeing who they were from when a bright red envelope caught his eye.

            He picked it up and it sprang to life, a loud voice echoing off the walls of his room.

 

Malfoy,

            RIGHT, NOW LISTEN HERE YOU SLIMEY FERRET FACED GIT! HERMIONE WILL NOT… I REPEAT, WILL… NOT… BE MARRYING YOU! I DON’T CARE IF YOUR FAMILY HAS SOME BLOODY ARRANGEMENT WITH HERS… IF THEY’RE REALLY HER FAMILY… SHE’S TOO GOOD FOR YOU SO JUST STAY AWAY FROM HER! I HOPE SHE HEXES YOU INTO OBLIVION!

Ronald Weasley

 

            Draco let out a wail of laughter as the howler burst into flames, destroying itself. He knew that Ron Weasley was quite fond of Hermione but he had no idea that he’d go to such lengths as to actually send him a warning of any sort. Isn’t he with that Lovegood girl, he thought?

            He continued to chuckle as he picked up another letter. A groan of annoyance escaped his lips when he recognized the curly writing on the envelope. Ever since the previous summer, Pansy had been determined to get her hooks into him and he was not having it. She was too obsessive, too clingy, and just all out too creepy for his taste. Will she ever get a clue?

            He threw her letter into his fireplace with a loud sigh and picked up the final letter.

 

Draco,

            As I sit here writing this, you’re out on a walk with Hermione. I know that the two of you have had your differences… okay so you’ve actually been more of a wrecking ball… but I hope that you both can put your past behind you and actually get to know each other. I think if you can do that, you might find that you like each other a little. I don’t know if you two will ever love each other, but I think you could.

            It’s weird but I feel this connection with Hermione, like I’ve always known she was my sister, you know, deep down. I can’t explain it. In the last few hours, it feels like that connection has grown. Maybe it’s a twin thing, I don’t know.

            Anyway, mate, I’ve always considered you a brother so I really hope that you and Hermione decide to go through with the betrothal. We’d really be family then! I can’t think of a better person to marry my sister than my best mate, so please, for me, give her an honest chance.

            Welcome to the family!

Blaise

 

            A smile came across his features as he re-read the brief letter. In all the years that he had known Blaise Zabini, he’d never known him to express his feelings, at least not to a detailed extent. Being that it took a lot for Blaise to trust someone, it was nice to know that he trusted him with his sister.

            Hermione had always been important to Blaise, even though she had never been a part of his life until earlier that evening. Draco recalled many conversations where Blaise had wondered where she was, what she looked like, if she knew about him; things like that.

            Thinking of Hermione, Draco pictured her in his mind. She had completely taken him by surprise tonight. She had stood up to him, which wasn’t any different than before, she had been kind to him, and had even called him out on being a jerk. What he hadn’t been expecting, however, was her acceptance and friendship, if that’s what they could call what they had now.

            He had been certain that, like him at first, she would put up a fight about the betrothal. Yet, she had looked his father straight in the eyes and told him that she was considering it. And the fact that she had gotten her parents, as well as his, to agree to let them decide for themselves if they should get married… that was a wonder all in itself. Though, if anyone could have done, it was her, he thought with a chuckle.

            On a whim, Draco sat at his desk and began writing a letter. He worked for several hours trying to make sure this letter was worded the way he wanted it to be. If he was really going to give getting to know Hermione a chance, then he wanted to do it properly. To do that he knew he needed to access a part of him that had been buried for a long time.

            Several crumpled pieces of parchment, and broken quills, later Draco finally finished his letter. He nodded as he read it over, pleased with his work. He quickly folded it and stuffed it into an envelope. He wrote the address on the front and set it aside to be sent in the morning.

            He then stood and grabbed a fresh pair of pajamas. He quickly changed into them and laid down in the king sized bed, hands linked behind his head. He glanced around the dimly lit room and sighed heavily.

            For the past seventeen years, he’d lived in this room and, once the school year ended, he’d no longer even live in Malfoy Manor. It was tradition in the Malfoy family for the children to get a place of their own once they finished their final year of school. This excited Draco very much, he was tired of living by his father’s rules, but he was also surprisingly saddened by the prospect of leaving the house he had grown up in.

            With a huge yawn, Draco rolled over onto his side and looked around the room. Few pictures hung on the warm green walls or sat on the elaborate maple desk in the corner of his room. Black carpet covered the floor, graced with deep green throw rugs in front of the fireplace and next to his bed. An armoire stood against the far wall, a green snake carved into its side in the shape of an ‘S’.

            He’d had his room decorated like this since he’d come home for Christmas during his first year at Hogwarts. His parents had been so proud to learn that he’d been sorted into Slytherin that they had had their house-elf, Dobby, change the décor of his room. It had been a shock when he’d come home and seen his “new” room.

            His eyes came across his Nimbus 2001 propped up in the corner of his room, neatly groomed and shining. On the wall above his fireplace hung a large portrait of the Slytherin Quidditch team, for which he played Seeker. His eyes looked over at his desk, where, shining next to his Head Boy’s badge was a smaller badge with a ‘C’ on it. When he’d received his Hogwarts letter, he’d gotten not only the Head Boy position but the Quidditch Captain spot as well.

            An elaborate cage stood, climbing halfway up the wall, between two floor to ceiling stained-glass windows adorned with green snakes. A soft hoot came from inside the cage and Draco turned his attention to the large eagle owl that sat perched on one of the many perches. “Hush, Helios.” He said softly. “You know Father doesn’t like hearing you making a lot of noise.”

            It’ll be interesting, if Hermione and I get married, to see how she decorates the house, he thought. He was pretty certain that she’d use Gryffindor colors, if he was going off of how her room was decorated. Then again, I don’t think she decorated her room.

            He thought about how her room looked and realized that it had Mrs. Zabini written all over it. He imagined that Hermione might have more of a Muggle sense of decorating due to being raised in the Muggle world. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. With that thought, he closed his eyes and, within minutes, fell asleep.

            The following morning Draco woke to the smell of something delicious being cooked in the kitchen. He looked at his clock and saw that it was seven o’clock. With a small yawn, he stretched his long limbs and climbed out of the bed. He made his way over to the grand cage and opened the latch, letting the brown and black eagle owl out.

            The owl perched obediently on its desktop perch and waited. Draco took the letter he’d written the previous night off the desk and placed it in his beak. “Take this to Hermione Zabini at the Zabini Mansion,” he said softly, now holding up a small parcel.

            The owl hooted in reply and took the parcel in his talons. He then flew swiftly out of the now opened window. Draco watched as the owl disappeared, thoughts of what Hermione’s reaction might be swimming through his head.

            After a few moments, Draco moved from his spot in front of the window and strode over to his armoire. He opened the doors and selected a fresh pair of boxers out of the top drawer. He then made his way into his bathroom. Bright light surrounded him as he sidled over to a small shelf that stood next to his shower. After placing his clean clothes on the shelf the tall, lean wizard then stepped into the shower and drew the curtain.

            It was a quarter to eight before Draco emerged from the shower, clean and fresh-faced. He wrapped a fluffy green towel around his waist and padded over to the silver, emerald snake encrusted sink. In minutes, he emerged from the bathroom freshly shaven and clad in a deep blue, button down dress shirt, and a pair of black slacks.

            As he began leaving his room, he noticed an owl flying toward his window. He hurried over to the window and opened it for the oncoming owl. It flew into the room, dropped a letter on his desk, and quickly flew off again.

            Draco lifted the letter off of his desk and smirked at the scrunched writing; it was from his Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor and Head of Slytherin House, Severus Snape.

 

Mr. Malfoy,

            I received an owl from your father telling me of your betrothal to Miss Zabini. I offer my congratulations.

            See you on September 1 for your final year at Hogwarts.

Severus Snape

Head of Slytherin House and Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts

 

            Draco placed the letter back into the envelope and let it drop back onto his desk. He opened a drawer to his left and withdrew a black granite box encrusted with a jeweled version of the Malfoy family crest. He opened the box, which held a stack of letters, with a tap of his wand and added his letters from Blaise and Professor Snape to it. He then closed the box and placed it back in the drawer. Then, with a turn, he marched out of his room and headed down to the dining room for breakfast.

            A tiny elf greeted him at the door. “Master Draco, just in time, sir,” it said, “Breakfast is nearly ready.”

             “Thank you Rookin,” Draco said as a chair moved itself out for him and he sat down, “What are we having?”

            Rookin climbed onto a stool and poured some pumpkin juice into Draco’s goblet. “Rookin has ordered bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, raspberry scones, and croissants, sir.”

            Draco nodded and took a long drink of his pumpkin juice. “I hope there’s plenty,” he said, “I’m famished.”

            Rookin nodded his tiny head. “Don’t fret, Master Draco, Rookin has made sure you is getting enough to eat.”

            “Thank you, Rookin.”

            The House-Elf gave him an almost toothless smile and scurried off to the kitchen.

            The tiny creature doted on him. Whenever Draco was home, Rookin would pop in with plates of food, or sweets, or just to make sure his young master was doing all right. Draco had asked him once why he was always trying to feed him, and the House-Elf had replied that he didn’t trust that he was being fed properly at Hogwarts. That had made Draco laugh.

            Rookin came back into the dining room carrying a tray of steaming hot food. He carefully set the tray down in front of Draco and then perched himself on a little stool in the corner. Draco knew he did this so that he could immediately take care of anything he might need. “Is anything interesting happening today?” he asked the elf.

            “You is attending a birthday party tonight,” Rookin replied, jumping up and picking up an envelope from a side table that they used for mail, “This came while you was still sleeping.”

            Draco took the invitation and read it as he took a huge bite of his raspberry scone. A ball, of course, he thought. Marjorie Zabini never did anything small, especially when it came to her children’s birthday. Of course, this one was going to be even more spectacular and extravagant than any of the previous parties she had thrown for Blaise.

            Draco read over the invitation once more and sighed. Not only do I have to dress for a ball, which I hate, but I’m pretty sure the entire seventh year has been invited… Just great.


Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Chapter Image by Callisto@TDA

 


            “Hermione! Wake up!”

            Hermione’s eyes shot open as her twin brother burst into her room and jumped onto her bed. “Are you always this cheerful in the morning?” she questioned sleepily, “And don’t you knock?”

            Blaise nodded as he ruffled his sleep worn hair. “Sorry. I’ve always been a morning person I suppose,” he said, placing a small parcel on her bed next to her, “Happy Birthday!”

            Hermione smiled sweetly at him and climbed off the bed. She walked over to the lavish desk and pulled a package out of a drawer. She held the package out for Blaise as she climbed back onto the bed. “Happy Birthday, Blaise,” she said, “I didn’t really have any time to actually buy you a present so I um…”

            Blaise shrugged. “There’s no need to explain. I wouldn’t have cared if you didn’t get me anything,” he said gently, taking the package from her.

             “Oh, honestly, what kind of sister would I be if I didn’t give my twin brother something for his birthday?”

             “One who’d just found out yesterday she even had a brother,” Blaise said with a smirk as he opened his present.

            Hermione’s mouth dropped open as she opened her own present. “Oh, Blaise it’s wonderful!” she exclaimed softly, lifting a beautiful box away from the brown paper.

            “I figured you might like it,” Blaise said, turning a bit pink, “You can keep whatever you want in there; jewelry, letters, personal trinkets…”

            Hermione fingered the black granite box encrusted with a jeweled lion, much like the lion of Gryffindor. “It’s absolutely beautiful, thank you,” she said, glancing at him questioningly, “Do you like your present?”

            Blaise grinned happily as he began flipping through the book she had gotten him entitled, ‘Magical Mysteries: A Look at the Unsolved Crimes through the Years’. “Yeah, I do. I love reading,” he said, glancing up at her, “Mysteries are my favorite.”

            “Really? I didn’t know.”

            His handsome face saddened a bit. “Well, you wouldn’t would you?” he said quietly, “We’re really only just now getting to know each other, and soon we’ll both be married and probably won’t have time for each other.”

            Hermione placed her hand on his knee. “Blaise, you’re my brother, I’ll always have time for you,” she told him.

            Blaise smirked. “Nah, you’ll be too busy doing your homework and hanging out with your Gryffindor friends to have time for me,” he said softly.

            Hermione’s heart went out to him as she noticed the slightly sad look in his blue eyes. She wasn’t exactly sure of what it was, but she felt a connection with him that made it easier for her to talk to him than she had thought she’d be able to. Probably the whole “twin” thing, she thought.

            She cleared her throat. “Blaise, I promise you that I will always have time for you, no matter what,” she said, “I want us to spend time together and get to know each other.”

            “Me, too,” he agreed, smiling.

            They sat silently for a moment. Blaise gave her a shy sort of look before saying, “Can I tell you something?”

            “Of course.”

            He was quiet for another moment. “Since yesterday I’ve had this intense feeling of connection with you. I can’t explain it, but it’s like I’m finally whole,” he gave her a questioning look, “Does that make sense?”

            Hermione thought about that. “You know, oddly enough, it does,” she told him, “I’ve kind of felt the same way. I mean; we hardly know each other and yet, I feel like I can trust you and tell you anything as though we’ve known each other our whole life.”

            Blaise nodded. “Exactly!”

            Hermione fidgeted. “Can I ask you something?”

            “Anything.”

            She worried her bottom lip as she struggled with how to ask her question without being too rude. In the end she decided the best way to get an honest answer was to just ask. “Can I trust Draco?”

            “Draco’s not really the guy everyone at Hogwarts sees, Hermione,” Blaise stated, “He’s perfected the emotionless mask that hides what he’s really feeling or thinking, he’s had to. Lucius Malfoy basically drilled it into him that emotions make a person weak.”

            He paused, picking at a piece of lint on his pants. “I know you’ve got your concerns when it comes to Draco, and I don’t blame you. You two have a bad history,” he took her hand and squeezed it, “Believe me when I tell you; he’s the most trust worthy person I’ve ever known.”

            Hermione nodded, satisfied with his answer, but still cautious. Blaise’s attention was then drawn to the window. “Oh look, you’ve got mail coming!” he said, running over to one of the windows and throwing it open.

            “I’ve got mail?”

            Four owls swooped into the room and dropped notes and packages onto her bed in front of her. “How do all of these owls suddenly know where I am?” she asked in amazement.

            “How do they know where anyone is?” Blaise asked, “It’s one of life’s magical mysteries.”

            Hermione smiled. “I suppose so,” She said, reaching out and picking up the note and package on top. She ripped open the note.

 

Hermione,

            HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Can’t wait to see you tonight!

            Much love,

Ginny

 

            Hermione looked at the second line curiously. “Tonight? What’s happening tonight?” she asked Blaise.

            Blaise looked shocked. “Blimey Hermione! Didn’t Mum and Dad tell you anything?” he asked, “There’s a party for us here tonight.”

            “And my friends have been invited?”

            “Well you didn’t think it would just be my friends did you?” he asked, “Mum and Dad wouldn’t dream of you being unhappy on your birthday.”

            Hermione smiled. She was pleased to know that her friends would be celebrating her seventeenth birthday with her. She then tore open the small parcel. Wrapped in the brown paper was a palm-sized compact mirror with her initials engraved into the back of it.

            After examining the mirror for a few moments, she set it next to the granite box Blaise had given her and reached for the next note and parcel. This one was from Mrs. Weasley.

 

Hermione darling,

            Happy seventeenth! Seems like only yesterday you were starting your first year at Hogwarts with Ron and Harry. My, how time flies!

            Arthur says hello and Happy Birthday. We’ve all received an invitation to your party tonight so we’ll see you then!

            With love,

Arthur, Molly, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, George, Ron, and Ginny Weasley

 

            Hermione opened the lumpy parcel and smiled warmly as she lifted a neatly, hand-made sweater with a lion stitched into it. She quickly put it on and looked up at Blaise, who was chuckling softly. “What?” she asked.

            “Does Molly Weasley always send home-made sweaters?”

            Her honey brown eyes narrowed a bit at her brother. “Don’t poke fun, Blaise! Mrs. Weasley’s been like a mother to me over the times I’ve stayed at the Burrow and I won’t have you being mean about her!” she said, “She’s a lovely woman with a kind heart, wonderful skills in magic and…”

            Blaise ran his hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be rude,” he interrupted, “I was only chuckling because I got one too.”

            “You did?” Blaise nodded as Hermione picked up her next note and parcel, “Well, I hope you’ll wear it. They’re really comfortable.”

 

Hermione,

            Happy Birthday! Hope you like your present…

            See you tonight…

Harry

 

            She lifted a lovely book about owls out of the wrapping and chuckled. “He must have known I’d need a bit of knowledge on owls,” she said softly.

            “And that you love reading,” Blaise teased.

            “Well if he didn’t know that after six years, he’d be quite a dunce,” she said lightly, setting the book with her other presents.

            The next note was written in a sloppy manner. Hermione smiled as she recognized the writing of the beloved groundskeeper of Hogwarts, Hagrid.

 

Hermione,

            Happy birthday! Hope you like your present. Made it meself. Harry told me yer news… Blimey, engaged to Malfoy… Don’t know what to make o’ all that. Guess congradulations are in order…

            See you when you get to Hogwarts…

Hagrid

 

            Hermione grimaced slightly as she opened Hagrid’s present, lifting out a large iced cupcake. Not one that was a fan of Hagrid’s cooking, or baking; she set the cupcake aside and made a mental note to toss it away. Picking up the second to last note and parcel, she ripped open the note.

 

Hermione,

            Happy Birthday…

Ron

 

            The package Ron had sent contained sweets from Honeydukes. She popped a piece of candy into her mouth and picked up the final note and package.

 

Hermione,

            Seems strange, me using your actual name instead of calling you “Granger”, doesn’t it? Strange as it may be, I like it. I never understood how pretty your name was until I actually said it a few times.

            Yesterday must have been a whirlwind for you; finding out your true identity and that you’re betrothed to a “foul, loathsome, evil, little cockroach”, and all. I hope today goes better for you, it being your birthday.

            I honestly didn’t know what to get you for your birthday so I hope this small token will suffice. I would also like to request that you accompany me to dinner in Hogsmeade (since you’re of age now, we can apparate there) on Saturday.

            I feel it necessary for us to get to know each other a bit, at least, before school starts. I will understand if you’d prefer to spend the time we have before school getting to know Blaise and your parents. Please, however, keep my request in consideration. Happy Birthday…

            Yours,

Draco

 

            Hermione’s breath caught in her throat as she finished reading the letter. She had never known that Draco Malfoy could be so kind, or funny. The reference to the words she had spat at him in their third year before she had punched him had caused her to laugh. She set his letter aside and picked up the heavy parcel. As the wrapping was torn away, Hermione’s eyes widened.

            A very old looking book with curvy, old fashioned writing on the cover stared up at her from the bed. There was certainly nothing “small” about this book. From the look of the cover and the leather binding, it was a very old, and possibly rare, spellbook.

            She ran her fingers over the cover of the book delicately, staring at the gold writing in awe. It was the most wonderful gift she had ever received. She couldn’t believe that it was Draco that had given it to her. A soft whistle escaped Blaise’s lips and Hermione tore her eyes away from the book to look at him.

            “Wow, Draco must like you more than I thought,” he said, “He really went all out, getting you a book like that.”

            “It looks extremely rare,” Hermione stated, examining the old book a little more carefully, “What kind of spell book is it exactly?”

            “I don’t know,” Blaise said with a shrug as he opened the book Hermione had given him and flipped through the pages, “Knowing Draco, he searched for the oldest and rarest spell book he knows about and bought it for you.”

            Hermione nodded with confusion spread across her features. She then remembered something Blaise had said just moments before. “Dr… Draco likes me?” she asked, looking at her brother questioningly.

            Blaise cleared his throat and ran his hand through his hair as he stood up. “We’ll be expected down at breakfast in a bit,” he told her, glancing at the clock on her fireplace mantle, “Dad likes to see freshly showered ‘children’ in the mornings.”

            “Blaise, you didn’t answer my question.”

            Blaise looked extremely uncomfortable under her questioning stare. This must be what Potter and Weasley feel like when they try to lie to her, he thought, “I uh… uh…”

            “Blaise!”

            “It’s not really my place to say. Draco never actually told me whether or not he likes you,” he pleaded when she shot him a look of prying curiosity, “All I can tell you is what I think.”

            “Well then, what do you think?”

            “I… I think he has feelings for you,” he told her, “Feelings that he might not really know about.”

            “You really think so?”

            “It’s what I gather from being friends with him for practically my whole life.”

            Hermione nodded blankly as she placed the book with her other presents. Could it be true? Could Draco Malfoy really, possibly, have feelings for her, Hermione Granger?… Zabini. She then climbed off the bed and headed to her bathroom. She looked in the waterfall mirror and screamed.

            Blaise ran into the bathroom, worry written all over his face. “Wha…?” he began to ask, but his words got stuck in his throat. Standing in before him was a girl he didn’t recognize, yet she was a girl who he would know anywhere. Gone was the mousy haired bookworm he had grown to hate and in her place stood the raven-haired sister he had always loved.

            He watched in awe as her fairly small frame shot up a few inches, thinning to reveal the toned body of a Goddess. Her modest sleep shorts and tank top shrank in length and tightened around her chest and butt slightly, allowing for a perfect view of part of her tanned midriff. He couldn’t believe the difference in her already.

            The jet black hair she was now sporting hung just past her shoulder blades, not a single wave to be seen in its silky mass. Light freckles appeared across the bridge of her nose, accenting her skin tone nicely. Finally, he noticed a pair of bright, emerald green eyes, highlighted by a set of thick, dark eyelashes.

            Hermione, open mouthed and shocked, moved closer to the mirror. The thing that held her attention the most was her eyes, they were the most brilliant green she had ever seen. They’d put Harry’s to shame, she thought, gently touching her cheek. She was surprised by its softness and the smoothness of it. Suddenly, her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she slumped to the ground.

            Blaise launched forward, managing to catch her just before she hit the hard floor. “MUM!” he yelled, “MUM! COME QUICK!

            He scooted Hermione into a more comfortable position and reached up to turn on the sink faucet. Just as he was about to reach for a wash cloth, Mrs. Zabini breezed into the room. “Goodness! What happened?” she asked.

            “I don’t know!” Blaise told her, “She was staring at herself in the mirror and then she just… fainted. Mum, did you and Dad put some kind of spell on her to change her appearance?”

            Mrs. Zabini grabbed a washcloth and wet it before kneeling next to her children and dabbing Hermione’s face. “Well, we had to do something so that she wouldn’t be found out. I thought she knew.”

            Blaise chuckled and shook his head. “Well apparently she didn’t,” he said, “Either that, or she was just really shocked at what she saw.”

            “I’m sure it’s the later,” his mother replied off handedly as Hermione stirred.

            “Are you all right?” Blaise asked when Hermione opened her eyes.

            She furrowed her brow and sat up, looking around. “I um… I fainted.”

            “A forgotten side effect of the spell your father and I cast on you when you were a baby,” Mrs. Zabini stated apologetically, “I can’t believe we didn’t discuss that last night when we were discussing everything else.”

            Hermione gave her a small smile. “No, no… Don’t worry,” she looked at Blaise, “Thanks for catching me.”

            He smiled at her. “You’re sure you’re all right?” Mrs. Zabini questioned.

            “Yes, I’m fine. Please, you don’t need to worry.”

            Mrs. Zabini stood and put the washcloth in the sink. “Hermione, you’re my daughter; I’ll always worry.”

            They all smiled at each other and Mrs. Zabini excused herself to make sure things were being started for breakfast.

            Blaise inched toward Hermione. He was just as shocked as she was. Although he had known Hermione’s appearance would change, he’d had no idea just how much. He placed his hand gently on his sister’s shoulder and turned her to face him.

            He examined her face. Thin cheeks, full lips, freckled nose, there was no doubt about it; she was his twin. Their cheekbones and jaw structure were like that of their father, but the rest of their facial features were their mother through and through. He smiled brightly at her. “Well it’s nice to see you’ve got my good looks,” he teased.

            Hermione hit him on the shoulder and gave him a playfully angry look as she stood up.“If I’ve got anyone’s good looks, I’ve got our mother’s, I think,” she retorted, turning back to the mirror and looking at her reflection again.

            Blaise grinned widely. “Hey, we can both do magic at home now!” he said excitedly. “I’m gonna go get ready for breakfast,” and with that, he disappeared with a loud pop. Hermione jumped a bit at the sound and then giggled.

            Remembering what she had actually walked into the bathroom for, she stripped her pajamas off and stepped down into the bathtub. She turned on the water and lowered the sheer green curtain. Once the curtain touched the edge of the pool-sized tub, the water suddenly began raining down on her from a puffy cloud.

            As the warm water ran over her new body, she reveled in the feel of her new figure. She allowed her fingers to run along her tight stomach and buttocks. It seemed strange to feel the toned muscles beneath her skin whereas before, there had been just a slight pudge. A girl could definitely get used to this, she thought, smiling to herself.

            After quickly showering, Hermione toweled herself off and stepped up onto the cool floor. She wrapped the soft towel around her body and walked over to the waterfall mirror. She turned herself around to get a look at the birthmark she knew would be there.

            Her green eyes fell to her left shoulder where, sure enough, a small crescent shaped mark was etched into her skin. In all actuality, it looked more like a freckle with the light coloring of it, but it was much larger. She made a mental note to make sure she kept her birthmark covered, just in case there were any Death Eaters that had listened at the door when the Prophecy had been revealed to her father. With a small sigh, Hermione turned herself back around and began setting to work on getting dressed and fixing her hair.

            About ten minutes later, Hermione was staring at her reflection trying to figure out what to do with her hair. She wasn’t used to being able to manage her hair easily so she was having quite an issue. Just then, a loud pop sounded a few feet behind her.

            Hermione spun around with her hand to her heart. Smiling up at her with watery eyes was Gripa. “Sorry Mistress, Gripa didn’t mean to scare you Miss,” she squeaked, her voice filled with tears.

            Hermione smiled kindly and knelt down close to the tiny elf. “It’s quite all right Gripa,” she said, “I’m just not used to apparation just yet.”

            Gripa wiped her large blue eyes and sniffled. “Gripa is sorry,” she said.

            “It’s nothing to be sorry for,” Hermione told her gently, rubbing her tiny head softly, “There now, I’m glad you’re here actually. I was wondering if you would help me with my hair. I’m not used to it yet.”

            Gripa beamed brightly and nodded her head, making her bat-like ears flap. “Gripa would be ever so pleased,” she said.

            Hermione stood and held out her hand for the elf. The two walked over to the vanity where Gripa made two stools appear. She patted one of them and motioned for Hermione to sit down, which she did. The other stool, Hermione quickly realized was for Gripa to stand on while she worked.

            Blaise had been right the previous night when he had told Hermione that Gripa was gifted at doing hair. She had expertly styled Hermione’s hair into a long braid, adding a small sprig of Baby’s Breath at the top. Hermione smiled as she looked over her reflection happily and then headed down to breakfast.

            As she padded down the carpeted stairs, her thoughts began to wander to the letter that had accompanied Draco’s lovely gift. The words he had written had been so unlike the Draco she’d known for the past several years. Although it was a nice change to the nasty words he had always spat at her, it was unexpected and confusing. Maybe there’s a heart deep down in that pale body of his, she thought, quickly angering at her insult. Of course he has a heart you stupid girl. You’ve always known deep down that he’s not a bad guy!

            In truth, she hadn’t known he wasn’t a bad guy, she had secretly hoped it but his actions toward her and her friends had ripped that hope from her. Every foul word that had escaped his lips over the years had torn at every shred of hope she had had of his being a kind person. However, every action and word he had spoken since the previous evening caused that hope to flicker once again.


Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Chapter image by Callisto



            When Hermione finally reached the dining room after a few wrong turns, she was greeted by the sight of her parents and brother sitting around a beautifully set table. Upon her entrance, Mrs. Zabini shot up from her seat and rushed toward her, pulling her into a crushing hug. “Happy birthday, darling,” she said, holding her at arm’s length so as to get a better look at her, “Oh Pietro, look at her.”

            Mr. Zabini joined his wife and daughter. “You look so much like your mother,” he said, kissing her on the cheek, “How are you feeling? I understand the transformation was a bit of a shock for you?”

            Hermione smiled a bit. “A bit more than a shock, I’d say,” she said, slightly embarrassed.

            Mrs. Zabini brushed Hermione’s hair back from her forehead. “That’s our fault,” she said, “We should have warned you that the spell we used might cause you some discomfort or stress. Are you feeling any nausea? Dizziness?”

            “Um, a little nauseous,” she replied.

            Her mother felt her cheeks. “Well, you’re not feverish, so that’s good. I’ve got a potion that will help with the nausea,” she said, ushering Hermione over to the table.

            Hermione sat down. “Oh, please, I don’t want to be any trouble. I’m sure I’ll be sorted after I’ve eaten something.”

            “It’s no trouble at all.”

            “What kind of spell did you use?” Hermione questioned as she began eating.

            “A Blood Transmogrification spell,” Mr. Zabini answered.

            Hermione’s eyes widened slightly. “I’ve never heard of a spell like that.”

            Mr. Zabini cleared his throat and took a drink of his pumpkin juice. “It is not something that is widely known, or used.”

            “Sounds tricky,” Blaise stated, passing Hermione some bacon.

            “Quite,” Mr. Zabini agreed, “Had I been the one casting that spell, I fear it would have been disastrous. It seems you inherited your mother’s affinity for wand work, as well as her looks.”

            Hermione took a bite of toast and swallowed before saying, “It looks as though I’ve got your skin tone and hair color,” gently twirling her fingers around the end of her plait.

            “Come, come… Blaise, Hermione, eat up,” Mrs. Zabini said, “We’ve got a lot to do today.”

            Hermione looked at her curiously, “We do?”

            “Indeed. We need to get your school things, and I think a new wardrobe is in order for you,” her mother replied.

            “But I’ve got plenty of clothes,” Hermione stated kindly, “I really don’t think there’s a need for a whole new wardrobe.”

            Blaise chuckled. “I expect all your clothes will be too short for you now,” he said, “You look about three to four inches taller than you were under the Blood Transmogrification.”

            “I didn’t think of that,” Hermione exclaimed softly.

            “And you’re the top of our year?” Blaise teased.

            Mr. Zabini gave Blaise a reprimanding look. “Blaise, you should not teased your sister so. This is all new to her.”

            “Sorry.”

            Hermione gave her brother a small smile. “It’s okay, really,” she said. She then turned to her mother, “I… I guess I will need some new clothes; if that’s all right… I mean, I’m sure I could transfigure my old clothes…”

            Mrs. Zabini smiled warmly. “Nonsense, we’ll go shopping after breakfast.”

            “Would it be all right if I responded to some letters I received this morning first?”

            “Of course, but I’ll ask you not to dawdle as we’ve got much to do before the party this evening.”

            “Speaking of the party, I’d like to thank you for inviting my friends,” Hermione said, “It means a lot to me.”

            “Well you didn’t think we’d be so cruel as to not allow your friends to come for a visit, did you? It is your birthday after all.”

            “Well you can’t blame her, can you, Mum?” Blaise asked, “I mean, not after all Dad did to her and her friends over the years.”

            Mr. Zabini shot his son a harsh look. “We’ll not discuss that at the table,” he said sternly.

            Blaise shrank back into his chair slightly. “I didn’t mean…”

            “Blaise darling, that’s enough,” Mrs. Zabini said softly, “Now, let’s finish eating.”

            Hermione looked around at her family as breakfast was finished in silence. She watched her brother for a moment, noticing the slightly hurt look on his face. When he looked up at her, she smiled warmly at him, receiving a smile in return. It made her slightly sick to think that he felt he had to put on a crude front when in the presence of their school mates just because of their father’s status as a Death Eater. He’s such a sweet guy. He shouldn’t have to pretend to be something he’s not!

            Twenty minutes later, Hermione was sitting at her desk with several pieces of parchment in front of her, busily writing responses. In order to lighten Callidora’s load, she decided to write a single letter to Ron, Harry, Ginny, and Mrs. Weasley. She quickly finished writing all of her responses, leaving Draco’s unanswered for the time being.

            In all honesty, she wasn’t exactly sure of what to say to him. His letter had been so kind, so heartfelt, and so utterly untrue to character that she wanted to respond properly. So, with no other letters to respond to, she tied them to Callidora’s outstretched leg and gave her instructions of where to take them. As soon as Callidora left the room, Hermione stood and went to find some shoes that were a bit more comfortable to wear for her long day of shopping.

            “Hermione?”

            “Yes?”

            “Sorry, your door was open and…”

            Hermione came out of her closet and sat down on her bed to put her sneakers on. “No need to apologize, Blaise,” she said, “What’s up?”

            He pulled out her desk chair and sat down. “Something’s been bothering me since your transformation this morning,” he told her.

            She looked at his face and furrowed her brow. “You’re wondering why a spell was cast on me to change my appearance,” she guessed.

            Blaise gave her a strange look as he said, “How did you know what I was thinking?”

            Hermione shrugged and gave him a thoughtful look. “I… I’m not sure,” she said with wonder in her voice.

            “Weird,” Blaise stated with a shake of his head, “So, why was a spell cast on you if you were taken to the Muggles because of an illness?”

            She finished putting on her sneakers and got more comfortable on the bed. “I wish I knew,” she lied.

            He narrowed his azure eyes at her. He didn’t know how, or why, but he knew she was lying. “You’re keeping something from me,” he noted.

            Something about the way he was staring at her made her feel as though he was reading her mind. She took a deep breath and sighed heavily. “Blaise, please don’t press me on this,” she pleaded, “As much as I would love to tell you everything I know about why I was taken to live with my parents, for your own safety, I can’t.”

            The slight tremor of fear in her voice gave him cause to believe her. He also sensed that whatever the reason, it was dangerous. “Okay,” he relented, “I’ll accept that, for now.”

            Hermione stood and gave him a hug. A slight tingle went through her spine as he hugged her back. “Whoa, did you feel that?” Blaise asked, pulling back.

            She nodded. “That was very strange.”

            “Blaise! Hermione!” Mrs. Zabini called.

            The twins jumped at their mother’s call and grinned at each other. Blaise took Hermione’s hand as he said, “Come on! We’d better hurry or else Mum will send a search party for us!”

            Hermione giggled and allowed him to pull her along behind him. She could still feel the tingling in her spine, but she ignored her curiosity about it for the time being. She did, however, make a mental note to look into it later.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

            Diagon Alley was as busy as ever. Hermione stayed close to Blaise as they made their way through the busy streets. She had never been one that liked to be stared at, so she was rather uncomfortable with the curious stares that followed her wherever she went. It wasn’t until they stepped into Flourish and Blott’s that Hermione broke away from her brother and mother.

            As they were roaming through the many aisles, picking up the books she and Blaise would need for school, Hermione noticed a young man with extremely untidy black hair and round glasses. She smiled brightly and rushed over to him. “Harry!” she exclaimed.

            Harry turned to face her and looked at her in confusion. “Hermione?”

            “Well who else would it be?” she asked, giving him a strange look.

            Harry’s green eyes widened. “Blimey! You look… different,” he stammered, taking in her long black hair and green eyes.

            “I…? Oh! A bit of a change isn’t it?” she asked, realizing why he had looked at her so strangely.

            “I’ll say,” Harry agreed, smiling, “Are you here with your family then?”

            Hermione nodded. “My mother and brother,” she replied, “It’s weird saying ‘brother’ after being an only child all my life.”

            “I can imagine. Happy birthday, by the way.”

            “Thank you,” Hermione said, “and thanks very much for the book, it's lovely.”

            Harry grinned. “Thought you might like it,” he said, “So how’s life as a Zabini?”

            “It’s not so bad, I guess,” she told him, “They’re actually a pretty decent lot. So are you here alone?”

            “Are you kidding? Mrs. Weasley wouldn’t hear of that.”

            Hermione giggled. “Of course not,” she said, looking around.

            “Yeah, Ginny’s in here somewhere.”

            Just then, a beautiful girl with flaming red hair bounced up to them. “Harry, have you got all your books yet, we’re supposed to meet Mum in a few minutes,” she said, eyeing Hermione carefully, “And who’s this?”

            Hermione and Harry giggled. “It’s Hermione, Ginny,” Harry said.

            Ginny’s eyes widened. “My God, I didn’t recognize you!” she exclaimed, pulling Hermione into a hug.

            “I think that’s going to happen a lot for a while,” Hermione said with a giggle, “Harry didn’t recognize me either.”

            “Can you blame us?” Harry retorted playfully, “You look…”

            “Absolutely gorgeous,” Ginny cut in.

            “Hermione, Mum’s paying,” Blaise said, coming up behind her, “We’ve still got a lot to do.”

            Harry’s eyes narrowed slightly, “Zabini.”

            “Potter,” Blaise replied coolly.

            Hermione looked between the two and rolled her emerald eyes. “Now really you two,” she said, elbowing them both lightly.

            Blaise looked at her. “What? He started it!” he said.

            Sensing that Harry was about to light a fire to Blaise with his eyes, Hermione put her hand on her brother’s chest and pushed him a bit. “Blaise, why don’t you give us just a minute and I’ll come find you.”

            Blaise nodded. “All right, but don’t be long, Mum’s on a mission.”

            “All right, I’ll be right there.”

            Suddenly, Ginny grabbed her hand and held it up. “You’re not wearing a ring,” she stated.

            Hermione tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear and bit her lip. “Um… Well, that’s because I gave it back to Draco.”

            “Why? Are you not going through with the marriage?”

            “No, it’s nothing like that,” Hermione began, “We’ve just decided to take some time to get to know each other before we decide anything.”

            “I don’t understand why you’re even considering it,” Harry said, “If I were you, I’d be fighting tooth and nail to get out of it.”

            “To be honest, I’m not sure I understand, either, but it’s the decision Draco and I made. I know it’s a lot to process, believe me, I’m still trying myself.”

            Harry arched his brow. “But Hermione, this is Malfoy we’re talking about. How can you trust him?”

            Ginny elbowed him in the ribs. “Harry, stop pestering her!” she chided.

            Hermione shook her head and held up her hand. “No, Ginny, it’s all right,” she said, “Harry’s just being a concerned friend.”

            She took a deep breath. “I know that none of this makes sense, and I know that Draco Malfoy isn’t exactly trustworthy, but he and I came to an agreement. Harry, please, even if you don’t agree with my choices, I’m asking that you respect them, the way any good friend would.”

            Harry hung his head. “You’re right, Hermione, and I’m trying, really I am,” he said, “It’s just so hard to grasp all of this.”

            “Try being the one it’s actually happening to,” Hermione chided him softly, “Ron seems to have taken the news fairly well.”

            Ginny giggled. “He’s in a right state actually. Been stomping around the house ever since you told us the news,” she said, “I think I heard him making a howler too. Even Luna couldn’t calm him down.”

            Hermione groaned. If Ron really had written a howler, she was certain she knew who he had written it to. Speaking of Ron, Hermione could now see his freckled face making its way toward them. Curiosity seemed to be written all over his face as he got closer to them. “Ginny, Harry, I’ve been looking all over for you,” he said, “Mum’s waiting.”

            Hermione smiled at the tall redhead. “Hi Ron,” she said.

            Ron’s eyes widened. “Bloody hell... Hermione is that you?”

            Hermione nodded.

            “So, you really are a Zabini then?”

            “You make it sound like a disease,” she said quietly.

            Ron shrugged, trying his best not to look at her, “Isn’t it?”

            Ginny and Harry’s jaws dropped. They had known that Ron wasn’t happy about Hermione’s new family or the possibility that she’d be marrying Malfoy, but they had never expected him to be so openly cruel to their friend.

            Hermione’s expression hardened as she took her wand from her pocket. “Now you listen here, Ronald Weasley!” she said, taking a step toward him and gripping her wand tight, “Just because you don’t like my family, or my potential fiancé, doesn’t give you the right to suddenly change your opinion about me! I didn’t ask for this to happen and even though my looks and last name have changed, it doesn’t mean I’m not the same person you’ve known since first year!”

            She discreetly pointed her wand at him. “And, in case you’ve forgotten, my wand work is still top notch, and I’m of age.”

            Ron’s face went pink. “Hermione, I…”

            Hermione turned to Ginny and Harry, completely ignoring Ron. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get going,” she said, “See you tonight?”

            Ginny smiled. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she said.

            Hermione returned her smile and nodded. “See you later then,” she said. She then turned and joined her mother at the cash register.

            Ginny turned to her older brother and punched him in the arm. “Hey, what’d you go and do that for?” Ron asked, rubbing his arm where she had punched him.

            “Honestly Ron! Did you ever stop to think how Hermione’s handling all this?” she questioned, “She goes nearly seventeen years believing she’s someone she’s not and on the same day she finds out who she really is, she finds out she’s betrothed to boot. Really, you can be a complete tosh pot sometimes!”

            If possible, Ron’s face went even more pink. He honestly hadn’t thought of that at all. He watched as one of his best friends made her way out the door of the shop with her new family and grew angry at himself. How could I have been such an arse, he thought? He then made a mental note to apologize to her that night.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

            “Oi, Draco!”

            Draco turned around to see a very hefty, yet muscular, Crabbe making his way toward him. “So it’s true then?” Crabbe asked when he reached him.

            “Is ‘what’ true?” Draco questioned.

            “You’re marrying the Mud-Blood, Granger?”

            “Well she isn’t really a Mud-Blood if she’s Blaise’s twin sister, is she?” Draco said pointedly.

            Confusion showed in Crabbe’s fat face as he thought about what Draco had just said. “So, you’re marrying her then?”

            Draco sighed. “I’m thinking about it.”

            “Why?”

            He shifted his packages. “It’s none of your business. All you need to know is that my father, and Hermione’s, made an agreement before we were born that she and I would be married.”

            “I feel sorry for you mate.”

            “It’s not the end of the world, Crabbe.”

            “Wait, what about Astoria?” Crabbe questioned.

            Draco smirked. “I was supposed to end things with her, but I haven’t.”

            Crabbe laughed. “Didn’t want to give up the shagging, huh?”

            “That’s about the long and short of it,” Draco agreed.

            Crabbe pointed to the parcel under his arm. “What’s that?”

            “Dress robes for Blaise and Hermione’s party tonight.”

            “Oh, your Mum forcing you to buy new robes again, eh?”

            “As usual,” he replied, “Well, I should be going. I’ve got some things left to buy before I head home. You know how my parents are if I’m late for anything.”

            Crabbe nodded. “Right, well I’ll see you later then.”

            “You’re coming tonight, then?”

            “Yeah. Wouldn’t be right to miss Blaise’s Coming of Age.”

            “Right then, see you later,” and with that, Draco turned and headed down the street in search for the perfect gift for his closest friend.

            As he wandered down the busy streets of Hogsmeade looking in the shop windows, he was distracted by the sight of a very familiar blonde walking a short distance ahead of him. He quickened his pace and easily caught up to her. “Fancy seeing you here,” he said.

            The blonde spun and nearly slammed into him. “Oh!” she said with mild shock. She then smiled brightly and hugged him. “Draco, I wasn’t expecting you!”

            Draco returned her hug and tilted her head up for a kiss. “You know me, I like surprising you, Astoria.”

            She giggled as she let him kiss her. “Seems to me you’re just as surprised as I am.”

            “You caught me.”

            Astoria looked over the packages he was carrying. “Shopping for school?”

            “The Zabini twins’ birthday party, actually,” he answered.

            She nodded and looked thoughtful. “Ah yes, Blaise and the prodigal daughter. Rumor has it she’s been living under the care of a Muggle couple due to some rare illness.”

            Draco nodded. “That’s what they say.” He grew very serious for a moment before saying, “Speaking of Hermione…”

            “Yes?”

            He took her hand and led her over to an empty bench. They sat down and Draco cleared his throat. “Listen, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to talk to you about this…”

            Astoria squeezed his hand. “Draco, just spit it out.”

            “My parents, and Hermione’s, arranged for Hermione and I to be married.”

            She furrowed her brow and cocked her head to the side. “How long have you known about this engagement?”

            “Not long, but it’s something my parents have had planned for me since before I was born.”

            “I see,” she said, looking miffed, “And where does that leave us?”

            “Right now, it leaves us exactly where we are,” Draco told her, “Hermione and I have made an agreement that we’ll get to know each other. Our engagement isn’t set in stone.”

            “But it’s possible.”

            “Yes.”

            Astoria stood, looking down at him. “I don’t like this, Draco, but I’ll play along for now. I’ve been invited to Blaise’s party,” she told him, “but under the circumstances, I’m not sure if I’ll go.”

            Draco took her hand. “Please don’t be angry with me,” he pleaded, “Come to the party tonight, please.”

            “Well,” she took a step closer to him and gave him a sexy smirk, “you know I’ve never been able to resist when you beg.”

            She leaned down and kissed his lips briefly. “I’ve got to go, Mother’s waiting for me. I’ll see you tonight.”

            “Bye.”

            Draco watched as she walked away. Blast my father for arranging a marriage with the Zabinis! He took a deep breath and shook himself from his thoughts. There was a lot he needed to do and he knew that he’d never get everything done if he didn’t focus on his tasks. As he passed a small shop with several ancient trinkets in the window, his eyes caught sight of something that made his mood perk up. That would be perfect for Blaise, he thought as he entered the shop.

            A few moments later, he walked out of the shop with the small trinket packaged up and cradled in his arm. Now to find something else for Hermione. Can’t go to her party without a gift.


Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Chapter image by MorganMayFanficQueen @TDA



            Draco stared up at the Zabini Mansion as he stepped out of the family carriage. His eyes grew wide as he took in the blazing beauty in front of him. He had seen it decorated splendidly for Blaise’s birthday in previous years but none as magnificent as the sight before him.

            Small gold lanterns floated near the ground lighting the dark driveway while larger ones floated above his head lighting the broader areas. Beautiful ribbons of silver and green slithered up one tall white pillar, while ribbons of red and gold climbed up the other; all coming to meet at the edges of a huge banner that read “HAPPY 17TH BIRTHDAY BLAISE AND HERMIONE!” in bright, gold letters.

            “My, my, Marjorie certainly has out done herself, hasn’t she?” Mrs. Malfoy exclaimed, “It’s absolutely breathtaking.”

            “Yes,” Mr. Malfoy said, “Stunning.”

            A tall, well dressed man greeted them at the door with a small bow. “Welcome to Zabini Mansion Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy and young Master Draco, may I take your cloaks?”

            “Yes,” Mr. Malfoy said, helping his wife off with her cloak and handing it to the man before taking off his own.

            Draco handed his cloak to the man and nodded his thanks. “Harlon shall now escort you to the Grand Ball Room,” the man said, motioning to a shorter man coming down the hall toward them.

            “This way, please,” the man called Harlon said with a small bow. They followed quietly as Harlon led them down a few corridors to the Grand Ball Room, Draco all the while looking around at the many elegant decorations.

            Silver and gold balloons, tied with red and green ribbons, floated above freshly shined suits of armor. Ribbons, much like the ones wrapped around the two outside pillars, hung against the top part of the walls where wall met ceiling. Tiny golden trumpets had been enchanted to sing “Happy Birthday Hermione” or “Happy Birthday Blaise” as people walked by and had been tied into the ribbons that graced the halls.

            When they finally reached the Grand Ball Room a few moments later, music and the loud sound of chattering filled Draco’s ears as he stepped inside and began looking around. Draco’s eyes widened. He had thought that the outside and hallways had looked beautiful but nothing compared to the sight that now met his eyes. It was almost breathtaking.

            More of the same ribbons and balloons decorated the ceiling and walls, Slytherin colors on one side, Gryffindor on the other. Candles floated in midair giving off an extraordinary amount of light. Two tables, each in a far corner of the huge room, held mountainous piles of presents for Blaise and Hermione, a sight all their own.

            Near the door, where the Malfoys were currently standing, a large table had been set up with a small fountain of butterbeer on one side and another small fountain of wine flowed on the other. Between the two fountains sat trays and trays of candies, cakes, pies and every other sweet imaginable. Crabbe and Goyle are going to be in heaven here with the way they eat, Draco thought.

            “Presenting Mr. Lucius Malfoy, Mrs. Narcissa Malfoy, and Master Draco Malfoy!” boomed a disembodied voice.

            “Draco, Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy, so good to see you!” drawled a sickeningly sweet voice.

            Draco groaned inwardly as he turned his head slightly to the left and saw Pansy Parkinson. “Pansy,” he said politely.

            “Pansy how lovely to see you,” Mrs. Malfoy said, “I trust your parents are well?”

            Pansy beamed at being addressed so warmly by Draco’s mother. “Yes, they’re very well. Father’s just over there talking with Mr. Zabini. Mother’s home but she’s asked me to invite you for tea next week.”

            Mrs. Malfoy smiled. “Of course, dear, I’ll owl her about it tomorrow,” she said, then turning her attention to the approaching Mrs. Zabini, “Ah, Marjorie, what a beautiful party you’ve put together.”

            Pansy took that moment to snake her arm around Draco’s and drag him off to a far corner of the room. It had always given her great pleasure to be on his arm and she wasn’t about to give that up to someone who was, as far as she was concerned, so far beneath her. That little trollop is going to regret ever being born by the time Draco and I are through with her, she thought.

            As soon as they were far enough away from his parents, Draco shook Pansy off of his arm and leaned against the wall with his hands in his pants pockets. “What do you want?” he questioned without even looking at her.

            Pansy sidled up to him and placed a hand on his chest, pouting slightly. “Drakie, how are we going to stop this silly engagement of yours if you don’t show your love for me?”

            “My love for you?” he asked with slightly disgusted chuckle, “What in the bloody hell gave you the idea that I had, or have, any kind of love for you?”

            “Why are you being so cold to me?” Pansy asked, taking a step away from him, “First you don’t write back to me, and now you’re pretending that you don’t love me? What’s gotten into you, Drakie?”

            Draco rolled his eyes. He hated it when she called him ‘Drakie’. “First of all, Pansy; stop calling me ‘Drakie’. I hate it and it makes you sound like an imbecile. Secondly; I didn’t write back to you because there was nothing in your letter that warranted writing back,” he said, “And thirdly; I’m not pretending I don’t love you… I really don’t love you, and even if I did, I’m promised to Hermione so there’s nothing that can be done.” What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, he decided.

            Pansy’s dark eyes narrowed. “You mean you’re actually going to go through with marrying that filth?” she asked, stunned.

            “She’s pureblood, just like you and me,” Draco told her.

            “How can you say that?”

            “Pansy, she’s Blaise’s twin sister!” He exclaimed, “Put two and two together for crying out loud! If Blaise is pureblood and Hermione is his twin, then obviously she’s pureblood as well.”

            Pansy rolled her eyes. “So she says.”

            “The Zabini’s are one of the oldest pureblood families around and you’re questioning…? This is ridiculous,” he said, turning and beginning to walk away.

            “You’re defending her?”

            Draco turned and faced her with a frustrated sigh. “She’s my fiancée, Pansy; it’s my duty to defend her,” he said, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go find Crabbe and Goyle.”

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

            Hermione stood in her room looking out one of her large windows at the carriages and Apparaters arriving below. She had been ready to go downstairs for the past twenty minutes but she was so nervous that she couldn’t make her legs move. It was almost as if she had become a statue. What if her fellow Gryffindors didn’t like the new her? What if she embarrassed her family?

            Suddenly, a soft knock drew her attention to her bedroom door. “Come in,” she called.

            The door silently opened and Blaise’s smooth voice hit her ears. “Hermione, Dad’s been asking about you,” he said, poking his head in, “I gotta say; it never looks good when the guest of honor is late for her own party.”

            Hermione giggled. “Well then I should be glad I’m not the only guest of honor,” she joked.

            Blaise completely entered the room, shut the door, and walked over to her. “Sis, listen, I know you’re nervous… I can feel it… but that’s not going to stop tonight from happening,” he told her gently, comfortingly rubbing her arms.

            “But there are so many people here that hate me,” Hermione said weakly, “How can I be expected to go down there and be amongst them with a smile on my face?”

            “Um, excuse me but I don’t think we’ve met… I’m Blaise Zabini and you are?”

            “You know who I am.”

            “I’m not so sure because the Hermione I know wouldn’t be standing up here wondering how she’s going to get through a night with people ‘that hate’ her,” he said, using air quotes at the proper time, “She’d be down there in the middle of the crowd talking with her friends not giving a damn what anyone thinks about her.”

            “How would you know that?” Hermione questioned.

            Blaise smiled. “You’ll come to learn that I’m an excellent judge of character,” he said.

            “I hope that I’ll come to learn more than just that about you.”

            “Um, hello! Twins!”

            Hermione burst into giggles at her brother’s antics. “You know, you’re right,” she said after a few minutes, “I shouldn’t be this nervous about my own birthday party it’s just…”

            “Just what?”

            “None of my friends, other than Harry, Ginny, and Ron are going to recognize me.”

            “Well it’s not like you’ve had a Blood Transmogrification spell on you for the past seventeen years,” Blaise said sarcastically, “You’re voice is still the same, and apart from being a little taller and having different hair and eyes, you don’t look much different, so it shouldn’t be too hard for them to figure it out… and if it is, then they’re stupid idiots who don’t deserve your friendship.”

            Hermione hugged her brother. “You’re not a bad guy Blaise Zabini,” she whispered.

            Blaise pulled away from her slightly and smiled playfully. “Shh, no one’s supposed to know that,” he said, “There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ Slytherin, remember?”

            Hermione smiled and took a deep breath. “Well, shall we head down to the party?”

            “I thought you’d never ask!” Blaise teased, holding out his arm, “Come on, our people await our arrival!”

            Hermione couldn’t help laughing as they walked out of her room and headed toward the Grand Ball Room. It was only a few minutes before she stood at the entry to the luxurious room, staring at its grandeur in awe. “You know, in order to get noticed and have fun we have to actually walk into the room,” Blaise teased.

            Hermione looked up at him and narrowed her eyes playfully. “Don’t be so mean!” she joked, “I’m not used to all of this like you are.”

            “But you’re lovin’ every second of it, aren’t you?”

            She giggled. “It’s nice and all… It’s just all… so much,” she replied as they stepped into the room, “I honestly don’t think I’ll ever get used to all of this lavishness, but it is nice.”

            “Presenting Master Blaise Zabini and Miss Hermione Zabini!” the disembodied voice called upon their entry.

            “Come on, we’ve gotta find Mum and Dad before they completely freak.”

            “Are they really that… uptight?” Hermione asked, following him through the maze of people.

            “Only when it comes to punctuality and keeping up appearances.”

            “I see…” Hermione craned her neck and spotted their mother speaking with Mrs. Malfoy. She pointed. “Mu… I mean; our moth… Um… She’s over there talking to Mrs. Malfoy.”

            Blaise gave her a questioning look. “Still don’t know what to call our mum?”

            Hermione shook her head, amazed at how easily he was able to know what she was thinking, and feeling. Blaise nodded. “Understandable. Okay, if Mum’s talking to Narcissa, Dad won’t be too far away… Oh look, there’s Draco.”

            Hermione turned slightly and saw the tall white-blond stalking across the room. She had the feeling that something… or someone… had made him angry if he was walking like that. She had seen that walk from him many times over the years so she knew what it took to get him angry, and it wasn’t easy. Her curiosity as to the cause of his anger was quickly forgotten as she took a closer look at him.

            His long frame was neatly dressed in, she couldn’t believe her eyes, a Muggle Tuxedo. Oh my, he looks good, she thought, taking in the well-fitting black jacket and pants. Good was an understatement; Draco Malfoy looked amazing. Sure, he looked amazing in anything he wore, but tonight was something extraordinary.

            “Ooh, looks like there’s trouble in Paradise Pansy.” Blaise chuckled.

            Hermione unwillingly took her eyes off of Draco and looked to see what Blaise was talking about. Unfortunately, her eyes were greeted with the sight of a pouting Pansy Parkinson. “What’s she doing here?”

            “She’s a friend, Hermione,” Blaise said, “but apart from that, Mum invited all the seventh year Slytherins and Gryffindors… and um, people not in our year or houses.”

            Hermione smiled as the ever serene face of Ron’s girlfriend, Luna Lovegood, came into view on the dance floor. “She’s a good friend,” she said.

            “Of course, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a bit um… loopy.”

            “Hermione, Blaise; I have been looking for you,” their father said as he came up to them, looking at them sternly.

            The raven haired twins looked up at their father and smiled. “I apologize for my tardiness, Father,” Hermione said, “A bit nervous I suppose.”

            Mr. Zabini’s face softened and he smiled tenderly at his daughter. “I cannot be angry about that,” he reasoned, “Come along, it is time to announce you.”

            Moments later, the four Zabinis were standing on a small, raised platform. Mr. Zabini tapped his wine glass with a knife for a moment, gathering everyone’s attention. “If I could have your attention for just a few moments, please,” he said.

            The room immediately went silent as nearly hundreds of eyes focused their attention on their host. “It is with pride, and great pleasure that my wife and I welcome you to our home for this joyous occasion. A person only turns seventeen once in a lifetime and I am pleased to say that tonight is that time for my two children,” he said, “I am not much for making speeches so I will leave that to my children. May I present to you, our son, Blaise Dominic, and our daughter, Hermione Jean.”

            Hermione looked at her brother nervously as applause broke out amongst the party goers, who were looking at Hermione with curiosity and amazement. “No one ever said anything about us having to make a speech!” she whispered, “I’m horrible at speeches…”

            Blaise smiled and took her hand. “Then I guess it’s a good thing that I’m brilliant at them,” he whispered back.

            The two stepped up to their father, Blaise smiling brightly, Hermione biting her lip nervously and clinging to Blaise’s hand for dear life. “Ladies, Gentlemen, fellow Hogwarts students, and other friends; thank you for coming and celebrating with us this evening. Going against my usual nature of long, elegant speeches, I’m going to make this one short, and sweet.” Blaise began, “Seventeen years ago today, my mother gave birth to my sister and me, and it was seventeen years ago that my sister was placed in the care of two Muggles so that she could overcome an illness. Now, she’s home; where she belongs. For me, tonight isn’t just about a Coming of Age, or two as the case may be. No; tonight is not only a celebration of turning seventeen, it’s a celebration of a homecoming.”

            Hermione’s eyes welled up slightly with tears as she drunk in her brother’s words. Although she had only really started getting to know him about twenty-four hours ago, she felt truly loved and welcomed; as if she had lived with him her whole life. Blaise squeezed her hand and nodded encouragingly. “It’s your turn little sister,” he whispered over the applause.

            Hermione cleared her throat nervously and squeezed his hand back. “Ahem, right…” she began weakly, “Well, I’m nowhere near as good as Blaise at making speeches so I’ll just say this; I’m glad that you all could be here tonight to celebrate with us. Please, enjoy the party.”

            Once again, applause broke out as the Zabinis stepped down from the platform. Blaise kissed Hermione’s hand briefly and winked at her. “That wasn’t so bad now, was it?” he asked.

            “It was the most nerve-wrecking thing I’ve done in my life.”

            Blaise laughed. “Hermione, you truly are a dear,” he said, “Now come on, let’s mingle! I’m sure your friends are just dying to comment on your ‘new’ look, and the Muggles will want to see you.”

            “The Muggles?” Hermione questioned.

            “Yeah. The ones who raised you; the Grangers.”

            “You mean they’re here?” Hermione asked, searching the crowd for her parents’ faces.

            Blaise smiled. “Of course, Mum didn’t want them to miss your birthday.”

            “Isn’t that against the Laws of Secrecy?”

            “Hermione, relax,” he said, taking her hands in his, “I’m certain that Mum and Dad wouldn’t have invited them here unless they had spoken to the Ministry.”

            “Well, it certainly would be good to see them. I miss them so much.”

            “Well of course… they raised you; they’re basically all you’ve known for nearly seventeen years,” he said understandingly. “Well, I see some friends, I’m gonna go chat with them, see ya!”

            Hermione hardly even had the chance to nod before Blaise hurried off to talk to some of his friends. She looked around for a familiar face but she saw none, until Ron was suddenly standing in front of her. “I have nothing to say to you,” she said looking up at him with angry green eyes.

            As she began to walk away, Ron gently grabbed her arm. “Hermione, please hear me out,” he said.

            “If you’re going to insult me again, save your breath because I don’t want to hear it,” she snapped, pulling her arm out of his grasp.

            “No, I um… I want to apologize,” Ron said.

            Hermione looked at him curiously. “You what?”

            Ron cleared his throat. “I want to apologize,” he repeated, “I shouldn’t have said those things. You were right, just because your last name has changed doesn’t give me a right to think differently about you. I’m sorry, can you forgive me?”

            “You should be sorry. You hurt me very badly. As far as I’m concerned, I was raised a Granger and that’s what I’ll always be, I just have a little extra thrown in now. It’s not my fault that I’m actually a Zabini, and it certainly isn’t my fault that a marriage was arranged between Malfoy and me,” Hermione exclaimed, “And furthermore, friends shouldn’t treat friends in such a cruel manner. Friends are supposed to support and be there for each other in times of need.”

            “Yes…”

            “You have absolutely no idea what I’ve been going through for the past twenty-four plus hours, Ronald, no bloody idea,” she interrupted, “I’d like to see how you’d fare if you’d just found out you weren’t really a part of the family you’ve lived with for seventeen years!”

            “I… You’re right,” Ron said weakly, “Knowing me, I’d probably be feeling out of place and needing comfort from the people I care for.”

            “More or less,” Hermione said emotionlessly.

            “Can you forgive me for being such an arse?”

            Hermione sighed. “Right now, I’m not sure,” she said, “Give me some time and we’ll see what happens.”

            “Hermione you look lovely. I’ve always thought red was a good color on you.”

            Hermione smiled brightly at the strange blonde Ravenclaw. “Thank you, Luna! It’s so good to see you,” she said, hugging her, “I’m glad you could come.”

            “Oh I wouldn’t have missed this,” Luna said, “Plumbalarts enjoy birthday parties. I’m hoping to catch one.”

            “Well at least you’re here,” Hermione laughed. She had learned a long time ago not to ask Luna questions about the strange creatures she mentioned.

            Just then, Harry and Ginny joined them. “Hermione, my, don’t you look beautiful tonight,” Ginny said, hugging her friend, “Happy birthday.”

            “Thank you, Ginny,” Hermione replied, “So do you!”

            Ginny spun around, showing off her deep green, strapless dress. “Thank you, Harry bought it for me.”

            Harry blushed and ran a hand through his messy black hair. “I uh… I thought it would go nicely with her hair,” he said.

            “It does,” Hermione said.

            Ginny touched Hermione’s hair lightly. “I still can’t get over how different you look,” she stated, “And yet, how much the same.”

            “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it. I’ve looked at the same brown hair and brown eyes for nearly seventeen years and suddenly I’m this black haired, green eyed person I don’t recognize,” Hermione agreed, “It’s so strange.”

            “And you’re okay? You’re being treated fairly, and all?” Harry questioned.

            “More than fairly,” Hermione assured him.

            Ginny looked around. “You’re certainly getting a lot of attention,” she observed.

            “Yes, including the attention of one Draco Malfoy,” Luna stated.

            Hermione turned her head in the direction Luna was looking. Sure enough, Draco’s steel gray eyes were locked on her. She wasn’t quite sure of the expression on his face, but it certainly wasn’t the disgusted look she normally got from him. In fact, it seemed almost caring. This confused her greatly because of their past interactions; however, brushing it off for the time being, she turned back to her friends.

            A few minutes later, a warm hand gripped her arm gently and turned her around. Draco looked down at her with a questioning, yet demanding look. “Dance with me.”

            “Is that a request, or a demand?” Hermione questioned.

            Draco’s hand slid down her arm to her hand. “A little of both,” he said.

            “You shouldn’t talk to her like that, you know,” Harry said quietly.

            Draco looked at Harry and narrowed his eyes. “What was that, Scar head?”

            Harry cleared his throat. “I said; you shouldn’t talk to her like that.”

            “What makes you think you have the right to tell me how I should speak to my fiancée?”

            “She’s my friend, Malfoy and I won’t have you talking to her with such disrespect!” Harry snapped, “And she’s not your fiancée yet.”

            “Harry!” Hermione stated when she saw his hand inching toward the pocket she knew concealed his wand.

            Draco blinked, suddenly aware that Hermione had told her friends about their agreement. He took a step toward the dark haired hero of Hogwarts and lowered his voice. “That’s none of your business, Potter, and neither is how I choose to speak to my betrothed.”

            “Draco! Both of you knock it off!” Hermione snapped, “Honestly you two, you’re acting like two year olds! Harry, I wasn’t offended by how Draco spoke to me so you shouldn’t be and Draco, Harry’s just being my friend so don’t get so snippy. Now please, it’s my birthday, can we all just please have a happy night?”

            “Sorry, Hermione,” Harry said, “You’re right.”

            Hermione nodded and gave him a small smile. She then looked at Draco. “That goes for you, too.”

            Draco said nothing. He simply looked at her and nodded. “Thank you. I’ll be back,” she said to her friends, allowing Draco to pull her toward the large dance floor that had suddenly appeared.

            “Yeah, she’ll be back… when I’m done with her,” Draco said, smirking at Ron and Harry while Hermione wasn’t looking.

            Both Harry and Ron began lurching forward to attack Draco but were stopped by Blaise sliding in front of them. “Potter, Weasley… Going somewhere?” he asked.

            “Yeah, after that git that just walked off with our friend,” Harry snapped.

            Blaise shook his head. “Guys, Draco’s betrothed to my sister, if he wants to dance with her, it’s his right,” he said, “And I won’t have you two ruining tonight for Hermione. It’s been a long time coming and I want my baby sister to be happy. Understand?”

            When neither one made any reply, their girlfriend’s elbowed them in the ribs. “Yes,” Ron said, although reluctantly. He had just tried getting back into Hermione’s good graces and he didn’t want to jeopardize any progress he could make.

            Harry, on the other hand, reached into his robes and withdrew his wand. “Get out of my way, Zabini,” he said, pointing it at Blaise.

            Blaise stood planted in front of him. “Potter, because you’re my sister’s friend, I’ll let you get by with a warning… this time… Point your wand at me again and I won’t be so generous,” he said menacingly.

            Realizing that he was breaking his promise to Hermione, Harry sheathed his wand back into his robes. “Fine, I’ll let it go, for now,” he said.

            “Good, because I’d hate to kick you two out for starting a fight, it would break Hermione’s heart and that’s not something I’ll ever do.”

            Harry and Ron glared angrily as Blaise turned and walked over to a girl with long blonde hair that they had never seen before. “How dare he talk to you like that!” Ginny stated, “Of course he would take Malfoy’s side.”

            “Well, really he was taking Hermione’s side,” Luna interjected kindly, “He seems to really care about her happiness.”

            Ginny narrowed her eyes slightly. “What does he care about her happiness? Until yesterday, she was Hermione Granger, Mud-Blood.”

            Ron turned an angry shade of pink and narrowed his eyes at his younger sister. “Ginevra Weasley!”

            “Oh, honestly Ronald, I’m only saying what Zabini’s thought of Hermione all these years… not to mention Malfoy,” Ginny told him.

            “People can change, Ginny,” Luna pointed out.

            “Not overnight.”

            “Hermione did.”

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

            Draco led Hermione to a fairly clear spot on the dance floor and pulled her into his arms. He could feel how nervous she was as he rested a hand on the small of her back, not to mention it was written all over her face as she looked up at him. A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth as he pulled her a little closer. “You don’t have to be nervous, Hermione,” he said as they began swaying to the music, “Contrary to your assumption, I won’t hurt you.”

            Hermione bit her lip slightly. “There’s just so much that’s happened between us in the past six or seven years that it’s hard to just let that go,” she said, “Add that to the fact that my life has changed drastically in the past twenty-four hours and, well, let’s just say my nerves aren’t exactly stable.”

            “I can understand that,” Draco said with a nod, “You’re not unhappy though, right?”

            “No, I’m not unhappy, just confused, and unsure of myself.”

            “Hermione Granger, unsure of herself?”

            “I don’t expect you to understand, Draco, but since our first day at Hogwarts when we were eleven I’ve been teased, tormented, and even attacked by the very same people I’m supposed to call ‘family’ now, including three quarters of the people here,” she said, “It’s what I’ve known since the day I found out I was a witch, and suddenly, in the span of a few minutes, my life is changed and I’m being treated differently by everyone that’s been cruel to me in the past… I even look different. How am I supposed react to all of that?”

            Draco was at a loss for words. He truly couldn’t imagine the thoughts that were going through Hermione’s head about the new life ahead of her. Apart from that, however, the look on Hermione’s face was captivating him. Her statement of “I even look different”, in his opinion, was an understatement. She was truthfully a knockout.

            Her previously bushy brown hair now hung in perfect ringlets down her back, as black as coal and seemingly as smooth as silk. Her formerly honey brown eyes were now the most brilliant shade of emerald green he had ever seen and were perfectly highlighted by the small amount of mascara and eyeliner she was wearing. He also noticed that she had grown in height, now coming just under his chin as opposed to her previous height of the center of his chest.

            The deep red, floor-length dress she was wearing fell slightly off her shoulders and fitted her perfectly, fanning out a bit at the waist. It flowed gracefully around her legs as they moved around the floor to the slow paced music. Every now and then, if he looked down at the floor, he could catch a glimpse of the gold ballet flats that matched wonderfully with the gold stitching of the dress.

            “I want to thank you for the lovely spell book,” Hermione said, pulling him out of his thoughts, “It was very thoughtful of you.”

            “I’m glad you like it,” Draco said, looking her in the eyes.

            Hermione cleared her throat and blushed slightly when she noticed the way he was looking at her. “What?” she asked quietly.

            Draco shook his head. “Nothing… Just a bit of a change is all,” he replied, lightly touching one of her dark curls.

            “Yes, it’s definitely going to take some getting used to,” she said, “Do… do you like it?”

            Draco smirked slightly. “Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” he confessed, “but looks can only get a person so far.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “It means that I’m not easily impressed by one’s looks, Hermione,” he said leaning a bit closer to her ear.

            “Well, if you’re looking for someone that’s going to use her… ahem… assets to interest you, you’ll have to look elsewhere because that’s not the type of girl I am.”

            “You already hold my interest, however I have the feeling that yours isn’t held by me. Why do you think that is?”

            Hermione gave him a questioning look. “Why do you care what I think?” she asked, “I thought you hated me.”

            “Ahem, well I…”

            “Of course he hates you,” said a cold voice.

            Draco and Hermione turned their heads to look at Pansy. “Do you mind?” Draco asked lazily, “We’re dancing.”

            Pansy rolled her eyes and gave Draco a flirty smile. “Oh come now, you can’t tell me that you honestly like touching that filthy piece of trash,” she said, turning to look at Hermione with a look of disgust, “Even if she does have new packaging.”

            Hermione stepped away from Draco and crossed her arms over her chest. “I beg your pardon? New packaging?”

            “Oh come on, it’s not like you’re a novice at making Polyjuice Potion.”

            “I did that once,” Hermione argued, “Five years ago.”

            “That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t do it again if the opportunity presented itself.”

            “What opportunity?”

            Pansy smirked as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, for someone who’s supposedly the smartest witch of our year, you’re pretty dumb,” she said, “It’s obvious that you planned all of this.”

            Draco ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Pansy…”

            “No, Draco, it’s all right,” Hermione said, holding her hand up to silence him, “I’d love to hear how Pansy obviously thinks I planned all of this.”

            Pansy gave them a satisfied smile. “Please, it’s so simple; you’ve had your eyes on Draco for I don’t know how long and when you saw that he was falling for me, you put a plan into action.”

            “And what plan would that be?” Hermione asked.

            “Anyone who’s anyone knows that Marjorie Zabini gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, so you track down a girl who looks like she could be a Zabini, steal some of her hair, make a Polyjuice Potion, and alter people’s memories so that they believe you’re Hermione Zabini and that you’re betrothed to Draco.”

            Draco rolled his eyes and Hermione let out a stifled laugh. “This is ridiculous.”

            “Women will do anything for the men they want, Draco,” Pansy said.

            “Hmm, including make up stories about other people when things aren’t going their way?” Hermione questioned.

            “Exactly,” Pansy said with a satisfied smirk.

            Draco wanted to laugh at the stupidity of Pansy, but he knew that if he caused a scene he’d be dealing with much more than an angry best friend; he’d be dealing with angry parents, and his father was not one to be trifled with. He placed himself between Hermione and Pansy. “If you ask me; I’d say this theory of yours sounds more like something you would do to keep anyone else from being with me,” he said, glaring at Pansy angrily.

            Pansy blinked, shocked. “How… how can you say that?”

            “Because I know you. You’re manipulative, petty, and completely jealous of any girl I show even the slightest bit of attention.”

            “Draco, I…”

            He took a step toward her. “I’m going to make something perfectly clear; I’m betrothed to Hermione and there is nothing you, or anyone else, can do about it.”

            “But… She’s a Muggle!”

            “I have Muggle parents,” Hermione corrected.

            “See! She admits it!”

            “I’ve only admitted to having Muggle parents, which, considering I was raised by Muggles, is a valid admittance,” Hermione stated, “I have not, however, confessed to wanting Draco, nor have I ever pretended to be someone I’m not. I didn’t ask for this, Pansy, but it’s happening; so deal with it.”

            “How dare you! Draco, are you just going to stand there and let her speak to me like that?”

            Before Draco could even answer, Hermione stepped forward and glared at Pansy, “He has no control over how I speak to anyone,” she said.

            Pansy crossed her arms over her chest and smirked. “You obviously need to learn your place, Granger,” she said.

            “Let’s get one thing straight, Parkinson,” Hermione said, narrowing her eyes dangerously, “I’m not someone who takes kindly to being told what to do by people who think they’re better than others just because of their blood status, or whatever you want to call it, so I suggest you think twice about telling me I need to learn my place, which, in case you haven’t figured it out; is right here by Draco’s side.”

            Draco was impressed at Hermione’s ability to stand up to anyone. He knew that Pansy wasn’t so easily dismissed, though. He watched as a smirk slid onto Pansy’s face. She was up to something; he just knew it.

            “You won’t be there for long,” Pansy sneered, “As we speak, my father is with Mr. Malfoy, getting him to re-think his agreement with Mr. Zabini. Draco will be putting a ring on my finger by the end of the night.”

            And with that, he had had enough. “Will you two stop talking about me as if I’m not standing right here?” Draco snapped angrily, “I’ve had it with your arguing! Pansy, my father has his mind set on me marrying Hermione and that’s not going to change; no matter how hard your father might plead for you. Now, if you don’t mind, I was dancing with Hermione.”

            Pansy fumed with anger. “You, this is your fault!” she snapped, pointing at Hermione, “Before you were betrothed to him he was in love with me! You’ve done something to him!”

            “That’s impossible Pansy, I’ve been betrothed to Draco since before I was born.”

            Pansy pointed her finger and made to step forward but she ended up tripping over the hem of her dress. She fell to the floor in a tangle of pink silk and taffeta. She looked up in horror and got to her feet as quickly as she could, her face red with anger and embarrassment. “You! You made me do that!” she seethed, getting in Hermione’s face, “You made me look like a fool!”

            Hermione arched her brow. “My wand isn’t out, Pansy,” she pointed out, “And I don’t need to make a fool of you; you do that all on your own.”

            Pansy stared at her for a moment, eyes narrowed. “Mark my words, Granger, Draco will be mine and…”

            Draco growled in frustration. He was sick and tired of Pansy treating him like some kind of prize to be won. He grabbed the upper part of Pansy’s arm and walked her off the dance floor. “Are you trying to piss me off, Parkinson?” he asked through clenched teeth.

            “I’m not the one…”

            “I don’t want to hear it,” Draco interrupted, “This is a special night for Blaise and Hermione and I won’t have you ruining it. Now, sod off before I have you thrown out.”

            Pansy looked absolutely livid at Draco’s words. “I can’t believe you’re actually defending her! After everything she’s done to you?”

            “She didn’t do anything I didn’t deserve, Pansy.”

            “You didn’t deserve a thing she did to you, nor do you deserve to be put through hell by going through with this marriage!” Pansy spat, “You deserve to be with someone who’s going to take care of you and love you the way you should be because they love you… not because they’re putting on a show for their friends and family!”

            “Pansy, just stay out of it, all right? This is none of your business.”

            “Fine, but don’t expect me to be waiting around for you when she hurts you.”

            Draco just shook his head as he turned and began walking back to Hermione. It’s not her hurting me that I’m worried about; he thought as he got closer to her. As he finally reached her, he held out his hand and gave a slight bow. “Do me the honors of finishing our dance?”

            Hermione gave him a soft smile and put her hand in his. “Of course,” she said, allowing him to pull her into his arms once more.

            “I’m sorry about Pansy,” Draco said quietly, “She can be a little…”

            “Possessive?” Hermione finished.

            “Yes.”

            “You don’t need to apologize for her,” Hermione told him, “She’s just jealous.”

            Draco spun her around and smiled politely when she was back in his arms. “Let’s not talk about her anymore.”

            “Agreed,” Hermione stated, looking him over, “I’m curious, for a guy who says he hates Muggles, why’d you wear a Muggle tuxedo?”

            “Do you like it?”

            Hermione looked him over a little more carefully as she nodded. “I’ve got to admit, you look very handsome,” she said, “but you knew that already, I’m sure.”

            “Yes, but it’s always nice to hear… Does wonders for my ego.”

            “I think your ego’s big enough without my adding to it,” Hermione joked, “You never answered my question.”

            “I wanted to impress you,” he told her.

            “Draco, it takes more than a tuxedo to sweep me off my feet,” Hermione began, “however, it’s certainly a start.”

            “What’s this, Hermione Zabini, impressed by an egotistical arse like Draco Malfoy? I can’t believe my ears.”

            Hermione turned and glared playfully at her brother. “What impresses me, Blaise is the fact that you seem to pop in at the most in-opportune moments,” she said.

            Blaise smiled his most charming smile. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet,” he said, holding out his hand for a pretty blonde that was standing nearby. “Beatrice Graphook, this is my sister, Hermione… Hermione, this is my fiancée, Beatrice.”

            The young woman smiled kindly and nodded. “It’s lovely to meet you Hermione,” she said, “Happy Birthday.”

            “Thank you and it’s lovely to meet you as well,” Hermione replied, letting go of Draco and turning to give her a warm hug, “Shall we go sit down?”

            Draco, Blaise, and Beatrice nodded and the four of them walked off the dance floor to an empty table. “So, it’s true you’ve lived with Muggles all these years?” Beatrice asked.

            Hermione nodded.

            “Must’ve been extremely interesting.”

            “Well really, it was all I’d ever known until I got my Hogwarts letter,” Hermione explained, “I was more interested in the magical world of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

            “And you really know Harry Potter?”

            “Oh if I had a sickle for every time I heard that question,” Hermione laughed, “I’d probably be rich.”

            Blaise chuckled. “You’re rich already, Hermione,” he reminded her.

            “Our family’s rich, not us individually.”

            Blaise made a face at her. “Take all the fun out of it,” he joked.

            Hermione shook her head and giggled. “Yes, I know Harry… in fact, he’s here somewhere,” she answered, looking around the crowded room. Once she spotted Harry’s mass of black hair, she smiled, “That’s him there, dancing with his girlfriend, Ginny.”

            “What a lovely couple they make,” Beatrice commented.

            “Yes… So, Beatrice, were you aware of your betrothal to my pig of a brother?” Hermione asked, commenting on Blaise’s ability to shove food into his mouth almost non-stop.

            Beatrice made a face and laughed at Blaise’s mock insulted face. “Actually, I didn’t know about it until last week,” she replied, “Bit of a shock.”

            “I bet. Had you even heard of Blaise before that?”

            Beatrice shook her head. “No, but shortly after I found out about him, I received a letter from him,” she said, “We’ve been writing each other since.”

            “I see… So, how do you like it at Beauxbatons?”

            “Oh it’s lovely there,” Beatrice said, “Much like Hogwarts, I imagine… except we don’t live in a castle.”

            “What do you live in?” Blaise asked, “I think that’s the only thing we haven’t discussed yet.”

            “Yes, I’ve always been curious about Beauxbatons,” Hermione said.

            “We live in an enchanted cottage,” she replied, “on one of the loveliest countryside’s I’ve ever been to.”

            Draco cleared his throat and took a sip of the drink that had magically appeared in front of him. “What are you planning to do once you’re married?” he asked, “About school I mean.”

            Blaise and Beatrice looked at each other for a moment and then looked back to Draco. “I’ll be transferring to Hogwarts,” Beatrice told him, “I’m actually really looking forward to it. In fact; I’ve been trying to convince my father to try and talk Dumbledore into letting me transfer early.”

            “Oh that would be wonderful!” Hermione said, “It would give you and Blaise time to get to know each other more.”

            “That’s part of why I want to transfer early.”

            Blaise chuckled. “And the other part is because she’s become quite taken with me,” He teased.

            Hermione rolled her green eyes and giggled. “Just when I thought the egos in this room couldn’t get any bigger.”

            Beatrice and Hermione both giggled. “He does have an over-abundant amount of confidence doesn’t he?” Beatrice joked.

            “As does Draco,” Hermione whispered, “Although, I’d have to say Draco’s is far worse.”

            Draco gave a small huff. “I heard that,” he whispered in her ear.

            Hermione turned and looked at him. To be quite honest, she was surprised at how close he had remained. His steel gray eyes practically bore a hole into her as her green ones locked with his mock scolding stare. “And um… who said I was trying not to be heard?”

            Draco smirked. “That’s usually what’s meant when someone whispers.”

            Hermione was about to make some kind of smart remark but before she could, her father’s voice sounded over the crowd. “If I could have everyone’s attention, please,” He called, “I have an announcement to make.”

            Everyone’s head turned to face him. “As I am sure most of you know; our family holds very dear to the old ways. For those of you that do not know, one of those ways is betrothals,” he said, motioning for his wife to join him, “It is a pleasure for my wife and I to inform you all of the engagements of Blaise to Miss Beatrice Graphook, and Hermione to Draco Malfoy.”

            A bright spotlight suddenly shone down on Hermione, Draco, Blaise, and Beatrice as loud applause broke out. Blaise and Draco both stood and held out a hand for their respective future wife. Hermione blushed madly as she took Draco’s hand and stood up. The four then walked over to Mr. and Mrs. Zabini, Blaise standing by their mother, and Hermione by their father.

            “I would like to raise a toast to their health and happiness,” Mr. Zabini said, holding up his wine glass. The guests followed suit, “To Blaise and Beatrice! To Hermione and Draco! May they all bring many children into this world!”

            “Here, here!” everyone shouted.

            As Hermione took a sip of her drink, she wondered why her father had announced her engagement to Draco considering it wasn’t exactly definite. It then occurred to her that just because she and Draco had come to an agreement with their parents didn’t mean that the rest of the world needed to know about it.

            Hermione turned an even brighter shade of red as she looked up at Draco, who was smirking at her. What’s he smirking about, she thought, what’s so funny about my father wanting grandchildren?... Oh good Merlin!

            Draco watched as Hermione turned even redder. He had never known anyone that could blush as deeply as she did. Quite frankly, he had never seen anything more beautiful. Of course, I can’t let her, or anyone else for that matter, know how I really feel about her, he thought, that would just be disastrous to my reputation.

            He gently pulled Hermione closer to him and snaked his arm around her waist. Although his face… he hoped… showed contempt, his heart was soaring higher than the clouds. True, he had been angry at first about the fact that he had to marry a girl who hated him, but now he was actually enjoying that small bit of information. Though they had come to an agreement to be civil to each other and such, he knew that that didn’t mean she liked him at all.

            He knew it would be a challenge to see if he could make her fall in love with him and he was looking forward to it. The hardest part, in his opinion, was going to be getting her to fall for him for who he truly was, not for his looks. Not that she would fall for someone because of their looks anyway, he thought, I mean; wasn’t she with Krum for a bit there?

            A true scowl came across his face as he thought about the Seeker of the Bulgarian Quidditch team. If he was being honest with himself, he had been jealous of the clumsy brute when he’d seen Hermione wrapped in his arms at the Yule Ball. He had wanted to ask Hermione to the ball himself but his ever present reputation of being the “Slytherin Prince” had kept him from actually doing it.

            Draco didn’t have much time to dwell on his thoughts of Viktor however, for just then, Hermione’s soft hand grasped his arm lightly. He looked down at her. “Yes?”

            “My father’s done talking now,” she said, “I think it’s time for Blaise and me to open presents.”

            “Yes, it is! Now hurry up!” Blaise said excitedly.

            Draco shook his head and laughed at his friend’s antics. For as long as he could remember, Blaise had always enjoyed opening presents. It was probably the only time he ever saw Blaise act in any manner other than how he’d been taught to act in public.

            Hermione smiled and watched as her twin brother made his way through the crowd to the mountain of presents that belonged to him. “Other than the same birthday and similar looks, exactly what is it that makes us twins?” she joked.

            Draco chuckled. “I wonder that myself,” he said.

            As he began to follow Hermione, they ended up getting separated by the precession of guests heading in the same direction. Someone grabbed his hand and pulled him around to the other side of a pillar. “What the…?” he began. He didn’t have a chance to finish his thought because someone grabbed his shirt collar and pulled him down, crushing their lips against his.

            The feel of her lips, and the familiar scent of her perfume told him all he needed to know. He pushed away from the pillar and spun so that her back was against the pillar instead. He cupped her cheeks for a moment and then pulled back, breaking the kiss. “Mmm, I’m glad you’re here,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers.

            “You didn’t seem so glad when you were dancing with Miss Raised-By-Muggles,” she replied with a pout.

            Draco chuckled. “Just doing my duty as a fiancé, Astoria.”

            She placed her hand on his cheek. “Then forget about those duties and focus on the things I want,” she told him, tilting her head so that she could kiss him again.

            He slid his lips against hers a few times before pulling back with a deep sigh. “We shouldn’t be doing this, Astoria,” he said, brushing his thumb along her kiss swollen bottom lip.

            She smiled up at him, placing her hand over his. “This is exactly what we should be doing,” she countered, kissing him softly.

            Draco gently pulled away and shook his head. “If we’re caught, my father will kill me,” he said.

            “Then let’s not get caught.”

            Before she could pull him into another kiss, Draco backed away and made himself visible to the crowd. “Later,” he mouthed.

            Astoria smirked as she watched him walk away. “I’ll hold you to that,” she said. She then went to join her father to watch the birthday twins opening their gifts.

            The whole room was watching as Blaise and Hermione began opening their presents. Hermione, not used to receiving so much attention, really would have rather opened her presents in the confines of her room but she knew that it wouldn’t be polite to do such a thing so she pushed her nervousness aside and continued unwrapping gifts. One gift in particular caught her eye.

            It was a small gift wrapped in very familiar wrapping paper. Her heart leapt. For as long as she could remember, the Grangers had wrapped her gifts in the same bright wrapping paper every year. She immediately grabbed the gift and ripped the paper off. Inside the small package was a beautiful, glass lion.

            Hermione’s breath caught in her throat as she held up the fragile, almost life-like, object. It fit neatly in the palm of her hand, lying majestically with its head held high. She gently touched the smooth surface of the lion’s back, as if petting it, and examined the shear creature carefully. She could tell that the maker of the lion had taken great care to make it look as real as possible.

            Suddenly, she felt a familiar stare. She looked up from the lion, and there, in front of the crowd of guests, stood her parents… The Grangers… She smiled brightly at them and quickly rushed over to them, giving them both big hugs. “It’s so good to see you!” she whispered in their ears.

            Mrs. Granger smiled uncertainly at her. “We weren’t sure if you wanted us to come,” she confessed, “After how things went and all yesterday, we thought you might still be angry with us.”

            Hermione’s heart broke at her mother’s words. Before she had a chance to respond, however, Mr. Zabini joined them. “Mr. and Mrs. Granger, how lovely to see you again,” he said.

            “Same to you, Mr. Zabini,” Mr. Granger said.

            “Um… Would it be all right if I spoke to my par… the Grangers privately for a few moments?” Hermione asked nervously. No matter how angry she had been at them, she still considered the Grangers her parents, even if they didn’t share blood.

            Mr. Zabini cleared his throat. “I do not see why not. Might I suggest a walk in the garden?”

            “Thank you, Sir!” Hermione exclaimed.

            “Do not be too long, Hermione, this party is in your honor after all.”

            “Of course, we’ll just be a few minutes.”

            Hermione led the Grangers out of the Grand Ball Room and down a series of corridors, chatting lightly about the portraits and the many rooms they passed. Once they were outside in the garden, she turned to them and gave them an apologetic look. “I’m sorry about last night,” she said quietly, “I shouldn’t have yelled at you so.”

            Mr. Granger gave Hermione a small smile. “Well, I can’t honestly say that I blame you.”

            “Nor can I,” Mrs. Granger agreed, patting Hermione’s hand, “You had, and still have, every right to be angry with us.”

            “I still should have given you a better chance of explaining things instead of storming about like a two-year-old.”

            “We wanted to tell you as soon as you were old enough to understand but we couldn’t,” Mr. Granger told her, “The spell that was placed when they put you in your mother’s arms prevented us from speaking the truth about your identity… even to each other.”

            “Yes, I remember you telling me that,” Hermione stated politely, “Was there a reason you waited to tell me once the spell had worn off?”

            “So many years had gone by,” Mrs. Granger answered, “and to us… you were our daughter, and so for that short time after the spell was lifted, we were so heartbroken at what was coming, we simply couldn’t talk about it.” She laughed a small, tired laugh, and looked deep in Hermione’s eyes. “The spell of love that you cast on us far outweighed the magical spell the Zabini’s placed. How were we to tell you… that… that you weren’t really ours, when in our hearts you always have been and always will be.”

            “Oh, Mum, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even think of that!” Hermione cried, throwing her arms around her mother. “Oh, I’m so selfish!”

            Mrs. Granger put her hands on Hermione’s cheeks firmly. “Hermione Jean Gra… Zabini, do not think for one second that you’re selfish!” she said. “You’re a very kind, good-hearted young woman who cares more about the people in her life than she does herself.”

            Hermione smiled and whispered. “Thank you… so, can you ever forgive me?”

            “Of course, precious, how could we not?”

            “Hermione, even though we’re not related by blood, you’re still our daughter,” Mrs. Granger said, “We’ll always think of you as such, no matter what.”

            Tears flowed freely from Hermione’s eyes as she smiled at them. “How could I have been blessed with such wonderful parents?”

            “Lucky I guess,” Mr. Granger teased.

            Mrs. Granger gently brushed Hermione’s face with her fingers as she said, “You look like brother.”

            Hermione gave her a tender smile. “It’s weird not looking like you two,” she said, “I mean; I don’t really feel different, and yet, when I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself.”

            Her parents nodded in understanding. “You’ll recognize your reflection soon enough,” Mr. Granger told her, “It’s not one’s appearance that makes them who they are, it’s the parts you can’t see; the brain, the heart… the soul. Those are the things that make you, Hermione; don’t ever forget that.”

            Hermione hugged her father tightly. “I won’t; I promise.”

            Just then, a tall figure came walking down the path that they were on and called Hermione’s name. Hermione turned and smiled, wiping the tears from her cheeks. “Draco, please come and join us.”

            “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” he said politely, “Your father said you were out here.”

            “Oh, no, you’re not interrupting,” Hermione told him, “Draco, these are the lovely people who raised me; Tom and Jane Granger. Mum, Dad, I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Draco Malfoy… Well, potential fiancé… Um...”

            “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

            “Same here, Mr. and Mrs. Granger,” Draco said shaking Mr. Granger’s hand and lightly kissing the back of Mrs. Granger’s hand, “If we decide to marry, I do hope you’ll be at the wedding; I don’t think it’d be quite right if you weren’t there.”

            Hermione looked up at him in shock. Draco Malfoy was actually being pleasant to Muggles? This never happened, although she was very grateful. She didn’t think she’d be able to bear it if he had been rude to them. They were her parents and she loved them, after all.

            Mrs. Granger beamed at him. “We’d love to be there. We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

            “Draco!”

            Draco turned and looked up the path. Blaise was running toward him with a slightly panicked look. “Blaise, what’s wrong?” Hermione questioned.

            “It’s Pansy, she’s causing a huge raucous,” he said, panting slightly, “I tried to stop her but she won’t listen; she’s even got Crabbe and Goyle backing her up.”

            Draco’s eyes narrowed angrily and a low growl escaped his throat. “Where are the adults that were there?”

            “They went to Dad’s parlor. Most likely to discuss things we’d all find boring,” Blaise replied.

            “And you couldn’t use your wand to do something about this?” Draco demanded.

            “Hey, don’t get mad at me! This isn’t my fault, and you know Pansy’s wand work is better than mine.”

            Draco ran a hand through his hair and sighed deeply. “Sorry mate,” he said, he then looked at Hermione, “I’ll take care of this; you visit with your parents.”

            “If you think I’m just going to let that little bi…”

            “Hermione!” The Grangers exclaimed in unison.

            “… bitter Betty ruin tonight anymore than she already has, you’re sorely mistaken!”

            “Hermione, for once in your life, stop trying to be the hero and let someone else take charge.”

            Hermione glared at Draco for a moment. “What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?”

            “It means; I’ll handle this,” he snapped.

            And with that, he stormed off toward the mansion, drawing his wand from his jacket pocket as he went. Hermione wasn’t about to let him “handle” Pansy alone so she turned to her parents quickly and smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, would you excuse us?”

            With a quick nod from the Grangers, Hermione bolted after Draco, shortly followed by Blaise.

 

Author's note- Hi all! I hope you've enjoyed The Pureblood so far! I wanted to take this chance to say thank you to everyone that has been reading, as well as those that have reviewed! Also, this will be the last chapter for a while. I've got some family stuff that needs my attention for a while. I hope you all understand! :) Thank you so much! -Sarah


Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



Chapter image by TenthWeasley @TDA

 

     “Draco… Dra… DRACO!” Hermione called, running to catch up with him.

    “Hermione, I said I’d handle this.”

    She caught up to him and grabbed his arm. “I’m not going to just stand by and do nothing while you play ‘hero’, Malfoy!” Hermione snapped, pulling him to a stop.

    Draco glared at her, shaking his arm free. “You don’t have a choice, Granger.”

    “Don’t you get all high and mighty with me, Malfoy,” Hermione retorted, “I’m not a damsel in distress that needs a knight in shining armor to rescue her! I can handle Pansy Parkinson.”

    Draco huffed slightly and let out a bitter chuckle. “Trust me when I say that anything you do to Pansy isn’t going to make a difference,” he said, “She won’t listen to anyone but me.”

    “Why you arrogant litt…”

    “Will you two stop bickering?!” Blaise nearly shouted, “It’s not going to solve anything.”

    “No, that’s my wand’s job,” Draco stated coldly. He turned and continued toward the mansion.

    “What exactly are you going to do?” Blaise questioned.

    “I’m going to put Pansy in her place, once and for all,” Draco replied, flicking his wand at the large oak doors of the Grand Ballroom, causing them to open with such force that they shook the room a bit when they hit the wall.

    His eyes blazed with anger as he surveyed the room. He couldn’t believe the damage Pansy had caused, not all by herself, but caused all the same by her initiative. Glass wine goblets lay shattered on the tables and floor, desserts that should have been in the guests stomachs were, instead, all over them, tables were overturned, Hermione’s presents had been smashed and scattered all over the room… It was a total disaster zone. Practically roaring with anger, Draco pointed his wand at the ceiling and shouted, “Finite Incantatem Totalus!”

    At once, all of the many spells effects vanished and everyone turned their heads toward the caster of the Finishing Spell. Draco’s face was livid as he settled his gaze on Pansy, who was flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. Everyone remained silent as the angry white-blond haired Slytherin slowly made his way to the center of the room; toward Pansy.

    Hermione gasped at the damage that had been done and angrily pulled out her wand. “YOU!” she shouted, stepping forward and pointing her wand at Pansy.

    Blaise grabbed hold of her upper arms and pulled her back against his chest. “Let Draco deal with her,” he said cautiously into her ear.

    “Let me go, Blaise!” Hermione said, tugging her arms in an attempt to loosen his grip, “She’s ruined enough of my life, I’m not going to let her ruin the rest of this night!”

    Blaise didn’t relent. His grip remained tight on her arms; he didn’t want to risk her slipping away. However, he didn’t take into account that she was still holding onto her wand. A bright purple flash of light flew past Draco’s arm and hit Pansy directly in the chest.

    Pansy staggered back a bit and clutched her chest tightly. She seemed to be trying to catch her breath with the way she was heaving. She then looked up and pointed her wand at Hermione. A jet of bright pink light shot out of her wand and soared toward Hermione.

    Draco quickly blocked the spell and shot a Stunning Spell at Pansy with such vigor that she flew back several feet and hit the floor with a thud. He strode over to her and revived her, keeping his wand pointed at her as she woke. “I could have sworn I told you not to disrespect my fiancée, Parkinson.”

    Pansy stood up and glared at him. “How the hell can you tell me not to disrespect her when you don’t even like her?” she questioned angrily.

    “What I feel is my business.”

    Pansy took several steps toward him, her dark eyes narrowing on him. “You’ve spent years calling her names and doing what you could to humiliate her and her stupid friends, on purpose, and suddenly you’re all noble? I don’t believe you.”

    “You know just as well as I do that my family has a reputation to uphold and I’ve been given orders to respect my fiancée no matter what my feelings for her might be.”

    Hermione pulled herself from Blaise’s grip and took several steps forward. “You bastard!” she said, pointing her wand at Draco. “I should have known this was all a show for your father.”

    Pansy smirked as she slowly stood up. “You didn’t honestly think he cared about you, did you?”

    “What I think is none of your business!” Hermione snapped.

    Blaise stepped forward and wrapped his arm around Hermione’s shoulders. “Pansy, you’ve gone too far!” he said angrily, his eyes narrowed her.

    “I’ve gone too far? Oh please, it’s not like I did anything to make you angry, Blaise,” she said flippantly, “I’ve only done what any Slytherin would have done to protect the people she cares about.”

    “You ruined my birthday party, you attacked my sister…”

    “I defended myself,” Pansy argued, “and what’s rightfully mine!”

    “What’s rightfully yo…?” Hermione began.

    “You destroyed my family’s personal belongings… oh no, that doesn’t make me angry in the least,” Blaise interrupted with an angry sarcasm Hermione had never heard from him before.

    Pansy let out a bored yawn. “Please, this is nothing. A simple Repairing Spell will fix it,” she said. “You can’t honestly expect me to believe that she’s really a blood relative of yours. She’s smart enough to brew Polyjuice potion and cast a Memory Charm on everyone she knows to make them beli…”

    Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’ve already tried that lame excuse for an explanation.”

    Blaise gave Pansy a look of angry confusion. “So not only do you attack my sister, but you accuse her of modifying people’s memories to make them believe she’s…”

    “To make them believe she’s a part of your family and to get at me,” Draco finished. “It’s a ridiculous theory and one that I’ve already made clear was not possible.”

    “Why, because she’s a Gryffindor goody goody?”

    Draco turned on her, gritting his teeth. “Because she’s above such trickery,” he said. “She wouldn’t do something like that.”

    “Draco, she’s been after you since day one!” Pansy said. “Can’t you see that? She wants to keep us apart because she’s jealous of what we have.”

    “There’s nothing between us, Pansy,” Draco stated, “How many times do I have to explain that to you? Maybe you’re in need of a Wit-sharpening Potion.”

    Pansy stepped close to Draco and gently lowered his arm. “Come on, Draco,” she whispered in his ear, “why play this game? You know I can give you…”

    “Get out.”

    Pansy glared at Hermione, who was glaring fiercely at her, and smirked. “What makes you think you can throw me out?” she said with an evil giggle, wrapping her arms around Draco’s waist, “You have no power here.”

    “I disagree, Pansy,” Hermione said, “You see, this is the Zabini Mansion and I just so happen to be a Zabini. Now, get out of my house!”

    Pansy looked up at Draco pleadingly. “Draco, you’re not just going to let her do this, are you?”

    Draco forcefully removed her arms from around his body and sneered. “Let me make something perfectly clear,” he whispered menacingly, “from now on, anything you say or do against my fiancée will be seen as a personal attack toward me. I’ve accepted my betrothal to Hermione and, whether you like it or not, you will accept it. Now get out.”

    Pansy’s lip trembled as she continued to look at Draco. “Draco, please…”

    She froze at the icy glare he directed at her. She had seen that look many times before, but it had always been aimed at someone else, never her. It chilled her to have him looking at her in such a way. She sniffed pathetically and left the room.

    The whole room stood silent as the occupants watched the Slytherin Princess being told off by the Gryffindor Bookworm and the Slytherin Prince. No one had ever thought it possible that Draco would ever yell at Pansy for something like this; especially Hermione. Though no one knew what Draco had just whispered to Pansy, they knew it had to have been something horrible for the Ice Queen to be reduced to tears.

    Just as Pansy left the Grand Ball Room, staring harshly at Hermione of course, Draco turned and focused his attention on Crabbe and Goyle. “What the bloody hell were you two thinking?”

    Unable to come up with a response, the two goons just shrugged. “You two had better thank your lucky stars that Hermione’s too angry at Pansy to do anything to you,” Draco told them, “You know she’d hex you faster than a Bludger to the head.”

    “Who’s to say I won’t?”

    The three young men turned and looked at the angry Hermione, who was now standing just a few feet away from them. “Hermione, I’m handling this,” Draco told her.

    Hermione shook her head. “No, you’re not,” she stated, “This is my house, the attack was aimed at me… I’ll handle this!”

    “Hermione…”

    “Don’t argue with me, Malfoy!” she snapped, “Remember our agreement?”

    Draco nodded.

    “Well, this is what I call, provocation,” Hermione stated, gesturing at the mess around them. She focused her gaze on Crabbe and Goyle. “You and your friends aren’t going to do anymore damage tonight.”

    “Blaise, do something,” Goyle stammered.

    Blaise shook his head and stepped up next to his sister. “You seriously think I’m going to help you after the two of you helped Pansy trash my birthday party? I don’t think so.”

    “Draco?” Crabbe pleaded.

    Draco walked over and stood by Blaise and Hermione. “You two should have thought about this before you went along with Pansy’s little tantrum.” He said.

    “That ‘tantrum’ was anything but ‘little’, and if you get any closer to me I’ll curse you,” Hermione hissed at him. “As for the two of you, the next time you decide to act on someone else’s bidding, I’d think about the possible consequences… if it doesn’t make your brains explode, that is.”

    Unable to say anything else, Hermione turned and walked out of the room, brushing angry tears from her cheeks as she went. Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Luna all followed after her. “Hermione!” Ginny called.

    Hermione stopped dead in her tracks at the sound of Ginny’s voice and turned to face her friends, her green eyes still blazing with anger. “Hermione, are you all right?” Ron questioned.

    “No… I’m not,” Hermione stated, “Pansy Parkinson ruined what was supposed to be a very important, and very fun evening for Blaise and me, my own fiancé is only treating me nicely because his father told him to, and on top of all that, I’m still trying to make sense of the past twenty-four hours… Does that sound ‘all right’ to you, Ron?”

    “Hermione, come on, it isn’t Ron’s fault that this happened,” Luna said kindly.

    Hermione took a deep breath and rubbed her forehead in frustration. She knew that Luna was right; Ron didn’t deserve her snippy comments. “I’m sorry, Ron,” she said, “I didn’t mean to take out my anger at Pansy on you.”

    Ron gave a noncommittal shrug and said, “It’s all right.”

    “No, it’s really not,” Hermione stated, “You didn’t deserve me snapping at you like that.”

    “Just forget about it,” he said, running a hand through his hair with a small smile.

    “I can’t believe that Pansy Parkinson!” Ginny said bitterly, “Does she ever give up?”

    Harry gave a small laugh. “Did you see her face after Malfoy told her off?” he asked, “She looked like she was ready to either cry, or punch someone.”

    “Yeah,” said Ron, laughing as well.

    Luna silently watched Hermione as Ron and Harry continued to joke around about Pansy. She could sense that something was bothering the raven-haired beauty but she had the feeling that she might not want to talk about it. She also had the feeling that more talk of Pansy would only anger her so she decided to change the subject. “Hermione, I saw your parents a bit ago,” she said, “How are they?”

    Hermione gave her a small smile of thanks. “They’re doing well,” she said, “In fact; I’d like you to meet them, Luna.”

    “Oh I’d like that very much,” Luna said.

    “Hermione?”

    Hermione turned at the sound of her mother’s voice.

    “Hermione, you should be enjoying the party not gallivanting around in the halls,” Mrs. Zabini said, glancing at Harry and the others in slight disgust due to the amount of food that covered their clothes.

    “Well, yes, I should be but…” Hermione began.

    “But the enjoyment was cut short by a Pansy Parkinson tantrum,” said Blaise, coming down the hall with Draco at his side.

    Mrs. Zabini frowned and silently cast a Cleaning Charm on Harry, Ron, Luna, and Ginny. “What happened?” she asked finally.

    Blaise quickly recounted the events of moments ago, his mother all the while growing angry at the young Slytherin girl. “How utterly disrespectful,” she said once Blaise had finished. “I’ll be speaking to her father about this and she’ll no longer be allowed in this house!”

    “You might want to think about adding Crabbe and Goyle to that list, as well,” Blaise added.

    “Your father would do much worse if he were to hear about this,” Mrs. Zabini seethed. “All of Hermione’s gifts smashed… the nerve of them!”

    “Mrs. Zabini, if you please, I’ve taken care of it,” Draco said. “Pansy won’t be making any more trouble tonight; I’ve kicked her out on Hermione’s behalf. Crabbe and Goyle, too.”

    Hermione gave a small huff, rolling her eyes as she folded her arms across her chest. “Don’t pretend you did that for me!” she snapped.

    “Hermione, that’s no way to speak to your fiancé!” Mrs. Zabini scolded gently.

    “Well, I’m not going to apologize,” Hermione said. She then turned to her friends and said, “Come on, I’ll show you my room.”

    Hermione turned on her heels and stormed down the corridor, followed quickly by Harry, Luna, and Ginny. Ron remained briefly to glare at Draco and said, “You really don’t deserve her.” He too then turned and hurried to catch up with Hermione and the others.

    “Hermione!” Mrs. Zabini called after her.

    “Let her go, Mum,” Blaise said. “She’s had a very rough night.”

    She watched her daughter disappear around the corner and sighed sadly. When it came to Blaise, she always knew what to say, or do, when he was upset. Hermione was a completely different story. She had no idea how to sooth her own daughter and it saddened her greatly. She hoped that, with time, she would come to learn how to comfort and console her.

    With a deep breath, she turned and looked at Draco. “I’m sorry she snapped at you, Draco, dear.”

    “In all honesty, Mrs. Zabini, I deserved it,” Draco told her.

    Mrs. Zabini gave him a kind smile and patted his cheek. “Well, I guess I should go and make sure things get cleaned up. Draco, dear, thank you for defending Hermione against Pansy, I’m sure she’s grateful.”

    Draco nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. “It, uh… It was nothing.”

    Mrs. Zabini smiled. “You always were a modest boy. Blaise, do try and see if you can get Hermione to come back down?”

    “I think I’ll let her cool off first,” Blaise whispered as his mother headed off to the Grand Ballroom.

    Draco gave Blaise an apologetic look. “Listen, Blaise, I want to apologize for what I said in the ballroom. About Hermione, I mean,” he said.

    Before he could say anymore, Blaise held up his hand and shook his head. “Don’t,” he said a bit harshly. “You told me yourself last night that you were going to continue pretending to hate her in public. You defended her, yes, but you made it clear to everyone in that room that it was only because you’re under orders to respect her.”

    Draco made to speak but Blaise shook his head again. “I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m not angry about what you said, because I am. However, that’s between you and Hermione so I’m not going to give you a lecture; I’m sure Hermione will do that herself. I will say this though: If you’re so keen on keeping people in the dark about your true feelings for Hermione… and I’m assuming you really do care for her… you might want to let Hermione in on that secret, or you’ll have her wrath to deal with every time you open your mouth in public.”

    Draco rubbed his forehead and sighed. “If I tell her, she won’t react naturally,” he said. “You know what a horrible liar she is.”

    “I’m sure she could pretend to hate you just like you’re pretending to hate her,” Blaise almost spat. “She’s not a dunce, you know.”

    “I know she’s not a dunce, Blaise,” Draco said a bit angrily, “but you can’t stand there and tell me she’d be accepting of my plan to keep up the insults and hatred. And don’t act like you know her any better than I do; you’re only just getting to know her, too.”

    “True, but she deserves the truth and you know it.”

    With nothing more to say, Blaise turned and headed back to the Grand Ball Room, leaving Draco alone with his thoughts. His mind raced with thoughts of everything that had happened over the past half hour. His heart ached at the thought of how badly he had hurt Hermione. It had been written all over her face when she had looked at him just moments ago. He had seen that look out of her enough over the years to know it, even if she had been trying to mask it with her anger.

    Draco knew without a doubt that Hermione deserved a better fiancé than himself. That had been evident from the first time he’d met her. She was too good, too pure, for someone like him. There was a darkness in him that couldn’t be lightened, no matter how much white one added to the black. In his opinion, he’d always be gray.

    Besides, he didn’t think there was anything he could say, or do, that would ever make up for all of insults and harsh words he’d spat at her over the years. Despite his father’s orders, he still wasn’t sure what to make of this situation, or his feelings for Hermione. She intrigued him, to say the least, but would he ever love her? He doubted it. Then again; he hadn’t spent enough time with her to honestly say he knew anything about her. Until he knew if she cared for him, he couldn’t allow himself to open up and let her in. For all he knew; she could only like what was on the surface, his appearance, like Pansy.

    At least with Astoria he didn’t have to worry about such things; she had a wealthy family of her own. His looks and money didn’t matter to her. He never had to guess what she was thinking, either. She never kept her thoughts from him.

    He sighed and ran his hands over his face. Regardless of how easy things with Astoria were for him, he was a Malfoy, and that meant upholding the family name and honor. He knew that no matter what his feelings, he’d marry Hermione out of duty. Of course; that depended on whether, or not, Hermione agreed. And I don’t see that happening unless I talk to her, he thought.

    He had a feeling that after the night’s events, Hermione might refuse his invitation to dinner in Hogsmeade. She could be quite stubborn when she wanted to be. He knew he needed to try to make amends, though. He needed to find some way for her to let him in. There’d be no chance of them getting to know each other if he didn’t.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    It was well after midnight by the time all of the guests, except the Malfoys, had left. Hermione, being tired and not wanting to be around Draco, had politely excused herself and gone to her room. After changing into a pair of brand new pajamas, she selected one of her school books and sat in the armchair near the fireplace.

    When ten minutes had gone by and she hadn’t gotten past the first paragraph, she closed the book with a loud sigh. She set the book aside and pulled her legs up, resting her chin on her knees. It had been several hours since her argument with Draco but her anger had not yet subsided; not to mention the hurt she felt.

    A tear slid down her cheek and she quickly brushed it away. It was all so overwhelming. Finding out about her “adoption”, her betrothal to Malfoy, the Blood Transmogrification Spell… She had an exceptional brain, but she felt as if she were drowning in an unfathomable sea of the unknown and the few things she did know, she was having difficulty making sense of; Draco being at the top of that list.

    In the almost seven years she had known him, Draco had been cruel, belittling, and basically down right evil. But in the past two days she had seen a different side of him that she had never expected. He had been sweet, polite, kind even and in a few seconds he had ripped every little spark of hope she had allowed herself to feel.

    She shook her head and chuckled softly. You should have known better, she thought bitterly. She stood and walked over to her desk. The letter from Draco was still lying where she had left it, neatly stuffed in its envelope and waiting for a reply. She picked it up and carefully placed it in the jeweled box Blaise had gotten her. She was too angry to write him back just then. It was also pointless, in her opinion, considering he was downstairs with her family.

    Or, at least, that’s what she had thought.

    Draco was, in fact, standing outside of Hermione’s room debating on whether, or not, he should knock on the door to talk to her. He knew she was severely angry with him and quite frankly, he didn’t blame her. He had said some pretty harsh things about her earlier that evening and she had every right to be pissed.

    Knowing that he needed to make amends with her in order to get her to accept his invitation for dinner in Hogsmeade, he raised a hand and knocked on the door. Seconds later, Hermione’s soft voice could be heard through the door. “Come in.”

    Draco took a deep breath, opened the door, and stepped into the room, fully prepared to accept any lecture or hex that came his way. He saw Hermione sitting at her desk, her hair still hanging in neat curls down her back and dressed in deep green silk pajamas. When she turned to see who was visiting her, Draco couldn’t help being awestruck. Even with her green eyes narrowed at him she was a beautiful sight to behold.

    The smile on Hermione’s face quickly faded when she realized exactly who had come calling. Her eyes narrowed slightly and her fingers twitched toward the wand lying on her desk. She resisted the urge to pick it up and hex him right then by standing and folding her arms across her chest. “You’ve got some nerve coming here,” she said.

    “I needed to see you,” Draco said cautiously, “To talk to you.”

    “I think you’ve said quite enough for tonight; don’t you?” she questioned, arching an eyebrow.

    “Hermione…”

    “Don’t you ‘Hermione’ me,” she spat. “You utterly humiliated me today when you publicly announced your orders to respect me no matter what your feelings for me may be.”

    “Hermione, I’m sor…”

    Hermione shook her head, disbelieving that he was the least bit sorry. “Please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me you’re sorry. Besides, I’m not in the mood to hear it,” she said, too angry and hurt to accept any form of apology.

    “Well, you should, because I am.”

    “Save it,” she said, walking over to her school trunk and retrieving her Arithmancy book. Pointing to the door, she said, “We’re done here. You know where the door is; you can see yourself out.” She then climbed onto her bed and attempted to ignore him.

    Draco was not one that would be ignored. He wasn’t going to leave without her hearing him out. He walked over to her and took the book from her hands. “Hermione, will you stop and let me apologize?”

    She looked up at him. “Why should I?”

    “Because I care about you!” Draco blurted without thinking.

    Hermione moved away from him and got off the bed. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth,” she said, crossing the room.

    She really had no destination in mind, she just needed to get away from him. His confession, if that’s what it could be called, made her nervous. He made her nervous.

    He furrowed his brow. He hadn’t meant to say those words. Truthfully, he hadn’t known what to say. Those words had just slipped out. Now that he’d said them, though, he found that he felt a modicum of truth in them. “I defended you tonight!” He argued.

    “You defended me out of fear for your father, not out of respect, or care, for me.” Hermione stated. “You wouldn’t have done anything of the sort had your father not ordered you to do so.”

    Draco moved to the bedroom door and closed it with a loud bang. “Yes I would have!” he practically screamed. It was a good thing Hermione lived in such a large house because that meant it was less likely that they would be overheard. “Please, you have to trust me!”

    “Trust you?” Hermione shot at him. She picked her wand up and aimed it at his chest. “Tell me, Draco, how am I supposed to trust you when all you’ve done is humiliate and belittle me for the past seven years?”

    “Hermione, you’re right; I’ve never given you a reason to trust me,” he began, holding up his hands in submission and walking toward her. “And you have every right to be angry with me…”

    “You’re damn right I do!” Hermione nearly screamed, keeping her wand on him. “Yes, you defended me, and I thank you for that… but you did it for the wrong reason.”

    At that moment, no words could describe how beautiful Hermione looked to him with her lips poked out angrily at him. His mouth suddenly felt dry. He licked his lips and cleared his throat as he fought to keep his thoughts from going in such an unexpected way.

    He took a deep breath and closed the distance between them. He wasn’t exactly sure how he managed it without a hex being shot at him, but he knocked Hermione’s wand out of her hand and it went rolling across the floor. He took her hands and squeezed them gently. Taking another deep breath, he said, “I’m sorry for the things I said tonight. That being said; I can’t change overnight.”

    “I know you…”

    Draco held up a hand to silence her. “I’ve made a commitment to this… whatever we have… and I’m going to stick with it, but I need you to be patient with me,” he stated, lifting her chin so he could see her face better, “Can you do that?”

    Hermione stared at him silently for several minutes. Finally, she nodded. “Yes, I can do that.”

    He continued to hold her chin as he looked over her features. He’d spent a lot of time staring at her throughout the night, her new features intrigued him, but he hadn’t really had the chance to look for long while being so close.

    There were still traces of the “old” Hermione in the general structure of her face, but the “new” Hermione was definitely a sight to behold. Her darker features matched the regal way she had always carried herself, a trait that she had obviously inherited from Mr. Zabini. The gentleness in her expression, and the way her eyes sparkled when she laughed were mirrors of Mrs. Zabini. She was an unexpected vision unlike anything he had seen.

    He was mesmerized by her beauty. So much so that his stare became almost trance like. His eyes were drawn down to her lips as she bit down on the bottom one. He licked his lips, swallowing hard. “Hermione,” he whispered, lowering his head.


Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



Chapter image by mockingjay @TDA

 

    Hermione’s eyes widened as Draco’s lips lowered to hers. So many emotions were going through her head at that moment that she had no clue what to do. Part of her wanted to give in and allow Draco to kiss her, but the other part of her, the logical part, knew that she wasn’t ready.

    Just before their lips touched, Hermione turned her head. It wasn’t much of a turn; just enough so that he brushed the corner of her mouth. She didn’t want to be rude, but at the same time, she needed him to understand that kisses weren’t just something she threw around for the heck of it.

    Without really wanting to, Hermione pried herself out of Draco’s grasp and took a few steps back. Her cheeks were burning… And no doubt pink… as she stared at Draco, bewildered. She then quickly moved to her desk chair and sat down. She was so confused she wasn’t sure what she should say… or if she should say anything at all.

    Draco watched her silently as she ran her hand through her silky black hair and took a deep breath. “I um…” Draco stammered.

    Hermione held up a hand to keep him from talking. “If you’re going to say you’re sorry, spare me,” she said quietly, looking down at the floor.

    “I shouldn’t apologize for attempting something you obviously didn’t want me to do?” Draco asked, giving her a puzzled look. “That doesn’t make sense.”

    Hermione looked up at him. “It just isn’t the right time,” she explained.

    “But you just…”

    “Just because I’m betrothed to you doesn’t mean I’m expected to give kisses so freely,” Hermione interrupted, “We hardly know each other.”

    Draco ran his hand through his hair. “Hardly know each other? Hermione, we’ve known each other for almost seven years,” he said softly.

    “But I’ve only known the cruel, vindictive side of you not the kind, caring side I’ve seen since yesterday,” she explained. “We’re just getting to really know each other… without any pretends, false identities, or hatred.”

    “I’ve never pretended to be anyone other than who I am,” Draco argued, “And I’ve never hated you; not really.”

    Hermione crossed her legs and leaned back slightly in her chair. “Ah, but if you’ve never hated me, then why would you pretend that you do?”

    “Because my father…”

    “Your father seems to control a lot of what you think and do,” Hermione interrupted. “I remember you saying that you were told to respect me, and when I mentioned all of this being an act for your father you didn’t make any move to exonerate him.”

    Draco cleared his throat. “My father told me that I was to respect you, as I’ve told you already, but he doesn’t control what I do, say, or think.”

    “That has yet to be proven,” Hermione said. “However, I’m more interested in why you’re acting as if you hate me if you really don’t.”

    “We’ve known for a very short amount of time that we’re meant to be married, everyone we go to school with knows about our fights and alleged hatred for one another, don’t you think it would look strange to people if they saw us looking all happy and cozy with each other so fast?” Draco questioned.

    “That’s a possibility,” Hermione replied thoughtfully, “but since when do you care what people think?”

    “I don’t care what people think,” Draco retorted.

    Hermione huffed. It was clear by his expression that he didn’t believe that statement. If he didn’t believe it, there was no way she did. Oh; it was probably true that he didn’t care what everyone thought of him, but his pride and reputation wouldn’t allow him to not care about the thoughts of certain people. Namely, his father. “It’s obvious that you do, otherwise you wouldn’t still be pretending to hate me.”

    Draco didn’t know what to say to that. Hermione, after all, was right about the fact that he was pretending to hate her. He wasn’t sure exactly why he was pretending to hate her though. To him, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Now he wasn’t so sure. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

    Hermione stood up and walked over to him. “You confuse me, Draco,” she said. “One second you’re shooting insults at me and the next you’re telling me you care about me. As if my feelings for you weren’t confusing enough, I now have to deal with an indecisive fiancé?”

    “Indecisive? Hermione, I’m just as confused and uncertain of my feelings for you as you are of yours for me. Although, there is one thing I’m sure of; I want to see this betrothal through.”

    “Well, I wish you’d make that a bit clearer in the future,” Hermione said. “A girl could get a headache with all the switching from kind to cruel.”

    Draco nodded and took her left hand in his right, gently rubbing his thumb along the back of it. “I promise,” he whispered.

    Hermione suddenly blushed a deep pink as it suddenly dawned on her where they were and what she was wearing. “You should go!” she said, quickly pulling her hand out of his as she turned him around and tried pushing him toward the door.

    Draco, in spite of this, stood firm and did not budge. Instead, he turned himself back around causing Hermione to fall slightly off balance and land flush against his chest. He steadied her by wrapping his arms around her waist and whispered playfully, “Kiss me… and I mean really kiss me, and I’ll bid you goodnight.”

    Hermione bit her lip in thought for a moment before saying, “You’re toying with me, aren’t you?”

    “Yes,” Draco told her with a charming smile.

    She smacked his shoulder and couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her. “That,” Draco said, tapping the tip of her nose with his finger, “is a lovely sound.”

    He took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Well, Miss Zabini, it’s getting rather late, and I’m sure my parents are wondering where I’ve got off to,” he told her, “That being said, I wish you goodnight and I hope to have the pleasure of your company again soon. Oh, and I’m eagerly awaiting a response to my letter; particularly the dinner invitation.”

    He gave her a polite bow and let go of her hand as he made his way to the door. “Goodnight, Draco.”

    Hermione sighed deeply and made her way into her bathroom. As she peered into the waterfall mirror, she gave a little jolt. She was nowhere near being accustomed to her true looks so she was still shocked when she caught sight of herself. With a shake of her head, she picked up her toothbrush and began brushing her teeth.

    Her thoughts were a bit sparse as she rhythmically moved the toothbrush over her teeth. She was quite confused as to why Draco had tried to kiss her to begin with. Until that moment, he hadn’t shown the slightest interest in wanting to kiss her, or anything of the sort. So, what had made that moment so special?

    Furthermore, kissing was a very special thing to her, almost sacred. She didn’t want her first kiss with Draco to be something that happened just because, especially since they were just getting to know each other. She believed that there was a right time for everything and his attempt hadn’t felt right to her. Although, she had to admit that when they finally did kiss, it was sure to be mind blowing. The way his lips brushed her cheek, there was just no other possible outcome.

    And with that, the young woman finished brushing her teeth and went to bed.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    After such an eventful day, Draco was glad to be home. As he made his way to his room, he knew it would be a while before he fell asleep. Between the sexual attraction he now found himself having toward Hermione and the adrenaline caused by Pansy’s temper tantrum, his energy level was just too high.

    He wanted to punch Crabbe and Goyle for their part in tonight’s debacle. He wanted to thrash Weasley and Potter just for being them. And damn that blasted Hermione for being so… so… Hermione, he thought as he walked into his bedroom, I’d like to…

    His thoughts stopped at the sight of the beautiful gift lying seductively on his bed. The smile she gave him with her soft, teasing mouth was all the invitation he needed. He kicked his door shut and strode over to her.

    When he reached his bed, he took her hand and pulled her into his arms, crushing his lips to hers. Seconds later, his shoes were kicked off and he was on top of her. Their kiss intensified, fueled by everything Draco had been feeling throughout the night.

    Her pleasure at his reaction was evident in the way she clawed at his clothes. Shirts were quickly discarded as they rolled around on the spacious bed. They were both fighting for control of the situation and neither wanted to be out done by the other.

    Draco won.

    “What a ‘hello’,” Astoria purred as she curled her now, partially naked body around Draco’s.

    “What did you expect would happen when I walked in here and saw you lying on my bed?” he asked, gently running his fingertips along her spine.

    She kissed his chest and grinned wickedly. “I knew what I hoped would happen, but you’re always so guarded, I never know how you’re going to react.”

    Draco chuckled softly and sighed, breathing in the scent of her hair.

    The beautiful blonde propped herself up on her elbow. “I saw you with her tonight. The Zabini girl,” she said.

    “And?”

    “She’s very pretty.”

    The corner of his mouth slid up. “Yes, she is.”

    Astoria narrowed her eyes slightly, watching his face. “The sort of pretty I’ve known you to be attracted to.”

    Draco put an arm behind his head as he took note of her expression through sleepy eyes. “You’re jealous,” he said with a slight chuckle.

    She gave his stomach a sharp slap. “Don’t you dare poke fun at me, Draco Malfoy! Of course I’m jealous!” she exclaimed. “You tell me this afternoon that you’re betrothed and then I find out that she’s exactly your type? How could I not be jealous? Especially with the looks you were giving her.”

    “What looks?”

    “You want her,” Astoria stated.

    “Green does nothing for your complexion, love,” Draco told her, kissing her hand.

    She clasped his hand and kissed his fingers. “Then ease my worry and tell your father you don’t want to marry her.”

    He sighed and rolled away from her. “You know I can’t do that,” he said, standing up and tossing his discarded dress shirt into the laundry hamper, “This is how things are done in my family, you know that.”

    Astoria slid off the bed and hunted down her shirt. “It’s a stupid, ancient tradition.”

    “You’re only saying that because Hermione’s back in the picture.”

    She pushed her hair back with slim fingers and glared at him. “You said your parents had agreed to let you decide if you’d be getting married!”

    Draco was beginning to get angry again. “Astoria, I’m done discussing this with you,” he told her sternly, “Hermione and I have made an agreement and I intend to see that agreement through.”

    “And what of us?”

    “I see no reason why we can’t carry on as we have been.”

    Her eyes narrowed at his words. “You ass!” she snapped, “If you think I’m going to take that wench’s scraps…”

    Draco walked over to her, taking her chin in his hand. “Hey, you’re free to find someone else to play your games with if you like,” he began, “but if you want me then you’ll make do with what I can give you.”

    Astoria pouted and he kissed her lips. “Be patient, love,” he told her, “Come on, let’s have a bath before you go home.”

    She allowed him to pull her into the bathroom. “I don’t want to go home tonight.”

    Draco started the bath, then wrapped his arms around her. “Then stay.”

    She looked up at him, her eyes shining with delight. “Are you serious?” she questioned.

    His arms tightened, pulling her closer. “Very,” he confirmed, moving her hair away from her neck. He brushed his lips over her skin. “So, will you stay?” he asked between kisses.

    “Mmm… Keep kissing me like that and I’ll do anything you want.”

    Draco smirked and continued his kissing.

    Suddenly, the bathroom door flew open, causing the two to jump apart. Lucius Malfoy stood in the doorway, his cold blue eyes narrowed at his son. “Miss Greengrass, I wasn’t aware that you had come to call,” he said, eyeing the young woman icily.

    Astoria blushed and moved to cover herself a little better; she wasn’t naked by any means, but she wasn’t fully clothed either. “There wasn’t anything to do at my house so I thought I’d stop in and see if Draco was busy,” she said quietly.

    “And it’s obvious that the two of you found something to do,” Lucius stated, his tone becoming one that bared no argument, “Miss Greengrass, my son is betrothed to Miss Zabini, so if you would be so kind as to find the rest of your clothes and see yourself out…”

    “Father…”

    Mr. Malfoy turned his attention to his only son. “Draco, get dressed,” he said, narrowing his eyes dangerously, “You and I have some things to discuss.”

    Draco gave Astoria an apologetic look and sighed. “Yes, Sir.”

    Mr. Malfoy left the room and Draco hurriedly did what he had to do in order to follow his father’s orders. “Draco, I don’t have to leave,” Astoria said, following him out of the bathroom.

    He grabbed a shirt and sighed. “I hate to say this, but you probably should. My father’s angry.”

    Astoria finished dressing and turned to look at him with an exasperated expression. “You really need to stop letting you father control every bit of your life,” she told him, “You’re of age and more than capable of making your own choices.”

    She kissed his lips and left.

    Draco took several deep breaths. She had a point, and he knew it. From the time he was born, his father had controlled every aspect of his life. He had never really thought too much about it, he had just gone with it because it was all that he had known. Family duty and honor had been drilled into him from a young age; so much so that he didn’t really think he could fight against it. Then again, in the case of his betrothal to Hermione, he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

    He gripped his head and sat on the edge of his bed. What’s going on with me, he thought? Until a few days ago, I knew exactly what I wanted. I had a good life, the perfect girl, and no real care in the world. Then, my parents tell me my betrothed has suddenly risen back to the surface and everything is turned upside down.

    Hermione brought up a whole other batch of confusing thoughts and questions. However, his internal debate and reflecting would have to wait. His father would be waiting for him in his study and if he didn’t get down there soon, someone would be sent to fetch him.

    With a heavy sigh, Draco stood and made his way through the mansion to his father’s study. Mr. Malfoy was sitting behind his desk, pouring over several papers that Draco was sure to find boring. “Father.”

    Mr. Malfoy didn’t look up. “Sit down,” he said coolly.

    Draco sat, waiting silently for him to finish what he was doing. He knew he was in for a lecture. His father was a master at masking his emotions, but he had seventeen years of experience reading him.

    After what seemed like an eternity, Mr. Malfoy set the papers aside. “I ask so little of you, Draco,” he said, “and yet you are determined to defy me at every turn.”

    “How have I defied you?” Draco wanted to know.

    “You were specifically told to sever your relations with Miss Greengrass and I find you, mere hours after your engagement to Miss Zabini is announced, well on your way to having relations with her.”

    Draco fought not to roll his eyes. “Snogging, Father, we were snogging.”

    Mr. Malfoy stood, his temper flaring. “Do not make light of this, Draco,” he snapped, “You were given direct orders and you will follow them; is that understood?”

    “Father…”

    His voice got dangerously low. “Is… that… understood?”

    “Yes, Father,” he replied, his tone angry.

    “Good. This family has an image to uphold and I’ll not have you spoiling that. Especially not with Astoria Greengrass.”

    Draco huffed. “Oh yes, because everything’s about image with you,” he muttered.

    Mr. Malfoy glared at him. “What was that?”

    “Nothing,” he lied, standing, “May I go now, or was there something else you wanted to lecture me on?”

    “I know you’re not pleased with the engagement, Draco, but it’s a good match and we Malfoys must always honor our word.”

    “Your word, Father. I never made a promise to marry Zabini’s daughter.”

    “You are a Malfoy and you will honor this agreement between Pietro and I,” Mr. Malfoy stated, “Your mother and I have already agreed to give you and Miss Zabini time to get to know each other; we didn’t have to do that. We’d be well within our rights to see the marriage through without your consent.”

    Draco wasn’t shocked at hearing that. It was just the sort of thing his father would do. “I have no intention of going against my word, Father.”

    Mr. Malfoy arched a brow questioningly. “And if Miss Zabini isn’t so accommodating?”

    “I’m a Malfoy; I’ll convince her.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The next morning…

 

    They were right behind her. The slightest pause and she would be caught; her life over. Sweat stung her eyes as she ran, nearly blurring her vision of what was ahead in the dark wood. She wanted to ignite her wand but that had been lost several minutes ago as she had begun running.

    Tree branches that hung low cut into her skin as she used her hands and arms to move them out of her way as she ran but she didn’t feel them. She was too focused on her safety to notice that blood now covered several parts of her body, nor would she have cared if she did notice. She knew the important thing… Get out of this alive!

    The thunderous footsteps behind her told her that her pursuers were not far behind her. She could almost hear the heavy breathing caused by the golden skeletal masks they wore. Just a little bit further and you’ll be safe, she told herself.

    Suddenly, out of the darkness, a tree root seemed to pop out of nowhere causing her to trip and fall face first onto the hard, damp floor of the forest. That was all the opportunity the Death Eaters had needed. The one closest to her quickly grabbed the back of her shirt collar and hoisted her up to her feet, turning her to face him as he did so.

    She opened her mouth to let out a scream for help, for she knew her friends weren’t too far away, but no sound came. The Death Eaters sneered and laughed at her as she kept trying to scream. “Your voice ain’t gonna help ya now, lassie,” said one of the Death Eaters to her left. “Go ahead and scream all ya like, no one’ll hear ya.”

    Then, everything went black…

    “Blaise… Blaise! Wake up!”

    Blaise’s eyes snapped open and he quickly gasped for breath as he sat up. He pushed the covers away from him and ran to the bathroom.

    Hermione followed after him, concerned. She had been in her room when a sudden feeling of fear had overwhelmed her. She didn’t know why, but she had immediately run down the hall to check on Blaise. What she had found when she walked in had scared her.

    Blaise had been thrashing about, clutching at his throat as though someone were choking him. Sweat covered his face and neck, dampening his hair, and he was deathly pale. Hermione hadn’t exactly been sure of what to do, but she knew that he needed to be woken. So that’s exactly what she had done.

    Her worry elevated when Blaise began vomiting into the toilet. She had intended to give him some privacy, but hearing her brother sick threw that thought from her mind in a hurry. She walked into the bathroom and grabbed a washcloth. She quickly wet it and wrung the excess water from it before pressing it to the back of Blaise’s neck.

    “Blaise, are you all right?” she asked after a minute, or two, “Are you sick?”

    Blaise finished vomiting and flushed the toilet. “Not sick,” he said weakly.

    He sat back and scooted himself until his back was against the wall. He took the washcloth from Hermione and mopped his face.

    “You’re scared about something,” Hermione stated.

    He took a breath. “It’s nothing… Stupid, really.”

    Hermione knelt in front of him. “Blaise, talk to me,” she said gently.

    Blaise peaked over the washcloth at her. “It was just a nightmare.”

    Something in his tone gave her the impression that he wasn’t being completely honest. “Blaise, you’re scared out of your mind, I can feel it. This was obviously more that just an ordinary nightmare.”

    “What do you want me to say, Hermione?” he asked, pushing up off the floor and walking over to the sink, “I had a nightmare. It was strange and confusing, so yeah, it scared me, but it was just a nightmare.”

    “Nightmares don’t cause people to thrash about and pull at their throat as though they’re being choked.”

    Blaise looked at her through the mirror. “Hermione, please just drop it. It’s over and done now; nothing to fret over.”

    Hermione had to admit that he looked a hundred times better than he had moments ago. He had stopped shaking and his color was starting to come back. That didn’t keep her from worrying, though. “But I’m worried, Blaise. Are you sure you’re all right?”

    “I need to take a shower. I expect breakfast is nearly ready.”

    “Don’t ignore this,” Hermione said, grabbing him by the arm as he moved by her. When he faced her, she continued, “The last time I saw someone react the way you did to a nightmare was when Harry was seeing into Voldemort’s mind.”

    Blaise furrowed his brow. “Harry, what?”

    Hermione smacked her forehead with her palm. “I shouldn’t have said anything. Forget it.”

    He sensed that this was something Hermione really didn’t want to discuss, and as much as he wanted to push her for answers, he dropped it. He, however, wasn’t so lucky.

    “Blaise, are you sure you’re all right?” Hermione questioned again.

    He gripped his head and groaned. “Hermione, I’m begging you, let it go!”

    She gave him a stubborn expression that mirrored his own and sighed. “All right; I’ll let it go… For now,” she finally agreed, “I’ll leave you to your shower, but, Blaise, just remember that I’m here whenever you want to talk.”

    “Thank you, Hermione,” he said with a small smile, “Oh, before I forget, Mum was able to repair your gifts. If you call Gripa, I’m sure she’d be happy to bring them to you.”

    “Thanks.”

    And with that, Hermione left Blaise and made her way to her own room. She had already showered and dressed so there was no rush to do that. Instead, she sat at her desk and removed Draco’s letter from its place in the box Blaise had given her. She opened the letter and re-read it, quickly figuring out what she wanted to reply with.

    After setting the letter aside, she pulled a quill and parchment out of her desk drawer and began writing. Once she finished the letter, she read it over and carefully folded it. Seconds later, she was standing in front of the window with Callidora perched on her shoulder with the letter tied to her leg. “Take this to Draco Malfoy,” she said.

    Callidora hooted softly and took off into the morning sky. Hermione watched until she could no longer see Callidora in the sky and then she went back to her desk and began writing another letter; this time to the Grangers. It was only moments after she finished stuffing the letter in the envelope that a loud crack sounded near her.

    Hermione jumped slightly at the sudden noise as she turned to find Gripa standing a short way away from her loaded down with a pile of presents. “Gripa is sorry to disturb you Mistress Hermione,” she squeaked, “but Mrs. is wanting you to have your presents.”

    Hermione smiled and quickly got up to help Gripa with her load. “It’s no disturbance at all, Gripa,” she said. “Please, feel free to pop in whenever you like.”

    Tears welled up in Gripa’s eyes as Hermione took some of the presents from her and set them down on the bed. “Mistress is very kind.”

    Hermione smiled once more and sat down on the bed. “I certainly hope that you’ve been treated with kindness the entire time you’ve been in the service of this family.”

    “Oh yes, Mistress,” Gripa replied. “Gripa’s family has always been kind to her.”

    “Good, I’d hate to see you mistreated.”

    Gripa gave her, what Hermione supposed was a kind smile, and bowed low. “Excuse me, Mistress, Gripa must bring Mistress’s other gifts.”

    “Oh, um… Thank you.”

    And with a pop, Gripa was gone.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Blaise stood in the same spot he had been standing in for the past five minutes. He kept thinking about the nightmare he had had. It had seemed so real, as if it had happened before, or was going to happen. He wasn’t sure which, and he didn’t like it. Never before had anything like this happened to him and he didn’t want it to happen again.

    Realizing that he still needed to take a shower, Blaise rubbed his face and finally moved toward the shower. Twenty minutes later he turned off the water and stepped out, quickly performing the drying spell he had seen (and heard) Hermione use before. After that, he dressed and made his way downstairs for breakfast, not really certain he’d be able to eat.

    Hermione’s smiling face greeted him as he entered the dining room. “You’re looking better,” she said.

    “Thanks,” he replied with a meek smile.

    Hermione’s smile faded as she continued to look at him. “Something’s bothering you,” she stated.

    “No.”

    “It wasn’t a question, Blaise. Listen, I’ve had lots of practice reading the emotions of guys; my two best friends are guys, remember?”

    “How could I forget?”

    “Do you want to talk about it?”

    Blaise shook his head.

    “All right then, I want to look up a few things I’m uncertain of for school, I remember seeing a library but I can’t remember where it is.”

    “Third floor, fifth door on the left.”

    “Thanks,” Hermione replied, eating the last bite of her breakfast. “Come find me if you change your mind about talking, ok?”

    Blaise nodded.

    Hermione then stood and made her way through the house until she found the library. She hadn’t exactly been truthful about what she had wanted to look up. There wasn’t anything that she needed to research for school, she was quite confident in her knowledge in that respect; however, she wanted to do a little research on the prophecy about her. She wasn’t sure if she’d find anything, but it was worth a shot.

    The library of the Zabini Mansion nearly took Hermione’s breath away. It was nearly three times as large as her bedroom and book-filled shelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling. There was a staircase near the door she was standing at, leading up to the second floor of shelves, and a third, and so on. Ladders, of course, were sporadically placed around the room and on each floor so that anyone looking for books could reach the top shelves of each floor.

    Hermione walked around the massive room wondering where she should start. There was so much that she wanted to know and she didn’t have a single clue as to what she should look for. Well, I guess I should start with books on Prophecies, she thought. And so she began spanning the library for any books she could find about Prophecies.

    About thirty minutes later Hermione was sitting on her bed surrounded by small mountains of books. The majority of the books contained information about Prophecies but there were a few containing information about her family. She had gotten curious when she had laid eyes on a book entitled “Pureblood Families and Their Origins”. It was this book she was looking through when Callidora came flying through her open window and landed gracefully on her bed.

    Hermione smiled sweetly at the beautiful bird and took the letter that was clutched in her beak. The increasingly familiar writing on the envelope caused Hermione’s smile to broaden as she tore the envelope open and began reading the neatly scribbled note.

 

Hermione,

    I was so pleased when Callidora brought your response this morning. I was afraid I had upset you so badly last night that you might refuse my invitation to Hogsmeade on Saturday. I’m glad to see that I haven’t.

    I’d like to apologize, again, for the things I said last night, and for how they made you feel. It was never my intention to upset you and I regret that I did. That being said; I’ll be calling on Blaise this evening and I very much hope to see you while I’m there.

    Yours,

Draco

 

P.S. You looked lovely last night. I don’t think I ever got around to telling you that.

 

    Hermione folded the letter and put it back into its envelope. Draco would be coming to visit later that evening. Her stomach did a flip. She wasn’t exactly sure why, but there was something telling her that destiny had brought them together. Yet, there was also something telling her to be wary of him and his family; particularly Lucius Malfoy.

    At that moment a sharp pain hit Hermione just behind the eyes, blurring her vision. It was the most intense pain she had ever felt, and she had felt some pretty harsh pain in the past. Her hands flew quickly to her eyes, trying to ease the pain but it was no use, the pain just got worse.

    It was more intense than any headache she had ever gotten. Her stomach rolled with a wave of nausea, but she fought the urge to throw up. She rubbed at her temples and blinked. The ache lessened minimally. She shook her head and fought back the tears forming in her eyes at the hurt. Then suddenly, her vision began to clear.

    No, not her vision.

    She was seeing something, but it wasn’t the piles of books she knew that sat in front of her. There was a man, a man with long white-blond hair and a pointed nose… Lucius Malfoy.


Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Chapter Image by arrietty @TDA

 


    Lucius Malfoy sat in his study with a copy of the Daily Prophet open on his desk. His cold gray eyes stared fixedly at an article that spanned the majority of the front page. Anger pulsed through him with each word he read. He could not believe that his own best friend had kept a secret from him… Might still be keeping a secret from me, he thought, something wasn’t quite right with him the other day.

    CRACK!

    The fire in the fireplace went out with a loud pop, leaving the room dark and cold. Lucius pushed his chair back and withdrew his wand with the lightning quick reflexes his years as a Death Eater had taught him. He then silently lit his wand, searching each corner of the room carefully. The silence of the room and the eerie darkness was enough to make anyone nervous and wary of their surroundings, despite how well they might know them.

    He mopped his brow and wet his lips as his eyes darted around the study. His wand light had not quite touched the far side of the room when the grandfather clock behind him started to chime. The sudden loud noise in the silence caused him to jump. He spun around, his wand at the ready in case it was more than just the clock. There was nothing.

    Satisfied that nothing was amiss, Lucius turned to his fireplace and pointed his wand at the smouldering logs. Instantly, a bright flame burst into life. I really must get my nerves under control, he thought as he began to sit back down in his chair. With all this business about Miss Zabini’s homecoming and Draco’s betrothal to her, it’s no wonder my nerves are shattered.

    Then, the slightest sound of a cape swishing to this left caught his attention. He turned, wand at the ready, and shot a jet of red light at his intruder.

    The Stunning Spell did not hit its mark. Instead, the jinx was deflected and shot straight back at Lucius, sending him flying back into the wall. The intruder easily performed the counter-jinx and the white-blond haired wizard awoke. “Is this how you greet your master, Lucius?”

    Lucius’ eyes widened as a hooded figure moved gracefully out of the darkest corner of the room. “My Lord,” he rasped. “I didn’t… didn’t know…”

    “The Dark Lord has his reasons for not alerting you to his coming,” Lord Voldemort interrupted harshly.

    “Of… of course, my Lord.”

    Lord Voldemort released Lucius, allowing him to drop to the floor with a thump. “I have a task for you, Lucius,” he said, lowering his voice slightly.

    Lucius slowly got to his feet and looked at Lord Voldemort questioningly. “A task, my Lord?”

    “Yes, however before we get to that, I have a few questions for you.”

    “Questions?”

    Lord Voldemort nodded his bald, white head slowly, his snake-like eyes narrowed. He pointed his wand at the chair that had been knocked over and flicked his wrist. In an instant, the chair was turned upright and Lucius was sitting in it. “I see you have been reading this evening’s edition of the Daily Prophet.”

    Lucius answered hoarsely, “Yes, my Lord.”

    “I found the article on the front page very interesting,” Lord Voldemort said. “It seems you did too, considering the rest of the paper does not appear to have been read.”

    Knowing that he need not answer, Lucius remained quiet.

    The evening edition of The Daily Prophet lay unopened on his desk. The entire front page was covered in an article about Hermione’s “miraculous” homecoming. Detailed in the article were the reason for Hermione’s long absence in the Wizarding world, her time at Hogwarts, and a play by play of the Zabini twins Coming of Age party the previous night; including the announcement of Hermione’s engagement to Draco, and Blaise’s to Beatrice.

    There were several pictures that were scattered throughout the article, as well. One picture, in particular, stood out from the others. It was a shot that had been taken right after the engagement announcements.

    Lucius had stared at that picture for a long time; particularly at Pietro and Hermione. There was still something nagging at him in regards to the whole situation. His feelings were justified, he thought, when the article did not give any details that he didn’t already know.

    “Tell me, Lucius; were you aware that Marjorie had given birth to twins?” Voldemort questioned, breaking the long silence.

    “Ye… yes, my Lord,” Lucius stammered, “I… I thought you knew.”

    Lord Voldemort did not deny or confirm whether he had known or not. “Tell me, Lucius; were you aware that Hermione Granger was, infact, Hermione Zabini?”

    Lucius shook his head quickly. “No, my Lord; not until Pietro told me.”

    “And when was that?”

    “I received a letter from him the morning he went to bring her home.”

    Lord Voldemort stayed silent for several minutes, surveying Lucius with an angry and thoughtful eye. “The article states that she had contracted some rare disease that led to the Zabinis taking her to the Muggle world,” he picked up the paper and skimmed the words, “It says that, for years, there was little hope of recovery. What do you know of the young Zabini’s health?”

    “Noth… Nothing, my Lord, you know Pietro; he’s a very private person,” Lucius stammered, “When many years went by with no word of his daughter’s recovery, she was thought by many to be dead.”

    Lord Voldemort took a threatening step toward him, pointing his wand directly at Lucius’ chest. “If that is so, why then, did you not find another bride for your son?”

    “Pietro assured me that she would return to the Wizarding world… assured me that the pact he and I had made years ago would be fulfilled,” Lucius stammered. “I swear... I swear that’s all I know.”

    “Why did you not question Zabini?”

    Lucius’ eyes widened, fearful of what his master might do. “I did, my Lord,” he replied, “I questioned him and Marjorie many times over the years about their daughter, but neither of them would say much of anything about it. They would simply say that she was ill with something the potions and draughts of our world could not cure. Then they would change the subject.”

    “Very curious.”

    “I thought so, too, my Lord,” he agreed, “Ahem, my Lord, do you think Pietro lied about his daughter being ill?”

    Lord Voldemort sneered. “We shall see. Now, let us discuss other business.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Her eyes popped open. Her breathing was labored as she fought to get her fear under control. Mopping her brow with a hand, she felt the mist of sweat that had formed on her skin. What was that, she thought? Had she actually just seen Lucius Malfoy and Lord Voldemort discussing her? How was that even possible? Was this connected to the nightmare Blaise had had that morning?

    These were all questions she could not answer.

    She felt clammy and weak. She imagined this was how Harry had felt every time he’d seen into Lord Voldemort’s mind. Based on her memory of how he had looked anyway. If I looked in a mirror right now, I’d probably look deathly, she thought.

    It was then that she realized her vision had cleared. The pain had not subsided any, however. She sat forward with her head in her hands, breathing deeply.

    When the nauseating pain finally began to lessen, she tried to process what she had just seen. Well, not really so much what she had seen; that was easy enough to understand. Voldemort was suspicious about the events surrounding her being taken to the Grangers. With everything she knew about Lord Voldemort, it was a matter of time before he found out the truth. Troubling, to say the least, but nothing to worry too much about at that moment.

    She had known since her father had shown her his memories that Lord Voldemort would question everything about her “disappearance” and her return home. As evil as he was, he was no dunce. She was also certain that he wouldn’t be the only one asking questions. She knew that were she on the outside, she would have several questions of her own. This was all happening to her and she had numerous questions. I should talk to Harry; see what he thinks, she decided.

    Don’t be ridiculous! You don’t even know if what you saw was real, she told herself after a while, you might’ve been hallucinating.

    Standing up, Hermione let out a frustrated sigh. “If that was a hallucination… Oh what are you talking about?! With pain like that, there’s no way it wasn’t a real vision of some sort.”

    She rubbed her temples to alleviate the dissipating ache. Were she at her childhood home, she would hunt down a bottle of Advil, but this was a wizarding house. “I’ll need a Headache Draught if this pain doesn’t go away. I suppose I should ask someone about where I might find some.”

    “No need; I’ve got some here.”

    Hermione turned sharply with her hand pressed to her chest upon hearing Blaise’s voice. She hadn’t heard him come in.

    “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said.

    She took the small bottle he was now holding out to her. “How’d you…?”

    Blaise furrowed his brow and rubbed the scruff on his cheek. “I’m not sure, really. I just felt that you needed it,” he answered, “Mum usually takes a spoonful, but if your headache is as painful as it looks like it is, then you might want to take a little more.”

    “Thank you.”

    She sat down and drank about half the bottle. She raised her eyebrows in surprise. Blaise chuckled at her expression as he sat down across from her. “Tastes better than you expected, doesn’t it?”

    “It really does,” Hermione agreed.

    “Mum’s got a knack for potions. I think she wanted to be a Healer at one point,” Blaise said thoughtfully, “Anyway, are you all right?”

    She chewed on her lip. “I’m not sure, to be perfectly honest. I’m not sure what to make of it, though, so I’d rather not talk about it just now.”

    “Okay.”

    “It’s strange, though, isn’t it?”

    Blaise gave her a confused expression. “Oh, you mean the fact that we somehow sense what the other is feeling, or thinking?”

    “Yes!” She leaned forward excitedly. “We’ve gone years without knowing anything about each other, and suddenly we can just sense things like when you’re scared, or…”

    “You’re in pain?” Blaise interrupted.

    Hermione grinned. “Exactly.”

    He thought for several moments, casually picking up one of the books in a stack near him. “It is strange, but not unheard of. From what I understand, twins often have a unique sense of each other.”

    “Hmm… Yes, I’ve read several articles on the subject for an assignment I had in school before I started Hogwarts.”

    “That doesn’t surprise me. How’s your head?”

    “Completely fine, thank you.”

    He nodded and stood. “Well, lunch should be ready before long and Draco’s coming so that we can get fitted for some dress robes.”

    Hermione made herself comfortable and picked up the book she had been reading when her vision had hit. “Didn’t you both get new dress robes yesterday?”

    “Yes, but I want to get a head start on things for my wedding.”

    She smiled sweetly at him. “You really like her; don’t you?”

    A grin played on his lips. “I didn’t think I would; but, yeah, I do.”

    “I’m sorry I didn’t get more of a chance to chat with her last night, she seems like a lovely girl.”

    Hermione grinned. “Exactly.”

    He thought for several moments, casually picking up one of the books in a stack near him. “It is strange, but not unheard of. From what I understand, twins often have a unique sense of each other.”

    “Hmm… Yes, I’ve read several articles on the subject for an assignment I had in school before I started Hogwarts.”

    “That doesn’t surprise me. How’s your head?”

    “Completely fine, thank you.”

    He nodded and stood. “Well, lunch should be ready before long and Draco’s coming so that we can get fitted for some dress robes.”

    Hermione made herself comfortable and picked up the book she had been reading when her vision had hit. “Didn’t you both get new dress robes yesterday?”

    “Yes, but I want to get a head start on things for my wedding.”

    She smiled sweetly at him. “You really like her; don’t you?”

    A grin played on his lips. “I didn’t think I would; but, yeah, I do.”

    “I’m sorry I didn’t get more of a chance to chat with her last night, she seems like a lovely girl.”

    “Hermione, you have no idea. Anyway, I should get going.”

    Hermione nodded and watched as he left the library. There was still a sense of fear that she could see in his eyes and feel in her heart. The nightmare Blaise had had that morning was obviously still weighing on him, and it was no wonder. The fear she had sensed from him had been enough to make her heart beat faster with the anxiety of it.

    She couldn’t be sure, but she hoped that when Blaise was ready to talk about it, he would come to her. She had wanted siblings for so long and now that she knew she actually had one, she wanted to do anything possible to help him, to be there for him. It’s what any good sister would do; right?

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Draco straightened his sleek black jacket as he entered Zabini Mansion, bowed in by Gripa. “Master Blaise is in the dining room, Master Draco,” she squeaked as she shut the door. “Is you liking Gripa to take you, Master Draco?”

    Draco smiled and shook his head. “No thank you, Gripa,” he said. “I can manage.”

    Gripa bowed low and scampered off to continue her house work while Draco turned and made his way through the large mansion to find Blaise. As he entered the dining room, he was greeted by the sight of Blaise and Hermione chatting merrily while eating a dinner of chicken, rice, and vegetables. “Good evening,” Draco said.

    Blaise and Hermione looked up at him and smiled. “Hey, mate glad you could make it,” Blaise said. “Care for some dinner?”

    “Um, sure,” Draco replied, removing his jacket, placing it on the back of a chair, and taking a seat next to Hermione.

    Hermione gave him a small smile and began putting food on the plate that had appeared in front of him. Not wanting her to feel as though she needed to wait on him, Draco kindly took the plate of rice and the serving spoon from her and began putting food on his plate himself. “So what are you two planning to do this evening?” Hermione asked.

    “We’re going to do a bit of planning for my wedding,” Blaise told her, taking a bite of chicken. “You know, picking out dress robes and such for the Groomsmen… I think that’s what the Muggles call the men in a wedding party.”

    Hermione smiled kindly at her twin brother’s attentiveness to Muggle sayings. “Yes, that’s right,” she replied. “Have you decided who your Groomsmen are going to be? I take it Draco will be your Best Man?”

    Blaise nodded. “I’ve asked Crabbe, Goyle, Flint, and Bletchley,” he said, “I imagine, if you two decide to go through with the marriage, Potter will be your Maid of Honor; am I right, Hermione?”

    Draco and Blaise laughed heartily while Hermione glared at them. “I’m not at that point yet,” she stated, “Though I’d probably ask Ginny. Despite having a male as a best friend, sometimes a girl needs someone to chat with about girl things.”

    “All right, all right,” Blaise said, raising his hands in defeat and still chuckling. “Didn’t mean anything by it.”

    “Has Beatrice chosen her colors yet? What about your wedding robes; have you decided what you want them to look like?”

    Blaise wiped his mouth. “Well, I’ve got some ideas, but I’m not sure what will be best. As for Beatrice’s colors; she told me at the party that she’s chosen lavender and rose.”

    “Those are lovely colors. Will you have something on your Groomsmen to match?”

    “Most likely.”

    Hermione finished her butterbeer and she wiped her mouth. Checking her watch, she said, “Well, I should be going.”

    “Where you going?” Blaise asked as Hermione pushed her chair back and stood.

    “I’m going to call at the Weasley’s. Ginny asked me to come ‘round.”

    “Give Mrs. Weasley a big ‘thank you’ from me, will you?” Blaise questioned. “For the sweater, I mean?”

    “I’ll tell her. You two have a good evening.”

    And with that, Hermione walked out of the dining room.

    Blaise turned his gaze on Draco and said, “I heard that Muggle Bridesmaids wear ugly dresses picked by the bride.”

    Draco chuckled. “Could you imagine Potter standing up in front of everyone wearing some awful looking dress,” he began, “smiling like a prat, with a garland of flowers in his hair?”

    “That would be a sight worthy of The Daily Prophet!” Blaise stated, howling with laughter.

    “Definitely. I’d buy up as many copies as possible just so I could send them to Potter as a reminder of how ridiculous he is.”

    “That sounds like a great idea!” Blaise said, finishing his food, “Well, shall we get going?”

    Draco nodded and grabbed his jacket. A few moments later, the two boys were standing in Hogsmeade. “Monsieur DuBois’ Fine Linens, then?” Draco asked.

    “Yeah, I’ve always liked going in there; DuBois’ a great laugh.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    The Burrow. Hermione’s home away from home. With its cluttered chaos, gnome filled garden, and near constant noisy state; it was one of her favorite places in the world.

    She smiled as she Apparated just outside the gate. She raised her hand to shield her eyes as she looked up at the house. Her smile widened when the front door opened.

    Mrs. Weasley beamed as Hermione walked through the gate. “Hermione, how lovely to see you!” she exclaimed, pulling her into a warm embrace.

    “And you, Mrs. Weasley,” Hermione greeted, “Thank you so much for the sweater, I love it.”

    The plump woman ushered her inside and closed the door. “Oh, I’m so glad. Did Blaise like his?”

    Hermione took a seat in the kitchen and watched as Mrs. Weasley bustled around. “Yes; he sends his thanks.”

    “He’s most welcome. I was just about to whip up some pies. If you’re hungry, I can make you anything you like; jam tarts, treacle fudge, toast and marmalade… I’ve got some chocolate covered toffees in that tin there on the table.” She briefly turned and pointed to the tin.

    “The toffees will be fine, thanks.”

    “Will you be staying for dinner? We’re having shepherd’s pie.”

    Hermione swallowed the bit of toffee she had been chewing before saying, “I’d love to, but i should probably be home for dinner.”

    “Oh, of course, you’ll be wanting to spend what time you can with your family before school starts,” Mrs. Weasley noted, half to herself, “Another day.”

    “That sounds lovely, Mrs. Weasley.”

    The tone in her voice alerted Mrs. Weasley to how tired and stressed the young woman at her table really was. She had seen it the moment Hermione had stepped through her gate.

    Mrs. Weasley had to admire her. If she were in Hermione’s shoes, she didn’t think she would handle the things Hermione was with nearly half as much grace. Of course, Hermione had always handled things with a poise far beyond a witch of her years. That quality in her was one of the many reasons she had once hoped one of her sons would marry her.

    “I thought I heard your voice,” Ginny said as she entered the kitchen.

    Hermione smiled and hugged her friend. “Your mum tempted me with her delicious toffees.”

    Ginny grinned. “Well, they are tempting,” she agreed, “Come on, it’s a lovely day, let’s take the toffees and go sit in the orchard to wait for Harry and Ron; they went to get Luna.”

    Hermione stood and picked up the toffee tin. The two girls then said, “Goodbye,” to Mrs. Weasley and left The Burrow.

    As they made their way to the orchard, they gossiped about various things that were of no consequence whatsoever. This was part of why Hermione enjoyed spending time with Ginny. There was no pressure to talk about things she didn’t want discuss; there was just easy conversation. And, of course, if they chose to do so, they would chatter about girly things, such as hair, clothes, boys, and the like.

    They came to the orchard before too long and Hermione took a deep breath. The sweet smell of apples filled her nose and she closed her eyes. “I love the smell of apples,” she breathed.

    “Isn’t it the best?” Ginny asked as they sat beneath a nearby tree.

    They sat in silence for several moments before Ginny finally asked, “So, how are things really going with Malfoy?”

    Hermione bit into a toffee and chewed as she thought about that. “They’re interesting, to say the least. He’s not the easiest person to get to know, but I think we’re making some progress.”

    Ginny nodded. “And the real answer is…?”

    Hermione leaned back against the tree and sighed. “I’m so confused, Ginny. I mean; one minute he’s being perfectly sweet and polite, and the next… Well, you heard what he said last night.”

    “Yes; it was all Luna and I could do to keep Ron and Harry from trying to throttle him.”

    A gentle smile played at Hermione’s lips at how protective her two best friends could be. “He came to my room last night.”

    “I hope it was to apologize,” Ginny said.

    “It was, though I almost didn’t let him. After the things Pansy had said and done, and Draco’s comments about being under his father’s orders to treat me properly… I was just so angry and hurt,” she explained, “But, he wouldn’t leave well enough alone.”

    “Sounds like you’ve met your match in the stubborn department,” Ginny giggled.

    Hermione gave her a mock look of anger before breaking into giggles herself. She told Ginny the whole story, grateful for the fact that she listened without interrupting. “And then he lowered his head and…”

    Ginny sat up straight. “You two kissed?” she questioned excitedly, “Why didn’t you say anything earlier?”

    Hermione covered her face in embarrassment. “I turned my head at the last second,” she admitted, “so he mostly got my cheek.”

    Ginny threw a piece of toffee at her. “Hermione Granger, I’m surprised at you!”

    Hermione giggled and threw the toffee back. “Why?”

    “Okay, I’m really not, but still… Why didn’t you let him kiss you?”

    “It just didn’t feel right and I’m not ready to take that step with him just yet.”

    “That makes sense,” Ginny noted, “It’s only been a few days; you’re bound to have some apprehensions.”

    “More than some.”

    Ginny picked up an apple and casually wiped it on her pants. “Would you care to elaborate?” she inquired, biting into the apple.

    Hermione sat up, pulling her knees to her chest. “Well, I suppose the most worrisome thing would be my personal history with the whole of the Malfoy family; particularly Lucius and Draco,” she began, “Lucius has had a hand in trying to kill Harry, and several of us, on more than one occasion. He’s doing his best to make nice, but I don’t believe him for a second.”

    “I don’t blame you, especially considering he’s the reason I ended up getting possessed by You-Know-Who in my first year,” Ginny stated bitterly, “I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.”

    “As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t anything he could say, or do, that would earn my trust.”

    “Good. Carry on.”

    “Well, Draco, while not the most honorable, seems to be trying to be a better person. Though, like you pointed out; it’s only been a few days.”

    “Do you think he’s being honest in his intentions with you?”

    Hermione thought about that. “He’s difficult to read, but he seems to be,” she sighed, “At least, that’s what I gather when we’re alone, or just with our families.”

    Ginny wiped a bit of apple from her mouth as she watched Hermione with her perceptive gaze. “Want to know what I think?”

    “Yes; please. You know I can’t talk to Harry and Ron about this.”

    Ginny giggled. “Quite right,” she said, “I watched the two of you last night. I was particularly intrigued with the way he danced with you.”

    Hermione quietly waited for her to continue. Thankfully she didn’t have to wait long. “He seemed at ease with himself, like he didn’t have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Dare I say, he looked… Happy.”

    A look of disbelief came over Hermione’s face. Ginny caught it and immediately went into her argument. “You can’t deny that he was at least smiling and laughing. I mean; you were with him practically the whole night. Until all that stuff with Pansy Parkinson, anyway.”

    At the mention of Pansy, Hermione’s eyes narrowed angrily. “Oh, I’d love to get my hands on that twit for ruining what was supposed to be a special night.”

    “I saw Mrs. Zabini speaking with Mr. Parkinson, and Crabbe’s and Goyle’s parents, as well,” Ginny said, “None of them looked very happy about what was being said; especially Mr. Parkinson. He looked like his head was about to explode.”

    “Can we change the subject?”

    “Sure; how are you getting on with the Zabinis?”

    Hermione chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. “To be honest; I’ve spent more time with Blaise these past few days than I have Pietro and Marjorie,” she said, “It’s awkward being around them but they’re not so bad.”

    “I imagine it’s difficult knowing what to call them.”

    “It is! I mean; I grew up believing my parents were my parents, and then, come to find out, they’re not. I’ll always think of them as my parents, of course, that isn’t the problem,” she explained, “What I struggle with is what to call the Zabinis. I mean; if I call them “Mr.” or “Mrs.” it’s just strange, but calling them “Mum” and “Dad” is even stranger.”

    Ginny nodded in understanding. “But they’re treating you well?”

    Hermione smiled. “More than well. It’s bordering on spoiling.”

    “That’s got to be a change,” Ginny giggled.

    “It’s a bit annoying, really, and I think it bothers Blaise, though I’m sure he’d say it doesn’t.”

    Hermione wrung her hands together. She so badly wanted to tell Ginny about the strange things that had been happening to her, but she wasn’t sure that she could find the words. A strange thought, considering she had never had a problem discussing her thoughts and feelings before. She was spared the tough decision, however, because Ron, Harry, and Luna turned up just then.

    Ron immediately began digging into the toffees, claiming he was famished. “You had three turkey sandwiches at my house,” Luna stated serenely.

    The rest of them laughed at Ron’s expression. “How are you, Hermione?” Harry questioned, before giving Ginny a quick peck on the lips.

    Hermione smiled at him. “I’m well, Harry, thank you. Luna, what’s that you’ve got?”

    Luna handed her the magazine in her hands. “The latest edition of The Quibbler; Daddy’s just finished it,” she told her, “When Ron said you’d be coming by, I made sure to grab a copy for you. One of our writers did an article on your party.”

    Hermione groaned slightly as she thumbed through the ridiculous magazine. “Speaking of articles,” Harry said cautiously, “There’s a rather lengthy one about you and the Zabinis in The Daily Prophet.”

    With a sigh, Hermione set down the magazine. “Yes, I read it,” she said.

    There was a lot that article had left out, mainly because the reporter didn’t have all the information. Of course, Hermione knew that had been done for her safety, as well as the safety of her family; biological and adoptive.

    She looked at Harry and could see in his green eyes that he had discovered holes in public story of her “disappearance” and sudden homecoming. “Harry, I can see that you have questions, and I honestly don’t blame you, but I’m not ready to give any answers.”

    Harry nodded and cleared his throat. “So, what shall we do today?”

    Ron, Ginny, and Luna quickly launched into ideas. Hermione caught Harry’s eye and gave him a look of thanks. Harry’s expression, however, clearly told her that he wasn’t dropping the subject any time soon. Regardless of that, Hermione knew that Harry would never force her to talk when she wasn’t ready. That was one of the great things about having Harry for a friend. She gave him a small smile and focused her attention back on the discussion of what they were going to do.

    “Before we do anything,” Ron stated after a while, “I want something to eat.”

    Ginny gave him a disgusted look. “You’re a never ending eating machine,” she commented.

    They all laughed.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    “Ah, Draco, good, you’re home.”

    Draco paused on the stairs and turned to face his father. He had just gotten home from his afternoon with Blaise and all he wanted to do was relax. His father had a knack for ruining his plans. This was no exception. “Did you want to see me, Father?”

    “Yes, put down your shopping and come to my study,” Mr. Malfoy said, “I have something to discuss with you.”

    Draco set the few packages he was carrying on the stairs and followed his father. “If this is about last night, you don’t need to say anything else; I got the message loud and clear.”

    Mr. Malfoy sat behind his desk and looked at his son. “While it pleases me to hear that, that isn’t why I want to speak with you.”

    Draco sat and waited patiently for his father to begin. “Draco, the time has come for you to show your loyalty to The Dark Lord.”

    His brow furrowed. “Show my loyalty?” he questioned, “Father, what are you talking about?”

    His father cleared his throat. “There is something he wishes you to do.”

    “Father, I’m just seventeen, what could he possibly want with me?”

    Mr. Malfoy sat up proudly. “As it just so happens, you have a very special skill that The Dark Lord is in need of. Draco, this is great news! Should you succeed in your task, the reward shall be great!”

    Draco listened as his father laid out the details of the task he was supposedly more than qualified to carry out. The more he heard, the more ridiculous he thought it was. It wasn’t that the plan itself was absurd, but the fact that it was believed that he could pull it off was ludicrous. Oh, sure; he could manipulate the situation to make it work, but that would prove to be more trouble than it was worth. He would have to be much more sneaky and conniving than he had ever been in order to remain undetected. Considering who this plan involved, being undetected wasn’t going to happen.

    The things his father was saying, that it was possible that Hermione was a part of some prophecy, just didn’t make sense to him. Of course, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t true, but why, when things were starting to go well, would he want to make them worse?

    When Mr. Malfoy finished his explanation, he gave him an expectant look. Draco cleared his throat. “It’s a well laid out plan, Father, but it’ll never work.”

    Mr. Malfoy huffed. “What are you talking about? Of course it will.”

    “You’re forgetting a very simple fact.”

    “And what’s that?”

    Draco stared at him disbelievingly. “Hermione’s too smart to fall for it.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    When she arrived home, Hermione was exhausted. While at The Burrow, she had spent several hours watching Ginny, Ron, and Harry play Quidditch. Harry and Ginny took turns tossing apples for Ron to catch. While he still wasn’t the best Keeper she had seen, he had definitely improved since their fifth year.

    Luna had kept Hermione laughing by commentating the way she would if they had been at a school match. The lazy, distracted way she talked about the plays being made and then went off topic about some sort of made up, by Hermione’s logic anyway, creature was uncanny. It made what had started out as a worrisome day much more enjoyable.

    Being able to relax with her friends and forget about all the things going on in her life had been a joy. And something she had sorely needed. The amount of stress she had accumulated in just a few days was insane. The school year hadn’t even started and she already felt the way she normally did in the weeks before end of year exams. Not exactly a good way to start the year, she thought as she climbed onto her bed.

    Callidora hooted softly and flew over to perch on Hermione’s knee. Hermione smiled and stroked her soft feathers. The gentle Boreal owl blinked lazily and settled herself comfortably.

    Hermione closed her eyes as she continued petting Callidora rhythmically. Being in a place that was still new to her, and wasn’t exactly the most settling, it was comforting to have something that would show her unwavering unconditional love.

    Just then, a knock on the door broke her dreamlike daze. “Come in,” she called, shaking her head and moving Callidora off her knee so that she could get more comfortable.

    Her bedroom door opened and Blaise walked in. “Have a good visit with the Weasleys?”

    “Yes, quite good,” she said, allowing Callidora to perch on her knee once more, “It was just what I needed. How did things go with Draco?”

    Blaise smiled as he closed the door and walked further into the room. “Brilliantly,” he said. “I managed to pick out some really smart dress robes for myself and Draco; I’ll have to take Crabbe, Goyle, Flint, and Bletchley another day.”

    Hermione rolled her eyes slightly. “Oh I can just imagine how much fun that’ll be.”

    “Oi, I don’t trash-talk your friends in front of you,” Blaise reprimanded.

    “I’m sorry, but I just can’t say anything nice about Crabbe and Goyle,” Hermione said sincerely. “Especially not after they helped Pansy Parkinson destroy our Coming of Age party. I actually can’t understand why you’d consider making those two Groomsmen after that, but it’s not my decision.”

    “Look, I know Crabbe and Goyle are thick, and they usually go along with whatever someone smarter than them says, but they’re my friends, Hermione,” Blaise argued. “They’re Draco’s friends too, and seeing as he’s doing his best to respect your choice of friends, you might want to do the same.”

    Hermione took a good look at her brother and noticed the stress on his face. When she saw that, she sighed and quietly said, “You’re right, I’m sorry, Blaise.”

    Blaise shook his head and rubbed his face. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like i did,” he said, “I guess I’ve been a little on edge since this morning.”

    “It happens to us all from time to time,” she forgave. She studied him with her perceptive eyes. “You wanted to talk to me about something?”

    He chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re sure you’ve got the time?”

    “Of course,” Hermione said, patting the spot next to her on the bed, “As I’ve said before, I’ll always have time for you.”

    Blaise slowly strode over to her and sat down on the spot she had patted. He looked nervous, almost sick, as he looked down at the floor and swallowed hard. “Has… has anything strange happened to you since you’ve been here?”

    “What makes you ask?” Hermione questioned apprehensively.

    “This morning… the nightmare I had. Nothing like that’s ever happened to me before,” Blaise said. “It was like I was seeing things through someone else’s eyes… like I was someone else.”

    Hermione gasped softly. “Wha… what happened?”

    Blaise ran a hand over the back of his neck in an attempt to calm himself. “I… I was running. There were trees… so many trees. Death Eaters were behind me. I tripped and one of the Death Eaters grabbed me.”

    “Blaise, do you have any idea whose eyes you were seeing from?” Hermione asked.

    Blaise shook his head and finally looked at her. “All I know is that it was a girl,” he whispered. “I could tell because I remember feeling a lot of hair flowing around me… her.”

    “And this happened for the first time this morning?”

    Blaise nodded.

    “Something odd happened to me this morning too,” Hermione confessed. “It was after we had spoken and I went to the library. While I was looking through the books, I got a sharp pain behind my eyes and my vision blurred. When it cleared again, I was looking at Lucius Malfoy.”

    Blaise looked surprised. “What was he doing?”

    Hermione wasn’t quite ready to divulge the details of what she had seen. But, considering Blaise had shared his nightmare, she didn’t see why she couldn’t, at least, share something of her vision. So she said, “I don’t know exactly. All I could really see was Lucius sitting at his desk looking over some papers. He didn’t look pleased. Then, my vision went blurry again and I was back to staring at the books around me.”

    “What do you think it means?”

    Hermione shook her head. “I’m not sure,” she said, “I remember reading something in Magical Connections a couple of years ago about some sets of twins having powers of telepathy and cryptophasia, but…”

    “Crypto-what?”

    “Cryptophasia. It’s a phenomenon of a language developed by twins that only the two can understand. It basically means secret speech,” Hermione explained, sounding like a dictionary, “Now, I’ve seen the cryptophasia in action before, being around the Weasley twins, but I’ve never actually known a pair of twins to have such powers as telepathy, or visions; have you?”

    “No; I don’t know many sets of twins,” Blaise replied, “Hey, do you suppose this thing we have… you know, where we just somehow know what each other is thinking, or feeling… is some form of cryptophasia?”

    “I suppose it could be,” Hermione began, chewing on the nails of her left hand. “I’ll ask Fred and George Weasley next time I see them. The Patil sisters might be worth asking…”

    “Hermione, I’d prefer to keep this as quiet as possible, if you don’t mind.”

    “All right, then I’ll just ask Fred and George,” Hermione told him. “Is that all right?”

    Blaise thought for a moment. “I suppose they can be trusted?” he asked. “I mean; they run a joke shop.”

    “Of course they can be trusted. They’re not ones that would blab something a friend asks them to keep secret.”

    “All right, you can ask them… Just don’t tell um… Ron and Harry.”

    “Or Draco,” Hermione added with a small smile at Blaise’s use of her friends’ names.

    “What are we going to do in the meantime?”

    Hermione grinned, walked over to her desk, and picked up one of the many books that were piled on it. “What do I always do when I’m looking for answers?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.


Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 


Chapter image by azur.ite @TDA



    He felt weird. His stomach was in knots. He sat on his bed and took several deep breaths. If he didn’t know any better, he would say he was nervous, but that just couldn’t be. Draco Malfoy didn’t get nervous. Draco Malfoy was confident and more than capable of going on a date.

    He growled and shoved his hands through his hair in frustration. It’s this damn pressure my father’s putting me under, he thought, as if I don’t already have enough on my plate as it is; he’s got to go and add more.

    He stood and headed into his closet to find something to wear for his date with Hermione. But that’s life as a Malfoy. He rummaged through his clothes until he found something he felt would be suitable for what he had planned; not too dressy, but not too casual either.

    The date he had planned wasn’t anything spectacular, but he thought it was appropriate for a first date. That, and it was casual enough to be relaxing and unintimidating, which is what he believed this situation called for. He needed Hermione to be at ease and let her guard down around him. If she suspects for one instant, I’m finished.

    Draco finished dressing for his date and stared at his reflection. Merlyn help me.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    “Uh-oh, I know that look.”   

    Hermione looked up and smiled brightly at the welcomed sight that greeted her. “Harry!”

    Harry smiled back at her. “Hello, Hermione, bad day?” he asked with a chuckle as he walked toward her.

    “It’s better now,” she said, putting the book in her lap on the floor. “So, what brings you here?”

    Harry stared at her for a moment before looking around the expansive library and whistling. “Wow, this is some library,” he said with a smile. “You must be quite at home in here, huh?”

    Hermione grinned and absently pulled her wand from the bun of hair it was holding sending her raven locks tumbling over her shoulders and down her back. “It’s become like a second bedroom,” she said, flicking her wand and causing the books around her to make a neat pile.

    He cleared his throat and took a seat near her. “Something hasn’t sat right with me since I read that article in The Daily Prophet. I think you know what I’m talking about, so I thought I’d come by and see if you wanted to talk about it,” he confessed, giving her a pointed stare.

    Hermione leveled her gaze on him as she turned her notebook over and set it aside. “Harry, I…”

    “Listen, I’m not trying to push, but I can’t help feeling that you’re in some kind of danger.”

    “Playing the protective ‘big brother’ are we?”

    “With what I know of this lot, can you blame me?” Harry asked, pushing his glasses up his nose.

    “Well, no, I suppose not,” Hermione said. “Although, I’m perfectly capable of handling myself.”

    “I’m well aware of that, Hermione, but…”

    “Harry, I assure you; I’m fine.”

    “How can you say that, Hermione? You’re living under the same roof as a known Death Eater.”

    “Things aren’t that simple.”

    “Then, please, explain it to me because I’m not understanding how someone as honest and good as you can be so comfortable living in a place of such evil.”

    “Harry, open your eyes!” Hermione exclaimed, “The Zabinis aren’t the Dursleys.”

    “I know that, but…”

    Hermione sighed, interrupting him. “Harry, please! I’ve got enough stress pumping through me without you adding to it.”

    “Okay, I’m sorry. Anything I can help you with?” Harry questioned, pointing at the small pile of books at her feet.

    “Oh, um… No, thank you,” she stammered, moving the books with her foot so that Harry wouldn’t be able to read the titles. “I think I can handle this on my own for now.”

    Harry eyed her suspiciously. “Since when do you not accept help researching things?”

    Hermione chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before saying, “Well, it’s something I’m helping Blaise with. I promised him I wouldn’t say anything about it.”

    Harry nodded. He didn’t really understand why she was keeping something a secret for Blaise, she barely knew him, but his years of being her friend had taught him that she was very loyal to the people she trusted. He then cleared his throat and said, “You getting on all right with your um… family?”

    “Well we’re not telling each other our deepest secrets or anything but we’re getting on as well as can be expected,” Hermione replied. “I’ve only been here about a week so things are still pretty new.”

    “And you’re being treated fairly and all?”

    “I’m being treated almost like a princess, to be honest. It’s quite annoying really.”

    Harry grinned. “I know what you mean.”

    “Is the Minister still trying to get you to join the Ministry’s efforts?”

    Harry rolled his eyes and unconsciously rubbed the back of his right hand. “He’s even gone so far as to send me letters at the Burrow.”

    “I don’t understand how he can expect you to join in the search for Voldemort when the Ministry didn’t even believe you when he came back,” Hermione said bitterly. “And after they treated you so horribly.”

    “Yeah well, not everyone can be as smart as you,” Harry said with smirk.

    Hermione scowled at him. “Don’t make me hex you,” she said playfully, twirling her wand between her fingers.

    “Hey, I’m only speaking the truth,” he said, putting his hands up in mock defeat.

    “You’re just as smart as I am.”

    “I’m nowhere near as smart as you.”

    “You’re a lot smarter than you give yourself credit for,” Hermione said matter-of-factly.

    “Hermione?”

    Hermione and Harry looked over at the door at the sound of Blaise’s voice. “What’s he doing here?”

    “I can visit my friend if I want to, Zabini.”

    “Watch yourself, Potter,” Blaise retorted. “You’re in my house.”

    Harry stood up and whipped his wand out of his jacket pocket. “It’s Hermione’s house too,” he said pointing his wand at Blaise. “Or have you forgotten?”

    “What I’ll forget, Potter is that you’re my sister’s friend if you don’t lower your wand,” Blaise sneered.

    Suddenly, a loud bang echoed through the room causing both boys to cover their ears, Harry dropping his wand in the process. They slowly turned and looked at Hermione. “You know, these displays of testosterone are really starting to get on my nerves,” she said.

    Blaise rubbed his ears and winced. “Did you really have to do that?”

    “Yes, thick as you two are being right now,” Hermione replied. “Now, Blaise, you came in here for a reason, what was it?”

    “Oh, Draco’s here.”

    Hermione’s eyes widened as she stood up, sending the book in her lap toppling to the floor. “Damn!” she said, smacking her forehead. “How could I have let the time get away from me?! Harry, I’m sorry but you’ve got to go.”

    Harry put his wand back into his jacket pocket and walked over to the door. “Stop by the Burrow again soon, Hermione,” he said.

    “I will. Give everyone hugs for me,” Hermione said, gently pushing him out the door. Then seconds later she darted past him, her arms loaded down with the books she had been looking through.

    Harry was confused. Not wanting jeopardize his friendship with Hermione, he decided to make peace with Blaise. Besides, he didn’t want Hermione coming back down and hexing the two of them because they couldn’t control their tempers. “What was that all about?” Harry asked politely.

    “She and Draco have a date,” Blaise replied calmly, deducing what Harry was trying to be more civil.

    “Right, well I’ll just be going now,” Harry said, taking a few steps down the hall. He quickly realized however that he didn’t know his way around Zabini Mansion so he stopped and turned back to Blaise. “Um, would you mind telling me how to get out of here?”

    Blaise laughed. “You’re a Wizard, just Apparate.”

    “I um… I haven’t got an Apparating License.”

    Blaise stopped laughing and cleared his throat. “Oh. So how’d you get here?”

    “I flew.”

    “Oh, right. Come on then, I’ll show you out.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Hermione looked at herself in the mirror and groaned. Her looks had never been important to her but she wanted to look nice for her date this evening. It was a task that was proving to be quite difficult in her opinion, however.

    She looked around at the plethora of clothes in her closet and shook her head. Oh it’s no use, she thought, feeling quite overwhelmed. I’m just not good at this. I don’t even know where he’s taking me so how am I supposed to know what to wear?

    She glanced up at the life-size model of herself that stood in the middle of her closet and smiled. “Of course, why didn’t I think of that to begin with?” she questioned aloud. Because you’re used to doing things the Muggle way you twit, she playfully scolded herself.

    She picked up her wand, which had been resting on a shelf nearby, and pointed it at the model. She had read about a spell that would pick out the caster’s clothes for them if they couldn’t do it themselves. I hope this works, she thought. “Vestirsi.”

    Her eyes widened as a bluish light surrounded the model, swirling rapidly. Seconds later, the light vanished and the model of her was neatly dressed complete with hair, make-up, and accessories. A smile tugged at her lips as she looked “herself” over and nodded. “That’s perfect,” she said giddily.

    Within minutes, she pulled off the clothes she was currently wearing and replaced them with the ones her “clone” had on. She then looked in the mirror, concentrating hard on the reflected mannequin behind her, and pointed her wand at her hair. “Pettinatura Copia.”

    Gold light shot from the tip of her wand and weaved its way around her raven locks, copying the exact hairstyle on her “clone”. It was a rather strange sensation really. She felt as if several tiny fingers were working through her hair, gently tugging and curling each strand. Then, putting the final touches on her look, she pointed her wand at her face and said, “Cosmetici Copia.”

    Seconds later, she was looking at her reflection with a bright smile. She was truly happy with what she saw before her and hoped that Draco would be too. “Well, here goes nothing,” she said with a nervous giggle as she grabbed her purse and headed out of her room.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    “Where is she?” Draco muttered to himself.

    “Relax Draco, she’ll be down in a minute,” Blaise said.

    Draco turned his attention to his best friend and opened his mouth to speak but when he saw Harry walking next to Blaise, he scowled. “What the bloody hell is he doing here?”

    Harry scowled back and was about to make some sort of smart-assed remark but before he could, Blaise put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Draco, Harry is Hermione’s friend and if he wants to visit her, he’s more than welcome to.”

    “But…” Draco began.

    Blaise gave him a stern look. “Let’s not forget some agreement you made with Hermione, eh?”

    Draco’s brow furrowed. “How did you know about that?”

    “Hermione mentioned it at the party remember?”

    Harry cleared his throat and rocked a bit on his heels. “Right, well I’ll just get my broom and be going.”

    “Gripa!” Blaise called.

    A loud pop signaled the elf’s arrival. Blaise looked down at the elf and smiled kindly as she bowed. “Gripa, Harry needs his broom,” he said.

    “Right away, Master Blaise.”

    The elf vanished with a pop and reappeared just seconds later holding Harry’s Firebolt carefully in her hands. “Thank you, Gripa,” Harry said kindly as she handed him the broom. “It was a pleasure meeting you.”

    Blaise patted Harry on the back and opened the door as Gripa popped out once more. “Well, thanks so much for stopping by.”

    “Uh, sure,” Harry said, giving Blaise a curious look as he stepped outside.

    Blaise shut the door and turned to Draco. “You know, you can be a real git sometimes,” he said. “Then again, so can I. Nearly got into a duel with Potter in front of Hermione; bloody near blew our eardrums out with one of her spells.”

    “I’m a git? I’m a git? What about Potter?” Draco questioned. “He goes around rescuing people like he’s some kind of hero and…”

    Blaise put his hand on Draco’s shoulder and said, “Look, I don’t like him either but there’s obviously something in him that Hermione likes so maybe we should both make an effort to get to know him.”

    Draco pondered this for a moment. He didn’t think what Blaise was suggesting would be possible. There was far too much bad blood between them. Far more even than what lay between himself and Hermione. He and Harry quite literally hated each other.

    However, if he was going to make any headway with Hermione, playing nice with her friends was something he would have to do. He sighed and looked at Blaise. “You’re right,” he said finally.

    “When am I not?” Blaise asked with a smirk.

    “When you’re being a complete and total arse… much like you are now,” Draco replied with a smirk of his own.

    Blaise gave him a playful scowl and quickly took him into a headlock. “An arse, am I?”

    “Seems to be a lot of that male bravado going around. I think it’s an unfortunate part of belonging to the male gender of our species.”

    Both boys straightened up and looked at Hermione. Blaise gave her a mock hurt look and placed his hand over his heart. “Oh, now that really hurt, Hermione,” he said.

    Hermione smiled. “Sometimes the truth hurts, but that doesn’t make it any less true,” she said playfully.

    “Fair enough,” Blaise said, kissing his sister on the cheek. “Well, I’ll leave you two alone. Have fun!”

    Hermione chuckled as her brother moseyed away and then turned her attention to the handsome young man standing in front of her. As she smiled up at him, her eyes landed on his soft lips. A light blush crept into her cheeks as she nervously looked down at the floor.

    “You look amazing,” Draco breathed, taking in her fitted black slacks and royal blue halter top.

    “Thank you. I hope I’m not over dressed,” she said.

    Draco looked down at his black dress shoes, khaki slacks, white collared shirt and black pull-over sweater and shook his head. “You’re dressed just fine, Hermione,” he said with a small smile. “You look absolutely beautiful.”

    The words were out of his mouth before he even realized he had said them. Luckily, he had had enough practice hiding his emotions that the slight shock he felt never made it to his face. If he was being honest, he wasn’t so much shocked by what he had said, but by the fact that he had actually meant them. Well, that’s an interesting development, he thought.

    Hermione blushed as she said, “Are you sure?”

    “Don’t make me hex you, Zabini,” he said with a playfully stern look. “You look gorgeous.”

    Hermione blushed at his comment as she let out a light laugh. “I’d disarm you before you could utter a single word,” she retorted. “I’ll just get my jacket.”

    “I get stunned every time I see you,” he whispered as she walked away.

    He wasn’t sure if she had actually heard him, or not, because she continued walking away. He hoped she hadn’t. It wouldn’t do him any good for her to know that she was beginning to affect him.

    At least not yet.

    “Ready.”

    “All right then, off we go,” Draco said, holding out his arm for her.

    “Where are we going?” Hermione asked as she took his arm and allowed him to lead her out of the mansion.

    “It’s a surprise.”

    Hermione smirked. “Draco Malfoy actually plans surprises?”

    “If there’s someone worth planning one for,” he replied seriously.

    “And I’ve somehow managed to fit into that category?”

    “Oh you’ve managed that quite easily,” Draco told her with a smile.

    Hermione smiled back at him as they came to a stop near the end of the driveway. Draco turned to face her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I’m fairly certain you’ve passed your Apparation test, but it’ll be easier if you just hang on to me.”

    Hermione gave a small nod and wrapped her own arms around him tightly, preparing herself for the painful squeezing feeling. Within seconds she felt as if her body was being squeezed through a tight rubber tube. She closed her eyes and didn’t open them again until she felt her feet on solid ground.

    “I take it you don’t like Apparation?”

    “I’m still getting used to it,” she replied shakily.

    Draco nodded in understanding. “I went through that myself,” he said. “It gets easier the more you do it.”

    “I’m sure.”

    Draco pulled out of her grasp and took her hand. “Come on, I’m hungry.”

    Hermione laughed as Draco lead her down the main street of Hogsmeade. “Boys and their stomachs,” she muttered.

    Draco ushered Hermione down a little alley way and stopped in front of a quaint looking café with miniature candelabras on each table. In all her visits to Hogsmeade, she had never seen this café before. “It’s beautiful,” she breathed.

    “I suddenly feel underdressed,” Draco stated with a chuckle as he looked the café over.

    Hermione looked at him seriously. “You’re dressed fine to me, why would you think you’re underdressed?”

    “Well, when I decided to bring you here, it was daytime.”

    “No romantic atmosphere about the place at the time?”

    “Well, no, not really,” he answered honestly. “Not much of one, but I thought it’d be a nice place to start our um… courtship?”

    Hermione giggled and repeated, “Courtship? You call what we have a ‘courtship’?”

    Draco rubbed the back of his neck and glanced at her. “I didn’t know what else to call it,” he said honestly, “I mean; we’ve barely begun getting to know each other and we’re betrothed. We’ve kind of skipped a step, or two, you know?”

    “Yes, I’ve got to agree on that,” Hermione said seriously. “We’ve gone straight from despising each other to chatting civilly with each other… It’s quite strange really.”

    “Yes… Well, shall we go in?” Hermione nodded and Draco held the door open for her, following behind her once she passed him.

    As they walked in, a young woman smiled at them from the hostess podium and said, “Welcome to Tira, do you have a reservation?”

    “Yes, under Malfoy,” Draco told her.

    The young witch eyed Draco flirtatiously for a moment before looking down at her reservations book. “Ah, yes here we are sir; Malfoy, reservations for two.”

    “That’s correct.”

    “Right this way,” the hostess replied, grabbing two menus and leading them through the café.

    Draco placed his right hand on the small of Hermione’s back, gently guiding her as they were taken to their table. She turned her head slightly and smiled back at him. “Well, here we are,” the hostess said, gesturing to a table next to her.

    Draco pulled out Hermione’s chair and waited until she was seated before pushing it in. He then walked around the table and sat down in the chair opposite her as the hostess placed their menus on the table. “Your server should be right with you however, please feel free to alert me if your service is not to your liking and I’ll happily take care of it for you.”

    “Thank you,” Draco said, kindly dismissing her.

    As the hostess walked away, Hermione unfolded her napkin and placed it in her lap. She then straightened her silverware and took a long sip of her water. She blushed slightly when she glanced up and noticed Draco watching her. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were nervous, Miss Zabini,” he said with an amused chuckle.

    She hurriedly picked up her menu, holding it up to hide her face. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said, glancing up at him.

    Draco gave one of his trademark smirks and said, “Of course not, you’re just blushing because you think I’m good-looking.”

    “Your looks mean nothing to me,” Hermione told him.

    “A person’s looks always mean something,” Draco said.

    “That’s a superficial statement if I ever heard one,” Hermione said a bit coldly.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “Neither one of us is blind, Draco; you are a good-looking guy, there’s no denying that, but a person’s looks aren’t what makes them who they are. There has to be substance, as well, like personality.”

    “You’re quite right but wouldn’t you agree that there has to be something about a person that makes them physically attractive in order for someone to find them attractive?”

    “Not necessarily.”

    Before Draco could comment, a tall man came up to them with a pad of paper and a quill. “Hi, I’m Herbert; I’ll be your server this evening. Can I start you off with something to drink?”

    Draco looked at Hermione who said, “I’d like a butterbeer please.”

    “I’ll take the same,” Draco said.

    Herbert wrote on the pad of paper and smiled at them. “Were you ready to order or do you need a few more minutes?”

    “A few more minutes would be great,” Draco said kindly.

    The server nodded and walked off to check on his other tables.

    Hermione looked over her menu, quickly trying to decide what she should order. Everything sounded so delicious that she was having trouble deciding. After several minutes, she finally decided on what she wanted and put her menu down. She noticed Draco had already closed his menu and was looking at her. “What?”

    “How are you adjusting to living at the Mansion?”

    “Oh, um, fairly well I suppose.”

    Draco raised an eyebrow. “You suppose?”

    “Well, it’s rather strange going from living in a Muggle town to suddenly living in a house you’re able to do magic in whenever you want.”

    “I can only imagine.”

    Herbert came back carrying a small tray with two bottles on it. He placed the bottles on the table and took their orders, after which he disappeared again.

    While the two were waiting for their food, they talked about anything they could think of from how they each grew up to what they thought this new year at Hogwarts held for them. “I imagine there’s going to be a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher this year,” Hermione said. “I wonder who it’s going to be.”

    “Actually, we’ll have a new Potions Master,” Draco told her matter-of-factly. “Professor Snape is going to be teaching Defense this year.”

    Hermione’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding!”

    “He sent me a letter of congratulations on our engagement the other day,” Draco said.

    “Has Dumbledore gone completely mad?” Hermione exclaimed. “Why in Merlin’s name would he appoint Professor Snape to the Defense post?”

    “Well he is a gifted teacher, you know,” Draco said defensively.

    “Be that as it may, Professor Snape has a past with the Dark Arts. I mean; he was a Death Eater.”

    “As was my father, and your father for that matter.”

    “Well, don’t you think that Professor Snape might slip back into his old ways teaching Defense?”

    Draco cocked his head to the side and gave her a questioning look. “You trust Dumbledore, don’t you?”

    “Of course I do,” Hermione replied.

    Draco took a drink of his butterbeer and smiled. “Then why are you questioning his choice of Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor?”

    “Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t like Professor Snape,” Hermione confessed. “He’s a completely biased teacher.”

    “And exactly what mark did you get from him on your O.W.Ls?”

    Hermione sighed. “I received an ‘O’.”

    “Well then, you can’t really say he’s biased now can you?”

    “And why not?”

    “If he were truly biased, he would have given you a ‘T’.”

    Hermione huffed softly as her food was set down in front of her. “Even so, you’ve seen how he treats non-Slytherin students,” she said as she picked up her fork.

    “It’s an unhealthy habit of Slytherins,” Draco said quietly. “I’m the same way, remember?”

    Hermione took a bite of her food and shook her head as she swallowed. “You’re only like that around your family or friends,” she said. “I can see that that’s not who you really are.”

    Draco took a bite of his own food before saying, “You’ve only just begun getting to know me; how can you be sure that what you’re seeing now is who I am?”

    Hermione thought about that as she chewed another bite of food. How did she know that Draco was being his true self at that moment? It wasn’t as if they had been chummy for the past six years. How could she be sure that Draco wasn’t just shining her on?

    She looked at him with an uncertain smile. “I don’t, but my instincts have never steered me wrong,” she told him, “I’m also a believer in trying to see the good in people, so I’m willing to take the time to find out.”


Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



Chapter image by callisto @TDA

 

     Pietro sat in his study looking over the paperwork for some newly acquired items at the Museum of Magical History and Artifacts. He had been staring at, and filling out, paperwork for the past two hours and he was in dire need of a break. He set down his quill and leaned back in his chair, pinching the part of his nose that was between his eyes.

    He had worked at the museum since he had finished his education at Hogwarts starting out as a guide to the Witches and Wizards that visited the famed establishment. Within just a few short years however, due to his uncanny ability to locate and acquire unique rarities, Pietro was promoted to Curator of the entire museum. It was a taxing job, to say the least, but he enjoyed it.

    With a long sigh and a rub of his tired eyes, he sat forward and began looking over the paperwork in front of him again. He was just about to pick up his quill again when suddenly an envelope appeared on his desk in a burst of blue flames. He looked at it momentarily and then picked it up, easily opening it and pulling out the parchment within.

 

Pietro,

    I went to Diagon Alley today to pick up some potions but DuBois would not sell them to me. Madame Malkin was in a right state as she searched for the book I needed…

 

    Pietro stared at the first few lines of the letter with confusion for several minutes. He knew who had sent it but the actual content of the letter was lost to him. Then suddenly, it hit. It is code, he thought as he looked over the letter. Merlin, this has not been used in years.

    He quickly grabbed his quill and began deciphering the code. Once he had managed to get that taken care of, he stared at what the message actually told him. Why on Earth does he want to speak with me there?

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Draco leaned back slightly in his chair, all four legs still firmly on the floor, and let out a deep sigh. He had just finished the last bite of his food and he was thoroughly stuffed. Hermione, he notice however, was still working on her dinner and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of stopping. A small smile flickered across his face.

    Hermione looked up at him when she realized he was staring at her and said, “What?”

    Draco chewed on the inside of his bottom lip in an attempt to keep from smiling. “I was just wondering exactly where you’re putting all that food,” he said.

    “I have a fast metabolism,” Hermione replied with a small shrug.

    “Fast metabolism my arse,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve only seen you eat like this when you’ve been holed up in the library at school.”

    Hermione froze with her fork halfway to her mouth and looked at him questioningly. “And just how would you know that?”

    Draco’s face went serious and he cleared his throat. “I um…”

    “All those times I caught you glaring at Harry…”

    “Oh, I was really glaring at him,” Draco said with laugh. “I used that as my cover-up for getting caught staring at you.”

    “Why were you staring at me?” Hermione asked, setting her fork down on her plate.

    “Because… because I… I wanted to get to know you,” he told her quietly.

    Hermione looked at him in shock. “You did?”

    Draco nodded.

    “Why?”

    He cleared his throat again and suddenly became interested in his fingers as Hermione eyed him curiously. She had never known Draco to be someone who got nervous about anything, especially girls. In fact, she had always imagined that he’d be rather cocky when it came to girls considering how handsome he was.

    When he finally looked back up at her, his normally cold gaze burned into her with warmth she had never seen from him before. “I thought you were beautiful,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

    Hermione blushed madly at this and stared down at her plate, picking up her fork and poking at her unfinished food with it. “Me, beautiful?”

    “Yes.”

    She looked up at him with uncertain green eyes. “Until last week I was just a plain, bushy haired know-it-all.”

    Draco shook his head and felt a bit angry at hearing how she had thought of herself. “No, you were more than that,” he said, reaching across the table and taking her free hand. “You were, are, the most knowledgeable, kind-hearted, loyal friend, and beautiful person anyone could ever hope to know.”

    Hermione had a hard time believing him. She knew from experience just how good he was at making lies sound like the truth. He’d done it many times over the years. Yes, but those times weren’t the same sort of situation as this, she argued silently, he could very well be telling the truth.

    He put his hand under her chin and forced her head up gently so that she was looking at him levelly instead of just cutting her eyes up at him. “I may not be the smartest man alive, and I may not know everything about you but… I know that I’ve never found a woman more attractive than I find you, and it has nothing to do with your looks. You see, what I said earlier about a person’s looks always meaning something? I only said that to find out whether you were attracted to someone because of their looks, or because of what’s inside of them.”

    She searched his eyes for any sign of jest or lies. She was surprised at what she actually saw. Gone was the malicious glint that normally accompanied his words and smiles. Instead, she found a light, a vulnerability that was refreshing. It also unnerved her a little because she wasn’t used to this kind of attention from him.

    Hermione set down her fork and reached up to remove Draco’s hand from under her chin. As she did this, she couldn’t help noticing the tingling feeling in the hand that was already enclosed in his. “I’ve never been one that held a person’s looks in high standing,” she said with her hand resting on top of his and gently lowering it. “I could fall in love with someone who looked like a frog if they had a good heart.”

    Draco grimaced playfully and pulled back the hand she had removed from her chin. “Well, I don’t look like a frog but maybe you could find it in your heart to give me a chance to prove that I’m not as bad as you probably once thought?”

    Hermione chewed on her bottom lip for a moment then said, “Well, to be honest, I’ve always had this feeling that you weren’t really the cruel jerk you act like at school.”

    “Yes, well, don’t let anyone else know that,” Draco said teasingly. “I’ve got a reputation to uphold.”

    Hermione rolled her eyes and laughed. “You sound just like Blaise.”

    “Uh-oh, I’d better stop that or you might start thinking I’m your brother and not your fiancé,” Draco said with a tone of mock disgust.

    “I don’t think that’s possible,” she said with a laugh.

    “Yeah, you’re right,” Draco said after a moment, “I’m far better looking than he is.”

    Hermione smirked. “You keep telling yourself that,” she joked.

    Draco tried to feign hurt but he couldn’t resist laughing at how cute she looked when she smirked. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you; have you looked through that spell book I gave you for your birthday?”

    “Not yet. I’ve been a bit busy adjusting to my new home and enjoying the library.”

    Draco chuckled. “Ah, so you were holed up in the library weren’t you?”

    “I was looking up some things… for school,” she replied carefully, trying to sound convincing.

    “Somehow, I doubt that,” Draco said skeptically.

    “Why’s that?”

    “Something tells me you already know everything that’s in our school books.”

    Hermione cringed slightly. Sometimes she hated that she was such a horrible liar. Then again, she had been raised to be honest and she respected the parents that raised her too much to start being deceitful now. She couldn’t betray Blaise, though, so she said, “Well, you know me and books, I can’t get enough of them.”

    “Have you always been so… bookish?”

    “Well, I’ve always had a love for books, yes,” she replied, “I didn’t have a lot of friends as a child so books kind of became my best friends.”

    Draco chuckled. “And all this time I thought Potter was your best friend.”

    “Oh, he is, but no matter how good a person someone is, they have a way of disappointing you or letting you down; books don’t.”

    “Hm, I see your point.”

    They sat in silence while they finished their dinner. It wasn’t one of those awkward silences that generally went with first dates, it wasn’t completely comfortable either. She had to admit that it was more comfortable than she had expected.

    “The night is still young, shall we take a walk and maybe get some ice cream?”

    “Sounds lovely,” Hermione said as she wiped the corners of her mouth.

    Draco stood and placed some money on the table. The two then made their way out of the restaurant and into the cool night air. “So um, what was Potter doing at your house earlier?” he asked.

    Hermione looked up at him and smiled. “Why, Draco Malfoy, are you jealous?”

    “I’m not jealous… I’m curious,” Draco said as they made their way onto the main street.

    “He just stopped by to see how I was doing,” she said, stopping to look at a window display of amulets.

    A particularly shiny one caught Hermione’s eye. Hanging from the uppermost left corner was a silver amulet shaped like a crescent moon. Her green eyes stared at it curiously for a few moments. It reminded her of the birthmark she carried on the back of her left shoulder and also of the Prophecy her father had heard many years ago.

    She knew that there was no way she would be able to do whatever it was that she was going to have to do on her own. She was going to need help but she wasn’t really sure she wanted to tell anyone just yet. She wanted to do a bit of research and figure a few things out on her own first.

    Draco stepped up next to her and looked her over. The expression on her face was dream-like and dazy. For the sake of his ego, he needed to do something to bring her attention back to him. He placed his hand on her shoulder and she turned her head to look at him. “Is everything all right?” he asked.

    Hermione gave him a small smile. “Yeah, fine,” she said. “How about we go get that ice cream?”

    Draco smiled. “Your wish is my command.”

    Hermione laughed as they began heading to the ice cream shop. “Have you suddenly become a genie?”

    “A genie?”

    “It’s a being in Muggle Fairytales that grants three wishes to whoever rubs its lamp.”

    Draco gave a small chuckle. “I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

    “Well, having grown up in a purely Wizarding family, I imagine you wouldn’t have,” Hermione said with a small smile.

    “My family’s not ‘purely Wizarding’,” Draco argued lightly. “My Aunt Andromeda married a Muggle.”

    “Yes, and I’m sure she was disowned for it.”

    “She was as a matter of fact. How did you know?”

    “It was a guess,” Hermione told him. “I’m a fairly good judge of character and I don’t picture the Black family being tolerant of anyone that goes against… well, that goes against their ways. That, and Sirius was Harry’s Godfather.”

    “Ah, that explains it then,” Draco said with a small smile. “Sirius told Harry, Harry told you.”

    Hermione blushed a bit at being found out. “Well, yes.”

    “Listen, I hope that you aren’t judging me by anything you’ve heard.”

    “Draco, we’ve discussed this already,” Hermione told him lightly, putting her hand on his arm and stopping. “I don’t think you’re the person you pretend to be at school or around your friends.”

    “You really don’t?”

    “I would be trying to find some way out of our engagement if I did,” she said, “Besides, that’s why we’re getting to know each other, right? Because we want this to work.”

    Draco nodded.

    “And truthfully, the more I spend time with you, the more I’m beginning to like you.”

    Draco took her hand and lifted it to his lips, kissing it lightly. “Well that’s good to know because you’re sort of stuck with me,” he said with a wink.

    Hermione laughed. “Only because I want to be.”

    The two began walking again though this time, they were hand in hand. “So tell me, what was it like growing up with Muggles?” Draco asked.

    Hermione smiled fondly at the memories that flooded her mind at the mention of her Muggle parents. “It was the most wonderful experience I could ever hope for,” she said. “I always had everything I needed, but I was never spoiled. I remember when I was a little girl, my dad used to tell me bedtime stories about princesses and princes. I’d always beg him to tell me another one when he’d finish.”

    Draco smiled tenderly as he pictured a young Hermione pleading to hear another story. He then turned serious as he heard Hermione sniff. “You miss them don’t you?” he asked. “Your Muggle parents, I mean.”

    “Yes; I know I’ve only been away from them for a week but I do miss them.”

    “Then you should go to see them,” Draco told her.

    “I was planning to do that tomorrow actually,” Hermione said. “You see, they’re both home on Sundays.”

    “Do they do anything for a living?”

    Hermione looked at him curiously. “I take it your parents don’t?”

    “Well, my father used to be a Governor of Hogwarts but he was released from that last year, and my mother… well she never thought much of working,” he said. “Not that she really needs to, she inherited loads of money when my grandfather died a few years back.”

    “Oh I’m sorry,” Hermione said, squeezing his hand lightly.

    “He wasn’t the greatest of men,” Draco assured her.

    “Well, he was still your family. Now, to answer your question; my parents are dentists.”

    “What exactly is a dentist?” he questioned, slightly embarrassed.

    Hermione squeezed his hand and kindly explained what a dentist’s duties were. “And do they make good money, dentists?” Draco inquired with interest.

    Hermione chuckled softly as they came to the ice cream shop. “Is everything about money with you?”

    Draco laughed as he opened the door and ushered her inside. “No, but a man has to be able to support his family.”

    The two walked up to the counter as Hermione said, “Nowadays women are perfectly capable of working if they want to.”

    “If my future wife wants to work then it will be because she wants to. I’m not going to force her to sit at home and knit.”

    “Oh ha ha… very funny,” Hermione chided. “And would you stop talking about me as if I were someone else?”

    Draco opened his mouth to respond, but his attention was diverted when someone entered the main room from the back.

    “Ah, young Mister Malfoy,” said the old man.

    “Mr. Danforth, how are you?”

    The balding man smiled kindly. “I’m doing well, my lad, and who is this lovely young lady with you this evening?”

    Draco smiled and wrapped his arm sweetly around Hermione’s waist. “This is my fiancée, Hermione Zabini,” he said, “though you may know her better as Hermione Granger.”

    Mr. Danforth’s eyes widened. “Hermione, is that really you?”

    Hermione smiled at him. “Yes, it is.”

    “Well my, my this is a shock. A Zabini you said, Draco? Pietro and Marjorie Zabini’s daughter?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “I didn’t even know they had a daughter.”

    “I didn’t either, until last week.”

    After several minutes of chit chat, Hermione and Draco were sitting at a small table eating their ice creams. “Draco?”

    Draco raised his eyebrows questioningly as he pulled his spoon out of his mouth. “Hmm?”

    “I was just wondering if you’d like to go with me to see my parents tomorrow afternoon.”

    “If you want me to,” he replied. “I’d really like to get to know them.”

    “And I’d love for them to get to know you. Oh please come with me.”

    Draco smiled at her. “All right, but um… do you think Blaise could come too?” he asked. “I’d feel a bit more comfortable with my best mate there too.”

    Hermione smiled tenderly. “Of course, I’ll ask him first thing in the morning.”

    “Speaking of morning, it’s nearly eleven; I should probably get you home.”

    “All right.”

    The two finished their ice creams and left the shop. They walked hand in hand back to the place they had Apparated to earlier in the evening. Hermione stepped close to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Ready?” Draco asked as he wrapped his arms around her.

    Hermione nodded and a few seconds later, they were standing of her house. They walked up to the porch and Hermione began to open the door. Draco stopped her just before she turned the knob, however, turning her to face him. “Hermione, I um… I had a really great time tonight,” he said quietly.

    Hermione smiled up at him and placed a hand on his cheek. “So did I, Draco,” she said.

    Draco placed his hand over hers and smiled tenderly as he moved her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. “School starts a week from Monday; perhaps we could do this a couple more times before then?”

    “I’d like that.”

    “Wonderful, well then, I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “Um, what time?”

    “I think noon would be good. I’ll send a note with Callidora to my parents once I speak with Blaise, letting them know we’ll be there around that time,” she told him. “We can have lunch with them.”

    “And, you’re sure they won’t mind?”

    Hermione smiled. “My mum loves to cook so the more food she can make, the better.”

    “Okay, then I’ll see you tomorrow at noon.”

    Hermione nodded and kissed him on the cheek. “Until then,” she whispered.

    “Until then,” Draco repeated. He then took a few steps back and disappeared with a loud pop.

    Hermione opened the door and walked into the house, quickly making her way to her bedroom. Once she was there, she let out a deep sigh and smiled to herself. Well, that went better than I’d thought it would, she thought as she changed into her pajamas.

    As she ran her brush through her hair, she noticed a dreamy expression on her face. Her cheeks flushed and she took a deep breath. Don’t get all starry-eyed, yet, she scolded herself, it was one good date. That doesn’t mean he’s suddenly falling for you.

    She didn’t need to remind herself of this, of course. She knew the type of man that had raised him and she knew that the type of hatred Draco had had instilled in him didn’t just go away. It could be ignored, or masked, but it didn’t magically disappear. I have to believe he can change.

    She was by no means tired so she walked over to her desk and grabbed the quill she had discarded there a few days before when she had been making notes. She pulled a few pieces of parchment out of her desk and lay them in front of her. She hadn’t written to any of her friends in several days so she thought it was time to do so.

    She opened her ink bottle and dipped her quill into it. She then began writing a letter to Ginny. She knew that Ginny would want to know everything that had happened on her date with Draco but there was no way she was going to write it all down in a letter. Instead she wrote that they should get together that upcoming Monday so that they could spend some time together and talk about how they were doing and such.

    Once she finished writing Ginny’s letter, she wrote to Luna, and then to Ron. Seeing as she had just seen Harry earlier that day, she didn’t feel it was necessary to write him. She then set her quill down and got up from her desk, crawled into her bed and fell into a deep sleep.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Pietro pulled his cloak tighter around him as he moved through the trees. Several feet in front of him, he heard the cracking of a small twig as it was stepped on. He withdrew his wand and silently lit its tip, looking around in the darkness for the source of the twig’s breaking. “Show yourself,” he said.

    A man with long, white-blond hair came in to view, his cloak billowing around him softly in the cool breeze. “There is no need for your wand, Pietro,” he said. “You knew it was I that sent the letter.”

    “That does not mean there are not unwanted listeners, Lucius,” Pietro replied, lowering his wand but not putting it away. “Now, what is it that you wanted to discuss?”

    “Your daughter.”

    “What about her?” Pietro questioned warily. He had suspected that this conversation would happen sooner or later. He had hoped later.

    “Did you honestly think that you could fool me, Pietro?” Lucius asked, “We’ve known each other since before our time at Hogwarts; I know when you’re being less than truthful.”

    “What is it you think I am being untruthful about?”

    “You claim that your daughter was ill with some rare disease, yet she has been walking around under the name Granger, she’s been attending Hogwarts… Exactly how is anyone to believe that she was ever ill?”

    “Lucius, why would I have any reason to lie?” he questioned calmly.

    “A question I’ve been asking myself,” Lucius retorted, “I know you’ve been keeping things from me, Pietro, things about your daughter, and I demand answers.”

    Pietro was getting angry now. He clenched his hands into fists, his wand hand twitching up just slightly. “Do you tell me every detail of your life, or what is going on in your family?” he questioned angrily, “As you pointed out; we have known each other for a long time. As such, I know you just as well as you know me. You are private, often secretive, about the things you do not want anyone to know; especially when it comes to your family, so do not turn your anger on me because I have not disclosed every detail of Hermione’s illness to you.”

    Lucius’ eyes sparkled with triumph. “So you admit that you’ve been lying to me,” he stated.

    “Lucius, you are twisting my words to fit your own ideas and means. I have never lied to you!” Pietro practically shouted.

    “So tell me now.”

    Pietro took a deep breath and furrowed his brow, looking at his best friend questioningly. “Why is it so important that you everything about my daughter?” he inquired, his tone accusatory.

    “I have a right to know everything about the young woman that my son is betrothed to!”

    “No, Lucius; you do not!” Pietro argued, “Hermione is my daughter, and if I choose not to tell the world that she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease for which the magical world has no cure, then that is my choice!”

    Lucius gave him a questioning look. “Tell me, Pietro; if the situation were reversed, would you be satisfied with the answers you were given, even if they didn’t make sense?”

    Pietro knew that if he wasn’t careful, Lucius would end up pushing him to the breaking point. As they’d both said, they’d known each other for a long time, which meant they knew exactly what to say to set the other off. Pietro knew that Lucius knew that, and he knew that Lucius was doing his best to pull information out of him.

    “You wouldn’t be the least bit curious?” Lucius pressed when Pietro still hadn’t answered after a couple of moments.

    “I have always believed curiosity to be an admirable trait, but with it, comes consequences.”

    “Pietro…”

    Pietro held up a hand and Lucius quieted. The two friends stared at each other in silence for several long minutes. Finally, Pietro sighed. “It is obvious that you will not let this go, so I will explain it to you once more, and then you will cease to question me on the matter.”

    “I don’t want a story, Pietro!” Lucius snapped, “I want the truth!”

    “This is the truth,” Pietro bit out through gritted teeth. He was finding it difficult to keep his temper in check.

    “Lucius, I have never given you any reason to doubt me,” he said, “Never; in all our years of friendship. So, I do not understand this sudden suspicious attitude you have toward me, and all because… what? Because I kept the specific details of my daughter’s health private? That is our right, mine and Marjorie’s.”

    Pietro could feel the guilt of that statement seeping through him, or perhaps it was the cold chill of the night. He had wished that he could have told Lucius about Hermione being the Bearer that The Dark Lord was looking for, but this was too delicate to trust anyone with. He couldn’t allow himself to break. His family was the most important thing in his life. Marjorie, Blaise, Hermione; they were his world. True; he hadn’t been around for Hermione while she was growing up, but that didn’t mean he didn’t love her and want the best for her. He would do anything for his family; including lay down his life, if that was what was required of him.

    Lucius, Pietro knew, would not understand such selflessness. He had always looked out for himself. Whatever it took to keep his own head above the water, so to speak, Lucius would do; even if his own wife and son were lost in the process. He knew nothing of self sacrifice.

    “For years you’ve lied to me, to The Dark Lord…”

    “What does He have to do with this?”

    Lucius suddenly looked scared. His eyes widened slightly and his pale face grew even more pale. “He came to my home, Pietro,” he said, his voice trembling, “He questioned me about your daughter. Why did you send her to live with Muggles, Pietro, why?”

    He was almost manic. Pietro could see his hand twitching toward the walking stick hanging at his hip like a scabbard, cleverly concealing his wand. “Lucius, hear me,” he said, carefully stowing his wand and raising his hands in an attempt to calm his friend, “You have asked Marjorie and I that very question countless times and we have answered you just as many times, but I will answer you again if it will ease your mind.”

    Lucius studied him for a moment and then gave a stiff nod. Pietro took a deep breath and ran his hands over his face. “A few days after Blaise and Hermione were born, Hermione became ill. Marjorie and I took her to St. Mungo’s. Every Healer at St. Mungo’s looked her over and were baffled at what they found…” He explained, “They referred us to a Healer that specialized in rare diseases, but we were still left with no answers.”

    He walked over to a fallen tree and sat before continuing. “We spoke to every Healer in Britain, Ireland, Scotland… so many different countries… and they all said the same thing; that they could not help her. Marjorie and I became desperate so we began searching through every medical journal and publication we could find. Then, finally, we found a spark of hope. In one of the medical journals was an article written by a Muggle doctor by the name of Nelson. Dr. Nelson is what the Muggles call a Pathologist. This article was just one of many that he had written and it was just the thing we needed to help our daughter.”

    Pietro had been certain that Lucius would have interrupted before now, but he remained quiet, simply staring. “The discussion about whether, or not, to take Hermione to this doctor was a lengthy one between Marjorie and I,” he continued, “We were worried what our magical community would think; our family, our friends… we knew we would be risking the loss of those closest to us were we to even speak to this Dr. Nelson. In the end, however, we decided that seeing this Muggle doctor was worth the risk if it meant our daughter could live… And so, we took Hermione to this doctor and she was diagnosed with Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria.”

    “What’s…?”

    “It is a rare, life-threatening disease that causes the destruction of red blood cells in the body,” Pietro told him, “I have read every possible book I could find on it and I still do not fully understand it.”

    Lucius’ eyes were curious as he stepped closer. “I assume this… doctor… was able to provide treatment for your daughter?”

    “Yes, but not right away,” Pietro answered carefully, “Tests had to be run and various other Muggle things that are beyond my comprehension. It was suggested that Hermione be placed with a family near the facility where Dr. Nelson worked so that he could keep a close watch on her during testing and treatment.”

    “Is that why she was left in the Muggle world?”

    “It was not something we wanted to do, but after discussing it with the doctor, we felt it was the best thing for Hermione.”

    “But why did you leave her there for so long?” Lucius questioned.

    Pietro rubbed his hands together and blew into them to warm them a little. “It took many years for a workable treatment was available, but that only worked for so long before another treatment was needed,” he replied.

    “I don’t recall you ever taking a vacation, or mentioning going to see her.”

    He nodded. “We went a couple of times in the beginning, but we found it too difficult because we were not allowed to bring her home. We kept up with her progress, of course, but seeing her was just too hard, especially for Marjorie.”

    “And her schooling?”

    “Well, just before she and Blaise received their letters, I got word that Hermione’s current treatment was working better than Dr. Nelson had hoped. He said that he could see no reason why Hermione could not attend Hogwarts provided she returned periodically to receive further treatment,” Pietro related, “Of course, he did not know of Hogwarts’ magical background, nor ours.”

    Lucius was silent for several moments, the expression on his face clearly noting that he was processing what he had just been told. Then, he looked at his friend and asked, “So, why, during all the years she attended Hogwarts did you not claim her as your daughter? And why did you mask her true appearance?”

    This was something he and Marjorie had discussed at length when deciding what the public story about Hermione would be. It had been difficult to figure out a plausible reason for Hermione being under a false appearance. “Because of the uncertainty of how long Hermione would be in the Muggle world, we felt it best that she look like the family that graciously took her in,” he said, “You know how private we are; we did not want questions being asked, especially while Hermione was undergoing such difficult treatment. As for why we did not claim her during the last several years of her attendance at Hogwarts… well… because she was so young and still unable to come home, we felt it best not to reveal ourselves to her until such time as she was able to be home, where she belongs.”

    “And that time was the eve of her seventeenth birthday?”

    “Hermione’s recent treatment has made her stable enough to come home and be a part of the magical community indefinitely,” Pietro confirmed, “Though, she is not completely cured. A cure has not yet been discovered for Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria, but the course of treatment she is on is promising.”

    Lucius nodded and finally visibly relaxed. “The Grangers… How were they chosen to house Hermione during her treatment?”

    “Jane Granger is Dr. Nelson’s sister. He suggested that she and her husband, Tom might be willing to care for Hermione because they could not bare children of their own.”

    “I see,” Lucius said, “There is one thing I still don’t understand, Pietro.”

    “And what is that?”

    “Why haven’t you ever told me any of this before now?”

    Pietro stood and placed his hands on Lucius’ shoulders. “The only reason I never said anything is because Marjorie and I wanted to keep it between us. So you will forgive me if I ask that you not tell her I told you of this.”

    Lucius nodded in understanding. “I won’t say a word.”

    Pietro gave him a smile and squeezed his shoulders. “Lucius, you have my gratitude. Now, if there is nothing else, I really must be getting home.”

    “Yes, of course. Give Marjorie my regards.”

    Pietro nodded and made his way into the trees. A few seconds later, he heard the tell tale pop of a wizard disapparating. He took a deep breath and ran his hand over his face, wiping away the silent tears that had begun to fall.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    After taking Hermione home, Draco decided to take a walk. It wasn’t something he did very often, if at all, but he needed to clear his head. The past week had been a roller coaster of events and he knew that he wasn’t even going through the worst of it. He couldn’t even imagine going through the things Hermione was.

    Ever since the dinner Mr. and Mrs. Zabini had hosted the night Hermione was brought home, Draco’s mind had been going crazy with thoughts that he never thought he would have. For instance; he never, in his wildest dreams, thought he’d start having feelings for Muggle-born Hermione Granger. Oh sure; she wasn’t actually Muggle-born, or a Granger, but that was beside the point.

    He had never had second thoughts about the manipulative things he did, but after spending some time actually talking to Hermione and getting to know her; he was beginning to think that there might be something between them if he gave it an honest chance. He had never expected that something like that would happen; especially with her. He could’ve seen himself falling for a girl more like Astoria, but he’d known several girls like her over the last three years, or so. Hermione, on the other hand, was something completely different.

    Hermione was the most brilliant young woman he had ever met. She was also the most caring and forgiving. I mean; hell, she’s giving me a chance, he thought, and I’ve never given her any reason to forgive me anything.

    He sighed heavily as he ran his hands through his hair and looked up at the sky. He had no idea how to deal with the emotions he was feeling. He had always been taught to hide the things he felt, to wear a mask of sorts, because that was the Malfoy way.

    It was for that very reason he had never allowed himself to feel anything for the girls he’d been with. He’d never allowed himself to get close to them. They had all tried to get him to open up, to show his feelings, but he never did. He simply played the part they had given him; the dutiful, loving boyfriend. His actual feelings had been nothing of the sort.

    His thoughts turned to Astoria.

    She was a good enough girl, he supposed, just like every other girl he’d dated. She was beautiful, wealthy, smart, from a noble bloodline his parents approved of, but he felt nothing for her. He was attracted to her physically, but that was where it ended. She brought him no joy, no comfort… She gave him nothing that a significant other should give. Well, the snogging and shagging is beyond excellent, he thought, but there’s no passion, no… love.

    Draco had been with Astoria much longer than the other girls and that was mostly because, until recently, she had been content with the way things were. But ever since my betrothal to Hermione, she’s been pushing for more… For marriage. That was something he knew would never happen. His father was too set on him marrying Hermione because of some pact made when his father and Hermione’s were young. Besides, as a Malfoy, he would marry whomever his parents chose. But as a man, he found himself slowly becoming enchanted by Hermione.

    She was truly unlike anyone he had ever known. He had always known she was brilliant; that much had been obvious from their first meeting at Hogwarts. Lately, however, he was finding that she was so much more than just the quippy know-it-all he’d thought he’d known all these years.

    Hermione was kind, caring, courageous, brave, funny, charming, and more beautiful than any woman he’d known. He wasn’t thinking about her looks when he thought of her beauty, he was thinking about what was in her heart. He had never given her any reason to believe in him, and yet, since the day she set foot in Zabini Mansion, she had willingly agreed to see their betrothal through. Despite their history; despite everything they had been through, she was standing by him.

    Not only was she standing by him, she was forcing him to take a look at the man he was. Hermione didn’t take his words at face value, she questioned them, she challenged them, and she saw the true meaning behind them. She also saw beyond the mask he’d worked so hard to perfect to the man that he wanted to be.

    Just in the short time they had been together, Draco could feel the ice he had so carefully frozen around himself melting. He wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, he just knew that Hermione Granger… Zabini… was making him open up in ways he never had before.

    There were times that he would find himself smiling, simply because he’d recalled something she had said, or done. Then, he’d catch himself wanting to see her. He didn’t know how it had happened, but just staring into those green eyes of hers made him feel a peace he had never felt before. Of course, that peace never lasted because of his father’s constant reminders of family duty and honor.

    It was those reminders that caused him to slide right back into the cold, masked person he’d been raised to be. It never fails, he thought. Just when I manage to get out from under my father just a little, he finds some way to climb back over me.

    He kicked a rock from his path and growled angrily. He really wanted to do more than just kick something and scream. Not that he was normally prone to violent outbursts, but there were times when he just couldn’t help the feeling of wanting to hit something. His father was at the top of that list.

    Since the day he was born, his parents had done nothing but dictate every detail of his life. They told him how to talk, how to dress, how to think. He wasn’t allowed to have friends outside of the selected group his parents chose. They even picked the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. At least they’re giving us the chance to decide for ourselves if we want to get married.

    Knowing his father, there was a landslide of a chance that he would end up marrying Hermione, regardless of his own wishes. His father would remind him of the duty he had to his family, and the shame his would bring on them if he and Hermione didn’t marry. That was a lot of pressure for someone to live with. He knew he could manage, but he didn’t think he could subject Hermione to that sort of pressure; especially when she was going through so much already.

    Or Blaise.

    He often envied the life Blaise got to live. Apart from having an arranged marriage of his own, Blaise was allowed to make his own choices. He was also shown more love by his parents than Draco ever was. It was that, above all else, that Draco envied.

    He wondered how different his life would be had he been raised by parents like the Zabinis instead of his own. Would he be as cold and distant as he was now? Would he smile more? Would he laugh? Would he be in a different house at Hogwarts? These were just some of the questions he asked himself on a regular basis.

    Of course, if I were anyone else, I probably wouldn’t be possibly marrying Hermione, he decided, and I probably wouldn’t have Blaise as a best mate.

    That wasn’t something he really wanted. He liked Blaise very much; he wouldn’t consider him his best mate if he didn’t. Blaise was the one person, besides the recent addition of Hermione, that could make him forget about the difficulties he dealt with every day. They didn’t always tell each other everything, but they knew each other well enough to know when to push something, and when to let it go. They also knew when to say something and when to keep their mouth shut.

    Draco knew that his continued relations with Astoria would anger Blaise to a boiling point. He knew it wasn’t right, but he’d decided to keep his mouth shut in regards to that. He preferred to keep their friendship intact. He figured that if he broke things off with Astoria now, then Blaise need never know. Hermione either, for that matter.

    If he was going to give things with Hermione a good and honest chance, he needed to be with her. Only her. It was going to break Astoria’s heart, as far as he knew, but he just couldn’t really move things forward with Hermione if she was still around.

    He wanted to be the man he was with Hermione one hundred percent of the time, not just when he was with her. He could feel that man just itching to come out, but whenever his father, or various Slytherins besides Blaise, were around that man would just slip away. As witnessed at Blaise’s and Hermione’s Coming of Age party, he would revert back to the loathsome Slytherin prince he’d been known for since his first day at Hogwarts.

    He knew he needed to make some changes; he’d known that for quite some time. These changes weren’t going to happen overnight, and they weren’t going to be easy. His rude, emotionless, distant, cold side would probably make an appearance more often than he’d like, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him from making the changes within him that he wanted to make. He needed to do this in order to really move forward with Hermione.

    As he continued to walk, with no particular destination in mind, there was something gnawing away at his subconscious. When it crept up on him, he felt the same sense of dread that accompanied his father’s constant nagging; only more intense. Of course, that’s bound to happen when one is tasked with something by The Dark Lord I suppose, he thought.

    After his father had told him what he was supposed to do, Draco had begun making a plan of his own. He’d sat up for hours thinking of every possible scenario and deciding on which one would work best. It had taken him a while, but he’d finally made a choice and he felt it was the only plausible one that carried the fewest chances for collateral damage.

    Managing to implement his plan without Hermione’s knowledge was going to be the trickiest part. If she were to find out, their engagement would be called off, she would probably curse him for all eternity, and his family would most likely be killed. That was why he needed this plan to work. There was just one problem…

    He wasn’t so sure he wanted to go through with his plan. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to go through with any of it, for that matter. Well, perhaps the bit about marrying Hermione, he decided, I’m almost certain I want to go through with that.


Chapter 16: Chapter Sixteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

    “Come in.”

    Mrs. Zabini opened the door to Hermione’s bedroom to find Hermione sprawled out on her bed with her nose in a book. “Do you mind if I come in?”

    Hermione looked up and marked her place before closing her book. “Not at all,” she replied, sitting up.

    Mrs. Zabini moved further into the room and took a seat in Hermione’s desk chair. “You have a date with Draco tonight?”

    “Yes,” Hermione confirmed.

    “And things are going well? You’re getting along and everything?”

    Hermione made herself a little more comfortable and smiled slightly. “Well, I can’t say we’re falling in love, or anything, but we’ve been on a couple of dates that have gone well and we haven’t killed each other, so…” she paused and thought for a moment, “Yes, things are going well.”

    “I’m sorry for getting so personal,” Mrs. Zabini said, “I’ve just… When I was a little girl, I dreamed that I would grow up, marry a good man, have children… I always wanted a little girl, so when you were born, I was over the moon. Of course, I had dreams of all the wonderful moments we’d have, all the long conversations about… well anything really. And then… well, everything happened so quickly and we had to take you away from here… And we wanted you home, but we couldn’t and…”

    “Mar… Mum… Um…”

    Mrs. Zabini stopped rambling and smiled tearfully at her daughter. “I’m sorry.”

    Hermione smiled kindly. “You have nothing to apologize for. Really.”

    “We’ve missed out on so much and you’ll be going off to school soon and we’ve only just begun getting to know each other and come September first, I won’t get to see you until the holidays, and then you’ll possibly be getting married so all of your time will be spent starting your own family and…”

    The room was quiet for a long moment while Mrs. Zabini composed herself. “The Grangers took good care of you, didn’t they?”

    “The best care,” Hermione confirmed.

    Mrs. Zabini got up and moved the chair closer to the bed. “Will you tell me about growing up with them?”

    Hermione chewed on her bottom lip for a moment and questioned, “It won’t make you uncomfortable hearing about it?”

    Mrs. Zabini clasped her hands together tightly in her lap and smiled uncertainly. “Well, I can’t say it will be the easiest conversation, but you’re my daughter and the Grangers have been a big part of your life,” she said, “They’ve been your whole life, really, and I’m ever so grateful that they agreed to look after you for us, so I’d like to hear anything you wish to tell me.”

    Getting up, Hermione walked over to her chest of drawers. She knelt down and opened the bottom drawer. She easily found what she was looking for and moved to the foot of the bed. She folded her legs and patted the floor next to her.

    Mrs. Zabini looked at her curiously. “Oh, you want me to…”

    Hermione smiled. “Sit on the floor with me?” she finished, “Yes.”

    “Well…” she looked at the floor for a moment as though it would bite her, “All right.”

    While her mother moved to the floor, Hermione grabbed a couple of pillows for them to sit on. Once they were comfortable, Hermione handed a fat photo album to her and opened the front cover. Mrs. Zabini smiled at the single picture of the precious baby girl she’d had to give up in order to protect.

    As Hermione began telling her about the many different events depicted in the photos, Mrs. Zabini listened and questioned, or commented, when appropriate. She had thought it would be difficult hearing about Hermione’s life with the Grangers, and she was right, but she felt better seeing how well her little girl had been taken care of. Every picture had a smiling Hermione, smiling family and friends… Everyone seemed happy and loved.

    Mrs. Zabini was extremely fascinated by the fact that the pictures didn’t move. “These pictures are delightful, Hermione,” she said, “but, isn’t it strange that they don’t move? I mean; they’re each just one flicker of an entire moment so the way you can recall everything about each picture astounds me. How do you do it?”

    Hermione giggled. “I’ve been told I have excellent recall.”

    “I can’t say I’m surprised,” Mrs. Zabini stated, “Blaise is the same. Oh I do wish the two of you could have grown up together.”

    “So do I.”

    Mrs. Zabini closed the photo album and settled herself so that she was facing Hermione a little better. “How are you and Blaise getting on? He’s not ignoring you, or treating you poorly, is he?”

    “Not at all; he’s been wonderful,” Hermione told her, “It sounds strange, but in a way, it’s like we’ve always known each other.”

    “I’m so glad.”

    Hermione checked the time and stood. “I should probably get ready; Draco will be here in about an hour.”

    Mrs. Zabini stood and smoothed her dress. “Yes, of course, um, perhaps we could do this again sometime soon?”

    “I’d like that. I’d love to hear about my biological family as well, if that’s all right.”

    “Absolutely.”

    “Perhaps, if I get home early enough tonight?”

    “Sure,” Mrs. Zabini smiled, “I look forward to it. Well, I’ll let you get ready. Have a great time tonight, Love.”

    “Thank you. To be honest; I’m not sure what to wear. Draco wouldn’t even tell me where we’re going.”

    Mrs. Zabini smiled coyly. “He’s a mysterious one, that Draco. Oh, that reminds me; I need to have a chat with Blaise about his lack of help with wedding plans.”

    Hermione laughed. “I think he’s out with Beatrice right now.”

    “Ah, good. She’s such a lovely girl. No matter, I’ll catch him another time.”

    She watched as her mother breezed from the room with a wave and then set about setting ready for her date.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Screams of joy and shouts of laughter filled the air as Hermione and Draco made their way along the busy London streets. They had just left the carnival and were on their way to a nearby ice cream parlor. Hermione was still working on her last bit of cotton candy as she looked up at Draco and smiled brightly. “I haven’t been to carnival in ages. Thank you for taking me.”

    “You’re welcome. I’d never been and I happened to see an advertisement. It sounded like fun so…”

    Hermione giggled. “You were disgusted,” she teased.

    Draco grimaced slightly at being caught. “Not completely,” he tried.

    Hermione nudged his arm and smiled. “Draco, it’s all right. Carnivals are meant to be a bit disgusting,” she told him, “It’s part of the fun. Greasy food, smelly workers… Loads of sweets to gorge on.”

    “And gorge, you did,” Draco stated.

    “Yes, well, when you have two parents that are dentists, you don’t often get to eat sweets… Unless they’re sugar-free.”

    She threw away her cotton candy and brushed her hands off. “I must say, Draco, I’m very impressed.”

    “You are?” Draco questioned.

    Hermione nodded and continued walking. “Very.”

    “So, this is a good date?”

    “Draco Malfoy, were you worried about our date?”

    “Maybe a little.”

    “Why?”

    Draco put his hands in his pockets and gave a small shrug. “I’ve never done the whole Muggle thing,” he admitted, “Send me out on a date in the Wizarding world and I can dazzle better than anyone. Put me in the Muggle world and I’m a complete dunce.”

    Hermione took his arm and pulled him to a stop. “Draco, look at me.”

    He cut his eyes up at her but did not raise his head. “Don’t ever say you’re a dunce,” Hermione scolded gently, “And you should never worry about how a date is going to go. Muggle, or magical, you’re doing fine.”

    Draco raised a brow. “Am I?”

    He sounded doubtful. Hermione could tell that he was trying to sound casual, but she could hear the doubt. She’d known him long enough to know how he sounded when he was confident and sure. There was a slightly higher pitch to his voice, though it wasn’t by much.

    “Yes; and why are you so worried about the Muggle aspect of things?”

    “Because it’s all new to me.”

    “You did beautifully at my parents’ this past Sunday.”

    Draco chuckled and they began walking again. “Are you kidding? That was the most awkward lunch I’ve ever been to.”

    “It… It wasn’t that bad,” Hermione said.

    He snorted and eyed her disbelievingly. “Oh I’m sorry, were we at the same lunch?” he questioned, “I have never been so nervous in my life. I was clumsy…”

    “You were not.”

    “Hermione, I spilled your mum’s lemonade all over her!”

    “It’s like you said; you were nervous,” Hermione said soothingly, “We all were.”

    “Yes, Blaise tripped and knocked over the tray of… what were those beef patties called again?”

    “Hamburgers.”

    “Ah, yes; hamburgers,” Draco said thoughtfully, “They were very good, by the way… The ones that didn’t get spilled all over the ground, I mean. Did I tell your father that?”

    A gentle smile tugged at Hermione’s lips. “You did, and they were.”

    Draco sighed deeply. “I don’t think I told you that despite all of the nervousness and food flying everywhere, I had a good time.”

    “I’m glad. Blaise did, too. At least, I think he did. I feel like he did. Do you feel like he did?”

    Draco laughed. “I don’t think even a mind reader could decipher the inner workings of your brother’s mind.”

    Hermione laughed, as well. “Yes, you’re probably right. I’ve never seen a person bounce from topic to topic the way he does.”

    “You should see Marjorie when she gets going. That woman can bring a string of thoughts completely full circle.”

    “So, you’ve spent a lot of time with the Zabinis?”

    Draco nodded. “If I wasn’t out with Blaise, or getting Crabbe and Goyle to do something moronic, or forced to attend some function with my parents, I was at Zabini Mansion doing anything I could to get Blaise into trouble.”

    Hermione looked up at him sharply. A mixture of shock and disapproval crossed her face and Draco laughed. “I never got him into any serious trouble; just enough to make him let loose a little,” he explained, “Blaise had a tendency to be a little tight laced when we were younger. Much like you actually.”

    Hermione couldn’t picture Blaise as anything other than the energetic, loving young man she’d gotten to know over the past several weeks. Although she did feel as though she’d known him for her whole life and not just the nearly seven years they’d all attended Hogwarts.

    She tightened her hold on Draco’s arm just a bit and suddenly realized that she’d been holding onto him since she’d pulled him to a stop minutes before. Draco shifted his arm a bit, giving her room to slide her arm around his, which she did, and then relaxed. “So, ice cream, yeah?”

    Hermione nodded in response to his question and allowed him to guide her into the little shop just ahead of them.

    As they ordered, Hermione couldn’t help noticing how natural things were beginning to feel between herself and Draco. This was the third time they’d been out together, and their second date. It amazed her how much the two of them actually had in common; especially since neither one of them had believed they would have anything in common at all.

    For instance; she’d had no idea how well read Draco was. Of course, he puts on quite a show of making himself seem more carefree than he actually is, she thought. She knew that Professor Dumbledore wouldn’t have appointed him as Head Boy if he wasn’t certain he could do the task. She also never knew that Draco had such a sense of humor either. She had a feeling his father had a lot to do with the masks he wore and the reserved persona Draco always put on.

    Draco cleared his throat, pulling Hermione from her thoughts. “Strawberry for my lady,” he said, holding her ice cream cone out for her.

    Hermione smiled as she took it. “Thank you.”

    He took his cup of mint chip and they headed outside. “Muggle money is strange,” he said as they walked over to a bench and sat down.

    “That’s what I thought about Wizarding money when I first dealt with it,” Hermione told him, “You seem to be doing quite well with it.”

    “I bought a book on it,” Draco confessed sheepishly.

    “How very astute of you.”

    “Well, I figured if we agree to get married, we’ll probably be spending some time in the Muggle world, so I should probably start getting acquainted with it.”

    Hermione’s jaw dropped slightly at his statement. She lowered her cone for a moment and smiled at him. “Draco, that’s so sweet of you.”

    He gave her a shy grin and went back to eating his ice cream. “Mmm… I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything so good,” he said, closing his eye briefly.

    “Loving the mint chip, are you?” she questioned with a light chuckle.

    “I’ve been borderline obsessed with it since I tried it at your parents’.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The following week… September 1st…

 

    Hermione looked around platform 9 ¾ as she stepped through the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Just behind her, Blaise stepped through and came to a stop next to her. He looked over her face and noticed that there was a hint of sadness in it as she peered around the platform. He gently nudged Hermione’s arm with his elbow and when she looked up at him, he smiled and asked, “Everything all right, Hermione?”

    Hermione gave him a small nod of assurance and replied, “Fine, it’s just… I feel a bit strange arriving here without my par… I mean… without the Grangers.”

    “Hermione, you needn’t worry about hurting our feelings by calling the Grangers your parents,” Mrs. Zabini said as she came up next to her, “they raised you after all. It wouldn’t be right for us to ask you not to call them your parents.”

    Hermione breathed a deep sigh of relief at her mother’s understanding. “Thank you,” she said, “I appreciate that very much.”

    Mrs. Zabini gave her a reassuring smile. “We’ve all been through a big life change and things like that take adjusting to. Besides, as far as we’re concerned, you’ve got two sets of parents. So, please, never feel like you’ve got to choose, or that you’re hurting us.”

    Hermione nodded and hugged her mother with a slight awkwardness. Although she’d been living with the Zabinis for a little more than a month, and got along with them fine, she still felt a little uncomfortable around them. It was getting easier, though, especially with Blaise around. Blaise had been an unyielding source of comfort and amusement since the day she had been brought to live with them. She had always wanted a sibling so it felt nice to actually have one; especially one that she could confide in.

    “Mum, how come Dad didn’t come with us?” Blaise suddenly asked.

    “He wanted to, love, but he had some artifact or other that he needed to go and look over for the museum,” their mother replied. She then added quietly to herself, “Although I think his not coming has more to do with Lucius than anything else.”

    “Well, I suppose we should be off,” Blaise said, looking at Hermione, “we don’t want to get a compartment with first years.”

    Hermione let out a light laugh at those words. “I don’t think either Draco or I will have the chance to sit with our friends,” she said, “we’ve got so much to take care of before we even arrive at the school that it will probably take up the entire train ride.”

    “Blast, well then I guess that changes my plans for taking the mickey out of Draco for making mushy faces at you.”

    Hermione gave a little huff and said, “Draco does not make ‘mushy faces’ at me.”

    “Again, I’ll ask; you’re supposed to be the smartest witch in our year?”

    “All right you two, that’s quite enough,” Mrs. Zabini said with a soft chuckle. “I swear you two are growing more like brother and sister every day.”

    “And it has yet to be discovered if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing,” joked Hermione.

    Blaise flung his arm around Hermione’s shoulders and squeezed her to him. “Trust me when I say; having me as a brother is the best thing that’ll ever happen to you.”

    Hermione smirked as she said, “I can think of better things.”

    Blaise put his free hand to his heart playfully and tilted his head back. “Be still my heart, you’ve cut me to the quick.”

    “Hermione!”

    Hermione and Blaise both turned to see Ginny Weasley moving through the crowd toward them. “Ginny!”

    “My goodness, I’ve been looking all over for you,” Ginny said as she finally reached them.

    “We only got here a moment ago,” Hermione told her as she gave her a big hug.

    Ginny returned the hug and then turned and called over her shoulder, “Harry, Ron, they’re over here.”

    Hermione laughed. “Did you think I wouldn’t be here or something?” she questioned as Ron’s red head came into view.

    Ginny laughed as well as she replied, “No, we just knew that we wouldn’t really get to see you on the train so we figured we’d say ‘hello’ before it takes off.”

    Blaise gave a soft chuckle and said, “Not like you won’t see her at school. She will be around every day there.”

    Hermione looked at him with a soft warning look and then smiled back at Ginny. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do tonight,” she said, “There’s a lot that’s happened in the last several weeks.”

    “Any juicy details?” Ginny asked.

    Hermione nodded while Blaise made a soft gagging noise. She whacked him lightly on the arm and tutted. “As if I haven’t had to listen to you mooning over Beatrice.”

    Blaise grinned and began humming. Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You’re impossible, do you know that?”

    Ginny giggled. “You two sound like Ron and me.”

    “Oh, Hermione, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to come and spend some time with you,” Mrs. Zabini said, “Perhaps on your first Hogsmeade weekend?”

    As Hermione nodded her agreement, Ginny gasped softly and said, “Mrs. Zabini, forgive my rudeness; how are you?”

    Mrs. Zabini smiled kindly. “I’m very well, thank you, Ginny. How are you? Are your parents well?”

    “Oh, I’m doing well,” Ginny replied, “as are my mum and dad.”

    At that moment, Harry and Ron finally reached them, each rolling a trolley in front of them. “Oh, hello, Blaise, Mrs. Zabini,” Harry said with a small smile and a nod.

    “Harry, Ron, a pleasure to see the both of you,” Mrs. Zabini said. Blaise merely nodded his acknowledgement. “Well, I had best be off. There is so much to do before Christmas. Be good both of you and I’ll see you soon.”

    Blaise smiled at his mother and kissed her quickly on the cheek before she left. “Christmas is three months away,” Ron commented, “how can there be so much to do now?”

    “Our mum likes to get her Christmas shopping done early so she doesn’t feel rushed when the holidays come around,” Blaise told him, “It’s actually a pretty common thing. A lot of people do it.”

    Ron shrugged and muttered some semblance of an apology.

    “So where is your fiancé anyway?” Harry asked, looking around.

    “I’m not sure,” Hermione said, “we didn’t exactly plan on meeting before the train took off or anything so I’m guessing he might already be on the train.”

    “Draco never gets on the train too far ahead of it leaving,” Blaise said, “he gets too bored otherwise.”

    Hermione laughed as she said, “Oh Heaven forbid Draco Malfoy be bored for a small bit.”

    “You laugh, but Draco bored is not a good thing.”

    “You wouldn’t be giving my fiancée any tips into figuring me out now, would you, Blaise?”

    The small group turned and saw Draco standing just behind Hermione with a smirk on his face. “I think she’s got that handled on her own, mate,” Blaise replied with a grin. “Smart girl, my sister is.”

    “Not something I tend to forget, but thanks for the reminder.”

    Just then, Hermione checked her wristwatch and picked up her small travel case that she carried with her during the journey to and from Hogwarts. “We should all board, the train will be leaving soon,” she said, “Draco, we’ve got Heads’ duties to take care of.”

    “Right then, shall we head off then?”

    They all nodded and made their way onto the train to find seats. Hermione and Draco didn’t need to worry about seats; they had their own compartment due to the fact that they were Head Boy and Girl. However, the two stayed with Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Blaise until they all found compartments to sit in before leaving to find their own.

    About ten minutes later, Hermione and Draco were sitting in the Head’s compartment preparing for the Prefect meeting they were to conduct. Hermione’s eyes were carefully scanning over the notes she had made on her copy of the meeting, looking for anything she might have forgotten. Draco, on the other hand, was merely sitting in his seat staring out the window.

    Hermione looked up at him briefly as he let out a soft sigh. She scrunched her nose a bit in disapproval and then went back to going over her notes as she said, “You know; I’m not the only one in charge of this meeting. Perhaps you could go over the guideline and prepare for it as well.”

    Draco gave her a questioning look and then gave her a small nod. “Right, sorry.”

    The tone in his voice gave Hermione the impression that something was on his mind. “Draco is something wrong?” she asked him.

    “Well no, not really,” he replied.

    Hermione chewed in the inside corner of her mouth briefly before stating, “You don’t have to hide anything from me.”

    “I’m not hiding anything from you, honestly,” Draco said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “I’m just uncertain if Dumbledore made the right choice in making me Head Boy. I mean; I’m not exactly the model of proper school behavior, am I?”

    Hermione leaned forward and patted his hand. “Maybe not, but Professor Dumbledore has his reasons for everything so I’m sure he knew what he was doing when he appointed you,” she said pointedly. “Now, if you would kindly put that knowledgeable mind of yours to work going over the guideline for the Prefect meeting… I’d much rather be spending time reading over our school books.”

    Draco gave a hearty laugh at those words as he leaned back in his seat and picked up the pieces of parchment in his lap. “You always have enjoyed being knowledgeable in our lessons,” he said. “Your hand is always up before anyone else’s.”

    Hermione looked down at her paper with a furrowed brow as she crossed something off and then wrote something else in its place. “I see nothing wrong with being intelligent or wanting to learn, Draco,” she said, finally looking back up at him.

    “Nor do I, Hermione. In fact, I consider your intelligence and thirst for knowledge quite an endearing quality… I’ve always believed that intelligence was an important thing for a woman to have.”

    “Well that’s very good because I would never even consider dumbing myself down for anyone, let alone a man,” Hermione said, once again looking back down at her parchment.

    “And I wouldn’t have you any other way,” he stated, “Besides, I can’t think of anyone better to borrow notes from if I happen to miss a class, or two.”

    Hermione’s head shot up and she scowled as she said, “If you think you’re going to skive off classes and use my notes to catch up, you’re completely mental.”

    Draco chuckled but before he could say anything in response, there was a knock on the compartment door. The door then slid open to reveal the Prefects. Hermione smiled at them and motioned for them to enter the spacious compartment. “Please, have a seat and take a guideline,” she said as the Prefects filed in.

    Of course, there were several familiar faces amongst the Prefects; Ron and Pansy included. Indeed, as Pansy strode in she made a great show of sitting directly next to Draco, who in turn, stood and took a seat next to Hermione. Hermione cleared her throat as she took Draco’s stack of guidelines and added them to her own before passing them to Ron.

    “Well, thank you all for coming; not that you had any choice,” Draco said. (The others laughed lightly at this.) “Well, um, let us get down to business shall we? Hermione?”

    Hermione nodded and began going over everything on the guideline thoroughly.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Marjorie Zabini entered Zabini Mansion in a flurry of wind. “Pietro!” she called. “Pietro, where are you?”

    “Gripa believes Sir is in his study, Mrs.”

    Marjorie looked down at the small elf and nodded her thanks and quickly made her way through the mansion to Pietro’s study. She whipped out her wand and pointed it at the door with such force that they banged against the walls when they opened. “Pietro Zabini, what on this green Earth could have possessed you to not accompany our children to the school train?” she questioned sharply, taking off her scarf and roughly tossing it into one of the empty chairs. “Has that not been something we have done together every year since Blaise’s inception?”

    Pietro had looked up from his paperwork the moment his study door had opened. He patiently waited for his wife to finish questioning him before giving his reply. “My dear, please do calm yourself,” he said softly as he stood up and walked around his desk. “I have a perfectly good explanation but unless you keep your head, I shall not give it to you.”

    As Marjorie took a deep breath, Pietro closed the door. He saw the Marjorie was calming down so he began speaking. “I have reason to believe that Lucius is working directly for The Dark Lord.”

    Marjorie looked at him in shock. “You mean he’s taking direct orders from… Him?”

    “Yes.”

    She sat with a thump and clutched her hand to her heart. “When…? How…? Are you certain?”

    Pietro nodded. “Lucius sent me a coded message a week or so ago. We met and he bombarded me with questions about Hermione.”

    “What did you tell him?”

    “Well, after trying to brush it off, like usual, I told him what we had discussed would be the public story about Hermione.”

    Marjorie took several deep breaths. “Well, we knew that questions would be asked once that Daily Prophet article came out,” she said softly, “and Lucius has always questioned us about why Hermione wasn’t with us so it’s only natural that he’s questioning you further now… Oh, what am I saying?! Pietro, what are we going to do? Do you think He suspects?”

    “I believe He is suspicious. Lucius told me He came to his home and questioned him about Hermione.”

    “What about Lucius? Did he believe what you told him?”

    There was a tremor to her voice as she spoke. Pietro walked over and sat down in the empty chair next to his wife. He placed his hand on hers and tried to sound comforting. “Yes.”

    “How can you be so sure? Lucius has always questioned us about Hermione and…”

    Pietro squeezed her hands tightly. “Marjorie, I have known Lucius for many years.”

    “But…”

    “I know when he doubts, I know when he lies… I know him,” Pietro assured her, “He believes me.”

    “And The Dark Lord? Pietro, you know he will stop at nothing if he finds out Hermione’s true identity,” Marjorie said, panicked, “We have no hope of protecting her if He discovers the truth. He’s too powerful.”

    Pietro grasped both of Marjorie’s hands and kissed them lightly as he squeezed them assuredly. “We need not worry about that right now, Love. As long as she is at Hogwarts, Hermione will be safe,” he told her. “Albus Dumbledore will protect her. I shall send him an owl requesting a meeting with him immediately.”

    “Are you certain that he would oblige, knowing our family’s dark history?”

    “Dumbledore is a good man, Marjorie, and a friend to Hermione; he will help us.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Hermione yawned as she looked up from the book in her lap and peaked out the window. Through the dim fog, she could just make out the lights of Hogwarts. A sudden nervousness came over her as she took in the ever-coming-closer sight of the looming castle.

    Draco looked over at her and noticed the look of anxiety upon her face. “Hermione, what is it?”

    “This all just seems so strange,” she confessed quietly. “I mean; until now, every time we’ve pulled into Hogsmeade station, I’ve known exactly who I was and what I was to expect. Now, I find myself at a loss as to what to expect, or who I am. And everyone’s been staring and whispering and… It’s all just so strange and overwhelming and...”

    Draco slid off of his seat and kneeled down in front of Hermione, resting his hands on her knees. “Hey, hey, hey… Okay, take a breath before you hyperventilate.”

    Hermione took a deep breath and wiped her eyes before looking up at him with a sniff. “There’s my girl,” Draco said, “I know things are a little awkward right now. You’re life is practically under a microscope so it’s only natural that you’re feeling so much pressure.”

    “But…”

    He shook his head and wiped a fresh tear from her eyes. “Hermione, no matter if your last name has changed, or your looks have been altered; you’re still the same person inside,” he told her, tilting her chin up slightly with a finger. “Isn’t that what’s important?”

    Hermione looked him directly in the eyes and nodded. “Yes of course that’s what’s important,” she said. “It’s just… apart from everything that has happened over the past month, I can’t help feeling that I’m out of place.”

    “You were taken from the only home you ever knew and you haven’t really had much time to get used to your new living situation. I hope you’re not saying you haven’t been made to feel welcome at Zabini Mansion.”

    Hermione swallowed as she shook her head. “No, no, not at all; I’ve been welcomed with open arms by the Zabinis but I must admit that being there doesn’t feel quite right.”

    Draco moved and sat on the seat next to her. He cautiously put his arm around her and held her to him. “I’m sure you’ve heard this many times in the last month, but…”

    “Just give it time?” Hermione finished, allowing herself to relax against him.

    “Yes,” he replied with a chuckle, “It’ll take some time, but I’m sure you’ll adjust to the Zabini lifestyle and…”

    Hermione sat up and looked at him. “Draco, please don’t assure me that I’m going to become used to being waited on hand and foot,” Hermione said. “That’s not something I’ll ever get used to, nor do I plan on continuing to live that way.”

    “You mean; you don’t wish to have servants in our household if we marry?”

    Hermione nodded as she said, “I was raised to do things for myself, Draco; surely you can understand that.”

    “Well, no, to be frank, I really can’t. I was raised in a house full of magic, as was Blaise… and as you would have been had you not been taken to the Grangers for whatever reason your parents took you there,” Draco replied. “I’m vastly certain that you would have a different way of thinking had you been raised in Zabini Mansion.”

    “Perhaps,” Hermione agreed, “but I’d rather not think about who I would be had the Zabinis raised me.”

    “The Zabinis are good people, Hermione, they just happened to fall in with the wrong crowd; much like my family.”

    Hermione placed a hand on Draco’s cheek. “I don’t doubt that the Zabinis are good people; I’ve seen firsthand that they are. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for your family; at least some members of your family.”

    Draco removed her hand from his cheek and got back into his seat as he said, “I assume you’re talking about my father?”

    “And your Aunt Bellatrix,” Hermione said with a nod, “Your mother I must leave out because I think she’s quite a pleasant woman after getting to know her.”

    Draco chuckled. “She has a tendency to be a bit judgmental when it comes to witches and wizards of non-noble birth.”

    “Yes, I noticed that. I’m hoping that I might be able to change her mind on that matter.”

    “I’d say that if anyone has any chance of doing that, it’ll be you,” Draco said, “In all my life, I’ve never known someone as passionate about things she holds dear as you are.”

    “Well I’m happy to see that you have such confidence in me.”

    “I wouldn’t be a good fiancé if I didn’t have faith in my future bride.”

    He kissed the top of her head and rubbed her arm. “Hey, don’t worry about the stares and the whispers,” he told her, “they’ll die down before you know it.”

    Just then, a knock sounded at the compartment door just before it slid open. Blaise was standing there dressed in his school robes with an expectant look on his face. “We’ve almost reached the school; don’t you think you should change?”

    Hermione’s eyes widened slightly at the realization of how close to the school they were now. She quickly stood up and reached into the overhead compartment for her travel case that contained her school robes. “Good heavens, I’ve never been this late changing into my robes,” she said.

    Draco and Blaise both chuckled. “School girl,” Blaise teased.

    Hermione turned to her brother and scowled. “As if you’re not always dressed and ready for things long before you need to be?”

    Draco laughed. “She’s got a point there, mate,” he said. “You’ve always been quite the early bird when it comes to things.”

    “All right, I can’t argue with that,” Blaise said. “My parents got me into the habit.”

    Once Hermione gathered up her school robes, she excused herself from the compartment to go change. Draco however just pulled the shade of the compartment and changed there. He had never been one for modesty really and Blaise was his best mate so he honestly didn’t mind getting changed with him there.

    As Draco changed, Blaise sat down on the bench Hermione had previously occupied and cleared his throat before saying, “Pansy’s on a warpath.”

    Draco turned his head for a moment as he fastened his pants and began lacing his belt through the loops. “Don’t tell me she’s still on about the events of your birthday ball.”

    “She’s more than on about it, mate; she’s in a right state about it. I overheard her on my way to visit you saying that Hermione was going to pay for that night before end of term,” Blaise stated.

    Draco finished lacing his belt and then fastened it before replying, “Leave Pansy to me. She’ll have hell to pay if she harms even a hair on Hermione’s head.”

    “You really care for Hermione, don’t you?”

    “I think I’m beginning to.”

    Blaise eyed him carefully as he pulled his jumper over his head. “I get the sense that something’s bothering you.”

    Draco ran a hand through his hair and sighed loudly. “I’m not sure what it is, but I have a feeling that my father’s up to something,” he said. “Last week he started asking me all sorts of questions about Hermione. It’s almost like he suspects that she’s something more that what she is, I guess.”

    Blaise furrowed his brow. “Well, our parents took her to the Grangers for a reason,” he said, “but I’m not certain as to what that reason was. I was always told that she was sick.”

    “I honestly don’t give a damn what the reason was, I just want her safe and I plan to keep her that way, no matter the cost.”


Chapter 17: Chapter Seventeen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

    Lord Voldemort sat silently drumming his fingers on the table in front of him as he stared at Lucius Malfoy with narrowed eyes. Lucius had just finished reporting on his progress. Lord Voldemort brought his hands to his mouth and pressed his fingertips together. “And you are certain Pietro is telling the truth?” he questioned.

    Lucius nodded. “Yes, my Lord.”

    Lord Voldemort scrutinized him for a moment before saying, “Very well. I do not want this matter dropped, however. Keep your eyes on Pietro.”

    “Yes, my Lord.”

    “Do not let your friendship with him cloud your judgement, Lucius,” Voldemort said. Then he added softly to himself, “There is something about that daughter of his.”

    He believed the report Lucius had given him, but there was still something that did not sit well with him. Two prophecies now told of his death. True; he had taken measures many years ago that would ensure his survival, but he could not abide by any threat to his life. He would live forever and anything that threatened that needed dealing with. Of course, it is easier to deal with a threat when one knows what it is, he thought.

    The prophecy about the Potter boy had been easy enough to figure out. It was practically a children’s book in his opinion. But this other prophecy… That one remains a mystery. And it was no wonder he suspected Zabini’s daughter; whisked away and hidden like she was. Anyone who had heard what he had would suspect her. Pietro’s story was convincing, however.

    Pietro Zabini had a knack for keeping a cool head under pressure. It was for that, and many others, reason that Voldemort had brought him into his most inner circle. He trusted no one, but he rewarded those that were faithful and showed their loyalty; which Pietro had. That was why he had chosen Pietro for the task of locating and disposing of this Bearer.

    However, it had been over seventeen years since he had given Pietro that task and there had been no results; no progress. He’d needed to resort to other means of getting what he wanted. “What progress has Draco made?”

    Lucius looked a little nervous at the mention of Draco. “I… I must confess, my Lord, Draco seems… troubled.”

    Lord Voldemort eyed him thoughtfully, tilting his head ever so slightly. “Perhaps he is not up to the task,” he suggested.

    Panic crossed over Lucius’ face at those words. “No, no… My Lord, he can do it,” he stammered quickly, “He is just young and hesitant. He will not fail you. I assure you.”

    His red eyes narrowed darkly. “He had better not, Lucius. If he does; he will not be the only one to pay for his failure.”

   

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    The noise in the Great Hall was as loud as ever as everyone feasted. Everyone was catching up with the friends they had not seen all summer or busily chatting with the ones they had seen about the things they had done together. Some were probably even talking about the unexpected engagement of Draco and Hermione, and Hermione’s sudden change in appearance.

    No one was discussing it directly, of course. It was being done in whispers behind the backs of the discussed. Draco found it quite annoying, but he wasn’t surprised. Nothing at Hogwarts was kept secret, and he and Hermione were prime news. He, for their engagement, and she, for the reality of her being a Zabini and their engagement.

    He looked up from his plate and saw that from where he was sitting, he had a clear shot of Hermione. He was pleased by that and took advantage of it, glancing up to look at her as often as he could.

    She looked particularly pretty tonight. Her eyes were shining with laughter at something Ginny had just said and, despite the fact that he knew she was nervous about all the stares and whispers, she seemed relaxed and at ease. That wasn’t unusual though, considering she was always more relaxed and ease when surrounded by her friends. He had always noticed that about her.

    “You know, pictures last longer, mate,” Blaise teased quietly.

    Draco snapped out of his daze and looked at Blaise with a smirk. “You’re just jealous because my fiancée is here for me to stare at and yours isn’t,” he said.

    “You’re damn right I’m jealous,” Blaise stated with a laugh, “but seeing you make mushy faces at my sister is just… well, not fair.”

    Draco laughed heartily and took the last bite of his dinner. “So when does the fair Miss Graphook join us here at Hogwarts?” he asked.

    Blaise sighed and poked his lip out for a moment. “Not until after we’re married. Her father is remaining adamant that she stays at Beauxbatons until then.”

    “What house do you suppose she’ll be sorted into?”

    “Ravenclaw,” Blaise replied without thought. “She’s wicked brilliant.”

    “Are you talking about that lovely girl from Beauxbatons that was at your birthday ball?”

    Draco and Blaise looked ahead of them and saw that Pansy had squeezed herself between Crabbe and McNair, successfully blocking his view of Hermione. “Not that it’s any of your business, Parkinson,” Blaise said, “but yes.”

    “She’s a lovely girl, Blaise; you’re quite a lucky bloke to be marrying her.”

    “Was there something you wanted, Parkinson?” Draco asked with a bored expression.

    Pansy gave him her best pout as she said, “I just wanted to apologize for my behavior at Blaise’s birthday. I was rude and childish and that sort of behavior is unbecoming of a young lady such as myself.”

    Blaise scoffed quietly and muttered, “Young lady my back side.”

    Draco hid a small smile and kept a steady eye on Pansy as he said, “I find it very hard to believe that any of what you just said was sincere. You’ve always hated Hermione and you would do anything to win my affections but let me enlighten you to something, Pansy…” he leaned forward and rested his arms on the table as he continued, “I’m not a prize to be won. That’s the way you’ve always treated me and quite frankly, it’s disgusting. I’ll never be yours so you need to get that through your head and leave me alone.”

    With nothing else to be said, Draco stood up and walked away from the table, leaving Blaise laughing and Pansy scowling after him. He didn’t, for one second, think that Pansy was as idiotic as she made herself seem. She had intentionally forced herself between Crabbe and McNair so that he couldn’t look at Hermione. She was so annoyingly persistent that he was beginning to think that he would have to resort to something drastic in order to get her to back off.

    He glanced at the Ravenclaw table and caught eyes with Astoria. She batted her lashes at him briefly with a smile meant only for him. He nodded at her, his face giving nothing away and continued toward the doors of the Great Hall.

    Just as he reached the door to the Great Hall, he heard the familiar glass tapping of Professor McGonagall. Knowing that Professor Dumbledore was about to speak to the students, Draco paused and turned to listen.

    “An excellent feast, as always,” Professor Dumbledore said. “Now, seeing as we are all well feed and our thirst is quenched, I believe it is time for everyone to be in bed. Prefects, if you will please escort the first years to the dormitories… I would like a word with our Head Boy and Girl before they make way to their dormitory please.”

    All at once the students began chatting again as they stood up and made their way out of the Great Hall. Draco made his way through the crowd up to the staff table where he was joined by Hermione. Dumbledore smiled at the two of them and motioned for them to follow him.

    The three of them walked out of the Great Hall by means of a side door and into the corridor. They walked in silence until they came to another door where Dumbledore paused and turned to look at them. “No doubt the two of you have had an interesting summer holiday,” he said with a light chuckle.

    Hermione nodded and said, “Yes sir, to say the least.”

    Dumbledore inclined his head in agreement. “Something tells me that the summer was just the beginning of an extraordinary string of events that the two of you shall face together,” he said thoughtfully.

    “I’ve heard that married life is an adventure all in itself,” Draco said.

    “Yes, I have heard that as well, Draco however, that is not what I am referring to.”

    Hermione looked at him questioningly. “Sir?”

    “I believe you know to what I am referring,” he said with a knowing look. “However, this is not the place to discuss the matter. Let us continue our walk to your dormitory.”

    Dumbledore opened the door they were standing in front of and led them through it. “How did you like it at Zabini Mansion, Hermione?” he asked.

    Hermione cleared her throat before saying, “It was definitely different, Professor. I rather think I’ll never get used to living so lavishly.”

    “And am I correct in assuming that you were not fond of living with a family served by a house elf?”

    “Well, I can’t say I truly liked that aspect, but I did see how kindly Gripa is treated by my family and everyone else in the house so that made it a bit easier.”

    “Mr. Zabini has offered to pay her many times since Blaise mentioned your stand on elvish welfare,” Draco said suddenly.

    Hermione stopped short and looked at Draco with stars in her eyes. “He has?”

    Draco gave her a small smile and nodded. “Yes, but of course, she refuses.”

    Dumbledore chuckled lightly. “Yes, house elves are quite adamant about staying true to their heritage; though you do find an odd duck every once in awhile,” he said.

    Hermione smiled, knowing that he was referring to Dobby, an eccentric house elf fiercely loyal to Harry, and formerly under the control of the Malfoy family. “Yes.”

    “Now I would like to ask you how the Prefect meeting went on the train here.”

    “I think it went quite well,” Hermione answered.

    “Yes, although there is a Prefect I would like to discuss with you, sir,” Draco added.

    Dumbledore glanced at him as he asked, “Is it someone you would care to discuss at present, or privately?”

    Hermione looked at Draco questioningly as he answered, “Privately, if you please.”

    “Very well, shall we speak in my office tomorrow morning before classes begin?”

    “Thank you, sir,” Draco agreed.

    Dumbledore nodded his head in response and came to a stop in front of a large painting of a Griffin. “This is where the two of you will be living this year while you are at Hogwarts. I think you will both find the accommodations quite comfortable. The password is ‘eternity’.”

    Draco raised an eyebrow. “Eternity?”

    The painting swung forward and revealed the small hallway behind it that led into the common room. “I thought it would be fitting considering your pending marriage,” Dumbledore stated with a slight nod. “Now, it is getting late and there is much to do tomorrow. Here is a list of the passwords for the houses, as well as the current password to my office. I trust you will guard them carefully?”

    “Yes, Sir,” they answered in unison as Draco took the piece of parchment from him.

    Dumbledore smiled and clapped his hands together. “Well then, I bid you a good night.”

    Hermione and Draco nodded and climbed through the large hole in the wall. As the painting swung closed, Dumbledore smiled sadly and whispered, “I hope those two remain strong through everything that is going to happen over the course of this year.”

    Hermione’s jaw dropped as she and Draco entered the common room of their dormitory. Everything was so elegant and yet so suitable for a pair of young adults. There was a grand fireplace slightly larger than the one she was used to in the Gryffindor common room, two large arm chairs and a matching sofa, a lush throw rug with very intricate embroidery… Things that made Hermione feel more like she was at home instead of being at school.

    “Can you believe this?” Draco asked, just above a whisper.

    “It’s incredible,” Hermione replied, taking in the large desk on the wall opposite the fireplace. “That desk will certainly make things easier if we’re both doing homework; it’s large enough for one of us to sit on either side and spread our things out comfortably.”

    Draco rolled his eyes playfully as he said, “Oh yes, because we’re going to be spending all our spare time doing school work.”

    Hermione raised her eyebrows and smirked as she said, “Who was it saying that they found intelligence attractive in a woman?”

    Draco gave her an innocent look and pointed to himself. “Who, me?”

    Hermione rolled her eyes at him as he chuckled. She then made her way through the common room to the small flight of stairs in the far corner of the room. She climbed them with curiosity filling her as she came closer and closer to a door labeled “Head Girl”.

    She could hear Callidora hooting through the closed door as she reached it and a small smile came to her face. She dearly loved that owl and was very grateful to her biological parents for giving it to her. As she opened the door and stepped into her bedroom, Hermione was once again blown away.

    The room was simple, yet it was obvious that a lot of time and thought had been put into the décor. The bed, of course, was the standard four-post with Gryffindor colors and a nightstand was placed next to it, but the rest of the room was quite different than the living quarters she was used to at Hogwarts. A small desk sat underneath the window just opposite the door, there was a fairly good sized bookshelf in the corner near the desk, a comfortable reading chair rested in the corner on the other side of the bed, and Callidora had her very own lavish cage that rose halfway up the wall next to Hermione’s desk.

    As she walked around the room looking at everything, she noticed that there was a door in the wall opposite her bed. She opened it and found herself in a bathroom. It was quite a decent sized bathroom too. It was equipped with a porcelain tub, which could be used as a shower also, and sink, a full-length mirror, fluffy towels, and a small cabinet for her personal items. The wallpaper was a deep gold with red vine-like things seemingly etched into it.

    She smiled as she thought about just how much like her bathroom at the Grangers it was. Although the walls in that bathroom had been painted a pale green with dark green leaves sponge printed on them. At the thought of her childhood home, Hermione became sad. She missed her parents terribly and wished she could have seen them one more time before school had started.

    She, Draco, and Blaise had all gone the previous week to visit with the Grangers for a whole afternoon and most of the evening. It had been a pleasant time filled with lots of laughter and plates of food. Those were the kinds of days that Hermione missed the most with her parents.

    Callidora hooted at her. “I haven’t forgotten about you,” Hermione said, walking over and petting the owl. She found some owl treats and gave her a few as she noticed that Callidora was sitting atop a package with familiar writing on it. Attached to the package was a letter.

    She smiled as she carefully shooed Callidora and removed the letter from the package. Before she could open the letter, however, she heard Draco calling her name. “Yes?” she replied.

    “We’ve got to do rounds.”

    Immediately, Hermione snapped into Head Girl mode and hurried out of her room. The letter and package would have to wait until she returned. It was curious that her adoptive parents would send her something on her first day back to school. Ordinarily they would wait until the first day of classes to send her anything.

    She met Draco in the common room and smiled at him briefly. “Come on, we’re a bit late!” she told him.

    Draco smiled at her hatred for tardiness and followed after her. “I don’t think the professors will mind much since it’s the first night back.”

    “First night back or not, there’s no excuse for being tardy,” Hermione retorted. “Besides, we have to be the ones that set the example for the Prefects; if we’re tardy then they’ll think it’s all right to be tardy.”

    When they reached the portrait hole, Draco grabbed Hermione’s hand and turned her to face him. “Hermione, calm down, Love,” he said, “There’s no reason for you to be in such a tizzy.”

            Hermione looked into his gray eyes and took a deep breath. “You’re right,” she said. “Perhaps I shouldn’t be such a stick in the mud all the time but school is important to me and I want to do well as Head Girl.”

    Draco smiled and kissed her forehead. “I don’t think you’ll have a problem doing well as Head Girl; you were practically made to be Head Girl.”

    “Yes, yes, I know, because I’m a bossy know-it-all.”

    “Well I certainly wouldn’t put it like that,” Draco said with a laugh as he pushed open the painting of the Griffin and motioned for Hermione to exit before him.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Later that night…




    Pietro sighed heavily as he sat down in his favorite arm chair. He pointed his wand at the fireplace and a warm blaze ignited. He then pulled a piece of parchment out of his shirt pocket, unfolded it and carefully read the neatly written words.




Pietro,

    It would be a great pleasure to meet with you as requested in your letter. If it would not be too much trouble, I would like to meet with you tonight. There is much that we need to discuss. Please expect me at your residence at midnight.


Cordially,

Albus Dumbledore




    A light amount of weight felt as if it were being lifted off of his chest as he realized that Dumbledore was going to help him. Of course, he had be certain that he would considering Dumbledore’s good nature but there had been a small part of him that had been skeptical. He folded the letter back up and quickly tossed it into the fireplace so that no trace of it could be found.

    His eyes then darted to the clock that hung on the wall above the fireplace. It was nearly time for Dumbledore to arrive. He stood and made his way through the mansion to the entry way and waited eagerly for the elderly wizard.

    It was not but a few minutes later that a soft knock sounded at the front door. Pietro quickly opened it and bowed his head briefly at Dumbledore. He moved aside and let the tall man enter without a word. “I apologize for the late hour Pietro,” Dumbledore said.

    “Not at all, Albus; please, join me in my study,” Pietro replied, looking around briefly as he closed the door..

    The two men walked in silence to Pietro’s study and once they were inside it, Pietro closed the door and placed a charm on the room so that they could not be overheard. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Albus,” he said.

    “It is my pleasure. Your message sounded rather urgent,” Dumbledore said, “How can I help?”

    Pietro took a deep breath and placed his hand on the pensieve sitting on his desk. “Before I say anything, there are some things you must see,” he said.

    The two wizards dove into the pensieve and Dumbledore took in everything he was shown. He was troubled by the events in Pietro’s memories, but he was more awed by the amount of love the younger man had for his family and the difficulty of the sacrifice he’d made to protect his daughter.

    When they were settled back in Pietro’s study, Dumbledore sat down and folded his hands in his lap. “Albus, as you can see, Hermione is in grave danger,” Pietro began, “I know nothing of what this ‘light’ might be but I know that Hermione must find it before the Dark Lord finds her out.”

    “Pietro, we are both adults; surely you can call a person by their proper name,” Dumbledore said, looking over the top of his half-moon spectacles.

    “Forgive me, Albus but you are a far greater wizard than myself,” Pietro stated, “that is why I am requesting your help in this matter.”


    “And I shall give you whatever help I can but until we can determine the exact nature of this ‘light’ and exactly what it is to be used for, I am afraid there is very little I can do,” Dumbledore told him. “As I understand it, Hermione must fulfill this task on her own.”

    “Surely something can be done!” Pietro exclaimed. “I have risked so much to keep her safe all these years, I cannot just stand by and watch her get hurt!”

    Dumbledore held up his hand, silencing Pietro for a moment. “My dear man, I have no intention of allowing one of my students to get hurt,” he said. “I know the risks you have taken to ensure Hermione’s safety. Marjorie’s Blood Transmogrification spell was cast exquisitely, but there is no mistaking the noble manner in which the Zabini line has carried for generations.”

    At these words, Pietro’s face showed even more worry than it had before. “You do not think that Hermione has been found out already?”

    “No, I believe that Lord Voldemort has his suspicions but that he has been more proactive in attempting to rid himself of the threat he is completely aware of. He has been unsuccessful, as you know, is killing Harry Potter and he will be just as unsuccessful in any attempt he might make toward Hermione,” Dumbledore told him. “Seeing as Hermione has not yet been revealed to him as The Bearer, I think we can assume that she is safe, for the time being. At the moment I am more concerned with the well-being of you and your wife. Lord Voldemort knows that you have kept Hermione’s birth a secret from him and he will stop at nothing until your entire family is dead.”

    “Are you suggesting that we go into hiding?” Pietro questioned.

    “Not at present,” Dumbledore replied, “but I do think that arrangements should be made so that you will be prepared, should the need arise.”

    Pietro nodded in understanding. Though he honestly didn’t like the idea of running from something himself, he knew that that was exactly what he was going to have to do. He was a very skilled wizard, yes, but there was no chance of him defeating Lord Voldemort; he was far too powerful. “Yes, I shall make arrangements for a hiding place. You will be secret keeper?”

    Dumbledore inclined his head slightly and stood as he said, “I think that would be best. Now, I must return to Hogwarts but I shall keep you informed as to the safety of your children, as well as your future son-in-law; I have a feeling that he will prove to be a very admirable husband to your daughter.”

    Pietro scowled. “His father is not to be held in such a regard, however.”

    “Do not be so hard on Lucius, Pietro; people often do the most illogical thing when fear is guiding them.”

    “Lucius does not fear the Dark Lord, Albus; he worships him,” Pietro retorted.

    “And as you know, a person worships something, or someone, because it is feared.”

    “Yes, I suppose you are right.”

    “It very well could be that I am wrong but I do not think I am,” Dumbledore said kindly. “Now I really must bid you goodnight.”

    Pietro nodded and escorted Dumbledore to the front door. Then, a sudden thought came to him. “Albus, what about the Grangers?”

    “I have taken their safety into account along with your own. At the moment, I do not think Lord Voldemort is troubled by them however I will be speaking with them on the matter.”

    The worry on Pietro’s face lessened slightly at these words. He knew the Dumbledore would protect the Grangers and Pietro silently vowed to help in whatever way possible. The Grangers had done so much for their family that he wouldn’t be able to bear it if they were harmed.

    With nothing more to be discussed, Dumbledore gave him a slight nod and let himself out into the dark night. Once he had Disapparated, Pietro closed the door and joined his wife in their bedroom. After changing into his pajamas, he took a long drink of the Dreamless Sleep Draught his wife had brewed earlier that day and was asleep in minutes.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

    Hermione lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. The entire day she had been so busy that she had hardly had time to think about the Prophecy. During her stay at Zabini Mansion, Hermione had searched through every book she could get her hands on that dealt with prophecies but she had found nothing referring to any sort of ‘light’.

    Her mind began to wander through every detail of her father’s memory, trying to find some clue as to where she should look. After several tries, nothing came to her so she began thinking of books to look through that might help her with her and Blaise’s situations. She had read through some of the books on visions in her father’s collection at the mansion but the references in them were rather vague.

    She had spent as many hours as she could without snubbing her friends in the school library in search of possible books that might help. She had made a list of numerous books that looked promising and planned to check them out once she managed to get a routine going. She had also found many books on visions that she felt might hold something useful in regards to Blaise’s nightmares and her visions.

    She had never held much stock in the reality of fortune telling, or visions, which was part of why she had dropped Divination in her third year. There was something eerily truthful in what she had seen and what Blaise had told her about his nightmare. She didn’t think she could just ignore it.

    She rubbed her temples and sighed. She was missing something; some small clue that she was sure would send her in the right direction. The problem was, her brain was so jumbled and full of various thoughts that she couldn’t separate one thought from another. She needed to focus, to slow down.

    She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. She set her mind back on the track of books, since they were what she knew. Just as the title of a book she had not yet looked through came to her, she sat up clutching her head in pain.


Chapter 18: Chapter Eighteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

    Hermione let out a scream of pain as her vision blurred. Being that this had only happened one other time, she had not yet learned how to control this ability of hers. When her vision finally began to clear, Hermione found herself looking at Lucius Malfoy.

    She remembered that the first time she went into a vision, she had just barely seen Lucius before she pulled out. She had been curious as to what was going to happen at the time and that curiosity had remained with her since then. This time, she was desperate to hold onto the vision and find out what Lucius was doing. Pushing through the pain as best she could, Hermione managed to get a very clear view of her surroundings.

    Lucius was pacing in what she assumed was his study. It was obvious that he was angry about something. She had seen the expression on his face too many times to mistake it. His pacing suddenly stopped when there was a loud knock at the door.

    Lucius strode over and threw the door open in a flash, coming face to face with his sister-in-law, Bellatrix. “What are you doing here at such a late hour, Bellatrix?” he questioned fiercely.

    “I was sent by the Dark Lord,” Bellatrix said.

    Without hesitation, Lucius moved aside and allowed Bellatrix to enter his study. “What is it that he sent you for?” he asked as she moved past him and he shut the door.

    Bellatrix turned at looked at him with her heavily lidded eyes as she said, “The Dark Lord wants to be kept informed of your progress, and being that my sister is your wife, I was a natural choice for the task.”

    “You volunteered for it, you mean.”

    “You honestly didn’t think I would sit by and allow you to mess things up as you always do, did you?”

    Lucius narrowed his eyes and stared harshly at her. “Contrary to what you may think, Bellatrix, I am not going to fail!” he snapped. “I have a plan that is already in motion and it is going to work.”

    “I’ll be the judge of that; what is this plan?”

    Bellatrix stared at him expectantly as he stood there silently, tapping his finger on his chin thoughtfully. After several moments, Lucius finally spoke. “I do not have to discuss my plan with you, nor do I intend to. Everyone that needs to be involved is already aware of what needs to be done and that is all that matters.”

    “How dare you take that insolent tone with me!” Bellatrix exclaimed.

    Lucius took a threatening step forward as he hissed, “How dare you come into my home demanding that I relay private information to you! You know full well that I do not disclose information that is between the Dark Lord and myself; to do so would mean death.”

    “Are you telling me that you are refusing to follow the Dark Lord’s orders by not telling me of your progress?”

    “I am following his orders! Should he want to be informed of my progress on the matter, then he will call me directly to him!”

 

 





 

 

    “Hermione. Hermione!”

    Hermione’s eyes flew open. Draco was sitting on her bed, his hands gripped around her arms, shaking her slightly. His eyes were focused on her with concern as she fixed her stare on him.

    It was obvious that something wasn’t right. Hermione was shaking and pale as a sheet. There was also a slightly wild look in her eyes and a light sheen of sweat dampening her brow. He cautiously touched her cheek and spoke softly. “Hermione, are you all right?”

    She took several calming breaths and nodded as she shoved a bit of hair out of her face. “Yes, yes, I’m okay now.”

    Draco scrutinized her for a moment. “No, you’re not,” he said, “You’re shaking like a leaf.”

    Hermione pulled away from him and went into her bathroom. “I had a bad dream,” she told him after wiping her face with a wet cloth, “Nothing to worry about.”

    When she turned around, Draco was leaning against the frame of her bathroom door, watching her with his perceptive gray eyes. “I thought we agreed not to keep things from each other.”

    She leaned back against the sink and tucked her hair behind her ears. “We did, and I’m not…”

    Draco fixed her with a classic Malfoy glare. “You’re a horrible liar, Hermione.”

    She glared back at him. “I’m not lying! I’m just not ready to discuss it.”

    As much as he wanted to get her to open up, he knew that pushing her would only cause what little progress they had made together to go in reverse. He didn’t want that. He needed her to trust him. He sighed softly. “I’m sorry,” he said, holding his hand out to her, “Come, let’s get you back to bed.”

    She cautiously took his hand and allowed him to lead her back to her bed. “I’m just worried about you,” he said after a moment, “I mean, one moment I’m sound asleep and the next I’m being woken by your screams.”

    “I’m sorry I woke you,” she apologized as Draco pulled her covers back and patted the bed. She climbed in and made herself comfortable.

    Draco tugged the covers over her and sat down on the end of her bed. “It sounded like one hell of a nightmare the way you were screaming. It sounded like you were in pain.”

    Hermione rubbed her temples. She knew exactly why she’d sounded like she was in pain. Her head felt like it was going to explode, especially right behind her eyes. She thought for a moment about whether, or not, she should tell him about that. In the end, she decided that no harm could come of her telling him. “I’ve been getting a sharp pain behind my eyes every now and then,” she confessed, “It’s rather debilitating and not at all pleasant.”

    “And that’s why you were screaming?”

    She nodded. “Mostly.”

    “And you’re sure you don’t want to tell me about your nightmare?”

    Hermione shook her head. “It was just a nightmare, Draco, a childish thing really,” she told him, taking his hand, “Thank you for your concern.”

    Draco squeezed her hand. “Very well. Can I at least get you a cup of tea, or something to help with the pain?”

    “I’ll be fine,” she assured him, “The pain is already going away.”

    He brushed her cheek with a finger. “Well, your color’s coming back so that’s a good sign.” He sighed and kissed her knuckles. “All right, if you’re certain you’re all right, I’ll let you get back to sleep.”

    “Thank you.”

    “But if this pain continues, perhaps you should speak to Professor Dumbledore about it. Or Madame Pomfrey.”

    Hermione snuggled deeper into the bed and pulled her hand from his. “I’ll think about it.”

    “Hermione…”

    “Draco, I’m tired. Can we please drop this for the time being?”

    “Of course,” he said, standing to take his leave. He hesitated for a moment then leaned down and kissed her forehead.

    Hermione was touched by the sweet gesture. She watched as he walked to her door. He was a constant surprise to her. Just when she thought she had some idea of who he was, he would do something so unexpected that she would have to re-evaluate what she knew about him.

    This gentle, caring side of him was something she was sure very few, if any, people were allowed to see. The fact that he was showing it to her was a clear sign that he was starting to let his guard down around her; something she knew she was going to have to do as well if they were going to work as a couple.

    Before he left her bedroom, he turned to look at her. “If you need anything…”

    Hermione nodded. “I’ll let you know.”

    Draco gave her a small smile and turned off her light as he left the room. He closed the door and made his way to his own bedroom. As he walked, his mind replayed what he’d seen when he first walked in to check on her.

    Hermione had been thrashing about, screaming. It was similar to someone being tortured by the Cruciatus curse. Painful to hear, but even more disturbing to see. Certainly not something he wished to see Hermione going through.

    Having seen what he did, Draco was positive that Hermione was holding something back from him. He didn’t blame her, though. They were still learning to trust each other so it was understandable that she wasn’t comfortable disclosing such personal information as what she’d seen in a dream. Or a nightmare as it were, he corrected himself. However, he wasn’t so sure that she’d been having a nightmare. It seemed bigger than that.

    He ran his hands over his face as he sat down on his bed with a loud sigh. Gaining her trust was something that he knew would take time, but time wasn’t something he had a whole lot of. The Dark Lord was not a patient man and if he didn’t gain some ground soon, he was going to end up on the receiving end of the Cruciatus curse…

    Or worse.

 

 





 

 

    As six o’clock rolled around, Draco willed himself out of bed and trudged over to his bathroom. He showered and dressed for lessons then walked down to the common room to wait for Hermione. His wait wasn’t long for she came down just a half hour after he did. “Good morning,” he said sleepily, “did you sleep well?”

    “Not at all,” Hermione replied. “Though, from the looks of it, you didn’t either.”

    Hermione looked him over and noticed that there were dark circles under his eyes that stood out fairly distinctly from his pale skin. “You were up all night, weren’t you?”

    “Hermione, please don’t make a fuss. I’ll have plenty of time to sleep during my free periods so please; just leave it.”

    Hermione narrowed her eyes slightly in contemplation and then nodded. “Well, your grumpiness certainly leaves something to be desired but I think a spot of breakfast will help a bit with that.”

    The two walked down to breakfast together in a comfortable silence and then parted ways once they reached the Great Hall. Hermione, being very hungry, hurried over to the Gryffindor table and joined Harry, Ron, and Ginny. “Morning,” she greeted.

    “Malfoy’s not joining us?” Ginny asked.

    Hermione shook her head. “He’s got his friends, and I have mine,” she replied simply. “Besides, he’s a bit on edge this morning so he’s not the best company.”

    Ron raised an eyebrow and asked, “Is he ever good company?”

    Ginny elbowed him harshly while Hermione gave him a harsh look. “Well he hasn’t really spent any time with any of us so how are we supposed to know?” Ron questioned defensively.

    “Ron’s got a point Hermione,” Harry chimed in. “We haven’t spent the past month and some odd weeks with him.”

    “Nor have I,” Hermione stated. “If I’ve spent the past month or more with anyone, it would be Blaise. I hardly saw Draco.”

    “And you haven’t seen us either,” Ginny said quietly. “We miss you, Hermione.”

    Hermione looked at Ginny apologetically and said, “I’m terribly sorry! I really haven’t been a very good friend lately, have I?”

    “Well, honestly, no,” Ginny replied. “But you have had quite a strange time lately.”

    “That’s no excuse for me not spending time with you,” Hermione retorted, completely ashamed of herself.

    Ginny and Harry looked at each other, nodded, then looked back at Hermione. “You can make it up to us tonight,” Harry told her. “Ron, Luna, Ginny, and I are going to the Room of Requirement for a bit after our last lesson of the day so that we can just spend some alone time… together.”

    “Why don’t you invite Draco and join us?”

    “Oi, I thought it was supposed to be just the five of us!” Ron countered.

    “Ron, if that were the case, then Hermione would be sort of the odd man out,” Ginny explained. “If Draco joins us then she won’t feel so out of place and it’ll give us a chance to get to know him a bit.”

    Ron sat chewing a bit of sausage quietly for a moment before nodding and saying, “Yeah, all right.”

    “What about Blaise?” Harry questioned.

    “Oh yes, I’d really like for you all to get to know him as well,” Hermione said with a bright smile, “he’s rather a fine fellow.”

    “He certainly cares for you, which makes him ok in my book,” Harry said with a nod.

    Hermione gave him a gracious smile and took a large bite out of a biscuit as Ginny asked, “So how are you and Draco getting along?”

    Before answering, Hermione swallowed and took a drink of pumpkin juice. “So far we’re getting along splendidly. In a way, it’s almost as if we never disliked each other at all.”

    “Don’t you find that odd?”

    Hermione furrowed her brow slightly as she said, “I bit, I suppose. I mean; it’s strange seeing a new side of someone I thought I’d known for six years, but I find it more nice than odd, really.”

    “Well, I, for one, am glad that you’re not rushing things with Malfoy,” said Harry, “I think it’s good that you’re taking things slow, really getting to know each other before making any big decisions.”

    Hermione giggled. “Thank you, Harry. Could we talk about something else? What have you all been up to?”

    “Well, Ron and I have been practicing Quidditch quite a bit…”

    “Hold on… Who are you going to be routing for?” Ron asked, looking at Hermione expectantly.

    “What d’ you mean who is she going to route for?” Harry asked incredulously. “She’ll be rooting for Gryffindor, of course!”

    “I’ll be cheering for both Gryffindor and Slytherin,” Hermione stated.

    “What?!” Harry and Ron exclaimed together.

    “Hermione, you can’t cheer on both teams!” Ron exclaimed, “It’s just not right. You have to choose!”

    Hermione rolled her eyes and put her fork down on her plate. “I will not choose between my best friends’ team and my fiancé’s team!” she stated sternly. “That’s like asking me to choose between Arithmancy and Ancient Runes; impossible! I can cheer for both teams and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

    Ginny cleared her throat and said, “Speaking of Slytherins, your brother’s trying to get your attention.”

    She nodded over to where Blaise was standing and Hermione turned to look at him. Blaise smiled weakly at her and then waved his hand in a manner that told her to go over to him. “Would you excuse me for a moment?” Hermione asked, looking at her friends.

    She then stood up and walked over to Blaise with a questioning look on her face. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

    “Oh, no… I just wanted to say ‘hi’,” Blaise replied.

    Hermione shook her head and giggled softly. “And you had to make me walk over here just for that?”

    Blaise bit his bottom lip and said, “I wasn’t sure that I should go over to you. I know your friends don’t like me so…”

    Hermione raised an eyebrow and smirked as she said, “Perhaps you should give them a chance?”

    “Perhaps,” Blaise replied.

    “We’re getting together in the Room of Requirement after final lessons today; join us.”

    “Are you sure I should?”

    Hermione placed a hand on his arm and pleaded with him lightly. “Please join us, Blaise, let my friends get to know the real you.”

    “All right, but only if Draco comes too,” Blaise agreed.

    “I don’t have time to ask him, would you mind?”

    Blaise nodded. “I’ll ask him, but I feel that he’d be much more inclined to accept the invitation if it came from you.”

    Hermione jumped a bit and hugged Blaise around the neck. “Thank you!” she said, “I’ll ask him then. Can you tell him I need to speak with him later? Perhaps after his second lesson?”

    “Sure, I can do that,” Blaise said with a laugh at her excitement, hugging Hermione around the waist. “Um, maybe we should ask your friends to help us figure out my nightmares?”

    “Have you had another one?”

    “Yes, but let’s not talk about it just now. I’ll come find you after we get out time tables and we’ll figure out a time to talk about it, all right?”

    Hermione nodded her head as she said, “I’ve got something to talk to you about too.”

    “Another vision?”

    “Of Lucius Malfoy,” Hermione whispered.

    Blaise glanced over at the Slytherin table where Draco was sitting. “Have you told Draco about any of this?”

    “I told him I’d had a nightmare and that I’ve been having pain behind my eyes,” she answered, “He found me screaming and in pain; I had to tell him something.”

    “And you swear he knows nothing of my nightmares?”

    “Blaise, you have my word that he doesn’t. And he won’t until you’re ready for him to know.”

    Just then, Blaise’s stomach gave a loud rumble. “Very well then, I should go eat before my stomach gets angry with me,” he said with a chuckle.

    He kissed Hermione on the cheek quickly and then hurried off to join Draco and the rest of his friends for breakfast. “You all right, Blaise?” Draco asked as Blaise sat down next to him. “You look like hell.”

    Blaise shrugged as he began pulling food towards him and piling it onto his plate. “I didn’t sleep very well and by the looks of it, neither did you.”

    Draco yawned as he replied, “I didn’t sleep but a few hours last night; Hermione woke me up screaming.”

    “Yeah, she just told me,” Blaise mentioned, “I’m sorry you didn’t sleep.”

    Draco shrugged. “I’ll get some sleep during our free periods. Pansy’s coming,” he whispered with a grimace, “We’ll talk later.”

    Pansy sauntered over and sat down across from them. She smiled flirtatiously at Draco and quickly noticed the dark circles under his eyes. “My goodness, Draco; you look like you haven’t slept in days!” she exclaimed. “Did that blasted twit fiancée of yours keep you up all night lecturing you about some silly thing?”

    Draco snarled at her as he dropped his fork onto his plate loudly. “Did you just call my fiancée a twit?” he asked dangerously.

    Pansy smirked and pulled a fresh bowl of eggs toward her. “Oh Draco, you don’t have to be honorable here,” she said, “Your father’s not here keeping an eye on you; you’re free to show your true feelings about her.”

    Draco’s body went rigid with anger, as did Blaise’s beside him, and his eyes narrowed coolly on Pansy’s smug face. “I think you’re confused, Pansy,” he said through gritted teeth.

    “Please,” Pansy said with a small huff, “you said yourself at Zabini Mansion that you were under orders to respect and honor that prissy harlot.”

    Blaise started to stand up but Draco grabbed him by the arm and yanked him back down. “See, now the only prissy harlot I remember destroyed everything in sight at Hermione and Blaise’s birthday,” he retorted, “Now, I wonder who that could have been… Oh right, it was you.”

    Pansy gasped slightly and poked her bottom lip out. “I’ve apologized for that.”

    “Only because you wanted to get back in my good graces; which will never happen by the way.”

    “Draco, I…”

    “Get over yourself, Pansy,” Draco interrupted. “I’m marrying Hermione and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.”

    Pansy took a bite of her breakfast before smugly saying, “Oh but you see, I’m already doing something about it. My father told me yesterday morning that he’s positive that your father has almost changed his mind about your engagement arrangement.”

    Draco was taken aback by those words. “Lucius Malfoy would never change his mind about Draco’s betrothal to Hermione,” Blaise stated angrily.

    Pansy looked at him with a bored expression as she said, “Then apparently you don’t know Lucius as well as you thought you did, Blaise.”

    Suddenly, Draco snapped. “You’re the one who doesn’t know my father, Parkinson! There’s not a chance that your father could convince him to break my betrothal to Hermione and on the very slight chance he does…” he stood up and leaned across the table, nearly getting nose to nose with her, “I would still marry Hermione.”

    Pansy’s face screwed up in anger as she raised her hand to slap him. Before she made contact with his cheek however, Draco grabbed her wrist and gave her a look that dared her to try it again. Pansy knew that look so she yanked her wrist out of his hand and picked up her goblet. Instead of raising it to her lips, she jerked it toward Draco, splashing its entire contents all over him.

    Draco sputtered momentarily before smirking and looking up slightly. “Good morning, Professor McGonagall,” he said.

    “Mr. Malfoy, I suggest you get yourself cleaned up; I’ll leave your timetable with Mr. Zabini,” Professor McGonagall told him. “As for you, Miss Parkinson, five points will be taken from Slytherin and should you behave in such a childish manner again, you shall receive a detention!”

    Professor handed out their course schedule, giving Blaise Draco’s as well as his own, she then gave Draco a stern look and said, “Mr. Malfoy, kindly be on your way, you’re dripping all over the table!”

    “Yes, Professor,” Draco said, picking up his napkin and drying himself off just enough so that he wasn’t dripping any more. He then climbed over the bench and stalked out of the Great Hall.

 

 





 

 

Meanwhile…

 

    As Hermione sat back down to breakfast, Harry looked at her questioningly. “Is Blaise all right? He doesn’t look so good.”

    “He’ll be just fine once he gets a bit of food into his stomach,” she replied. “He didn’t sleep well last night.”

    Ginny giggled. “That seems to be a reoccurring theme today.”

    “Uh-oh, looks like Pansy’s at it again,” Ron said quietly.

    Hermione and Ginny each rolled their eyes. “Honestly, what is it going to take for Pansy Parkinson to realize that Draco is never going to be with her?” Hermione questioned.

    “Knowing how thick she is it would probably take a whole lightning storm for her to understand anything,” Ginny replied with a giggle.

    Just then, Harry and Ron both gasped causing Hermione and Ginny to turn and look at them. “What is it?”

    “Pansy just splashed pumpkin juice all over Malfoy!” Ron exclaimed.

    Hermione turned to look at Draco and saw that he was dripping with the orange liquid and that he was smirking. That look is never good, she thought. She then realized exactly why he was smirking when she saw Professor McGonagall move in just behind Pansy.

    Moments later, Hermione, Ginny, Ron, and Harry were watching Draco storm out of the Great Hall. “Should I go after him?” Hermione asked in a whisper.

    “Probably not the best idea, Hermione,” Harry told her. “Malfoy looked really pissed.”

    “Perhaps just talking to him about it later would be better,” Ginny agreed, “Give him some time to cool off.”

    Hermione nodded in agreement and continued eating her breakfast. I’ll just talk to him when I go up to get my book, she thought. I’ve got to admit, I’m very curious to know what he said to make Pansy so angry.

    “Um, Hermione?”

    Hermione turned and smiled at her brother. “Yes?”

    “Have you gotten your time table yet?” Blaise asked.

    Hermione cleared her throat before taking a drink of her pumpkin juice. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “I’ve got Arithmancy at nine and then I have a free period until lunch.”

    “I’ve got Transfiguration first, then a free period. Can we talk then?”

    “Of course,” Hermione told him. She then looked at Harry, Ron, and Ginny. “I should really go check on Draco now. I’ll see you two in class and Ginny; I’ll see you at lunch.”

    “Hermione, Draco’s really angry,” Blaise told her, “I wouldn’t press him about anything just now.”

    “I’m not going to press him; I just want to make sure he’s okay.”

    Blaise chuckled as Hermione stood up and began walking toward the doors of the Great Hall. “He can handle Pansy any day,” he told her as he fell into step with her. “Lack of sleep just makes him lose his temper with her a bit sooner than normal.”

    “What exactly did she say to him to make him so angry?”

    “The same thing she always does… she insulted you.”


Chapter 19: Chapter Ninteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

    By the time he reached the portrait covering the entrance to his living quarters, Draco’s anger was boiling over. Normally he would just take the things Pansy spouted off in stride and let them roll off his back, but considering his lack of sleep he was certainly taking things a bit more personally. He wanted to scream and yell at every single person he passed but he knew that that wouldn’t solve anything. Instead, he began silently plotting a way of getting Pansy back for her little episode without getting into trouble himself.

    Before he knew it, he was standing in front of the Griffin that would allow him access to the Head’s Tower. Unfortunately for Draco, the Griffin was sleeping. Feeling very sticky and gross, Draco prodded the Griffin with a finger and waited impatiently.

    The Griffin raised its majestic head and looked at Draco sleepily. “It’s very rude to wake a being when it’s sleeping,” it squawked.

    “Really, I’m very sorry but as you can see I’m in need of a change of clothes,” Draco snapped.

    The Griffin snapped its beak and narrowed its eyes at him as it said, “Password?”

    “Eternity.”

    The Griffin squawked loudly as the portrait swung open, allowing Draco to climb through and make his way to his dormitory. He slammed his bedroom door shut as he began stripping his pumpkin juice soaked clothes off. After finding a clean set of school robes, Draco walked into his bathroom and showered the sticky goo out of his hair and off of the skin that had been exposed to the tasty drink.

    It wasn’t too long before he was clean and dressed in his fresh clothes. He decided to leave his hair un-gelled and hurried out of his room. He was sure that he didn’t have much time before his first lesson but since he didn’t have his timetable, he needed to get certain quickly. He needed to find Blaise.

    Just as he was exiting the Tower, his eyes caught sight of Hermione rounding the corner toward him. “Oh, I was hoping I’d find you here,” Hermione said as she reached him.

    Draco ran a hand through his wet hair and raised his eyebrows questioningly. “Coming to see if I was all right?”

    Hermione blushed slightly as she said, “Well, that was the initial plan; however, I thought you might like your timetable so I got it from Blaise.”

    Draco took the piece of paper she was now holding out for him and looked it over. “It looks as though we’ve got Potions together again this year,” he said.

    “Lovely,” Hermione said with a hint of sarcasm.

    Draco gave her another questioning look and asked, “Is that a problem?”

    “Well… not really,” Hermione replied, “it’s just that, apart from you and Blaise, I’m not particularly fond of the Slytherins.”

    “Can’t really say I blame you there,” Draco stated. “Although, they’re not all bad; Crabbe and Goyle are all right once you get to know them.”

    Hermione gave him a skeptical look as she said, “Forgive me if I find that extremely difficult to believe.”

    Draco cleared his throat before stuffing his schedule into his pocket and saying, “So, was there another reason you were coming to find me?”

    “Oh, um… I wanted to ask you something…” She looked at Draco for a moment and then took a deep breath before continuing, “I wanted to ask you if you’d join Ginny, Harry, Ron, Luna, Blaise, and me in the Room of Requirement after our last lesson today?”

    “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

    Hermione let out a light chuckle and said, “You sound just like Blaise. To be honest; it was Ginny’s idea.”

    A slight look of shock came over Draco’s face as those words sank in. “Truly?”

    “Mmm,” replied Hermione with a nod as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Oh please, won’t you come?”

    Draco tilted his head slightly in thought and stated, “I’ll think about it, all right?”

    “Oh come on, Draco… please? Blaise won’t come if you don’t.”

    “Hermione, please don’t press the issue; I don’t want to end up saying something I’ll regret,” Draco told her with a slight tone of warning.

    Hermione sighed deeply and took a few steps past him. “Oh, all right; I won’t bother about it,” she said. “If you decide to join us, then meet us outside of the Room of Requirement after your last lesson, if not then I’ll see you back here later for rounds.”

    The portrait of the Griffin looked down at her sleepily and said, “Password?”

    “Eternity,” Hermione said.

    The portrait swung open and Hermione disappeared behind it. Draco was going to wait for her, but just then, a fifth year Prefect by the name of Julian came running up to him. “Malfoy,” he panted, “the Headmaster’s looking for you. He said you were to meet with him this morning.”

    Draco swore under his breath and nodded at the boy. “I completely forgot!” he said, “Listen, wait here for Hermione; I don’t expect she will have expected me to wait for her but tell her that I’ve gone to speak with Dumbledore all right?”

    Julian nodded and just moments after Draco disappeared around a corner, Hermione stepped out into the hall carrying her school books she needed for the next couple of hours. “Oh, hello, Julian,” she said sweetly, “can I help you with something?”

    “Oh, no… Malfoy just asked me to wait here to tell you that he had gone to speak with the Headmaster.”

    “Oh, right… I had forgotten that he had asked to speak with him; not that I expected him to wait for me or anything.”

    “Well, we’d better be off to lessons or we’ll be in trouble for sure.”

    Hermione nodded as she said, “Yes, you’re quite right.”

    The two then scurried down the corridors to reach their lessons in time.

 

 




 

 

    Draco reached the Gargoyle that guarded the staircase to the Headmaster’s office and took a deep breath before saying, “Fudge nougat.”

    The Gargoyle leapt aside and allowed Draco to climb the stairs behind it. Draco took the stairs two at a time and quickly found himself standing in front of the door to Dumbledore’s office. He raised his hand and wrapped lightly on the door with his knuckles. “Come in,” came the muffled reply.

    Draco turned the knob of the door and pushed it open. “I’m sorry for being late Professor Dumbledore,” he said, “I had a bit of an incident with Pansy Parkinson.”

    Dumbledore nodded and motioned for him to shut the door and take a seat. “Yes, Professor McGonagall mentioned that. I do hope everyone is all right.”

    “As well as can be expected I believe, sir,” Draco replied as he took a seat opposite the Headmaster.

    Again, Dumbledore nodded. “I believe you had some concerns about a student’s welfare?”

    “Yes, sir… Hermione’s.”

    “You believe Miss Zabini is in danger of something?”

    “Well, I believe that Pansy will stop at nothing to keep me from marrying Hermione,” Draco told him.

    “I can assure you that Miss Parkinson is not a danger to Miss Zabini.”

    “But sir, she’s threatened her in the past,” Draco argued lightly.

    Dumbledore held up his hand momentarily as he said, “Miss Zabini is a very capable young witch. I do not think that anything Miss Parkinson could come up with would be truly devastating.”

    “I’m afraid you don’t know her the way I do, Professor.”

    “That is quite true, Draco, I do not know Pansy Parkinson as you know her,” Dumbledore said thoughtfully. “Very well, I shall have Professor Snape keep an eye on Miss Parkinson to ensure that she does not inflict any harm on Miss Zabini.”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    As Draco began to stand up, Dumbledore asked, “Was there something else on your mind?”

    Draco hesitated and then sat back down. “I don’t really know if it’s anything to be concerned about, but Hermione woke me up, screaming last night.”

    Dumbledore nodded. “Continue.”

    “Well, when I went in to check on her, she was thrashing about, pale, and clammy so I went over to wake her. I somehow managed to grab hold of her without being hit and that’s when I noticed her eyes.”

    “What about them?”

    “They were glassy, unfocused.”

    The headmaster pressed the tips of his fingers together and held them to his lips. “What happened next?”

    Draco thought for a moment. “Um… It took a bit to bring her round, but she finally stopped screaming and her eyes lost the glassiness,” he said, “I asked her what had happened and she told me she’d had a nightmare.”

    “But you think there is something more?”

    “I honestly don’t know, sir. I mean; sure it could’ve been a simple nightmare, but I’ve never seen anything like that before. And the screams… Sir, the screams were the worst part.”

    “Describe them.”

    “Sharp, piercing; kindred to those under the…”

    “Cruciatus curse,” Dumbledore finished for him.

    Draco nodded. “She kept rubbing her temples and when I asked her about it, she said she’d been getting pain behind her eyes now and again.”

    Dumbledore nodded and looked thoughtful for several moments. “I cannot say whether your concern is necessary, or not, but it is obvious that you care for Miss Zabini so it is definitely worth looking into. I will do some research and see if I can come up with anything.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Draco said with a sigh of relief.

    “Please keep me informed if Miss Zabini has any more nightmares.”

    “I will.”

    Dumbledore nodded and stood up as he said, “I shall speak with Miss Zabini today to see if I can help shed some light on the pain you mentioned. I do not think it is anything too worrisome but I have been known to be wrong in the past. Also, if the pain persists, have Miss Zabini see Madame Pomfrey. She makes an excellent draught that alleviates pain.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Draco said, stand up and following him to the door.

    “Thank you for alerting me to these situations, Draco,” Dumbledore replied. “Now, you should head off to class… I believe you have Transfiguration right now.”

    “Yes, I don’t think Professor McGonagall will appreciate it if I’m late.”

    “I have taken care of that already,” Dumbledore told him.

    Dumbledore drew his wand in the air and produced a piece of paper with his curly writing on it. Draco took the paper and nodded kindly before opening the door and heading off to class. As soon as he left, Dumbledore closed the door and walked over to his desk. He then quickly set about writing a brief letter.

 

 




 

 

Meanwhile…

 

    Lucius remained in his study for the duration of Bellatrix’s stay, except to eat or sleep. For as long as he had known Bellatrix, he could only handle seeing so much of her. She was a thorn in his side and had been for the longest time. Normally he would tolerate her while she was visiting and socialize with her, however this time he had other things to deal with and he wasn’t about to let her interfere with his personal affairs.

    As it was, Lucius was already a bit behind in his planning. There was a task that he was to perform and if he didn’t do it soon, Lord Voldemort would be on his case. That was something he truly did not want. He had been in enough trouble with his master over the past few years and he wasn’t looking forward to getting into more.

    At that moment, a letter appeared on his desk in a burst of cool blue flames. Immediately Lucius’s hand grabbed the letter and tore it open. His eyes carefully read over the short message that was neatly written on the parchment.

 

Lucius,

    Please meet me tonight at midnight near the old Oak tree in the forest near Zabini Mansion. Do not tell anyone where you are going. Burn this correspondence immediately after reading.

Pietro

 

    Lucius sighed heavily and tossed the letter into the fireplace. He wracked his brain for any reason Pietro would want to meet him so urgently, but could think of none. He debated whether, or not, to send a reply questioning the meeting, but he thought better of it.

    With Bellatrix still staying with him and his wife and he didn’t want to risk anything falling into her hands. Besides, whatever Pietro wanted to meet about was obviously between the two of them, and the two of them alone. He would have to find some way of sneaking out of the house without his nosey sister-in-law tailing him. That’s easier said than done, he thought with a sigh of annoyance.

 

 




 

 

    Draco checked his watch as he made his way through the halls toward the Transfiguration room. His meeting with Dumbledore had been shorter than he’d anticipated so he had a little bit of extra time before class. He adjusted his grip on his school bag and glanced around.

    Just ahead, he saw Astoria coming out of the girl’s lavatory. He quickened his steps and easily caught up to her. “Got a second?” he asked, taking her by the arm and guiding her to an area under the stairs that would hide them from prying eyes.

    “Is everything okay?” Astoria questioned, “I saw your spat with Pansy. I can’t believe she threw her pumpkin juice on you! She’s an absolute…”

    “Astoria…”

    She saw the annoyed look on his face. “I’m sorry. You’re agitated, what’s wrong?”

    “I’m fine, I just need to speak with you.”

    “You sound serious.”

    “That’s because it is,” Draco told her, “We’ve had a good thing going for a while and as fun as it’s been, I’m sure you understand that things have to change. Hermione and I are essentially living together now and that’s going to make things a little more difficult for you and I to get together so I just wanted you to know that I’ll understand if you want to walk away. No hard feelings whatsoever.”

    Astoria furrowed her brow and tilted her head slightly. “Draco, we’ve always been very clear about what this is between us. We aren’t exclusive. We’re just having fun,” she said, “I know where we stand and I’m not worried about promises or betrothals.”

    “Well, I just wanted you to know you’re free to go at any time.”

    She slid her book bag from her shoulder and set it on the floor. She took his hands and linked her fingers through his. “Draco, what’s brought this on?”

    Draco sighed. “Nothing really. I was just doing some thinking last night and I needed you to know that I can’t make you any promises about a future together.”

    “Darling, I’m not interested in promises. I know things are a little strained right now because of this whole betrothal business, but I’m not interested in walking away,” she assured him, “Draco, being with you is the most fun I’ve had in a long time, and there’s nothing that’s going to change that. I know I said I was jealous that night your father caught us in your bathroom, but I’ve done a lot of thinking and I figured out I have no reason to be jealous at all. You have a duty to your family and I know what that means to you. So, relax, no hard feelings and no worries, okay?”

    “All right,” he said with a brief nod, “As long as you understand where I’m coming from.”

    She nodded and kissed his lips softly. “I do,” she whispered.

    Draco moaned quietly. “Well then, on your own head be it,” he said against her lips.

    He let his bag fall to the floor as Astoria’s arms snaked around his neck. He wrapped his arms loosely around her waist and pulled her a little closer. It was a damn good thing Astoria wasn’t much for lipsticks. She always wore something, but it was clear so he had nothing to worry about there.

    After a few minutes, he pulled back and carefully wiped his mouth. “We should get going,” he said, “Classes and all.”

    Astoria wiped at her own mouth and quickly reapplied her lip gloss. “Yes, quite right.”

    Draco grabbed his bag and left to go find Blaise. He sighed heavily and was thankful that it didn’t take him long before he and Blaise were standing outside of the Transfiguration room.

    It had been a long day and Draco was ready for classes to be over. Classes haven’t even started yet and I’m ready for them to be done. That’s a really great way to start the day, he told himself as he looked at his time table. “Double Transfiguration with the Ravenclaws,” he said, looking at Blaise.

    “Yeah, that should be fun,” he replied sarcastically, “Bunch of smarties trying to make us look like fools.”

    “They’re not all like that,” Draco said.

    Astoria walked by, casually brushing her hand against Draco’s. Draco gave her a small smirk in return. There weren’t many people around to see the interaction, but Blaise’s sharp eyes caught it. “Draco, what was that about?”

    “Hmm? What was what about?”

    Blaise fixed him with an interrogating stare that he’d come to know very well over the years. “Cut the innocent act, Malfoy,” he said, “I know you and Astoria had a thing for a long time. You’re not still seeing her; are you?”

    Draco blinked at him, unsure of what to say. The truth would anger Blaise, but to lie to his best mate would be even worse. He took a deep breath and said, “Can we talk about this later?”

    Blaise didn’t like the look on Draco’s face. He’d seen that look far too many times. It was the look that said, “I’ve just been caught doing something I know I shouldn’t be doing, but I did it anyway.” He sighed heavily. “Draco, I’ve known about your ways with women for years now,” he said, “It honestly doesn’t surprise me. But you’re betrothed to my sister. Don’t break her heart. And yes, we can talk about this later.”

    Draco could see that Blaise had figured out that he hadn’t officially ended things with Astoria. Of course, he had told her that he wasn’t making her any promises, and that she was free to walk away if she chose to do so. That’s essentially breaking things off, isn’t it?

    The two walked into Professor McGonagall’s classroom took seats. They normally sat together, but Blaise chose to sit next to one of the girls that hung around with Pansy Parkinson, leaving Draco to find a seat elsewhere. Of course, the only seat that was left now was next to Astoria. He sighed and walked over. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you planned this,” he said quietly as he sat down.

    Astoria looked at him and smiled that sweet girlish smile of hers. “I didn’t, but I’m glad it happened. If we aren’t going to get to see each other very much, I want to take whatever small chance I can.”

    “Just remember what I said,” he reminded her, “You’re free to leave any time you choose.”

    She put her hand on his knee under the table and slid it up his leg. “I remember,” she whispered, leaning into him a little, “And I’m not going anywhere.”

    Draco grabbed hold of her hand before it reached a certain area and politely removed it from his leg. “Behave yourself,” he scolded her gently, turning his attention to the front of the class.

    Professor McGonagall droned on and on about N.E.W.Ts and how important they were to their future outside of Hogwarts. As if we don’t know that already, Draco thought. He hated first day of school lectures. They were so boring it was all he could do to stay awake. He wasn’t as bookish as Hermione, but he did prefer actually doing work as opposed to listening to lectures.

    When class finally got out, Draco left Astoria without a word and walked out the door. He stood in the hallway and waited for Blaise. “Hey, can we talk now?” he asked when Blaise joined him.

    Blaise shook his head. He’d been thinking while Professor McGonagall had been teaching, and the more he’d thought, the angrier he’d become. He needed some time to calm down. Despite how angry he was at Draco, he valued their friendship and didn’t want to say anything in anger that he might end up regretting later. “I’ve got to meet Hermione. Perhaps we can talk after next lesson?”

    Draco nodded and watched as Blaise began walking away. Suddenly Blaise turned and called, “By the way, Hermione wants to talk to you about something after next lesson.”

    “Thanks, I’ll meet her in our Common Room.”

    “I’ll tell her.”

 

 




 

 

Later that afternoon…

 

    After Defense Against the Dark Arts, Blaise cornered Draco just outside the classroom. He’d been doing a lot of thinking since Transfiguration and he needed to let Draco in on those thoughts. “Right, so, before you say anything, I have a few things I need to get off my chest,” he said.

    “All right,” Draco agreed, “But let’s take this somewhere else.”

    “Fine.”

    The two of them quietly wove their way through the halls and came to a stop at the portrait concealing the entrance to the Head’s Tower. “I saw Hermione going off somewhere with Potter and Weasley so we can talk in here,” Draco told Blaise after giving the password.

    When they were inside and the portrait hole had closed behind them, Blaise set his bag down and glared at his friend. “Right,” he said with a huff, “You’re a rat bastard. I’ve always known that, especially when it comes to women. You’ve never been satisfied with one. But you’re with my sister now, and that means something to me.”

    “Blaise, I…”

    “I know I’m new to this whole brother thing, but I know that brothers are supposed to protect their sisters. So that’s what I’m doing; I’m protecting my sister,” Blaise rambled on, ignoring Draco’s interruption, “Now, I want to know what the bloody hell is going on between you and Astoria. And don’t try to say “nothing,” because I saw you two under the stairs.”

    Shock crossed his face. He hadn’t realized anyone had seen him and Astoria under the stairs, much less his best friend. Draco sat down and motioned for Blaise to do the same. Blaise didn’t move, he simply folded his arms and gave him an expectant look. “Okay, well, you know Astoria and I were seeing each other before this betrothal thing came to light.”

    Blaise nodded.

    “Well, my father had told me to end things with her, and I didn’t.”

    “Obviously.”

    “Blaise, this is going to be difficult enough to explain without the sarcastic side comments,” Draco said pleadingly.

    Blaise sighed. “Go on.”

    Draco rubbed the back of his neck and continued, “I haven’t slept with her since I found out about the betrothal, but that hasn’t stopped me from kissing her and messing about with her.”

    “How often?”

    “Not very,” Draco confessed, “The night of your birthday party, a couple of times between then and today, and this morning after I told her she could leave me any time.”

    Blaise scoffed at that. “And you really think that worked?”

    Draco looked skeptical. “She told me she wasn’t going anywhere, but I’ve told her that I’m going to marry Hermione and that I’m not making her any promises.”

    A low growl escaped Blaise’s throat. “You’re leading her on, you know that, right? And not just Astoria; Hermione, as well. Mate, you’ve got to end things with Astoria if you really want things between you and Hermione to work.”

    “I did.”

    At Blaise’s glare, Draco backtracked. “Well… technically.”

    “Technically isn’t good enough. You need to make a choice, here, Draco; Astoria or Hermione. If you want Astoria, then you need to tell Hermione you don’t want to get married. If you want Hermione, then you need to flat out tell Astoria that you’re done with sneaking around and that you’re committing to Hermione one hundred percent because I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going to just stand by and watch you break my sister’s heart.”

    “Blaise, I don’t want to break anyone’s heart, let alone Hermione’s.”

    Blaise studied his friend’s face. He could see the sincerity in his expression. “You’re starting to have feelings for her; aren’t you?”

    Draco’s head snapped up. “Her? Her who? Hermione?”

    “No, Pansy,” Blaise retorted sarcastically, “Yes, Hermione!”

    “Well, let’s just say I’ve moved from “ambivalent” to “strong liking”. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have feelings.”

    He sat down across from Draco and leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. “Would you say there’s a possibility of feelings?”

    “I wouldn’t say there’s not. It’s all so new and confusing.”

    “Then why would you risk losing something that could be so good for you?”

    Draco stood and paced. “I don’t know, mate. Everything’s happening so fast. I mean; I went from despising Hermione, to not knowing how I felt about her, to liking her all in the span of a couple of months,” he blurted out, “I’m feeling things with Hermione that I’ve never felt with anyone, ever! I haven’t even kissed the girl yet and I’m spinning! I’m so off balance. My up feels down, my down feels up, and I don’t even know what ways my sideways are. Think about what you would do in my situation.”

    “I’ve been thinking about it; all morning! And to be honest; I’d really like to punch your face for sneaking around on Hermione.”

    Draco was shocked. In all the time he’d known Blaise, violence had never been the first thing the young Zabini would resort to. In fact; Blaise practically hated violence. “You’re that angry with me?”

    “Yes, I’m that angry with you.”

    “Blaise…”

    He held up a hand and stood. “Listen, I’m done lecturing you and telling you what needs to be done, but don’t think, for one second, that I’ll back you up if Hermione ever finds out about your affair. You need to do something. I won’t be keeping this a secret for long if you don’t.”

 

 




 

 

    Harry, Ron, Ginny, Luna, and Hermione stood in the hall across from the large painting that masked the entrance to the Room of Requirement. They had thought about going in instead of standing around and waiting but Ginny had pointed out the fact that Draco and Blaise wouldn’t know what to think if and when they showed up to join them. Hermione could tell that Harry and Ron were getting restless.

    “Why don’t you go on in?” she suggested. “I’ll wait out here for Blaise and Draco.”

    Ginny and Luna looked at Hermione questioningly. “Are you sure?” Ginny asked.

    Hermione nodded. “There’s no point in the four of you waiting around when you could be inside chatting on about whatever your heart desires.”

    “That’s all right, Hermione,” Luna said. “I’ll wait with you.”

    Hermione smiled graciously. “Thank you, Luna but you don’t have to.”

    “Oh I don’t mind,” Luna replied. “I thought I saw a Visional Humphrumkin buzzing around Blaise’s head earlier. I’m hoping it’s still there; Daddy would love to study one.”

    “What are we going to think to get into the Room of Requirement?” Harry asked.

    Ron crinkled his nose and scratched his head in thought. “I don’t know,” he said. “How about something like ‘we need a place to hang out and spend time with friends’?”

    Harry shrugged in agreement and the two of them began pacing in front of the painting and thought exactly that. After passing in front of the painting three times, nothing happened. “Why don’t you try thinking something like ‘we need someplace to spend time with each other’?” Hermione suggested.

    “Good idea,” Harry said with a grin.

    Harry, Ron, and Ginny each thought that really hard and walked back and forth in front of the painting three more times. Hermione hadn’t been sure that that would work but suddenly the door to the Room of Requirement began appearing in the wall. “Hey, it worked,” Harry exclaimed with a grin.

    “Come on, let’s get inside and eat some of those snacks I see in the corner,” Ron said.

    Just as they were beginning to enter, Blaise rounded the corner at the end of the hall followed shortly by Draco. Hermione smiled brightly at them and motioned for them to hurry up. Blaise quickened his pace slightly but Draco kept his leisurely pace. “Sorry we’re late,” Blaise said with a deep breath when he finally reached them. “Professor Flitwick kept us after class for smart mouthing him.”

    Hermione’s eyes widened. “How on Earth could you smart mouth such a sweet man?” she questioned in near horror.

    Blaise chuckled as a mischievous grin slid over Draco’s face. “He was incorrect on the proper use of a Charm,” Draco said as they walked into the Room of Requirement. “We were merely correcting him.”

    “Really, Draco,” Hermione said in exasperation, “You’re Head Boy… you should be setting the example for the other students.”

    Draco, Blaise, Harry, and Ron all rolled their eyes. “Come off it, Hermione,” Draco told her. “It’s not like we were being really disrespectful.”

    “Yeah, he just kept us after class to tell us not to correct him in front of the whole class like that.”

    Hermione didn’t let up with her disapproving look but she let the subject drop for the time being. The seven of them set their bags against the wall and walked over to the plush cushions that were sitting on the floor near a table of yummy treats. Once they were all seated, they dug into the tasty goodies and began chatting about their day and what homework they had.

    Ginny noticed that Hermione was being uncharacteristically quiet so she nudged her a bit with her elbow and asked, “Hermione, are you okay?”

    Hermione shook her head. “Well, honestly, I’ve had a lot on my mind lately,” she told her.

    “You want to talk about it?” Luna questioned.

    “Well, as a matter of fact, I really think I should… but it’s not only for me to decide,” Hermione replied, looking at Blaise.

    Blaise gave her a sheepish nod. “Go ahead. They should know everything… they might be able to help us figure it all out.”

    Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Luna looked at Hermione questioningly. They weren’t sure of what was going on but they each had the feeling that it was something big. “Hermione, what’s going on?” Ginny asked.

    Hermione glanced at Blaise one more time and took a deep breath before saying, “Well, there’s two things I’d like to discuss with you, actually. The first being that Blaise and I have been seeing things.”

    The group looked at her, each face a mirror image of shock and concern. “What do you mean you’ve ‘been seeing things’?” Harry asked.

    She flinched at the tone in his voice. “I mean; we’ve been having… visions… of sorts.”

    “You mean like Professor Trelawney pretends to have?” Ron spat curiously.

    “Well…,” Hermione thought about this for a moment and then nodded, “yes.”

    “So, you’re telling us that you can see the future?” Ron asked with a tone of uncertainty in his voice.

    “I’m not sure what it is we’re seeing, Ron,” Hermione answered.

    “What does it feel like when you have these visions?” Harry questioned, “Are you asleep, awake? We need details if we’re going to help you figure this out.”

    Hermione glanced over at Blaise. “Why don’t you start, Blaise?”

    Blaise looked at her with uncertainty and, with her encouragement, sighed as he said, “Mine, I think, come when I’m asleep,” he began, “It’s as if I’m seeing things happening through someone else’s eyes.”

    Everyone listened carefully as he explained the nightmares he had had. Hermione was surprised to learn that he’d had more than just the two she knew about but then again, she couldn’t really expect him to tell her everything when they still hardly knew each other. Draco, on the other hand, was completely shocked.

    He’d had no idea that Blaise was having any sort of visions. In some ways, he was angry with Blaise, but he couldn’t really expect him to tell him every little secret. There were things Draco didn’t share with Blaise so he couldn’t really fault him for not telling him about his nightmares.

    “Blaise, when you’re having these nightmares, you said that it’s like you’re seeing through someone else’s eyes?” Draco asked.

    Blaise nodded.

    Draco cleared his throat and glanced over at Harry. “Have you considered that maybe you’re actually pushing yourself into the minds of the people you’re seeing these things through?”

    Blaise scratched his head and furrowed his brow. “Well, I suppose that’d be one way of looking at it, though I don’t know how I’d be doing that in my sleep.”

    “A mind can do all sorts of things while a person is asleep,” Harry said quietly.

    Blaise blinked. “That’s right, Hermione mentioned you’d been seeing into You-Know-Who’s mind,” he said.

    “She what?”

    “How did that work, exactly?” Blaise questioned, ignoring Harry’s question, “I mean; did you know you were doing it? Or did it just, sort of, happen?”

    Harry turned his glare to Hermione, who was looking rather sheepish as she stared at her hands. “Hermione, how could you?” he asked through clenched teeth. “That wasn’t supposed to be something shared between you and your… brother. It’s private!”

    Hermione looked up at him pleadingly. “I’m sorry Harry, it wasn’t something I intended to share,” she told him, her voice cracking a bit, “I wasn’t thinking and it sort of… slipped out.”

    Harry attempted to stand up but Ginny put her hand on his arm and said, “Harry, why don’t you two work this out later? I think the more pressing matter right now is the visions Hermione and Blaise are having.”

    He huffed and folded his arms. “Fair enough,” he said with an edge to his voice, “Why don’t you start by telling us what happened the first time you had one of these nightmares?”

    Blaise nodded and related everything he could remember from his first vision. Harry, though he was listening intently, couldn’t help being angry that Hermione had told a stranger about his connection to Lord Voldemort. Of course, he didn’t know the full extent of what she had said, but it still angered him. He had trusted her with something very private and she had told someone. And now Malfoy knows, he thought. He’ll probably go blabbing to his father, or worse, Voldemort himself. That was a thought that he didn’t like to think of. Then he remembered that Voldemort already knew of the connection.

    “And that’s when Hermione woke me up,” Blaise concluded, “And then I vomited.”

    “That’s why I drew the connection between what was happening to Blaise and what had happened to you, Harry,” Hermione said softly, “I remembered being told about how sickly you looked and that you vomited straight away after you’d had that vision of Mr. Weasley.”

    “I remember hearing about that,” said Draco, “Well, not the vision part, but about you getting sick and Arthur Weasley getting hurt. Umbridge was furious when she found out you all had been sent off.”

    “Let’s leave that foul woman out of this conversation, if you please,” Ginny said.

    Draco nodded his agreement and Harry asked, “Have you had any more of these nightmares?”

    Blaise confirmed he had and went into the details of that one. Hermione and Blaise had and an opportunity to talk earlier in the day, so she had already been filled in on what Blaise had seen.

    This vision had, once again, involved the same young woman he’d encountered in his previous vision. Hermione thought there must be some sort of connection simply based on the experience she had with Harry’s visions. She voiced this and everyone seemed to agree.

    “I think if we can figure out who the girl is, we might be able to figure out the connection,” Harry suggested.

    They all agreed. “Hermione, what about your visions?” Ginny questioned, “Do they happen the same way?”

    Hermione glanced at Draco briefly and quietly said, “No, they generally happen when I’m awake.”

    “Except last night, right?” Draco asked.

    Hermione looked down at her hands and nodded. “Except for last night,” she repeated.

    Draco gave her a look of understanding. “I’m not even going to ask why you hid it from me,” he told her. “Just explain what you’ve seen and how often.”

    She was silent for several minutes. She knew she needed help figuring all of this stuff out, but she also knew that it was risky telling Draco she was having visions of his father. She could, of course, leave out that “little” detail for the time being.

    “Hermione?”

    She came out of her thoughts and cleared her throat. “Right… Um… I don’t really know what I’ve seen, exactly; I haven’t had a clear picture,” she told them.

    “And how many times?” Harry asked.

    “Twice. Once after I was brought to Zabini Mansion; I was awake for that one, and then once last night.”

    Harry leaned forward slightly. “Is there anything you can tell us about what you saw? Any detail could be helpful.”

    “Well, I didn’t really see anything, especially the first time. The second time I could hear people talking, but not what they were talking about.”

    “Did you recognize the voices?” Blaise questioned.

    She shook her head. “No.”

    Luna, who had been unusually quiet, suddenly said, “It sounds as though your mind’s eye is blocked. You should go see Professor Trelawney, or Firenze; I’m sure they could help unblock you.”

    “I’ll think about it,” Hermione said in a reserved tone.

    “What’s the other thing?” Ron inquired.

    They all looked at him. “You said there were two things you wanted to discuss… So, what’s the other thing?”

    “Oh! Well, I um… I don’t think this is anything concerning, but apart from having visions, Blaise and I have had rather intense connection,” she said, “It’s almost as though we can read each other’s minds.”

    “But it’s more like strong feelings, right?” Blaise interjected, “I mean; like when you got that headache and I just somehow knew you needed pain killers.”

    “Yes. It’s like we can just sense things about the other,” Hermione agreed, “Like when we’re upset, nervous… We can even determine what the other is thinking. Is that normal?”

    Everyone looked at Ron. He blinked and shrugged. “Don’t look at me,” he said, “I have no clue.”

    “But you have twin brothers,” Blaise pointed out, “Surely you have some insight to this.”

    Ron screwed up his face in thought. “Well, Fred and George have a knack for finishing each other’s sentences,” he allowed, “And from time to time they seem to know what the other is thinking, but I’m not them so I can’t really be sure.”

    “I’ve read numerous books on the subject…” Hermione began.

    Draco smirked. “Not surprising.”

    At Hermione’s scowl, he shrugged and said, “What? You read a lot of books. Ahem… Anyway, you were saying?”

    “I haven’t found any references to anything that sounds as intense as what Blaise and I are going through.”

    “Wait a second,” Blaise said suddenly, “When we were at home, I knew when you were in pain… You knew when something was wrong with me…”

    He paused to collect his thoughts. “But last night, I had a vision and you didn’t know.”

    “Probably because she was having a vision of her own,” Draco suggested, “What’s your point, Blaise?”

    He slumped a little when he realized that he didn’t have something as important as he’d thought he had. “Nothing, really; just that we don’t always know what’s going on with each other.”

    Hermione gave him a kind smile and squeezed his hand. When they touched, she felt an overwhelming sense of nervous energy, and gratitude. “Blaise, calm down,” she said gently, “There’s no need to be nervous.”

    Harry watched them quietly as they spoke. He could understand why Blaise was nervous; he was in a room full of people he hardly knew, with the exception of Draco, discussing something very private and intimate. “Wait, is your connection stronger when you’re touching?” he asked.

    They let go of each other for a moment and then took hands again. Hermione nodded. “Seems to be.”

    “But it doesn’t seem necessary for us to touch,” Blaise added.

    Ginny cleared her throat. “I may be wrong, but there seems to be an obvious course of action here.”

    When they looked at her with blank stares, she rolled her eyes. “Seriously?” she looked at Harry, “After everything you’ve been through, I’m surprised you haven’t suggested it.”

    “Suggested what?” Harry questioned.

    “Dumbledore,” Draco said softly, “She thinks we should go to Dumbledore. Right?”

    Ginny nodded. Draco inhaled deeply and said, “I spoke with him this morning.”

    “You what?” Hermione, Ginny, Harry, and Ron questioned in unison.

    He held his hands up in defense and looked directly at Hermione. “I had a feeling that there was something you weren’t telling me last night,” he explained, “The way I found you; it was unsettling, to say the least, and I could tell you were holding something back. So, when I met with Professor Dumbledore this morning, I mentioned your nightmare, and the pain behind your eyes.”

    “Draco…”

    “I know I shouldn’t have gone behind your back, but, Hermione, I was concerned, and I thought someone you trust should know.”

    Hermione chewed her lip for a moment. “What did he say?”

    “That he’d talk to you about it and that you should see Madame Pomfrey for a draught to alleviate the pain.”

    They were all quiet for several minutes before Hermione finally said, “Very well; I’ll speak with him tonight after dinner.” She checked her watch. “Speaking of which, we should probably head down to the Great Hall. It’s getting close to dinner time.”

    They quickly gathered their things and headed for the door. Harry put his hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Any help you need, we’re there, Hermione,” he told her, “For you, and Blaise.”

    She hugged him. “Thank you, Harry, really.”

    Blaise cleared his throat. “Yeah… ahem… thanks, Potter.”

    Harry nodded, taking Ginny’s hand as they left the Room of Requirement. Hermione smiled to herself. Although it hadn’t been easy to let them all into something so private, she felt much better knowing that she now had help, and she was pretty certain she’d feel even better once she spoke to Dumbledore.

    “Hermione?”

    She turned and looked at Draco. She took a breath and hoisted her bag onto her shoulder. “Listen, I understand why you went to Professor Dumbledore, Draco, and I’m not angry. I just wish you had talked to me about your concerns.”

    “I tried, Hermione,” Draco argued, “You wouldn’t listen.”

    “You’re right,” she agreed, realizing that she had been closed off to his concerns the previous night, “I should have told you what was really going on, but, Draco, put yourself in my shoes. If you were having visions you couldn’t explain, would you have told me?”

    “Given our current state of relations; no.”

 

 




 

 

    It had been one hell of a day. His head was spinning from everything that had happened. From being confronted by Blaise, to finding out his best friend and his fiancée were having visions; he needed some time to wrap his head around it all.

    He was standing on the balcony of the Astronomy tower, leaning against the railing, looking out over the castle grounds. It was peaceful up there and he often went up there when he needed time to himself. He often gained a better sense of perspective while there, which made him feel much calmer.

    The first thing he realized was that he’d been right in thinking that there was more to the nightmare Hermione had had the previous night. He felt justified in taking his concern to Dumbledore.

    Blaise had also been right.

    Draco needed to make a decision in regards to Astoria and Hermione. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t a difficult choice. He held no feelings for Astoria. She had just been something fun to occupy himself with during a rather difficult time. But he had to admit that the fun wasn’t really there any longer.

    She was beginning to make him feel agitated, edgy, and irritated. When she was around him, he felt that she was demanding more from him than he could give… wanted to give. Oh sure; they had plenty of heat when it came to the physicality of their… relationship… but when it came to the emotional stuff; the things that really mattered… He felt nothing.

    In the past couple of months, he’d had more fun with Hermione than he had ever had with Astoria. And that’s saying something, he mused. Hermione and I haven’t even done anything close to the things I consider fun in a relationship. He sounded like a pig, he knew, with thoughts like that, but it was the truth. He and Hermione hadn’t even kissed properly and that was something he normally did fairly quickly when it came to the women he was interested in.

    He thought about how challenging she was, how brilliant, how kind, and the many other wonderful qualities he was learning about. He probably could have listed them all on a piece of parchment and that still wouldn’t hold a candle to the young woman herself.

    He took a deep breath and looked up at the sky. It all seemed so easy now, so clear. He knew what decision he was going to make. He didn’t see how he could even consider making a different one.

 

 




 

 

Midnight…

 

    It had taken some doing, but Lucius had finally managed to get out of Malfoy Manor without being followed. He was now standing where Pietro’s letter had specified. “Lucius?”

    “Yes, Pietro, it’s me.”

    Pietro appeared from behind a tree and welcomed his friend. “I apologize for the secrecy, my friend, but I felt some privacy would be better to deal with this delicate matter.”

    “What delicate matter? Pietro, what is going on?”

    Pietro clasped his hands in front of him. “I have been hearing some rumors of talks between yourself and Ivanov Parkinson about breaking your pact with me and marrying Draco to Parkinson’s daughter, Pansy. Please tell me these rumors are not true, Lucius.”

    Lucius waved him off. “Of course they’re not true,” he said dismissively, “Do you honestly think I would even consider marrying my only son to that wretched girl?”

    “There are many people talking about it.”

    “Pietro, you and I made a pact many years ago, I do not go back on my word,” Lucius said, “Besides, who would I find that is a better match for my Draco, than your Hermione?”

    His friend’s dark eyes narrowed on him. “Not even the lovely Astoria Greengrass?” he questioned, raising his brow.

    Lucius tutted and scoffed. “Astoria Greengrass is little more than a peasant. Not even close to being worthy of someone with the last name, ‘Malfoy’,” he sneered, “Pietro, I assure you I haven’t been in talks with anyone about a marriage to my son. He is betrothed to your daughter, and that’s not going to change.”

    Pietro nodded in acceptance. “Unless, of course, they choose not to marry.”

    Lucius inclined his head. “Of course.”

    “I apologize for the accusation, but I am sure you can understand why I needed to question you.”

    “I understand.”

    “Well, I will not keep you any longer, my friend. Please, give my love to Narcissa.”

    “Of course.”

    Lucius watched as Pietro disappeared the way he had come. He clenched his hand into a fist and slammed it against the tree next to him. “So, Ivanov Parkinson is spreading rumors,” he said aloud, “I’ll have to put a stop to that.” I can’t have him ruining my plans! Draco will marry Hermione if it’s the last thing I do!


Chapter 20: Chapter Twenty
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

    The Head’s Tower was quiet when Hermione returned from her meeting with the Headmaster. Draco must be out doing rounds, she thought. She went to her desk and sat down to do her homework. After about five minutes, however, she snapped her book shut and threw her head down on the desk.

    She exhaled sharply and sat up again, resting her chin in her hands. She closed her eyes and thought about everything that had happened in the Headmaster’s office.

    When she was finished eating, Hermione said her goodbyes to her friends and made her way through the Great Hall to the faculty table. She had never done anything like this, so she wasn’t sure if she was allowed on the dais, or not. She decided it was worth the risk though and quickly walked up the steps.

    When no one stopped her, she walked over to Professor Dumbledore and politely tapped his shoulder. “Um, Professor Dumbledore, I’m sorry for interrupting your dinner but…”

    Dumbledore smiled kindly at her and stood. “It is no interruption, Miss Zabini, I’ve had my fill.”

    “I, um… I was wondering if I could speak with you in private?”

    He gestured for her to walk with him. “Of course,” he said, “There is something I wish to discuss with you as well, though I have a feeling it is the same as what you wish to discuss with me.”

    “I believe it is, Headmaster.”

    “Then let us talk in my office.”

    They walked in silence to the Headmaster’s office, where Dumbledore offered her some tea. Hermione declined and sat in the comfortable chair in front of his desk.

    As he sat, Dumbledore pushed a small tray of lemon squares toward her. “So, Miss Zabini, what can I help you with?”

    “I know Draco mentioned some concerns he has about a nightmare I had last night to you.”

    “And some pain you’ve been having behind your eyes,” Dumbledore confirmed.

    “Yes.”

    He looked at her over his half-moon spectacles. “Your nightmare was no nightmare.”

    It wasn’t a question, and she knew that. She didn’t know how he knew, but he always knew. “No, sir.”

    “What did you see?”

    Hermione told him everything she had seen in both visions, explaining her point of view and everything she felt along with them. Dumbledore listened patiently and took in everything she said before saying, “I had a feeling that Lucius was up to something. I’ve been keeping an eye on him since you were revealed to be a Zabini.”

    She furrowed her brow. “You have?”

    “Yes, and in the interest of full disclosure, I know about the Prophecy.”

    Hermione swallowed and tried to speak, but she couldn’t. “You needn’t worry yourself, my dear child,” Dumbledore said kindly, “Your father wrote to me and asked if I would meet with him. When I did, he explained everything and asked for my help.”

    “Have you known all along?” Hermione questioned quietly.

    “Hermione, when one is as old as I am, there is very little that is unknown to them. However, I didn’t know everything until I met with Pietro before term started.”

    “I’m scared, Professor,” she confessed after a moment.

    Dumbledore nodded. “I would be rather worried if you were not,” he said, “Arrangements have been made for both sets of your parents to go into hiding should the need arise, however, I don’t think that is necessary just yet.”

    “But you think it might be at some point?”

    “Should Lord Voldemort learn that you are a piece of the Prophecy; yes.”

    They had gone on to discuss what the plans would be if Lord Voldemort did ever find out that she is The Bearer that was Prophesied. All of that was well and good in her opinion. It didn’t completely ease her fears, but it did help some to know that there was a plan.

    Things took an odd turn, however, when Dumbledore brought up Harry.

    “In the interest of keeping a level-headed young lady such as yourself even more level-headed in a time of such stress and confusion; I think it might be wise for you to confide in someone close to you that might know what you’re going through.”

    Hermione eyed him curiously. “In regards to what, exactly, sir? The Prophecy, having visions, Lord Voldemort wanting to kill me, suddenly finding out I’m not actually a biological member of the family I thought I was a member of, or suddenly having some weird psychological connection with the twin brother I’ve only known I had since July?”

    She huffed and folded her arms across her chest. Dumbledore chuckled softly. “By all means; Miss Zabini, don’t hold anything back.”

    She blinked and then sighed. “My apologies, Professor.”

    He inclined his head. “That is not necessary, dear girl. You have been through a great deal in a short amount of time.”

    “Yes,” she agreed. She mulled over what he was suggesting and said, “So, you think I should talk to Harry? Tell him about the Prophecy, and all that?”

    “I think it is time for you to trust in him the way he has trusted in you all these years,” he said kindly.

    Hermione was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of the portrait hole opening. “Hi,” Draco said when he came into view.

    “Hi,” Hermione replied.

    Draco ran his hand through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t think you’d be awake when I got back.”

    He walked over and sat on the couch with a deep sigh. “Where were you?” Hermione questioned as she followed and sat down next to him.

    “I went to clear my head for a bit, try to process everything and then I did rounds.”

    “Hm… Yes, Blaise and I gave you all quite a bit to process; didn’t we?”

    “Yeah, you really did,” he agreed, “But it’s like Potter said… Whatever you need; we’re there.”

    Hermione leaned in and kissed his cheek, lingering ever so slightly. “Thank you, Draco.”

    He gave her a tender smile before saying, “Well, I’m knackered so I’m going to bed. Don’t stay up too late.”

    “I won’t. I’m quite knackered myself.”

    Draco stood and kissed her forehead sweetly. “Goodnight, Love.”

    He tiredly walked up the stairs and to his room. He was so tired he didn’t even bother changing into his pajamas; he merely flopped onto his bed and passed out.

    He was surrounded by hooded figures in gold masks. His heart was racing. Several feet in front of him, Lord Voldemort sat in a high-backed arm chair, his red eyes focused on the young man. “You have done well, Draco. Come,” he waved the boy closer, “Lord Voldemort has seen your loyalty and wishes to reward you.”

    Draco looked over to his father, only known to him by the unique mask he wore. Mr. Malfoy nodded almost imperceptibly and Draco closed the distance between himself and The Dark Lord. He took a deep breath and held out his arm.

 

 




 

 

The next morning…

 

    At breakfast, Hermione felt a little strange. She felt better knowing that she now had help in figuring out these visions of hers and Blaise’s, but there was still something about it that bothered her.

    In the Room of Requirement, she had confessed that she didn’t know what she was seeing, but that wasn’t true. She hadn’t gotten a clear look the first time, but she had clearly seen Lucius Malfoy sitting in his study. Her second vision, however, had been as clear as day.

    She had felt that, for the time being, she needed to keep certain details from her friends; particularly Draco. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust them, she just felt she needed a little more time to grasp the reality of everything happening to her. Draco was an entirely different story.

    Since agreeing to the betrothal, Hermione had started seeing the potential she and Draco could have as a couple. She knew there were certain things she could trust him with, but she wasn’t sure about this. She didn’t like that feeling, but she just couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t run to his father and tell him everything. It was for that reason, and that reason alone, that she hadn’t completely let her guard down around him.

    Even though she couldn’t tell Draco that she was having visions of his father, she needed to tell someone. Dumbledore had suggested speaking with Harry, which made sense. He had a lot more experience with things like this than she did, and he wouldn’t judge her. She glanced over at him and caught his eye. “Can I talk to you?”

    Harry nodded. “Go ahead,” he said.

    Hermione shook her head and looked around. “Not here, come on.”

    When Hermione stood up and grabbed her things, Harry rushed to follow. She led him to an empty classroom that was never used and locked the door when they were inside. She then pointed her wand at the door and said, “Muffliato.”

    Harry looked at her in surprise and chuckled softly. “I thought you hated that spell.”

    Hermione blinked. “Yes, well, I can’t risk others hearing our discussion.”

    He knew from the tone in her voice that this was going to be a deeply serious discussion. “All right, what’s up?”

    “I lied yesterday when I said I didn’t get a clear look in my visions.”

    “Okay, so, what did you see?”

    Hermione took his arm and made him sit before saying, “Before I tell you anything, I must swear you to secrecy.”

    “All right.”

    “I mean it, Harry; you can’t tell anyone,” Hermione urged, “Not Ron, not Ginny… No one.”

    “I get it, Hermione. I won’t say a word. Promise.”

    She took a deep breath to calm herself and nodded. “Hermione, what’s going on with you?”

    “I’m sorry, I’m just a little… What I have to say is very important and my telling you puts everyone I care about at risk,” she said.

    Harry looked at her in concern. He placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. “Hermione, I promise, nothing you say to me now will ever leave my lips,” he said kindly, “You have my word.”

    Hermione patted his hand. “Thank you, Harry. I just… I don’t have anyone else that I can talk to about this.”

    “Okay, so talk to me. What’s going on?” he questioned softly.

    “The visions I had… They were of Lucius Malfoy.”

    Harry’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “What?”

    “The first vision I had wasn’t completely clear, but I know I saw Lucius Malfoy sitting at a desk, and then in my second vision, I clearly saw him arguing with Bellatrix Lestrange about some task he’d been given.”

    “A task? What task?”

    “I don’t know, it was never mentioned. All I could get before Draco woke me was that Lucius had been given a task by You-Know-Who and Bellatrix wanted to know what progress had been made.”

    Harry leaned forward and gave Hermione an intense look. “Tell me everything.”

    Hermione immediately launched into every possible detail she could give him. She spoke very fast and hardly took any breaths. Harry was used to this, of course, because one didn’t become friends with Hermione without getting used to it.

    When she finally finished talking, she stared at Harry and waited for him to speak. She had given him quite a lot to think about so she knew it would take him a minute before he would weigh in. She also knew that he had a very quick, and brilliant, mind, regardless of what his grades showed.

    Harry wasn’t honestly certain what to say. He was shocked by what he’d just heard and also a little in awe that Hermione had managed to remain so calm all this time. When he had first found out that Lord Voldemort wanted him dead, he had been a complete wreck. Then, when he’d first begun having visions and learned about his own prophecy, he’d become a walking time bomb of emotions; particularly anger. How Hermione was handling her situation with such… grace… he had no idea.

    “Hermione, with everything you’re going through, how are you not tearing everything and everyone apart?” he asked in awe.

    Hermione wiped a tear from her cheek as she laughed softly. “Believe me when I say there’s a part of me that wants to,” she confessed, “I’ve been trying to hold myself together from the moment I found out that I’m a Zabini, but I’m starting to lose grip, Harry, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

    She took several ragged breaths and covered her face with her hands as she began to sob. She hadn’t truly cried since the day the Zabinis had come to take her to Zabini Mansion. Every bit of stress, every insecurity she’d been feeling; everything she had been feeling since that day finally caused her to crack.

    Harry began to feel very uncomfortable as Hermione cried. He knew he needed to do something to console her in some way, but he wasn’t sure exactly what. He was at a complete loss as to what to say so he did something he had never done before. He stood up and wrapped his arms around her in a tentative hug.

    He had hugged her before, but she had always initiated it. This was the first time he had initiated a hug between them. Apart from that, there was nothing special about the hug. He just held her in his arms and let her cry.

 

 




 

 

    When Draco had woken up that morning, he’d realized that he hadn’t finished the Potions essay Professor Slughorn had set. He knew that if he didn’t finish it, the lenient professor would most likely make him do lines, or something, as a form of punishment. He wasn’t looking forward to that so, after bolting down a quick breakfast, he headed to the library.

    He had been working for an hour when someone walked up to the table he was working at and sat down. “You’re a hard man to find.”

    Draco looked up from his Potions essay and set down his quill as he leaned back. “Astoria, what can I do for you?” he asked.

    She leaned down and whispered, “Why don’t you pack up your things and come with me? I have something in mind that I think you’ll find more fun.”

    He pretended to think for a moment, then shook his head. “I’ve got an essay to finish and then I’m meeting Hermione for rounds.”

    Astoria pouted. “Oh come on, blow off rounds for one night.”

    Before the previous night, Draco probably would have had to fight so hard to keep from taking Astoria up on her blatant sexual offer. However, now that his choice had been made, he found it quite easy to ignore her. “I can’t. Astoria, I’m Head Boy, I can’t just blow off my duties to go off somewhere and have a romp with you; I have responsibilities.”

    “All right, perhaps I’ll see if one of the Gryffindor quidditch players is available,” Astoria said.

    Draco chuckled and went back to working on his essay. “Go right ahead; two of them are attached two are girls, and the other three are just plain dim.”

    Astoria narrowed her eyes momentarily before saying, “Or maybe that Dean Thomas bloke; he’s handsome.”

    He could tell that she was trying to make him jealous by mentioning Gryffindors as prospective partners for a snog. It wasn’t going to work, though. He wasn’t going to be dragged into her games. He had better things to do, better people to do them with. With that thought, Hermione came to mind.

    He glanced up and saw that Astoria was still standing there, staring at him. “Was there something else?”

    “No, I’ll be going now.”

    “Okay, bye then.”

    Astoria’s expression grew angry. She put her hand on her hip and continued staring at him. “You know, Draco, one of these days I’m going to stop coming around and then all you’ll be stuck with is a bookish prude who doesn’t even like you.”

    “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind,” he replied without looking up.

    When she was gone, Draco gathered his things and left the library. He checked his watch and found that it was nearly time for him and Hermione to be doing rounds, so he quickly headed toward Head’s Tower to drop off his books.

    Hermione was already there, sitting on the couch, reading a book. “Hey,” Draco greeted, “Are you ready?”

    “Ready for what?” Hermione questioned, continuing to read.

    Draco chuckled and set his things down at his desk. He then walked over to Hermione and reached over her to take the book out of her hands. “Hey! I was reading that!” She complained.

    “Yes, you were,” he agreed with a laugh, “and I’ll be happy to give it back when we’re done with rounds.”

    Hermione looked at her watch and jumped up. “I can’t believe it’s that late already!”

    Draco marked her page and closed the book, looking at the title. “Ah, no wonder you were so enthralled, this one’s a real page turner.”

    She could hear the light mocking in his tone as he spoke. She shot him a quelling look as she pulled her sweater over her head. “I know some research can be dull, but this is important. I mean; Blaise and I need to figure out what’s going on with us, and how to control it.”

    He set the book on his desk and walked over to her. “I know, Love,” he said, rubbing her arms comfortingly, “And I promise that as soon as we’re done with rounds, I’ll help you go through this book, and any others you’ve found.”

    Hermione gazed up at him in shock. “You… You want to help me?”

    “Of course,” he replied, confused as to why she would be shocked at that, “I’ve even remembered seeing some books in the library at Malfoy Manor that might be of use. I’ll write Mother tonight and have her send them along.”

    She smiled. “That would be lovely, Draco, thank you. But we mustn’t let our school work suffer.”

    Draco rolled his eyes and groaned. “I wouldn’t dream of it. Now, can we go? The sooner we get done with rounds, the sooner we can eat dinner.”

    His stomach growled softly then and they both laughed. “Come on, then. We’ll do a quick sweep of the castle and go eat dinner.”

    He grabbed her hand as she began moving away and kissed her knuckles. “Bless you!”

    Hermione’s cheeks flushed but she didn’t pull her hand away. Instead, she threaded her fingers through his and gave him a shy smile. “Well, this is a new step,” Draco commented.

    She began to pull away but Draco tightened his grip. “It’s not too soon?” she questioned.

    He lifted their hands to his lips and shook his head. “Not too soon,” he said before brushing his lips against the back of her hand.

    “Okay, then.”

    “Okay, then,” Draco repeated. He then led her out of Head’s Tower and they began their sweep of the castle, remaining hand in hand.

 

 




 

 

    At dinner, while Hermione was helping herself to another serving of yorkshire pudding, Blaise squeezed himself in across from her. She glanced up at him and smiled. “Well, this is a surprise,” she said.

    Blaise’s brow furrowed. “I’ve never sat at another house table,” he said, “Is that allowed?”

    Hermione looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “I suppose I could let it slide just this once,” she said teasingly, “I mean; there’s nothing that forbids it exactly.”

    Blaise chuckled. “You should know,” he teased, “You’ve got all the rules memorized.”

    Hermione laughed and nodded in agreement as she swallowed the mouthful of food she’d just put in her mouth. “That, and the unifying of houses is actually encouraged; especially in dark times. So, what brings you over, dear brother of mine?”

    “Can’t a guy just want to have a meal with his little sister?” he retorted, pulling a plate of strawberries with clotted cream toward him.

    She eyed him carefully. “Mmhmm, but you’ve got something on your mind.”

    Blaise huffed and bit into a strawberry. “Damn this connection, or whatever, we have.”

    Hermione smiled. “You’re happy about something.”

    He broke into a grin as he chewed. “I got a letter from Beatrice this morning.”

    “Ah, your lovely bride-to-be. How is she?”

    “She’s well. Beauxbatons started a few days ago so she’s already got loads of homework. She’s looking forward to the holidays so that we can spend some time together.”

    “Oh Blaise, that’s wonderful! Have you two already started making plans?”

    “Not official ones, but the wedding will most likely be the main event this Christmas.”

    “I get the sense that you’re not completely thrilled by that.”

    Blaise took a large gulp of pumpkin juice before answering, “I am; really, I’m thrilled. Beatrice is a lovely girl and I’m lucky to be marrying her. I’m just a little nervous about how quickly it’s happening.”

    “I see.”

    “We both wanted to wait until we’re finished with school, but her father won’t allow her to transfer here until we’re married.”

    Hermione nodded. “Yes, I can your problem.”

    “You mock me but I’m having a real crisis here.”

    She smiled gently at him and reached across the table to take his hand. “Blaise, you’re both seventeen, meaning you’re both of age. Beatrice can transfer here without her father’s permission if she chooses to,” she informed him, “I’m also pretty certain that if you speak with our parents, they’ll allow you to postpone the wedding until you’re done with school.”

    He snorted. “After they agreed to allow you and Draco to choose whether you marry, or not? I highly doubt it.”

    “You won’t know unless you try. Write them. The worst they can do is say ‘no’. Besides, you’re asking for a postponement, not a complete dissolvement of the engagement.”

    Blaise nodded. “I don’t think it’ll work, but it’s definitely worth a shot,” he said, “I’ll write them tonight.”

 

 




 

 

First Hogsmeade weekend…

 

    Draco stood among all the other students that were going to Hogsmeade, waiting for Hermione. They had plans to spend some time together in Hogsmeade. They had discussed it the previous day and had decided to go together and then join their friends at lunch time in the Three Broomsticks.

    Neither one of them had really spent much time with their friends since school started so it was time for just friends. Though, he didn’t really think anyone could blame them for spending a lot of time together, they were getting married after all, even if she didn’t have the ring on her finger just yet. To be honest, he hadn’t been able to get up the courage to actually propose to her.

    There wasn’t really anything stopping him, he was just a perfectionist and wanted everything to be just right when he asked her. There was quite a lot on both of their minds as well so, more often than not, they spent most of their time chatting about what little they had found as far as Hermione and Blaise’s visions were concerned.

    “Here she comes,” Blaise suddenly said, nudging him out of his thoughts.

    Draco looked around and spotted her easily. He smiled to himself when he saw her wearing her Muggle clothes. He wasn’t sure of why, but he really liked Muggle clothes on her; they seemed to suit her better than the school robes they had to wear.

    Today she was clad in a pair of dark blue jeans, snow boots, and a tightly fitted puffy down jacket. Sitting atop her head was a dark gray beanie that she had pulled down to cover her ears. She seemed to be laughing about something one of her friends had said because her face with lit up with a bright smile and she was shaking… though the shaking could have been from the cold.

    Wanting to be closer to her, Draco gave Blaise a look that clearly read, “I’ll see you later,” and headed off toward Hermione. Just as he was about five feet from her, two massive figures stepped in front of him, blocking his path. Draco looked up at Crabbe and Goyle questioningly. “Crabbe, Goyle,” he said, nodding at both of them in turn.

    He took a step to his left in order to step around him but Goyle stepped in front of him again. “Get out of my way, Goyle.”

    Goyle shook his head. “We have something to say to you,” he said slowly.

    “Oh?” Draco questioned with a raised eyebrow.

    “Yeah, see, we think you’ve been spending too much time with Granger,” Crabbe said.

    “Right, you haven’t been spending any time with us… your friends.”

    Draco rolled his eyes. “Really, you two; you sound like a bunch of girls,” he said, before adding with narrowed eyes, “and her name is Hermione.”

    “Is there a problem here?”

    Goyle looked at the intruder of their conversation and said, “Sod off, Zabini; this is between us and Malfoy.”

    “Yeah, why don’t you send that Muggle trash you call a sister back into the hole she crawled out of?” Crabbe spat.

    Both Blaise and Draco took a step forward, Blaise getting chest to chest with Crabbe, while Draco actually grabbed Crabbe’s shirt collar and yanked him forward. “Tell me I did not just hear you call my fiancée trash,” Draco said through clenched teeth.

    Crabbe pulled Draco’s hand from his collar and sneered, “That’s what she is, Malfoy… trash.”

    Blaise stepped back and drew his wand. “Take that back, or regret that you ever spoke against her.”

    Goyle broke Draco’s hold on Crabbe and got between the three boys. “You’ve both changed,” he said, “Choosing a Muggle-born over your best friends? It’s not right.”

    Blaise narrowed his eyes and aimed his wand more accurately. “She may have been raised by Muggles, but she’s pure-blood, Goyle, you know, being my twin sister and all.”

    Draco huffed. “Don’t bother trying to explain things to these two, Blaise, they wouldn’t understand it.”

    Crabbe and Goyle cracked their knuckles and pulled ugly faces of anger and disdain. “Don’t talk about us like that,” Crabbe sneered.

    “Or what?” Draco questioned with a smirk, “You’ll bludgeon me? You wouldn’t get close enough to try.”

    The two buffoons moved forward and made to swing punches.

    “STUPEFY!”

    The four boys flew apart, leaving a small crowd of students looking around to see who had knocked them all on their backsides. A few feet away, Hermione stood with her wand drawn and an angry scowl on her face. “Five points each from Slytherin for fighting,” she said.

    Crabbe and Goyle looked at her in shock. “You can’t do that!” Goyle exclaimed.

    “Actually she can,” Draco said with a smirk, “and I’m taking another ten for your cheek.”

    Goyle narrowed his eyes and glared at Draco harshly. “You’re going to wish you’d never done that, Malfoy.”

    “That’s another ten for threatening the Head Boy, Goyle,” Hermione stated, “Do I need to continue, or would you like to keep your mouth shut and go about your business before a professor gets involved?”

    Goyle helped Crabbe to his feet as he said, “You’ve forgotten who your friends are Draco.”

    “I haven’t forgotten; I’ve just found out who my true ones are.”

    Crabbe and Goyle stared at them in disbelief as they stalked off angrily while Draco and Blaise glared after them harshly. “I can’t believe those gits!” Blaise exclaimed, “How dare they talk about Hermione like that!”

    “How dare the two of you get into a fight,” Hermione shot at them, placing her wand into her back pocket, “By rights you should be banned from future Hogsmeade visits.”

    Blaise and Draco both stared at her in shock. Goyle and Crabbe had been insulting her and she had the nerve to yell at them for standing up for her? They didn’t think so! “They started it, Hermione!” Blaise argued, “Did you hear what they said about you?”

    Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. “As a matter of fact, I did, but regardless of what they said about me, you two should know better that to get into a fight before a school outing,” she said, “Especially you, Draco. You’re Head Boy! You should be setting an example for the young…”

    Draco rolled his eyes at her lecturing and sighed. “Hermione, please; enough with the lectures,” he interrupted, “Can’t you just be thankful that we were sticking up for you?”

    “Draco, I do appreciate the fact that you two stood up for me just now, but honestly, getting into a fight right before we leave for Hogsmeade?”

    “What did you want me to do, Hermione,” Draco asked in exasperation, “completely ignore the fact that my so-called friends were disrespecting my fiancée?”

    “I’m not saying that at all,” Hermione said, “I just want you to be more careful so that we can go to Hogsmeade together.”

    The look on her face as she said this caused Draco’s expression to soften. He was beginning to see that she was actually enjoying spending time with him; perhaps even starting to have feelings for him. Then again, he considered himself to be quite a charming lad so it didn’t surprise him too much. At the same time, though, he had never believed he was worth loving. Perhaps, with Hermione’s help, that would change one day. That, he didn’t know. What he did know, was that he was beginning to have feelings for the enchanting creature in front of him.

    “All right,” he said softly, “I’m sorry; I should have thought about that beforehand.”

    As those words escaped his lips, a few students that were standing nearby gasped in disbelief. Many students had gotten used to seeing Hermione and Draco together, actually being civil to one another, but there were many that were still trying to grasp the fact that they were getting close. When Draco noticed that there was a group of people staring at them, his eyes narrowed and he shot them a cold look.

    Immediately the students turned and hurried away. Hermione smirked at him as the group of kids disappeared around the corner. Draco looked at her and said, “What? I have a reputation to uphold here.” He then winked and gave her a small smile as he offered his arm to her.

    “Well, you two look like you’re not in need of a third wheel so I’ll be off,” Blaise said, as Hermione put her arm around Draco’s.

    Before he got too far, Hermione called out, “Hey, meet us at The Three Broomsticks later?”

    Blaise waved in answer and got lost in the crowd. “So, what would you like to do?” Draco questioned, bringing Hermione’s attention back to him.

    “Anything really,” she replied, “I’ve just got to meet my mother first. You’re welcome to join us.”

    “Marjorie’s in Hogsmeade?”

    “Yes; she wants to have some mother/daughter time so we can get to know each other.”

    Draco nodded. “I don’t want to intrude on such quality time.”

    “Oh, it wouldn’t be an intrusion, really.”

    “I have an idea. Why don’t you go spend some time with your mum and I’ll join you in a couple of hours?” he suggested, “I really think you should get to know her on your own.”

    Hermione thought about it and realized that she agreed with him. “What will you do?”

    He shrugged. “I know how Blaise thinks, and I know where he likes to go, I can track him down easily enough.”

    She squeezed his arm and stopped walking. “And you’re sure you don’t mind?”

    He adjusted her beanie so that it covered her ears a little better and fixed her scarf. “Not even a little,” he assured her, pressing his lips to the top of her head, “Now, off you go, I’ve got another Zabini to find.”

    Hermione kissed his cheek and said, “We’re meeting at that little cafe just past Monsieur DuBois’.”

    He nodded. “That’s a great place. I’ll see you there in a couple of hours then.”

    “Okay, I’ll see you then.”

    Draco watched her walk away and then headed off to find Blaise.

 

 




 

 

    Hermione stomped on the floor a few times, removing the snow from her boots, as she entered the Three Broomsticks. She pulled her hat off of her head as Draco stepped up behind her and took hold of her jacket, helping her take it off. Hermione smiled up at him slightly.

    As Draco was hanging up her jacket, and removing his own, Hermione took a look around and noticed that Ginny and the others hadn’t arrived yet. “Shall we find a table and wait for the others?” she asked.

    “Yeah, lets.”

    Once Draco hung his coat, the two walked further into the establishment. They easily found a place to sit that would accommodate seven people and Hermione sat down while Draco went to get butterbeers for everyone. When he came back to the table, he sat down and put his elbow on the table, resting his chin in his hand. “Did you ever look at the book I gave you for your birthday?” he asked.

    Hermione cringed slightly. “As a matter of fact, I haven’t,” she confessed, “I’ve been so busy adjusting to life as a Zabini and trying to help Blaise figure out our visions that it sort of… slipped my mind.”

    Hearing that made Draco a little upset. It had taken him a lot of time and effort to track that book down. He’d selected it carefully and had been quite proud of himself when he’d found it. It was no secret that Hermione loved books so he thought it was the perfect gift, especially given its magical history.

    “Hermione, it took a good portion of my savings to buy that book for you,” Draco chided, trying not to sound too huffy, “I would’ve thought you’d read it by now.”

    “I’m really very sorry, Draco,” she said, “I’ve been meaning to read it… honestly.”

    Draco was about to reply to that, but he was interrupted by Ron and Luna joining them at the table. “Butterbeer, great, I’m freezing,” he said, picking up a glass and taking a large gulp of the hot liquid.

    “Good heavens, Ron,” Luna said, picking up a napkin and handing it to him, “use some manners, will you?”

    Ron wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked at Luna with a questioning look. “What?”

    “You were dripping butterbeer down your chin,” Luna told him, “You know, it’s actually more polite to greet people before guzzling down food or drink.”

    “Oh.”

    Hermione giggled softly at the pair. Ever since the two of them had started dating, there had been a change in both of them. Ron had become more aware of people’s feelings, and Luna had become less strange. “You two really are quite the couple, you know that?”

    Ron made a face at her, while Luna smiled serenely. “Shut it, Hermione,” Ron told her.

    “Thank you,” Luna said at the same time.

    Moments later, Harry, Ginny, and Blaise came bounding through the door, shaking the freshly falling snow from their clothes. Blaise smiled when he saw Hermione and Draco and waved at them. Hermione waved back but Draco merely nodded at him. “Sheesh, what’s got into you?” Blaise asked when they reached the table.

    “I think he’s upset because I haven’t read the book he gave me for my birthday yet,” Hermione whispered.

    Blaise chuckled as he sat down and grabbed the remaining glass of butterbeer. “I probably should’ve warned you about that,” he said teasingly.

    Draco smirked and flipped the bird at Blaise, who laughed and flipped it right back. “Did you two do any shopping?” Ginny asked, looking at Draco and Hermione.

    Hermione nodded. “A little. I spent most of the morning with my mother, but after Draco joined us, he and I went off to do a little shopping.”

    “Get anything good?” Blaise asked.

    “A few books and some things I was running low on.”

    “Did you see that new clothing store that opened up just down the street from Zonko’s?” Ginny questioned.

    Hermione drank some of her butterbeer and nodded. “Yes, there are some really cute things in there.”

    “There really are!” Ginny agreed. “And the prices are really affordable. I got a really good deal on a couple of shirts.”

    While the girls chatted on about the clothes they’d gotten, or the items they had their eye on, the boys discussed more “manly” things like the Zonko’s products they’d bought, and the many sweets they planned on consuming. They were all so caught up with their conversations that none of them noticed how quiet Blaise had gotten.

    He had been listening to the conversations with interest when he suddenly began having difficulty breathing. It almost felt as though he was having an asthma attack, but he didn’t have asthma, or any type of allergy that would cause him to react this way. He tried to speak, but couldn’t, so he banged his palm on the table to get someone’s attention.

    They all looked over at him and saw him clutching at his throat. “Blaise, what’s wrong?” Hermione questioned, immediately standing up and going to him. Before she reached him, however, he suddenly went rigid.

    “Blaise!” Draco and Hermione shouted in unison.

    Blaise couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe. Hermione reached out to touch his arm, but just before she made contact with his skin, he began shaking violently. The group looked at him with wide eyes as he continued to shake. A second later, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell forward onto the table.

    Hermione quickly got behind him and pulled him up by the shoulders. It took a great amount of effort for her to lift him even slightly, but Draco saw what she was trying to do and quickly helped her. After giving him a brief nod of gratitude, she then moved to Blaise’s side and knelt down beside him, patting his cheek a little roughly in the hopes of snapping him out of whatever was happening to him. “Blaise… Blaise… BLAISE!”


Chapter 21: Chapter Twenty-One
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

    Hermione shook Blaise as hard as she could and nearly screamed in his ear. “BLAISE!”

    Quickly recalling her Muggle first aide training, Hermione grabbed Blaise’s wrist and checked for a pulse. It was very faint, but it was there which made her calm down slightly. Ginny was by her side in an instant with a small bowl of cold water and a cloth. Hermione took the cloth and dipped it into the water, wrung the excess water back into the bowl and pressed the cloth to Blaise’s forehead.

    Blaise remained motionless. “Hermione, I’m going to find one of the Hogwarts teachers,” Draco said, grabbing his coat. “If I’m lucky, I’ll run into Professor Snape, he’s probably the best suited for this situation.”

    Hermione nodded, her eyes still on Blaise, looking for any sign that he was waking up. Ginny and Harry stood and followed Draco. “We’ll go with you,” Harry said, “it’ll be faster if we split up.”

    “Good thinking, Potter,” Draco said with a grateful nod.

    The three of them then hurried out of the Three Broomsticks. Hermione sniffled as she re-wet the cloth against Blaise’s forehead and wiped his face gently. She pressed her hand to his cheek and closed her eyes. She didn’t know what she was expecting to gain by doing this, but she had to try something. Nothing happened, though. She wasn’t even getting any feelings from him and that worried her. Not fear, sadness, happiness… nothing. Blaise was just sitting there, unconscious, and pale as a ghost.

    Hermione wiped a tear from her cheek and sniffed as she continued running the cloth over the bit of Blaise’s face and neck that she could properly see. Despite knowing Muggle first aide, she had no idea what to do just then.

    Ron glanced around and noticed that a bunch of people were staring, most of which were students at Hogwarts. “This isn’t a freak show,” he snarled.

    As the onlookers turned away, Hermione happened to move Blaise’s head slightly and noticed a tint of red on his collar. She cleared her throat and tried to get a better look. She realized, however, that with the current angle of his head, she would need a little help to keep his head from flopping back down if she lifted it up.

    She glanced up at Ron and said, “Ron, would you mind holding up his head for me? I think his neck is bleeding, but I can’t see properly.”

    Ron stood and positioned himself behind Blaise. He carefully lifted Blaise’s head and held it still while Hermione examined him. She had been correct in thinking Blaise’s neck had been bleeding. The whole side of his shirt collar was covered in blood, and upon closer inspection, she noticed a long gash near the bottom of his neck.

    Hermione carefully ran the cloth over the area, cleaning away the blood so that she could get a better look at how bad it was. She was surprised to see that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she had initially thought. In fact; it looked almost healed.

    This confused her but she didn’t have a chance to think on it because, seconds later, Ginny came bursting through the door followed by Professor Snape and Draco. Harry came in soon after.

    “Professor, I think he fainted because of the…” Luna began.

    “Back away, all of you,” Snape barked, interrupting Luna’s words.

    Ron and Hermione gently set Blaise down and backed away, giving Snape some space. The Defense against the Dark Arts professor stepped forward and began examining Blaise closely. “How long has he been like this?”

    “Nearly ten minutes,” Hermione told him tearfully, “Professor, he has a long gash on his neck that doesn’t make sense.”

    Professor Snape drew his wand and pointed it at Blaise. Without a single word uttered, Blaise was gently lifted from the table, perfectly supported for Snape’s inspection. “I see no gash, Miss Zabini,” he said, looking carefully.

    Hermione’s brow furrowed. “That’s impossible,” she mumbled, stepping closer to look, “I just saw it not two minutes ago. I mean; look, there’s blood all over his collar.”

    Snape stared thoughtfully at Blaise. There was, indeed, blood all along the left side of his collar, and upon closer inspection, he saw a pink line on the young man’s neck. It was very light, like a thin, healed scar. Curious, he thought. “Well, it’s not there any longer. What happened before he got like this?”

    “We were all just talking about trivial things when he sort of went stiff, Sir,” Draco chimed, “Then he had some sort of fit and now…”

    “Yes, well, you two come with me,” Snape ordered, pointing at Draco and Hermione, “the rest of you will go about your business.”

    Hermione and Draco nodded as Professor Snape flicked his wand, conjuring a stretcher. He carefully maneuvered Blaise onto the stretcher and flicked his wand again, causing the stretcher to move about in front of him in mid air. “Malfoy, Miss Zabini, follow me,” he said, quickly turning and making his way out of the building.

    Just then, Hermione remembered their mother. “Sir, our mother was here in Hogsmeade this morning,” she said, “I think she’s still here. Please, she doesn’t know what’s happened.”

    “We’ll look for her, Hermione,” Ginny suggested.

    Snape flicked his wand. “No need, Miss Weasley,” he told her as a bright light emanated from the tip. A few seconds later, the bright light galloped away.

    Hermione blinked. “Was that a Patronus, Professor?”

    Professor Snape gave her a quelling look. “Miss Zabini, we do not have time for your endless questions.”

    He continued outside and whisked the three students along to the castle.

    Ron, Harry, Ginny, and Luna watched after them as they left. Harry ran his hand through his hair and sighed heavily. “Why are we just standing here?” he asked.

    “Snape told us to go about our business,” Ginny said.

    “And since when do we listen to what he has to say?” Harry questioned hotly.

    “Harry, we aren’t qualified to deal with things like this yet; Snape is,” Ginny argued gently, “Slimy git that he is.”

    Harry shook his head. “No, I mean we should be heading back to Hogwarts and rummaging through the library,” he said.

    Ron looked at Harry in confusion. “What for?”

    “Ron, Hermione’s our best friend!” Harry snapped, “You know she’d be knee deep in books right about now if it were any one of us on the way to the hospital wing.”

    Although Ron believed that Harry was right, he still couldn’t see why they should help Blaise. “But we don’t even know him, Harry.”

    “Fine, if you don’t want to help a friend in need, then I’ll do it by myself,” he said.

    Unable to say anything else, Harry turned on his heel and marched out of the wizarding pub. Ron stared after him in shock and then turned to Ginny. “What’s with him?”

    “He’s being a good friend, Ronald; unlike you.”

    Ron opened his mouth in protest but Ginny immediately cut him off. “Ron, if it were me that had just fainted, you’d be doing everything you could to help me; right?”

    “Of course; you’re my sister.”

    “And Blaise is Hermione’s brother,” Ginny pointed out.

    Sudden understanding glowed on Ron’s face as he slowly began turning red. “Oh, right, well then we probably should go and help Harry.”

    “I think that’s the most sense you’ve made all week,” Luna teased lightly causing Ron to redden even more. She then took his hand and began walking to the door. “Come on, if we hurry we can probably still catch Harry; he can’t have gone far.”

 

 




 

 

    Mrs. Zabini breezed into the hospital wing just as Madame Pomfrey was getting Blaise settled into a bed. “Poppy, what has happened?” Mrs. Zabini questioned, walking toward them.

    Snape intercepted her. “Marjorie, we’ve only just gotten here,” he said, trying to sound comforting as he escorted her from the hospital wing, “Please, allow Poppy to do her job.”

    “So help me, Severus, if you don’t let me by I will…” She turned and made to go back inside.

    “Marjorie, please,” Snape said, moving to block her again when she tried to get past him, “We are all worried about Blaise, but we must let Poppy do her job in peace!”

    She took a deep breath and wiped her cheek. “I understand that, Severus,” she said with forced calm, “but…”

    “Marjorie,” Severus warned.

    She looked up at him, her brown eyes narrowed. “Well, if you’re not going to let me see my son, may I, at least, see my daughter?” she questioned in frustration.

    Snape nodded. “She and Mister Malfoy are with the Headmaster just now, but as soon as he has finished speaking with them, you’re welcome to see her.”

    “Severus, what happened? Is there anything that you can tell me? Please, he is my son,” she said, taking hold of his arm.

    “I’m aware of that, Marjorie, but I’m afraid there isn’t much that I can tell you,” he replied, “I did a brief examination upon my arrival and apart from a curious scratch that wasn’t there when I looked him over, Blaise is in perfect physical health. Now, I’m sure when Madame Pomfrey has finished her examination of him, she will be able to give you more answers.”

    “Mum?”

    The two adults turned and saw Hermione and Draco coming down the corridor. Mrs. Zabini broke away from Snape and crushed Hermione to her. “Oh, Hermione!” she exclaimed, taking her cheeks in her hands and looking her daughter over, “Sweetheart, what happened? Are you all right?”

    She nodded. “I’m fine, well, I’m worried about Blaise, of course, but other than that…” she said, “Is Dad coming?”

    “He’s away on business,” Mrs. Zabini sniffed, then her eyes widened, “Oh heavens! He doesn’t know what’s happened!”

    When Hermione noticed the familiar onset of panic, she rushed to stop it. “It’s okay, we can send Callidora with a letter later,” she said, glancing over at Professor Snape, “Right now I think we should focus on getting some answers. Can we see him yet?”

    He shook his head. “I’ll see to it that you’re all told when he’s allowed visitors.”

    Hermione nodded. “Thank you,” she said, receiving a nod from the professor before he turned and walked into the hospital wing.

    “Well, you two have a lot to talk about so I think I’ll leave you to it,” Draco said.

    “Draco, you don’t have to…” Hermione began.

    He placed a finger over her lips and kissed her forehead. “It’s nothing, Love,” he said, “Besides, I’ve got a lot of homework to catch up on.”

    “All right,” she said, “I’ll see you later?”

    “Yeah, I’ll come by later to check on Blaise. If I don’t see you then, I’ll see you in the Common Room,” he told her. He looked at her parents and nodded. “Mrs. Zabini.”

    She nodded in return. “Draco, thank you for helping Blaise and acting so quickly,” she said.

    “Of course,” he said.

    A moment later, Draco was gone. Hermione looked at her mother and took her by the arm. “Come on, why don’t we go wait in the Room of Requirement? It’ll be quiet there and we can talk safely,” she told her quietly.

 

 




 

 

    Draco yawned as he closed the book he was reading. He set the book on the floor and stood up, stretching his stiff body. He glanced at Blaise and saw that he was still out cold. It had been three hours since they had brought Blaise to the hospital wing with Professor Snape and there was no apparent change.

    Mrs. Zabini had left about an hour ago, under protest, of course. Professor Dumbledore had to assure her several times that she would be kept informed of Blaise’s situation before she would even leave the hospital wing. Hermione also had to assure her that she would see to it that someone was with him during all visiting hours. Only then did she agree to leave, but only after stating that she would be back the next day, and every day until he was better.

    He looked over at Hermione and a small smile came over his face. Her chair was pulled close to Blaise’s bed and she was leaning forward, resting her head and arms on the bed itself, sound asleep. Apart from their initial meeting with the headmaster, and the time she had to wait before she was allowed to see him, Hermione had not left her brother’s side. Draco walked over to Hermione’s side and smoothed back a piece of hair that had fallen in her face.

    At his touch, Hermione stirred and opened her eyes. “Why don’t you go lay down for a bit?” Draco suggested, “I’ll stay with him.”

    Hermione sat up and rubbed her eyes sleepily. “No, I need to be here when he wakes up,” she replied.

    “Hermione, it’s been three hours since we brought him in here and Madame Pomfrey said it could be hours, even days before he wakes up.”

    “Yes, Draco, I know that,” Hermione huffed lightly, “I was there when she said it, remember?”

    “Of course I do,” he replied, “but I wasn’t sure you heard her with all the blubbering you were doing.”

    Hermione crosses her arms over her chest and furrowed her brow at him. “Blaise is my brother, Draco,” she snapped, “I have a right to be upset about his condition.”

    Draco kneeled down next to her and took her hands in his as he gave her a small smile. “I’m not trying to make you angry, love,” he began kissing one of her hands, “but you don’t know Blaise the way I do.”

    “I know that, but in the short time I have known him, he and I have become close,” Hermione told him, “He may be your best friend, but he’s my brother and I don’t want to lose him.”

    “And you’re not going to. Blaise is a strong bloke. He’ll pull through this.”

    She opened her mouth to say something but he stopped her. “Look, I’m not trying to start an argument, I’m just saying; someone needs to look after you.”

    Just then, the curtain around Blaise’s bed was pulled open. Draco quickly moved back into his chair and let go of Hermione’s hand as Madame Pomfrey bustled in with a small tray of vials of various sizes. Each vial had a different colored liquid inside it; some of which Hermione could identify by sight, others she could not.

    “I’m sorry dears, but I’m afraid you’ll have to leave now,” Madame Pomfrey said as she set the tray down on the small nightstand next to Blaise’s bed, “visiting hours are over for the time being. You can come back for an hour after dinner.”

    “Madame Pomfrey, can’t we stay?” Hermione questioned, “We aren’t disturbing him.”

    “I’m afraid not, Miss Zabini, your brother is in need of much rest and I have to run a strenuous series of magical tests on him to determine exactly what caused his current condition.”

    There was a soft cough then and the three of them turned to see Professor Dumbledore. “Miss Zabini, Mister Malfoy, may I have a word?”

    “Of course,” they said in unison.

    They gathered their belongings and Hermione kissed Blaise’s forehead before following the headmaster out of the hospital wing. “After our conversation earlier, I had some time to do some thinking,” Dumbledore said, “I believe his visions could be the cause of your brother’s coma.”

    “You think his visions caused him to faint, Professor?” Hermione questioned in a clarifying tone. With everything jumbled in her mind, she wasn’t exactly at her best.

    The Headmaster looked over his half-moon spectacles at her and nodded. “Yes, Hermione,” he replied.

    Hermione eyed him warily. “How did you know about them?”

    Dumbledore gave her a knowing smile but did not answer her question. Instead, he asked one of his own. “Has Blaise ever been awake during a vision before?”

    “No, sir, they’ve always come to him in his sleep; like a nightmare, he said,” Hermione answered.

    “Then it could very well be as I thought; Blaise’s visions are so powerful that he can only handle them in his subconscious.”

    Hermione turned to look at her unconscious brother through the small window in the door as she said, “Will he ever come out of this?”

    “I have the utmost confidence that he will, Hermione. If you’ll both come with me, I shall explain my thoughts on the matter.”

    They walked in silence for a few moments before Dumbledore finally spoke. “I sense that you are very worried about your brother, Hermione.”

    Hermione nodded her head once and chewed on her bottom lip to fight back the fresh tears that were threatening to fall. “I’m beyond worried about him, Sir,” she replied in a choked whisper.

    “Hermione, I have every confidence that Blaise will be just fine,” Dumbledore said tenderly, “he is a very capable young wizard; quite gifted, and with Madame Pomfrey’s excellent care, he will recover beautifully.”

    “Sir, you said you had some thoughts about Blaise’s visions?” Draco prompted.

    Hermione jumped slightly. She had nearly forgotten that he was walking with them. Dumbledore inclined his head and motioned to the gargoyle that guarded the staircase leading to his office. “Let us speak in my office,” he said.

    Dumbledore gave the gargoyle the password and they made their way up the stairs. When they reached his office, Dumbledore opened the door and quickly conjured another chair on the side of his desk where guests sat as he took his own chair. “Hermione, if I remember correctly, you have not been taking Divination since your third year.”

    “Yes sir,” Hermione confirmed.

    “You felt it was a subjective art?”

    Again, Hermione responded in the positive as she sat down.

    “And how do you find it, Draco?” Dumbledore questioned.

    “I think it’s flighty; horribly inaccurate,” he answered.

    Dumbledore chuckled. “I do admit that many witches and wizards attempt to claim they have the sight,” he said, “however, there are a rare few that actually do. I believe that you and Blaise are such people.”

    Hermione and Draco looked at him in confusion. “Are you telling me that Hermione and Blaise have second sight?” Draco questioned.

    “That is my theory,” Dumbledore stated with a small nod.

    “But… I never saw anything until I was taken to the Zabini’s,” Hermione said, furrowing her brow.

    “In many cases, second sight doesn’t present in someone until they are older,” Dumbledore commented thoughtfully, “I do not, however, think that is the case here. It is my belief that your visions, and Blaise’s, are connected. In all my time of knowing the both of you, I have sensed something… more… than the usual magical ability. I think that this second sight has always been in the both of you, but because you were separated, and I could be wrong, it did not present until you were brought back together.”

    He paused for a moment. “And powerfully, I might add.”

    “A bit of an understatement, if you ask me,” Hermione said quietly.

    Dumbledore chuckled. “Yes, well, I think that goes without saying.”

    “Is there anything that can be done to ease the pain for them? Or help them learn to control this… second sight?” Draco questioned.

    “Well, it will, of course, be up to Mister and Miss Zabini, but perhaps some lessons with Firenze would be advantageous.”

    Hermione seemed iffy on the subject. “I don’t know, I mean…”

    “Hermione, you can’t possibly think Divination is subjective after what’s been happening to you and Blaise,” Draco interrupted.

    “You said, not five minutes ago, that you thought it was flighty and horribly inaccurate,” Hermione retorted with a little snort, “Are you saying you’ve suddenly changed your mind?”

    “As far as Divination, the way Professor Trelawney teaches it goes, my mind is unchanged,” he confirmed, “but come on, even you have to admit that this, your visions, Blaise’s… it’s different.”

    He had a point. There was no denying that what she and Blaise were experiencing was real. She was still wary of yet another person learning of her new ability. “Professor Firenze would be discrete, wouldn’t he?” she asked Dumbledore.

    “I’ve never known a centaur that wasn’t,” he confirmed, “I know you are wary of Divination, and I must admit that I’m not a fan of it myself, but Professor Firenze has knowledge and magics that are different from ours. I believe it may prove useful for you to meet with him on occasion.”

    Hermione looked skeptical still, so he went on. “He may be able to provide you with some answers.”

    “Can he teach me how to control my visions?” she questioned.

    “That is something you would have to ask him.”

    She took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay, I’ll meet with him.”

 

 




 

 

    After Dumbledore finished explaining his theories to them, Hermione returned to the hospital wing. She wanted to spend as much time as she was allowed with Blaise. It had been over twenty-four hours since he had been admitted into Madame Pomfrey’s care and there was no change. According to the experienced nurse, that wasn’t out of the ordinary for someone in Blaise’s condition.

    Madame Pomfrey was in agreement with Professor Dumbledore that Blaise’s coma had been brought about by an intense psychological attack far too powerful to handle consciously. The tests she had done on his brain upon admittance showed a high level of brain activity, but a severe lack of physical awareness. This made sense to Hermione, but it also worried her.

    When she entered the hospital wing, she found her mother sitting by Blaise’s bed. “Mother?”

    Mrs. Zabini looked up and gave her daughter a tired smile. “His color’s come back a little.”

    “That’s good news,” Hermione said, taking a seat on the other side of the bed.

    “Madame Pomfrey’s monitoring his brain activity and administering potions,” Mrs. Zabini continued, running a handkerchief under her eyes, “He’s not waking up.”

    “He’s going to need time, Mum,” Hermione soothed, “His brain is undergoing a major trauma, it’ll take time for him to heal from that.”

    “And these visions… What’s that all about?”

    Hermione understood that she couldn’t keep the visions she and Blaise had been having from her parents any longer. The content of those visions, however, were a different story. “Ever since I was brought to Zabini Mansion, Blaise and I have been having visions,” she explained.

    Mrs. Zabini’s perfect brow furrowed. She looked between her children before saying, “You… You have the sight?”

    The younger witch nodded. She then recalled a book she had read during her short time at Zabini Mansion. “Mum, wasn’t there someone in your family with second sight?”

    “Centuries ago, there was a witch by the name of Zelina Gobb,” she recalled, “She was a great, I don’t know how many times over, grandmother on my mother’s side. It was said that she carried the sight, but no one could confirm it. Why do you ask?”

    “I’m just trying to connect some seemingly unconnectable dots.”

    “And?”

    Hermione sighed. “It seems they’re still unconnectable, I’m afraid.”

    “Do you think these visions are connected to the Prophecy?” Mrs. Zabini questioned in a whisper.

    “No; but there’s something strange going on,” she said, “Apart from the visions, Blaise and I have had a very strange connection. We can sense what the other is thinking, or feeling.”

    Mrs. Zabini tilted her head in interest. “Does that happen with anyone, or just Blaise?”

    “Just Blaise.”

    “Can you sense him now?”

    Hermione shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’ve been trying since this happened, but I’m not getting anything from him. I get the faintest sense that he’s in there, but that’s it,” she replied, “It’s almost like his mind has pushed itself out, leaving only the barest minimum so as to be able to pull itself back.”

    She smacked her forehead. “Oh, I’m such an idiot! Why didn’t I think of that before?” she said, more to herself, “Perhaps he’s experiencing some form of astral projection.”

    She stood up and gathered up all of her books and shoved them in her bag. “I’ve got to go see Professor Firenze,” she said as she put her bag over her shoulder, “Will you be all right here?”

    Mrs. Zabini nodded. “Hermione, what’s going on?”

    “I’ll explain everything when I get back, but I really must see Professor Firenze.”

    She squeezed her mother’s hand and ran from the hospital wing as quickly as her legs would carry her. She checked her watch along the way and hoped that the centaur would be in his classroom. When she finally reached the first floor classroom and saw that the light was on, her heart did a little flip. She knocked on the door and worked on catching her breath while she waited.

    The soft clopping of hooves on grass caught her ears and the door opened. “Hermione,” Firenze greeted with a polite smile, “The stars told me you would be coming. Please, come in.”

    “I apologize for the late hour, Sir, but I had a thought and I wondered if, maybe you could shed some light on my theory?”

    Firenze motioned to a little moon lit area by a large tree. “Tell me your theory and I will do my best,” he replied.

    As Hermione entered the room, she blinked. It was her first time seeing the classroom and she was in complete awe. The entire room had been transformed to look like Firenze’s old home, The Forbidden Forest. It was scary and beautiful all at once.

    “It’s an experience, witnessing this room for the first time, isn’t it?”

    Hermione looked up at him and was relieved when she saw that he was smiling. “Yes,” she agreed as they made their way to the tree.

    Firenze folded his legs beneath him and waited patiently for Hermione to join him. “So, your theory?” he prompted.

    “Yes, um… well, I was just with my brother in the hospital wing and my mother and I were talking about how I can’t sense Blaise the way I’ve sensed him previously,” she explained, “and I mentioned that it kind of feels like his mind has pushed itself out of his body, like…”

    “Astral projection,” Firenze interrupted.

    “Precisely, yes.”

    He looked thoughtful as he tail swished. He poured a cup of tea and offered it to Hermione, who gladly took it and drank. “Generally speaking, astral projection isn’t something the unconscious can manage. It’s a very tricky magic that very few witches or wizards practice, and even fewer master,” he told her, “I have heard of wizard, or two, that were born with the ability to project themselves elsewhere. It’s quite possible that that is the case with your brother, but I think there is more to your inability to sense him in his current state.”

    Hermione looked perplexed. Firenze politely took her cup from her. He motioned for her to move closer. When she did, he held out his hands. “If you’ll allow me, I’d like to try something.”

    “Oh, okay,” Hermione agreed, placing her hands in his.

    “Close your eyes and breathe deeply and evenly.”

    Hermione obeyed. Firenze gently squeezed her fingers. “Very good, now I want you to concentrate on my voice,” he said quietly, “Allow your mind to slip into darkness, into freedom. You have no worry, no fear, you simply are.”

    Her breathing deepened and she could feel herself slipping away. She slumped to her left and Firenze carefully lowered her until she was completely on the ground. He made her comfortable and set about making a special fire.

    As the smoke from the flames rose, he consulted the stars. What he read there confirmed what he had thought since a discussion he’d had with the headmaster recently. He sprinkled something over the burning logs and looked to the stars again.

    Placing his hand on Hermione’s forehead, Firenze closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. As he exhaled, he slowly lifted his hand. The surrounding air crackled with energy causing the centaur’s eyes to pop open. “Hermione, relax,” he said calmly, “You are in no danger from me.”

    The energy grew, but it wasn’t quite as intense. “There, that’s it.”

    Hermione’s back arched as she took in a sharp breath. Her body then went limp and Firenze put out the flames. Hermione woke, looking around as she sat up. “Did it work?” she asked.

    Firenze looked at her thoughtfully. “You tell me,” he said, “How do you feel?”

    Hermione’s brow furrowed for a moment before she smiled. “I feel… lighter.”

    “Then it worked.”

    “What did you do, exactly?”

    “Your mind was clouded to the point that it was not allowing you to tap into your natural magic,” Firenze explained, “I merely cleared away the… clutter… to use a human term.”

    “Is that safe?”

    “Yes. I assure you, no toying with your mind was done. What I did is a technique used by centaurs as a way of freeing the mind so as to better see what was once hidden. You hold so much within you, Hermione, and you have such a logical mind that you often fail to see or understand what cannot be explained.”

    “So how do I fix that?” she asked.

    Firenze stood and clopped over to a small cupboard. He took a few herbs from a shelf and then returned to his spot by the tree. “You need a clear, focused mind. The natural magic you have within you is powerful and in order to gain control of it, you must practice,” he told her.

    Hermione watched as he began crushing the herbs and mixing them together. “What is that you’re making, Sir?”

    “It is a mixture of burning herbs. When combined with blue flame, this mixture is known to have great powers of clarity. Do you know how to conjure the blue flame?”

    “Yes, I do.”

    Firenze smiled. “Excellent.” He handed her an empty bowl. “If you would please.”

    “Oh! Sure.”

    She took out her wand and pointed it at the bowl. A second later, the blue flames her friends loved so much lit up the room. Firenze sprinkled just a pinch of the herb mixture into the fire. The aroma that rose from the flames was earthy and sweet, much like the smell of the ground after the rain. It was lovely, and Hermione found herself wanting to breathe it in.

    “Do not fight the urge to breathe the aroma,” Firenze stated, “The deeper you breathe, the better it will work. It is strong, which is why very little needs using at one time. Good… and one more deep breath. Excellent.”

    After several minutes, Firenze put the fire out and Hermione came out of her daze-like state. “Wow, that was… strange,” she said.

    Firenze nodded. “The herbs are merely a catalyst to assist you in clearing your mind while you learn to do it yourself,” he explained, “You see, before you can truly clear your mind, independently of outside sources, there is need for a little… well, assistance.”

    “Okay, so, what happens in the meantime?”

    “In the meantime, I will teach you some meditation techniques that you can use to free yourself of any mental debris. These techniques will not only help you stay focused and clear-headed, but they will allow you to tap more freely into your natural magic.”

    Hermione settled herself in and looked around. “So, where do we begin?”

 

 




 

 

Day two of Blaise’s unconsciousness…

 

    Harry slammed the book he was looking through closed with a loud grunt. Madame Pince, the librarian looked up from her desk and glared at him. He gave her a quick look of apology before turning back to his friends and saying, “This is useless.”

    Ginny rubbed the back of his neck soothingly as she said, “Research takes time, love.”

    “I know but we’ve been in here four hours and we haven’t found a single scrap of information that’s useful.”

    He sighed and took his glasses off to rub his eyes. His eyes were starting to blur from all the reading he’d been doing. He had never been all that great with the whole research thing, but this was for Hermione and he didn’t want to let her down. He sighed and rubbed his temples. I wish you were here, Hermione, he thought.

    Even with everything she was going through, Harry knew that her mind was the most logical, and most knowledgeable. He wasn’t sure how she always managed it, but no matter what was going on, Hermione was always the one to keep a cool head. She always seemed to know what books they’d need and where to find them.

    His head snapped up and he slid his glasses back onto his face. “Wait… That’s it! Aren’t most of the books about visions, and such, in the Restricted section?”

    “Basically everything pertaining to Divination, besides our school books, are locked away in the Restricted section,” Luna answered.

    “Why?” questioned Ron.

    “Well, Professor Trelawney says that…”

    Ron stopped her. “No, I mean; why does Harry want to know?”

    Harry looked over at him. “Huh? Oh! Well, since we’re not having any luck with what little we’ve found, it might be time to broaden our search,” he said, “I mean; these visions of theirs come from their minds, right? So, what if we’re looking at this from the wrong angle?”

    Ron groaned and flopped his head against the table. “I missed a meal for this?”

    Ginny smacked the back of his head with the book she had been looking through. “Would you mind not thinking about your stomach when we’re trying to help one of our best friends?” she questioned with attitude.

    “Oi, why is it everyone always hits me?”

    “Because you have a tendency to be a selfish pratt at times,” Ginny replied.

    Ron’s face went pink. “Hey! I do n…”

    “Can we focus here, please?” Harry chimed.

    “Right, sorry.”

    Ginny looked at Harry. “You were saying?”

    “Well, what if we look someplace else? You know, look for more… ahem… guarded sources.”

    “That’s a brilliant idea, Harry,” Ginny said, “There’s just one small problem. How are we going to get to these ‘more guarded sources’?”

    “Oh… Well, um, maybe you lot could create a distraction and I could break in and bring out what I can find, or…”

    “Or we can use this.”

    The four of them turned and looked up to see Draco holding up a small piece of paper. Ron snatched the paper from Draco’s hand and read it. “You got permission to use the restricted section?” he asked with eyes bulging.

    “From Albus Dumbledore himself,” Draco confirmed.

    “How…?”

    “I met with him an hour ago about something and he… Look, it doesn’t matter how I got it, the point is; I did,” he said, taking the paper back.

    “But…”

    Draco sighed heavily and ran his hand through his white-blond hair. He was getting frustrated. He was trying to help and Ron wanted to sit around debating the “why’s” and “wherefores” of his actions? Not bloody likely!

    Harry watched as the argument unfolded in front of him. It wasn’t unusual for Ron and Malfoy to argue, but something inside of him seemed to think there was something wrong with this particular one. Draco wasn’t one of his favorite people, but he had certainly shown that he cared for Hermione as of late, and that was something.

    “Weasley, we’re wasting time! We should be grabbing books that could help us figure out what’s happening to Blaise,” he argued, “And Hermione for that matter.”

    “Why do you care what’s happening to them?” Ron asked hotly, standing to get in his face, “You’re a Malfoy, they don’t care about anything, or anyone, but themselves.”

    Harry stood and put himself between them. He could tell that the two were coming close to either punching, or cursing, each other. He might not be the brightest crayon in the box, but he was intelligent enough to know that if they were going to get results, they needed to work together, not tear each other apart. “Guys, this isn’t helping.”

    Draco glared at Ron over Harry’s shoulder, ignoring the spectacled boy. “Blaise is my best friend and Hermione is going to be my wife,” he seethed, “I’m going to do whatever I can to help and support them, no matter what.”

    “Well, that makes you all right in my book,” Harry said, holding out his hand to Draco.

    The white-blond looked at Harry’s hand for a second and then held out his own, shaking Harry’s briefly. He couldn’t see the two of them ever really being friends, but he knew Hermione would be pleased with this small bit of progress. That was all that mattered to him; Hermione’s happiness. He let go of Harry’s hand, jerked his head toward Madame Pince, and the two headed off.

    Ginny glared harshly at Ron for a moment before pushing away from the table and following after Harry and Draco. “How’s Blaise?” she asked when she had caught up to them.

    “I’ve never seen him like this before. He looks so… vulnerable.”

    “What did Madame Pomfrey say?” Harry asked.

    “It could be any length of time before he wakes up; if he wakes up.”

    “How’s Hermione taking all of this?”

    Draco sighed and ran his hand through his hair as he replied, “She’s a total wreck. She won’t leave Blaise’s side unless she’s not allowed in to see him; i.e. visiting hours are over. She’s barely eaten, she won’t sleep. All she’s really done since Blaise was admitted is read book after book, trying to find some way to help him. I don’t know how to help her, and I‘m really not sure she should be alone right now.”

    “Hermione’s a lot stronger than you think, Draco,” Ginny said confidently.

    Draco allowed a slight smirk to cross his features at that. “I have no doubt about that, but still, I’d feel better if someone was sitting with her.”

    Ginny smiled kindly. “I’ll go,” she said.

    She gave Harry a quick kiss on the lips and headed off to the hospital wing. Harry watched her leave the library and then turned to look at Draco carefully. “How are you holding up?”

    “I don’t even know. I mean, my best mate’s in the hospital, my bride-to-be is a nervous wreck, add in what Dumbledore’s told us and…”

    “Wait,” Harry interrupted, “you spoke with Dumbledore about all this?”

    “Well, he came to us in the hospital wing, told us his theories.”

    Harry was silent for a moment. He thought about all the times he’d been in a sticky situation. Dumbledore had always swept in at just the right moment with information that he needed. If he was sharing theories, or what have you, with Draco and Hermione, then he was pretty certain they were on the right track. “Well, we’re going to find out the truth behind all of this,” he said with confidence.

    “I just hope the right books are at our disposal,” Draco said as they stopped in front of the counter where Madame Pince was eyeing them suspiciously.

    “I don’t think Dumbledore would’ve given you permission to use the restricted section if we weren’t going to find something.”

    Draco handed Madame Pince the note from Professor Dumbledore, which she took and scrutinized carefully. Draco rolled his eyes and gave her a bored expression. “It’s from the Headmaster,” he said, “get him down here if you don’t believe me.”

    “Very well,” Madame Pince said, “Wait here.”

    She walked away and came back several minutes later with a stack of books. She set them on her desk and stared them down as they each took a few and headed back to their table.

    With Ginny in the hospital wing with Hermione, that left Harry, Ron, Luna, and Draco to search through the books. Which actually wasn’t so bad. Luna was proving to be rather handy when it came to research. However strange, or dim, she might appear at times, she really was quite brilliant and an excellent note taker. Not to mention, she had shown a strong aptitude for Divination, according Ginny, who’s sixth year class had double Divination with the Ravenclaw sixth years. Ginny had also mentioned that Luna was thinking of making a career out of the subject.

    About an hour later, Draco closed the book he was looking through with a heavy sigh. “This is getting us nowhere,” he said.

    “We’ll find something, Mal… Draco,” Luna said, “you just have to be patient.”

    Draco rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on the books again. “I’m sorry; I need a break,” he said, “I’m going to check on Blaise.”

    “All right,” Harry said, looking up at him briefly.

    Draco picked up a couple of the books from the table as he thought, Maybe these will help to get Hermione’s mind off of Blaise for a bit. He gave the group a quick goodbye nod and walked out of the library. As he made his way through the castle to the hospital wing, he thought about how far he and Hermione had come.

    It was only about three months ago that they had begun spending time together and in that short time, they had truly become a couple. Draco really hadn’t thought it was possible, but she had proved him wrong. She had forgiven him for all of the things he had said and done to hurt her and had agreed to start fresh.

    He pictured her in his mind; raven hair, green eyes, olive skin… she was a vision of perfection in his eyes; she had been for a while now. It wasn’t even her appearance, really, that made her a vision of perfection to him. If her looks hadn’t changed, he was pretty sure he’d still feel this way because the core of who she was, her personality, hadn’t changed. She was still the same brilliant, kind, caring, and all around amazing young woman she had been before she knew about their betrothal and whatnot.

    He was now just outside the hospital wing so he took a deep breath and pushed open the door. Ginny immediately looked up at the noise and put her finger to her lips when she saw him. Draco looked in the direction Ginny’s eyes were now cutting and smiled tenderly.

    Hermione was curled up on the bed next to Blaise’s sound asleep. “Madame Pomfrey gave her a Sleeping Draught,” Ginny told him quietly.

    Draco’s brow furrowed. “Why?”

    “I think she just needed to rest,” she told him, “She told me that she didn’t really get any sleep last night. She was searching through some books. She puts so much pressure on herself that she doesn’t always take care of herself.”

    “I’m beginning to see that,” Draco said with a nod, “Has there been any change?”

    Ginny shook her head. “I’m afraid not,” she replied, looking at Blaise, “Do you think he’s in any pain?”

    Draco shrugged and set the books he was carrying down on the nightstand by Blaise’s bed and sat in the empty chair next to her. “He doesn’t seem to be, but I’m no Healer.”

    “Were you able to find anything helpful in the restricted section?”

    “Not yet. I mean; the books we got have a lot of good information but…” he shrugged and let out a deep sigh.

    “We’ll find something,” Ginny assured him. She cautiously put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed a little. “We won’t stop until we do.”

    “Thank you, Ginny,” he said, “Really.”

    Ginny smiled as she stood and began heading to the door. “You should probably take her to Head’s Tower,” she whispered, “Visiting hours are almost over.”

    “Yeah, I’ll do that.”

    Ginny nodded and left the hospital wing. Draco quietly strode over to the bed Hermione was lying on and sat down on the edge of it, his body positioned so that he could see her face. He smoothed her hair back and smiled to himself when she turned into his touch. Unable to help himself, he brushed his thumb over her lips.

    Madame Pomfrey came around the corner just after the contact was broken. “Visiting hours are over dear, you’ll need to leave.”

    Draco simply nodded and shoved the books he’d been carrying into Hermione’s book bag. He then carefully lifted Hermione’s sleeping form into his arms and easily carried her to the Head’s tower. As he was walking, he’d glance down at her every now and then, amazed that he was going to be sharing the rest of his life with such a creature.

    Once he had reached the portrait that guarded their quarters, Draco gave the Griffin the password and entered, immediately taking Hermione to her room. As he was laying Hermione down on her bed, he realized that she would probably be uncomfortable sleeping in her clothes. However, he also knew that it would be ungentlemanly of him to change her so instead; he pulled his wand out of his pocket and silently transfigured her clothes into pajamas.

    Hermione curled into a ball and snuggle comfortably into her pillow, sighing peacefully in her sleep. Draco kissed her temple and whispered, “Good night, love,” before leaving her room to get some sleep of his own.

 

 




 

 

Day three of Blaise’s unconsciousness…

 

    Six o’clock comes early when one doesn’t get much sleep, if any. Draco blinked and rubbed his eyes as he slowly dragged himself from bed. He yawned as he made his way into his bathroom to get ready for the day. Though he’d tried to sleep, his mind had kept him up wandering through various topics; not the least of which was Blaise’s current situation.

    It worried him to see his friend so vulnerable. He had never seen Blaise sick with anything more than a cold, probably, in part, due to Marjorie’s excellent healing abilities. Why that woman was never a Healer, I’ll never know, he thought. Of course, Blaise being laid up in a hospital bed wasn’t the only thing weighing on his mind.

    His earlier conversation with Astoria hadn’t gone well, not that he’d expected it to. He was quickly beginning to see the young blonde’s true colors, which were more green and silver than blue and bronze. It was a wonder why the sorting hat had placed her in Ravenclaw instead of Slytherin.

    He needed to figure out a way of telling her that things were completely over without her going all sorts of crazy. He wasn’t sure that was possible though. Astoria was a stubborn girl that was used to getting what she wanted. He’d known her for a long time and he knew that she wasn’t used to hearing the word “no”.

    “Well, she’s going to have to get used to it, because I’m not going to jeopardize what I have with Hermione,” he said aloud.

    He hurried through his morning routine and then headed down to the common room. He was surprised to see Hermione was already there, dressed and slinging her backpack over her shoulder. “Hey,” he said, “heading down to breakfast already?”

    Hermione shook her head as she picked up a couple of books. “No, I’m headed to the hospital wing. I want to check on Blaise.”

    Draco nodded in understanding and rubbed her arm. “You want me to come with you?”

    “No, no it’s okay,” she replied, “You go ahead and get some breakfast. I’ll come find you later.”

    He pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head as he rubbed her back. “I’ll see if I can sneak you something to eat.”

    Hermione smiled. “Food is allowed in the hospital wing,” she informed him, “No sneaking necessary.”

    “Okay then, what would you like me to bring you?”

    “Draco, you really don’t have to…”

    “What… would you like me to bring you?”

    “Well, if you’re going to be all bossy about it; perhaps some toast and marmalade.”

    Draco chuckled. “I’m not trying to be bossy, I’m just trying to make sure you eat something,” he said gently.

    “All right, well, I should be going,” Hermione said, kissing him on the cheek, “I’ll see you later.”

    He squeezed her hand briefly before she walked away. He then grabbed a couple of books and made his way to the Great Hall. He sat down at the Slytherin table and filled his plate with food. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until the smell of food had hit his senses.

    He took several bites of his breakfast before pouring himself some orange juice and taking a large gulp. He then looked over his books and chose one that looked interesting. If he was going to weigh himself down with research, he was going to at least try to have some fun with it. At least that way he might not be so worried about everything.

    About thirty minutes later, he was fixing some toast and marmalade for Hermione when Pansy scurried up to him. She threw her arms around him and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Oh, Draco! I’ve just heard about Blaise! You must be in such a terrible state. What can I do?”

    Draco had stiffened the moment she had touched him. “Well, you can start by getting off of me,” he snapped, breaking free of her hold and moving away from her, “Then, you can bugger off.”

    Pansy looked affronted. “Draco…” she said, her voice breaking.

    He shook his head and stood up, gathering his things. “No, Pansy, I’ve had enough. I’m with Hermione and that’s not going to change,” he told her, “You need to accept that and move on.”

    “Draco, Blaise is my friend,” she said, “I want to help.”

    “I don’t know what there is that you could do,” he said, not unkindly.

    “Well, let me know if anything comes up.”

    Draco nodded and picked up Hermione’s toast. “I should get going.”

    As soon as he was out of sight, Pansy’s dark eyes narrowed. She was getting really tired of Draco ignoring her for that little twit, Hermione. She was beginning to see that she was going to have to resort to more drastic measures to get his focus back on her. Well, if that’s what it takes, I can do it, she thought as she exited the Great Hall.

    Before she had gotten too far when someone grabbed her roughly by the arm and pulled her into the shadows. “It seems you have a knack for sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, Pansy Parkinson.”

    “Astoria? What are you…?”

    “You need to keep your filthy paws and lips off of Draco Malfoy,” she seethed through clenched teeth, “He doesn’t belong to you.”

    Pansy smirked evilly and yanked her arm from Astoria’s grasp. “He doesn’t belong to you, either, Astoria,” she pointed out, “In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s all loopy for that meddling Hermione Zabini.”

    “He’s just lost his way for a bit, that’s all.”

    “Honey, you’re delusional if you think a Malfoy is going to marry anyone other than a Slytherin,” Pansy said arrogantly, “Not that you’d have a chance anyway.”

    “Oh, please, enlighten me as to why you believe that,” Astoria challenged.

    Pansy smiled confidently. “My father’s entered into negotiations with Lucius.”

    Astoria snorted. “That’s it? That’s your argument?”

    Her smile faltered ever so slightly. “I’ll be on Draco’s arm by Christmas.”

    “Now who’s delusional?” Astoria taunted, “Where were you after the Zabini twins’ Coming of Age party? Oh, that’s right; you were tossed out, and then banned from Zabini Mansion, whereas I was in Draco’s bed.”

    “You’re lying.”

    “I’m not actually,” she said, stepping closer to Pansy, “You know what your real problem is, Pansy? It’s not me, and it’s not Hermione; it’s that you lack the skills and courage to actually do something to get what you want.”

    Pansy grew angrier than she already had been. “Well, you’re obviously not so high on Draco’s list anymore if you feel the need to threaten me,” she retorted.

    Astoria gave her a flippant smile. “He just needs to be reminded of how good he had it with me.”

    “Yeah, good luck getting him away from Hermione long enough to do that. He’s with her almost every second and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

    There was a wild, twisted gleam in the Ravenclaw’s eye. It was such an evil look that even Pansy, who had never feared the girl before, was frightened. “Oh, there’s plenty I can do about it.”

    Then, without another word, Astoria tossed her hair and walked away. Pansy Parkinson was of no concern to her, she had just felt it necessary to put the little hussy in her place. Hermione, on the other hand, was proving to be a rather difficult obstacle. Draco had been so focused on the goody-goody witch that he was beginning to lose sight of the important people in his life; meaning her.

    Well, I guess that just means I’m going to have to try a little harder to ensure that he doesn’t go through with this ridiculous joke of a marriage.

 

 




 

 

The next day… Day four of Blaise’s unconsciousness...

 

    Essays were incredibly boring. There was nothing more boring than having to concentrate on writing words that he really didn’t want to write. Especially when he would much rather be with Hermione in the hospital wing. As it was, he hadn’t really seen her all day.

    They’d seen each other briefly that morning long enough for Hermione to tell him that she’d be spending the day in the hospital wing. He had assured her that he would turn in her assignments and that he would make sure she had excellent notes for the classes they had that were the same. Of course, she had already spoken to their professors and had made arrangements. How she manages to accomplish so much when she’s dealing with such craziness, I have no idea, he thought.

    Apart from the forced sleep she had received, thanks to Madame Pomfrey’s Sleeping Draught, Hermione hadn’t been sleeping much, and it was really beginning to show. Her usually bright eyes had lost their sparkle and she was hardly eating. In fact; if I didn’t bring her things to eat, she probably wouldn’t be eating at all, he figured as he jotted down the last sentence of his essay.

    Finally! Draco set his quill down with a smirk of pride. He’d been working on his Defense essay for the last two hours and he had finally finished. In his opinion, this essay was a piece of work that even Professor Snape would be proud of, and he was a difficult man to please.

    Of course, Draco was one of Snape’s favorites, he’d known that from the beginning. That didn’t mean that he always got top marks in his class though. He’d actually gotten his fair share of low marks the previous year; which made him curious as to how he’d managed to receive the Head Boy position. It honestly didn’t matter though. He had been made Head Boy and he was prepared to do the work in order to do the position proud.

    He checked his watch and rubbed his face tiredly. He stretched his stiff muscles and stood. It was getting close to the end of visiting hours in the hospital wing and he wanted to get in there to see Blaise, even if only for a few minutes. He picked up his essay and rolled it neatly before putting it in his pocket. He figured he’d have Hermione look it over just for her to have something to keep her mind busy.

    He was just exiting the portrait hole when Astoria called his name. He glanced at her. “I don’t have time to talk right now, Astoria,” he told her, not bothering to hide his annoyance at being distracted from the task at hand.

    “Make time!” she snapped with a demanding tone.

    He paused his forward movement and turned to look at her, figuring it would probably be better to hear her out. The faster he could rid himself of her, the faster he could get to Hermione and Blaise. He sighed. “What is it? I’m just on my way to check on Blaise.”

    Astoria pressed her body against his and whispered, “Why don’t we go inside.”

    Her lips brushed against his ear, tickling his skin. He stepped back, irritated with her constant yo-yoing of sweet one minute, and nasty the next. “Astoria, I need to get to the hospital wing and…”

    “Draco…”

    He growled and uttered the password, realizing that she wasn’t going to give up. He allowed her to enter first and followed after her a second later. He set down the book he’d also picked up earlier and folded his arms as he waited for her to speak.

    Astoria had other plans, however. She threw herself at Draco and immediately began kissing him. Draco put his hands on her shoulders and pushed at her, gently at first then a little more forcefully when she wouldn’t let him go. “Mm… Ast… Astoria… stop.”

    She paused briefly, looking up at him. “What’s the matter?” she questioned breathlessly.

    Draco moved a safe distance away from her and wiped his lips. “Astoria, I thought I’d made myself clear; this can’t happen anymore… It won’t happen.”

    Astoria slinked closer to him, a seductive smile pulling at her lips. “You need to stop kidding yourself, Draco,” she said, “You want me.”

    She got close to him again and licked the edge of his ear. “So take me,” she whispered, reaching down to unfasten his belt.

    Before she could even lay a finger on his belt, however, he grabbed her wrists and pushed her back to arm's length. “Astoria, stop, you’re making a fool of yourself.”

    As he let go of her, Astoria grinned. “No, I’m simply proving a point,” she argued, looking down at his pants.

    Draco followed her gaze and smirked. “Were you expecting to see something?”

    Her blue eyes grew wide in shock at the lack of his excitement. How could he not be responding to her? He had always risen to the occasion in the past; quite easily, as a matter of fact. So why not now? She knew his body. She knew every single thing that made him hot. He should be begging for her to let him take her, and yet there he stood, completely at ease and not interested in her fun at all? That just wouldn’t do!

    She thought, perhaps, that she wasn’t being seductive enough, but then that couldn’t be it; she was doing exactly the same things she’d done before. Then again, with Blaise in the hospital and… well, it was obvious that he was stressed. She felt that she was exactly what he needed at a time like this; a sexy distraction. In her opinion, she always had been, and she always would be. I’ll just have to up my beguiling factor, she determined.

    She moved in closer and touched his cheek. “You’re stressed,” she said, running her fingers into his hair, “Your best friend is in the hospital, you’ve got responsibilities as Head Boy, you’re wrestling with family obligations… You need a distraction to take your mind off of it all.”

    Again, Draco removed her hands from his body. “And let me guess; you’re that distraction?”

    She smiled seductively. “I could be. If you’d let me, that is.”

    “Astoria, I’m with Hermione; she and I are betrothed.”

    “A matter than can easily be remedied considering you’ve convinced your parents to allow the two of you to decide whether you marry, or not,” Astoria pointed out.

    “I have no intention of breaking my father’s pact with Pietro Zabini.”


Chapter 22: Chapter Twenty-Two
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

    I have no intention of breaking my father’s pact with Pietro Zabini. Those words echoed in her mind as she stood there staring at him. She had not expected those words to come from his lips, nor had she wanted to hear them. It just made her more upset and angry.

    “You’re joking,” Astoria said, “Draco, tell me you’re joking.”

    From the time she had first started having feeling for him, she had pictured herself with him. She had actually believed that they would end up married. Well, she wasn’t going to let this slide, no, she was going to get some answers. Was she not good enough for him? How could he be more interested in that bookworm of a twit?

    Draco looked at her, straight faced. And shook his head. Astoria furrowed her brow and stared at him. “Why?”

    He sighed and ran his hands over his face before answering, “Because, Astoria; I don’t love you, I never have. Besides, are going really well with Hermione.”

    “Who cares?!” Astoria exclaimed.

    “I care! I’ve fallen in love with her, Astoria, and I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

    Her blue eyes narrowed angrily as she folded her arms over her chest. “You’re going to what?”

    “Don’t act so surprised,” Draco said, standing and walking over to his desk, “You’ve known for months that this was a possibility.”

    She could not… would not… accept his reasoning. She was everything he needed and she refused to believe otherwise. There had to be some other reason as to why he was doing this to her… some spell, or something that the goody-goody was doing to him. A look of desperation crossed her features.

    Astoria went to him and put her hands on his cheeks. “You’re tired. You’re tired and you’re overworked; you’re not thinking clearly.”

    Draco removed her hands from his face and put some distance between them. “I’m fine. In fact; I’ve never felt better.”

    “She’s bewitched you. You’ve unknowingly drank some Love Potion,” Astoria tried, “You wouldn’t be acting like this if…”

    “I haven’t been bewitched and I haven’t drank a Love Potion!” Draco snapped, “I am genuinely in love, Astoria, with Hermione.”

    “No! No, I don’t accept that!”

    “Well, you’re going to have to accept it, because it’s the truth.”

    “No. I accepted it when you told me you needed to cool things with me so that you could focus on the task The Dark Lord gave you. I accepted it when you told me that things had to end between us… I accepted those things because I knew, KNEW, that you would eventually come back to me, but I refuse to accept this, Draco, no!”

    He was getting angry. She was so unlike the previous girls he’d dated; unlike the girl he thought he knew, actually. She had become more than clingy and, as of late, possessive, unpredictable, and moody beyond belief; also forceful at times. He was beginning to see her true colors, and he couldn’t say that he liked them very much. “I need to go see about Blaise,” he said, “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you, but I’m following my heart.”

    He turned to leave and was nearly hit with a desk lamp as it sailed past his head. “What the…?” He turned and ducked as something else came whizzing toward him. “Astoria!”

    “You arse!” Astoria shouted, pointing her wand at another object and making it fly across the room.

    “Astoria, calm down!”

    “Over a year and a half I stand by you, and for what? You string me along for months, MONTHS, and you tell me to calm down?!”

    Draco whipped out his wand and blocked himself from getting hit by a flying book. “I didn’t string…”

    “Don’t try to talk your way out of this, Draco Malfoy!” she shrieked, “You led me to believe that you’d drop all of this betrothal nonsense with her and marry me!”

    “Expelliarmus!” Draco shouted.

    Astoria’s wand flew out of her hand and Draco caught it. He stood to his full height and strode toward her, eyes blazing. “I never once promised you a wedding to me, Astoria, never! I said from the beginning that I would be marrying Hermione. Arranged marriages are a tradition in the Malfoy family and I’ve never been one to turn away from my familial duties!” he told her angrily, “I never intended to fall in love with Hermione; I didn’t think it would be possible… but I did, and there’s nothing either of us can do about it! I love Hermione and I’m going to marry her.”

    “That witch slipped you a…”

    “Hermione didn’t slip me anything!” Draco snapped, “I fell in love with her. I don’t know when, or how, it happened, but there it is. Now, I’ve tried to be nice about this but I just can’t anymore.”

    He tossed her wand at her and pointed toward the portrait hole. “Get out.”

    Astoria blinked. “You’re kicking me out?” she questioned, shock evident in her voice, “Me, Astoria Greengrass, star of the Ravenclaw House?”

    Draco nodded, unfazed. “Yes; you’re in my living quarters and I don’t want you here any longer. Get out!”

    For a moment, he didn’t think she was going to move and that he would have to physically remove her from the Head’s Tower. Luckily, for her, she broke her statue-like stance and stormed out through the portrait hole. He followed after her as far as the corridor then turned toward the hospital wing. He wanted to check up on Blaise and make sure that Hermione was all right.

    If he’d learned anything about her in the past few months, it was that Hermione was excellent at working herself into a state of panic. He was getting pretty good at helping to fend them off, especially since Blaise was pretty good at the whole panic thing, but Hermione sometimes couldn’t hear past her own frenzied ramblings.

    When he felt he was a good distance from Astoria, he took a deep breath. Using what had just happened as a precursor, he was pretty certain that she was going to cause some problems.

    Astoria was strong-willed and ferociously determined when she wanted something. It just so happened that what she wanted this time, was him. He had known that for a while now but he had ignored it thinking she would just move on if he told her he wasn’t interested. He had underestimated just how strongly she felt for him, though. How I managed that one, I’ll never know, he thought. Then again, I’ve been so focused on Hermione that I just wasn’t paying attention to much else.

    He honestly didn’t have time to deal with her just then, either. He entered the hospital wing and found Hermione sleeping in a chair next to Blaise’s bed. A book lay open in her lap and was dangerously close to falling, so he quietly walked over and took the book before it could fall. He then kissed the top of her head and pulled a chair up next to hers. She must be exhausted, he mused when she didn’t even stir.

    He looked at the book in his hands and chuckled when he saw the title. Probably trying to keep herself from thinking too much. He opened the book and began to read what Hermione had once told him were Muggle fairy tales.

 

 




 

 

Four days later…

 

    Blaise sat bolt upright and gasped loudly, taking in a deep gulp of air. Hermione nearly jumped out of her skin at the sudden movement and noise. She looked around briefly to get her bearings and when she saw Blaise sitting up, she gasped. “Blaise!” she said, getting up and moving to him as fast as she could, books falling to the floor in the process.

    Blaise didn’t respond. He was sitting as stiff as a board and breathing raggedly, his eyes unfocused. “Blaise, talk to me!” Hermione said, grabbing his arm and squeezing it tightly.

    When she squeezed his arm, Hermione felt a jolt of energy go through her. At first, she was surprised by the feeling, but then she realized that she could feel his presence. It was faint, but this excited her.

    She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She had been practicing the meditation technique Firenze had taught her since she had first shown it to her and she felt that she might be able to reach him. Her mind had never been as clear at it was at that moment.

    She felt Blaise’s presence growing stronger the longer she held on, but he still felt far off. She looked at Blaise curiously for a moment and then found her vision going blurry. When it cleared, there was a dark room around her. What the…?

    There was a whimpering sound to her left. She turned her head and saw a young girl with dark red hair huddled in the corner. The girl looked like she had been through the wringer and back. Bruises covered her fair skin and she looked like she had been unconscious.

    Hermione walked over to the girl and knelt down beside her. She knew that the girl wouldn’t be able to hear or see her, but she leaned close to her anyway. “Don’t worry,” she said, “everything’s going to be all right.”

    The girl jumped slightly and looked around. “Wha… Who’s there?” she whimpered.

    Hermione blinked as she stared at the girl. “You… You can hear me?” she asked.

    “Yes,” she replied, “Who, who are you?”

    Something in Hermione’s heart was telling her that she shouldn’t give the girl her real name; not because she felt the girl wasn’t trustworthy, but because she felt the girl would be in even more danger if she knew her real name. “My name is Jean,” she said softly, “What’s yours?”

    “Lillian.”

    “Do you know where you are, Lillian?”

    “N… not really,” she replied, “It’s some place old.”

    Hermione smiled. “That’s good, it narrows things down a bit,” she said softly, “Is there anything else you can tell me about where you are?”

    Lillian bit her bottom lip in thought before saying, “I hear a lot of voices above me sometimes. I can’t tell what they’re saying, but they sound angry.”

    Hermione could feel her vision starting to blur again just then so she quickly said, “Listen, Lillian, I have to go but I promise that everything’s going to be all right, okay?”

    Lillian’s eyes widened in fear. “Please don’t leave me,” she begged, “I’m scared.”

    “I’ll come back, I promise,” Hermione told her.

    Lillian became more and more blurred as Hermione felt herself going back to the hospital wing of Hogwarts where she was still holding onto Blaise’s arm. When her vision became clear again, Blaise was looking at her with wide blue eyes that were filled with fright. “Whoa,” he breathed hoarsely.

    Hermione furrowed her brow at him as she let go of him and sat back slightly. “Did… did you see all of that?”

    Blaise nodded. “I’ve been seeing it for the past… how long was I out?” he asked quietly.

    “Eight days.”

    “What exactly happened?”

    Hermione shook her head. “I’m not sure exactly,” she told him as she leaned forward again, “We were at the Three Broom Sticks and you went ridged… and then you fainted. You’ve been out since then.”

    “Hermione, we’ve got to talk to Dumbledore,” he said with urgency, “None of what I saw has happened yet, but it will; I feel it.”

    She could sense Blaise’s anxiety and gave him a calming smile. “We’ll talk to him later, Blaise,” she assured him, “Right now; you need to concentrate on getting well.”

    “But I feel fine,” Blaise argued.

    “Regardless of that, you’ve been unconscious for eight days; you need to rest.”

    “Damn it, Hermione, you saw that girl,” Blaise said quickly, “We can’t let that happen!”

    “Okay, okay, Blaise, calm down,” Hermione said as she smoothed his hair back and pushed him gently back down to his pillow, “I’ll go and see if I can find him; you rest.”

    “What’s all this… Oh my; Mr. Zabini, you’re awake!”

    Blaise and Hermione looked up at Madame Pomfrey as she walked through the curtain that surrounded Blaise’s bed. Madame Pomfrey immediately began bustling around, administering potions to Blaise so that she could be certain that he would stay conscious and well. “Miss Zabini, the Headmaster is out at the moment; Would you please send an owl letting him know that your brother is awake?” she asked, “I’m sure he’ll want to speak with him.”

    Hermione stood up and kissed Blaise on the forehead briefly before sweeping from the room. As she made her way through the castle to send an owl as Madame Pomfrey had asked, Hermione bumped into Draco. She grinned widely and hugged him tightly as they reached each other. “Well, that’s a nice ‘hello’,” Draco said with a chuckle, “I was just on my way to visit Blaise; would you like to join me?”

    “Oh, I’ve just come from the hospital wing;” Hermione told him cheerily, “Blaise woke up about ten minutes ago.”

    Draco’s eyes widened as he allowed a smile to spread across his face. “That’s great! Were you coming to tell me, or…?”

    “I’m actually headed to send an owl off to Professor Dumbledore for Madame Pomfrey.”

    “Oh, okay, would you like me to join you?”

    Hermione bit her lip in thought and finally shook her head. “I’d rather you sat with Blaise,” she told him, “He was having a vision which is why he passed out; he’s really upset by it.”

    Concern immediately washed over Draco’s face at those words. “All right, I’ll see you when you get back there, okay?”

    Hermione nodded and kissed his cheek lightly before heading off again. Draco watched for a moment as Hermione disappeared around the corner and sighed softly. He then turned and made his way to the hospital wing. When he walked into the hospital wing, he noticed that the curtain around Blaise’s bed was completely open and he was sitting up, propped against his pillow.

    Blaise looked over when he caught sight of Draco in his peripheral vision and smiled. “Draco, come to visit?”

    “Well, you didn’t think I’d be kept away when my best mate is in the hospital did you?” Draco questioned, “Your parents were here the other day; they’re real worried about you.”

    “Yeah, Madame Pomfrey said that they wanted me moved to St. Mungo's but Dumbledore wouldn’t allow it.”

    Draco chuckled as he sat down. “Yeah, they weren’t too happy about that, but they trust Dumbledore so they left you here under the excellent care of Madame Pomfrey,” he said, “They’ve come to visit every day since Dumbledore told them what had happened.”

    “I think they want me to get cavities because they’ve left me a mountain of sweets,” Blaise said, pointing to a fairly large pile of candies and chocolates sitting on the table at the end of his bed.

    “Well, I’ll be happy to help you eat it all,” Draco told him.

    Blaise grinned. “I bet.”

    Draco cleared his throat and leaned forward. “Blaise, I ran into Hermione on my way here; she said that you’d had a vision and that’s why you… um… fainted.”

    “Did she tell you what she saw?”

    “No, she just said you’d had a vision and that Madame Pomfrey had asked her to send an owl to Dumbledore,” Draco replied, “What happened?”

    Blaise furrowed his brow and pursed his lips in thought. “Well, I remember we were sitting in the Three Broom Sticks chatting, and then suddenly, my mind went blank,” he said, remembering, “Everything was dark and I could hear voices over my head, like they were coming through the ceiling.”

    Draco listened intently as Blaise continued his account of what had happened. He was astounded that Blaise had such ability as to see the future. He’d known Blaise practically his entire life and not once had he ever shown that he had such an ability.

    “And then I heard Hermione’s voice in the darkness, but I couldn’t see her,” Blaise was now saying, “I tried talking to her but I couldn’t; I was trapped inside the girl’s body… Lillian.”

    “So, let me get this straight; when you have a vision, you become the person whose future you’re seeing?”

    “I’m not really sure,” Blaise confessed, “When I first started having these visions, I just thought they were dreams; but then I realized that they seemed too real to be dreams.”

    “I have theory about that.”

    Draco and Blaise each whipped their head around to face Albus Dumbledore. He had just walked into the room and was being followed by Hermione. “Before I divulge my theory, however,” he said, focusing his gaze on Blaise, “How are you feeling?”

    “I feel fine, sir,” he replied.

    Dumbledore scrutinized him carefully before brandishing his wand and drawing the curtains around the bed. He then drew two extra chairs; one for Hermione and one for himself. He gestured for Hermione to sit before sitting himself and pressed his fingertips together in thought. “Blaise, would you mind telling me everything that happened from the time you went into your coma to the time you woke from it?”

    Blaise quickly launched into the details of what he had seen and heard while he’d been in a coma. When he came to the part where he’d heard Hermione’s voice, Dumbledore stopped him. “Hermione, can you tell me what you saw?” he asked.

    “I honestly didn’t really see much,” Hermione began, “As Blaise said; it was very dark, but there was enough light in the room for me to see once my eyes adjusted a bit.”

    Blaise furrowed his brow. “That’s funny; I couldn’t see a thing.”

    Dumbledore silenced him with a glance and turned his attention back to Hermione. “What did you see once your eyes had become adjusted?” he prompted.

    “Well, I heard first; a whimper,” Hermione said, “It came from the far corner of the room and when I turned to see what it was, I saw a girl. She was very frightened and it looked like she had been tortured.”

    “She was tortured,” Blaise interjected, “I felt every second of it.”

    “Yes,” Dumbledore said, “You mentioned that her abductors wanted information about a friend of hers?”

    “Yes, sir; someone named Aeryn.”

    Dumbledore tilted his head forward and looked at Hermione over the top of his spectacles. “Hermione, please continue.”

    Hermione cleared her throat. “I walked over and knelt down next to her. I didn’t think that she would be able to hear me, but when I told her that everything was going to be okay, she looked around and asked who was there.”

    “Was she able to tell you anything about where she was being held?”

    “Only that it was some place old,” Hermione replied.

    Dumbledore furrowed his brow curiously. “How is it that you came to be in Blaise’s vision?”

    “I… I don’t really know, sir. I was sitting where Draco is now when Blaise suddenly sat up gasping for air. I thought he’d completely woken but he was ridged and he was unfocused so I got up and went to him. I touched his arm and then my vision blurred like it does when I’m having a vision.”

    Dumbledore nodded. “Hmm, it is as I suspected.”

    “Sir?” Blaise said.

    “Hermione, would you mind telling me more about the visions you have?”

    “I’m not sure I understand what you mean, sir.”

    “Do your visions feel as though they are going to happen, or that they are happening when you see them?” Dumbledore clarified.

    “I can’t be certain, but it feels as if they’re happening at the time I’m seeing them.”

    Draco cleared his throat. “I can confirm that, sir,” he said softly.

    Dumbledore stared at him silently for a moment. Draco understood his look to mean that he wanted an explanation. “You see, I sent an owl to my mum after Hermione told me that she had seen my father talking to my Aunt Bellatrix,” he explained, “I asked if Bellatrix had been by to visit and my mum said that she had; the exact night that Hermione saw my father talking to her.”

    Hermione looked puzzled. “But, if what I saw when I touched Blaise hasn’t happened yet, then how…?”

    “It is my theory that when you came into direct, physical contact with Blaise while he was having a vision, you saw what he was seeing at the time,” Dumbledore interrupted, “I think the same would happen to Blaise if he were to come into contact with you while you were having a vision.”

    “But, sir, how do we know that what Blaise saw isn’t happening right now?” Draco questioned.

    Dumbledore turned his gaze to Blaise. “Was this the first time you had seen this girl, Blaise?”

    Blaise shook his head. “I’ve never actually seen her,” he stated, “I become her.”

    “And when did you first become this young woman?”

    “Over the summer holiday; not long after our birthday,” he said, inclining his head toward Hermione.

    “Can you describe this young woman, Hermione?”

    Hermione closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them again once she had a clear picture of Lillian in her mind. “I couldn’t really tell what her face looked like, she was too bruised up, but she looked to be around our age; maybe a little younger, with dark red hair,” she recalled, “Sir, she was wearing a Hogwarts uniform.”

    “We have no red-headed students by the name of Lillian at this school at present,” Dumbledore assured her, “Which leads me to believe that there is no significant need to worry about her just now.”

    “But…”

    “Blaise, please do not take that statement to mean that we will not worry about Lillian at all; we will. I would like you to keep me informed of any and all visions you have involving this young lady.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Sir, you haven’t finished telling us your theory,” Hermione said.

    “Oh yes,” Dumbledore said with a soft chuckle, “It is my belief that the two of you are connected by more than just your blood.”

    “Sir, we’ve established that,” Draco said.

    Dumbledore nodded. “Yes, we have; however we have not established the ways in which they are connected.”

    “Their powers, sir.”

    “That is quite right, Draco, but to what extent do those powers connect them?” Dumbledore questioned, “Is it merely the fact that they are twins that causes their powers to act as they do; or is it something deeper, more powerful?”

    “We’ve searched through hundreds of books, sir but nothing has been helpful,” Draco said.

    Dumbledore smiled. “Perhaps you have not been looking in the right book,” he said, “Might I suggest looking a little closer to home?”

    With that, Dumbledore stood and parted the curtain, leaving the three of them behind in complete confusion.

 

 




 

 

Later that day…

 

    Since Madame Pomfrey had to run some tests on Blaise, now that he was awake, she had kicked everyone out of the hospital wing. Hermione, upon Blaise’s insistence, had gone to class and then to the library to work on some of her assignments. Madame Pomfrey had been crystal clear that no one was to return to see Blaise until classes were finished for the day.

    Hermione wasn’t exactly happy about that, but she was managing to get a lot done. Not only had she completed a couple of her assignments that weren’t due until the following week, she had also penned some letters that she intended to send off with Callidora during her next free period. In all the excitement that morning, she had neglected to let her parents know that Blaise had woken, as well as Beatrice.

    Hermione hadn’t thought to send word to Beatrice until a letter from her had shown up for Blaise in the hospital wing. As soon as she had seen that, Hermione had immediately written her a letter explaining everything and apologizing for not having sent word sooner. To her surprise, Beatrice had been very nice about it all.

    “Um, Hermione?”

    Hermione looked up from her Arithmancy essay and smiled kindly at Astoria. “Hi, Astoria.”

    “Hi. I was just wondering if I could borrow your Charms notes? I kind of spaced out for a little while and I want to make sure I got all the information needed for next lesson.”

    Hermione blinked. She didn’t know Astoria very well, but she did know that the Ravenclaw rarely missed anything in classes. “Oh, um… Sure,” she said, reaching into her bag and searching for her notes.

    When she found them, she handed them to Astoria and said, “If you could get them back to me as soon as possible, I’d really appreciate it.”

    Astoria nodded. “Of course, I’ll have them back to you by the end of the day. Thank you.”

    “Not a problem.”

    Astoria put the notes into her bag and walked away quickly, a deviant smirk on her face. As she exited the library, a hand grabbed her arm and yanked her to the side. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Draco asked.

    She pulled her arm from his grasp and leaned against the wall sexily. “I was simply asking your fiancée for her Charms notes,” she replied with a smirk, “She really is a dear for allowing me to borrow them.”

    “You shouldn’t be asking her for anything, Astoria,” Draco snapped in a whispered voice.

    “It’s just notes, Draco. I didn’t catch all of our Charms lesson today because I was thinking about something else so I simply found a way to rectify the situation.”

    “By asking Hermione?”

    “Yes.”

    “Out of all the students that take seventh year Charms, you had to ask her?”

    Astoria gave him an innocent smile. “She’s the only one that takes notes up to my standards.”

    Draco narrowed his eyes. “I find that hard to believe. Don’t forget; I know you, Astoria. I know how you think, I know how you work. You’re trying to get to me through Hermione and it ends now!”

    “Draco, darling, you’re paranoid.”

    He stared at her, scrutinizing her expression. “Perhaps, but that doesn’t change anything,” he stated, “You’re going to stop whatever it is that you’re trying to do, and you’re going to leave Hermione alone; do you understand me?”

    She smiled at him innocently, but her words were far from innocent. “No, you understand me. This whole engagement nonsense with that no-good, know-it-all, is a joke and I am not going to stop butting in, or putting myself between the two of you until you come to your senses and come back to me; where you belong!”

    Draco leaned down until he was practically nose to nose with her. “Don’t you dare threaten me, Astoria. I’m going to tell you like I’ve told Pansy, I’m not a prize to be won,” he sneered, “I’m not a trophy. I make my own decisions and I’ve chosen Hermione so you can either accept it and leave us the hell alone; or you can keep making a fool of yourself and get run over in the process. It’s your choice.”

    The notes Hermione had lent her were sticking out of her bag a little so he snatched them up and put them in his own bag. “I think you can find someone else to borrow notes from, if you really need them,” he said as he turned and began walking away. “Have a nice day.”

 

 




 

 

    The next day, Blaise was released from the hospital wing. Before he was released however, he had to take a sees of potions. He groaned and whined the entire time because he hated being babied. Draco, of course, laughed at him a bit.

    Blaise glared at him causing Draco to laugh even harder. “You’re such a baby,” Draco said.

    “Those potions are disgusting,” Blaise countered.

    “You’re to drink every last bit of these potions, Mister Zabini, or it’ll be another night here for you,” Madame Pomfrey said, “Understood.”

    He rolled his eyes before looking at the nurse and nodding. “Yes, yes, I understand.”

    She eyed him for a moment before walking away. Blaise swallowed down another vial and made a face. Draco chuckled and Blaise glared at him. “I’d like to see how you’d fare if you had to drink those awful things.”

    “I’d fare a lot better than you, I can tell you that.”

    “Will you two stop your bickering?” Hermione said in exasperation, “I’m trying to read.”

    Blaise and Draco turned to look at her with sheepish smiles. “Sorry,” they said in unison.

    Hermione smirked as she looked back down at her book. “Honestly, you two are worse than a toddler that’s just gotten its favorite toy taken away.”

    Draco walked over to her and peeked over her shoulder at the book she was reading. He raised an eyebrow as she looked up at him with pink cheeks. “Reading huh?”

    “Your mum sent it for me to look at,” Hermione said in mild defiance as she shut the book.

    Blaise picked the book up and looked at the cover. “Bridal Dresses Through the Ages, huh? Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself? I mean; you two haven’t even decided if you’re going to get married.”

    “Well, I certainly didn’t see any harm in looking through it,” Hermione answered, leaning forward and taking the book back, “but that doesn’t mean that…”

    “Hermione, don’t try to lie; you’re rubbish at it,” Draco said with a smirk.

    “There’s nothing wrong with wanting something,” Hermione whispered.

    Draco smiled softly and knelt down next to Hermione’s chair. “Are you saying that you want to marry me?”

    Blaise swallowed down the last vial of potions Madame Pomfrey had left for him and cleared his throat. “Well, I need something to get the taste of those disgusting things out of my mouth, and, hey, look at that; it’s near dinner time,” he said, “I’ll, um… I’ll be going now.”

    He scooted from the room as quickly as he could, leaving Draco and Hermione behind. Hermione giggled as she watched him leave. “You’d think he’d never tasted food the way he…” she looked back at Draco and noticed the serious look on his face, “Um… I should probably, um… send and owl to my parents. You know, let them know Blaise has been released and can rejoined the school population.”

    Draco cleared his throat and snapped out of his stare. “Right. Informing your parents… That’s, um… Right,” he stammered.

    As Hermione stood and packed up her school bag, she glanced at him. “Are you all right? You don’t usually stutter.”

    “Ahem, yeah, I’m fine,” he replied, standing, “Um… May I join you?”

    She put her bag over her shoulder and smiled at him. “If you like,” she agreed, “It shouldn’t take too long, and then we can head down to dinner.”

    Though he seemed to be trying to hide it, Hermione could tell that something was slightly off. He was acting strange, not that it was a bad sort of strange… It was just different from how he usually acted. Since Blaise had just been released from the hospital, she figured that he was just happy and looking forward to making up for lost time with him.

    Draco nodded and held out his hand. Hermione gladly took it and the two walked out of the hospital wing. As they made their way through the corridors, Draco was uncharacteristically silent. He simply held Hermione’s hand, gently rubbing it with his thumb. He felt so at peace just walking along beside her, like he didn’t have a care in the world. He liked that feeling. He liked it so much, in fact, that he never wanted to let that feeling go. He wanted to hold onto it forever… He wanted to hold onto her forever.

    He laughed to himself. Things were sure different. He was different. He had once been attracted to Astoria, but he had never loved her, he had never really felt anything for her. He supposed he had always known who she was deep down, but now he was actually seeing it. It was as if being with Hermione had caused him to really open his eyes and take a good look at everything around him. The difference was like night and day and there was no doubt in his mind that he had made the better choice.

    Before he’d said anything about asking Hermione to marry him to Astoria, he hadn’t realized that he’d felt that way. But, now that he’d said it, he wanted it more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. The only thing standing in his way was…

    “Hermione?”

    She looked up at him. “Yes?”

    The second her green eyes locked on him, he lost his nerve. “Um… nevermind.”

    They reached the owlery then and Hermione set about sending off a note to her parents, and another to Beatrice. It wasn’t but a couple of minutes before she was finished and Callidora was flying off, the notes clutched tightly in her beak.

    Just as Hermione came back to Draco’s side, he spoke. “Um, Hermione, that book my mother sent you… The bridal dresses one? Um… what exactly made you want to… I mean; why were you…?”

    “Why was I looking through it?” Hermione questioned, correctly guessing what he was getting at.

    “Yes. I mean; logically speaking, if a woman’s looking at wedding dresses it means that they’re getting married, or that they want to get married.”

    Hermione blushed and looked down at her feet for a moment. “Well, I can’t say I haven’t thought about it,” she admitted, “While my parents were visiting a few days ago, my mother asked about us, and when I told her things were going well, she asked why I wasn’t wearing my engagement ring.”

    “And what did you say?”

    She took his hand and rubbed his arm with her free one as she led him away from the owlery and in the direction of the Great Hall. “That we’re still figuring things out and…”

    Draco stopped and turned them so that they were facing each other. He cupped her face with his free hand and looked into her eyes as he took a deep breath. He needed to know and he couldn’t let himself chicken out, not this time. “Hermione, what do you feel for me?”

    Hermione blinked and took a step back to give herself some room to breathe. “Heavens, you really just asked that, didn’t you?”

    “I did,” Draco confirmed, “and I think I deserve an answer. I mean; we’ve been doing this dance for months now and I don’t know exactly when, or how, it happened, but somewhere along the way I… I fell in love with you and I…”

    He realized that he still had hold of her hand so he pulled her back to him. “I just need to know if there’s any chance that you feel anything close to resembling that for me, or if there’s any possibility that you could one day feel that way. I just need to…” Draco took her face in both hands and brought his lips down to hers for the first time.

    Hermione was initially too shocked to react to the kiss, but Draco’s lips pushed and pulled at hers so tenderly that she quickly found herself kissing him back. She could feel the love he had for her flowing between them and she couldn’t deny that she had feelings for him as well. Then, just as quickly as the kiss started, it ended.

    The second their lips made contact, Draco felt a surge of electricity jolt him. He had never felt anything so powerful in his life. He had imagined what kissing Hermione would be like, but nothing could have prepared him for that. It was the most special, most amazing kiss he had ever experienced… and he had experienced quite a few. If he had thought he was hooked on her before, he was addicted now.

    Draco pulled his lips away and rested his forehead against hers. “I just need to know.”

    She took a breath and shyly pressed her lips to his for a brief moment. “Draco, I care about you very much and…”

    He moved away, not wanting to hear what was beginning to sound like a rejection. “You… you just let me kiss you, Hermione,” he said.

    “Yes, I did and…”

    “And it was a really good kiss. I mean; really good and you shouldn’t have let me do that if you don’t feel anyth…”

    “Draco, shut up!” Hermione exclaimed sternly, realizing that he was rambling because he was nervous about her answer.

    Draco was quite shocked by her outburst so he remained quiet and allowed her to speak. She looked at him sheepishly. “I’m sorry for yelling,” she said softly, “but you weren’t letting me say anything and I’m trying to explain.”

    “No, no… Please, go on,” he said, preparing himself for the worst.

    Hermione pulled him over to a window and sat down on the wide sill. She waited for Draco to sit before continuing. “Draco, I care about you, very much, I just… This has all just been a lot for me, you know? I mean; I’m still adjusting to the fact that I have a brother, that I’m a Zabini,” she gestured to him, “that I’m betrothed. I’ve got this strange power that I’m struggling to control… I kind of feel like I’m losing my mind at times.”

    Draco touched her cheek gently. “No one’s asking you to cope with all of that in a short amount of time, love,” he told her, “You can take all the time you need to come to terms with everything. But that doesn’t answer my question.”

    “Do I have feelings for you? Yes, I do.”

    “Okay, and you were looking through that bridal book because…?”

    “Because somewhere along the way, I fell in love with you, too and lately I’ve been wondering what it would be like, marrying you,” Hermione admitted, “And honestly, who wouldn’t? You’re smart, funny, caring… You’re so much more than I ever gave you credit for.”

    He chuckled a bit. “Well, thanks for that.”

    “I mean it, Draco,” she said, taking hold of his hand and fidgeting with his fingers, “You’ve been amazing; especially this last week while Blaise was in the hospital.”

    “He’s my best mate, I would’ve been there anyway.”

    “Now that I’ve gotten to know you, I realize that, but I didn’t really know you before July.”

    Draco squeezed her hand. “This is true.”

    Hermione continued toying with his fingers. “So… now that we’ve admitted our feelings for each other… I guess we have a decision to make.”

    Standing, Draco reached into his pocket and pulled out the engagement ring he’d been holding onto since her first night at Zabini Mansion. Since he had realized his feelings for her, however, he had secretly been carrying the ring with him just in case the right moment happened to come along. “I’ve already made my decision,” he said, kneeling in front of her and taking her left hand.

    “Draco, what are you…?”

    He kissed her hand. “Hermione, we’ve had… well, we’ve had what I guess most people would call a “rocky start”. We’ve got a rough history, to say the least. We’ve been through so much in these last months, literally thrown together like, I don’t know exactly what, but thrown together in any case. Somehow we pushed it all aside and we found ourselves falling for the person least expected.”

    A tear slid down Hermione’s cheek and she sniffled. “Draco,” she said softly.

    He held a finger to his lips. “I fell in love with the most… amazing creature ever to walk this Earth. Your never ending kindness and willingness to take a chance on a “loathsome little cockroach” like me has made me a better person. You complete me. I was hollow before you, unable to be myself. Until you came into my life, I wasn’t capable of sharing my true feelings with anyone… There was a hole within me and you’ve filled it.”

    Hermione giggled at the reference to what she had called him before punching him in their third year. “I never thought I was capable of loving, or being loved, but then you came along and changed my mind,” Draco chuckled, “You just couldn’t leave well enough alone. That’s why I love you… That’s why I want to spend the rest of my life with you. So, with that, I ask you this; Hermione Zabini, do you want to spend the rest of your life with me?”

    She wiped her eyes with her free hand as she nodded. “Yes,” she said with a tearful smile, “Yes.”

    Draco smiled as he slid the ring on her finger and kissed her hand. He then moved so that he was sitting on the window sill again. “It’s a good thing we’re not far from the owlery,” he said, “We’ve got more letters to send out.”

    “We can do that later,” Hermione told him, looking at the ring on her finger, “Let’s tell people here first.”

    He nodded, noticing the curious expression on her face. “Okay, we can do that,” he agreed, “Um, is everything all right, love?”

    “It’s a little big,” Hermione said.

    As the words came out of her mouth, she felt the band of the ring tighten around her finger until it was a perfect fit. She stared down at her hand in shock. Draco chuckled. “You were saying?”

    “H… how did that happen?”

    “When I made it, I put a Fitting Charm on it so that when it was on your finger it would fit perfectly.”

    Hermione looked at him in amazement. “That’s a tricky bit of magic, Draco.”

    “Well, I’m not a dunce, you know,” he said with a laugh.

    Hermione touched his cheek and kissed his lips gently. “I never said you were,” she whispered, “I only meant that I was impressed; I’ve never done the Fitting Charm and I never actually understood how it was supposed to be performed.”

    Draco chuckled softly as he traced her bottom lip with his thumb. “You’re the top of our year and you didn’t understand a little spell like the Fitting Charm? I find that hard to believe.”

    “All right, well, I understand it, but I’ve never tried it before,” Hermione admitted with a smirk.

    “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

    Hermione slapped him playfully on the shoulder. “Well, we’d better get down to the Great Hall, find our friends,” she said, “Let them know.”

    “Right, and then it’s nice long letters home to share the good news. I can just see the excitement on my mother’s and father’s faces.”

    “Oh yes, I can just see them jumping for joy,” Hermione said with a slight roll of her eyes.

    Draco chuckled. “And so the hating of the dreaded in-laws begins.”

    “I’m sorry, Draco, but I just don’t trust them,” Hermione told him, “Your father anyway… The jury’s still out on your mother.”

    A sudden thought came to her then. “Do you reckon our mothers will allow me any say in the planning?” she asked hopefully, “I mean, if we decide to go through with this that is?”

    “Of course.”

    “Good because I have a particular view on a few things,” she said matter-of-factly.

    Curiosity poured through Draco like tea being poured from a kettle. “Such as?”

    Hermione glanced at him and blushed slightly. “Well I can’t very well tell you now can I? You’re going to be the bridegroom.”

    “Yes, well, we’re going to be married, and I’m just going to find out what these ‘views’ are eventually anyway, so why not just tell me now?”

    “Well because I’d rather not just yet,” Hermione stated, “A bride can’t let her groom in on all her secrets.”

    Draco nodded in understanding. “Well, if you’ll allow it, there’s one small request that I’d like to make for our wedding day; should it take place,” he said.

    Now it was Hermione’s turn to be washed in curiosity. “And what’s that?”

    “Answer me this first; does your vision of a wedding dress include a veil?”

    Hermione nodded.

    “With a tiara?”

    Again, Hermione nodded.

    “Then my request is simple; let me make the tiara.”

    Hermione thought for a moment. “Not that I don’t fancy the jewelry you’ve made for me already, but please, no snakes on the tiara.”

    “Done,” Draco agreed with a small smile.

 

 




 

 

    “Ginny!” Hermione called when she saw her flame-haired friend sitting about halfway down the Gryffindor table.

    Ginny smiled as Hermione hurried up to her and sat down. “You look like you’ve just found out you’ve gotten the highest grade on your Potions exam or something,” she said, “What’s up?”

    “Draco and I have come to a decision about our betrothal,” Hermione said, beaming.

    “Oh?”

    Hermione smiled even wider and held up her left hand for Ginny to see. “We’ve decided to go through with it.”

    Ginny smiled brightly and hugged her. “That’s wonderful, Hermione,” she said, “Let me get a good look at this ring of yours.”

    Ginny took Hermione’s hand and held it closer to her face so that she could properly inspect the ring on her finger. “Oh my, that’s got to be the most splendid ring I’ve ever seen in my life,” she breathed, “Where did Malfoy get it?”

    “He made it.”

    Ginny’s eyes widened in shock. “You’re kidding.”

    “No, I’ve seen him make jewelry right in front of me; he’s remarkable at it.”

    “Wow, who would’ve known?”

    “What’s up with you two? You look like you’ve just take a dose of a giddy potion or something.”

    Ginny looked up at Ron. “Hermione and Malfoy are going through with their betrothal,” she answered, “Look at this ring!”

    Ron glanced at the ring and shrugged. “It’s nice I guess.” He slumped in his seat as he mumbled something under his breath and began pulling food toward him. Draco and Hermione being together obviously still bothered him.

    “Ron, quit being such an arse,” Harry snapped as he came up and sat across from Ginny. He then looked at Hermione’s ring and said, “Malfoy’s been good for Hermione and he’s actually done a lot of good lately, so back off, mate. It’s beautiful, Hermione; congratulations.”

    Hermione scrutinized him for a moment and found that he was being genuine. “Thank you, Harry.” She appreciated the smile he was giving her and felt a little hurt that Ron was scowling over his food.

    “So, have you decided on a date?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No, we’ve only just decided to go through with the betrothal. We’ve been getting on pretty well over the past few months and neither of us could find a reason not to get married so… there it is.”

    “Do you love him, Hermione?” Ron questioned.

    Hermione thought that that was a fair question. “I never expected to, but, yes, I love him.”

    Ron took a breath and nodded. “Well, all right, then.” He was still sour over the situation, but he figured there was nothing he could do about it, so he decided it was best to be supportive.

    Suddenly a pair of arms wrapped around her shoulders from behind. “Congratulations!” Blaise said in her ear, “Draco’s just told me.”

    He took her hand and looked at the ring. “Oh yeah, that has Draco’s style all over it. I would’ve gone with a diamond, myself, but…”

    “Hey, don’t knock my ring,” Hermione told him.

    Blaise kissed her cheek. “I’m just teasing. When it comes to jewelry, Draco knows what the wearer will like. Well, would you look at that… It matches your eyes.”

    “By the way, Blaise, it’s really good to see you up and about,” said Ginny.

    “Yeah,” Harry agreed, “You gave us all quite a scare with the seizing and the coma.”

    “Well, it wasn’t all that fun from where I sat, either. The homework that’s piled up is going to be a nightmare! And those potions! Talk about disgusting.”

    Harry nodded in agreement. “At least you didn’t have to drink Skele-Grow,” he said, “I nearly threw up drinking that stuff.”

    “Gross!” Blaise exclaimed and the two boys laughed.

    “Blaise, I’ve told you I’ll help you with your homework.”

    “I know, Hermione, and I’m grateful, but there’s only so much studying a guy can take in one day and you’re, like, the queen of never ending study time.”

    Harry and Ron laughed. “Finally someone else feels our pain!” Harry teased.

    Hermione picked up a piece of broccoli and threw it at him in retaliation. “See if I help you with homework anymore,” she retorted.

    “Well, looks like you’re all having a good time.”

    The five of them looked and saw Astoria. Blaise narrowed his eyes and folded his arms over his chest. “What’s it to you?” he questioned rudely.

    Astoria ignored him, her eyes flashing to Hermione’s hand as she tucked some hair behind her ear. “That’s a beautiful ring, Hermione,” she said, her voice tight.

    “Thank you.”

    “Ahem, so you and Draco are…?”

    “They’re officially engaged,” Blaise said, “So, why don’t you say your congratulations and be on your way?”

    “Blaise!” Hermione exclaimed, surprised at the hostility her brother was showing the Ravenclaw.

    He blinked and looked at her. “Forgive me, I’m not quite myself today,” he said, shooting a warning glance at Astoria, “Excuse me.”

    He turned and walked back over to the Slytherin table. He slid himself in across from Draco and leaned forward. “Oi, so I assume that since you gave Hermione the engagement ring, you’ve made a choice and ended things with Astoria, yeah?”

    “Yeah, why?”

    Blaise jerked his head in the direction he’d just come from. “Seems to me like someone didn’t get the message.”

    Draco’s gray eyes narrowed as they locked on the Ravenclaw. He could see the daggers she was directing at Hermione with her eyes and he didn’t like it. If Pansy had been the one giving that look, he wouldn’t be worried, but Astoria wasn’t Pansy. She was actually dangerous. He wasn’t exactly sure how far she would take things, and he didn’t want to find out. He needed to do something.

    “You’re damn right you need to do something.”

    “Blaise, were you just…? Did you just read my mind?” Draco asked, shocked.

    “More like I read your face,” Blaise replied, “I know your expressions like I know my own, and that one you had a minute ago; that was your ‘I need to do something’ face.”

    “Hm… Well, you’re not wrong.”

    “I know I’m not… So, what are you going to do?”

    Draco shook his head and took a long drink of his orange juice. “I don’t know yet,” he answered.

    Just then, Astoria looked up and saw him staring at her. She licked her lips and kissed the air before smirking seductively at him. That didn’t worry him so much, it was the glint in her eyes that set off the alarm bells in his head. He gave her a hard look. “But I’ll figure something out.”


Chapter 23: Chapter Twenty-Three
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

    Hermione hardly looked up as Draco entered the common room. Draco shook his head and smirked when he saw her. “You know, if your nose gets any closer to that book, you’re going to fall into it,” he teased, “As it is, you can probably smell the person that wrote it.”

    Hermione glanced up briefly and stuck her tongue out at him before getting back to her book. She was thoroughly engrossed in the words she was reading and, considering the fact that she was researching the visions she and Blaise were having, no one could blame her.

    Draco smirked, yet again, and sat down in the arm chair across from her. “So… have you found anything on your visions yet?” he asked, picking up one of the many books that were strewn on the floor.

    Without a word, Hermione lifted a notepad that was resting next to her and handed it to him. Draco took the pad of paper and looked it over. “Um, Hermione am I supposed to be able to read this?” he questioned.

    Hermione looked up and examined the notepad. “What’s wrong with it?”

    “I don’t know how to read your shorthand,” Draco said with a soft chuckle.

    Hermione blushed a deep pink as she took her notes back from him. “I’m sorry; there’s just so much information about visions that I couldn’t possibly have written it all down long hand.”

    “It’s all right.”

    Hermione sighed heavily as she closed the book she had been reading. She set it down on the seat next to her and tossed her legs over the edge of the sofa, leaning down and resting her head in her hands.

    “Hermione, is everything all right?” Draco asked, leaning forward to gently touch her knee.

    She lifted her head and placed her chin in her hands as she replied, “I’m just feeling stressed.”

    Draco reached behind him and grabbed the throw pillow that was on his chair. He placed it on the floor between his feet and motioned for Hermione to sit on it. Hermione got to her feet and walked the few steps to where Draco was sitting. She looked at Draco questioningly. He rolled his eyes as he said, “Just sit down, will you?”

    Hermione sat and as soon as she was comfortable, Draco’s hands began massaging her shoulders. “You’ve been over extending yourself, Hermione,” Draco stated, “You’re overworking yourself.”

    “I can handle it,” she assured him.

    Draco chuckled as his thumbs slid up the back of her neck to loosen the muscles there. “I have no doubt about that, love,” he told her, “but I’d really like to have a healthy bride on our wedding day.”

    Hermione groaned and tilted her head back to look at him. “Can’t we elope or something?” she asked, “I can’t handle all of this planning.”

    “You’ve hardly planned at all,” Draco said with a laugh, “our mothers have been planning everything.”

    “That’s not completely true,” Hermione argued, “I’ve got my Maid of Honor, and I know what I want my dress to look like… I also know who at least one of my Bridesmaids will be…”

    Draco placed a hand over her mouth briefly before going back to work on her shoulders. “Hermione, stop… Over this past week you’ve been running yourself ragged with all of the things you’ve been doing,” he said, “Between Head duties, wedding planning, school work, and research you’re not getting enough sleep.”

    “I’ve never needed much sleep.”

    He put a hand under her chin and tilted her head back up at him. “Hermione, you’ve always been thin, but you’re getting thinner because you’re hardly eating,” he chided softly, “Please, just take this weekend off; refresh yourself… Let me take care of you.”

    Hermione took his hand in hers and turned herself around so that she was kneeling in front of him. “Draco, why are you being so kind to me? You hardly know me.”

    “I know you better than you think” Draco argued gently, “and the more time I spend with you, the more I fall in love with you.”

    A tear fell from Hermione’s eye and Draco wiped it away softly with the pad of his thumb. “There’s no reason for tears, Hermione I didn’t intend to upset you.”

    Hermione smiled. “I’m not upset,” she told him, “I’m happy. I was upset when I found out that a marriage had been arranged for me. I thought seriously about doing whatever I could to get out of it, but now… now I’d give up everything I have, my life even, just for the chance of knowing true love.”

    A small smile graced Draco’s features for a moment. “I’m not sure if that will ever be the case with us; I honestly didn’t even know that I was capable of feeling this way. I mean; I’ve never put myself out there like this before, but I’m willing to explore it.”

    Hermione felt that she understood what he was saying. He had always kept his personal thoughts and feelings bottled up. That was just his way of dealing with things, and with Lucius Malfoy always pushing him to be an emotionless shell, it was no wonder. Lucius Malfoy was a hateful, arrogant jerk that couldn’t allow his son to be any different. He wanted Draco to be just like him, but he was much better than his father.

    With a small amount of uncertainty, Hermione lifted her hand and placed it on Draco’s cheek. “I think there’s only one person in this world that is completely incapable of love,” she told him, looking directly into his eyes, “and you’re not him.”

    Draco gave her a small smile and placed his hand over hers. “I guess we’ll have to find out,” he whispered, staring at her lips.

    Hermione nodded, chewing on her bottom lip nervously. “Are… are you going to kiss me now?” she asked quietly.

    “Yes.”

    Hermione allowed him to tilt her head up a bit further. Draco stared at her for a moment longer, and then he dipped his head and pressed his lips to hers.

    He hadn’t thought it was possible, but this kiss was just as potent as the kiss they had shared after his proposal. More even. Kissing her was intoxicating. She was intoxicating. He didn’t think he had felt anything more powerful in his life.

    Draco slid one hand around Hermione’s waist while the other went into her hair. He could feel her shaking a bit as she moved her arms up to circle around his neck. “Am I making you nervous?” he asked, pulling out of the kiss just a fraction of an inch.

    “A bit,” she replied breathlessly.

    He swallowed hard before saying, “Do you want me to stop?”

    “No.”

    That was all the encouragement he needed. He tightened his grip on her slightly and touched his lips to hers again, this time with a little more urgency. The hand that was in her hair tightened even more as he tilted her head so that he could gain better access to her mouth.

    Hermione pulled him closer to her for a moment. She then brought her hands down to his chest and pushed him back. She managed to scoot herself a few feet away from him in the process and found herself practically gasping for air.

    She stared at Draco for several moments before standing up and bolting up the stairs. True, she wasn’t ashamed of what had just happened but she was confused all the same. She ran into her room and slammed the door shut, leaning back against it and sliding to the floor once it closed.

    Seconds after the door had shut, Hermione could hear Draco’s footsteps coming up the stairs. “Hermione,” he said, his voice muffled by the door, “Hermione, come on, open the door.”

    Hermione seriously thought about ignoring him and just trying to sort out her thoughts on her own but she knew that if they were going to have any sort of relationship, they’d need to talk to each other. So, with a sigh, Hermione stood up and opened the door.

    Draco gave her a look of concern as she came into view and asked, “Did I do something wrong?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No, I’m just… I don’t know what I am.”

    Draco stepped into her room and tilted her head up to look at him. “Hermione, we’ve kissed before.”

    “Yes, because you had to go all romantic and propose to me!”

    Draco smirked playfully. “And that’s a bad thing?” he teased.

    Hermione scowled half-heartedly. “You’re a real rat, you know that?”

    “You didn’t have to agree to it,” he said with a small laugh.

    “I’m very well aware of that…”

    Draco smirked as he pulled her into his arms and leaned down so that he was merely centimeters from her face. “Then stop with the worrying and just go with it,” he whispered as he dipped his head and brought their lips together once more.

    This time, Hermione did not resist one bit. She allowed Draco’s lips to guide hers as they moved against each other. Her hands slid around his neck and into his hair as she instinctively tilted her head, in an attempt to deepen the kiss.

    As she tilted her head, Draco tilted his as well, but he didn’t do anything to deepen the kiss. He wanted to control his actions… to be a gentleman… and that wasn’t going to happen as long as Hermione kept pulling him closer and trying to deepen the kiss.

    With a small moan, he pulled her hands out of his hair and moved a couple of steps away from her, still holding onto her hands. “Hermione, we need to be careful,” he said softly.

    Hermione ran her hand through her hair and huffed, slightly annoyed at the fact that he had kissed her and was now telling her they had to be careful! “If you’re so concerned about taking it too far, then maybe you should have thought of that before you kissed me!” she said.

    Draco sighed in frustration as he got back close to her and looked her right in the eyes. “Hermione, you have no idea what I want to do to you right now, if we’re not careful, we could end up doing something we both aren’t ready for,” he explained as calmly as he could, “Is that what you want?”

    Hermione bit her lip and shook her head. “No,” she whispered, looking around at where they were, “Um, why don’t we go back downstairs?”

    Draco chuckled when he noticed her eyes dart toward the bed. “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

    The two headed back down the stairs, Hermione going directly to her pile of books, while Draco sat down at his desk and attempted to do some homework. His mind, however, was far from his school work. He was picturing what Hermione would look like sprawled out on his bed… Draco, stop it, he scolded himself, you shouldn’t be thinking like that yet!

 

 




 

 

The next morning…

 

    It was beautiful outside. The sunlight was streaming through the stained glass windows, casting colored shadows along the floors and walls. Hermione laughed as she exited the portrait hole of Head’s Tower and looked behind her. Draco stepped out after her, laughing as well as he slid his hand into hers. She looked up at him and smiled tenderly when he kissed her forehead. It was a sweet moment and she expanded on it by rubbing his arm with her free hand and resting her head against him as they walked.

    As they rounded the corner, Astoria stepped out from behind a nearby pillar. She glared in the direction they had gone and folded her arms. It made her sick to see them together. It made her sick to see that beautiful, sparkling, perfect ring on Hermione’s boney finger. She wanted to walk up to that twiggy little know-it-all and rip the ring right off her hand. It would look so good on her own.

    She huffed and ran a slim hand through her hair. A group of Hufflepuffs walked by, chatting about something, or other; she wasn’t paying attention. The only thing she was concerned about was getting Draco away from Miss Goody-Goody. But he’s stubborn, she thought. He won’t do anything unless he wants to…

    A sudden thought came to her. It was a last resort and she wasn’t certain that it would work, but she had to try something. She was getting tired of being pushed away from the one person she had ever actually had feelings for and she needed to do something about it.

    She adjusted her bag on her shoulder and headed to class. When she got there and took her seat, she immediately took out her quill and some parchment. She thought for a moment and then began penning the best letter she had ever written.

    If she was going to get her way in this, everything needed to be worded just right. She couldn’t have him declining her proposal right away. She needed him to give it some serious thought before agreeing, or disagreeing.

    She spent the whole lesson working on her letter, not caring about what was being taught. When the lesson was over, she quickly packed her things. She then rushed to the owlery and sent her letter off, hoping for a response. If she didn’t get one, she would know her answer, and she would have to figure out something else.

 

 




 

 

Later that night…

 

    Hermione sat bolt upright with her hand clutching at her chest. Her breathing was ragged as her eyes darted around. After a few seconds, she realized that she was in her bedroom, completely safe. She couldn’t even remember what had caused her to wake so terrified. Was it a vision, or just a nightmare? She took several calming breaths and ran her hands over her forehead.

    She closed her eyes and continued breathing deeply. Now that she was more calm, she realized that there was no pain behind her eyes. Knowing that, and considering she couldn’t remember anything once she woke up, she was convinced that whatever had woken her wasn’t a vision. Well, I’ll take a nightmare over a vision any day of the week, she thought.

    With slightly shaking hands, she pushed the covers back and padded over to the bathroom. She took a long drink of water and splashed some on her face. As she ran a towel over her neck, she looked at herself in the mirror.

    To say that she looked rough would be an understatement. She looked more like a zombie. Her eyes had dark circles under them, her hair and skin were looking dull, and she could see that she looked thinner than she had at the start of term. Draco had been right when he had told her that she was spreading herself too thin.

    It was a fault all her own. She had never been able to just leave a problem unsolved but it seemed that’s exactly what she was going to have to do for the time being. At least until the wedding is out of the way, she thought.

    She looked down at her left hand and ran her thumb along the bottom of her ring. The corner of her mouth tilted up ever so slightly as she stared at the sparkling jewel set into the snake’s mouth. Of all the people in the world, she never would have guessed that she would be marrying Draco Malfoy.

    Of course, she had never guessed that she was a Zabini either.

    With a sigh, she put the towel down and walked out of the bathroom. She looked at her bed and realized that she knew she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. She picked up a couple of the books she had been looking through and headed down the stairs to the common room. It had been hours since she had last been down there, but she was certain that the fire would still be blazing.

    The fire was roaring, as Hermione had been expecting, which would make for a cozy study environment. What she hadn’t expected, was to find Draco lying on one of the sofas, sound asleep, with a book lying open on his chest. And he talks about me studying all the time, she thought, shaking her head.

    She walked over to him and carefully moved his hand. Keeping an eye on him to make sure she didn’t wake him, she picked up the book on his chest. It was one of the books that had been in the various stacks she’d been looking through, but she hadn’t gotten a chance to go through the stack this particular book had been in. She smiled softly and quietly set the book on the end table behind his head. She then placed the blanket draped over the back of the couch on top of him, gently tucking it around him.

    As she tucked the blanket, she felt something wedged between him and the back of the couch. She gripped it and tugged. Her brow furrowed when she recognized her notebook. She flipped it to where it was right side up and looked at the writing. She had assumed he had just been going over the notes she had written, but it wasn’t her writing on the page; it was Draco’s.

    She was a little astonished to see the care and attention to detail he had taken when writing these notes. It was obvious just how much he cared for her and Blaise. She picked up the book he’d been reading and thought it might be a good idea to go over what he’d read and see if she could make any more sense of it than he had. Not that his notes really needed to be made sense of; he had been very thorough.

    It was then, upon closer inspection, that she noticed that he had even made notes of her notes. Little connections between what he had read, and what she had already made notations on. It was clear that he hadn’t understood the connections he’d made, but they were there all the same.

    Draco shifted onto his side and sighed deeply with sleep. She smiled at how peaceful he looked. Gone was the usual scowl he wore daily. He was relaxed and unburdened. It was the first time Hermione had really seen him as the seventeen year old he was. Oh sure, she had witnessed him enjoying himself but there was always something that seemed to hold him back from really letting go. It was in his eyes.

    Hermione had noticed it several times; the far off look that spoke volumes if one cared to actually pay attention. She had sensed a long time ago that he wasn’t accustomed to freely showing his emotions, but until she had actually witnessed him with his father in a more personal setting that she saw just how much damage his father had done to him emotionally.

    She picked up a cushion from the chair in the corner and placed it on the floor so that she could be close to him. A piece of hair fell across his forehead. Her fingers flexed, itching to touch, and she chewed on the inside of her cheek as she silently debated on whether or not to brush the hair away. The side of her curious about the texture of the white-blond strands won out.

    Stretching her arm out, she gently smoothed the hair away from his forehead. She allowed her fingers to linger in his hair a little longer than she had planned, feeling the soft silkiness of it. Draco sighed deeply and stretched his head slightly, pushing into her hand.

    Hermione smiled tenderly and moved her hand to his cheek, stroking his skin soothingly. He relaxed again, reaching for her hand and tucking it to his chest. For a moment, Hermione thought he had woken up, but his breathing was slow and deep with sleep. Well, it looks like I’ll be studying one handed, she thought after trying to remove her hand from his grasp. She then opened the book and began reading.

    Several hours later, Draco woke from the most restful sleep he’d had in weeks to find Hermione’s head resting on the couch near his chest. He stretched and looked around, confused as to why she would be in his bedroom but he quickly realized that he wasn’t in his room. He gazed down at his chest when he felt a small movement and noticed her tiny hand tucked comfortably in his.

    This shocked him somewhat because he had never pictured himself to be one to do things like that. Even on nights when Astoria had shared his bed with him, he had never unconsciously searched her out. Well this is certainly a new development, he thought as he rubbed his thumb across her knuckles.

    She shifted a little but showed no sign of waking. This gave Draco the perfect opportunity to look her over.

    He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t seen her with stress and worry etched into her expressions. She looked so peaceful and so… beautiful. With his free hand, he cupped her cheek and ran his thumb under her eye.

    Hermione breathed in deeply and lifted her head sleepily. “Good morning,” Draco said softly.

    She looked at him and her eyes widened. “I… um… when did I fall asleep?” she stammered.

    “I don’t know, but you must have been tired because you never fall asleep anywhere other than a bed,” he replied, letting go of her hand and sitting up.

    Her cheeks pinkened as she stood up and stretched her stiff body. Draco’s eyes roamed over her slight frame for a moment before he, too, stood. “I was surprised to find you down here when I came down last night,” Hermione said.

    The thunk of a book hitting the floor broke the silence that was filling the room and Draco stooped down to pick it up. “I see you’ve picked up where I left off last night.”

    Hermione rubbed her face to get rid of the remaining tiredness and smiled sweetly at him. “Yes, well, I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep for a while so I just thought…” she began, “Um… did you have any luck? With anything you might not have written down yet, maybe?”

    “I’m sure you could tell by my notes that I was kind of at a loss, so… not so much,” he replied, shaking his head, “What did you come down for? You’d already gone to bed.”

    Hermione picked up her books and took them over to her desk. She chewed on her lip as she set the books down and turned to face him. “Something woke me up.”

    “What was it?”

    She shrugged and shook her head. “I can’t remember. I woke with a fright though so I came down to get some more studying done and found my notebook with your notes scribbled in it.”

    Draco smiled slightly. It was so typical of her to turn to books whenever she didn’t understand something, or was uncertain of things. “Well, it’s Saturday, what should we do?”

    Hermione ran her hand through her hair. “Well, first thing I’m going to do is go freshen up, and then I’m going down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Would you like to join me?”

    “For the freshening up, or breakfast?”

    The suggestive smirk on his face was all she needed to flush with embarrassment. She picked up the pillow that was in her desk chair and threw it at him as he began laughing. “You are just… You little… Ugh! Go fall off a hippogriff!”

    Draco laughed louder as she stomped up the stairs and slammed her dormitory door.

 

 




 

 

    Owls flew overhead as the students of Hogwarts ate their breakfast, dropping off packages and letters to their respective owners. Draco’s brow furrowed when an envelope with his father’s writing on it landed next to his plate. His father didn’t often write to him. Actually, he couldn’t recall there ever being a time when his father had written to him. It had always been his mother.

    Curious, he put down his fork and opened the letter. With each word he read, confusion and curiosity filled his mind. There was something off about this letter and the so-called reason it had been written.

    He quickly re-read the letter and shook his head, crumpling the parchment and shoving it into his pocket roughly. “What was that all about?” Blaise asked as Draco went back to his breakfast.

    Draco shrugged as he chewed. “My father wants me home for the Christmas holiday,” he said after he swallowed.

    “Well, that’s not unusual,” Blaise replied, “You almost always go home for Christmas.”

    “Yes, but this is different because my father wants me to join him at the Goyle’s for dinner.”

    Concern crossed Blaise’s features as he took a drink of pumpkin juice. Both he and Draco had been somewhat estranged from Goyle since Blaise’s and Hermione’s birthday party. It worried him because he knew that Goyle’s father was a Death Eater, like Draco’s father and his own. With what he knew about why Hermione had been sent to live with the Grangers, this dinner Lucius wanted Draco to attend sounded suspicious.

    Draco knew what Blaise was thinking, because he was thinking it himself. His father was planning something and he wanted to involve him. “There’s only one way to figure out exactly what my father wants.”

    Blaise nodded. “You have to go to that dinner.”

    “I have to go to that dinner,” Draco agreed.

    “There’s something else bothering you,” Blaise stated.

    Draco chewed a bite of toast as he nodded distractedly. A moment later, he shook his head and came out of his thoughts. “I’m sorry, what?”

    “Man, your head is really somewhere else lately,” Blaise said with a light chuckle, “What’s got you so distracted? Wait, don’t tell me! It’s got to be Hermione.”

    “It is, but it’s not what you’re thinking.”

    The seriousness of his tone, and the look on his face told Blaise that he was really worried about something and that it wasn’t to be taken lightly. “Are you done with you food?”

    Draco’s brow furrowed questioningly as he nodded. Blaise wiped his mouth and stood up. “Come on; let’s get out of here.”

    The two of them left the Great Hall, aimlessly walking through the corridors until Draco suggested going to his dormitory. “Hermione’s eating breakfast so she won’t be there.”

    “Good idea,” Blaise agreed.

    It was just a few minutes later that the two boys were sitting in the common room of the Head Boy and Girl. “all right, Draco, other than your father, what’s got you worried?”

    Without hesitation, Draco told him about what Hermione had told him that morning. “What she doesn’t know, is that she’s been talking in her sleep… Screaming actually. Sometimes she wakes up, but most of the time she doesn’t,” he said, “Blaise, I’m worried about her; these visions of hers are getting worse and there’s nothing I can do to help her.”

    Blaise leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbows on his knees. “Are you sure it’s the visions causing her to scream like that?”

    He ran his hands over his face and sighed heavily. “Honestly, I don’t know, but it sounds a hell of a lot like what she described you went through before term started,” he replied, “How are you doing? Have you been having any visions lately?”

    He was silent for several moments. “I don’t know. Well, I know I haven’t had any while I’ve been awake; we both know what happened the last time that happened.”

    Draco leaned back and sighed, running his hand over the back of his head. “Yeah; that wasn’t fun, for any of us.”

    “Huh, try being the one it happened to,” Blaise retorted, not unkindly.

    “Yeah. So what about while you’re sleeping? Any visions then?”

    Blaise shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of,” he answered, “Dumbledore’s got me under orders to take a Dreamless Sleep Draught every night.”

    Draco nodded in understanding. “Which means you wouldn’t know if you were having a vision,” he said, closing his eyes and pinching the area of his nose between them.

    When he finally looked back at Blaise, he could see the confusion written all over his face. “Dreamless Sleep shuts down the part of the brain that causes us to dream, that much is self explanatory,” he explained, “but it doesn’t completely shut down the subconscious. Our subconscious is too powerful to be shut down totally. You could still be having visions even with the Dreamless Sleep. At least, I think you could.”

    Blaise shook his head in amazement. “How do you know all of this?”

    Draco reached over to a pile of books and picked up the one that was on top. It was his Potions book. He handed it to Blaise as he said, “It’s my best subject.”

    Blaise quietly flipped through a few pages before tossing it aside. “Draco, what do you think is happening to Hermione and me?” he questioned softly.

    Draco rubbed the back of his neck and shook his head. “I don’t know, mate,” he said, “but whatever it is, we’re going to beat it.”

    He wasn’t so sure. “You can’t know that.”

    “Sure I can!” Draco stated, “Hermione’s the smartest witch I know. She’s so smart there were hardly any brains left for you!”

    Blaise chuckled a little at his playful jibe. “Besides, we’ve got Dumbledore,” Draco continued, “and nothing gets by him.”

    “Yeah, you’re right,” Blaise agreed after several moments.

    Draco could see that his best friend was really struggling with this new power. The stress was written all over his face. Blaise needed a distraction and he needed one fast. “How are wedding plans going for you?”

    “Beatrice is having the time of her life,” Blaise told him, “She and my mum have been sending owls to each other everyday, I think, with ideas. Then there’s the owls from her mum. I’ve never seen so many letters in my life!”

    “Aren’t you helping at all with the planning?” Draco questioned with a laugh.

    Blaise grinned as he shook his head. “Nope. I told Beatrice that I don’t care where or how we get married, I just want to show up.”

    Draco let out a low whistle. “I think if I did that, Hermione would flay me!”

    “You mean; you’re helping plan?”

    “It’s not just her wedding, you know. I have to be there, too, and I don’t want to be wearing some silly frock or something like that,” Draco explained, “You know how I am; I like having a say in the things I do and since I’m going to be spending the rest of my life with Hermione, I want our wedding to be special. Besides, it’s better if I don’t cause her more stress than necessary.”

    “Maybe I should help Beatrice, huh?”

    “You’d be surprised at how much the smallest thing, like giving an opinion on a color of flower, can help her.”

    “You should listen to him, Blaise, he knows what he’s talking about.”

    The two boys turned at the sound of her voice to see Hermione coming toward them, her arms filled with books. “Well, it’s not my good looks that got me Head Boy,” Draco said as he and Blaise stood and relieved her of her burdens, “What’s all this?”

    “Seriously! Did you clean out the entire school library?” Blaise teased, “What do you need all these books for?”

    Hermione set her school bag down and began pulling more books from within. “Well, some of them are to help me with Professor McGonagall’s essay, some I thought might be useful in figuring out this vision thing you and I have going on, Blaise, and these,” she plopped a stack of what looked like magazines on her desk, “were sent to me by our mothers this morning.”

    Draco’s eyes widened slightly. “Wedding catalogues?”

    “Mmm,” Hermione said with a nod, “I spent so long looking through them I didn’t get any school work done. Madame Pince was a little short with me when I told her I wanted to check all these books out.”

    “Well, we all know how that woman feels about books,” Blaise joked.

    Hermione and Draco laughed. Hermione checked her watch and nearly jumped. “Heavens, we’re going to be late for Professor Snape!”

    The three quickly grabbed their things and rushed out of the Head’s common room. They made it to Defense Against the Dark Arts just ahead of Professor Snape. He gave them a disapproving look, but said nothing.

    He waved his wand and instructions appeared on the chalkboard at the front of the classroom. “Please take out your completed essays and your text books,” he said in his usual brisk manner as he flicked his wand again. Rolls of parchment flew through the air and landed neatly on his desk, “Today we will be discussing the benefits of Occlumency.”

    His black robes swept across the floor as he turned and faced the class. “Who can tell me…?”

    Hermione’s hand shot up.

    “Miss Zabini, kindly allow me to finish the question before raising your hand.”

    The class sniggered softly and Hermione went pink as she put her hand down. Harry nudged her elbow gently and gave her a small smile as Snape continued. “Who can tell me what Occlumency is?”

    Everyone looked at Hermione, but to their surprise, she remained silent.

 

 




 

 

    The floor in front of the fireplace in Head’s Tower was a mess. Books, papers, and magazines were scattered everywhere and Hermione was was the tornado that had caused the damage. She had been going through the various things that either her mother, or Narcissa Malfoy had been sending her. Suggestions about wedding dresses, locations, and anything else they could think of that had to do with planning a wedding. There was also a plate of uneaten ham and cheese sandwiches that she had brought up for lunch instead of eating in the Great Hall.

    There was a knock that sounded off like a cannon, startling Hermione so badly that she nearly jumped out of her skin. She got up and went to the portrait hole, throwing it open and smiling when she saw Ginny and Luna standing in the corridor. “Thank Merlin you’re here!” Ginny said with exasperation, “Please save me from the tedium of this day! What are you looking at?”

    Hermione giggled as she lifted the bridal magazine she had been looking through, and still had in her hand. Ginny grinned as she took the magazine from her and looked at the open page. “You’re really getting into this, aren’t you?” she asked as Hermione let them in.

    “I think so,” Hermione agreed, “It’s certainly a welcome distraction from the more serious of my problems.”

    “The visions?” Ginny whispered.

    She nodded as the three of them sat down. “I’ve been searching and searching and while I’ve found out some very interesting facts, I’ve found nothing even remotely similar to my situation with Blaise.”

    Ginny gave her an understanding look and squeezed her hand. “We’ll find something,” she consoled, “it’s just going to take time. I can’t imagine something like this is too common.”

    Of course, Hermione knew Ginny was right. It just didn’t sit well with her that this mystery was no closer to being solved than it had been at the beginning of term. “I just know there’s something I’m missing,” she said.

    “Honestly, Hermione, even someone as brilliant as you can’t be expected to solve everything.”

    “I know, but…”

    Ginny shook her head and took a bite of the ham and cheese sandwich Hermione offered. Luna took a sandwich as well. “No ‘buts’. You expect too much of yourself. Why don’t you focus on something else for a while, give your mind a break and come back to your personal mystery later with fresh eyes.”

    Hermione sighed and chewed on a pickle. “I do need to get some wedding plans taken care of,” she said thoughtfully, “And, of course, I’ve got loads of school work to do.”

    “Naturally,” Ginny commented with a grin.

    “How would you like to help me narrow down some of the suggestions in these wedding magazines?”

    “I’d love to!”

    “Can I help, too?”

    Hermione and Ginny smiled at Luna. “Of course! I’ve got plenty to go around.”

    Luna pulled a small stack toward her and began flipping through the magazine on top. “Have you decided on anything else for your wedding?” she asked.

    “You mean like location and such?” Hermione inquired.

    Luna nodded. “Not so much,” Hermione replied, “You know I’ve asked you both to be in the wedding, so that part is taken care of. I’ve got to ask a few more girls to be part of the wedding party in order to match Draco’s side, but that won’t be too difficult. Draco’s going to make my tiara, but other than that, I have nothing.”

    “No dress ideas, or what kind of wedding you want?” Ginny questioned.

    Hermione laughed. “Considering who our families are, there’s no way I could get away with having a small, simple wedding. I doubt our mothers would allow it.”

    Ginny huffed a little. “Well, it’s your wedding. Yours and Draco’s. Don’t let someone else dictate what that’s going to be. Make your own decisions,” she said.

    She chewed on her bottom lip and twirled her engagement ring around her finger. “I know, I know, and I agree with you.”

    Ginny arched her brow. “But?”

    Hermione sighed. “But there’s a part of me that feels like I owe it to my mother to have whatever kind of wedding she sees for me.”

    “Why?”

    “Because she missed out on seventeen years of my life. Because I’ve missed out on seventeen years of being raise by my biological parents. I mean; I know it was all for a very good reason, and if certain things hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been raised by the most amazing parents ever, but I can’t help feeling like a part of me was jipped out of the life I was supposed to have. Does that make sense?”

    Ginny took Hermione’s hand and squeezed it comfortingly. “Yes; perfect sense. Ahem, so how have things been going with Professor Firenze? Are you making any progress with controlling your visions?”

    “Some,” she admitted, “It’s been a slow process but Professor Firenze says I’m doing much better and that I’m ready to dive further into his lessons.”

    “And what about Blaise? Has he had any more visions?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No, but I know he’s worried about them,” she said, “I’ve been trying to convince him to see Professor Firenze with me, but he’s shunning the idea for the time being.”

    “Why?”

    “He’s worried about someone getting into his head, which is ironic considering he and I are able to do that very thing,” she answered, “In a manner of speaking.”

    “Ooh, this one is lovely!” Luna cooed, leaning over and showing Hermione.

    Hermione smiled. “It is lovely, but I’m not sure it’s me,” she said kindly.

    Luna shrugged and went back to looking through the magazine. “So, are you going to keep trying, or are you going to let it go?” Ginny asked.

    She smiled and grabbed a stack of bridal magazines. “Have you ever known me to give up?”

    After a couple of hours, Hermione told the girls that she needed to be going. She had a lesson with Professor Firenze and she didn’t want to be late. As she was on her way, she ran into Blaise. “Hey, where are you headed?” she asked.

    He grimaced. “I have a detention with McGonagall,” he replied.

    She frowned. “What did you do?”

    He had sense enough to look ashamed. “I got a little over zealous during her lesson today and ended up breaking a window.”

    Hermione gasped. “Blaise!”

    “It’s not completely my fault!” he exclaimed, lowering his voice to make sure no random passersby could hear him, “I felt like a vision was coming and I sort of seized up and couldn’t control what I was doing.”

    She looked worried. “Blaise, you could’ve hurt someone,” she said, not unkindly, “Did you explain what happened to Professor McGonagall?”

    He ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. “I’m not sure who on the staff knows about our visions, and no one other than your friends and Draco know about them, so I couldn’t just come out and say, ‘I’m sorry, I think I was having a vision, sorry about the window.’ Everyone would think I’m as crazy as they’ve always thought Potter was.”

    Hermione thought for a moment. “Well, no, I don’t suppose you could have, but, Blaise, you have to do something,” she pressed gently, “If your visions cause you to seize when you’re awake, you could end up hurting yourself, or someone else. Blaise, please, I don’t want to see you lying in the hospital again.”

    Blaise sighed. “All right, you’re right. I’d better go before McGonagall gives me another detention for being late, but tell me when your next lesson with Professor Firenze is and I’ll go with you, if he’s not opposed to it.”

    She hugged him. “I’ll talk to him,” she said, “I’m on my way to see him now.”

    “All right, well, good luck and I’ll see you later.”

    Blaise rushed off and Hermione continued on her way to Professor Firenze’s classroom. He greeted her warmly and the two sat by their tree. “I must say, Hermione, you have come a long way in such a short amount of time,” he praised, “Have you had any visions?”

    “No, sir, not in a while.”

    “Excellent,” the professor said, “Now, we’ve covered clearing your mind, and you have done exceptionally well at that, so tonight we’re going to work on opening your mind.”

    Hermione nodded and listened intently. “You should know that what we are about to do is quite dangerous and carries much risk. Opening one’s mind, especially one whose mind is so attuned to the unknown, must be done delicately, especially considering the mind is so powerful,” Firenze explained, “Of course, you know this because you have a very knowledgeable mind.”

    She blushed slightly at the compliment. Professor Firenze gestured to his cupboard of herbs and potions. “Would you be so kind as to gather these ingredients?” he questioned, handing her a small piece of parchment with four ingredients listed on it.

    “Yes, of course,” she replied, taking the list and going to the cupboard.

    “Tell me, Hermione, what do you know of your connection with your brother?”

    “Not much, as of yet, I’m afraid,” she confessed, “But I do know that it’s much stronger when we touch.”

    She brought the ingredients back to where they were sitting and carefully set them on the grass. Firenze looked the ingredients over and nodded. “Very good. Tell me more.”

    “Well, when Blaise was in the hospital wing, he was lying there for days and I couldn’t sense him,” she began, “Then one day he suddenly sat up and I grabbed hold of his arm. There was this immense energy that went through me and then it was like I was seeing what he was seeing, but different.”

    “Explain.”

    Hermione took a breath to collect her thoughts. “I could see what was happening as though I was third party. I could interact, and touch, but Blaise said he couldn’t see much of anything. How is that possible?”

    Professor Firenze smiled as he mixed the ingredients into a paste not unlike porridge. “I cannot be certain, but the way you have described your visions, it seems as though you project yourself in such a way that allows you either to simply see things, or to take physical form. Blaise, on the other hand seems to project himself into another form. Of course, without seeing him I cannot say this for sure.”

    Her brow furrowed as she grasped what he was telling her. “So, you’re saying that when we’re having a vision, it’s not really a vision, but a form of astral projection?”

    “Not exactly,” the centaur replied, “If you recall, I once told you that astral projection isn’t something the unconscious mind can do. There is no question, however, that what you and Blaise share is an extraordinary gift, and very powerful. Very rare, too, at least from what I’ve been able to discern from the stars. Tell me, have you convinced your brother to come see me?”

    At this, Hermione smiled. “He told me to let him know when our next lesson is and that he would come.”

    “Wonderful! Well then, I look forward to seeing him,” he stated, “Now, this paste will be a chore to eat, but I’m afraid you must eat it all. Eat it slowly, in small portions.”

    “What will it do?” Hermione questioned, sniffing at the paste and grimacing.

    “It will lower your inhibitions.”

    Hermione furrowed her brow. “I’m not so sure about this.”

    “Hermione, these things I am teaching you will only work if you trust me. I know there are risks with everything I show you, but the risk becomes greater without trust.”

    “I do trust you, Professor, I’m just a little worried about not having control.”

    He smiled kindly. “Dear girl, this is not about losing control, it is about finding it.”

    Hermione took a deep breath and hesitantly spooned some of the paste into her mouth. She had barely swallowed the foul tasting paste before she began gagging. “You were right about that stuff not tasting pleasant,” she commented, grimacing and shaking her head, “I really have to eat all of that?”

    Firenze gave a soft chuckle. “I’m afraid so,” he replied.

    Her expression changed to one of determination. “Well, bon appetite to me then,” she said as she ate another spoonful.

    It took her a while, but she was finally able to finish the paste. She felt sick, but not to the point of throwing up, which she really wanted to do, in all honesty. “Good,” Professor Firenze said, “Now, how are you feeling? Can you describe it?”

    She blinked and shook her head as though trying to come out of a daze. “Don’t fight the feeling, Hermione,” Firenze told her, “You need to embrace it. Breathe.”

    Hermione obeyed and allowed the feeling of nothingness to slip over her. “Listen to my voice,” the centaur commanded gently, “It’s getting further and further away, but you can still hear it. Can you hear my words?”

    He sounded far off, like he was at the opposite end of a tunnel from her, but she could still hear him. “Like an echo,” she breathed.

    “Excellent, now use your mind to get closer. Open yourself up to it.”

    “How?”

    “You already know how, Hermione, you just need to wake up to it!”

    Hermione furrowed her brow and scrunched her nose. Firenze continued speaking and she tried bringing herself closer to his voice, but she was met with little success. It frustrated her to the point where she forced out a scream. Firenze took her hands in his and squeezed. “Hermione, relax… breathe. You’re not going to get anywhere if you let your power control you! You need to control it!”

    He helped her relax and had her try again. “That was a very good first attempt, but I think perhaps I have steered you wrong. Well, maybe not completely. Let us try a different approach,” he said, “Your connection with your brother is a strong one, yes?”

    She was still loopy from the paste, but she was able to nod. “Very good, then let’s try that. I want you to try reaching out to him.”

    “He’s in detention with Professor McGonagall,” she replied groggily.

    “Well, if anything happens, I will speak with her so as not to get him into further trouble. Come now… open your mind and reach out for your brother.”

    Hermione cricked her neck and shook out her hands the way she would before attempting a difficult spell. She then breathed deep. Blaise, she thought, Blaise, can you hear me?

    At first, nothing happened, but she tried again. Blaise… can you hear me?

    She cocked her head and listened. She could hear a scratching noise, like quill on parchment. It was quiet, but slowly getting a little louder. Her head ached slightly but it was bearable. Things were fuzzy, but she was beginning to see shapes and colors.

    Desks. Chairs. It was a classroom. Professor McGonagall’s classroom to be exact. Everything became clearer and she looked around. The scratching she heard was definitely a quill scraping against parchment. She figured that out when she saw Blaise sitting at a desk nearby, writing lines. Blaise?

    He nearly jumped out of his seat. “Whoa!” he said.

    Professor McGonagall looked up from the stack of papers she was grading. “Mister Zabini, kindly continue your lines quietly,” she told him.

    “Yes, Professor. Sorry.”

    He lowered his head back to his parchment and thought, Hermione?

    She smiled. Yes! I’m sorry for startling you.

    Professor Firenze squeezed her hand. “You’re smiling. Have you reached him?”

    Like an elastic, she was snapped back to his classroom. She blinked and found that she was no longer groggy. “I… I saw Blaise! I spoke to him!”

    “Well done, Hermione! That is some impressive progress,” Firenze said, “How do you feel?”

    “Tired,” she replied with a soft chuckle.

    “Yes, I imagine you do. Let us pick this up on Friday night.”

    Hermione gathered her things and smiled at him. “Thank you, Professor. Good night.”

 

 




 

 

Late that night… Malfoy Manor...

 

    There was a knock on his study door. He didn’t bother looking up from the letters he was going through as he called, “Enter.”

    The door opened and the familiar sound of his wife’s heels clacking on the marble floor caused him to look up. “We’ve just had an owl,” she told him, putting the letter down on his desk with angry force, “Can you explain this?”

    He opened the letter and read it. “I cannot.”

    Narcissa sighed and fixed her husband with a glare of exasperation. “I’ve read the letter, Lucius, I know what she’s asking,” she said, “What I don’t know, however, is whether you’re going to decide to help her.”

    Lucius rubbed his face tiredly. “Narcissa, what can I do? There is so much that you don’t know.”

    She looked at her husband silently for a while. She could see that something was weighing on him but she knew better than to ask him any questions about it. Asking Lucius questions always led to arguments and as tired as she was, she really wasn’t looking for one of those right now. “Lucius, I’m begging you, please, don’t do anything to ruin Draco’s engagement.”

    “I’m the one that made the agreement with Pietro, why would I want to risk ruining it?” he questioned.

    Narcissa sat in one of the arm chairs across from him. She leaned forward slightly, her expression pleading. “He’s happy, Lucius. He’s happier than I’ve ever seen him and it’s because of Hermione,” she said, “Marjorie and I have been talking and we both feel that this marriage will be the best thing for both our families, but especially for Draco and Hermione.”

    Lucius sighed. “I’m not against Draco marrying the girl,” he said, “but you can’t disagree that there are some things, some… underlying issues.”

    “Oh, Lucius, not this again!” she said with annoyance.

    “Narcissa, they sent her to be raised by Muggles. How can you not have an issue with that?”

    “Lucius, the girl was sick and it was their only choice,” Narcissa argued, “You can’t blame them for wanting the best for their daughter; it’s all we’ve ever wanted for Draco.”

    “I can understand that, and I don’t fault them for wanting what’s best for her, but why wait so long to bring her home?”

    “Pietro has explained all of this to you, Lucius. You believed him then, why are you questioning him now?”

    Lucius let out a heavy sigh and stood, walking around his desk to sit in the arm chair next to her. He took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Darling, there is so much that I wish I could tell you, but…”

    She nodded in understanding. “The Dark Lord won’t allow it,” she finished for him.

    She stood up and pulled her hand from his. “Well let me tell you what I won’t allow, Lucius,” she told him, “I won’t allow you to ruin Draco’s happiness. He wants to marry Hermione and she wants to marry him. I know this is merely about family duty, obligation, and nobility with you, but for Draco… For Draco it’s about love.”

    “What are you saying, Narcissa?”

    “I’m saying that you’ve pushed Draco to do your bidding since he was a child, and he has; he’s done everything you’ve asked of him. He would probably marry Hermione just to fulfill family duty if that’s what you wanted, but we agreed to let him and Hermione decide whether, or not, to get married, and now they’ve chosen,” she explained, “I may not agree with how Hermione was raised, but she’s a brilliant young woman and she loves our son. So, I’m telling you that I don’t care what The Dark Lord says or thinks about this. If I have to I will face him down myself if it means my son gets to marry the girl he loves.”


Chapter 24: Chapter Twenty-Four
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Two days later...

 

    He wanted to pull his hair out. Slytherin was playing Ravenclaw in a week and they were playing like they’d be facing Hufflepuff. Draco blew his whistle and called for the team to land. “This just won’t do,” he said when the team was gathered around him; “We can’t face Ravenclaw playing like this!”

    Crabbe and Goyle scowled. “Maybe if you weren’t so focused on that Mudblood you’d be a better captain,” Goyle retorted.

    Blaise whipped out his wand. “Say one more word about my sister, Goyle; I dare you!”

    Goyle took a step toward him but Draco got between the two before anything could happen. “Will you all just stop?!” he bellowed, pushing the two apart.

    “You heard what he said about Hermione!” Blaise argued.

    “Blaise, enough!” Draco commanded. He then turned his attention to Goyle. “My lack of captaining has tied us for the lead with Gryffindor, and it’s the lack of your trust in me as captain that’s going to lose us the Cup this year, not my choices. But by all means; If you think my being captain of this team is being affected by my relationship with Hermione, then you’re free to leave.”

    Goyle threw down his Beater’s club and removed his Quidditch robes. “You’re forgetting who your friends are, Malfoy,” he said before turning and stalking off.

    Draco looked around at the rest of his teammates. “Anyone else?”

    Crabbe quickly followed Goyle’s lead and threw in his Quidditch gear. He was then followed by Adrien Pucey. “Gits,” muttered Blaise.

    Looking at the remaining members of the Slytherin team, Draco cleared his throat. “All right, let me make something perfectly clear,” he began, “I don’t care that Hermione was raised by Muggles, I don’t even care that she’s a Gryffindor. What I do care about is that she’s my fiancée, and Blaise’s sister. If you can’t get on board with those two things, then get off my pitch!”

    Theodore Nott sighed heavily. “I don’t want to quit the team, Draco, but you’ve got to admit that you’ve been different ever since Granger became a Zabini,” he stated, “You spend all of your time with her and you act like she’s not the same Muggle lover she’s always been.”

    “She was never a Granger,” Blaise argued, “Not really. For Merlin’s sake, you lot, she’s my TWIN!”

    Draco wanted to punch the lot of them. However, he realized that he couldn’t exactly hold their feelings against them. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that he had begun thinking differently about Hermione, and they had had less time to deal with their relationship than he had. “Listen, if you still want to play, then leave your thoughts about Hermione and me out of the Quidditch pitch and play the game, all right?”

    The team nodded.

    “All right, I’m calling practice for tonight. We can’t very well finish without Beaters and a Chaser.”

    While Blaise and Draco gathered up the discarded uniforms, Nott and their third Chaser headed for the locker room. Blaise was still fuming, muttering insults under his breath. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?” Draco joked, attempting to put him in a better mood.

    “I don’t know how you can be so calm about the things they were saying.”

    “In all the years you’ve known me, you think this is calm?”

    “I don’t know, mate; it’s hard to tell with you sometimes.”

    “Believe me, I’m just as angry as you, but I’m beginning to learn that I can’t expect everyone to be supportive. Before your birthday, we all believed Hermione to be someone else and then suddenly she’s your twin sister. That’s not an easy thing to adjust to, Blaise.”

    Blaise huffed and clenched his fists. “It was easy enough for you,” he argued, “and you&r