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Chapter 8: Underneath the Portrait The rug on the floor provided very little padding for her back; but Hermione did not care. She had long forgotten the aching in her shoulder blades. She opened her eyes and looked up at the window above her head. Never had the moon looked so luminescent, she thought. Certainly, her heightened sensitivity was allowing her to see everything more clearly. Hermione turned her head to the side and watched the dancing flames in the fireplace, which had been bewitched to change colors every couple of minutes. A moan escaped her lips, just as the fire turned an icy blue. She lifted her hands and placed them on his shoulders. Her fingers then followed the muscles along his arms. She responded wholeheartedly to every touch, as she allowed the hand underneath her to push her forward, allowing him greater access. Although his target was now the sensitive skin under her chin, Hermione’s entire body seemed to be affected by his caresses. In the corner lay their robes and shoes, which they discarded five minutes after entering the room - much sooner than during their previous encounter. But no more items of clothing would be added to that pile, as was Hermione’s insistence. Draco had not protested, nor had he attempted to take things further. Hermione closed her eyes; the felicity of his touch now consumed her. However, the beeping of her watch interrupted their session. She tried to ignore the sounds for several minutes, but eventually opened her eyes. “We have to stop.” Draco lifted his head and stared down at her. A pinkish color was now on the apples of his cheeks, and his hair was tousled. He did not say a word, but kept his hand on her cheek. His finger tickled to her lips, as it tried to wedge itself into her mouth. “I’m serious,” she said. “We really have to stop. I only have a few minutes before Filch starts patrolling Gryffindor Tower.” Draco’s finger continued on its path until she bit down on it. Draco bent down and kissed her lips, before getting to his feet. He held out his hand to her, and helped her get up from the floor. He also assisted in wiping dust from the back of her shirt and skirt. However, he concentrated solely on running his hand along her backside, until she pushed him away. “Are we going to Hogsmeade together this weekend?” Draco asked when they were both outside the locked room. Hermione hesitated for a moment before answering. “I don’t think we should risk it.” “I don’t mean walking down the street holding hands. I was just thinking we could have a meal or something. I’m sure people will think we’re just doing more research. A lot of people will probably be doing the same thing, seeing as that the Christmas holidays are in a couple of days.” Hermione did not answer immediately, and proceeded to gaze down the hall. “All right,” she eventually answered. “We could meet in front of the Three Broomsticks. Same time as the last meeting.” After a kiss goodbye, Hermione made her way back to the dorms before Filch and Mrs. Norris beat her there. And although she never turned around, she always knew that Draco was watching her walk down the hall. *********************** The room filled with the rustle of parchment, as all the students prepared to take down notes. Professor Monroe stood in front of the class with her wand poised in her hands. A pleased smile crinkled into the corner of her lips as she began to speak. “It seems as though everyone has been working very hard on their projects,” she said. “I’ve been checking the sign-in sheets in the library, and I’m just dumbfounded by your dedication. And I’ve been made aware that there has been an increase of students checking books on interviewing and ethnography.” She then turned around and flicked her wand towards the blackboard. “For those of you who will be writing your reports during the holidays, let me reiterate that I want it to be at least thirty four inches long.” Some on the Slytherin side groaned, but those sounds did not dampen her spirit. “This is supposed to be a fun experiment for all of you and I expect that many will exceed the length requirement.” Hermione stopped listening; her project was already completed. She glanced at the other side of the room. Draco turned his head her direction, as if he was stretching his neck. His eyes met hers. Instead of looking away, he held her gaze. He winked at her. Hermione lowered her head and smiled to herself. She was still smiling while making her way to dinner with Ron and Harry. They were about to enter the Great Hall, when a figure to her left caught her attention. Draco was leaning against a wall in the adjoining corridor, his eyes tense with concentration, as he looked her way. Hermione stopped walking and stared at him. Perhaps he wants a word, she thought. This prospect excited her; other than their late night rendezvous, their daily interactions were limited. She stood in the middle of the hall, causing other students to walk around her, and contemplated whether to go to him. Ron and Harry were now several feet ahead of her, when they realized she was not by their side. “The Great Hall is this way,” Harry called out. Hermione drew her gaze away from Draco and stared down at her feet. She brought her hand to her forehead and remained quiet for a moment. “I have to get back to the dorm,” she said. “I think I left my homework lying out in the common room.” “But no one’s there to copy your work,” said Ron. “Everyone’s at dinner.” “I still feel uncomfortable leaving it out like that.” Before Ron and Harry could say anything else, she snapped, “Just save me a seat, will you? I’ll be right back.” She then turned on her heels and headed up the staircase. She walked slowly and watched the two boys from the corner of her eyes. When they and the other students finally disappeared into the Great Hall, Hermione descended the stairs. Her heart beat rapidly as she made her way down the empty hallway towards Draco. A shiver of excitement ran through her body when got closer to him. However, that joy waned when he did not acknowledge her presence. She soon realized why he was preoccupied: he was talking to a dark haired girl, who had her back turned to Hermione. Hermione continued to stare at him, until Draco eventually glanced over the other girl’s shoulder and made eye contact with her. No expression creased onto Draco’s face while he held Hermione’s gaze. Draco leaned forward and whispered something into the girl’s ear. He then wrapped an arm around her shoulders and led her down the corridor, disappearing out of sight. Hermione remained in the hall long after they had left. She did not join her housemates for dinner that night. “Hermione, is this the right answer?" Ron asked later that night, as they were doing their homework. Hermione continued to look at the fireplace. Unlike previous nights, when she berated them for their incompetence, Hermione had remained quiet. After waiting for a moment, Ron glanced at Harry, who shrugged his shoulders. Seeing that Hermione was preoccupied with her thoughts, Ron’s fingers crept along the table and found their way to her Potions homework. “Is something bothering you?” asked Harry. Hermione did not respond. She brought her hand to her head and began to rub her temples. A group of students, whose teachers had been kind enough not to give them homework just days before the start of their Christmas break, was loudly playing a game of cards just a few feet away. Hermione closed her eyes; the sounds of their laughter only worsened her headache. After the throbbing in her head had finally disappeared, Hermione’s eyes snapped open. She glared at the boy now busy scribbling on his parchment. Ron stopped writing and glanced back up at her. “Who gave you permission to copy my work?” she asked. When Ron did not answer her, Hermione got to her feet and snatched her homework out of his hands. “Maybe if you paid attention in class for once, you wouldn’t need to cheat.” “I didn’t think you’d mind,” said Ron. “Well, I do mind. See, that’s your problem. You’re always trying to take the easy road—must you guys make all that noise?” she snapped at the nearby students. “A game of cards can’t possibly be that much fun.” She looked around the common room at the startled glances that were now on her. Breathing loudly, she gathered her things from the table and headed up the stairs. *********************** “Is everything still on for the twenty-fourth?” asked Blaise. He stood just behind Draco, while the other boy groomed his hair in front of the mirror. Draco turned his head to the side, so he could examine his reflection from every angle. When everything was to his liking, he finally muttered, “It’s still on.” Blaise’s eyes lit up. He turned around and motioned for Terry and the other boys, who were watching their interaction from the staircase, to join them. Crabbe and Goyle got up from their seats in the nearby table and gathered around Draco as well. “What can you tell us about it?” Blaise asked. “Is it true,” he looked around the room and lowered his voice, “that Our Lord will be presiding over the procedures?” “Father says there is a possibility He will be there,” said Draco. A smile spread on his lips as his eyes traveled to the impressed expressions growing on the other boys’ faces. “He says that—” Draco stopped talking and glanced over his shoulder at Goyle, who was loudly eating a candy bar close to his ear. Goyle was initially oblivious to his stare and continued to lick his fingers. However, once their gaze met, Goyle quickly shoved the candy and his chocolate-stained fingers into his pocket. “As I was saying,” Draco continued, “Father says it’ll occur sometime around midnight. That’s when the initial meeting will begin.” “Meeting?” said Terry. “I thought we’d get initiated.” “It’s not that simple. They first have so see if we’re capable. Obviously, not everyone can join, or else every person in the room would be involved in this conversation.” A look of superiority spread on their faces as they glanced around the room at the other students who had no knowledge of the information they knew. “And from that meeting,” Draco went on, “they will choose one or two candidates.” “Only one or two people can join?” said Blaise. He grew quiet and looked down at his feet. After a moment, he stared at Draco and muttered, “I bet you’re the one that gets chosen. Everyone knows He favors your family.” The comment sounded almost bitter and caused Draco to give him a hard stare. After he put the other boy in his place, Draco said, “All of you can stay over at the house, since the party is next day. Adrian is even coming over that night. I think he just wants to show off his Mark.” “I heard he screamed,” said Terry, “when the Lord—“ Draco placed his finger over his lips and shushed the other boy. He had seen Pansy approaching from the corner of his eyes. “Why are you guys huddled over here?” she asked. “Are you having a secret meeting?” “We were talking about my Christmas party,” Draco responded. He spoke loudly enough so that many in the room turned to look at him. Now in its fifth year, the Christmas celebration at Malfoy Manor had become legendary. The tradition began as a consolation present to Draco from his parents, who always vacationed elsewhere during the holidays. What was once a small gathering of a dozen classmates had now grown to include nearly sixty people. Lucius Malfoy was more than happy to fund the lavish party. In doing so, he was able to appease his son’s persistent complaints about being alone, and show off his wealth; there were no doubts in his mind that his constituents and fellow Death Eaters would hear about his generosity from their children. “The girls and I were talking about the same thing,” said Pansy. She glanced over her shoulder and motioned for her friends to join the conversation. When finally surrounded by her gang of Slytherin girls, she placed her arm around Draco’s shoulders and spoke in a more excited voice. “Have all the preparations been made?” Draco leaned against the wall and looked at his collective audience. The room had quieted down considerably, except for the whispers of those feigning disinterest. However, even those that were not invited leaned forward or moved their seats closer to him. “All of the food and drinks have been ordered,” Draco said. “And Father has even ordered some special entertainment for the guys.” Pansy snorted loudly and looked away. While the others loudly mused over the festivities and the events of celebrations past, Pansy curled her fingers around Draco’s collar and pulled him aside. She leaned closed to his ear and whispered, “Do you think you might want some company when the party is over? I can stay with you for a few days, if you wish.” Draco did not respond to Pansy’s inquiry. His face stayed rigid as he continued to look in the direction of Crabbe and Goyle. He chuckled when they began to talk of the drunken state they had gotten into the year before. “We had some good times last year,” Pansy said. “So, what do you think? You want company this year?” Draco only spent a moment considering the idea, before he pushed Pansy aside and grabbed his robes. “We better get going,” he said to the group of students standing to his left. Soon, those old even for the Hogsmeade excursion headed to the portrait hole, leaving the younger students to mope. Before he went to join the others, he looked over his shoulder at Pansy. “You can come to the party, if you want. But I don’t want any company beyond that. I need some peace this year.” He gave her a hard look when he saw that she was about to speak. “And as for today, I really don’t want you following me around.” *************************** Draco waited inside the Three Broomsticks and glanced down at his watch. One o’clock had come and gone fifteen minutes ago, and yet Hermione had not arrived. He took another swig of his butterbeer while his gaze remained on the people walking in front of the establishment. He perked up in his seat when Hermione walked by the window. She glanced at him for a moment, before going across the street and entering Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop. Draco waited at the door of the Broomsticks until Hermione exited the other store. Again, she passed him without uttering a word; but this time, she did not look his way. “Hermione,” he said. When she continued to walk away, he raced after her. He then spent the next several minutes walking several feet behind her. Not once did she acknowledge his presence, and spend most of her time admiring the wintry white that now covered the town. Draco smiled to himself. Her ploy was obvious enough to him. However, that amusement soon faded and he took immediate action. Draco ran next to her and roughly grabbed her arm. He pulled her into the small alleyway between two shops and pressed her against the brick wall. “What on earth do you think you’re doing?” she asked. “I’m obviously getting your attention.” He kept his hands firmly on her shoulders, not even releasing his tight hold when she attempted to push his fingers away. “Isn’t this what you wanted?” he asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, now get off me.” She squirmed under his hold, but he pressed his body against hers. “Of course this is what you wanted. Or else you wouldn’t have walked past the Three Broomsticks. You wanted to get a reaction from me and now you’ve got it.” For a moment, Hermione appeared as though she would say something. However, she looked away. “And you have some nerve not showing up. You’re lucky I waited for you. Now tell me what’s going on.” “I have nothing to say to you,” she finally uttered. A smile now crossed Draco’s lips as he pressed his body weight further on top of her. Hermione attempted to take hold of his arms and perhaps dig her nails into his skin, but he grabbed her wrists and placed then above her head. And so began another attempt to get free or hurt him. However, she could not do much, as she was now completely trapped between him and the wall. “Draco,” she shouted. But that would be the only time she would yell. Soon after his name came pouring out of her mouth, she quickly glanced to the street only a few feet away. Draco also looked in the same direction. He watched a young girl clutching several bags in her hand pass by their hiding place. However, being preoccupied with her purchases, she did not look in their direction. He glanced down at Hermione’s face, which was now pale except for the redness on the tip of her nose. He had clearly noticed the sharp intake of air she had taken at the presence of the other girl. His head lowered until his lips brushed against Hermione’s earlobe. “I wonder what your two friends would say if they saw us here.” His eyes finally met hers and he observed the expression on her face. “I can stay like this for as long as it takes for you to start talking.” Hermione remained silent as her gaze flickered from the street and then back to the smug look on Draco’s face. “You should already know why I didn’t show up today,” she said. When Draco showed no signs of comprehension, she added, “Why should I when you ignored me yesterday in the halls?” The blank stare in Draco’s eyes suddenly filled with understanding. He released Hermione’s hands and moved to the opposite wall. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about it,” said Hermione, “because you looked right at me.” “I haven’t forgotten. But that situation has nothing to do with you.” Hermione crossed her arms against her chest and stared at him. After waiting a considerable time for him to speak, she uttered, “If you have nothing to say to me, then I have nothing further for you.” Draco caught her arm before she left the alleyway. “I’m not keeping anything from you,” he said. “I just can’t talk about the girl you saw me with. But let me assure you that it was innocent.” “If it was so innocent, then you have nothing to hide?” Draco said nothing and began to stroke his chin. The silence between them was halted by the noisy appearance of a black cat, which leapt from the roof onto the top of one of the trash bins. After the animal crept underneath the pile of rubbish, they went back to looking at one another. “That girl you saw me with,” Draco began, “she’s someone I had a—“ He stopped talking and began to bang his fingers against the wall. “I was involved with her in the past.” “Why were you talking to her?” “We had some unfinished business that needed to be settled.” When Hermione continued to gaze at him with an unsatisfied expression on her face, Draco quickly added, “I’m not pursuing her, if that’s what you think.” Hermione’s arms dropped from her chest. “Where did you take her when you led her away?” “Didn’t I already tell you that everything between us was innocent? Anyway, I don’t question you about who you associate with during your free time. It’s not as if we’re—“ He stopped talking and let out a nervous laugh. Hermione did not share his sense of humor and continued to stare at him in silence. Draco broke their eye contact and gazed down the alley, hoping the black cat would reappear and put an end to their awkwardness. When he glanced back at her, Hermione had now lowered her head. Draco closed his eyes. He did not have to explain himself to her, he thought. He easily could have left her in that alleyway to search for happier company. However, he stayed put. He placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. “I didn’t bring her back to that room,” he said. “You’re the only one I’ve brought there since the beginning of the year.” Hermione’s head remained lowered for some time, causing him to wonder if she even heard him. “What did she want?” she asked in a soft voice. “She just wanted to talk.” Draco snorted loudly. “She’s always tracking me down in the halls to talk about our…” He paused. “Anyway, she became emotional halfway through our discussion. I led her away because I didn’t want her to embarrass herself in front of you.” “Was it a bad breakup?” “I didn’t think it was. But some people don’t know how to let go.” He now stood beside her against the wall. “So, now you know why I couldn’t say anything to you in the hall.” He reached down and placed his finger under Hermione’s chin, stroking it in the same fashion his lips had done the night before. “Are things all right with us?” Hermione nodded. They spent the rest of the afternoon exploring various shops in Hogsmeade. Draco, of course, maintained his distance while walking down the street with her. However, he managed to graze Hermione’s arm several times in the less crowded isles of Honeydukes. Several hours later, they found solace in a seventh floor hallway. Their usual meeting room was off limits; Filch was cleaning vomit, the result of Peeves throwing a badly decomposed rat at a Ravenclaw, in the hallway next to Draco’s room. The couple found a quiet corner underneath an empty portrait and sorted through their purchases of candy. “Why don’t you take my stuff?” said Draco, as he pushed his bag of chocolates towards Hermione. “I’m not big on sweets.” “I don’t believe that.” She opened a chocolate frog package and broke off one of its legs. “There’s no way you can possibly resist this,” she said. She lifted her hand and placed the twitching leg slowly into Draco’s mouth. “Don’t tell me that’s not pure pleasure.” Draco closed his eyes and devoured the leg. He found the chocolate to be too sweet for his liking, and was about to utter his displeasure, when Hermione’s mouth closed down on his. His hands felt their way towards her arm and wrapped around her waist. Soon, the sickening sweetness of the candy disappeared and was replaced by the delicious taste of her lips. He leaned back against the wall and allowed her to control the pace. When they pulled apart, Draco opened his eyes and watched Hermione lick her lips. “I’ve grown a whole new appreciation for chocolate,” he said. However, he continued to fill her bag with his purchases. After discarding the last of his chocolates, Draco declared, “I’m really going to miss all of the attention you’ve been giving me.” He gave Hermione a sideways glance, as he placed a hand on her knee. “Perhaps we could see one another during the break.” Hermione was in the midst of putting aside some candy for Ron and Harry, when his comment caused her to stop and glance up at him. Neither one of them spoke for a long while. However, she broke their eye contact and went back to her previous activity, only pausing to examine his face from the corner of her eyes. “Do you think we could arrange that?” she asked. “So, you’d consider it? Even after the way you acted earlier?” A chocolate frog near Draco’s leg suddenly caught Hermione’s attention, and she went to seize it. However, Draco grabbed her wrist, forcing her to answer. “Today was different,” she said. “You took me by surprise when you cornered me in that alley. But I guess I’ll have to get used to the idea of having people see us together if we’re going to—“ Hermione stopped talking and looked away. Her statement had revealed too much. From the way she now avoided his gaze, it was clear to Draco that this slip was unintentional. After sitting motionless for several minutes, he took hold of Hermione’s hand and allowed his finger to run over her knuckles. “Do you want to visit me during the break?” Hermione did not answer immediately. “I don’t think so.” She quickly added, “I’m sure your parents will be giving galas and elaborate parties at your house. And I really don’t want to take you away from your celebrations.” Although she gave him a weak smile, Draco sensed she had stronger reasons for not wanting to venture anywhere near Malfoy Manor. “You don’t have to worry about encountering my parents or anyone else. Christmas is actually a low-key affair at the manor. I usually have my Christmas dinner alone in my room.” “Why’s that?” Hermione asked. “Because I prefer not to sit in the dining room by myself. Plus, I don’t really care to hear the servants singing in their quarters. They all have such horrible voi—” “Why would you be by yourself?” “Because my parents spend their holidays elsewhere,” Draco remarked matter-of-factly. “I believe they will be going to Switzerland this year.” And they would be taking The Lord with them, Draco thought to himself. He did not dare utter these words to Hermione. When he glanced at her, she was gazing up at him with a look of disbelief on her face. “It isn’t so bad,” he added. “I like having peace and quiet. Plus, I get to run the manor. The servants always stay out of my way, so no one will disrupt us. We’ll be able to enjoy each other’s company without any intrusion.” Hermione lowered her head and remained quiet. Draco patiently waited for her to start talking. After much consideration, she finally said, “I’ll be spending Christmas day with my family, but I think I could sneak out after that.” “Why don’t you come over on the 26th then? We could have dinner.” The look on Hermione’s face showed that she was still unsure of her decision. “I can’t be there all day,” she said. “If I come over, it’ll only be for a few hours.” Draco took hold of her shoulders and turned her towards him. “I would really love to be with you, but there’s absolutely no pressure on you to come over. If you’re not there by one in the afternoon, I’ll just assume you changed your mind. Okay?” Hermione nodded. His statement caused her to relax and she soon found herself automatically tilting her head towards him for the inevitable kiss. She closed her eyes and received her reward. The bag of candy soon received no attention from her for the next couple of minutes, as her hands now drove deep into the folds of his robes. All of the uncertainty and tension that surrounded their union soon disappeared, as they truly indulged their senses and lust. So preoccupied with one another, Draco and Hermione were unaware that they were not alone in that corridor. Only inches above their head, the portrait was no longer empty. Vincent had come back from visiting Arthur only to discover the delicious sight. Creeping away, he traveled back to the dungeons to inform his friend of his findings. Both men were now peeking down from the sides of the portrait. They exchanged a momentary glance, before continuing to gaze at the activities of the couple below.

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