"The blizzard is calming."
Hermione looked out the window to see that what Malfoy was saying was true. The blizzard was calming. The snow lay lustrously upon the street outside, shining and glittering in the sudden sunlight.
Hermione looked from the Christmassy sight, and over to Malfoy, who was sitting by the small reading table reserved for customers. His legs were outstretched, resting upon the table, muddy droplets of melted snow pooling on the table from his dirty soles. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and his pewter eyes were resting on her with an expression of fatigue; like a babysitter not wishing to play games with the child.
"May I have my wand and book now?"
Hermione was standing at the same spot as she had stood in when Malfoy had first entered the store; behind the counter, safely shielded from Malfoy's potential fury by the thick wood.
"No." she said simply, unyieldingly, and she saw Malfoy's jaw clenching.
The doorbell rang, making both of the occupants of the store jump and turn towards the ringing sound.
"Horrible weather, isn't it?" Miss Bakery from across the street said. She was still wearing an apron with flour on it, and the subtle remains of white, sticky dough clung to her wild and reddish hair. "I think I might be slightly claustrophobic. And it's not good for the business, either, Hermione, this chilly weather in the middle of-"
She stopped dead, her eyes falling upon the handsome, snub youth by the reading table. He did not as much as offer her a glance as he continued to stare directly ahead at the laden bookshelves. Nevertheless the woman from the bakery, who was at least twice his age, hurried to smooth down her rueful hair and compose her face into the pleasant folds of a smile.
"Who is that?" she mouthed to Hermione, not so subtly, so that Malfoy undoubtedly heard.
Hermione grimaced and shrugged, wishing very much that the woman would pick a book and disappear back into the bakeshop next door.
"Is he your boyfriend?"
Hermione shook her head frantically, and Malfoy actually turned to glower at the newcomer.
"Well, I'll leave you two to it then.", Miss Bakery said with a wink and turned, and before she closed the door she added, "I'll come back for that book when you're not busy, Hermione."
There was a ringing silence left in the store when the visitor had left, and Malfoy broke it with a snort. Finally there was the sound of wood against wood which signalized that he was getting to his feet, pulling his coat tighter around his slender body and approaching the counter in a quick pace more suitable for the subway than a quiet bookstore such as Newman's.
"I don't want to hurt you," he said, once he was leaning threateningly over the counter to where Hermione was standing, at least a head shorter than him and much less muscly.
"I'm not afraid of you." Hermione said plainly, and to her surprise she felt that she wasn't. She doubted he would lay a finger on her, because brutality had never been the way of Draco Malfoy. He enjoyed to tear down his enemies by the effective use of stinging words and invectives, like a spider weakening its prey before spinning its web around it.
"You should be."
"You couldn't even kill Dumbledore on Lord Voldemort's-" Draco cowered. Hermione ignored this little display of cowardice and went on. "-orders, so do you really think that I believe that you will hurt me on your own accord, without your wand?"
"How do you know..." Malfoy began, but when he realized who he was talking to he quickly cut himself off and instead extended his open palm with a dark expression on his face.
Hermione stared down at the pale hand with one raised eyebrow. "I'm not giving them to you." she said, backing into the shelf behind her in which the Grimoire and Malfoy's wand lay, as though she would protect them with her body and life.
"What can I do to make you change your mind?" Malfoy asked her smoothly, obviously changing his tactics. When Hermione did not reply he sighed in a resigned, dramatic fashion. "Fine, if I get my wand and my book back I can take you to Weasley."
"I thought you didn't know where he lived?" Hermione uttered slowly, lifting an eyebrow ever so slightly at her sworn archenemy.
"I lied." Malfoy said. "Unfortunately, I have to fraternize with the weasel quite often. It's the drawback of my job."
"What do you work with?" Hermione asked curiously.
"I'm a freelance curse-breaker for the Ministry. Weasley is an Auror, so sometimes I'm forced to hand over my findings to his sorry hands."
Hermione smiled a little sadly, reflecting on how Ron had finally achieved his dearest ambition to become a dark wizard hunter. He could not be too thrilled that he had to 'fraternize' with a former dark wizard.
"So what do you say?"
"Empty your pockets." Hermione said abruptly, to which Malfoy's pale lips parted ever so slightly.
"Empty your pockets." Hermione repeated, pointing in annoyance towards the two seemingly bulging pockets of Malfoy's Muggle coat.
Malfoy swore underneath his breath, and by obeying the orders of a supposed Muggle he proved just how badly he wanted the book and his wand back.
He did not have too much of interest in his pockets. A heavy keychain, a deck of seemingly innocent playing cards, a vial containing some golden liquid and finally, what Hermione had been hoping he had, a small glass bottle filled with what looked like sand only it was emerald green and sparkling.
"Floo-powder!" she said excitedly, repressing the urge to punch the air.
"How exciting." Malfoy said in a deadpan voice. "Want to trade?"
Hermione laughed as she took the book and the wand, and for a second Malfoy looked hopeful, until Hermione turned and to Malfoy's great surprise the unmoving portrait of a flowery garden swung forwards to reveal a small safe. Making sure that her back was covering the scene and the combo Hermione opened the safe. When she closed it and turned back to face Malfoy he was quite obviously fuming. Hermione put on her coat and stuck the little, green bottle into her pocket before rounding the counter and heading for the door.
"Where are we going?" Malfoy asked in obvious dislike of whatever idea had just sprang up in Hermione's mind.
"We're going to see Ron." Hermione said determinedly, "And find out what the hell is happening."
She strode past Malfoy, successfully whipping her now shortened and friseured hair into Malfoy's befuddled face. She turned the open/closed sign around and waited for him to exit the shop before she stuck a key into the keyhole and twisted it around.
"You're crazy." Malfoy spat. "You have the powder, why don't you just go yourself?"
"I don't know the address." Hermione said, pocketing her keys and continuing the stride down the frostbitten street with an irate Malfoy at her heels.
"It's 'Starbeck Road, 347'," Malfoy said. A second later he slipped on the icy film upon the cobblestone and fell backwards, potentially gaining a few very nasty bruises to his bum.
The sight was priceless, and Hermione laughed loudly and rudely. Malfoy, too humiliated for words, hurried back on his feet and casually brushed snowflakes from his coat and trousers, his face blotchy red. "Go!" he hissed, and Hermione obliged after giving him another Cheshire cat smile. "Where are we going, anyway?" He added, once the pace had picked up.
"My landlord has a rather fine fireplace." Hermione said as she rounded the corner to where she lived. She was surprised to hear Malfoy laughing from a few steps behind, and she turned to see him standing at the corner.
"Do you really think you can just floo from any fireplace in England to another?" he asked mockingly, leaning against the brick wall. "It has to be connected in the floo-network, remember?"
Hermione was about to hit herself on the forehead with her open palm, but she resisted. Why hadn't she thought of that? It took her a fraction of a minute to think of new plan, foolproof this time.
"You have to take me to the Ministry." she said slowly.
"No way." Malfoy said. "I'm not taking you to work, not a chance."
"We just need to use one of the fireplaces in the lobby for half a minute. No one will even notice."
Malfoy looked as though he considered this for a second before he said "No."
"Fine." Hermione said, "I know where the Ministry is, anyway." She smiled sweetly at Malfoy. "Six, two, four, four, two. Isn't that right?"
"Granger!" Malfoy growled as Hermione turned and strode quickly down the street, her destination altered now. She could feel the blood rushing in her veins and a part of her felt she did not need Malfoy's bothersome presence any longer, yet another part of her felt that he might still be useful somehow.
"Careful so you don't slip and fall again." she chirped, when he finally caught up to her and struggled to maintain her quick pace.
They rounded a few corners in silence, walked quickly down a few frosted and deserted streets, until they found themselves standing in front of the bright red phone booth that marked the main entrance to the Ministry of Magic.
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