Ginny came up behind Hermione, and tapped her on the shoulder, smiling as Hermione turned around, with the corners of her lips already quirking up. “Hey Hermione!” She stepped back to take in the coral dress properly. “That one’s lovely!”
“And the same back to you!” Hermione smiled at her, watching how the tiny small crystals on the deep blue material shimmered in the soft light. “Have you been here long?”
“No, I only just came down, the others have been down for about 10 minutes I think though. I wore through another pair of shoes, I had to find another pair.”
“Me too. There must be a spell we can use, this is getting ridiculous.” Hermione linked arms with Ginny and the pair of them set off along the path.
They were just within the border of the Forbidden Forest, on the side closest to the lake. Set within the canopy of trees was a clear little garden, its borders edged off with rose bushes. A delicate, iron wrought gazebo sat in the centre, tiny little lights flickering along the path that led to it. The gazebo itself was softly lit with creamy lights the floated along the softly draped roof and around the metal poles that supported it, slotting in among the elaborate scrollwork of the walls. The entire place was lit with this pearly glow, casting an attractive gleam on the face of every Gryffindor there. All of them, all in the sixth or seventh year, smiled around at each other, chatting among themselves, enjoying the nature of their secret and the friendliness within it.
Hermione split away from Ginny and went up to Harry and Ron. Both of them were in dress robes; Ron’s considerably nicer than the ones he had had to wear in Fourth Year for the Yuletide Ball. She touched him on the arm to get his attention and smiled up at the pair of them.
“Hermione! Any trouble from Malfoy tonight?”
“No, but that makes me more nervous…actually, do you know what? I am not thinking about this at all tonight. I am going to enjoy it, just as I do every night, and then I can deal with him tomorrow. He is not going to ruin this for us!”
Harry laughed, as Hermione practically stamped her foot in defiance. “Well, that’s probably the right idea. Do you know if we’re starting soon?”
Ron glanced around. “It looks like everyone’s here. We might as well.” He took his wand out of his breast pocket, and everyone took their lead from him, pulling out their wand and raising them towards the ceiling. They all moved their wands in gently synchrony, performing the moves that they had all painstakingly learnt and perfected. As they completed the sequence, music blossomed from thin air and filled the gazebo.
Every person in the gazebo knew what he or she would do now. It had been awkward at first, trying to get the confidence to dance, trying to be that uninhibited around people they knew only from school. They had stood awkwardly at other sides of the room, until one couple dared to breach the middle ground and begin twirling slowly in the middle of it.
As Ron held out his hand to Hermione, she took it gently and the pair of them swirled into the kaleidoscope of coloured dresses and crisp robes, feeling the music flow through every person present. There were no formal steps, but there was a definite feeling of grace, of belonging to another time and another world, and there was a unity to their movements that couldn’t have been found in a normal dance. As the evening went on, they would be less formal, but they all instinctively began dancing like this. It suited the setting, the clothing, the secret.
Time spun away from all of them, as it did every night, and before they knew it, their time was drawing to a close as the music grew quieter and their dancing petered out. As soon as the music was gone, they began to realise exactly how tired they were, and yawns could be heard around the room where previously they had all been laughing together. Girls gently pushed loops of their hair back from where they had escaped from the pins, and boys loosened the top buttons of their robes.
All the easy chatter from earlier in the night was gone, and with arms linked, or hands knotted together, they all made their way back along the crystal path that led to the passage that would take them back up into Gryffindor tower. Hermione, walking in the middle of Harry and Ron, rested her head gently on Ron’s arm. She felt utterly content, all thoughts of Malfoy completely banished. It was this feeling, the one that she had after a magical night with her friends, that convinced her that she was totally right in continuing with this secret.
Finally, they had made their way up into the common room. Parvati slowly pushed the wall open, and peeked out into the common room, saw it was clear and slid out into the room. Not speaking to each other, not wanting to wake any of the younger students, all of them slid up to their respective dormitories. Hermione ran up, snatched her robe from where it was underneath Ginny’s bed, and pulled it over her head, frowning slightly as she saw that it did not quite cover the coral silk that fluttered to the floor.
Waving goodbye at the girls, she ran back down through the common room and began pattering through the quiet castle as quickly as she dared. It was so late that even the patrolling teachers had gone to bed, and she didn’t feel the need to use the Marauders Map, as she had when they first began going down to the Forest every night. Her footsteps sounded so small in the vast emptiness of Hogwarts, and she listened to their rhythm as she made her way to her own quarters.
Whispering the password, hearing the murmur of her own voice in the depths of the night, she slid up the stairs, arriving at her door and performing the voiceless magic that would unlock it. She waited a second to make sure that she couldn’t hear Draco stirring and then opened the door a crack to slide through it, spinning around immediately to shut and lock it behind her.
“So which dress was it tonight Granger?”
The voice that came from behind her was so unexpected that Hermione couldn’t help but let a small scream escape. Spinning around, she saw what she had been totally unprepared for. Malfoy was sitting smugly in the middle of her room, her dresses hovering in midair behind him, their seams filled out with air, as though she was wearing them.
“What am I doing here? Oh Granger,” Malfoy stood up and walked up to her. “Poor, unsuspecting, stupid Granger, you didn’t think I would give up that easily did you? You didn’t honestly think that one little charade of being outside your room when the noise began and pretending that you couldn’t hear it would be enough, did you?”
Hermione whipped her wand out from her voluminous sleeve. “Don’t you dare call me stupid, you’re the one who broke into my room. I could have you suspended for that!”
Draco pulled out his own wand, and held it casually between forefingers. “And what you are doing is so innocent that you would run the risk of reporting me to senior staff? Why Granger, I’ve totally overestimated this. I thought the fact that you have hidden tunnels running from your room and a collection of evening wear concealed in your wardrobe, and the fact that you’ve been running through the school in the middle of the night was illicit. How foolish I’ve been, how stupid of me, how remiss of me to think you capable of…”
“That will do Malfoy.” Hermione said in disgust, putting her wand to one side, and watching carefully as he did the same. “What do you want?”
“Well, I’ll start by seeing what you’re wearing Granger, I’m very curious about this little collection you seem to have amassed.”
Hermione glowered at him, and hugged her robe closer to herself. “Try again.”
“Suit yourself, I’ll just go and wake up Snape.” Malfoy made to move towards the door. Hermione stared at him with complete and utter contempt, and picked up her wand again.
“Please don’t think that I will hesitate to curse you. If you really are going to tell a teacher, then I have nothing to lose, and I’ve always wanted to try an act of desperation.”
Malfoy smirked. “Courage when cornered Granger. How far do you think that will take you?”
“A lot further than letting you dictate what items of clothing I show you.”
Malfoy turned back to gesture at the dresses hanging in mid air. “Well, I’ve already seen all of these. I do like this one here,” he gestured at the emerald green taffeta. “It looks like it belongs to someone in Slytherin, not you. But then Granger, none of these look like they belong to you. Surely they ought to be a drab skirt and buttoned up school shirt?”
“Malfoy, in case it had escaped your notice, it is three in the morning, and I want to go to bed. Perhaps you could make whatever point it is that you are trying to come to?” Hermione yawned and began unpinning her hair, hoping to display some form of nonchalance that would get rid of him.
“I want to know what you’re doing.” Draco dropped down into her desk chair, and watched her.
“What I’m doing?” Hermione kept her back to him, and unpinned another coil of hair.
Draco paused for a minute, momentarily distracted by the loops of hair falling across her shoulder. “Granger, let’s not play that game. You are standing in your bedroom which has a wall that opens up to a secret passage. You are wearing an evening gown, and have a load more hanging in your wardrobe. You are coming back to your room in the early hours of the morning, and you are wearing a robe over what looks like a silk confection, which you wouldn’t be doing if you weren’t trying to hide something. Now, perhaps you could just answer my questions and we could put this farce behind us.”
“I can’t tell you, you’ll ruin it all.” Hermione unpinned the last part of her hair, and let it fall down around her shoulders.
“You don’t know that.”
“You’re a Slytherin, of course you’ll ruin it all.”
Draco had to concede her point. “Well, what if I had something to gain from keeping it secret?”
Hermione hugged her robe to herself again. “Meaning what precisely?”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Granger, I am a Slytherin. We thrive on secrets. Having one that no one in my house knew about, and one that involved a Gryffindor. That’s a big currency, and one that I wouldn’t give up freely.”
“That you wouldn’t give up until something valuable enough came along.”
“Sometimes just keeping a secret is valuable enough.” Draco crossed his arms and stared coolly at Hermione, waiting for her to break.
Sure enough, she took a deep breath. “I am swearing you to secrecy on this, and I’m only telling you because I can’t think of a way out of this that doesn’t involve cursing you, although that is rapidly becoming a more attractive option. Last year, in sixth year, Ginny and I were just mucking around in the common room. She’s really good at curses, and she was showing me a new one that she’d learnt. She didn’t hold her wand quite right for it, and instead of showing me the curse, she sent a bolt at the wall at the other side of the common room. No one else was in there, it was so late at night, so only the pair of us saw what happened next.
“The wall separated. It was like Diagon Alley, when you’re approaching it from the Leaky Cauldron. It just came apart, as easily as nothing, and as we stepped towards it, we could feel this slight breeze coming up, and all these candles lit magically inside it. There was a staircase going down. We didn’t even think about it, we both just stepped in and went down the stairs. We were so excited to think that we might be discovering a secret for Hogwarts that no one had seen before. I mean, I had never read about this, and I’ve read Hogwarts: A History so many times!
“It took us about 10 minutes to get to the end of the tunnel, and it led out onto this small crystal path. We didn’t even think about where we going, but there was a moment where we realised we were being led into the Forbidden Forest that made us a little nervous. We tried not to think about it too much, and the further we got onto the path, the safer we felt. It was like there was protection across the path, because we made it straight to this tiny little garden before we even realised. It was beautiful, there were all these flowers, and then this gazebo in the middle. It was a little bit run down, but you could tell that it had been really pretty.”
Hermione paused and looked at Draco, who was looking at back her with the appearance of rapt attention. Sighing, she continued. “We had no idea why it was there, why it was hidden away in the Forest, and why it had protections over it. In the middle of the floor, there were these enormous chests. We counted them and there were 24. They opened as soon as we touched them. It was amazing; they were all full of evening clothes. Even more perfectly, half were full of men’s evening clothes, and half were women’s clothes.”
Hermione paused again, this time to look fondly at the dresses floating in mid air. “It made perfect sense, there are 12 girls in Sixth and Seventh year in Gryffindor, and the same amount of boys. We ran straight back up the tunnel, checking that we could open the wall again, and the next day we told everyone else. We all went down the next day, we split the clothes, we made the gazebo look nice, we strengthened the charms across it, and we spend every evening there.”
“Doing what?” Draco asked suspiciously.
“Ummm…Gryffindor stuff.” Hermione answered weakly, well aware that ‘Dancing’ would not have been an appropriate answer. Draco quirked an eyebrow and smirked, but decided to let it go for now.
“So, you all go down to this place every evening and do mysterious Gryffindor things while dressed in evening wear? Well, it’s nice that you have a hobby Granger.”
Hermione glared at him. “You would never have known about this if I hadn’t been made Head Girl. When I had to move in here, it took me ages to find a spell that would make a tunnel and connect it to the existing one, and it’s clearly a lot noisier than the other one.”
“Now, Granger, here you sound quite irritable. Are you cross because I found you out, or because your magic isn’t good enough to remain inconspicuous?”
“Shut up Malfoy.” Hermione stopped and considered. “A little bit of both, but mainly the first. And even then, mainly because it’s you.”
“So now you sneak out of your room in the middle of the night, do your Gryffindor things, and then I imagine you go back to the Gryffindor common room with the others, dress in that hideous robe, and then come back here and pretend like nothing ever happened?”
Hermione nodded, and ran her fingers back through her hair. Draco halted again – surely her hair wasn’t actually that lustrous.
“Why don’t you come straight back here?”
“The tunnel from here is really steep, and I’m usually quite tired by the end of the night. Plus…” Hermione blushed, “it’s nice to go back with the others, it makes me feel more like one of them.”
“I will never understand Gryffindors.” Draco stood up and brushed some imaginary dust off his trousers. “Well Granger, you can have your secret if it means so much to you.”
“Really? Why?” Hermione asked suspiciously.
“I don’t have proof.” Draco shrugged. “You could just pretend to have been absolutely oblivious of everything in this room, and I imagine every Gryffindor would back you up.”
Hermione stared coldly at him. “You’re giving up far too easily and I don’t trust you.”
“Slytherins are pragmatic. I have nothing to gain right now. Proof is integral. However, as a goodwill gesture Granger, you can show me what dress you picked tonight.”
“Killed the cat. I’m not showing you my dress.”
“Well, I suppose I could try going to Professor Snape. I probably know enough know to make sure that you don’t try any ‘acts of desperation’.” Draco stood in the open doorway and laughed at her.
“Oh, fine.” Hermione hissed, and took her robe off. Draco watched her for a minute appraisingly, eying the coral silk that floated around her.
“I prefer the blue one.”
“Oh for Merlin’s sake…” Hermione cursed, snatched up her wand and flicked it, slamming the door shut.
Draco jumped back smartly, to avoid having his fingers caught in the doorjamb. The coral did suit her, now that he thought about it. Girls. So touchy when it came to clothes. Smirking to himself, he sauntered back into his room. He had meant what he said. She could have her secret…for now. Proof was too important and he wouldn’t risk getting her back up anymore until he had that. But there was no way this matter was forgotten.
Hermione flicked her wand and let her dresses float back into her cupboard. There was no way she trusted Malfoy to keep the secret. She would have to keep a very close eye on him until she thought of a way to resolve the matter. There was no way she was letting him give her secret away.
A/N: Well, I hope that makes a little bit more sense! As always, I hope you enjoyed, and reviews make my day, so do leave me one. I’ll try and get the next chapter up a bit sooner. Love petitesorciere xxxHogH
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