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March 2, 2000

Hermione awoke with a start to find herself in a strange room with no immediate idea of where she was or how she came to be there.

The room was ample, at least thrice the size of an average master bedroom, and she was sprawled across an absolutely massive four poster bed, draped in emerald chiffon.

Definitely not in a hospital, then.

While her eyes swept the unfamiliar room, Hermione tried to remember what had happened. She had a slight headache, but that was hardly as disturbing as her most recent dream. In the dream she had been in a considerably smaller and shoddier bedroom, but Ron had been next to her on the bed and she had felt safe.

Happy.

Her eyes traced the ornate silver frame of a large mirror hung against the deep green wallpaper. Silver and emerald, she thought. Slytherin colors. Draco Malfoy.

Malfoy!

Suddenly, last night came back to her in perfect clarity as she realized, with a pang, that she was in the last place she had ever imagined to find herself in: The guest bedroom of Malfoy Manor.

The night before, after Malfoy had made the cryptic revelation that the information she sought might be found between the covers of the Grimoire, he had gotten up from the chintz-armchair and made to leave the room.

"Where do you think you’re going?" Hermione had demanded from her spot on the floor, next to the abandoned armchair.

"I’m tired," Malfoy had announced, one long-fingered hand reaching for the doorknob. "So I’m going to bed."

"You said I could ask questions and I’ve got plenty of those, so you better sit back down and-"

"You know, I rather resent Muggles telling me what to do," Malfoy had cut her off, insufferable as ever, his pale fingers enclosing the doorknob.

"And what am I supposed to do while you go catch up on your beauty sleep?"

At this point Malfoy had shot her a condescending glance over his shoulder. "You might do with some beauty sleep yourself, although I hardly believe it will make much of a difference in your case." His cold eyes had settled on her bushy hair and his trademark smirk had flitted past his features.

"Can I sleep on the floor, or do I have to go outside in the blizzard so as not to stain your carpet?" Hermione had asked, ignoring his smirk and her own burning desire to slap him.

Malfoy had surveyed her for a split second before speaking. "Well, if I tell you to go outside there’s a chance you might freeze to death," he had said slowly. "Usually I wouldn’t have minded, although unfortunately I’m afraid I might need you to get that book." He had paused again and looked down at her from his elevated point. "You can have the guest bedroom."

Before Hermione had had the time to say anything, to protest or demand answers to any of her questions, Malfoy had called upon Flimsy the house-elf and given it instructions to escort Hermione to the guest bedroom. Then he had departed the room without a word of good night.

Hermione remembered feeling as though sleep would be impossible with all the new information circulating in her head, but she must have fallen asleep instantly because she could not even remember crawling into the bed she was currently occupying.

Hermione was just reflecting on how many Galleons she would have given for a fresh pair of clothes and a few basic toiletries, a hairbrush prominent amongst them, when the sound of something heavy breaking sent tremors throughout the old woodwork of Malfoy Manor.

Instinctively Hermione slipped out of the extravagant bed and hurried out of the room to see what had caused the rucus. Just as she opened her door, another door along the corridor slammed open and Malfoy appeared, wearing only a towel draped like a toga around his slender hips. His entire person was glittering with droplets of water and his flaxen hair was wet and slick: he had evidently just emerged from the shower.

Hermione could hardly help her eyes from traveling the length of his body, and as they did so, she realized that she had never fully appreciated just how attractive Draco Malfoy was. She reconked that his pure physical appeal tended to be overshadowed by his vile nature and superior attitude, but this didn’t stop her eyes trailing along the silvery outlines of scars marring the otherwise flawless form of his muscular torso. Her gaze paused for a split second at the black skull emblazoned on his left forearm, then began climbing upwards.

She regretted her lapse in attention immediately as her eyes collided with his silvery ones. The expression on his pointed face was horribly smug as he arched an eyebrow at her. "Did you break something, Granger?"

"Excuse me?" said Hermione, blushing furiously and cursing her own reaction in the face of a partially nude Malfoy.

"Did. You. Break. Something?" Malfoy repeated, putting a great deal of emphasis on each word, sounding as though he was trying to teach proper speech to a two-year old. "I thought I heard something breaking."

Hermione suddenly recalled why she had stormed out into the hallway in the first place. "It wasn’t me," she said quickly, eager to wipe the smugness off his pale face. "It sounded like it came from downsta- It wasn’t me!" she repreated angrily, because Malfoy’s face had adopted an expression of amused sceptisism to go with the complacent one. "Maybe someone broke in?" Hermione suggested, successfully wiping Malfoy’s face blank.

A moment’s disconcertion crossed his handsome features before he turned his back on her and sallied down the corridor. Hermione hesitated for a moment in the doorway before following him down the staircase to search for the source of the disruption, which turned out to be Flimsy.

Broken shards of something littered the kitchen floor "Flimsy not mean to do it, Mr. Malfoy, sir!" the cowering house-elf squeaked from underneath the dining table.

Hermione hurried forwards and knelt down before the elf. "It’s okay, Flimsy," she said consolingly before glanced over her shoulder at Malfoy. "It’s easily fixed with a mending charm, so no damage done. The spell is Rep-"

"Yeah, I know how to mend things, thanks," Malfoy spat, clearly not taking kindly to the fact that a Muggle was trying to teach him how to do his spellwork. "Now, if you’re done admiring my body, Granger, I think I’ll go back upstairs and get dressed."

"Don’t flatter yourself," Hermione hissed, but she wasn’t sure wether Malfoy heard her. He had already turned and strut halfway up the staircase by the time she had gathered herself enough to come up with the feeble repartee.

Fuming, Hermione turned to Flimsy. "I’m sorry your master is such a prat, Flimsy."

"Master is not a prat, miss! Mr. Malfoy is a good master to a house-elf!" Flimsy squeaked earnestly.

Hermione couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Instead she straightened up and reflected glumly on how unfair it was that house-elves had to defend their masters, no matter how unpleasant said masters might be. "Listen, thank you so much for the food you brought yesterday, Flimsy," she said. "You are an excellent cook."

"Miss is too kind!" Flimsy beamed, shaking her head so vigorously that her floppy ears danced around her swarthy face. "It was no trouble, no trouble at all!"

Flimsy shouted down Hermione’s request to help with breakfast and Hermione, not sure what to do with herself, pulled up a chair and watched the tiny elf taking multitasking to a new level; squeezing fresh oranges into juice, cutting up fruit, boiling tea and coffee, baking bread and supplying the table with plates, glasses and utensils. Under different circumstances Hermione might have told the elf that there was no need to prepare such a lavish breakfast when there were only two people dining, but at the present Hermione’s head was too wrapped up with her own thoughts.

By the time Malfoy came back downstairs, fully clothed, a full English breakfast stood waiting on the table. Hermione watched him as he slunk uncerimoniously into the chair furthest from where she was sitting, grabbed a bagel and took a bite. His mood was inscrutable. Hermione didn’t know how to interpret his silence but was glad, in any case, the he seemed to have shelved the subject of their embarassing morning encounter.

Malfoy did not spare her a single glance while devouring the bagle, but once he was done chewing the last bite he wiped his slender fingers on a napkin and turned his cold eyes to glare at her. "What?" he demanded.

"Can I ask my questions now?"

Malfoy gave a non-committal grunt as he reached for the steaming teapot.

Hermione rummaged her brain in order to select the most pressing queries from the bunch. "Why are you so hell-bent on getting that book?" she asked suspiciously. She had seen the lengths he would go to in order to get his hands on the book and, remembering the fanatic gleam in his eyes from the day before, she felt deeply uneasy. "What exactly do you expect to find in there?"

Malfoy looked up through the steam rising from his teacup and considered her austerely for a moment before answering. "No personal questions."

Hermione frowned, but rallied almost at once. "So, suppose we do manage to get hold of the book," she said, "What’s to stop you from just taking it and Disapparating, leaving me just as empty-handed as I am now?" This was an idea that had nagged her ever since she had realized that they both wanted the book, but if she had expected Malfoy’s words to sooth her discomfit she was sorely disappointed.

"Nothing," said Malfoy complacently, and when he glanced up to find Hermione glaring at him from across the table; "It’s the sad truth, Granger. You only have two options: Either you can trust me and take the risk, or you can give up, go home and enjoy the remainder of your sad, pathetic Muggle life."

"You’re not exactly doing a good job at earning my trust," Hermione pointed out after an aggrieved moment’s silence.

Malfoy actually smiled. "I could tell you that I would never have done such a thing, that deceit wasn’t in my nature, but you seem to know me..." he trailed off and fixed Hermione with a searching gaze. "I decided that honesty would be the best tactic. If you’re looking for comfort and reassurance you’re searching for it in the wrong place, Granger."

Hermione bit her lip and grabbed an apple in the hope of dispelling Malfoy’s intense eyes. Everything would have been so much easier if she hadn’t known Malfoy, if she hadn’t seen what he could do; the wretched person he was. Still, as Malfoy had rightly said, she only had two options. She could either put her loathing for him aside and choose to trust him, just this once, or she could go back home and continue to pretend that Ron wasn’t out there. As Hermione contemplated the shiny, red apple she had a premonition that it was going to prove much, much harder to coax herself into believeing that Ron was a figment of her own imagination after yesterday’s foray into the magical world.

"Well then," said Hermione, "Assuming that your theory is valid, why did my magic settle into her? Why didn’t it settle into a newborn baby or a Squib, or anybody else? Why her?"

"Magic matures along with the witch or wizard in whom it is contained-"

"Yesterday you said that when a wizard die the magic settles into a newborn, and now you’re saying it matures along with the host-"

"You truly are the most insufferable Muggle I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across," said Malfoy, his voice even but his lip curled into a sneer as he spoke. "Think of magic as a sort of phoenix. It grows and dies with the wizard, before being reborn within another. My theory is that the magic settled into that particular Mudblood because the two of you are approximately the same age, and both derived from a besmirched, distantly magical lineage."

The breakfast drifted into a silence as Malfoy continued to sip his tea and Hermione reluctantly grabbed a slice of bread and began buttering it, all the while mulling over the theories he had presented the night before. She found it hard to rely on information that did not come from a reliable source; somehow it was much easier to place confidence in words written in black and white between the pages of books than it was to trust the boy who was sipping tea across from her. Still, even Hermione had to admit that what he had said made sense, the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and she had a hard time seeing how he could have managed to make up something that complex at the spur of a moment.

Her train of thoughts was interrupted by the gale outside rattling the brittle windows, threatening to break in. "You said it were the Dementors that’s causing this bad weather," Hermione said after swallowing a mouthful of toast. "Why are they still at large?"

"Do you know how to actually kill a Dementor, Granger?" said Malfoy, and without waiting for a reply; "Neither does the Ministry."

Hermione frowned. "Are you saying that nobody at the Ministry can produce a Patronus?" she asked sceptically.

"A Patronus doesn’t kill a Dementor, it just wards it off," Malfoy said, lowering his teacup. "The Ministry has set up protective barriers around all the inhabited areas in Britain, so the Dementors are contained to roam the countrysides. They’ll die out eventually, of course, but until then..." he trailed off thoughtfully, before adding, "There are a few of them gliding around in the woods outside here."

"What?!" Hermione exclaimed, whipping around in her chair, half-expecting to see a Dementor clawing at the windowpane. Then came the depressing realization that she was a Muggle now, and that she would not be able to see the Dementors even if there were a hundred of them camping out in Malfoy’s backyard. She turned back to Malfoy. "Are you capable of producing a Patronus?"

"More capable than you," Malfoy said tersely, but when Hermione continued to look unnerved he added; "Dementors feed off human happiness, and since there’s not a lot of it going around in here, I reckon they will keep their distance."

Hermione did not feel altogether reassured, but she had more pressing questions in queue than those concerning her own safety. She glanced up at Malfoy, who was now poking the spongy eggs on his plate with a fork. "So, what’s the plan?" she asked, and she could hear a note of reborn determination in her own voice.

Malfoy looked up from his eggs, his expression blank. "What plan?"

"Your plan," Hermione said, annoyed. "Your masterplan for getting the book back. You said you needed me-"

"I said I might need you, as in you might make getting the book easier," Malfoy corrected her sleekly. "Make no mistake, Muggle-girl. I don’t need you and I never will."

Hermione glared at him. "And how exactly might I make getting that book easier?"

Malfoy leaned back in his chair and looked as though he was steeling himself for something that would cause him great internal pain. "As much as I hate to admit it," he said, and his voice was somehow quieter than it had been a moment ago. "You seem like a clever Muggle."

Hermione could hardly help herself smiling. It was the one stake she had claimed throughout her imaginary life, and Malfoy was the first person to call her ‘clever’ since her rude awakening at St. Mary’s hospital nearly a year ago. "Thank you."

"It’s not a compliment," Malfoy said, eyes narrowing. "It’s a statement that has yet to be verified. But I can’t deny that your display at the Ministry yesterday was... impressive."

Despite his assurance that he wasn’t complimenting her, Hermione felt rather flattered. "Go on," she prompted, grabbing for the orange juice in order to hide her smile.

Malfoy hesitated for a moment before speaking. "Getting that book will require weeks of planning, because Weasley and Beckett will be on their guards. Rest assure that they will put up protective enchantments around their house to prevent uninvited visitors from Apparating directly into their house. They might even put up an Infidelius charm on the cottage-"

"An Infedelius charm?" Hermione snorted. "Surely not! You’re making that tiny cottage sound like an impenetrable fortress."

"Infedelius charms became popular when the Dark Lord became powerful again, and a lot of people still cast them over their lodgings because it provides a sense of security." Malfoy said seriously. "We should expect and prepare for the worst case scenario."

"You say ‘we’ as though I’ve agreed to this scheme," Hermione pointed out.

Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "I thought we had already established that you didn’t have much of a choice."

"I could always go to Ron and try talking to him again, explain the situation and ask him to help me out," Hermione mused, knowing that the chances of Ron recognizing her the second time around were slim indeed.

"If you do that he’ll turn you over to the Ministry, they’ll wipe your memory and you’ll be stuck in a Muggle mental institution where you belong."

Hermione felt a sudden surge of anger flare inside her. "Thanks for the food," she said acidly, pushing her heavy chair away from the table and standing up. "Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll leave."

She didn’t intend to actually go through with the threat, but she had expected Malfoy to panic and change his attitude towards her. Instead her actions procured quite the opposite effect. Malfoy burst out laughing, though his mirth was scornful rather than genuine and, perhaps realizing this, he quit rather abruptly. "And how are you going to do that?" he drawled. "The nearest Muggle village is about ten miles from here and you’ll have to go through a dense forest full of Dementors to get there. Somehow I don’t think you’re up to the task. And just so you know," he added, grey eyes twinkling maliciously, "I’ve hidden all the Floo-powder."

"So you’re holding me hostage here?" Hermione snapped, outraged.

Malfoy didn’t respond; he didn’t even look at her. He simply reached over the table to grab a crumpet.

"If I’m going to stay cooped up in this house for months, helping you out with your petty scheming, I’ll need stuff!"

Malfoy looked up in the middle of buttering the aforementioned crumpet. "What kind of 'stuff' are you refering to, exactly?"

"Well, I don’t know!" Hermione exclaimed. "Some clothes! A hairbrush!"

Malfoy actually smiled. "Very well," he said, lazily wiping his fingers on a napkin before getting slowly to his feet. "Let’s go to your place, then. And make sure you pack enough hairbrushes for a few months’ worth of petty sceming."

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