Hermione stopped spinning as the music dimmed into the dark night and felt her heart rate pick up a notch. She wasn’t entirely sure how it was managing to pick up at all, given that it had been accelerating all night and was now fairly close to a hummingbird heartbeat. Everyone was going to be leaving in a matter of seconds, and she would have to stop them and make her pitch and she had absolutely no idea how to go about.
She had prevaricated as long as she could, managing to hold off for one whole week after sending Malfoy that note in their Potions class. But he had refused to be silent and wait for her to make her move for long. She had had four days of blissful silence, four days where she had tried to convince herself that this was all going to be ok and that he was going to let the matter drop, even while she knew that she was fooling herself. Then, on the fifth day, Malfoy had been waiting for her when she came back from the garden (fortunately outside her bedroom that time) and had made it crystal clear that he had not forgotten her promise and that he had a number of different avenues he was prepared to take the matter down if she didn’t hold up her end of the deal. She had spent yesterday trying to think of the best way to present her idea to the group, and now she was having to deliver the damn thing.
Feeling her jaw clench with the customary rage that Malfoy provoked in her, Hermione cleared her throat loudly and wondered why her hands suddenly felt too big for her body. Surely, she thought, a tongue feeling too big for her mouth was far more customary? Not this feeling of having enormous inflated balloons dangling limply from her wrists. She had the urge to fling them around just to see if they were as cold and unresponsive as she sensed they were. Dragging herself back to the present she realised the Gryffindors were all staring at her, waiting patiently for whatever it was she wanted to say, while she stood there panicking and twitching her fingers.
“Hi…everyone…thanks…just a really quick suggestion.” She smiled nervously and straightened her shoulders as she prepared to deliver the pitch. “I was thinking…well, we’ve got something amazing here. We have this gorgeous garden, this beautiful set up, these outfits, but we do the same thing every night. I think we run the risk of losing exactly how special this is.”
Nods went around the small group, and Hermione felt her heartbeat slow slightly, bringing it back down to a rabbit heartbeat.
“So, I was thinking we should have a masked ball. You know, we all really make an effort, all wear masks, pretend that we’re all different people.” Even though she was resolutely not looking at her, Hermione saw Ginny’s eyes narrow slightly in suspicion.
Parvati held her hand up. “It’s a nice idea Hermione but there are only 24 of us. I don’t think it will be that hard for us to tell who’s who, even if we wear masks.”
“Well, that was my next point. We should invite some people from other houses.” At the consternation that threatened to break out, Hermione held up her hands in placation. “Not every time. Strictly as a one time occurrence, and just the sixth and seventh years. I know how to open up another passage that will link into this one, we’ll open up one from say, the Room of Requirements, everyone can come through at the start of the night, and go back at the end of the evening and we’ll close it up straight away. No one ever has to know where this garden is or how to get to it, or even how we found it.”
“So what, we just invite everyone?” Ron asked incredulously.
“No, of course not,” Hermione said irritably, tension making her snappy. “Let’s restrict it to the Dumbledore’s Army people. Let’s face it, after everything we’ve faced together, we ought to be including them in something as good as this.”
“If we introduce more people, we’re going to get caught,” Ginny said, and Hermione was sure that this was some sort of oblique reference to Malfoy.
“We really don’t have to be. We all managed to get to and from the DA meetings without being caught, it’s just that principle again. I manage to get through the castle in evening wear with just a robe over it, there’s no reason why another 20 people can’t, especially if they filter their arrival and don’t all come in from the same direction. Plus, if they’re all wearing masks, then no one will know who’s there and how to tell tales on them!”
Warming to her theme, an idea occurring to her at that precise moment, Hermione began to speak more enthusiastically. “In fact, we could send invitations anonymously, and tell people that if they talk about it the invitation is rescinded. If we say it’s from DA, no one will question it, and they’ll keep the invitations secret. They don’t have to know that it came from Gryffindor. Plus, we’re only inviting people we trust, people who won’t give us away. It’ll be absolutely fine, it’ll be such a fun night, and it’ll be a great way for us to celebrate our good fortune in finding this place.”
Hermione hauled in a deep breath of air, and exhaled in relief, realising that her hands appeared to have returned to normal. Harry stepped forward. “You know what Hermione, I think that’s actually a really good idea. We should be inviting other people to come, and as long as we’re careful about who we invite, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”
“It would be nice to have some different boys here.” Lavender fidgeted with her necklace as she looked over the current offerings.
“So, what would we do?”
“Well,” Hermione smiled at her success. “We would send the invitations anonymously, just saying that they’re from Dumbledore’s Army. People would be told to wear a mask, and dress formally. We could even set up a room in the Room of Requirements where they all get ready so that they wouldn’t have to go through the castle in evening wear. I’ll make another passage from the Room of Requirements that will link to our one down from the common room. We can have someone there to guide people so that they don’t go the wrong way and back up to our tower.
“Then, we dance all night, are the perfect hosts and hostesses as only Gryffindors can be, and then we guide them back up to their passage. We stay with them to filter them leaving the room so that we don’t draw suspicion. Then when they’re all gone, we destroy that passageway. We can even give them a cover story just in case they get caught.
“And that’s it. They’re never quite sure who’s been there, they don’t know where the party was and they’ll never be able to get back there. It’s perfect.”
There were nods of agreement all around, and Hermione felt her heartbeat finally drop to a human pace. She had pulled it off. Of course, that meant she was going to be inviting Draco Malfoy into their midst, but it would be a solution in the long term. She would get some dirt on him if it killed her and then this entire nightmare would be over and she could go back to wearing through her shoes every night and it would be nobody’s business but her own! Plans were going round for the ball to be on a Friday two weeks away and she heaved another sigh of relief. That gave her plenty of time to think up her plan for the evening, and she might even be able to find a way out of getting Malfoy to the ball before then.
As the Gryffindors dispersed into the night, Ginny sidled up to Hermione and put a hand on her elbow. “Wonderful idea Hermione.”
Hermione smiled, linked arms with her and the pair of them began walking along the crystal paths. “Thanks Ginny. I think it should be a really fun night.”
“I just have to ask…this isn’t a way for you to bring Malfoy here to get him to leave us alone is it?”
“Oh, Ginny, I took your advice on that one,” Hermione lied smoothly, feeling a pang go through her. “I just did a memory charm on him, that got rid of the whole problem.”
“And he hasn’t mentioned it again? So you don’t think he told anyone as insurance?”
“Nope, nothing at all.” Hermione smiled into the darkness, wishing that it were that simple. She had no idea whether Malfoy had told anyone, and she knew that if he had and then found out that she had cursed him, the repercussions would be far worse. At least this way she had a chance of keeping him on her side.
“Oh good,” Ginny smiled happily and Hermione stamped down the idea that she was betraying her friend. It was an ends to a means. It didn’t occur to her once that that was an admirable point of view, as far as a Slytherin was concerned.
Draco sat with his back pressed firmly against Hermione’s door. Another five minutes and he was just going to blow the door off again and go and wait in there. He was sure he could open that passage and go and find her if he tried hard enough. She had been dragging her feet for far too long.
He had to admit that it did make him nervous pushing Granger as hard as he was. He had thought that she would be extremely easy to manipulate, and that within days he would have been in the centre of the Gryffindors, revelling in his breach of their secrecy. Instead, Hermione had been surprisingly resistant and eventually he had felt the need to push her, before she thought that he was going to let the entire thing drop. The look in her eyes reminded him of the look in the Hippogriff’s eye before it had slashed his arm open in third year, and he had actually had to resist the urge to take a step back from her. She wasn’t nearly as tame as she might have pretended to be.
However, he wasn’t anxious enough about Hermione to forget his plan entirely. He had a single minded determination to see exactly what it was that the Gryffindors were getting up to and he was in no doubt that Granger was his only way into that world. So, by hook or by crook, he was going to put enough pressure on her to get him in.
He was just reflecting on the unfairness of the fact that this was the one area of his life where being a Pureblood wasn’t going to give him any particular advantage., when he heard clicking footsteps making their way up the stairs towards Hermione’s room. He jumped to his feet, so that he wouldn’t have to look up at Granger.
Finally, she was standing in front of him, still wrapped in that baggy old robe, her hands on her hips as she looked at him furiously. “Why are you outside my room again? It’s like having a needy dog.”
“Watch your tone Granger.”
“Whatever.” Hermione looked past him dismissively. “I hope you haven’t scratched the paint on my door, trying to claw your way in.”
“Oh Granger.” Draco smirked at her. “If I wanted to get in, I’d just blow the door off again.”
“Well, why didn’t you then? I might have respected you if you’d done that rather than sitting outside like some lovesick puppy.” She smirked back at him, taking him slightly off guard. “But then of course, I will never actually respect you. So actually the entire point is moot, and you are entirely welcome to sit outside my door like a lovesick pup whenever you want.”
Draco looked at her with something akin to horror. “I am not lovesick for you.”
“Poor puppy. Is he cranky because he’s been up past his bedtime?” Hermione let another smirk out, slightly taken aback at her own bravado. Now that she had the problem resolved, she didn’t need to worry so much about keeping Draco sweet, but this was daring to an extreme.
“Granger. Watch your tone.” Draco rested his back against the wall next to her door. “Now, you can explain to me exactly how far you’ve progressed with your little task.”
“I’ve got you in, you’re coming Friday two weeks from now.” Hermione said casually.
Draco looked at her, keeping his face as blank as possible but allowing one of his eyebrows to quirk incredulously. “That seems like a long way away Granger. I’d prefer it closer.”
Hermione looked at him contemptuously. “You will come when I say you can, and you will not attempt to make my life any more difficult than you already have.”
Draco’s carefully blank expression slipped slightly as his mouth dropped open slightly in shock.
“What?” Hermione looked at him, careful not to show any anger, knowing that he would jump on it. “You think we’re still in third year? I’m in my seventh year Malfoy, I’m not afraid of you, or what you might say. I am facilitating this only because it will make everyone’s life a lot easier, not because I am genuinely afraid of you. I don’t want my friends to get in trouble, I have done what you wanted to prevent them getting in trouble and once this is done, that will be the end of the matter and you will not be getting any of us in trouble. Maybe if we were younger you might be intimidating me into doing this out of the sheer cruelty that you emanate from every pore of your body, but not any more. Do I make myself clear?”
Shocked by the icy disdain of her voice, and aware that not many people dared to speak to him like that, Draco straightened his spine. “Watch it Granger, you don’t want to irritate me.”
“Well, from that blindingly stupid attempt at a threat I’ll assume that you’re feeling under pressure to reassert yourself and that my meaning is therefore crystal clear.” Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Now, get away from my room. I’ll find you nearer the time and tell you exactly what you need to do.”
“I’m not taking orders from you!” Draco stepped away from the door, and Hermione took the opportunity to flick her wand at the door and step inside, slamming it behind her. Draco screwed up his face in rage, a lock of pale hair falling across his forehead. Raising his wand, he smashed the door open again. He had one moment to see Hermione standing in front of him in a purple silk halterneck dress that fluttered down to the floor, with dark grey beading around the neck, before his entire body froze and crashed facedown to the floor.
Hermione pointed her wand at him for a few minutes, trying to convince herself that it would not be a good idea to use the Cruciatus curse. A satisfying idea. One that would undoubtedly teach Malfoy his place, but not a good idea. Breathing deeply, she threw a cloak over Malfoy’s head, just to ensure he wouldn’t see her, and then changed quickly into jeans and a t-shirt. She was tired, she would much rather be in her pyjamas, but there was no way that he was going to see her in those.
Taking a final deep breath, and smoothing her face clear of the remaining rage, she removed the cloak from Draco’s head and turned him over, resisting the urge to swear at his frozen body. “Now, I have no idea what you thought you would achieve through destroying my door, invading my privacy and shouting at me, but I hope you can see that you haven’t gained anything.
“You will be following my orders, for the simple reason that I know exactly what you need to do to ensure that you aren’t found out by a mob of angry Gryffindors who will not be nearly as patient as I have been with you. They will just tear you to shreds. I admit, it is tempting to let you do that, but I am attempting to hold up my end of the deal with some dignity.
“So you will do what I want. That is non-optional. You will stop hovering around outside my room like some deranged stalker. You will stop ruining my door, or there will be serious consequences, of a painful variety.
“In a minute, I will be releasing you from this curse. You will stand up, very slowly, so as not to piss me off any more than you already have this evening, and then you will repair my door. You will step out into the corridor, you will close the door behind you and you will leave me alone. If you deviate from this, I will curse you, and you will find yourself wearing an unfortunate set of horns from now until we leave Hogwarts.”
Stepping back and ensuring that she had a firm grasp on her wand, Hermione flicked her wand and released Draco from the Body-Bind curse. He stood up slowly, warily. He did exactly as she had asked, repairing the door and then stepping out into the corridor.
Just as he was about to shut it, he leaned his head back around and said ‘Nice dress Granger. I still prefer the blue though.”
The sparks flew off the wall at the side of his head, and she could hear him laughing his way down the corridor from behind the shut door.
Slumping onto her bed, staring at the spot where he had lain, Hermione wondered what on earth she had got herself into. She knew why she was doing what Malfoy wanted. If he did spill his guts to a teacher, then it would mean so much trouble for all of the Gryffindors and she wasn’t happy to risk that. She hadn’t told the Gryffindors what she was doing because she knew that they would rush into it with all the bravery that they possessed but without any of the clear thinking that this situation called for. That was all crystal clear and while she didn’t like lying to her friends she knew that she was doing it for a good reason and they would all do exactly the same thing in her situation (if the wisdom of doing it was pointed out to them). The only part that wasn’t clear to her was why she was protecting Draco. Because she was. She could walk with him unmasked into the middle of that gathering and she and all the Gryffindors could do something, anything, to ensure that he didn’t give their secret away. She had seen Harry angry, she had no doubt that he could get results if he really wanted.
She changed slowly into her pyjamas, trying to make sense of the tumbling pictures in her head. Malfoy with that stupid piece of hair hanging over his stupid forehead. Stupid Malfoy blowing her door up. Stupid Malfoy lying prone on her carpet (she enjoyed that one and had to go back to it a few times). Stupid Malfoy with his stupid smirk on his stupid face, stupidly trying to get the better of her. Stupid Malfoy telling her that her dress was nice. Stupid, stupid, stupid Malfoy.
Draco shut his door behind him, and locked it. He resisted the urge to barricade it behind him, telling himself Granger would win if he did that. He had never seen her so angry. It was…interesting. Interesting. Interesting was a good word. A neutral word.
He looked in the mirror and swept back the errant piece of hair. He didn’t know what to do. He knew, obviously, that he would be doing exactly what she wanted him to when it came to going to the hidden garden, there was no question of that. Anyone who could look that ferocious was not someone to be trifled with.
However, he was more and more aware of the fact that the power was slipping quickly out of his fingers. What was he meant to do? He needed to retain that power or Granger would just find a way to weasel out of the deal. For all that Draco might have wanted to get one over on the Gryffindors he was actually more intrigued by the idea of what they were doing. Granger looked…well, there was no getting around it, she looked phenomenal whenever she came back. He wanted to see exactly what they were doing that required her to look like that.
Laying back on his bed, with his fingers interlaced behind his head, he stared up at the black ceiling. He had no idea what they were hiding, but he knew he had to see it and Granger was the way in. He had to do what she said, but he had to make it look like he was doing it of his own volition. He could…he groaned, turned over and buried his face in his emerald pillow. He had no idea how to treat Granger.
Further down the corridor, Hermione groaned loudly, turned over and buried her face in her scarlet pillow. She had no idea how to treat Malfoy.
AN: And that's another chapter done. Thanks very much for reading - if you have reviewed previous chapters and I haven't replied, I'm very sorry. I am manically busy with work at the moment (sixty hour weeks manic) but am massively grateful for the reviews. So....please review this one as well! It really is so helpful to have feedback. Love petitesorciere xx
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