Draco was sitting quietly in the common room when Hermione came down the next morning. Sitting eerily still, as only he could, he looked at her with cold eyes as she stopped short at the sight of him.
“What are you doing up so early?”
“Well, you seem to manage it so well after a whole night of the excitement of ‘Gryffindor things’. I thought I could attempt to imitate your virtuous nature,” he sneered.
“I very much doubt that. I don’t think there’s a single part of you interested in any sort of virtuous nature.”
”Well, only when I can sully it.”
“What a delightfully nauseating conversation to be having before breakfast. What do you want?”
“I have decided to let you give me instruction on how to infiltrate your gatherings.”
Hermione dropped a book on the table and swung around to face Draco with her arms folded in front of her. “Don’t flatter yourself for one minute Malfoy. You are not infiltrating my gatherings; you are being brought along under extreme tolerance. And you have not ‘decided’ to let me tell you what to do. You are forced to do so because I beat you last night.”
“You did not beat me,” he said emphatically.
“Please. If we were in prison, you would be my bitch,” she snapped, before pausing, slightly shocked at what had just come out of her mouth.
“You are not capable of holding that kind of power over someone.” Draco stood up in one fluid motion, brushing his robes down as he did so. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Hermione registered a sense of vague dread at how calm he was being. A comment like that, especially going from a Mudblood to a Pureblood, ought to have caused extreme anger. It was like dealing with a coiled up snake – you knew it was about to strike but there was no earthly way of knowing when or in what direction the attack would come from.
Draco strolled across the room, standing next to her and picking up her books. “I’m not sure you are entirely aware of what you are doing Granger.”
Hermione had to agree with him, the entire situation seemed to be spiralling rapidly out of control. After last night this was all meant to be sorted and now it seemed to be even worse. Clinging on to the only thing she could think to do, she reached out and grabbed the end of her books. “Give me those back.”
“No.” Draco held onto them tightly, and Hermione became agonisingly aware of how close she was to him. She could see the flecks of darker grey that were buried in his iris, and see how perfectly relaxed his mouth was despite the situation they were in. She couldn’t let go of the books now, that would be weakness and he would attack, but her purchase on the books wasn’t strong enough to pull them away and his skin was so pale and smooth it was like marble and she was somehow locked eye to eye with him and couldn’t look away for even a second because that would be so very wrong somehow and…
Taken aback when he spoke, she unwittingly flinched, and cursed herself as she saw the corners of his mouth curve up in a sneer. “I had a thought last night Granger.”
“I’m sure that surprised you Malfoy, you can’t have many of them.” Her lips felt so numb, it was a struggle to get the words out clearly and she couldn’t work out why.
“Watch the tone Granger. I was thinking that you are going to be making effort to ignore me on this magical Friday where I come down and get to see what your big secret is, aren’t you?”
“Any time spent with you is wasted Malfoy, I certainly have no intention of spending any extra with you.”
“Well, that’s no good for me. I will draw attention to myself if I am left alone, and there is no way I am going to be able to make conversation with anyone there. You are going to need to be my guide for the evening.”
Hermione felt her face blanch. “No, no I won’t need to be.”
“Trust me Granger, the thought is no more pleasant to me. But your entire plan will fall apart if there is one man there who no one speaks to all evening, and I have no interest in cosying up to any of your Gryffindor pals.”
“We’re doing it as a masquerade. You’ll be disguised. No one will know who you are. You can talk to anyone.” Hermione listened to herself speak and wondered when she lost the ability to talk in complex sentences. She could feel the tips of her fingers going white with how hard she was holding onto her books, but Malfoy appeared to show no strain at all.
“Yes, because that won’t lead to me giving myself away at all. No Granger, you will be spending the entire evening with me, to make sure it goes off without a hitch.” Draco looked down at her, and marvelled at the fact that he could see the ideas running through her eyes as she tried to think of a way out of this. He dropped his voice to a croon. “Granger, you know I’m talking sense. I’m actually trying to make your life easier here. Can you imagine how much everyone will panic if they get even the slightest inkling that someone like me is there? And if I am discovered, then suspicion will fall on you for suggesting the idea – they will know you enabled me. And then I will be torn limb from limb and you will be cast out by all your friends.”
Hermione inhaled deeply. She was sure there was something wrong with what he was saying but it seemed so persuasive and perceptive. The scenario he pitched was a very real one. “But that means you’ll have to spend all evening with me, how do I explain that?”
“Lie. You’ve done it well enough up until now. Pretend I’m someone you’ve got a crush on.” Draco looked down at her and felt a small catch in his throat.
“Why on earth would you even want me pretending that? You can’t stand me, and I would have to be showing romantic interest in you to pull that off.” Hermione heard that her voice had dropped to a whisper and was horrified. How could she have said that, and why was she only thinking it for the first time as it came out of her mouth.
“Because…” Draco could just see the white of her teeth behind the pink of her mouth and lost his train of thought for a minute. Her perfume seemed to be all he could smell for one blistering moment, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dragging in a deep breath and hoping that it seemed more derisive than he was capable of feeling at that exact moment, he continued. “Because it is the ends to a means. And I will be playing a part as much as you.”
He noticed that he was still holding her to him by means of the books and released them suddenly. Hermione drew them into her and held them to her chest, and he watched her slim fingers clutch around them. “It’s just acting Granger, we’ve both done that before.”
“Fine. Just…fine.” She looked up at him, her thoughts clearing more now that they were further apart. “You need to be disguised, that’s non negotiable.”
“I’m not an idiot. We’ll work it out tonight.” Draco was turning away, and she thought about arguing with him, but decided that she couldn’t. She was all together far too unbalanced at that precise moment in time and couldn’t marshal her thoughts enough to make a significant contribution to any argument.
That evening Hermione was sitting in the common room waiting for Draco. She had felt so muddled all day, barely able to construct a sentence. It was highly distressing. She couldn’t help feeling that he had gotten one over on her but she still couldn’t work out exactly how he had done it. Maybe it was just a blissful situation where his needs actually coincided with what she wanted to achieve but it certainly didn’t feel like it. She felt like she was being used and manipulated, and she was sure that she was, but she couldn’t work out exactly what the point of the use and the manipulation was.
She sighed loudly and poked irritably at the arm of her chair. Maybe, because Malfoy was a Slytherin, the fact that she was being used and manipulated at all was enough. She doubted it though. Pointless game-playing didn’t really seem his style.
Draco watched her surreptitiously from the door. She was totally lost in thoughts and hadn’t noticed him come in. Leaning against the doorjamb, he watched as she attempted to leave a mark in the red fabric of her chair with her fingernail. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was so absorbed in watching her, and the fact that he wasn’t entirely sure about his actions was cause for concern.
Introspection was no great skill of Draco’s. He didn’t really need to understand his own motivations, as for someone who delighted in remarkably complicated skills, his own desires were usually relatively simple. He wanted to get one over on a hated opponent, he wanted to sleep with the newly blossomed girl, he wanted to learn the secrets. His plots might be intricate, but his own wants and needs were as simple as anyone else’s. The emotions that usually underlay such actions were remarkable only by their absence in Draco and the fact that there now seemed to be a hint of emotion beneath his cool surface was something extremely disturbing to him.
He wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but there was certainly some kind of fascination with Granger and her actions. As he was mulling over exactly what it could be that caused that level of interest, she brushed a lock of hair out of her face and, in doing so, saw him.
He nodded at her, slightly surprised by the level of basic civility, and felt compelled by some strange instinct to return it. “Nice day?”
Her eyes widened slightly in shock as she scanned his question for sarcasm and in finding none, responded. “Uh, it was ok, thank you. You?”
“Ummm, ok. Good. So, I, uh, thought that I ought to tell you what I’ve planned.”
“That would probably be for the best.” Malfoy settled himself in the chair facing her.
“Well, I told you, it’s going to be a masquerade.” Draco watched as Hermione fidgeted, uncomfortable enough to be unable to remain still. As he watched her fingers twist around each other and her legs cross and uncross, her foot jiggling as she twitched her ankle, he realised that he had missed a significant amount of what she was saying, and cleared his throat.
“Granger, is there a problem?”
“What? No!” She said, shrilly enough to alert him to the fact that there definitely was a problem.
“You’re wriggling around enough to make me think that Hagrid has released a Blast-Ended Skrewt in here. Is there a problem with the plan?”
“No. It’s all fine.” Another twist of her fingers.
“So that means that there is a different problem. I would assume, given our previous interactions, that this is a problem on a personal level, presumably relating to actually talking to me and helping to facilitate a shared aim that we have.”
“Perceptive,” she observed and let out a carefully controlled breath.
“Hardly. I am well aware of how I treat people – I imagine that having to work with me instead of against me is remarkably unsettling.” He quirked his lips and left Hermione contemplating that while it wasn’t exactly a smile, it wasn’t his usual smirk.
“Oh. Does that not bother you?”
“I’ve never thought about it enough to have let it have any impact on me.” Draco raised an eyebrow. “However, you can stop twitching. I’m not going to bite.”
Hermione exhaled again, not having to control it this time. Just as she was letting herself relax slightly, Draco gave a more familiar smirk. “You haven’t asked me nicely enough yet for me to bite.”
Hermione inhaled heavily and felt a burst of joy at the return of a familiar anger. She knew where she stood with this! “What do you honestly expect to achieve through comments like that?”
“It’s instinct Granger, I can’t be held responsible for it.”
“You just say lecherous things without realising it?” She asked sarcastically, taking care to keep her tone as careless as he had.
“Lecherous? That’s a cruel word. I prefer seductive.”
“Really? And then the girl turns around and is thoroughly seduced and you have your wicked way?” Hermione rolled her eyes, and Draco had to fight down a genuine smile at her tone.
“No. They still have to ask me nicely.” Draco glanced casually away at the fire.
“Oooh, Draco, please bite me,” Hermione mocked, her voice simperingly high. Draco turned back to laugh, and caught her with eyelashes demurely lowered and her hands clutched innocently in front of her neck. The gesture was so at odds with the grating voice that she had used to make fun of him, that he completely lost what he was about to say, and could only stare. Sudden images raced in front of his eyes: Hermione looking down and then meeting his eyes with that sudden flash of golden brown, Hermione biting her lip nervously, Hermione with her arms wrapped around his neck as he held her to him. He was so shocked that every word he could have used dried up in his throat and he could only gaze at her.
Hermione looked up, aware that the silence was not a usual one, and suddenly realised what she had said. She had just asked Draco Malfoy to bite her. To actually bite her. Yes, she was making fun, but either that hadn’t come across or had fallen disastrously flat. Her lips went numb, and a pink flush grew across her cheekbones as she stared back at Draco.
Locked eye to eye, the pair of them incredibly glad for the fact that there was enough distance between them to add some sort of detachment to whatever had just happened, they swallowed in unison, almost audibly in the quiet of the room. Just as the tension was becoming too unbearable, a log collapsed heavily in the grate, a shower of sparks brightening the room briefly.
Draco made a concerted effort to remove the newest image of Hermione from her brain, and composed his face. He definitely wasn’t noticing the fact that her top button was undone and he could almost see the hint of her collarbones. He definitely hadn’t noticed that. Collarbones weren’t even a particularly erotic area. He hadn’t noticed it. He hadn’t and he wasn’t thinking about how the shadows from the flickering fire would sit on her shoulders if they were bare. And he was keeping his face neutral, so very neutral.
Hermione coughed awkwardly, and looked at him. “So, you need to be disguised.”
“Disguised…yes. And you said there would be other people there?”
“Yes. I said that we should throw a masquerade ball. We’ve invited people from other houses, keeping it totally anonymous, and I’m hoping that we can make you just blend into the crowd.”
“How are the others arriving?”
“We’re setting up a tunnel for them in the Room of Requirement. I think you should go through that way – it’ll be fairly obvious if you come out of the tunnel that I use. I have volunteered to see everyone through the tunnel, and we’re staggering the arrivals so as not to draw any suspicion. So you will arrive last, I will be there waiting, and I’ll show you the way, and,” she sighed heavily, “I will stay with you all evening.”
“Good. That makes sense.” Draco chose to ignore the heavy sigh. For some reason, he didn’t want to think about this evening being a sacrifice for her. Of course, it was a sacrifice for him too but somehow he couldn’t think about that right now either.
Hermione watched him carefully, making sure not to look down at all. She didn’t want it to look like she was lowering her eyelashes coyly, especially after earlier. It was already hard enough to get out that she was going to be spending the whole evening with him; she had had to breathe out to make sure she was able to say the words. For some reason, the thought of it made her heart leap so much that she couldn’t quite catch her breath and get her words out normally. “I was thinking though, we need to change your appearance.”
Draco met her eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Well, your…um…hair. No one else in the school has hair that colour. We need to change it. I can do that, if you’ll let me.” Why had she asked if he would let her, she wondered.
“Yes, that…makes sense.” Draco blew out his breath as inconspicuously as he could and decided that he really couldn’t take another moment of whatever was filling the space between them. “Thank you for explaining it all.” Why had he thanked her, he asked himself desperately? “So, the Friday after next? Great. Well, um, you probably need to go and get ready for your Gryffindor things.”
Hermione stood up hurriedly, and Draco did as well, realising too late that he should have stayed sitting and let her leave the room. But now he was standing and he had to do something with it. He had no choice, he had to follow her out of the room and go to his room.
They ended up walking side by side, both of them painfully, keenly aware of the presence of the other but not daring to really acknowledge it. Finally, after what seemed like a million mile walk, they stood in the corridor that divided their two rooms. Before they could start umming again, Draco decided to take affirmative action, and do something unpleasant.
“Thank you for tonight Granger.”
“That’s twice you’ve thanked me in one night, what’s wrong with you?” Hermione’s attempt at sarcastic levity fell flat.
“Nothing. I even meant to say thank you that time.” Draco attempted a smile, wondering why the motion felt so entirely alien to him. The space between them was small, smaller than it had been in the common room but it suddenly felt like it was too far. She was going to slip away from him into her world of evening dresses and secrecy and he suddenly didn’t want to see that happen, but didn’t know how to make it stop or why he wanted her to stay. He just felt that he needed some sort of contact with her, real contact.
Without any more thought than that, he reached out a hand and cupped it around her upper arm, giving it a squeeze. Comforting, friendly, if slightly more brusque than he would have liked. He could see Hermione’s breath catch in her mouth, behind those white teeth, but before he could do anything more than observe that, he felt her hand cup his arm back, just beneath his elbow. The pair of them stood for a split second, locked by that brief contact and shocked at the possible meanings before Hermione came to her senses and let go, whirling around and fleeing into her room, without a backward glance.
He heard the slight knock against wood that was obviously her resting her back against the door, and felt like he was intruding on something he had no right to see, something that he had no right to intrude in. Instead, he showed his solidarity in confusion in the only way he could and went into his room, shutting the door gently and resting his own back on it. Sliding down, he mirrored her pose exactly without ever knowing exactly what he was doing. HogH
AN: So I’m just going to stop apologising for the delay in chapters. However, despite that, I hope you enjoyed this. Please review and let me know. Love petitesorciere xxx
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