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Author's Note:
Hello my lovely readers, and thanks for sticking with me after all this time! Truth be told, I've hit a major patch of writers block. In order to force my own hand, I'm going to drop everything that I am uncertain about in one chapter so that it's done and I can quit fussing with it. I actually wrote the last chapter of this story before anything else, and I have been working on slowly developing the circle to get there. So enjoy the very long, if not somewhat rambling chapter, and hopefully this gets us all where we want to go! We're getting closer, but there's a few more twists and turns yet!

Hermione drew her cloak around her tightly as she made her way towards Hogsmede with Ginny, Neville, and Luna. Although it nearing spring, there was still snow in the shadows of buildings, and a chill in the air.

Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, the prospect of an Order meeting, followed by an afternoon in Hogsmede was a great start to the weekend.

Their moods were dashed rather quickly, when they discovered a mob of reporters hanging round the Hogwarts gates.

“Bloody Hell.” Neville muttered.

“How’d they know we’d be going into town?” Hermione grumbled.

“Probably a student with an exceptionally large mouth.” Ginny said angrily. “Luna, any chance you can put them off the scent?”

“I can try.” Luna said dreamily. “I don’t see anyone from the Quibbler there though.”

Hermione shot a patronus off to Professor McGonagall, warning her of the unwelcome visitors. “Nothing to do but lose them.”

“Yes, you’re right.” Luna said. “Let go do lots of boring things, and they’ll lose interest.”

Ginny chuckled. “Well, I need to get some potions ingredients. We can go take an appallingly long time picking out newt eyes.”

“Perhaps you just need the right kind of distraction.” Came Draco’s voice from behind them.

Hermione grinned. “What did you have in mind?”

“Nothing elaborate.” Draco shrugged, and used his wand to begin pelting them with snowballs.

“Malfoy!” Neville yelled, ducking out of the way of the snowballs. “Not cool!”

“Oh for the love of Merlin.” Ginny gasped, grabbing Hermione by the hand, and running for the gates.

Draco was right though, as the group ran down the hill with both him and his snowballs on their heels, the reporters quickly cleared out of the way, lest they be hit with flying snow themselves.

They ducked into the Hogs Head, relatively unscathed, and Draco headed away into town.

“That was quite effective.” Luna smiled. “Lucky Malfoy was there to hassle us at the right moment.

“Er, yes.” Hermione blushed. “Quite.”

“Yes, miraculous.” Ginny chuckled. “Looks like we didn’t give them all the slip though.”

At that moment, Rita Skeeter had ducked into the pub wearing a florescent green cape.

“Well, we’re early, so lets get a drink.” Neville said, moving to a table in the corner.

Aberforth wandered over, with a disgruntled look on his face. “You lot gonna make this a regular thing now?”

“It’s quieter here Ab.” Ginny grinned. “We like privacy.”

Aberforth grumbled under his breath about students filling up his pub, as he wandered away to get them a round of Butterbeer.

The group chatted, and enjoyed their Butterbeer while they waited for the meeting to begin.

“Fancy meeting you here!” Came Ron’s voice from the door, as he and Harry joined them.

“Yes, imagine my surprise.” Hermione laughed, giving Harry a hug. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you in that Uniform.”

“They are a bit much.” Harry said, tugging on the front of his ornate shirt. "Luckily we only have to wear them in training, and on ministry business. Once we're in the field we'll be in plain clothes most days."

"Well, you would be a bit obvious wandering around on patrol in Ministry Robes." Ginny grinned. "That being said, there is something about a Wizard in Uniform."

Harry blushed, and Ron rolled his eyes.

"You're not wrong Ginny." Hermione said with a wink.

"That should be in your recruiting parchments." Neville teased. "Learn how to catch Dark Wizards and Single Witches."

"That mean you're signing on after you graduate Neville?" Harry joked.

"I told you before, I'm considering my options." Neville took a sip of his Butterbeer.

"We've gotta keep the team together!" Ron insisted. "You should sign on! You can always change jobs later."

Neville didn't respond, just indicated behind Ron, where Rita Skeeter had moved to the closest possible table and was trying to eavesdrop on their conversation.

"Not bugging anyone today, are we Skeeter?" Hermione called, casting a non-verbal Muffliato.

"Now she'll think we're discussing something important." Harry pointed out.

"No, she'll just get frustrated and leave." Hermione explained. "She can't print anything about me anyway."

Sure enough, Rita eventually stormed off in a huff, and the group all burst out laughing.

Harry followed her to the door, and then quickly returned.

"Tracking spell?" Ron asked, with a smirk.

"Well, we don't want her wandering in on anything important." Harry shrugged. "Speaking of which, we'd better get upstairs."

They left a pile of sickles on the table and headed for the stairs.

"End of the hall." Aberforth grunted.

They settled in around the room, as the rest of the Order members made their way in.

Draco wandered around Hogsmede, trying to ignore the stares he was getting from passers by. He was quite proud of himself for leaving Hermione to her meeting at the Hogs Head, rather than doing what he really wanted, which was stand outside the door with his wand drawn.

If I don't find something to buy, she'll think I just loitered all day. He thought, as he wandered the snow lined streets.

Hermione had been true to her word, there were lots of new shops. Draco was curious about one at the edge of town that had a distinctly Muggle appearance; it was an odd shopfront, in an all wizard village. He moved closer to the glass, and saw that it seemed to be tattoo parlor.

That would explain it. Draco thought. There weren't really any Wizard tattoo parlors. Most wizards didn't have tattoos, and if they did, they got them in the Muggle world. It was part of why the Dark Mark was so taboo. Perhaps whomever owned this shop was trying to change that.

Draco peered in the window for a few more moments, before the shop keeper noticed him and waved him inside. Draco shrugged, and pushed open the door. There was a tinkle of a bell as he ducked into the warm space. There was odd music playing from the back of the room, and a long counter running most of the front. There were a few racks of earrings and other trinkets, as well as books of tattoo designs.

“You looked curious mate.” The shop keeper said, coming to lean on the counter. “Never seen a Tattoo Parlor before?”

“No, actually.” Draco said. “This is my first visit to Hogsmede in over a year. I didn’t even know you were here.”

“Well that would explain it.” The shop keeper chuckled. “Lots of changes to Hogsmede in the past few months. We weren’t sure how a Muggle business would do in a Wizard community, but we figured some Wizards aren’t entirely comfortable in the Muggle world.”

“You’d be right about that.” Draco said, looking around curiously. “Are you getting much business?”

“Well, not as much as we’d like.” He shrugged. “But we’ve only just opened, and we’re sort of bucking the status quo as it were.”

“How are you doing the Tattoos?” Draco asked, honestly curious. Hermione had mentioned wanting one, but he never really gave much thought to how they were created.

“We’re using Muggle Tattoo machines.” He said. “They run on electricity, which is why we’re on the edge of town. We’ve got a generator rigged up, and Tricia has created some kind of shield spell to protect it from going on the fritz with all the magic around here.”

“Tattoo machines?” Draco asked, peering past the shop keeper.

“Pure blood, are you?” The shop keeper joked.

“Was it that obvious?” Draco smirked.

“Just taking the Mickey.” The shop keeper laughed, putting out his hand. “Name’s Han.”

“Draco.” Draco said, after a moments hesitation.

“I know who you are.” Han said, smirking back.

Draco nodded, his face turning red.

“Don’t worry about it mate.” Han said, with a chuckle. “We all make mistakes.”

Just then a blonde girl, with tattoos covering most of her exposed skin came in the back door of the shop with several parcels in her arms.

“Han you scoundrel, come take these off me before I drop them all!” She called, wobbling a bit. As she turned to hand off the parcels, Draco noticed she had a bright splash of pink in her hair, and was immediately reminded of his late cousin Tonks.

“Keep your socks on!” Han joked, as he took the pile of brown wrapped packages.

The girl, whom Draco assumed was Tricia, was unwinding a red scarf from her neck. Draco would have thought it was a Gryffindor scarf, except it had blue stripes instead of gold.

“Tricia, this is Draco.” Han said, jerking his head in Draco’s direction. “He’s curious about our tattooing process.”

“Oh, well it’s pretty simple.” Tricia said, picking up a bulky silver object and bringing it over to the counter to show him. “It’s electric. We set in sterile needles, and it injects the ink into the skin at a very high rate of speed.”

“Needles?” Draco asked, hesitantly.

“Sure, you have to get the ink deep enough into the skin for the tattoo to take properly.” Tricia shrugged, setting the machine down. “It doesn’t hurt as much as you’d think.”

Draco suddenly was once again awed at Hermione’s bravery. She wanted a tattoo, and knew that it meant a painful process.

“You thinking of getting a tattoo?” Tricia asked.

“If I’m not off my mark,” Han said, with a smirk. “I’d say he’s already got one.”

“Er, yes. I do.” Draco said, blushing again. “I didn’t get it the Muggle way though.”

“I didn’t know there was a magical tattoo method.” Tricia said, leaning on the counter looking curious.

“There’s not one for polite company.” Draco admitted.

Tricia looked confused, but Han chimed in, “This is Draco Malfoy. He was a few years behind me… in Slytherin.”

“Is that the evil green house?” Tricia asked, rolling her eyes.

“Yes, that’s us.” Draco chuckled. “Did you not go to Hogwarts?”

“No, my dad is American and my mum is a NoMaj.” Tricia said with a shrug. “I grew up here, but I went to Ilvermorny; Dad thought that Hogwarts was too prejudiced against Half-Bloods.”

“Hey, not everyone is like that!” Han argued.

“Yes, yes, I know…” Tricia chuckled. “You amazing Hufflepuffs and your love of everyone.”

Han rolled his eyes and said sarcastically. “Now you’ve let the cat out of the bag, and Draco here will take his business elsewhere rather than be seen speaking to a Hufflepuff.”

“I’m not that rude.” Draco chuckled.

“Can I see your tattoo?” Tricia asked, “I’ve never seen a tattoo made with magic.”

“Um, ok…” Draco hesitated.

“Unless it’s somewhere you’d rather not share?” Tricia amended.

“He’s hesitating because his tattoo is a Dark Mark.” Han explained. “The mark of Voldemort’s followers.”

“No kidding?” Tricia asked, looking more curious than anything.

“She has no sense of self preservation.” Han chuckled. “She would have been a Gryffindor, no question.”

“I don’t know about that.” Tricia said. “Aren’t they the ones who are always fighting everyone’s battles? I’m not a Wampus, I’m a Thunderbird.”

“Gryffindors are meant to be very brave.” Han explained.

“Is that true?” Tricia asked Draco.

“It’s true of the Gryffindors I’m familiar with.” Draco shrugged.

“What an odd quality to apply to children.” Tricia shrugged.

Draco decided that he liked Tricia; she had an honest quality to her. He rolled up his sleeve. “Here, you can have a look if you want.”

“Wow!” Tricia said, grabbing Draco’s arm. “This is incredible.”

She prodded at his skin, “It looks like it’s sitting on top of your arm, rather than being sunk into the Dermis.”

Han looked uncomfortable, and Draco smiled sadly. “Sorry.”

“You were released by the Wizengamot, that’s good enough for me.” Han said. “Hell, Potter himself testified on your behalf.”

“Can you teach me this spell?” Tricia asked.

“No.” Exclaimed Draco and Han together.

Tricia looked shocked at their joint reaction.

“Sorry, but I wasn’t kidding when I said this method isn’t for polite company.” Draco gently explained. “It’s a very Dark spell.”

“Oh.” Tricia said, prodding Draco’s arm again. “Bummer.”

“I wondered if those would still be visible, after Potter finished him off.” Han said, sounding curious.

“Yes, they’re permanent.” Draco said. “Although they used to move. It was… disturbing.”

“You ever thought about covering it with something else?” Han asked.

“Is that possible?” Draco asked, surprised.

“I don’t see why not.” Han said. “It’d have to be something rather large, maybe a half sleeve, to make it look good.”

“A sleeve?” Draco asked.

“Yeah, like this.” Tricia pushed up the sleeve of her baggy sweater showing an intricate design covering her entire arm.

Draco was surprised that she had tattoos covering that much of her body, but they were strangely beautiful. He was suddenly struck with a thought, “Could you cover other things? Like scars?”

“Yeah, that’s actually one of my favorite things to design!” Tricia said excitedly.

“Really?” Draco was thrilled. “Do you have any designs I could see?”

“Well, there’s some in these books, but for a scar it would have to be more custom than that. Could I see the scar?” Tricia asked.

“It’s not for me… it’s for my friend.” Draco admitted. “She mentioned wanting to get a tattoo a while back, and I’d forgotten about it until I saw your store. But she has a scar on her arm that bothers her quite a lot.”

“Well, how big is the scar?” Han asked, popping open one of the design books.

“Maybe, 10 centimeters?” Draco guessed. “Perhaps a bit longer.”

“Hmmm, well… here it is.” Han turned the book around to show Draco some pictures of tattoos that had been done over scars. Some of them incorporated the scar into the art, while others hid the scar completely. “Do you think she’d want to hide it, or show it off?”

“Well, I’d imagine she would want to hide it… but at the risk of getting hexed, I’d say I should probably check with her.” Draco said.

“Smart man.” Han chuckled.

“Tell you what.” Tricia said, “If you bring her back in, I’ll give you two for one.”

“You don’t have to do that.” Draco said, smiling. “I’m definitely going to bring her in here. Later this afternoon in fact. She’s in a meeting until later.”

“Ok, well bring her in.” Tricia said, grabbing a parchment and quill. “In the meantime, I’m going to work on something for you. What kinds of things do you like?”

“Things?” Draco said curiously, as he watched Tricia quickly sketch a rough but accurate outline of his Mark.

“Your hobbies, likes, dislikes. Things you might want in a design.” She pressed.

“Oh.” Draco scratched his head. “I… don’t really know.”

“You must have some interest.” Han chuckled.

“Well, I like Quidditch.” Draco said, uncertainly. “And books. I like to read.”

“I can work with that.” Tricia said, her hand flying over the paper. “Come back in an hour, yeah?”

Draco nodded, watching her curiously as she sketched, and then he looked at the time and realized that Hermione’s meeting was meant to be finished. He thanked Han, and slipped out the door.

He followed the streets until he came back to the Hog’s Head, and went to sit at the bar. Aberforth came over and passed him a glass of Mead, unasked. Draco nodded his thanks, and waited for Hermione to emerge. Eventually she came out of the back room, laughing at something Potter had said. He noticed that only Hermione’s usual friends were with her; the rest of the Order, whoever they were, must have left another way. Smart, they’re still hiding their numbers. He thought.

Hermione passed him, without a glance, and went back to the table in the corner. Ron and Harry hugged the the girls goodbye, shook Neville’s hand, and were on their way.

“Hey Ab!” Ginny called. “Can we get a round of something over here? Neville has just decided to join the Aurors when he leaves school!”

Aberforth grumbled again about his bar being overrun with Aurors, and brought over a bottle of Firewhiskey.

The group laughed, and had their drinks, and then they all headed on their way. Ginny and Luna wanted to go to Honeydukes, and Neville was heading back to the castle to help out Professor Sprout. Hermione had planned to follow the girls, but when she retrieved her robe from its peg by the door, she found a note in the pocket. She turned around and sent Draco a questioning glance, and he gave a minute nod.

She smiled and followed the girls out the door before unfolding the parchment. Draco had drawn a map to the edge of the village.

“You coming with us ‘Mione?” Luna asked.

“Actually, I need some things from the stationary store.” Hermione replied. “I’ll see you back at the castle?”

“Sure thing ‘Mione.” Ginny said, with a smirk. “Be careful. I’ll expect you by three if I don’t hear otherwise?”

“That should be plenty of time.” Hermione agreed. She wasn’t sure what Draco had in mind, but anyone listening in would buy it. She headed off in the direction that the map indicated.

When she reached the shop number, she was very surprised to see the Muggle tattoo shop. Curiosity getting the better of her, she opened the door and let herself in.

“Well Merlin’s Beard, you’re Hermione Granger!” Came a mans voice from behind the counter.

“Er, yes.” She said, blushing furiously.

“Well what brings you into our shop today?” The man asked. The woman, sitting behind the counter, had still not looked up.

“Um, I’m meant to be meeting someone here.” Hermione said. “At least I think it’s here. My directions where a bit vague.”

“Hmmm. Well we’ve only had one other customer today, but I doubt you’re meeting him.” The man said. “I’m Han, that’s Tricia.”

At this point, Tricia waved, but didn’t look up from the sketch she was working on.

“Nice to meet you both.” Hermione said, “Is this a Muggle tattoo parlor?”

“Yes, well there’s really no such thing as a Wizarding one.” Han explained.

“No?” Hermione asked, curious. “I didn’t know that.”

“It’s still considered a bit taboo.” Han explained.

“Not in America.” Came Tricia’s voice.

“Oh, well I’ll take your word for it.” Hermione said with a smile.

“Were you looking to get a tattoo?” Han asked.

“Well, not specifically… but I’ve always wanted one.” Hermione admitted.

“If you want the work done, we would be discreet.” Han explained. “I understand you might not want this all over the papers.”

“Well, I like to stay out of the papers as much as I can, as a general rule.” Hermione grinned. “But I appreciate your discretion.”

“I like her.” Tricia said, still focused on her drawing. “Is she the friend?”

“I very much doubt that.” Han chuckled. “Remember I told you about Harry Potter, and his friends?”


“Well she’s the brainy one.” Han explained.

“Oh.” Was Tricia’s only reply.

Hermione smiled, it was nice to meet someone seemingly unimpressed with her reputation.

“So who are you meeting?” Han asked. “It’s not Harry, or Ron, is it?”

“No.” Hermione chuckled. “They have classes. I’m meeting a friend.”

“I told you.” Tricia said.

“I would be very surprised if that was the case!” Han argued.

“Don’t let your Hogwarts prejudice cloud your judgement!” Tricia yelled, throwing an empty ink bottle at Han.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Han said, ducking.

Hermione stepped back out of the way, and turned when she heard the bell on the door.

“Han, Tricia, I see you’ve met Hermione.” Draco said softly.

“Told you.” Tricia said, as Han’s mouth just hung open.

“How are you two friends?!” Han gasped, looking back and forth form Hermione to Draco.

Hermione was surprised that Draco was suddenly ok with the possibility of someone seeing them together in public, even without the full details of their relationship. But then again, they had been in the shop for nearly half an hour and no one had so much as passed by the front window.

"Draco, why did you bring me here?" Hermione asked, looking around the shop curiously.

"Well, I was wandering around a bit while you were in your meeting, and I found this place and we got to chatting. Tricia here likes to design tattoos around scars." Draco explained, pulling the still open book of photo's across the counter. "You mentioned wanting to get a tattoo, but I wondered if you'd thought about something like this?"

Hermione paged through the book silently for a few minutes. "You designed these?"

Tricia nodded. "To be honest, that's what got me started in this business. I have a nasty scar on my leg; I was always self conscious about it, until one day I started drawing over it with Texta, and here we are!"

Draco couldn't read Hermione's expression, as she continued to turn the pages. "I think this a brilliant idea." She said, suddenly grinning. "I'd much rather have people stare at my arm because of something I chose to put there."

"That's the idea." Tricia smiled.

"Would you be able to cover the scar completely?" Hermione asked.

"Usually." Tricia shrugged. "It depends on the scar. Can I have a look?"

Hermione blushed, and pushed up the sleeve of her robe, and then her jumper, before resting her arm on the counter. She felt tears pricking at the back of her eyes, and took a deep breath to steady herself. She never showed her scar to anyone, and rarely looked at it herself.

Draco sensed her discomfort and discreetly rested a hand on the small of her back.

"I can't reconcile this picture." Han said, shaking his head at Hermione and Draco.

"We have a lot in common." Hermione said softly, feeling for the first time, the concern Draco had for their relationship becoming public information.

Draco felt her tense up under Han's scrutiny, and glared. "We would appreciate you keeping the commentary to a minimum. I'm willing to pay you for your service, but if you can't respect our privacy, we will take our business elsewhere."

Hermione didn't need to look at him to know that he had assumed his terrifying, Death Eater persona.

Han shied away subconsciously. "Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it."

"We're just a bit tired of being in the spotlight." Hermione said, nudging Draco to calm him.

"Sorry." Draco mumbled, with a sheepish grin.

"You're not as scary as you think you are." Hermione chuckled.

"Says you." Han laughed.

"I don't think I've ever seen a scar like this." Tricia said, having completely ignored Draco's display. She ran a hand over it, pressing the skin and feeling it's depth. "It's quite deep."

"Yes, it couldn't be healed." Hermione explained.

"This will be challenging." Tricia said, sounding excited, and passed Draco a parchment. "I've gotten a start on yours."

Draco unrolled the parchment and his eyebrows threatened to disappear into his hairline. "This is incredible, you just drew this?"

It was a sketch of a dragon, which clearly aimed to use the Dark Mark as it's overall shape. Surrounding the dragon, was a detailed tangle of scrolls, books, brooms, snitches, and interesting swirls and stars. Despite the size of the sketch, it wasn't gaudy looking--somehow it all fit just right.

Tricia nodded. "Yes, but I can change anything you might not like, and I'd like to add a bit more personality to it. I just took the Dragon from your name."

"Wow!" Hermione said, peering over Draco's shoulder at the sketch. "Are you thinking of getting this?"

"Well, I was skeptical before, but I'm not now." Draco said, clearly impressed. "How long does something like this take?"

"A few weeks, probably." Tricia shrugged. "We can't do it all at once, so you'd need to make a few trips."

"Ok, when can we start?" Draco asked.

"Well, we're not exactly swamped with business, so whenever you want." Han said. "When is the next Hogsmede weekend?"

"Six weeks, I think." Hermione said. "We have the Easter break coming up."

"Well, we can just make you a reservation for that day." Tricia said. "Try to get as much done as possible and reevaluate from there."

"Ok, what time do you open?" Draco asked.

"Usually about 10." Han said. "We don't really have set shop hours."

"Well, let's say 10:00, in six weeks." Draco said.

"Ok, let me make a copy of that." Tricia said, reaching for the sketch she had done for Draco. "I'd like to put a bit more personality into it, so owl me with anything that comes to mind about your hobbies or passions... anything really. I want it to be totally unique. Same for you Hermione."

"I like it just like that." Draco said, he sounded a bit concerned, but only Hermione noticed his change in tenor.

"Well, if you really like it obviously it's your arm..." Tricia said. "But I'd love to work more of you into it."

"We'll keep that in mind." Hermione said.

"Anything you'd like me to start on, offhand?" She asked Hermione.

"Well, I love to read." Hermione said thoughtfully, "I like Arithmancy and Ancient Runes."

"Got it." Tricia said, making notes. "Oh, one more thing... what are your wands made of?"

"Mine is Dragon Heartstring and Vinewood." Hermione said, "His is Unicorn Hair and Hawthorn."

"Great." Tricia said, scribbling on her parchment. "I'll see you in a few weeks time! If you think of anything else you want worked into the design, owl me!"

Hermione and Draco left the shop, finding Hogsmede fairly deserted in the late afternoon. It was starting to turn dusk, and Hermione realized that Ginny would be looking for her in the castle any minute.

She quickly shot off a Patronus, and her Otter danced off through the village, towards the Castle.

"Reassuring Ginny?" Draco asked darkly.

"She said to let her know if I wasn't going to be back by three." Hermione explained.

"Overprotective much?" Draco muttered.

"We always do this Draco," Hermione explained. "It's just a safety precaution."

"Ok, well now I don't know whether to be pleased you are being cautious with your life, or offended that the Weaselette thinks I'm still a threat." Draco chuckled.

"She doesn't think you're a threat." Hermione sighed, rolling her eyes.

"She does think I'm a threat." Draco insisted. "And she's not wrong about that."

"I'm not having this conversation again." Hermione snapped. "I refuse."

Draco laughed. "Ok Little Dragon, you're the boss."

Hermione sighed again. "Are you really walking through the middle of Hogsmede with me right now? In public?"

It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends, and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason.” Draco said, noticing Hermione shiver. “Besides, if you haven't noticed, the village is all but deserted. Probably because it's freezing."

“It is cold.” Hermione agreed, bundling her robe tighter. “And that quote is from The Mysterious Island.”

Suddenly, she felt a weight on her shoulders, and realized that Draco had taken off his cloak and placed it over her. It was heavy, fur lined and warm.

“But now you’ll freeze!” Hermione argued, reaching to give the cloak back.

“I can do a warming charm.” Draco said, with a smirk. “Come on, walk this way, no one will see us in the trees.”

They headed off the road and into the woods near the Shrieking Shack. As they got closer to the Hogwarts gates, they noticed the reporters were once again waiting around the entrance.

“Tossers.” Draco muttered. “Well, do you want to go up first, or should I?”

“I’ve got a better idea.” Hermione said, turning back towards the shack. “Follow me.”

“Where are we going?” Draco asked.

“It’s a secret.” Hermione grinned. “Promise not to tell?”

“Sure.” Draco said, sounding curious.

Hermione led the way to the door of the Shrieking Shack, and let them in.

“Wicked!” Draco grinned. “I’ve never been in here before. But what’s your plan?”

Hermione lifted the trap door to the tunnel. “I’ve always been a fan of secret passageways myself.”

“Come here Witch.” Draco grinned, pulling Hermione in for a kiss.

“Apparently you like passages as much as I do.” Hermione said, breathless and slightly pink cheeked from the kiss.

“Passages I can take or leave,” Draco said. “I just don’t get enough opportunities to kiss you properly. ‘You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how’.”

“Gone with the Wind.” Hermione smiled. “Come on, lets get going, I want to go to the Library!”

The Library or Our Library?” Draco asked, waggling his eyebrows.

“First one, then the other.” Hermione laughed.

“Lead the way, fair maid.” Draco said, bowing deeply.

“You’re in a good mood all of the sudden.” Hermione said, climbing down into the tunnel.

“Well, I get to avoid the reporters and instead get to kiss you.” Draco shrugged. “What’s not to like?”

Hermione blushed, and was glad for the dim light of the tunnel, as Draco followed her down the ladder.

“You can’t just walk right in, can you?” Draco asked, pulling the trap door shut behind him.

Lumos.” Hermione muttered, lighting her wand. “No, you can’t. It had some protection before the war, which you’ll see in a minute. But we’ve added a few more things.”

Reaching up, she touched her Order talisman to an ordinary looking rock, which promptly glowed, she then tapped it twice with her wand.

"A Phylacteri portal?" Draco asked, sounding impressed. "Who did the enchantment?"

Hermione looked at him curiously. "I did."

Draco laughed. "I don't know why I bother to ask."

"Why do you say that?" Hermione said, starting down the passage.

"Because you're an extremely powerful witch." Draco shrugged, following her. "I should stop being surprised when you do disturbingly difficult magic without a thought."

"It's not that difficult." Hermione argued.

"Sure it is." Draco laughed. "Particularly because you clearly added a secondary incantation to limit the number of people entering the portal."

"Well, otherwise anyone could follow you in." Hermione said.

"I know Little Dragon," Draco said, still chuckling. "But that charm isn't even taught at Newt level. It's very complicated."

Hermione just shrugged.

"So where does this passage lead, anyway?" Draco asked.

"The Whomping Willow." Hermione said.

"Wait, what?" Draco asked, incredulous.

"Yeah, there's a gap at the base of the trunk where the tunnel lets out." Hermione grinned.

"So, we just get bludgeoned to death?" Draco smirked.

"Nope." Hermione giggled. "Have a bit of patience!"

They reached the base of the tree, the passage growing narrow, and Draco having to duck his tall frame to avoid hitting his head. Hermione reached up with her wand and prodded the knot on the tree and felt it stop moving, and then climbed out.

"That's a neat trick." Draco said, eyeing the tree warily.

"Yes, it was put in place when Lupin was a student." Hermione explained. "He used it on full moon nights."

"Creative." Draco said, hopping neatly over a fallen branch. "So what are you so excited to get to at the Library?"

"Well, I wanted to start on that DADA project I mentioned." Hermione said. "I'm trying to decide if it would be most advantageous to begin with the first year text and work up, or start with the seventh year text and work down."

Draco scowled.

"I hadn't forgotten about it, if that's what you were hoping." Hermione said softly.

"A bloke can hope." Draco muttered.

"I didn't say you had to help me." Hermione said.

"No, but you want me to." Draco argued.

"Yes." Hermione admitted. "That's why I asked. It would make the whole process much faster, and more accurate."

Draco said nothing, just shoved his hands in his pockets as they approached the castle.

"I'll work on it another time if it bothers you that much." Hermione said.

Draco appeared to be mulling things over, and after a few moments, he said quietly, "No, I'd rather you worked on it with me there."

"It's just research, Draco." Hermione said gently, laying a hand on his arm.

Draco just nodded, his face void of any expression.

When they reached the Castle, Draco hung back and told Hermione to go in first.

"I'll meet you in our Library." He insisted.

Hermione nodded, and hurried up to her dorm to collect her old Defense books. Opting to change out of her nicer clothes she'd worn to Hogsmede, she slipped into a comfortable pair of faded black track pants and an old jumper.

She tried to balance seven years worth of textbooks, as well as the few books she had borrowed from the Black Library about dark magic as she made her way to the room of requirement.

She found that Draco was already installed at one end of the table with some parchments, and his defense book.

"I'm thinking I'd be better off starting with the Seventh Year text and working down, that way I know what each year needs to build to." Hermione said, dropping her load of books on the table and summoning a great length of parchment.

Draco chuckled. "I really cannot believe that you are this bored in defense."

"Well, I'm not so much anymore." Hermione shrugged. "Or at least I wouldn't be if I was allowed to duel properly."

Draco sighed and started, "Well, you're not clear..."

"Cleared by my Healer." Hermione huffed. "I know that Draco. So let's just work on this!"

Draco watched Hermione for a moment, before asking, "You're really sure you want my help? You might not like what you hear."

"Draco, I'm just asking you to describe the spells that we are teaching the counter to." Hermione said. "We can start with an easy one! The Imperious Curse."

"An 'easy one' she says." Draco muttered, rolling his eyes.

"Well, have you performed that curse?" Hermione asked.

"Yes." Draco said, hesitantly, "I've done it."

"Ok, well one of the two curses I want to focus on by the end of Fifth Year are the Patronus and the Imperious." Hermione said. "The students need to be able to produce a Patronus and throw off the Imperious by the time they take their O.W.L.'s."

"You realize you're talking about expecting 16 year old kids to perform two of the most difficult tasks in the Wizarding World?" Draco asked, smirking at Hermione.

"Harry learnt both those things in Fourth Year." Hermione pointed out.

"Hermione," Draco sighed. "As much as I hate to admit it, and I'll deny it if questioned, Harry is an exceptionally powerful Wizard. It's almost scary, really. It's a damn good thing he has such a hero complex, because he'd make a fairly unstoppable Dark Wizard."

"Oh, that's a load of nonsense." Hermione rolled her eyes.

"It's really not." Draco said. "Why do you think Riddle, Fudge, hell... even my Father were afraid of him as a child? Harry can do things that don't make sense, particularly of a Wizard his age."

"Ok, so he's gifted." Hermione argued. "That doesn't mean that with the right coaching, any student couldn't apply themselves and learn these tasks."

"Ok, but why the Imperious Curse?" Draco pressed.

"Imagine a world where no one could use the Imperious to their advantage?" Hermione insisted, getting excited. "It would be like unloading a gun, it wouldn't matter if it were Unforgivable, because it wouldn't be of use to anyone!"

"Well, how do you aim to go about this?" Draco asked, starting to sound curious.

"Well, that's a bit more challenging." Hermione admitted. "I'd like to start with the theory, and work from there. Ideally, I'd get someone to put the curse on me, and work from there."

"Well, we're not doing that." Draco insisted.

“Why not?” Hermione asked. “The Imperious Curse doesn’t hurt you, if you trust the person doing the curse.”

“Well, aside from the fact that it’s unforgivable, it’s still a dark curse. It still has side effects.” Draco pointed out.

“Ok, that’s what I’m talking about.” Hermione said, sitting up in her seat and starting to take notes. “How does the curse feel when it’s being performed?”

“Well…” Draco hesitated.

“Harry said that it felt like an extension of your limbs, so to speak.” Hermione said. “Does that sound right?”

“Potter has used the Imperious Curse?” Draco asked, sounding surprised.

“Yes.” Hermione said simply. “When we were breaking into Gringotts.”

“Interesting.” Draco said. “Well, that’s a rather generous description, and it speaks to Potter’s character rather impressively.”

“Really?” Hermione asked, feverishly taking notes. “How so?”

“Well…” Draco looked skeptically at Hermione. “You’re not going to like this.”

“That’s rather the point, isn’t it.” Hermione huffed.

Draco sighed, “It’s a feeling of complete control. Complete power. You have someone’s very life in your hands.”

“Interesting.” Hermione said, scribbling on her parchment. “And when you’re controlling someone, do you have to ask them to do things, or is it more unconscious?”

“I’d say it’s fairly unconscious.” Draco said, absently rubbing his arm over his Mark. “I didn’t have to be specific, such as saying ‘walk across the room’. Rather like deciding to walk across a room yourself, the Imperioused person would just respond to what I was thinking.”

“That does sound like an extension of limbs.” Hermione said, absently.

“Yes,” Draco agreed. “It wasn’t a bad description, it just wasn’t the whole experience.”

They continued going over the curse until Draco was irritated of Hermione’s questions, and finally said. “Can we talk about something happy for a change?”

Hermione’s head shot up from her writing and saw that Draco’s eyes had taken on a dark, angry glint. “Of course, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, I just…” Draco struggled for the right words. “I just need a break.”

“This is as bad as performing the magic yourself.” Hermione said.

“Not quite that bad.” Draco admitted. “I don’t get the rush that I get from actually doing the spells.”

“Well, let’s take a break then!” Hermione said with a smile. “

Author's Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

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