Throughout the next fortnight, it appeared as though the status quo might've been broken in the Heads Dormitory. Draco, for the first six nights, following his discovery of the new Granger developments, had slept in the common area on a bed he had conjured - for the sofa appeared to be too poor for the like of a Malfoy's pompous arse. He maintained that he would not sleep in his room until Blaise has cleaned it thrice. The latter, it appeared, reveled in this inconvenience and did not appear in the Heads rooms for two days in their entirety following the Stunning incident - and certainly took his time in the days that followed to scourge Draco's green and silver adorned room.
Draco has not spoken to Hermione in that two weeks time - a blessing of Merlin, really - and had only once looked her in the eye, only to be met with a cold, empty stare.
After returning Draco's room to its rightful state of Mudblood-free-ness Blaise became a nauseatingly frequent fixture in Hermione's dormitory, stopping by nearly every evening with some kind of 'learning tool' and escorted Hermione to breakfast each morning. The two Slytherin boys appeared to be walking on eggshells around one another; Draco, quite obviously did not approve of Blaise's intentions and had threatened twice to mention it to Lucius.
November was now breaking, and Hermione had whole-heartedly thrust herself into her schoolwork for one last time. Blaise Zabini, while thoroughly delighted with the progress she had made in such a short period of time was now becoming frustrated, Hermione had refused at all lengths to use the Crutacious curse again, and would not even dream of attempting the other two Unforgivables. His progress hindered, Blaise had taken to sulking around this Slytherin dungeons when he was not spending time with the Head Girl - which had already left him incredibly exasperated. Certainly they'd worked on other spells that were commonly associated with the Dark Arts, but never again had Blaise managed to withdraw the kind of anger from the Muggle-born witch that he had the night Draco had Stunned her. He was fearful of losing his grip upon her. He had wanted to see her blossom into an all-powerful and unforgiving witch, much like Bellatrix - for then she would be heavily favored by the Dark Lord - and yet she seemed to have stalled irreparably and Blaise wanted nothing more than to blame Draco Malfoy.
"She doesn't have it in her, Zabini. I've told you this hundreds of times in the last few days."
"You didn't see it. That spark. If she came unlaced I know, I know that we could change her."
"Oh, bollocks, Zabini. She's just your little pet project. You fancy her and her dirty blood. And you're trying to make her what she's not because you know your whole world disapproves of it. Bloody hell, step out of your first year self for a second mate and take a look at what you're doing. She's a Mudblood!"
"Not talented enough." Draco spat.
There was a second of silence before Draco continued on, "She will never be accepted."
"A new age is dawning." Blaise replied calmly.
"A new age that I'm a part of. And I am opposed with every drop of my pure blood. This is not a matter of open mindedness. We follow the old world order."
"It's time for a new one, Draco. And you need to recognize that fact as the Dark Lord has. When the Order and the Ministry fall things will change. It is impossible to rid the world of Muggle-borns and Half-bloods, Draco."
"Says the Dark Lord."
Hermione Granger had set in her heels after hearing this. She'd just departed her bedroom, opening the door quietly as she headed down to breakfast, assuming Malfoy to still be asleep. And yet he was not. Sitting in the common room were he and Blaise, arguing in whispers. She listened until Blaise departed, before opening her bedroom from the outside and shutting it loudly so as to appear as though she had just emerged. Malfoy appeared to be thinking along the same lines, as he feigned sleep - and subsequently an abrupt wake up - as she strode across the common room.
He shot her a glare, but received only an impassive look as she pushed the portrait open.
That had all occured this morning, after which she had chosen to sit alone at breakfast, a fact which made Blaise uneasy. "Having troubles with your Mudblood, Zabini?" Pansy Parkinson had quipped halfway through his pancakes.
He looked up, "Draco seems to be ignoring you these days, Parkinson. Forget to Confund him again?"
She scowled at him before returning to her incessant talking about something she'd seen in Witches Weekly.
The day did not improve for Blaise Zabini. Sitting in the Slytherin common room during his free period - Granger had not answered his knocking on her door - he received an owl which told of a dire situation at home. His father was in trouble for something relating to Muggles and would have to appear in front of the Wizengamot next week. The whole thought of it made him sick and by late afternoon he had taken to skipping his classes for a calming flight around the Quidditch pitch.
Draco's discovery of the circumstances had certainly thrown a glitch in his plans. And undoubtedly Granger was feeling self-conscious, practicing Dark Magic with the knowledge that Blaise could now, very well, reveal her progress to Malfoy. The Christmas holidays were barely a month away and should Blaise not be able to maintain his relationship with the volatile Head Girl he feared that he would very well lose her - after which Malfoy would openly discuss the incident with his father, who would in turn do so with the Dark Lord. And that would not fare well for Blaise at all.
Hermione did not know whether she was angry or upset. It was clear that Malfoy thought her incapable of whatever purpose Blaise had set her, though whether or not he was right remained another matter entirely. To continue onwards and to fail was no longer an option, but the attractiveness of success had become quite appealing in the weeks following the night she'd tried to Crucio a jar of spiders. That night, however, had come to be the most crucial of her short life, it represented, in her eyes, two options, both of which had their complimentary attributes. To shun the Dark Arts meant to join in the fight against Voldemort, to side with the Ministry or the Order, whose policies she could not agree with. To side with the light meant to maintain her relationships, to continue to thrive in a world that accepted her and would provide everything she would need for her life in the wizarding world. The light meant unhindered success, the tutelage of Albus Dumbledore and to every day have to look into the eyes of one Harry Potter. This she could not do. Not today.
The dark meant just that. She would have to embrace the most unfamiliar world, one in which she would not be liked, filled with individuals would oppose her and every fiber of her being, while she sought the approval of the most feared wizard in history. With the Dark Arts she would demand respect from those that surrounded her, Pureblood or not. She could change the face of the Death Eaters - should she make it that far - accepting only the most astute wizards into their midst. With the dark she would have everything that she needed, but also anything she could ever want. It could mean outshining Harry Potter once and for all, proving herself to be the better witch, and she would no longer exist only as someone else's crutch. But it also meant realizing the great potential for failure, for death, for life imprisonment in Azkaban. It meant living and dying by the words of one man - until he lived and died by hers. Succumbing to her insatiable hunger for the dark meant starting now, for Hermione Granger had never failed.
Draco had been lounging on the common room couch for nearly two hours when the portrait finally opened. Hermione was laden with books and had an air of determination about her. She set them down on the table near Draco and whipped off her school robes.
"Is Blaise about?" She asked him in her first attempt at conversation in a great many days.
"How the bloody hell should I know? He's your boyfriend." He replied, hands behind his head.
Draco sat up, looking slightly more awake. "I said that in jest, you know. The boyfriend thing, he told me - he said that..."
"Relax, you twit, he's not...we're not..."
They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence during which Draco had begun producing streams of light from his wand that were not whizzing about the room. Hermione shot an annoyed look at the back of his head.
"So, I saw you in the hall with the Weasley girl yesterday," he started, "weren't too nice to her were you?" Hermione glared, and Draco continue, "I was just saying...Merlin, Granger, relax. You nearly made the bitch cry."
"Don't meddle where you don't belong, Malfoy. You should've learned from the last time."
"Don't meddle where you don't belong, Malfoy." he mocked, "That's comical coming from the little Mudblood who ask Zabini to teach her the Unforgivables. How's that going by the way? Know enough to avenge mum and dad?" He picked up one of the books, "You'll never learn a bloody thing from these, Granger. Some stupid book written by some inexperienced, Dumbledore-loving wanker who has never actually preformed the curses he's deemed so outrageous."
Draco laughed and stood, intending to go to his room.
"You don't know a damn thing about me, Malfoy. You have no idea how much hate I harbor for the people who betrayed me with a smile on. No idea."
"I know you don't have enough of it to make it where you intend to go. You'll always be goody-goody Granger, the girl who would be scandalized by even the thought of breaking wizarding law. So you'll pursue this entertaining bit for a few months before you go crawling back to Potty and explain that it was your grief that made you act that way. And that you miss your Muggle parents and how he should forgive you. And you two and Weasley can go back to trying to foil the Dark Lord and talking shit about me. And all will be right in the world and Granger will be safe and protected and never have to worry about another thing ever ag-"
His hateful rant was cut short by Hermione screaming Crucio at the top of her lungs.
The spell missed Draco, but only by a few inches. After his initial shock, Malfoy turned to look Hermione in the eye and was met with the angriest look he'd ever seen - rivaled only by that of the Dark Lord himself. Her eyes blazed and her hands shook from the rage; she did not looked at all surprised at her actions.
Slowly her expression returned to that of its normal stasis, and then morphed into the mirror of his own. She calmly gathered her things, still smiling, and went to her room. The portrait shut behind her, and Draco felt the same air sensation he had the night he had Stunned her. The air was crackling. And then his mark was burning.