Hermione spent the better part of Thursday morning in a daze. She simply couldn’t believe he’d kissed her again. He’d kissed her again and had been completely cognizant and sober when he did it. It was astonishing.
She had been shy and nervous around him after the first kiss, but after the second, she was completely on edge. And the sly, devilish looks he kept sending her did not help matters at all. She had a sinking feeling he’d kidnap her in a dark hall and snog her senseless simply to keep her mind fogged.
And by midday, she wished she was being snogged senseless. She had been literally dragged into her most hated room of the Manor: the fitting room. She had been stripped and shoved onto that velvet dais and found herself being a human mannequin to wedding dresses of sundry styles.
Shouldn’t she have felt some excitement, being fitted for her wedding dress? In truth she felt none, only nerves. He’d have to kiss her again when they married! And a deep aching in her poor, mistreated feet. Hours upon hours of standing and posing weren’t good for one’s heels.
And hours and hours of mindless chattering weren’t good for one’s mental state. The cacophony of sound that surrounded her was headache-inducing. Between Narcissa, Ginny, Luna and Padma there were far too many biddies in the henhouse. And oh her poor, poor nerves when a rooster finally showed his head.
One of the double doors of the room began to open after a quick rapping. Immediately, all of the women began shrieking and rushing about to grab various sheets of fabric to hide away Hermione.
“Mother?” Draco asked as he opened the door fully and stepped in.
“Draco!” she screeched at him.
He paused and looked affronted.
“What on Earth did I do?” he asked, taking in the ridiculous scene before him.
“Apparently,” Hermione said, completely hidden behind held pieces of white satin, “you aren’t allowed in here.” Her voice expressed what her face could not and it was clear how utterly put-out she was.
Draco’s eyes scanned the women and fabric and a small smile crossed his lips.
“I take it you’re in there somewhere, Granger?”
“Obviously…” she hissed, mimicking her old potions professor.
“Did you need something, Draco?” his mother demanded. She looked at him with narrowed brows.
“Yes… do you know where my Quidditch leathers are?”
“You’re asking me? How should I know? Ask one of the elves…”
“Oh, good heavens! Can’t you keep up with your own things?!” Hermione demanded from behind the satin. A wand was seen at the top of the make-shift curtain pointing directly at Draco. “Accio Quidditch leathers!”
Before he could speak another word, the Quidditch gear slammed into his backside sending him into a heap on the floor and simultaneously sending all the women into peals of laughter.
Draco stood angrily and dusted himself off before gathering his things.
“Thanks for that, Granger! Such finesse you have!” He stated angrily before retreating in a huff.
She felt slightly better. After all, what was a little humiliation on her dear fiancé’s behalf? She was standing there being tortured and he was going off to play Quidditch. How ridiculously unfair!
The women around her started moving again and chattering away. Several hours of looking through fabrics and colours had been exhausting, not to mention all the dresses she already ‘modelled’. Now she was expected to look through the monstrously large book of gowns and choose the one she liked best. She felt like flipping to a random page and picking whatever her finger fell on.
It was going to be a very long day. By the end, she figured she would be in need of a Firewhiskey.
The women huddled over the book and began laughing at one of the, no doubt ridiculous, dresses they saw.
Or possibly two, she amended her earlier thought. With a sigh, she lowered herself from the small step and walked over to look through the dress book.
Harry showed promptly for lunch the following day. Hermione and he decided to have lunch in the garden, and hopefully some privacy there. There wasn’t much to be had however, as Narcissa repeatedly popped in and out discussing random wedding details with Hermione and even going so far as to solicit Harry’s opinion when Hermione was being difficult.
When they finally finished eating, Hermione took Harry by the arm and began pulling him away from the large house, down the east lawns, far away from the woods.
“Ginny tells me you’re anything but the blushing bride, Hermione. Aren’t you excited to be getting married?” he asked with a grin when they were far enough from the house to not have eavesdroppers. They stood in the middle of the vast lawn and could see far and wide anyone who may have approached.
Hermione glared at him. “You know I’m not. I hate doing those girly things. It always gives me a headache,” she complained as she scowled back up at the house.
Harry looked over each of his shoulders and quickly cast Muffliato.
“Now, we can talk freely. What is it you’ve been itching to tell me?” he asked as he rubbed his hands together.
“Harry! They’re going to try to kill you,” Hermione stated, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Harry glanced back at the house. “I dunno, Mrs. Malfoy seemed perfectly cordial.”
“Oh, Harry, do be serious!” she scolded him.
He grinned back at her and nodded his acquiescence.
“Alright,” he started. “Look, I’m not worried about it. You realize I get a lot of death threats, right? If Voldemort couldn’t do the job, none of these others will manage it,” he said with a warm smile.
Hermione gave him a sidelong glance begging him to be serious yet again.
“If it makes you feel better, I’ll get constant security for the house, alright?” He put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her closer.
“Alright. I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you or Ginny.”
“I know, love, but we’ll be fine. It’s you I’m worried about,” he said, rubbing her back soothingly. “You’ve got to be careful, Hermione, I know you can handle yourself but… oh, wasn’t there something you wanted to tell me about your engagement party I wasn’t invited to?”
“Oh, yes…” she quickly went into a long explanation of that horrid night’s events. She smartly left out the bit where Draco kissed her. At the end of her tale, Harry’s face was beet red with rage. He clenched his hands into white fists and began pacing back and forth in front of her.
He stopped, gazing back at the house. He ran one hand through his neat hair, ruffling it up and reminding her of the boy she went to school with.
“And Fenrir is still here somewhere?” he asked. His voice had taken on a deep, darker tone- it was his serious Auror voice, he was down to business now.
“As far as I know, he’s off in the forest,” she said motioning to the dark tree line on the far side of the house, barely visible to them.
“Son of a bitch,” Harry cursed under his breath. “I knew this was a bad idea. I knew it!” He swung his foot at a nearby stone. He rubbed his chin as he thought. “I’m getting you pulled out of here. It’s too dangerous.”
“Harry, you know that’s not possible. The contract was binding.”
He rolled his eyes and breathed out a huff of air, knowing she was right.
“Yeah well, it doesn’t say I can't kill Malfoy. I’m gonna kill him, he's dead. He’s put you in danger and...”
“No, Harry. He…he…” she stopped to search for the words. “He actually… he didn’t do anything wrong. He tried to defend me and he came for me. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Harry looked at her with narrowed brows. “Are you Imperiused?”
“No!” She laughed at him. “No, it’s the truth, as hard to believe as it may be.”
“Yeah but… Malfoy? You’re defending Malfoy? I mean… Hermione Granger defending Malfoy?” Harry ran a hand through his hair, “Yeah, it’s impossible to believe. I still don’t like this. It’s just been one thing after another. It’s too dangerous here.”
“I’m fine, Harry, honest, nothing terrible has happened to me.”
“Yet,” he added.
“I’m fine. I’ll befine. Really. You’re the one with a hit out on you, not me. If anything happens to me, Draco goes to Azkaban, remember?”
He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair again. It had been tidy when he arrived but all it resembled now was a haphazard mess.
“What do you know of Asteria Greengrass?” she asked, breaking him free of his troubled thoughts.
He looked up at her, his green eyes sparkling in the sunlight. “Not much, I’m not a gossip maven you know.”
“I know that,” she replied as she rolled her eyes at him. “Do you know anything about her?”
“It’s Zabini now isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Hermione answered as she looped her arm in Harry’s and started leading him back towards the house.
“Hmm….” He thought a moment. “I think they have one… or is it two? One or two kids now, I’m not sure.” He went silent again. Then he snapped his fingers, “Oh! She was engaged to Malfoy a while back. It was all the scandal apparently. You didn’t know about it?” he asked her.
She shook her head and stopped walking.
“Yeah, they were engaged. I think… I think her family lost their fortune, you know with the taxes and all, and they were trying to marry her off to one of the richer families. Anyway… something happened. I want to say she was caught having some torrid affair with Zabini. Malfoy found out and dropped her like a bad habit. Wouldn’t speak to her or Zabini until after they married. I think that’s how it went, I could be wrong though.”
“Well, that explains a few things,” Hermione said, looking back up at the looming, white mansion. “I don’t know how I didn’t know about that. And they never mentioned it either.”
“Neither would I to be honest,” Harry said. Hermione looked up at him curiously as they resumed their stroll to the house. “Well, I mean… you should know how it feels… with Ron and all… have you talked to him about that?”
“Of course not!”
“Yes, I understand, Harry. It just seems… they’re the Malfoys… doesn’t everyone know their business.”
Harry snorted. “Yeah, I think so. Everyone’ll be knowing your business too, you know. Next you and I will be in the midst of some love triangle. Ginny will hate you. Malfoy will be plotting my death… oh… wait…” he grinned at her and she punched his arm.
“Yes, I can see the headlines now,” she said with a large smile.
They walked slowly towards the house beside each other for several silent moments before Harry finally spoke.
“Err… Hermione… there’s been some discussion in the office. You see, we never knew for sure but… well… some of us were wondering if Malfoy… if he has the Dark Mark…” Harry said.
“Well, I wouldn’t know… I haven’t seen him without clothes,” she said with a smirk.
Harry blushed. “Right, I figured… err… I hoped you hadn’t… uh… anyway… Maybe you could find out? Somehow … I don’t want to know how…” he spluttered.
“Yeah, I’ll try.” She smiled at his uneasiness.
“Why does it matter?” she asked.
“Uh… well, I don’t know that it really does, mainly it was just curiosity… me and Ron had a bet, you see… but what brought it up?” He paused and thought a moment, “You remember the meeting don’t you? When Remus mentioned wanting to have someone on the inside and all that rot?”
“Well, we’ve known for some time that some of the Death Eaters who aren’t in Azkaban are… well… recruiting. We’ve been hearing rumours for a while now.”
“Why would they do that?” she asked as she furrowed her brow.
“I don’t know… but it probably has something to do with the meetings you’ve mentioned.
Hermione nodded and then suddenly asked, “Are you going to arrest the Lestranges?”
The Aurors had been hunting for them for several years now, both having vanished shortly after the final battle never to be seen again. And yet, here they were lurking about in Malfoy manner, coming and going as they pleased. How had they not been seen or caught? Another mystery…
“I don’t think that’d be smart,” Harry said. “They’d know you’d told me about them if we did.”
“Oh… right.” She stopped and looked up at the house again, realizing something for the first time. “I wonder why he even lets me see you alone. Surely he can’t trust me… won’t he know I’m telling you these things?”
Harry stopped as well and pondered the thought. Why would Malfoy give her the chance to transfer information? It didn’t make much sense… unless they wanted her to…
“What if he wants me to tell you, Harry?” she said, just as Harry thought it.
“Why would he do that?” he asked aloud.
“Ok… so we know these Death Eaters are still having meetings,” Hermione began, pacing before Harry and tapping her chin. “We know they’re meeting with someone, but we don’t know who. We know he wants you dead but Malfoy seems reluctant to follow through… he did mention he didn’t want you dead,” she said, stopping her pacing and glancing at Harry.
“Well that’s good,” he said sarcastically.
“We know Fenrir and his Wendigo are on the grounds… or were. We know Malfoy knows I’m meeting you and probably discussing these things and he doesn’t seem to care.” She stopped and looked at Harry as if she expected him to add to her list.
“We know… Asteria Zabini is madly jealous of you because you’re marrying the filthy rich bloke she was meant to marry, but she mucked that up royally and got stuck with someone not quite as rich…” he offered.
“Yes, that surely is a clue… thanks, Harry.” She rolled her eyes and started chewing on her lip.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close to him.
“Try not to worry about it too much, love.”
“I just want to know what’s going on. I hate being in the dark,” she complained.
“We’ll figure it out, just, please… please, be careful, please,” he begged her.
They started towards the house again, Harry holding Hermione tightly against him as he rubbed her arm in a comforting manner.
“I miss you, Harry… and Ginny. I wish things could be the way they were,” she said with a sigh, reminiscing about her school days, happy memories.
“Yes, but then we’d be dealing with Voldemort again. I’d rather not.” He leaned over and kissed Hermione’s head as he gave her another squeeze and released her shoulders. “So, am I going to be invited to your wedding, or am I being snubbed for that as well?” he asked.
“Harry! Of course you’re invited. Ginny is my maid-of-honour!”
“Well… you never know… I’d have thought I would have been invited to the engagement party,” he sulked.
“You would have… I didn’t know that was what it was until we walked in. Honest!” she said at his accusing look.
She looked back up the hill at the house and saw a tall, blonde figure striding towards them.
Draco had seen them from the terrace. He’d seen the way Potter held her and pulled her close. The innocent, brotherly kiss that was misinterpreted. He saw it all and then he saw red. Unable to just stand and watch, he decided to break up the little love-fest and possibly break apart the boy-who-wouldn’t-live-much-longer. Maybe he’d come through with the whole ‘Kill Potter’ thing after all.
“Oh Merlin, here comes trouble,” Harry muttered upon seeing the other man approaching them.
“Harry,” Hermione said with a nervous glance at him, “please get the Aurors to your house, and I’ll try to find out… that thing, ok?”
He nodded and quickly cancelled the muffling spell. He gave Hermione an encouraging smile only moments before Draco was within ear shot of them.
“Potter,” Draco said dryly upon reaching them. His mouth smiled politely but his eyes showed fury.
Hermione looked at him curiously a moment, unsure of what he’d be angry about. She momentarily panicked and wondered if he had overheard them somehow.
“Malfoy,” Harry responded in kind, though his tone was a bit more civil than Draco’s had been.
The three stood in silence for several long moments; Hermione’s eyes darted between the two men cautiously.
“So…” she finally said when it was apparent neither of the men was going to speak. “Did you need something, Draco?”
“Oh, no, just thought I’d join my fiancé and the great Harry Potter,” he took a step towards her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders pulling her away from Harry. “It’s a lovely day for a stroll, don’t you think?”
She looked at him with narrowed eyes. He was behaving peculiarly. But even so, she did not pull away from him.
“Right… well,” Harry said nervously. He checked his timepiece before continuing, “I should be getting back to the Ministry.”
He glanced between Draco and Hermione, who was still frowning at the taller man’s actions. Harry stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked at them expectantly.
“Alright,” Hermione said quietly and started moving towards the house; Harry fell in step beside her and Draco drifted behind them.
They reached the study and Harry stopped before the floo to say goodbye. Hermione wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. She whispered in his ear, so that only he could hear, that she wanted to see him again soon. She pecked his cheek softly before leaning back to smile at him.
Only Harry could see the angry look coming from the youngest Malfoy behind her. He wanted to laugh at the obvious envy the other man showed and wished he could play up on it even more by pinching Hermione’s bum. But he knew the situation could wind up being far too serious. For Hermione’s sake, he let bygones be bygones and repressed the haughty smirk that wanted desperately to grace his face.
Harry pulled away and looked at Hermione with concern. He didn’t want to leave her alone with Malfoy, especially not when he looked like he wanted to skin someone alive, however unfounded his jealously may have been. Draco Malfoy could be a dangerous man, and Harry felt certain the only thing protecting the pretty young woman in his arms was a magical document, locked safely away in the Minister’s office.
“Be careful, Hermione. Call me if you need anything,” he whispered and locked eyes with the man behind her again. That one short look threatened a fate worse than a Dementor’s kiss if Draco caused or let any harm come to the girl Harry regarded as a little sister, even if she was slightly older than him.
With great hesitation, he stepped into the floo. He started to say something but thought better of it and shook his head. He tossed down the floo powder, causing the flames to shift to jade and lick at his calves.
Hermione gave him a small, almost unnoticeable wave just before he spoke his destination and vanished.
Draco turned and covered the few feet between him and the door before slamming it shut. He turned to face her and her wide, shocked eyes met his angry gaze.
“Are you shagging Potter?!” he bellowed at her.
“What?!” she shrieked back, completely unbalanced by his accusation.
“Are… you… shagging… Potter?!” he demanded again, stressing every word.
“Are you insane? No! He’s my best friend. He’s my family! The closest thing to a sibling I’ve ever had!”
“You don’t act like siblings!” he retorted as he paced angrily on the other side of the room.
“And you would know, would you?” She paused, watching his angry, lion-like actions. “This is about Asteria isn’t it?” she hissed at him.
His head shot up at the mention of his former fiancé.
“I’m not a Slytherin slag, Malfoy! Don’t compare me to those girls! Don’t assume I have no morals, that I would do the things those women do!”
He raised a single finger at her but did not utter a word. That finger warned she was teetering dangerously on the edge of Pandora’s Box. But she was too furious to care at that point. To hell with him, she thought. She crossed the room to stand directly before him, challenging his anger with her own.
“Do you want the specifics, Malfoy?! Do you? Would that ease your fears, darling?” She said; her voice was full of scorn. “The last time I shagged anyone was six months ago. Three days before I found Ronald Weasley cheating on me with Lavender Brown, in my flat no less! Are you happy now!?”
She swung the door open and bolted from the room. She was humiliated to have admitted that to him. Not many knew she had been betrayed. Most thought she and Ron had simply grown apart; some even thought they were still together, as Mrs. Malfoy had when Hermione had first arrived. She could already hear the hateful things he’d say about Ron, being a pureblood, not wanting to be with her; or possibly he’d comment about how she couldn’t keep him happy and satisfied, that she’d drove him to another woman with her frigidness; maybe he’d make a jab about her hair and call her filthy and ugly, he’d say it was no less than what she deserved. No matter the path he took, she had no desire to stand around and find out what it would be.
He followed her into the hall and saw her already nearing the corner.
“Granger!” he yelled after her; his angry voice echoed off the vaulted ceiling. He took off after her at a full sprint. He couldn’t stand someone turning their back on him, or walking, or rather running, from an argument; he wasn’t done with her yet.
He rounded the corner and found he’d gained on her. She must not have expected him to follow her because she had stopped running and now strode angrily away from him.
“Granger,” he said again; his tone divulged his unabated anger. He picked up his pace, almost within reach of her. “Granger,” he hissed at her.
She still did not stop. He grasped her shoulder and spun her around. She slammed into the green wall, between two portraits of Draco’s ancestors who gaped in shock at him and his crazed actions. Two solitary tears trailed her cheeks and she looked up at him through anger-hazed eyes.
“Let me go!” she growled.
He was angry with her, even then, but he couldn’t entirely remember why.
It seemed they were volatile together, unable to exist in close proximity for long without an explosion. They were a dangerous combination, an unstable concoction. Their union had the unpredictability of a sweating stick of dynamite.
He breathed heavily, as did she, and he fought to keep her in place as she continued to fight against him. He released her shoulders, but before she could use it to her advantage, he placed his hands firmly on either side of her face and kissed her. She stopped struggling but did not respond with much zeal. He was the kisser; his lips demanded her attention and received none.
He pulled away from her and released her. He had not taken a single step back when she planted a hand on his chest and pushed him away from her. He started to speak but a loud, resounding crack filled the hall. It took several seconds for him to realize he’d just been slapped silly. His cheek smarted and he opened and closed his jaw, flexing the abused muscle. His eyes were wide with shock as he comprehended what happened.
“Fuck,” he muttered as he touched his crimson cheek and watched Hermione continue down the hall to her room.
AN: It’s one of my ‘shorter’ chapters I know; I gypped you about 600 words… I apologize. I’m sorry it took a while to get up, I was having a hard time getting rolling with this chapter. At any rate, I’m so depressed; my poor, poor chapters lost all their reviews. How sad. :) Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this chapter and I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to leave me a review in the past (or in the future), they are all greatly appreciated. Now… I have to get to work on Chapter 18 while my muse is being kind.
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