“So, have you thought about who you’re going to take to the Yule Ball?” Ron asked as Harry pulled on his Quidditch uniform.
“Uh . . .no, I’m still trying to decide,” Harry hedged as he tugged his robes straight. Actually, he really wanted to ask Katie, but he was afraid one of the older students had already asked her and he wasn’t sure how to go about it without looking like an utter idiot. “How about you?”
Ron shook his head. “It’s really hard trying to get a girl by herself so you can talk to her, know what I mean?”
“Yeah, they kind of tend to travel in packs, or with at least one other friend, and they always seem like they’re laughing at you.”
“I know. Why do they giggle so much?”
“Got me. You’re the one with the sister. Why don’t you ask Ginny?”
“Tried to. She just looked at me like I was the biggest imbecile on the earth.” Ron sighed. “Guess we’re on our own with this one. Do you at least have some prospects?”
“Maybe,” Harry hedged, not wanting to start any rumors or jinx himself.
Ron looked interested, like a ginger tom Arabella Figg had once had, perking up his ears when he heard the can opener. “Such as?”
Harry simple smiled slightly and didn’t answer, dodging his too-curious friend by saying, “Gotta run, else I’ll be late for practice. See you later, Ron!” He waved then dashed out the door, his Firebolt tucked under his arm.
He thought about jumping on his broom and flying it out the Owlery window to save time, but then he imagined what his father would have to say about that little reckless stunt . . .or do. Not to mention what Uncle Phil would say.
So Harry wisely reconsidered his initial impulse and continued on down the stairs and out of the castle the usual way. After all, Severus had just been released from the infirmary yesterday and Harry had no wish to put his father back in there any time soon. Nor to have an angry vampire scolding him. He had a feeling that would be as bad, if not worse, as Severus scolding him.
He had nearly reached the Quidditch pitch when he spotted Draco, lounging beside the huge bolder in the middle of the path, chatting with Smidgen. As he drew closer, he could just make out their conversation.
“ . . .so do you think she’d like a poem, Smidgen? I’ve heard that some girls like that sort of thing, and she’s . . .really into books. Only problem is . . .I don’t know how to write that sort of thing. Where can I learn?”
:Ah, Draco, you have one of the foremost poets of the Seelie Court right here—me! I have studied all the famous poets—Shakespeare, Coleridge, Shelley—now there was a romantic—Byron—oh he was a wicked one, a little racy, but he knew how to court a woman!—and John Keats also, though he died too young, poor man. They served as inspirations for me. I think I can help you with your poem for a special young lady.: the shimmerling offered, purring ecstatically. She so loved a good romance, and young love was so sweet and unspoiled.
“Thanks, Smidgen!” Draco sighed in relief. “Uh . . .when can you help me write it? I . . .want to meet in the library tonight. Will it take long?”
:No, not unless you plan on writing a poetic novel like Wordsworth. A poem can be any length and does not necessarily have to rhyme. I shall assist you after Quidditch practice, all right?: Smidgen sent, then added, :Here comes your brother. Hello, Harry! Are you contemplating a date for the Yule Ball as well?:
“Hi, Smidgen!” Harry greeted the shimmerling, hiding his amusement at finding out Draco wanted to learn poetry so he could write to Hermione. “Yes, I’m thinking about it, why?”
:Just wondering, is all. Well, I shall be off, have fun playing Quidditch and catching that silly winged globe!: And with that Smidgen blinked away, leaving the two brothers alone.
“Silly winged globe!” cried Harry. “The Snitch isn’t silly, it’s wicked.” He shook his head. “Ah, she doesn’t understand. Can’t expect a shimmerling to know about Quidditch.” He eyed Draco knowingly. “Although looks like she knows plenty about sonnets and poetry.”
To his delight, his brother blushed all the way to the roots of his hair. “You . . .you were eavesdropping, weren’t you?”
“Uh . . .ahh . . .”
“You prat!” Draco snapped, and promptly slugged his younger brother in the shoulder. “How much did you hear?”
Harry scowled at him. “Oh, calm down, Romeo! It’s not like I’m going to blab how you like her all over the school. All I heard was Smidgen offering you advice on how to write a . . .love poem!” In spite of himself, Harry grinned and snickered.
“Shut up! It’s not funny! If I screw this up, she might never talk to me. I figured if I . . .handed her a poem after we met in the library it might . . .make her see me differently. Girls like that kind of mushy junk, right?”
“You’re asking me? Smidgen probably knows more about what girls like than I do, big brother. I haven’t even got a date for the Ball yet.”
“Who do you have in mind? Ron’s sister?”
Harry shook his head. “No. I like Ginny, but not that way. She’s a friend, but I think it’d be too weird trying to have a date with my best friend’s sister. It would make thing really uncomfortable between me and Ron if Ginny and I had a fight or he . . .Merlin forbid, caught us kissing . . .You know, big brothers aren’t supposed to like their baby sister’s boyfriends.”
“How do you know that?”
“Hermione and Lavender were talking at lunch and Lavender said her older brother always had something to say about any boy she ever brought home, that none of them were any good for her, and if any of them ever laid a hand on her he’d hex them into the next century. Hermione said he sounded like a typical older brother, and I think she’s right. Besides, I like someone else.”
Harry shrugged, embarrassed. “Don’t make fun of me, okay?”
“Good one too. But isn’t she a year older than us?”
“So? What’s a year? Look at Dad and Sarai.”
“Uh . . .you’re right. Guess it doesn’t really matter.” Draco conceded. “So . . .you asked her yet?”
“No. But I just need some time.”
“Don’t take too long or somebody else might beat you to it,” Draco warned. Then he asked anxiously, “You don’t think anyone’s asked Hermione yet, right?”
“Not that I know of. We only just learned about it yesterday, remember? And Hermione . . .she’s always off studying and not too many kids want to go out with a know-it-all.”
“I would. At least you can have a proper conversation with her and not have to deal with all that “Oohh, Draco!” And giggling over nothing and looking at you like you were a nice juicy peach she wanted to devour. I’d take Hermione over Pansy any day.” Draco said fervently.
“Can’t say I blame you. Pansy sounds like the ultimate twit.”
“She’s a bubblehead, all right.” Draco sighed. “I just hope I can avoid her till the end of term.”
Harry checked his watch and swore. “Ahh . . .bloody hell! I’m late for practice!” He hopped on his broom. “Angelina’s gonna chew my arse out! She took over as Captain when Wood left and she’s a real stickler for being on time for practice, like Dad. Good luck, Dragon!”
“You too, Phoenix!” Draco waved as his brother took off, then he headed back towards the school, hoping it wouldn’t take him all day to come up with a suitable poem for Hermione. Of course, he would not sign his full name just yet, only his initials and see what she made of that.
* * * * * *
As predicted, Angelina did chew out Harry for being late, standing in front of him with her hands on her hips and giving him a glare so scorching Harry wondered how it was he didn’t burst into flames on the spot. “You know, Snape, just because you’re a professor’s son doesn’t give you leave to traipse on over to practice whenever you feel like it!”
“I know, Angie. I’m sorry, I . . .just lost track of time.”
“Don’t let it happen again, Snape, or else Seeker or not, I’ll make you run fifteen laps around this pitch and do fifty crunches just like Wood used to! And it’s Captain Johnson! Got it?”
“Yes, Captain,” Harry said, flushing. Great! Just what I always wanted, to have Katie see me getting my arse handed to me. He didn’t dare look up to see if she was watching, and kept his eyes on the ground.
“Okay, now that we’re all finally here,” Angelina said shortly. “Let’s practice.” She knelt and released all the balls from the trunk. Then she blew a whistle and the Gryffindor Quidditch team soared up into the air.
Matt Armstead, another Gryffindor sixth year, was the new Keeper since Wood had left Hogwarts and he flew about in front of the rings while Katie, Angelina, and Alicia fought for the Quaffle. Fred and George kept a sharp eye out for the black Bludgers and Harry shot into the sky on his Firebolt, focusing on the whirring Snitch.
The glittering golden ball shot across the pitch, Harry in hot pursuit, but even though his Firebolt was wicked fast, it could not match the enchanted globe for sheer speed and he quickly lost it in the clouds. He swooped down through them, his eyes scanning the area rapidly.
As he did so, he saw Katie crouched over her broom, a Nimbus 2001, arms lifted to snatch the Quaffle out of the air when Matt threw it back in after Alicia had scored. Her robes seemed to cling to her for a moment, outlining her back and waist and Harry felt his mouth go dry. Wow! Not only does she have pretty hair and all, but she’s sleek like an elvensteed and she has a great seat on a broom. I’d love to see her ride a horse. He gulped sharply as she twisted about, leaning over to snag the Quaffle from Angelina.
The maneuver was dangerous, but that was not what made Harry unable to take his eyes off her. Ah, sweet Merlin! She moves quick as shimmerling on her broom and how on earth did I miss the way her robes hug her waist and her bum . . .? She pulled up, the Quaffle tucked under her arm, laughing, and Harry found himself spellbound, unable to look away from her, her laughter and her smile had him mesmerized.
“Throw it in, Katie!” he found himself yelling as if he were a spectator, and it was only when George shouted at him to watch out that he came back to himself.
“Harry! Keep a lookout, mate!” George yelled, flying up and slamming the Bludger away from the distracted Seeker just in the nick of time. “Don’t want to spend even more time in the Hospital Wing, now do ya?”
Harry blinked and looked up at George. “Huh? Oh. Thanks, George.” He quickly pretended to be searching for the Snitch, hoping George hadn’t caught where his eye had been glued to for the past seven minutes. Get your mind back in the game, Harry! You can gawk at Katie later! He scolded himself mentally, and took his broom about the pitch, struggling to keep his wayward thoughts on the Snitch and not the pretty witch holding the Quaffle.
C’mon, Snape, you’re the Seeker, now quit mooning and start Seeking. Before Angelina conks you over the head with a bat and tosses you off the team! But even with his mental berating, Harry found it difficult to concentrate, since looking at Katie was much more interesting than finding the Snitch.
Until the Snitch was hovering right in front of his face and he couldn’t ignore it.
Or Angelina’s outraged, “Merlin’s hairy arse, Snape! Are you going to catch it or sit there like a lump on a log?”
Face flaming, Harry dove after the golden ball, at last managing to catch it in a shocking power dive, pulling up six feet before the ground.
“Got it!” he yelled.
“Nice catch, Harry!” Katie grinned.
“About time, Snape!” his Captain muttered, none too pleased with her Seeker. She blew the whistle. “Let’s have another match, and this time, Snape, try and keep your eye on the ball.”
Harry muttered an affirmative, reddening, for he hadn’t ever been the recipient of Angelina’s sharp tongue before this. But he couldn’t even resent her for picking on him, since he knew he deserved it.
He managed to keep his concentration for the rest of the practice and caught the Snitch five minutes into the second match, and got himself back into Angelina’s good graces and also earned a grin from the object of his affection that made him feel as if he’d won a million Galleons.
All the way back to the locker room he kept trying to wipe a silly grin from his face and a part of his mind kept chanting, She likes you, she must, she smiled at you twice! Twice!
He recalled the way her hair had whipped about in the breeze as she flew and suddenly he was imagining running his hands through it and then holding her close and wondering what it would feel like to kiss her and suddenly he was grateful for the shower he was about to take, otherwise he would have been utterly embarrassed.
Afterwards, he saw Katie walking back up the path to the school, the bag with her Quidditch robes slung over her shoulder, and he hurried to catch up to her before he lost his nerve. For once, she was by herself, and not with Alicia, Angelina, or some other girl.
Katie stopped and turned about. “Hi, Harry! What’s up?”
“Uh . . .you played a really good game today,” he managed to say without tripping over his own tongue.
She shrugged. “It was okay. I scored four goals out of twelve, not bad. Angie’s a real tyrant when you break rules, huh?” she said sympathetically.
Harry blushed. “Sort of, but I did deserve it. And it’s no worse than what my dad would’ve said to me if I’d been late for class. I’d have probably lost points or gotten detention from him.”
“What kept you? Usually you’re early for practice.”
“Uh . . .I was talking with my brother,” Harry hedged. “Uh . . err . . .are you hungry? D’you want to grab a bite to eat at the Three Broomsticks?”
Katie looked surprised. “You’re . . .asking me to have lunch with you?”
“Yeah . . .I’ll pay, my treat,” he offered gallantly, hoping she would think the crimson tide in his cheeks was from the wind and a hot shower.
“Aww, you’re really sweet, Harry. I’d love to, but . . .” her face fell, and she thought sadly, He’s awful cute when he blushes and I really want to go, but I can’t. I hope he doesn’t hate me when I tell him no. “I can’t. I have to go and brew a potion with Professor Snape. This is his free time, when he can help me with my internship . . .I’m really sorry.”
“Hey, no problem. Your internship is more important.” Harry said, struggling to keep the disappointment out of his face. “Maybe some other time?”
“We could have dinner later,” she suggested. “I should be done with my potion in about two hours.”
“Sure. What are you brewing?”
“Felix Felicis, you know, the Luck Potion? I’m really excited, it’s a sixth year potion, but Professor Snape thinks I have the aptitude to brew it. It sounds like it’s going to be fun.”
“Want some help?” Harry offered.
“I don’t know if your dad will let you help me. I’m supposed to brew the draft on my own.”
“Oh, well, maybe there’s something else he needs brewed,” Harry said, knowing Severus usually had ten potions to brew on any given weekend.
“You could ask him and find out.” Katie said, continuing her walk up to the castle. “I’m sure he could use the extra help. Although . . .since when did you get to be good at brewing? I mean . . .” she trailed off, going bright scarlet.
“Since I spent the summer with Dad,” Harry laughed. “Before, I always goofed off and never really tried, but since Dad tutored me over the summer I actually like potions now. I’ll probably never be a Potions Master, but I’m not a total dunderhead either.”
“Good for you! So many people don’t appreciate the subtle and exacting craft of potions,” Katie began, then halted. “Oh my God! Did I just say that out loud? Merlin, now I’m starting to sound like him!”
“Only a lot nicer!” Harry quipped, and then he started to laugh.
He was joined a minute later by Katie.
When they at last regained control over themselves, they headed down to the dungeons together, exchanging amused glances as they did so.
As he walked next to the tall girl, Harry could not help smirking at the way fate had manipulated him. Only I could end up having a first date in the potions lab. Guess I really am my father’s son.
* * * * * *
Severus had been surprised to see both his internship student and his son entering his classroom that afternoon. But not so shocked that he didn’t notice the way Harry’s eyes lingered upon Katie every so often, or the way Katie peeked at Harry over her cauldron while she stirred. He had been a teacher too long not to know the signs of a budding attraction.
So that’s the way the wind blows, is it? Well, he was bound to develop a crush or an infatuation sooner or later. I’m just happy it’s with Miss Bell, she’s sensible and looks like she fancies him too. I suppose I had better sit him down this evening after supper and have The Talk with him. Just in case. He shuffled through some tests on his desk and hoped it would not be too awkward. He was fairly certain Harry was not sexually active, that this was probably his first serious crush on a girl, and he trusted Harry to behave with decorum and restraint, but even so . . .better safe than sorry. He knew better than anyone what teenage hormones were like and how you could get carried away in the heat of the moment.
He rose to check upon their potions, Katie was brewing Felix Felicis and Harry was brewing a batch of Fever Reducer for the Hospital Wing, and while he was beside his son’s cauldron, he leaned over and whispered in Harry’s ear, “Meet me in my quarters after supper, please. I need to discuss something with you.”
Harry looked up, worry filling his eyes. “Is something wrong, Dad? Am I in trouble?”
“No, not unless you’ve been misbehaving.”
“Good. Then you have nothing to worry about. Finish stirring that and then you can take a break for lunch.”
Harry nodded, and continued stirring. “How did you know I was starving?”
Severus snorted. “Teenage boys are always starving. Plus, I can hear your stomach grumbling.” He gave his son’s shoulder a squeeze before moving on to monitor Katie’s progress.
Harry bent over his cauldron, thinking ruefully, Merlin’s bloody staff, but he notices EVERYTHING. It’s like he can read minds sometimes.
A few minutes later, Severus cast a stasis spell over their cauldrons and declared it was time to break for lunch. He then summoned a house elf and soon they were all eating sandwiches and crisps at a small table next to Severus’s desk and drinking pumpkin juice and iced tea.
* * * * * *
Meanwhile, Draco struggled to write a poem that expressed his growing feelings for a certain studious Gryffindor, along with a few hints from Smidgen. He crumpled up sheet after sheet of parchment , because they were filled with crossouts and ink blots. “Smidgen, I think it’s hopeless. I just don’t have any gift for poetry.”
:Nonsense, Draco! You were doing well. I think you have to relax and just stop trying so hard. Let the words just flow from you. Think about how Hermione makes you feel and then just . . .write it down.:
Draco groaned and put his head in his hands. “Okay. Let me just . . .start again.”
He bent and dipped his quill in his inkwell, paused, and began to write. He just hoped that Hermione liked poetry and wouldn’t laugh in his face once she figured out who had written it.
An hour later he carefully sprinkled the finished copy with pounce—which was sand that dried ink quickly—and waited five minutes before shaking it off and rolling it up and tying it with a crisp green ribbon.
Then he called Stormrider and had him deliver it, checking his watch. It was nearly time for dinner.
:Finished?: the shimmerling queried.
“Yes, and now I need to eat something. Thanks for all the help, Smidgen.”
:You are most welcome, young one.:
“I wonder how she liked it?”
:Would you like me to find out?:
“Would you? That would be great. That way I’ll know what to expect when I see her in the library later on.”
:It would be my pleasure. I think she will suit you very well.: The ancient fae cat purred. She did so love matchmaking.
Then she blinked away, reappearing moments later in the Gryffindor common room, where Hermione was studying for Arithmancy.
She found the girl examining the scroll for any kind of return address before opening it. “That’s odd. First my owl comes incognito and now this.” Hermione muttered, peering at the scroll intently.
Smidgen hovered over the girl’s shoulder, silently reading what Draco had written.
The goddess of wisdom has blessed you with insight,
And a brilliant inquisitive mind, so rare
To find a girl who values improving her inner self, as well as her outer one.
You may think your face is plain and ordinary, but
My eyes see beauty in the curve of your cheek and the curls in your hair
Your eyes remind me of smoky quartz, sparkling with hidden depths
I hope that someday they might sparkle for me,
For you are an irresistible combination.
Your Secret Admirer,
Hermione was smiling, mouthing the words of the poem to herself and sighing in delight.
“Oh, Merlin! This is like a dream, no one has ever written me poetry before. How sweet! I wonder who’s initials are DMM? Let me see, who are all the boys in Gryffindor?” Hermione mused, and took up her quill and began to scribble on a spare piece of parchment. “I’ll bet whoever sent me this is the same one who sent me my owl. There was that reference to Athena, after all. Now, let’s see . . .”
Smidgen purred in satisfaction before blinking away to tell Draco the good news.
* * * * * *
Later that evening
Hermione looked up as a shadow fell over her as she was studying her Ancient Runes text, her eyes felt gritty and sore from staring at her books for so many hours. During her study breaks, of which there had been two, she had tried to decipher the author of the poem. So far, the initials didn’t match up with anyone in her House, and so she had moved on to trying names of boys in Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. She doubted the boy had come from Slytherin, given that House’s distaste and dislike of Gryffindors and Muggleborns. She had deduced that the boy in question must be someone who was observant and sensitive and not afraid of a girl with brains. But who that boy could be was a mystery.
To her shock, she saw Draco Malfoy standing in front of her. Unlike previous years, he was not sneering or making fun of her, instead he looked almost . . .nervous, though of course that was ridiculous, for what did the pureblood scion of an ancient wizarding family have to look nervous about? She knew, as everyone did, that Draco had publically rejected his dark inheritance and was now Snape’s foster son and Harry’s brother as well. She had seen for herself that Draco was not the same boy he had been last year when partnered with him for that potions lesson. Even so, it gave her a jolt to see him here in the library.
“Draco? What . . .are you doing here?” she sputtered.
“The same thing you are, Gra—Hermione,” he corrected himself. If she could call him by his first name, then he could extend her the same courtesy. “Trying to study.”
“What are you studying?” she inquired, not seeing any books in his hands.
You, he almost blurted, but caught himself just in time. He swallowed and tried to come up with a reasonable explanation. The little witch was looking up at him, a puzzled expression on her face. The soft light of the lamps along the wall behind her turned her ordinary brown hair into a bronze colored cascade of curls and brought a gentle golden glow to her pale cheeks. She was seated in a corner, next to an overflowing bookshelf, her books spread out on the study carousel in front of her. “I . . .have a test in Astronomy coming up and I was wondering . . .if you wouldn’t mind helping me study for it?”
“You want my help?” she asked, astonished. “But what about your friends?”
“Crabbe and Goyle don’t take Astronomy,” Draco pointed out.
She frowned. “You must be desperate if you’re asking for help from a Gryffindor Muggleborn. Once you wouldn’t have given me the time of day.”
To her eternal shock he actually looked away and his gray eyes were filled with shame. “That was then. I was . . .a spoiled little brat that needed his bum tanned,” he admitted quietly. “I’m different now. Now that I don’t have to pretend to be my father’s shadow.”
“Harry said you had changed, but I wasn’t quite sure whether or not to believe it until that day in potions. You made sure I got out first before you and then . . .you went back and dragged Harry out of there too.”
“That’s right. See, I’m not all bad. I have my good points.”
Slowly, she nodded. “I guess that spending the summer with Professor Snape was a good influence on you and Harry both.”
“Yes. My godfather’s always been a good influence on me. I respect him a great deal. More than I ever did my own father. I really don’t have an excuse for my behavior before, except to say that I was trying to be what my father wanted, until I realized that what he was isn’t something I should aspire to be. I don’t want to be a murderer, or a Death Eater, and hurt and kill Muggleborns. I don’t hate them.”
She pursed her lips. “And yet . . .you called me a . . .Mudblood.”
He flinched. “That was wrong. If Uncle Sev ever knew that . . .he’d have kicked my arse good. Look, Hermione. Let’s forget what happened before, when I was an utter idiot, and start over. All right?”
She was silent for a long moment. He seemed sincere, and he certainly was not acting his usual snotty arrogant self. Could this be the real Draco Malfoy she was seeing? Suddenly she had a flash of insight. That morning back in August—the day of the Malfoy trial—the Prophet ran an article about it and I read it. It said that if the Malfoys were sent to Azkaban, their sole heir would be one Draco Michael Malfoy. And that means his initials are DMM.
She gaped at the blond-haired wizard. “You. It was you who sent me the owl over the summer. And the poem today. Your initials are DMM, aren’t they?”
“Yes. Draco Michael Malfoy.”
“Did you mean it then? What you wrote? Or is this some kind of prank?”
“If I didn’t, I would have never spent an entire afternoon writing it,” he replied truthfully, meeting her eyes squarely. “And I wouldn’t be here either.” He felt his palms start to sweat and he thought nervously, Now that she knows the truth, what’s to prevent her from telling me to shove off? I treated her pretty badly the last three years. He waited for what seemed like an eternity for her to say something, anything.
At last she said, very quietly, “You’re the first boy since I came here to ever look at me as more than just a walking encyclopedia. Even Ron and Harry didn’t like me much at first. They changed their mind after the troll in the bathroom though, but . . .”
“That’s because your brilliance is scary.”
“Uh huh. It’s scary to think how much smarter you are than the rest of us.”
“Ron always makes fun of me for studying too much.”
“But he comes to you when he needs help with his homework, doesn’t he?” Draco asked knowingly.
“Well, yes. A lot of people in my House do. Actually, some of the first years in Hufflepuff and Slytherin have also asked me to help them a few times,” she admitted.
“There, you see. Being smart is an asset, not something to be ashamed of.”
“And are you afraid of me, Draco?”
“Terrified,” he grinned down at her. “Terrified that you might actually make me work for my marks this term. I’m used to being the top of my class.”
Why, he’s cute when he smiles. Very cute. Tentatively, she smiled back. “Well, I guess you’d better start studying, Mr. Malfoy.”
“Right.” He snapped his fingers and his bookbag levitated over to him.
Her eyes widened. “You can do wandless magic?”
“Only a Summong charm. Dad—that’s Professor Snape I’m talking about—taught me just before we came back to school.”
“Would you . . .teach me?” she asked wistfully.
“I’m not sure I should. Then you’d probably beat me in that too.”
“Afraid, Draco?” she challenged, her eyes sparkling.
“No. I need someone to challenge me. All right. I’ll teach you wandless magic, Hermione. With your brains, you’ll pick it up like that.” He snapped his fingers.
She ran her hand through her hair and chuckled. “Better watch out then, Malfoy.” Then she asked, “Do you really like my hair? I always thought it was a horrendous mess. I used to wish it were straight.”
Draco mimed being horrified. “You didn’t! I think your hair is great. It’s unusual and different and I like how it curls about your shoulders. It reminds me of ivy.”
She blushed. “You’re sweet, Draco.”
He laughed, low and husky. “Thanks . . .I think.” He began to take out his quill and parchment and his notebook. iH His hand brushed against hers, and he clasped it gently in his own. “I like smart girls. They’re so much more interesting than the bubbleheaded pretty ones.”
“Then you don’t think I’m pretty?”
“You’re both.” He flipped open his Astronomy book. “Did you like my poem then?”
“It was lovely. I never knew you were a poet.”
“Neither did I. That’s the first poem I ever wrote. And Athena was my owl’s daughter and the first present I ever gave a girl.”
“She’s the most amazing owl! I just love her. She’s very smart and she loves to sit on my shoulder and nibble my hair. Even Crookshanks gets along with her. Thank you so much, Draco.”
“You’re welcome. I figured she would suit you.”
Hermione beamed, and the smile transformed her face. “You know, I like you much better this way.”
“I like myself better this way. And just so you know, this isn’t an act, this is the real me.”
“Good.” She allowed him to hold her hand for a moment more before gently drawing it away. “Okay, now what material are you being tested on in Astronomy? The conjuction of planets?”
They spent a pleasant hour and a half studying, quizzing each other on Astronomy and Ancient Runes until Draco said if he tried to stuff one more fact in his head, it was going to explode. “And you wouldn’t want a brainless idiot for a boyfriend now would you?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” She teased, tossing her hair back. “Some girls say that the perfect man is a gingerbread man.”
“Because he’s cute and sweet and if he gives you any lip you can bite his head off.”
Draco stared at her. “That’s . . .that’s just evil!”
She laughed. “Be grateful that I like you the way you are, Malfoy.”
“I’m very grateful,” he murmured, then he followed his instincts and cupped her face between his hands and kissed her, slowly, gently, and thoroughly.
Her lips were soft, sweet, and he thrilled to the touch of her mouth on his own.
Hermione gasped, for Draco had taken her by surprise, but she discovered that she did not mind him kissing her, not at all. He made her all tingly and shivery and she understood at last what the other girls in her dormitory meant when they said a kiss could make you quiver all the way down to your toes. She had never thought she would ever know that feeling, she who was the bookworm, the frizzy-haired Muggleborn whom no boy ever looked twice at unless he needed her help with homework.
And it felt absolutely wonderful.
After a moment, Draco pulled away, keeping his hands upon her shoulders, and said huskily, “Now aren’t you glad I’m not a gingerbread man?”
Hermione burst out laughing. “Very much so.” She looked up at him and felt oddly as if she had stepped into the pages of a fairytale, where the handsome wizard prince chooses the most unlikely maiden of all to be his bride. I must be crazy. This is Draco, for heaven’s sake! Draco Malfoy! The one they all call the Prince of Slytherin. And you’re the Gryffindor Know-It-All. Her conscience rebuked. But he gave me my owl and wrote me a poem. And now he kissed me. Dare I trust him? Is he really serious, or is this just a game to him? There was only one way to find out. “Draco?”
“I was wondering . . .do you have a date yet for the Yule Ball?”
“Then do you want to go with me?”
He stared into her chocolate brown eyes and saw the rampant uncertainty and fear she tried to hide. Abruptly, he made up his mind. He would banish that uncertainty forever. He cleared his throat.
She waited, her heart beating rapidly in her chest, for his polite rejection.
Instead he said yes.
“Really? You’ll go with me?” she cried, unable to believe her ears.
“Even though I’m a Gryffindor and you’re a Slytherin?”
“Yes. You know, that’s not unheard of, for a Gryffindor to go out with a Slytherin. Look at Severus and Lily. They broke with convention. And so can we. If you want to.”
“I do,” she said, then she stood up on tiptoe and kissed him back. “See you tomorrow, Draco.”
Her lips were like the merest brush of a butterfly’s wing, but he savored that brief contact all the way back to his common room. She had promised to meet him in the library again tomorrow and after they would go to Madam Puddifoot’s in Hogsmeade for lunch. And then . . .they would see what the school made of another pairing of opposite Houses.
He had almost reached Raj’s portrait when he heard the distinct nasal tones of Pansy calling for him to wait up. Ah, hells! Why does she have to come along now and ruin my evening?
“Draco! Oh, there you are! Where were you?” Pansy cooed, rushing up to him and grabbing his arm.
He fought to keep from jerking away. He hated being touched suddenly, a legacy of Lucius’s abuse. “Studying,” he replied shortly, wishing he had just kept on going into the portrait hole.
“Oh, poor you! Spending your Saturday night studying instead of relaxing. Snape must be an awful strict guardian, making you do that.”
“He wasn’t making me do anything, Pansy. It was my choice. I do like getting good marks, you know.”
“Yes, you’re so smart, Drakee darling,” Pansy crooned.
Draco nearly gagged. Merlin help me! Now she’s giving me nicknames. Terrible ones too! “Uh, Pansy, don’t call me that. My name is Draco.”
“Whyever not?” she pouted. “Other girls give their boyfriends pet names.”
Boyfriend? Whoa! I never agreed to that! He pulled his arm free of her, determined to nip her infatuation in the bud once and for all. “Look, Pansy. I know we used to be . . .matched to each other, but when my father got sent to Azkaban and I became Severus’s ward, that ended.”
“Not for me it hasn’t,” she declared breathlessly. “I told you, darling, I don’t care what my father says, I am going to marry you or nobody else. We’re perfect together.”
Draco shook his head, horrified. “No! Listen to me for once. You don’t even know the first thing about me.”
“Of course I do! I’ve known you since we were kids!”
“No, you didn’t. You knew the pureblood Malfoy heir that Lucius raised, but that was never me. I’m sorry, Pansy, but we’re all wrong for each other. You fell in love with someone that doesn’t exist.” He felt bad about being so blunt, but nothing else seemed to be getting through to her.
She glared at him. “No! You do too love me! You said so . . .that day near the fishpond behind your house.”
“Pansy, for the love of Merlin! I was six . . .and my father had just ordered me to go out there and be nice to you or else he’d whip my arse. So I did. I said what he wanted me to. I’m sorry if you thought I had feelings for you.”
“You don’t mean that. I know you love me!” she cried passionately, and then she threw her arms about him.
“Ugh! Pansy, get off!” he snapped. He managed to wrench himself out of her arms a moment later. “Quit making a spectacle, dammit! I’m not going to be what you want, because what you want is a perfect Death Eater wanna-be. And that isn’t me, was never me. Our fathers arranged this . . .betrothal between us, but now that’s done and we’re free to find our own partners. So . . .why don’t you take advantage of that, okay?”
She gasped, her eyes going wide in her pudgy face. “What are you saying? That you found someone else? Who is she? Where is she?”
“None of your business,” Draco said sternly. “Good night, Pansy.”
With that, he turned on his heel, spoke the password to the portrait hole, and slipped inside, leaving a stunned fuming Pansy staring after him.
“How dare he throw me over for some . . .some other tart! He belonged to me first! Just wait till I find out who she is, I’ll make her rue the day she set eyes on him. Nobody takes what’s mine. Nobody!” she vowed, then she sailed inside the portrait hole in high dudgeon, plotting revenge on whoever Draco had chosen in her stead.
* * * * * *
On the other side of the castle, high above in Gryffindor Tower, Hermione brushed her hair and hummed to herself. Athena was perched upon her trunk, and every so often the girl would halt and stroke her owl, and whisper, “I think he really likes me, Athena! Just me, and not because I’ve memorized half the library either.” She smiled happily to herself and wondered what tomorrow would bring. “I think . . .I hope . . .that my prince has finally found me,” she confided to her owl and to the sleeping Crookshanks. Then she chuckled at her own whimsy and continued brushing her hair. Tomorrow would be a day to remember.
So how did you all like it?
Next: Harry's date with Katie and Severus gives "The Talk" to Harry and Pansy attempts to discover Draco's new love interest. Meanwhile, Phil senses something off about Moody.
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