Draco and Hermione were walking down the fifth floor when Draco saw Theodore Nott coming their way. Draco’s eyes narrowed and his mind was readying for defenses, anything he had to say just to prevent Nott’s smarty aleck comments from hitting home.
Hermione quickly let go of Draco’s hand and set herself a few inches away.
Theodore Nott laughed. “Please! Like I don’t know about you two.”
Draco’s eyes frosted over. “Did you really have to mention that, Nott?”
“Sorry,” Nott mockingly whispered. “But the two of you walking in this lonely corridor could make any passerby assume.”
Draco sighed, knowing Nott was right. He had to be careful. Extra careful. He eyed Hermione who had a self-protective bearing in her eyes. He held her hand and squeezed it once, the best form of assurance he could give as of the moment. Hermione looked at him, her lips trembling slightly.
“We need to talk,” Nott told Draco.
“Can’t that wait?”
“No, Pansy might go bonkers,” Nott said; his upper lip curling.
Draco shot him a glare. “I’ll see you later.”
Theodore Nott looked at Hermione intently and Draco gently led Hermione away from Nott, heading for the corridor that led to a staircase for the Gryffindor Tower. Nott looked at the two figures walking away, wondering how his words would affect Hermione.
He wondered how far he could play his charade. It wasn’t easy to actually like a Mudblood, let alone a Mudblood that his closest ally liked (or perhaps loved) as well. He had gone through his head over and over again, trying to reason why he could like someone like the Mudblood. He could apparently find no fault about her, except that her blood was filthy…he sighed and leaned against a wall, listening to their footsteps fade away into the darkness of the hall.
He recalled the day he had realized he liked Hermione Granger, in the library of all places. Draco had been there, quick to defend her from his eccentric eyes and statements. He had seen Hermione go pale and he hadn’t seen anything as beautiful as that sight. There was a poet’s wistful look in her eyes and hands; she probably didn’t realize she was attractive at all, except for Draco’s insistence, he supposed.
He had seen and bedded numerous good looking witches of his time; from his little scandals in France to Italy…he didn’t expect to actually harbor feelings for a Muggle born Head Girl! He wondered if he could steal Hermione away from Draco, coax her into thinking he was also capable of- what the bloody hell was he thinking! He was pureblooded and fighting for it, for Merlin’s sake! He shook his head and took a deep breath, troubled by the way this emotion came into light. Not here, not now! They were working for the Dark Lord’s return; working to keep their race untainted and working to reclaim the glory of their pedigree.
He remembered Pansy Parkinson all of a sudden, remembered her words, begging him to help her with Draco’s affections. Ha! Like there was anything he could do for Pansy. She was a part of Draco’s past now. He had not specified what he wanted in return for information, but he had a feeling he would know soon.
His thoughts returned to Hermione quickly, despite forcing it down. He thought about the countless instances he could have made his move, only to defer to pride and now, to Draco. He wondered why he had allowed this to happen. Control was something he had shown skill for. But this emotion…it was proving to be a straining task. He knew that Draco had initially felt that way, a denial to falling for a Muggleborn. But Draco had accepted it and his love was well returned, while he, Theodore Nott was lurking in corners, determined to see Draco succeed, determined to keep his loyalty. He had seen Hermione’s eyes, how she was in love with the Slytherin prince of his generation. And he suddenly felt a pang of hurt. He shook his head again, whistling as he walked back to the Slytherin Dormitory, hoping he could get rid of the feeling quick.
Draco knew it was Ron, Ron was the reason she cried that night. It took a superhuman amount of self control not to bash the redhead upon the first day of the exams. If he could just pull through, he told himself. If he could just survive the hell of a week bestowed on him... He had one more week to go, and he had nearly figured things out.
It took nearly a month of sleepless nights, and everyone he knew remarked on it, even Hermione, who had managed to discreetly sneak in a note to his leather messenger bag. He had become paler; if that was even possible, and his eye sockets were surrounded by tell tale signs of exhaustion.
Draco discerned he was looking now for one key, one object that interconnected the book and that chest he had yet to find. If he could just find that bloody key, everything would have been revealed and he would now concentrate his energies to guarantee Hermione’s safety and that of his mother’s. The question was where to find the key. He knew it was round and that was just about it. He knew nothing of the color, if it had any writings, if it was possibly some heirloom…he blinked and tried to concentrate on question number one hundred and four of the Potions exam by a pleased looking Slughorn who had come out from retirement just after Dumbledore’s death once more.
Up ahead, Hermione was breezing through her examination paper, with only two more questions to answer. She read the hundred and forty-eighth question. It read: In the dark ages and until the early 1800s, it was said that surviving this plant poisoning was considered a proof of innocence.
Hermione shrugged. That was pretty easy. And in her neat handwriting, she wrote down: Calabar Bean.
The last question made Hermione think a bit. Perhaps Professor Slughorn had intended for it to be the most difficult in his examination paper.
150.) Atropa belladonna is native to central and southern Europe and parts of Asia. Its name in Italian means beautiful women. Atropa comes from the name Atropos, the Fate who cuts the thread of life. Other names for it include: (write four other names)
Hermione closed her eyes; she had forgotten to read this part. She hoped she was right though. Slower this time and perhaps neater, she wrote: Death's Herb, Deadly Nightshade, Devils' cherries, Sorcerer’s berries.
She stood up quietly and placed the paper, the first on Slughorn’s desk. Slughorn beamed at her and waved his hand to acknowledge she could now leave class early. Hermione nodded and gathered her bag and quill, smiling supportively at Harry as she went out. In the corner of her eye, she saw Draco answering the last parchment of the exam.
She stood outside the door for a moment, watching Draco’s back, as if to calm herself. Then she walked away from the small corridor and into some bright winter sunlight. She met Ginny looking harassed in the hallway.
“Are you alright?” Hermione asked her.
Ginny shook her head with a grin. “You’re bloody kidding me. You do know how I look like right now. I swear, that Trelawney is driving me bonkers! An exam on finding the most ominous thing in your teacup?!”
Hermione laughed, telling Ginny she could have another subject instead of the guessing game Divination was, suggesting Runes and Arithmancy.
“Runes and Arithmancy? I’m not you!” Ginny said. “Guessing my bloody death could probably be more fun.”
Hermione laughed again. “Really, Gin. You have a rather pleasant way of comparing things.”
Ginny waved goodbye, saying she had to harass a schoolmate into pretending that she was as good in Divination as Trelawney thought she was.
Hermione walked up the staircase heading for the Great Hall when she spotted Terry Boot.
“Oy, Hermione!” he called, beckoning her to approach him.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“I’ve just been to Headmistress McGonagall’s office. The ideas we’ve put up have been approved. We have around three days to set up the embellishments for the ball.”
Hermione nodded. “Hearts. I think I’m going to throw up.”
Terry laughed. “You just might like your hearts soon.”
Hermione’s eyebrow shot up. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Just saying,” Terry said, waving goodbye with a smile.
She wondered if he had heard the conversation she had with Ron the night before. She had seen the way Ron sulked during breakfast earlier that day. He wasn’t speaking to Harry and Harry contented himself to Neville’s stories about uncles and their strange pets, especially one uncle who had tried to train a thestral and ended up missing one thumb. Hermione sighed, wondering where she should go. She guessed most of her Gryffindor schoolmates would finish the examination in around fifteen more minutes. The library seemed like a good choice. Then a bit of butterbeer wouldn’t hurt. The next examinations were still around one thirty in the afternoon. It was barely ten thirty and she had more or less memorized the book she had read for the next test, Arithmancy for her and Divination for the rest. She considered herself rather lucky to have skipped that horrid class. Hermione was walking down the hallway for the Great Hall when someone shouted her name. Harry came running and had an arm around her shoulder.
“Bloody hell, that exam!” he gasped.
“How’d you do? I mean- did you get all of it right? All of it?”
“I wasn’t sure about the last part-“
“I wasn’t sure about most,” Harry laughed and so did Hermione. He took his arm off of her shoulder and arranged the books bulging about in his bag. “Who’ll be your date?” he asked her.
“Date? Like for the ball?”
“Is there any other event?” Harry smiled.
“No,” Hermione protested. “I’m not sure if I-“
“Head Girl not going means bad influence to peers.”
“Harry James Potter!” Hermione flustered.
“Relax, ‘Mione, I’m just teasing you, obviously,” Harry rolled his eyes and eyed Hermione who had squeezed her lips. He broke into a smile. “Look, I want you to enjoy that night. It’s the first time you’ll get to… uh…let loose.”
“I have… uh- let loose.”
Harry raised a brow “Really now?”
“I sleep, I…have trips to Hogsmeade-“
“With other prefects,” Harry interrupted. “I meant just completely have fun. You’ve been stressed out for much of the last year and this year.”
“Look who’s talking,” Hermione laughed. “You weren’t having the time of your life either.”
“I’m being hunted down, it’s a different story.”
“I don’t like that,” Hermione grinned. “How’s about some butterbeer at-“
“Harry!” Ron’s voice called out. “What an arse that exam was-! Oh, you’re with Hermione…” his voice faltered.
Hermione froze, standing in between Ron and Harry. Harry looked at Hermione and then at Ron, he looked back and forth a couple of times more and the awkwardness rose over.
“I- I’ll see you later, Harry,” Hermione spun around and left the area, leaving Ron and Harry standing, unable to say anything.
Ron had said her name. In front of Harry too. Was this a sign? She shook her head and wrapped her thick grey coat around her tighter. She was walking alone for Hogsmeade. It was a good fifteen minute walk away and with the snow, perhaps around five to ten minutes longer. She felt the cold seep into her nostrils and she wrapped her scarf around her nose and mouth, wondering why she froze in front of Ron when she could just have pretended they were on ‘okay’ terms. She couldn’t just pretend though, not everything was okay. What Ron had said made her think, got her just a tad bit confused…nearing Hogsmeade she was about to take another step when someone stumbled into her, another witch, all covered up in black robes and a regal looking floral black hat.
Hermione fell to the snow covered ground, nearly hitting her head against a lamppost. The witch had remained standing, only wobbling a bit after hitting her. The taller, bigger woman held out her hand to help Hermione up. She was surprisingly strong and Hermione caught a glimpse of her imposing looking nose and ruby red lips. There was a brooch with an old lady’s face on the collar of her dress.
“Watch where you’re going young lady,” she said rather crossly.
“I’m sorry,” Hermione said, dusting off the snow and dirt off of her coat and placing her scarf back in place.
“From Hogwarts, are you?” she asked, her fashionable hat blocking off most of her face. “From Slytherin?”
“Yes and no.”
“Ah, from Gryffindor? I’d recognize that determined spirit,” her lips broke into a sneer. “Right?”
Hermione nodded, wondering where this was leading to. She eyed the woman’s hands and saw the black gloves, dragon leather and quite expensive. It had silver clasps to tighten the gloves, the clasps in the form of tiny silver snakes.
“I best get going, duty calls,” she said, then humming an unknown song in a rather evocative tone as she left Hermione standing beside the lamppost.
Hermione felt the hair on her nape stand as she listened to the humming the woman made. The woman’s boots crunched in the snow as she walked on. She paused for a short moment, glancing at Hermione and then continued her way, still humming until she disappeared from the bend. Hermione stood there for a few seconds, wondering who that was. Probably just another visitor to Hogsmeade, she didn’t look so familiar.
The Three Broomsticks loomed ahead and she quickly went in, grateful for the warmth. Only a small number of people were inside, some from Hogwarts, she recognized a few from Ravenclaw, huddling over a few books. Hermione went up the bar and ordered a butterbeer, sitting on a tall wooden stool.
Madam Rosmerta smiled at her. “Ah, you’re alone today.”
“Examinations week, first day.”
“Taking it easy, are you?” she laughed, marveling at Hermione’s intelligence.
Hermione took her first sip of butterbeer, filling her with warmth and contentment. She wasn’t worried about the tests at all. Harry was right, she had planned not to attend the ball, but now she had second thoughts. First, Draco had given her a gorgeous dress, fit exactly for an event like the Valentine’s Ball and then she had wanted badly to be with Draco- but how? There was no use going to a ball without the one person she wanted to be with- what the hell was she thinking? She was Head Girl! Not some love struck adolescent with stars and hearts in her eyes…
Her gaze shifted for the window and she saw someone quickly walking across the snow. She’d recognize that figure anywhere. Bolting up and leaving a few galleons, she left the inn and headed outside. Draco was heading for Hog’s Head and just before she could call out his name, he disappeared into the thatched roofed building. Hermione stopped halfway, unsure if she should follow him. She went back inside The Three Broomsticks and sat in the same chair, wondering when Draco would come out and what he was doing there.
The minutes ticked by into hours and it was nearing one in the afternoon. Hermione knew it was time to leave, but she had been sure it was Draco…quite sure. Her Ravenclaw schoolmates waved to her, signaling that they wanted to walk with her back to Hogwarts. She nodded and gathered her bag and one notebook, the one filled with notes about runes and the like. Something in her wanted to barge into Hog’s Head, but she shook the feeling off, it was like spying, like she didn’t trust Draco at all. The Ravenclaw students were keen to discuss with her the differences between the Hungarian and Anglo-Saxon runes, not as part of the exam but just because they wanted to learn more. Hermione patiently answered and gently refuted some of their findings and all the while she kept glancing back and forth, looking for a hint of blond hair.
a/n: Till next chapter!~ ^^