Chapter 1 : 1.
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The field was wild with noise. Raucous Irishmen and dour-faced Bulgarians sized each other up over glasses of fire whiskey, burning like embers within glasses that would inevitably end up shattered in the wake of drunken brawls – depending on the outcome of the Quidditch World Cup.
"Ridiculous," Hermione sniffed. She made her way to the drinking pump through steady gusts of pre-autumn wind, trying to avoid conversing with fans (one altercation with Seamus's mom ended with her making a hasty exit after she declared herself only "mildly excited" for the game and wasn't sporting a shamrock.) Or any green, for that matter.
Hermione had chosen her outfit carefully. She was wearing a charcoal coatdress with a subtle sweetheart neckline. Gold lion-embossed buttons traversed to a hemline that floated just above her ankles, revealing soft leather boots. She felt womanly and graceful, and hoped that the neutral colors would allow her to escape scrutiny. A far-reaching hope, she thought with a grimace. The Irish were loud about her lack of colors, but the Bulgarians were just as bad with their pointed glares.
'Honestly, it's only a game,' she mused. But she didn't dare say it aloud. The crowd waiting to use the water pump seemed unreasonable; most of them obviously trying to ward off the substantial effects of their 10 a.m. whiskeys and regain lucidity before the afternoon match.
After shifting with increasing impatience, she filled her jug and wound her way back to the tent she was sharing with Ginny.
"Hermione!" chorused the twins, each holding a glass that was serving to bolster them up as they 'held down the fort' that was the Weasley's makeshift campsite. Harry, Ron and the rest of the Weasleys were mingling with fellow witches and wizards over morning coffee. Or firewhiskey, Hermione sighed.
"Don't worry pretty lady, we won't let any drunkards give you a bad time about their teams," winked Fred. Or maybe George? She could never tell. "You are rooting for the Irish, right?" he asked seriously. 'Of course,' Hermione grinned, 'The one thing the twins are ever serious would be Quidditch. Boys.'
"I'm rooting for the best team to win," she answered haughtily.
"Ah ha! Only the best for our Hermione, brightest witch of her age and resident overachiever," laughed George, sloshing some of his "juice" onto the wool of her coat.
"What's this I hear, only the best for a bottom-dwelling Mudblood?" The sneering drawl was unmistakable. "I know you two are jokers, but that's quite the stretch." He had crept up silently from behind their tent, clearly trying to find somebody to rile. 'Like the sneaking snake that he is,' thought Hermione.
It was obvious that in their current state, the twins could do little more than glare blearily and send a few "Bugger off's" at the pale-haired Slytherin. Closing her eyes in exasperation, Hermione tucked a few curls back into the coiled braids crowning her head and turned around.
"Well well, Malfoy, one would think that your Daddy's limitless funds would buy you more varied insults. Mudblood gets old. Here's an idea – why don't I prick my finger and slit your throat, and then we can do a comparison? If you're still alive, you can declare a verdict on whose blood is filthier." She stopped and gave Malfoy a Slytherin-worthy smirk. "I imagine centuries of inbreeding have left your own genes more than a little tainted."
Hermione's annoyance with the frenzied scene that morning had left a vindictive, bitter taste in her mouth. She was in no mood to play the victim. Not that she had ever been good at the role anyway – she was a Gryffindor. It was her compassion and bookish tendencies that shrouded her in an illusory cloak of weakness. In truth (a truth few save Ron and Harry knew) Hermione was the backbone of the Golden Trio: the main reason Harry was alive. Her intelligence had saved their lives year after year. Luck had nothing to do with it, not really.
"Draco, come along. There are people of importance to see." Lucius Malfoy had finished speaking with the French prime minister and was staring imperiously at Hermione and the Weasley twins. Matching his haughty look, Hermione shot a final glare at a furious Malfoy, his grey eyes narrowed maliciously. Twisting with a sweep of his black velvet cloak, Lucius dropped his snake-headed cane. "Draco," he said with a nod.
As Malfoy bent to pick it up, Hermione couldn't resist one final parting shot.
"Fetch!" she called, and turned to set the water jug inside her tent, chuckling at the identical masks of indignation both Malfoy men wore. The younger's marble skin burned pink with anger and embarrassment.
A few hours later, Ron, Harry and Hermione pushed their way through the crowd to find their seats.
"The top box! Can you believe it Harry?" Ron exclaimed excitedly. Harry and Ron were practically airborne with anticipation, all but ignoring the feeling of being trapped like bludgers straining to break free of their holding straps. 'At least those two are tall,' grumbled Hermione, trying to prevent yet another fan from accidentally groping her. She cursed the fact that at 16 years old she was still an underage witch and couldn't part the crowd by magic.
Finally, they emerged gasping from the carnage of the lower stands into the stadium's airy upper seating. "Wicked!" Ron and Harry said in unison, glancing around the empty box with boyish smiles. Not knowing their seats, they leaned against the magically reinforced glass railing to survey the pitch. Hermione thanked whatever fortune Arthur Weasley had come by to inspire the Ministry to get them a spot in the top box. Only the few (and extraordinarily wealthy) usually acquired such prime seating.
As if to underline this fact, three platinum blonde heads emerged from the lower levels. Judging by their perfectly coiffed appearances and unruffled robes, the Malfoys had used magic to repel the onslaught of wild fans as they made their way to their seats. Or maybe it was their repulsive personalities, Hermione thought, rolling her eyes and blowing an escaped auburn curl out of her sightline.
"How in Merlin's name did you manage to wrangle your way to such heights, Weasley? Your father finally sell that shack you call a house? Oh wait, that can't be it – the proceeds wouldn't have covered the cost of even one ticket to the Quidditch World Cup, let alone seats in the top box." Smirking all over his angular face, Draco struck an arrogant pose as Harry and Ron struggled to break free of Hermione's wrenching grip on their robes.
"Now Draco," Lucius said mildly, "You needn't gloat over those who are…beneath you…"
He turned his icy gaze on Hermione, who held it, flames dancing in her whiskey-colored eyes. Something flickered, and he stared at her with a look that didn't hold hostility so much as curiosity. But in a moment, the Death Eater's face hardened again and he swept past her.
Glaring at his back, Hermione turned her attention to the son, who had fixed her with such steel in his gaze she might have bled from its intensity. "Enjoy yourself, Granger," he said. "This is as far from the dirt as you're ever going to get. You're filth."
"And you're a pathetic budding Death Eater set to become nothing more than a glorified house elf, branded as a maniac's slave. How fortunate that you have such an accomplished mentor," she finished, with a nod in Lucius' direction, where he was following Narcissa to their seats.
"You don't know anything about me Mudblood," he spat.
Ron growled and tried to launch himself on Malfoy, while Harry said in a low tone, "Wait till we have our wands, scum. Your bodyguards might be boulders, but they're thick as them too."
Malfoy only smirked condescendingly and moved to join his parents. As the two parties were the sole occupants of the box, the tension between them, stretched across 20 feet, was palpable.
They all breathed a silent sigh of relief as the Weasleys and Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge came into view. "Ah! The rest of the brood I see," said the minister. "Good, good. And Mr. Potter as well! Great to see you, my boy. Just fantastic. What a day for a Quidditch match!"
Hermione glanced doubtfully at the grey sky, watching heavy clouds gather in the distance. 'What a day indeed,' she thought. Standing under stormy skies with the equally stormy Malfoys.
Fudge shook Hermione and Harry's hands (somehow missing Ron) and looked over their shoulders as some foreign dignitaries and their families filed into the box.
"Excuse me a moment," Fudge said.
Hermione heard him greet the tall blondes deferentially, and rolled her eyes yet again as Lucius introduced his wife and son in a haughty voice.
"Smarmy bastards," she said, not realizing she had spoken aloud until Mr. Weasley whispered his agreement.
"Oh yes, the Malfoys are as well-connected as they get. They pay their 'friends' well," Mr. Weasley said, his face twisted with dislike. While both were ancient Pureblood families, the Malfoys and Weasleys hated each other on principal – a rivalry born over centuries of sparring due to differences of status and values.
"Ah! I almost forgot, our seats are along row B," Mr. Weasley said. He led Ron, Harry, Hermione and Ginny to seats staggered one row below the Malfoys, diagonally situated from the sneering family.
While they could have been farther away, Hermione was at least glad that they weren't placed directly below them. The idea of leaving her back so exposed to any Malfoy made Hermione shiver. 'They're evil,' she thought, sitting down warily and keeping her left eye trained on the white-blond smudges in her periphery.
"Witches aaaaaaand wizards! Young and old! Welcooooome to the Quidditch World Cup!" The announcer boomed in his magically enhanced voice. He was almost painful to look at in robes of shocking yellow (presumably so as not to coordinate with either team). The stadium, packed seat to seat with fans wearing green and maroon, quieted in anticipation. As the round man bobbed atop a podium set high above the pitch, Hermione was reminded of an energetic bumblebee. She smiled and chuckled softly, turning her head to hide her amusement. Unfortunately, she found all three Malfoys staring at her, frowning pensively.
'Do I offend them so much?' she thought. 'Oh, but of course I do. I'm sitting in a place most "worthy" Purebloods rarely sit, let alone Muggleborns.' Hermione composed her face into a mask of indifference and turned her attention back to the action. The crowd was once again quiet.
Wondering what had happened in her mental absence, Hermione craned her neck over the railing. Almost immediately the reason for the silence became clear: a stream of ten stunning women sashayed onto the Quidditch pitch, dressed in shimmery maroon robes that were striking against their waist-length moonbeam hair. They glowed. 'That's interesting,' Hermione mused. 'They can't be human.' She rolled her eyes as Harry and Ron leaned as far over as they could to catch a closer view. The boys were frantically adjusting the focus on their omniculars, watching the creatures flick their shining hair off their shoulders in slow motion.
"Veelas," Mr. Weasley whispered to them. "The Bulgarian mascots. We're in for quite the show. Watch yourselves now," he said in warning, casting a solemn eye over Ron and Harry. Hermione doubted they heard a word beyond "Veelas".
Hermione narrowed her eyes as the Veelas began to dance. Shaking their hips rhythmically, the exquisite women twirled away, and Hermione noticed men around the stadium start to act strangely. Alarmed, she watched the French prime minister unbutton the neck of his costly green robes and turned away in disgust, only to see Harry in diving position on the box railing.
"Harry!" Hermione cried. "What in Merlin's name do you think you're doing?!" Just in time, she grabbed the back of his robes and hauled him off the glass, stopping Ron from running past her at the same time. "*SLAP*" Whipping her hand back from Harry's face, Hermione threw both boys into their seats and stood with hands on hips above them, blocking their view of the Veelas. "So – we spend five years fighting to stay alive just so you can toss yourselves off a 1,000-ft. high balcony to impress some vapid show creatures. Honestly!" She huffed and tried in vain to control the curls that had escaped the crown-like braid wound around her head. As usual, her hair had expanded with anger and she could almost feel the magic in her bloodstream fighting for release. 'A good hex would be just the thing,' she thought, making a mental note to research wandless magic the moment she was back at Hogwarts.
Regaining her seat, Hermione glared at the Veela as they retreated to the sidelines. More than one Quidditch security official herded men in various states of undress off the field to a waiting Mediwitch, who was doling out a thin purple potion with a look of extreme exasperation.
"That was quite the show, Potty and Weaselby," called a snide voice. "Almost as good as the Veelas!"
Harry and Ron flushed scarlet, but were too ashamed of themselves to do anything but give Malfoy hostile glares. Ron turned his back on him and moved to adjust his shamrock with dignity, only to find that it was no longer pinned to his robes. "What the….?" Hermione didn't think it was possible for Ron to turn any redder, but the glow he gave off when he saw his shamrock torn to pieces beneath his seat rivaled a firework.
Obviously experienced at dealing with the effects of the Veelas, both Malfoy men were removing small black earbuds, and Lucius Malfoy folded up a copy of the Daily Prophet. The French prime minister was speaking angrily at the Bulgarian prime minister, who refused to remove his own custom maroon earbuds.
Hermione glared at the Malfoys, livid at the immaculate air they exuded. 'I'm not fooled,' she thought. The stars burn brightest right before they fall. And in spite of their seeming perfection, Hermione knew, the Malfoys were rotten to the core. 'Unsalvageable,' she scoffed. Feeling their eyes on her, Hermione fought a blush as she realized that they had probably seen her whole outburst. She wished they could all just disappear. If there was one thing she despised, it was drawing attention to herself.
"And if any of you are wondering why you're wearing green after seeing what Bulgaria has to offer, don't throw away those shamrocks yet!" shouted the announcer. "Heeeeere come the Irish mascots!"
Dozens of green blurs whipped around the stadium, formation flying into giant shamrocks and pots of gold.
"Leprechauns!" Ron exclaimed happily, laughing when a few dropped a shower of gold on their heads. Ron surreptitiously stuffed his pockets, while Harry and Hermione bent their heads close to examine a thick leprechaun galleon.
"I'm sure it disappears or transforms into a sickle, or something," Hermione whispered, setting the gold back on the box floor.
Behind them and to their left, the Malfoys were watching the group, and Hermione. Draco Malfoy told himself it was because she was so out of place in the top box. 'A Mudblood, in the top box?' he gave a mental snort. But he grudgingly admitted that she didn't look that conspicuous. Aside from her wild curls, Hermione held herself with a poise far beyond her years – something Draco resented. He was supposed to be perfection itself. He was a Malfoy. The most cunning, attractive and wealthy of wizards. So why was it that a Muggleborn was continuously showing him up, insulting him with the dexterity of, well, a Slytherin, and staring disdainfully at anyone who offended her sense of propriety, even French dignitaries? It was unnatural. He watched her examine the leprechaun gold amusedly before setting it down again, obviously intelligent enough to realize that it was useless. Pureblooded Weasley, on the other hand, had stuffed his pockets with the stuff.
"Idiot," Draco whispered.
His father raised one eyebrow, "The Weasley boy?" he questioned knowingly. "Hm, yes, but Weasleys always have lacked a certain comprehension." Narcissa tipped her head slightly. "It's interesting, though, isn't it?" she chimed in. "I always imagined that Potter was the central figure in the group, but the girl…Hermione Granger..." She paused. "You're quite sure she has no wizarding lineage, Draco?"
"She doesn't," he said stiffly. He was sick of Weaselby, Potty and Granger. The Quidditch World Cup was one of the only times he got to spend with his family, and once again The Golden Trio was stealing his moment. His parents were so absorbed in studying them Draco could Portkey away and he doubted they'd notice. Merlin, he hated those three.
"Yeeeeeeeeeees!!!!!!" Ron punched his fist in the air as Ireland scored its final goal. They had won. But Bulgaria's Viktor Krum got the snitch. Hermione didn't know how to feel about the fierce Seeker. He made it clear he had feelings for her in fourth year during the Triwizard Tournament, but later (after writing back and forth for months) she saw a Witch Weekly cover in Diagon Alley that showed him draped over a petite blonde. She ended all correspondence. Now she realized that she didn't hold a grudge, mainly because she'd never truly liked him, but that didn't mean she was any more inclined to forgive his untrustworthy advances. 'Even if they had been mostly by letter,' she thought wryly.
Suddenly the trapdoor opened and Quidditch players filed into the box.
Through the swarm, Hermione had trouble seeing who was who. Hunching her shoulders slightly, she leaned so that a man's bald head was the first thing someone from the door could make out.
"Herm-own-ninny!" Damn. He'd found her.
Putting on a polite smile, Hermione gave a distant hello. This was all the encouragement Viktor needed.
Krum came to stand in front of her seat, pushing ahead of a few fellow Quidditch players who eyed Hermione interestedly. Wearing his customary scowl, he stared at her in consternation. "Hermy-own. I haff missed you. Vy did you not veturn my letters?"
"Oh well, we've both been so busy, and I didn't want to bother you," she tittered nervously. 'Please let him leave,' she thought. 'He can't do this around so many people.' Almost unconsciously she looked around for the Malfoys. Hermione sighed with relief as she saw them greeting members of the Irish team.
An arm suddenly snaked around Krum's shoulder and he was pulled away by a burly gray-haired man Hermione assumed was Durmstrang's new headmaster. "Viktor," he laughed coldly, "I'm sure your… friend… is perfectly agreeable, but there are others to meet."
He directed Krum toward the Malfoys, who had finished speaking with the Irish and were staring.
"I vill be right back, Herm-own-ninny," Krum said, shooting a black-eyed glare at his headmaster. Hermione only nodded, hoping he would be distracted enough to forget.
Harry saw her look and jerked his head quickly toward the trapdoor. "Care to slip away?" he whispered with a conspiratorial smile. "Please," she beamed back.
She, Ron and Harry took off, stopping briefly to let Mr. Weasley know that they were going back to the tents.
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